Monday, December 31, 2012

Clear Away the Barricades

I thoroughly enjoyed dinner and a movie with Big A. I loved eating my own food calmly and quietly while conversing with my husband without interruptions or trying to spell things backwards, in Pig Latin. I loved going to the movies without huge debate about what treats we NEED to take into the theater, and I loved sitting [sitting!] through the previews without constantly staying one step ahead of the Boredom Brigade.

And I loved getting to pretend to be an artist and an intellectual again for a couple of hours. Yes, I believe Les Mis to be a very well crafted, passionate film—but I really got into looking at it as an English major and used-to-wanna-be director.

Let’s have at it chronologically, then.

Not crazy about the CGI ship in the beginning, but I can forgive that much “we did it because we can do it.” The rest of the film stuck to stunning, necessary visuals—like how brutally they depicted the freezing, starving masses. [Side note: I don’t think there was a single drop of Visine on set. In fact, if there’s an anti-Visine, all the actors were on it.]

On the other hand, I loved that the magic of Hugh Jackman and film combined to let the audience experience Jean Valjean’s freakish strength from the very beginning.

I am also (predictably) not crazy about Russell Crowe as Javert. I blame the studio for this one. Someone couldn’t resist the highly marketable pairing of mega-stars from Down Under. To give them credit, however, I honestly don’t think the problem is his singing voice. The few times he let loose, he seemed to hit/sustain the notes. (I’m hedging my bets here as I have no idea how much “help” he had from engineers.) I DO think that Mr. Crowe had a problem performing Javert because he didn’t UNDERSTAND Javert.

The only time I got the emotion I wanted from him was around here:
     Damned if I'll live in the debt of a thief!
     Damned if I'll yield at the end of the chase.
     I am the Law and the Law is not mocked
     I'll spit his pity right back in his face
He could get a handle on Javert’s wounded pride, but not the character’s more complex drives, like his passion for order, including a firm belief that people are—and always will be—as they are born to be. People cannot change. (Remember phrenology was cutting edge SCIENCE back when. Think about it.) Crowe didn’t get that Jean Valjean’s existence negated all he had lived for, all he had known. (Echo intentional.)

Anyway, that was a biggie, but not unexpected. The additions from the book, however, surprised me entirely and in a beautiful, wonderful, delighted way. I LOVED that the film could give a better sense of what a “yellow ticket of leave”—parole—meant to Jean Valjean. It sucked! And that’s such a huge part of why he does what he does. I loved that we got to see that jack*ss stick snow down Fantine’s shirt. (Didn’t she look desperately cold and ill?) I loved that we to see Jean Valjean do his famous wall climb, and I loved seeing Gavroche’s elephant. I was thrilled to see the convent and Marius’s grandfather. I’m so glad the filmmakers took the time and effort to do these right!

Not at all to my surprise, I loved Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway. Well done, folks! Although I do wish they’d aged Jackman a bit more, earlier. Still, that’s a minor quibble. Set that against the fact that makeup, lights, or just plain acting did something amazing to his face during the new song, “Suddenly,” and it really doesn’t matter.

I was happily surprised to see that Sacha Baron Cohen stayed in check—I’m not sure if we should thank Helena Bonham Carter or Tom Hooper, but thank you! I enjoyed the Thenardiers, who inspired laughs and shudders without resorting to piercing eardrums. Having them sing while being carried out of the wedding was brilliant!

And, of course, I am very pleasantly and gladly surprised to have liked Cosette and Marius. Not the actors’ fault at all, but they are insufferably young, self-centered characters. I never liked them in the book, either. So there. Seriously, though—well done. Even if Marius did have a lot of that Luke Skywalker look—wide eyes, a half-open mouth, and an enormous lack of humor about anything. At least it made me want to smile rather than shake him. And he played the discovery scene with Thenardier really well.

Alas, poor Eponine! I don’t’ know what they did to you! As a matter of fact, perhaps they didn’t know what TO do with you. Eponine’s songs seemed lifted intact from a modern stage production and dropped into the period film. It was a little jarring to me. And I kept wanting Marius to support her $%#&&@# head during “A Little Fall of Rain.’ Hello! Chest wounds and crunches don’t mix!

Now I’m going to be TOTALLY unfair. I said it before, so everyone was warned. I had a LOT riding on the last scene. It’s my favorite in the book, my favorite on stage, and, oh, lord! They came SO close here. Total frustration.

I had high hopes—Marius and Cosette did well, Valjean aged, and he was in this gorgeous chapel, so the elements were all there. BUT!!!! Why, oh, why did you change the lyric from “It’s the story of those who always loved you. Your mother gave her life for you, then gave you to my keeping.”???? Why?

If we’ve spent 2.5 hours watching this movie and haven’t figure out that Jean Valjean only knew hate and now loves deeply, then you’ve wasted your movie. Geez. Show, don’t tell! On his deathbed, Jean Valjean WOULD care about Cosette knowing Fantine’s story. That’s the kind of guy he is. And then…


Oh, listen to your own lyrics, for Pete’s sake! “They will walk behind the ploughshare; they will put away the sword.” Newsflash, folks—Hugo thought the students, the leaders on the barricade, were lovable, laughably, angry, young fools who had to be admired for their bravery, ideals, and passion, but who went about everything all wrong. Jean Valjean was his hero—the man who, on the barricade, would only load guns, tend the wounded, and protect Marius from his own folly. The man who took every burden on himself in the name of love, the man of quiet, genuine charity, the man of…love.

“To love another person is to see the face of God.”

Valjean, Fantine, Eponine—they got that; they did that. That’s why the women come to lead Valjean to salvation. The others are “climbing to the light.” But not by waving flags on a barricade, by acts of love. 

And the finale began in a CHURCH. Can you imagine all those ghostly figures joining Valjean as he rises from his deathbed (chair)? Picture a soft, pure, otherworldly light and all the dead pacing slowly out of the church, singing. Maybe the wall dissolves into light as they approach. It would have been surreal, beautiful, perfect. And they were so close!

Ah, well. I’m no Javert. So I give Mr. Hooper and company a strong 90% on the film. Definitely go see it!

For the record, I hope they win an Oscar for makeup. Those people looked so cold that I felt cold. Really, really good.

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