Les Misérables

120px-Film-stripAnother quick review following another rushed cinema trip around work and baby duties. Friends had been giving it good to better feedback, so we opted for the big budget Hollywood version of the Schonberg and Boublil musical classic.

Les Misérables (2012)

“Can you hear the people sing?”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: parolee goes on the run to turn a new leaf and gets caught up on French Revolution goings-on

See it if you like: actual proper musicals, not just plays with a few songs chucked in

I’ve never seen the stage version though I absolutely adore the CD set I bought about 20 years ago. As such my comparisons are inevitably going to be predominantly based on the audio side of things. On this front it comes off very well indeed, but I’ll get into that a bit more later.

Visually it’s stunning. Huge, impressive sets which seem authentic enough while still maintaining the feel of a stage show. In many of the scenes I could imagine the cast on an actual stage in front of me, but the production values are obviously far greater than any theatre could hope to match.

The opening sequence kicks things off in this manner with scores of men pulling on ropes to haul a stricken ship out of stormy water and into dry dock. You just couldn’t do that in any theatre. A perfect mix of scenery and CGI makes this scene simply enormous.

We’re introduced, at this point, to our two main characters: Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) and the police inspector Javert (Russell Crowe). It’s always a risk when you take someone famous for their acting skills and put them into a role where they have to sing a few words. To take two men known for action flicks and put them in as leads to a film that has about 0.1% spoken dialogue (the rest all being sung) must have involved a lot of auditions or a leap of faith on the part of the director.

On the whole, it’s paid off. Jackman certainly gives the acting performance of his career if his voice doesn’t quite match up to the task, while Crowe plays things a little easier but (on the whole) has the better voice.

Stand-out, though, is Anne Hathaway who plays the downtrodden Fantine. If she was auditioned alongside any of the original stage cast, she’d be up there with the top choices. Add to this an outstanding acting performance and you have one of the best displays of talent on screen I have seen in a long time.

Amanda Seyfried as the older Cosette rounds out the main cast and gives a good performance also. The remaining two well-known names are Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter who provide comic relief as the Thénardiers, a couple of the dodgiest characters you’re ever likely to meet. Both are suitably revolting and fit the parts perfectly.

The remainder of the cast are less well known and/or have performed in the stage show and managed to jump on board this celluloid version. They hold their own against the premium rate cast well, from rugrats like Daniel Huttlestone (Gavroche) and Isabelle Allen (young Cosette) to main members like Samantha Barks (Éponine), there isn’t a duffer in the bunch.

It’s a cracking story with highs, lows and a huge amount of passion. The songs are superb, though definitely more “acted” (by which I mean emotionally performed) than the CD version I have. I swear there were a small number of lyrical changes as well – very minor ones – but I could be wrong.

There is always a risk in taking something as hugely well known as this from one medium to another, and in many cases the simple expedient of chucking money at it results in a complete mess. This, however, is far from it. Big, glorious, and hugely emotional it’s as good a film version as could ever be imagined.

I know some people won’t like it (and didn’t), but I really did. I’d still love to go and see it on stage, I’m sure I will one day, but this will tide me over in the meantime. Hell, I think I’m going to dig out the CDs and pop them in the car. It’ll make a change from the Cavalera Conspiracy track that came on the stereo when we left the cinema!

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Oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear. I confess I only went to see Brüno as it was the last English-language film on at the cinema that I hadn’t seen. I wasn’t too bothered about it, but it’s cheap here in Bangkok so what the hell.

I want my ninety minutes back.

Plot-in-a-nutshell: gay fashion icon loses his job in Austria so heads to the US to become famous by any means necessary. Side splitting laughs… erm… don’t really ensue.

OK, there were a couple of laughs but overall this was far more cringeworthy than the forerunner Börat. Sacha Baron Cohen has this time targeted the US’s seeming hatred of homosexuality rather than that of semi-Communist outsiders for what’s basically a re-run of the last movie. The thing is, despite the new character it’s an old joke. There’s even a weak companion character who’s almost a mirror of the fat bloke from Börat.

You’re still wondering how, in some scenes, the “innocent” people involved don’t query the existence of a camera/sound team. Couldn’t they have freed the two guys from the cuffs during one scene? Why is that question not even raised?

The high points of the film are – as in the first, very similar outing – the reactions of “real” people to the situations. Primarily the TV studio audience and the crowd at the all-in fighting match at the end. It’s also horribly indicative of the state of affairs in the US today when you see the lengths some people are prepared to go to to get their children a modelling contract.

I actually thing, in parts, the film is more scary than funny. The fact that these people are real, not actors. That PR advisers can have less brain cells than digits on one hand. That Bible-thumpers genuinely think they can “cure” homosexuality. That grown men will weep because they’ve just seen two males kiss. That people will genuinely consider cosmetic surgery for a 2 year-old.

Brüno is more shocking than funny, and it just doesn’t carry its one joke well. Cohen’s had his two shots – I seriously doubt I’ll bother with the next film (which sounds like another version of the same damn idea all over again).

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