Monday, 15 April 2013

Two minds in one brain leads to suicides and heavy metal bands

I have eventually come to the conclusion that Les Misérables is a terrible film, though it's only taken me about six viewings to do so.
Don't get me wrong, a watch is worthwhile as it is coming down with great material - fantastic songs, great cast, real gusto in the delivery even from the bawdy players like Sacha Cohen - but the source material saves it despite the direction which films every cast member at some point wobbling their chin open-mouthed like they're doing a goldfish impression (if I get a decent video file, you may expect a compilation gif), and at several points painfully misunderstands story, context, and the limitations of a theater production not being something a multi-million-dollar movie has to worry about so much as it has to worry about visual clarity and continuity.  The final scene's flag-waving also changes the meaning of the song being sung at the time from a celebration of forgiveness and repentance to a jingoistic revolutionary standard by dint of how the scene is framed and filmed.  It's all the more confusing as at several times during the film there are obvious changes from the original musical that shift the focus onto just these themes, then the visual direction jumps back to (literal) flag-waving despite that even the script spells out that the event portrayed is not a popular uprising but a failed student revolt, like it's trying to paint a picture of a bunch of George Washingtons and martyrs rather than disaffected middle class rabble, and like I say, the script more or less spells this all out for you, even changes things from the theater production to reinforce them, like the use of the Bishop instead of Eponine to act as Valjean's herald to the afterlife.
On the other hand, I really enjoyed the high standard of studio production on the songs, despite the odd choice to overlap several characters' lines at several points meaning you have to already know the story to understand exactly what is going on as it happens rather than just figuring it out later, Borat's scenes are all over the place in tone (the Master Of The House number suffers from far too much unnecessary slapstick and a bizarre French accent that of all the cast only SBC seems to possess in random scenes), some of the non-singing dialog is a bit unnecessary, and the "CRUNCH" during Javert's suicide is hilariously OTT, but the cast is generally fantastic, even Crowe, who seems to be getting it in the neck from some quarters, and the Marius actor who has huge lips and high cheekbones so I assume he is a model of some description that we are supposed to hate in our insecure man-ways, but bless his socks he sings his little heart out here and absolutely kills Empty Chairs At Empty Tables by playing and delivering as if he was a PTSD sufferer having a mental breakdown right there on the screen rather than just being momentarily overcome with emotion, and also plays some other less bombastic moments with an odd charisma, like the gormless look the rubbery-faced galoot sports at the start of the scene where Valjean comes clean about his past that slowly goes away as the penny drops that I cannot stop laughing at every time I see it.
I am sounding very negative, but that's just my way - top film.  Dodgy direction, but what can you do?  Directing a musical is essentially directing an action movie - John Woo famously credits his love of musicals for inspiring much of his Hong Kong-era visual innovation - and lord knows, we'll be here all day if I have to start grumbling about how no-one can direct action movies these days.

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