Les Misérables (2012)
by Steve Habrat
Two years after Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech took the world by storm and made off with the Best Picture Oscar, the British director returns with a film so immense and extravagant, you won’t be able to believe your eyes. Hooper’s Les Misérables is certainly a worthy follow up to The King’s Speech, but in size and scope, Les Misérables blows it right out of the water. As epic as they come, Les Misérables is a big Hollywood blockbuster (and a shameless one at that), one sure to run away with awards like Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and Best Production Design at the Academy Awards, but just like its predecessor, the film bowls over the viewer with one gigantic tidal wave of emotion after another. Just when you thought you’ve recovered from one heart wrenching moment, Hooper unleashes another one almost instantly. The film, and the stars who inhabit it, belt their hearts out as tears stream down their muddy faces, singing live over having the lyrics dubbed in post production. Each and every one of them will give you chills, especially Anne Hathaway’s teary-eyed “I Dreamed a Dream.” For as high as this film flies, it could still have stood to have at least forty minutes cut from it, mostly because by the final act, we do begin to feel it’s epic runtime of two hours and forty minutes. It appears that Hooper was wildly faithful to the musical and the novel by Victor Hugo, which is both a blessing and a curse.
Beginning in 1815, prisoner Jean Valjean (Played by Hugh Jackman) is released on parole by chilly prison guard Javert (Played by Russell Crowe) after serving a brutal seventeen-year sentence. Valjean is cast out into the world without any food or a home but is soon taken in by the kindly Bishop of Digne (Played by Colm Wilkinson), who offers him a hot meal and a bed. In the night, Valjean steals some of the Bishop’s silver and then flees, only to be quickly caught by local authorities. The Bishop insists that he gave Valjean the silver as a gift and demands that they let him go free. Moved by the Bishop’s kindness, Valjean breaks his parole and sets out to make a better life for himself. Eight years pass and Valjean, who goes by a new name, is now the mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer and a factory owner. Employed at his factory is Fantine (Played by Anne Hathaway), who is discovered by her co-workers to be an illegitimate mother sending money to her sick daughter, Cosette (Played by Isabelle Allen), and is fired by the foreman. Desperate, Fantine turns to prostitution to make money but one evening, Javert confronts her after she attacks a belligerent customer. Javert tries to haul her off to jail but Valjean quickly stops him after he recognizes her from the factory. Near death, Fantine begs Valjean to find her daughter and to take care of her. Valjean agrees and sets out to find Cosette, but Javert begins to suspect that Valjean is the prisoner who broke parole eight years earlier and he begins hunting him down.
Each and every frame of Les Misérables looks like it cost almost $100 million dollars to project onto the screen. The makeup effects are absolutely astounding, especially the aging of Jackman’s Valjean as the story progresses. Every smudge of dirt and speck of filth so perfectly splattered across each actor’s face. Another standout moment is when Valjean trudges through the sewer with rebellious student Marius (Played by Eddie Redmayne) and human waste covers them from head to toe. It is appropriately nasty to the point where you can practically smell the stench. The costumes are all wildly detailed and eye catching, especially a jacket worn by Valjean with a massive collar. Then there are the special effects, especially the overhead shots of small villages and growing cities that are so fussy, they make you want to tear your hair out. Hooper hurls his camera directly at them to focus in on one specific character standing on the edge of a cliff or riding a horse through the streets. Later in the movie, there are one or two scenes that feel more like indoor sets rather than outdoor locations, which sort of take us out of the moment. I couldn’t help but wish that Hooper would have at least attempted to shoot them outside but I can’t imagine that he would have been able to pull off some of the environment detail that he was going for if he chose to shoot outside.
The other big draw to the big screen adaptation of Les Misérables is the live singing done in front of the camera rather than the music studio. While many critics and audience members have complained that it was a failed experiment (I don’t really understand why they think it was a failed experiment), I personally liked it and found that it adds a layer of realism to the bombastic gloss of this expensive epic. It allowed Hooper to apply long takes of his actors doing the thing that pays them millions of dollars— act. Sure there are a few brief cuts here and there, but Hooper lets the camera sit (and sometimes pace) with all the actors. We get up close and personal views of brokenhearted emotion heating up and then boiling over as the viewer hangs on the frame in a state of awe. While some of the voices are certainly not going to nab a record deal (looking at you, Mr. Crowe), you still have to admire their confidence to let their voices soar. The lack of a true professional makes things all the more realistic and down-to-earth. Some musicals (not all) loose me when the actors sing like trained professionals.
While Les Misérables is beautiful to look at, the film wouldn’t be what it is if it wasn’t for the downright incredible performances at the heart. While I’ve never downright hated Jackman as an actor, I could never really see the big deal about him but with Les Misérables, I am a true believer now. This guy is fantastic as Valjean, the tortured ex-prisoner who had his life turned upside down over stealing a mouthful of bread. While it is Jackman’s show, the one who makes off with the movie is Hathaway as Fantine, a woman forced into a life of hell. I promise that you will practically fall out of your seat when she performs “I Dreamed a Dream” as she battles back tears of embarrassment and defeat. It is a rare scene where the audience member actually wants to leap to their feet and break into applause. Crowe is great as the relentless Javert, who is always hot on Valjean’s heels. I can’t say too much for his vocal performance but the fact that he is really trying is good enough for me. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter drop by to add a bit of (grotesque) comedy to the mix as Thénardier and Madame Thénardier, a couple of pick pockets who are taking care of darling little Cosette. Amanda Seyfried is a bit stiff as the adult Cosette, as is Redmayne as her suitor Marius. They get a last act love story and while it is effective, neither of them make us root for them like we should. Samantha Barks is also present as the Thénardier’s daughter Éponine, who secretly loves Marius. Barks wins our empathy with a lovely but painful solo performance in the rain.
While Les Misérables won’t win over every single viewer over, if you’re a fan of the book or the musical by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg, you are going to gush over Hooper’s achievement. I’d also say that if you enjoy musicals like I do, you are probably going to be hooked for a good majority of the movie. If you’re a casual moviegoer, be prepared for the longest two hours and forty minutes of your life. I still felt that the film ran a bit too long and some of the musical numbers could have been trimmed for a tighter and more inviting runtime, but there really isn’t one weak number of the bunch. Another minor complaint I had with the film was the fate of one of the characters, which just seemed downright bizarre and random. Overall, Les Misérables is overblown, funny, thrilling, mildly romantic, raw, repulsive, and most importantly, moving. It may have its flaws but is has everything a film fan could want in a movie and it really is a beautiful work of art to lay your eyes on. A phenomenal achievement for the very talented Mr. Hooper and the musical genre.
Halloween Guest Feature: Five Films That Scare… Bubbawheat
I was actually quite honored when Steve asked me to be a guest contributor for his Halloween spectacular. One of the hardest things for me to do is to come up with a list of favorite anythings. If you put something in front of me, I can tell you whether or not I liked it, but it’s hard for me to honestly place one thing above another. Luckily, this is just a list of “five films that scare me” so that’s a plus. I’ve never really been a huge fan of horror movies, the ones I’m most familiar with are the classics that spawned dozens of sequels that were all pretty formulaic and tired. Even when I was younger, I never really got caught by the allure of watching a horror movie that I wasn’t supposed to be watching. I think that’s partly because of the first movie on my list.
I had to have been about 6 or 7 when I first saw this movie, I don’t recall the specific details, but I believe I really wanted to watch it based on the previews, and I enjoyed watching it. But that line at the end must have stuck with me “…turn on all the lights. Check all the closets and cupboards. Look under all the beds. ‘Cause you never can tell. There just might be a gremlin in your house.” I remember that it was the movie Gremlins that made me scared of the dark for about a month. And even though my daughter is currently infatuated with all things monster (from Monster High to Hotel Transylvania) I made her skip that movie when I recently re-watched it.
Of course I have seen my share of horror movies once I passed my teenage years, usually not due to my own choice but rather due to the choosing of my girlfriend or later on, my wife. And while it’s not on my list, I will give an honorable mention to The Grudge which scared the living daylights out of my wife when she first watched it, and not only that but it was the movie that really introduced both of us to the wide world of Asian horror movies, and led us to a more obscure series that fascinates me more than scares me but I have to share it with you.
Tomie: Replay (2000)
There are quite a few Tomie movies that have been released over the years, but my favorite is probably the second one, even though (or possibly because of) it’s the one that most closely follows the conventions of a typical Western horror movie. The concept behind Tomie is that she is a beautiful demon that makes men fall totally in love with her and drives them crazy until they eventually kill her and chop her into pieces. And then those pieces grow into new Tomies and she goes on to start the process over again. It’s such a bizarre premise, but it’s a pretty great movie. Well, this one and Tomie: Rebirth are probably the best, some of the later ones get way to bizarre for my own liking.
Event Horizon (1997)
This movie is on my list because it’s probably the first horror movie that I watched for the purpose of watching a scary movie. It caught my interest because of the sci-fi aspect, and it was recommended to me by a friend. I don’t think I’ve watched it again since, but when I think of movies that are actually scary rather than just movies in the horror genre, this movie usually comes to mind. The scene with the guy (or girl?) suspended by all the hooks was the singular image that really stuck with me for a long time, I also remember the scene where they spend a brief time in the vacuum of space, shutting their eyes tightly to keep them from exploding. It’s interesting what details can stick with you after so many years.
I’m almost ashamed to admit that the only reason why I rented this movie in the first place is because it had Anne Hathaway’s first nude scene in it. It was her first “grown up” movie to try and keep from being pidgeonholed into movies like Princess Diaries and Ella Enchanted. The movie itself isn’t really anything worth mentioning, but for whatever reason the initiation scene which contained the reason why I wanted to see the movie in the first place disturbed me a little more than I thought it would. If you haven’t seen it, and I wouldn’t really recommend it, Anne Hathaway and Bijou Phillips play gangsta wannabes who end up trying to get into a real gang. Their initiation is they roll a die and that’s how many guys they have to sleep with. Hathaway is lucky and rolls a one and has her tender moment with the guy she likes, but her friend rolls a 3 or 4 and only after they start to they find out that it’s how many guys they have to sleep with, at the same time. I can’t put my finger on it, and it probably sounds silly to describe it but when she’s bouncing back and forth between two guys, it just stayed in my mind in the worst way.
Son of the Mask (2005)
The final movie on this list scares me to think that it somehow actually got made in the first place. It is one of the most awful movies I’ve ever seen and I’ve seen quite a few awful movies. They took a good movie, a couple good actors (and several bad ones), and came up with a movie where I wanted to hide my eyes more times than any so-called scary movie I’ve ever seen, and I had to figure out some way to toss in a superhero/comic book movie, I just couldn’t help myself.
A little about Bubbawheat:
Bubbawheat is the author of Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights, a review site focused on reviewing superhero and comic book movies, as well as featuring superhero themed fan-films and interviewing the fan-filmmakers. When he’s not watching superhero movies, he spends his time with watching children’s movies and romantic comedies with his wife and 5-year old daughter and has recently moved to the Chicago area. You can follow him on Facebook facebook.com/flightstightsandmovienights , on Twitter twitter.com/Bubbawheat , and he’s also a member of the As You Watch podcast podomatic.com/asyouwatch
Video Review: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Video review of the new Batman film The Dark Knight Rises. This was a tough film to discuss due to content that many may label as spoilers. I really tried to avoid revealing anything that will ruin the experience so please do not judge the video too harshly. Also, my heart goes out to the victims of the shooting in Colorado. It is a shame that someone had to ruin something that was meant to be fun and exciting. My deepest sympathies are with the families of the victims.
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
by Steve Habrat
It is finally here, folks! One of the most anticipated films of all time is finally crashing into theaters and everyone is dying to know if it lives up to the sky high expectations that have been set by critics, fanboys, and average moviegoers alike. Well folks, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, the final installment in his wildly prevalent Batman franchise, does live up to the gigantic expectations. In fact, it lives up to those expectations and then blows them to smithereens. If you can believe it, Nolan manages to craft a film that is bleaker and darker than anything he came up with in his shadowy origin tale or his chilling bridge film. This goes way beyond dark territory and dives headlong into black no man’s land. Nolan pits our flesh and blood hero against a foe that he is no match for and throws in an evil plot to end all other evil plots. Raising the bar even higher than he did with 2008’s showstopper The Dark Knight, Nolan once again begins tinkering with the formula of the superhero movie and what he conjures up is a mammoth ogre of a film that finds itself intrigued with our unshakeable fear of terrorism in our post 9/11 world. It could be called a rehash but Nolan is witty enough to put the lives of hundreds of thousands on the line and with a number like that, there is no way everyone can survive.
I won’t provide too much about the plot in this review so I will stick to the barebones basics. Eight years after the Joker brought Gotham City to its knees, crime has been almost completely scrubbed away from the streets of Gotham. The city still mourns the death of their “white knight” Harvey Dent, who was driven insane by the Clown Prince of Crime and went on a killing spree that left several individuals dead. In an attempt to keep hope alive in Gotham, Batman (Played by Christian Bale) has taken the fall for Dent’s crimes and disappeared from the city. Commissioner Jim Gordon (Played by Gary Oldman) has been grappling with the fact that he has been feeding the public lies and finds himself on the verge of revealing the true Harvey Dent to the citizens of Gotham. Bruce Wayne, who is still licking the wounds he suffered at the hands of Dent and the Joker, stays locked away inside Wayne Manor, which has now been rebuilt. Wayne is shaken out of retirement after he stumbles upon a vampy burglar by the name of Selina Kyle (Played by Anne Hathaway) making off with his mother’s necklace. As Bruce begins to investigate Kyle’s background, he discovers a much larger plot to destroy Gotham City. This plot is being led by the terrifying mercenary Bane (Played by Tom Hardy), who is diligently building an army below the streets of Gotham, waiting for the proper moment to emerge and turn the city to ash.
Dropping the thriller routine that he was fond of in The Dark Knight, Nolan crafts a large-scale disaster epic that leaves our hero scrambling to gather all the help he can find. He discovers that he may be able to trust Kyle, who is desperate to erase her rocky past any way she can. Batman also finds that he can trust Gotham City beat cop Detective John Blake (Played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an admirer of Batman’s efforts to clean up the city. He also finds help in the usual suspects Lucius Fox (Played by Morgan Freeman), his gadgets man, Commissioner Gordon, and Alfred Pennyworth (Played by Michael Caine), his trusty butler. While The Dark Knight Rises slowly evolves from disaster film into war epic, Nolan bombards the viewer with countless images of destruction and devastation that settles in the pit of your stomach like a rock. We’ve all seen the scenes of the football field collapsing and the overhead shots of bridges getting blown to hell, but that doesn’t soften their impact, especially when Hans Zimmer’s rumbling score joins in. It is through heavy scenes like this that you have to wonder if these new alliances will even make a ripple against Bane’s tidal wave of terror.
While The Dark Knight Rises has plenty of jaw-dropping action sequences, the film is carried off into greatness by the performances of everyone involved. The standouts are definitely the new kids on the block, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The one who steals the movie (fitting for her character) is Hathaway’s Selina Kyle, who is never once referred to as Catwoman. A Robin Hood figure dressed in a black body suit and goggles, Kyle is firecracker as she slinks through this boys show. She gets a kick out of seducing rich men and then taking them for all that they have. While Hathaway is great, she gets some competition from Hardy’s Bane, a hulking terrorist with a fang-like gas mask bolted to his face. While Hardy is given the nearly impossible task of following up Heath Ledger’s Joker, he holds his own as an equally sadistic “liberator” who manhandles anyone who tries to go up against him. Rounding out the new kids is Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s beat cop Blake, a good guy who catches the attention of Commissioner Gordon, and Marion Cotillard’s Miranda Tate, a Wayne Enterprises investor who is desperately trying to shake Bruce Wayne out of his funk.
Then we have the veterans who all exit Gotham City in plenty of style. Bale shines even brighter here as Wayne, now a gaunt recluse who has shut himself out of the world in the wake of what the Joker took from him. You will want to stand up and cheer when Bruce finally leaves the halls of Wayne Manor and hits the streets once again as the Batman. As Batman, Bale brings a ferocity that we haven’t yet seen from him as Batman. We briefly glimpsed it in the interrogation scene in The Dark Knight but here; Batman is a predator that is foaming at the mouth. Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox jumps at the opportunity to get Bruce back in the crime fighting game. He gets to unveil Batman’s latest “wonderful toy” The Bat, a prototype flying machine that is beyond nifty. Caine’s Alfred gets the most emotional moments of the film as he pleads with Bruce to not confront this new evil that is ripping Gotham to shreds. He gets one specific scene with Bruce Wayne that will hit you in the gut like a wrecking ball. Then there is Oldman’s Gordon, who is suffering from the fib he has told about Harvey Dent. You will fight back geeky applause when Batman and Gordon finally reunite after eight years.
Sadly, The Dark Knight Rises does have a few flaws, which are mildly distracting. One in particularly really bothered me but I won’t reveal it here because many may label it a spoiler. There is also one character that is left slightly undeveloped, which was a shame because it would have improved the twist at the end of the film. Despite the flaws, Nolan once again holds up a gritty reflection of our current political backdrop. While I don’t think it was intentional, Nolan touches upon the Occupy Wall Street movement and the 99% rising up against the 1%. The film was written just slightly before the protests but you have to hand it to Nolan for picking up on the tensions. He also can’t resist touching upon terrorism, the theme even heavier here than it was in The Dark Knight. While I am reluctant to say too much about the film because the less you know going in, the better it will be, I can promise you that the last hour of this film is why we go to the movies. You will fight the urge to leap out of your seat and throw air punches as Batman and Bane battle for the fate of Gotham City. I’ll admit that I was fighting back tears in the final moments of the film, Nolan wrapping everything up in the finest way possible, which meant the world to this Batfan. While its few flaws may make it fall short of being a masterpiece, The Dark Knight Rises is easily the best Batman film ever made, the best blockbuster of the summer, and the best film of 2012 so far. If you want my opinion, epic doesn’t even scratch the surface of what Nolan has delivered here. It is a commanding tour de force that will almost make you forget to breathe. A must-see.