Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Dear readers, it is our first review of the year! Aren't you all excited? Well, I sure am! Let us crack down one of the first movies I saw this year:

Before we go in, I should mention that I am tone-deaf. That is 'tone = I can't sing', 'deaf = I can't, because I don't hear if I or anyone else is off key'. That said, you should know that I loved Gerard Butler in The Phantom Of The Opera and I have no problem whatsoever with Pierce Brosnan in Mamma Mia!. You can guess where I am going with this, however, let's dig in! (Be ready for spoilers!)

Jean Valjean is a prisoner who just got his parole. However, one of the guards, Javert, has his eyes set on him, because he knows that people who are once criminals, will stay such forever. Valjean feels that he got a second chance from life, so he assumes a new identity and works hard to become wealthy. In the town where he is mayor, Javert arrives as the new head of the police, while a young woman by the name of Fantine gets fired from one of Valjean's factories. Fantine almost dies, as she results in selling her hair, teeth and body to be able to send money home for her daughter Cosette. Barely alive, Valjean finds Fantine and feeling awful for what firing her has done, he takes her to a hospital, and on her deathbed he promises to take care of Cosette. However, by now Javert discovers who he is and he tries to arrest him. Valjean saves Cosette from a horrible couple, the Thénardier's, and he decides to raise her on his own instead of giving himself up to the police, as he previously promised. Nine years pass and a young boy, Marius, part of a group of university students contemplating a new french revolution, sets his eyes on Cosette and the two fall in love. However, the Thánardier's daughter Éponine is also in love with Marius, and she is drawn between her feelings and helping her friend get the hand of the one he loves. Valjean, knowing that Javert is close to finding him, and feeling his own age, decides to help this Marius, so someone will take care of his beloved Cosette. The new revolution seems to begin, but it results in nothing but dozens of deaths, among them Marius is hurt, but Valjean saves his life. Upon letting Valjean go, in order to reach a hospital, Javert realizes that his life has been about this chase and feeling that it is over he commits suicide. Marius and Cosette are reunited and Valjean stays strong until his time comes.

Complicated? It is a pretty freaking long book and a three hour long musical, crammed into two and a half hour movie! It is everything, but simple! There are hundreds of details that I skipped, and for a very good reason, but we shall discuss the main points shortly.
It is important to say, that I did not know this story. I had a couple of spoilers, mostly about the love triangle, but otherwise the complexity of the characters and the actual storyline was a complete mystery to me. And with my exams and all I had to be very strong in making sure nothing spoiled it for me! My sister was also interested in seeing, whether or not I would be moved... well, I cried, several times!

First, I'd like to say what the problems were with the movie - trust me, no matter the nominations, there is plenty that is wrong! Among them the one that bothered me more than everything else was the live singing... you need to know that during taping most of the songs are NOT on playback, but the actors got to sing them just as they would in the theater. Now, that is a very bad approach as I have found out after watching the movie. The first song that Valjean has, in the church, is so incredibly boring that I lost interest in the rest of the movies after 2 minutes... It will never be like the live version, it just can't be. Music is the only thing that can convey emotion on the big screen and in scenes were the audience is supposed to rely only on the voice of the actor/actress, you can get lost. I know I did. Second problem is that because of all these live performances on the set, the director totally forgot WHY we needed a movie version, take this example: Fantine sings of how freaking awful her life is now and that there were better times. This scene involves nothing, except us watching Fantine suffer in an abandoned shipwreck... OK, how'bout you show us what it was like before? I couldn't really connect with her pain, seeing that I had no basis of comparison! This is something you cannot do on stage, but this is a movie! Why no flashbacks of Cosette's father or Fantine's youth? I'm supposed to connect with her after 10 minutes of knowing NOTHING, other than that she has a daughter.
Now, I am also sure that moms could immediately relate to her, giving up everything you have to make sure your child is safe is of course one of the most basic maternal instinct. However, if the director wishes to touch a wider audience, then he HAS to use some of the more known movie tricks. The same goes for Éponine's love song to Marius: She is sitting in the rain looking up to something. Don't ask me what, the director completely forgot to show us! Yes, you can guess, but you don't put a face in the corner of the screen, while the rest is pitch black, looking up at god knows what! What is that?
Now, a critique in the make-up department. In many adaptations we have Fantine with brown hair, and in the book she is blonde, or more precisely golden. This is one of the features she shares with Cosette. Now, making her a brunette in the movie only made me more curios about Cosette's father... There is no resemblance whatsoever between the two characters and after Fantine's death, I couldn't care less about her background, you lost me again movie(!), I wanted to know more about the dad. Now, the book goes into details, but this is one of those small things that help the viewer connect characters and story lines.
The next problem is something that was completely messed up story-wise, in the musical itself. Valjean promises to give himself up, and when he finds Cosette, he promises her that he will stay with her forever... OK, lie to the 7 year old, good thinking! This drove me completely insane, because in the book Valjean is at this point presumed dead, so he has no reason to think that Javert is coming, but HERE he just promised Javert that he will give himself up! This little girl has been mistreated all her life, and Valjean just promised her something he cannot physically keep, as his conscience is constantly messing with his head! The next one is about a song, Valjean sings about Marius as if he was the son he never had... his paternal wishes toward having a son have been so far a complete mystery, not to mention that he sings this while watching him sleep... aham, OK. The song ends in him wishing for him to live on, after he dies. Now, this is a straight message to the writers of the musical: This scene would've worked better, if he started singing - stopped, waked him, told him where to meet Cosette - and then continued, wishing he could live on. Instead, he conveniently waits until he is shot and almost dies, not to tell him who he is or where Cosette is, oh no! He just takes him to a hospital after dragging him through the sewers of Paris.
In the end, the last and dumbest is that Valjean tells Marius who he is and he leaves them, but at, what I can only assume was their wedding, the Thénardier's show up, trying to sell information to Marius. We are never told, how much time has passed since Valjean left them. We are never told why the Thénardier's think, they will get any money after telling Marius a couple of things that have no importance now.  Mostly because of the previous point, where are we? What time is this? What happened? What is this party? How do the Thénardier's know where Valjean is? The information they reveal reflects on story points that are only in the book and are never emphasized in the musical.

Biggest missing element is exactly the thing that movies like Harry Potter and comic based series are blamed for: You need to make something for an audience that might have not read the book/comic it is based on and still be able to enjoy it! This movie is solely for those who have seen the musical! And that audience, for the criticism the movie received in the casting department as far as singing goes, will not like it!

That said, I actually liked this movie very much. There are of course some great scenes; the pacing and the editing was of top quality and when the director allowed himself to use the existing score, the scenes just took off and took you on a flight with them!
The first scene that touched me was Éponine's death. (Yes, she dies too!) I think there is something about her love to Marius that everyone can relate to. She stops a soldier from shooting him, and she takes the bullet herself. Marius, after finally understanding how she feels, holds her in his arms until her last breath. The scenery and the use of rain in this scene is really award worth! Next good point is Anne Hathaway, whom was proven herself over the past year, and guess what? She can even sing! She delivered very well. The only reason why Fantine's death didn't touch me was that I couldn't believe it. I was told that the deaths are almost 'Hamlet-like', still, I just kept thinking: she has been here for 30 minutes and she has won every award she has been nominated for so far... WOW!
The last good point, beside Hugh Jackman's impeccable singing and Amanda Seyfried's dear smile, is to Russell Crowe. Now, I hate him. There are no words to define how much! I never liked him in anything, I don't particularly think he is attractive - so any love story is lost on me - and I don't even particularly think of him as a good actor. Well, he got me here. People might criticize his singing, I had no problem with that, but from the first second he appeared he got me. He was not Crowe, he was Javert. Now, he is the villain, but because of his high sense of justice, you can't really hate him. And after realizing that he has spent at first 8 then 9 years looking for Valjean, only to discover that he was wrong, and he is indeed a good man and not a criminal, he comes to question everything he has worked for: There are two sides to every story. I thought that he would commit suicide once he caught him and realized there was nothing out there - but he comes to this conclusion sooner. There is a beautiful returning motif, at first he walks on the edge of a building, secure of himself, and then he walks on the bridge, not so sure before he heads into the Seine. It is really a beautiful scene, and I cried like crazy. The only thing that ruined this moment, is that they show Marius with this 'fisheye lens' view that completely destroys the touching end of Javert. Good going there... Also, the facial hair was totally doing it for me! He looked great! And of course the ending had me going like a little baby!

So, let us conclude. Is it a good movie? Without a doubt. If you like musicals, or any of these actors, then you should definitely check it out! Another reason why I'm glad that it got made, is that Jackman is such a great actor, and yet nobody seems to acknowledge his talents, only because he usually doesn't play in movies that head to the oscars... I am glad that he is finally getting some recognition! At the end of the day I feel that bringing something to the big screen gives opportunity for so much more that the director didn't use and it is such a shame! You might argue, that there wasn't enough time, but then check out a movie like Evita: It has montage scenes and plenty of information is crammed into 90 minutes (!), and it told us more then this movie did. We know the songs, we know who is singing, show us more! Show us more! SHOW US MORE!

If you're looking to impress a lady and console her in your arms, make sure you see this in the theater, but beside a couple of scenes, and literally a couple, this is perfect for a rental! Hang in there, it is almost out!

Coming up next, another FRESH FROM THE THEATRE, afterwards we'll crack The Hunger Games! Stay tuned!
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Jean Valjean - Hugh Jackman
Javert - Russell Crowe
Fantine - Anne Hathaway
Cosette - Amanda Seyfried
Thénardier - Sacha Baron Cohen
Madame Thénardier - Helena Bonham Carter
Marius - Eddie Redmayne
Éponine - Samantha Barks

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