Thursday, January 17, 2013

Les Miserables - 2012

There are few movies like Les Miserables (2012) that know how to find your heart and smash it against the wall.  For me, the most effective movie in this department is Grave of the Fireflies, but Les Mis gets pretty close.

My experience with the musical has been exposure to the songs without knowing all the context.  That is, I've performed almost all of the ensemble pieces, and have used Bring Him Home for an audition piece once or twice.

But this is my first time actually watching the full musical, and the context gives so much more meaning to the songs.  It's almost as if Victor Hugo learned how to capture the essence of pain and suffering and present it in an awesome, complex story.

At first it was hard to get used to everyone singing their lines, even in between songs.  It's difficult to look natural while singing, and this is a big challenge in bringing any musical to the big screen.  Though I must admit, this is the best job I've seen.  After getting used to the style, I often forgot I was watching a musical.

If you don't know the story yet, here's how it starts.  Jean Valjean has just finished serving 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread.  When he gets out, most everyone reviles him, outcasts him, and refuses to give him work.  He thinks he's nothing.  Then a priest takes him and and teaches him that he has a soul and that he really is worth something, and he can still do something good in life.  So, Valjean skips parole and tries to restart his life.

Unfortunately, this attracts the attention of the Inspector Javert, who spends the whole movie tracking down Valjean.

Along the way, we see some really sad states ... mainly views of the poor and how they cope with starvation and cold.  Valjean does what he can to help while at the same time trying to avoid Javert.

This film also seems to try and help us remember what we're supposed to be doing in life.  One thing that struck me, is that it's all too easy to think, "Wow.  That's how they used to live back then?"  But there are people living here in the US today ... just like that.  The film helped me to feel more human.

As for the music, I was most impressed with Jackman's singing.  I would have never guessed he would have been capable of pulling it off.  Hathaway also was superb as Fantine.  Russell Crowe did well with the technique, but his "perfection" got a little distracting.  Sometimes it seemed like he was really saying, "Watch me sing these notes with perfect pitch and perfect rhythm.  This is a triplet.  Wasn't that awesome?  And boy, can I belt!"  I've noticed that the better singers will intentionally play with the rhythms so as to better imitate real speech patterns and sound more natural.

I highly recommend this well executed movie.  Keep the young kids at home.  Also, if you're male, I would make sure that none of your male coworkers watch it at the same time as you.  Or if you do, be ready with this line: "Stupid allergies."

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