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Les Misérables, sniff sniff

After the Oscars, in which the cast performance from Les Misérables nearly brought me to tears (I know, I know) I texted a friend to see if she wanted to go see it in the theatres. We’d gone to see The Hunger Games together and have a good cry, and it was tremendously satisfying, so we thought this would be great fun too.

Les Misérables

I’d seen the stage version, and while the music was good it didn’t really move me and I think I actually dozed off in some of the recitatives. I have not had a lot of luck with live musicals in general – I find the actors too far away for me to perceive any emotion in them, and in their efforts to project emotion they’re forced to the front of the stage to squall at the audience. I find this embarrassing. This is my fault; I love movies so much I think I’m conditioned to have expectations of close-ups and plots that move along with lightning speed. Also, when I was in my first year of university I bought seasons tickets to the opera with my cheap student discount. The opening night opera was a modern one set to a novel by Dostoevsky (if memory serves) and took place in a Siberian prison. I was in my first year of university and exhausted all the time from the course load and working to pay for it all – so my response to being warm, and in the dark, and in a Siberian prison – was of course to fall asleep. That set a pattern. I think I spent the entire season snoozing in the plush velvet seats of the Orpheum. I think I slept through The Marriage of Figaro, which is a great opera, but let’s face it, it’s four hours long.

The advantage of course of live stage productions is that there is an intermission so you can go pee – if you see the movie, it’s also 3 hours long and so gripping you don’t want to leave for the bathroom. Also the entire theatre is weeping so it’s fun to be part of that. Anyway, we were bursting by the time the movie finished. I’m amazed there was any water left in our bodies to excrete as we were weeping so copiously but there was a mad dash for the loos as soon as it was over so we weren’t the only ones. When you have a jumbo pop in a three hour movie with no intermission what do you expect?

Obviously, we loved the movie, and I did prefer it to the stage productions I’ve seen – sorry! I know it’s not very purist of me, but there you have it. It makes a big difference when you can see the actors’ faces close up, and they don’t have to do “big” emoting because of it. They can sing more intensely and passionately because they don’t have to project so far. I’m impressed that they recorded the singing while filming, so they weren’t dubbing in later, and they all managed to imbue the songs with so much emotion and feeling that it was all very touching even to a cynic like me. Eddie Redmayne, Amanda Seyfried and Anne Hathaway have amazing voices and they sounded trained to my admittedly not professional ear. Russell Crowe’s voice is as furry as he is himself, and while he sang well he didn’t have the same clarity and precision as the others. However, he is such a forceful presence that he made an amazing Javert. Hugh Jackman made a powerful, sensitive Valjean and he emotes like a madman. He, Amanda Seyfried and Anne Hathaway all have these huge liquid eyes that they’re able to fill with pain, and sorrow, and joy and every other required emotion. It looks really easy when  you have those enormous eyes. All the actors (excepting the comic ones and they just didn’t have the opportunity in this category) have the quality of vulnerability which came across in film and I think would have been missed on the stage. Is Eddie Redmayne the most incredibly vulnerable-looking actor or is it just me? I spent half the film wondering how he makes his lips tremble like that. Amanda Seyfried’s clear blue eyes and even clearer soprano can melt you like chocolate in a toddler’s hand. You just want to put them all in your pocket like so many kittens.

Sacha Baron Cohen was such awesome fun in his role as the innkeeper Thénardier, which I expected, but it was surprising nonetheless, because he was so good. I liked him better in this than I did in anything else I’ve seen him in (I don’t like his films in general). I thought it was brilliant casting but he was so good it was still a surprise. Helena Bonham Carter is fabulous in everything she does (I’ve loved her since A Room With a View) and she really sucked the marrow out of this particular bone. I love the actors with the versatile faces, who can look beautiful, but tweak their hair a bit, fleck them with makeup and they look totally insane. HBC is definitely one of these and she brings it on in this role. Hugh Jackman was also good in this respect – he is empirically good looking, everybody agrees, but in the opening scene, when Valjean is an enslaved prisoner, he’s almost unrecognizable. He seems to physically manifest pain and agony. It can’t just be the makeup; it’s a gift. His unbearably poignant death scene unleashed a fresh torrent of tears from our audience; you could hardly hear the singing.

Three hours of melodic revolution later, we staggered out of the movie, into the loo, and out again, our makeup smeared and the fronts of our shirts speckled with popcorn bits. Then we happily headed down to Hapa Coal Harbour and had a light post-show meal.

I’ve been on iTunes comparing the vocal performances with the original Broadway cast performances and overall, the Broadway ones are better, although Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne are contenders. Interestingly, in comparing Russell Crowe’s “Stars” with the Broadway version I actually preferred Russell Crowe’s, go figure, because the stage voice seemed less masculine than Crowe’s – as anybody’s would, let’s face it – so the casting agents were definitely on to something. Conclusion: I enjoyed the film version much more than I did the live version. Close-ups and scenery pack a real punch and you just can’t do it all on the stage. I don’t know if I’ll purchase any recordings, mostly because I can’t hear some of these songs without crying and that would disrupt my day. There’s a time and place for everything.

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The Master – another brilliant movie I probably won’t enjoy

The Master is coming out – it stars Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman and critics are raving about it in that “best film I’ve seen all year” way.

I read the review – the acting sounds brilliant, Philip Seymour Hoffman is one of my favorite actors, but I don’t think I’ll be rushing out to see it. It carries the classic hallmarks of the Amazing Critically Acclaimed Movie that I am not going to enjoy. I’ll be impressed, but will I have any fun? Even a lot of black humour films just make me cringe. I couldn’t watch a lot of Seinfeld because I couldn’t stand watching George humiliate himself. I also have trouble with Sacha Baron Cohen’s movies. I enjoyed about 2 minutes of Borat and I hated Bruno. It was just embarrassing. I haven’t seen The Dictator because I’ve learned my lesson.

So many movies are in this category and now I have a sense of what to avoid, thanks to these excellent films:

  • Doubt – I love Meryl Streep but this was not fun to watch
  • Requiem for a Dream
  • No Country for Old Men
  • The Road
  • Leaving Las Vegas
  • Rachel Getting Married and the other wedding film, Margot at the Wedding – not painful but cringe-worthy
  • Fargo – I know it’s supposed to be funny but I found it painful, although I loved the Frances McDormand character
  • Glengarry Glen Ross
  • Lars Von Trier films – Breaking the Waves, gah; Melancholia, double gah
  • Precious
  • Larry Clarke’s Kids – I had nightmares for weeks after this one
  • Once Were Warriors – ditto
  • Paris Trout  – ugh
  • Eyes Wide Shut – for god’s sake
  • Baise-Moi – my French isn’t very good; I didn’t research this before going with a group; I thought it would be a charming French film with subtitles – subtitles yes, charming no! I actually had to leave.

It’s not that I don’t like dramas or indie films, but certain things I find really repugnant to watch. Or I’m embarrassed for the actors. Or the subject is just so depressing. I read a lot; I know bad things happen but it’s just so disturbing to see it presented visually, I’m depressed for days afterwards. Sometimes these films are boring and painful. That’s entertainment!

(While I’m talking about painful movies – this is painful, but worth seeing):

I saw the Japanese film Graveyard of the Fireflies a few years ago; it’s animated, so I didn’t realize how harsh it would be (it was made by Studio Ghibli, the same company that produced Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away). It’s harsh. I cried so hard I had to put a pillow over my face so I didn’t wake the kids. It’s a really good, very powerful, heartbreaking, anti-war film. But when things are animated we tend to have certain expectations. (I blame Disney for this.) Things go downhill, but eventually the cavalry arrives. The cavalry doesn’t arrive in this one. I should have known; Japanese films don’t follow the same storytelling patterns Western ones do. I was so upset afterwards I couldn’t sleep; I had to go downstairs and comfort myself with ice cream. I told the story to Justin the next day and he got teary just hearing my description. I arrived at Japanese preschool to drop the kids the next morning and my face was all messed up from crying all night and the other moms were like, “Are you ok?” All I had to say was, “I saw Graveyard of the Fireflies last night.” They had to process that into Japanese but then they were all, “Ohhhhhh.” But I recommend it. It’s as important a film as Schindler’s List. It’s also, like Schindler’s List, based on a true story. I know; waaaaaah! snif

Yet I love certain types of horror movie. But that’s another post.

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