Tag Archives: Les Mis

A guide to Les Mis on dvd

lesmisI wrote the obligatory Les Mis review back in January, after its (Leicester based) premiere on the big screen. Since then, I’ve been to see it more times than I went to the cinema in the whole of 2012. Which, admittedly, was only about four times. But still, what a loser.

Today it is released on DVD. No longer must you attempt discreet silent sobbing into a single Kleenex Balsam while sharing an arm rest with a stranger. Instead you can watch it the privacy of your own home, clutching a loo roll in the fetal position on your sofa, the way Victor Hugo would have wanted.

It’s about 3 hours long which, I agree, is quite a commitment. So here are my must see moments, in their painstaking, obsessive, chronological entirety.

1. Enter Colm Wilkinson (0:07:14)
The first few minutes of the film are a little disconcerting, even for a hysterical fan such as myself. I was still reeling from the fact that Hugh Jackman was Irish and Russell Crowe couldn’t sing, when suddenly Colm Wilkinson (who originated the role of Valjean in the West End AND Broadway, so he knows his shit, people) turned up as the kindly Bishop, brandishing those candlesticks, and reassured me that it was all going to be ok.

2. Fantine nods (0:16:03)
At this point she’s still part of the factory chorus. Though she stands out a mile off because she’s a) the only one wearing pink and b) Anne Hathaway. “Pay the landlord, pay the shop. Keep on working as long as you’re able.” she sings, with the steely determination of someone who knows she isn’t going to be in a job much longer. Not that job, anyway.

3. The sniff that won the Academy Award (0:29:40)
This performance is perfect for many reasons, not least because it represents the moment everyone stopped associating the song with a reality TV contestant. I Dreamed a Dream is filmed as one continuous tight shot of Hathaway’s Oscar winning face. But my favourite sniff in particular occurs here.

4. When Jackman gets it (0:37:37)
These songs have been performed on stage for 18 years. Those are some big boots to fill, and at the beginning Hugh’s shoe size waivers. But it’s in the gathering up his belongings (candlesticks, mainly) section of Who Am I? when he suddenly makes the role his own. Glancing up at the heavens during his surprisingly subtle utterance of the line “my soul belongs to God, I know, I made that bargain long ago”, he nails it.

5. Valjean stealth failure (1:00:32)
Jean Valjean is many things; world’s strongest man, Mayor, bread thief. But he certainly isn’t an expert when it comes to stealth. This is showcased earlier in the film, when he attempts to steal some silver platters from the Bishop by drop kicking them out of an open door (0:08:39). However he surpasses this moment when stumbling into the church yard, whispering “we need to disappear” and then immediately launching into song at the top of his lungs. Brilliant.

6. Size zero Eponine (1:07:45)
We get a few glimpses of Eponine mooching around in the background, batting her grubby eyelashes at Marius. But this is the first time we see a full length shot of her, and her eye watering corset. My official scientific calculations put her waist at half the size of a Cadbury Creme Egg. Or something. I couldn’t be bothered to get off the sofa to measure it.

7. Vacuous Cosette (1:08:10)
Cosette is a bit of a nothing character. Her main purpose is to sing the really high twiddly notes that no one else can hit during the group numbers. Aside from that she just stands around looking dead eyed to the point where you wonder if her bonnet isn’t tied a bit too tight. It’s kind of a testament to Amanda Seyfried that she pulled this off to perfection.

8. Marius & Enjolras walk into certain death in order to save face (1:34:48)
You know when you’re on a night out with your mates and an elaborate drunken plan is hatched to go to Blackpool for the weekend, and then the next morning you all play cancellation chicken, because you don’t want to be a spoilsport, but you really don’t want to drive to Blackpool? That’s essentially what Marius & Enjolras do at this moment.

9. The shit barricades (1:35:56)
Books rely entirely on your imagination to create a vivid picture. Theatre relies on basic set and a suspension of disbelief. Films are supposed to do all that for you. On stage, the barricades are an all singing, all dancing, revolving masterpiece. In the movie, which had a not insubstantial $61 million budget, the barricades are built from a couple of old chairs. 

10. Enjolras’s death back-flip (1:57:50)
There are multiple deaths in this movie, from the tragedy of Fantine saying goodbye to her daughter, to the exquisite crunch of Russell Crowe’s vocal chords snapping in the sea. But Enjolras hanging backwards out of the window, red flag in hand, is a wonderful chest punching nod to the theatre goers in the audience. 

11. The Shawshank Redemption homage (2:00:38)
After dragging his future son-in-law (rather than just a bag of shoes and some money laundering paperwork) through endless sewers, Jackman emerges covered head to toe in shit, save for his beady white eyes. Liquid cinema, in every sense.

12. Grandpa Marius crashes the party (2:09:21)
Alright, so they gave Marius a bit of a back story, made that sacrifice all the more poignant. And, fair enough, Grandpa and his bucket-loads money put on a pretty fancy wedding for the kids. But that does not give him the right to muscle his face into A Heart Full of Love reprise. Dude, wind your wrinkly neck in.

13. The Jackanory bit (2:10:21)
Marius is a sweet kid. When Valjean settles down to have what is obviously a serious important discussion with his new son in law, Marius reacts with an excitable grin, like he’s about to get a bedtime story.

14. The making of Marius (2:11:57)
Moments ago he was grinning like a loon. Then suddenly Marius understands that Valjean is doing a runner, and he’s going to have to pick up the slack. Never mind all that revolution nonsense, this is the moment Marius becomes a man. His voice suddenly and inexplicably breaks, and he practically growls the line “for the sake of Cosette, it must be so”. HOT.

15. Do you hear the people sing? (2:15:30)
Basically, the second the film cuts to the convent (beginning of chapter 19), it’s time to brace yourself for the big finale. It’s a stunning scene, but the bit where Valjean stands up out of the chair with Fantine (2:21:20) is particularly well done. Then the whispered singing, a proper set of barricades, and all the clapping and crying I can muster. Marvellous.

Shall we watch it again?

Failed Critics Podcast: Les Miserables

Do you hear the critics sing?

Podding the thoughts of angry men,

They are the musings of a people who won’t watch Rock of Ages again,

When the bleating of the fool,

Echoes the bleating of the drunk,

There is podcast about to start when tomorrow comes!

That’s right, James has finally managed to persuade the critics back into the cinema to see another musical, and hopefully this time they won’t want to kill him afterwards. Also on our big return we review new releases Gangster Squad, The Sessions, The Impossible, and Quartet.

Join us next week as we review Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. The D is silent, the podcast won’t be…

LISTEN VIA ACAST FOR THE MOST INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE

DIRECT DOWNLOAD LINK

The obligatory Les Misérables review

les mis anne hathawayLes Misérables is my Lord of the Rings. I’ve been anticipating this film for a long time, simultaneously excited and worried they’re going to balls it up.

Let’s tackle the elephant in the room first of all. And no, I don’t mean the actual Elephant of the Bastille monument that the students lark about on in later scenes. I mean Russell Crowe‘s really shit singing. Here’s a little tip for any other theatre producers thinking of transferring their global phenomenon stage musical to the big screen: if there are rumblings about one of your leading actor’s singing not being up to scratch, don’t give him the opening line of the sodding film! My first thought was ‘oh god’. My second thought was ‘I can’t work out what he sounds like and it’s going to bug me for the next 157 minutes’. And my third thought (don’t worry, I’m not going to document every thought that entered my head throughout the film, that would be terrifying) was ‘oh yes, I’ve worked it out’.

The first few minutes are all a bit random really. Crowe’s Javert is great at riding a horse, and being downright menacing, so long as he isn’t carrying a (nasal) tune. Hugh Jackman‘s Valjean looks as rough as someone who’s spent 19 years in prison lugging boats around has every right to and, when he speaks, he sounds like he has a mouthful of spoons. That, coupled with the fact that they’re doing this weird sing/talk hybrid, and I can see why newcomers and reluctant viewers might have been a little put off. I struggled to enjoy it at first, and I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Les Mis fan. Ideally, they should have swapped it around a bit, and started the film with one of the more solid performances. But I guess they felt that telling the story out of chronological sequence, Pulp Fiction style, was unbecoming. Bloody theatre snobs.

Luckily, while I was still wondering whether this was actually going to be any good, Anne Hathaway turned up, had all her hair chopped off, sang a song, won an Oscar, and promptly died, all within the space of about 15 minutes. Nailed it, Hathaway.

By now, eight years have passed and Valjean’s had a chance to have a wash and remove all those spoons from his mouth, and scrubs up pretty nicely indeed. Hello Mr Mayor! It’s like that bit in Friends where Monica & Rachel mistake some guy for a yeti, but then he cuts his hair and he’s really hot. Or, you know, a reference to something far more highbrow. He sets off to rescue little Cosette (neatly skimming over the fact that he was kind of responsible for her mother’s untimely death) and give her a better life. Which means that she’ll get to wear pretty bonnets and no longer have to fetch water from that scary well, but she’ll never have any mates ever, and will always have to be ready to abscond at a moment’s notice, because her dad’s in some kind of unexplained, self imposed witness protection scheme.

At this point you should insert a new song, which we all know was crowbarred in to add one more Oscar nomination to the haul. The lyrics should be reminiscent of something Westlife would sing, while perched atop stools on a Top of the Pops stage.

Another nine years pass and, while the French revolution rumbles away in the background, Javert is still hunting for Valjean. Tip: he’s the one lugging the giant candlestick wherever he goes. Meanwhile Cosette falls in love, Valjean prepares to do another runner, and some students get pissed and shout ‘red’ and ‘black’ over and over again. This is all leading to the most rousing, and my absolute favourite, song of the stage show, One Day More. On screen I’m not entirely sure it meshed perfectly, but I’d have to see it again to be sure. At the theatre, this juncture would be your interval. But there’s no time for a gin & tonic at the cinema, people. The bleakness is unremitting as we immediately plough on with act two.

The thing is, I don’t actually find it all that gloomy. Within the context of 19th century France, I’d say they’re quite a cheery bunch really. Nonetheless, the Thénardiers are important for the purposes of comic relief. You would have thought that noted comic actors Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter would have pulled this off with aplomb. But I’m sad to say they did not. Master of the House felt like a dress rehearsal of something that could have, eventually, been great; while other killer lines are lost in the direction altogether. Shame, really.

While I don’t want this review to be entirely about Russell Crowe’s singing (I only want it to be 95% about that), his performance of Stars cannot go unmentioned. Stars is Javert’s big moment. His Anne Hathaway, if you will. Maybe we should give him the benefit of the doubt, and suggest that the director was more concerned with having him balance along the edge of a really tall building than hitting some/any of the big notes. But Stars has been dumbed down so much it is rendered almost meaningless. And I know these songs, let me tell you. I’ve seen Les Misérables probably five times on the West End, plus a couple of school/college performances, and have driven the length of the M5 listening to the CD on more than one occasion.

There is plenty of enjoyment to be gained for fans of the show. The always ridiculous runaway cart becomes the fallen cart, seemingly because they couldn’t even be arsed to push it down a hill this time. The obligatory Cockney kid screaming ‘Vive le Francais!’ is good for a wry smile. And Enjolras pulls off a very fine version of the barricades death back-flip. There is also the amazing moment where, after dragging his future son-in-law (rather than just a bag of shoes and some money laundering paperwork) through endless sewers, Jackman emerges covered head to toe in shit, save for his beady white eyes. It’s brilliantly horrific.

I’m a fan, I’m predisposed to like it. There is good (outstanding) and bad (embarrassingly disappointing). But, ultimately, Les Misérables is more than the sum of its parts. Even if one of those parts is a New Zealand-born Australian actor who sounds like he’s making a three pints down attempt at “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears on Sing Star.

One final note of thanks to the impeccably behaved audience of the completely sold out 8pm showing at Leicester Showcase on Friday night, who watched the film in total silence and applauded at the end. You restored my faith in cinema-going.