Les Mis – oh, the beauty!

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As I promised Teeny, I took her to see the Les Miserables movie last night. I didn’t realize just how insanely popular this movie would be. OK, I knew it would be packed. What I didn’t know is that the entire day would be completely sold out before morning! My good buddy managed to get us four tickets for the 10pm show last night – for me, Teeny, herself and her daughter – so we went.  The film didn’t conclude until 1am, and I had to be up five hours later to come to work.

But it was worth it.

Well worth it.

I will say this – I’m someone who knows every single note and every single word of the musical. I’ve been a fan since I was a kid, and it was a bit disconcerting for me to hear actual speech in the movie – not a whole lot, but it was there. There were also a couple of songs I didn’t recognize, and lyrics had been changed a bit, as well as the order of some musical numbers. Yes, I’m that anal retentive about it.

People like me, who are very familiar with the musical, and expect the movie to be just like the musical are in for a rude awakening. It isn’t. The movie is able to do things that the stage never will. There are close-ups, there is elaborate cinematography, the actors have the ability to whisper and add a whole new vocal and emotional range to the performance. They don’t necessarily have to be in tune. They don’t necessarily have to make every note heard. To me – this adds more passion, and less…

That sounds contradictory, but it’s not. In a movie, the actor can sing, cry, whisper and scream, if need be. That doesn’t necessarily lend power and passion to the music – but it does add emotion to the performance. On the stage, it’s all about the music. The sheer power and passion of the music are what hit the audience first. The drama is second. The voice needs to carry and needs to portray the emotion that the majority of the audience cannot see in the actor’s face, so the actor has to inject that emotion and that power into the actual singing. In the movie, it’s not always necessary. Russel Crowe – as good as he was as Javert – can’t hold the note, doesn’t have the power in his singing, and often cuts himself short. Notes I was accustomed to hearing belted with the most awesome power and held were sometimes cut off by a sob or a whisper. The scene where Jean Valjean finally dies – I was accustomed to hearing a multi-part harmony that included Fantine and Eponine (Take my hand, and lead me to salvation; take my love, for love is everlasting). It didn’t happen. Fantine is the only one Valjean “sees” on his death bed, and the Bishop, who saved Valjean’s soul for God (portrayed by the legendary Colm Wilkinson, who originated the role of Jean Valjean on Broadway as well as in Britain – something that took my breath away) led him to that path to heaven.

This is not a bad thing. Just different.

All that said, I loved it. The actors gave it their all. Hugh Jackman, whom I have loved in every film I’ve seen, was tremendous as the lead character. Not only does he have a beautiful tenor (no, he’s no Alfie Boe, whose voice makes me literally melt into little puddles of goo on the floor every time he opens his mouth), but he’s so passionate about that role, so honest, so… Valjean!

Anne Hathaway, whom I always considered a bit bubble-gum, gave the performance of a lifetime. Ugly, raw and completely filled with hatred for mankind – saved only by the kindness of Jean Valjean, who was filled with a similar raw hatred before being saved by the Bishop of Digne. First she sells her locket, which contains a lock of hair from her daughter Cosette. Then she sells her hair. Then she sells her teeth – is literally held down as her teeth are pulled out of her mouth with a dirty instrument of some sort (a part that is not in the original play), and ultimately, sells her body.

Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of Marius was equally beautiful, intelligent, passionate and innocent. Teeny said she cried when he sang “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.”

Sasha Baron Cohen (of Borat fame) and Helena Bonham Carter (who excels at playing weird, creepy and hideous) were absolutely stunning as the Thenardiers. Bonham Carter is no stranger to musicals, having played Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd, and for those who paid attention, she did a mini-tribute to Sondheim’s creepy dark musical about the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, when a human remain was dropped into the meat grinder, along with other gross items such as a cat’s tail during the Thenardiers’ big number “Master of the House.”

The weak parts, if you can call them that? I’d say Amanda Seyfried, whose very pretty voice isn’t quite the soprano that it should be and sounds a bit squeaky at times, especially on the really high notes (that last one in “A Heart Full of Love”). And Russell Crowe, whom I love dearly, but who just doesn’t seem comfortable with this style of singing. That is not to say these two weren’t good. They were. Good, not great. And they didn’t detract. Seyfried was innocent and sweet, despite some difficulty with the vocals, and Crowe is… well… Crowe. He may not be Norm Lewis, whose effortless baritone literally brings tears to my eyes, and who was a phenomenal Javert in the 25th Anniversary Concert, but he’s so honest about that role, it’s tough not to like him!

All the crazy camera angles were sometimes a little disconcerting, especially, when you get an all-too-close close-up of the snot leaking out of Anne Hathaway’s nose during “I Dreamed a Dream,” but hey – no movie is perfect, and this one is wonderful, despite its flaws.

The munchkins and I are off to see Les Miserables in the theater tonight! Let’s see what they think of the stage production!

Atlas has shrugged

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I took off an hour early on Friday to see Atlas Shrugged. For those of you unfamiliar with the book or its ideas, the movie will actually help you understand the ideas in that gargantuan tome a bit better.

Short version: America has become a society that penalizes achievement. The “rich” are taxed more and more, regulated more and more, and the overreaching government is busy redistributing what wealth is left from the producers to the looters in an age where gas is nearly $40 per gallon, infrastructure is crumbling and there are precious few producers left in the country.  They’re disappearing one-by-one.


This was a relatively low-budget flick.  At a time when producing a movie costs more than the GDPs of some small countries, Atlas Shrugged – the first of 3 parts – cost only $10 million to produce.

You will hear a lot of criticism about the crappy special effects… plenty of grousing about the transformation of a rather lengthy book into a 100 minute movie… much complaining about the lack of big names in the movie – all the actors have TV credits to their names – most of them quite limited.

And yet…

There’s something honest and dedicated about this movie. The beautiful Taylor Schilling does an admirable job as Dagny Taggart, the railroad executive who struggles to save her first love – her family’s railroad from destruction .  She plays Dagny with courage and conviction – with passion and honesty rarely seen in Hollywood.

Yes, they tailored the script and cut out a lot of what I consider to be absolutely clunky dialogue in the novel.  Ayn Rand was an idealist and somewhat of a prophet. The novel’s premises, plot and principles are as sound today as they were  more than 60 years ago.  However I have always thought the dialogue to be stiff, and the preachy lecturing with which the main characters inundate the reader a bit too much.

The movie moves.  It shows a future toward which we are barreling at top speed – a future foreseen by Ayn Rand in 1957 and apparently embraced by the politicians of today.  Increased government spending, efforts to penalize the producers – those who actually drive the economy – with higher taxes and claims that they merely don’t contribute enough. It’s an end those of us who follow such events can foresee in not to far a future.  The movie shows that future in stark detail.

So what, if the actors in it are mere unknowns?

So what if it only took $10 million to make?

So what if much of the book’s depth was cut out in order to make a film?

And so what if the critics hate it?

I enjoyed it immensely. I thought the film was a beautiful effort to bring the book to life.

No, I didn’t think Lillian Rearden was cunning enough, and I didn’t think Henry Rearden was guilty enough, and I didn’t think Francisco had enough energy or passion for anything – not Dagny, not his mission and not his own ability and work.  But overall, despite its shortcomings, the movie was a joy to watch. 

I don’t think you’ll be sorry if you spend the money on a ticket.

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