Happy Christmas, DL-ers! The New York Times PANS Les Miserables!
"... bludgeoning and deadly. By the grand finale, when tout le monde is waving the French tricolor in victory, you may instead be raising the white flag in exhausted defeat."
That's everything I wanted for Christmas!
December 24, 2012
The Wretched Lift Their Voices
By MANOHLA DARGIS
In the first long act of “Les Misérables,” Anne Hathaway opens her mouth, and the agony, passion and violence that have decorously idled in the background of this all-singing, all-suffering pop opera pour out. It’s a gusher! She’s playing Fantine, the factory worker turned prostitute turned martyr, and singing the showstopping “I Dreamed a Dream,” her gaunt face splotched red and brown. The artful grunge layered onto the cast can be a distraction, as you imagine assistant dirt wranglers anxiously hovering off camera. Ms. Hathaway, though, holds you rapt with raw, trembling emotion. She devours the song, the scene, the movie, and turns her astonishing, cavernous mouth into a vision of the void.
The director Tom Hooper can be a maddening busybody behind the camera, but this is one number in which he doesn’t try to upstage his performers. Maybe he was worried that Ms. Hathaway would wolf him down too. Whatever the case, he keeps it relatively simple. Moving the camera slightly with her — she lurches somewhat out of frame at one point, suggesting a violent, existential wrenching — he shoots the song in a head-and-shoulder close-up, with the background blurred. By that point, with her dignity and most of her pretty hair gone, Fantine has fallen as far as she can. She has become one of the abject castaways of the musical’s title, a wretched of the earth.
Written by Alain Boublil and the composer Claude-Michel Schönberg (with English-language lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer), the musical “Les Misérables” is of course one really big show, perhaps the biggest and certainly one of the longest-running. Its Web site hints at its reach: Since the English-language version was first performed in London in 1985, it has been translated into 21 languages, performed in 43 countries, won almost 100 awards (Tony, Grammy) and been seen by more than 60 million people. In 1996 Hong Kong mourners sang “Do You Hear the People Sing” to memorialize Tiananmen Square. In 2009 the awkward duckling Susan Boyle became a swan and a world brand with her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” on the television show “Britain’s Got Talent.”
Somewhere amid the grime, power ballads and surging strings there is also Victor Hugo, whose monumental 1862 humanistic novel, “Les Misérables,” was, along with the musical “Oliver!,” Mr. Boublil’s original inspiration. Like the show, Mr. Hooper’s movie opens in 1815 and closes shortly after the quashed June Rebellion of 1832, boiling the story down to a pair of intertwined relationships.
The first pivots on the antagonism of a onetime prison guard, now inspector, Javert (Russell Crowe, strained) toward a former convict, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman, earnest); the second involves the love-at-first-sight swooning between Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) and Marius (Eddie Redmayne), a revolutionary firebrand. As a child, Cosette was rescued by Valjean from her caretakers, the Thénardiers (the energetic Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, who nicely stir, and stink up, the air).
Part of the tug of “Les Misérables” is that it recounts a familiar, reassuring story of oppression, liberation and redemption, complete with period costumes and tear-yanking songs. Georges Sand apparently felt that there was too much Christianity in Hugo’s novel; Mr. Hooper seems to have felt that there wasn’t enough in the musical and, using his camera like a Magic Marker, repeatedly underlines the religious themes that are already narratively and lyrically manifest. In the first number (“Look Down”), set against a digitally enhanced, visibly artificial port, Valjean helps haul an enormous ship into a dock. Dressed mainly in cardinal red, the prisoners pull on ropes, while singing during a lashing rain, with Javert glaring down at them. (And, yes, he will fall.)
By the time the scene ends, Valjean hasn’t just been handed his release papers after 19 years as a prisoner, he has also become a Christ figure, hoisting a preposterously large wooden pole on to his shoulder.
Mr. Hooper’s maximalist approach is evident the very moment the scene begins — the camera swooping, as waves and music crash — setting an overblown tone that rarely quiets. His work in this passage, from the roller-coaster moves of the cameras to the loud incidental noise that muffles the lyrics, undermines his actors and begins to push the musical from spectacle toward bloat. Mr. Jackman suffers the most from Mr. Hooper’s approach, as when Valjean paces up and down a hallway while delivering “What Have I Done,” a to-and-fro that witlessly, needlessly, literalizes the character’s internal struggle.
Mr. Hooper’s decision to shoot the singing live, as opposed to recording everything in postproduction, as has been customary in movie musicals since the 1930s, yields benefits. That’s especially the case with Ms. Hathaway, Mr. Redmayne and Daniel Huttlestone, a scene-stealer who plays the Thénardiers’ young son. (This isn’t the first contemporary musical to resurrect the practice of live singing, which was used for both “At Long Last Love,” directed by Peter Bogdanovich, and “The Commitments,” directed by Alan Parker.) It’s touching, watching performers like Ms. Hathaway and Mr. Redmayne giving it their all, complete with quavering chins and straining tendons. Mr. Redmayne, an appealing actor with a freckled face built for wonder, at times seems to be stretching his long body to hit his higher notes.
Mr. Redmayne’s sincerity complements Ms. Seyfried’s old-fashioned trilling and her wide-eyed appearance, even if their romance lacks spark. Then again, so does the movie. Song after song, as relationships and rebellion bloom, you wait in vain for the movie to, as well, and for the filmmaking to rise to the occasion of both its source material and its hard-working performers.
As he showed in “The King’s Speech” and in the television series “John Adams,” Mr. Hooper can be very good with actors. But his inability to leave any lily ungilded — to direct a scene without tilting or hurtling or throwing the camera around — is bludgeoning and deadly. By the grand finale, when tout le monde is waving the French tricolor in victory, you may instead be raising the white flag in exhausted defeat.
“Les Misérables” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). Gun death, poverty, face boils and revolution.
I didn't realize Patty LuPone posted here.
Some very strange people here.
That's Patti with a "i," R3.
Oh goody, something more for us to trash and make fun of and cheer the downfall of. We just love it here.
What did you expect from Manohla Dargis, the female John Simon - only without the bitchy wit. Meaning she never met a big Hollywood movie she could like.
I'm not a fan of the film - the music was lame 20 years ago, and it hasn't improved with age. However it's just plain nasty not to give Tom Hooper his due. He really did a phenomenal job, as do all the actors, particularly Hugh Jackman.
FWIW, after their first mumber I personally found SBC and HBC just plain annoying, and thought Eddie Redmayne was simperingly unappealing.
Thanks OP, much less painful than actually having to watch it.
Most of the reviews have been equally unfavorable as this one.
Time Magazine came right out and said in print:
[quote] This is a BAD movie.
Doesn't mean it won't do well at the box office, at least initially, but it won't have legs and while it will win some Golden Globes (in the "Musical or Comedy" category), its chances at Oscars are already slipped away...
That's not a pan. He says a lot of positive things about it. Even his comment about being exhausting isn't a damnation of the movie, just that it's big and involving.
[quote]Georges Sand apparently felt that there was too much Christianity in Hugo’s novel; Mr. Hooper seems to have felt that there wasn’t enough in the musical and, using his camera like a Magic Marker, repeatedly underlines the religious themes that are already narratively and lyrically manifest.
I found this interesting. I wonder if he wanted to remain faithful to the novel or if he larded the film with religious themes knowing it would appeal to the evangelical community the way the Passion of the Christ did. The huge Christmas day box office and word-of-mouth is going to propel fundies into the theaters.
"Gun death, poverty, face boils and revolution."
Is that the official tag line?
And last Sunday they just gave it a big puff-piece
I haven't really been paying attention, but why does DL hate this movie or why does DL want this movie to flop?
[quote]However it's just plain nasty not to give Tom Hooper his due. He really did a phenomenal job, as do all the actors, particularly Hugh Jackman.
No, its called reviewing a film. She had a different opinion than you did.
With HUGH do CAROUSEL is Les Mis flops?!?!?
The funniest part is, in the same breath, Manohla Dargis gives Billy Crystal & Bette Midler's "Parental Guidance" a rave!!
And keep in mind, if somneone doesn't like the stage musical and they have to see the movie because it's their job, chances are they are not going to like the movie either.
I think the reviews have been bad enough to keep guys away - and Les Mis has none of the appeal for men that Chicago did. I can't imagine anyone getting dragged to this - it sounds hideous. And a lot of people can use the excuse, "I've already seen it on stage."
This is going to be a dud with a thud.
Also, if you like Russell Crowe it seems like you'd give it a miss. (Though all his films are shit anyway.)
[quote]Les Mis has none of the appeal for men that Chicago did
Men LOVE Jazz Hands!
Down to 72% on RT, the equivalent of a C- on the alphabetical grading system.
Haven't seen it yet myself, but it really will be interesting to see if the generally bad reviews keep audiences away.
Unlike the film of Phantom of the Opera (which has proven as sturdy as Les Miz on stage, if not more so), this film seemed to show such promise and, for me anyway, the trailers do look enticing.
Because the snooty reviews caused The Hobbit to Bomb....
You're really sick, OP.
In other news, the movie is selling out all over the place, today. It's #1.
There's lot's of bad reviews, people I talked to said it''s not very good. But it'll sell tickets.... 25 years worth of fans. And look at Twilight.
[quote]Mr. Hooper’s decision to shoot the singing live, as opposed to recording everything in postproduction, as has been customary in movie musicals since the 1930s, yields benefits.
Wrong. That is exactly the opposite of the practice used in almost every movie musical since the early talkies.
The vocals are the FIRST things recorded early in production, often before a single frame is shot. The musical numbers are then filmed MOS (mitt out sound- with a silent camera), while the actors lip-synch to their own pre-recorded vocals. Then the vocal tracks are added to the silent footage. Since the actors were synching their performance to this same track, they match perfectly. No recording is done in post, just editing.
$20M for one day.
I liked it. Eddie was amazing. He should win BSA.
Eddie should win Best Supporting Dick in my Mouth.
Saw it today. OMG, without a doubt, it is the most ineptly made major Hollywood film I have ever seen. Hooper has no rhythm or finesse, the film just lurches from power ballad to power balled, and the combination of excessive close-ups, egregiously shaky hand-held camera and chainsaw editing makes it not just bombastic but nauseating. An ugly, horrible film. At least 8 people walked out of the theater, never to return, after Hathaway's big number (admittedly, the film's highlight). The movie is an absolute travesty.
Was this film rushed to finish in order to get into theaters on Christmas day and in time for award consideration? They were still doing photography in July. It sounds awfully fast for such a huge budget film.
F&F OP for SPAMMING. This is getting fucking ridiculous.
It didn't make 20, more like 17, which is fine but not great.
And it's in limited release - only playing a few theaters in major cities.
It doesn't go wide until after January 1, but by then the word of mouth will be bad and it will be too late.
It's a Christmas turkey.
Whatever happens to the film at the box office, it is worth noting, once again, Manola Dhargis is a bitch.
R21, men like women in their underwear.
That's one day, R25, at 17.5M, R28. The budget is at least 100 M before marketing and prints, etc. It's still got a way to go.
Thank you for your contribution, R33.
[quote] That's not a pan. He says a lot of positive things about it. Even his comment about being exhausting isn't a damnation of the movie, just that it's big and involving.
No, R10, it's a brutal pan. The quote you reference hasn't got anything to do with it being "big and involving" unless you are out of your fucking mind, which appears to be a distinct possibility. The entire quote reads:
[quote]As he showed in “The King’s Speech” and in the television series “John Adams,” Mr. Hooper can be very good with actors. But his inability to leave any lily ungilded — to direct a scene without tilting or hurtling or throwing the camera around — is bludgeoning and deadly. By the grand finale, when tout le monde is waving the French tricolor in victory, you may instead be raising the white flag in exhausted defeat.
That's definitely a pan. Who are you Les Misistans and what are you doing here?
[quote] Who are you Les Misistans and what are you doing here?
I will never understand the personal investment people like you make in hating something so much. You are a hopeless person.
That's her opinion
I enjoyed it. It was engaging and well done.
r42, I suspect that, for some of us, it has to do with cinema and nothing whatsoever to do with the musical. I've seen everything from Birth of a Nation forward and trust me, this is one of the worst directed films I've ever seen. It was abysmally bad direction. I love musicals, and enjoyed Les Miz on the stage, but this was simply dreadful to watch unfold as cinema.
Oh no, r44. I could have written the first clause of your last sentence myself.
I haven't seen it yet, but will by this upcoming weekend. I hope I'm not too disappointed.
Btw, someone upthread wrote that LM is in limited release. You're wrong. It's on two screens at the cineplex in Green Bay. That's not a "limited release."
[quote]I've seen everything from Birth of a Nation forward and trust me, this is one of the worst directed films I've ever seen.
That's just it, I don't trust you. It got an A from Cinemascore, the audience polling company.
Trolldar reveals r46 to be the overly devensive Les Miz kaween.
We don't trust you, dear. Your "opinions" are informed by your obsessiveness.
[quote]For over 34 years, CinemaScore has been measuring movie appeal by polling moviegoer reactions to major movie releases. The company calculates its "CinemaScore" movie grades for major movie releases in the U.S. and Canada by polling a regionally-balanced and statistically robust sample of opening night moviegoers.
CinemaScore gave it an A. Which means the paying audiences liked it and it will survive on positive word of mouth.
[quote]It doesn't go wide until after January 1, but by then the word of mouth will be bad and it will be too late.
It's worth quoting this again so you can eat your misguided and cunty words, r36.
These anti-Les Mis trolls are the musical version of Republicans who predicted a Romney landslide.
Keep talking trash, folks. It makes you look like even bigger fools.
It's interesting that people are panning the direction...The New York Times was just one of many media sources to pan the direction of The King's Speech, yet it went on to win Best Director. Hooper is a horrible director, but he benefits from the talent of his casts.
That baracade looked awfully small. Guess that was the best way since the production was designed and shot for standard and not wide screen. I'm not talking about the one represented in the dream finale.
Why are you people so overly invested in the success of this movie?
Seriously, what impact does this have on your life that you believe you must fight and troll and generally act like crazed teenaged girls?
Or the directors' definition of bad directing is VERY different from the critics.
New to DL, r51? Fighting over movies and celebs is what we do here. The movie has been promoted as an Oscar-contender, and the Academy Awards are called the gay Superbowl. So naturally there's going to be lots of discussion about it here with people taking sides as if it's a sporting event.
[quote]Why are you people so overly invested in the success of this movie?
Or, why are you people so overly invested in the failure of this movie?
Cinemascore gave Parental Guidance an A-
Clearly a picky bunch of cinephiles!
Haha r55, good catch. That movie has been shredded by almost all critics.
Cinemascore grades do tend to be more positive than critics, primarily because initial audiences for a film are those inclined to like it -- which is why they went to see it, for example, musical fans for Les Miz or action/Tarantino fans for Django Unchained -- and since they paid for it, they don't want to admit that they wasted their money.
Wow, you guys are just determined to shit all over everything.
Why does it matter if people liked this movie? What makes you superior to other people? Does it make you feel like you have good taste to follow the critics and mock the audiences?
So sad that you need critics to decide your opinions for you.
[quote]Cinemascore grades do tend to be more positive than critics, primarily because initial audiences for a film are those inclined to like it
Although in the case of Brad Pitt's last film, critics were much, much more positive than the Cinemascore audience grade.
[quote]Cinemascore gave Parental Guidance an A-
Clearly a picky bunch of cinephiles!
You do realize that Manhola Dargis was one of the 18% of the critics at Rottentomatoes to give Parental Guidance a good review?
Yep, she panned Les Mis, as you can read in OP's post, but said of Parental Guidance "Does it work? You betcha. There are smiles and tears, love and affirmations, a few funny jokes and a lot of easy sentimentality."
D'oh, now r55 has to run out and see this since the NYTimes said it's OK!
Even worse than Dargis and Parental Guidance, A.O Scott (or rather, B.O. Scott) gave a good review to "This is 40."
[quote]Cinemascore gave Parental Guidance an A-
Clearly a picky bunch of cinephiles!
You do realize that "Parental Guidance" is a children's film aimed at eight year olds, not forty somethings. It's a picture parents can drop the kids off at the multiplex to see. So if Cinemascore is polling the audience, chances are they are kids that like the picture.
Um, Parental Guidance is not a kids movie.
r63, it's being sold as a film you can take the whole family to.
I saw the movie today. I was not impressed.
Now, I am big fan of Les MiZ on stage. I have seen it 7x (including 4 times with Colm Wilkinson, once each with Ivan Rutherford, Paul Gemiagnini, and Alfie Boe). I have three versions on CD. So yes, I am one of those big fans of the musical.
I found the movie editing too frantic. Too many closeups, cut-aways, and reaction shots. This is also the first time I did not care about Eponine at all, and not a tear was shed about her fate. In fact, I remained dry-eyed until the penultimate scene with Vanjean & Fantine in the convent. And I really wanted to slap Cosette's shrill vibrato out of her.
"I Dreamed a Dream" and "Empty Chairs" worked well, but Javert's power ballads were a major disappointment.
I would give it a 3 out of 5 stars. Jackman was better than I expected, but not as good as he was in Boy From Oz.
It is now and always has been a terrific bore, complete with fatuous bombast and a dull score. Who in reality actually likes this show in any form?
[quote]Who in reality actually likes this show in any form?
The millions of people all over the world who've seen the stage show. These are the kind of statements that get to me, when people boldly proclaim their opinions to be facts.
[quote]It is now and always has been a terrific bore, complete with fatuous bombast and a dull score.
Then why is the soundtrack currently the #1 best seller on Amazon?
Sorry you don't like the score, but you don't speak for everyone else...did you know that?
I'll speak for myself - it's a big snooze.
It may be terrible--I haven't seen it yet.
But I remember Dargis back from her old days at The Village Voice, and I trust her critical judgement as much now as I did then. Which is not at all. She is a childish, knee-jerk contrarian, and her position at the The Times is a joke.
Who likes the show? Mainly a bunch of nannas and show queens. Why do you think Susan Boyle made a pile from singing this tripe?
Thanks for your reply, r70.
Never liked the show much, but just saw the film (with an audience that adored it) and thought it was fine. It's that material, still, can't do much with that. But the live singing works nicely. At least it's not one deafening power ballad after another, as on stage.
I think I speak for audiences worldwide when I say we prefer Susan Boyle's version of the song to Hathaway's technical and tortured version.
What's your point, r73? Are you better than "nannas and show queens?" Are you a superior person with superior tastes? Are you just above it all and too cool to bother with other peoples interests?
We've officially moved from Les Mis being the flop of 2012 to Les Mis being for low-class people. That's pretty desperate and just plain mean.
Well R74, it was never a high brow entertainment.
What I got from it.
Jarvet literally lived life on the edge.
The movie needed wide screen.
Samantha Barks has a tiny waist. Like Vera-Ellen.
I really missed seeing the character's cocky cap she wore on stage during "On My Own." I know it's because the song was moved a bit from the original placement.
The way Hathaway's scene was shot it appeared that everything happened to her on one day. I know that's not the case but it seemed weird.
I have seen several productions but a positive the film did for me.... clear story line.
"MANOHLA DARGIS" - sounds incurable.
Happy Christmas -- it's grossed $20 million dollars in three days!
I, certainly, am MUCH better than Anna's and show queens if they like those horrible dirges and power ballads.
Watched Les Miserables on Christmas Day, and loved it! Probably the best musical of all time.
Sorry, I meant nanas, not "Anna's"--damned autocorrect.
I'll vote for boring. The stage play never did it for me either though Master of the House was always a great song.
I don't get these arguments that it must be good if it's #1 at the box office or its soundtrack is #1atamazon, that means it must be good.
By that line of reasoning, Danielle Steel is a greater novelist than Virginia Woolf, and Kristen Stewart is a greater actress than Meryl Streep.
[quote] I don't get these arguments that it must be good if it's #1 at the box office or its soundtrack is #1atamazon, that means it must be good.
Maybe it's because you're pretentious.