I see a lot of Broadway musicals, yet I'm not up to the level of considering myself a theater queen. Maybe my appreciation, but malleable reverence, for the form is why Tom Hooper's very different take on Les Miz blew me away; I had no reservations about the film's much-ballyhooed live-take (and therefore rougher) singing, its emphasis on hitting emotional rather than musical notes.
In the timeless story of a group of characters struggling for happiness or merely for survival on the mean streets of 19th Century France, Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway give two of the most open-hearted performances I can recall seeing in a movie. Jackman's "Jean Valjean"—imprisoned 20 years for stealing bread to help his starving nephew and for attempting to escape—transforms from defiant to embittered to seraphic on his journey to redeem himself, to pay a debt he feels he owes after jumping bail and reinventing himself as a successful mayor. The performance is deeply felt and his singing is beautiful, even if—as with the others—Jackman is usually singing more for the narrative than for ear candy.
As "Fantine," a hapless young mother bullied into a breathtaking slide from a desirable (and therefore resented) working girl to disgraced prostitute, Hathaway shines. Her performance of "I Dreamed a Dream" is as electrifying as Jennifer Hudson's "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" in Dreamgirls—and it should earn her an Oscar, as well.
Russell Crowe as "Javert," Valjean's obsessive nemesis, is a bit wooden and his singing less expressive when compared to those around him, but it's not enough to detract from Hooper's densely emotional epic, nor is the somewhat lazy casting of Helena Bonham Carter as "Mme. Thénardier," a role that's distractingly reminiscent of her turn in Sweeney Todd. Eddie Redmayne as "Marius" and Samantha Barks as "Eponine" live up to Jackman and Hathaway, Sacha Baron Cohen is spot-on as "M. Thénardier," Amanda Seyfried's "Cosette" is sweet and Broadway vet Aaron Tveit is charismatic as the rebel "Enjolras." The children—particularly Daniel Huttlestone as the heart-tugging little shit "Gavroche"—are excellent.
Overall, there is a palpable feeling that all involved took the story and the characters seriously and that each actor understood every word sung. It's a spectacle, but never for spectacle's sake, a darkly lavish opera. I can't recommend it highly enough. This director and his committed ensemble have truly come together to create a film classic.
Mean but funny and the impersonations are a scream!
Beasts of the Southern Wild
BOY CULTURE REVIEW: **** out of ****
Newcomer Benh Zeitlin, using non-actors (or rather, natural-born actors), has directed a mystical, moving poem of a film about a little girl named "Hushpuppy" (Quvenzhané Wallis) barely existing in a remote Louisiana bayou alongside, more than with, her anti-social, free-living, passionately angry father (Dwight Henry). Animalistic in their day-to-day existence—which consists of eating, blowing off steam and in Hushpuppy's case exploring the abandoned bits of civilization that happen to be under their control—the two are at times allies and at other times combatants, but are drawn together when a massive hurricane destroys their ramshackle community.
Haunted by her childish vision of the world as a place of balance where the presumed melting of massive icecaps has caused the storm which in turn has unleashed wandering beasts the likes of which would scare Maurice Sendak, Hushpuppy almost has to be her own grown-up. She will need to draw on her father's many harsh lessons, which are a combination of tough love and abuse. Her mettle is mesmerizing, as is her journey from her ruined home to the world beyond the levee—and back?
I definitely did not get the impression that these people were to be praised for their stubborn refusal to blend in with society. I would like nothing more than for Hushpuppy to be plucked from her squalor and put into school. But that's not something I felt the movie required me to believe. It felt to me more like an examination of how the mind of a child would work under these conditions, and how the human spirit presents itself in less than ideal circumstances.
This movie is an example of how a cerebral, experimental work of art can also be gritty and touching and real. If Wallis is not given an Oscar nomination, the Academy has no credibility. None.
Les Misérables has been shot by Tom Hooper with every actor singing live as each take was shot—the first time this has ever been done. Risky! But judging from this extended featurette, looks like it may pay off...
This is not about merit. Or rather, this is never only about merit, so don't take my observations as endorsements or write-offs.
The producers of this year's Oscars telecast may have gone way populist, hiring attractive young stars James Franco and Anne Hathaway as co-hosts, but the Academy voters have gone the opposite route, shunning a surprisingly large number of glamorous stars who actually merited consideration.
It struck me immediately as I listened to the nominees being announced this morning, the unfun lack of household names except in cases where the performance was beyond locked (Natalie Portman, Annette Bening).
Off the top of my head, major surprise snubs include (in descending order of WTF?): Andrew Garfield for The Social Network (he was the heart of that movie, has acting cred from Boy A and is the next Spider-Man), Ryan Gosling for Blue Valentine (a well-liked, extremely respected actor whose counterpart was honored), Mila Kunis for The Black Swan (she may be a newcomer to critical acclaim but she played two completely different roles, one of which was arguably the title character), Matt Damon for True Grit (an old favorite in one of the year's hardest-charging contenders to steal The Social Network's thunder), Mark Wahlberg for The Fighter (not considered a great thespian but he was responsible for the film existing and was the title character), Julianne Moore for The Kids Are All Right (she's been nominated and overlooked before, but this time was really exceptional).