Monday, January 07, 2013

Les Miserables

I got a good start on my "do stuff I enjoy" resolution yesterday when I resisted the call of the sofa and went out for a walk in the woods. I got over one of my bits of stubborn that has me refusing to drive to go walking, especially when the walking venue is in walking distance, but I timed the walk to the park with the woods, and it's at least 20 minutes via the least pleasant route. If I drive to the parking lot near the trailhead, a drive that takes less than five minutes, then I have that much more time for fun walking, or I can go walking in the place I like without it being an excursion that takes a couple of hours and leaves me aching. So, I got about half an hour of pleasant romping around in the woods in crisp, cool air.

I realized I haven't yet given any of my impressions of Les Miserables, after all my talk about it ahead of time. I ended up not seeing it with my parents right after Christmas because of the snow and ice, so I finally saw it the weekend after Christmas. Overall, I loved it. It was a little weird to see a movie for the first time when I already had almost every line memorized, but very soon I got caught up in the story and stopped anticipating things based on knowing the musical so well. As I expected, I liked the way they used the things theater can't do -- intimacy and scope. Really seeing the streets of the slums, the countryside, the barricade, etc. instead of just the suggestions on stage made the story come alive in new ways. Also, really seeing the characters' faces up close gave me a new perspective on things. Because of that, I'm in favor of the live, on-set recording method. I don't think it harmed the performances that much (I got the highlights soundtrack when it was a $5 download from Amazon, and the singing is mostly still decent enough to listen to without the visuals), and it avoided the silliness you get in some film musicals when someone is singing at the top of their lungs in a moment when you wouldn't expect them to be able to get much sound out. It made it all seem very immediate and real.

As for the performances themselves, I'm going to go against just about every review I've seen and say that Hugh Jackman was the weak link for me. I'm not a fan of his vocal style in general. He has a nasal, honking, braying style that bugs me. For much of the movie, he kept it in check, but in the big songs, he seemed to forget about that intimacy thing and was singing like he was trying to reach the back of the upper balcony, which brought on the full bray. It was the worst in "Bring Him Home," which was probably too high for his range, where he honked and brayed his way through. That was the one part of the movie in which the singing was physically painful for me.

My other unpopular opinion was that I liked Russell Crowe and his singing. It's a different style than I'm used to with Javert, but it worked for me. His big songs are prayers to a God he's kind of afraid of, since he has a very legalistic belief and can't imagine or understand grace, so it makes sense to have a bit of vulnerability in those songs. These are his private moments between him and God, where he's not keeping up appearances to the world, so when you think about it, it makes more sense for him to go soft and husky rather than shouting to the rafters. On the soundtrack, I find myself listening to his tracks most often, and I find his rendition of "Stars" very moving. In general, he took what can be a cartoony villain and made him very human, and I found that I couldn't take my eyes off him when he was onscreen (and I'm not generally a Crowe fan -- he probably falls into the same category as Jude Law, where I don't think of him as an actor I like, but I find myself liking him when I see him in movies).

The other one I really liked was Eddie Redmayne as Marius. I knew he was a compelling actor after seeing him in last year's "Birdsong" on Masterpiece Theatre, in which his character seldom had lines and was so shut down as to almost convey no emotion, and yet you could see everything that was going through his head on his face and in his eyes. His singing style is also different from the usual Broadway style in that he's very much an English choirboy tenor. He has that crystal-clear tone that you can imagine ringing through a cathedral. He also gave the character a lot more inner life than you usually see on stage, which is helped by the screenplay actually bringing in more of his backstory from the book that's left out of the musical.

Of course, Anne Hathaway's Fantine was wonderful, and the sniffles throughout the theater in her parts of the movie were audible. This was also one of the better Eponines I've seen.

There were some things that were rearranged from the stage version, and I like the changes, for the most part. The way they did "Do You Hear the People Sing?" was particularly awesome (I'm getting goosebumps just thinking about it), and I'm irked that this was left off the soundtrack.

In short, when I have time I hope to see it at the theater at least one more time, and I'll definitely be buying the Blu-Ray when it comes out.

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