Movie review: “Les Miserables”

les miz

We saw the new movie version of “Les Miserables” last Saturday afternoon. I’ve never seen the stage show; naturally I know some of the music (there was a concert performance on TV a long time ago, and naturally I remember George Costanza singing “Master of the House” incessantly on “Seinfeld,” and then there was Susan Boyle).

I don’t know if there’s anyone who doesn’t know the plot by now, but if you don’t, I don’t want to spoil it for you. But it’s full of escapes and tragedy and deathbed scenes, and if your throat doesn’t tighten up at least once, you have no soul.

This is a dream cast: Hugh Jackman as the haunted Jean Valjean, Anne Hathaway as Fantine, Russell Crowe as Javert, Amanda Seyfried (whom I only knew as the daughter in “Mamma Mia”) as Cosette, and a wonderful newcomer, Samantha Barks, as Eponine. Lots of critics have complained that Crowe can’t sing, but frankly I don’t know what they’re talking about; he sings beautifully, and he is properly menacing in his role. I felt sorry for poor Hugh Jackman, though, who has a great voice, but who was forced to sing about half an octave above his comfortable range. His upper register is very weak, so the higher he sings, the feebler he sounds . . . But who cares? He’s Hugh Jackman, and I’d drink a whole tubful of his bathwater if I had the chance. (There’s a scene late in the movie when he sings a high-pitched number, and then speaks a few words in a normal tone, and I swear his voice drops four octaves as he does it.)

Let me just say a word about the wicked innkeeper and his wife, played perfectly by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham-Carter. (Honestly, what happened to Helena? She was such a fresh-faced young girl back in the Eighties. Then she started playing roles like Bellatrix Lestrange in the Harry Potter movies, and the demented pastry-cook in “Sweeney Todd.” And now this! She probably told the movie’s wardrobe department not to worry about her; she’d just bring her own clothes and fright-wig from home.) Sacha and Helena are a treat whenever they’re on the screen; they’re fairy-tale malevolent, but their stupidity and venality always work against them, and their natural goofiness makes you chuckle every time they come on screen.

You’ve probably heard the gimmick of the movie: instead of recording the songs separately, Tom Hooper, the director, made his cast sing right on the spot as they acted. This is an interesting choice; it’s what you get during a stage show, after all, and I think that’s what he was after. Sadly, however, Hooper keeps jabbing the camera into everyone’s face all the time, and it can be a little unnerving.

But these are minor quibbles. It’s an epic story, and this is an epic production. The acting is first-rate, and the sets are just the perfect combination of stage-illusion and reality. If it doesn’t get a handful of Oscar noms, je mangerai mon chapeau.

So get out there, kids.



Aux barricades!

Tough girls: Anne Hathaway edition


Partner and I have not been to the movies much this summer. Neither of us has been feeling great this summer, and – frankly – the summer movies (since “The Avengers,” anyway) haven’t been that appealing.



Finally, last weekend, we went to the movies, and saw “The Dark Knight Rises.”



Oh, kids, it’s got everything: explosions, and Tom Hardy, and Gary Oldman, and Christian Bale, and the destruction of Manhattan (AKA Gotham City), and Liam Neeson.



You know I am mostly about the boys. You expect me to drool over Christian’s abs, or Tom’s gigantically developed chest and back. (All of which are fine, by the way.)



But I want to speak to you about Anne Hathaway.



I always thought of her as a lightweight actress, a comedienne: “Princess Diaries,” “The Devil Wears Prada,” “Alice in Wonderland.” I think she’s very pretty – I love her big dark eyes – but as a gay man, I realize that my estimations of a woman’s sexiness are maybe not the same as a straight man’s.



But Anne Hathaway is utterly wonderful in “The Dark Knight Rises.”


She is Catwoman. The movie is smart enough not to call her by that name. She’s a clever thief who dresses in a tight-fitting cat costume when it suits her. She is skillful enough to baffle the omniscient Batman.



That’s the character. But the actress – ah. Anne is funny. She switches from droll to deadly serious in milliseconds. Her voice goes from obsequious to flat to sarcastic in nothing flat. Her face, even behind a mask, is wonderfully expressive. (Spoiler alert! But not much of a spoiler alert.) At one point in the movie, she and Batman are working in concert. He’s trying to show her how to use his Bat-motorcycle.  He begins to speak –



And she leaps onto the Bat-cycle, revs the motor – vroom vroom! – and looks bored. “Yeah, I think I got it,” she says.



She is a certified tough girl.



There have been lots of Catwomen on TV and in the movies: Eartha Kitt, Julie Newmar, Lee Meriwether, Michelle Pfeiffer, Halle Berry.



Anne Hathaway is the best of the lot.



Vroom vroom!


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