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!


Economics: fitting together the pieces

Russell-crowe-mind_l


We got back the other day from a Cape Cod vacation, and I was reading over the last few issues of the Financial Times to make sure I didn’t miss anything important.

 

 

And I had the odd impression that I was actually catching on to something.

 

 

Articles about Yemen, Germany, Bahrein.  An article about the Durban summit on the environment (heard much about that in the American news, kids?).  A commentary by Lawrence Summers.

 

 

It all began to feel like – well, do you remember that scene in “A Beautiful Mind” when the crazy genius mathematician John Nash (played by Russell Crowe in a very tight t-shirt) began to understand how everything fit everything together?

 

 

(Of course, John Nash was insane.)

 

 

But this little epiphany of mine doesn’t feel insane.  This feels like the edge of enlightenment. It feels if, if I only knew a tiny bit more about the world economy, the role of Brazil, the intentions of India and China, I could actually figure out what was going to happen next.

 

 

It was exciting.

 

 

This is probably what economics is all about.  I suspect this is what economists feel like all the time; they seem so dry and bookish, but they’re constantly in a state of orgasmic epiphany.  A few months ago, when Dominique Strauss-Kahn was first accused of sexual abuse, the obnoxious Ben Stein did a piece on CBS Sunday Morning defending him (which he basically repeated in print, in the American Spectator), stating (among other things) that such a man wouldn’t do such a thing. 

 

 

The implication was that respected economists don’t do sex.

 

 

I rather suspect that they do.

 

 

Another epiphany!

 

 

So give me the Nobel Prize already. 


 

 

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