Les Misérables [2012] – Movie Review

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As a person who grew up and went through a French curriculum with Victor Hugo’s novel as its centerpiece at many points, I’ve grown attached to the essence of the novel. I’ve also grown to understand it, know what it contains, understand the message that Hugo wanted to pass on. I’d even joke and say the novel’s impressive spine is a byproduct of Hugo being French – a lot of blabbing for nothing. I’ve taken some of that, as is evident by my wordy blogposts at times. This review will surely turn into one so just skip to the last paragraph if you don’t feel like reading.

My knowledge of Victor Hugo’s most famous 1500-pages novel has led me to conclude that it’s very difficult to turn it into a motion picture. If the previous attempts at this novel weren’t enough proof, Tom Hooper’s take on Les Misérables adds to the growing list of not-nearly-there trials.

The story is known for everyone by now. Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is a French man living around the time of the French revolution and is forced to steal a loaf of bread to save a relative’s life. He is subsequently thrown in jail for 19 years at the end of which he’s released on parole. Valjean, however, breaks his parole and ends up making a decent life for himself as the mayor of a small French town in Northern France called Montreuil-sur-Mer. But Javert (Russell Crowe), the prison warden who was in charge of Valjean, appears back in his life during a visit to the factory run by Valjean, now working under a new name. In that factory works a single mother called Fantine (Anne Hathaway) who gets sacked from her job when her secret of having had a child out of wedlock, Cosette (eventually played by Amanda Seyfried), is discovered. Fantine eventually succumbs to becoming a prostitute and is saved by Valjean who promises to take care of her daughter as he runs away from Javert who’d do anything to catch him, to the backdrop of a growing revolution in the streets of the French youth.

Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables is a full-blown musical. No, it’s not a musical in the sense of a talking movie with a few songs interspersed here and there. It’s a musical in the sense of three hours non-stop singing where even “thank you”s are sung, where reading letters becomes melodic and where, if you’re not a fan of musicals to begin with or not entirely sure what you’re getting yourself into, you’d end up wanting to pull your own hair out. Yes, this version of Les Misérables is definitely not for everyone. Even if you love – scratch that – adore music, Les Misérables might prove a very tough pill to swallow. And at times it really, really is.

Hugh Jackman, who can sing, ends up grating around the 120th minute mark. Russell Crowe on the other hand entirely sheds his Gladiator image for a singing Javert and with his not-so-pleasant singing voice ends up entirely intolerable a few minutes in. Russell Crowe even looks entirely uncomfortable to be there and it reflects on his character, making Javert – a central figure to the story – comical at times. Hugh Jackman has to be commanded for a job well done as Valjean. Few actors can say they can deliver performances as he did with the close-ups he got throughout the movie.

In fact, the actors and actresses in Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables all performed their songs in the movie live. While a piano played in the background to guide them, they acted their songs instead of recording them months in advance and eventually lip-synching them to film.

The single acting performance in the movie that will absolutely blow your socks off is Anne Hathaway, who’s probably aided by the fact that her character isn’t there for long. Hathaway, as Fantine, is brilliant. She deserves all the praise she’s been getting. Her performance of the Susan-Boyle-made-famous song “I Dreamed A Dream” is gut-wrenchingly stunning. She brings the life into her character and gives Fantine a richness which other actors in this movie with more running time couldn’t bestow upon theirs. Hathaway steals every scene she’s in and ends up being the only reason you might walk out of this movie feeling like you hadn’t wasted three hours of your live. Just to watch her do what she does so beautifully. No one is raining on Hathaway’s parade come Award-season time.

Interesting casting choice include Samantha Barks as Eponine, the daughter of the Thénardiers, played by Helena Bonham Carter and Sasha Baron Cohen whose only purpose was to add some comic relief to some tense moments. Barks sings her songs really well and gets you to relate to her character, despite the background. She delivers a nice rendition of “On My Own.”

Les Misérables does have its strong moments, notably the opening scene, Hathaway’s minutes and the ending, but the movie accumulates a lot of off-moments as well that make the result very lopsided. The movie is also extremely long. Thirty minutes (of wailing – singing) could have easily been cut with the story not be affected because few of those songs tell us more about the character and its story, an example being I Dreamed A Dream in which Fantine tells the story of how she reached the misery she was in. The overall result is a movie that feels very in limbo: okay, not great, this is awesome, this is horrible, goosebumps, kill me now. These are all things you will feel while watching Les Misérables.

3.5/5 – – new rating system.

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Top 13 Movies To Be Excited About in 2012

Since 2012 is a few days away, I figured I’d make a small list featuring 13 movies that will be released in 2012, which I am personally excited about. So without further ado, let us begin:

13 – Titanic – 3D

This movie is on my list simply because of the magnitude of its initial version. Like it or not, think it’s been turned into a useless cliche or not, it was until very recently the biggest movie in history.

12 – Men In Black III

Because the first two are fun. Hopefully the third one won’t put a damper on the whole franchise.

11 – Snow White and the Huntsman

This movie is on my list simply because Charlize Theron looks (and sounds) absolutely chilling in it. “Hair black as night, lips red as blood. Give me your heart my dear, dear Snow White.” Also, the TV show Once Upon A Time has boosted my Snow White interest as well.

10 – The Avengers

Most superhero movies we watched were a preparation for this. We liked some and hated others. This, however, should be brainless good fun.

9 – The Master

Amy Adams joins Philip Seymour Hoffman in a 1950s-set drama about a cult leader. What more can you ask for? I’ve decided to include this movie even when there’s neither a poster nor a trailer available to it, mostly based on the caliber of its cast, coupled with the intrigue in its story.

8 – The Amazing Spider-Man

A reboot of the franchise. I hated the third movie but hopefully this will be a much needed return to basics.

7 – Prometheus

Gladiator Ridley Scott’s newest movie. I am a big fan of Scott with his movie screen and TV screen work (The Good Wife for instance). So this movie is definitely on my list.

6 – Skyfall

The new James Bond movie. I personally loved Casino Royal and hated Quantum of Solace. So third time will be the charm for Daniel Craig’s bond.

5 – Les Miserables

We’ve all read the book. We’ve also watched the Liam Neeson version many times when we were younger. But there’s a new version coming to theaters and Victor Hugo’s masterpiece will hopefully be more than well represented. Again, this movie has no trailer nor a poster.

4 – Kill Bin Laden

I hated Kathryn Bigelow’s last movie The Hurt Locker. But this movie, about the operation leading up the assassination of Bin Laden from a Navy Seal’s perspective, looks more interesting and promising. No poster and no trailer available for this as well.

3 – The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Having read the book, I can safely say this will be a brilliant movie. The trailer can’t but get you über excited as well. And it’s Peter Jackson at the helm after all. You simply can’t go wrong with anything Lord of the Ring related.

2 – The Hunger Games

I really can’t wait for this. March is just so far away when it comes to The Hunger Games. The books are epic. The trailer looks brilliant. The song of the movie is stunning. It has Jennifer Lawrence, one of my favorite new actresses. What more can you ask for?

1 – The Dark Knight Rises

Because no other movie deserves to be here other than this. One of the most anticipated sequels to one of the best movies I have ever watched. Christopher Nolan’s Batman is back.

Is there any movie you think should be on this list that I’ve missed? Let me know.