Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Movie Review - Les Misérables

  When the kids were small, Christmas was all about the morning of. On Christmas Eve, we’d empty the stockings the night before, get the kids to bed, and wrap the presents. The kids would wake up early and head downstairs while Kathy and I would enjoy them sorting and opening the presents. Now that Ben is 17 and Matt is 20, there’s not any ‘little kid’ buzz about Christmas. Kathy spent the morning cooking and our neighbor Don, Kathy’s mom, and her husband came over for Christmas lunch. We didn’t open the presents under the tree until late on Christmas night.

  Kathy wanted to see ‘Lincoln’ this past weekend, but we didn’t make it to the Sunday show and now it is out of the theatre in Marshalltown. I would have gone to see it but I don’t know how it could have topped ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’ movie I saw in June since I’m not one of those people who prefer historical accuracy to seeing countless vampires having their heads lopped off by a President of the United States!

  With the Christmas Holiday not devoted to the delight of little kids playing with their toys (not counting the dog toys Daisy and Baxter destroyed), Kathy, Matt, and I went to see the movie 'Les Misérables' in the afternoon. Christmas is a big movie day and there were three highly publicized movies opening on Christmas; Les Misérables, the action movie Django Unchained, and the comedy Parental Guidance.

  The theatre was completely packed for Les Misérables, mostly with older people. The movie is an adaption of a Victor Hugo book and has been done in plays, musicals, and movies many times before. It’s a soap opera type of tale that focuses on Frenchman Jean Valjean journeys after his release from the prison after he served a 19 year sentence for stealing a loaf of bread. He is rescued from a return to prison by a bishop, he owns a factory, he adopts a girl whose mother’s death he unwittingly caused, and he gets mixed up in a failed French revolution.

  This version was a full blown musical with an all-cast, but even a super hero movie junkie like me recognized many of the actors. The main character is played by Hugh Jackman, otherwise known as Wolverine from the X-Men. Anne Hathaway who played the Catwoman in the ‘Dark Knight Rises’ plays the woman who get fired from Valjean’s factory and eventually dies after turning into a prostitute to provide for her daughter. Gladiator’s Russell Crowe plays Valjean’s arch nemesis, Army Officer Javert, who tracks him down across the decades.

  When I see all these actors and actresses in movies or television roles, it’s not readily apparent if they are well rounded performers or just regular people who ended up in the right place at the right time, but seeing them sing and act at the same time gives a greater appreciation for their skills. Crowe didn’t seem to be much of a singer but the rest of the cast was able to handle telling the story through the song well enough and it was a good thing too, since there is no dialog at all.

  I’m not a big fan of all the heavy drama so the tragedy and suffering of the French underclass of the 1800’s was lost on me. The part of the movie I liked best was Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the The Thénardiers, the innkeepers who pickpocket and scam their way throughout the movie. I thought Cohen’s ‘Borat’ was one of the funniest movies ever and he and Carter cracked me up in all three of their comic relief scenes, but especially in their first appearance where they strip their unsuspecting customers down to their shorts.

  The production values of the movie are for the most part outstanding. It looks like the production started to cut corners when it came to the aborted French Revolution stage of the movie which didn’t have the extravagant scenery of the rest of the film, but the rest of the movie had fantastic scenery and costumes. I especially liked how the poor people of France were made to be dirty, ugly, pockmarked, and with grotesque teeth. In most movies and television shows the down and out people have perfect teeth and hair with maybe a smudge of grease on their face or a hole in their shirt to show the overall grittiness of their lives, but the poor people of Les Misérables could fit right in with the Okies of ‘Grapes of Wrath’ or the Friday Night all you can eat buffet at the Chinese restaurant in downtown Marshalltown.

  When the movie was over most of the audience stood up and clapped. I thought the movie was good and I’m sure that it will be up for a bunch of awards as most movies of this type are. It was a welcome change of pace from the action movies I normally go to see (if I was going by myself I’d probably have seen Jack Reacher). The movie is quite long at two and a half hours but the story was good enough that I didn’t notice. When we got home we watched one of the movies I got for Christmas ‘The Dark Knight Rises’. As good a movie as Les Misérables was I doubt I’ll ever come home from an action movie and want to watch it.