Monday, December 31, 2012

Movies: "A Late Quartet" and "Les Misérables"

Happy New Year!

I've been home for a couple of days but I've been so tired that I've mostly just been dozing while pretending to surf the net while watching Ian play video games. I had a wonderful, if exhausting, time in Edmonton seeing my friends and family. I wasn't able to have a long visit with everyone but my visits were definitely quality time.

While I was in Edmonton, I saw two movies: A Late Quartet and Les Misérables.

A Late Quartet stars Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Christopher Walken as two members of a string quartet; when Christopher Walken's character discovers that he must retire due to health issues, the entire quartet is thrown into chaos. Long-buried hopes, ideas, dreams, and lusts come to light, fracturing the relationships in the quartet. Watching the relationships unfold and change makes for an engrossing, interesting film.

This is a beautiful, thoughtful movie and I imagine that if you know a lot about music you'd get so much more out of it than I did. What I especially loved about this movie is that it really captured how life-changing an illness is for someone and how changes in one person's life affect the lives of the people around that person. I highly recommend this film.

Les Misérables is the movie adaptation of the stage musical adaptation of Victor Hugo's epic book of the same name. It follows Jean Valjean as he is released from prison, forges a new identity, and tries to escape his past. At the same time, he is raising Cosette, Fantine's daughter whom he promised to raise, and Cosette and a revolutionary fall in love. If it sounds complicated, it is, kind of; there are several stories going on at once and the work covers about 15 years. Underlying these storylines is a question of redemption by asking whether a person can ever redeem bad behaviour and, if they can, whether the behaviour is redeemed through the law or religion.

To be completely honest, I didn't like this movie. My friend loved it, as did many other people who saw it, but I didn't think it was very good. I've been trying to figure out why I didn't like it and it seems that there are a number of things I didn't like.

I've never seen the stage musical and if I had, I suspect I'd have enjoyed this movie so much more. Many of the things I disliked - the lyrics that were simplistic, the tuneless singing that replaces dialogue since the musical is sung-through, and the lack of variety in the music - apparently came straight from the musical. If I'd seen and liked the musical, I most likely would have reacted to them differently while watching the movie.

There were elements unique to the movie that I didn't like, such as the close-up of the actor's face during each and every song. This technique would have been interesting had it been used a few times instead of during every single song. To be fair, the closeness of the close-up varied: sometimes only the actor's face was visible while other times the audience could see the actor's shoulders or their arms. The over-use of the close-up technique quickly becomes terribly monotonous. Oddly, on the other hand, most of the backgrounds were obviously computer-generated without much depth or detail and I found that this detracted from the movie as much as the extreme closeups. If I can count every nose hairs of every singer, why can't I see a realistic, believable background?

I also found that the singing voices of the two main characters - Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean and Russell Crowe as Javert, the policeman who pursues him - were not very strong. I know that Hugh Jackman has a very strong singing voice but in this movie his voice is thin and nasally and lacks depth or feeling. Russell Crowe's voice was not up to the task of singing his part and his voice came across as weak and shallow. This movie was shot with the actors actually singing  their songs instead of lip-syncing them and I wonder if this technique, along with the extreme close-ups, prevented them from using their full voices because they were trying to act and sing at the same time?

The movie wasn't all bad and there were a few bright spots primarily among the supporting cast. Anne Hathaway's performance of "I Dreamed a Dream" as Fantine was moving even in its extreme close-up. I expect that she'll be nominated for an Oscar for that performance. Samantha Barks as Éponine performed very well in her debut film performance, injecting passion into both her voice and mannerisms. Russel Crowe and Hugh Jackman could have used some of this passion themselves!

People who love the musical Les Misérables will love this movie no matter what I or anyone else says about it. If you're not a fan of the musical or you haven't seen it (or listened to one or another recording), I'd recommend that you want for the DVD to come out before seeing this movie, if only because the closeups will be that much smaller on your personal tv.

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