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The annual Christmas movie with the family failed disastrously, so later on Gavin and I, along with Brian, headed off to see a sold out Les Miserables at Gallery Place.  I hadn’t seen the musical before, for whatever that is worth.

There are a handful of solid songs – Walking out of the theater, I probably grumbled something about there only being a good song and a half in the lot.  Upon further reflection, that was wrong, colored by something I’ll get to in the next point.  Still not sure I’ll ever have a desire to listen through the whole soundtrack, but I’ve listened to “I Dreamed a Dream”, “On My Own”, and “One Day More” a few times in the past week, and they are growing on me a lot.  And I kinda dug the march.
Tom Hooper is the worst director of the year – Hooper’s controversial non-stop use of extreme closeups singlehandedly made the movie darn near unwatchable.  Sure, the technique was effective in Anne Hathaway’s arresting take on “I Dreamed a Dream”, even if Hooper was essentially cribbing from John Maybury’s direction for video of Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U”.  You know what isn’t effective?  TWO AND A HALF HOURS OF THAT.
Actors who can sing are important to a musical – And the people in charge of casting generally acquitted themselves quite well.  All of the women (Hathaway, Barks, Seyfried) are more than competent singers.  Regardless of your take on his performance, Hugh Jackman can clearly sing.  Eddie Redmayne is maybe a little too froggy for my taste, but again, not a distraction.  And while Russell Crowe may have the most limited range of the group, I found the stiff raggedness of his singing to actually mesh quite well with his interpretation of Javert.  Of course, you should keep in mind that Guys and Dolls is my favorite movie musical, and it includes the musical stylings of Marlon Brando, so as with most things, it is entirely possible I have no idea what I’m talking about.

I think there’s a compelling story in there somewhere – I’m generally a fan of the 19th century epics, which seemingly always span decades and involve war/revolution, people hiding from their past which inevitably catches up with them, fallen women, true love, someone being spurned, the rigid nature of manners getting in the way of things, and orphans.  Always with the orphans.  Anyway, most of that stuff was in there.
Tom Hooper is the worst director of the year (part two) – Unfortunately, none of things were allowed to build into a cohesive story.  Granted, some of the blame is on the screenwriter and the original French adapters, and maybe even Victor Hugo.  But here’s the thing.    I shouldn’t have to be armed with the full backstory from the stage musical or novel to wishcast a fleshed out plot onto the film.  I also think Hooper’s obsession with extreme close ups prevented him from more completely showing the interactions between characters that I think was needed.
There are a few ‘quels I’d like to see – I found the idea of Javert kinda fascinating, that in order to enforce the laws you need to believe in them completely.  I bet his story would be pretty interesting.  As far as I could tell, Eponine was the only character who isn’t insufferable.  It was kind of frustrating to be dropped in at the tail end of her story, and a credit to Samantha Barks that the character was as compelling as she was.  Not to get all Nicholas Sparks up in here, but I think you’d have a heck of a tearjerker if you keep her portion of the movie as an ending and start at the beginning of her relationship with Marius (hopefully giving him actual depth).  Oh, and a Dennis Dugan-directed spinoff of the Thenardiers, of course.

Let’s not be too harsh on Tom Hooper – I actually enjoyed the “Master of the House” scene, for example.  I think Hooper deftly used space and camerawork to create a dementedly garish romp.
Tom Hooper is the worst director of the year (part three) – Of course, that scene was wildly different, tonally, from the rest of Hooper’s bleak, gray movie.  Jarringly so, to the point where I don’t see how it fits.  I’ve got one more (possibly unfair) criticism.  Again, I haven’t seen the musical on stage, but multiple sources have said part of the appeal is the spectacle of it all.  During the film, however, I noted the smallness of everything multiple times.  The hated close ups, sure.  But also the barricade seemed really insignificant.  And the funeral procession, to me, felt minor, which was off-putting, since the march seemed to indicate something grander.  I guess all this means Hooper was being relatively consistent in his choices, but…why?
I’m running out of nice things to say, so, um, Jean Valjean is a great name – No, seriously.  Say it out loud.  “Jean Valjean”.  It is great!  He should be a secret agent.

If the movie were a sandwich, it would be:  Hard to tell.  Something on a baguette, of course.  The filling smells kind of decent, but the fact that the chef keeps trying to jam the sandwich into your face kinda hinders your ability to enjoy it.

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