Les Misérables

Les Misérables (2012) by Tom Hooper

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Finally, Les Mis opened in Germany! Finally, I watched it!

You might think that this has been a livelong dream of mine, that I could think of nothing else while waiting for it to happen, that I was thrilled by the choices of actors – or devastated. But you would be wrong. I knew very little of Les Misßerables before, and I don’t feel that I know a lot more now. Sure, the plot is fairly clear now, some quotes that I may have heard before make sense – but I have never read the novel by Victor Hugo, I haven’t seen a version of the musical before now.

lesmis4And still, when people started talking about it on the blogosphere, I became intrigued and I wanted to see it – even more so when I heard that Helena Bonham Carter would be in it, singing once again as she had already done on Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Anne Hathaway? Can she sing? Russell Crowe? Can HE sing? Hugh Jackman? Awesome, he can sing! The list of cast just got better and better and then I waited, patiently. Until yesterday:

The year is 1815, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) has spent 19 years in prison, five for stealing a loaf of bread, 14 more because he tried to escape. Now he’s on parole and he’s given the chance to better himself. But he can’t do that while still wearing the stigma of a con – so, he makes his former self disappear and builds a new identity. One, that becomes mayor of some city and a respected businessman. At his factory works a young woman by the name of Fantine (Anne Hathaway) who is dismissed by Valjean’s foreman after finding out that she has an illegitimate child.

Fantine takes to the street while Valjean has to face his past in the figure of lesmis2Javert (Russell Crowe) who was a guard at prison and recognizes the man. Valjean finds Fantine and takes her to the hospital where she dies after Valjean promises her to find her daughter, Cosette, and care for her. He does but has to flee with the small girl (Isabelle Allen) because Javert is after him again. Nine years later in Paris, Valjean and Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) live in hiding. Cosette falls in love with a young revolutionist, Marius (Eddie Redmayne) and Javert once again enters their lives. Trying to escape they are caught up in the machinisms of a revolution and everybody has choices to make, debts to pay.

The story isn’t the greatest part of it, and I’m not even sure if it’s Hugo’s doing or simply the script of even the musical version, but there are certainly a few questions that are left unanswered, a little too many coincidences happening. But these probably shouldn’t even be mentioned in the light of a fantastic cast lesmis3giving a breathtaking performance. Yes, they can all sing and they do. And while they’re all really wonderful, it is Anne Hathaway who blows everyone else out of the water. Oscar-worthy performance? Abso-fucking-lutely (pardon my French, and the pun)! There are no words to discribe her intensity. She makes the audience feel lost with her, makes everyone want to reach out and protect her. She is the face that has been ruined, not by her own doing but by others judging her. She should have lived where others died but she doesn’t. She dies and the audience cries for her.

Luckily, they bring Anne Hathaway back for the grand finale because by then you have missed her – not because it had all turned boring and lame by now but simply because she was THAT good.

Whoelse was good? Well, you guessed it: Helena Bonham Carter. It doesn’t really matter what she does, she does it all fabulously. And the weight of not letting the whole show drudge into misery and sorrow lay heavy on her and Sacha Baron Cohen’s shoulders and they pulled it off and making it look effortlessly.

I’m mentioning these two actresses but I should mention everyone involved. lesmis9The cast was fabulous. I think I was most surprised by the role of Javert. It would have been easy to have him being the villain, somebody who doesn’t care. But Javert does care. He really believes that Valjean belongs in prison, that he’s a dangerous man. He also believes in the system, in the law, and that’s exactly why he must fail in the end – because the system fails him. He is confronted with the question of right and wrong and must admit to himself that he has been wrong all along, because he has put himself on the wrong side. I feel, that his is really the most complex of roles, more so than Valjean’s, because Valjean has the opportunity to redeem himself – Javert doesn’t. And Crowe is really great at protraying this.

There’s another interpretation that lends itself to these two characters, of course. It feels a little like a love story between the two men. None of them seems to have any other romantic linkages but one is always following the other, watching for him. Yes, there’s antagonism but there’s also honor and a sense of one coin with two sides. One is Valjean, the other Javert (their names are eerily similar with the prominant Vj/Jv sounds in them). It’s really a kind of symbioses that binds them, they cannot let go, they cannot carry on.

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There is so much in the story, there’s so much in the songs, there are emotions and thoughts. I will watch it again and listen to the soundtrack and maybe even read the novel – hopefully it will all make sense at some point, or at least the things that I found a little lacking in the plot. It was the only thing that lacked anything really, as this was a brilliant movie. Now go see, if you haven’t already.

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The Thing About Batman…

The Dark Knight Rises (2012) by Christopher Nolan

So, I watched The Dark Knight Rises on Saturday. It’s actually a little weird to say that because after the last Batman-movie I promised myself to never watch another one of those. Why?

The thing about Batman is… that I really don’t like him. As a character. Bruce Wayne is altogether too serious and too snobby to be really likable. I like to compare him with Tony Stark because they are both insanely rich and orphans but Stark is sarcastic, has a wicked sense of humour, while Batman takes everything to heart, is obsessed with saving people. It seems he has to ultimately fail because he will never be able to save his parents. Of course, this comes from someone who is no expert on comic books at all.

Let’s talk a little about the movie then. It was long, and it was also good. What I take from the franchise under Christopher Nolan’s supervision is that everybody is just a person. Nobody has superpowers, some are freakishly disfigured but by some miracle still alive – and are incredibly angry. People are hurting. Our hero is hurting, too, but he still finds it in him to want to make the life of others better.

Gotham seems to be a pit really… this city seems way beyond saving.  And maybe this is another thing about the whole Batman-franchise that I do not like: the dreariness, the bleakness, the darkness. Gotham City is depressing, like some 1930s film noir New York or Chicago, it has too many shadows and in every single one of them lurks an even darker shadow that sometimes wants your money, sometimes your life.

But then there are also things I like about Batman: Everybody is wonderfully three-dimensional. The character development within the franchise is great. The villains are evil because they actually do evil – not like some wannabes who never get their act on (right, Loki?). And then there are some who are not even evil but merely… criminals. Like Catwoman/Selina Kyle in this new installment. And let me tell you – she is glorious. But then she always was. Think Eartha Kitt, think Michelle Pfeiffer, okay, don’t think Halle Berry… Anne Hathaway owns the catsuit and she looks mighty fine in it. She was the reason I watched the movie and I am not even a little disappointed – she can act and she does and she looks good doing it. The one regret I have about her – she and Bruce/Christian Bale had zero chemistry… it happens and maybe it shouldn’t be forced…

Marion Cotillard’s role as Miranda certainly was surprising but it was also very well acted. At first I thought she was wasted as love interest but I had another thing coming and it was gooooood. I guess it is not really surprising that I found the women of the movie more compelling than the males. Though I must say: Blake (or Robin)… Joseph Gordon-Levitt has becomes such a capable actor. And why not continue with only him and have a Robin-movie. This is actually something I would like to watch – despite my misgivings about Gotham City. And I guess I don’t have to mention the awesomeness that were both Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman, right? I mean with those two it’s a given.

So, yeah, it was a good movie. It sure had its lengths but I liked the various topics within the movie about whether the Dent-Act is still valuable even if Dent was not the hero they made him into. And also the socialist component, the question if people like Wayne (rich people) have any purpose…

And then there was this and it made a good movie into a great one:

Alice in Wonderland – or getting 3D-ed

Alice in Wonderland (3D) (2010) by Tim Burton

I should probably start by saying that I have never read Lewis Carroll’s stories about Alice. I am aware there are two, I am aware that they exist, never read, only ever watched. But I am willing to read them should the opportunity occur.

I like Burton’s take on the old story (just like I liked Ridley Scott’s new take on another old story) though something was lacking. In another review about the movie (http://www.afterellen.com/blog/afterelton/review-of-alice-in-wonderland) it was said that it lacks heart. I agree though I don’t share the opinion that the mad hatter is just another Edward Scissorhands. Still, the story shows maybe a little too much enthusiasm for Johnny Depp’s character. Having gone through early resentment of that actor in his 21 Jump Street-days I have come to like him – especially in Burton-films.

Where there is too much Johnny Depp there is too little Helena Bonham Carter. I love that woman. One of the finest actresses ever to come to Hollywood over the big pond and she nails the character of the Queen of Hearts like she does every other role. (I have been a fan of hers since Howard’s End, she’s just brillant!)

My sister commented on Anne Hathaway’s character that she appears to be on dope and I quite agree. Not her best performance in all but I still like her.

What I did not like and have a hard time to come to terms with is 3D. It made complete sense in Avatar, I was glad that Scott did not use it for Robin Hood, and with Alice in Wonderland it seems to have been just another distraction from the story. Maybe it is because I am wearing glasses and another set of them does not make me really happy but I really think that it is mostly much ado about nothing. As I said, it was nice in Avatar because of this wonderful new world of Pandora but I do not think that every other movie has to have it and am honestly surprised that it is seemingly only discovered by Hollywood now. I mean, it has been around for some time, right? Why all that hype now? I don’t get it.

I guess, I don’t have to. But, honestly, dance movies in 3D? Animated movies in 3D? Not for me, thank you very much. I am very happy with 2-dimensional views of my favorites.