Can You Hear The People Sing? Unfortunately, Yes. A Review of Les Miserables

(Ed. Note:  If you found this post by searching for something about killing yourself, please click here and read this other thing I wrote.  I wrote it for you.)

I saw Les Miserables (the movie not the broadway show or the book) on Christmas.  And I was all poised to come here and start with an hilarious riff of jokes about how the movie was directed by the same guy who directed the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics and that if you found yourself riveted by the 14 hour coverage of british people running around a field on your TV screen while you had no idea what was going on or why, then you would probably also love the similarly endless spectacle that is Les Miserables. For the non-French speakers, Les Miserables literally translates from French to English as “you will be absolutely miserable watching this film.”

Overall Rating:  3 guillotines (out of 10)

Rob's review of les miserables

I would have awarded the film a fourth guillotine, but I used it to kill myself during the 7th hour of the movie.

Major spoilers follow, but here are 5 reasons why I didn’t love it:

1)  The story is really bad

Fantine

Although I had heard the music from Les Mis, I had not seen the broadway show or read the book.  So I didn’t know the story, and I was really looking forward to finding out whether the French would once and for all free themselves from Napoleon, who as you may recall from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure was quite the hot head (despite cooling off at the water park).

The main problem with the movie’s story is that it takes what could be a great story and ruins it time and time again.  If you’re conditioned to seeing movies that consider things like “pacing,” “plot,” or “character development,” then you will be disappointed to find that Les Mis, the movie, doesn’t give any of these factors their due.

For example, in the first act of the movie, Anne Hathaway plays a factory worker who gets fired for refusing to bone her manager.  As the sole breadwinner in her family, her termination means that she won’t be able to support her beautiful and important daughter.  I know she is beautiful and important because the movie told me so.  I had not actually met this wonderful little person yet or seen her interact with her mother in any way whatsoever.

To support her daughter, Mademoiselle Hathaway takes up a new job as a prostitute and decides to sell her body – sexually and toothily – to support her family daughter.  This is no doubt an amazing premise for a film.  In fact, another masterpiece of our lifetime proceeded along an almost identical path.  How can anyone forget Demi Moore’s Striptease?

In most movies, a story like Hathaway’s would be the whole movie.  In Les Mis, which is at its core a broadway show, we learn her fate in the course of one and a half songs, which was particularly frustrating because Hathaway is a really great actor and singer and I was totally expected to see her boobs like in Love and Other Drugs.

It feels frustrating and manipulative to tell so much in such a short period of time.  This style works on broadway because musicals typically cover story arcs that are much bigger in scale than movies.  We follow a number of characters, have an intermission to digest what just happened, and then expect resolutions that wrap the show up in a nice little bow.  It’s not a big deal when a character ages 15 years during the intermission and we come back from a binge of Diet Coke and Twizzlers to see that we have a new main character.

2)  The Director made choices that made the story appear even worse.

Likewise, in Broadway shows there is often a lot of stuff happening on the outskirts of the stage that adds to the experience.  So while one person may be singing the song, the chorus, dancers, and other performers are telling little stories of their own during that song.  This adds to the story because viewers can process the bigger picture as they hear the lyrics that push the plot.

This movie adaptation relied way too much on close ups of the actors that ripped the larger context right out from under us.  At times, this worked really well.  For instance, I found most of Anne Hathaway nailed it because she emotes when she sings.  Her singing actually added a whole lot to the song that I knew from when my little sister used to sing it relentlessly in the living room when I was trying to watch a rerun of Saved by the Bell.

Here’s what Director Hooper chose to show every time Russell Crowe (Javert) was singing:

Russel Crowe Performing as Javert in Les Miserables - A drawing

Perhaps if I had been able to see anything more than Crowe’s massive grill, I might have been more interested by this movie.

3)  The Live Singing Actually Got in the Way

I was so excited for this movie because every time I saw a different movie, I got to watch the preview and hear about how exciting it would be to see a live action musical with real singing instead of pre-recorded singing.

The problem with this “innovation” was that it required them to film the whole movie on a soundstage, which makes the whole thing feel like you’re watching actors sing and perform on a stage.  I believe that’s called Broadway.  And if I wanted to see a Broadway musical, I could have seen this one for the 15 or so years that it was playing on Broadway. The movie was a chance for the director to add to the story by using real life places (like France, for instance) to show some context around the story.  Instead, it feels a little hokey.

4)  The theater that I went to was really hot

You try sitting for 5 and a half hours watching people sing on screen in a theater that is 220 degrees.  See how much you enjoy it.

5)  I made the review as long as the movie

So if you haven’t given up on this piece of shit that I’m writing, then go out right away and see Les Mis.  You’ll love it!

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A Reflection on my 2012 Goals that I’m Retroactively Setting for Myself Right Now

Around Thanksgiving of last year, I set out to write a blog post reviewing my accomplishments from 2011 and setting my goals for 2012.  I never got around to it though, because just the thought of embarking on such a task sent me into a tailspin of creative blocks and self-loating that lasted for the rest of my life.  Or at least until my mom sent me on a yogic retreat intended for women experiencing midlife crises.

But now that a year has passed, my creative blocks have disappeared, and my outlook on life has shifted from severe cynicism to just mildly severe cynicism, it seems like a perfect time to reflect on 2012 and retroactively set the goals that I might have imagined for myself a year ago.  Then, I can reflect on how successful I was at achieving those goals.

Goals

Goal 1:  Set attainable goals for myself and then periodically measure my progress.

Damnit!  How can I fail at retroactive goals, you moron?  All I have to do is list out all of my achievements for the year and pretend that they were my goals and then I’ll feel really great about myself.  But nooooo, instead the first one I list is an utter failure.  Damn you mildly severe cynicism!

Okay.  Start over.  Goal number two can be to use the rest of this blog post to imagine what 2011 me might have written on New Year’s Eve 2011 for present me to reflect upon in a hilarious blog post that present me would write while wearing jeans that he had not washed for the entirety of the year.

–A brief aside:  Disregarding for a second that what I am about to say addresses a topic that most certainly has a correct answer, and that I am not sure whether I fall on the good side or bad side of that answer, or that I don’t care about which side I am, here’s something that’s bothering me:  

      I hate people that use the word “an” instead of the word “a” before a word that starts with H and has a hard H sound.  That’s why I said “a hilarious” not “an hilarious.”  I would also say “an hour” because I don’t say “an how-er,” I say “an ow-er.”  Ow starts with a vowel.  How doesn’t.  Did I make this more confusing because hour and how both start with Hs?  How would one spell the sound a hard H makes?  Eight-ch?  Speaking of eight-ch, who decided that g and h should go together?  Ghod?  Probably not, right?  Any way, this whole thought process is giving me an headache.  It’s a probably as ghood a time as any to return to the list of failures goals I set for 2012. 

 

Goal 2:  Run the New York City Marathon

In December of last year, I had hit the nadir of my running life.

graphUnless nadir means top, in which case I mean zenith.  So in an effort to get back in the game and enjoy running again, I came up with an elaborate plan:

Step 1: I forced myself to run the NYC half marathon (check)

Step 2:  I swore I would run my personal record time for that race (check)

Step 3:  Right now, I amended step two to clarify the the word “record” could mean either the fastest or slowest time I’d ever run.  Both would be records, right?  (nailed it!) (suck it mildly severe cynicism!)

Step 4:  While on the 45 minute walk home from the finish line, shivering from the cold, dehydrated, hating running and myself, thinking of nothing other than how I never wanted to ever run ever again in my life for any reason whatsoever, decide that I should definitely run the New York City marathon this year.   (check)

Step 5:  Cancel my entry for the marathon even though canceling does not benefit in me in any way.  It is a courtesy to the New York Road Runners so that they can plan their race accordingly and order one less water.

Step 6:  Have ING and NYRR cancel the marathon and allow all entrants to run the race in a future year!  Except for those who canceled their entry as a courtesy to ING and NYRR.

So, I’m doubly screwed.  Since even if I had spent the entire year training for the marathon my dreams would have been shattered, I am calling this one a win!  Mission accomplished, MF’ers!  I’m a marathoner!

runpic2

Goal 3:  Visit the gym 120 times.

120 visits has been a steady goal of mine since 2008, when I first joined fancy pants Equinox on a whim.  I remember it well because Anne and I had just moved to the Upper West Side, and we both agreed that me joining the fancier (but closer & eucalyptus towel sporting) gym would most likely turn out to be an enormous waste of money.  But I was really lazy, so I disregarded our collective common sense and signed up for Equinox with the promise that I would make sure to visit 120 times for the year.  An impossible goal to achieve, but one that would justify the cost.

Turns out that it worked!  Maybe it was the eucalyptus towels, maybe it was the angle of the mirrors that made me appear slightly less pudgy than I really was, or maybe it was the layout of the locker room in the Connecticut gyms that ensures every other guy will walk nude for an extremely inappropriate distance before grabbing a towel.  No one can be sure.

Whatever it was that got me 120 times in 2008 did not help me this year, when I only had 110 visits.  Why even bother?   I did some research on this, and for optimal results, you should be working out 2 hours a day.  At least according to science:

How many days should i work out    Yahoo  Answers

How many days should i work out    Yahoo  Answers

Goal 4:  Write a blog post that is published by an online media outlet that shares a name with an animal typically found in zoos:

Whoa!  Nailed this one.  Great job, 2012 Rob!:

http://www.elephantjournal.com/2012/12/9-things-i-learned-from-my-first-year-of-yoga-rob-pollak/

Readers, I’ll need your help to achieve a related goal in 2013.  Even after a really great day, fewer people viewed my article than viewed an article titled, “Your ugly vagina is normal and gorgeous.”  So if you want to make me more popular than an ugly vagina, then share my link!  By the way, I’m not linking to the ugly VJJ article for obvious reasons.  (the obvious reason being that you will click and then it will continue to rack up more views than my article).

Goal 5:  Build up my blog a little bit and then lose all of my followers.

Wait, that doesn’t seem like something 2011 me would set out to do.  Oh, ok 2012 Rob.  Then why mention an article about ugly vaginas?  You’re going to drive everyone away.  Or will I?  Google Analytics says that in 2012 the search term that most often directed people to my blog was “Jamaican Penis?”  (This is the space where I am providing a link to the post about Jamaica so no one has to click on a link with the word penis [but if you like clicking on penises, then this is for you: 8======> ) (FYI if you’re reading this mom – that’s internet slang for a picture of a penis).  So if you’ve found me through either of these search terms, Welcome!  Bienvenue!  Bonvenon!  G’Day!  And if that offended you, I’m sorry to see you go.  But at least I won’t have to draw any more thank you pictures.  See ya suckers.

Goal 6:  Eat 200 pints of ice cream.

Finally!  I totally nailed this one.  And not only did I accomplish it, I completed the whole thing by February.

icecream

Up next – My goals for 2013…if I get around to it.

 

Some more personalized thank you notes

Everyone – Now that my blog is blowing up (two new followers today (that makes three total!)), I need to get these personalized drawings out as fast as possible.  That means I’ll have to really read up on those new followers.  In the meantime, here’s the next round to keep you occupied.

Thank you!!!

Solis

Bill Peters Kneafsy

Thank You Readers – Part 3

Only a couple of thank you notes today.  I’m trying to get these done by the end of the year, but the drawings are incredibly intricate  So it takes time.  Nevertheless, got four more done.  So thank you, thank you, thank you.

rebecca

Grasso Rob S Jason