Best Production Design

Les Miserables (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Les Miserables (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 8 awards, of which it won 3.
Nominated for Best Picture (Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward, Cameron Mackintosh), Best Actor (Hugh Jackman), Best Music–Song (“Suddenly”: Claude-Michel Schönberg, Herbert Kretzmer), Best Production Design (Eve Stewart, Anna Lynch-Robinson), and Best Costume Design (Paco Delgado).
Won Best Supporting Actress (Anne Hathaway), Best Sound Mixing (Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson, Simon Hayes), and Best Makeup (Lisa Westcott, Julie Dartnell).
Watched October 3, 2013.

  

This adaptation of Les Miserables is both deeply loved and deeply hated by many–critics and citizens alike.  The enchanting music and performances are beautiful, but the dutch angles* and static camera work is grating.  For some (book lovers, mostly) the first two parts of the film are what they should be, if a musical can be considered a good representation of the original literature.  For others, the last act is what makes the piece.

 

For myself, the first two thirds of the film were incredibly boring.  There are certain pieces that stand out, but over all it isn’t something that I would be able to watch very often.

 

For those who don’t know, Les Miserables is a story about a man named Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) who is set free from prison and hard labor after serving 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread.  Javert (Russell Crowe) is the guard who sets him free, but Valjean’s papers label him a dangerous man, which make it impossible for him to get a job, something to eat, or a place to stay.  He is shown incredible kindness by a godly man who tells him to turn his life around.  Valjean creates an alias for himself and years later we find him a factory owner and the mayor of a small town.  This happy world is rocked when Javert returns, now as an inspector, although he does not at first recognize Valjean.

 

Distracted by the new inspector, Valjean doesn’t take notice when one of his factory workers is thrown to the streets because she had a child out of wedlock.  Fantine (Anne Hathaway) enters a dark path and in her deepest despair performs the most heart wrenching, memorable solo number of the entire 158 minute film.  Valjean learns of Fantine and her daughter Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) and vows to take care of the girl.

 

In the next act, a rebellion against the crown in stirring in France.  Cosette is a young woman and her beauty attracts another young man who has left behind his family wealth to support the revolution with his friends.  Marius, played by the freckle-faced tenor Eddie Redmayne, sees her but once and is in love.  He must choose between the girl and the revolution.  When Valjean discovers the romance, he must choose between his own freedom or Cosette’s happiness.

 

The film’s biggest strength is director Tom Hooper’s decision to have the cast sing live.  Normally with musicals, they record the tracks before they shoot, but with singing live the actors have a much better opportunity to connect emotionally with their characters and their performance.  There is no debate that Hathaway’s performance of “I Dreamed a Dream” is the best point in the entire film and it is undoubtedly what won her the Oscar.

 

The film captures the darkness of the circumstances, but its biggest flaw is probably the conversion of stage to film–it stays too true to Broadway.  The continuous musical ballads draw out the emotions of characters that we as an audience can see in a split second simply from the actor’s face.  We spend five minutes exploring a single emotion.  On stage this can work brilliantly, especially if you’re sitting in the nosebleed section.  Film is different.  The slightest flicker of emotion can be detected by your audience–we don’t need to marinate in it.

 

My second favourite performance is when Redmayne sang “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.” He expresses perfectly the emotion–the devastation he felt at the loss of his comrades.  The film also did well in showing the sorrow that the soldiers must have felt at killing such young men.

 

There are so many facets to this film, it is hard to discuss them all.  For me, the first two parts of the film were slow and tedious.  They did not hold my attention very well.  If it wasn’t a musical I probably would have enjoyed it, but when there is little to no dialogue, it gets old fast.  Part three, which many critics disliked, was my favourite.  By then I was used to the singing and although certain love stories were a little silly, the character interaction was much more engaging.  The revolution was interesting and its toll was disheartening.

 

If you are a fan of musicals, you will probably love this film.  If you hate musicals, you will hate this film.  There isn’t really an in-between with this Les Miserables.  I will probably see it again, simply because it is so well loved, but I hope it isn’t any time soon.

*Dutch Angle (or dutch tilt) is defined as “a type of camera shot where the camera is tilted off to one side so that the shot is composed with vertical lines at an angle to the side of the frame” (Wikipedia).

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Anna Karenina (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Anna Karenina (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
2/5 Stars
Nominated for 4 awards, of which it won 1.
Nominated for Best Original Score (Dario Marianelli), Best Production Design (Sarah GreenwoodKatie Spencer), and Best Cinematography (Seamus McGarvey).
Won Best Costume Design (Jacqueline Durran).
Watched June 6, 2013.

The story of Anna Karenina is perhaps one of my least favourite so far among the 2013 nominations, which is of course no fault of the screenwriter as it is based on Leo Tolstoy‘s classic novel.  Those who love the story, as well as Tolstoy, don’t worry.  Although my feelings toward Anna and her plot line are less than favorable, I did quite enjoy the stories surrounding her, as well as the interesting style of this latest film.  While the artistic direction may be a bit distracting from the story, I found it quite enchanting and it made me wish that it had been bestowed upon a different story, because then I would have liked to watch it again.

 

This may all be a very complicated way of saying that I have a love-hate relationship with director Joe Wright’s interpretation of Anna Karenina.  It is the story of a woman (Kiera Knightley) in the Russian high society  who does not love her husband (Jude Law).  Instead of remaining faithful so that she may be with her beloved son, she runs off with Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson)–whose mustache is very silly if I do say so myself–and therefore suffers the social backlash.

 

It is this story that I found very annoying.  I didn’t care for Anna and therefore understood none of her decisions.  Her husband, although a bit weak when it comes to home life, was an admirable character.  Vronsky was young and had no idea what he was getting Anna into, and her poor abandoned son doesn’t get much screen time.  I appreciated the story in that it shows an example of why it is morally wrong to cheat on your husband, although Anna mainly suffered the surface repercussions–none of her friends would hang out with her any more.  If the book goes more in depth about this, then perhaps there was not enough time to explore the depth of it more than that in the film.

 

Despite my dislike for the story, again, I quite appreciated the production design and the costumes.  In fact, my love for period pieces is what kept me going through the over two hour film and I wished that the beautiful consuming and innovative sets could have been bestowed on a different plot line.  I liked the side stories, although they seemed somewhat out of place, despite showing a complete turnaround from Anna.

 

I will very readily say that I won’t be seeking out this Anna Karenina adaptation again any time soon, and unless you 1. like the story or 2. have incredible patience, I would advise against watching it just to see the aesthetics.