Friday, August 30, 2013

I Dreamed a Dream/Opinions Are Like...

I want to share this with you. It's the Nostalgia Critic's review of the recent film version of the Les Miserables musical. I want to talk about this because I've noticed a trend lately. [[WARNING: contains Adult Language, horrible singing, and a minor but still unfair jab at Jar Jar]]

Meet me after the page break.

So the review is Critic, Paw (who I only know from the anniversary specials), and another reviewer who I've only seen in cameos and whose name I forget; I think it's Kyle something-or-other, although in my head he was "Crankypants McNeckbeard" since that seemed to be the role he was filling. Okay, I've never met the man so that might be unfair. But in this review he represented everything I hate about the way film is studied. That super-elitist attitude that a film has to be bad it if doesn't subscribe to exactly what was taught in school. He even launches into a number about how cinematography is like super-important, you guys! - without explaining why the choices made in the film are "bad" beyond the fact that he just doesn't like them. He did have one redeeming moment when he halfheartedly defended Russel Crowe to a point, but more on that later.

I felt parts of their criticism of the film was unfair, and the parts that were fair were mainly problems with the source material going back to the original novel, and since the story has survived so long in spite of all that it's not really a big deal (though, yeah, I'm getting kind of sick of three-day romances). I also love how all of them seem to think they can sing better than the actors in the film when no, no you can't guys. Sorry (or maybe that was the joke?).

So why did I want to share this with you guys? Because of the ending. Nostalgia Critic has been on a real kick lately of no matter how much he dislikes something or disagrees with the choices, he's been ending reviews with a similar message: Everything's flawed, assumptions and expectations skew things and are often wrong, and why let some punk internet reviewer like him dictate what you should or should not like?

I like that. I like that a lot. It shows he's really come a long way since he started all this, and it's one of the reasons I still loyally watch him, even if I disagree with his assessments (Also FOR #@$&'S SAKE, LEAVE LUCASFILM ALONE ALREADY!!!!)

As for my thoughts on the film itself? I had been looking forward to seeing the movie since I had played Thenardier in a non-musical version with my youth theatre troupe, and I was anxious to see the musical and find out what people had been raving about. However, nobody wanted to go with me so I couldn't make it. I got it on DVD a few months back and had resigned myself to waiting for it's Anniversary Review in a decade. However, this review made me want to give you my thoughts on it now.

Honestly, I loved it. It has its issues, many of the same from the review, but as I said most of that is the source material.

The Cinematography? I thought it was awesome. It fit what it was trying to be, made for this very surreal atmosphere. I see no problem with it, though I understand why it might not be everyone's cup of tea (doesn't make it "bad" though).

Russel Crowe as Javert...He wasn't my favorite in this, but it had nothing to do with his singing. I LOVED Russel Crowe's singing in this. It was pleasant, melodic, I totally wasn't expecting him to sound that good given the poor rap his band gets. Russel Crowe's voice was spot on. It just seems so obvious to me that this is a case of misappropriation when people criticize the performance. Clearly Crowe's voice isn't the problem's his face that's the problem. It's the fact that in a film where everyone wears their emotions on their sleeves to the point that I can see Anne Hathaway's Boogers of Anguish (tm), Russel Crowe only has one face: basset hound. That's it. Whether he's angry, shocked, obsessive, or suicidal, his face can't manage more than "slightly depressed puppy." I guarentee you that if Russel Crowe sang exactly the same way but just emoted more, people would be much kinder to his performance. As it is, despite his lack of visible emotion, Crowe's voice made up for it to me enough that I could still enjoy him well enough and he hardly brings the film down.

And as a former Thenardier, what did I link of Cohen and Carter? I liked them! Yes, Carter is kind of playing the same Bellatrix/Lovett sort she's been playing a lot lately, and Cohen is vastly different from what I personally would have done with the character (I had been channeling Grima Wormtongue, if that gives you an idea), but you know what? It works here! They bring up Cohen's inexplicably French accent, and yet fail to realize that it's entirely explicable because he only uses it when interacting with people he's trying to con, ergo it's a con. Because Thenardier is a con artist. I just wish they used him a little more.

The rest of the cast does very well. Not quite interested in Cosette and Marius, but then again that's just the way their characters have always been. Gavrouche was more awesome than I've ever seen him, though.

And what did I think of the most famous music from the most famous musical of all time? Um....mostly underwhelming. Don't get me wrong, it's GOOD, but aside from "Master of the House" and (ironically) "One Day More," it didn't really grab me the way others have. I'm still buying the soundtrack, and I'm sure it'll grow on me, but it's not one of my favorites.

It's a solid adaptation of a really difficult story, and I'll be watching it more and more.

What do YOU think?


  1. "The Cinematography? I thought it was awesome. It fit what it was trying to be, made for this very surreal atmosphere. I see no problem with it, though I understand why it might not be everyone's cup of tea (doesn't make it "bad" though)."

    The answer to your inquiry from above (since it sounds like the video didn't answer it), is that cinematography has a direct effect on the viewer and causes us to feel and react in specific ways. Stuff like the angle of the shot, length from the actor, lighting, choice of lens, etc. all have created in us certain moods and reactions. And so the issue with Hooper's direction here is that his intentions and ambitions don't match up with his choices in cinematography.

    And I mean, look, obviously not everything has to be done "as it's taught in school", but the thing is that film is a craft like any other occupation. It has techniques and tricks and rules in almost every field, from editing to cinematography to scripting to etc.

    And it's perfectly fine to break those rules. But you have to be aware of what you're doing and how it's going to affect the audience (a *great* example of this is in the French New Wave of cinema, in which a lot of directors broke the cardinal rule of editing by removing continuity between scenes- but it totally worked because they were aware of the effect it created and used it to great results in their stories).

    I think I linked it here before, but I highly recommend reading Film Crit Hulk and specifically his article on Hooper and cinematography. He's an extraordinarily great writer whose views on the art of cinema are enormously valuable, and they do so much to enlighten a greater understanding of cinema as we know it today.

    1. I didn't inquire anything.

      There are no rules, only guidelines that change depending on intent. And how do you know Hooper's intent didn't match the outcome? Even if you've somehow found a detailed account of why he did everything, who are you to say there's nobody for which it worked? I mean, you can certainly debate, but to just write it off...

    2. Because it seems eminently clear from documentaries and his work on other elements of the film (like the live singing) that he's trying to go for a very realistic and down-to-earth feel for the film, which thus leads to the hand-held and intense use of close-ups...without understanding that neither of those things directly connect to a film feeling realistic or not.

      I mean, even disregarding thoughts of intent, it still falls victim to a large chunk of the film being shot in the exact same way- Like how almost all the soliloquys are shot in very tight closeups. It works wonders for "I Dreamed a Dream", but doesn't for a song that's supposed to be really pulsating and intense like "What Have I Done?" and frankly gets boring by the end of the film.

      And I mean...there are rules. Like I said, they can be broken if you know what you're doing, but calling them guidelines seems to treat cinema as much less of a skilled process than it actually is. To pick a fairly basic example, there's a rule in lighting that heavy shadows = drama, and even lighting = comedy (that's really simplifying things, but it works for now). So you probably wouldn't want to shoot a rom-com in very stark lighting with lots of shadows because the end result will look like a rom-com where someone is trying to kill their lover. Now, if that's what you want? Great, break that rule.

      But if it isn't...I mean, there'll probably be someone that it will still "work" for, for whatever reason, but I think that's confusing *objective* worth with *artistic* worth. Because there are tons of films that are one and not the other, and artistic worth isn't something that can rightly be measured by a group of signifiers. But when we're talking objectives and craft here (which we are), that's when techniques and guidelines and skills all come into play.

    3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    4. Please do me a favor and never link to that guy again. He just seems another elitist film student, and the Hulk Speak is distracting.

    5. Allow me to elaborate: the camera was placed exactly where it needed to be. Was it hyperrealistic? No, and if that's what he really wanted, then yeah it's technically a flaw. But it still conveys something appropriate for the scene and gets the emotion across (as long as the actors do).

    6. "He just seems another elitist film student"

      Actually he's a working screenwriter in Hollywood, and calling him "elitist" seems to really miss the point of his articles (I mean, the fact that his persona is of the Hulk should speak to how much he appreciates and praises a lot of pop culture stuff). The Hulk speak I agree is distracting at first, but trust me you get used to it very quickly (and if you don't, sometimes I like to just copy it into a word processor and de-caps the thing). But he's seriously one of the nicest and most thoughtful internet critics out there, and shutting him off immediately because he's "elitist" (which is honestly a word you seem to apply a lot without much context) is doing a great disservice. Honestly you're coming off as very close-minded here, which is interesting given the nature of this discussion.

    7. I was open enough to read it. You can talk all day long about more types of shots than I could ever name or recognize, and I respect that. But this attitude, that's what I can only describe as "elitist" because I don't know any other way to describe it. This attitude of "I don't like this so it must be absolutely objectively WRONG," that's what turns me off.

      If you're right about him being oneof the fairest, than that was probably the worst one to show me.

    8. I know I'm very opinionated and self-indulgent, but I at least try my hardest to really emphasize opinion over fact, and I just wish others would do the same.

    9. "This attitude of "I don't like this so it must be absolutely objectively WRONG," that's what turns me off. "

      But that wasn't at all what it was- it was him trying to explain the craft of cinematography and how it applies to this film. It completely wasn't "I don't like this, therefore it's bad" at all, and I'm actually not sure how you picked that up. He's discussing things in objective terms, and is for the most part leaving opinion out of it.

      Fair enough though that it might be a bad one to start with for him (it's one of his "smashier" articles, which are ones he doesn't really like to write and sometimes can come off harsher then they're intended). This one is probably a much better start for him and his mindframe:

    10. That one wasn't bad at all. It's actually very true.

      I'll even repair the other link when I get near a computer (won't work via phone for some reason). I still wholly disagree that there's anything wrong with Les Mis' camerawork per set, but if this is the attitude he's coming from it's worth hearing out.

      I just know that if I ever made a movie you guys would probably hate it.

    11. Well, we wouldn't *hate* the movie, now would we? ;)

      In all seriousness, though, I doubt it. Having different critical opinions on something doesn't mean that any film you make is gonna be "less good" from our perspective. Plus, you could very well make something that speaks to us on an emotional level in such a way that it transcends any objective flaws it might have.

      'Cause that's the great thing about art. At a base level it's full of craft and technique, but there's that personal and subjective level that comes into play that makes the true "worth" different to everyone.

    12. It's just sad when (and I read some more of his stuff) he makes such a great epiphany and then turns around and claims the characterizations in I-III are "outright terrible."

      That's like a brilliant evolutionary scientist in the modern age saying bats are rodents.

  2. As to Les Mis-specific stuff:

    My issue with Russel Crowe wasn't so much the quality of his singing as it was it didn't really fit Javert as a character...Javert is as written extraordinarily single-minded and direct, with an unwavering dedication to the law and the beliefs he holds. That kind of character needs a trained, direct voice, more in line of say Jackman or someone like that. Crowe's voice seemed more in tune with the softer, more humane Valjean (btw I totally wish they had switched roles there. Would've been very interesting).

    And my issue with Cohen/Carter is that (and this is as much an issue with the direction as it is the performance) they *entirely* played the characters up for comedy and ignored the straight menace that's more accurate to the musical and the novel (best expressed in the fact they cut "Dog Eats Dog", which is *crucial* to their characters). They're okay as comic performances, but it falls so much short of how multifaceted the characters really are.

    As to the score: Speaking as someone who's currently working on a set of instrumental tracks of the original musical, the thing about the movie score is that it drastically reorchestrated, rejigged, and changed the tempos of a lot of the numbers, such that it's almost a different score (one of the things they cut out, much to my chagrin, is the more rock-influenced parts of the score- take a listen to this track from one of the musical recordings for an *awesome* electric guitar part when Javert sings:)

    So I would actually recommend either checking out the OBC or, probably better, the Complete Symphonic Recording, which records the entire original show with its original orchestrations. You'll get a much better feel for the score that way and it might end up being more up your alley. I'd also recommend checking out the Tenth Anniversary Concert, as it features the original Valjean (who played the Bishop in the film) and probably the absolute best Javert there ever was (Philip Quast, who's also in the recording I linked above).

    1. I can totally see the switcheroo, actually...

  3. Heheheehehh.....Anne Hathaway's Boogers of Anguish. :D Seriously, her face is such a wrinkle-fest when she cries, non?

    Yeah, I can see what your saying with Russell's face, he looked so stoic. And Sacha
    Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter were the BEST! Though in the book they're
    moreso Complete Monsters with no humor whatsoever than in the film (they make a person coming to their hotel cut their leg off as payment-AND IT'S NOT PLAYED FOR LAUGHS.) from what I've heard. Pretty good if not fairly long movie. Kickass music.