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David Poland

By David Poland

Review: Les Misérables

From the opening shot of the giant fake CG boat and the oil paining waves moving into the rows of men pulling on a rope while having enormous buckets of water thrown in their faces as Russell Crowe looks down on them in a jaunty hat and head-to-toe felt, Les Misérables stinks of faux sincerity.

Why are they pulling the rope? Is the boat that we assume is attached to it moving?

And then, as Crowe’s Javert confronts Jackman’s Jean Valjean for the first time (on screen), Crowe demands that Jackman “retrieve the flag,” which is somehow turned into a Herculean effort. You see, there is a complementary moment later in the film and apparently, Valjean is incredibly strong… which only comes up three times in the film.

The hand-held camera… the Batman angles… and suddenly Jackman is walking at the top of a mountain. Is that near the water?

I am not a moron. I can deal with building the factual reality in my head when the style of the film decides against being literal. But that is what is so much the failure of Les Misérables… it wants it both ways. It wants to be profoundly intimate, suffering in extreme close-up, the singing-on-the-set choice (the endless hype about which has turned it from “choice” to “stunt), and shooting almost completely in singles and tight doubles. Edit. Edit. Edit.

But the material is HUGE and EPIC and MELODRAMATIC.

So the effect of director Tom Hooper’s is like looking at Mount Everest through the wrong side of the binoculars.

I like musicals. Some people think me a sucker for them. I don’t think my actual history confirms that argument. I have shredded a lot more movie musicals in the last 15 years than I have embraced.

In the theater, musicals are profoundly unreal. And that is a part of the experience. Converting a musical – any musical – to film requires an awareness that film is a literal medium. Yes, it’s a bunch of cut up false realities… but the literalism of film is demanding in a different way, which also explains why the greatest stage actors don’t always find success on the big screen.

It’s also why Anne Hathaway is getting the raves she is for Les Mis. We see deep into the eyes of a person we like and as she suffers and then, as she sings about it…. we are moved. This movie star brings her own context. And in that moment, it doesn’t matter that we never see her with her child, that the argument that she should be fired because she has a child and that other women hate her for it makes no sense, or that she goes from innocent to whore and drug addict in a matter of musical minutes.

But she isn’t there to pay the consequences of the undetailed theatricality of it all. Poor Hugh Jackman, who is the most musical-theatrically talented of the group of lead actors, has to carry the exposition while singing and being slathered with dirt… and he pays the price for it by not seeming to give as wonderful a performance as Ms Hathaway. It’s not his performance. It’s the frickin’ movie.

And Russell Crowe is getting the worst of it. He is a rock singer and sings like a rock singer… and I’m fine with that. If that is the director’s choice, you can blame the actor. He is game. And he tries. But Javert is so endlessly myopic and inflexible – and not in an interesting way – that there is nowhere to go.


Love or hate Limbaugh or Hannity, but you can’t really think that them or any of their right wing extremist colleagues would commit suicide if they ever thought for a moment that they might agree with President Obama on a moral level. Seriously! I didn’t expect Javert to suddenly work side-by-side with Valjean to make the world a better place, but remember, Valjean’s crime was stealing a loaf of bread. You leap to your death because you think, for a moment, that rigidity to the point of bitter cruelty may not be The Way? It works in a novel, sometimes, but only because there are so many layers of interesting things going on with the character over hundreds of pages. Oy.


Also suffering from Hooper’s choices are (the overcast) Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, who play so broadly against the black/brown backdrop of relentless excrement and dirt that they are in a different movie. HBC is closer to reality, but Cohen seems to be on a one-man crusade to entertain in a universe where there is no excuse made for why he and his wife are allowed to be such overt criminals.

I need context. Please! I can rationalize if I have to… but it’s not a good kind of rationalization in this case. This is not giving the film its premise. I am doing that. People sing everything. Got it. I won’t even make fun of the song “Who Am I?,” the correct answer to which, sung in a dark anguished space by a man with a false identity, must be, “I’m Batman.”

Often, the music is banal as shit, but okay… I’ll work with you on that. But why have the epic battles of civil unrest in France been reduced to the lives of 10 people and why don’t I at least know what the hell is happening in their lives in a way that allows me to anticipate, worry, and suffer with them?

The cast really works its ass off here. Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne are side story refugees from Sweeney Todd’s side story… which I can live with. Both are very good. Samantha Barks kills “On My Own,” which is one of only two times when Hooper seems to have put aside the hyper juice – between wacky shots, singles, Dutch angles, cut, cut, cut, cut, cut – and let the song play with an intensely personal performance.

The other time, it’s Anne Hathaway winning her first Oscar. But even there… and in so many cases… the vanity/marketing play of singing on set leads to hyper-melodramatic mush with ugly crying and not-very-good singing and no remote connection to anything real.

And that again is at the heart of what is wrong with this movie. It’s the idea. It’s a daring idea. I bless Mr. Hooper for being brave. But for all the great work below-the-line and even above-the-line… it has lost all the scale that seems to have made the theatrical experience (which I never had, for the record) work so well for audiences while gaining nothing but the permanence of film.

I am amazed to be arguing for what worked about Mamma Mia!, which does not work in this film. They got it. Meryl Streep is 60something, Pierce Brosnan can’t sing (nor Saarsgard and barely Firth), the kids are a decade too young for these parents, they shot on the islands, but much of it still looks like it was shot in Culver City with backdrops… etc, ec, etc. But they got the energy that made the show a smash on stage and then a smash as a movie. It’s a goof. Phyllida Lloyd said as much to me last year. She didn’t want it to be slick or perfect. She wanted it to look like it had been shot by a home video camera. Because the spirit was dress up and sing and dance. If they had barns in Greece, it would have been in a barn. And it was 100 times more heartfelt, in its final result, than Les Misérables.

There are many beautiful and beautifully done things in this film. But it’s not hard to get a big laugh with a fraulein mounted on Santa. It’s a stunt, not storytelling. And there, amongst the extreme close-ups are snippets and moments from the staged version, not motivated, but somehow required.

I feel like saying I hate this movie. I really don’t. I was just bored out of my mind by its lack of anything real. Does it make people cry? Yes. I think I may have cried a bit because I have a young child and cruelty to children in movies is something I have personally become more sensitive to… but so what?

They forgot to fix the book and really turn this into a movie. Great taste was shown in hiring terrific actors and there is a lot of style. But even the French need something more than butter and w(h)ine to proclaim a dish great.

73 Responses to “Review: Les Misérables”

  1. Joe Gillis says:

    Everyone should take this review with a grain of salt. While Les Mis may be a film which has problems, its virtues supersede any of its faults.

    And need I remind you that this review is coming from the man who said that the Best Picture Oscar of 2004 would, hands down, go to Joel Schumacher’s The Phantom of the Opera?

  2. David Poland says:

    That’s funny, “Joe Gillis,” but that’s not what I said… not even close. And a rather lazy argument.

    I don’t bedrudge you an opinion. But you’d be taken more seriously if you actually offered something more than a weak slap. Even more so if you weren’t using a fake name.

  3. Js Partisan says:

    This is the internet. He doesn’t have to offer anything more than a weak slap and this is how the review reads, “Dear members of the Academy, I really like ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ more than this and it should get the Oscar! Please! Give ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ the Oscar over Les Miz, which is the clear frontrunner and presumptive favorite to win Best Picture. Sincerely, David ‘Golden Agenda’ Poland.”

  4. christian says:

    “Even more so if you weren’t using a fake name.”

    Because NOBODY does that on the internet.

  5. Js Partisan says:

    Exactly. If you want people to use their real names, there is this thing called FACEBOOK. You can use it to comment on websites! That’s a thought, if you want to keep the evils of people like JOE GILLIS at bay!

  6. palmtree says:

    I think his point was that “Joe Gillis” SOUNDS like a real name so it makes its fakehood even more deceptive?

    Anyhow, I’m shocked by how negative DP went, but still, I’m not a fan of the musical. That its flaws were magnified don’t really surprise me, even though of course the fans will go rabid. I’m seeing it on Sunday, so I’ll read this more in-depth after that.

  7. David Poland says:

    Oy… how I love the ignorant.

    This review has been embargoed, so it has nothing to do with ZD30. Moreover, I don’t see them as competitive with one another. If Les Mis were to win, it would win on its merits, not by beating other films. Same with Zero.

  8. Pat Hobby says:


    Come on, man. Joe Gillis is the name of Wm. Holden’s character in Sunset Boulevard. Sheesh.

  9. David Poland says:

    So not worth fighting about. But thanks for having my back, Palmy.

    I slam something and someone who’s never commented before turns up and invokes Phantom, blows it wildly out of proportion, and suggests it defines me. Old trick. I take it as a compliment that people care enough to attack stupidly.

    I will not determine Les Mis’ future. Never thought I would. Many will agree with me. Many won’t. And so it goes.

  10. sanj says:

    well at least all the songs from Les Mis are up on youtube with lots of different covers … no dp/30 for you Victor Hugo. try again to impress DP.

  11. palmtree says:

    Thanks! I knew it sounded like a film noir name, but all I could think of was Jake Gittes from Chinatown…

  12. tosyturvy says:

    It’s MEryl Streep, not MAryl Streep.

  13. Js Partisan says:

    This has nothing to do with embargoes but what you will be pushing for awards season. You love a film and like that tanned fellow with SLP, you want ZDT to win. Throwing Les Miz under the bus just helps your agenda but you never push agendas David! Never ever! Ha.

  14. scooterzz says:

    fwiw — as we were leaving the theater, my partner said ‘well, there’s nineteen hours i’ll never get back’ and i couldn’t have agreed more…it felt endless and so needlessly impressed with itself…some really good moments but, for the most part, i think dp nailed it with his analysis….

  15. pj says:

    The Les Mis police have been attacking all negative reviews today.

  16. Mike says:

    I haven’t seen the movie, but none of the criticisms seem like they were about diminishing its Oscar chances. That said, is even a flawed Les Miz more in line with the Academy’s tastes than ZD30? Or will this clear the way for Lincoln for the more sentimentally minded? This is shaping up to be a fun race this year.

  17. Daniella Isaacs says:

    Okay, I was giving you the benefit of the doubt since I haven’t seen the film, David, but “the music is banal as shit” line, after having not let really lousy music keep you from loving other musicals makes me wonder what your issue really is. Okay, it’s not Mozart; it’s not even Sondheim, but it’s so much better than anything Andrew Lloyd Weber has ever done, that

    …never mind.

  18. anghus says:

    the ads keep saying ‘the most beloved musical of all time’

    im trying to reconcile in my head if that’s true or not.

  19. John in LA says:

    I’ve seen the film twice (because my wife and daughter each wanted to see it) and I agree with Dave completely. Way too many closeups, no attempt to get the characters in the frame together – even when they’re singing to each other – and those dutch angles left over from “King’s Speech”. Still, both times the industry audience applauded at the end (and more than just polite applause). Les Miz is not one of my favorite musicals, even though I saw it on stage in London I was not impressed. And they made no effort to fix the problems when they translated it to the screen. It looks nice but it doesn’t look BIG.

  20. movieman says:

    (Some of) my beefs with “Les Miz The Movie:”

    (a) subpar CGI from the opening scene that’s profoundly phony-looking;
    (b) lousy old(er) man make-up on Hugh Jackman;
    (c) despite all its vaunted epic pretensions, it felt more than a little…stagey;
    (d) Hooper’s inability (or unwillingness) to reconfigure the ending which DOES NOT WORK ON FILM. Yeah, it slayed ’em on B’way, but in the more naturalistic confines of movieland, it falls flat.
    (e) the Cockney street urchin who looks and acts like he wandered in from a road company of “Oliver!”

    I seem to be alone in preferring Crowe to Jackman (Jackman’s a better singer, but Crowe is definitely the superior actor).
    Hathaway, Barks and (yes, even) Seyfried kill it, though.
    Sorry, I just don’t see how this could ever beat “ZDT,” “Lincoln,” “SLP” or even “Argo” for the Oscar.
    Maybe if Harvey was running its awards marketing campaign, but he ain’t. Not this time anyway.

  21. movieman says:

    Should have said: “from the opening scene on….”

  22. Tuck Pendelton says:

    Well for once the Globes won’t factor in this year’s race in terms of chatter. thank the lord.

    I’m still curious. I had SO MANY beefs with Chicago the movie and everyone else I knew loved it. It’s looking like ZD30 for picture director, day lewis, lawrence.

  23. Yancy Berns says:

    Well, I fucking loved it. Every moment of it. Blew me away. Best movie of the year by a long, long way – I can’t even remember ARGO, which played it so safe re: the critical establishment that it faded from my memory (even though I liked it) a week after I saw it. But LES MIZ: These negative reviews today feel like they’re coming out of the Twilight Zone. This is a terrific movie, the only full-on “great film” I’ve seen this year (I haven’t seen AMOUR)…Poland, who DID say he had “seen the Best Picture winner” when he saw Phantom (which I liked more than most), is sadly jumping right into the pitiful mainstream of critical groupthink, the same stream of haughtiness that declared all the big 80s mega-musicals terrible because, well, because they weren’t Sondheim, and the great unwashed didn’t appreciate Sondheim, so therefore this uninformed appreciation for Les Miz, etc, needs to be slapped down and remedied – by a critical establishment whose “cerebral good, emotion bad/subtlety good, bigness bad” commandment has never seemed more out of line with the public taste than it has over the last few years. Why exactly is subtlety ALWAYS a mark of quality? Is human life subtle? Does every single story ask to be told in as modest a way as possible? Hugo’s work is as soulful and gut-wrenching a story of human suffering as exists – does not the final suffering and redemption of a human being finally earn some bombast?If not this topic, then what? What this all reeks of is snobbery, and that’s it: I was at the screening last night, i cried like a madman along with a good number of other people, and I could just feel the evil Sith vibes of the tired, smug critics who were also there, driven to like the movie LESS because it affected people who they surely think little of. Imagine that: the sound of human emotion has caused this theoretical critic (who exists) to dislike the movie more than he might. Should a critic not be pleased to have found a movie that works on an audience? Again, the critic hopes to educate the public on what they really want. But this is more than a taste issue, this is plain misanthropy – many critics feel the need to defined themselves by being people who like what the masses don’t like, hence a movie like TITANIC or LES MIZ can come along and public reaction or anticipation is magnified in the negative tenfold by the critic who takes as fact that people are stupid, and further that a movie that stupid people like can’t also be a movie that smart people like. The critic’s “rarified taste” is constantly being adjusted to keep “the masses” taste from overlapping – this is a silly game: why would you expect people to trust any of you when the public views you at this point as being just as much of a predictable and unimaginative industry as Hollywood? At least Hollywood gave them a good time once or twice. Other than prose mastery, what did Pauline Kael ever do but make her readers feel bad about their tastes? Its the cerebral vs the emotional again – all intellectual content is always valid, all high emotion is always false. What a crock of shit. (You know what I watched for the first time the night before LES MIZ? SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY. A masterpiece, and subtle. But not BECAUSE it is subtle)… Anyway, I’m confident enough to know that history tends to be on my side when I get incensed like this – when I am this rabid for a movie, a few years generally finds the movie has been accepted as worthy even if initial reception was poor. But I’m upset to see the tomatometer dropping with one bitter, misanthropic review after another. (I don’t believe in God that way, either, but I can accept a movie about characters who do…) LES MIZ is a landmark movie, the best movie musical since at least ALL THE JAZZ. It’s themes are big and powerful enough to earn its life-or-death tone – why would a story of an instituionalized and shamed “modern man”, surround by a call to human freedom, be anything other than big, bold, loud, and stentorian? Or rather, why would it not be allowed to be? Man, you guys have done well bummed me out today. You’re probably succeeding in shooting LES MIZ’s deserved best pic Oscar in the foot, and only because you’re so turned on by the coolness of ZERO DARK THIRTY, or the nihilism of DJANGO, but that war is over – clipped emotion and nihilism and outsiderism has been long embraced, and the critical establishment can call off their brave crusade… and, of course cool emotion and nihilism can be great, just as great as anything. But only those shades are “allowed” by the critical establishment in determining something as absurd as a movie’s objective worth. “Dark” somehow means “good” instead of just meaning “dark”… But “big” is bad, “bombastic” is bad, “impassioned” is bad… yet none of those things are inherently good OR bad. LES MIZ is hugely bombastic, and a nonstop torrent of legitimate emotion – a cathartic movie. It is exactly what it should be, even if it violates the critical trope that no movie can be those things and be good.

  24. Think says:

    I thought this was a 3/10 disaster. I was excited to see it and I spent most of the movie in awe of how messy it all was. And after CENSORED dies it becomes so boring. I don’t trust anyone who likes this movie.

  25. Yancy Berns says:

    Also, I think being familiar with the material beforehand is a must here. That’s not fair, perhaps, but it also doesn’t invalidate my response. Dave hadn’t seen the stage version, and at one point he says “I need to know why to care about these people and what’s happening in their lives”… Well, that’s all there. You know, in the singing! The guy I saw it with, an actual critic who actually did love it, I could tell was getting lost in the tumult on-screen. He had a bunch of plot questions that I clarified for him. This movie is intense, a lot of work for the viewer – but you have to be a generous viewer, not a lemon. That said, I can sympathize with someone trying to be engaged by the plot when having to also deal with the music for the first time. I can see giving up trying to follow what everyone is singing about – but, again, I saw it last night, it’s ALL there, cleanly stated and true. It may not be the way this is supposed to go, but I had the CD before I saw the stage version, so I was primed – but I can honestly say I NEVER got the story or the characters as cleanly as I did last night. (Of course, because everyone is gonna be down on Tom Hooper for winning with his undeserving last movie, nobody is going to notice the directorial flourishes that work so well – the addition of a sense that Javert is already suicidal when the story gets under way, accomplished by us watching his feet wander too closely to a high ledge, is terrific…)

  26. Yancy Berns says:

    And I would never want to know someone who would take such sniggling joy out of disliking this movie.

  27. Think says:

    Why would anyone care about the French revolution stuff without seeing the musical beforehand? Why would anyone care about those characters? You’re suddenly introduced to a dozen new people — after the razzie worthy out-of-nowhere section with Borat and Mrs. Burton — and none of them are interesting.

  28. Joe Leydon says:

    Must admit: Hope Les Miz wins the Best Picture award, so someone will try to ride the gravy train by releasing a Blu-Ray of Lelouch’s Les Mieserables.

  29. Daniella Isaacs says:

    Joe! Jesus, you want a film to win Best friggin’ Picture, have a permanent spot in film history, just because you think it will help get another film you REALLY like out on Blu-ray more quickly? Sheesh. I enjoyed LES MIZ when I saw it on stage in London years back, and am hoping I like the film, too, but seriously! That’s a reason you’ll admit to for rooting for Hooper’s film?

  30. Joe Leydon says:

    Daniella: Yes. I have no shame. (Also, I have seen the new film, and I liked it, too.)

  31. Daniella Isaacs says:

    Well, at least you’re honest. :) (I’ll have to check out the Lelouch film on your recommendation.)

  32. Daniella Isaacs says:

    Thanks. My ulterior motive for rooting for this film, beyond, say, loving it, would be that maybe, if it’s a huge hit, someone (like Spielberg in full-on WAR HORSE mode) will decide to produce a film version of musical version of RAGTIME. THAT could be the WEST SIDE STORY of this century.

  33. cadavra says:

    I may have said this already, but by virtue of its outsized success on the stage as a “tourist musical,” the movie comes in with one huge strike against it, critics-wise. (The same thing happened to THE PRODUCERS, despite being extremely faithful to the show and retaining four of its six principals.) If Universal ever gets around to making a movie of WICKED, they’ll probably shred that as well.

    Please note that I haven’t seen LES MIZ yet–either on stage or this film–and am giving a strictly objective opinion.

  34. lazarus says:

    If we’re going to pimp Lelouch’s adaptation, what about the Raymond Bernard one that’s already available on Criterion’s Eclipse label?

    4.5 hours that does justice to the scope of the source material, and a great film by a really underappreciated director. The set also includes his war film Wooden Crosses, which may leave you realizing Kubrick’s Paths of Glory (made 20+ years later) not as revolutionary as you thought.

  35. David Poland says:

    Cad – I felt the first major failure of The Producers as a film was the director (the stage director) didn’t know how to shoot a film. It’s not easy. You have to reach beyond what works on the stage.

  36. Lex says:

    Poland not liking Les Miz?

    Jimmy Conway says, “What’s the world COMING TO?!”

  37. Chris says:

    “I think being familiar with the material beforehand is a must here.”

    Then the movie has failed.

  38. Krillian says:

    I’ll reserve judgment. Les Miz was one of my favorite theatrical experiences and I hope the movie’s good. I enjoyed Phantom on stage but the movie killed my desire to ever hear the music again.

    And to even hint that Mamma Mia was a better movie… Blecch!

  39. sanj says:

    this movie seems to be made for old movie critics who don’t care for the glee tv series version of the songs .
    when wolverine and catwoman let you down – it must hurt more.

    i had to sing a few songs in music class way back in high school … this movie is too long so i’ll skip it .

    plus i predicted a few weeks back that Jackman and Hathaway are too famous for a dp/30 – so far i’m right.
    these actors want awards they need to do the dp/30 thing.

    also i like the music from Jesus Christ Superstar but i
    totally hated the movie and didn’t understand it at all.

  40. hcat says:

    Isn’t this a film that was always going to fall into the love/hate category with audiences and critics? Not only is a musical which is for some reason always divisive nowadays, its an all singing one which will certainly prove to be a huge slog for a number of ticket buyers who are coming in cold. And I can only speak for myself but reviews like these, only increase my interest in seeing the movie. As with something like Cloud Atlas, Holy Motors, or last years Tree of Life, seeing something this ambitious fly or fail is worth the trip.

    And Christ, Phantom again? At this point isn’t it a little like teasing someone who once got carsick on a sixth grade field trip. He read the tea leaves wrong, get over it.

  41. Uh says:

    Tom Hooper is a hack.

  42. Don R. Lewis says:

    I only saw the first 90 mins of the movie because my Oscar screener crapped out on disc 2, but I tend to agree with DP. BUT, I also wasn’t as put off as you were, Dave….nor as seemingly pissed about it. I still thought it was a really amazing experience and I liked Hoopers choices quite a bit. Your notes on Anne Hathaway are the only thing I strongly disagree with….that rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” is fucking fantastic. I was slack jawed and I’m pretty cynical. Incredible performance across the board; the passion, the singing and most importantly, the acting. I can’t wait to see the film in a crowded theater because that one’s going to silence the house.

    I think you nailed it when you got at the point that there’s no cohesion in the story. I’ve never seen the play so I had no clue about the story and (again, after 1 half) am still unclear on the motivations of these characters. It all felt kind of episodic.

    I still really found myself liking it though…..but it was starting to drag. I also think it’ll win best picture due to all the valid complaints AND praise being given here.

  43. Js Partisan says:

    Hooper is awesome and how do people not know the story of Les Miz? It’s one of those great stories and the version that came out 14 years ago with Liam Neeson, is a quality film. The play doesn’t exactly stray all that much from the source material but still, it’s Les Miz, and it’s rather confusing the motivations of the characters could be misconstrued in anyway. Especially given that the play and the movie (it should) singing a song that explains as much.

  44. hcat says:

    I am also suprised that people dislike Hooper or think King’s Speech was ‘overpraised’. It certainly wasn’t groundbreaking but it was a fantastic Movie Movie and I would rewatch more than a number of other best picture winners of recent years (I barely finished The Artist).

  45. StellaPD says:

    I don’t dislike The King’s Speech (much prefer it to The Artist), but I didn’t love it either. I’m not losing sleep over the fact that it won Best Picture, but it’s pretty forgettable. I was entertained watching it at home on a rainy evening, but I can barely remember it 6 months or so after seeing it. I’m glad I didn’t pay to see it in theaters. That said, I really want to see Les Miz in theaters.

  46. Don R. Lewis says:

    Les Miz in a packed theater with an ass kicking sound system (and preferably a huge, single screen) will be an amazing night at the movies.

  47. Sam says:

    In 2004, invoking Poland’s 2004 Phantom of the Opera call was a great retort.

    In 2012, you’re basically saying that you have to go back 8 years to find a time when the man made a mistake.

  48. christian says:

    That’s a mistake one has to carry for awhile.

  49. Sam says:

    Don’t be ridiculous — of course it isn’t. It was a guess about the Oscars. Big damn deal. It is of zero importance to anything.

    Certainly it means nothing in the present context. This post is a review of a film. David’s critical opinion of it is utterly untarnished by what he once thought other people would think about a different film. Look, film criticism and Oscar prognostication aren’t even close to the same skills. It’s almost not even possible to invent a less relevant context.

  50. Dapper Dan says:

    Poland, I’m open to this film. Didn’t like it onstage, loved Hooper’s King doing his speechifying.

    But the singing clips I’ve seen sound pretty – well, weak. And the CGI of the ship is laughable.

    That said, c’mon, dude – Mamma Mia? That film was a total piece of shit, TOTAL, both the property and the movie. Nothing, but NOTHING, worked about MAMMA MIA.

  51. anghus says:

    i did find it funny that Mama Mia was a total disaster with people who couldnt carry a tune and yet that is what supporters claim is it’s most charming feature.

  52. Lynch Van Sant says:

    I had a lot of problems with The King’s Speech, including Hooper’s shooting angles which I found horrible in places. That he won best director was a travesty, he shouldn’t have even been nominated…let alone the film which was the only best movie winner that I haven’t liked in the last 30 years. From David’s review of Les Miz, it seems to be more of the same problems.

    I do like musicals and Mamma Mia did work after its very weak start. Probably for people who don’t like Abba songs, it might be torture.

  53. YancySkancy says:

    Next Thursday (12/13) Turner Classic Movies is showing three versions of LES MISERABLES: The 1935 Hollywood production starring Fredric March and Charles Laughton; a 1952 version with Michael Rennie and Robert Newton, directed by Lewis Milestone; and the 1934 French version by Raymond Bernard that lazarus mentioned above. Very much looking forward to the latter.

    Netflix Instant has a Gerard Depardieu/John Malkovich TV mini-series version made in 2000.

  54. PastePotPete says:

    Glad JS Partisan brought up the Bille August adaptation of Les Miserables (the novel) from 1998. Now THAT was a terrific movie that seems to me to be tremendously underrated and forgotten. If it came out in today’s movie environment it’d be a a sure Best Picture contender. Seriously, watch it again.

    Great cast: Liam Neeson, Uma Thurman, Claire Danes, Geoffrey Rush. Neeson and Thurman at their peaks, Claire Danes being the weakest performer(though she’s grown as an actress since). Neeson and Rush make a great match in particular.

  55. StellaPD says:

    You know what I find somewhat astonishing? When an individual takes the time to read commentary and post replies on the blog of someone they supposedly dislike and don’t respect. They really have nothing better to do?

  56. Not David Bordwell says:

    Trolls. They make me want to bend at the knee and flex.

  57. David Poland says:

    Guys – That repeating stench is Don Murphy, using one of his many aliases and IP addresses.

    The problem with allowing him any latitude in here is that I then spend time responding to his nonsense as though it is worth considering.

    His threats are empty. He has no power over me or my work. Though I must say, when I had the impulse to put Wolverine claws on Hugh Jackman’s Valjean, I found it funny, but it really didn’t make any rational sense. And since I don’t think – as noted in the review – that Jackman is responsible for what I think is wrong with the film, focusing on him was unfair. Don’s first crazy post got me focused on that and I pulled the image.

    Of course, if Don offered an opinion like a person instead of behaving like a 12-year-old troll, I would appreciate the input. I am hardly perfect. I make plenty of mistakes… all of which I acknowledge when they are pointed out to me.

    But truth is, it seems, irrelevant to Don. I am the object of his obsession and thus, truth and delusional bullshit are all the same to him when it comes to me. I wish there was something I could do about it, but I can’t. And tolerating his schtick is not in the best interest of the rest of the readers or my mental health, much less his.

  58. Logan says:

    Yikes. Such anger on this page!

    Happy Hanukkah. Merry Christmas to all and to all, a good night.

  59. Foamy Squirrel says:

    When was the last time one of Don’s posts actually got left up?

  60. jepressman says:

    Foamy Squirrel is right because Poland eliminated the post after Logan,I know because I read that post.That post was critical of Poland’s take on Les Miserables. That Poland view is pure humbug.

  61. David Poland says:

    The personal attack was from our pal, Donny. And he is not welcome here. Period.

    If anyone else wants to call me names or hate my take on Les Mis, go for it. I do not censor. But Don is banned and Lex is on his weird “no nasty shit” probation… and has been fine for a while now.

    I don’t think anyone can really read the comments on this blog and believe I censor people who disagree with me.

  62. David Poland says:

    Foamy – A few months ago.

    His IP addresses are on “moderate,” but he travels a lot.

    If it’s not a personal attack, it posts… critical or not. If it is (on me or anyone else), it does not.

  63. palmtree says:

    Hate to say it, but I agree 100% with this review. And likewise, I didn’t hate the movie. It just failed to turn Les Miz into a great movie and opted merely to film the musical without adapting it. I doubt people unfamiliar with the musical or the book will have any idea what is going on. Hooper shoots it like a TV show, not surprising given his resume.

    The music doesn’t really benefit from the actors singing it on set. Many times their emoting interrupts the musical phrase in a frustrating way. I liked seeing their mouths shake, but I didn’t need so many pregnant pauses out of rhythm.

    And while the movie does manage to highlight a few things that work well in the musical, it also highlights all of the musical’s flaws. Like DP, perhaps I am a musical theatre nut and can’t help flogging a populist work, but I’m not a fan, and the movie has not converted me.

    But on a good note, I think the movie will do well at the box office, and maybe, just maybe, will pave the way for what I really need to see…the INTO THE WOODS movie!

  64. michael says:

    a professional review–lord i thought they were dead…i like the style of pro/con (lack of better terms)in your view of how the film was done…personally when i saw the promo/trailer i thought it had been too long twixt the stage and the film and all the brouhaha that made it an international success…i’m sure that many don’t even know what a le mis is at this late date…i was getting seriously ill of the “planted” stories of ann hathaway and how she suffered malnutrition to get the agony just right…pu-leeez…as far as the emoting in her version–it’s that type of song and many could do it and get the same results–which many people don’t realize from stage/cinema whoever does it has the capacity to bring the house down…i wasn’t impressed with the sets and the style chosen to do the whole film…it seems like vignettes strung together ‘cept there’s no ads in between but knowing our current cinema i’m sure they’re figuring out placement…the film will probably do well since there’s nothing else opening in december cept a few on the 21st…other than that it’s a rather bleak and bare december season for releases…i sincerely hope the academy will use their heads and not vote ann an award for singing one song and emoting…isn’t the lee strasberg school applicable here…lord knows if i think back there’s better performances in some films that would behoove an award than one song…and i sort of thought the casting interesting but at the same time not really over the top…hugh jackman is questionable but since he has the look–well let’s face it–the leading men of today don’t have a thing on the leading men of the past…there’s just something that doesn’t transcend with todays actors/actresses…the term “star” is just too easily bandied about when there’s only one film or two to their credit and those don’t usually require any degree of emoting unless your part of the super hero academy award performances…as long as the studios can get away with the ticket sales/dvd/cable sales they don’t seem to give a patoot what the reviews are and the actors can be themselves and not worry about being in character and ad libbing references to current sayings/events…maybe brad and jennifers last movie bombs should indicate to the studios that some in the audience aren’t only listening but have a bit of expectation to quality not quantity…but alas i have no doubt there will be those who leave the theater in a state of bliss due to music video/variety show(yes i’m old enough to remember those)type of filming…i’ll wait for the dvd and i’ll probably still think the version out of the royal albert hall above this one…

  65. Krillian says:

    I’d recommend highly hunting down the 1978 TV-movie Les Miserables that featured Anthony Perkins as Javert. Some of the best acting he ever did.

  66. Daniella Isaacs says:

    Well, David, when you’re right, you’re right. The film is a mess.

  67. Seamus says:

    Just reading the first few paragraphs, I feel like the blogger is missing a lot of the historical and literary aspects of the story: Perhaps he has never read the novel. Two examples right off the bat – the condemned prisoners are pulling the ship, because it is NOT moving. They are imprisoned in Toulon; which was/is a major French naval base. They are pulling a battle damaged naval man-of-war into dry docks for repair, though it weighs hundreds of tons.

    Rather than untie the French tricolor and “retrieve” it as Javert demands, he picks up the entire section of mast it was attached to just to show how strong of a man he is to the guard.

  68. Ben says:

    Haven’t seen this yet, but after the buzz around it I’m now interested.

  69. Foamy Squirrel says:

    You may be a little bit late there, AdBot!

  70. jepressman says:

    I have seen this film a couple of times and the over the top negative reviews from critics are wrong. The film is not a mess and the live singing works as does the close-ups. The close-up criticism is silly since the number of film close-ups have increased over time. Hooper did not invent or overuse film close-ups. A whole lot of critics don’t like musicals, Hooper, Victor Hugo, 19th century French history or Crowe singing. Gee the critics often get it wrong ,like they did with The Great Gatsby, so folks use your own judgement.

  71. Paul Robinson says:

    I just saw this on HBO. I love the stage version, except for the Thenardiers, who in the novel are the epitome of evil and not at all funny. I agree with others that the film often is silly, especially at the beginning. But for me it’s redeemed by Samantha Barks (in all respects) and by the singing of Wolverine and the students at the barricade. I for one was put off by Hathaway’s melodrama. Hell, this is a musical. “I Dreamed a Dream” should be melodic and BIG (even though BIG makes no sense in context). I felt cheated by Hathaway’s rendition.

  72. doug r says:


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