Sunday, April 14, 2013

Gary's Movie Reviews: "Les Misérables" & "Seven Days in Utopia"

I've been working on something interesting for this blog, but I'm not ready to post it yet.  In the meantime, here's a couple of recent movie reviews (the titles link to the trailers):

I’ve wanted to see this movie for quite some time, but it’s so long, we can’t watch it on a normal weekend movie night.  But then we had a night that worked out, and we were able to go over to my brother's house earlier than usual.  I’m glad I finally got to see it, and despite its length, it didn’t disappoint.  It’s one of those rare long movies that doesn’t seem so long because you are thoroughly entertained for over 2 ½ hours!
     The actors did a marvelous job.  It’s hard enough to sing and stay in tune.  Add to that the fact they had to really act while they were singing, and then, as I understand it, they tried to do as little ADR (dubbing) as possible, meaning that for most of the movie, when you see the actors singing on camera, the voice you hear is probably their real recorded voice at the time the scene was shot, not overdubbed by the same actor later in the recording studio as with Madonna and Antonio Bandaras for Evita.  That takes some rather intricate planning and some real skill, and I’m still not sure how they managed to pull it off so well!

     Going in, I knew Hugh Jackman was good, and I had seen a bit of Anne Hathaway singing “I Dreamed a Dream” to know that she was very good too, but all of them - from stars like Russell Crowe to Amanda Seyfried, to the villainously comedic turns by Helena Bonham Carter and Sasha Baron Cohen, to people I had not seen before, like Eddie Redmayne, Samantha Barks, and Aaron Tveit, to the “extras” – they all did an amazing job with this musical.

     Like some of the best movies, however, it wasn’t just all about the music.  The actors sang with heavy emotion, which is what the story really called for, from the classic novel by Victor Hugo to the stage musical from Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg.  The story follows a criminal, Jean Valjean, who is released from prison after 19 grueling years after stealing a loaf of bread.  When he breaks his parole, Inspector Javert makes it his life’s goal to bring Valjean back to justice, and Valjean even starts down that road again when he steals silver items from a convent.  But when the Bishop tells the authorities the silver was given as a gift, he manages to change Valjean’s heart, and from then on, he sets out to live a righteous life.  He becomes a man of some importance, and when one of his workers, a girl named Fantine, is mistreated by his foreman, and winds up selling her hair, some of her teeth, and finally her body to pay for the care of her daughter Cosette, Valjean feels it is his fault, and feels he must intercede, even though Inspector Javert is still hot on his trail.  In the end, will Valjean be able to convince Javert that he is a changed man, and if so, will it make any difference?  These are pretty heavy themes for a musical, but as with musicals like Evita and West Side Story, some of these heavier themes makes these musicals all the better!
     Did I mention I was impressed?

     One interesting note for Star Trek fans:  Check out the Deep Space Nine episode "For the Uniform" - if you have Hulu, you can watch the entire episode linked here, or if you have VUDU, you can watch the entire episode linked here.  Starfleet traitor Michael Eddington's favorite book is Les Misérables  and when he sends Commander Sisko a copy of the book, Sisko realizes Eddington sees himself as Valjean, and Sisko as Javert.  In order to finally catch him, Sisko plays the part of Javert, knowing that Eddington will eventually do what Valjean would have done, and give himself up to satisfy Sisko/Javert's obsession with him.  Clever writing!  See the scene where Sisko takes the part of Javert to extremes, causing Eddington to give himself up, linked here.  When Eddington gives himself up, he even calls Sisko "Javert".

I’ve always liked Robert Duvall and Lucas Black.  Robert Duvall, of course, is probably most known for the Godfather movies and Apocalypse Now (“I love the smell of napalm in the morning!”), but in his later years, as what happens with very few people in Hollywood (Charlton Heston,  Jon Voigt, and Chuck Norris come most readily to mind, but there’s also the likes of Mel Gibson, Robert Downey Jr., and Rachel Welch), Duvall turned out to be one of those people on the Christian Conservative side of things.  Over the years, he has, at times, picked films that are of this conservative Christian bent, such as Tender Mercies, The Apostle, and Secondhand Lions.  That’s not to say his characters have all been angelic.  His characters, such as Gus in the Lonesome Dove series or Vince Vaughn’s dad Hal in the comedy Four Christmases, are men who live hard and therefore play hard as well, and they’re often quite rough around the edges.  Performances of his I particularly liked over the years included Officer Hodges in Colors and Boss Spearman in Open Range.  With a filmography of well over 100 appearances on film (including an uncredited “Priest on Swing” from Invasion of the Body Snatchers), it’s hard to remember them all.
     Lucas Black was the kid with the heavy southern accent from Swing Blade, and he was really good in that film, though imdb says he’s most known for The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (which I only saw parts of), as well as Jarhead, Legion, and Friday Night Lights (which I haven’t seen).  But it didn’t escape my attention that Robert Duvall had a cameo appearance in Sling Blade as Billy Bob Thorton’s good-for-nothing Dad, and that Lucas Black had a rather substantial role in one of Duvall’s latest films, Get Low, which was another film on this Christian bent, yet I was rather disappointed by it.  Duvall must like this kid, and considering the projects they’ve been picking lately, perhaps Black is yet another Hollywood enigma:  an actor who believes in the Christian God.  His appearance in these three films with Duvall would seem to indicate a curve in that direction.
     This film is the story of Luke Chisholm, an up and coming golf great who chokes and loses his temper on the 18th hole of a very important game, and he gets stranded in the middle of nowhere, which is actually a tiny little southern town named Utopia.  There, he happens across an old golf pro Johnny Crawford, who decides to take Luke under his wing and teach him everything he’s doing wrong in the game of golf, but even more importantly, in the game of life.  It allows Robert Duvall to take on the clichéd Yoda role of the wise old sage who teaches the young hero, and this movie comes awfully close to paralleling Daniel and Mr. Miyagi’s relationship in The Karate Kid.  There’s even the romance with the young girl and the rivalry with the flippant young stud of the little town.  In a way, these sports movies have much in common, and films I’ve praised this year so far, including Trouble with the Curve and Here Comes the Boom, don’t add a lot of new angles.
     But sometimes, you just have to go with it, and I find myself saying “Who cares if it’s clichéd?  Does it work?”  An even better question is “Where are we going to find some good, wholesome, family films in today’s Hollywood landscape of sex, drugs, profanity, and violence?”  The critics certainly aren’t going to like anything wholesome!  I can hear them now:  “You want wholesome?  Go watch old reruns of The Brady Bunch.”
     Well, I just might do that!
     Jesus once said in the Bible, “Oh Father, Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for hiding these things from those who think themselves wise and clever, and for revealing them to the childlike.”  (Matthew 11:25, NLT)  If the critics can easily dismiss your movie because it’s passé and unoriginal, yet it’s wholesome, and normal people can find God there, then you have pretty much modeled this bible verse. 
     It may be derivative.  It may be hackneyed.  We may have seen it done a hundred times before.  Why just a few years ago, I listed a bunch of golf movies I loved, including The Greatest Game Ever Played, Tin Cup, and Happy Gilmore, and just this year, I’ve seen similar plots of the underdog overcoming the odds and winning (and it’s only April).  But none of that matters if your movie is still GOOD.  How many times have I seen a plot like Avatar in episodes of Star Trek or other science fiction stories?  There will probably be thousands more after this one.  But that doesn’t have to negate the story.  Everything’s derivative if you really think about it, including the ones nominated or winning Best Picture at the Oscars.  I can compare them all to other similar films.  So what?
     In fact, one of the greatest things about this film was the way they ended it.  [SPOILER ALERT: DO NOT READ FURTHER IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW THE ENDING!]  Rather than telling whether or not the main character won the game in the end, the narrator, Robert Duvall, basically said it didn’t matter; that in the grand scheme of things, it was just a golf game.  What was important was what he learned that would take him far beyond this simple little game, and winning or losing that last shot was ultimately of very little consequence.
     That’s a bold way to end the picture, but I liked it, and it makes it just a little bit different from all the others; especially when you consider that what ultimately changed him wasn’t so much Duvall’s character of Johnny Crawford, but God.  That’s something that we can know through this story, for it isn’t just possible for this fictional character of Luke.  It is possible for us too!

No comments:

Post a Comment