Les Misérables

Passion. Music. Love. Cinema.

Pic source: hollywoodreporter.com

The longest running musical, seen by over 60-million people worldwide and a much loved novel by Victor Hugo… Director, Tom Hooper took on a mammoth challenge when he decided to direct Les Misérables, the film.  He retained the musical format, which makes it a very different viewing experience, but also requires a little patience. At two-hours and forty-minutes, it is a long film with a lot of singing and even more heart.

Les Misérables is nothing short of magic on big screen – it looks spectacular and has outstanding performances by all the actors, who performed their songs live on the sets and not lip-synched. It is a triumph for Hooper and his brilliant team of writers – William Nicholson, Herbert Kretzmer, Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg (the last three are also behind the on-stage musical adaptation). After a spectacular start, the film does drag a bit in the second hour but the sincere and heart-felt performances by the actors keep you involved.

Set in the nineteenth century France, Les Misérables begins with a man named Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) being released from a prison after serving a nineteen-year sentence for stealing a loaf of bread. He is marked as a dangerous man with a life-long parole, which he breaks and is pursued by a law-obsessed policeman, Javert (Russell Crowe). While Valjean gets a second chance to turn around his wretched life, a beautiful factory worker named Fantine (Anne Hathaway) is doomed after her co-workers find out about her illegitimate child. The film spans two-decades and we are introduced to numerous characters including Fantine’s daughter, Cosette (played by Isabelle Allen as a child and Amanda Seyfried as an adult); Cosette’s greedy care-takers, Madame and Monsieur Thénardier (Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen); Thénardier’s children, Éponine (Samantha Barks) who is as old as Cosette and the young street urchin, Gavroche (Daniel Huttlestone); Marius (Eddie Redmayne) who loves Cosette and is also a student revolutionary along with Enjolras (Aaron Tveit). It is a great ensemble cast and I cannot point at one actor who did not live up to the characters they portrayed.

Pic source: Wikipedia

The film opens with a prisoners’ song, “Look down” where we see hundreds of famished prisoners pulling a ship to its dock, while Javert supervises them. It is a grand visual with the sea, large ships and so many wretched souls including Valjean. The film strikes the perfect balance between real emotions and a magical setting, which is almost unbearably sad at times. The costumes, the wigs and make-up, the production design and cinematography are all first-rate and make it a spectacular viewing experience. The music is from the stage musical (lyrics – Herbert Kretzmer; music producers – Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg) with an additional original song, “Suddenly” that is about Valjean finding Cosette and the sudden change in his life. It is performed beautifully by Hugh Jackman who is simply brilliant in the film. My other favorite songs in the film are Fantine’sI dreamed a dream” in which Anne Hathaway confirms her Oscar shot; young Cosette’sCastle on a cloud”, which has a haunting melody; the revolutionaries’ “Do you hear the people sing?”, which is still playing in my head and Valjean’sWhat have I done?” Apart from Jackman and Hathaway, I loved what the two little kids brought to the film. Isabelle as Cosette looks exactly like the famous portrait by Emile Bayard from the original edition of the book and Daniel as Gavroche is the star in the last forty-minutes of the film. Special mention for Aaron Tveit who plays Enjolras with so much conviction that you almost forget to look at Marius.

Les Misérables is made with passion, love and hope, which is visible on-screen. It may not be the most entertaining film you’ll see this year, but it is everything that great cinema can offer a true film-lover. If you like musicals then do not miss it on the big screen.

Watch this great video about the actors singing live while filming:

 

And here’s Fantine’s heartbreakingly beautiful “I dreamed a dream”:

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Madagascar 3 Europe’s Most Wanted

This one’s not to be missed…

Pic source: Wikipedia

Our favourite animals are back and as the film’s title, ‘Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted’ suggests they are shaking up things in Europe this time. For those unfamiliar with the series, it follows the adventures of four zoo animals from New York who accidentally get shipped to Madagascar in the first film; crash land in Africa while trying to get back to NYC in the second one and make an impressive journey through Europe in the latest film.

Madagascar 3 starts in Africa where Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) once again decide to get back home – the Central Park Zoo. They go to Monte Carlo to join the Penguins who can fly them in their specially assembled aircraft (if you’re not following what the Penguins are doing in Monte Carlo and where did the aircraft come from, do watch the earlier films). All doesn’t go as planned and the large group of animals is chased by a maniacal animal control officer, Captain Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand). Their plane crashes again and they take shelter in a train carrying circus animals. Here we are introduced to Stefano the sea-lion (Martin Short), Gia the jaguar (Jessica Chastain) and Vitaly the tiger (Bryan Cranston), amongst others. The film has a lot of excitement and moves at a fast pace (editing: Nick Fletcher); there are thrilling chase sequences and a lot of other action, with Europe’s iconic landmarks in the background. While the love angle between Melman and Gloria moves forward, the real mush comes from the love at first sight story between King Julien the lemur (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Sonya the bear (Frank Welker). Their romance is one of the highlights in the film, which also has an elaborate circus sequence inspired by Cirque du Soleil.

Apart from the fantastic animation (Dreamworks) and great use of 3D, Madagascar 3 has some great writing (Eric Darnell & Noah Baumbach). There are the usual character driven lines that make you laugh, especially Marty, King Julien and the Penguins; but the real winning moments are subtle and at times not so subtle references to the European culture. For example, we are informed about the French working culture that requires work for only two weeks a year! Then there is Frances McDormand’s rendition of ‘Non, je ne regrette rien’ (No, I have no regrets) that has special significance for the French – it was sung by Édith Piaf in 1960 as a dedication to the French Foreign Legion (seems master composer Hans Zimmer loves the song; he included it in the Inception soundtrack too). I was also surprised with a smart reference to the Rita Hayworth poster from Shawshank Redemption. So many interesting tidbits make the film more engaging and enjoyable for the adults while the children enjoy the animated action.

Directed by Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath and Conrad Vernon, Madagascar 3 is a must watch film this summer in 3D.

I am also looking forward to Ice Age: Continental Drift in 3D that releases on July 13. Folks in the UK can enjoy the film at Odeon which has more IMAX screens in the country than any other cinema chain. You can find more information on ticket and viewing options on Ice Age Continental Drift 3D at Odeon web page. In India, Mumbaikars can enjoy it at IMAX Big Cinema in Wadala and in Delhi I am going to try PVR Director’s Cut soon.

Hugo

Movies, Magic & Dreams

Hugo; Source: Wikipedia

Movies – it’s like seeing your dreams in middle of the day. Martin Scorsese’s Hugo is a love letter from the master filmmaker to cinema. The film reminded me of why I love the movies so much and even after the end credits rolled, the magic stayed with me. A few weeks ago, Jahan Bakshi wrote a beautiful post on ‘The Joy of Crying at the Movies’ and I could not agree more… this weekend when I watched Hugo, after almost giving up on the chance of it releasing in India, I re-discovered the joy of getting lost in someone else’s dream, someone else’s vision. That is what cinema is – magic!

Hugo is based on a historical fiction book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by American author, Brian Selznick (adapted for screen by John Logan). It follows the adventures of a young orphan boy, Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) who lives between the walls of a railway station in Paris. Hugo likes to fix things and maintains the clocks in the station, something his alcoholic uncle is supposed to do. His purpose is to fix an automaton, a robot like mechanical man that can write, in the hope of finding a message from his father (Jude Law), a master clockmaker who died in a museum fire. He is joined in this adventure by a young girl, Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz) who is the goddaughter of Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley), a toy shop owner at the station. While trying to retrieve a message from his father, Hugo finds another purpose – to fix a man who has lost his raison d’être in life. There are many other fascinating characters in Hugo’s world, including the station inspector, Gustave (Sacha Baron Cohen); the florist, Lisette (Emily Mortimer); the café owner, Madame Emile (Frances de la Tour); the bookshop owner, Monsieur Labisse (Christopher Lee); newsstand owner, Monsieur Frick (Richard Griffiths); Papa Georges’ wife, Mama Jeanne (Helen McCrory); film historian and author, René Tabard (Michael Stuhlbarg) and Macmillan, the station inspector’s Doberman (Blackie).

Hugo is technically perfect and has the best 3D I have ever seen. Unlike other films where 3D is a gimmick to raise ticket prices, the technology is used well to aid the narrative in this film. Martin Scorsese takes you inside Hugo’s world and you can’t help but admire each frame. From the depths of the clock tower to the intricate clockwork of the automaton, to the soot from a burnt notebook, everything looks and feels spectacular in 3D. Cinematography by Robert Richardson is simply magical and takes you to the Paris of 1930s with music by Howard Shore and art direction by a team of master craftsmen.

Grand in scale and imagination, Hugo is a very personal film that showcases the passion of a filmmaker as well as the characters in his film. The film moves slowly and lets you soak into the ambience created. Despite its leisurely pace, I can assure you that you wouldn’t want the film to end and would catch yourself admiring the work on-screen with a smile plastered on your face.

Watch Hugo in 3D on the big screen, the way it is intended to be seen and you’ll experience the real magic of cinema.

Hats off Monsieur Scorsese!