24 posts categorized "Musical"

December 07, 2012

Les Misérables‬

Les MiserablesOh the Agony
They Don’t Call it “Les Mis” for Nothing

Audiences new to Boubil & Schoenberg’s stage musical — based on Victor Hugo’s novel of historical fiction — may be surprised to discover the wooly narrative isn’t as compelling as they imagined it might be.

The era is 19th-century post-revolutionary France. A villainous police inspector [Javert – Russell Crowe] keeps up his inexplicably motivated lifelong vendetta against Jean Valjean (flawlessly played and sung by Hugh Jackman). Valjean spent 19 years slaving away under Javert’s brutality in Toulon prison for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s child. Upon his release, Valjean breaks his parole. When the desperate ex-convict attempts to steal silver from a church, the priest there forgives the arrested Valjean. The man of God goes further. He gives Valjean two expensive silver candlestick holders. Informed of his freshly imposed duty to God, Valjean turns over his life. Eight years later he is mayor of a small French village. The plot skips through eight-year time lapses. Javert stays hot on Valjean’s trail. The benevolent Valjean adopts Cosette (well played by Isabelle Allen and Amanda Seyfried), the daughter of Fantine (Anne Hathaway), a young woman who perishes as a direct result of Jean’s involuntary response regarding an incident at the factory where she worked. More eight-year leaps and the womanly Cosette falls in love with Marius (Eddie Redmayne) a student revolutionary.

That’s the gist. However, that synopsis doesn’t reveal how mundane the songs sound — regardless of their bombastic arrangements. Then there’s director Tom Hooper’s tendency to reduce big-spectacle settings into a claustrophobic experience. Extended close-ups of the actors’ faces hitting their notes accumulate toward an audience-distancing effect. The visual impression loses context over time because the audience is left to be fixated on every wrinkle on Anne Hathaway’s lips.

Nonetheless, Hooper’s style works whenever Hugh Jackman is on screen — which thankfully is much of the time. I can’t think of a more capable or ideal actor who could have given such an exquisite singing and acting performance. Every time the epic story threatens to lull you to sleep, Hugh Jackman snaps you back with his commanding presence in his soul-baring role.

Hooper’s ambitious decision to record all of the singing performances live — rather than record them in the studio and have the actors lip-sync to them — does render some remarkable results. Samantha Barks’s rendition of “On My Own” is a showstopper due to the Manx singer’s remarkable display of restrained emotion that seeps out amid her flawless phrasing. But the live singing aspect also has the effect of exposing flaws, as with Russell Crowe’s hesitant baritone, or Eddie Redmayne’s pained efforts.

Tom Hooper’s film version of Les Misérables is an entertaining experience, but you might start to nod off from time to time. The film’s opening shot of hundreds of prisoners pulling a giant ship into dock is worth the price of admission alone. Sacha Baron Cohen adds considerably to the film’s much-needed area of comic relief as Thenardier, a pickpocket innkeeper with an equally skilled wife (played by the ever persuasive Helena Bonham Carter). All of the ensemble performances are solid, even if Russell Crowe’s effort is forced and stiff. You won’t leave the cinema humming any “memorable tune” from the show. You will, however, have newfound respect for Hugh Jackman. Daniel Day Lewis has some competition after all.

Rated PG-13. 157 mins. (B-) (Three Stars - out of five/no halves)

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November 27, 2012

Any Day Now

Any Day NowIt’s rare to come across such a unique cinematic gem as director/co-screenwriter Travis Fine’s riveting drama about a ‘70s era gay couple’s attempt to adopt a boy with Down syndrome. Alan Cumming gives a superb performance as Rudy Donatello, a Los Angeles lip-synch drag singer who discovers romantic and paternal love. 

Queens-transplant Rudy lives in a single room occupancy where his drug-abusing neighbor Marianna (Jamie Anne Allman) abandons her mentally challenged son Marco (Isaac Leyva) after her incarceration. Rudy sees through Marco’s disability to the sweet soul that resides within. Indeed, Isaac Leyva's performance substantiates Rudy's insights. A concurrent meet-up between Rudy and Paul (Garrett Dillahunt – “Winter’s Bone”), a gay L.A. district attorney, quickly blossoms into a stable relationship from which the couple attempt to provide a permanent home for Marco.

Garrett Dillahunt’s performance is a revelation. Not only does the objectively brawny actor evince compassion, but he shares a tangible chemistry with Cumming. The on-screen relationship represents a thoroughly believable vision of gay romantic love. Germane musical set pieces intersperse the story, allowing Alan Cumming to tear up the proscenium stage with haunting songs performed in character. Dramatic narrative depth arises from the layers of necessary emotion Cumming puts into the songs that he lip-syncs and the ones he actually sings. You’ve never witnessed a more searing rendition of “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore.” As for Cumming’s knockout performance of the film’s closing song, I’ll leave you to discover that reward without spoiling the surprise.

“Any Day Now” is a powerful independent film that could slip through the cracks. It is also a significant addition to the cannon of LGBT cinema. If you have a chance to see it on the big screen, don’t pass it up. I guarantee you will be moved.

Rated R. 97 mins. (A) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)

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September 23, 2012

Pitch Perfect

Pict PerfectGirl Power
Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson Save A Cappella Comedy
Pitch Perfect
By Cole Smithey

Essentially a glorified episode of the television show “Glee,” “Pitch Perfect” is a spotty coming-of-age comedy that only marginally pays off on its promise of delivering harmonized vocal virtuosity.

Barden University freshman Beca (played by current it-girl Anna Kendrick) is an aspiring musical composer with great pipes. Beca knows her pop music hits. She makes mean mixes on her computer and presents them for airplay on the college radio station. Petite Beca joins the school’s all-girl a cappella group The Barden Bellas in the hopes of upgrading the group’s less-than-modern song selection to claim victory at the upcoming national a cappella competition. A talented all-boys rival team — The Treblemakers — stands in their way. A hint of dweeb romance peeks between Beca and singing rival Jesse (Skylar Astin), as an addendum to the film’s overused competition plot device. Note to Hollywood: no more dance-offs or sing-offs, or anything-offs — ever again.

Anna Kendrick reinforces her reputation as a cinematic force of nature, performing impressive singing duties against a variety of musical styles. An uncomfortable dorm shower-singing scene hints at potentially bawdier comic material that ended up on the cutting room floor. The film’s blithe jibes of sexual innuendo and barf-spouting gags percolate through the Bella’s arsenal of quirky character traits.

Rebel Wilson’s hilarious Fat Amy disarms any would-be detractors by beating them to the punch. She introduces herself as “Fat Amy,” rather than tolerate any backbiting insults regarding her plump body size. The ploy works. Wilson’s sarcastic British accent comes to comic advantage in more than a few of Fat Amy’s well-placed quips about such things as her naturally endowed ability for washing cars – “squeak.” Hana Mae Lee’s mousy Lily speaks and sings in a tiny voice through which she sometimes discloses horrific facts about her self — “she ate her twin sister in the womb.” The asymmetrical humor works all the better because you have to be ready for it when it comes.

Choreographed bouts of a cappella versions of songs such as “The Sign” and “Right Round” come and go like commercial breaks. The highlight of the melodious sequences comes midway through the movie when Barden’s rival a cappella teams square off for an impromptu “riff-off” inside the acoustically resonate surroundings of an empty swimming pool. A call for “80s hits” sets off a re-harmonized medley of songs like Toni Basil’s “Mickey,” Madonna’s obligatory “Like a Virgin,” and Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.” The stakes get upped when a call for “songs about sex” inspires our college-age singers to indulge in pulpy versions of “Let’s Talk About Sex” and “Feels Like the First Time.”

An unmistakable similarity to the music used in the recent “Rock of Ages” does “Pitch Perfect” no favors. When the movie finally slides into its ostensibly acoustic a cappella climax, the obvious addition of bass and drums deflates some of the scene’s musical magic. Even though “Pitch Perfect” never goes far enough with the complexity of its musical compositions, there are enough peppy song versions and laugh-inciting moments to keep you entertained.

Rated PG-13. 112 mins. (B-) (Three Stars - out of five/no halves)

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