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Les Misérables

les miserablesI’ve just been to see Les Misérables and it seems the angst-ridden trailers that I’ve seen everywhere for this film would have been sufficient. It seems the marketers were given very little to work with and all the best bits of the film were used in the trailer, so there’s not really a need to pop along and see it.

I really hate to say it, but it’s the Australasians that let the film down (yes, New Zealand, when he does badly, Russell Crowe is a Kiwi; we’ll only claim him as an Aussie when he does well). Hugh Jackman is a little awkward but tolerable; the problem is that whenever he’s on screen, I’m seeing Hugh Jackman do Jean Valjean, rather than seeing Jean Valjean. The awkwardness with which he carries the role just undermines the suspension of disbelief.

I fully concur with those who have criticised the choice of Russell Crowe for the role of Javert. He is not entirely inappropriate, but it seems that although he can hold a tune, he can’t hold both a tune and a character at the same time. I believe he could have carried the character well enough were this not a sung-through musical, and I also have a feeling that there is scope for a film version of Les Misérables adapted to prose rather than the musical, which doesn’t really do the story any favours.

The film does have a few redeeming points, though. Whenever Anne Hathaway is on screen, I forget the awkwardness of Jackman and Crowe; she is engaging and poetic in every sense. Edward Redmayne is likewise convincing as Marius, and his chemistry with Amanda Seyfried‘s adult Cosette is palpable. Along with Isabelle Allen, these performers almost manage to redeem the film from the clunky performances of the two Australasians commanding the big dollars.

Whatever its faults, this film does one thing particularly well, in my opinion; while most productions that I’ve seen, whether for stage or screen, position Les Misérables as a quintessentially French story, this film sets the story amidst the mere backdrop of revolutionary France, allowing the characters greater autonomy from their political circumstances. It is my opinion that the story would sit just as well in front of any struggle for independence and liberty. It would be as at home before the Battle of the Chesapeake, the Eureka Stockade, the Myall Creek Massacre or Tiananmen Square, because the focus in this story is the journey of the individual characters within a particular political context. And of course, this being a story originally written by a Frenchman, its French context is de rigueur.

And perhaps that’s the big thing to learn from this rather expensive mistake of a film. What the world needs is an adaptation that takes the story of Les Misérables and depicts some fictional Aboriginal characters going through the same experience in the lead up to the Myall Creek Massacre… with prose dialogue to ram home the point. I’ll take that one. Anyone want to pick up Tiananmen Square?

 
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Posted by on Friday, 18 January 2013 in British Film, Cameron Mackintosh, Film, Working Title Films

 

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How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

It never ceases to amaze me how often producers of musicals in Canberra select the most horrible musical in the canon and then cast highly-experienced and impeccable performers to work with expert crews to try in vain to turn the sow’s ear into a silk purse. I’m sorry, but I’ve already lost more than eight hours of my life to Cats, and if too many of my friends hear that someone’s doing it again this year, I will feel obliged to go along and sacrifice another four to that worthless tray of kitty litter that continues to blight our theatres. Thankfully, Phoenix Players have taken almost the opposite approach with the show I saw tonight.

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is a gem from that time when Broadway and Hollywood were genuinely in sync and both knew how to tell a story. In its script we meet lovable, hilarious characters who drive a generously funny plot forward with all the vim and vigour of Russell Crowe‘s interactions with service industry staff.

Chatting to first-time director, Richard Block, after the show, I was surprised to learn how many of the cast and crew were also first-timers. While there might have been the occasional glimpse of this, for the most part, these theatre virgins gave great performances led by Adrian ‘flawless’ Flor in the role of J. Pierpont Finch.

For me, the highlight of the night was definitely the rendition of Been a Long Day, which was simply charming, and really showed off the calibre of vocalists and actors this show boasts in Adrian Flor, Vanessa De Jager and Hannah Wood. The performance of this number was impeccable, not only for its vocal qualities but also because it was the only moment in the show when I felt genuinely engrossed in the moment and the characters’ experience rather than the writers’ conceit.

Unfortunately, no matter how much I enjoyed the performances of this very successful cast and their hilarious story, the misogyny of the three blokes who wrote it was never far from my mind. I have heard it said that it is a comedy, and should be interpreted as a mockery of sexist attitudes, but if there is any intention of this, it simply isn’t clear enough to allay my repulsion. Even at the time the play was written, the feminist movement was close to a century old, and it seems odd in such an age for chauvinism to be so firmly embraced, and made funny without really being mocked. So as much as I enjoy the show, its beautifully human story and its humour, the values it espouses just undermine my attempts to fully engage with its characters and their experience.

So, I have a bit of a mixed response to How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. On the one hand, I think it’s a great musical, carefully constructed, with excellent music (and comparable lyrics) and it’s absolutely hilarious. On the other, I find it difficult to concentrate on the humour in the presence of such misogyny! I guess I may just take things too seriously for my own good. Regardless of my indecision, though, Phoenix Players’ production is a romp, and certainly one of the best choices of musical any musical production company in Canberra has made in the last decade.

 

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Robin Hood

Robin Hood is a bit of a marathon, and if you have a comfortable seat and a few hours to spare, it’s a vaguely worthwhile pastime. Unlike other renditions of the myth, this film draws its impetus from political machinations, and lets go of the story’s usual plebian roots. Surprisingly, this is actually a good decision, as it provides not only a novel context for the story, but also broader relevance.

Russell Crowe plays his typical alpha male with a softer side, only this time with a funny accent. This novelty is complemented by extremely modern dialogue; making the film in many ways a counterpoint to films of Shakespeare’s plays that place sixteenth century dialogue in a modern setting. This is the opposite; playing twenty-first century dialogue in a twelfth century setting, with the added irony of a post-colonial actor playing the Old Country’s chief hero. My strange little mind would like to have heard Crowe’s cultivated Australian accent placed into the context to see what other meanings could be derived, but of course that wouldn’t do so well at the box office, would it?

And the box office is what this film is made for. It is formulaic, rudimentary and appeals to the same values as every other film about underdogs made in the last couple of decades. It does absolutely nothing to distinguish itself from that genre, and sits somewhere in the middle of Ridley Scott‘s very palatable aesthetic.

Of more note than this film is the venue I saw it in. Perth’s Picadilly Cinema is a quaint venue, reminiscent of Canberra’s Electric Shadows. That’s all well and good, but this film needs chairs with a higher back and a clearer view of the screen. I came out with a sore neck and tired knees. Every city, especially Australia’s western mecca deserves a Dendy or a Limelight.

A good film, but a bit meh.

 

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