I love seeing tango danced in movies. The most recent one I recall was El Ultimo Cafe in the Sci-Fi flop “Upside Down” (IMHO at least). The one I am sharing here is similar, yet different.
It’s from the movie “Tango”, directed by Carlos Saura, scored by Lalo Schifrin, featuring Argentine Tango dancer Juan Carlos Copes as one of the supporting character. The scene here was of a group of tango dancers rehearsing for a tango show.
The directer presented the scene in layers, with darkness and just a Bandoneon, gradually adding on the sequence, lighting, and music. It’s so much like the dance itself, building on basic moves and adding more and more elements.
Earlier this year, we heard the great news that Les Misérables is going to the silver screen this Christmas. As an avid fan, I can’t wait to see the up-to-date incarnation of this masterpiece, until…
We heard the casting. Okay, Hugh Jackman had been performing musicals and snag a Tony’s with his performance as a gay performer, so not to worry. Ditto to Amanda Seyfried, who was on the cast of Mama Mia’s movie, they both should handle the singing well. But Anne Hathaway as Fantine? Russell Crowe as Javert? And “who-the-hell-is-that-guy” as Marius? To say I am worried was an understatement the size of an Airbus 380.
But the teasers turned out okay. Hathaway came through well through her singing part presented, so was the rest of the cast. And the trailer in late November seemed even better. So, I went into the movie house last week with part trepidation, part excitement and still a little bit of worry, and watch the movie in its full glory. And glory it is.
A faithful revisit
The story of Les Misérables probably need no more introduction to musicals aficionados, but here it is anyway: Jean Valjean, an ex-convict fugitive guilty of stealing bread, reformed businessman and Mayor, attempted to save Fantine, an ex-worker in his factory forced in to prostitution from destitute. While Fantine didn’t survive the ordeal, her daughter, Corsette, was saved. On the other hand, lawman Javert was hot on Valjean’s tail to bring him to justice. In the eve of the Paris Uprising of 1832, young revolutionist Marius fell irretrievably in love with Cosette, while Valjean contemplate exile to avoid capture from Javert…
The movie is essentially a movie edition of the fabled musical, which is fabulous in setting the mood for us to enjoy the acting and singing. Paris in its glory and filth, Valjean’s factory, the barricades, all beautifully rendered. The fighting scenes are well produced to give you the sense of being in the action. All songs are included, and while there are some changes to the lyrics and some are being shuffled within the scenes, the libretto is essentially the same as the musical. One new song was added, right after Valjean picked up Cosette from the Thénardiers. Acting-wise, the cast performed well, as what you can expect from a big budget history movie. The story line was basically the same as the musical, no surprises there. And then, there’s the singing…
A pleasant surprise
And the cast surprised me, their overall performance were very good. That the cast sang their part on set, instead of pre-recorded in a sound studio then played on set, required them to immerse fully into the song’s mood. It makes for a genuine performance, and the effect shows on most of the main characters’ signature songs, very emotional numbers that highlight the struggle they face.
One of the biggest highlight came from Hathaway. While her role as Fantine was important yet short, her singing was exceptionally well, especially on “I Dreamed A Dream”, which she sang the song in one take with so much emotions, it brought tears to eyes and sniffles to the audience. Hathaway had transformed in recent years, and her performance earlier this year in “One Day”, “The Dark Knight Rises”, and now “Les Misérables”, gave me a lot more confidence in her acting.
Hugh Jackman did not disappoint. While his voice is lower in tone from the musical actors, he still performed well. His performance of “Bring Him Home” was as good as the stage performances of the musical I heard so far. On the other hand, Russell Crowe fall short. While he got the stronger beat songs of Javert well enough, but his character’s show piece tunes like “Stars” and “Javert’s Suicide” was not up to similar pieces for the other main characters.
Sasha Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as Thénardiers were hilarious, nasty and disgusting, as they should be. Their singing/acting are top notch, and since they had worked before in “Sweeney Todd”, the synergy was there.
Of the younger cast, Seyfried as Cosette and Eddie Redmayne as Marius were suitable combination of the lovebirds. I especially like Seyfried, as beautiful as she was as Fantine’s daughter and sang like an angel. Redmayne’s performance of “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables” moved a lot of the audience to tears. Their duet of “A Heart Full of Love” was like a breeze of fresh air, breaking the tension of revolution, if only for just a moment.
Aaron Tveit as Enjolras was very good too, not too exaggerated in uplifting songs like “Do You Hear the People Sing”, “Red and Black” or “One Day More”, unlike some of the actors playing the same role in the musical. Samantha Barks played Eponine in the Les Misérables 25th Anniversary Concert, and was reprising the role in her first movie role here. Her singing was very well, and she gave us a feisty Eponine with a bit more feminine touch than the usual tomboy look.
Even the smaller roles were well cast. Daniel Huttlestone, who was in the London cast, reprise his role as Gavorche and put up a well-liked performance, often chiming in when the revolutionaries sang. Colm Wilkinson, the original Valjean in the first London cast, had a cameo as the Bishop of Digne, the man who turn Valjean’s bitterness to the world into struggle for good and charity. He was wonderful as usual.
In short, the movie was a beautifully sung rendition of Les Misérables.
For the wretched on the earth, there is a flame that never dies
Les Misérables always hold a special spot in me. Maybe it was because of the Paris Uprising resembling so much of the 1989 Chinese Democratic movement. Some of us still remember our sense of belonging in the social movement back then, and the tragic crackdown, which effects made the China we have now.
So, it was with mix feelings that I came out of the theatre. I enjoyed the movie much. I contemplate the fact that after the Paris Uprising, it took 16 years until the second French Revolution, which overthrown the Orleans Monarchy of Louis Philippe and created the Second Republic of France. How long will China had its own second movement, after twenty three years? Maybe more? I have no answer.
Next Tuesday, Hong Kong people will take to the streets once again to oppose a lying government that is indifference to poverty and hardship. Are we marching to change, or are we stepping into our graves?
Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade
Is there a world you long to see?
Hugh Jackman (曉治積曼）一直有音樂劇的表演，亦因為他曾以飾演音樂劇 The Boy From Oz 中Peter Allen一角面而贏得東尼獎最佳男主角，可以放心。Amanda Seyfried（雅曼達施菲）亦曾演出音樂劇改編的歌舞片Mamma Mia，相信問題不大。但Anne Hathaway（安妮夏菲維）？Russell Crowe（羅素高爾）？「阿Marius你係邊位？」（演Marius的是誰呀？）實在令人十分擔心。
這效果的最佳例子，非安妮夏菲維飾演的Fantine所唱的《I Dream A Dream》莫屬。那一幕一個鏡頭直落，她由疲憊、身心受辱，情感崩潰，再進一步對現況感到憤怒，最後感到絕望。夏菲維唱到中途更一度近乎泣不成聲，但全曲情感表現洽到好處，甚至比原版Fantine（Patti LuPone）更到位。其他主要角色亦有同類表現，如Eddie Redmayne的《Empty Chairs and Empty Tables》、飾演Eponine的Samantha Barks唱的《On My Own》，以至曉治積曼多首交代Valjean内心交戰的歌曲等。要知道，演苦情戲時哭泣，不是最難；唱歌，亦然。哭泣時演戲、唱歌，而能同時兼顧，要求實在極高。這次嘗試，成功了。