‘Les Misérables’ and the End of the Movie Musical

I love musicals. I (mostly) can’t get enough of them! I realize that they’re not everyone’s cup of tea, but, then again, I’m not particularly fond of sci-fi or fantasy films, so, to each their own! But I think it’s time to come down hard on the new wave of musical movies that have managed to shimmy their way onto the big screen in the last decade. Yes, Les Misérables, you have put the final nail in the coffin of this dying genre.

Here’s the thing about Les Misérables: even the show itself is not that great. It was part of the new wave of musical theater in the ’80s in which spectacle took precedence over good writing. As a friend told me recently, “Les Misérables is so dull and boring that they had to put a giant turntable in the middle of the stage just to keep people awake.” I’d like to blame the British for this, particularly producer Cameron Mackintosh who, like Andrew Lloyd Webber, turned Broadway into a string of poperas with tolerable music intermittently coming from an orchestra pit filled with cellists and violinists who were scared for their lives as explosions and fire pits and chandeliers crashed above them on the stage.

So now it’s on film, and it is bad. Well, it’s fine. It’s just fine! For every good part of the film (Anne Hathaway, the sets, the costumes), there’s a lot of bad (Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman, the direction, the cinematography, the CGI butterfly that director Tom Hooper seemed to think we would want to see as much as we’d like to hear Anne Hathaway’s sobs and dry-heaves during “I Dreamed a Dream”). It’s another example, of course, of the modern movie musical: overblown, overwrought, stuffed with moderately talented actors who, if not Autotuned, sound like they’re doing karaoke, and lacking any sort of levity and, well, fun.

But do movie musicals even work anymore? Perhaps they could, if only directors stopped trying to “turn the genre on its head.” The greatest movie musicals are, generally, joyous and and massive experiences: Singin’ in the Rain, The Music Man, West Side Story, The Sound of Music (which I begrudgingly include, as all of Rogers and Hammerstein’s catalog makes me want to rip off my own ears), Fiddler on the Roof, Oliver. In most cases, these great films were not somber occasions. Sure, a few of them have unhappy endings (for example, the exodus from Anatevka isn’t exactly cheery), but for the most part even a movie featuring singing Nazis can manage to leave an audience member in a good mood.

But remember in the ’90s when Evita was primed to bring back the movie musical? Madonna, who can sing and dance, couldn’t even make a melodramatic stage musical into a movie that wasn’t completely dull and dour. And then there were Chicago and Moulin Rouge, which are essentially musicals for people who hate musicals and, thusly, not to be respected. The former relied heavily on editing to give the illusion that its cast (other than Catherine Zeta-Jones, who is herself a seasoned stage actress) could dance, while the latter picked up on Broadway’s lead and just stuffed a bunch of already-popular songs into a musical narrative, because that way average moviegoers could say, “I know that song! And I know that song!” (This is why Glee is so popular and also so cloying.) I’m still blown away that even fans of musicals have accepted Chicago as a good film, even though it painfully pales in comparison to the postmodern anti-musicals Cabaret and All That Jazz, both of which take the conceit of putting all of the musical numbers onto a stage setting so that it’s not as jarring to the viewer. But Rob Marshall is no Bob Fosse, which I think the insufferably bad Nine proved just a few years after Chicago won Best Picture.

But as long as Broadway moves toward “serious” (read: somber) musicals, Hollywood will continue to adapt the crowd-pleasing shows into sub-par films. Tom Hooper, bless him, did his best with Les Misérables, and while I respect his decision to have his actors sing live, it mostly proved distracting. It’s one thing to see a natural singing performance on film, which is usually hindered by dubbing. But the singing should be pretty; it’s pretty much the foundation of musical theater. The sad fact is that it’s going to be pretty hard to get a good performer to be in a big-budget movie musical, because good performers are not famous enough to carry a film. If that were the case, we would not have seen (and heard) Russell Crowe desperately warbling through Javert’s numbers. Crowe himself defended Hooper’s vision, saying that he “wanted it raw and real.” But musicals are not real, because people do not burst into song accompanied by a soaring orchestra.

So what’s wrong with the movie musical? Well, we can blame it on a lot of things. The subject matter is too serious for an audience to suspend belief and accept that those sad characters would express themselves in light-hearted tunes. The Hollywood system has weeded out great talent, leaving the crop of A-list actors without the abilities to hit notes and land dance moves. Genre films aren’t respectable, so directors now eschew specific conventions for middle-of-the-road tactics to please as many audiences as possible. And we can’t forget the audiences themselves, whose attention span and gradual distaste for musical theater conventions have encouraged the demise of the genre. The bottom line is this: it may just be time that we accept the musical as a dying animal, and put it out of its misery rather than making it tap dance and fan-kick for our own entertainment. 

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What’s That? You Want More ‘Les Misérables’ Footage?

The long-awaited, hotly-anticipated, perhaps a bit over-exaggerated Tom Hooper adaptation of Les Misérables hits theatres in just over three weeks, leading to much reblogging and GIFing and expressions of all the feels all over the Internet. The folks at Vulture even have a Les Miz advent calendar with a new post every day leading up to Christmas Day and the film’s release. Over in this corner of the Internet, we’ve gotten super excited at new footage (albeit with some reservations about Russell Crowe as Javert) and asked for the film’s stars and publicity machine to cool it with all the talk about Anne Hathaway’s Fantine crash diet.

And now, another cog in the ol’ hype machine, as five more short but still quite enticing clips from the film have been released. Samantha Barks finally gets some preview screen time, and in an excerpt from a rain-soaked "On My Own," shows indication that she was definitely better suited to this role than the five billion other actresses and singers that were tied to the role. Another surprising highlight is Hugh Jackman’s "Who Am I?" where he shows off the frenzied talk-singing style he explained in earlier interviews, and it does feel a bit more natural than more traditional performances of the song. Elsewhere, there’s more from Anne Hathaway in the crux of "At the End of the Day," Eddie Redmayne and Amanda Seyfried singing "A Heart Full of Love" and the all-important Prologue introduction of Jean Valjean to Russell Crowe’s Javert.

These clips are all well and good and should give the fans plenty more feels to feel about, but we’re still waiting for more from Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen as the villainous Thénardiers in these preview clips—for highly recognizable actors who are getting fairly high billing for this film, we haven’t seen a whole lot of them yet. Anyway, watch. 

Buy Hugh Jackman’s Coffee & Aussie Fashion at Nolita’s B_Space

With the help of eateries like Eight Mile Creek (240 Mulberry St) and Ruby’s (219 Mulberry St), Nolita has become somewhat of a hot spot for Australian tourists and expats. But grub can only go so far, which is why  "Little Australia" was in dire need of a fashion and lifestyle hub. Enter Pete Maiden, the mastermind behind Australian media site Billabout.com. With the opening of B_Space, his new concept store and media studio is essentially Billabout brought to life, offering abroad Aussies a place to stay connected and nab products from a generous roster of Down Under talents. 

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"Billabout has been all about promoting Australian artists and creative culture in the U.S.," Maiden explains. "It’s great that we now have a space to produce content and a store to showcase Australian lifestyle and brands to our American hosts." In-store exclusives include Mambo swimwear, Volley footwear, unique baubles by Nicole Trunfio Jewelry, stellar sunnies by cult-favorite ELLERY et Graz, and come next month, the unveiling of B_Space’s namesake clothing line. 

Because what’s an Australian project without Hugh Jackman, B_Space also carries selects from the super likeable showman’s Laughing Man Coffee and Tea label. 

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Photos courtesy of B_Space

New Trailer for ‘Les Misérables,’ In Which We Hear A Song That Isn’t “I Dreamed A Dream”

You’re probably still weeping over the first trailer for the upcoming Tom Hooper-helmed Les Misérables feelings extravaganza, which dropped earlier this year and featured a devastating rendition of "I Dreamed A Dream" from Anne Hathaway. You may have even watched that trailer on repeat several dozen times upon first viewing, which is totally okay because we did too. But pretty much every piece of promotional material about the movie since has mostly hinged on that "I Dreamed A Dream," which is great, but that’s one number out of many that make up the musical. Well, in the new UK trailer, we get some new numbers, new scenes and an even more crushing "I Dreamed A Dream," all which feed into the hype, but with at least one caveat.

Anne Hathaway still breaks your heart, "One Day More" still stirs and most of the principal cast looks pretty solid, and we get our first glimpse of Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen as the Thénardiers (the latter in the middle of "Master of the House"), which is just gonna be the greatest. But one of the bigger nagging questions about the film has been the casting choice of Russell Crowe as Javert, who gets two of, like, the best musical numbers in the whole show and requires great complexity and nuance. Crowe can act, certainly, but can he sing, or at least, deliver as Javert? As we feared before the first footage even hit the web, Russell Crowe opens his mouth, and, uh, it’s not great. Maybe Tom Hooper is just tantalizing us and he actually brings down the house with "Stars," but for now, it looks like Crowe’s Javert will be a lot of shouting and uninspired, almost nervous-sounding vocals. Woof. The rest of it looks pretty great though—it’s hard not to get excited about the barricade scenes, especially with a good round of "Do You Hear the People Sing?" thrown in for good measure. Watch. 

Dreaming Dreams of Time Gone By With More ‘Les Misérables’ Footage

Recovering high school theatre geeks are aflutter once again with the release this week of a Regal Cinemas interview featuring more footage from Tom Hooper’s upcoming adaptation of Les Misérables. Hooper and the cast seem particularly excited about the fact that they’re doin’ it live—unlike traditional movie musicals, which rely on a prerecorded soundtrack and lip-synching, the actors sing with a piano piped into an earpiece, allowing for them to dictate the pace and delivery along with their acting and character development and what-have-you. Basically, it’ll be like a stage musical except with more familiar names and you have to sit through half an hour of advertisements before. 

We hear several of the cast members sing for the first time, including a swelling "On My Own" from West End veteran Samantha Barks as Éponine, a rather high-pitched but very enthusiastic Amanda Seyfried as Adult Cosette and some serious moments of serious ACTING! from leading man Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean. There is, however, a serious lack of Russell Crowe as Javert, leaving us with some questions. Crowe can certainly act as the stone-faced lawman, but can he break from his 30 Odd Foot of Grunts past and give us one hell of a "Stars?" That’s gonna be the dealmaker/breaker of this movie. 

And, of course, the first voice we heard in the initial trailer released several months ago, Anne Hathaway, sounds off on some of her choices as Fantine, most notably choosing to sing "I Dreamed A Dream," normally a belter of a production number that sometimes wins regional talent competitions, in a manner that a desperate and defeated person slowly dying of tuberculosis actually probably would. 

"There seemed to be something selfish about trying to go for ‘the pretty version,’" Hathaway tells the viewers. "She’s devastated. She’s literally at the bottom of a hole, looking up and realizing she’s never going to climb out of this. So I just decided to apply the truth to the melody and see what would happen." 

And then her version of "I Dreamed A Dream" kicks in, with all its beautiful but brutal notes, and with it (for some of you) come your plans to abandon family Christmas dinner to go ugly-cry in a theater for four hours. Watch below — we’ll still be here when you’re done having a moment. 

Jennifer Garner Battles Olivia Wilde in All-American Pursuit of Butter Carving

Butter, y’all! Ain’t nothin’ more American, except maybe patriotism and competition. And strippers. And Kristen Schaal (this is my America, dammit). Butter has all that and more, with an all-star cast including Jennifer Garner, Hugh Jackman, Ty Burrell, Alicia Silverstone, and Olivia Wilde. And butter carving! It’s great to see the artistic sensibility of the Midwest finally breaking into the mainstream. (Next up: deep-fried Oreos!)

First Look at the ‘Les Misérables’ Movie (and Anne Hathaway’s Crash Diet Results)

Hang on to your straw fedoras, gay guys and 14-year-old girls, because the first official trailer for Tom Hooper’s big-screen adaptation of Les Misérables, the most spirited musical telling of poor French people in the history of Broadway, is finally online! And everyone’s here! Hugh Jackman! Russell Crowe! Emaciated Anne Hathaway! Amanda Seyfried! That guy from Savage Grace (J/K, no one saw Savage Grace) who kind of looks like a snake! Everyone but Taylor Swift, thank God. (Remember when we were all worried that Taylor Swift was going to be in Les Mis? We dodged a bullet there.)

I’ve got to say, this one gives me chills? I’ve been Team Hathaway since Rachel Getting Married, even if a friend of mine was correct in her description that Anne Hathaway looks like someone Photoshopped her face on a head that was slightly too small for it. But she’s got some spunk, and she can sing "I Dreamed a Dream" as good as any other woman who has played the role of the most kind-hearted prostitute in French literature. (Yes, even you, Patti LuPone.) It appears as if her crazy diet also worked out! While we don’t get to hear anyone else sing (I’m kind of curious to see how much growling Russell Crowe will pass off as "singing"), the movie looks lush while still depicting the shitty life of 19th century Parisians. Oh, yeah, and barricades? Has anyone ever understood what they were fighting about? I’ve seen it twice and I’m still too swept up by "On My Own" to give a shit about post-revolutionary politics. Snooze! 

Musical Comedy Version of ‘Les Misérables’ Headed to the Big Screen

Les Misérables, that epic modern classic of musical theater, is going to be a movie, and I’m pretty sure it will be a glorious musical comedy in the grand tradition of Singin’ in the Rain and Glitter. Under the direction of Tom Hooper, director of The King’s Speech (he was surely inspired by Ron Howard’s perfect portrayal of the lisping Winthrop Paroo in The Music Man), this movie is going to seamlessly transfer the spectacle from the Broadway stage to the celluloid, and it’s boasting an all-star cast.

First of all, we have Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe as the lovable criminal Jean Valjean and his ruthless pursuer Javert, respectively. You couldn’t pick two Australians more perfect to play these dueling Frenchmen. Jackman will likely spice things up, turning Valjean from a somber fellow full of regret to a song-and-dance man full of razzle-dazzle, and prone to shaking those sensuous hips. Valjean has never been so sexy! And there’s the gruff Crowe as the stoic and and serious Javert. Do you think he’ll keep his ponytail? 

Of course, no film about Paris in the 19th century is complete without a sad prostitute with a heart of gold. As Fantine, Anne Hathaway is ready for her big number, where she’ll die on a bed in the first half-hour. Have you ever been more excited for an Anne Hathaway movie? I suppose the real question is: haven’t you been waiting for an Anne Hathaway movie wherein she dies before you can even finish your popcorn?

Mamma Mia! star Amanda Seyfried is obviously no stranger to wacky musicals, so she’s perfect as Cosette, the grown daughter of Fantine, who has been adopted by Valjean. (Don’t you see the resemblance between Hathaway and Seyfried? Do you not have eyeballs?) Never has there been a musical theater character with less of a personality and an affinity for dour black dresses covered in gigantic doilies. If Seyfried wasn’t going to be competing for every other woman in this film, I’d say she’s sure to get an Oscar nomination. 

Don’t forget the other important supporting characters: Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the Thénardiers, the wicked owners of a French country inn (again, these are staples for any ensemble film about France). You’ll remember that this pair are just as experienced as the rest of the cast, as they starred in the Tim Burton-directed adaptation of Sweeney Todd. Now that they’ve had the complicated tunes by Stephen Sondheim under their belts, they’re sure to belt the hell out of those entry-level Claude-Michel Schönberg rhythms. The role is especially convenient for Helena Bonham Carter, who can show up in her street clothes of tattered black dress, unkempt hair, and soot-infused make-up.

Who’s left? Well Eponine, of course! She’s the child of the Thénardiers, a plucky little street urchin who pines for the affections of Marius, the student revolutionary who is too taken with boring old Cosette to notice Eponine in her fierce Newsies cap. Who else could play the daughter of Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, but the immensely talented and emotionally expressive Taylor Swift. Sure, you may suggest that her lack of any formal acting experience as well as her limited 22-year-old’s worldview might put her at a disadvantage when it comes to fully comprehending the complicated emotions of a young girl living in a politically volatile climate in a foreign land so long ago. But you will also forget that that classic ode to unrequited love, "On My Own," is essentially just the musical theater version of Swift’s "You Belong to Me." Eponine is really just a girl in love with a boy who just happens to also meet her untimely end by the bullets of the brutal French police. I mean, Swift was more emotionally scarred by Kanye West, right? 

Now we all must attempt to control our anxious excitement, as Les Misérables isn’t due in theaters until December of this year. In the meantime, I guess we’ll just have to hate-watch Glee, if only to snicker at Lea Michele’s inability to outshine Taylor Swift. 

[Image by Bobby Finger]

‘New York Times’ Critic Has a Big Crush on Hugh Jackman

Super stud Hugh Jackman is known best for his action roles, particularly as Wolverine in the X-Men franchise. But he’s also an accomplished stage actor; he first gained popularity outside of his native land down under when he starred in Oklahoma! in London. He’s no stranger to Broadway, having won a Tony for his portrayal of Australian singer Peter Allen in The Boy from Oz. This week, Jackman made his return to the Great White Way in a one-man show, aptly titled Hugh Jackman: Back on Broadway, and apparently it’s a big, sexy hit.

The show opened last night, and the venerable New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley has wasted no time singing his praises of Jackman’s performance. But it sounds more like he’s recapping a great date rather than reviewing a night at the theater. If Brantley is correct in his critiques, then Jackman spends the evening wooing the ladies in the audience and giving all of the dudes boners–and it sounds like he puts out on the first date.

Brantley focuses on Jackman’s sexin’ skills, making reference to his hips at least twice (grinding and nearly bustin’ out of his trousers and what not). "You feel you could reach out and touch him, and you may well have occasion to as he works the aisles of the Broadhurst," he writes. Keep your hands to yourself, Benny! One imagines that the "passionate squeal" that comes from the audience when Jackman makes his reference could have been Brantley himself, squirming in his orchestra seat and breaking into a cool sweat as Jackman croons those Rogers and Hammerstein tunes.

Sing it with me now: Brantley and Jackman, sittin’ in a tree… "For that’s what this show is all about, finally: the erotically charged, two-way relationship between a star and his fans," Brantley says. "The Playbill for ‘Back on Broadway’ makes it clear that sex is what this production is selling." Translation: Hugh Jackman is sex on a stick, and his hips will charm your pants off.