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Rating History

The Room
The Room (2003)
4 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

When I was in high school there was this kid. Let's just call him Tommy. He had to have been borderline retarded although nobody knew for sure. He was blissfully overweight, spoke clumsily, and carried a ridiculously amount of keys on his belt. You could always tell when he was around what will all that jingling of the keys and the labored breathing and the sweating. Boy, could that kid sure sweat up a storm. But he was nice enough I guess. He never was mean. But make no mistake he could be really annoying to talk too. He had seemingly no capacity for self-awareness and was completely unable to pick up on social cues.

There were two ways to deal with Tommy. Most people tried to ignore him. Since I went to a rather nice high school, the technique for this was pretty harmless. Tommy would waddle on up to your group with intention to be friendly and all that. To get him to leave as quickly as possible your group would act like the most boring people on the earth. Every question would be answered with yes or no answers. No questions would be asked in return. This would make lengthy conversations impossible. If asked what you were up to, the answer would be nothing or we don't know or somebody else has a thing but we're not sure how that's going to turn out or if we are even going. The point vainly trying to get across was: Can't you find a group of more interesting people to hang out with?

Then there was this group of guys who instead of ignoring Tommy, made fun of him. They would give Tommy humiliating missions to accomplish and then laughing up a storm when Tommy, always eager to please, would actually do them. Most of the time these things were intertwined. The group of guys would convince Tommy that those trying to ignore him (most likely some girl or group of girls) would enjoy whatever antics they made him do in front of them. I'm not sure how Tommy took all of this. He actually may have been too stupid to understand. I hope so. Two things are certain though: The guys got a great kick out of it and everybody else just thought it was a terrible terrible thing to do to a borderline retarded kid.

And then invariably some righteous girl would confront the group of guys and berate them about how mean it was to make Tommy do all these stupid things and then laugh at him. To which one guy in particular (and this surprised me because I thought he was the type of guy who did not have the ability to say things profound) had perhaps the best retort he could have: "Nobody else is even willing to hang out with Tommy. Yeah, we make fun of him, but we're the only friends he has. You just wish he didn't exist." Which was completely true. This righteous girl like everyone else in the school was courageous enough to insist that this group of guys not make fun of Tommy, but there was no way in hell she was going to hang out with him herself.

So I ask you, dear reader, who do you think were better friends to Tommy? Because I think the answer to that goes a long way in explaining why it is okay for a group of supposedly mature adults to gather in a theater at midnight for the express purpose of ridiculing the painfully sincere efforts of a borderline retarded writer/director/lead actor/producer named Tommy Wiseau. I'm of course talking about his one and only movie the 2003 so-bad-it's-good masterpiece, "The Room," which can be found at Landmark Sunshine Theaters in SoHo at midnight on the 2nd Saturday of every month. The experience comes with a large and rowdy crowd armed with plastic spoons that are encouraged to yell as many disparaging comments they can think of at the screen. If you are lucky there will be an overweight drag queen in a very important red dress to guide them all.

The plot for "The Room" is as such: There is this couple called Johnny and Lisa. They live together in a small duplex in San Francisco. Johnny is a super guy. Almost every character makes a point of talking about how Johnny is such a super guy. He is a banker, so you know he makes a lot of money. He buys his girlfriend Lisa a dozen red roses like everyday. He pays for the college tuition of an orphan boy named Denny who lives in his building. At night he makes sweet passionate love to Lisa and he's really good at doing that too. He cracks "jokes" that people in the movie laugh at and is quick with platitudes like "If there were more love in the world, it would be a better place." He loves Lisa so much he is going to buy her a house. What a great guy.

Unfortunately Lisa is a manipulative bitch who is intent on destroying Johnny and their relationship. She thinks Johnny is boring even though she loves him and thinks he is a great guy because buying a house is boring and she doesn't like him and is toying with him because she's a woman (i.e. not a good person). So she seduces Johnny's best friend Mark (who repeatedly tries to fend off Lisa's advances with the line "But Johnny's my Best Friend!") even though Mark obviously likes Johnny better than Lisa. After many many scenes where basically the same thing happens over and over again and other characters inexplicably show up without introduction before talking about things that have already happened, things that have been said before (i.e. "Why are you doing this to Johnny? He's such a great guy." "Because I'm a total bitch and I do what I want" ad infinitum....) or other things so vague they literally can't add anything to the plotline, Johnny and Mark get into a fight at Johnny's surprise birthday party, make up, and then get into an identical fight about the same thing, this time without making up. After the party Johnny confronts Lisa with evidence that proves an affair that everyone in the movie already knows that everyone knows about. Lisa has been telling everybody about it pretty brazenly even Johnny. Lisa finally leaves Johnny who proceeds to tear up his house (in a fashion that weirdly reminded me of Orson Welles trashing up his palace in the best of movie of all time "Citizen Kane.") Johnny exclaims in a tone that surely means to come across as either passionate or despairing but does not really get to that level, "the world is hell. Everybody has betrayed me." He then takes out a gun and shoots himself in the head. Lisa, Mark, and Denny come into the room and cry over his dead body. Roll Credits.

It's shameful how often and how loud I laughed during this movie. And I think it is important to explain why, because so many movies purposefully try to emulate this type of movie only to end up in the pile of "so-bad-its-bad." So if "The Room" is so bad, then why is it so good?

First of all, and this is very important, this movie is not intended to be a comedy. It is a serious drama and as a drama it is seriously bad. The main problem is that it is so incompetently made in almost every scene that the suspension of disbelief needed for an audience to take a dramatic story seriously cannot occur, ever. There are huge technical problems all over the place. The director has a hard time keeping camera shots in focus, he has no idea how to block a scene with any more than two actors, and so many of Johnny's lines are dubbed over that most of the time his words do not match his lips. There are huge problems with the writing. Subplots are introduced that are completely forgotten a conversation later. One character flippantly expresses that she has just been diagnosed with breast cancer. This is forgotten a sentence later and never brought up again, even though the character has quite a large role going forward. Then there is the inexplicable scene where a man we have never seen before puts a gun to the head of Denny threatens to kill him if the money is not delivered. Denny says he can get the money within five minutes. This period of waiting is not quick enough for the drug dealer who proceeds to putting a gun to the frightened boys head. Denny's drug problem, the drug dealer, or the problem of money was never mentioned before this scene and after this scene ends is never mentioned again. Characters do not sound different from each other. At one point a psychiatrist is introduced, but he does not talk like a psychiatrist, nor does he say anything new about the situation. It is as if the writer wanted a character to have a certain amount of wisdom or expertise so he made him a psychiatrist but has no idea of what a psychiatrist actually does. Finally there are huge problems with the acting itself. Now it is kind of hard to fault actors for not persuasively reciting lines that do not make sense, but one person here is especially bad, and to no surprise, it is the writer-director himself, who speaks in a weird accent, apparently thinks it is normal for bankers to have long stringy hair, and must think he is attractive in a hugely erroneous fashion given the fact he has chosen to write and direct himself into several long sex scenes in which he is fully nude and looks like he is doing it wrong.

Okay, so perhaps you can get an inkling of why this movie is funny. But then, why is it impossible to laugh at movies that are purposefully bad? A good example of that this year was Will Ferrell's "Casa De Mi Padre," which also has bad acting, huge technical flaws, and stupid writing.

Hugely generalized, a tragedy follows this structure. You have a character in conflict that deserves to overcome but because of a tragic flaw in character, dumb luck, evil of the world, etc. this character is not successful in overcoming his obstacles. A comedy is the opposite. You have a character in conflict that does not deserve to be successful but because of character flaws, dumb luck, evil of the world, etc. this character is successful in overcoming his obstacles. Think Hamlet or Macbeth as opposed to Happy Gilmore and the Super Troopers.

"The Room," works as a comedy because its incompetence combined with the star performance of its writer/director/producer makes the real story so transparent. We don't go to see "The Room" because we think the movie story is great, we are much more interested in the true story of how a borderline retarded person named Tommy Wiseau somehow raised a few million dollars to make unsuspecting actors recite ridiculously stupid lines and perform awkward sex scenes. A few comedic points go to the blatant egotism and immaturity that shine through the story unbeknownst to the maker. It is so obvious that this Tommy had a bad break up and decided to make this movie as a sort of revenge (or perhaps given the ending, a guilt inducer that could win the girl back). But he stacks the deck so heavily in his favor and does it so incompetently that with much irony it becomes startling clear that his real-life inspiration was probably extremely justified in leaving him. If you want to see basically the same inspiration in a great movie I suggest "(500) Days of Summer."

Okay, okay, but aren't comedies supposed to have happy endings. In the end of this movie, Tommy kills himself. Yes, but that was just the ending of the movie. The story we are interested here is the story of the movie itself. And in these cases of the "it's so bad it's good" genre it is the audience itself that supplies the happy ending. This movie had every reason to fail and should have failed and been forgotten immediately. Instead, almost ten years later, I am seeing it in a packed auditorium crammed to the gills with a crowd that is immensely enjoying it. This is a happy ending brought upon by ridiculous plot twists of the story of this movie. And for $11, you too can be apart of it.

This is why "Casa De Mi Padre" is not funny. The story of that movie is of a bunch of rich successful people who purposefully made a terrible movie even though they had all the skills to make a good one instead. If you paid $11 to see that movie, you wouldn't part of the happy ending in a comedy; you would be a sucker in a con game. The laugh is on you. In essence, for a "so-bad-its-good" movie to work it needs that relationship between the group of guys at my school and the endearing borderline retarded kid. He can hang out with us sure, but we get to make fun of him. Will Ferrell is one of the rich cool kids. When he tries to hang out with us, it's just confusing and weird.

There is also a part of me that believes some of the enjoyment in these underground midnight showings comes from the genuine subversity of it People do not like being dictated as to what kinds of movies they should like best. So when a movie made by a person who tried really hard but still failed spectacularly comes along the opportunity to raise it on high and provide it a happy ending (like Ed Wood's "Plan Nine from Outer Space" or the more recent "Snakes on a Plane") is also a scornful rebuke of all those in successful high and mighty society. You know all those critics and assholes at the Academy that insist depressing garbage like "Million Dollar Baby" or jerkoff fantasies like "The Artist" are the best movies of the year. Or like those kids in high school that sent the borderline retarded kid on missions to annoy the cool kids. Fuck those cool kids. They think they are so much better than us.

Life of Pi
Life of Pi (2012)
4 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

"Life of Pi" the new movie continues director Ang Lee's streak of making movies with extremely unlike settings. Take a look at this filmography: Sense and Sensibility (Jane Austen's England) Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Chinese martial arts) Hulk (American Comic Book), Brokeback Mountain (Gay Cowboy Love Story), and now Life of Pi, which is about an Indian teenager's spiritual journey across the Pacific Ocean on a lifeboat with a Bengal Tiger. His next movie: Science Fiction comedy about an Australian moon colony. I'm calling it.

The movie "Life of Pi" has a particularly good hook to it. A failed writer is told to visit a man with an incredible story in order to become inspired for his next project. How incredible is this story? Well, the writer is told that it would "make you believe in God." Talk about setting the bar high. Now it is to this movie's credit that it is worth seeing even if that claim had been omitted based merely on the narrative of the story and the skillful way it is told. But just for fun, I will entertain a theological discussion at the end of this review.

Pi is played by Irrfan Khan whom you may remember as the police inspector in Slumdog Millionaire. His conversation with the writer narrates the story of him as a young man. Young Pi is played by Suraj Sharma in his first movie. Young Pi is a tourist of religions. He learns Hinduism from his mother, becomes baptized into Christianity, and prays with Muslims. His father, a zookeeper who swears by science, is not particularly fond of his son's lack of conviction in what he believes and instructs Pi to choose one and be done with it. Pi does not seem to understand why he cannot believe in everything at once. A few years later his father announces to his family his plans to move his zoo to Canada and start a new life there. Everyone, animals too, pile onto a huge cargo ship for the great journey across the Pacific Ocean. A huge storm inks the ship leaving only Pi and a Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker and a few other soon to be eaten animals as the survivors.

And here this movie made by a lesser director would easily falter because there is admittedly not much to do in the middle of the ocean even if you've got a tiger along for the journey. Let's face it; there are not all that many types of interactions to explore within the confines of plausible reality. The principle character can't have intelligent conversations and there is certainly nowhere to go. Most people thought the book this movie was based on was unfilmable. This movie accomplishes two main things that allow it to avoid the boredom trap. One: The tiger is beautifully made and rendered with whatever effects it needed (I don't know) to make it a true character in the story not only in terms of physical actions but also in terms of plausible wild animal emotion as opposed to cartoony schtick. Two: the movie has gorgeous cinematography, which is used in such a way as to provide the story with visual chapters. Sure everything takes place on the ocean, but depending on where the story is, the ocean looks much different. There are scenes during dark and powerful storms, scenes during serenely still golden hours, and a particularly picturesque scene at night with thousands of glowing jellyfish just underneath the water. Not to mention the way the camera moves effortlessly through the air and ocean around the lifeboat. Certainly this is the best use of 3D since "Avatar" came out almost three years ago. That is a huge compliment from me because the list of movies that I've seen where I felt the 3D actually added to the experience (and more importantly was worth the surcharge) is only two movies long: Avatar and now Life of Pi. This is a very good-looking movie and should have a lock on a nomination for Best Cinematography.

Okay, let's talk Theology and here we cannot help but have spoilers. I am of the opinion that knowing the twist at the end would not actually harm the experience of watching the movie. I knew of the twist before I saw it and it did not bother me. Like I said the theology bookends are not needed for this to be a good movie. So here is the Twist: The entire story is made up. There is an epilogue where we learn that there was no Tiger. That the story Pi is telling is actually a metaphor or something to represent a much darker story about a bunch of people on a lifeboat that acted like true animals (cannibalism!) to survive the long journey across the ocean after the boat sank. The writer asks Pi why he would make up that story and then tell him the truth. Pi explains that he just told the writer two stories about basically the same thing: One was the long and beautiful Tiger story and the other a short and depressing true story. Which does the writer prefer, Pi asks. The writer says he prefers the first story. "So," says Pi, "it is the same with God."

And now here is where I would be confused about the hook because the movie seems to be making the case that God is a part of our imagination that we utilize to give us comfort in a wild and wretched world and if that is the case than how is this story supposed to make me believe in God? I am probably am missing the larger point as I generally do in these types of conversations. By the way, I like the first story better too, but just because you like something better does not make it truer. And isn't the truth, though perhaps depressing, more important than something made up, though hopeful and meaningful. And at this point in these conversations there comes a point where an even more interesting question comes to fruition.

What is an easier to do: To find God or to deny God. Does it take more strength to find a loving God in a wild and wretched world or to deny him and live in a wild and wretched world without God? What are we supposed to do? Are we supposed to even choose? And if so, are we supposed to choose the hard path? What's wrong with choosing the easy path whichever it is? This type of thing is worth thinking about from time to time.

Religion provides a moral framework in a world that cannot be scientifically proven to have one. In that sense it is extremely important and one of the true things that separate humans from wild animals. But on the other hand, you can't progress in knowledge without first admitting there are things unknown, and God is most definitely one of those things. Let me give an example of this.

There is a building in Rome called the Pantheon. The Romans built it as a temple way back in the day. It was characterized by a huge stonewalls and a dome with a huge hole at the top. In medieval times, the Christians used the building as a church. During Mass even though it may have been raining or snowing outside, it never rained through the hole in the roof. The Christians attributed this particular phenomenon to God. God liked people in church praying, so he blessed each mass with dryness even though storms were raging outside. I admit that's a pretty good miracle. But there is a scientific explanation to it. Because there were always so many people in the Pantheon during mass, and because human beings are warm-blooded and give off heat, and since heat rises, and there was no other place for the heat to go except out of the big hole in the roof, the reason why no one ever got wet was because the heat rising from the congregation evaporated the rain before it could get in. When there was no mass (i.e. no people) it definitely rained in the Pantheon. But for centuries it was just taken as a given that God was stopping the rain. We have a huge tendency to point to something we don't understand and call it a miracle when the simple truth is that we simply do not understand how it happened. And this is a universal thing. Neil Degrasse Tyson calls this "The God of the Gaps" and in a lecture that you can easily find on YouTube points out that great scientists like Ptolemy, Copernicus, and Isaac Newton made this very error themselves. They attributed phenomenon that they did not understand in astronomy to God because they did not feel they ever could understand it. So unfortunately they did not try to understand it and the task of understanding it fell to future scientists, who fortunately for the progress of mankind, they did.

In essence that is why I'm an atheist. Fictional stories are nice and warm and fuzzy but they cannot be getting in the way of figuring new stuff out. We have a lot more work still left to do. If God has a problem with that, he can just come down and explain to us the mysteries of the universe and by that I mean in a way that can be scientifically verified, not via pancakes or wall stains. It sure would save us all a lot of time and trouble.

Silver Linings Playbook
4 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

"Yeah about a week before the incident I called the cops and I told them that my wife and the history guy were plotting against me by embezzling money from the local high school which... wasn't true. It was a delusion. And we later found out from the hospital that it's because I'm uh....undiagnosed bipolar."
- Pat

It turns out that Pat, played by Bradley Cooper, had been white-knuckling his mental disorder for most of his life without the proper help. Then one day he walked in on his wife with another man, snapped, and nearly beat the other guy to death. He was arrested. The court ordered him to spend eight months in a psychiatric institute. As the movie starts just about as he is to leave the hospital. How do you know that he still might have a problem? Well, he is in his late 30s. He has lost his wife, his job, most of his friends, and his home and is moving back in with his parents. The kicker though is that he is very optimistic about his chances of getting all of it back especially his wife even though she sought and received a restraining order against him. His plan involves not taking his medication, getting in shape by running around the neighborhood while wearing a garbage bag (for the sweat you see), and reading his ex-wife's summer reading list for the high school English class she is teaching. His parents, played by Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver worriedly try to impose some sort of reality on him to no avail. Until that is he has a couple of rage induced episodes at 4am in the morning brought upon such trivial matters as not being able to find his wedding video and a not-so-happy ending to Hemingway's "Farewell to Arms" that end up waking up the entire street and getting the police invited over to the house. And at that point after the subsequent mood swing and humiliation set in, he finally and sadly realizes that he simply cannot white-knuckle it anymore. He still needs help.

The director of Silver Linings Playbook is David O. Russell, a filmmaker who is the preeminent authority in cinema on eccentric slightly crazy families. Other must-see movies he has made about these types of people are "Flirting with Disaster" starring Ben Stiller and "The Fighter" starring Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale. There is such a degree of authenticity to these off-kilter movies that it would not surprise me a bit if David O. Russell came from an extremely dysfunctional family himself. He has had huge blowups and arguments on the sets of his movies before (George Clooney won't ever work with him again after "Three Kings" and there is a video on YouTube that involves him getting supremely pissed off at Lily Tomlin on the set of "I Heart Huckabees") and has freely admitted that one of the reasons he was inspired to make "Silver Linings Playbook" was his own son's issues with depression. Like the father and son in this movie, I think that it is likely the Russells have mental illness in their genes. But let me be clear: whatever 'crazy' David O. Russell does have in him, it is definitely the kind that borders with brilliance.

Great directors tend to have signature styles. Some are so strong that it becomes easy to spot their stories with or without knowing beforehand who directed it. You can't really mistake an Alfred Hitchcock or Stanley Kubrick movie with any other director's movie. Contemporary moviegoers should also be able to pick out the latest Wes Anderson, Martin Scorsese, or Quentin Tarantino movie without much help. David O. Russell too has a very recognizable style but it is itself a very unique unique style. Whereas most of the time a great director's films are characterized by clarity of vision or a certainty in which types of camera movements and angles they use, Russell's style is impenetrably chaotic. There is a kinetic shakiness and unpredictability to the camera movements that lend his movies a disconcerting rhythm. He is doing something behind the camera that I do not understand. And yet it still works and given the subject matter is perhaps the best way to tell a story.

And he is an amazing writer too. His movies are always insightful, original, and funny. One of the ways you can tell a movie has very good writing is when awards season comes along and most of the cast is nominated for awards. And right now Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro (playing Pat Senior), and Jennifer Lawrence (playing Tiffany, a recently widowed and equally damaged love interest) are being considered for all kinds of awards. My favorite scenes include the pharmaceutical shoptalk between Pat and Tiffany at a dinner party about what kind of drugs they have taken, Pat Sr.'s OCD obsession with the Philadelphia Eagles, and the ballroom dancing contest. Yes, there is also some really not that bad dancing in this movie. The writing can be said to be so good that it got Chris Tucker out of retirement. You might remember him. His last movie was a lead role opposite Jackie Chan in "Rush Hour 3." That was in 2007. His last movie before then was 2001's "Rush Hour 2." So basically he has been retired for ten years. Chris is one of those rare cases where a movie star quits after starting to pull in $20 million a movie in salary. He just did not want to act anymore. But, inexplicably, here he is as Danny, a friend of Bradley's from the mental institution. He pops into the movie a couple of times after illegally breaking out of the asylum.

I would say the only real problem with this movie is the casting of Jennifer Lawrence. She does not do a terrible job but I bet somebody else could have done it better. The character calls for an emotionless deadpan performance sure, but there are emotionless deadpan performances and then there are emotional deadpan performances that nonetheless convey every single emotion the person is feeling anyway. Go ahead and rent an Aubrey Plaza movie, either "Safety Not Guaranteed" or the TV show "Parks and Recreation" and you will see what I mean. Jennifer Lawrence may just get a nomination for this movie, but I figure that has less to do with her talent and more to do with the fact Tiffany is an extremely well written role combined with the fact that the supporting actress category always has notoriously few well-written roles, this year being no exception. Any competent actress probably would have had a chance to be nominated.

Oh and this movie has a much better ending than "Farewell to Arms."

De rouille et d'os (Rust and Bone)
4 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

There really is not much to talk about in Rust and Bone. It is a French movie written and directed by Jacques Audiard. It stars Matthias Schoenaerts as an indigent father who moves in with his sister and gets several different small jobs, one of which is being a bouncer. While bouncing at a club he breaks up a fight, which includes Marion Cotillard and another gentlemen. He offers to drive her home and she accepts. The conversation is not all that exciting or memorable and the two forget each other for a while.

And in real life they would probably never see each other again. But then, Marion Cotillard, loses both her legs at her job training killer whales at a Sea World sort of place. I am not exactly sure how it happens. The director chose to shoot the scene from below the water looking up. Anyway, Marion's character must not have all that much friends and family because moping at home several months later sans legs, she decides to call up the bouncer (now a security guard) she had that uneventful car ride with a long time ago. And this guy remembers her, pays her a visit, and takes her to the beach, carrying her on his back in places the wheelchair cannot get to. He does this with very little fanfare as if it is not that big a deal. Why he does it or thinks it is not a big deal to do so, I really have no idea. The people in this story aren't that articulate.

Really, they are not that articulate at all about anything. The writing here is particularly boring. Entire scenes can happen without any significant exchanges between people, leaving what is not said to the thankfully decent acting chops of Marion and Matthias. In this vein, Marion does a pretty good job as a double-amputee. But there really is not much to these roles. The movie has some novelty to it in that it contains a double-amputee, but a movie usually needs a little more to than the presence of some physical malady or tragedy to be a good movie. Otherwise it is just like a disease-of-the-week picture.

There was one scene that I particularly liked. The movie presents the Matthias character as a bit of an easy come easy go philanderer. Apparently he is good looking to the point that he can seduce a woman within an hour of meeting her. (At one point the movie presents an unfortunate jump cut. 1st shot: Matthias is working out at the gym and walks past an attractive woman teaching aerobics. 2nd shot: Matthias is eating a sandwich in the gym courtyard. The attractive woman stands behind in the distance smoking a cigarette. 3rd shot: Matthias and the woman are energetically having sex in the gym alleyway. I tell you, they skipped the most interesting part of it all between that 2nd and 3rd shot.) The relationship between Matthias and Marion though is not particularly sexual. But at one point, after he has gotten work boxing and wins a big tournament, they go out to celebrate at the club where they first met. Marion by this time is using bionic legs and a cane. Matthias asks her if she wants to dance. She says no. So he goes off to the dance floor, easily picks up another women, and then leaves the club with her a few hours later much to the chagrin of Marion.

There is something commendable I think about setting up one of the major characters as somebody that would plausibly do something like that and then actually going and having them do it in a scene. I thought it was pretty funny and I also especially liked the scene the next morning when Marion confronts him about it and he refuses to be anything but silently annoyed. He's a total jerk but does have a point. It isn't like Marion was being serious about him in their relationship and it's not like he was lying about the type of person he was. And it's not like Marion doesn't understand. This isn't a break-up scene were watching.

But other than that the movie is pretty forgettable and I cannot really recommend seeing it, especially with so many other good movies out there.

Les MisÚrables
4 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

This is that rare movie which deserves both a glowing review and a disappointing one. Greatness is in sight that is perhaps the most tragic part, but right next to some supercharged catharsis and magnificent melodies there are these superfluous plotlines and tedious tunes. I should be a big time producer giving blunt notes with a fat cigar and final cut. Okay people, this is what they should have done.

Let's start with what is fantastic: First of all the story of Jean Val-Jean is pretty incredible. Hugh Jackman plays a man who was sentenced to nineteen years of forced labor for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving nephew. The man who is in charge of him is a steely man of the law named Javert, played by Russell Crowe. On the last day of his sentence, Javert presents Jean Val-Jean with a parole slip that Jean will be forced to carry with him his entire life forward. It is stigmatized piece of paper that announces Jean as a criminal to all who meet him and which condemns him to unemployment and shame from here on out. Then one day, a cold poor and lonely Jean finds himself on the doorstep of a church. The bishop there brings him inside and feeds and clothes him. In the middle of the night, Jean steals the churches silver. The police catch him soon after. Jean lies and says the bishop gave him the silver. The police bring Jean back to the bishop. One word from the bishop and Jean is imprisoned forever more. The bishop tells the police that he indeed gave the silver to Jean. After the police have left, the bishop indeed gives the silver to Jean but tells him that he must use it to become a better man. And this Jean indeed does, donning a new name, breaking parole, and becoming perhaps the most truly Christian person in a pitiful and treacherous society of industrializing and urbanizing Parisian society circa 1815-1832. Javert searches for Jean the entire time, convinced that criminals do not change and obsessed with bringing him back to justice.

Then there is the story of Fantine, played by Anne Hathaway, a seamstress in Jean's factory in 1820, cruelly fired for being a single mother (unbeknownst to Jean) and thrown out into the unforgiving streets. In order to pay two sleazy local tavern keepers, played by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter (two sublime three named actors who flawlessly fit into an inner city industrial revolution setting whether in Paris or London, see Sweeney Todd) to take care of her child, Cozette, she heads down to the docks selling first her hair, and then her teeth, and then lastly herself as a prostitute. Finally, she is victim to the Cholera epidemic sweeping the city of Paris.

Les Miserables is a musical and a completely sung through one at that. There is as little as actual talking as possible, although since the singing is live, it does not have the stilted nature that say Evita had. For the most part, the music is better too, at least in the first half of the movie. Jean Val-Jean does not have any great songs, but because his story is so strong, and because Hugh Jackman acts the hell out of the songs, and because the songs are so fast, the lack of any particularly great music does not slow up the movie. It is always a gripping and tremendously uplifting tale of redemption. Fantine's story is utterly depressing with no way out, but it is saved by some great music, the most famous being the solo "I Dreamed a Dream." That has got to be one of the saddest things I've ever witnessed. I literally became embarrassed to be part of a theater crowd and really wanted everyone else to leave. The tavern keepers provide some much needed comic relief with the catchy tune "Master of the House." I'm telling you the first hour and a half of this movie really couldn't have been better.

The movie inexplicably fails when the story jumps ten years to 1832, introduces a bunch of boring characters involved in a revolution that is never really explained, and the music becomes mediocre at best and yawn-inducing at worst.

You know it really matters to be able to understand what exactly a really slow unmelodic song is all about. Otherwise you are sort of just waiting for it to end. We have a lot of people singing about a revolution but what is the revolution about? Who are they against and for what? I understood the conflict between Javert and Jean Val-Jean, but I have no idea what the barricades we're all about. If it was against the monarchy, where is the monarch? If it was a class war between the poor and rich (which I think I remember from my high school class is what Engles and Marx thought it was about) than why is the main character a rich person, played by Eddie Redmayne, slumming it up with the revolutionaries. I remember a rather boring song sung by one of his compatriots that questions whether he is more interested in the revolution or some girl he saw from a distance and fell in love with (this being a grown-up Cozette with a woefully underwritten personality). I think that's a great question. Where does this guy's allegiance lie? Why am I watching him in a movie named Les Miserables?

This movie should have done one of three things: Cut at least half of Eddie Redmayne's songs, make the songs decent un-boring songs, or make the revolution actually about poor people fighting against oppression. You know I saw this same pussyfooting around the obvious in this summer's "The Dark Knight Rises." If you are going to walk up to the bell of socioeconomic conflict (i.e. class warfare) then be a man and ring it. Now I doubt you will find many Americans in the audience (me included) for that sort of thing but when it is left out, the conflict has no antagonist and becomes dreadfully boring. Let's put up some barricades! Who are we fighting? I don't know!

If I were in charge, I would have also used the melody for "I Dreamed a Dream" more than once. Really, there is no reason not to when the movie does not come up with anything better and yet insists on having very slow solo songs. It helps when the characters are forgettable and their problems are not interesting to have them sing a melody that is by itself worth hearing. There was this inexplicable love triangle between three undeveloped characters. The least known of them spends about five minutes of our time singing about being left out. Change that tune to the Dream one and it might have been a little more bearable to sit through as we wait for the story to cycle back to the interesting characters once again.

One more thing and try to take this as something other than homework. This story, Les Miserables, has gotten flak before for a benign reason. It is about the struggles of the very poor but its audience has been traditionally very rich. Long running lavish Broadway musicals that win lots of awards have much higher ticket prices than the average movie and going to the theater to see an unapologetically cry-inducing musical about poor people is, let's be honest, a bit of an upper-crust thing to do. This movie is worth seeing, it is true, but go ahead and also see this year's "Beasts of the Southern Wild," another great movie about poor people that was actually made by poor people. Both have abject poverty. Both have disease and death. Both have traumatic events. Hell, both have bad teeth and prostitutes. But see them both. And then think about what you saw and ask yourself: why are they so very different?