Les Miserables (2012)

These last months of 2012 see a bumper crop of film adaptations from literary sources. We have an eclectic array from the minimalist rendition of Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, to this long awaited maximalist Les Misérables, adapted from Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s 1980 stage musical based on Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel. From Ang Lee to Tom Hooper, we are gratified on both ends of the spectrum.

It is a shift too for Hooper, fresh from his much smaller scale, Oscar winning The King’s Speech (2010), to turn and adapt a successful stage musical into a huge cinematic production. Yes, maximalist could well be the word to describe Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables.

Les Miserables Movie Poster

I sat in a Cineplex theatre that offered Ultra AVX, Audio Visual Experience: wall to wall screen, big sound, huge images. Now of course, I would have seen it on a regular screen and with smaller head shots. For me, the AVX extravagance might even be a distraction. For as I watched the movie, it was in the small moments of torn sentiments, the minute scale of personal transformation, and the internal moral dilemmas so well acted out that I found Hugo a brilliant writer of the human soul. I don’t need big boom sound and maximized frames to sensitize me.

The epic scale is effective, and the cast is admirable in delivering a heartfelt performance. I can fully imagine the difficulty of casting, finding good film actors who can sing well. But overall, they are well chosen.

Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean is impressive. No stranger to musicals, Jackman is a Tony Award winner himself, and here he is perfect for the role in every aspects, physiques, singing and acting. I’m glad to see he get a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor (Comedy or Musical) in the coming Award Season.

Colm Wilkenson, a Broadway star dating back to Jesus Christ, Superstar and as Jean Valjean in the original musical of Les Miserables has a brief appearance as the Bishop, whose forgiveness of Valjean’s theft when he put him up for the night transforms the bitter soul of the hardened ex-con. His singing of course is impeccable.

Also glad to find out Eddie Redmayne can sing so well too. Like Jackman, he is a Tony Award winner, more recent and a much younger one. He plays Marius, among a group of young revolutionaries who set up the Barricade to defy the French militia. He is the young man who falls in love with Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) at first sight. Compared to his A Week With Marilyn, his performance here could well catapult him into more prominent roles in the future.

While many of the other main cast are not Broadway singers, their skills are laudable. Anne Hathaway singing ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ is probably one of the most successful trailers made. And here in the film, her affective appearance as Fantine only makes me wish she can stay a while longer. Good to see she gets a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress (Comedy or Musical).

Anne Hathaway

Russell Crowe’s singing experience could have come mainly from his rock band, but his voice is fine here as Javert, the prison guard and later policeman on the trail looking for Valjean through the years. Yet it is not the singing, but the acting that I expected more. I know he is supposed to be cold and harsh, yet it is the internal fervor and depth that I find lacking. I think Geoffrey Rush is a more convincing Javert in the 1998 film adaptation… and I suppose he can sing too.

A marvellous duo that serve as a much needed comic relief is Sacha Baron Cohen’s Thénardier, ‘Master of the House’ and his Madame played by and Helena Bonham Carter. What a contrast with her role as Queen Elizabeth in The King’s Speech. The Thénardiers make one apt comic duo with their lively screen presence, great comic timing, and wonderful singing from both.

I must mention the two young actors. Daniel Huttlestone shines in his role as Gavroche, the boy at the Barricade. He has delivered a mature and poignant performance. I hope to see him appear in more films in the future.

The other is in the movie poster, an icon taken from the Musical. It is the image of little Cosette, here in the film movingly played by Isabelle Allen. The look-alike of the two images leads me to this thought:

I’m surprised to find the film adaptation follow the musical to the dot in terms of the song sequence. I think every one of them is performed, plus one more, ‘Suddenly’, written by Schönberg for the film. I was expecting a bit more creative cinematic treatment on screen. Further, the whole movie is connected by one song after another with almost no dialogues. For the film medium, editing could be better used here for pacing and avoiding redundancy. I feel the 157 minute production could be much tighter. With Schönberg directly involved in the adaptation, I’m sure he must have wanted every song preserved. Cutting the length must have been a delicate matter.

Overall, Hooper’s bold attempt to have the actors sing live instead of record the songs in a studio pays off. A first in recent decades, singing while they are acting creates and captures the emotions of the moment. With the title Les Misérables, we see a lot of heartfelt tears, and pathos of the human condition laid bare and raw. But Hugo’s universal theme also flows out as ready as the tears, that the power of forgiveness surpasses all wrongs, and grace triumphs over law. An apt offering for the Christmas season.

~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples


Forget About Tiger Mothering, Try Inspirational Parenting

One of the most memorable lines in last week’s Academy Awards is Tom Hooper’s: “The moral of the story is: Listen to your mother.”

What more satisfaction can a mom get than to hear her son utter these words in front of a billion viewers worldwide.

Here’s the excerpt of his speech leading to this final conclusion:

“My mum was invited to a fringe theater play-reading of an unproduced, unrehearsed play called The King’s Speech in 2007She came home, rang me up and said, ‘Tom, I think I found your next film.’

I followed The New York Times reporter/blogger Melena Ryzik’s The Carpetbagger on Twitter through the Awards Season. Of all the Oscar interview write-ups I’ve read, and there are numerous, Ryzik’s “A Chat With The Mother Who Knows Best” has left the most lasting impression on me. And it was in that article that I found these two words, “inspirational parenting”. They were nothing short of an epiphany for me, striking a chord instantly.

Photo Credit: Matt Sayles/Associated Press

Ryzik talked to “The King’s Speech” director Tom Hooper’s mother after her son’s Oscar win, calling her “an exemplar of inspirational parenting”. Meredith Hooper is an academic and author of over 60 fiction and non-fiction works for children. Here are some excerpts from Ryzik’s article:

Did she realize she’d caused worldwide guilt among children for not listening to their mothers?

“I did not!” Ms. Hooper protested. “I didn’t say it. My advice is exactly the opposite — that we should all listen to our children.”

Now isn’t that the kind of talk that can make Amy Chua cringe? The kind of parenting style that prompted her to write about her own school of tough love parenting in her memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, now 7 weeks so far on the NYT Bestsellers List. It’s all that debate about teacher-fronted or child-centred learning all over again.

I’ve left comments on others’ blogs about my view of this current hot topic of the “Tiger Mom”, but have not posted about it here on Ripple Effects. The main reason is that I have not read the book, so I should not say too much when I haven’t heard all that Amy Chua has to say, albeit I can understand her perspective since I share similar ethnic and cultural roots.

Nevertheless, I’d rather write about ‘inspirational parenting’. It just sounds… more uplifting. Just savor the two words… aren’t they sublime? I think I just might adopt the first word as a personal axiom, ‘inspirational’ anything… in speaking, thinking, writing, being… mmm, something to aspire to.

Ok, back to “The King’s Speech”. After seeing the play, Meredith Hooper saw a great potential for a film in this story so full of human interest, irony and humor. As an Australian herself, she was bemused by Logue’s task to teach an English royal to speak:

Logue came as an Australian, and taught the king to speak. How incredible! Because we colonials — it’s assumed that the English would teach us how to speak. So I loved this reversal of roles, that this Australian would arrive in England with his democratic attitude, and no assumptions about class and society and status, all of which I’ve experienced.

Now this just might work for parenting as well. A practice of role reversal could bring about more empathy for both parents and children. Only when we listen and try to understand can we begin to deepen a relationship. I know, only as a therapy session, for kids would be more than willing to take back their role after momentary reversal. Who would want a more arduous job than they need to?

A story, a film, real life, it all boils down to…

So here it was, this simple need to communicate, in a play or in a film. Brilliant! Because it’s all about communicating, every piece of dramatic writing is all about communicating, and this was about someone who couldn’t.”

It’s interesting that Tom did not take up his mother’s enthusiasm right away. Convinced of the latent power in the story, Meredith explained to her son how the elements of effective storytelling fall naturally in place. They shared ideas. It was five months later that the initial notion began to take shape as a film project.

I must add too that the inspirational parenting ends where the creative spark ignites. A wise mother knows when to stop and allow the seed to grow into a life of its own. That’s what Meredith Hooper did… and the rest is Oscar history.


Click Here to read Melena Ryzik’s NYT article “A Chat With The Mother Who Knows Best”.

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Oscar Winners 2011

The King’s Speech (2010): Movie Review

The King’s Speech: Fact And Fiction

Oscar Winners 2011

The beginning clip was an interesting opening, with Anne Hathaway and James Franco appearing in all the nominated Best Pictures. After that, what was promoted as an Oscars with the youngest co-hosts to bring about a youthful makeover had shown to be one of the most uneventful, ok, boring, in years. The preview videos of James Franco and Anne Hathaway rehearsing were much livelier than their actual act. Franco looked like he had a term paper due the next day… or was the deadpan, sleepy look a part of the performance. If it was, then he had chosen the wrong mask. I must give credits to Hathaway for trying to compensate with so much enthusiasm. When Kirk Douglas, Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law came up to present, and later, previous Oscar host Billy Crystal made his appearance, I could see some wisdom in ‘age before beauty’. Hopefully a lesson learned: Avoid the trap of ageism.

(Photo Source: Toronto Sun)

So here are the major results. For a full list CLICK HERE to the Oscars Official Site.

The King’s Speech: Best Picture, Best Director Tom Hooper, Best Actor Colin Firth, Best Original Screenplay David Seidler.

The Social Network: Best Adapted Screenplay Aaron Sorkin, Best editing, Best Original Score.

Black Swan: Best Actress Natalie Portman

The Fighter: Best Supporting Actor Christian Bale, Best Supporting Actress Melissa Leo

Inception: Best Cinematography, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Visual Effects

Toy Story 3: Best Animated Feature

Inside Job: Best Documentary Feature

(Photo Credit: Reuters/Gary Hershom)

All the best speeches came from The King’s Speech gang.

David Seidler At 73, Seidler’s win is an inspiration:

“I say this on behalf of all the stutterers in the world. We have a voice. We have been heard… My father always said to me I’d be a late bloomer. I believe I’m the oldest person to win this award. I hope that record is broken quickly and often.”
Definitely a boost to all would-be late bloomers in the world… just gives us hope.

CLICK HERE to view David Seidler’s Oscar Acceptance Speech.

Tom Hooper

“My mum was invited to a fringe theater play reading of an unproduced, unrehearsed play called The King’s Speech in 2007. She almost didn’t go. But thank God she did, because she came home, rang me up and said, ‘Tom, I think I found your next movie.’ So with this tonight, I honour you. And the moral of the story is: listen to your mother.”


Colin Firth

“I have a feeling my career’s just peaked.”

That’s the beginning of a speech expressing gratitude to many, all from memory, no cheat sheet. Those mentioned included:

“… Harvey (Weinstein, producer) who first took me on 20 years ago when I was a mere child sensation … and Livia, for putting up with my fleeting delusions as royalty…”

You must see it if you’ve missed it. For those of us who were glued to the TV screen the last 10 minutes of the Awards Show last night,  CLICK HERE to watch Colin Firth’s Oscar Acceptance Speech again.


Related Posts on Ripple Effects:

Forget About Tiger Mothering, Try Inspirational Parenting

The King’s Speech (2010): Movie Review

The King’s Speech: Fact And Fiction