Les Miserables

Universal Pictures

Rated PG-13 for violence, mature themes and suggestive material

Jackman And Crowe Square Off In Stirring Adaptation Of Broadway Musical

Published by Victor Hugo in 1862, Les Miserables is generally recognized as one of the most important novels of the 19th century. The socially conscious, 1900-page opus explored a plethora of themes, particularly power, justice, monarchy and religion.

The moving morality play specifically shed light on the plight of the poor, especially women and children, with the hope of raising awareness about the insensitivity of a callous legal system. I digress by way of introduction only to remind readers that Les Mis’ source material was a relatively profound examination of France’s prevailing issues of the day.

Directed by Academy Award winner Tom Hooper (for The King’s Speech), the screen adaptation is based on the long-running Broadway production which won eight Tony Awards back in 1987. The film version has landed just as many Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Hugh Jackman), Best Supporting Actress (Anne Hathaway) and Best Original Song (“Suddenly”).

Understandably, the novel’s labyrinthine plot has been simplified considerably into a tale of love and redemption. Unfolding in Paris in 1815, the movie basically revolves around Jean Valjean (Jackman), a recently paroled ex-con intent on turning a new leaf after serving 19 years in prison for the theft of a loaf of bread.

On the road to redemption, he promises a prostitute on her deathbed (Hathaway) to raise her about to be orphaned young daughter (Amanda Seyfried). Meanwhile, he finds himself mercilessly haunted by a ruthless policeman (Russell Crowe) intent on putting him back behind bars. Officer Javert believes once a crook, always a crook, and accordingly devotes his days to a dogged pursuit of Valjean.

Les Mis is a cinematic rarity in that virtually every line of dialogue is sung. Furthermore, I suppose it might mean something to theater purists that the director eschewed dubbing in favor of having the cast sing live on set.

Entertaining enough to garner this critic’s stamp of approval, Les Mis nevertheless pales in comparison to so many of those enchanting classics from my childhood like West Side Story, My Fair Lady and Guys And Dolls. I guess they don’t make musicals like they used to anymore.

 

Very Good (3 stars)

Running time: 158 minutes

 

The Pirogue

ArtMattan

Unrated

Senegalese Peasants Set Out For Spain In Seafaring Tale Of Survival

You might find the title of this movie a little misleading, since to most people a “pierogi” is a puffy Polish delicacy stuffed with potatoes, sauerkraut and ground meat. However, the similar sounding “pirogue” is also the name of the flat-bottomed, wooden boat used by West African fishermen for centuries.

Directed by Moussa Toure, the fact-based drama revolves around 30 Senegalese peasants, 29 men and one woman (Mame Astou Diallo), who make a break for Spain by sea in search of a better life. Because of their country’s bad economy, even the fishing industry is dying, which means some ship owners have turned to using their vessels to smuggle needy refugees to Europe.

The story was inspired by the over 30,000 souls who attempted the transoceanic voyage between 2005 and 2010, and it is dedicated to the 5,000 of them that perished in the financial freedom flotillas. The captain of the pirogue at the center of the adventure is Baye Laye (Souleymane Seye Ndiaye), a married man who requests that his wife be paid his fee of a million Francs before his departure on the dangerous journey.

The boat is outfitted with a radio, a GPS device, 260 gallons of gasoline, 80 gallons of water and 300 pounds of rice. And the passengers have brought along musical instruments like bongos, bells and a kalimba to break up the monotony of what they expect to be long boring days.

Not so fast, kemosabe. After passing the point of no return, they encounter a host of horrifying ordeals ranging from homesickness to madness to sexual tension to infighting to a hurricane to leaks to starvation. Ultimately, their plight becomes so overwhelming that they end up praying to Allah for divine intervention.

A compelling cross of Life Of Pi and Lifeboat, a seafaring tale of survival sans the Bengal tiger and Tallulah Bankhead.

 

Excellent (3.5 stars)

In French with subtitles

Running time: 87 minutes

 

OPENING THIS WEEK

Kam’s Kapsules:

For movies opening January 25, 2013

 

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (PG-13 for violence). Revenge-fueled sequel, set 15 years after the conclusion of the Grimm Brothers’ classic fairytale, finds Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) perambulating the planet as bloodthirsty bounty hunters hell-bent on exterminating witches wherever they can be found. With Famke Janssen, Zoe Bell and Peter Stormare.

 

Movie 43 (R for violence, drug use, pervasive profanity, graphic sexuality, frontal nudity, crude humor and coarse dialogue). A dozen directors collaborated on this raunchy series of short films chronicling three kids’ internet search for the most banned movie in the world. A-list ensemble features Academy Award winners Halle Berry and Kate Winslet, along with Oscar nominees Uma Thurman, Naomi Watts, Hugh Jackman and Terrence Howard.

 

Parker (R for nudity, sexuality, pervasive profanity and graphic violence). Jason Statham plays the title character in this adaptation of Flashfire, the Donald Westlake revenge thriller about a thief who enlists the assistance of a real estate agent (Jennifer Lopez) to get even with the gangsters who had double-crossed him. Supporting cast includes Michael Chiklis, Nick Nolte, Patti LuPone, Bobby Cannavale and Wendell Pierce.

 

Happy People: A Year In The Life Of The Taiga (Unrated). Aborigine documentary, narrated by co-director Werner Herzog, anthropological examination of the 300 remaining Bakhtia, a Siberian coastal people whose cultural traditions have remained preserved for centuries. (In English and Russian with subtitles)

 

John Dies At The End (R for gore, nudity, profanity, drug use and graphic violence). Horror comedy based on the David Wong novel of the same name about a couple of college dropouts (Rob Mayes and Chase Williamson) called upon to save the day when Earth is invaded by aliens. With Paul Giamatti, Glynn Turman and Daniel Roebuck.

 

Knife Fight (Unrated). Strange bedfellows drama about a political strategist (Rob Lowe) who comes to be haunted by the dark side of his profession while running interference for a trio of seedy political candidates (Eric McCormick, David Harbour and Carrie-Anne Moss). Support cast includes Shirley Manson, Jamie Chung and Richard Schiff.

 

Noobz (R for profanity and crude sexual references). Road comedy about four friends (Jason Mewes, Matt Shively, Moises Arias and Blake Freeman) who travel to L.A. to compete in a videogame championship. With Casper Van Dien, Jon Gries and Carly Craig.

 

Race 2 (Unrated). Bollywood sequel revolving around a mobster (Saif Ali Khan) who ventures from India to Turkey to avenge the murder of his moll (Bipasha Basu). With Anil Kapoor, Deepika Padukone and John Abraham. (In Hindi with subtitles)

 

Supporting Characters (Unrated). Meandering mumblecore, set in NYC, about a couple of film editors’ (Tarik Lowe and Alex Karpovsky) struggle to juggle their demanding jobs and romantic relationships with impatient girlfriends (Melonie Diaz and Sophia Takal). Support cast includes Lena Dunham, Arielle Kebbel and Kevin Corrigan.

 

Yossi (Unrated). Bittersweet sequel to Yossi & Jagger, set a decade since the Yossi’s (Ohad Knoller) life mate perished in a military ambush, finds him now a cardiologist but still in mourning until he’s coaxed out of the closet by a handsome hitchhiker (Oz Zehavi). With Meir Golan, Amir Jerassi and Lior Ashkenazi. (In Hebrew with subtitles)

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