Video: Gollum and Fantine – Separated at Birth?

Watch this absolutely brilliant video of some guy singing “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables in the style of Gollum from “The Hobbit.” It’s sweeping the Internet.

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The more I watch, the more I think there’s some truth here behind the screamingly funny song. Gollum, the creature transformed by his carnal craving for his precious ring, and Fantine, the mother turned prostitute, are in the same state of being: Hell.

And we think Hell is a place. Silly us.

Look Down, Look Down! An interview with Justice Fellowship’s Pat Nolan on the Released Prisoners Walking in Jean Valjean’s Footsteps

Every early morning in New York, says Justice Fellowship’s Pat Nolan, a Jean Valjean gets off a bus and heads to an uncertain future. The clothes and technology may have changed since the days depicted in Les Miserables (review here), but the basic plight of the imprisoned and paroled remains the same.

The story of released convict Jean Valjean transformed by an act of grace really hits home for Nolan.

In Prison – You Ain’t Got Nothing Coming

Look down, look down,
You’ll always be a slave
Look down, look down,
You’re standing in your grave – Convicts at work

Hugh Jackman as convict Jean Valjean.

The film begins with convicts serving hard labor singing “look down.” They ask if anyone remembers them, they wonder if family has forgotten, if God has forgotten, or if they will ever be released.

Nolan remembers that feeling.

“You wonder if anyone remembers or cares about you,” he said when we talked by phone, “As in the movie, prison dehumanizes you. The prisons I was in, thousands of times in the two years I was there, they said, ‘You ain’t got nothing coming.’ It’s said with hate. The implications is you came from nothing, you are nothing, you’re worthless.”

A former California Assemblyman from a good background, Nolan plead guilty to one count of racketeering in connection with an FBI sting on campaign contributions. He served 25 months in prison.

He knew “You ain’t got nothing coming” wasn’t necessarily true because he’d had good experiences in life, he says, but “think of the poor kids who have never been respected in their lives, never been told they’re loved. It takes such a toll on who they are. They begin to believe it.”

Nolan is especially concerned for female inmates. “The public would be shocked to know that women get far fewer visits than men,” he said, a truth he witnessed first hand by observing the women’s facility opposite his own prison. “They’re usually in prison because of their boyfriend. Maybe he’s been dealing drugs, and makes a deal and drops a dime on them. The families are usually angry because they warned of the boyfriend. Plus, if they have children, the children get dumped on relatives and they resent it. They’re willing to do it, but adds the burden of their own kids or grandparent has to pick up the burden. They’re angry at the prisoner.”

Even more heartbreaking, he says, the caregivers are “exhausted because they’re working all week to support these kids. Prisons are often far from urban areas. Who can work all week long and pile the kids in the car to go for a visit? How do they get there? Where do they stay? Some of the families sleep in the car just to visit.”

“Prison experience is very tough on women. Then to have no one there to greet them, no wonder they slide back into trouble again.”

On Parole – The Wolves are There

Now I know how freedom feels 
The jail is always at your heels 
It is the law
This piece of paper in my hand which bids me cast throughout the land
It is the law
Like a cur
I walk the streets
The dirt beneath their feet – Jean Valjean

Hugh Jackman stars as parolee Jean Valjean

“When [Valjean] is released and he gets turned away at the inn because his password is stamped convict, that’s modern days,” said Nolan, “Since 9/11 you can’t rent a hotel room, take a bus, or do anything with out an ID. They leave prison with no ID but prison ID. They’re marked. Marked men and women.”

Men and women are released, separated from family and community, often with nothing more than a bus ticket, says Nolan. They may have intentions of living a straight life, but they have little support and little hope for being able to make it into a job. And, circling are the dark options that seem like the only options: Prostitution. Drug abuse. Crime.

“The wolves are there, they’re ready to pounce.”

“Jean Valjean faced those problems then, but every year 700,000 inmates are released in America. In Alabama, they’re released with a check for twenty dollars. With no ID, they can’t cash the check. Even that is worthless to them.”

But there are people who do care. Near San Diego, Welcome Home ministries tries to help. “When a woman is going to get out, Carmen meets them at the bus, buys them a meal, gives them a good set of clothes, a whole set of services.”

An Act of Grace – I’m Not Going to Give Up on You

Come in, Sir, for you are weary,
And the night is cold out there.
Though our lives are very humble
What we have, we have to share. – The Bishop

Even after Jean Valjean takes advantage of the bishop’s kindness by stealing his silver and is captured by the police, the man extends grace. He not only gives him the stolen silver, but the candlesticks he had not stolen. This interaction is key for Nolan.

“The affirmation of worth, as we saw in Les Miz, the priest, who spontaneously covered for him and gave him the silver candlesticks  said ‘you’re worth risking for.’ And put him on the right path to do great good for everyone around him.”

“That really rings home. It’s only the generosity of people who often times for religious motivation, are willing to look at the inmate, see they carry the image of God, spark of divineness, that says there’s worth. I’m not going to give up on you, not going to throw you on the ashheap. For those that do it makes all the difference in the world.”

As an example, Nolan cites Korn Galvanizing in Pennsylvania. Nolan says the owner and CEO agreed to hire former prisoners. Both Catholics, they did it because they felt “Jesus told me to.”

“Now over half of their employees are ex-offenders. They are the most valuable, hardworking employees. They are so grateful for the opportunity, for the grace extended to them. He says those former offenders are invaluable because they work so hard, they are so loyal, grateful for the job.”

Nolan is a realist. “Everybody to whom grace is extended doesn’t turn out right. We’re not Pollyannas.  Some people continue in their life of crime. But the fact that some don’t take advantage of grace doesn’t mean we should deny it to everyone. Why on earth would we presume they wouldn’t? Let’s extend a second chance.”

Who knows? That man or woman getting off a lonely bus in the early dawn light might just be a new Jean Valjean in the making.

This Season’s Must See Movie: Les Miserables

What to do?

What to say?

What I tell you about Les Mis-er-ab-les?

Beneath the music that will insinuate itself into your mind, beneath the acting that will have tears streaming down your face, beneath the scope the movie offers that is not available on a stage, there is a story.

And what a story.

The story of the reformed and restored criminal Jean Valjean from Victor Hugo’s great novel is the story of humanity, of despair, but most of all, of redemption.

If haven’t heard the story, here is a rundown. It’s helpful to know the story going in because it moves quickly and sometimes is hard to follow if you are unfamiliar.

As the musical starts, Jean Valjean finishes serving nineteen years hard labor for the theft of a loaf of bread. Paroled, but not freed from his shame, he sets into the world with his moral code of an eye for an eye, of turning his heart into stone.

Hugh Jackman stars as Jean Valjean, a convict who becomes a rich man, receiving and extending grace in a harsh world.

But God has another plan. An encounter with a priest shows Valjean another way, a way of grace, of redemption, of reprieve.

Jean Valjean vows to live his life in this new way, something beyond rules and just rewards, something based on love and not justice. Years later, as chief businessman and mayor of a Paris suburb, he has a chance to help a prostitute named Fantine, but the need is great. The dying mother leaves behind a little girl, a girl Valjean promises to protect.

However, the former convict has broken parole to embark on his new life. A police officer named Javert makes it his personal mission to bring the fugitive to justice. Valjean with the little girl Cosette flee to Paris, where they find yet another new life with seething poverty and revolution as a backdrop, a chance at love, and the relentless footsteps of Javert constantly echoing behind them.

Fans of the musical, as I have been for decades, will love the movie. For the most part, the film sticks straight to the outlines of the musical. Some little tweaks are made, a missing song intro here or a switch in order there, but the tone of the musical remains. A few plot points come from the book, but are not in the musical.

In fact, it’s remarkable how different two experiences can be with the same lyrics and music. Director Tom Hooper takes full advantage of movie magic, giving street scenes, sewers, and the Paris skyline the kind of scope and presence only implied on a limited stage. The first number of the second half, Do You Hear the People Sing?, fulfills the promise of the music by filling up a Parisian thoroughfare with the discontented and disenfranchised beginning to rally around a revolutionary flag. It’s positively stirring.

This is not a movie to replace the musical, but a different, complimentary experience.

The other difference between movies and stage is that the camera can capture the face of an actor, while a play audience has to watch from a distance. The cast of the musical sang the songs as they filmed, as opposed to taping in a studio and dubbing over, so the words are raw and the acting integrated with them.

The most powerful example, indeed the most powerful scene in any movie this year, is Anne Hathaway as Fantine, a mother forced from respectable employment to the streets and prostitution to support her child. When she sings I Dreamed a Dream, the anguish in her voice and her eyes unite to make a heartbreaking whole. It is nearly impossible to watch without tears. Indeed, she is considered nearly a lock for the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for this role.

Fantine (Anne Hathaway)

It’s all the more remarkable in that Hathaway’s voice, like that of the bulk of the cast, is nowhere near Broadway quality. It is not the skill in her notes that makes the effect, but the emotion. The weakest link in the film is Russell Crowe as Javert, the relentless rule-enforcer, but even he conjures up powerful emotions and themes. Likewise, Amanda Seyfried as grown Cosette acquits herself passably.

Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean runs the range of emotions from haggard and hateful to sacrificially loving, from frightened to secure, from sinner to saint. A Tony-award winning Broadway actor as well as a bona fide movie star, Jackman aims more for emotion than for Broadway vocal power, and succeeds. He also performs the new song in the production, Suddenly, a lullaby of love to little Cosette.

Stage veterans were cast in some big roles. Marius, the revolutionary, is played by the adorable Eddie Redmayne, no stranger to the stage in London and New York. Samantha Barks, who has a long stage resume and played Eponine in London, reprises her role here. Her voice is so powerful and pure that it stands out among the other cast.

Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen are well cast as the despicable Thenardier couple, the Master of the House, looking only to line their own pockets. Cohen, whom we know best from Borat, is an unexpected delight in the role.

The story, however, is the heart and soul of the movie. Much will be written, and indeed has been over the years, about the contrast of two men. One lives by the way of grace. The other is a slave to justice. Their lives intersect and interweave, but grace perseveres.

It is one of the most beautiful stories ever written, one of the most beautiful scores ever composed, expertly set to film. Gather up the family this Christmas. Don’t miss it. In fact, this movie reflects exactly why Christians believe Jesus came to earth.

He came for the miserable ones, Les Miserables.

 

Rated PG-13, the epic story shows the despair and dregs of life as well as victory. There are scenes of violence, murder, and prison savagery. Fantine is reduced to prostitution. Although the movie does not explicitly show sex, the lyrics refer to the act of prostitution and Fantine’s shame as she takes her first customer is shown, with the motions of her body evident but the man never seen. There are battle scenes, heroically portrayed and not particularly bloody, but filled with death, death of a child, and a suicide. The movie deals with universal and human themes in ways that help children understand the world and humanity, but parents should be ready for these themes. Not appropriate for elementary aged children, probably.  

10 Most Tear Inducing Lyric Quotes from Les Miserables (With photos from the Film)

Trying to name the ten best moments in Les Miserables is like trying to find your favorite snowflake. There are so many and they’re all so beautiful! But here are some top candidates, ranked from somewhat sad to major hankie situation. What do you think? Did I leave any great moments out?

Awards Watch: ‘Zero Dark Thirty,’ ‘Les Miserables,’ ‘Lincoln’ Win Big in DC Critics’ Awards

I’m privileged to be a member of the Washington Area Film Critics Association. After an intense couple of weeks screening the year’s big movies, WAFCA has voted and named Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty the best film of the year. Starring Jessica Chastain, the film follows America’s search for Osama Bin Laden, from the very first hints of intelligence to a dogged search for clues to the final raid that brought justice to the most notorious terrorist of our time.

Jessica Chastain also won for Best Actress, an award that was well deserved, and Bigelow took the award for Best Director.

She had some stiff competition. Also up for Best Director were Ben Affleck (Argo), Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master), Tom Hooper (Les Misérables), and Steven Spielberg (Lincoln). While I wasn’t a fan of The Master , any of the other directors deserved to win as well. Hooper’s Les Miserables is absolutely fantastic and was my pick for Best Picture.  Ben Affleck (whom I interviewed for Argo) proved he is a capable and deft director with the tense historical thriller. Steven Spielberg found his mojo again after the dismal War Horse with his delightful and profound portrait of Lincoln, a movie I deeply love.

Indeed, I am delighted that Daniel Day-Lewis won Best Actor for his portrayal of Lincoln. He managed to make the man both human and great, no small task.

Everyone is raving about Anne Hathaway as the tragic Fantine in Les Miserables. Once you see the film, you will rave about her humanity and pathos as well. This is why she seemed almost assuredly a lock for the Best Supporting Actress win, which she was indeed awarded by WAFCA. It would be a shock of the highest order if she did not win the Oscar. You can watch the trailer with part of her performance here.  Over at Christopher Closeup, Tony Rossi posted an interview with Hathaway and other stars of the movie in which they show how very deeply they care about the story and timeless message of Les Miserables. Or, for a lighter touch, you can see Saturday’s duet of “Confrontation” between Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe in a pub setting.

Fantine (Anne Hathaway) becomes increasingly desperate to provide for her daughter Cosette, in a world in which desperate women were not treated softly.

I was pleased to see both Looper and Beasts of the Southern Wild recognized in small ways, the first for its screenplay and the second for its young lead Quvenzhané Wallis. I highly recommend both movies.

Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom was also a fun and delightful movie with Anderson’s signature charm. If only we had room to recognize them all.

I would have liked to have seen Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey recognized. Jackson takes quite a few risks in the film. He slows down the story and savors it like a fine wine, instead of rushing from plot point to plot point. Secondly, he filmed in ultra-clear 3D at 48/frames per second. The result is a movie that feels completely different than what you’ve been used to in the past, more real, more immediate. The film took some getting used to, but the more I think about it, the more I like it.

In addition, I loved Joe Wright’s literary and bold adaptation of Anna Karenina. His decision to include the story of Levin and Kitty, unlike many adaptions in the past, give the film balance. His bold staging of the film makes it provocative and highly watchable.

Check out WAFCA’s full list of nominees and winners here.

You can catch these movies in various ways.

Currently in Theaters:

Lincoln

Looper

Anna Karenina

Argo

Available for Home Viewing: 

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Moonrise Kingdom

Upcoming:

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Dec 14)

Les Miserables (December 25)

Zero Dark Thirty (Jan 11)

 

Video: Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe Give Sneak Peek of Les Miserables Duet

Can’t wait for the movie version of Les Miserables to release Christmas Day? Stars Hugh Jackman (Jean Valjean) and Russell Crowe (Javert) gave a preview of their intense duet, “Confrontation.” It happened in a pub on Saturday. Watch here.

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Watch: Extended Feature on singing Les Miserables

In this feature, the cast of Les Miserables and director Tom Hooper discuss their innovative filming style. They have the actors live sing every scene, instead of lip syncing pre-recorded songs. I found it fascinating.

It certainly made me want to see the movie even more. I’ve just bought tickets to the stage play for myself and my family in early December. We’ll be all ready for the movie when it comes out Christmas Day. (H/T to Joseph Susanka for the link).

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Click through for more coverage of Les Miserables. 

New images from ‘Les Miserables’

Do you hear the people sing?

Check out these new images (from USAToday)  from the upcoming adaptation of the beloved Broadway play Les Miserables. I get shivers just looking at them. It’s one of my most anticipated movies of the year. Les Miserables will march into theaters December 14.

 

First Look: Russell Crowe as Javert (aka Satan) in Les Miserables

Last week, we showed you Hugh Jackman in costume as the destitute Jean Valjean in the musical adaptation of the Broadway hit “Les Miserables.”

Now, thanks to the Daily Mail (which has more pictures), there are first pictures of Russell Crowe as Valjean’s nemesis, the police officer Javert.

I used to think of Javert as getting the short end of the stick. After all, he is only doing his job, and doing it well. But as I have matured, I’ve realized the genuis of Victor Hugo, the author of the magnificent novel on which the story is based.

I now see that Javert is Satanic.

Lest you scoff at my use of a dramatic word, I mean that in a theological sense. Javert, with his unyeilding cleavage to rules and regulations, his rejection of compassion, and his total abandonment of grace, is exactly a picture of Satan, the one who sees you as nothing more than a list of your transgressions and hates you for them.

Some so-called Christians should take note.

As such, his correct but merciless outfit and lack of humor or joy fit perfectly. Contrast that with the utter humanity of Jackman as Valjean. The movie will make the case, as the book did, that even a destitute, dirty, starving, desperate, and criminal nobody like Jean Valjean is beautiful and worthy of receiving and extending mercy.

I cannot wait for this movie. I’m getting verklempt already. It opens December 14.


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