Movies: 'Les Miserables,' 'Hyde Park on Hudson' & 'Parental Guidance'
Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:
Based on Victor Hugo's classic 1862 novel, this epic, cinematic adaptation should attract audiences that have loved the Broadway musical.
Set in squalid 19th-century France, the film opens in 1815 with emaciated Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) as prisoner 24601, serving 19 years at hard labor for stealing of a loaf of bread, under the watchful eye of implacable Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe). Eventually paroled, Valjean is condemned as an unemployable ex-convict. The sympathetic Bishop of Digne (Colm Wilkinson, who originally played Valjean on Broadway) gives him food and shelter; in return, Valjean steals the church's silver candlesticks. When Valjean is caught, the Bishop tells the authorities that the booty belongs to Valjean, who is instructed to use it to make a better life. Within eight years, Valjean becomes a wealthy factory owner, known as Monsieur Madeleine. He takes pity on single-mother-turned-prostitute Fantine (Anne Hathaway), desperately protecting her daughter, Cosette, by paying disreputable innkeepers (Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen). Years later, with brawny Valjean as her protective guardian/adoptive father, now-grown Cosette (Amanda Seifried) falls in love with rebellious Marius (Eddie Redmayne) during the 1832 Paris Uprising.
Written by William Nicholson, Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schoenberg and Herbert Kretzmer, it's bombastically directed by Tom Hooper ("The King's Speech"), who retains the pop opera structure with only minimal spoken dialogue. Hooper's innovation is having the actors sing "live" on the set, as opposed to recording with an orchestra beforehand; this was done only once before, unsuccessfully, by Peter Bogdanovich in the disastrous "At Long Last Love" (1975).
Exuding agony, Jackman nails Valjean's "Soliloquy," "Bring Him Home" and "Who Am I?" with every emotion magnified by close-ups. Hathaway's "I Dreamed a Dream" is wrenching, assuring her major Oscar contention, echoed by Samantha Barks' plaintive "On My Own." Crowe tentatively warbles "Stars," while Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen romp through "Master of the House."
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Les Miserables" is an anguished, unrestrained, relentlessly amplified 9, a uniquely overwhelming, even exhausting extravaganza.
"HYDE PARK ON HUDSON"
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president of the United States in a far more innocent age. Not only was the press complicit in skirting FDR's sexual indiscretions but few photographs revealed the fact that his legs were paralyzed by polio. Inspired by real events that occurred in June 1939, director Roger Mitchell ("Notting Hill," "Venus," "Morning Glory") gives a behind-the-scenes glimpse of this charismatic, history-making chief executive at his country home in upstate New York.
Viewed through the adoring eyes of his fifth cousin/confidante and neighbor, Daisy Suckley (Laura Linney), an invitation to drive through the purple wildflowers and forested trails of Roosevelt Farm with wry, gregarious FDR was irresistible, even if she was originally summoned to Springwood as "a distraction" before the arrival of King George VI (Samuel West) and his wife, Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman). The reason for this first-ever visit of a reigning British monarch was to engage isolationist America's support against Hitler's Germany.
As FDR's steely, dominating mother, Sara (Elizabeth Wilson), and eccentric, independent wife, Eleanor (Olivia Williams), prepare for a historic weekend with the visiting royals, which includes a bucolic picnic at Top Cottage, where "hot dogs" will be served, Daisy realizes that she's not the only woman from whom the president derives pleasure. There's his devoted secretary, Missy LeHand (Elizabeth Marvel), plus other mistresses.
Based on Daisy Suckley's diaries and letters, Richard Nelson's astute screenplay juggles complicated personal and political dilemmas. Yet the most poignant drama comes during an after-dinner encounter between avuncular FDR and the vulnerable, inexperienced king, whose problem with stuttering was delineated in "The King's Speech." As the formidable 32nd president, Bill Murray ("Rushmore," "Moonrise Kingdom") seems destined for an Oscar nomination, as do Linney and Williams. But it's Murray who brushes aside the calculations of the story with sheer believability and the unwavering force of his sardonic humanity.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Hyde Park on Hudson" is an indelible 8, as Bill Murray delivers one of the most astonishing, rewarding performances of the year.
When Artie Decker (Billy Crystal), a minor-league baseball announcer, loses his job as the voice of the Fresno Grizzlies, he's bereft. So when his daughter Alice (Marisa Tomei) and son-in-law Phil (Tom Everett Scott) must go out of town on a business trip, his devoted wife, Diane (Bette Midler) says they'd love to stay with their seldom-seen grandchildren, ignoring Artie's curmudgeonly protests.
"We're the other grandparents," Diane wistfully observes. "This is our chance!" But uptight Alice and techno-geek Phil live in a so-called "smart house," in which everything is automated and computerized. Not surprisingly, their children's lives are strictly scheduled and dutifully monitored ("no sugar allowed"). Regimented 12-year-old Harper (Bailee Madison) is on a fast track to ace an audition that will get her into a prestigious music school to prepare her to play violin with a world-famous orchestra. Her stressed younger brother, Turner (Joshua Rush), has a stuttering problem, while mischievous Barker (Kyle Harrison Breitkopf) has an imaginary kangaroo friend named Carl. To call Alice and Phil overprotective and indulgent is an understatement; they define "helicopter parents." On the other hand, technology-challenged Artie and Diane come from a different generation, one that raised children by old-fashioned, common-sense rules -- and bribery. A colossal culture clash is inevitable.
An admitted baseball fanatic, Crystal is in his comedic element, while Midler is tart, touching and tender. Their "Book of Love" duet is a highlight. Written by Lisa Addario and her husband Joe Syracuse ("Surf's Up") and broadly directed by Andy Fickman ("Race to Witch Mountain"), the script vacillates, somewhat disconcertingly, between astute, sophisticated observations and juvenile toilet humor, particularly when Artie encourages constipated Barker to move his bowels in a public bathroom by singing "Here Comes Mr. Doody."
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Parental Guidance" is an amusing 7, as Billy Crystal delivers nostalgic, heartwarming fun for young children, parents and grandparents.