Archive for January 1st, 2013

The Thinker

Review: Les Misérables

It’s hard to understand why it took more than twenty-five years for the musical Les Misérables to make it to the screen. Perhaps Cameron Macintosh (producer of the theatrical musical) thought it was more profitable simply to keep the musical continuously on tour, and it almost always is on tour, including most recently here in Washington, D.C. for its umpteenth appearance. (In fact it debuted in America at the Kennedy Center before moving to Broadway.) I remember first seeing the musical in the early 1990s. The stage bill announced it would be coming to movie theaters soon. Clearly that deal fell apart. Perhaps Macintosh finally realized he could have it both ways. This movie, Les Misérables, will simply stoke interest in seeing the musical on stage, and visa versa.

If you haven’t seen the musical on the stage, you can at least now see it on the screen. If you have seen it on the stage, prepare yourself for the considerable shock of seeing it on digital film. The transition can be a bit rough at times, particularly if you are used to powerful operatic voices. You won’t find much of that in the movie, and you may find yourself cringing at times by just how badly some of the singing comes across. In particular, you may find yourself wishing that Russell Crowe had the male equivalent of Marnie Nixon, the woman who actually sang the part of Eliza Doolittle for Audrey Hepburn in the movie musical My Fair Lady. Russell Crowe’s singing should have been dubbed.

In fact, one of the few things to dislike about this movie is Russell Crowe’s portrayal of the obsessive Inspector Javert. Javert is definitely a stiff upper lip type, and Crowe at least has that aspect down correctly. But his performance is too flat and unemotional. Fans of the musical will cry, from anguish and not from joy, when Crowe tries to sing songs like “Stars” and it just falls flat.

Director Tom Hooper, who gave us the academy award winner King’s Speech, gets to flex his directorial mojo tackling this challenging musical. One of his key decisions was to record the singing live and then go back and add the orchestration. The benefit is that this allows the performers to act without worrying about matching a prerecorded score. The downside is that this sort of singing is less operatic and more breathy. When an otherwise fine actor like Russell Crowe simply cannot sing, the result is like an over-modulated sound; it is just grating. The same is also true with Isabelle Allen, who plays the young Cosette. It’s forgivable in the case of a child. In the case of a lead actor like Russell Crowe, it is not.

Is this a reason to give the movie a pass? Not really. Aside from these minor imperfections, Hooper does a great job of transitioning the musical to the screen. The acting in some parts is so overwhelmingly good that you can overlook the Russell Crowe miscasting. Hugh Jackman is terrific as Jean Valjean, but the real scene-stealer is Anne Hathaway as Fantine, Cosette’s mother. Here Hooper validates his approach of recording the singing live, because through the intimacy of a close up you can get a much richer acting than you would otherwise.

Paris in the 19th century is realized quite well, although it was actually shot in an English studio. The poverty and filth of the time is also captured with uncomfortable authenticity. You can almost smell the shit as Valjean carries the wounded Marius through a Paris sewer. Hooper provides an amazingly intimate look into the life of the poor people of France, with the necessary comic relief provided by the Thenardiers, played by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter. Baron Cohen and Bonham Carter are perhaps logical choices for these parts, as they can easily ooze the sliminess these roles require, but perhaps they were too easy a choice. There have been so many fine Thenardiers’ on stage that certainly one of these actors could have done an even better job.

The ancillary parts are stocked with terrific character actors, most of whom I have no quibbles with their performance. My only concern was one I see frequently in Eponine: she is played by too pretty an actress, in this case Samantha Barks. Gavroche, the spunky street urchin, is a hard role to get right. Fortunately, Hooper made a terrific choice casting Daniel Huttlestone. Overall, Hooper does a great job with directing this tricky work, supplementing songs somewhat, providing a gritty and authentic feel to the movie, and casting hosts of ancillary characters that fluidly and realistically move through their numbers, such as the women in Valjean’s factory. The intensity of the students in their doomed parts as revolutionaries is also appreciated. We get energetic and deeply humane portraits of pivotal characters like Marius (Eddie Redmayne) and the leader Enjolras (Aaron Tveit). We also get plenty of chemistry when Marius meets the adult Cosette (Amanda Seyfried).

Whether seen in the theater or on the screen, this is a tearjerker. It left me crying at the end, even though I certainly knew all of the plot and the songs. To those few who are not familiar with either the story or the musical, it should come as a great treat. You would be wise to pack an extra handkerchief. It seemed to wow our audience, who applauded at the end of it.

Still, Russell Crowe does grate and is simply miscast in this movie, so impartiality requires me to dock it a couple tenths of a point. 3.2 stars on my four-point scale.

Rating: ★★★¼ 

 
The Thinker

Occam’s Razor 2012 Statistics

January 1st means I spend some time pondering my usage statistics for the last year. I spent some time on this last month when the blog officially turned ten years old. I’ll try not to repeat myself too much. Measured by direct web traffic, 2012 sucked. Measuring subscriber usage and social media usage shows a different story. Unless noted otherwise, my reference is Google Analytics.

Overall 2012 Statistics

  • Total Visits: 26,766 (72.8 per day), down 45.2% compared with 2011
  • Total Page Views: 34,704 (94.8 per day), down 61.5% compared with 2011
  • Percent of New Visits: 87.96% (89.13% in 2011)

Overall, web traffic is obviously down substantially, roughly in half since 2011. There are lots of reasons for this, but the most likely reason is that I am posting less often. This likely makes this site less interesting to search engines. Overall there were 107 posts in 2012 versus 127 in 2011. There are likely other reasons. My posts are less topical, as topical posts are likely to get more hits. Remember that these statistics measure traffic principally driven from search engines. Content on other sites is considered more interesting. I also strongly suspect that Google keeps refining their algorithms for measuring legitimate traffic too, and this is reflected in lower statistics. This blog is affected by a general trend where search traffic is diminishing but syndication and social media usage is increasing.

Most Viewed Posts

  1. Eulogy for my mother (18,980 page views) (#1 three years in a row)
  2. Blog home page (8,631 page views) (#2 three years in a row)
  3. Danger: Wal-Mart Customer! (5,870 page views) (#8 in 2011)
  4. Craigslist Casual Encounters: Now officially a complete waste of time (5,459 page views) (#4 two years in a row)
  5. The Root of Human Conflict: Emotion vs. Reason (4,764 page views) (#5 two years in a row)
  6. You Porn: A Traveler’s New Best Friend (4,056 page views) (Was #3 in 2011)
  7. Sharon Mitchell: Porn Saint (3,524 page views) (#6 in 2011)
  8. Queer as a Three Dollar Bill (3,139 page views) (#7 in 2011)
  9. The Illusion of Time (3,078 page views) (#9 two years in a row)
  10. The Id unleashed at Craigslist Casual Encounters (1,642 page views) (#10 two years in a row)

The list of top popular content proves to be remarkably stable from year to year, continuing to mirror human nature: interests in death, sex and weirdness seem to be themes that interest casual browsers. The one exception is my essay on emotion vs. reason, originally written in 1997, which has some sort of bizarre staying power.

Top Tags

  1. Civil War (373 page views)
  2. Obesity (170 page views)
  3. W&OD Trail (164 page views)
  4. Battle of Chantilly (136 page views)
  5. Battle of Ox Hill (130 page views)

Top Category: Best of Occam’s Razor (187 page views)

Top Browsers:

  1. Internet Explorer (27.46%, was 35.54% in 2011)
  2. Chrome (25.08%, was 17.27% in 2011)
  3. Firefox (22.00%, was 27.36% in 2011)
  4. Safari (17.76%, was 15.13% in 2011)
  5. Android Browser (4.27%)

Overall Chrome is gaining most of the browser usage. Safari is getting marginally more traffic. Both are gaining at the expense of IE and Firefox. Safari traffic likely is due to lots of iPhones and iPads out there. As Android-based smartphones and tablet computers begin to proliferate, their browsers are showing up.

Busiest month: March (3,954 visits)

Slowest month: June (1,461 visits)

Mobile visits in 2012: 3466 (vs. 3904 in 2011)

%Mobile Visits of Total Visits:  13% (vs. 8% in 2011)

So much for Google Analytics. Lots of you are reading this blog via various newsreaders and content syndication mechanisms. Here is where I can document real growth. Feedburner reports:

  • 83 subscribers as of December 31, 2012 (vs. 66 on December 31, 2011, an increase of 20%)
  • Average number of subscribers per day: 70.02 (vs. 63.23 in 2011)
  • Average hits per day: 198.62 (vs. 196 in 2011)
  • Average number of click-throughs per day: 10.40 (vs. 7.81 in 2011)

I started tracking social media usage in March. It’s a bit too early to infer any meaning from those numbers, except they are relatively modest overall.

I am also tracking the site’s web traffic on quantcast.com. I’ve only been tracking it for a month or so. Their expertise seems to be in matching web traffic with user demographics. It gives me insight into your characteristics as a group. In general I attract a younger but highly educated crowd: ages 18-34 with a disproportionate number of you having a graduate education. Statistics are available for your browsing.

More in 2014.

 

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