Monday, December 31, 2012

Lay Miz: It's as Bad As You've Heard

The reports I got on "Les Miserables" before actually being dragged to see it tonight ran the length of human experience. One woman told me it was "the best movie I've ever seen." One said Anne Hathaway's version of "I Dream a Dream" was "worth the price of admission." A friend, whose wife made him go, told me it was "godawful."

I tend to agree with the latter assessment. Take the terrible singing out of Lay Miz and you have a start on a good movie. Take all the music out--with this cast--and you have a winner. But nobody did that.

What we got instead was superhero Hugh Jackman, who looks like Deputy Dawg in Lay Miz, signing so badly that people were laughing out loud (I was leading that); Russell Crowe proving that as a singer he's a great actor; Amanda Sayfreid signing like Minnie Mouse; and Anne Hathaway's version of That Song being worth the price of admission, depending on what you paid. Leah paid for my ticket.

(Let me mention that Leah was a music major in college and she talked about Jackman and Crowe being so atonal that "it sounded like an auction.")

The movie is claustrophobic beyond any reason. That Song Anne Hathaway sings is performed with the camera in so close you can count her nose hairs. It's emotional and she sings well, but we're in her space so far that it's uncomfortable for her and for us. Far too many scenes are played far too close.

There was an opportunity here to do a good film, one with a great Victor Hugo story, a few nice songs and some great period sets. But the signing got in the way. Dialogue was sung. Most often badly and inappropriately. The much publicized gimmick of of piping in piano background as the actors sang their parts wasn't all that hot, given the quality of the singing. Maybe the piano was offkey.

If there is a saving grace for Lay Miz, it is the performances of Helena Bonham Carter and Sasha Baron Cohen as the Thenardiers, a couple of crooks who were perfectly delightful in several scenes that simply didn't fit this movie.

One thing to watch for: Jeffrey Rush is in this turkey. Find him and report back to me.


  1. Lay Miz has a 71% favorable rating from critics and 85% favorable from audience rating. An 8.2 on IMDB. Those are some seriously good numbers. I can't imagine that it could get those numbers with awful singing. I'm sure Leah is a qualfied judge but I'm also sure the music directors of the film were at least equally qualified.

    The close-up issue is interesting. I would imagine that has to do partly with the way the recorded the singing. There may have been a fair amount of audio equipment around that needed to be outside frame.

    Anyway, I wonder why you're so tough on movies. Do you think your taste is just that much more refined than everyone elses? Are you a hipster Dan?

  2. this write-up made me chuckle, thats for sure. enjoyed it very much.

  3. Dusty: Are you suggesting I just go to Rotten Tomatoes and report what it says or that maybe I should say what I think?

    I don't think my taste is any more refined than that of the least redneck at the Golden Horseshoe Saloon, but I have a forum and I will use it. I have said a number of times that I--like so many people who criticize--have no more or less of a right to write these pieces than anybody else, but I do it and some people pay attention. If you consistently don't like the reviews, ignore them. Your choice. I don't care. Sometimes a movie gnaws so hard at me--and this one did--that I have to say what I think to try to prevent a person from paying $10.50 to see it.

    I'm not sure what your reference to "hipster" is, but if it's what it was when I was a kid, no, I don't think so.

    One more thing: I'm not especially tough on movies. The two that I've disliked this holiday season are Lay Miz and "Guilt Trip," which most agreed was a waste of talent and celluloid. I adored "Silver Linings Playbook" and so did the critics and movie fans. So, sometimes I'm with the majority, sometimes not. That's the way it works. And should. I'd be damn boring if I always agreed with the majority of any group.

  4. I think you are a bit harsh. Doing a good movie from a musical stage play is difficult, especially for one as well-known as this. The only twist available to the director to get the equivalent emotion from the actors as was projected on the stage by the trained singers is to play off the facial expressions, which requires close-ups. You don't get those on the stage. Crowe was definitely the worst, both in voice and acting. Hathaway was respectable, as was Eddie Redmayne and Samantha Barks (who actually played Eponine on stage more than once). Seyfried was truly awful, but Jackman was not all that bad. He intentionally tried to put more into the emotion than the notes, probably because he knew he could never compare favorably to any of the well-known Valjeans from stage. I thought it was a successful adaptation, but I never expected the quality of the music to compare to the stage version. Same was true of Fiddler on the Roof, and I enjoyed that movie a lot. Helena Bonham Carter was a wonderful (acting) Mme Thenardier, although I didn't think Sasha Baron Cohen was disgusting enough as Mr. Thenardier (and he can be really disgusting, as we all know). As a point of reference, recall that one of the Jonas brothers was cast as Marius in the 25th anniversary show, so, whatever.

  5. By hipster I mean someone who eschews mainstream out of a belief that what is made for public consumption isn't good enough for them.

    Seems to me you love hammering in on movies that are loved by the majority. I've done it too, but not nearly as often as yourself. Your saying that Les Mis and Django are no good? Seems highly unlikely. After some more research I have heard complaints about the singing, but rarely to such a degree as your own.

    It's funny how I agree with nearly every word you type about politics but basically disdain your opinions on all forms of art.

  6. Dusty, in a word, that's bullshit. I want to like these movies, but who and what determines taste? The singing in Lay Miz was awful. I was sitting beside a college music major who is a marvelous singer and she wanted to leave almost before the thing got going. You are talking as if you haven't seen either movie. I didn't hate Django as much as I should have, because the racism and the overt and overdone violence should repel us all. The movie was made well and the professionals performed well. It was the story that was offensive.

    As I've said over and over, you don't have to agree with or even read these opinions. If you "disdain" my opinions on the arts, then maybe you should go elsewhere for entertainment.

    1. It's not like your my only source for entertainment critiques. It just so happens I subscribe to very few rss feeds and your is one of them. That's because I value your writing skills and fresh take politics. It's also because your local and often our area of interests overlap. You also seem to be a damn fine man. But wow, do I ever disagree with you on movies. And it's not like I don't see dissenting opinions often. I am in regular dialogue with movie critics as a member of the LAMB and occasionally have the chance to converse with movie professionals. I think I just sense a lack of respect for the films you criticize. The one's you don't like, that is. Even when I despise a movie I revere it some way. After all, even the least of these people I've criticized have accomplished more than myself in the world of film. So to me, the best of criticism is still less valuable than the least of art. I just don't get that feeling from you. Though it's quite possibly my own projections causing that illusion. I've never been offended by a film. At least not by its content anyway.

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  8. Dan, if it makes you feel validated, apparently the glam rock spokesman agrees with you:

  9. Dusty: I think it is fair to say I don't like a movie when I'm paying $10.50 for it and would like to tell others whether I believe it is a value. I don't disrespect movie makers any more than I disrespect visual artists, writers or any other creatives. I have had my work criticized (not always favorably) and if I'm selling it, I believe that criticism is fair, even when the person can't do what I can do. He can certainly react to it. I do this as a layman with no formal film (or theater) education and ask that readers take it for what it is. I was offended by the total lack of tonal quality in the voices of the people singing (and I won't call them singers because they aren't) in Lay Miz. The movie would have been acceptable (though I still would not have liked it much) if singers had been employed for singing roles and not actors for their name recognition. Movie making at this level is big business and when the big, glitzy, expensive movie is a turkey (in my view), I will say so. When I see a local production of Lay Miz on stage, my bell curve kicks in and I give the local amateurs (most often) a break. I think that's fair. For all creatives, I honor the effort, but will not bullshit on what I think the result is. That would be dishonest and I try to avoid that.

  10. Mike: I don't really need vindication. I just write what I write and let it go at that. I took a peek at Rotten Tomatoes after I wrote my little piece and the people who didn't like the movie said pretty much what I said. The singing is lacking.