THE DVD SHELF: "Les Miserables," "Hands on a Hardbody," "Zero Dark Thirty," "Ministry of Fear" and More

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31 Mar 2013

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This month's column looks at the international blockbuster "Les Misérables"; Jessica Chastain in "Zero Dark Thirty"; Fritz Lang's "Ministry of Fear"; "Life and Death of Colonel Blimp"; a Bea Lillie comedy, "On Approval"; and the documentary "Hands on a Hardbody."


One of the biggest films of the past months, with an emphasis on the word big, is Tom Hooper's production of Cameron Mackintosh's Les Misérables. Big as in enormous — here is a panoply of Paris, circa 1830; here is an all-star cast, headed by Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway, with Eddie Redmayne, Helena Bonham Carter and even Sacha Baron Cohen; here is a budget said to be in the $60 million neighborhood, a lovely neighborhood in which to be; here is a film that has taken in more than $430 million, thus far, since opening on Christmas day.

It is also big in terms of what it represents. This is a film version of the legendary international classic superspectacular stage musical by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg that conquered the hearts of theatregoers everywhere since initially opening on the West End in 1985. Where it received lousy reviews. And where it is still playing. The show went on to conquer the world, with monumentally successful productions in New York and elsewhere, although some viewers — myself included — have always found the thing to be somewhat lacking. But then, I self-sabotaged my first visit early in the London run by having innocently read, shortly before, a book — also called "Les Misérables" — by a long-ago Frenchman named Victor Hugo. The novel kept me fully engrossed for the month it took me to read it; the musical only seemed to slowly grind on for a month, without the high points.

Someday I suppose I'll sit down to a new Les Mis — there's another Broadway revival on the way, we are told — and find the thing as magical as most everybody else in the universe does. That day hasn't yet arrived, though. The filmed Les Miz — and no, I'm not referring to the memorable 1935 version starring Frederic March and Charles Laughton — did not work its magic on me, but I suppose you could say that I was predisposed. Fifty million Frenchmen, and $430 million worth of ticketbuyers, can't be wrong. I will say, though, that while I don't appreciate the musical, this cinematic triumph is an impressive piece of filmmaking.

Bonus features on the Blu-ray include "'Les Misérables' Singing Live," a discussion of what it's like to sing live into the camera rather than using lip-synching; "Battle at the Barricade," presenting an in-depth look at the creation and filming of the battle; "The West End Connection," featuring Cameron Mackintosh; and "'Les Misérables' on Location," which shows us — well, "Les Misérables" on location. These are in addition to the DVD bonuses, on casting the film; on the production design; on the original novel; and feature commentary by director Hooper.

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