6:18 PM PST, December 27, 2012
"When was the last time you stood up and applauded a movie?" Filmgoers of a certain age may recall the question posed by the posters for the revenge drama "Walking Tall." That 1973 hit, directed by Phil Karlson, featured Joe Don Baker as the Tennessee cleaner-upper who took care of business with a 4-foot wooden club.
It's a long way from Buford Pusser to Jean Valjean but here we are, just a few days into the general release of "Les Miserables." Reports of nationwide standing and weeping and clapping have been legion. (I greatly admire the stage version. I thought the movie was pushy and sloppy; I knew the opinion wouldn't make friends.)
Email has been flooding my in-box. Sample outrage, from Bob Hirsch:
"Just saw Le Miz at 10 a.m. with a full house where people just kept applauding and would not leave until the credits were over. How can you put down one of the greatest movies of all time? You should be ashamed of yourself if even one person misses this awesome movie because of your foolish review."
From Barbara Cutler:
"You should go back and take a good look! There was a standing ovation at the end of the movie. People who never were able to see a Broadway show were mesmerized. The talent, all in one place, was overwhelming, even for people like me who go to Broadway often."
From Barbara Grob: "Isn't the job of a critic to stay more or less neutral? Moviegoers can make up their own mind. You slammed 'The Hobbit — it has been #1 for two weeks. You suggested 'The Guilt Trip' and it came in with five million!" Added Annette Tisdale: "Nice of you to steal Christmas, Grinch."
Gerry Amodio wrote: "I went into this afternoon's showing expecting to be thoroughly disappointed. But to my complete pleasure I was enthralled ... the packed theater, the sounds of sniffles and noses being blown ... though I have seen it on Broadway on tour, and listened to the score too many times to remember, the sound of patrons clapping (at the multiplex) after the final song is sung is a sound that just isn't experienced all too often." And from Craig Wilson: "Rethink your rating, because a bad rating for 'Les Miserables' should be no lower than three stars."
From a Florida reader, Paulette Corollo: "As a critic you have some responsibility to be objective and not let your petty, pitiful personal opinions enter into your reviews. You have failed miserably more than once. This was one of your most egregious failures. We saw the film on Christmas morning sharing a packed house. There was not a sound, nor cough from the rapt audience for the entire film. Much applause at the end and buckets of tears shed. ... Hollywood has never gotten anything so right."
How can a critic be so wrong? How can any two people experience the "Les Miz" film version so differently?
We ask these questions every so often, especially when a big, emotionally volcanic hit in the making floods an audience with lava and songs like "Bring Him Home." If a film offers a good cry, there is no arguing with those who shed the tears. There is only bafflement regarding the critics who felt either mixed or beaten up by this "Walking Tall" of a movie musical. Among them: Time's Richard Corliss ("This is a bad movie"). Manohla Dargis of The New York Times ("Bludgeoning and deadly ... by the grand finale, when tout le monde is waving the French tricolor in victory, you may instead be raising the white flag in exhausted defeat"). Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post was more positive, though her review ended this way: "Even when they're dabbing away tears during the last of the big numbers, audiences might wonder whether they're feeling less uplifted than run over." Others adore the picture, among them Peter Travers of Rolling Stone and Chicago's own Richard Roeper.
So there it is: the latest reminder that no two people are struck by the same film in the same way. While writing the previous sentence, two more emails pinged onto the radar. From Alberto Gonzalez, a minority opinion: "A cinematic travesty ... one of the most miserable movie experiences I've had in a long time. ... Five minutes into the movie I asked myself, 'Dear Lord, is the entire film going to be like this?' Sadly, the answer was yes."
More representatively, from Rae Keever: "First time I ever commented on a movie review — too bad you didn't like the movie but there's no accounting for taste. Three of us saw it Christmas Day at the Century in Evanston and all of us loved it. All female, one a senior, one in her forties and a teenage girl.
"Just wanted you to know."
R.I.P. Charles Durning and Jack Klugman
We lost two marvelous mugs this week, with voices to match. On screen, the TV and the stage, Charles Durning and Jack Klugman brought a brand of authentic grit and wily cunning that made unnecessary that heinous word "brand." They simply were real, whatever the situation, whatever the material.
Take a look at the double-take in "Tootsie" Durning perfects, when he's sitting at the bar and Dustin Hoffman walks in and catches his eye. Recall Klugman, sweating in close-up, explaining his juror character's street-smarting worldview in "12 Angry Men." We will always remember these voices, those voices. We believed them.
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