October 3, 2007

REVIEW: Across The Universe (B+)

Background: Initially set for release in September of 2006, Across the Universe has been for the last year in the middle of a fierce battle between director Julie Taymor (Frida and the Broadway adaptation of “The Lion King”) and Revolution Studios executive Joe Roth. In some instances, directors have virtually no control of their film after it’s delivered to the studio, whose producers often make edits as they run the film through test screenings. Sometimes, the released version of the film is so much different than the “director’s cut” that the director asks their name to be removed from the film. (Tony Kaye apparently sued New Line Cinema for $275 million after they would not allow him to take his name off of American History X.) In the case of Across the Universe, the released cut is apparently closer to Taymor’s original, and the controversy has apparently faded, but not been forgotten. One other note about the film (which stars an incredible number of people who look familiar to you but you can't remember from what) is that almost all of the singing was recorded live and not post-dubbed, which is amazing to think about it as you're watching the scenes.

Synopsis: Jude is a dock worker from Liverpool; Max(well) and Lucy are teen siblings from Jersey; Prudence is a loner from Dayton, Ohio; JoJo is a guitar player from Detroit; and Sadie is a singer from the East Village. Their lives intersect throughout the 1960's as family, college, love, war and hippiedom shape their future. From the first frame to the last, the songs of the Beatles are sung by the characters, sometimes together, sometimes alone, and always in earnest. While Max is at war, the rest of the group struggle through relationships, drugs, fame, a political revolution, and surreal, trippy mindscapes. It's hard to say how many years pass from the beginning to the end, and even though the characters do not age at all, by the end everyone is somehow older, wiser, and in love with each other again.

I Loved:
+ Jim Sturgess channeling Ewan McGregor.
+ The art direction - it may be have been too much or too little at times, but the quality was altogether excellent. Excellent.
+ "Let It Be"; "Come Together";
"Dear Prudence"; "A Day in the Life"; "I Want You"; "Hey Jude"

I Liked:
+ "All You Need is Love"; "Girl"; "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"; "Happiness Is a Warm Gun"; "With a Little Help From My Friends"
+ The last minute, when Jude and Lucy make eye contact - one of the most believable love connections I think I've ever seen on screen.
+ The cameo by Bono, primarily because I would never otherwise get to hear him sing "I Am the Walrus" unless we were hanging out in a karaoke bar somewhere, and that's probably not going to happen.

I Disliked:
- "Strawberry Fields"; "Revolution"
- The cheap look of some of the special effects (i.e., helicopters in Vietnam).
- That the Beatles song lyrics were significantly better written than most of the dialogue in between.

I Hated:
- Not knowing what Julie Taymor really wanted to show and what we actually see - this might be worth a director's cut viewing.

Writing - 8
Acting - 8
Production - 10
Emotional Impact - 10
Music - 5!
Significance - 3

Total: 44/50= 88% = B+

Last Word: I told my friend Matt when we walked out that I don't remember a movie I've gone so back and forth with in my mind. At its best, Across the Universe is like an incredible dream with an amazing soundtrack. At its worst, it's irritating and over-the-top. Think scenes from Rent, Moulin Rouge!, and Forrest Gump all jumbled into a movie. As much as I really liked the effort, the writing and acting could have, at times, been better. Still, I find myself wanting to see it again soon, which is unusual. If you don't know many Beatles songs, or are one who thinks their influence is overrated, you probably won't enjoy it. If you are a Beatles fan (and are open-minded about song reinterpretations), this will probably be one of your favorite movies of all time. I don't even know if it's a movie. It's an extended music video and a musical and an interpretive dance of some of the most popular songs of all time. Not having grown up with any exposure to the Beatles, I was really surprised at the number of songs I knew, plus I could think of a number that were missing (sorely, I might add - Yesterday, Eleanor Rigby, In My Life, We Can Work It Out, Lady Madonna, Live and Let Die, Can't Buy Me Love, I'm Looking Through You, Here Comes The Sun, Ob La Di, Ob La Da, and on, and on, and on!). I don't know, the more I think about it, the more I liked Across the Universe. I think that's because the good parts were really, really good. And I admire Julie Taymor's ambition with it. At the very least she's extended the Beatles legacy for another generation, and made some new movie stars while doing it.

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