A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 20 – Across the Universe

Across the Universe – March 20, 2010

When Andy and I met we found out we had some key music tastes in common: Pink Floyd and The Beatles. Some of my clearest memories from childhood are of listening to my parents’ Beatles albums (vinyl! they’ve got the punch-out Sgt. Pepper page intact – or rather, I do, as I’ve swiped the album from them) on beautiful summer and spring days with the windows of the house wide open. I love The Beatles. So I was of mixed feelings when Across the Universe came out. On one hand, Beatles music! With a movie built around it! On the other hand, Beatles covers, and no guarantee that the movie’s plot and acting wouldn’t suck with the power of a black hole. And too, musicals are difficult for me. I have a small handful I enjoy and the rest range from meh to bleh for me. So I didn’t see it until one of the very many movie channels we get started playing it in heavy rotation and I flipped past it a few times. The problem is that I’ve always caught almost exactly the same section and never much further. I hadn’t seen the very beginning and I hadn’t seen the end. Just the chunk in the middle with Lucy and Prudence and Jude and Max living in New York and Max getting drafted and then I’d have something I had to do or somewhere to go and that would be that.

So it’s been nice seeing the parts leading up to what I’d already seen. Seeing how all the characters I’d met got to New York and in the same place. On one hand, it’s a little hard to fit so much history into a single movie, but given the time period of the Vietnam War, there was a lot of history fit into a relatively short span of years. On the other hand, it’s not done badly, in my opinion. It doesn’t always hit just right but it hits often enough for me to enjoy it. While the music wasn’t written to follow a single plot, I’m sort of thinking of it as a giant songfic, with pretty pictures. It’s interesting seeing what songs are put into what places, how they’ve been picked out and strung together to tell a story. Some of them are pretty easy, like I Am the Walrus for an acid trip and the more romantic/ballad-type love songs (what with there being a romance at the core of the movie), but others, like Come Together? Not so easy, and let me say that Joe Cocker covering Come Together in this? Fantastic. Also one of my favorites is I Want You/She’s So Heavy done during a scene at an Army induction center.

I don’t have a hell of a lot to say about the acting overall. It’s good enough and no one makes me cringe when they’re on screen. The dialogue is good enough too, though once or twice it’s a wee bit overly referential to Beatles lyrics. Obviously the movie is going to reference The Beatles. That’s a large part of the point. But it comes off as cutesy sometimes and the tone doesn’t always fit the moment. Same for some of the songs, but I’m willing to forgive it. For me, and take this with a grain of salt since I’m ultimately a child of the 80s, the movie shows the time period well. The Beatles are a good band to use to show a wide variety of the moods of the years the movie is set in. It comes off as disjointed at times, but I kind of get the impression that’s not too far from the truth of the time. You might even be able to argue that disjointedness is as fitting as anything else.

Or maybe I’m just trying to justify really really enjoying the movie. More than I think I’m supposed to. But hey, Roger Ebert loved it, so I’m not going to beat myself up over enjoying it as much as I did. Maybe I just like Julie Taymor. Maybe we should do her Titus tomorrow. Or maybe something a little less bloody, since it’ll be a morning viewing.

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March 20, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Across the Universe

March 20, 2010

Across the Universe

Musicals are always fun.  For some reason I don’t generally have trouble enjoying a story where the characters randomly burst into song to advance the plot.  We have a few musicals in our collection, from the lighthearted fluff like Hairspray (based on a John Waters film!) to slightly odd stuff like Crybaby (which IS a John Waters film starring Johnny Depp) and dark creepy stuff like Sweeny Todd (also starring Johnny Depp.)  Today’s movie is something slightly other.  Using the pre-existing catalog of the Beatles’ Across the Universe is a big old musical about the sixties.  The characters still burst into song all the time, but now it’s all pre-existing songs that you’ve heard your whole life (if you’re my age) and already have all kinds of associations with.  I’m surprised by how well it works, really.

Of course because all the songs were written to be themselves, and not part of a musical, it has a very strange feel to it.  All the characters, for example, have names from songs, so that they they can sing about each other.  So you have Maxwell, Jude, Sadie, Prudence.. and so on.  It’s really well done, and the songs feel an integral part of the movie as a whole, but it still feels somewhat like a Frankenstein’s monster of a film, cobbled together from all these separate parts.  You keep wondering how they’re going to wedge in the next great Beatles hit.

Oh, man does it work when it works though!  Joe Cocker covering Come Together blew me away.  Let it Be moved me to tears.  And of course Julie Taymor is the only person strange enough to make something like this work.  Her big-production Broadway background (Lion King) and her strange visual style (Titus for example) work perfectly with this source material.

Still, the movie can’t help feeling a bit forced and manufactured at times.  There are a couple moments that are just people singing Beatles songs while momentous things unfold around them and the context doesn’t quite work.  (In particular, Strawberry Fields, for all that they tried to make it into a war protest song, just didn’t work for me.)  It feels like a lot of the magic is in the first half of the movie and then it’s just committed to getting through the rest of it to the end.  Maybe it’s that there’s not really anything new the be said here.  I mean it’s a kind of best-of-the-sixties-movies rehash set to Beatles music.

I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy it.  I just didn’t buy it.  By the time it reaches its rooftop concert conclusion it’s spent all its energy.  I really felt like I should have been more moved than I was, and I just ended up feeling a little empty and manipulated.

One extra note:  I feel slightly foolish because I spent most of the movie trying to remember what Beatles song the character Lucy was named for.  And they didn’t even find a way to work it into the movie – Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds plays over the closing credits in a very “Oh, damn, we forgot to fit that in there somehow” way.

We don’t own I Am Sam, but expect me o talk more about Beatles when we review The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

March 20, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | 2 Comments