A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Tombstone

January 2, 2011

Tombstone

I can’t believe that this is the only western we own. I actually really enjoy a good western and of course I’ve seen a fair share. It’s just that somehow none of them have made their way into our collection. I can’t believe I never bought Unforgiven, or Silverado, or any of the Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns. We don’t own Sam Raimi’s The Quick and the Dead. We don’t own Shane. We don’t even own that pretty-boy made-for-teenaged-girls heartthrob western Young Guns. Amanda has a general dislike for the entire genre, and the only reason we even own this one is that it stars Val Kilmer.

The sad truth is that I don’t actually love this movie as much as my wife does. For her it is the only western she can stand to watch, but for me it is a poorly plotted mish-mash of western tropes, which is odd since it is based on real events and supposedly many of the happenings in the film are fairly faithful to what witnesses in the day related. The biggest problem with the movie is that I don’t really end up rooting for anybody. It’s implied that I’m supposed to want Wyatt Earp and his clan to emerge victorious, but at the same time the movie (in what I assume is an attempt to maintain its historical integrity) portrays Wyatt and his brothers as thugs and gangsters who are getting rich off the misery of gamblers and other unfortunates in the town of Tombstone. It’s essentially a movie about a gang turf war, and both gangs claim the high ground and eventually have badges declaring them to be lawmen. Both gangs have a pet psychopath – the sickly Doc Holiday on the Earp side and the deranged madman Johnny Ringo on the other. Now all this moral ambiguity would probably work with the right writer and director at the helm. Eastwood’s Unforgiven for example is very much about how nobody is really as upstanding as they might wish to be and how heroes are often as despicable as the villains they battle against. But Tombstone also wants to be a rip-roaring western adventure film, so it plays down the moral ambiguity and tries hard to show just how despicable the Cowboy gang are. It just doesn’t work for me and I don’t enjoy watching it. It tries to have all the good times and fun adventure of, say, Silverado, but still be faithful to the savage times it’s trying to portray and the end result is confusing and unfocused.

I understand that this might partly be the result of an extremely troubled production. The original director was canned by the studio and the script was severely re-written when the new director came onto the project. Kurt Russell also claims to have directed large portions during the rudderless period between directors in an attempt to keep the movie afloat. I suppose it should be considered a miracle that under such circumstances the movie is as cohesive as it is.

I suppose that part of the reason it works at all is that there are huge parts of the movie that are just masses of western cliches strapped together. It doesn’t have the feel of a light-hearted homage like Silverado to it – it is dead serious – but there’s almost the feeling at times that the whole film could be edited together from the amassed footage of other westerns that went before. There’s the tense saloon standoff. The accusation of cheating at a poker game. The quick draw showdown. At one point a theater full of rowdy cowboys hoot an hollar and fire their side-arms into the air like in a cartoon. (I was waiting at the time for a shot of the badly damaged theater roof.) Near the end of the movie the adventures of Wyatt Earp devolve into a montage of revenge: lynchings, galloping shootouts, carts shown in silhouette against the Arizona sky, more shootouts. There’s a whole lot of shots of Kurt Russell riding along with a look of steely determination and firing his six-gun wildly. At times it’s almost comical.

The thing that saves this movie from being utterly awful is the fantastic cast they brought together for it. Kurt Russell is nominally the star since everything revolves around Wyatt, but the producers have absolutely packed the entire film with familiar faces. Sam Elliott is of course perfect as Virgil. Bill Paxton as the impressionable younger brother Morgan is amiable and pleasant. Michael Biehn is the psychopathic Ringo, and he does a great job being the aloof and erudite but somewhat insane member of the Cowboys. Charlton Heston has a very small cameo appearance. Robert Mitchum does the opening and closing narration. Amanda spotted Billy Bob Thornton in a small role as a belligerent card dealer. And of course there’s Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday. He has all the best parts of the movie, really.

The whole part of Doc Holliday is the one thing that this movie handles just right. He’s a nefarious cheat, gunman and thief from the very start of the movie. He doesn’t care about anything because he’s dying and he knows it. I’d almost rather that the movie were more about him than about Wyatt, because his complete lack of morals makes him such an intriguing character. Of course the movie tries to play him as a hero, and works hard to stress that there is real affection between him and Wyatt, but it doesn’t shy away from giving him a certain edge. Val Kilmer plays him wonderfully, and it’s probably one of the most complex roles I’ve ever seen him undertake.

I don’t really enjoy this movie all that much. I wish we had some better representatives of the Western genre in our collection (though Amanda would no doubt veto any attempts to add any now.) But still, I will probably watch this again some time just for Val Kilmer and Doc Holiday. So I suppose it’s not irredeemable – just like Doc.

January 2, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Apollo 13

June 15, 2010

Apollo 13

This was amongst the first DVDs I got way back in the late nineties. It was the first movie I watched when I finally bought a powered subwoofer and completed my 5.1 surround system. It’s a masterful piece of film making that blends brilliant acting, wonderful special effects, a stellar score, and a nail-bitingly good true story. Everything in this movie is perfectly coordinated to capture the mood, the spirit, and the exhilaration of this one moment in history. Indeed so tightly wound is the pacing on the film that I’m finding it hard to write a review of it while watching it because even after having watched the movie tens of times I can’t tear my eyes off the screen long enough to type anything.

Ron Howard steers the film with a deft and expert hand. He spends some time at the start setting the mood and introducing the characters. The movie starts on July 20, 1969 with a group of astronauts and their families gathered to watch the historic landing of Apollo 11 on the moon and Neil Armstong’s first steps on the lunar surface. Amongst the revellers is Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks) who circled the moon on the Apollo 8 mission hasn’t yet had his moment in the spotlight to actually land there. He swears that soon he will go back. His team is Bill Paxton as Fred Haise, and Gary Sinise as Ken Mattingly. At the last minute before launch Ken is grounded and replaced with Kevin Bacon (yes! we finally made it to Kevin!) as pilot Jack Swigert. We’re briefly introduced to Jim and Fred’s families, and as we reach the launch of the mission we meet a whole slew of support staff on the ground in Houston who will be guiding the astronauts home (amongst them Ed Harris with his wonderful turn as ground control’s commander Gene Kranz.)

The movie builds up to the rousing launch of the Apollo rocket, and Howard gives us a little levity with Jim Lovel’s television broadcast (while deftly establishing that the American public has lost interest in the Apollo program in the same scene, since none of the networks are carrying the broadcast.) Then there’s the fateful explosion in the spacecraft and from then on the tension is carefully ratcheted up for another two hours. A sort of pattern emerges in the way the film is put together. There’s some form of obstacle to be overcome, the obstacle is carefully explained to the audience through news footage and the wrangling of the Huston team on the ground, then there’s a short burst of action as the crew faces the task at hand, and then a brief moment for the audience to catch their breath and then the next problem comes up. It’s like action set pieces in a Michael Bay or James Cameron or Roland Emmerich film, but there’s only ever one explosion, right at the beginning, and everything from there is people figuring out how to recover from it. The clever way that the film keeps our interest by pulling us intellectually into the struggle the ground control team and crew have to keep the mission going, while keeping us emotionally invested by showing us Jim’s wife and family back on Earth coping with every bump in the ride is astonishingly well handled. And there’s a huge cast of supporting characters, all of whom perfectly carry the tension along.

A lot needs to be said about the careful attention to detail and the efforts of the film makers to provide verisimilitude to the picture. We’re given a detailed look into the space program in 1969. You get the feeling that the mission control set replicates every chair knob and screen in the actual mission control room. And there’s a claustrophobic documentary feel to all the footage from the actual Apollo 13 space craft. Only rarely are we given external shots of the ship at a couple key moments, and other than that it’s all tight close quarters as the astronauts struggle to survive. And of course there’s a lot of the movie filmed in fifteen second takes of microgravity on the “vomit comet,” a plane flying a parabolic trajectory that puts the entire set into free-fall as it descends. Just coordinating a film crew and group of actors that could capture such a great performance under such circumstances must have been almost as exciting as being a part of the actual Apollo program.

My wife informs me that Il Postino won best original score in 1995 when this movie came out, and not this movie. I’m flabbergasted, to be frank. James Horner’s brilliant music almost pulls my spirit right out of me to soar along with the rocket launch, and also percussively slams me along in the more suspenseful moments of tension and danger. It gets caught in my head and brings tears to my eyes. Man, he should have gotten that Oscar!

This movie makes me wish that I lived in another time. The last men to walk on the moon did so in December of the year I was born. Nobody has been back there since, and it’s possible that nobody will go back there within my life time. (I’d love to be proven wrong on that point. I feel that it is desperately important that human colonies be established in some extra-terrestrial locations to guard against the destruction of the entire species should Earth become uninhabitable to humans.) So yes, the 1960s technology shown in this movie is astonishingly primitive in some ways (people use slide rules to check their math, and the average iPhone has a hundred times the computational power of the lunar lander) but they were able to do something through almost pure willpower that we’re no longer capable of in our supposedly superior technological times. It saddens me.

June 15, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Amadeus

May 2, 2010

Amadeus

I adore this movie. I’ve seen it more times than I can tell, and it touches me deeply every time. It’s a thing about music I think. Maybe I’ve talked about this in my reviews before. Music just has the ability to short out my brain and go directly to my heart. And of course since this is a movie about Mozart it naturally has this beautiful and unearthly music.

My problem however is that I really know nothing of Mozart. My entire knowledge of his life comes from this movie, and of course it’s all a pack of lies. It’s a fictionalization based on people who actually lived, but fiction nonetheless. Still – as a story it is so gripping and memorable. It’s the tale of Antonio Salieri, a mediocre composer who is obsessed with the music of Mozart – but who is disgusted by the man himself. Salieri knows all too well that his talent is nowhere near that of Mozart’s, and deeply resents that fact.

It’s F. Murray Abraham’s performance that really makes the movie. (Well that and the music.) He narrates beneath a ton of makeup from some point in the future when Salieri is an old man, convinced that he is directly responsible for Mozart’s death. He’s a man wracked with guilt, maddened. So the whole movie is a flashback to explain his madness. And Abraham so perfectly captures that tortured soul. His obsession is palpable.

There’s an absolutely brilliant scene right at the end of the movie where a near death Mozart is dictating his requiem mass to Salieri and he deconstructs the music into its component parts and recites it the way it already exists in his head. It’s intercut with Mozart’s wife rushing home from the spa where she has gone because she has a dark premonition. It’s an astonishing piece of film making that never ceases to amaze me. And that pretty much characterises the entire movie for me. Pure genius.

Who in the world can’t empathise with a man who is obsessed with his own mediocrity, who knows that he’ll never be as great as those who somehow tower above us with talent that cannot be explained but which dwarfs us all?

“Mediocrities everywhere. I absolve you.”

May 2, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 35 – Jesus Christ Superstar

Jesus Christ Superstar – April 5th, 2010

Yes, we did pick this intentionally for today. Next year we’ll follow Simon Pegg’s suggestion to find our favorite zombie movie but this year we’ll stick with Jesus.

Now, there are two things that are pretty key about this movie that should turn me off. One, it’s overtly religious and I’m not, but I am fascinated by religions and their stories. Two, it’s a musical, and as I’ve mentioned, I’m not big on musicals as a genre, but the music in this is so good. I’m just very picky about musicals and this one just works for me in all its 1970s dirty hippie fringed glory. I also love the movie’s conceit of the performance of the show, beginning with the actors arriving in a bus with all their costumes and props and unpacking while the key players are introduced through their behavior and eventual receipt of their costumes. I mean, look at how Herod is introduced, climbing up onto the bus, then sitting back on the boxes in a pose that he later takes up while on his throne. It’s a great way to introduce the players, not too clobbery but not too subtle either. And then at the end they pack up, leaving the cross behind. Not being a religious person, I can’t speak to the specifics of how someone who is would see the ending, but I can say that to me it’s a supremely melancholy way to close the whole thing, even beyond the story being told by the players.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a former theater techie and love seeing the workings behind the scenes sometimes. It wouldn’t work for a lot of movies, but something like this – a movie based on a stage show – can get away with it and, in my opinion, be enriched by it. It also makes for a pared down movie. The scaffolding that Caiaphas and the priests stand on is just that: Scaffolding. It isn’t so much a set as a platform. The soldiers are just guys in camo pants and muscle shirts, but the helmets and spears make it clear what they are. Much like how I felt about the Frost/Nixon stage show versus the movie, the spare sets and props put the focus on the performances. It’s been put on the screen here to great effect. And then there’s the melding of the then-modern with the ancient. The setting is a ruin, the story two thousand years old, but the soldiers wear combat boots and they’re selling machine guns in the temple scene then there are the tanks and Herod’s whole scene and then there’s all the fringe. Granted, it also dates the movie pretty obviously, but in my opinion it still works.

So I love the production itself, but what about the story? I love the story too. It’s a difficult one to watch play out, especially since its major plot points are well known outside the movie itself. We all know what happens to Jesus. We know about Judas, we know about Mary, we know about Peter and Herod and Pilate, we know the names, we know the chain of events and their outcome. And the movie ends before the resurrection. While it’s alluded to at the end, it doesn’t happen on screen. To me, there’s a sense of tragic inevitability in the movie and it’s supported by Jesus predicting much of what happens. He knows what’s coming too, just like we do. I mentioned that it seems to end on a melancholy note, and I think that’s important. The players pack up their bus and the mood is subdued in a way I recognize from the end of many shows. Something magical and wonderful is over and there might well be other wonderful times ahead, but this one is over and you’ll never get it back. Maybe it’s a simplistic comparison to make, but I think the movie does it intentionally and it’s done well.



On a totally unrelated note, I have to admit that having realized that Barry Dennen, who plays Pilate in Jesus Christ Superstar also played Claude LaMont in Kentucky Fried Movie I can’t help but snicker at him. I mean, he’s very good in this, but my brain supplies the “poisonous fish” line when I see him.

April 4, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jesus Christ Superstar

March 4, 2010

Jesus Christ Superstar

I love, love, LOVE this movie!  It was, for many years, traditional Easter viewing for me.  Although I suppose it’s not an Easter movie since it doesn’t deal at all with Jesus rising from the grave, but deals only with the days leading up to the crucifixion.    It makes perfect Easter viewing for me, however, for a number of reasons.  Primarily because it does such a great job of humanizing Jesus, Judas, Pilot and all.  I’ve never been a religious person.  I was taken to church by my parents throughout my youth, but I never bought into the notion of miracles or god or any of that.  I can, however, believe in the power of charisma and the dangers of politics.  So there’s a good story there in the tale of Jesus, and some good sentiment.  Which comes across well in this movie.

Things I love about this movie:

Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s vision and music.  A lot of the accomplishment in this movie is taking the musty and often confusing garble that is the bible and extracting a few key scenes.  The music is inspiring, beautiful and gets caught in your head.  I never have any trouble suspending my disbelief while watching a musical, and this one ranks amongst my favorites.

Norman Jewison’s direction is fantastic too.  He takes the stage play and merges it with the scenery of ruins in Israel in a fascinating way.  He uses sparse props and minimal costumes but lets most of the story come from the performances, which is a great stylistic choice for the movie.  (In particular I’m grabbed in the overture when the bus filled with cast members drives up and they start unloading props and costumes.  Every character is introduced quickly through just their actions in this scene in a clever and subtle way.  It works on so many levels!  Here we know there’s going to be a juxtaposition of modern (well early seventies) times and the biblical story.  We are introduced to the sparse feel of the film – basically told that it’s a bunch of hippies in the desert putting on a play for us.  And we see the actors getting into their roles.  It blows my mind.)

All the ecstatic hippies.  This movie was filmed in 1972 – the year I was born.  The hippie movement was near it’s end then I suppose, but here are all these long haired kids in their robes and bell bottoms and vests, and they look like they’re having such fun.  It’s like watching Woodstock: a window into an idealized world that perhaps only existed in a collective dream, but which has some appeal.

Mostly I just love a great messiah story.  Dark City, Matrix, Dune… I love the dilemma facing those destined to great power.  Sure, this movie makes Jesus out to be more a political figure than a religious one (which in a historical context seems true to me) but it’s still all about what his power brings him and how he and those around him cope with it.

So happy Easter to those of you who celebrate it!  Enjoy a good movie and some time with friends and family.

April 4, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 22 – Frost/Nixon

Frost/Nixon – March 22, 2010

Tonight’s movie is Frost/Nixon. Far more serious fare than most of what we’ve done so far. See? We do own more than comedies and scifi/fantasy action. Okay, so most of what we own is action/adventurey, but we do have some things like this. But we might not have bought this if we hadn’t seen the play on stage in Boston with my parents. We watched the play and we loved it. I did a lot of theater in high school and saw a decent amount of stage productions, so when I watch something on stage now I watch it with an eye not just to the performances but to the production as a whole. And I’ve got to say, Frost/Nixon was a fantastic production. It was so pared down, so focused, it was amazing. Yes, it placed the interviews that are the point of the movie in historical context, but the entire point of the show was to watch David Frost and Richard Nixon talking, sparring, prodding at each other. And there were a couple of fantastic performances. Stacy Keach as Nixon, specifically, made me almost feel bad for Nixon. Almost.

Anyhow, we loved the play and when the movie came out on DVD we went ahead and bought it, thinking it would be interesting to see how the movie presented it and the differences between the stage and the screen. What I found was that while I really enjoy the movie, I liked the focus of the show on stage. The intense lighting, the spare set, the small cast, it all served to make you pay attention to very specific things. I liked that.

Now, that being said? I think the movie is excellent. The atmosphere is fantastic and the acting is superb. And the story and writing do what they do in the play: They take an event from history, one which we know the outcome of already, and present it in such a way that there is tension about how it’s going to play out. It’s a matter of record that eventually Frost managed to get something out of Nixon that no one had really managed to get. But the script displays it as so far from a sure thing and the acting backs that up. The fear being shown that Frost and his people had not just lost control of the interviews, but that they’d never had it in the first place. The desperation of Frost’s team to get Nixon, not just because they had a hell of a lot of money riding on it but because for some of them it was a long-term goal. Reston’s flat out stated as being passionate about it. Frost’s whole team does an excellent job at showing just how freaked they are and the wide variety of reasons why. Meanwhile, Langella, as Nixon, does an amazing job portraying a man who’s done horrible things and justified them in his own mind. An intelligent man who’s not about to let go of control easily.

An aside about Nixon: Up until Frost/Nixon, my best pop culture reference to Nixon was Billy West’s Nixon-head in Futurama. Which means that no matter how good Keach was on stage or Langella is on screen, I still expect Billy West’s version every so often. “I’ll sneak into people’s houses and mess up the place! A-roooo!”

Back to the movie. It’s tense. It’s very tense. There are some truly heavy moments, but then every so often a bit or two of humor. Oddly enough, it’s often Nixon saying something amusing (the “Do any fornicating?” line, for example), which I’m sure was intentional. As I said above, by the end of the play I almost felt bad for Nixon. While Langella evokes a similar emotion in the movie, for me its impact is a little lessened because I’d seen such an amazing performance on stage. The final scenes, watching Frost just sit back, knowing he’s delivered a blow Nixon wasn’t prepared for, and Nixon speaking seriously about things he’d never intended to speak about, it’s an amazing piece of film. It’s an amazing piece of film about an amazing piece of film.

I can’t recommend this movie enough. It’s not light fare. It’s got light moments, but it’s not light. It’s fantastic. The only criticism I have is that it’s not the play.

March 22, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Frost/Nixon

March 22, 2010

Frost/Nixon

This is a very interesting movie.  As my wife is probably pointing out in her review we actually saw the stage show before we saw the film.  The version we saw was a traveling company headlining Stacy Keach as Richard Nixon.  It was a powerful and moving performance.  Here we have the original stage cast: Frank Langella as Nixon and Michael Sheen as David Frost reprising their roles for the big screen.  I do constantly find myself comparing Langella to Keach, since Stacy Keach was my first exposure to this version of Nixon.  I’d say Langella’s Nixon is more soulful, and Keach’s was more passionate.  The stage play was a very sparse thing.  It had barely any set, just some chairs and a deceptively simple backdrop, using lighting and slides to create an environment.  It’s a play that is simply about this confrontation between these two people from completely different worlds.  David Frost and his jet set ways and Nixon – here portrayed as a man sadly obsessed with his lost power and his shattered reputation.

In the commentary track (or perhaps it’s some of the making-of featurettes on the DVD) the writer, Peter Morgan, describes Frost/Nixon as Rocky: the political debate.  It’s all about sparring and jousting.  The Nixon character describes it as a duel.  The movie is put forth as a period piece.  Ron Howard has re-created the seventies in lush detail, but in service of this simple interview.  As the actual interview goes on the lighting on the two men in the foreground, the harsh glare of the television lights, pulls them out of the scene.  It’s more like the stage play.  Just these two men.

It’s a great story and a great movie.  Ron Howard directs with a deft and simple hand, letting the performers and the script shine.  And shine they do.  Frank Langella is all bluster and power as Nixon, Michael Sheen is wonderfully engaging as Frost, so clearly out of his element and in over his head.  And the script really is the greatest star.  Peter Morgan makes Nixon into a very human, and even humorous character.  Nixon gets all the best lines, really.. the whole movie revolves around him, and the climactic last round of his boxing match with Frost hinges on him having a believable human soul.

I’m enjoying watching this again… and hope to have a reason to watch it more in the future.

I also feel I should go buy a copy of Good Night and Good Luck as a companion piece.

March 22, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

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