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Friday, February 29, 2008

DVD Review: Across the Universe

On the plus side, the music is far better than the film. Sadly, the music is tremendously uneven.

The movie (that is, the characters, the plot, and the dialog) is a mess that suffers hugely from Julie Taymor’s need to distort the story so dramatically to fit the many re-interpretations of the Beatles’ classics that make up the film’s soundtrack. Peopled almost exclusively, it seems, with names drawn from the Beatles’ catalog of characters--Jude and Lucy, the main characters, Maxwell, whose hammer is hardly silver nor terribly relevant, dear Prudence the slyly lesbian cheerleader, Sadie, who provides many of the musical highlights, and JoJo, Sadie’s Hendrix-esque boyfriend--the story never lets these characters grown into much other than cutouts of 60’s cliches. Worse, their stories are strung together so haphazardly that the disconnect from scene to scene left me caring little for what little character had grown.

It’s mushy, stupid fare for people who will be wowed by the visuals and who don’t understand the violence done to classic Beatles songs by Evan Rachel Wood who makes every song sound like a high school musical production. Jim Sturgess, the British actor who plays Jude, does better with his songs, although even he falls down in spots--most especially on “Revolution” which distracts from what might otherwise have been an interesting dramatic point in the movie. And maybe that’s the point: with the focus so heavily on the songs (and the songs so uneven in execution), they take away from the drama of the film.

This isn’t surprising to me. Taymor’s Titus was a shockingly gorgeous movie, but not a particularly well-directed film. I felt the same about Frida, although both of those movies put Across the Universe to shame.

But there are some charming bits. Dana Fuchs’ Janis Joplin impression works surprisingly well on most of her songs. “Do it in the Road” and “Helter Skelter” are rocking gems. I found myself wishing that Martin Luther McCoy had a few more opportunities to sing, too, as his voice provided some much needed warmth and charisma. “Let it Be” fulfills its gospel roots sung by a full choir to beautiful effect--one of a handful of flawless musical moments.

Bono shows up both to sing and to play a cameo as an LSD evangelist--and, while funny, his crazy tone is at odds with the irritatingly over-earnest feeling of the rest of the cast. If there had been a little more self-aware wackiness, it might actually have helped the movie along quite a bit. Of course, Eddie Izzard’s lunacy just bugged me while he gave a skewed take on “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite.” At least when Bono sings the songs are nice.

The best musical moment is given by Joe Cocker on a dirty, buzzing “Come Together.” Shame he didn’t do a few more of the songs.

According to darling girl, the movie was at least 12 hours long. I corrected her, of course: the movie was only a bit over two hours. It only felt like it took as long as the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy.

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