ACROSS THE UNIVERSE
Posted: Fri, Feb 8 2008 - 12:22 PM
I saw a film today, oh boy ...
Across The Universe, Julie Taymor's musical mystery tour through the 1960s, based on The Beatles catalog, is a visual head trip that is already giving me flashbacks ... in a good way.
Jude (Jim Sturgess) is a Liverpudlian ship builder who travels to America to meet the father he never knew. Tracking him down at Princeton, Jude also meets Max (Joe Anderson), a wild child who befriends Jude and convinces him to move to New York. Once there, they quickly adopt a bohemian lifestyle and their little commune quickly grows to include Max's sister, Lucy (the luminous Evan Rachel Wood), Sexy Sadie, an aspiring singer, JoJo, a guitarist grieving his recently deceased brother, and Prudence, a shy girl who hitchhikes from Ohio after a bad relationship, who literally comes in through the bathroom window.
It's also of note that these characters are based physically on real-life icons. Jude resembles Paul McCartney, Sadie - Janis Joplin, JoJo - Jimi Hendrix, Max - Kurt Cobain. It is an interesting choice on the director's part, but after adjusting to it, it reminded me of Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Gottfried Helwein's redo of Hopper's famous Nighthawks painting, but featuring Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Humphrey Bogart and James Dean at the lonesome diner.
In fashioning a story with characters culled from Beatles music and further telling that story through 33 Beatles songs, Taymor (Tony Award winning director of Broadway's The Lion King) has done the impossible, where others before have so gloriously failed (see 1978's Bee Gee's debacle, Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band ... actually, don't see it). This film is a visual feast, a work of art that demands repeat viewings. Like a cross between Hair, Pink Floyd's The Wall, and Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge, filtered through the sensibilities of the Fab Four, this film taps the toe, dazzles the eye, curls the smile, disturbs the psyche and warms the heart.
Not everyone feels so. This film has sharply divided critics, many of whom find the story threadbare and cliched. I understand their argument (some of the non-musical segments are not exactly Shakespeare), but I was so overwhelmed by the acid trip visuals, beloved songs and inventive reinterpretation, I easily overlooked any plot shortcomings. Prudence sings, I Wanna Hold Your Hand in a manner of wistful longing and unrequited love. Max goes before the draft board and is confronted by huge posters of Uncle Sam, pointing at him and singing, “I want you ... I want you so bad!” Marching through the jungles of Vietnam, he and his fellow soldiers carry the Statue of Liberty on their shoulders, screaming, “She's so ... heavy!” Wounded servicemen in a dreamlike infirmary give new meaning to Lennon's Happiness is a Warm Gun.
Cameos by Joe Cocker, Bono, Eddie Izzard and Salma Hayek only add to the mystique -- given Taymor's pedigree, it's pretty obvious she didn't have to twist people's arms too hard to come aboard this project.
The film did less than 24 million at the domestic box office (considering its 40 million dollar budget, this can be considered a bomb), despite the fact that many critics (including Roger Ebert) placed it on their 2007 top ten list. It may well find its true audience now that it is available on a gorgeously transferred, 2-disc DVD, loaded with excellent bonus features.
After her two previous cinematic features (Titus, Frida), not to mention her reputation along The Great White Way, Julie Taymor cements her status as a true visionary with this remarkable piece of celluloid art -- were it a coffee table book, one could pore over its visuals alone for hours.
If you are a Beatles fan, run don't walk, to your local DVD outlet, pick up this remarkable film, pop it in your player and ... it won't be long (yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah) till you love it as much as I do.
BONUS FEATURES: B+
ACROSS THE UNIVERSE ~ TRAILER #1
ACROSS THE UNIVERSE ~ TRAILER #2
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Category: Movie Reviews