Friday, November 1, 2013

Across the Universe (2007)

Across the UniverseJulie Taymor once again uses her considerable innovative magic to create a film that not only is mesmerizingly beautiful to watch, but also a 'semi-documentary' about the world changes that occurred in the late 1960s and early 1970s as young people for the first time spoke out against the war in Vietnam, the death of Martin Luther King, and the senseless mayhem that extended from the battlefields of Vietnam to the streets of America, all set to the significant, timely music of the Beatles. It sounds like an impossible juxtaposition of themes and ideas, but in Taymor's hands it succeeds.

Opening in Liverpool, England (where the Beatles began their impact on music and thought) we met Jude (Jim Sturgess), a working class boy with the gifts of an artist who decides to set off on a sea journey to meet the father he has never known. Once in New York he meets Max (Joe Anderson) and Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood) who represent the wealthy class, but who both show roots of rebellion against the comfortable norm and an objection to the war that is festering like an abscess in the rice paddies of Vietnam. Jude meets his janitor father in a union that is anticlimactic, and in disappointment he falls in with Max, living the artists' life in the Village with free-wheeling singer Sadie (Dana Fuchs), her beau/guitarist JoJo (Martin Luther) and their newest tenant Prudence (T.V. Carpio), an Asian girl trying to find her place in a confusing world. The group eventually bond with music and rebellion mixed with free love and the passion that they can make a difference, while around them racial crises are at a peak and the draft tags many of the young men (including Max) for the war they cannot condone. From all of this turmoil the story builds to a climax leading to some very touching scenes that convey the spirit of the times and the overriding importance of love and understanding in a world torn apart by political and racial crises.

The cast is strong with each of the actors singing their own versions of various Beatle songs very well (the division between singing and spoken dialect favors the former). But the real magic comes from Julie Taymor's mixture of hallucinogenic visuals, wonderfully choreographed crowd scenes, and ingenious movement from reality scenes displayed on the television to the reactive scenes of the world as viewed through the eyes of the youths and the lyrics of the songs. It is at once touching in its ability to recreate a particular period of history and wholly entertaining in the inventive use of music/dance/visual effects/drama. This film is important now and will only increase in stature as a document of that troubled but exciting time in the history of the world. We can only wonder why the youth of today are not responding to the Iraq War in a like manner, or, more uncomfortable to consider, why we, now as adults, can't muster the same degree of distress about the myriad traumas that are still happening 'Across the Universe'. Grady Harp, April 08

If it were possible to go into the mind and film the imagination, if one could actually get a glimpse of a creative spark and present it as a movie, the end result would look something like "Across the Universe." Here is a film so vibrant, colorful, and imaginative that it practically flies off the screen. It's not something you simply watch; this richly detailed musical fantasy is something you fully experience, from the stunning visuals to the brilliant soundtrack. Few films have successfully incorporated previously written song material into an original story; one notable exception is Baz Luhrmann's "Moulin Rouge," in which songs by Elton John, David Bowie, Madonna, The Police, and many others were interwoven. "Across the Universe" gets its inspiration from the music of The Beatles--every song fit the story so naturally, it's almost as if they were specially written for the film.

But as much as I enjoyed it, I can't help but feel that I'm the wrong person to review it; not only have I never listened to the music of The Beatles, I also never lived through the 1960s. "Across the Universe" explores the dynamic atmosphere of that era, from the artistic movements to the social unrest to the turbulent political climate. I can't pretend that I know what the filmmakers were saying or why they were saying it, and I certainly don't know what point The Beatles were trying to make. But I can still appreciate this movie. And I do; "Across the Universe" thrives on energy and ingenuity, and it isn't afraid to tell a simple yet effective love story through music.

The plot focuses on Jude (Jim Sturgess), a young dockworker and artist from Liverpool. He travels to America in search of his father, who was stationed in England during the Second World War. Jude is led to Princeton University, and it's there that he meets Max (Joe Anderson), a freewheeling college student with no apparent goals and no apparent desire to reach any goals. The two instantly click, and for a while, they have a lot of fun. So does Max's sister, Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood), a college freshman whose clean-cut appearance masks a progressive mind. As soon as life in New Jersey gets boring, Max and Jude decide to leave for New York, where the Bohemian life can be lived to the fullest. They take residence in a small apartment, already inhabited by Sadie (Dana Fuchs) and her band.

After a while, Lucy joins the group, much to the dismay of her conservative parents. She and Jude quickly fall in love. But as the social climate gets more intense, their relationship gets more complex. The Civil Rights Movement is in full swing, as is the Vietnam War; such unrest cannot be ignored. Ever since losing her high school sweetheart to the War, Lucy's political views have taken a sharp turn to the left--she's now a militant activist, dedicated to bringing about social reform and an end to war and violence. Her feelings only grow stronger when Max is drafted and shipped off to Vietnam. All this puts a strain on Jude and Lucy's relationship, and it only gets worse when Lucy begins collaborating with a radical organization. Can their love survive this turmoil?

Woven all throughout is a myriad of songs, all of which perfectly capture the emotional impact of a given scene. When Max and Jude first meet, "With a Little Help from My Friends" accentuates their high-spiritedness. The drama of "Let It Be" overflows during a race riot, in which a young boy is killed. Confusion and frustration overwhelm as Jude and Max sing "Strawberry Fields," and images of dripping strawberries make an especially strong impact. A love-struck cheerleader named Prudence (T.V. Carpio) sings "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" with regret, knowing that the girl she's dreaming of will never feel the same way. The power of "I Want You" is felt as Max is dragged through an army recruitment center; dancing, squared-jawed soldiers are prominently featured, as are half naked draftees. At one point, they forcefully carry a miniature Statue of Liberty into the jungles of Vietnam.

The four most creative song-numbers feature cameo appearances. Joe Cocker sings "Come Together" just as a guitarist named JoJo (Martin Luther McCoy) enters the city. It's a highly choreographed sequence, featuring a chorus line of prostitutes and office workers. "I Am the Walrus" is a psychedelic trip featuring Bono as the leader of a busload of hippies. Eddie Izzard plays a showman named Mr. Kite, whose circus--"The Benefit of Mr. Kite"--is a bizarre mixture of the fantastic and the frightening, featuring a cast of blue-skinned performers that are anything but human. Salma Hayek appears as a nurse during Max's rendition of "Happiness is a Warm Gun." As he lies on a hospital bed, he tries to get a handle on the fear, anger, and physical pain that have been holding him back.

By the time we hear "Hey Jude" and "All You Need Is Love," the sentimental side of the story hits us like a ton of bricks. And that's exactly what we want. One of the simplest pleasures imaginable is to be young, in love, and free; this movie does a masterful job of giving the audience that same feeling, if only for a little while. "Across the Universe" is one of the most delightful, inventive, and refreshing films of the year, a perfect blend of music, story, and character. To see it is to be emotionally rejuvenated.

Buy Across the Universe (2007) Now

There have been several movies that have tried to make the music of The Beatles a central focus of their reason d'existence. Some like The Beatles' own A Hard Day's Night and Yellow Submarine are perfect, some are not (the dismal "All This and World War Too"). Even the camp classic Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was so bad it was worth seeing because of the music. Heck, even the forgettable I Am Sam raked in a killer soundtrack thanks to John, Paul, George and Ringo.

But they've got nothing on "Across The Universe." Taking the turmoil and tumult of the sixties and re-imagining it through the lyrics of Beatle's songs, it is a trippy, hallucinogenic ride that is a visual and sonic feast. Jude (from Liverpool, naturally) comes to the US to find his American soldier dad (Robert Clohessy, a regular from Oz The HBO prison drama) only to collide with rich kid renegade Max and then to fall for his sister, Lucy. Suddenly, they find themselves in NYC with a Janis Joplinish landlady, Sadie, and her Jimi Hendrixian boyfriend, Jojo.

The sixties then take their turn into the war, and the drama unfolds as Jude falls for Lucy ("I've Just Seen a Face"), Max finds himself drafted ("I Want You") and Lucy falls under the spell of the anti-war movement leader. Each point is often brilliantly illustrated, and director Julie Taymor tosses subtlety out the window for several of the film's best sequences. In particular, when Prudence sings "I Want To Hold Your Hand" as a lament for a love that can't speak out loud, football players fly through the air and collide as she walks through them. When Max gets to his indoctrination and the exaggerated GI Joes march in "stomp dance" style to "I Want You," it's breathtaking. While the narrative occasionally falters, the visuals and set pieces never do.

Of course, there is the music. While there's nothing earth-shattering here, all the actors acquit themselves just fine. The small handful of cameos are great, especially Joe Cocker singing "Come Together" as three different characters, and Bono playing the Ken Keasey Electric Kool-Aid guru Dr Robert on the magic bus, promoting his new book titled (heh heh) "I Am The Walrus." (I could have done without Eddie Izzard's "Being for The Benefit of Mr Kite," even if the sequence is sufficiently madcap.) But this isn't a sloppy kaleidoscope like the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band 1978 Soundtrack was; other than the three men mentioned prior, there are no stars here. In particular, Sadie (Dana Fuchs) and Jojo (Martin Luther McCoy) give dynamite performances, and other than Evan Rachel Wood, the cast is relatively unknown.

I really can't say enough about the pleasure I got from "Across The Universe, and it may be the first time you walk into a theater humming the songs. I was skeptical at first, because many of the reviews I'd read were not kind. But I have a feeling many of them were written by folks of a more tender age, lacking the comprehension of the times portrayed on screen. One of the most fun things about this movie was catching the goofy Beatles' homages sprinkled in the film's dialog (favorite, when Prudence sneaks into the Sadie's communal apartment and someone asked where she comes from, Jude replies "she came in through the bathroom window").

This is also a recommendable movie for one other reason. It isn't. When I say 'it isn't,' I mean, not a sequel, not a rip-off of a TV series (old or new), not a remake and some lowbrow teen sex-romp. There isn't anything cloying or coy, and while the movie is certainly political, the politics you get from it will be what you read out on your own. "Across The Universe" is as relevant today as it was when when The Beatles sang "But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain't gonna make it with anyone anyhow." Grab your popcorn, sit back, relax and float downstream.

Read Best Reviews of Across the Universe (2007) Here

As someone who was literally a child of the mid late 60's & and a student of the time period, I first want to thank everyone who had anything to do with the making of this film! Your timing could not of been better! You helped me to remember the fervor, passion and idealism that made up the mid-late 60's. It's been many years since I have burst out sobbing in a movie theater! Thanks for helping to lift the fog a bit! As an activist, you have collectively given me some badly needed renewed vigor!

I also feel so very, very sorry for all the critics of this movie who don't have a clue about what all this means, or whose hearts have grown so hard with such bitterness, cynicism or despair; or have just simply sold-out; or plain no longer care! All your ranting and raving and nay saying won't do a thing to take away one moment of the adventure, creativity, experimentation, excitement or passion that made this time in history so great!

I also what to thank the brilliant filmmakers for paying homage to so many important cultural icons, organizations and events of the period: Walter Cronkite, the greatest broadcaster of the 20th century. Baba Olatunji, the Nigerian Drummer and social activist, his double looked like he came right off the Drums of Passion album cover! I can now see him smiling from heaven! The tremendous scene with Bread and Puppets, a living, breathing, direct link to 1960's radicalism, warmed my heart! You even went up to their stronghold in Glover, Vermont, to film part of the scene! Bravo! The SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), which did not advocate violence, and the much smaller splinter-group that morphed into an organization advocating extreme measures, called the Weather Underground. The brave Martin Luther King, Jr. and his intervention in a labor dispute, which cost him his life. The historic occupation of the Ivy League, Columbia University by its students protesting both the Vietnam war and the intense poverty that surrounded the school. Ken Kesey and his legendary bus. The Jimi Hendrix & Janice Jopplin characters who show such dignity, and a passion for music. And, of course, the Beatles! Their music reaches deep into my soul. You gave me insights into the meaning of their tunes that after all these years never crossed my mind!

I also enjoyed being bathed in all the very colorful special affects. The 60's and early 70's were a time of outrageously bold colors and design. Something brilliantly portrayed in Across the Universe! The only film I intend to purchase on DVD that has been released this year!

Rehearsing With Gods: Photographs and Essays on the Bread & Puppet Theater, Bread and Puppet Theatre (Theater) Volume 2, The New Radicals in the Multiversity and Other Sds Writings on Student Syndicalism (Sixties Series), Drums of Passion

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(2008 HOLIDAY TEAM)Across the Universe (Two-Disc Special Edition)

I love music, and I love the Beatles. I also love movies, even the sometimes pretentious art movies. But I'm really picky when it comes to musicals, and generally don't like song remakes that don't add something new. So where does that leave me with "Across the Universe?" I love it and hate it all at once!

The Good

The music in this movie is mostly really good semi-acoustic versions of late Beatles songs. And believe me, the music is really good. If you love the Beatles, even purists may appreciate the updated versions to many of these songs. Some (such as Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds) were better off the first time. Across The Universe [Deluxe Edition]

This movie was nominated for Costume Design at the Academy Awards, yet it could have gotten a bunch of technical nominations including Art Direction, Cinematography and Sound. While most people ignore those categories, I think they all matter a lot. Technically this is a very hard movie to make. It sounds great and looks great.

The Bad

The story and the songs have almost no relationship to the original songs that are used as the skeleton for the movie. Musicals are hard enough to like. Even though the music is very well done as far as adaptations and remakes go, the transitions can be annoying with dialogue taken from song lyrics. And the way some of the characters are flatly filmed singing / talking will make you remember those terrible Gap commercials. So while there are some cool elements, the end result feels somewhat cheesy sometimes.

Also, some of the people here seem to have been chosen for their singing more than their acting, because the supporting cast is spotty.

Not to mention, for those who don't like art movies or the Beatles, I can see how this could be annoying.

Somebody like me should have seen this in a movie theatre, because as a DVD the grand scale of some of the scenes seemed lost on my very modest sized TV.


If you like art films, musicals, the Beatles, or lust after one or several of the stars, you will like this. If you like movies that have a logical plot and great acting you may have trouble with this one.

This movie very much seems like it was made to be watched while high. It got better towards the end and earned an extra star for creativity. It's still very good in certain ways but it's bound to annoy some people.

Check it out!

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