Monday, November 26, 2007

ACROSS THE UNIVERSE: Nostalgic Trip for Beatles Fans

ACROSS THE UNIVERSE (musical drama)

Cast: Jim Sturgess, Evan Rachel Wood, Joe Anderson, Martin Luther McCoy and Dana Fuchs
Director: Julie Taymor
Time: 130 mins
Rating: * * * 1/2 (out of 4)

WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL? Let me take you down, 'cause I'm going to... well, not Strawberry Fields, but the nostalgic era of the Sixties when Love, Peace and the music of the Beatles are spread across the universe. For those who have lived through those 'hippy' and 'groovy' times, the trip will bring home memories of a youth coloured by free love, anti-war protests, drugs and 'psychedelia'. You may even tap your feet and sing along with the music.
For the younger viewers, however, the movie will take you through a touching love story 'guided' by the songs of the Beatles. Yes, you would have heard the songs before, but not in the way they are delivered here...

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? It is the 1960s and Jude (Jim Sturgess) leaves his shipyard job and girlfriend in Liverpool, England, to travel across the Atlantic to Princeton University in search of a father he has never met. There, he befriends Max (Joe Anderson), a campus drop-out, and falls in love with his beautiful sister Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood). Soon the three share a pad in Greenwich Village with the Janis Joplin-styled Sadie (Dana Fuchs), a Jimi Hendrix-type musician named Jo-Jo (Martin Luther McCoy) and the lesbian cheerleader Prudence (T.V. Carpio).

What starts off as good times, with wild parties and musical road trips, soon turns serious when Max is drafted into the Vietnam War and our friends get caught up in the anti-war movement. Lucy's relationship with budding artist Jude is affected when the peace movement turns into a 'social revolution'. Jude is sent back to Liverpool and that's when he has to 'take a sad song, and make it better...'

HITS & MISSES: Yes, everything in the story is illustrated by a Beatles song. However, those who long for 'original' Beatles numbers are in the wrong movie. Most of them are radically altered and sung by the actors to evoke their feelings or personality. I had thought that "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" was one of the silliest ditties by the Beatles - until I hear Prudence render it as a longing for a lover she cannot have. This song now has a new meaning for me, as it would have for all who have seen this movie. Ditto that for "Let It Be", sung during scenes of riots in Detroit.
Some of the choreographed pieces have the feel of amateurish high school art class projects but director Julie Taymor can also be very inventive, like in the underwater sequences that look like ballet, a stage show that turns into musical warfare, and scenes of strawberries that bleed (to go with "Strawberry Fields").

Another clever device by the filmmakers is the use of lesser-known actors in the cast. Stars like Sturgess, Evan Rachel Wood, Carpio and Fuchs have been selected more for the vocal ability than acting - and they win our hearts every time they sing. If their character lacks proper development, this is made up for by showing their emotions (through the songs) and their reactions to the various historical milestones, like the assassination of Martin Luther King.

THE LOWDOWN: At more than two hours, "Across The Universe" can be taxing on our bottoms but it definitely helps to uplift our hearts. And most of all, it shows how incredibly versatile and universal the Beatles' songs can be to artists and creative people.


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