Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Across the Universe (2007)

Love is all you need
In the Name of Love
(better sound)
Is there anybody going to listen to my story
(full quality)

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. ~ By Chris Pandolfi

Across the Universe Trailer

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