Friday, February 29, 2008


This week’s movie:


There are two kinds of people in the world….

People are always saying this – about all sorts of things. But if you think about it, it’s the most absurd generality – that is, it’s true about almost everything. Examples may include: “There are two kinds of people in the world ………”

  • …those that put people into two categories, and those that don’t.”
  • …those that like to carve dinosaurs out of baked potatoes, and those that don’t”
  • …those with ears shaped like bake potatoes that are then cut in half then baked some more – maybe with a little pat of butter, and those with ears shape like potatoes that haven’t been baked at all.”
  • …those who like to keep a baked potato on a string around their neck, and those that prefer to keep their baked potato …… ……….elsewhere.”

…and I haven’t even begun to explore the myriad possibilities of other types of baked vegetables. However, the saying only really has any meaning when it is used to make a distinction between group groups of people that are approximately equal in number – like I’m about to do.

There are two groups of people in the world – those that “get” this week’s film, ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, and those that don’t.

This does not imply anything bad about the people who don’t, although I’m pretty sure before I’m done I’ll end up saying insulting about those idiots – but I won't because it’s not really true. This is a really polarizing film. That is, the people who get it believe this movie is a brilliant and artistic celebration of everything we remember about the 1960’s, set to the music of The Beatles, joyous and uplifting ………..while those that don’t get it believe this film is just a pretentious bit of rubbish which blasphemes the music of The Beatles. There seems to be very little middle ground. Just to illustrate the point, the film scores 50% on the tomatometer. Click on the link to go to the tomatometer site and look at the reviews. All the reviews seem to cluster at one extreme or the other.

Now, obviously, I’m on the positive end. That is, I get it – otherwise I wouldn’t be recommending it here. The question is, which side are you on? What type of person are you? Will you love or hate this movie? I’ll try to give you enough information to decide whether you should risk watching it. You might say, why think about it at all? Why not just watch the movie and decide for myself? Because if you hate it – you will hate it so much that you’ll realize that you are capable of more hate than you ever thought possible and it will be a frightening revelation, the likes which no human should face, especially without a baked potato.

…..besides, you may never trust my judgment again.

So I am listing various reasons why you may either hate or love this film. Some of these are exactly the points that critics use to justify their assessments.

  1. Do you like musicals? Some people hate them – I mean – hate them a lot! Hate them - like an Old Navy commercial. I, on the other hand, like musicals (not Old Navy commercials). ACROSS THE UNIVERSE is a musical.
  2. “It’s just a string of music videos….” This is somewhat true. However, I think it’s appropriate that the story is told through music video-like sequences considering that it was The Beatles that pretty much invented the music video. At some point in their career, they stopped making public appearances. But they were still making records that had to be promoted and so they had to make some sort of appearance. So, they would be scheduled to “appear” on some TV show or another - but instead of performing live on the show, they would send along a film that they made of themselves doing crazy things while their new song played in the background ………in other words - a music video. The concept has since, er….., caught on. So, in the context of this movie, music videos are more of an homage or a nostalgic device than a gimmick.
  3. It doesn’t have a conventional straightforward narrative. ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, although it does tell a story (the main characters’ journey through the 60’s), was intended instead to be an artistic showpiece for Beatles-era social and political comment. It’s not even intended to be a particularly accurate one - like an impressionist’s rendition of a decade, imparting ideas but blurring many of the details. The narrative, though not the main focus of the film, is not particularly hard to follow. It’s also not that important.
  4. “It’s contrived. It seems fake, unrealistic!” (See #2 & #3 above) The film is intended to provide an impression of a decade as seen though the (sometimes psychedelic) lens of Beatles songs. All of the characters have names from the songs. There’s the main character, Jude; his best friend, Max, who looks honest enough but, who knows, he could have killed someone with a silver hammer; Max’s sister, and Jude’s love interest, Lucy; they rent a room from Sadie (and yes, she is indeed sexy) who is a Janis Joplin-like singer; a black Hendrix-esque guitarist named Jo-Jo; Prudence who likes girls but is afraid to admit it (although it’s painfully obvious to everyone around her) until she meets lovely Rita (who might be a meter maid - the film doesn’t get into that); and a host of others. There are lots of song references and many of these are tied into cultural references of that era. Like art, this is the paint used to make the picture. The film’s palette is made up of songs and images rather than plot elements.
  5. “Why should I watch a bunch of actors sing Beatles songs? I’d rather just see The Beatles sing their own songs!” ………….yes. Good luck with that.
  6. “The Beatles are turning in their graves ……..the dead ones, that is.” Actually, the remaining members (plus Yoko) viewed a screening of the film before its release and gave their approval.
  7. “It’s no better than that awful movie, “Sgt. Peper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band - you know, the Peter Frampton / BeeGees thingy from the 70’s.” Dude ……are you kidding me? Go back and watch that again ……..if you dare ……….and make that statement again ………if you dare!
  8. “No plot.” People really harp on that “no plot” thing. It does have a plot: Jude, a British lad from Liverpool, comes to the states to search for his dad. He meets and befriends Max, and then his sister, Lucy, and falls in love. They go to the city and rent a room from Sadie, and meet Prudence (who comes in through the bathroom window) and Jo-Jo, the guitar player. Jo-Jo and Sadie hook up and form a band, Max gets drafted and goes to Nam, they ride on the Magic Bus and drink electric Kool-aid. The whole thing culminates with a rooftop public concert (just like The Beatles). Not a lot of plot, I agree - not as much plot as, for example, Family Plot, or The Plot Against Harry, or Plot 9 From Outer Space - but the plot is not as important here as being entertained.
  9. DNA: An NOH attaches to one side of an amino acid about two-thirds the way down the 11th chromosome. As a consequence, the images and sound from ACROSS THE UNIVERSE are directed to the right hemisphere of the brain where it stimulates the artistic centers, releasing copious amounts of dopamine, causing you to smile and tap your toes and say - everything is right with the world, and - what a great movie this is! However - if the NOH strand attaches to the opposite side (about a 50-50 chance) of the amino acid about two-thirds down the length of the 11th chromosome, the information stream is directed instead to the left hemisphere of the brain where the logic centers look at it and say - what the %^$# is this &*%!? - this is a load of rubbish! - where’s my baked potato?
  10. What side of the DNA is your NOH on? I don’t know if there’s a way to predict it. I’m not sure what the outward signs would be - but I’m prepared to conduct a scientific survey. Answering the following questions will give me a means to probe into your psyche at the NOH level: 1. Home fries or hash browns? 2. Do you take butter or sour cream with your baked potato? 3. Do you prefer baked Russets or Yukon golds? 4. Do you ever get the urge to pop a Mr. Potato-head into the microwave? 5. Eat the skin - or not? …………….if you answered “fruit bat” to any of these questions, you ………..well, you may not have understood the questions……

Julie Taymor directs. Before directing movies, she was an art director and choreographer, having spent a lot of time on Broadway. Her films have a unique visual quality from Frida to the film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Titus (a FranksFilms recommendation).

ACROSS THE UNIVERSE has a number of cameo appearances such as Joe Cocker, Bono, Eddie Izzard, Selma Hyjak (as the Bang-Bang-Shoot-Shoot nurse - all five of them in fact), and others.

Enjoy ACROSS THE UNIVERSE with a baked potato

………..or popcorn is good too.

view trailer


At 4:32 PM, Anonymous Bill B. said...

Aboslutely the best review I have seen of this movie. Bravo, you have described exactly the Love/Hate reasoning.

I LOVED IT, have the DVD, watched several times. The Musical served its purpose, haters need to take a break (its only life..a day in)

Thanks for the excellent summary!!!


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