Archive for June, 2008

Across the Universe

Sunday, June 29th, 2008—Film

Across the Universe (USA 2007, Drama/Musical/Romance), Writers: Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais; Director: Julie Taymor

Unfortunately, this weekend has marked the return of an apparently chronic back injury (insert multiple swear words here). While I was sentenced to the couch, my loyal and devoted sister helped me pass the long hours by staying at my side as I went through ice pack after movie after ice pack.

I refuse to divulge all of the movies we rented, but we watched several of the stunning Planet Earth documentaries, and the Dane Cook/Jessica Alba comedy Good Luck Chuck that, surprisingly, wasn’t half bad. (The fact that Good Luck Chuck is one of the movies I’ll confess to having seen this weekend should give you an idea of just how god-awful some of the others were…)

Anyway, the one I’m writing about here is Across the Universe. I’ve been meaning to see this film for a long time. It’s one those movies you keep eyeing in the video store and almost pick up each time you go. Initially, I was excited about the movie because I’m a fan of director Julie Taymor and lead actress Evan Rachel Wood, and the idea of a Beatles tribute movie is appealing to someone who listened to their music endlessly in junior high school. But the lukewarm reviews it got last year kept me walking down the aisle.

Finally, though, faced with the prospect of several days’ couch rest, I added Across the Universe to the pile and checked it out.

There isn’t much to the plot. Set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, the film follows upper-class American Lucy (Wood) and working-class Liverpudlian Jude (Jim Sturgess) as they move to New York City and face the pitfalls of love and war. They live with an assortment of Beatles-inspired characters, including Lucy’s brother Max (Joe Anderson), sexy singer Sadie (Dana Fuchs) and lovelorn lesbian Prudence (T.V. Carpio).

What makes Across the Universe fun to watch are its strong performances and Taymor’s innovative, insightful take on the familiar tunes. Strawberry Fields becomes a war montage with strawberries dropping from the sky like bombs, spilling their juice as blood and paint from raging soldiers and artists; Prudence delivers a beautiful, bittersweet interpretation of I Want To Hold Your Hand as she watches her crush flirt with the high school quarterback; Jude’s and Lucy’s contrasting spins on Revolution take us from exciting and inciting, to pleading and desperate; the haunting opening version of Girl sets the stage wonderfully.

There are points in the film where some of the dance numbers get to be a bit much; Taymor can be a little too abstract, and I found myself glancing at the clock a couple times. But there aren’t many of those moments. Watching Across the Universe is sort of like watching a more sedate Moulin Rouge; some of it is grating, but the parts that work make it worthwhile. I’m thinking of the Elephant Love Medley, Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman’s fabulous rooftop duet. There’s nothing in Across the Universe that’s quite on par with that, but it certainly features many songs and moments that make you feel.

When I asked my sister what she thought of Across the Universe, she concurred: “Overall I liked it, but sometimes I thought it was a little too much about the crazy visual effects and it got a little boring.”

So there you have it. I recommend the movie if you love Beatles music or are a romantic at heart. And for everything else, Ibuprofen.

My Blueberry Nights

Saturday, June 21st, 2008—Film

My Blueberry Nights (Hong Kong/France 2007, Drama/Romance), Writers: Wong Kar-Wai and Lawrence Block; Director: Wong Kar-Wai

I’m writing this post while gobbling blueberries, and am a little baked after having spent the day in the sun. Maybe that’ll excuse me from any typos or inane tangents.

Also the sun is spilling dappled light over my computer screen. It’s really quite beautiful.

My Blueberry Nights has all the right ingredients to pull me in to the theatre. A dream cast (Jude Law, David Strathairn, Rachel Weisz, Natalie Portman, and soulful, entrancing singer Norah Jones in her acting debut). It’s directed by Wong Kar-Wai, the visionary behind In the Mood for Love. And it features Jones’ dreamy, melodic music.

In the end, though, the film fails to deliver on its promise. For one thing, the plot is much more superficial than that of In the Mood for Love. My Blueberry Nights begins when Elizabeth (Jones) meets Jeremy (Law) at his diner. She is heartbroken after having caught her boyfriend cheating and, desperate for someone to talk to, turns to Jeremy. The two bond after-hours in the empty diner, talking into the night and eating the day’s leftover pies—her choice is blueberry, which remains untouched by the other diner patrons, day after day. What a wonderful way to fall in love with someone. There’s something special about being alone in a place that’s usually full of people. To share that place with someone else feels like a moment stolen from time, forged outside of the regular day-to-day rules that everyone else follows.

But although Jeremy falls right away for Elizabeth, she is buried too far beneath her sadness to recognize what they share. One night, she leaves the diner behind and embarks on a journey of self-discovery. She spends time in Memphis and Nevada, where she befriends a delusional alcoholic (Strathairn), his estranged wife (Wiesz), and a pathological liar and gambler (Portman), all the while writing down her inner dialogue in postcards to Jeremy.

And here is where the film begins to unravel. As we dabble into the other characters’ lives, we lose sight of Elizabeth and her potential future with Jeremy. That’s a mistake, because Kar-Wai never creates the same sympathy and interest for his supporting characters as he does for Elizabeth. My Blueberry Nights loses steam as Elizabeth sits silent in the background for too long.

The film is full of Kar-Wai’s trademark whimsy: Jeremy knows his customers not by their names, but by their orders; he keeps a jar of keys that represent different people’s stories and heartbreaks, and can recount every one of them in detail. And of course, there are many long shots and close-ups, of ice cream dribbling down slices of pie and of Jones’ lovely face. Kar-Wai’s camera lingers on Elizabeth as she sleeps on the counter until Jeremy finally leans in to kiss the ice cream off her lips.

But even the artistic imagery can’t help the film rise to the ranks of In the Mood for Love. The cutaways aren’t as fluid in My Blueberry Nights. They aren’t mixed in properly, and it makes the film feel scattered, lacking in cohesion. It would be pretentious except that Kar-Wai has too light a touch for that. Still, his stylistic choices seem haphazard and occasionally confusing.

The film has some successes. Although Kar-Wai lost me during Elizabeth’s travels, the premise of her relationship with Jeremy is sweet. The score is melodic and suits the mood well. And the performances are good, with an above par showing from Portman (who often sells herself short) and a solid delivery by Jones.

My Blueberry Nights may not be Kar-Wai’s best work; it’s thin on filling and has a flaky crust. But it sure looks tempting through the bakery window.