A personal diary keeping people abreast of what I am working on writing-wise.

Saturday, October 06, 2007



* Lust, Caution, the new tale of passion and consequences from consummate master of restraint Ang Lee.

I also saw Across the Universe this week. I had to see what all the kerpuffle was about. Besides, I like the Beatles, I like Julie Taymor, it can't be all bad. Can it?

Well, not all bad, no. There were two pieces I really liked. To be honest, I've completely forgotten what one of them was, so it must not have been that great, but the bowling alley performance of "I've Just Seen a Face" is the other. It's the kind of fun, energetic number, combining dance and visual invention, that should have been the constant for the film. At the opposite end was the Eddie Izzard cameo "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite." Constrained and over designed with trite psychedelic imagery, Taymor reined Izzard in when she should have just let him go. Instead, she let Bono have his way with "I am the Walrus," and made every shot about his face and his ego, both of which are much larger than they should be. You ever watch a movie and wish someone on screen would have brushed their teeth, because they just have this palpable stench of morning breath about them? If I ever meet Bono, I'm handing him a toothbrush.

Not that any of the other performers don't deserve a smack, it's just that most of them are merely average rather than egregiously bad. Which is the movie in a nutshell, really. Granted, I might be whistling a different tune if I hadn't gone to a late-night screening with a friend. We giggled and cracked wise through the whole thing, trying to guess which Beatles song each new character would be named after ("Is that Eleanore Rigby?" "Here comes Rocky Raccoon!" "Don't park your car there or Rita might getcha!") or what contrivance would lead to a particular song (I was waiting for someone to bite into a glass onion or make a quick trip to Russia so that he could go back there later). To give you an idea of what you'll be dealing with if you go see Across the Universe, at one point a girl named Prudence crawls into Sexy Sadie's apartment through the bathroom window, and when Sadie asks where she came from, Jude says, "She came in through the bathroom window." Ah-ha! To be honest, I didn't see it coming, because Prudence had said she was from nowhere when Maxwell (without his silver hammer) had asked her the same question, and I was really hoping the explanation would be, "She's from a real nowhere, man."

So, yeah, if you can't go and laugh, it will probably be excruciating. Even having a good time, the last thirty minutes seem to go on forever (it's 131 minutes long, so it's no casual stroll down Blue Jay Way, let me tell you). It's disappointing because it could have really been so good if Julie Taymor had just gone for it with pure wild abandon. The truth is, she just seems wishy-washy about it. For a director known best for her dynamic imagery, she holds back for most of the movie, making the stray scenes with her trademark giant puppets or surreal twists seem out of place rather than the life's blood of the narrative. Some images are gorgeous, such as Jude's "Strawberry Fields" poster, but others just make you wonder what the hell she was thinking (the troupe of dancers made-up to look like the little girl in the infamous napalm photo from Vietnam is a huge "Oh no she didn't!"). Molding "I Want You" into a draft office anthem, complete with Dick Tracy army men, has touches of brilliance, but then the "She's So Heavy" part shows the new inductees shlepping the Statue of Liberty across an Asian jungle. What the hell?! If you're going to go nuts, Julie, go nuts. You have the kids swimming through an hallucinatory ocean, how can they not go down to the Octopus' Garden? And would it have killed you to find a spot for "Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me & My Monkey"?

Ironically, for a rock and roll musical, Taymor has no clue how to show rock and roll. The band within the film, featuring the interracial couple Sadie and JoJo, inexplicable avatars of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, are shot in the most cliche, unimaginative way possible. It's like Taymor only learned about rock music from bad TV shows. Likewise she seems to have only researched the '60s by watching Hair and maybe that TV miniseries "The Sixties" with Julia Stiles that VH-1 shows all the time. Her colorwheel version of Greenwich Village isn't even pop art, the whole thing is just gutless. I mean, you have a 1960s film without any drug use? In one scene, she has a bunch of college kids smoke out, but she has them pantomime the joints! We're not on stage, honey, you can't cop out like that.

Across the Universe is just one big copycat of a film. It's not a cover version, nor is it even a karaoke performance, but more like the cheeseball karaoke backing tracking, complete with video, that some poor session musician had to put together somewhere in between gigs at the Holiday Inn lounge down by the interstate. Even the one bright note, Jim Sturgess, the actor who played Jude and who had a singing voice I quite liked, is ripping someone off, and it's the wrong person to rip off. Watch his stance in the final rooftop performance of "All You Need Is Love," the way he stares off into the middle distance with his hands in his pockets. This poor kid doesn't know the Beatles. He's up there pretending to be Liam Gallagher!


* Day Night Day Night, a fascinating attempt to show us the process of a misguided girl of faith becoming a suicide bomber that doesn't quite meet its potential.

* Felix the Cat: The Complete 1958-1959 Series, another return to my childhood yields much better results than what we'll call "the Woodpecker incident."

Last week's review of Bram Stoker's Dracula has been riding high on top of the DVD Talk chart for a several days now, and debates over the picture quality across the various DVD formats even prompted me to add an updated paragraph to the piece. I've gotten lots of letters telling me I should check out the Blu-Ray DVD before I assess the regular DVD, which is asinine, since they are two different formats. They need to be judged separately, like you'd judge a vinyl record differently than a CD or even hearing the same music live. Better than those letters, though, is this one, from some girl named Isabel:

I read your review of 'Bram Stoker's Dracula - Collector's Edition' and...I do not know how you could have seen Winona & Keanu's characters so unfavorably...I think its a matter of the fault not lying with our stars, but with ourselves... That would be YOUR self in this review.

If it was not for these 2 actors this movie would have been average instead of fabulous, despite the rest of a terrific cast.

Thanks for NOT changing my opinion of movie reviewers one tiny iota.

You're welcome, Isabel. You're welcome.

Current Soundtrack: Britney Spears, "Radar" (click if you dare); various artists, Radio 1 - Established 1967

Current Mood: stressed

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All text (c) 2007 Jamie S. Rich


odessasteps said...

I have no desire to see Across the Universe. I would much rather watch the Bee Gees Sgt. Pepper's movie, which I think is a campy hoot of a picture.

I remember reviewing Bram Stoker's Dracula when i was still a critic. My girlfriend at the time went with me and left annoyed after I laughed my way through it, notably with the floating eyes following Winona through the countryside.

Chynna Clugston said...

I'd rather poke my eyes out with sticks than watch Across The Universe. I wanted to leave the theater when I only saw it as a preview it offended me so deeply. I can't believe you willingly went to watch it. That's 131 minutes of your life you'll never get back, man.

Jamie S. Rich said...

"That's 131 minutes of your life you'll never get back, man."

It's time this cliche goes away. It's not like our lives are that packed with interesting things that every moment truly is precious. In fact, most of us have time in excess.

Chynna Clugston said...

Oh, christ. Leave it to you to get offended by a cliche.

There's a couple movies I'm still annoyed I wasted my time watching, even 15 years on, when I remember them. Time I would have rather had spent doing something forgettable like sitting in a mall twiddling my thumbs, or waiting for someone to stand me up at a restaurant, rather than force myself to sit in the theater for the same amount of time. Some things just aren't worth the time you would have otherwise wasted, even in an idiotic fashion, but that's just the way I feel about it. I guess you at least had a reason to see it, you review flicks suspecting they'll be either fantastic or crap ahead of time and write accordingly, so it wasn't really a waste for you even though you went in hoping for something better. I rarely get passes for flicks so I'm super picky about what movies I see, I'll pitch a fit if I go to one and it turns out to be a shit sandwich. Not that any amount of arm twisting and tooth pulling and free snacks would have got me to see that movie though.