Monday, October 22, 2007

Rants on "Across the Universe" and "Rendition"

Across the Universe (Julie Taymor, 2007): I'm not going to deny the fact that the musical sequences in Across the Universe are a visual splendor for the eyes, because they are. My main problem with them is the fact is that there is no substance behind all the stylization- they are just unusual for the sake of being unusual. Take, for example, the scene in the bowling alley where Jude (Jim Sturgess) sings "I've Just Seen a Face." There are really quick shots of people throwing bowling balls one right after another, bright neon colors flashing for no reason and people sliding the alley lanes that don't really connect to each other or to the song. The only shot I did particularly enjoy was the 5 second shot in which Jude lies on his back and slides down the alley, because it captured what the song was about- him falling head over heels in love with Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood) and not caring.

In those rare instances when the music sequence starts off brilliant, Taymor often fucks it up somewhere towards the middle and makes it less powerful. Overall, "Strawberry Fields Forever" is the best number in the film- the parallels she draws between the strawberries, the song and the Vietnam War are lovely and the image of the strawberries nailed on the wall is just beautiful. But then, as if she doesn't trust in her own ability, she hits us over the head with a sledgehammer to try the ram the point in. She bombards us with loud explosions and chaotic images of a battle field that are a touch too obvious. "Hey Jude" also starts off great, but lost me at the point where the street urchins crowd around Jude and start sing the "Na na na na na na, hey Jude" part.

And don't even get me started about how God-awful the story is. Jude and Lucy fall in love way too quickly and everything afterwards is about as cliched as The Notebook. The rest of the characters hardly even matter in the course of the film and poor lezzie bo-bo Prudence could have been written out completely with absolutely no impact on the story. Evan Rachel Wood is merely adequate as Lucy and her voice is average, at best (although "It Won't Be Long" is kinda awful) while Jim Sturgess is a bit better but still not amazing.

(Gavin Hood, 2007): I hate how most of the positive reviews for this film (which are, admittedly, few and far between) proclaim that if you don't like this movie you must be a Conservative torch-wielding, pro-torture freak. Well, I consider myself a staunch Liberal and believe torturing people is wrong (duh) and I still thought this movie sucked. The main problem with Rendition is the simplistic script by Kelley Sane reveals to us that "torture is bad" (which most people knew before heading into this movie) without delving any deeper than the surface level of the issue. The way the story is strung together is reminiscent of Babel (not a good thing) and most of it is two-dimensional twaddle: the worried wife at home (Reese Witherspoon), the conflicted CIA agent (Jake Gyllenhaal), the bitchy, two-faced Washington official (Meryl Streep), the Senator's aide who has to decide whether to do the right thing or play the Washington game (Peter Sarsgaard) and the pro-torture Arab monster (Yigal Naor). Plus, as further distractions, there's this weird love story between Yigal Naor's daughter Fatima and a young, Islamic terrorist that sticks out like a sore thumb and offers the most unnecessary mindfuck I've ever witnessed in a film. Gavin Hood's direction is competent but doesn't reveal anything we haven't seen anything before. In my opinion, the most disappointing thing about this film is the weak performances from the lead cast. Generally, a cast including Gyllenhaal, Witherspoon, Sarsgaard and especially Meryl Streep would have knocked this out of the ball park, but, in the end, the two-dimensional characters and lack of anything interesting for them to do (Witherspoon mostly sits and looks worried, Gyllenhaal looks conflicted and Streep basically reprises Miranda Priestley) gets in the way. The only things I did like were the two minutes where, in separate scenes, Jake Gyllenhaal and Peter Sarsgaard learn not to fuck with Meryl Streep because she will cut you down to size and the part where Reese Witherspoon screams "Tell me he's okaaaay!" all melodramatically because it made me giggle.

My Ratings:
Across the Universe: **
Rendition: ** 1/2

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