Talking Movies

October 2, 2019

From the Archives: Across the Universe

Another rummage through the pre-Talking Movies archives uncovers Julie Taymor’s under-watched and under-appreciated Beatles musical featuring the under-appreciated Joe Anderson.

Liverpudlian dock worker Jude (Jim Sturgess) travels to Princeton in the 1960s to find his long lost GI father but moves to New York with Max (Joe Anderson) and falls in love with Max’s sister Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood). When Max is sent to Vietnam, Lucy’s political activism tears her away from Jude…

Musicals, like Westerns, seem to be experiencing something of a renaissance. But both genres are nowadays farcically burdened with justifying their conventions and director Julie Taymor never quite establishes whether people are just going to burst into song randomly like in 1950s musicals or in archly contrived scenarios like 2002’s Chicago. Instead she throws both styles together, which works fine for the most part, but this is definitely more Moulin Rouge! than Chicago. Be warned, there’s a good deal of the overt theatricality you’d expect from a director with Godlike status on Broadway. The use of ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ is fantastic as Max is accosted by a poster of Uncle Sam and choreographed sergeant majors at his army medical exam before a visual gag far too good to spoil here. However, this use of CGI and wooden masks presages the utter nonsense that begins when Bono arrives to sing ‘I Am the Walrus’. The use of photographic negative and trippy imagery that takes over proceedings quickly becomes very irritating and makes the running time of the film seem grotesquely overlong.

A simpler early sequence best exemplifies the cleverness with which Taymor approaches the songs. The extremely poppy ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ is transformed into a slow minimalist heartbreaker of a song as lesbian cheerleader Prudence (TV Carpio) serenades the lead cheerleader while footballers tackle each other as a tumbling chorus. If you don’t like this sequence then you will hate this film and most probably punch the person behind you who mutters ‘That’s Awesome!!’ Taymor at her best is able to wring unexpected meaning from the over-familiar songs and brings out the sadness implicit in Lennon and McCartney’s fondness for minor key compositions. At her worst she completely loses the realism of the Jude/Lucy love story and the sly wit in making the songs emerge organically from action, indulging instead in symbolical visual zaniness that plays like a bad 1960s Roger Corman exploitation film.

Jim Sturgess as Jude can sing but he lacks charisma and Evan Rachel Wood is good as Lucy but not good enough to carry him, she should have really have been playing opposite Joe Anderson who is wonderful as the raffish Max. It takes heroic resolve to overlook Taymor’s wayward psychedelia but she does return to the realism of musicals so that the finale has a nice emotional oomph with the end credits a neat pay off for a gag we’ve been waiting for the whole length of the film. No I’m not going to tell you what it is, go see it yourself.

3/5

June 30, 2019

Notes on Yesterday

Richard Curtis’ Beatles rom-com Yesterday was the film of the week much earlier today on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle.

Danny Boyle may be the director but this is a Richard Curtis film, and it would be much better if it weren’t. A world in which The Beatles have been erased from existence save for the memory of one struggling musician is a high concept comedy, but Curtis insists on making it a ho-hum rom-com. Kevin Willmott’s CSA showed that you have to rein in the butterfly effect for alternate history because everything would become unfamiliar. Would the Beach Boys be as important without Pet Sounds, their riposte to the Beatles? Curtis displays no such interest, save an Oasis joke, in exploring the butterfly effect of his own bloody high concept. Kate McKinnon is the most reliably comic element of this film, and she is lip-smackingly playing a caricature record executive – Hunter S Thompson’s famous jibe mixed with notes of her SNL Hillary Clinton. But then all the characters in this film are caricatures. This poses a problem when Curtis wants you to care about the romance as if it involved characters with some humanity.

The romance is already scuppered by Jack (Himesh Patel) and Elly (Lily James) patently having the chemistry of hopeless dreamer and dutiful girlfriend in the opening scenes, until it’s bafflingly revealed they’re just friends. They do not hold themselves as fast platonic friends like Holmes and Watson in Elementary. When she complains she always wanted more, and Curtis writes improbable scenes doggedly making this fetch happen he, like Nick Hornby in Juliet, Naked, defies the felt experience of human nature. But this aggravating drive to the grand romantic gesture reaches a new low for Curtis. GK Chesterton once quipped that art, like morality, consists of drawing the line somewhere. I draw the line at Curtis; in the vein of his Doctor Who episode in which he shamefully zipped Van Gogh to the future to hear Bill Nighy valorise him then returned him to the past to kill himself to general hand-wringing; resurrecting the murdered John Lennon as septuagenarian sage giving Jack a pep talk to make the finale’s grand romantic gesture. No… No. No. No!

Listen here:

February 11, 2014

Close-up: Iconic Film Images from Susan Wood

An exhibition of work by New York photographer Susan Wood is now open until the 22nd of February in the Irish Georgian Society’s City Assembly House on South William Street, and Wood will give a free admission lunchtime talk about her life and work on Friday 14th February at 1pm.

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Close-up is part of the JDIFF programme and is a collection of iconic 1960s film images from movies including Leo the Last and Easy Rider, representing milestones in American photography over a period of more than thirty years. Under contract to Paramount Pictures, United Artists and 20th Century Fox, Wood’s assignments allowed her to capture remarkable, unrehearsed shots of some of the era’s most unforgettable personalities – Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Monica Vitti, Marcello Mastroianni, Billie Whitelaw, John Wayne, Billy Wilder, and Joseph Losey. The pictures are on display as a group in this exhibition for the first time ever. Wood’s editorial, advertising, and fashion photography has appeared in LookVoguePeople and The New York Times and she is known for her portraits of John Lennon & Yoko Ono, Susan Sontag, and John Updike. A founding member of the Women’s Forum, Wood was friends with many of the vanguard of the feminist movement, including Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem. This exhibition, presented with the Irish Georgian Society, has been curated by Irish photographer Deirdre Brennan, who has worked with Wood’s archive for the past decade. Wood says “I am thrilled that these photographs, lovingly curated by Deirdre Brennan, will be seen together for the first time in Dublin and I’m honoured to be one of the first artists to exhibit in this wonderful new space at the Irish Georgian Society.”

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Wood is the winner of many Art Director and Clio awards, and her work has been exhibited in museums and galleries worldwide. Throughout the 1970s and 80s she was a regular contributor to New York magazine, and did a notable cover story on John Lennon & Yoko Ono for LookMademoiselle her as one of their ‘10 Women Of The Year’ in 1961, and she went on to interview and photograph Joseph Heller and Norman Mailer, as well as delve into investigative reporting for the celebrated New York magazine expose of medical malfeasance, “Dr. Feelgood”. She is the co-author of Hampton Style (1992), a Literary Guild selection, for which she took over 250 original photographs of houses and gardens on the East End of Long Island. A graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and Yale School of Art, her work is in the Library of Congress and her own website www.susanwood.net.

Brennan is an NCAD graduate who worked as a photojournalist and documentary photographer in New York for over a decade before returning to Dublin in 2008. On contract with The New York Times since 2000, her work has been published throughout the world in NewsweekMarie ClaireThe Smithsonian and the Sunday Times. Brennan is currently working on a photo documentary entitled Ulysses Map of Dublin, utilising the map and structure of James Joyce’s novel to consider politics, race and class in the modern capital. She has been a member of New York’s Redux Picture Agency since 2000. (Seewww.deirdrebrennan.com)

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