The Cubs are home for the winter, and there was a three-day break between baseball games this week, so I figured it was time to catch up on the movie-watching I'd pretty much put aside for the summer.
There is a scene of such touching poignance near the end of "Feast of Love", that completely redeems this film and all its various relationships and troubles.
Not that this is a bad film -- it isn't; I liked it very much. Morgan Freeman, who's great in everything he does, may have scored himself another Oscar nomination; he plays a college professor who has suffered a terrible tragedy in his family. He tries to assuage this in part by hanging out at a Portland, Oregon coffee shop, run by Greg Kinnear, who's married but whose wife leaves him for another woman -- just about right under his eyes; we all see it coming but he doesn't. I always think of Kinnear as the guy who was an entertainment reporter and late-night talk show host; but he's also had outstanding acting roles and done them well (he was great in "Little Miss Sunshine" and is just as good here).
The movie is about love and how it is viewed by all of us -- there are characters in this film of all ages (some in their early 20's) and walks of life (lawyers, professors, workers at Wal-Mart) -- and not every situation succeeds, as we might expect in a film of this nature. There are breakups and connections, some made, as in real life, by a chance meeting. Roger Ebert thinks this sort of thing is contrived. I didn't. The movie felt real, with people in it who react like real human beings, not actors reciting dialogue.
Well worth your time.
"Across The Universe" is directed by Julie Taymor, whose first big film was "Frida", the movie about the life of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo -- which started as a biopic, but turned into a riot of color and art, celebrating Kahlo's life. (Salma Hayek, who played Frida, makes a cameo appearance in "Across The Universe".) Taymor is also the director of the Broadway stage version of "The Lion King", where she used a similar concept of color and movement to put on the stage a cartoon film that I wouldn't have thought adaptable to Broadway.
In this way, "Across The Universe" is a celebration of the Beatles. There are thirty-three Beatles songs in this movie, all sung by the characters within (one of whom, a Ken Kesey-like hippie, is played by U2's Bono). The songs pop up naturally in the course of the action (in a similar fashion to the hit stage musical "Mamma Mia"), which is loosely based around the entire 1960's and how our culture changed from the button-down strait-laced attitudes of the 1950's, to the counterculture hippies of the 60's and early 1970's. Vietnam becomes a centerpiece, as one of the characters is drafted and sent there, and others become radicalized and protest. There's an Englishman who comes from a working-class background, but knows he has an American father (who fathered him right after World War II and then abandoned his mother and returned to the USA); he comes in search of him and stays to become part of the entire "scene" -- much as the Beatles themselves created that scene.
All of the characters are named after people in various Beatles songs (there's Jude, Prudence, Sadie, Rita, and Lucy, among others) -- the Englishman, Jude, is played by an actor (Jim Sturgess) who bears an eerie resemblance to Paul McCartney.
In addition to the story itself, there are allusions to every Beatles movie, both in content and the way they're shot, and sly little asides to Beatles songs that aren't sung (one character literally "comes in through the bathroom window", and there's a scene, easily missed if you're paying attention to something else, which pays homage to "Maxwell's Silver Hammer", and Joe Cocker, who did a top-10 cover of "With A Little Help From My Friends" in 1970, makes a cameo appearance, among many, many other such scenes).
Some reviewers hated this movie. But Ebert, who lived through the time -- Ebert was, strangely enough, born on exactly the same day as McCartney, June 18, 1942 -- understands the subject matter and how and why it's handled this way much better. I'm not suggesting that you have to be over 50 to appreciate this film -- but if you are younger and didn't live through this era, go in with an open mind. It's not a film with a traditional narrative, and you may have to suspend disbelief on a few things inside. But I loved it.