DVD Tuesday: ‘Across the Universe’, ‘Elizabeth: The Golden Age’

by W. Andrew Powell

Across the Universe

Three extraordinary films arrive on DVD this week, including a musical drama set to the songs of The Beatles, a fictionally-driven historical drama about England’s greatest Queen, and Brad Pitt as one of America’s legendary gunslingers.

Across the Universe
Fifty years after The Beatles first made a mark on the world and there is still something unmistakable about their music. In director Julie Taymor‘s film that music takes the stage and plays the leading role while the story of two star-crossed lovers plays out in the background.

Jim Sturgess is Jude, a Brit who makes his way to the United States to find his father, and inadvertently ends up in New York, partying with his new friend Max (Joe Anderson) and a group of free spirits. With the country at war in Vietnam though, Max is forced off to fight as Jude falls for Max’s sister, Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood). Through the course of love and war the two come together and break apart. And it’s all set to the tunes of The Beatles.

Actually, to be more accurate, the film is narrated, energized, and driven by those songs. Across the Universe offers a very meager story that gets major mileage from each song, which propels the story ahead at every turn. The unfortunate thing is that the film is far too obvious with its use of the songs and ends up feeling like a big video montage pushing the soundtrack. The result is a story that feels tacked on, and even appearances and entertaining performances by Bono and Eddie Izzard are not enough to save the movie.

The film is worth a watch, especially for the choreography and sets, but it is especially worth a listen. If you can get past some weak song performances and an even weaker plot, there is gold here – like Carol Woods and Timothy T. Mitchum singing “Let It Be.”

On the Deluxe Edition DVD there are also two discs of features, including making-of videos, and a commentary track. Taymor and the film’s composer provide a really dully informative commentary, but the behind-the-scenes video is fun and interesting, especially in watching the actors move from the recording booth to the set. I also enjoyed the extended musical performances, which showed off full-length versions of some of the key songs.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Cate Blanchett and Geoffrey Rush reunite with director Shekhar Kapur for this sequel to the 1998 Academy Award-nominated film, Elizabeth. Following in the originals footsteps, The Golden Age is a historical thriller that delves deeper into the life of Queen Elizabeth I as she confronts Spain and tries to protect her kingdom from being ripped apart by divergent political and religious forces.

Blanchett does not have as impressive a role in this film, but she is still a wonderful, and enchanting Elizabeth. Clive Owen is also fairly interesting as Elizabeth’s love interest Sir Walter Raleigh, but it is Rush as Sir Francis Walsingham, and Samantha Morton as Mary Stuart who provide the best performances next to Blanchett.

The Golden Age is a decent drama and the sets, art direction and costumes are profound, but the film comes off feeling like an overblown soap opera with too much budget and not enough reason. There is a basic sense of having followed historical facts, but the film strays into ridiculous fiction frequently, and it seems like the story never reaches an interesting point. Elizabeth’s life is riveting of course, especially in the context of Mary Stuart, but Kapur missed the mark here.

Included on the DVD are a few features worth exploring in the context of the film’s artistic style. Kapur provides a dry, but intensely interesting commentary on how the entire film was made, and there are a couple of in-depth features on the sets, and locations used in the movie.

Also arriving on DVD this week…

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck star in this tale of America’s most famous outlaw, Jesse James, the legendary killer and robber. Critics hailed the film as both odd, and artistically mesmerizing, but Affleck takes a lot of the praise in terms of the performances.

The Brave One
A vigilante strikes out at the streets that claimed her fiancé, with Jodie Foster playing the role of the broken woman who finds a new purpose with a gun in her hand. Co-starring Terrence Howard and directed by Neil Jordan, The Brave One had very mixed reviews, with equal praise for the performances as there was disdain for the script.

An intriguing, but definitely weird stoner tale about two guys (Scott Speedman and Wes Bentley) trying to save their friend after she overdoses. The duo get themselves in loads of trouble with a Satanic cult, an angry drug dealer, and a gang of little people dressed up like medieval knights, which makes for one wild night. Not an ingenious film, but certainly a funny one.

The Aristocats
Three kittens inherit a fortune, but only if they can survive the butler’s plot to get rid of them and keep the money for himself. Perhaps not utterly classic Disney, but still a lot of fun and a notable 70s-era animated film.

Perfect Strangers: The Complete First and Second Seasons
And finally, relive the end of the 80s with awkward roomies Larry Appleton (Mark Linn-Baker) and cousin Balki Bartokomous (Bronson Pinchot) as they move in together in Chicago. A silly, but memorable comedy that left its mark and should be good for a few laughs on DVD.

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