Cagematch: Across the Universe v. An American Rhapsody

Both movies tell stories about people against a backdrop that also fertile ground for larger stories.  Across the Universe (dir. Julie Taymor, Frida, Titus) does a good job capitalizing on this potential whereas An American Rhapsody (dir. Eva Gardos) not only fails does not even seem to realize there is such possibility.  The most disappointing part of An American Rhapsody is it is based on a true story, which means it could be high octane and should hit hard.  But it doesn’t.  I stayed with the movie longer than I would have because I thought “it has to get better.”  It’s an interesting story and would make for a good newspaper article.  Just a newspaper article.  Why then did it clear the vetting process into a movie?  Because the story is about the movie’s director and the film’s producer, Colleen Camp, is a historied (worked on Apocolypse Now!) friend of the director.  The movie does not neglect the Cold War, it is needed for the main conflict of the movie, but aside from how the geopolitical backdrop impacts the characters there is no discussion of anything larger than the movie’s characters.  Give me a normative assessment, even if I disagree with it.  In the commentary it sounds as if the movie is making such a claim, but it isn’t.  The commentary is filled with readings of the movie that are not found in the movie and only within the intentions of the filmmakers, as if they recognized this failing and decided to try and cover their tracks.  It’s not a horrible film, and some will find it an interesting yarn.  While my mother liked it, both of us liked Across the Universe. 

This movie is easily deserving of its nod for best movie.  A scene that easily shows the superiority of Across the Universe as a story of people and a story of generations and ideas can be found in the scenes for “Strawberry Fields Are Forever” and “I Want You”.  If these titles sound familiar but you cannot place it then a refresher: Across the Universe is a musical set to a catalogue of many famous songs by The Beatles.  The movie is really well done and the musical numbers are exceptional musical moments as well as stunning visual experiences.  Even better than the movie though are the documentaries on the second DVD.  I am tempted to buy the DVD just for these documentaries alone.  Maybe a friend would like the first disc as a gift?  The commentary on An American Rhapsody borders on insipid – you know the opening scenes are in black and white to mark them as flashbacks, why do I need long drawn out commentary about that very mechanism? – but the features on Across the Universe rival the features on the Seven DVD, which I consider to be the finest example of DVD productions.  I am not a fan of purchasing movies in these days of easy access, but this is a movie I will buy.

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