Sunday, September 30, 2007

Across The Universe

On Saturday, we saw Julie Taymor's Across the Universe, a musical featuring a soundtrack composed entirely of Beatles songs re-recorded by people who are most definitely not the Beatles and Bono.

My friend Emily firmly believes (and I'm inclined to agree) that certain bands/musicians should be off-limits when it comes to covers. Among these are the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin (do we really need another garage band trying to do "Stairway"?), Pink Floyd, Radiohead, and Leonard Cohen, but that's by no means a comprehensive list. The real problem, as we see it, is that most folks just can't do the songs justice. They get it wrong or just don't add anything worthwhile to the songs.

Now, lots of people have taken, for example, Bob Dylan songs and created definitive versions (the Byrds' version of "Mr. Tambourine Man," Jimi Hendrix's psychedelic "All Along the Watchtower") that far surpass the originals. But when you're talking about the, those guys laid down the definitive version on record back in the 1960s. You can't improve on "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" or "All You Need is Love."

Unfortunately, that didn't stop Julie Taymor from trying. There are a few moments in the film that do work--the use of "Girl" to open the film was a nice touch and really established the main arc of the story--but most of the songs featured in the film were there because the title happened to fit (nevermind whether the actual content of the song had anything to do with the scene).

The moments that do work work well: the aforementioned opening scene with Jude sighing the song "Girl," a gorgeous scene and effective use of the tune "Dear Prudence" that actually manages to sound sweet and ephemeral, Eddie Izzard's suitably bizarre spoken-word rendition of "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!"--but most of these songs add no new dimensions to the original recordings. Sure, we've got a lot of young twenty-somethings with nice voices running these songs through their paces, but the arrangements have no real depth to them. For the most part, they rely on folky acoustic guitar, occasional touches of strings, and plenty of piano. Sure, the songs performed by Sadie and her band try to rock out in a Janis Joplin sort of way, but Sadie's voice really can't carry the whole Janis thing and the band seems to lack real muscle (and don't get me started on the "bluesy" solo version of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" that Jojo does), something that tracks like "Oh! Darling" and "Helter Skelter" really need if you're going for the Janis Joplin angle.

And then there's Bono.

Don't get me wrong, I like U2 well enough. There's a time and a place for his '80s arena rock bombast, but "I am the Walrus" ain't it. Even the abhorrent Oasis version of the song is superior to Bono's take. The only thing worse than Bono singing in the film was Bono talking in the film, in large part because he adopted one of the worst American accents I have ever heard.

The real problem with Across the Universe is that Taymor seemed to think that just throwing in a bunch of Beatles songs, naming all the main and secondary characters after characters in Beatles songs, and slapping in some love story set in the midst of the Vietnam War is enough to make a compelling film. But the characters never gain any real depth. The main characters--Jude, Lucy, and her brother Max--get some development, but no real growth (Jude's big moment of insight appears to be that his "involvement" in something bigger than himself can come from singing "All You Need is Love" on a rooftop), and the secondary characters never get any development at all (poor Prudence comes and goes through the film for reasons that are never explained even a little bit).

The other issue with the film is that it can't decide what it wants to be. Part of it wants to be a serious musical that celebrates the Beatles' canon and tells a serious story about the difficult lives people had during the 1960s. The other part wants to be a surreal romp through counter-culture ethos, complete with drug trips, hallucinations, and Eddie Izzard setting up a circus in a tent six feet across. The movie tries to do to much, and it just can't bear the weight of its own conceits.

Ultimately, Across the Universe isn't a terrible film, but it is a fairly pointless one. Your life is not richer for having sat through the thing, and if you weren't already convinced of the greatness of the Beatles, it ain't gonna make you a convert. All it really did for me was make me put on the White Album on the ride home.


Song of the Moment: The Beatles, "I am the Walrus"

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

"The Land Where You Can't Change Lanes"

I've been receiving mail at school addressed to the "Chair of the History Department."

I am so getting business cards with that printed on them.

My cellphone has been declared braindead. Pushing the button that increases the volume was instead dialing the number 4 every time. Not really all that helpful. So you can kind of understand why I was in need of a new cellphone this weekend.

Michelle got an iPhone.

That's right: I needed a new phone, but Michelle got an iPhone. I got her old (identical to my crappy dead) cellphone. I'm still not really sure how that happened.


Song of the Moment: Cake, "Mahna Mahna"

Saturday, September 22, 2007


Michelle and I went to see Superbad last night. We were quite surprised at just how good a film it was and at how well it portrayed that gawky awkwardness of being a teenager. It was a great coming-of-age type of story, one filled with self-realization and personal growth tempered by the reality of being 18. Plus, the fat kid was actually the main character and hero, which is unusual and welcome.

But it got us to thinking: our generation (that which came of age in the 1990s) really doesn't have a good high school coming-of-age flick. The '70s had Porky's, the '80s had the John Hughes films, but what did we have? American Pie? What the hell kind of coming-of-age film is that, where the key scene involves a guy violating a pie? It leads me to wonder if the people around my age are all idiots or something.


Song of the Moment: Foo Fighters, "Keep the Car Running"

Sunday, September 09, 2007

"Break My Arms Around My Love"

It's been a hell of a weekend.

Michelle and I spent most of Saturday relaxing and not really doing much of anything. We cleaned up the apartment and watched the Riff Trax for the Mariah Carey abomination Glitter.

Let me explain.

See, Riff Trax is the thing the guys from Mystery Science Theater 3000 do now. You download an MP3 of the commentary, sync it up with the movie (generally a well-known blockbuster), and hilarity ensues.

So yeah, we did that. I felt rather dirty afterwards, but it was funny. God, that was a crappy movie.

Today was rather...rough. See, I went and sold my car today. I've been driving it for the past four or five years. It was the last thing my parents gave me before I left Oklahoma, really. Getting rid of it was significantly more emotional than I thought it would be, and it really left me feeling drained by day's end. Coupled with the fact that I didn't get as much money for it as I wanted (almost $1000 less than I'd hoped, really), it was frustrating.

But it makes sense for us to only have one car, really. We're working at the same place now, on the same schedule, and her car gets much better mileage and stuff than mine did. So we are officially a one-car family.

It's the first time I haven't personally owned a vehicle since I was 16, so it's a strange feeling.

I finally gave in to peer pressure and picked up the first season of Heroes on DVD. It's a pretty cool show, and I have to say I'm liking it so far (only two episodes in, mind you).


Song of the Moment: The National, "Daughters of the Soho Riots"

Saturday, September 01, 2007

"Am I Singing You The Right Blues?"

It's been a gorgeous day in Northern Virginia. I sold my Epiphone beater guitar earlier this morning to a guy just learning to play. Sold the crappy electric on Thursday. This frees up space in my collection for a 12-string. I am happy about this prospect.

Started getting my grade book in order for the coming school year this afternoon. I'm trying to plan things ahead this year and do stuff that'll be easy to implement regardless of whether I'm the one implementing it or not.

There's a reason for this.

See, one of our student's needs US History, but he isn't available during the two periods the class is offered for various reasons. So we're doing it as an independent study...except I'm not available the period he'll be doing it, and neither is the other history teacher.

So we've got the PE teacher facilitating the IS and me putting together the content. Wee.

I am really looking forward to the coming school year, though. I get to spend almost the entire day teaching history, which could possibly get old after awhile, but it's better than getting crammed into a math class again like I have been the past couple of years.


Song of the Moment: Josh Ritter, "The Next To Last Romantic"

Who Picks On The Man Of Steel?

So Pete Seeger has apparently written a song bashing Josef Stalin.

Which would've been nice about, oh, fifty years ago.

Don't get me wrong, I dig Pete Seeger. The man did more to bring folk music into the popular culture than just about anyone (except maybe Woody Guthrie or Bob Dylan, but there are those who would argue the point). His music remains as elemental and relevant today as it did fifty years ago. But a song about Ol' Joe now? What's the point, really? Stalin's been dead for decades, and no one still thinks he was a "good guy" really. Just because Seeger used to be a member of the Communist Party (he parted ways with them back in 1950, though). It's weird, really.

Granted, I'm sure it's a fun song, and he does still write relevant and contemporary pieces (he wrote a song about living in a post-9/11 world a few years back, actually). But this seems...too little, too late, maybe? I dunno.


Song of the Moment: Josh Ritter, "Right Moves"