New on DVD: 'Across the Universe' and 'The Assassination of Jesse James'
Mood and melody go a long way in both the Beatles-themed musical and Brad Pitt's take on a Western outlaw.
Across the Universe (PG-13)
The characters in Julie Taymor's stunning musical take their names from famous Beatles tunes – there's Lucy (right), Max, Prudence, JoJo, and Mother Superior. But the mood is pure '60s psychedelia. Colors bleed across the screen; in one scene, the hero, Jude, watches his world turn bright pink and then pastel blue and, finally, neon orange. "Across the Universe," in other words, is one of those movies where the plot is less important than the feel. Here's the CliffsNotes, anyway: Jude, a Liverpudlian dockworker, packs his things in a small satchel, and decamps for American shores. He arrives just as the Vietnam War is ramping up, and soon joins New York City's vibrant counterculture. He also falls deeply in love. Taymor duly illustrates each development with a soundtrack of Beatles classics. The result is a bright, madhouse dash across one of the greatest catalogs in modern rock, seen through a big pair of rose-colored glasses. Grade: A – Matthew Shaer
For once, the Oscar nominations got it right. "The Assassination of Jesse James" is too slight to warrant a Best Picture nod. But nominee Roger Deakins, who was also recognized by the Academy for his cinematography in "No Country for Old Men," seems to have shot the film through a prism of amber with just the occasional splash of crimson to remind viewers that they're not watching "Little House on the Prairie." As one of the last members of the James gang – a group of outlaws with more lineup changes than Deep Purple – Best Supporting Actor nominee Casey Affleck is suitably callow as a lad who idolizes its leader, Jesse (Brad Pitt). A pity, though, that Oscar has overlooked Nick Cave and Warren Ellis's lovely score. Grade: B– – Stephen Humphries
[Editor's note: Robert Elswit (nominated for an Oscar for "There Will be Blood") was mistakenly identified as the cinematographer for "The Assassination of Jesse James."]