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                                                "Across The Universe"
 
Attention, Baby Boomers:  you're gonna love this one.  "Across The Universe" is a whimsical musical consisting entirely of Beatles songs, re-delivered by a new generation, but portraying events in the original context.  The effect is wondrous.  This is a virtual acid trip down memory lane;  the closest we're going to get to authenticity without getting high ourselves (with a little help from our friends).
How can you not love a movie with such great references as a girl named Lucy (in the sky with diamonds), a boy named Jude (hey, take a sad song and make it better), a sexy singer named Sadie, and a girl coming in through the bathroom window (does anyone else still wonder what "protected by a silver spoon" means)?  This marvelous nostalgia trip begins with a British boy on a beach, singing a solo of "Girl" (Is there anybody going to listen to my story?).  His helter-skelter biography is interspersed with scenes from a "Leave It To Beaver" type American family, late 50's/early 60's clean-cut high schoolers, cheerleaders and football players; bowling alleys and formal dances.  But dramatic things are happening with the American culture.  The War in Vietnam spurs first patriotic enlistments, then too many of those heart-wrenching telegrams, then the quiet voices of dissent, becoming more and more strident.  Our English expatriate, Jude (Jim Sturgess), wants only to become a graphic artist in New York City, and make love, not war, with his American girlfriend, Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood).  But the personal losses she has suffered because of the War stir a social consciousness in her that she didn't know she had.  She joins the protest movement, increasingly distancing herself from her ever-loyal British boyfriend, who in turn suspects the charismatic antiwar leader to have something on his mind besides political demonstrations.  As the mood of the culture darkens, so, too, does the music, which becomes less happy and simplistic ("I Want To Hold Your Hand"), and develops first a plaintiveness ("All You Need Is Love"), then an edginess ("Revolution"), then a leap over some invisible line of consciousness and rationality into the psychedelic ("I Am The Walrus") and the fanciful ("Come Together") somehow without losing its soulful appeal ("Don't Let Me Down").  The cinematography becomes more artfully creative, the characterizations more visually adventurous, but somehow it all holds together, so that, at the end, the viewer can simply root for the love story, having been treated to a magnificent display of musicality and artistry.
Kudos to co-writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (who collaborated musically on "The Commitments," and with animation on "Flushed Away"), and especially to Director Julie Taymor ("Frida") for launching this adventurous foray into instant karma.  True, there are still many potential moviegoers who refuse to try a musical.  But this is one you may want to consider seeing, anyway.  You'll be transported…Across A Universe of time, space, and emotional-charged memory.
Questions For Discussion:
1)  In what ways are the growing protests over the War in Iraq similar to the increasingly rancorous and strident discord over Vietnam?
2)  What memories within you are triggered by listening to old songs?
3)  Which Beatle song is your favorite?
 
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Terrell, Texas


 
     This re-make of the 1957 black-and-white Western is an adaptation of Elmore Leonard's story that is anything but black and white.  Usually, in Westerns, it's easy to tell the good guys (white hats) from the bad guys (black hats), but here the lines get a little blurred.
     Dan Evans (Christian Bale) is a small-time rancher with a beautiful family and a shallow bank account.  His villainous landlord sets fire to his barn to induce a late payment on the mortgaged land suffering from an extended drought.  While trying to round up his scattered livestock, Evans happens upon a stagecoach robbery, masterfully conducted by the notorious outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe).  But Wade is later captured because he tarries too long in his delightful dalliance with the barmaid at the local saloon.  Evans, strapped for cash, volunteers to be part of Pinkerton's posse to deliver Wade to a town several days' ride away, and put him on the prisoners' train, the "3:10 To Yuma."  Evan's 14-year-old son, forbidden by his father to "tag along," decides to follow the desultory procession, anyway, and predictably, gets caught up in the extended contest of will and wit.
     Along the way, they are attacked by renegade Apaches, ambushed by a rival sheriff (who wants Wade because of a personal vendetta), and relentlessly chased by the rest of Wade's outlaw band.  Evans and Wade develop a grudging respect for each other, which they're going to need if they're going to have any chance of surviving the journey together.
     Crowe plays a deliciously malevolent, smooth-talking, scripture-quoting, cold-blooded bandit, while exuding good-ol'-boy charm.  Bale is more the grim-faced, tight-lipped, Puritan on a righteous mission, but we are drawn to him because he is willing to stand up for his principles, he is perilously unafraid, and he seeks to not only provide for his family, but to be for his sons the kind of father they could look up to.  Even if it kills him.
     In this story, as in all of Elmore Leonard's westerns (and most of his tales of more modern desperados, as well), life is cheap, violence is abrupt, and any romance is fleeting and dangerous.  Children have to grow up fast, and intelligent adults have to really work at overcoming their inherent cynicism if they're going to have any joy or satisfaction at all.  But, great storyteller that he is, you never quite know when an unexpected twist of character development is going to cause the plot line to exhibit a quick reversal of fortune.
     Crowe brings his considerable screen power to a role hardly sympathetic or heroic, but we can't keep our eyes off him, anyway.  Bale is the straight man, the petulant foil to Crowe's rascally charm, but he can handle plenty of camera time, as well.  Together, they create a kind of dynamic tension that carries the viewer through the entire film.
     "3:10 to Yuma" is in the old-fashioned tradition of shoot-'em-up Westerns, and it's not for the squeamish, but it is an outstanding remaking of an old Hollywood genre.

Questions For Discussion:
1) The villain quotes from Proverbs: "All deeds are right in the sight of the doer, but the Lord weighs the heart" (Proverbs 21:2). On what occasion would you quote this verse?
2) The villain says that his mother told him to read the Bible from cover to cover when he was 8 (right before she abandoned him), and that's where he learned so much scripture.  What would be the ideal age for a child to read the Bible in its entirety?
3) Do you think that it is possible for career criminals to repent, convert, and transform?  Do you think that it's possible for that transformation to be permanent?

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Terrell, Texas