“Across The Universe,” review by Susan Granger

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Innovative theatrical director Julie Taymor (“The Lion King”) turns more than 30 Beatles songs into a lavishly phantasmagorical audio/visual experience.

It begins on a Liverpool beach, where a young man, Jude (Jim Sturgess) sits on the sand singing, “Is there anybody going to listen to my story – all about the girl who came to stay? She’s the kind of girl you want so much it makes you sorry; still you don’t regret a single day.”

The girl is Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood), just one of the invented characters, along with her older brother, Max (Joe Anderson), who gets drafted. Somehow they’re sharing a bohemian pad in Greenwich Village – with rockers JoJo (Martin Luther McCoy) and Joplinesque Sadie (Dana Fuchs) and a lesbian cheerleader from Ohio, Prudence (T.V. Carpio), who croons “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” against a football ballet.

Back in 1998, the Bee Gees “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” tried – and failed – to re-create the ‘60s and Beatlemania, so credit 54 year-old Julie Taymor (“Frida,” “Titus”) for courage, collaborating with composer/arranger Elliot Goldenthal, choreographer Daniel Ezralow, along with screenwriters Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais.

“Let It Be” transforms into a gospel hymn set in the Detroit riots, while “Strawberry Fields Forever” is Vietnam-themed. There’s Bono as a Beatnik poet musing “I Am the Walrus” and Salma Hayek as five sexy, sinister nurses who administer morphine to Max in a VA hospital to the strains of “Happiness is a Warm Gun”, plus cameos by Joe Cocker and Eddie Izzard. Not surprisingly, the stylized cinematography ranges from realistic to surreal. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Across the Universe” is a unique, if incoherent 7, a fantastic, counterculture voyage to nowhere. All you need is love, man.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.