Movie Musical Time: “Control” and “Across the Universe”

Over the last week, I’ve seen two “movie musicals” of sorts–Julie Taymor‘s artful stab at a Beatles opera called Across the Universe, and Anton Corbijn’s Ian Curtis biopic, Control.

Both movies had their strong points, but both had their weaknesses.

The most succinct way of describing Across the Universe is to call it “a magical train wreck.” It’s a perplexing flick that seems to be one giant experiment in moving making–some things work, must most don’t.

Tied to using only Beatles lyrics within the musical numbers, Taymor isn’t able to tie together a story line that completely makes sense. The movie feels like a mish-mosh of short stories jammed into one big confusing story. Despite the fact that there are over 5 main characters in the central plot, only the two central roles of Jude (Jim Sturgess) and Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood) have a complete character arch.

across the universe

Taymor tries very hard to make every scene visually stimulating and give her little splash of artistry to it all, but I found the art direction sometimes went a little overboard and didn’t necessarily add anything to the scene or story.

However, the movie is memorable–it definitely makes an impression on you. And even though I thought the story line was a bit dopey and a little unbelievable, I would see this movie again on DVD, if only to watch my new imaginary boyfriend, Mr. Jim Sturgess–who’s puppy dog brown eyes and bashful grin made me swoon for the whole of 2 hours.

Speaking of swooning, let’s talk about Control, the much anticipated film based on Deborah Curtis‘s book, Touching from a Distance. My first impression of this movie was made from a seemingly unfinished trailer that was released on the internets in May. The trailer I saw at that time was horrible, so going into the film I had the lowest expectation possible. I was expecting to be bored and completely hate it.

control movie poster

I was pleasantly surprised to find the movie was far from being awful. The cinematography was GORGEOUS. Completely shot in black and white, everything seemed to have a soft glow about it–you could freeze frame any scene in the movie and it would look like an amazing photograph, guaranteed. You could really feel the influence of Corbijn’s rock photographer background seeping through every frame.

Sam Riley gives a fine performance as Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, showing us the fragility of the troubled famous singer through little boy lost eyes. He’s charming when he needs to be, and heartbreakingly bonkers when appropriate.

Samantha Morton positively glows as Deborah Curtis while in the throws of young love and drips with disappointment during the later years of Deborah and Ian’s brokedown marriage. For me, Steve Coogan has forever ruined anyone else playing Tony Wilson, but Craig Parkinson shows a balance of cockiness and caring as the infamous Granada TV host.

Despite all the strong performances, the movie does fall a little flat. We don’t really get to know more about Ian Curtis than what has already been portrayed in other films. The whole movie you’re just waiting for that final, awful moment when Curtis takes his own life, and it almost seems as though a good portion of the movie is just filler until that moment.

That said, the live performances are particularly good. Riley sings all the songs himself, and does the hurky-jerky Ian Curtis dance with such believable ease, it really feels as though for a few brief moments, that you are watching Ian Curtis reincarnated on screen. Oh, and need I mention that he is easy on the eyes? Talk about a tall glass of water!

I would recommend that fans of Joy Division see the movie, but will warn that you will most likely not be blown away. As I stated before, nothing new is revealed about Ian Curtis over the course of the film–but it does seem to be a faithful and realistic depiction of Debbie Curtis’s version of his life.


9 Replies to “Movie Musical Time: “Control” and “Across the Universe””

  1. if you saw the trailer and had LOW expectations and were surprised that the movie was NOT AWFUL, you must know nothing about anton corbijn

    in this post you could at least mention his personal history with the band (he moved to london from the netherlands just to follow his favorite band, etc) and how crucial he has been to joy division/new order imagery (not to mention that of depeche mode, u2, etc etc etc)

  2. I am eagerly awaiting the release of Control in the U.S. I’m a fan of Joy Division and New Order and Ian Curtis is a big influence on bands like The Cure, Echo & The Bunnymen, and My Bloody Valentine.

    Oh and Samantha Morton is a really underrated actress. I can’t think of anytime she hasn’t been great.

  3. I’m actually surprised that you thought the film was true to the book as I didn’t think it was at all. I think Corbijn was trying to focus quite a bit more on the whole story whereas a lot of Deborah’s book dealt with their marriage and relationship. I love Joy Division but I never connected with Ian Curtis because I don’t think he was that great of a person – I think they tried to smooth that over quite a bit in the film. The final scene was as chilling as I thought it would be but it was also inaccurate – Deborah’s version is different in the book. Agreed about Sam Riley’s performance – it was amazing. But it really bothered me that he had brown eyes!! Ian’s were piercing blue.

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