West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
Volume 77, Number 19 | October 10 - 16, 2007

Koch On Film

By Ed Koch

In the Valley of Elah” (+)
This movie is beautifully acted, but the script is a polemic against war.  The plot concerns a military family in Tennessee. Hank Deerfield (Tommy Lee Jones) is the father of Mike (Jonathan Tucker) and husband of Joan (Susan Sarandon). The latter’s part is very small and could be called a cameo, making one wonder why she agreed to take it. Based on her political history, I suspect it was because she liked the message. Hank receives a call from the Army that Mike, who just returned from Iraq to Fort Rudd, has gone AWOL.

The efforts of the father investigating the disappearance of his son uncover a mystery with the cooperation of a civilian police detective, Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron). She is in charge of the case and does an excellent job dealing with the army bureaucracy that opposes her investigation.

The message of the film is that our soldiers in Iraq have been turned into monsters as a result of their experiences. The title, “In the Valley of Elah,” is intended to convey a tie to the battle of David against Goliath, and the writers clearly view the United States as the monster Goliath. The script is by Paul Haggis who also directed the film, which has received universal rave reviews. 

My question is, can or should a reviewer take into consideration the message of a film in deciding the evaluation he/she gives it? Leni Riefenstahl, director of “Triumph of the Will,” a documentary extolling Hitler and Nazis, got rave reviews. When does the message tar the artistry?

PT said: “There are many layers to the film. It is both a detective story and a not so subtle anti-war statement. It’s sometimes difficult to connect the dots, but I never lost interest.”

“Across the Universe” (+)
If you enjoy the music of the Beatles, you will enjoy this film, during which 31 of their songs are sung by members of the cast.

Jude (Jim Sturgess), an Englishman from the midlands with a Liverpool accent, is the lead character. He looks a lot like a young Paul McCartney, contributing to the nostalgia of the ’60s. Born out of wedlock, Jude decides to locate his father in the United States and finds him at Princeton University where he is working as a janitor. The father has a family of his own and makes it clear to Jude that he has no intention of opening up his life to him, which Jude understands.

Jude meets lively, fun-loving Max (Joe Anderson), a student at Princeton, and soon falls in love with Max’s sister Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood). The three move to a walk-up in Lower Manhattan, where their landlady is Sadie (Dana Fuchs), a Janis Joplin-like character although less frenzied in manner. Sadie’s boyfriend, Jo-Jo (Martin Luther McCoy), looks a lot like Jimmy Hendrix. 

Max, Lucy and Jude participate in demonstrations against the Vietnam War, and Max is eventually drafted and injured in the war. The protests include a scene in the Village where a few people unintentionally blow themselves up while making a bomb. This is a clear reference to an actual incident that occurred in March 1970 on 11th Street in Greenwich Village, near where I live.

All of the characters do a good job of singing the Beatles’ tunes, some a cappella, and Evan Rachel Wood has a particularly lovely voice. The person accorded the greatest applause from the critics is the movie’s director, Julie Taymor. The film, which contains surreal and hallucinatory scenes, could not have been easy to put together. She did a fine job.

HS said: “This film is a colorful tribute to an era now almost forty years in the past, but unforgettable. It is like an opera which has a tortuous plot but wonderful songs. The characters are attractive, their motives are good, their suffering is real, but, to quote the Bard, all’s well that ends well. ‘Across the Universe’ is a solid entertaining movie that now has some historic relevance. The picture is worth seeing by people born both before and after the sixties. Someone who doesn’t dig it is a blue meanie.”

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