Offbeat movies wrap up |

Offbeat movies wrap up

L.A. Times, Newsday

‘Awake’ Seems Like a Bad Dream

By Jan Stuart


If you have an ax to grind with someone who harbors a morbid fear of surgery, you couldn’t design a better revenge than taking them to see “Awake.”

If the object of your mischief also happens to be a connoisseur of sly Hitchcockian chills, so much the better. The thumbprints of the late master of suspense are nowhere to be found on this trashily in-your-face thriller, which leans heavily for its effects on intense sympathy pain, improbable reversals and the star appeal of Jessica Alba.

Hayden Christensen goes under the knife as Clay Beresford, a rich New York businessman with a weak heart and a blind spot for his adoring girlfriend, Sam (Alba). Clay marries Sam over the objections of his mother (Lena Olin, turning up the smarmy-matriarch heat to a low boil). Mom also objects to his chosen surgeon for an imminent heart transplant, an affable friend named Dr. Jack Harper (Terrence Howard) with a dubious record of “two mortgages, two ulcers and two divorces.”

That latter accounting is rendered by mom’s sour-grapes surgeon of choice, Dr. Neyer (Arliss Howard ), an exceedingly self-important twit who claims to have operated on presidents but always seems to be available whenever the script requires him. Disregarding his mother in all matters of the heart, Clay goes with his own man, and ends up with a tippling anesthesiologist who is more anesthetized during the surgery than he is.

The centerpiece of “Awake” is a heart operation with multiple birds-eye shots of Clay’s beating organ, complemented by the crescendoing voice of Christensen screaming variations on “Oh, no, no, no, please God! Oh no, no, no, no! It’s just pain, it’s just pain!”

MPAA rating: R, for language, an intense and disturbing situation, and brief drug use. Running time: 1 hour, 21 minutes.

Therapy Doesn’t Work in ‘Sex and Breakfast’

By Kevin Crust

Los Angeles Times

HOLLYWOOD — Characters in movies have been confusing sex with love or trying to use one to rectify the other since the very beginning. In general, they come to the earth-shattering conclusion that they are not the same and, though linked, the alchemy between the two cannot easily be fixed.

For the audience’s sake, this process goes down best when no one takes it too seriously. Miles Brandman’s earnest “Sex and Breakfast” features two L.A. couples in their 20s who choose to chase away the relationship doldrums with the help of a group sex therapist (Joanna Miles) and approach it as if they are unlocking the mysteries of the universe. The results are predictable, but an attractive and willing cast eases some of the tedium.

James (Macaulay Culkin) and Heather (Alexis Dziena) are a young puppyish couple with separate apartments. They videotape their lovemaking and James has reached a point where he finds the moments after sex to be a profound experience giving him a sense of clarity. Heather, however, is a little less satisfied. The more aggressive and adventurous of the two, she suggests therapy, to which James reluctantly acquiesces.

Ellis (Kuno Becker) and Renee (Eliza Dushku) appear to be a little older and share a loft. No one in the film has anything resembling a job (or friends or any sort of life outside the relationship, for that matter), but these two must be somewhat successful at whatever it is they do because they travel around exclusively by limo or taxi. The pair choose group sex as a relationship energizer only after considering less hazardous options such as bungee jumping, sky diving and bullfighting.

Much of the midsection of the movie is devoted to obvious subplots that play on the jealous nature of men and only postpone the inevitable as Brandman coyly defers the actual therapy session until late in the movie, leaving “will they or won’t they go through with it?” the only question to be answered.

That we aren’t given a lot of back story or external information about these thinly drawn characters could, of course, be a good thing if it served to draw us into their predicaments or ratchet up the dramatic levels. The foursome, who inhabit roughly the same neighborhood, passing gently by one another in the same artsy coffee shop, spell out their every want and need and behave so transparently as to leave little intrigue to their motives and little room for subtext. These people don’t need therapy, they need to spend more time apart.

Brandman does show a deft touch with some individual moments in the film, especially in his work with actors. There are some charged scenes between Dushku and Jaime Ray Newman as a responsive waitress, and the palpable anxiety among the characters as the therapy session approaches is nicely staged. Dziena as the simultaneously yearning and vulnerable Heather gives “Sex and Breakfast’s” best performance.

In the end, however, neither of the main relationships actually appears worth saving. The couples have little going for them other than their physical attractiveness so the stakes simply aren’t high enough for the audience to care one way or another what happens to them.

Rating: R for sexual content and language. Running time: 1 hour, 21 minutes.