'Across the Universe' makes valiant stab at the '60s

"Across the Universe" is a fast sprint back 40 years to one of the strangest, intense, uplifting and unsettling decades of the last half of the 20th century. The confluence of events were so fraught with change and drama and cliches that it's almost impossible to convey what transpired and how gripping events were. It was a kaleidoscopic pop culture on steroids, an amalgam of drugs, music, women's liberation, heightened consciousness, alternative life styles, long hair new age dress, edge of the envelope attitudes, wrapped in art, and film and literature, all created and morphed at warp speed, with counterculture stars and civil rights activists streaking across the decade like meteors, burning brightly and then suddenly gone.

At the center was folk and rock music and the hippie English revolution and fire in the cauldron, the scorching crucible: Vietnam. There were demonstrations in the streets of most major cities, protesting the insidious remnants of racism leavened by a fervent belief in flower power, and voices lifted, chanting, "Hell no, we won't go!" "Tune in, turn on, and drop out!" "Stop the War! When? Now!" and, of course, "We shall overcome."

One president resigned, another finally chased from office, as the flotsam and jetsam of this period washed again and again over a generation. It was a tsunami of cultural energy, punctuated by the deaths of JFK, RFK and MLK, their assassinations ripping the fabric of a frayed society. It was strangely wonderful and terrible and deeply involving. At least for those who were out in the all of it. And for those who were there, when it comes right down to it, well, words ultimately fail. This was a gestalt, a psychedelic, mind bending happening, the tip of the iceberg being Woodstock, which was a soulful, jammin', thing that was, finally, an elegy for a time busy becoming something else.

Can one film capture that period? Not even. But Julie Taymor's "Across the Universe" makes a valiant attempt. The narrative, however, is decidedly thin: boy named Jude (Hey, Jude!) leaves England, travels to America in search of his father; boy meets girl named Lucy (in the sky with diamonds); they fall in love; there's a romantic crisis; and a long denouement. All happens in the context of a surging wave of protest and all is awash in props from the '60s.

Of course, "Across the Universe" is a musical framed by a catalogue of Beatles songs. People talk and then they sing. Sometimes it can seem a bit jarring, but also sweet and pleasant. What becomes clear is that the breadth and depth of the music created by the Fab Four, these many decades later, is still fresh and surprisingly relevant. The words of their songs take on a new and compelling meaning in this film and for that generation that missed that decade it can be a nice introduction. Of course, the hard-core, meaning those who were young in that decade, well, they claim if you remember the '60s, then you weren't there.


"Awake" is billed as a thriller and it is. Sure it has more holes in the story and the many medical setups than a good size colander. And of course it's entertainment-lite. But it does engage, and is even gripping at times with a solid twist that is never telegraphed and no one sees coming. The story? It would be wrong in the extreme to even hint at what is going on, but suffice it to say that a good portion of the film is set in a New York hospital and involves open-heart surgery wherein the patient (Hayden Christensen) appears to be under but isn't. This phenomenon apparently happens more than 30,000 times a year. His new bride (Jessica Alba) and his overly possessive mother (Lena Olin) are in the waiting room. All seems good to go. Or is it?

Bottom line: if you're in the mood for a nicely done B gripper, find two hours and a bag of popcorn and give "Awake" a try.

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