20 Aug 2014
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This Week at the Movies

'Cloud Atlas' shoots for the moon and makes it halfway, but 'The Loneliest Planet' and 'Chasing Mavericks' are just average.

This Week at the Movies

The Wachowski Brothers and Tom Tykwer’s adaptation of David Mitchell’s novel “Cloud Atlas” deserves to be seen for its chutzpah and ambition alone, regardless that its various elements do not always add up.

The film is a multi-story hybrid of historical piece, paranoid thriller and science fiction spectacle that uses a handful of actors playing roles in each segment. It’s often wondrous to watch, even when several of its stories leave you shaking or scratching your head.

In one tale, a young man whose father-in-law makes his money in the slave trade comes into contact with a stowaway on a ship and, in another, a pianist attempts to write a piece of classical music that gives the film its title.

Then, in the 1970s, Halle Berry plays a reporter investigating a cover-up, while Jim Broadbent plays a publisher in 2012 who ends up becoming trapped in a nursing home.

The film includes two futuristic stories – one in which a young Japanese woman leads a revolution and another in which Tom Hanks and Berry navigate a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

Some of the stories work well – Broadbent’s nursing home escapade, which includes a daring escape attempt, is entertaining throughout, while the 1970’s paranoid thriller with Berry as a reporter is exciting.

I thought the two futuristic stories were the weakest links in the chain, especially the post-apocalyptic one in which Hanks and Berry are forced to speak in some form of Pidgin English.

But the film deserves praise for its daring. The movie was obviously expensive to make and it aims significantly higher than most studio films of this type. There are ideas actually at play here, regardless of whether they all come together in a completely successful manner.

Even if I can’t exactly explain “Cloud Atlas,” I’d still recommend it.

“The Loneliest Planet” is even more opaque. The film, which received some praise at the 2011 Toronto Film Festival, has long stretches in which no dialogue is spoken, relying instead on the looks passed between its cast of three.

In the film, a soon-to-be-married couple (Gael Garcia Bernal and Hani Furstenberg) hires a guide (Bidzina Gujabidze) to take them on a trek through the mountains of Georgia (the country). Much of the film finds the hikers in the distance as Georgia’s vast terrain engulfs them.

The film’s best moments are in its first half as the couple bonds with their guide. But an incident with some local villagers causes a rift between the couple. It’s an intense scene, but what follows drags the film nearly to a halt.

I rarely complain about a film’s length and many of my favorite pictures – some very slow ones included – are long. At nearly two hours, “The Loneliest Planet” feels about 30 minutes too long.

“Chasing Mavericks” is the weekend’s most straightforward film and, in some respects, the least of the bunch.

The picture follows the true story of Jay Moriarty (Jonny Weston), a young surfer who vows to ride a massive wave known as Mavericks. He enlists the help of a grouchy old surfer named Frosty (Gerard Butler), who agrees to show him the ropes.

The usual sports drama tropes can all be found here. My favorite is Jay – during childhood - meeting his nemesis, a young hoodlum who whacks car windows with a baseball bat. We cut to seven years later and the hoodlum is still walking around with that bat.

There’s also some drama with a young love interest, a heavy drinking mother and a not-in-the-picture father. The picture is good natured, but I feel I've seen this same story numerous times.

“Mavericks” is somewhere in the middle for sports movies of this type. It’s definitely better than “Blue Crush” or the disappointing “Lords of Dogtown,” but it’s got nothing on “The Endless Summer.”

"Cloud Atlas" is playing at AMC Loews Bay Terrace 6 and Douglaston's Movie World. "Chasing Mavericks" is screening at UA Midway Stadium 9 in Forest Hills.

"The Loneliest Planet" is playing at the IFC Center.

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