‘Cloud Atlas’ Is Weird Mess; Surfers; ‘Other Son’: Movies

'Cloud Atlas'
Tom Hanks and Halle Berry as 24th century allies Zachry and Meronym in "Cloud Atlas." The film is directed by Tom Tykwer and Andy and Lana Wachowski. Photographer: Jay Maidment/Warner Bros. Pictures via Bloomberg

Three giddy hours after a battle-scarred, cosmetically aged Tom Hanks starts talking, the $100 million folly called “Cloud Atlas” gets to its point.

“You want de true-true?” asks a futuristic emissary played by Halle Berry in the weird, pseudo-Cajun patois of a radiated 24th-century Hawaii.

Rough translation: “You can’t handle the truth.”

Amusing and silly, ambitious and trite -- “Cloud Atlas,” written and directed by siblings Lana and Andy Wachowski (“The Matrix” trilogy) and Tom Tykwer (“Run Lola Run”), sells more New Age hokum than a college-town crystal store.

Sample true-trues: Death is a door, love is immortal and each soul fine-tunes itself through one overblown reincarnation after another.

Based on the bestselling 2004 novel by David Mitchell, “Cloud Atlas” juggles six tales spanning as many centuries, landscapes and literary genres.

A small army of brand-name actors populates every era, often smearing ethnic, age and gender lines with gobs of unconvincing make-up.

So we get Susan Sarandon with tribal tattoos here and a cupcake-sized nose there, Hugh Grant covered in war paint or covered in a geezer’s slack skin.

Corporate Conspiracy

Chronologically (and stripped to the bones):

In 1849, a seafaring attorney (Jim Sturgess) forms an unlikely bond with a runaway slave (David Gyasi); in 1936 Scotland, an ambitious young musician (Ben Whishaw) gloms onto an aging, malevolent composer (Jim Broadbent); and in 1973, a San Francisco journalist (Berry) investigates a far-reaching corporate conspiracy.

Jumping forward: In 2012, a British publisher (Broadbent) escapes creditors by hiding out in a snake-pit nursing home; in the totalitarian “Neo Seoul” of 2144, a meek, genetically engineered servant (Doona Bae) becomes a freedom fighter; and in the post-apocalypse 24th century, a village goatherd (Hanks) aids an emissary (Berry) from an advanced society.

“Cloud Atlas” unfolds with unexpected clarity, its connective threads conveniently explicit -- a 1936 diary turns up in 1973, say, or a comet-shaped birthmark tracks one soul through its earthly lifetimes.

Certainly, some lifetimes are better than others.

The three Tykwer-directed pastiches have surer footing, riffing on “Three Days of the Condor” paranoia in the 1973 plot and lampooning British music-hall comedy in the nursing-home farce (with Hugo Weaving done up in Nurse Ratched drag).

Hanks Villainy

The Wachowski segments, while more daring, are spottier. The sci-fi action of 2144 has thrills and a “Blade Runner” beauty, but overstays itself, while the salt-aired shipboard adventure is undone by Hanks’s outsized, bucktoothed villainy.

The film’s sole unequivocal failure arrives with the 24th century.

Traipsing through a CGI wilderness, Hanks and Berry take on horseback savages, a green-skinned ghoul in a Mardi Gras top hat, ludicrous syntax and bookshelf spirituality.

And dat, as dey say, is de true-true.

“Cloud Atlas,” from Warner Bros. Pictures, is playing across the U.S. Rating: **1/2 (Evans)

‘Chasing Mavericks’

The mountainous waves dwarf the actors, literally and figuratively, in “Chasing Mavericks.”

They’re the real star of the movie, directed by Curtis Hanson and Michael Apted and photographed, heroically, by Bill Pope. It tells the story of the 15-year-old surfing phenomenon Jay Moriarity (Jonny Weston), who trained in the 1990s with the champion Frosty Hesson (Gerard Butler) to ride a legendary wave.

One of the many things movies have in common with opera is their ability to touch you even when the script is indifferent. The beauty and athleticism of the surfers, their graceful pivots across the sparkling water, do more to give these characters soul than the script does.

It manufactures all kinds of life problems for the fatherless boy to face down and hammers at his teacher’s father-figure role. But the majesty of the surfing sequences makes the rather puny drama surprisingly affecting.

It helps that the actors, especially the women -- Frosty’s wife (Abigail Spencer), Jay’s mother (Elisabeth Shue) and his girlfriend (Leven Rambin) -- underplay their maudlin scenes.

But the scenes that matter are the ones in the water. The movie is a pleasure to look at from the beginning. By the end, it’s close to euphoric.

“Chasing Mavericks,” from 20th Century Fox, is playing across the U.S. Rating: **** (Seligman)

‘The Other Son’

“The Other Son” sets up the predicament at once: The sons of an Israeli and a Palestinian couple have been switched at birth. Now, on the eve of their turning 18, the boys and their families learn the truth.

What the movie’s director, Lorraine Levy, does next is remarkable: very little. Instead of burying the intensity of the situation under plot complications, she simply watches the reactions. And that’s enough.

This French-made film is one of those rare pictures that manages to get at what’s going on inside rather than outside its characters. Levy uses the Israel-Palestine conflict as a way of underlining the boys’ self-questioning: What does it really mean to be a Jew? An Arab?

She handles the politics of the conflict delicately, without playing them down. The Israeli father is an army colonel, the Palestinian an engineer reduced to fixing cars because he isn’t allowed to work outside his village.

Mothers’ Fear

Their first reaction is anger, compounded by frustration at the lack of a good target for it. The mothers’ faces betray something more complex: a mixture of fear (though of what it’s hard to say) and a dawning love for the sons they never knew they had.

The movie is an actor’s feast. The questions it raises about family and identity are too big to have answers, and it doesn’t try to provide any.

The splendid music is by Dhafer Youssef.

“The Other Son,” from Cohen Media Group, is playing in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Miami, St. Louis, Seattle, Detroit and Washington. Rating: **** (Seligman)

What the Stars Mean:

***** Fantastic
**** Excellent
*** Good
** So-So
* Poor
(No stars) Avoid

(Greg Evans and Craig Seligman are critics for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are their own.)

Muse highlights include Lewis Lapham and Daniel Akst on books.

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