' Cloud Atlas'
3 stars = Good
With an eclectic ensemble led by Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent and another dozen notables, "Cloud Atlas" is ambitious, risky and grand. It touches down in six time periods, from the mid-19th century to the 24th century, with some members of the sprawling cast playing as many as six roles.
Its settings include: 1849 Pacific Islands where a plantation owner (Hugh Grant) believes slaves are like camels and don't feel the heat. They, of course, not only feel the searing sun but the sting of the lash, and when a visiting San Francisco attorney (Jim Sturgess) witnesses a flogging, he faints.
In 1936 Scotland, a talented young musician (Ben Whishaw) apprentices himself to a famous composer (Mr. Broadbent) who covets his work, while in 1973 San Francisco, a journalist (Ms. Berry) nosing around a nuclear power plant may be faced with the choice between her story and her life.
And so it goes until the time and places become less recognizable and more futuristic.
The story rockets into a primitive, post-apocalyptic era, with Mr. Hanks as a goat herder, Ms. Berry an emissary of an advanced human community called Prescients and Mr. Grant the leader of a marauding band of cannibal warriors. Even the language has dissolved into a stripped-down English that is understandable, if annoying.
Directed and adapted by Tom Tykwer and siblings Lana (formerly Larry) and Andy Wachowski, "Cloud Atlas," based on the David Mitchell novel, is built on the idea that: "Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others. Past and present. And by each crime, and every kindness."
It explores how the actions and consequences of individual lives impact one another through the past, present and future.
Watching the 172-minute "Cloud Atlas" is like being on a weirdly elongated, electrifying roller coaster. It's dazzling although not as satisfying as more conventional movies, but it traffics in Big Themes and Ideas.
The extra "A Film Like No Other" explores the collaboration between the directors, "Everything Is Connected" delves into the overlapping plots. There is also a making-of featurette.
' Texas Chainsaw'
This 3-D sequel picks up where other recent massacres have left off, manufacturing a reason for Heather to drag three of her 20-something friends to Newt, Texas.
She's a surviving member of the slaying Sawyer clan, the inbreds who gave birth to and protected the hulking Leatherface. After a brief opening summary of the "end" of the Sawyers, "Chainsaw" then gets down to the bloody business at hand: chainsawing.
That menacing power tool is the star as Leatherface chases these fit and trim young folks who always find something to trip over. There are plenty of 3-D shove-the-saw-at-the-camera moments in director John Luessenhop's movie manual. But he mangles even the basics of making these many murders seem frightening.
In the decades since Tobe Hooper's genuinely shocking original film, the sequels have been dumb-downed into splatter-fests.
Extras: commentary with Mr. Hooper and producer Carl Mazzocone; "Chainsaw alumni" audio commentary with stars Bill Moseley, Gunnar Hansen, Marilyn Burns and John Dugan; a legacy featurette that looks back at the 40-year history of the series with Mr. Hooper; "Resurrecting the Saw" featurette; "The Old Homestead" featurette; "Leatherface 2013" interview with actor Dan Yeager; a 3-D creation featurette; special effects and makeup featurette; cast interviews; and seven on-set making-of short subjects.
-- Washington Post
' Beware of Mr. Baker'
3 stars = Good
"Beware of Mr. Baker" rightly depicts Ginger Baker as one of the most ornery characters in the history of rock 'n' roll. At the outset of the film, he is outside his compound in South Africa bludgeoning filmmaker Jay Bulger with a cane after having bullied and cursed at him numerous times during the interview.
That winning personality, perhaps related to losing his father in WWII at age 4, made it a lifelong challenge for Mr. Baker to sustain any kind of longevity with one band. His most famous run, with Cream -- described by Rush's Neil Peart as "an atomic bomb going off" -- lasted all of two years, shorter than some of Metallica's tours, as Lars Ulrich points out.
The compelling "Beware of Mr. Baker" chronicles the drummer's turbulent days with Cream (where he epically clashed with Jack Bruce), Blind Faith, Ginger Baker's Air Force and other short-lived ventures, along with his various self-exiles to Africa and reckless choices as a father and husband.
Mr. Bulger probes the cranky old man in search of some humanity, and what he finds is, he was a great drummer.
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-- Rick Bentley, McClatchy Newspapersmoviereviews