Aggravating ‘Atlas,’ Mundane ‘Mavericks,’ Failed ‘Fun,’ Haunting ‘House’

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FS, Contributing Writer

“Cloud Atlas”

The Wachowski siblings, Lana and Andy, teamed up with Tom Tykwer to write and direct Cloud Atlas (wide release), a nearly three-hour adaptation of David Mitchell’s novel that shuffles together six plot strands, ranging chronologically from the mid-19th century to post-apocalypse 25th-century Hawaii.

It also features a starry cast, including Tom Hanks, Hugh Grant and Halle Berry, in multiple roles scattered throughout the various segments.

The length and complexity of the film clearly indicate how ambitious it is, but unfortunately its theme – resistance to oppression in all its forms – is the same one the Wachowskis have done to death in all their previous pictures, from The Matrix to Speed Racer. In fact, one of the futuristic episodes here – set in 2144 New Seoul – is a fairly close remake of The Matrix, except that this time the protagonist is female.

References to reincarnation over the centuries also recur periodically.

The best segments are two directed by Tykwer, both starring Jim Broadbent. The first is a contemporary comedy about a curmudgeonly fellow who leads his fellow residents in escaping from a nasty nursing home. In the second, set in 1936, an elderly composer tries to steal the ideas of his young secretary.

But these offer only fleeting pleasures in an epic with big pretensions but small ideas.

This Atlas might aim for the clouds, but it remains sadly earthbound.

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“Chasing Mavericks”

The surfing sequences are impressive but everything else melodramatically flatfooted in Chasing Mavericks (wide release), a typically inspirational sports movie based on the short life of Jay Moriarity.

He was a California kid, abandoned by his father, who found a surrogate dad in a surf-obsessed neighbor who trained him to tackle the supposedly mythic huge swells, or “mavericks,” that hit in a remote area off the coast.

Much of the picture follows the Karate Kid formula, with a bearded Gerard Butler acting as a gruff Mr. Miyagi to Moriarity (Jonny Weston), a curly-haired, clean-cut goody two-fins who exhibits all the sterling qualities of a full-fledged Eagle Scout.

But the script takes time to deal with Jay’s romantic interest in a girl who just considers him a friend, his concern for his mother and his best buddy, and his unresolved emotional issues. It also delves into his mentor’s domestic troubles, which take a tragic turn.

The result is a familiar combination of coming-of-age tale, tearjerker and uplifting sports flick. It’s not terrible, but is terribly familiar.

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“Fun Size”

The perils of trying to copy the old John Hughes high school formula are evident in Fun Size (wide release), a teen comedy that’s tone-deaf as well as singularly lacking in laughs.

It’s set on Halloween night, when sweet Wren (Victoria Justice) is compelled to skip a cool party to take her kid brother trick-or-treating. She loses the boy and spends the rest of the night searching for him, aided by the nerdy classmate who worships her from afar. Meanwhile her brother links up with a goofy convenience-store clerk.

The lame jokes and dumb situations that abound are certainly not helped by a predictably saccharine conclusion, but even worse are the unseemly sexual innuendoes throughout, as well as a string of allusions to child molestation.

They make the movie really unsuitable as family entertainment.

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“The House I Live In”

Eugene Jarecki’s The House I Live In (Angelika) is a compelling, thought-provoking documentary about the federal “war on drugs” that’s been ongoing in America since the Nixon administration.

Its chronological survey of the effort is good, if familiar.

What sets the film apart are the personal twist Jarecki gives the material by investigating the death of his nanny’s son, who overdosed, and his argument that the campaign against drugs is not merely a health issue, but a means of marginalizing – and incarcerating –“undesirable” groups within society. He also convincingly demonstrates that it has led to police corruption, an inequitable system of justice and a whole industry of for-profit prisons and security firms that now form a major lobbying group agitating for its continuance.

This is obviously an activist piece of non-fiction filmmaking, but its sober, morose approach to the topic proves surprisingly effective.

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