If you prefer your films’ reach to exceed their grasp, then you’ll appreciate the giddy audacity of “Cloud Atlas,” a toweringly ambitious ensemble fantasy-drama that doesn’t always work but never ceases trying to wow you. Based on David Mitchell’s acclaimed 2004 novel, the film chronicles the seemingly unconnected lives of different men and women, whether it be an American notary (Jim Sturgess) traveling across the Pacific Ocean in the 19th century, a San Francisco journalist (Halle Berry) investigating a nuclear power plant in the 1970s, or a primitive warrior (Tom Hanks) defending his tribe in an unspecified post-apocalyptic land. Directed by Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer, and Andy Wachowski and featuring several actors playing multiple roles, “Cloud Atlas” shifts between time periods and genres, offering a bombastic, New-Agey but undeniably deeply moving treatise on the importance of the individual within a society. Ultimately, this two-and-a-half-hour-plus film is the cinematic equivalent of a double-disc concept album: There’s probably too much of it, but the sheer size and scope of the damn thing becomes a selling point in and of itself.
A sense of the cosmic also pervades “Chasing Mavericks,” which is based on the life of celebrated Santa Cruz surfer Jay Moriarity. Newcomer Jonny Weston plays Moriarity, who as a teenager was determined to brave Mavericks, a legendary but also treacherous surf break. To accomplish this feat, he enlists the help of Frosty Hesson (Gerard Butler), a local surf god who becomes a Mr. Miyagi–like figure to the fatherless young man. A sports movie and a coming-of-age story bound together with plenty of surfing-as-metaphor-for-existence bromides, “Chasing Mavericks” benefits from Weston’s sweet earnestness and Butler’s laid-back, crusty charm. But for all the film’s attempts to honor the mythical pull that the ocean has on some, this blandly inspirational tale mostly ends up feeling soggy.
Offering a different take on the relationship between humans and nature, the indie drama “The Loneliest Planet” introduces us to Nica (Hani Furstenberg) and Alex (Gael García Bernal), a blissfully engaged couple who are going on a backpacking adventure through the Georgian mountains with their guide, Dato (Bidzina Gujabidze). Surrounded by silence, Nica and Alex are having a grand time together—until something happens during their expedition that drives a wedge between them. Writer-director Julia Loktev delivers a remarkably ambiguous, thought-provoking character study, using one couple’s rocky impasse as an allegory for all the ways in which those closest to us remain as mysterious and dangerous as the beautiful but desolate terrain encircling Nica and Alex.
Before his flashy, ultra-violent “Drive” last year, Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn made his name with the “Pusher” trilogy, a stylish look at some nasty Copenhagen underworld figures. The English-language “Pusher” remake, directed by Spanish filmmaker Luis Prieto, flaunts its neon-lit seediness, but this smalltime crime caper doesn’t have much else to give it pizzazz. London drug dealer Frank (Richard Coyle) is in dire straits, terribly in debt to a local boss (Zlatko Buric) whose patience has just run out. Frank’s journey—which is as much about saving his skin as it is about saving his soul—is provided some depth thanks to Coyle’s weary, anxious performance. (His pained blue eyes hint at the years of moral compromise he’s had to endure in his disreputable profession.) But the actor’s commitment to this B-movie pulp isn’t complemented by Prieto’s insistence that slick badass attitude is far more meaningful than telling a story with real feeling or originality.