Video Verdict: ‘Cloud Atlas,’ ‘Texas Chainsaw’

Alexandra Daddario, left, plays Heather Miller and Dan Yeager plays Leatherface in the horror-thriller “Texas Chainsaw.”

Alexandra Daddario, left, plays Heather Miller and Dan Yeager plays Leatherface in the horror-thriller “Texas Chainsaw.”

This week’s home video releases include a bloody, R-rated horror film and an elaborate epic with a star-studded cast.

Cloud Atlas

3½ stars (out of four)
Rated R for violence, language, sexuality/nudity and some drug use
Warner Brothers
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand

The filmmaking Wachowski siblings, Lana and Andy, changed Hollywood with their 1999 science-fiction hit “The Matrix,” but their follow-up projects have been less exciting. Although financially successful, the two “Matrix” sequels were more bombastic than anything. The Wachowski’s big-screen adaptation of “Speed Racer” was more successful artistically, but not everyone appreciates its cartoon-like presentation. Likewise, German writer-director Tom Tykwer has seen artistic ups and downs. His 1998 film, “Run Lola Run,” is a thrilling adventure deserving of the many awards it received. But later efforts, including “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer” and “The International,” are more difficult to embrace.

Despite the misfires, Tykwer and the Wachowskis command attention because – even at their worst – they are ambitious. This is particularly evident in their first project as a collective: a sweeping, three-hour film adaptation of novelist David Mitchell’s “Cloud Atlas.” The film features six intertwined stories placed in settings as disparate as a 19th century sailing vessel and a tribal collective in the distant future.

“Cloud Atlas” is a film for a particular type of moviegoer: the sort who likes to carefully deconstruct a picture, laboring over the meaning of each moment. Although that may sound like work, the effort is rewarded because “Cloud Atlas” is littered with symbolism and ideas that go largely undiscovered after a single viewing. The movie not only tells six individual tales, it tells them using the same actors. Tom Hanks, for instance, portrays six characters ranging from a dishonest 19th century physician to a storyteller living in a post-apocalyptic future. Likewise, co-stars Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, Susan Sarandon and Hugh Grant play numerous roles. All viewers should enjoy the fact that these players so easily transform from one character to the next, but those who analyze the film will discover that the casting choices play a key role in the thematic development of the work. “Cloud Atlas” speculates on everything from reincarnation and human morality to the intimate connections between our past, present and future.

This is heady stuff, and the Wachowski’s and Tykwer (who are credited as co-writers and co-directors) present it beautifully. The cinematography is gorgeous throughout, and the way the filmmakers tie each of their six stories together is fascinating. None of the storytelling is linear, and the movie is constantly shifting perspectives, but it is surprisingly coherent. It is not, however, an easy watch.

To get the most out of “Cloud Atlas,” moviegoers have to be patient and attentive to even the smallest details, and the only way to fully digest the film is to watch again and again. Not everyone is willing to invest this much effort in a movie, and the fact that it occasionally drags can be discouraging. Those who warm to the material, however, will discover that “Cloud Atlas” is a rare treat. While some movies grow boring upon repeated viewing, this one gets deeper and more meaningful, illustrating just how clever the filmmakers are.

Extras on the DVD release are limited to a single making-of feature. The Blu-ray combo pack has many more behind-the-scenes shorts, including bits on the acting and the difficulty of adapting Mitchell’s book to the screen.

 

Texas Chainsaw

2 stars
Rated R for grisly violence and language throughout
Lionsgate
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, digital download and on demand

“Texas Chainsaw” may be the seventh entry in the horror franchise developed by producer-director Tobe Hooper way back in 1974, but the plot is decidedly retro. Set immediately after the original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” the action begins with law enforcement personnel and local vigilantes descending on the Newt, Texas, home of the Sawyer family. Outraged by grisly murders committed by Jed Sawyer (better known as “Leatherface”), the vigilantes burn the home to the ground, presumably killing everyone inside.

During the chaos, one vigilante (David Born) discovers a living Sawyer family baby and secrets it away. He and his wife raise the child as Edith Miller, never telling her about her bloody ancestry. It therefore comes as a shock when a twenty-something Edith (Alexandra Daddario) receives a letter telling her that she has inherited a massive Texas estate from a grandmother she never knew.

Intrigued, Edith and a group of friends travel to Texas even though her adoptive parents warn her to stay away. Of course, it’s only a matter of time before the group of young people run into a massive, chainsaw-wielding maniac.

Although entirely derivative, “Texas Chainsaw” starts as strong as any slasher film. The ties to the original picture are clever, and director John Luessenhop does a nice job setting the stage for pure carnage.

Unfortunately, the movie does not maintain its momentum in the second and third acts. The film also takes bizarre twists that call the morality of the entire project into question. While many horror films celebrate violence, most maintain a virtuous center. “Texas Chainsaw,” on the other hand, turns into a bizarre melodrama that proposes more than a few perverse ideas about justice and the strength of familial bonds.

The ideals that the screenplay seems to promote may not bother horror fans seeking cheap thrills, but they are a point of concern for anyone who believes movies should do more than titillate. Also noteworthy is the fact that the film is more disgusting than scary. Luessenhop spends a lot of time with gore and severed body parts, but he offers little suspense. Even the 3D elements of the movie (viewable only by those with a 3D Blu-ray player and 3D TV) are a letdown.

After such a promising beginning, it’s disappointing to watch “Texas Chainsaw” derail, but when it leaves the tracks it does so decidedly.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include a feature on the “Texas Chainsaw” franchise, interviews with the filmmakers, behind-the-scenes shorts and multiple audio commentaries.

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

Delmer Daves Westerns: The Criterion Collection is serving up freshly restored versions of two movies by talented studio director Delmer Daves. The most recognizable is “3:10 to Yuma,” a 1957 effort that spawned a 2007 remake. The film focuses on a rancher (Dan Evans) charged with escorting an outlaw (Glenn Ford) to the train that will take him to prison. Also out is “Jubal,” a 1956 film starring Ford as a ranch hand who gets in trouble when his employer’s wife attempts to seduce him. Ernest Borgnine and Rod Steiger also star.

“Dexter” – The Seventh Season: Showtime announced that season eight (debuting in June) is the last for its popular drama about a Miami forensics expert who is also a serial killer. Fans who are feeling behind, can catch all the seventh season action with this release.

“Frankie Go Boom”: Comedy about a man (Charlie Hunnam) who gains unwanted celebrity when his antagonistic brother (Chris O’Dowd) uploads his amateur sex tape to the internet, turning it into a viral hit. Chris Noth, Lizzy Caplan and Ron Perlman also star. Written and directed by Jordan Roberts.

“A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III”: Story of a successful graphic designer (Charlie Sheen) who reflects on his past when the love of his life (Katheryn Winnick) leaves him. Also stars Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray and Patricia Arquette. Written and directed by Roman Coppola.

“Crimewave”: Director Sam Raimi’s 1985 comedy about inept assassins is receiving its DVD and Blu-ray debut. The movie is noteworthy not only because Raimi directed but because he co-wrote the screenplay with Academy Award winners Joel and Ethan Coen.

“Liz & Dick”: TV movie about the love affair between movie stars Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Lindsay Lohan plays Taylor and Grant Bowler plays Burton.

“A Good Day to Die Hard”: The fifth entry in Bruce Willis’ “Die Hard” franchise won’t be available on DVD and Blu-ray until June 4, but fans can purchase an early digital download beginning this week.

“Warm Bodies”: This horror-comedy by writer-director Jonathan Levine is also available for digital download starting this week. The wider DVD and Blu-ray release is set for June 4.

 

– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at forrest@forresthartman.com.

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One response to “Video Verdict: ‘Cloud Atlas,’ ‘Texas Chainsaw’

  1. Pingback: The Mule Begins Principal Photography, SFF/Mystery Road Coming Soon, Cloud Atlas Tops DVD Charts | Hugonuts WordPress

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