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Tom Hanks in one of six storylines of "Cloud Atlas," in theaters now.
Tom Hanks in one of six storylines of "Cloud Atlas," in theaters now.

"Cloud Atlas" soars

Anyone who's seen a trailer for "Cloud Atlas" or even heard the smallest amount of buzz surrounding it knows it looks a little, well, nuts. This massive new undertaking from the Wachowski siblings boasts teaser footage guaranteed to melt your brain, plus a cast of characters and settings that – while impressive on paper – could have easily stifled the promise right out of it.

Thankfully (and a little surprisingly), it didn't.

"Cloud Atlas" contains six vignettes that take place at various points in time, from the 1800s to two vastly different futuristic civilizations. They're tied together by a cast of characters whose interactions with each other in each life help shape and alter their intertwined futures. These major players (Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Ben Whishaw, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess and Doona Bae, among others) embody entire casts all on their own, assuming new roles with each narrative in a sort of of cosmic Mad Hatter tea party.

It's a pretty big premise to deliver on, and "Cloud Atlas" doesn't mince around. Its frenetic opening lays it all on the table to set the groundwork for all six stories in mere moments. While a bit overwhelming (and a little reckless, considering almost all of the audience is already primed with a mix of confusion and intrigue), these first few minutes are not at all indicative of the pace to follow.

In what's probably a model example of skill and organization, screenwriters Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer execute "Cloud Atlas" seamlessly. They link together the plots and characters with a graceful, scientific precision almost akin to DNA replication – brilliantly complex, but so flawless it comes off easy.

This seamless balance is thanks in a large part to the common elements that take place throughout each narrative. Pivotal themes of conflict, escape and moments of good old deja vu transcend the eras and give "Cloud Atlas" ample opportunities to adeptly transition in and out of the six.

B…

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Tyler Perry plays the title psychologist/detective in "Alex Cross," in theaters now.
Tyler Perry plays the title psychologist/detective in "Alex Cross," in theaters now.

Steer clear of "Alex Cross"

"Don't Ever Cross Alex Cross." The tagline alone had me laughing at this movie way back when all I had to go on was the poster. And, as expected, all 101 minutes of "Alex Cross" the movie was just as terrible.

To be fair to terrible movies, I should clarify this is not one of the "so terrible it's good" kind. "Alex Cross" is more of the "hot garbage" variety. Everything about it – from its cliched script and vapid characters to the amateurish cinematography that makes "The Blair Witch Project"'s camera work look Oscar-worthy – feels so typical of the action thriller genre I was almost convinced I was watching a parody.

"Alex Cross" is the third movie venture for author James Patterson's titular whip-smart psychologist/detective (previously played by Morgan Freeman in the more successful "Kiss the Girls" and "Along Came a Spider"). In it, Cross (Tyler Perry) gets embroiled in a dangerous murder mystery after a psychopathic killer (Matthew Fox) takes a deadly interest in Cross's family.

It would have potential, if only it weren't utterly squandered by the uninspired work of its screenplay writers. At no time do they endeavor to give the script any subtlety or let the audience figure anything out for themselves. Everything is explicitly stated or set up visually to ensure there's absolutely nothing challenging about processing what's happening. That's great for someone who had to take a bathroom break, but the rest of us are left sorely wanting.

We do get to figure out one thing on our own, though: the whole freaking plot. Even the most distracted audience member will have no trouble deciphering this transparent "Moviemaking 101"-style procedural to figure out who's pulling "Alex Cross"'s nefarious strings – specifically, who let sadistic psycho killer Picasso loose on the city.

If there's any redeeming aspect of this cinematic mistake, it's Fox's performance as said maniac. He dropped 40 pounds to transform into this tightly-coiled mass of muscle and madness and…

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Colin Farrell, Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell star in "Seven Psychopaths," in theaters now.
Colin Farrell, Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell star in "Seven Psychopaths," in theaters now.

"Seven Psychopaths" a twisted comedy roller coaster

"In Bruges" director Martin McDonagh. Christopher Walken. A bunny. This magical collaboration isn't some elaborate fantasy, it's just part of the all-too-hilarious reality of "Seven Psychopaths." The story of a writer's block-afflicted screenwriter, his motley crew of friends and an unintentional stumble into L.A.'s criminal underworld is an irreverent, smart and darkly funny adventure that easily earns a spot on the list of this year's top comedies.

Aforementioned screenwriter Marty (returning McDonagh lead Colin Farrell) is desperately trying to come up with a decent script. He can't seem to settle his ideas on characters, but he's dead set on his title: "Seven Psychopaths" (sound familiar?). What results is a narrative mixed with a narrative about the narrative as Marty writes and re-writes his movie draft. Helping him is his best friend, Billy (Sam Rockwell), an affable lowlife who – together with his business partner Hans (Walken) – makes his living stealing rich people's dogs and returning them to cash in on the reward money.

Unfortunately for all of them, things take a turn for the worse when Billy makes off with the beloved Shih Tzu of neurotic crime boss Charlie (Woody Harrelson). Charlie sets out to find his furry baby by any means necessary, which puts Marty, Billy and Hans square in the deep end of the crazy pool.

Of course, they're not perfect themselves. Marty's a frazzled mess, Hans is still grappling with his mysterious past and Billy only makes things worse, running his mouth off at every opportunity and gleefully digging them deeper into their hole. And then there's Marty's b*tch girlfriend, Billy's girlfriend-that-may-or-may-not-exist and a full-fledged psychopath with a wild tale and an ever-present pet rabbit. They may not all be psychos, but they're definitely up there on the whackjob scale.

"Seven Psychopaths" is a simultaneous product of the fictional trio and writer/director McDonagh, who has crafted another sharp, self-deprecating a…

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"Sinister" is in theaters now.
"Sinister" is in theaters now.

Dark, subdued "Sinister" brings the scary

Part mystery and part horror movie, "Sinister" has been teasing scary movie fans with intriguingly vague trailers for a while now – its shadowy villain has certainly gotten people talking. While it's nothing to write home about plot-wise, the scares in "Sinister" are certainly enough to make you think twice about turning your lights off before going to bed.

The movie starts off predictably: Former big-shot true crime writer Ellison (Ethan Hawke) packs up his family in search of another blockbuster unsolved mystery. Taking the first of many risks with his wife and two children, he moves into a home that was also the recent scene of four hangings and the disappearance of a young girl. The discovery of a mysterious box of old film reels in the attic leads Ellison to believe he's stumbled onto a monumental piece of new evidence that could potentially make his latest project his biggest yet.

He's only half right: the films unlock the secrets behind the gruesome events that happened in the house, but they also awaken the mysterious force that caused them.

In between the past mysteries and present jump scares that have suddenly descended upon the house, "Sinister" takes the time to expand upon the family's story and their own internal conflicts. They're not particularly original, but the movie does go into more detail with their lives and even extends their troubles (the wife's concern for the kids, the son acting out at school) through most of the movie. It's a slightly more realistic take on the usual Horror Movie Family, which usually only gets screen time for the first third of the film at most before it diverts all attention to the supernatural baddie.

As with most horror movies, "Sinister" lays the spooky music on thick. The industrial soundtrack they use isn't awful (its static-y tech sound is almost reminiscent of the old-school film projector that factors into the plot so importantly), but it gets introduced too soon and seems out of place right at the begin…

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