Reel Critics: 'Cloud Atlas' stretches through time

"Cloud Atlas" is a magnificent patchwork quilt of a movie. It crosses several film genres sprawling across many centuries of time and space. It boggles your mind with dazzling visuals. It features heart-pounding action with sometimes graphic violence. At the same time it captivates your emotions with touching scenes of love, honor and trust.

Six distinct story lines cover past, present and future events on a grand scale. There's a seafaring adventure in 1849 that's connected to a post apocalyptic future in the 25th century. Over those 700 years, depictions of common life, art, political thriller and science fiction fantasy get equal time in this vast and strange tale. The interconnection of the events and people assume that mystical ideas of karma and reincarnation are true.

Tom Hanks and Halle Barry lead a great cast. They all play several different characters as past and future incarnations of themselves. This plot provides unusual opportunities to display outstanding acting skills that should lead to many Oscar nominations. The cinematography and screenplay may also earn nods.

Ideas of freedom and justice are the central themes connecting the stories. Yet this magical and disturbing film won't appeal to everyone. But for fans of cutting edge cinema, it's a daring, thought-provoking and dreamlike experience that is rarely attempted by a major studio.


Have a bit of therapy with 'Sessions'

Mark O'Brien, a published writer and poet, decides in his late 30s to hire a sex surrogate to help him lose his virginity.

While this sounds like another raunchy sex comedy, "The Sessions" is anything but. For O'Brien has had severe polio since the age of 6, cannot move below the neck, and must spend most of his time in an iron lung.

Based upon O'Brien's magazine article about his experience, this is a refreshingly direct, funny and moving story about emotional and physical intimacy — basic needs in human life which not everyone is lucky enough to achieve.

John Hawkes ("Winters Bone") plays O'Brien, a soulful lover trapped in an uncooperative body. Through his face, voice and slight twisted body he conveys fear, heartbreak and joy, and it's a tremendous performance.

Helen Hunt, as the surrogate Cheryl Cohen Greene, bravely bares it all for the camera but remains coolly clinical. That would be in keeping with Greene's line of work, but makes it hard to empathize with her character until the wrenching last encounter.

Much of "Sessions" takes place as a series of confessions by O'Brien to his priest, played by William H. Macy with wide-eyed humor and compassion.

This is a film that celebrates a joyful and resilient spirit. Bring a hankie.

JOHN DEPKO is a retired senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office. He lives in Costa Mesa and works as a licensed private investigator.

SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa and is an executive assistant for a company in Irvine.

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