"Cloud Atlas" (R, 172 minutes, Warner): At its simplest, "Cloud Atlas" tells the interlocking stories of several characters over a 500-year span. How these disparate players intersect becomes the labyrinthine game, in which each story line gets its own distinctive look and tone. Those visual cues work well in helping viewers make sense of the dizzying time-trips "Cloud Atlas" takes them on; more controversial is having the same actors, including Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving and newcomer Doona Bae, portray characters in every subplot. One of the small miracles is that every actor manages to create a palpable, even memorable, character within a structure that threatens to blow apart from its own concentric force. At its most on-the-nose, the movie suffers from sanctimony that is probably inevitable when evoking the Eternal Now. At its best, though, "Cloud Atlas" represents just the kind of nerve and ingenuity that movies so desperately need these days.
"Texas Chainsaw" (R, 92 minutes, Lionsgate): This 3D sequel picks up where other recent massacres have left off, manufacturing a reason for Heather to drag three of her 20-something friends to Newt, Texas. She's a surviving member of the slaying Sawyer clan, the inbreds who gave birth to and protected the hulking Leatherface. After a brief opening summary of the "end" of the Sawyers, "Chainsaw" then gets down to the bloody business at hand: chainsawing. That menacing power tool is the star as Leatherface chases these fit and trim young folks who always find something to trip over. There are plenty of 3D shove-the-saw-at-the-camera moments in director John Luessenhop's movie manual. But he mangles even the basics of making these many murders seem frightening. In the decades since Tobe Hooper's genuinely shocking original film, loosely based on the murderous rampage of non-Texan Ed Gein, the sequels have been dumb-downed into stupid splatter-fests. Strong grisly violence and language throughout.
"Beware of Mr. Baker" (R, 92 minutes, Vivendi Entertainment): Jay Bulger's biographical profile of British drummer Ginger Baker (best known for his work with Cream and Blind Faith) is a fascinating character study of a brilliant and difficult musician, but it gets at a bigger problem than Baker's well-documented and long-standing addiction, violent temper, irresponsibility as a husband and father and ineptitude as a businessman. Just how much bad behavior is justified by transcendent art? A lot, if Baker's colleagues - and Bulger - are to be trusted. The film opens with the documentarian getting smashed in the face by his cantankerous subject, who seems to be upset by the prospect of former collaborators Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton appearing in the film. They (and others, including Baker's multiple ex-wives and children) come on camera anyway, mostly to sing Baker's praises as a prog-rock pioneer, if not a human being.