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Cloud Atlas

Posted : 1 year, 6 months ago on 5 February 2013 08:24

Hold on tight cause this is going to be a long one... You've been warned.

There are movies with large ambitions that dare to think big and go outside the box, and then there is Cloud Atlas. This is a movie so sprawling, drunk on ides and visuals that the three hours it takes to tell its various stories, which don’t always connect neatly or even at all, feels like only the beginning. It may not be a perfect film, but in terms of sheer scope, ambition, passion and craft on display – it’s a glorious, once in a lifetime kind of achievement.

There are six stories which overlap in actors and themes, detailing the interconnectedness of the human race, its penchant for violence within itself and to those it deems “Others” and, of course, in reincarnation, predestinated outcomes and love. If it remains a little frayed around the edges, if connections are a little sloppy, that’s to be forgiven, because it somehow, through sheer force of will and alchemy I guess, does work.

Five actors play various roles in all six stories (Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Sturgess, Hugh Grant and Hugo Weaving), in some they are but small cameos, in others supporting roles and the leads in the rest. This isn’t just merely an excuse for actorly showboating, and mercifully none of them resort to “Look ma! I’m acting!”/Brechtian-levels of performance side-show caricatures, but a chance to craft human beings who have loved and fought and reconnected for several lifetimes.

I believe that every viewer will have their own personal connections and favorites among the six stories, and for me the best and most engaging where the ones set in 1936, 1973, 2144 and 2321, the last of which serves as a wraparound framing device. The 1849 story, which sees Jim Sturgess and Tom Hanks engage in a transatlantic journey from the Pacific Islands back to the civilization of home and the disturbing illness and conspiracies at play, isn’t terrible, but it didn’t have the resonance or interest that the others did. While Hanks delivers a strong performance, this section was marred by poor prosthetics which made Hanks look like a rubbery figure, undermining some of the menace of his character, and the less said about Susan Sarandon’s nose, the better.

And the 2012 story, humorous but not of a piece with the rest of the film, gives Jim Broadbent some excellent comedic beats to toy with. That he turns in such fine work isn’t surprising, but the whole storyline feels so light and inconsequential in comparison to the rest of the film. I suppose a storyline with some levity was necessary so Cloud Atlas didn’t entirely sink into Big Ideas speak and visual inventiveness, but something more at stake than accidentally being locked in a retirement home and causing chaos would have been nicer, and probably made the whole segment cohere with the rest better.

And now on to the four sections which struck me for various reasons.

The segment in 1973 features a reporter (Halle Berry) investigating claims that a nuclear power plant was unsafe. The tone and style harken back to films like All the President’s Men or China Syndrome. Like the other segments that I liked the most, I felt this one had enough story and merit to be its own feature. Throughout Cloud Atlas one of the actor I was most surprised by was Halle Berry, to call her career uneven is an understatement. After championing her work in Monster’s Ball, Their Eyes Were Watching God or Introducing Dorothy Dandrige, and seeing her career devolve into Catwoman, Gothika and Perfect Stranger, to choose just three of a terrible post-Oscar career, I was ready to call it a wash. But she turns in solid work here, I’m not sure if this segment or the one set in 2321 features her best performance. There are a couple of weak spots in it, chiefly the makeup turning Doona Bae into elderly Mexican woman, it never looks natural or authentic, instead taking the form of large chunks of latex glued on to her. Luckily, she’s only briefly involved, and the rest of it succeeds admirably.

The post-civilization segment, 2321, could have easily failed, and I’m sure for a lot of people the complicated jargon and heavy patois will be too much. Yet I found it to be intoxicating. This is one segment where everything came together perfectly. The makeup which transforms Hugh Grant into a monstrous looking cannibal tribe leader is horrifying. Same goes for Hugo Weaving’s transformation into a green-skinned demonic being dressed in Victorian garb complete with a cockney accent who appear to only Tom Hanks’ character. His performance is terrifying and minimally acted when he could have gone so much bigger, which only makes his creature creepier.

The 2321 segment sees the rebuilding of society after the collapse. There are now two different levels, the higher class which lives in some kind of pristine, all-white futuristic cruise ship/space ship, and the dirty serfs who live in huts and have to contend with roving bands of cannibals and other tribes trying to pick fights. Halle Berry, the emissary from the stars hoping to find something from the top of the mountain near the village, and Tom Hanks, the village-man/love interest who helps her find it, have a surprisingly nice chemistry and, shockingly, prove to be credible as action heroes. Sure Berry has some history as an action heroine given her roles in Die Another Day and the X-Men franchise, but her Storm mostly stayed off on the sidelines and Jinx, while played well and with a certain grasp of campy winks, was a poorly written character. Hanks, for his part, is mostly known as either a serious dramatic actor, or a loveable and warm presence from comedies like Big. To see them performing various action-movie feats, and not embarrass themselves, is a nice and unexpected treat.

Lastly, we come to the two segments which reverberated with me the most. The 1936 story sees Ben Whishaw, who had a great year between this and Skyfall, and James D’Arcy play lovers, who are, of course, doomed. Whishaw is a penniless musician who takes a job with Jim Broadbent’s elderly, nearly blind composer, helping to write down his melodies and sort out a piece he’s been struggling with. Told mostly through the correspondence between Whishaw and D’Arcy, it is a tender and heartbreaking portrait of a half-finished love affair.

Hopefully, if there’s any justice in the cinematic universe, Whishaw will come out of this experience with bigger opportunities for him in further films. He’s a wonderfully talented, and very attractive, sensitive-looking English soul. I bet, if Perfume is any indication, he could turn his looks and manners into some truly surprising performances in the future.

And, finally, the CGI-fest that is the 2144 segment. While it looks like the most expensive of the lot, it also has the most emotional destructive story. This one, more than any other, really hits home on the theme of the cruelty of man. It’s hard to describe the storyline without giving everything away, but I’ll do my best.

Jim Sturgess, attractive and charming, and Doona Bae get their biggest and best roles out the lot in this story, which sees a futuristic South Korea slowly being torn asunder from corrupt and disturbing business practices which pose the question of whether or not they’re ethical, moral and if we have a responsibility to clones. It’s an elastic premise which can be seen as a cipher for any number of civil rights issues. And that’s probably why, much like the 1936 story, it hit me the hardest. A full-length version of this film would be a 21st century Blade Runner, maybe even encroaching on darker, thornier subject matter and imagery. The makeup and CGI used to change around various Anglo actors in Asians gets a little distracting, some transition better than others, but, and I most comment on the stupid accusations of racism lodged at this film, I never found it be racist or mean-spirited.

It made logical sense for Halle Berry to be transformed into an elderly Asian man, a white Jewish woman, and so forth, to pick just one actor out of many. This is a film which shows us context and visual clues to trance the reincarnation of various souls throughout time. Of course the host body is going to take on various appearances and looks, and it would be distracting, and completely dismantle the concept, to have different sets of actors for each individual segment. Reusing the same performers in different makeups, races and genders echoes the point home for us in a quick and easy way. For people to not understand that basic concept, well, I just don’t really know what else to say. Looking for something that wasn’t there? Easily offended?

In a simplistic way, the stories connect very easily: The journal Sturgess keeps in 1849 is read by Whishaw in 1936 while he writes the “Cloud Atlas sextet.” This orchestral movement is heard by Berry in 1973, along with D’Arcy briefly appearing as the elderly version of his character from the 1936 segment. Berry’s storyline is turned into a novel, which Broadbent publishes in 2012. His ordeal in the nursing home is turned into a movie, which Bae watches in 2144. And, lastly, video messages and political texts that Bae delivered in 2144 are now considered holy works and gospel in 2321.

But that’s a very surface view of the film, the Reader’s Digest or Cliff’s Notes variation. There’s so much more to dine yourself upon in this film. That’s how I ended up writing a three-page Word document review about it. It’s a meat-and-potatoes/full course film. It might be a sloppy around the edges, but I’m thankful for the experience. Oscar worthy? In my opinion this should dominate the tech categories and possibly pick up a Best Picture nomination for sheer audacity and scope.

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A beautifully crafted but poorly structured film.

Posted : 1 year, 7 months ago on 13 January 2013 01:07

With Cloud Atlas featuring some kind of philosophical purpose within its six different stories along with an impressive ensemble cast, the direction from Andy and Lana Wachowski and clocking at almost 3 hours, it seemed to have ‘epic’ all over it. However, in the end to call Cloud Atlas an ‘epic’ film is perhaps an overstatement as it does not quite achieve the potential that it has made out to appear. Of course, the film succeeds on the technical side of things and is a visual delight, but that was already to be expected of it. On the other hand, when it comes to the writing, direction and acting, Cloud Atlas is a disappointment.


Based on the 2004 novel by David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas is the latest feature from the Wachowski siblings (The Matrix trilogy) who have another associate behind the camera: Tom Tykwer, director of The International and Perfume: The Story Of A Murder. While Cloud Atlas succeeds admirably with make-up, costume design, visual effects etc, the film’s major problem is structure. We still see the same six stories in the film that are in the original novel but the Wachowskis and Tykwer tell them in a shambled order where certain moments within one story are unexpectedly cut to another. This is not only confusing for the audience but also annoying. Furthermore, the stories are set in all different stages displaying many walks of life. So, the film could have worked much better if it was structured in either a chronological order or in a way where one particular moment of a story ends to begin another. The Wachowskis and Tykwer can do better than this but they could have done worse.


Like many films, the ensemble cast is one of the major stand-outs that hold them together. However, it always depends on whether they deliver in terms of performance. Although he is not declared the leading actor in the film, Tom Hanks is perhaps the one who makes the tallest stand as he, as well as the majority of the cast, portrays at least one character from each story, whether it’s leading, supporting or even cameo. Hanks has been a strong leader in many films and he delivers exceptionally well in his roles with strong heroism and sophistication. In addition to the cast are Halle Berry, who mostly portrayed journalist Luisa Rey, Jim Broadbent mainly as publisher Timothy Cavendish and other actors such as Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, James D’Arcy and Hugh Grant.


Whichever way you look at Cloud Atlas, it is simply six decent films mashed into one that has been poorly structured. It could have been following the same as Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Terrence Malick’s The Tree Of Life in terms of human drama with a philosophical meaning, but the six stories just lacked that moral connection that it needed. Nevertheless, Cloud Atlas is not a bad film seeing as it technically delivers as expected and the performances are solid, but the Wachowski’s and Tykwer were no match for the film that they were going into, which means it should have been directed by a more sophisticated filmmaker.

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A very good movie

Posted : 1 year, 8 months ago on 1 December 2012 10:13

Wow! I really didn't expect to be blown away like this... I mean, I have to admit I was intrigued. Come on! It is not everyday that you get the opportunity to watch a movie written and directed by Tom Tykwer and the Wachowski's siblings. Eventually, it is one of those movies which absolutely needs to take 3 hours, I couldn't imagine a shorter version. Basically, during the first hour, I thought I was watching something inspired by David Lynch's work, because of the randomness produced by the whole thing. But then, at some point, I started to see the connections between the characters and the different storylines and, at the end, I was just really overwhelmed. Basically, you have 6 stories more or less intertwined together, a couple of costum dramas, a couple of science-fiction tales, a 70's thriller and a comedy mixing Guy Ritchie's 'Snatch' and a glorious escape from a retirement home and all those stories were eventually quite spellbinding to watch. Still, it wasn't completely flawless though. For example, I'm still not sure if it was such a good idea to have the same actors playing several characters. I mean, it was definitely a bold move but, somehow, it did transform the movie in some kind of game like 'Let's spot Hugh Grant in this scene! Was he the blood thirsty warlord?!?'. I mean, it was rather distracting and it was the same thing concerning the make-up. You had some real black people, some fake black people, some real Asians, some fake Asians and some ridiculous big noses. Once again, rather distracting. Still, it is such a bold and ambitious picture, it really floored me and there is a good chance that I increase my rating after a rewatch. To conclude, even though it is really an acquired taste, I really enjoyed it and I think it is definitely worth a look, especially if you want to see one of the most inspiring movies ever made.

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Cloud Atlas review

Posted : 1 year, 9 months ago on 28 October 2012 06:56

Every year, a movie comes along the is guaranteed cult status. Last year, "Drive" took the crown, and while this year has a few contenders already; Looper, The Cabin in the Woods, etc., Cloud Atlas stakes its claim, resulting in one of the single most ambitious films ever made. All six stories in this film would each make great films in their own right, with great characters and wonderful performances, but together they form an idea, an idea that makes this movie truly special.
The acting is great, the direction is wonderful, the editing is some of the finest in a very long time, visually it's quite stunning, and the score is oscar worthy. One of the best movies of the year for sure, and it may one day be viewed as one of the all-time greats.

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Cloud Atlas review

Posted : 1 year, 11 months ago on 9 September 2012 06:29

The Wachowskis join forces with Tom Tykwer and overhaul the meaning of the word Epic! Kudos to all the filmmakers for adapting this famously "unfilmable" novel in such an inventive way. There are SIX separate timelines that switch after every scene, but instead of the plot, the narrative continuity follows the theme of the film. Once you clue in to that overall theme, it is no longer confusing when the story jumps from a runaway slave in the 1800s to a post apocalyptic future battle between some of the last humans remaining on earth.

All this audacious style and structure makes Cloud Atlas a curiosity to say the least, but the film is lifted to the realm of "Masterpiece" by the all-star ensemble cast. This impressive collection of actors fires off amazing performances like the Expendables 2 fires off high caliber bullets. I mean this will long be considered one of the greatest acting clinics ever filmed, and a high point in some already outstanding careers, as the end credits alone are astonishing to watch.

Overall this is a movie that transcends the simple elements of stars and plots and special effects, and boldly assumes to take the cinema to another level of storytelling, much like Avatar took film to a new level of technology a few years ago. The ambition, the technical brilliance and the passion that was put into this film makes it one of the great epics of our time.

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