Saturday, September 15, 2012

Movies: Cloud Atlas (TIFF 2012)

Neo Seoul, circa 20??.

Cloud Atlas is ambitious and mostly entertaining, but it is overlong, and unfortunately not as groundbreaking or fresh as it wants to be (or perhaps assumes it is).

I haven't read the novel, but I have read that it was acclaimed in part due to its ability to weave six separate stories together seamlessly. I don't think that the film has pulled off the same feat. Often, the film's transitions between each narrative feel arbitrary. Sometimes, it's clunky.

The most impressive thing about the film is its makeup artistry (save for one notable exception, which in the context of the film is acceptable, and I discuss in Spoiler Territory). The actors involved play multiple parts with wildly differing appearances, including age, race, and gender. During the closing credits, you get to see exactly who played who in a nice little montage. The audience I was in attendance with gasped a few times during this credit reveal, and spontaneously applauded at the end of it.

The film doesn't open until October 26th, so if you wish to remain spoiler-free before seeing it, skip the section below (all the images in this post are from the trailer, so you'll want to skip that, too).

- Spoiler Territory -

The dog gets it, circa 1975.

The weakest section of the film for me is the story that takes place in 1975 California, which is a thriller with a journalist investigating a potential cover-up at a nuclear facility (one of several roles played by Halle Berry). It starts well enough, but unfortunately climaxes in a poorly choreographed shootout-slash-foot-chase that lacks tension and could've easily been tightened and trimmed. The climactic chase does have a crowd-pleasing punchline, the setup of same is shown in the gunshot picture, above.

The 1975 based story also has a pre-teen character who delivers terrible meta-aware lines like (and I'm slightly paraphrasing here as obviously I wasn't taking notes) "in any decent mystery story, that's exactly what someone would say before they turned up dead!". There are other lines like it. Ugh.

Aside from that, it is nice to see Keith David in a movie again.

The critic gets it, circa 2012.

The section of the film set in 2012 London, dealing with a book editor who gets involved with the wrong sort of client, is where most of the film's humour comes from, as it is intentionally farce. If the over-the-top accent that Tom Hanks sports doesn't clue you in, Hugo Weaving as a female nurse certainly does (aforementioned excusably unrealistic makeup alert!). Jim Broadbent is terrific as this story's central character.

Potty mouth, circa 2012.

The section of the film that takes place in Neo Seoul (in what I want to say is the year 2046, but that can't be right, can it?) has a solid emotional core and is well acted (especially Doona Bae as the main character Somni-451). The science fiction elements of it were, visually and thematically, surprisingly conventional, echoing films like Blade Runner, The Fifth Element, Logan's Run, Tron: Legacy, and, of course, The Matrix.

Meet Somni-451, circa 20??.

Sorta looks like something out of Mystery Men, circa 20??.

There are sections that also take place in the 1850's, the 1930's, and a time so far in the future it is labelled "150 years after The Fall" (where everyone speaks a version of English similar to that spoken by those darn kids in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome). Hugh Grant as a non-speaking post-apocalyptic cannibal warrior? Sold!

All of the sections, and the film itself, mainly have problems building towards their climaxes. Jumping from section to section as they each build doesn't amplify the dramatic tension as you think it might -- instead it feels either numbing or redundant.

The overall message is a little saccharine, which might be off-putting to some. Love is timeless. Also, be nice to one another! Ooo-kay.

In short? Recommended with reservations. Wanted to be blown away, but wasn't.

Bring on Looper!