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    Cloud Atlas

    Cloud Atlas

    Directed by Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski

    This is a story told for writers by writers about many lives woven into the tapestry of life whose paths converge throughout history and lead to important changes that affect the outcome of human existence. If you think that is a mouthful, “Cloud Atlas” is an ambitious and tremendous undertaking on a grand and epic scale for the writer, for the directors (as there are more than one) and for the core group of actors who portray multiple roles in multiple settings and whose superior level of acting elevates the art form to a significantly higher level. This isn’t Oscar level of acting. This is more like Nobel Prize level, where the challenges were many and complex, the roles so different, and the actors pull off each one with great conviction.

    The plot of the story is complex and yet simple – all that we know about ourselves – the things that make us who we are - are contained in a few simple turns of phrase: we are creatures of love, creatures of understanding, creatures of kindness, while conversely we are creatures capable of hatred, of torture, of rape, of fear, of prejudice, and full of spite. Add to this mix a purpose in life that goes beyond love and companionship – to raise one’s eyes to the heavens and ask, “Is this all there is to life?”

    Although the film deviates from the novel in that it is never really clear what connects the stories (the stories are passed on from character to character in a variety of forms in the novel). Starting in future, a camp-side storyteller of very old age begins by stating his story is a complex one. He has lost one eye, has scars on his face, and a gravely voice. Actor Tom Hanks, thanks to the brilliant makeup artists on this production, is transformed time and again into so many characters, I lost count. He is here, there and everywhere – hero, husband, villain, lover, misguided primitive, discarded scientist, etc. His voice is spread through this complex tale woven into the fabric of history, along with a fantastic core group of actors who take on multiple roles: Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturges, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, Keith David, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon, Xun Zhou, James D’Arcy, David Gyasi, and Brody Nicholas Lee. Together, this casts forms most of the characters we see in the variety of scenes taken from the different periods of time, whose stories run concurrent throughout the film.

    I doubt I have seen a film in my lifetime that is so complex and so large on a scale of time, distance, and setting. This is the epic to end all epics, with more grandeur than the Grand Canyon and more color than a rainbow. You never know who is going to die or who will live, where the characters are going and what will happen when they arrive. I was riveted to the images on the screen in a way I have never been for any movie I have ever seen. For those who love great fiction, have I got a movie for you. This is not a simple tale and will probably lose money because some will say it is confusing. Phooey. I could watch this movie a hundred times and get lost in the beautiful portrayals, the detail in the sets, and plot twists which have you wondering where the tale turns next, and after a while, not caring, just wanting the film to go on and never end.
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    Andy and Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer: CLOUD ATLAS (2012)


    JIM BROADBENT AND BEN WHISHAW IN CLOUD ATLAS

    It can't be done? Then let's do it!

    Cloud Atlas is an amazing, impressive and extremely puzzling film. It's based on an unfilmmable and brilliant 2004 novel by the English writer David Mitchell. I don't begrudge anybody their pleasure in it and I hope it doesn't cause brain damage. I just caution you that it's no more possible to make this kind of book into a film than it is to make Jane Austen into one. If a movie should give you everything (like traditional Indian ones) then this is a great movie. It is more movie for your buck than any other movie of the year. But it's not one of the year's best.

    The amazement and the oddity spin out inevitably from the flm's source. In the novel, which people thought was a crime not to have won the Booker Prize, Mitchell demonstrated conclusively that he was the most extravagantly gifted writer of his generation. Mitchell is a prestidigitator, a master of voice and pastiche and mulitplier of genres, and this novel displays those abilities more starkly than any of his other ones thus far. The book tells six interlocking stories of: Adam Ewing, an American notary who's almost murdered on an 1849 Pacific voyage; Robert Frobisher, a young bisexual composer in 1931 who runs off from Cambridge to be amanuensis to Vyvyan Ayrs, a haughty, exploitative aging composer living in Belgium; Louisa Rey, a young journalist in 1975, who endangers her life exploring malfeasance at a nuclear power plant; Timothy Cavendish, a disreputable vanity press publisher in the present day who becomes a prisoner at a retirement home while fleeing from gangsters; in the future Sonmi 451, a Korean fabricant (clone) of unusual intelligence and initiative who rebels against the exploitation of her kind; and finally, in the still more remote post-apocalyptic future, Zachry, a young tribesman (telling his story to kids as a much older man) is visited by Meronym, a member of the last remnants of a former technologically-advanced civilization. Each of these stories represents a different literary genre and style. Ewing's is a nineteenth-century-style travel journal. Frobisher's story is a series of Italic-script letters to his lover, Rufus Sixsmith. Louisa Rey's is written in a pulpy Seventies hard-boiled style. Soumi 451's is a chilly, abstract kind of sci-fi. Zachry's is spoken in a whole new language, a folksy, archaic/Pacific pidgen Mitchell invented for the occasion.

    Though the six stories in the book unfold one by one in chronological order, the whole is interlocking because each one is left unfinished. At the end of the book Mitchell doubles back and one by one each story is concluded, with a return to the opening passage, set in the post apocalyptic future. In addition each story is subtly, by hints, linked with the one that came before. For example, while working for Vyvyan Ayres, Robert Frobisher becomes fascinated with a travel journal -- it's Adam Ewing's story -- but is frustrated to find that a final volume is missing. The novel is also unified by a musical motif -- "Cloud Atlas" is the name of a piece of music, a sextet -- linking the whole "sextet" of stories together.

    The movie's remarkably faithful to the story content of the book (not that it doesn't leave out some important things). What it's obviously not true to are the book's styles or sequence. The film's eye-popping series of intercut scenes are not in the least faithful to or even vaguely evocative of its literary qualities -- Mitchell's spot-on, virtuosic mimicry of a different period genres and voices -- an element essential to the novel's accomplishment. In a way the book's brilliant pastiches, and its seemingly unrelated series of stories, might seem just showing off. But they're so fascinating in themselves and in how they're intricately interwoven that one never stops to worry about that and, as A.S. Byatt said in her original review, one balks only at first and then obediently reads through the whole book -- fascinated by its narrative intricacy and its themes that emerge slowly and subtly.

    Presenting six separate nearly-finished stories one after the other would have meant for the Wachowskis and Tykwer following the unpopular format of an omnibus film, so they chose to present everything through constant, sometimes wearying crosscutting -- aided by what A.O. Scott of the NY Times aptly calls the "heroic editing" of Alexander Berner. Berner does a remarkable job, folding in unrelated scenes in ways that harmonize in action or visuals -- though he also sometimes slices and dices too closely.

    The filmmakers also chose to have numerous members of their cast play multiple roles. And when I say multiple, I mean multiple, with sex and race changes, and roles major and minor. Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Doona Bae, Hugh Grant, and James Sturgis have six roles; Hugo Weaving has seven. Other principals have three or four. Ben Wishaw has five, though you'll only really notice him as Richard Frobisher, one of the most prominent characters with the fullest story arc.

    I couldn't imagine, while watching the film, how somebody who hadn't read the novel would make sense of it. But then it gradually occurred to me that the film is well calculated to appeal to the ADD, post-channel-surfing generations who are used to watching six TV shows not in sequence, but (more or less) all at once. The film seems to incorporate nearly every important scene in the novel and every character, but not in a way that makes coherent sense, though of course the experienced channel-surfing multi-tasker can assemble them as she watches.

    The film abandons the time sequence and the essential connective tissue of the book -- its doubling back to connect each story with the one before it in chronological progression; it substitutes factitious connections of parallel action (one scene of people escaping a pursuer crosscut with another) or of cast (one scene with Tom Hanks and Halle Berry crosscut with another of the same two actors in a different story). This makes visual or cinematic sense, but not narrative sense.

    It is of course possible to shoot films in different styles with different looks but no particular attempt is done to achieve that, and in this phantasmagoria of rapidly crosscut scenes, it might have been too jarring. The visual style is rather homogeneous. The difference is that the Wachowski's shot the passages set in the far past or remote future, and Tykwer did the ones close to our time. Tykwer's segments are warm and witty; the Wachowski's are spectacular and bombastic. But none of them echo Mitchell's harmonizing of style and voice with subject. This new Cloud Atlas is cinematically virtuosic in its constant change of elaborate scene, but there is no sense of a keen ear or a precisely calibrated style.

    On the other hand, counteracting the incoherence and ADD compllexity, the filmmakers -- probably the Wachowskis more than Tykwer -- are heavy-handedly over-clear about themes and meanings. A primary one, which really is in the novel but not hit so hard, is that of freedom vs. imprisonment. Both the musical amanuensis and the vanity publisher are prisoners; so is the fabricant and the nineteenth-century Pacific voyager. In the Pacific one tribe is wiping out another, and in the sci-fi future of Sunmi 451 clones are destroyed in the manner of the film Soylant Green. Over and over the characters turn out to be victims of an exploiter or oppressor. Presumably the directors have to hit their big themes so hard to compensate for the disorienting crosscutting. But maybe they're just heavy-handed.

    Playfulness in the use of the cast is one of the chief virtues of the film. There are too many interesting, and some heavy-handed or just hammy, performances to list them all. There is certainly fun to be had from watching Hugh Grant and Tom Hanks play villains, as well as good guys. Jim Sturgess plays an Asian and Hugo Weaving dons drag. When Adam Ewing (Surgess) comes home to his wife, she is played by Doona Bae, made up to look Caucasian; they are a couple in the Sonmi 451 sequence. Jim Broadbent is funny and witty in disreputable and irritating roles. James D'Arcy is both the young Rufus Sixsmith and the old Rufus. The makeup, an essential element, is excellent throughout, not that it ever fools you. Tom Hanks is Tom Hanks whether with tribal tattoos or Seventies specs and sickly blond hair; perhaps that's why he was chosen, and Halle Berry. Susan Sarandon adds her usual warmth as Susan Sarandon -- but also plays a man. The many sex changes may have pleased Lana Wachowski (see below).

    The Wachowskis go much too far into spectacular CGI big-screen violence for a story of this intricate, literary kind, just as they go too far in hammering on uplifting philosophical-spiritual themes. Ultimately I'll give Dana Stevens of Slate the last word: "Where the book is sinuous and oblique, their film is galumphing and heavy-handed, its rare flights of lyricism stranded between long stretches of outright risibility. And yet there's something commendable about the directors' commitment to their grandiose act of folly." I think that's true. It's the more commercial equivalent of the kind of quixotic commitment to absurdity that you get in Lars von Trier, and it arouses our admiration, more ultimately than the film does as a film.

    Cloud Atlas, 172 mins., debuted at Toronto; it opened in the US Oct. 26; UK release, Feb. 22; France, Mar. 13. Though the North American rights were bought by Warner Bros. for $15 million, it got no big studio production funds and technically is an independent film. And since it cost $100 million, it's one of the most expensive indie films of all time. It also debuts the sex change of Larry Wachowski, who is now Lana -- yet another transformation of the Matrix brothers.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-26-2012 at 11:46 PM.

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    So glad you saw it, Chris. Like so many critcs, I found you "over intellectualized" the humanity of the film in comparing it to the novel. We've been down this road before - books versus movies. I found the Harry Potter novels far more involving than the films. However, that does not diminish my emotional reaction to any film, which I believe must stand on its own merits.

    Movies are a different breed. They must simplify. They must truncate. They take composition and turn it into a synopsis. I feel the job of the filmmaker is never to be literal but to capture some sort of essence. The purpose of a book is a personal one. We don't read books aloud in the public square. We read them alone in a private setting. Even if we read in a public place, the interaction is still a personal one. I don't shout out to a stranger and say, "Boy that passage from blah-blah was the best I ever read!"

    I can't say I've ever seen a film quite like this one. When critics, who are writers in every literary sense of their avocation, start off comparing novels and film, I know they have run back to the ground where they feel comfortable, calling out from home base, to borrow a phrase. This is their comfort zone. But to look at this film, not from a writer's perspective, but from one who used to make movies for a living, I believe it is a brilliant masterpiece of unique storytelling, unlike any film I have seen this year, or any year, but still told on a scale of "Doctor Zhivago."

    I'll admit the editing did leave me running to catch up at times (you used the phrase, jarring - I agree but only at times). And the violence, which I abhor, was extreme (especially the toss off the balcony and the skinning of bodies). However, I would not call the acting hammy and wonder what part of the film you considered the actors went over the top.
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    Chris Gives and Takes Back

    For a movie that's "amazing," "impressive," and admittedly "unfilmmable," for a movie that "should give you everything" as Chris has described this movie, apparently for Chris it's somehow not one of the best movies of the year. Even as Chris eventually brings up his own version of criticism, even he however describes this movie in terms of "amazement," a movie that's "remarkably faithful to story content of the book," a "remarkable job" of editing, and even admits to a certain generational gap when it comes to understanding this movie. Chris perhaps will need to adjust this perspective of what constitutes best movie as he has unintentionally opened the door to admitting to a divergence of the basis of movie greatest.

    Is it the faithfulness to a book and its literary content versus style? Is it the coherence between the generations perception of art of the past (well read people of the written word) and the present (younger tech-people) and the medium of film?

    Like Dr. Zhivago, this epic movie is perhaps too difficult for me to capture after just one sitting. There are only bits and pieces, snap shots that are available to make comment.

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    Roger Ebert said he had to see the film again after his "official" screening. On his second viewing, he wanted to see the film a third time. He felt there was so much to absorb, that with each and every time he saw it, he noticed something new.

    I feel the same way. It isn't that I didn't follow the plot(s); it's just that I want to see the film again, like a visit to some landmark that is so big, so grand (I mentioned Grand Canyon earlier) that one visit didn't do it justice.

    And what I want to see will be different as well... I want to take in the sets, to see if the acting did fit scene well, to see how Hanks made subtle variation to his delivery (Chris was right, we knew it was Hanks and yet it wasn't, the same with Streep).

    I have a coin collection and never tire of going to the bank, taking them out, and looking at them. I can spend hours with them. I feel the same way about this movie. The texture is so rich and so rewarding, I want to honor it again and again.
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    Just purchased the Galaxy S III and the salesman was telling me about his experience with "Cloud Atlas." I was explaining my POV when he made a familiar comment, "As I began to watch the film, I felt as if I was reading a novel in which the plot was unfolding as it went along. I found it difficult to follow at first, but never boring. To tell you the truth, I'd like to see it again, to see where the various characters (actors) show up in different parts. I understand Halle Berry played a man?"

    The sentiment sounds familiar?
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    There are many reasons why CLOUD ATLAS is fun to watch (a curiosity, a future cult object, a guilty pleasure), and even more why it is not even a good let alone a great film. Richard Brody's grumpy dissection in his New Yorker blog goes part of the way toward enumerating the latter reasons. Rex Reed's rant (always fun when he goes into full panning mode) is a more enjoyable explanation.

    Richard Brody: SYNCHRONIZED BANALITY: “CLOUD ATLAS”

    Of the six stories in six time frames that are cut into small pieces and deftly dovetailed in “Cloud Atlas,” one—that of the present day—is like a shield to render the movie critic-proof: a plotline pivoting on an author who murders, to public acclaim, a critic who panned his new book. I’ve written here before about critical responsibility and the moral obligation to compensate, in thought, for the disproportion between the filmmaker’s lengthy labors and the critic’s quickly typed response. I’ll admit that I experienced “Cloud Atlas” mainly as the motion-picture equivalent of being cornered at a noisy party by three filmmakers expounding at length—with animated gestures and gusty yet sincere vehemence—on their philosophy of life, and I would argue that it’s worthwhile to figure out what that philosophy is. That’s where the surprises are to be found, and that’s where the filmmakers (Lana Wachowski, Andy Wachowski, and Tom Tykwer) snuffed out most of the project’s potential for cinematic invention.


    Rex Reed: Atlas, Drugged: This Colossal Misuse of Cast, Crew and Cash Unceremoniously Collapses in on Itself

    Almost three hours long, a lugubrious sludge of mud soup called Cloud Atlas deserves a limp nod for pure guts, I suppose, but what I’d really like to do is burn it. Based on a genre-switching, era-hopping, style-abusing, tempo-thumping novel by David Mitchell that everyone has always labeled “unfilmable,” the labyrinthine, ridiculously bloated—$100-million, anybody?—head-scratcher of a movie is the mess that proves it.

    Coming at us in sections like an exploding garbage truck, this adaptation is a single film that weaves an incomprehensible literary gumbo of unrelated stories in multiple time frames over a span of 500 years. Whew! In spite of the publicity poop about how six narratives are linked by the connective tissue of man’s relationship to man, nothing really intersects—except in preposterous threads only a nuclear physicist could formulate on both sides of an equation.
    Reed shreds CLOUD ATLAS but also gives it its due, mentioning the best actors, outlining plotlines, and justly commenting, "the real star is editor Alexander Berner (Resident Evil) for cobbling it all together." Berner's achievement is the most notable, futile though his heroic endeavor may ultimately have been
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-03-2012 at 12:53 AM.

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    Chris's Premature Judgment

    "(N)ot even a good let alone a great film" so says Chris and then citing a noted movie critic.

    Taking AFI's criteria for great movies:

    1. Feature-Length Fiction Film
    2. Critical recognition
    3. Popularity over time
    4. Historical significance
    5. Cultural impact
    6. Major award winner

    Chris has jumped the gun so to speak. While Cloud Atlas clearly falls under a feature-length film clocking in at 172 minutes, critical recognition has been mixed and while not "great" does not appear to support Chris's "not even a good (movie)" claim, the other criteria are time-bound and it's way too early to judge this movie as to its "greatness." Popularity over TIME, HISTORICAL significance, cultural impact (which this movie has suggestive power now as to a captivating, experimental style, and perhaps even substance), and major award winner (none of the major awards have been announced nominees).

    Like A.I. (2001) and better yet Blade Runner (1982), the jury is not in to claims such a greatness.

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    I cited not one but two "noted movie critics" and I hope you or somebody anyway follows the links to them. If you note what I said, "cult" or "guilty pleasure" or "a curiosity" would allow for CLOUD ATLAS's having a kind of cultural and historical significance -- your checklist items 3,4, and 5 could come into play. But that checklist is for people who don't know their own taste. It omits one item: to be classified as a great movie, it has to be a great movie. That's it.

    Yes the critical rating is "mixed." You're quite right. And my rating is mixed too. I might be tempted by the "60" that's assigned to Anthony Lane's review by Metacritic, but even that's unfair; it's certainly as interesting and good as films that have a Metacritic rating of 64 or 65, though its so sui generis, it's really hard to give it a rating. On Flickfeast.uk, where my same review will appear, and they require 1-10 star ratings, I gave it a 7.

    It's a unique and weird movie. I've never seen anything like it. But it's deeply flawed, even ridiculous. It's not a good film in the sense of being a successful, tasteful, or well-constructed film. And it can't be included in one of my ten best American films of the year. That's all. It's not worthy of burning, a la Rex Reed.

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    I read this and thought I should share it...

    http://cinefantastiqueonline.com/201...-atlas-review/
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    Thanks. I wasn't familiar with Steve Biodrowski. It's balanced -- I give him credit for writing a rave but also going into considerable detail about the movie's faults. But I wish that in order to understand the mishmash of stories and their interconnections that people would at least supplement their planned multiple viewings of the Wachowskis' and Tykwer's filmmaking with a reading of David Mitchell's original book.

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    This is a question of relevance. I would agree with you, Chris, that since the film is based on the book and does manage to follow the main plot points that the novel's comparison should weigh in the argument... and that would be the case if the film made some incredible gross derivation from the core of the novel. But from your review and from what I've read, it does not.

    So what are you trying to say? That the film should not be judged on its own merits but in comparison to the novel only? Or that one can only judge or critique the film if one has read the book? Do you really want to go down that road? Remember your previous stands on this subject...
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    What I'm "trying to say" is that Cloud Atlas is a great book and I hope the film leads more people to read it, and in doing so, whether this matters or not, they will also be able to follow better the content of the film. And by the way, the film does deviate grossly from "the core of the novel." It completely alters its organization. See the novel. The six stories are sequential. In the film they're chopped up and intermixed. A lot of the novel's plot material is in the film, but some is completely left out, despite how busy the film is.

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    Chris Isn't Able to Detach Himself From A Book's Rating Factor

    It seems that Chris is still judging this movie on the basis of his reliance on his judgment of the book and its merits. On the other hand, not having read the book, I am not predisposed to having to compare these different mediums (film and written narrative). Like Harry Potter books and their associated movies, the connection and how one comes to enjoy or dislike them are similar but different in the approach. Perhaps for Chris, his imaginative mind is so good that his standards for film are much higher, but for me with my limited imagination, films are a wonderful way to enhance and supplement the storyline, whereas it's likely Chris can read books and put himself in another world so completely that the film version can't do the same justice.

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    No, tabuno, I judged the movie on its own merits. It's actually better when related to the book, but of course I hope you will read the book, since you like the movie so much, to find out what it came from. The movie of course exists only as a movie, but it would not exist at all without the book.

    Other good new movies you might watch.... THE SESSIONS, LINCOLN. HOLY MOTORS, SISTER, FLIGHT.

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