Friday, October 26, 2012

So What is a "Cloud Atlas?"


Sprawling “Cloud Atlas” Not Easy to Figure

By Skip Sheffield

What is “Cloud Atlas?”
For one thing it’s a nearly three-hour movie about reincarnation or some such thing, based on a 2004 British novel by David Mitchell that everyone raves about. For another it’s a musical composition called “The Cloud Atlas Sextet.”
“Sprawling” is the charitable description of “Cloud Atlas,’ in which a half-dozen stories (sextet, get it?) span 500 years and jump back and forth in time as the same actors play different characters.
“Everything is connected” we are told at the outset.
 Direction is from the triumvirate of Andy and Lana Wachowski (“The Matrix”) and Tom Tykwer (“Run Lola Run”).
“Cloud Atlas” is a movie where the makeup, costumes and sets are more impressive than the individual stories. The two principal stars are Tom Hanks and Halle Berry. Hanks (and his makeup artist) show extreme versatility creating six diverse characters in age from thirty-something to doddering oldster. Some are good. One in particular (Dr. Henry Goose) is very, very bad.
The story set back the farthest in time is the “Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing,” set at sea in the Pacific in the year 1849. The narrative is provided by the journal of Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess), who gets progressively sicker under the “care” of Dr. Henry Goose (Tom Hanks).
“Letters From Belgium” is set in 1931. Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw) is young composer in love with another man and in the employ of an autocratic old composer. This melancholy piece, directed by Twyker, is the closest thing to a romance in the movie.
Halle Berry’s standout role is as a crusading San Francisco reporter investigating a possibly unsafe nuclear power plant in 1975. Berry also plays a primitive native woman, a wife, a party guest, a Jewish woman and a solitary survivor of a now-ruined high tech society.
The most visually striking piece, directed by the Wachowskis is set in a totalitarian future “Neo-Korea.” Sonmi-451 (Doona Bae) is a cloned female restaurant worker who dares defy the regime with the help of an almost unrecognizable Jim Sturgess as her comrade, Hae-Joo Chang.
Perhaps the most baffling piece is set in a post-apocalyptic Hawaii, with Hugh Grant in full war face paint as a ruthless Kona chief and Tom Hanks as an elderly goat herder who tells the gory story.
The most conventional and intentionally comic piece stars Jim Broadbent as Timothy Cavendish, an elderly British publisher railroaded into a nursing home by his scheming brother. Hugo Weaver is comically menacing as nasty Nurse Noakes.
“Cloud Atlas” is the most expensive ($100 million) independent film ever done at studio Babelsberg in Germany. Like “2001: A Space Odyssey” it will both baffle and enrage. Only time will tell if the general audience “gets it.” I’m not ashamed to admit I found it pretentious, at times ridiculous, at times exciting, never quite cohesive, but always an arresting visual spectacle.

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