Friday, October 26, 2012

Dull Sameness: Cloud Atlas

This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

On Monday the 22nd of October, 2012, I had to attend a screening of Cloud Atlas. This meant missing the majority of the game in which the Giants clinched the National League title; missing the subsequent city-wide celebration; and missing roughly three hours of my life.

But I promise that's not why I didn't like Cloud Atlas.

I didn't read the book it was based on, but now I think I might, mainly because I want to know what all the fuss was about, and also because there's no way it can be any worse than the movie.

Now, the movie isn't an unmitigated disaster. But it's filled with missteps, is way more ambitious than the skills of its (three) directors, and is, as a whole, a bit of a mess.

Essentially, it's six movies in one, set in six different time periods, featuring the same actors in all.

The earliest story, set in the mid 1800's, centers on a young man, (Jim Sturgess), making a journey across the Pacific Ocean on a slave ship, while being treated by a shady doctor, (Tom Hanks), for a mysterious malady

Robert Frobisher, (Ben Whishaw), and Rufus Sixsmith, (James D'Arcy), are lovers in early 1930's England who, after a brief affair, maintain contact through letters after Frobisher leaves for a job as musical assistant to an aging composer, played by Jim Broadbent.

Halle Berry is the center of the next story, set in 1973 San Francisco. (And by San Francisco, I mean Majorca. If you're going to try and convince me that's San Francisco, at least get the color of our street signs right!) She's an investigative reporter named Luisa Rey, working on a story about a nuclear power plant.

Present day England follows, with Jim Broadbent now a literary agent with a dangerous client, (Hanks again, doing the worst cockney accent, EVER), who is tricked by his brother, (Hugh Grant), into going into hiding at an old age home.

A futuristic Korea is the setting of the dystopian chapter, featuring Doona Bae as a clone amongst thousands, all designed to work in the service industry. She is freed by a young man, (Sturgess again, this time with creepy, fake Asian eyes), educated, and eventually leads a rebellion.

Jump ahead many years, (or "106 After the Fall"), and Tom Hanks is now a fur clad caveman living in fear of cannibals that look like Day of the Dead revelers mated with 1960's Hollywood's version of Native Americans. Halle Berry is a visitor from a more civilized area of Earth, hoping to find someone to guide her to a mountaintop so she can summon a deus ex machina to save humanity. More or less. I'm not entirely sure, because this part of the movie has the characters speaking in some futuristic patois that is so hard to understand, it had me wishing for a closed captioning option within the theater.

These stories aren't told chronologically, but instead, the film jumps from era to era. Along with the main actors, there are some supporting actors who also appear in each story, like Keith David, and Hugo Weaving. And the lead actor in one story will often appear as a supporting actor in another.

Sometimes it's fun spotting these actors as they bounce from era to era. But at other times it's just plain laughable, because the directors didn't trust that the audience would understand the actors were actually playing different characters, and instead pile on the most distracting fake noses, prosthetics, and spooky contact lenses to ever grace a movie that wasn't about werewolves, in an attempt to alter the appearance of the actors from story to story.

Most of the stories have to do with freedom and enslavement, power and weakness. Most of them. And therein lies another big problem with the movie. Once I saw the connections between some of the stories, I was looking for how all the stories and characters are supposed to be connected, when in fact, sometimes they are, and sometimes they aren't.

Sometimes it's painfully obvious we're dealing with the same "soul" as it travels from story to story, (there's a totally corny birthmark many of them share). And sometimes there's a male actor in drag just...because. And that's nothing but distracting.

Perhaps it would be less of a distraction if the stories were told chronologically. But the movie jumps from story to story, and sometimes those jumps are really jarring. The tone of the modern day story about the old age home is very light and funny, (and therefore the film's most enjoyable as well), but when they jump from a bunch of old people "fighting the power," to say, ANY of the other stories, it's just a huge downer.

I would have loved it if each of the stories was treated like a different genre of film. And with two Wachowskis and one Tom Twyker directing, it seems like that could have been a relatively easy thing to do. Instead, all of the stories have a dull sameness that drains the film of any real surprise. They went for inspiring, but let me tell you this: I'm sure that Giants game lifted more souls than this movie ever will.

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