Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Cloud Atlas (2012) - Movie Review

As the poster says, "Everything is Connected."  Well, the good news is that at least this isn't connected to the Matrix sequels.

Cloud Atlas is based on a book by David Mitchell.  It features six interlinked and complex stories, ranging from the 19th century, to a post-apocalyptic future.  It's been said by many that this was an unfilmable book, and I can see why.  It's incredibly ambitious and I give the writing/directing team of Tom Tykwer, Andy and Lana Wachowski credit for taking a shot at something this huge.

If you can't tell already I wasn't in love with Cloud Atlas.  I'm not going to recap all six stores (you can see a brief outline here or here), but many of them will make you think of other films.  I was reminded of stuff like Blade Runner, Amistad or One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.  In the film, these six stories are told in a very choppy manner.  This kind of story telling is usually problematic for me.  Just when you'd get into one story, they'd switch to another.  The problem for me was that the stories had varying levels of interest.  There were some I wished the whole movie would have been about, and others I could have done without entirely.

When you're dealing with a marathon of a movie like this, you really have to keep the audience's attention.  The good part is that I was never really bored, and it managed to keep my interest.  I wanted to see how it all played out.  That doesn't mean I didn't start to squirm in my seat a bit as we approached the end though.  I checked my watch at one point thinking we were at least two hours into the film only to find that we were just barely at the halfway point.  Plus, with all the jumping around, there's never a good moment to take a pee break.  Based on that alone, this is a tough movie for me to recommend seeing in the theater.  It's better suited for watching at home.  I saw this on IMAX, and despite the impressive visuals, I didn't feel like there was anything I would have missed by seeing this at home.  Plus, it may even take multiple viewings before you really form a final opinion about it.  I feel like I need to see this again just to be sure, but I'm certainly not going to do that in the theater.

I have a general rule about movies based off books: if the movie is done well, it should make you want to go back and read it.  I didn't feel that here.  Even a bad movie like Alex Cross made me think there was something to get out of the novels based on the character.  The point I'm making here is that after Cloud Atlas, I felt kind of empty.  I didn't get anything out of it emotionally.

The overall look of the film is fantastic.  The older parts of the story felt authentic, and the futuristic ones were stunning at times.  There were a few parts where it felt there was a little too much CG, but overall it was well done.  The one issue I had with the look of the film was the makeup used for the actors.  While some of it was great and made some of the actors unrecognizable, at times it was absolutely terrible and took me out of the film with how bad it was.  It's that distracting.  Also, you may have heard the complaints regarding the use of non-Asian actors playing Asians, using makeup and CG to make them look Asian.  While I understand the complaint, I also understand the need to do things the way they did.  When moving between all of these stories, you're trying to show how these people are linked, or are even the souls of previous characters.  It's really hard to visually convey that using different actors.  Plus, if you think about it, in the future I would expect to see more people of mixed-ethnicity, and the line would be really blurred as far as that goes.  Having said that, it looked laughably bad at times.

One of the strengths of the film is the cast.  You need actors with range to be able to play all the various roles.  However, some of the actors are playing the opposite sex at times, and again, some of it was either jarring or just plain silly.  The one time I thought it was effective was when Hugo Weaving played a nurse in the only story set in present time.  I also thought it was funny that Weaving played an evil character in every story.  That guy is just doomed to be a villain.  I'm fully expecting him to pull out a sword in The Hobbit and chase after Bilbo at some point.

There were a few times where you can't help but look at him and go, "Oh that's Tom Hanks in bad makeup", but many of the roles allowed him to stretch all over the place, and I thought it was a great overall performance on his part(s).  I was also really impressed with Halle Berry, who needed a movie like this to remind us why she was an Oscar winner.  I was also surprised with Jim Sturgess, who is an actor I haven't thought too much of based on his prior films.  He has a role in one of the future stories that might have been my favorite of the whole film.  Jim Broadbent was great, as he always is, but I love seeing him played those crazy-eyed, crazy-haired characters he does so well with.  I also enjoyed when Keith David or Hugh Grant would show up, but both suffered from some of the bad makeup mentioned previously.

Once again I have to give credit to Tykwer and the Wachowskis for taking a shot. The fact that it's not a complete disaster is an accomplishment.  Even if Cloud Atlas had been a huge mess, we need people to keep taking chances and make films like this.  Otherwise, we doomed to a future of endless Paranormal Activity and Adam Sandler movies.

I think for most, Cloud Atlas is one of those films that people are going to either think is genius or not get it at all.  I come somewhere in the middle of that.  It's an ambitious, but flawed film.  There are impressive visuals, and some interesting stories, but it's a mixed bag.  It's length and disjointed storytelling might put off casual viewers, but I do think there's a lot here to enjoy.

3 (out of 5) Death Stars

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