Monday, October 29, 2012

Movie Review: Cloud Atlas (2012)... And Kittens

Note: Instead of screencaps of Cloud Atlas, please enjoy these adorable pictures of Memebon, the adorable Japanese smooshface kitty.

SEE three directors carrying a total of six separate plots across a gaping ravine!  SEE a cast of acrobats somersault gracefully from one plot to another!  PRAY that this travelling circus doesn't plummet to certain doom on the rocks below!

He's so freaking cute!
If you're a cinephile, you owe it to yourself to see Cloud Atlas, just to be part of the conversation.  If you aren't, I recommend approaching with caution.  This is a long, long movie.  It doesn't break three hours, but it feels like four.  But these problems are perhaps unavoidable given the ridiculous high-wire act that directors Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski, and Tom Tykwer have set up for themselves.

Cloud Atlas is basically an anthology of six short films, but all told at the same time, with the same actors playing various roles in multiple stories.  Astonishingly, this never gets confusing.  Due to truly masterful editing, not only does every plot remain clear, the parallels between the six stories are made apparent throughout.  Sometimes two people are simultaneously engaged in similar tasks, and sometimes the connections are a bit more poetic.  Somebody deserves an award for this.

What isn't deserving of an award was how sore my ass was after about six hours... er, 2.75 hours of this.  But what kind of film is this, you may ask?  The answer is, six kinds:

1) In the 19th century, a white man on a ship makes an uneasy truce with a runaway slave who has stowed away in his cabin, gradually awakening to the evils of slavery.

2) In the early 20th century, a young gay composer works uneasily with a cranky old genius to craft what will hopefully be a masterpiece.

3) A spunky, black, female investigative reporter tries to blow the lid off an evil corporate plot against alternative energy in the 1970's, and gets shot at an awful lot.

Box kitty has found a box!
4) In modern London, a scrappy old publisher finds himself involuntarily checked into an old folks' "home", and plots a cunning escape with a gang of dissenters.

5) Neo-Seoul in the 23rd century is home to a cottage industry of synthetic hostesses, bred only to serve.  One of them wakes up to reality and becomes an unlikely rebel.

6) Far, far, in the future, a race of primitive tribesmen are menaced by a more violent tribe, but a visitor from an advanced civilization may be able to help them.

That's a lot of genres for one movie, and they're all done well enough.  Unfortunately, hardly any of it is "great".  And while "well enough" might sustain a fun ninety minutes, three hours demand a bit more "oomph".  Some stories are good, even great, while others I could have done without.

The best of the lot is the lighthearted nursing home escape, which could have been a fine movie on its own with a little polish.  I also enjoyed the far future plot, especially the dialect that the tribespeople spoke.  A lot of people will probably complain that it was hard to decipher, but it was a shockingly well realized bizarro-English that added color to the story.

The thriller plot is serviceable, despite a gratuitous cute dog murder (what is it with cute animals being introduced just to get killed in movies?).  The other plots are mostly meh, with the Neo Seoul plot proving the most annoying.  It's the most outwardly "Wachowski-ish" story, with gorgeous visuals, a boneheaded plot that amounts to "Logan's Run 2: Even Runnier", and a completely wasted Doona Bae in the lead role, directed down to sub-Matrix speed.

I'm done with my popcorn now!  Mew!
So after all this, what is the "point"?  Well, in each story one character leaves some kind of record of their ordeal, which someone in the next story reads and is inspired by in some way.  There's also this intimation that the same sorts of conflicts repeat throughout time, but this just draws attention to the fact that the film's six plots are thematically redundant.  This becomes obvious at the end, when every plot reaches its "I've learned something today" speech, and the dialog just does cartwheels of profundity.

Basically it's six films in one, and if that's all you expect, it could be time well spent.  I'm grateful I saw Cloud Atlas, but ye gods was my ass sore by the end.  If nothing else, I got to see Tom Hanks as a bald-headed London thug, and Susan Sarandon as a gibberish spouting holy woman.  These are the small pleasures that make life worth living.

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