Cloud Atlas (2012)

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Directors: Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski. Cloud Atlas/X-Filme/Anarchos et al (15)

ACTION/ADVENTURE/FANTASY

 

 

Producers: Stefan Arndt, Alex Boden, Grant Hill, Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski.
Writers: Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski.
Camera: Frank Griebe, John Toll.
Music: Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek, Tom Tykwer.
Sets: Hugh Bateup, Uli Hanisch.

Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, Keith David, James D’Arcy, Xun Zhou, David Gyasi, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant, Robert Fyfe, Gotz Otto, Sylvestre Le Touzel.

SYNOPSIS

Jumping between different time periods and based on David Mitchell’s novel, the lives of seemingly unconnected people across the ages are brought together as their actions impact on others in the past, present and future. One soul turns from a killer into a hero and another sparks a revolution that reverberates across centuries and throughout the cosmos.

REVIEW

I love the ephemeral existence of going to the movies. How a film can lift you up to take you far, far away from the thuddingly dull mundanity of everyday life for a precious couple of hours and plop you in another world, either one recognisably like the one you will go back to or something completely different. Cloud Atlas, encompassing as it does so many worlds, is a valiant if not entirely successful example of this.

It resembles a beguiling, dazzling but uncomfortable mash-up of D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance (1916) and David Lynch’s Dune (1984, the poster closely resembles that wobbly sci-fi epic’s). Despite sharing those film’s tendencies to reach far beyond its grasp, it has a lot more heart amidst the artifice and grandeur than they ever managed.

As Forrest Gump once noted about boxes of chocolate, “You never know what you’re gonna get” and you certainly don’t with Cloud Atlas.

No surprise then that Forrest himself (Hanks) crops up in one of the panoply of roles on display. He is game if nothing else; successful isn’t always at the forefront of your mind though when you see him as either a vicious, Dublin gangster with a mouthy ‘Oirish’ accent or a balding, garrolous Scottish landlord. Where he does strike lucky is in the futuristic sequences as a schizophrenic goat-herder romancing Berry or a terrifying ship’s doctor slowly poisoning rich passenger Sturgess.

But when you’re playing seven different roles, as most of the cast are, you have a high betting average of getting at least one of them right. The casting agents deserve all the plaudits for probably sweating blood and tears to assemble these people in one film.

The rest of the starry cast are pretty much up for it and there are some stylish turns amidst the dross: Berry as a seductive Jewish emigre, Broadbent as a bent publicist imprisoned in an old people’s home and determined to escape, Bae as a monotone, revolutionary clone in futuristic Korea. D’Arcy impresses the most in his roles, whether as a gay, whistle-blowing scientist in 1930’s Britain and 70’s America or a blankly efficient futuristic interrogator.

Latex.com could probably have floated themselves on the stock exchange after the exemplary overtime the make-up team put in to making the cast look (slightly) dissimilar for each characterisation.

The problem with film’s such as these, massive in scale and scope, disparate stories stretching across centuries of existence, is  the need for an effective link to weave all of the elements together. Intolerance failed on a huge level; using Lillian Gish as a woman eternally rocking her child in a cradle merely baffled WWI audiences and frustrates modern viewers. Cloud Atlas has a similar problem; the remnants of some good stories on their own are quite strong, but without an effective link in the narrative until much later in the film, they seem quite adrift.

When the theme of the film becomes apparent (a few choice lines that hug the stories together), it’s difficult to tell whether one is knocked side-ways by the film-makers’ audacious approach, relieved that a somewhat gruelling journey is over or simply desperate to go the toilet. Probably all three at the same time, though difficult to tell in what order (at 2 hours 44 minutes in duration, the latter feeling might figure largely).

The propensity for film-makers to make such large-scale films when something more concise would suffice is a matter for further debate elsewhere, what isn’t is their writer’s lack of humour to sustain an audience on such long trips. Apart from Broadbent’s scenes as the publicist, seen in flash-back sustaining serious injuries from a well positioned cat when he is trying to lose his virginity, there is something of a funny-bypass here. Still, the images are sometimes quite incredible and it’s fun to scratch your head and try to piece together the celluloid jig-saw.

 

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Hitchcock (2012)

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Director: Sacha Gervasi. Fox Searchlight/Cold Spring/Montecito Picture Company. (12a)

DRAMA

 

 

Producers: Alan Barnette, Joe Medjuk, Tom Pollock, Ivan Reitman, Tom Thayer.
Writer: John J. McLaughlin.
Camera: Jeff Cronenweth.
Music: Danny Elfman.
Sets: Judy Becker.

Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Danny Huston, Toni Collette, Michael Stuhlbarg, Michael Wincott, Jessica Biel, James D’Arcy, Richard Portnow, Kurtwood Smith, Ralph Macchio.

SYNOPSIS

Renowned and respected by all in Hollywood, film director Alfred Hitchcock (Hopkins) feels too comfortable in himself and a sudden dip in adoration from his critics. He is looking for his next big film and what he needs is something nasty, dirty and shocking. Despite the consternation of his loyal wife Alma (Mirren) and most of Tinseltown, he finds it in the pulp horror novel Psycho. With no support from Hollywood big-wigs, he remortgages his house to fund the film and assembles cast and technicians, despite everyone predicting this folly will be his down-fall.

REVIEW

Here’s a quirky little cinematic treat. Greatly polished but not greatly accomplished, the enjoyment here lies more in the neat approach taken in presenting the back history to how a well-known (in fact, one of the most well-known) movies came to be made.

Alfred Hitchcock always maintained, possibly with his tongue in one of his portly cheeks, that Psycho, largely credited by everyone else as inventing the modern horror film, was nothing more than a comedy.

This could very well have been part of his own marketing spiel to whip up interest in a film that was clearly not an out and out laugh fest (incest, murder and necrophilia not usually producing a high titter tally with movie audiences). But with this reference at the fore front of their minds, writer McLaughlin and director Gervasi have nonetheless created a fruity comic drama about the genesis and production of Psycho.

The viewer is in fact completely made aware of this point in a neat preamble that sees notorious serial killer Ed Gein (Wincott) casually bumping his brother off on their Wisconsin farm, coolly observed by Hitch, who sips a cup of tea whilst commenting on the action.

These bizarrely comic moments punctuate the film at regular intervals and serve another purpose, as they help develop a seam of psychotic darkness that increases as the action proceeds.  Hitch has regular conversations with Gein about how to embellish or improve his film based on Gein’s life and crimes and also for a chit chat about the director’s own black fantasies. Gein in facts ‘counsels’ him as a psychiatrist would, when probing him about his treatment of women, Hitch declaring that he has been having “impulses…strong ones”. If only ‘Tippi’ Hedren could have been a fly on the wall.

Thankfully, the comedy is allowed to come to rescue such dark moments thanks to the arch, naughty performances. Hopkins underwent the make-up department’s full prosthetic demands and certainly looks the part, allowing his physical tics and playfully mordant performance to light up the screen (at the end, he ‘conducts’ his premiere audiences’ screams in time with Bernard Hermann’s screeching violins score). Unaccountably though he misses a cockney trick with the vocal interpretation, sounding far too much like the clipped, Welsh intonation that is Sir Anthony. But this is still a fun role and the pathologically funny lines are brought to the fore by him. Compare this performance with Toby Jones in another recent Hitch bio, The Girl, in which his accent was spookily recognisable as The Master.

Mirren scores strongly as his forthright and talented wife Alma, although even the most ardent of Reville’s admirers (she is credited as being the galvanising force and sculptress of his career) would be pushed to agree she was ever this buxom and flirtatious.

One would never have believed Janet Leigh was quite the professional actress Johansson portrays her as, but this is a timely reminder of how very good an actress she was in Psycho. Biel has a knowing glint in her eye in a small but telling role as a strong-willed and sarcastic Vera Miles, the Psycho co-star and former Hitch favourite whom he very nearly made into a world-wide star but whose resistance to his over-bearing and controlling style of direction almost ruined her career.

British actor D’Arcy clearly wasn’t in need of anything even approaching a latex make-over as Anthony Perkins sharing, as he does, an uncanny likeness to the American star and also nails the twitchy, nervous, lost boy demeanour that secured Perkins the part that launched him.

A lot of the detail in the film will be fascinating to the uninformed, but a lot about the behind the scenes making of Psycho will already be known to movie buffs, as Stephen Rebello’s book on which the screenplay is based was originally published in 1990. Just to show how much of a movie geek I am, the necessity of Vera Miles’ immobile, concrete wig is explained away here as covering up her brunette hair (in defiance of Hitch, she changed her hair colour). The real reason is because Miles had shaved her head for her most recent role in Five Branded Women. Perhaps Miss Biel, who gave an interview about how terrifying it was to portray a real-life movie star, was too spooked herself at this suggestion?