Directors: Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski. Cloud Atlas/X-Filme/Anarchos et al (15)
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.
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.
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.
Director: Stephen Daldry.
Paramount/Scott Rudin/Warner Bros.
Producer: Scott Rudin. Writer: Eric Roth. Camera: Chris Menges. Music: Alexandre Desplat. Sets: K.K. Barrett.
Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Thomas Horn, Zoe Caldwell, Max von Sydow, Viola Davis, John Goodman, Jeffrey Wright, Hazelle Goodman.
Young Oskar (Horn) lives in a close and loving household with his parents and Grandmother. His idyllic life is shattered however when his father (Hanks) is killed in one of the World Trade Center towers on 9/11. He is bereft but chances upon a key hidden amongst his father’s effects and sets about locating the lock that it fits into.
Daldry is the deft hand behind gentle film’s that have a seam of steel running through them, such as Billy Elliott (working class British boy learns ballet), The Hours (portmanteau period lesbian drama) and The Reader (love story between a teenager and an older woman, who used to supervise in a Nazi death camp). Right choice he was then to direct this odd piece.
9/11 has provided artistic inspiration for a number of playwrights, novelists and filmmakers this past decade. On film, this includes work as diverse as Michael Moore’s incendiary documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, Oliver Stone’s Nicholas Cage starring World Trade Center and the acclaimed made-for-television docu-drama Flight 93.
Based on the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, this weepy drama takes a less conventional route, mixing the whimsical adventure of a young boy with Asperger’s syndrome with the emotional fall-out of a disaster. At least Foer was brave to go off on a unique tangent, but it creates very unwelcome feelings in the viewer. Using 9/11 as the springboard for this wish fulfilment yarn seems ghoulish, irresponsible, meretricious. The recurring visual motif of Hanks free-falling for eternity as his son imagines him bravely leaping from the crumbling sky scraper doesn’t help ease the mind.
Neither do some very disturbing aspects of Oskar’s parents that would ring alarm bells with even the most useless social worker, as both seem content to let him wonder off alone around New York, foraging with the homeless or calling on strangers in their homes (“Didn’t you think I’d be raped or murdered?” he asks his mother. “Every hour of every day” is her incredible response).
When it tries to be a gut-wrenching weepy, the film works very well and there are quite a few moments that help get the tears flowing. The performances are striking in that they are stripped back to the very basics (von Sydow doesn’t even speak). Bullock is quietly impressive as Oskar’s mother, slowly sinking into depression, looking and sounding as if her very soul has been sucked out of her. Von Sydow snags an Oscar nomination for that wordless but infinitely expressive performance as Oskar’s mute grandfather. Even the normally carousing Goodman is reduced to trading insults with Oskar in a passive, monotonous tone as if he, like everyone and everything else, is automatically diminished by the events on that day.
The film belongs to Horn though, who is a remarkable find as Oskar and he brings the film to life with a nervous, twitchy energy perfectly in keeping with the bizarre path the narrative takes.
Director: Robert Zemeckis. Warner/Universal CGI/Castle Rock et al (U)
Producer: Gary Goetzman, Steve Starkey, William Teitler, Robert Zemeckis. Writers: Robert Zemeckis, William Broyles Jr. Camera: Don Burgess, Robert Presley. Music: Alan Silvestri. Sets: Rick Carter, Doug Chiang.
Tom Hanks, Daryl Sabara, Nona Gaye, Eddie Deezen, Peter Scolari.
A little boy, doubting that Santa Claus is real, is woken one Christmas night by a magical train that trundles down his street. Along with other children who also question Saint Nicholas’ existence, he boards the train and is whisked away on an amazing night-time journey to the North Pole where his doubts are washed away.
Director/co-producer/co-writer Zemeckis’ contribution to mainstream movie culture cannot be underestimated – he is the man behind blockbusters such as the Back to the Future series, Death Becomes Her, Forrest Gump and Contact. All of these films are vastly different of course, but they are bound by a creeping sense of schmaltz and whimsy, wrapped up in increasingly beguiling special effects.
Polar Express duly falls in line then, featuring some of the most astonishing ‘motion capture’ animation techniques (‘motion capture’ being that which captures a live actor’s movements and performance in animation); the ‘animated’ conductor (Hanks) looks like an an eerily lifelike, computer generated version of the star himself.
There are some ovation-inducing moments, not least the train’s rollercoaster, physics-defying journey across frozen lakes and up snow-capped montains and the waiters serving hot chocolate as if auditioning for Cirque de Soleil.
It’s a simple and saccharine product (based on the book of the same name by Chris van Allsberg) – imagine a festive Coca-Cola advert elephantised to full-length. But the homespun messages about never losing faith or belief in something, no matter where you come from, are never cloyingly or embarrasingly told. The result is a cosy, comfortable film to wallow in. Imagine, just for a second, you are eight years old again and this happens to you – I challenge you not to be at least charmed.