Cinema Review: Cloud Atlas

 

DIR/WRI: Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski    PRO: Stefan Arndt, Grant Hill, Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski  • DOP: Frank Griebe, John Toll • ED: Alexander Berner • DES: Hugh Bateup, Uli Hanisch • CAST: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Hugo Weaving

Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis make a bold attempt to film David Mitchell’s ‘unfilmable’ Cloud Atlas, straddling, as it does, several periods and locations, past, present and future. They have created an epic that excites and entertains but ultimately remains shallow.

Mitchell left much for his readers to interpret, and to make sense of the connections between the various tales. The film lacks that subtlety, and its zipping from one time and place to another may put off viewers before the links are made all too obvious.

In 1849, Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess), a lawyer, meets Dr. Henry Goose (Tom Hanks) and secures a contract on a Pacific island. He contracts an illness, and Dr. Goose tends to him on the voyage home. Kupaka escapes from the plantation and beseeches Mr. Ewing to ask Captain Molyneux (Jim Broadbent) to allow him work on the ship.

In 1936, Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw) leaves his lover, Rufus Sixsmith (James D’Arcy), to go to Edinburgh and work with famed composer Vyvyan Ayrs (Jim Broadbent). He yearns to create his own works.

In 1973, Luisa Rey (Halle Berry) meets the older Rufus Sixsmith, whose suspicious death in San Francisco causes her to investigate the nuclear power company he was working for. She finds assistance from Isaac Sachs (Tom Hanks).

In 2012, Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent), a publisher, finds himself needing financial assistance from his brother Denholme (Hugh Grant), who arranges for his confinement in an English retirement home. He seeks escape.

In 2144, an archivist interviews Sonmi-451 (Doona Bae), a genetically engineered fabricant, before her execution. She recounts her experiences before her arrest.

Finally, in Hawaii, 106 years after a catastrophic event called the Fall, Zachry (Tom Hanks) struggles with the devil Old Georgie (Hugo Weaving) as he helps Meronym (Halle Berry), a member of the Prescient society seeking an abandoned communications station. Meanwhile, the Kona tribe threatens Zachry’s village.

Old Zachry’s reminiscence forms the fulcrum of Mitchell’s novel, and it also frames the film. Whereas the novel moved chronologically forwards, then backwards, the adaptation demonstrates film’s ability to cut between the centuries and jump from place to place. The filmmakers provide several tense climatic sequences that successfully shift in such a manner.

A clear theme emerges: the struggle for freedom, whether by a plantation worker in the 19th-century Pacific islands, an elderly man from a 21-century retirement home or a 22nd-century genetically-engineered worker. The drama that surrounds these stories provide the excitement and intrigue that makes Cloud Atlas work well when it’s good. The sentimental claptrap about love and everything being connected is less effective. Why must talented filmmakers use an ambitious film to make such banal statements?

Jim Broadbent excels both as Timothy Cavendish, providing the film with its comic moments, and as the composer Ayrs . Ben Whishaw also impresses, portraying Robert Frobisher as a more sympathetic character than in the novel.

Like Paul Muni back in the 1930s, Tom Hanks relies too much on make-up to convince an audience of his acting skills. He has the most work, playing Zachry, Dr. Goose, Isaac Sachs and an actor playing Cavendish in a film that Sonmi sees. His eccentric turn as Dermot Hoggins, an Irish novelist hoping for success with Cavendish, entertains, even it’s over the top.

Halle Berry plays well as Luisa Rey but makes little impression as Meronym. Hugo Weaving fares poorly, playing parts that are too similar to that of Agent Smith in The Matrix or that come off as old-style pantomime (Old Georgie, the devil testing Zachry) or poor drag (Nurse Noakes, ratcheting up difficulties for Cavendish).

The film displays the visual flair expected from both Tykwer and the Wachowskis at their best. Where it falters is its uneven tone. The humour of the Cavendish story seems out of kilter with the other solemn stories concerning corporate conspiracy, suicide and doomed love affairs. Zachry’s story features the heavily accented speech that, in its written form, made that segment of the novel alienating for some. With Old Georgie looking for Zachry’s shoulder, it proves the least accomplished of the various strands. The closing sequences feel overstretched in an effort to tie it all together.

Often beautiful and frequently thrilling, Cloud Atlas reaches for heavenly heights but misses.

John Moran

15A (see IFCO website for details)
171mins
Cloud Atlas is released on 22nd February 2013

Cloud Atlas – Official Website

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Cinema Review: The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists – Film of the Week

shiver me timbers, etc

DIR: Peter Lord, Jeff Newitt • WRI: Gideon Defoe • PRO: Julie Lockhart, Peter Lord, David Sproxton • DOP: Frank Passingham • DES: Norman Garwood • Cast: Hugh Grant, Brian Blessed, Jeremy Piven

Pirates – seriously, who knew? Scuttled in early Hollywood by the far more popular western, the pirate movie was left adrift for decades, coming into port every now and again only to find nary a piece of eight at the box office (cf. Polanski’s The Pirates (1986), Cutthroat Island (1995)). Then those Disney ride Johnny Depp vehicle movies came along and suddenly, after some 80 years, everyone was hungry for pirate movies. But while the box office exploded, there was little denying the quality of those films diminished rapidly, as they began to take themselves seriously.

Thankfully, here’s a pirate movie that doesn’t take anything seriously, especially not pirates!

Aardman Animations have proven themselves to be the world’s greatest producers of (mainstream) stop-motion animation through their Wallace & Gromit movies, Chicken Run and TV series such as Morph, Creature Comforts and Shaun the Sheep. Now teamed with distributors Sony (their relationship with DreamWorks ended after the disastrous digital animation Flushed Away), the Bristol-based masters have produced what is probably their greatest work yet, The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists.

The family adventure is based on a series of comedy novels by Gideon Defoe, which are not exactly aimed at children, but have been translated here to appeal to pretty much anyone with eyes, ears and a sense of humour.

Set in the early 1800s, the story follows a pirate captain called The Pirate Captain, and his crew of similarly descriptively named misfits. What The Pirate Captain lacks in plundering success he makes up for in boundless enthusiasm and self-delusional egomania. Up against far superior competition for the “Pirate of the Year Award”, he is desperate for a get-rich-quick scheme when he boards the bootyless HMS Beagle and takes young scientist Charles Darwin captive.

Before he is fed to the sharks, Darwin informs The Pirate Captain that his precious parrot Polly, who is very clearly not a parrot, is in fact a dodo, and thus worth a fortune. And so the crew set sail for London, where the dread Queen Victoria keeps a careful lookout for pirates, whom she detests above all things.

The adventure that ensues is delightful; simple enough for kids to follow but with enough minor twists to keep adults from feeling like they’ve sailed these seas before. Thankfully, unlike the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, The Pirates! sticks to general pirate adventuring and doesn’t descend into supernatural nonsense.

The stop-motion is as wonderful as we have come to expect from Aardman; and then some. Eschewing traditional plasticine in favour of a more durable, and realistic-looking plastic, The Pirates! has texture and gloss that most live-action features fail to achieve nowadays. In the incredible digital worlds of Pixar and DreamWorks films, where everything has shape and gloss, nothing looks like you could really touch it if you could somehow get inside the movie. But here, with actual objects that actual artists have actually sculpted, the world looks as physically accessible as it does inviting. The divinity is in the detail however. Every scene is riddled with more visual gags than there is time to ingest – one character sports a Blue Peter badge in his hat; posters in London advertise ‘street urchin throwing contests’; the Swiss coat of arms has a giant corkscrew sticking out of it.

The voice talent on display is top notch. Hugh Grant returns to the grandeur of the mid-‘90s as The Pirate Captain, leaving you wondering why he hasn’t been in the recording studio since About a Boy. Sounding like only Hugh Grant can, his voice, like his best characters, sails through a vast array of emotions and delivers both quips and verbal faux pas with unexpected aplomb. David Tennant voices Darwin as a timid, socially awkward but also quite conniving little wretch, while Martin Freeman gets across the movie’s heart as the ship’s number two, Pirate With a Scarf. And as the villain, Imelda Staunton ups her game from Professor Umbridge to play the perfect queen bitch. Support comes from all sides with Brendan Gleeson and Brian Blessed chewing the microphone up and spitting out the chunks.

It’s impossible to get across just how funny this film is. Its visual gags conjure the heyday of The Simpsons. Musical queues range from The Clash to Flight of the Conchords. The dialogue borders on Pythonesque. When The Pirate Captain sees Darwin and his chimpanzee perform identical actions, he asks ‘Are you related?’ – a specious origin for The Origin of Species. The blatant yet unnoticed transvestite pirate, Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate (sporting a large ginger beard that clashes with her blonde hair), is ripped from the best classical farce.

The Pirates! is action-packed, unpredictable and agreeably sweet, and two-and-a-half years in the making it looks simply fantastic. But it’s greatest success is in how gut-achingly funny it is. There are truly enough gags here to keep every person of every age laughing from start to finish – joke by joke per minute this could be the funniest film since Airplane!

And if that doesn’t sell you on seeing this over The Hunger Games, well you were lost to begin with.

David Neary

Rated G (see IFCO website for details)
The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists is released on 23rd March 2012

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists – Official Website

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