Friday, October 26, 2012

The Epically Entertaining But Empty CLOUD ATLAS

(Dirs. Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski, & Tom Tykwer, 2012)

Early on in this fantastical blend of seven scenarios, Tom Hanks, in probably the most ridiculous-looking get-up of all the characters he portrays here, plays a cockney gangster turned author who throws a snooty literary critic over a high-rise balcony to his death at a book release party because of a bad review.

It’s a funny gutsy scene, even though it’s so transparently saying ‘screw you haters! This is a big ass powerhouse of a cinematic experience that will throw you off a ledge whether you want to go with it or not!’

To its credit, especially with its bloated almost 3 hour running time, I did largely go with the flow. The Wachowskis, best known as the masterminds behind THE MATRIX trilogy, and Tykwer, best known for RUN LOLA RUN, have taken David Mitchell’s best-selling award-winning 2004 novel, and made it into a mega-movie for all genres.

It cuts back and forth through the various story-lines, sometimes with imagery morphing from likewise aesthetics in one shot into the other. With a cast including Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Ben Whishaw, Jim Sturgess, Hugh Grant, Hugo Weaving, and Doona Bae playing multiple roles in cut-up centuries-spanning sequences, the film takes a gaggle of genres - i.e. dystopian sci-fi, post-apocalyptic drama, ‘70s conspiracy thrillers, British comedy, historical mystery, etc. - and puts them into a grinder, and they all come together to form epic entertainment.

Some storylines work better than others, and often the big cosmic gist of it all, you know, that everything ever is connected and that little acts of kindness can ripple through time and affect the future, didn’t really gel like I believe they were intending, but the pure visual splendor, along with the larger-than-life personalities present, still worked wonders.

Possibly Broadbent’s bits were the most likable. Whether as a fuzzy codger of a composer conniving to take credit for a supposedly brilliant piece of music called “The Cloud Atlas Sextet,” actually written by a suicidal gay musician (Whishaw, no stranger to mixed-up mashes of movies as he was one of the Dylans in Todd Haynes’ I’M NOT THERE), or as a present day heavily-in-debt publisher who gets wrongly committed to a nursing home by his brother (Grant), Broadbent’s energy and comic timing made a bigger impression on me than anyone else.

That’s not to say that there are some fine stand-out performances, as Hanks pulls off all his parts with ace acting, Berry puts in her best work since MONSTER'S BALL, and newcomer Bae has an emotional glow to her that fits right into the film’s absorbingly colorful palette.

Often in CLOUD ATLAS, the actors and actresses are unrecognizable because of intense makeup transformations that their change races, genders, and ages. Mostly the effect works, but there are instances that may provoke unintentional laughs when, say, first seeing a heavily freckled Susan Sarandon as an aging Southern Belle, or a Berry as a Blonde German woman. There were a lot of gasps at the screening I saw at the end credits montage that revealed who played what character. One thing is for certain: this film will undoubtedly get an Oscar nomination for Best Makeup.

As much as I was awed by what the Wachowskis and Tykwer put up on the screen, there was a bit of emptiness to the lavish proceedings that was hard to escape. Like in a conversation where you realize that somebody is only pretending to say something deep and meaningful when they really don’t have any new insight to share. Still, the ‘it’s all a show’ mentality makes for some spectacular movies, even if they are the equivalent of big junk food feasts.

Like many of those unhealthy feasts, CLOUD ATLAS is crammed full of empty calories, but that’s probably what makes it so undeniably delicious.

More later...

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