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 Cloud Atlas

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Donald McKinney
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PostSubject: Cloud Atlas   Fri Mar 08, 2013 9:36 pm

The story of Cloud Atlas' journey to the screen began in 2005, when Natalie Portman gave a copy of David Mitchell's multi-layered novel of the same name to the Wachowski's on the set of V for Vendetta (2005). The Wachowski's saw a perfect film in the book, which had been described as unfilmable, but they worked on it while they went on to do Speed Racer (2008), (Portman was to have been in the film as Luisa Rey and Somni-451, but she took time off after giving birth). Meanwhile, German director Tom Tykwer, best known for Run Lola Run (1998) and Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006), also wanted to adapt the book, and discovered the Wachowski's had the option, who he had known since the late 1990's. Tykwer went to them, and the trio concocted a masterplan. Because the book had a multilayered structure of 6 stories, Tykwer and the Wachowski's fleshed out the screenplay during a writing holiday in Costa Rica and decided they would film 3 segments each. Sounds simple, but no-one in Hollywood understood it, despite having big names attached, all playing multiple parts, at an early stage who were very enthusiastic about it. In fact, Cloud Atlas came close to being abandoned several times, but they found the money after a lot of trial and error. But, despite costing $100 million, (it could have been more), it's not what you'd call a mainstream blockbuster. In fact, this is a very experimental, near arthouse film which just happens to have the scope and scale of a blockbuster. Cloud Atlas is a brilliant film, epic in scope and ambition, and also gives it's actors the chance to play well against type and put their abilities to the test, it's absolutely stunning to look at and it's one of a kind too.

In 1849, Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess) is an American lawyer from San Francisco, travelling to the Chatham Isles in the Pacific, to sign a business deal with Reverend Gilles Horrox (Hugh Grant) for Ewing's father-in-law, Haskell Moore (Hugo Weaving). On the Island, Ewing meets the eccentric Dr. Henry Goose (Tom Hanks), who goes about poisoning Ewing, claiming he has contracted a parasitic worm in the hope of stealing his valuables, but slave Autua (David Gyasi) proves to be a saving grace.

In 1936, Cambridge musical graduate Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw) travels all the way to Scotland to work with the reclusive, ailing composer Vyvyan Ayrs (Jim Broadbent). Frobisher wants to work with Ayrs as his amanuensis, hopefully interpreting any new work the composer has, while Frobisher works on his own composition. He has an affair with Ayrs' wife Jocasta (Halle Berry), and conveys a correspondence to his lover Rufus Sixsmith (James D'Arcy). Frobisher has read part of Ewing's journal.

San Francisco, 1973. Investigative journalist Luisa Rey (Halle Berry) meets an older Rufus Sixsmith (still D'Arcy), who has some information regarding a conspiracy regarding a nuclear safety reactor being run by Lloyd Hooks (Hugh Grant). However, the deeper Luisa gets, the more danger she finds herself in, she's aided by scientist Isaac Sachs (Tom Hanks). But Hooks gets wind of Luisa's investigating, and calls upon hired hitman Bill Smoke (Hugo Weaving) to silence her.

London 2012, and publisher Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent) has a massive success with the memoir Knuckle Sandwich, written by brutal gangster Dermot 'Duster' Hoggins (Tom Hanks), Cavendish then finds Hoggins' men come round wanting money. Finding out he's broke, Cavendish flees, and on advice from his brother Denholme (Hugh Grant), checks into Aurora House, which is a nursing home run by the evil Nurse Noakes (Hugo Weaving). Cavendish reads a book of Luisa Rey's story in the meantime.

Flash forwards to Neo Seoul, 2144. Where clone Somni-451 (Doona Bae), who works at a chain of restaurants called Papa Songs, ran by Seer Rhee (Hugh Grant). She somehow becomes involved in a political coup with Commander Hae-Joo Chang (Jim Sturgess), who shows Somni-451 what happens to a lot of the clones, and they become part of a resistance led by An-kor Apis (Keith David), who are hiding out in the ruins of old Seoul. Somni becomes addicted to a film of Cavendish's life.

Finally, 106 Winters after the Fall (2321, Hawaii). Tribesman Zachry (Tom Hanks) lives in a primitive society called The Valley, which has been under attack from the Kona tribe led by a cannibalistic chief (Hugh Grant). The community is visited by Meronym (Halle Berry), who is part of a hi-tech society, Zachry leads her to a series of satellites which will send signals, and there's also a video of Somni-451 whose story the tribes people pray to, but Zachry is plagued by visions of Old Georgie (Hugo Weaving).

This is a very ambitious film, and it was clear it wouldn't appeal to the lowest common denominator, but somehow, the Wachowski's and Tykwer manage to make a complex and sprawling book into an understandable, (sort of) film. First off they jettisoned the books structure, in which the first five stories (from 1849 to 2144) are started, then stopped half way through so the next story starts all the way up to 2321, then the stories are returned to and finished. Tykwer and the Wachowski's take the stories and shuffle them up like a deck of cards, well shuffled to a point, because they make sure themes and plot-points match up between one story and another. It's a very unconventional way of doing it, but it works. However, they manage to keep it very faithful to the book, apart for one or two changes, like in the book the 1936 sequence takes place in Belgium, here, it's relocated to Scotland, as is the Timothy Cavendish bit, moved from Hull to Scotland. But these two sequences take place in the same house, which adds to the film's connecting structure. But, it doesn't get bogged down in preachy philosophical debates about life and reincarnation, the main characters of each story, Adam Ewing, Robert Frobisher, Luisa Rey, Timothy Cavendish, Somni-451 and Zachry all have a comet shaped birthmark in common, and each character does something daring, going off on an odyssey that will change their lives and the lives of who they come into contact with.

The final credits say the Wachowski's filmed the 1849, 2144 and the 2321 sequences, while Tykwer did the 1936, 1973 and 2012 sequences. Although, that's not strictly true, because on more than one occasion, they swapped crews and/or units. They had two units going at the same time for 4 months, the Wachowski's got in Oscar winning cinematographer John Toll (Legends of the Fall and Braveheart) for their sequences, while Tykwer had his usual, trusted DP Frank Griebe for his sequences, but they would swap cinematographers more than once during the shoot. Plus, because of budgetary reasons, they couldn't film in America, so again, they had to be inventive. Using Mallorca for 1849 and 2321 bits, Glasgow doubled for London and San Francisco, and nearly every soundstage at Studio Babelsberg in Berlin was taken up for this film. It was an epic undertaking, but they also had a brilliant art department, who brought style and class to the 1849 and 1936 sequences, and jaw-dropping imagery to the Neo Seoul sequence, which has blank rooms whose walls come to life with gaudy visuals and blue roads that cars fly along. Tykwer's sequences have a dark sense of humour about them, and are grounded in reality in places, whereas the Wachowski's go for heroics and fantasy. From the seafaring adventure in 1849 to a post-apocalyptic future in 2321. But, neither sequences clash, they compliment each other beautifully, and it feels like a truly shared vision.

They got together an epic cast for this epic tale. First and foremost, Tom Hanks takes on 6 parts in this, the last time he did this was in The Polar Express (2004), whereas there, he was disguised by pixels, here, he's disguised by a series fake beards, false noises and different accents. Some work, some as in the case of Hoggins, are laughable. But maybe that's the point. It shows him playing against type, but he pulls it off. Halle Berry goes from a tribal girl to a white Jew to male Korean doctor in the space of this film, and she's brilliant in each part, showing sensitivity and toughness with each one. Jim Broadbent is great as the nasty old composer and the flustered publisher held prisoner, these are two roles he was born to play, and 3 smaller ones inbetween. Hugo Weaving oozes evil as 6 nasty looking men, a nasty lawyer, a jealous conductor, a hitman, a nurse, an executioner and an imagined evil spirit, and he's brilliant as them all, showing what a good if somewhat underrated actor he is. But, the biggest surprise is Hugh Grant taking on the 6 more evil parts, a dubious vicar, a hotel security man, a corporate liar, a double-crossing brother, a rapist and a cannibal. To say Grant is playing against type is an understatement, but he pulls off each part brilliantly. Special mentions should be given to James D'Arcy as Rufus Sixsmith over 2 stories, and he's endearing and touching as the older Sixsmith, Ben Whishaw is brilliant as the tortured Frobisher, Jim Sturgess shows gravitas as Ewing and Hae-Joo Chang, who has a parallel life with Doona Bae as Tilda Ewing and Somni-451. Plus, you won't believe the guise Susan Sarandon turns up as at one point in the film!!



On paper, the premise and idea of actors playing multiple parts sounds like the sort of thing Monty Python would have done had they decided to do a serious film, but the film shows how all our lives are connected, and that what goes around comes around. While the locations are different, the intentions are the same, trying to make a change in the world. It's hard to think of another film like this, Bill Forsyth's Being Human (1994) which had Robin Williams as the same character in different time periods comes close, but it's was nothing compared to the scale this is done on. Plus, the idea of having actors playing multiple parts in different stories was done in Lindsay Anderson's O Lucky Man! (1973). However, Tykwer and the Wachowski's manage to make this feel fresh and new, even if the stories have been heard dozens of times before in different guises, it's the way they tell these stories with the multiple parts that makes them interesting. It's beautiful to look at, and there won't be another film like this, (it's lacklustre box-office in America has seen to that.) But, does box-office matter?? The fact that Tykwer and the Wachowski's succeeded in getting it made in the first place is enough reason to celebrate. It'll become a cult film in years to come, it's a 3 hour epic, but it flies in because it's so compelling and stunning to look at. Even the score by Tykwer, Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil feels like a character in itself, enhancing and moving the story. This film is one of a kind, and that's a good thing.
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PostSubject: Re: Cloud Atlas   Sat Mar 09, 2013 9:18 am

Nice review, Don! Glad you liked it.

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Frakkin toasters!

So, what, the murder weapon was a top sirloin?

He's a klutz, Mrs. Landingham. Your president's a geek!
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PostSubject: Re: Cloud Atlas   Sun Mar 10, 2013 3:56 am

I'm glad I did, and I was worried that I'd be let down, and it did take 10 minutes to settle into it. But I did. Smile
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PostSubject: Re: Cloud Atlas   Sun Apr 14, 2013 12:19 am

Gimli...

Susan Sarandon... Shocked Shocked Shocked Shocked Shocked Shocked Shocked Shocked Shocked Shocked Shocked Shocked Shocked

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PostSubject: Re: Cloud Atlas   Sun Apr 14, 2013 4:00 am

Was she in the film like that? I don't remember.

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Behold! We are the Nine,
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Frakkin toasters!

So, what, the murder weapon was a top sirloin?

He's a klutz, Mrs. Landingham. Your president's a geek!
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PostSubject: Re: Cloud Atlas   Sun Apr 14, 2013 7:47 pm

Yeah, it was a blink or you'll miss it bit in the Neo Seoul bit, where Somni-451 was watching films, it was like the 22nd Century version of YouTube.
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PostSubject: Re: Cloud Atlas   Mon Apr 15, 2013 11:11 am

I'll look out when I see it again.

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Behold! We are the Nine,
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Frakkin toasters!

So, what, the murder weapon was a top sirloin?

He's a klutz, Mrs. Landingham. Your president's a geek!
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PostSubject: Re: Cloud Atlas   Mon Apr 15, 2013 4:40 pm

It's out on DVD and Blu-Ray on July 1st!!
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