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Cloud Atlas


It takes a great disappointment to drag me back into writing reviews again. Perhaps my expectations were lifted too high to match the ambition of this film, unfortunately, on many levels, it just fell short.

It certainly is the most ambitious film to probably ever be set on celluloid. The scope, the worlds, periods, races and genders it traverses, are not just near impossible, it would appear that they are actually impossible. My main issue, however, is the lack of coherence between the stories. I see elements of the same narrative threads through the different segments (helped along by having the cast play dressup), but the themes and issues of each segment does not carry onto the next. This would not be a problem if the film was a collection of shorts, however for something that is trying to be strung together in this epic fashion, it felt messy.

People have likened this film to The Fountain, I can't remember who, but it was more than one person. Let me make this clear, this is not at all The Fountain. Aronofsky's film, though riddled with it's own problems, is very clearly a 3 hour long love letter. All the different puzzles point to the same solution, as it were. It was about fate, and love, and despite every challenge in their way they will love again in a different time. The problem with The Fountain was that it was stylistically indulgent. The last hour became an agonising wankfest.

Cloud Atlas has the one puzzle, that points to different solutions. They use the same motifs, signifiers, words, phrases and also, obviously, actors, to serve entirely different purposes. One thing that stayed consistent is that Hugo Weaving will be an evil henchmen, regardless of race or gender. I liked most of the individual stories, and even the direction of them all (Tom Tykwer moreso than the Wachowskis, incidentally). But squeezed together like that, things begin to unravel.

The Wachowskis have questionable taste, or at least taste that does not line up with mine. The most err... ambitious and creative uses of makeup, all occur during the Wachowski segments. Let me say something about makeup here, since it's something that is clearly close to my heart, even more so here because there's a lot of Asian/Anglo lines being crossed in this movie. When it was Halle Berry in the Frobisher storyline (Tykwer), it was just a matter of lightening her skintone just enough to pass off as a tanned white person, which wasn't very much at all. When we came to the Neo-Seoul storyline (Wachowski), it perhaps had the most offensive of all makeup jobs ever attempted. Let's be honest here, it's on par with black face. You're in the year 2144, did these white boys really have to look that cartoonishly Asian? MUST you put prosthetics over their eyes to give them a drooping monolid? Have you looked at an Asian man lately? Do they look like aliens to you? The answer to all of these questions should be a resounding "no". Hell, they're already all speaking English, for whatever reason, it's probably safe to let them keep their own eyes, 's all I'm saying. All the attempts to make the two Asian girls look white were somewhat more successful, at least from afar. In the closeups, when you can see the artificial high crease line they drew on (in grey, by the way. I mean, what?) it was less convincing. (There's this thing called an eyelid tape that Asian girls with monolids use to create a crease, that might've been a wise investment here. Although they both already had creases, but it can be used to raise it higher. It won't make you look less Asian, but neither did that crude eyeshadow crease). END OF RANT.

Tom Hanks tackled a whole myriad of ambitious, and ultimately inconsistent accents. Worst of which is in the post apocalyptic feudal island segment. The pidgin English they use, coupled with the slips in and out of (...what is that...Naw'leans accent?) by both Hanks and Berry makes the whole sequence kind of hilarious. It's one of those tropes I can see working in a novel, and could see possibly work in a film if it was uniform and I wasn't so distracted by the fact that I was seeing two actors play dress up. Eventually, it was a game of "spot the cast" for me. Especially when it seems like they threw in some cast members in the background for this very purpose. Let's see what wigs they throw on this time! I am proud to say, I did pick up on almost every costume change for almost everybody. Even the Hugh Grant as tribal native with full face paint, that one I was the most proud of, judging from the "oooh"s and "aaaah"s by the audience during the credits when they reveal the answers.

Speaking of audience, they seemed to really enjoy the movie. Reacting in ways I assume is the intended reaction. So by all means, disregard everything I've just said. Roger Ebert loved it, so what do I know?

Ya know what? It looks stunning, so go see and make up your own damn mind.

side notes:

* I could watch Ben Whishaw do anything and it would break my heart. Someone please, cut the Frobisher scenes into one short film and give it to me. I'll add it to the rotation of Ben Whishaw in period costume films that I watch on the regular.

* He also makes a very handsome middle aged woman. Hugo Weaving, on the other hand, does not.

* The only Asian phrase spoken by a cast member in the Neo-Seoul story, is in Cantonese. ?!

* Jim Broadbent could never be menacing. Ever.

* The only mention of Cloud Atlas is the Cloud Atlas Sextet. Which is truly a beautiful piece of music.

* I always like a good Soylent Green reference. "PEOPLE! SOYLENT GREEN IS MADE OF PEOPLE!"

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