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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington Wilmington@moviecitynews.com

Wilmington on Movies: Cloud Atlas

CLOUD ATLAS (Four Stars)
Germany-U.S.: Tom Tykwer-Lana Wachowski-Andy Wachowski, 2012

I loved it. And for once, I’m speechless.

But I promise to get to it at greater length, next week. It’s a movie, after all, that can probably be watched repeatedly, and discussed endlessly. It’s divided the critics — some are fervently pro, some contemptuously con — in a way that usually  only the more interesting pictures can and do. It’s long, it’s complex, and it violates about half the rules for a big-budget big-audience movie, while following (and triumphing in) about half the others.

Cloud Atlas is based on the well-reviewed, much-awarded (or short-listed) British novel by David Mitchell, a book that links together six stories, ranging in time and place from the Pacific Ocean in 1850, to Belgium in 1931, to California in 1975, to the United Kingdom right about now, to South Korea in the near future, to  an island somewhere in the ocean somewhen past the Apocalypse.

The movie has a huge cast — topped by Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Brioadbent, Hugo Weaving, Hugo Weaving , Jim Sturgess and others — and it’s made even huger by the fact that the main actors keep popping up in all six films playing, different roles. In all but one case, that is:The role of whistle-blower Rufus Sixsmith is played in both Parts Two and Three by James D’Arcy. The makeup jobs are sometimes fabulous; you may be shocked, occasionally when you find out who’s playing who.

Mitchell arranged his novel in six parts, advancing chronologically, and those parts  kept breaking off in the middle to bring in part of the last chapter. Then he finished up with the resolution of all six stories, this time in reverse (or mirror) order. It’s a tricky structure, maybe not as tricky as Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire, with its tell-tale footnotes.  So, to lessen the confusion, I suggest you google and read a long synopsis before seeing it.  It would be best to read the novel first, of course, but I realize that’s not an option for lots of us.  Later, maybe.

The movie takes those six genre-mashing stories and interweaves them, cutting back and forth, as in Inception. Tykwer and the Wachowski apparently wrote this infernally complex script together, and then split up for the shooting: Tykwer and his team taking Parts Two, Three and Four, and the Wachowski handling One, Five and Six. As mentioned, the actors take multiple roles, and that’s not a stunt. The galleries of roles reinforce Mitchell’s theme of reincarnation and of souls traveling from body to body. The movie, meanwhile, has many forms itslef. It’s full of romance and mystery and action and spectacle and humor, and the overall form reminds you of nothing so much as D. W. Griffith and his four interweaving stories in that other madly ambitious epic, 1916’s Intolerance. (That got some awful reviews, too.)

You’ll have fun, in any case. Like Intolerance, this  movie is staggeringly, outrageously, madly, breath-takingly ambitious. I didn’t see Cloud Atlas at Toronto, where it reportedly generated a ten-minute standing ovation.  But I would have stood for fifteen, maybe longer. (I saw it at the Chicago’s best movie critic venue, the Lake Street Screening Room, at a critic’s screening for the Chicago Film Festival — where Cloud Atlas was the fest centerpiece.)

So…You must see it. For yourself. Even if you despise it, you’ll have fun vivisecting it afterwards. It’s 164 minutes long, and, as Roger Ebert has said, there’s not a boring second in it. Befuddling  maybe. Boring no.

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“I never, ever, ever read anything about myself. Not my interviews, not stories about me. I never, ever read any criticism of my films. I scrupulously have avoided any self-preoccupation. When I first started, that was not the case. I just pay attention to the work and don’t read about how great I am or what a fool I am. The enjoyment has got to come from doing the project. It’s fun to get up in the morning and have your script in front of you and to meet with your scenic designer and your cinematographer, to get out on the set and work with these charming men and beautiful women and put in this Cole Porter music and great costumes. When that’s over, and you’ve made your best movie, move on. I never look at the movie again — I never read anything about it again.”
~ Woody Allen

I do think the polemic of diversity right now is being handled with a lead pipe. It’s talked about in a way that’s not complex— and it’s a very complex issue. It’s not black and white. It’s not a conspiracy to keep women down. It’s a psychology of risk aversion. Women are question marks to the studios The indie world is changing, television is changing, but if you talk about mainstream Hollywood, they’re still looking at a question mark. [So] it’s not some kind of war. It’s people trying to figure out, imperfectly, how to change a culture that has been one way for a really long time. In terms of this movie, though, Sony was on our ass about diversity from day one. They were like, ‘Look: We want you to make your own movie. We just also want to tell you that there are other options, ones that we’re really open to, and here’s all the people we love.’ And those lists, they were the most diverse lists I’ve ever seen.
~ Jodie Foster

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