FlixChatter Review: Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas is one of those films that transcends film genres — it’s a drama, sci-fi, comedy, thriller, all wrapped into one. Based on David Mitchell’s 2004 novel, the film follows six nested stories of six characters across time and space, and explores how the characters’ lives are connected and somehow influence each other in past, present and future.

Just how are they connected exactly? Well, that’s for the viewers to find out and watching this film is like trying to put together a giant puzzle, whilst treated to a spectacular, often dizzying array of scenarios spanning hundreds of years, from the 1800s all the way to 2144.

The first character we meet, Adam Ewing, is a lawyer who’s shipwrecked in an island in the Pacific Ocean near New Zealand. In the story he ends up discovering the the enslavement of the Moriori tribe and also meeting a doctor named Henry Goose. The next character in the following story, a 1930 composer Robert Frobisher, discovers Ewing’s account as a diary on a bookshelf at the house of an aging composer he’s working for. On and on the story goes, alternating from one to the next every 10-15 minutes or so.

What’s most amusing about this film is that the main actors play multiple characters across various stories and time periods, so in one scene we see Tom Hanks in a period Victorian-era clothing to a scientist in the 1970s, to a tribesman in post-apocalyptic Hawaii. For the most part, they did a good job with the makeup work, transforming the actors across multiple races, even gender! Sometimes I got so caught up in the different look of the actors that take me out of the story, for example, young British actor Jim Sturgess made up to look like a Korean man Hae-Joo Im in the segment involving a genetically-engineered fabricant Somni-451 set in a totalitarian futuristic society, and also Hugo Weaving as a devil leprechaun haunting Hanks’ character and also the scary female Nurse Noakes who hounds Jim Broadbent‘s character a in a nursing home. It’s also odd seeing Korean actress Doona Bae as a freckled, red-headed Caucasian woman, complete with blue contact lenses! The make up of Halle Berry as a blue-eyed Jewish woman is much more seamless though.

The first thing that comes to mind as soon as I leave the theater is that it was quite a ‘discombobulating’ experience. I have to admit that it was quite tough to follow the story as it keeps changing from one to the next before I could even figure out what’s going on. It didn’t help matters that Halle Berry and Tom Hanks in the post-apocalyptic Hawaii segment are utterly incomprehensible. I kept turning to my friend next to me in frustration, just what the heck are those people saying??!

I read that the novel was quite well-received by critics who deemed that Mitchell managed to successfully interweave its six stories. I think it may take me multiple viewings for me to say whether the movie achieves that, though I wouldn’t call it a mess like some critics do. I wish it was more emotionally engaging though. I mean, the message against prejudice, slavery, corporate greed, etc. aren’t exactly subtle, but because the movie jumps from one to the next relatively fast, I wasn’t as invested in the characters as I otherwise would.

Overall, there are a lot to appreciate in this film, most notably the visual spectacle and the performances of most of the actors. The stand-outs for me are Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw, and the Wachowskis’ ‘muse’ Hugo Weaving. My favorite segment is the love story set in the futuristic society Neo Seoul. It has a Blade Runner-esque feel to it, and the chase sequences are spectacular! I’m certainly glad I saw it on the big screen and from the visual effects standpoint, it actually seems like it had a bigger budget than $102 million (Just a little trivia: according to Wikipedia, this movie was actually funded by independent sources, making it the most expensive independent film ever).

Final Thoughts: I think this is a valiant effort by the Wachowski Siblings (The Matrix) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run). There’s definitely an epic feel to it and given how challenging the material is, I think they did a pretty darn good job. In fact, now that the movie’s sat with me for about a week and I’ve read a bit more about the story, I actually like it a bit better. Oh and do stay for the end credits as they show which actors plays which roles, see if you could recognize every single one of them. I don’t know how this film would fare come award season but it should at least nab Best Makeup nomination!

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Well, that’s my take on Cloud Atlas. What do YOU think of it?

Weekend Roundup and The Way Back review

Happy Tuesday everyone!

Hope everyone’s had a lovely weekend. I definitely enjoyed my 3-day weekend though it sure went by real fast. I took a much-needed break from my computer which including blogging and reading other people’s blogs, though I had planned on seeing more movies but only managed to see two of them. One of them is a repeat as one of my good friends hadn’t seen THOR and since we quite enjoyed it the first time around, we saw it again but in 2D (which looks just as good as the 3D one). I still like it the second time around, and I absolutely LOVE the music. In fact the soundtrack is playing right as I’m writing this. After seeing the post-credit scene, I’m excited (mostly out of sheer curiosity) to see The Avengers! Check out this fan-art poster already circulating online, I think it’s a pretty decent Photoshop job.

The other movie I saw was The Way Back. I posted the poster and trailer last year and remember being really intrigued by the story, which was inspired by real events. I’ll get to my short review in a moment but first let me just make a couple of announcements. My good pal and fellow cinephile Paula G. has joined FC as a regular contributor! Please extend your warm welcome to Paula and visit her own page on FC to find out a bit more about her. As always, you can visit each FC contributor’s page by clicking the Contributors tab at the top of the homepage. I’m so excited to have her on board as she’ll introduce a new blog series as well as reviews of various movies.

The second announcement is that the highly addictive and fun Anomalous Material’s Hollywood Fantasy Draft has begun, this time in its third installment! Last week, I spent a few hours drafting my cast for my next movie pitch along with other fine movie bloggers, click on the link to see which actors/directors we’ve selected for our fantasy movie. Look for my dream cast post this week ahead of the actual pitch itself that will go up next Monday, June 6.

Now, on to the review…

THE WAY BACK(2010)

This Peter Weir film is inspired by real events, loosely based on The Long Walk written by a Polish POW in the Soviet Gulag (labor prison camp). The film tells the story of about a half dozen men who escaped the Siberian prison in 1941.

But the escape itself was just the beginning, the much more grueling task is ahead of them as they’d have to find a refuge in a land that’s not yet conquered by the Communist regime. That means covering 4000 miles of treacherous trek that includes the Gobi desert and the Himalayas mountain on foot! If you’re doing a marathon or triathlon this Summer, you might want to watch this film for inspiration… whatever journey you think seem impossible to conquer will undoubtedly pale in comparison to even half of what these people had to go through. Check out the map of their journey from Google map. Seems too good to be true, isn’t it? Well, again it’s said it’s inspired by true events, so we don’t really know what the actual length of the walk really happened.

The time in the prison itself felt rather fast, perhaps even a bit rushed. Presumably because the filmmaker would rather focus on the harrowing journey, which naturally is the heart of the film. The small band of escapees are led by a mild-mannered Polish man Janusz  (Jim Sturgess) who was accused of spying, his own wife turned him in by way of torture. In the camp, he met an American transportation engineer Mr. Smith (Ed Harris) and a tough Russian criminal (Colin Farrell), among others, who later became part of the seven-band of people who made the prison escape. Australian director Peter Weir always aimed for realism in his films, so the film looks appropriately gritty and somber. The actors speak using the accent of their characters’ nationalities, supported by subtitles, which I think is an effective way to get the audience absorbed in the environment.

The acting is really good all around, British young talent Sturgess is quite compelling as the kind-hearted Janusz, whilst Colin Farrell stole scenes in the relatively small screen time he’s in as the brutish Russian criminal who isn’t exactly a people person. It’s quite problematic when you’ve got a small band who must stick together to survive, but he later proves to be a loyal man and actually pretty funny as well, I grow fond of his character as the film progresses. Ed Harris is someone you can always rely on to provide screen gravitas in anything he’s in, and he’s perfectly cast as the weary and cynical Mr. Smith. Speaking of reliability, 17-year-old Saiorse Ronan once again impresses as a runaway girl Irena, who joins the group midway through the journey. In fact, it’s Irena who lets us in on the back story of each escapee, providing us some of the most memorable and heart-wrenching scenes. The other lesser-known actors are pretty good as well, especially Zoran, the Yugoslav accountant who provides the much-needed comic relief.

Another strength of the film is the cinematography by Russell Boyd, whose attention to detail to the overwhelmingly beautiful yet harsh scenery adds so much to the film. National Geographic Society is one of the film’s sponsors, so I guess that’s to be expected. This movie is impressive in many levels, but in the end, I didn’t find it as engaging as the previous Peter Weir’s film I saw, Master and Commander (view trailer). Don’t get me wrong, I’d still give this one high marks, I’m just surprised I wasn’t as emotionally-invested in the characters as I thought I would considering what they had gone through. Nonetheless, it’s a worthy survival tale that paints a convincing narration about human endurance.

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Any thoughts about the movies I mentioned above?  What movie(s) did you get to see this weekend?

Flix Poster of the Week: Peter Weir’s The Way Back

From acclaimed Australian director Peter Weir comes a fact-based story centered on soldiers who escaped from a Siberian prison camp in 1940. The story was inspired by Slavomir Rawicz’s acclaimed novel, The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom, as well as other real life accounts and tells the adventure story chronicling the escape of a small group of multi-national prisoners of the Siberian gulag and their epic life-affirming journey over thousands of miles across five hostile countries. The cast looks pretty good: Colin Farrell, Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess, Saoirse Ronan and Mark Strong. Nice to see Ed Harris, haven’t seen him in quite a while. Apparently he’s just been cast in thriller Man on A Ledge which stars Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Banks, Jamie Bell, Anthony Mackie and Edward Burns (per Deadline).

Weir, whose last movie Master and Commander was released seven years ago in 2003. I haven’t seen that one (which was highly recommended by Sam who list that as one of her top 5 Russell Crowe movies), but I love Dead Poets Society and The Truman Show. He also did another based-on-true-story drama set in my homeland Indonesia (set in the Sukarno era, our first president) called The Year of Living Dangerously, starring a young Mel Gibson, Sigourney Weaver and Linda Hunt.

Dez at Hollywood Spy posted the trailer last Monday, but now we’ve also got hi-res stills you can view @ Rope of Silicon.

Moviefone posted a full review from the Telluride Film Festival screening and had some great things to say about this movie:

The first half of The Way Back is Peter Weir at his hypnotic best. Always adept at breathing life into landscapes – see the frightening outback vistas of Gallipoli, the mythic Central American jungle of The Mosquito Coast, and even the idyllic false suburbia of The Truman Show – Weir all but personifies Siberia and (later) the Mongolian desert. They seem threateningly to keep pace with our human protagonists. The snow-covered trees and scorching sand dunes become the terrain of an alien planet. The mines of the gulag are a steam-spitting horrorshow scarier than anything in The Lord of the Rings. The film is extraordinary at seeing these places as its characters would; even the sweeping bird’s-eye views seem like an expression of their fear.

Looks like this is definitely one to watch come January of next year. Now, what’s your favorite Peter Weir film(s)?