Cloud Atlas

  • Title:  Cloud Atlas
  • Directors:  Tom Wykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
  • Date:  2012
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers
  • Genre:  SF
  • Cast:  Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, Keith David, James D’Arcy, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“The world spins from the same unseen forces that twist our hearts.”  – Robert Frobisher (The Composer’s Assistant)

“Our lives are not our own.  From womb to tomb we are bound to others, past and present, by each crime and every kindness we birth our future.” – Sonmi-451 and also Prophetess

“Knowledge is a mirror and for the first time in my life I was allowed to see who I was and who I was meant to be.” – Sonmi-451

Cloud Atlas is a visually stunning and mind-blowing film. I loved it when I saw it in the theater last November, and it’s no less appealing on DVD. Cloud Atlas takes the theme of reincarnation and treats it seriously, by weaving together six stories, with often the same actors playing different roles. The acting in this is phenomenal. The actors, collectively, don heavy make-up, different clothes, different hairstyles, and sometimes even switch genders as the same “souls” are re-born over and over again. This film is also unique in that all the scenes in “the Valley” on the Island, 106 years after The Fall – are largely in Pigeon. (Pigeon is a real language, and it makes sense that a Pigeon would develop in a situation where the few survivors of a presumably, nuclear holocaust, would need to communicate with each other despite initially not speaking the same languages).

A birthmark re-occurs, as does a certain piece of music, but this film doesn’t go the obvious route to bang into your head who is who. Often, it’s more a matter of recognizing an actor over and over despite how different he or she looks. And sometimes the same “soul” is implied to have switched not only races but genders – if the shooting star birthmark is meant to suggest he/she is the same person.

I’m not much of a fan of Tom Hanks – but in this, he really manages to bring a number of different characters to life. Halle Berry is incredibly good, and a far cry from the “sex kitten” roles she usually plays. British character actors Jim Broadbent and newcomer Ben Whislaw (whom I had seen in the BBC’s “The Hour”) are awesomely good. And Hugo Weaving  gets to play a number of villains, including a mad nurse and an assassin.

Visually the film is stunning, and mind-blowing. The imagery, especially in the sections of the film in New Seoul, is incredible. But even in the historical sections, or the opening shot of an ancient, aboriginal Tom Hanks telling a story, are unforgettable. Identical women, in identical outfits, walking across a fishpond, Tom Hanks’ face as he speaks in firelight, a ship tossed in a gale at sea, Whislaw and D’Arcy trashing all the china in a shop — over and over the images are just breath-taking. This is a film to be seen.

The first hour or so of Cloud Atlas may seem confusing, though it does pull you in quickly, but stick with it, it is well-worth the long running time to see the story play out. Any one of the six stories would have made a good or even great film, woven together like an intricate tapestry, they form an incredible, cohesive whole, that is simply brilliant and must be experienced. A true must see!

Recommendation: See it!
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film: Goldfinger

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Die Another Day

  • Title:  Die Another Day
  • Director:  Lee Tamahori
  • Date:  2002
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Genre:  Action
  • Cast:  Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry, Dame Judi Dench, John Cleese, Samantha Bond, Colin Salmon
  • Format:  Widescreen, Color
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

Pierce Brosnan’s final foray as James Bond is hardly his best, and I remember disliking the movie when I saw it in the theater. The only reason I ended-up with a copy of Die Another Day was I bought it at a “two fer” sale, and I was more interested in the other movie. And when I watched the DVD for the first time this past summer, after watching all of Brosnan’s other Bond films — it does disappoint.

However, watching this movie tonight, standing alone without watching the other Brosnan Bond films before, I was surprised at how much I actually enjoyed it. It really is the typical action-packed Bond film. This film is unique in that it starts with Bond at his lowest point – not only does a mission go wrong, but he’s captured, imprisoned and “the secretary disavows all knowledge of his existence”, – sorry, I couldn’t resist that. But seriously, Bond is tortured and kept alone, in prison, for 14 months. He is led out to a firing squad, then traded for another political prisoner. Upon his return to the UK he discovers he’s now a burned spy. But, knowing he was set-up, Bond sets out to clear his name and finish his botched mission.

This quest sends him to Cuba, and Iceland, before returning to North Korea, where he was captured before. The plot involves Blood Diamonds (which throughout the film are referred to as “Conflict Diamonds” – the politically correct wording still irritates me. Call ’em what they are, “Blood Diamonds”, please), and a huge satellite capable of reflecting the Sun’s rays to Earth, basically creating a second Sun, and, when focused, a very nasty pinpoint laser. Oh, and gene-replacement therapy, which somehow gives people new identities and new looks, as well as having a nasty side-effect of permanent insomnia.

If this sounds complex – it is. The film might have been better if it was simplified (note:  not dumbed down, just less of a mess) a bit, maybe cutting out the entire North Korean plot, and keeping the bad guy what he is – a deluded wealthy megalomaniac, faking a new diamond mine to launder blood diamonds, while developing an terrible super-weapon. Ah, well.

The other thing I noticed this time around, and I honestly don’t know how I missed it previously, because I’ve seen most of the James Bond films, and all the classic ones – are all the references to other Bond films. There’s the beautiful Bond girl walking out of  the ocean in a bikini (Dr No) only this time it’s Halle Berry. There’s Bond using a small re-breather tube (Thunderball). There’s somebody nearby being cut in half by a laser (“No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.”  Goldfinger), and in Q’s lab – there’s the knife-shoe from Goldfinger, and the human jet-pack (Moonraker? One of the Roger Moore films, anyway). They don’t come off as homages, but more as a series which is stealing from itself.

However, I will say this – the cast all did a great job. Brosnan is gorgeous as always, and his acting is perfect – I love the twinge of angst underlying his characterization of Bond. Halle Berry is actually quite good as the American agent (though that theme’s also not new to Bond; nor is the idea of pairing Bond with a young female agent from another country). Judi Dench, John Cleese, and Samantha Bond are wonderful in their re-occurring roles as M, Q, and Moneypenny. And no way is Brosnan getting too old to play Bond – he’s just distinguished. And still gorgeous. Though I must admit , I twitched a bit at him bedding the characterof Miranda Frost, who really did look young enough to be his daughter.

Overall, a standard James Bond film. Not quite as much fun or “high popcorn value” as usual because Bond’s tortured at the beginning of the film, and his suffering flashbacks to it (though all the torture scenes are in the opening sequence and credits, except the flashbacks), but still worth collecting as it is Brosnan’s last Bond film.

Recommendation:  It’s OK, good to add to the collection of the Bond complete-ist, and I’ve seen worse Bond.
Rating:  3 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog