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

Master and Commander

  • Title: Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
  • Director: Peter Weir
  • Date: 2003
  • Studio: 20th Century Fox, Miramax, Universal
  • Genre: Action, Drama, Historical Epic
  • Cast: Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany, Billy Boyd, James D’Arcy
  • Format: Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC

“Would you call me an aged man of war, Doctor? The Surprise is not old. She has a bluff bow, lovely lines. She’s a fine sea bird, weatherly, stiff and fast. Very fast, if she’s well handled. No, she’s not old. She’s in her prime.”— Captain Jack Aubrey

“This is the second time he’s done this to me. There will not be a third.”— Captain Aubrey

“England is under threat of invasion. And though we be on the far side of the world, this ship is England.”— Captain Aubrey

I loved this movie the first time I saw it, and I really do enjoy it every time I re-watch it. Peter Weir is a very talented director, who manages to balance the large scale, such as full-on battles between tall ships during the Napoleonic Wars, and the more intimate story of the unlikely friendship between the ship’s doctor, a man of science; and the ship’s captain, a life-long Navy man.

Master and Commander is set in 1805, and the HMS Surprise is a man o’war, captained by Jack Aubrey, a hard but fair man, lucky, but also experienced. He’s been in the service his entire life. The ship’s doctor is Stephen Maturin, – a man of science, and a naturalist. He’s close enough friends with Aubrey to be able to challenge him, and speak his mind, especially when talking to Aubrey as his friend, rather than as a member of the crew. The film is based on a series of several novels by Patrick o’Brian, specifically the two that form the film’s compound title (the first introduces the characters, the second is the plot of the film, since Weir wanted to do a plot involving a long sea voyage).

The film contains a lot of beautiful historical details (I love the look of the ship, especially when Aubrey stands alone on the top of a mast). However, the film also doesn’t shy away from the brutal historical facts of the life of sailors, especially naval sailors in the 19th century. The crew of HMS Surprise is shockingly young, and as the British are at war with France, the young die too. We also see Aubrey order the flogging of a disrespectful sailor, not because he is cruel, but to keep discipline. Life in His Majesty’s navy is tough, nasty, and often short — and the film shows you that.

The plot of the film is basically that of a cat and mouse game. A French privateer frigate is harassing British whalers and merchant ships. Aubrey is ordered to find the ship and – “sink, burn, or take her as a prize” as the film’s opening printed narration tells the audience. But the frigate vastly outguns the Surprise — 44 guns to 28, with twice the crew, and the frigate has two decks to the man o’war’s single deck. The frigate also seems to be a cross between a ghost, a Flying Dutchman, and Jack’s opposite number. In two engagements, the Surprise is caught nearly unaware, and the frigate has the “weather gauge” or the advantage in the engagement. In their final battle, Aubrey turns the tables and is able to successfully surprise the frigate, but at a high cost in lost men.

A secondary plot is the ship’s doctor, a naturalist. Because of the damage done to the ship, in both the battles with the frigate and a journey around Cape Horn in a storm, one place Aubrey takes the ship during repairs is the Galapagos — someplace Stephen would dearly like to explore, to collect and document new species of wildlife. But every time it looks like the ship might head there – the frigate shows up, and Aubrey must fight.

There is also a plot about one of the Midshipmen being cursed as a “Jonah”. Basically, he’s scapegoated for the ship’s run of bad luck. He’s the Midshipman whom another sailor disrespects, and gets lashed as a result. The scapegoat plot is one of several examples showing the innate superstition of the sailors. The Midshipman commits suicide, and the ship’s luck begins to turn. Though, Dr. Maturin is accidentally shot after the poor lad’s death. (Maturin is shot by one of the Royal Marines who’s taking pot shots at a following albatross. Obviously, the guy never read “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”). Aubrey temporarily gives up his chase of the frigate, so Maturin can be brought ashore to remove the bullet and cloth in his stomach. Stephen does the surgery himself, using a mirror, and Aubrey keeps a hand on Maturin’s belly to steady him. It’s one of the more frightening scenes in the film – not that it’s overly gross, but can you imagine operating on yourself?  Even if it’s the only way to survive? Yikes!

The final battle is total chaos, then silence, then more chaos. Aubrey looks fine, and in his element as he boards the enemy vessel. Billy Boyd is also quite good in the scene! For the most part, he’s seen alot but doesn’t get many lines, but it is nice to see him again. Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany are perfectly cast, and have a great rapport with each other. The rest of the crew of the HMS Surprise slowly move from faces to having personalities.

One thing both Aubrey and Maturin share is a love of music. Aubrey plays violin and Maturin the cello; and their duets in the captain’s cabin are some of the best moments in a film that is full of excellent moments.

Again, Weir’s direction really is excellent — and he’s now one of my favorite directors. There are plenty of gorgeous shots in this film: the ship at full sail, the creatures in the Galapagos Islands, etc. There are also plenty of terrifying shots: the storm around Cape Horn, the battle scenes. But the driving force of the story is the friendship of Aubrey and Maturin; and the comradeship between the sailors on the ship.

I have the two-disc collector’s edition and it really is a beautiful DVD set. The set looks like old parchment, with line drawings of Crowe and the ship. The special features are located on the second disc and there are plenty of  them and they are enjoyable to watch. I also found that I learned from the special features, especially about the different techniques used in the production of the film.

Recommendation: See it!
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars

Original Reaction – Cloud Atlas (2012) – A Truly Unique Film

Cloud Atlas is a most unusual and mindblowingly awesome film.  The first hour or so (I’d estimate) will have you thinking, “What the … is going on?” over and over, but if you stick with it, all will become clear.  And the film just keeps getting more and more complex, and more and more awesome as it goes on.

The film is a serious treatment of the idea of Reincarnation, however, to describe it as “just that” does not do this simply brilliant film justice.  The storyline follows a pair of lovers over and over through different time-lines and parts of the world – yet it doesn’t do so in a straight-forward, “yawn”, sort of way.  The film is brilliantly shot, but, again, not simply in the “oh that is gorgeous” sort of way or even in the “WOW – what an effects shot” sort of way either.  It’s just simply mind-blowing, especially as you start to figure out what is going on.

Each of the principle actors of the film plays multiple parts, so yes, part of the fun of the movie is spotting Jim Broadbent, Tom Hanks, and Halle Barry over and over again in different times and as different people (as well as most of the rest of the cast including:  Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bea, Ben Whishaw, Keith David, and James D’Arcy among others).  But this film isn’t simply brilliant because all the principles play multiple roles in different times and places.  The world building – which is multi-dimensional – is just as complex and convoluted as the interconnected plot.  That the plot finishes and makes sense and works is part of what makes this such an “omg” film.  I saw it in a small theater and the audience sat in stunned silence for a few minutes before anyone even got up, moved, or left.

The actors are brilliant in this.  Even Hanks, whom I don’t personally like and I find very over-rated does a good job playing multiple characters without always being “Tom Hanks”.  Halle Berry, normally type-cast as a “sex kitten” is phenomenal.  Ben Whishaw and James D’Arcy are simply incredible — and it took me until after I gotten home to finally realise where I’d seen Whishaw before (In the BBC drama – “The Hour” and as Q in “Skyfall”).  Broadbent, of course, is a British character actor who can do anything.  And at the heart, the film revolves around Doona Bea and her characters — all I can say is, “what an actress!”

Quite simply a must see film.  It’s almost impossible to describe why this film is so incredible, but it simply is.  I think I now know what people in the 1960s first thought when they saw the famous film 2001 – because this is just as mind-blowing if not more so, and it’s not centered on European/American culture.  Brilliantly, brilliantly done.