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

Shall We Dance? (2004)

  • Title:  Shall We Dance?
  • Director:  Peter Chelsom
  • Date:  2004
  • Studio:  Miramax
  • Genre:  Musical, Drama, Comedy
  • Cast:  Richard Gere, Jennifer Lopez, Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci
  • Format:  Widescreen, Color
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“I like it when my feet hurt … takes my mind off my knees.” — John Clark

“Then I started dancing, and I found I really liked it. It made me happy.”  — John Clark

Shall We Dance? is not a re-make of the 1937 film Shall We Dance starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. However, it is an American version of the Japanese Altamira Pictures film, Shall We Dance? (1996), written by Masayuki Suo. In this version, Richard Gere plays John Clark, a Chicago lawyer specializing in wills and probate, who’s wife, Beverly (Susan Sarandon) works as a buyer for Sak’s. They have one or two daughters, and a very nice life. And John is increasingly bored with his nice, comfortable, safe life.

Every day he takes the L train back and forth to his job in the city, and on the way home he is increasingly captivated by a woman he sees in the window of a dance studio. One day he gets off the train at the stop near the dance studio, wanders in, and signs up for dance classes.

To his chagrin, his assigned teacher isn’t the mysterious woman he saw in the window, but the owner of the studio, Ms. Mitzi. He continues with the class anyway, with a guy who is trying to pick-up women, and another vastly over-weight guy who wants to lose some weight and learn to dance to impress his would-be fiancee’. Also, at the small studio is Bobbi — a loud, abrasive, but lovable woman who is trying to get into professional ballroom dancing. She works at Mitzi’s as an instructor because Mitzi allows her to practice there whenever she wants.

The lessons continue, with John getting more and more into dancing. He discovers, by accident, that one of his co-workers (Link Peterson, played by Stanley Tucci) loves ballroom dance and who also competes as an amateur. Meanwhile, John’s wife, Beverly, notices he’s absent on Wednesdays (the night of his class) and that his shirts suddenly smell of perfume. After one of  her colleagues finds out her husband is having an affair, she gets suspicious — and hires a private investigator and his assistant.

Paulina (Jennifer Lopez), the mysterious woman, teaches the class one night, when Ms. Mitzi can’t make it, and that night John innocently asks her to dinner. She refuses, and reads him the riot act. But when he returns to class anyway, she’s impressed.

Later, while standing outside an electronic store window, with TVs showing Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse in The Bandwagon, John is convinced to be Bobbi’s partner for the novice class for the Tattinger Ballroom competition. John tries to learn the Latin dances for the competition, but finds them difficult and confusing and prefers to stick with traditional ballroom. He convinces Link to partner with Bobbi for the Latin dances and he will do the traditional ones (Waltz and Quick Step).

Meanwhile, the PI and his assistant have informed Beverly that her husband isn’t having an affair, he’s taking dance lessons. The PI invites her to the competition.

At the competition, Link and Bobbi and then John and Bobbi are doing well. Even though another male dancer had pulled at Link’s wig — which he removes. However, during the quickstep — John gets distracted when Bobbi mentions that she thought she heard someone yell “Go Dad!”. When another couple collides with them on the dance floor, and John manages to step on and tear off Bobbi’s skirt — it ends their chances at the competition.

Beverly confronts John. However, eventually she gives him dancing shoes and a tux as a gift, and he shows-up at her job with a red rose. They attend Paulina’s going away party together. Paulina returns to England and professional competitions.

The final montage sequence, starting with Paulina’s party, and showing what happens to all the main players of the film is incredibly well done. Even the PI is shown going to Mitzi’s for dance lessons.

Shall We Dance? is a good film. I enjoyed it. Much of the dancing, though, though they started and ended in full frame, was filmed in medium close-up with lots of cutaways to other people in the scene, such as the people watching the dance. Even scenes in Mitzi’s studio had this problem, including a scene of Paulina practicing by herself that would have been breath-taking if the entire scene had been filmed full-frame.

I also liked Paulina’s spoken description of how she first found out about ballroom dance (her family works in a dry cleaner’s). A woman came in with a beautiful sequined costume. Little Paulina was entranced by the dress, and was even more entranced when the woman invites them to see her compete and she watches the dance and falls in love with it. Paulina had made it to the international competition in Blackpool, England, but something went wrong. Teaching John and helping coach him and Bobbi for the competition, encourages her to go back to Blackpool with a new partner.

Recommendation:  See it
Rating:  4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Sherlock Holmes