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As I mentioned last entry, Cloud Atlas had a “secret screening” at this year’s Fantastic Fest at the fabled Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas. Directors Lana and Andy Wachowski were on hand to receive a standing ovation and field questions from the audience after the screening. Since Fantastic Fest is more targeted to genre fans than the more publicity-hungry TIFF, the response was much more uniformly positive this time around. (People attend festivals like this one because they want to see movies, and the higher-profile fests like TIFF because they want to be seen seeing movies… and there’s a certain sort of professional critic who’s immune to any film asking you to love it rather than calculatedly admire it.) But I’m not going to get into a discussion about that sort of thing right now. 😉 Suffice to say it’s more positive momentum for the film and produced another handful of reviews and other various posts worth a read, which I’ll excerpt and link to below.
But the most buzzed-about piece of Cloud Atlas advance publicity seems to be this clip, which appeared alongside a New York Times piece by David Mitchell, who wrote a bemused, delightful account of seeing the Wachowskis, Tom Tykwer and the talented cast adapt and bring cinematic life to his novel. The clever fans at Jim Sturgess Online made sure the clip also appeared on YouTube as quickly as possible, which is great because the NYT version has no embedding. I should warn fans who haven’t read the novel and want to know as little as possible about the plot going in that this is very spoilery. I would advise most viewers who don’t already know the plot to stop the second Hanks says “I have fallen in love with Luisa Rey”. His internal monologue featured in earlier trailers, but here we’re shown the context.
The clip includes glimpses of all six storylines but focuses on Tom Hanks’ Isaac Sachs (in the 70s-set Luisa Rey nuclear thriller plot) as he contemplates how a seemingly-chance meeting might change his destiny. We also see Luisa Rey herself (Halle Berry), Bill Smoke (Hugo Weaving in full “up to no good” mode), and–from other storylines– Jim Broadbent as Cavendish, Hanks as Henry Goose, Ben Whishaw as Frobisher, Bae Doona as Sonmi-451, David Gyasi as Autua and (from an aerial perspective) Hanks as Zachry and Berry as Meronym crossing the mountains. The clip is only two minutes long but occurs at an important juncture in all six plots. I’d call it a “moment of realization” for key characters. It’s also our first glimpse of how the film’s editing plays out, interlacing the six tales in a different manner than Mitchell did in the novel.
As someone who did read the novel, I’m amazed at how smoothly the interconnection plays. But on an intuitive level it’s a brilliant choice– as I read Mitchell’s novel, I would often stop to remember earlier plotlines (sometimes physically paging back in the book). The author’s technique of thematically linking his characters and plots is more subtle, forcing you as a reader to make certain connections or inferences, but he always points you do certain “this can’t be coincidental” details, and of course there are literal references to each prior plot within each succeeding one. All of what I’ve said might make the whole things sound hopelessly pretentious or unfathomable, but I honestly had no problem at all following everything. I can’t yet say if the film will be hard to follow for those who haven’t read the book, but I honestly don’t think it will be. If anything, the directors have made certain thematic elements more obvious and given each story more crowd-pleasing points (such as adding or enhancing the novel’s minimal love stories.)
Excerpts from new reviews and other responses to the TIFF and FF screenings:
Alan Cerny aka Nordling, Ain’t It Cool News: “This week, I may have seen two films that have changed my life….I cannot put these movies away in my mind, and I truly believe that 2012 has seen two of the most challenging, rewarding, flat-out amazing movies ever made. And they both will likely fail at the box office….I might be wrong, but I don’t think so. American moviegoers are lazy. Anything remotely challenging, whether to their self-bloated sense of morality or their anti-intellectualism, is ostracized and thrown to the wayside. I’m not even coming from a plce of elitism here either. I fully admit to loving the occasional superhero movie that comes down the pipe, the fun genre movie. But when a movie comes along that makes me feel alive, like CLOUD ATLAS and HOLY MOTORS did this week, I have to stand back and acknowledge the amazing skill and abilities of the filmmakers… These days, the optimism that Larry Wachowski, Lana Wachowski, and Tom Twyker’s movie puts boldly on display is almost a revolutionary act. With its multiple storylines and genres, and actors playing multiple roles, races, and sexes, CLOUD ATLAS will come across to some as overly complicated. It isn’t. The directors wave each story like a tapestry – a symphony, if you prefer, and CLOUD ATLAS has movements, highs and lows, and the way the movie is edited together gives the audience such an emotional ride that in the end we are full of the film’s beauty.”
Read After Seeing: “While watching the epic Cloud Atlas – I was wondering what it was about and what it all means. But by the end, when the themes came together, I appreciated the work and the effort and what it was trying to say – transcending boundaries; our responsibility for each other; the search for truth; learning from our past; the consequences and summation of our actions on each other. The film has an ambitious scope and a good cast. I’m a big Ben Whishaw fan so glad to see him as a composer. His story with Jim Broadbent, Halle Berry’s reporter and Xun Zhou with Jim Sturgess were the most interesting to me… It was fun seeing in the credits all the roles the actors played. Lots of surprise and delight and audience gasps.”
Rochefort, The Quiet Earth: “I don’t expect this latest film from the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer to polarize audiences as much as an intentionally combative film like “Melancholia”, but if the critical response to date is anything to go by, we can look forward to at least a few debates over its worth. As for me, I can’t pretend. I’m not on the fence and I don’t need to see it a second time to know I already love it: “Cloud Atlas” is a full-course meal of cinema, genuinely daring, occasionally frustrating, often enthralling… The decision to intercut throughout is an inspired one, and is only jarring if you’re resistant to it… There’s a lot of audacity on display here, and some of the harshest criticisms will most likely be aimed at the hit and miss nature of having so many actors play characters of differing age, race, and even gender. Some of the makeup work takes a bit of getting used to, but the majority of the transformations are actually pretty fantastic, such as the Asianification of James D’arcy and Hugo Weaving or Hugh Grant’s nearly unrecognizable turn as a massive, tattooed cannibal chief. And since the filmmakers are telling six stories in such a relatively brief amount of time, we sometimes get only the broadest strokes of each, which relegates a few of them to occasional status as potboiler or melodrama. But I honestly believe Tykwer and the Wachowskis have made every effort possible to retain the best essences of Mitchell’s work, and you can feel a whole lot of love and hard work in every moment. ”
The Wachowskis t Fantastic Fest/ Movies.com
Jen Yamato, Movieline: “[T]he cumulative effect may prove disorienting to some viewers, particularly since some characters’ motivation can get lost in the sprawl. (The original script ran 275 pages, according to Andy Wachowski: “The book is so rich that we had a lot of dead babies in the end.”) But where Cloud Atlas soars is in its emotional richness and stirring sentimentality; it’s a challenging film that asks a lot of its audience but wears its heart on its sleeve, swelling with genuine humanity and a deceptively simple provocation: Will you allow yourself to be changed by the love and kindness of another?…Sturgess, transformed via prosthetics as a 22nd century Korean freedom fighter, is actually quite wonderful; disappearing into the role beneath his “Asian” face, Sturgess does some of his finest work to date and “transforms” into a bona fide action star in the Neo Seoul segment’s Matrix-esque action sequences… The race issue is just the opposite in Cloud Atlas — whites plays Asian, Asians play latina, men play women (and when it’s Hugo Weaving as a Nurse Ratched type, boy, whatta woman). And it’s not just exterior boundaries that get toyed with; Cloud Atlas’s movie stars play background parts in various segments, too. That Korean actress Doona Bae — a force to be reckoned with as the futuristic ‘fabricant’ Sonmi-451, a clone with soul and a Joan of Arc haircut — steals so much of the film is an acting coup and a stroke of meta-storytelling genius.”
Josh Gholson, Movies.com: “There was probably some expectation that the two would be pretentious mad-genius types, two filmmakers used to getting their way, with chips on the shoulders from the weak reception of their last two films, The Matrix Revolutions and Speed Racer. Yet, there they were, onstage at Fantastic Fest and winning the audience over in a big way. The Wachowskis are whip-smart, as already evidenced by their films, and both are naturally witty. Neither seemed like recluses; just remarkably down-to-earth creatives, excited to discuss their new and ambitious project made outside of the studio system… Cloud Atlas, based on the David Mitchell novel, is a remarkably positive film, and it provided a natural intersection of the Wachowskis’ thematic interests with those of German director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run), who is also one third of the directing team on the sprawling sci-fi adventure… It’s possibly the funniest, most apparently heartfelt film that any of the three of them have ever made, and a master class in transition of tone as well as how to juggle divergent storylines with cinematic clarity… Matrix fans probably won’t dig Cloud Atlas; Wachowski fans probably will. Genre fans can get mean and ugly, and I’m still confused by the general public reception to Matrix Revolutions… If there’s a takeaway, it’s that you can’t please all of the people all of the time. As long as you keep creating new and different films, the audience will move on… Time will be kind to the Matrix trilogy, and as more films as inventive as Cloud Atlas are created, time will be especially kind to the Wachowskis.”
Tickets to the Philadelphia Film Festival screening of Cloud Atlas on October 23 are now on sale; more details here.
And, finally, I’ve found a bunch of endearing candids of Hugo Weaving meeting up with director Andy Wachowski at the Toronto International Film Festival cast party on September 8. The first six photos are by Todd Gillis/iPhoto, the second five by Neil White/INF.
And even larger versions of the seven Cloud Atlas banners have turned up at Filmy-Keeda, via the film’s Indian distributor … I’ll repost the two featuring Hugo under the cut, the rest are here.
Also, there’s a new Hobbit poster featuring the dwarves, at the film’s Facebook page.