Note: this is an archived entry. Some links might not still work, but I have tried to ensure scan and video embeds are still in place. If any linked material is unavailable, please let me know and I’ll attempt to find a copy in my personal archives.
Sorry for the lack of updates recently– I know there’s a TON of new Cloud Atlas material I need to post, and I’ve been trying to write a review for the past several days. My boyfriend and I did indeed attend the New Yorker Fest screening last Saturday, and I’ve been posting random impressions on Twitter ever since but it’s more difficult trying to coalesce everything into one review that a. doesn’t give too much away, b. doesn’t endlessly compare the film to the novel, and c. is a bit shorter than the film itself. I’ll try to add some general thoughts at the end of this post and post a full (probably spoilery) review later…
But here’s the cavalcade of New Stuff, with the warning (which most of you will likely ignore) that a lot of this is, in my opinion, too spoilery:
There have been several more preview screenings: The New Yorker Fest preview, an NYU screening and another in Los Angeles last night, all with the directors in attendance for substantive Q & A’s with various journalists (I saw Aleksander Hemon, who wrote the lovely New Yorker profile of the Wachowskis from last July)… reviews on the whole remain positive, though many (myself included) find the film imperfect and difficult to fully quantify because, for every brilliant choice the create team made, there’s one that misses, seems overwrought or won’t resonate with all viewers. Genre fans will probably find more to love than people who get paid for their opinions, who might feel more jaded because they’ve seen so much of this in other forms before. (Both the novel and film deliberately recycle familiar genre forms, plots and characters.) I saw three or four people walk out in a huff, but more people overcome with emotion, including burly men weeping openly. But you should see the film for yourself and form your own opinions.
There have been two overviews of the filmmaking process (including interviews with the Wachowskis, Tom Tykwer and Tom Hanks) in The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times. Fans looking for greater depth so go directly to Drew McWeeny’s HitFix interview/profile of the Wachowskis (if they haven’t read it already). Spoiler warnings for page 6… and I can’t help but scoff a bit at the comments about not wanting to typecast Tom Hanks given what they did to Hugo Weaving (Hanks does show admirable range in the film, but his Henry Goose is an overacted mess which ruins the plot’s main surprise; Hugo could’ve done a much better job with this character even if his casting in that role is less innovative on paper than casting Hanks. Hanks does portray two other villainous characters very well, though.) But– an insightful piece on the whole that lends itself to multiple reads. There are several new reviews which I’ll excerpt below from all of the screenings to this point, with even TIFF reviews still being belatedly posted (it’s taken me several days to wrestle my thoughts about the film into postable form, and they still feel incomplete– it’s that kind of movie. So I understand why many people, including major critics like Roger Ebert– feel they need time or even a second viewing to sort their feelings out.)
There’s additional coverage of the New Yorker Fest screening at The Film Stage,
I’ll intersperse the new stills– there are many, IMO too many– amid my review so if anyone doesn’t want to see the full array of Hugo Weaving’s characters before seeing the film, they can avoid looking beneath the cut.) New TV ads continue to appear: these are no.s 5 and 6, including the actor/character matching one that’s been airing on TV for a week which features Hugo’s Kesselring intro (along with glimpses of Bill Smoke and Old Georgie):
TV Spot 5: (Character matchups)
TV Spot 6:
Am a bit worried what all those M83 fans will say when they find out this song isn’t actually in the feature film, just the ads. 😉 I was too enraptured by the score to pay much mind.
There’s a brief interview with Halle Berry at Access Hollywood and another featuring Tom Hanks and Berry (and large swathes of the extended trailer) on YouTube (via Jake The Movie Guy). Most interesting of all is this extended German media preview which features backstage interviews with several actors, including a little moment with Hugo, and shows/spoils more film footage. I’d advise people to treat this as if it were a DVD extra, and watch it only if they’d watch DVD extras (which often contain plot spoilers) before the main feature. Your call. I’m just glad this came out after I saw the film, because I might not be able to handle the temptation either. 😉 Film clips are dubbed in German (Tom Hanks wishes his voice was that deep!) but actor interviews are in English, subtitled in German. This will probably appear in the US media at some point, or… on the eventual DVD.
Found an embeddable version on YouTube:
Don’t know what Tom Hanks is talking about when he says there’s a story set in 2036. Unless they cut out an entire section that wasn’t in the novel. The six segments are set circa 1850 (The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing), 1931 (Letters From Zedelghem), 1973 (Half Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery), 2012/present day (The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish), 2144 (An Orison of Sonmi-451) and “100 Years After The Fall –presumably at least 100 years after Sonmi–(Sloosha’s Crossin’ An’ Everythin’ After).
Still from the German promo
STOP Presses! Here’s an English-language variation with additional material (including Hugo Weaving interview snippets) along with some of the same footage from the German preview, a new interview with author David Mitchell, etc. Same spoiler warnings apply:
And a huge new collection of stills appeared at The Film Stage today, including revelation of all of Hugo Weaving’s characters. I’ll embed Hugo’s under the cut between paragraphs of my review, which has taken hours and is still too long, though this is the sort version, and I might post a more thorough version later. 😉 Again, I feel a lot of the promos give too much away, and wish maybe the film had been more mysterious when I saw it, creating a slight sense of “is that all there is”. That said, too many people have told me it gets better with a second viewing for me to get too hung up on this point. It’s only fair that I evaluate the film for what it is, rather than judge it against the novel or my own expectations.
I will warn fans that Hugo Weaving’s roles are the most frustrating element of the film– he’s literally given most of the least interesting, one-note villains each time, and often they repeat the same bland authoritarian dialogue, sometimes word for word. Hugo manages to make some characters more interesting than they are on paper through sheer acting talent, but he deserves better. Everyone else but Hugo Grant (and Alastair Petrie, possibly) got a more diverse range of characters to play– and Grant’s characters are scene-stealing, fun villains and a nice turnabout from his standard, stammering romcom hero roles. Characters that are fun in the book, like Bill Smoke and Nurse Noakes, are frustratingly truncated onscreen, have no character development and exist solely as obstacles in the hero’s path.
Though several are obviously intended to be Agent Smith-like (sad that the Wachowskis would now typecast Hugo after giving him so much to work with in V for Vendetta) but Agent Smith was infinitely more entertaining, complex and wickedly funny than anything Hugo was given here. There is one minor exception in the Letters from Zedelghem role Tadeusz Kesselring (more on him in a bit) but he’s in one brief scene and most of his probably-fascinating story is reduced to one Meaningful Glance between him and another character. He has maybe one or two lines. Apart from him, only Old Georgie has substantial dialogue than goes beyond the vacuous “You represent a threat to the existing power structure, therefore you must be destroyed” pablum spoken only by cardboard movie villains, and he’s not as complicated as he should be, and disappears about halfway through that story. Fortunately only one Hugo character gets killed (the same one that does in the book, though in a sillier way.)
Beyond that, I don’t want to say too much about the film, because I realized in watching it that far too much had been spoiled in previews of various sorts. I know this blog is a part of the problem in a way, part of the double-edged sword of any hardcore fandom– once you start following an actor’s career and films in progress, there’s often too little mystery once they’re finally released. This is particularly true of big-budget films, even unconventional, non-Hollywood ones like Cloud Atlas. I’m starting to get a sense that the entire film will be released frame by frame in still previews and trailers before it’s finally in general release. (For example, Hugo’s Haskell Moore character doesn’t even appear until the penultimate scene in the film, and only has a few lines, yet he’s all over the advertising.) Similarly, tiny blink-and-you-missed-it cameos are given outsized attention. (You’ve already seen the full screentime of Halle Berry’s characters in the Cavendish and Adam Ewing plots; David Gyasi’s Lester Rey “role” is limited to a black and white photo on Luisa Rey’s wall in the film). Several story endings are also revealed in trailers, but I won’t give them away here. So you might want to wait until seeing the film before you proceed further.
My feelings about the film are divided but leaning positive, though I’m not buying some of the hokier New Age spirituality, and the reincarnation theme is so overplayed it becomes an indecipherable muddle– the birthmark motif of the novel still exists, though the final character to receive it is changed. But if individual actors are meant to represent the journey of souls through various incarnations (ie Tom Hanks evolves from Goose to Zachry over six lifetimes), which the directors have said is their deliberate choice, though intetestingly Hanks thinks it’s a purely symbolic progression), then where does this leave the birthmark progression, which involves six completely different actors– wait, five. There’s no birthmark in the first story. Which raises the interesting question of who the rest are reincarnations of. I always assumed Adam Ewing, but it could be Autua. Hmmm…) At any rate, how can a given character be a reincarnation of a previous birthmarked character while still being a reincarnation of a different character played by the actor who plays them in a previous lifetime/plot? Or is one meant to be literal and the other symbolic, and if so which? It’s fine with me that this is left up to the viewer, but I wish it hadn’t been so messily played-up and emphasized. In the novel, several main characters were skeptical about the whole reincarnation premise, instead seeing connections made through works left behind (creative or prosaic), inspiring acts, literal genealogy, etc. To be fair, this element also runs through the film and had more resonance for me. (Keith David’s characters all seem to be part of the same lineage in the film.)
[Nurse Noakes actually gives as good as she gets in that bar fight. One gets a feeling she’s truly liberated for the first time in her life after having a too-decorous self-image through the rest of her story. And maybe that’s good wine. ;)]
My other misgiving is the film’s melodramatic overstatement of key themes… I wish the writer/directors had trusted their actors to convey the film’s admirable ideology through interactions, expressions, gestures, etc– ie the craft most of them effortlessly excel at — instead of through repetitive, high-flown platitudes forced through their mouths. I can understand Sonmi’s story itself inspiring a revolution and later a religious cult, but the speech she’s given to broadcast is the sort of thing one sees embroidered on throw-pillows at the Hallmark shop. That said, the acting is solid-to-superlative across the board (with the exception of Hanks as Henry Goose, a woefully over-the-top performance that undermines the subtle menace of the character as written, negates the point of casting “good guy” Hanks against type in the first place, and makes Ewing look like a utter rube for not seeing through him.) But Hanks is reliably solid everywhere else, and the film is never less than compelling to watch. If anything, I wish it had been longer. (I can’t help but wonder what the same creative team might have done with a 12-hour miniseries– or a more experimental theatrical feature.) And it’s never hard to follow– there’s a free-form introduction throwing together random key moments from all the narratives that made me think I’d be utterly lost, but it soon settled into a comfortable rhythm, establishing the six timeframes in chronological order before unfolding the stories in a meticulously edited forward momentum. The pidgin-English of Zachry’s tribe is harder to follow on the screen than on the page, as there’s no consistency between actors of how this language is spoken/pronounced, but I had no problem understanding what was going on.
[Old Georgie encourages Zachry’s cowardice– and also saves him from being Hugh Grant’s lunch, it needs to be pointed out ;)]
In some ways, the film seemed initially disappointing because of unrealistic expectations going in. I can’t write one of those “This Movie Changed My Life!” blurbs the way some critics have, though many in the theater with me easily could. (It being a New York audience, I suspect there was a more diverse reaction than at the genre-friendly Fantastic Fest… for some New Yorkers, critical snobbery is a favored blood sport). But I heard no boos inside the theater (contrary to some assertions in the online press) and I participated in what there was of the standing ovation, though it was less unanimous and sustained than the one at TIFF is said to have been. Despite my misgivings about some aspects of Cloud Atlas (My feelings about the novel were mixed as well) the Wachowsis have already made two films that did change my life in some ways (the Matrix trilogy– yes, ALL of it!– and V for Vendetta) and are a key reason I’m sitting here typing this blog. So I wanted to thank them in person in the only way I could. And I want them to keep making ambitious films from material than inspires them rather than go the Hollywood sellout route (I hear they turned down the Justice League movie, which makes me love them all the more.)
[My apologies to the James D’Arcy fans about what’s about to happen. But it was in the novel, so you knew it was inevitable. 😉 You also know how things work out for Bill Smoke, so… ]
To be fair, the film is in some way a love letter to tried and true genres in film and literature, including Hollywood classics– everything from Soylent Green to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to WWII escape yarns is referenced, and in a more honest manner than in the novel (which merely recycled key plot points and stock characters at every turn while posturing as a work of staggering meta-originality– structurally it was original, thematically and plotwise, much less so.) And for all my complaints about overstatement and emotional messiness, the filmmakers insert several beautifully subtle smaller moments that suggest they’re aware of such reservations but asking me to go along with things anyhow. The most interesting is the filmed version of the Cavendish story as rendered in the Sonmi plot. It’s obvious to viewers that the film is a z-grade Hammer Horror-esque bit of schlock full of clumsy camera movements and hammy overacting (Hanks, as Cavendish, utters lines that Jim Broadbent’s “real” Cavendish awkwardly blurted with the hammy gravitas of Vincent Price reciting Shakespeare.) And it’s only a found fragment of film Sonmi and her co-conspiritor Yoona are able to watch. Yet they are at rapt attention. And the film is a key part of what inspires rebellious actions and, yes, eventually changes the world. And I’m sure we all have “guilty pleasure” films or novels, etc that have inspired us, sometimes more than highbrow, respectable Oscar bait could.
[Haskell Moore gives Adam Ewing a talking to. Speaking of which, how twisted and Freudian is the relationship Hugo’s characters and Bae Doona’s have in this movie? Also, I kept wanting Haskell to retort, after Sturgess utters the novel’s most famous/platitudinal line, “Babe, you’re just a wave, you’re not the water. Best zen put-down ever. Courtesy Jimme Dale Gilmore.]
Cloud Atlas clumsily straddles the line between highbrow “art films” and guilty pleasure genre fare, as Lana Wachowski herself acknowledged in Toronto. Not all of it works for me, but I do think anyone who’s read the novel, is a fan of any of these actors (or the directors) or is intrigued by the trailers should make every effort to see it on the big screen. I probably shouldn’t say too much beyond that– I’ll post more longwinded comments later with the requisite Spoiler warnings, and will answer any questions anyone has. (I know if I start talking about the makeup, for example, I’ll go on eight paragraphs because it’s such a mixed bag. Only James D’Arcy’s elder Sixsmith makeup is entirely convincing, but I think the whole Repertory Company aspect (ie the actors are obvious through the makeup) is intentional. As for the identity politics preachers who accuse the film of racism– suffice to say they’re psueudointellectual idiots who haven’t seen the film. I had more to say about them in a comment here, and am in general tired of their bullshit.) I think if the film deserves Oscars, they should go to its lush, addictive score, which is of key importance in maintaining thematic continuity, and much more profound than any of the speechifying. The editing is also masterful. Yes, a lot of the deft narrative construction must be down to the scripting, which the writer/directors took years to work out, but the editors are to be commended. There are never any jarring tonal shifts despite the mad genre-hopping, and the connecting points are well chosen. Maybe Adapted Screenplay too– because they did adapt an “unfilmable” novel without destroying its essence or alienating its author.
[Boardman Mephi. Yes, he looks a bit “Romulan,” but if I hear one more peep from the identity politics police about this film’s makeup, I’ll get Romulan on their ass too. Also, this role is tiny. Maybe two minutes’ screentime. And Neo Seoul is explicitly a mixed-race society. My only complaint about Mephi is that he’s a boring Smith clone.]
Some aspects of the novel better are better than the film, some aspects of the film are better. Some elements are failures in both, some work very well in both. My favorite stories in the novel were those of Sonmi and Zachry; the film removes some of their fascinating world-building and compelling sadness for more standard heroic tales. But the film versions of the Luisa Rey, Robert Frobisher and especially Timothy Cavendish tales are better. In some cases, editing the stories actually trims the fat– particularly in the Luisa Rey story: the characters come to life through Halle Berry and Keith David’s assured performances while in the novel they were wooden cliches. The Isaac Sachs/Luisa Rey “romance” is sweetly underplayed, though if you’ve seen all the promotional for the film, you’ve seen most of it already. In general, for all the use of words like “epic” in the promotional materials and reviews, the film’s small character moments have much more emotional impact than the Big, Romantic Statements That We Are All Connected. There are also too many underdeveloped romance plots for my liking, which makes the Frobisher story all the more incongruous– and interesting.
“If I have enough beer, I could almost hit that”. 😉
Of the actors, Jim Broadbent is perhaps a touch above everyone else. Though Cavendish’s grandiose notions of his story being filmed seem comical in the novel, this is actually the segment that translated most effortlessly to the big screen. The story is “epic” only in the minds of its participants, which gives it a knowing sense some other tales lack, and a human relatability in the midst of its rollicking comedy. This is the one case where casting authentic elderly actors in some roles (rather than having the famous ones pile on the prosthetics again) is the best choice. Would you really be as touched by poor Mr Meeks if you knew he was, say, robust young Jim Sturgess under there? Don’t worry, there are plenty of crazy makeup roles here, including the most bizarre marital bed of the film. (Won’t spoil it, but it involves cross-gender acting). Hugh Grant’s makeup isn’t convincing, but his Delholme Cavendish is so deliciously awful it hardly matters. Other highlights: Ben Whishaw as Frobisher, James D’Arcy as Sixsmith (more on him in a moment), David Gyasi’s Autua, Keith David as Joe Napier (he’s cool as hell across the board), and Susan Sarandon’s Abbess. Sarandon in general steals her scenes and enlivens tiny roles. But her Abbess transforms a boring stock character in the book into a girlish, exuberant community leader with a Gospel of Sonmi text that looks like it was sewn in cross-stitch. 😉
Nurse Noakes painfully disabuses Cavendish’s notion that he’s in an S&M Hotel
Similarly, I wish there were more characters like those played by James D’Arcy– Sixsmith (in two stories) and The Archivist. They don’t fit neatly into the film’s grand symbolic cosmology, but they’re masterpieces of understated writing and close acting. You empathize with Sixsmith and wonder about what exactly he’s thinking, because, unlike most of the other characters, he’s not ostentatiously telling you every few minutes. The Archivist is more cryptic, but similarly intriguing. They’re fully plausible humans rather than broad archetypes. Fortunately the cast is in general able to elevate even the most leaden of the dialogue, though Hugo has the most unenviable roles in all but one story. Kesselring, like Sixsmith and The Archivist, is able to convey a complex, compromised but still vivid life in a few glances and gestures, though he’s given much less time to convey anything. Given what Hugo is able to do with this tiny role ad the five cartoon villains he’s saddled with elsewhere, I hope the directors are able to grow out of this nerd-notion that he’s their “evil muse” and give him some quality material to work with next time.
The Illustrious Tadeusz Kesselring 😉 Dig that monocle!
Film Crit Hulk, Badass Digest (as written in all caps): “HULK DOESN’T EXACTLY KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH WITH THIS PARTICULAR MOVIE, EXCEPT TO SAY THIS: YOUR ABILITY TO ENJOY CLOUD ATLAS WILL DEPEND ON YOUR ABILITY TO EMBRACE THE CONCEIT….AND IT IS THIS HULK’S OPINION THAT YOU VERY MUCH SHOULD… CLOUD ATLAS IS A BEAUTIFUL FILM….HULK MEANS IT’S NOT ONLY PRETTY, BUT IT GOES ABOUT MAKING STATEMENTS OF DECENCY WITH REAL GUSTO, EFFORT, INSIGHT AND LACK OF CARE FOR CYNICISM. OH, IT’S NOT NAIVE. IT VERY MUCH UNDERSTANDS WHAT CYNICISM CAN BE. IT UNDERSTANDS IT SO WELL IT SORT OF BECOMES THE IDEOLOGICAL ENEMY. BUT THESE IDEAS ARE TRULY THE FOUNDATION OF THE FILM. AND THEY NEED THAT FOUNDATION BECAUSE IN AN EFFORT TO BE SO BOLD AND BROAD, WHILE STILL TELLING SIX UNIQUE STORIES, THINGS ALMOST SPILL WILDLY OUT OF CONTROL… ALMOST. SOMEHOW, THE FILM ALWAYS FINDS ITS FOOTING….AND TO BE HONEST, ONE OF THE THINGS THAT IS MOST INTERESTING IS THE WAY THE WHOLE “CRAZY MAKE-UP” ELEMENT OF THE FILM IS HIGHLY ENJOYABLE. THERE ARE A LOT OF WORRIED FOLKS (WHO HAVEN’T SEEN IT YET) WHO THINK THE MAKE-UP LOOKS CHEESY OR NOT BELIEVABLE, BUT THE THING ABOUT THE FILM IS YOU LEARN SO QUICKLY THAT IT’S LESS ABOUT IT “WORKING” AND MORE ABOUT THE STATEMENT BEING MADE WITH EACH MAKE-UP CHOICE….THERE ARE MANY WHO SHRUG THEIR SHOULDERS AT A FILM THAT SPENDS THREE HOURS AND DOZENS OF UNIQUE WORLDS TRYING TO SIMPLY TELL US A SIMPLE MESSAGE THAT “KINDNESS IS GOOD.” THERE ARE THOSE WHO WILL FIND THIS SIMPLICITY TO BE AN EXTRAVAGANT BIT OF NAIVETE. THERE ARE EVEN SOME WHO FIND THE ENTIRE IDEA OF “THE CINEMA OF MORALISM” TO BE SOMETHING ABHORRENT; PROCLAIMING THAT IT IS EITHER AN ENEMY OF REALISTIC IDEAS AND NUANCE, OR PERHAPS MORE INNOCENTLY, JUST NOT ALL THAT EXCITING AN ENDEAVOR….BUT THAT’S EXACTLY WHY HULK ARGUES WE NEED IT.”
[CJ–I agree with the gist of the piece, as well as with the notion that not all films will or should resonate equally with each audience member. You can’t go into a film expecting it to change your life. Those films happen to you unexpectedly, often when you need them most, and are different for each person. If I saw The Shawshank Redemption for the first time now, I might very well find it corny, implausible or heavy-handed but in 1994 it probably saved my life. Not going to tell that story here, but others have similar stories, about all kinds of films, not just the ones critics favor. Just ask Sonmi-451. 😉 Plus any reviewer who quotes David Foster Wallace eloquently in an article written entirely in Hulk-speak is probably on the vanguard of what Lana Wachowski termed “monobrow entertainment”.]
Aleksander Hemon, Tom Tykwer and Lana Wachowski at the New Yorker Fest screening (note enormous screen) Astrid Stawairz/Getty
Larry Richman, ProNetworks: ” The production values on this omnibus cinematic achievement are stellar. That this is an independent film (with funding from Germany, Hong Kong, and Singapore) and not a Hollywood movie is incredulous at times. Each of the half dozen narratives has its own lighting scheme to match the era and mood, with a color palette befitting their respective landscapes — earth tones in the early pre-industrial periods, primary colors in the present-day segments, and grayscale in the future, back to earth tones again in the great beyond….The camerawork is also story-dependent. Small wonder it “only” took two cinematographers, not six, to shoot this film. Frank Griebe and John Toll are staring Oscar in the face with this superior display of visual genius. Every possible photographic technique is used here, capturing extreme closeups and sweeping landscapes, often in the same shot, yet the work is never self-indulgent art for art’s sake….As literate as it is, the script doesn’t take itself as seriously as many viewers will. While filled with platitudes and truisms, there’s also quite a bit of comic relief at much-needed intervals. It’s spooned out in generous helpings within a couple of the narratives, in particular, allowing the audience a collective sigh of relief from the gravitas of the larger picture… This subtle ebb and flow is not unlike the composition of a symphony, literally echoing that being written throughout the course of the movie itself — the “Cloud Atlas Sextet” — which, as mentioned earlier, also happens to form the basis of the soundtrack. It’s an original piece composed for the film and its creation is the subtext for one of the storylines. Life imitating art imitating life. These movements, to continue with the musical metaphor, are accomplished by editors Frank Griebe and John Toll through long dissolves whenever possible, blending one narrative into another, a useful device that, again, relieves the viewer of having to put together the puzzle pieces… Cloud Atlas is one of those films that you think you get…then you revise your thinking…again, and again, and again… Look up “epic” in the dictionary and you may see the poster for Cloud Atlas staring back at you. Quite possibly you’ll also find it under M for masterpiece.”
Lana Wachowski instructs Halle Berry on Saving The World With Lost Technology. 😉
DB Borroughs, Unseen Films: “You have to admire that anyone would try to tell what amounts to six stories at once and manage never to lose any of them….You don’t need to know about the film’s themes and arguments about how we are all inter-connected and how what we do really does matter and most touchingly how love is worth the risk… For me what you need to know is that it’s a very good film, possibly even a truly great one. It’s something you will want to see on a big screen where you can fall into it… It’s not a perfect film, things are a little too neat in how they are tied together, some of the make up is bad and one some level it can be preachy, but some how by god it all works, occasionally to the point where I had tears running down my cheeks.”
Flying Squid/Tumblr: “[New Yorker Fest impressions] It’s the most ambitious movie I’ve ever seen — just being able to keep the audience oriented and entertained through such a complex film is an achievement. And any movie in which Tom Hanks is an Englishman and Hugh Grant is an American has already blown my mind…. It was especially fascinating to hear the directors talk about the choices and strategies that allowed such a complex movie to work — how they interleaved scenes from the six stories instead of following the quite different structure of the novel. How difficult it was to manage abrupt changes in tone between the stories, some of which were comic and other thrillers or dramas. How having the same actors play different roles in the six stories tied them together and allowed for greater economy of character development. How music was a common thread through the movie; and much more…I predict this will be a polarizing movie with strong detractors and advocates, but that it’s quite likely to become a cult classic along the lines of Kubrick’s 2001.”
Aleksander Hemon with Lana and Andy Wachowski at the New Yorker fest screening October 6/New Yorker Tumblr
Jennifer Paul posted a detailed account of the Wachowski/Tykwer Q&A on her blog Book Riot: alas, I’ve been unable to find video of the event; The New Yorker filmed many of their festival events/lectures/etc, but apparently not this one. Paul’s feelings about the film itself largely jibe with mine, though I’m not nearly as pithy: “The main actors appear in multiple storylines, switching from major to minor characters. I couldn’t help but play the “who’s under the prosthetics” game, which occasionally pulled me out of the action. (No amount of nose-bulb or facial hair can hide Tom Hanks.) The British actors seemed most comfortable in their shape-shifting—notably Ben Whishaw, Jim Broadbent, and David Gyasi. Hugh Grant braved some truly eye-popping transformations and created an entirely believable character out of his line reading of the single syllable “Ms.”… The scenes flow remarkably well, especially considering the multiple directors juggling more than a hundred fragments. Visual threads, voiceovers, and a storytelling framing device kept everything in focus, though they sometimes struck me as overly solicitous. I’m especially curious to hear people’s impressions if they haven’t read the novel—is it still easy to follow? [CJ– IMO, yes. and yes, the film is more obvious. Sometimes a bit too “on the nose” for my taste.] Of all the narratives, the far-future “Sloosha’s Crossin” story left me cold. And perhaps I’m now too cynical to be moved by the solemn, repeated incantations that “by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.” But for the sight of Whishaw smoking a cigarette at dawn, porcelain exploding in a fever dream, a VW plunging into inky water, or the glee of a pub riot, I’m eager to go back again.”
My own thoughts on the New Yorker Fest Director Q & A: I was a bit startled when, just as the lights were going down, Lana and Andy Wachowski made their way into the crowded, sold-out theater and, instead of sitting up front or in a special, reserved section, made their way to two of the only general admissions seats left open, two rows in front of John and I (and a bit further to the side). I didn’t see Tykwer until the Q & A. Aleksander Hemon briefly introduced the film (which he’s said holds up through multiple screenings), then the screening started, on a magnificently huge (though not IMAX format) screen. It was a technically flawless presentation of the sort I’m willing to shell out extra bucks for, after so many visually/sonically dismal multiplex movie experiences. (Still wincing at having to sit through as blurry, washed-out print of Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom earlier this summer. The entire cineplex wass literally on autopilot, so there was no one qualified to focus the projector.) This film really deserves the best possible cinematic presentation, so try to book an early IMAX screening if you can, at a theater where the owners care about the viewer’s experience.
The New Yorker Fest Screening: Tom Tykwer, Lana and Andy Wachowski Astrid Stawiarz/Getty
The Q & A followed and covered a lot of similar ground to previously-posted interviews (press and video), tracing the film’s tortuous path through scripting, author approval, financing, casting and editing. Lana Wachowski dominated the conversation and is an animated and affectingly enthusiastic speaker, and a genuine lover of film– highbrow and low. I disagree with her reading of 2001, but I’ve always seen the Kubrick/pessimistic side of that more than the Arthur C Clarke/cosmic optimist side. I think 2001 is so brilliant and so elusive because both philosophies are at work, and both are relevant. I wish I’d taken notes, but I foolishly thought the whole thing was being taped. There was a funny anecdote about Hugh Grant’s travails in the makeup trailer (having never previously spent more than ten minutes in makeup, he was thrown by the seven-hour prosthetic sessions. The directors would often hear a fusillade of colorful obscenity coming from his trailer at these times. Tom Tykwer related discovering the novel during a summer vacation and being so caught up in it that he annoyed his wife, who wanted him to focus on their surroundings. Then Tykwer reached the Sloosha’s Crossin’ section and was completely stymied by the pidgin English, having to wait months for a German translation to finish it. This made him more able to empathize with the novel’s characters, and their encounters with unfinished books and films or one-sided correspondence.
The formal interview lasted nearly an hour, leaving only ten minutes for audience questions. John surprised me by jumping up and joining the line, though since we were in the middle of our row, he ended up fifth in line– there were two lines of about five people each in the two aisles, and only three questions were asked before time ran out. All were respectful and intelligent. One, which has gotten the most press, involved the end credits, which listed Tykwer as the director of three stories (Zedelghem, Luisa Rey and Cavendish) and the Wachowskis for the rest. Lana Wachowski said this print was different from the “festival edit” which credited all three for the full film, and which was their preferred way of crediting. Apparently the DGA has issues with more than two directors on a single film unless it’s an anthology which they argued this isn’t. (I’d agree with them; the direction is seamless, flowing from one segment to the next, and the stories are inextricably interwoven to the extent that if one separated them out and tried to show each singly, it probably wouldn’t work.) The second question was about sound editing and tone, which the directors agreed was the trickiest aspect, as on paper the six stories are tonally very different, and the script construction and editing had to compensate for this while maintaining the integrity of each. Overlapping sound cues and visual cues were an important part of this process. The third question was about, I think, to what extent the film was planned in advance and what was determined in editing; the directors didn’t get specific, but said both were critically important, and that many things were smoothed out in the editing process.
I had promised myself I wouldn’t ask impertinent questions about typecasting Hugo if they gave him just one non-evil role… they did (just barely), and beyond that I feel they owe me nothing. They’ve provided me with so much entertainment, interaction with other fans and food for thought over the years. My view of the world isn’t as romantic as theirs seems to be, but I’d take their vision of the world over Paul Thomas Anderson’s opaque, pessimistic posturing any day. Now I’m curious about whether we’ll finally get a DVD package with extra scenes from the Wachowskis… in the case of previous films they famously haven’t provided any deleted or alternate scenes, insisting only one finished version is their vision. But in this case where the directors have admitted a lot of things had to be left out– I have a feeling there’s more material that would only enhance the film. The extended editions of the LOTR films are the official versions IMO; the theatrical cuts feel truncated and rushed. So, if anyone is trying to think up a question for a future screening, I offer that one.
Cloud Atlas will have its official premiere in Los Angeles on October 24 with many of the actors likely to be in attendance; no word on Hugo Weaving yet, but I don’t see any known conflicts; Mystery Road has wrapped, and Healing doesn’t begin production until early next year. (There’s a brief note about Healing in The Age…)
I’ve run out of time to go into too much detail about the latest Hobbit collectibles, but you should go check them out if you feel so inclined. Elrond appears (rather fetchingly, at that) on one of a series of New Zealand collectible stamps, and on one in a series of silver coins. (The latter will be only for wealthier fans… I like the stamp’s image better anyway. There’s also a new series of character banners out (no Elrond, alas); I’ll give the link to the Flickering Myth versions, as the White Council poster is included.
Apologies this has taken so long and is still something of a mess. Cloud Atlas resists easy quantification. There will likely be much more soon.