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Head in the Cloud
November 5, 2012 - Rick Chatenever
If you're fond of films that bend the mind a bit, you might want to check out "Cloud Atlas." If you do, be sure and stay for the closing credits.
Granted, it's been on the screen for over two hours by that point. It already had a bunch of endings, one after another, like creative-writing airliners circling the tower, waiting to land and tie up the loose ends to its six separate plots. Even so, the final credits - revealing who played which parts - add an extra "Wow!" to what you've just seen.
What you've just seen is hard to describe. Stretching from the historic past to a primitive post-apocalyptic future, its rampaging imagination inspires lots of head scratching. You think you caught glimpses of Tom Hanks, Halle Berry and Hugh Grant in the epic intertwining of tales, but there was so much shapeshifting going on, you can't be quite sure.
Adapted from author-composer David Mitchell's award-winning sci-fi novel, the movie is alternately brilliant, action-packed, spiritually thrilling and sometimes over-the-top ridiculous.
Although the book was published in 2004, one of the stories takes place in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1970s, where watching Tom Hanks and Halle Berry discussing Carlos Castaneda will cause flashbacks in a certain segment of the audience.
Trying to find the meaning of life and then compress it onto bumper stickers was popular in that era, and the film shares a similar mindset.
In locales from a savage Pacific Island paradise to a futuristic Seoul, with stops in literary Europe and crass America, things get less confusing as the movie careens forward, resulting in entertaining, mind-tickling fun.
It took three directors to tackle all of this metaphysical melodrama. "Run Lola Run's" Tom Tykwer is one and the "Matrix" team of Lana and Andy Wachowski are the others. Remembering that the landmark "Matrix" trilogy had been created by the Wachowski brothers, I assumed that one of them had gotten married to a talented writer-director named Lana.
Research proved otherwise. Lana Wachowski had been Andy's brother, Larry, when those films were made before he underwent a sex-change operation.
Aha, that fits right into "Cloud Atlas'" preoccupation with things changing before our very eyes.
Did I mention shapeshifting? It's a good week for it, what with Halloween and the homestretch of political season.
With Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Susan Sarandon also in the cast - playing about six roles each - there's an added "spot the star" dimension to this instant cult classic. The multiple, gender-bending, race-switching roles provide an eye-popping way of distilling concepts like reincarnation, past lives, intention and karma - not to mention humanity's never-ending inhumanity to itself - into comic-book-style, easily digestible bites. They also suggest that "Cloud Atlas' " real stars are in the hair, make-up and costume departments.
For all its pop spirituality and dazzling eye candy, "Cloud Matrix" couldn't match Ben Affleck's terrific, white-knuckle. Oscar-buzzing political thriller "Argo" at the box office this week.
But having spent most of last weekend at the MACC's McCoy Studio Theater helping put on the Angkor Wat International Film Festival fundraiser, I must admit feeling a little envious of both of them.
Our program of documentaries also illustrated interconnectedness, spanning the globe to show members of the human family have more in common than we realize or remember. And we had our own political sagas, charting the eternal collision course between power, greed and our higher selves.
What we didn't have were big audiences for our heartfelt, visionary, sometimes uplifting films from Cambodia, China, France, the Netherlands and the U.S. It just goes to show, when it comes to getting movies made and seen, sincerity and good intentions are noble, but star power is better. And a big budget is best of all.
* Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org
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