Friday, November 16, 2012

REVIEW: Cloud Atlas (2012)


Cloud Atlas is the new film by the artists formerly known as the Wachowski Brothers, now something more like ‘the Wachowski Siblings’…but that’s a story for another day, and today we are here to talk about how bad Cloud Atlas is.

Director: Various
Starring: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent

This is purportedly one of those multiple-storyline films like Magnolia or Crash, except much larger in scale, spanning waaaaay out across time, space and location varying from a pirate ship to the far future where there are clones and intergalactic police that wear all black and fire laser guns. The thing about this is that they use the same main actors, including an ensemble all star cast of people like Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent and Hugo Weaving. All of these people are very talented, which makes it so much worse that that talent is being wasted in favor of the makeup artists showing off and the Wachowskis acting like making a movie this preachy makes up for the money spent on it that could have been used for any number of charities. You can’t tell me the money used for this bloated mess couldn’t have been better used to feed some African kids or something.

This is just the biggest, most egregious, pretentious film of the year, and it has to be in the top 5 of the last 10 years, at that. At the start it seems like a really intriguing concept, as the stories are just setting up their themes and characters and you don’t know exactly where they’re going yet. The settings are all very good and the movie is visually gorgeous. There’s a story about a journalist who stumbles onto a conspiracy by the government, one about an old man set up by his brother in a trap, and a third about a gay man in the 1700s or so who is blackmailed by a famous composer into writing for him, among others – I’d go into each one, but really the stories don’t matter, and each one is just window-dressing for the Wachowskis to be all arty. This movie really thinks it’s smart, and even more than that, thinks it’s something really deep and meaningful, which gives the whole thing this slick, overpowering sheen of condescending schmaltz that makes it less endearing than the worst Hallmark cards. I really hate movies that act this smart and can’t back it up.

Every story in this movie is inconsequential because the underlying themes are all the same: each one is basically just a big old ‘one lone rebel standing against the BIG BAD OPPRESSION OF THE GOVERNMENT (or (insert mainstream masses here))’ plot that’s been a hallmark of literature since probably the dawn of civilization, only done so poorly in this due to a lack of any kind of nuance or depth. Every story is about some lone outcast of civilization getting captured or oppressed and, through chase scenes and lots of inner courage and other bullshit, they eventually rebel against their captors or pursuers and PROVE A POINT.  None of these stories has anything going on aside from that broad message. There’s a lot of stuff happening in each one, but very little of anything actually being said. The pacing is just atrocious, as each story is given such a disproportionate amount of screen time at a time that you forget what’s going on in the other stories whenever it switches scenes, which is done with very little warning or logic.

The message is supposed to be that “everything is connected”? That’s a laugh and a half…these stories are all connected only by the virtue of having the same themes and the same actors in every one. It’s easy to say they’re connected when each one has the same basic story…all these idiots needed to do was change a few costumes, rewrite the setting and wallah, NEW STORY! And MY GOD this is pretentious…you have no idea, man. There’s one story set on a pirate ship where some guy befriends a runaway slave, and we’re supposed to be oh-so enchanted even though half the time this story is completely ignored in favor of the other ones, so good luck there…they eventually get back to land and the moral of it all is that the white guy tells his snooty white friends that he can’t help them anymore because they endorse slavery. What results is a tired, dated scene where the good guys all give the stuffy old conservative white bastard the finger and he’s all “you’ll never be welcome here again” and they don’t care because they just need each other…not a bad sentiment, movie, but the way it’s done here is vomitous and vile.

What else…I mean, I could spend as much time as the movie runs itself talking about why everything is so godawful in this. One story is about this gay guy who writes a symphony and ends up getting blackmailed into letting some old composer take credit for it. It could have been a pretty touching historical fiction, but the movie just drives it into the dirt and it ends up simply depressing and pointless as he kills himself – which isn’t much of a spoiler as it happens in the first ten minutes and then they flash back to show what happened. Another story is about some clone girl in the future becoming a martyr for her kind, which also goes nowhere because it’s just egregious unpleasant drawn out scene after egregious unpleasant drawn out scene. Doesn’t exactly work when it’s framed by comedic stories like the one about a bunch of old people trying to escape a nursing home, which is literally just in here as a joke, and doesn’t have any serious moments in it. The whole thing is incredibly disjointed, and whatever serious emotions we are supposed to feel for the more somber storylines is hijacked by goofy ones in other storylines. The fact that they’re all jumbled up together just makes everything lose any kind of emotional impact it could have had.

I haven’t even mentioned the final story yet, which is about a futuristic “after the fall” world where everything looks like a big wasteland and where people have been reduced back to tribal warrior days. The whole thing is just confusing as all hell as there are large portions of it left unexplained, like what the motive is of the strange exotic warrior woman helping Tom Hanks, or why Tom Hanks keeps seeing schizophrenic visions of a strange leprechaun-man telling him to kill her – why is this character supposed to be the hero of the story again? He’s passed off as a hero but clearly he’s crazy as shit, and his insanity is never addressed.

It turns out the whole thing is just a framing device for Hanks as an old man to tell a bunch of kids all the various stories you’ve been seeing throughout the movie. Which is the BIGGEST SLAP IN THE FACE. GODDAMN. So what, was he telling it just as the audience saw all the stories; all jumbled up like that? That must have been a fascinatingly headache-inducing trip! “And then the gay guy got blackmailed by the old man into letting the old man steal his life’s work. And after that, in the future world, everyone found out that the clones were being used as a food source! Meanwhile in the 1970s, Journalist Halle Berry uncovered governmental corruption…” Why are these kids so excited about this? Most kids would be scratching their heads and wondering why Mommy and Daddy left them with their crack-addict aunt and uncle again.

And this is THREE HOURS LONG. THREE HOURS OF THIS. I MEAN MY GOD. Look at how much caps lock this movie just made me use! Even though every story is essentially telling the same message and themes, the film takes forever to get there, and you’ll keep sitting there watching it anyway because it’s all so over the top and ridiculous that you just wonder how the hell they’re going to end it, because, hey, you’ve been sitting through the torture for this long anyway! Every story here could have been split into its own movie with how much random shit is crammed into each one and how long the final product is, but then again, as individual films these would just amount to NOTHING because there’s so little substance in them. Nobody would ever care about any of this shit if the Wachowski name wasn’t attached to it. I’ve never read the book or anything, but I can’t imagine it being as vapid as this cinematic drivel…it’s hard to imagine anyone dedicated enough to write a book, a medium without any visual stimulation like a movie would have, with so little intelligence and so little meaning as Cloud Atlas the movie has.

The worst crime this movie commits is hard to peg down, between its length and the gargantuan amount of wasted talent, money and effects on the horrible story, but mostly I’d have to say it’s the implications of these stories, and the expectations the movie sets up. With all the bravado, all the ruckus and all the ridiculous amount of build-up this movie has, for its seven or eight different stories going on at the same time, it’s not a big deal to say that one expects a certain level of payoff for said build-up. One expects to be compensated for the wait with a gestalt of intellectual enlightenment, or at the very least, some kind of message that had a lot of thought put into it. With stories ranging from the 1600s to thousands of years in the future, the Wachowskis had a lot to work with in Cloud Atlas – they had a variety of different settings and characters they could have potentially taken advantage of.

And what do we get? “Governmental corruption/betrayal is bad.” Oh. What a shocking revelation. It doesn’t even matter that there are so many different times and places, because this movie’s message could be summed up in a 30-minute educational video for a middle school history class. One story involves a well-to-do white guy who ends up rebelling against slavery. Another is about a future world where two rebels discover that the government is using clones to recycle for food. And yet a third is about a journalist who uncovers a conspiracy about some kind of bomb they want to set off and kill people…for some unknown reason. Aside from the slavery thing, all of these stories are really vague, too, which is further insulting to my intelligence. Three hours of build-up, seven different stories, all these big name stars, all this ballyhooing and you can’t even be bothered to tell a coherent story? Get the hell out. This is more than just another big-budget flop; this is what I said it was – insulting. This movie is insulting. What does it say that the most entertaining story in this pile of shit is a comedic throwaway about some goofy old people playing James Bond and trying to escape from a nursing home run by villains that make Nurse Ratched look like a patron saint of well-balanced motherhood? That is shit! I mean, what is this, a big joke? Do they really think anyone will actually take this seriously?!

…I’m reaching my breaking point here, guys. I just don’t know anymore. But what I do know is that I can at least try to be the voice of reason with this. This is not an intellectual movie. It is not smart, it is not anything that should make you feel better about yourself after seeing it. Cloud Atlas is pure trash from beginning to end, with a smacking of self-indulgence and an even bigger helping of pointless, poorly written cinema. There is so much wrong with this that I haven’t even come close to covering everything wrong with it. But frankly, I’m done. I don’t want to talk about this anymore. This is a hideous train-wreck of a movie that I am glad I will never have to sit through again, and I would strongly urge you to avoid it at all costs. If even one person doesn’t see it because of all this, I’ve done my job and contributed more to the world than Cloud Atlas did.

Image copyright of its original owner.