Sunday, December 9, 2012

Cloud Atlas (Rhoades)

“Cloud Atlas” Spans Time
In Its Meditation on Karma

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

A cloud atlas is a pictorial guide to the nomenclature of clouds. You know, cirrus clouds, cumulonimbus clouds, altocumulus stratiformis perlucidus undulates, etc. Cloud atlases used to be an important tool in training meteorologists.
In 2004 British author David Mitchell wrote a sprawling 500-page science fiction novel titled “Cloud Atlas,” six intertwined stories that carry you back and forth in time – from a South Pacific island in the 19th Century to a bleak dystopian future and back again. Sort of a “what goes around comes around” mystical theme.
Andy and Lana (né Larry) Wachowski, those ex-comic book writers who gave you the “Matrix” movies, have teamed up with German director Tom Tykwer to bring the book to the screen. An ambitious project with a $100 million budget, “Cloud Atlas” goes time traveling with a stellar cast that includes Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Susan Sarandon, and Hugh Grant – all playing multiple roles.
For example, depending on the time period, Tom Hanks might be Dr. Henry Goose or Isaac Sachs or Dermot Hoggins or Zachry Bailey.
You almost need a scorecard to keep up with the characters. Or a cloud atlas.
This multi-leveled epic is about the meaning of life. It posits that the consequences of our lives impact one another throughout the past, present, and future. That a soul moves from person to person, reacting to simple acts of kindness and random cruelties to shape existence throughout time.
“Cloud Atlas” is every bit as much of a head-trip as “The Matrix,” the film that made the Wachowskis famous 13 years ago. “The philosophies in the book are so, you know, important,” says Andy Wachowski. “You know, just about humanity.”
At 163 minutes, it’s a long movie, but we’re talking about crossing epochs of time. Variety called it “an intense three-hour mental workout rewarded with a big emotional payoff.”
“Cloud Atlas” is currently warping time at the Tropic Cinema.
The Wachowskis got the idea of doing the movie while on the set of “V for Vendetta.” As Lana tells it, “I saw Natalie Portman reading ‘Cloud Atlas’ on the set. She said you will love this book. I read it that weekend and then I gave it to Andy. Then we gave it to Tom Tykwer and he read it because we had been looking for a project to work on together.”
Even the book’s author thought it was unadaptable. But the Wachowskis and Tykwer got excited about the challenge. The threesome worked together on the script for two and a half years, dissecting the six separate storylines and rearranging them on index cards. Like a time puzzle. Tykwer had played with time sequences before, in his classic “Run Lola Run.”
Then they phoned Tom Hanks. “I wasn’t familiar with the book, and it’s an impossible screenplay to describe,” laughs Hanks, a two-time Oscar-winner. “They talked about the multiple times and the multiple characters, and would I just entertain it?”
“It doesn’t feel as if it’s a conventional Tom Hanks movie,” admits Lana. “He’s playing these characters that are unlike his typical persona, and he’s also playing characters that are sometimes a part of the background.”
“It’s a difficult, complicated blueprint,” agrees Hanks. Nonetheless he said, “I’m in. Let’s go.”
Halle Berry came onboard next. “I thought it was going to be a nightmare,” she says. “Three directors? I’m gonna feel schizophrenic. Who am I gonna listen to? Is this gonna work the way I like to work? But it was just seamless.”
Lana smiles at the comment. “People sometimes say, ‘Well, how do you direct together?’  But writing is really the intimate process.  Directing is a social art form.  It’s about collaboration.  Really, the trick is writing together.” 
The trio divvied up the duties. The Wachowskis directed the nineteenth-century story and the two set in the future, while Tykwer directed the stories set in the thirties, the seventies, and the present day.
It worked. “Cloud Atlas” received a ten-minute standing ovation when it premiered at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival. At the screening author David Mitchell turned to Lana Wachowski, saying, “Oh, my God, that was amazing! That was – oh, that’s so clever! You clever monkey!”
Karma. All of it coming together, to use Lana’s phrase, “very Cloud Atlas-y.”

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