Usually when I catch a movie, I’m busy scribbling down notes, some of which pertain to the film’s plot, just so I’ve got the facts straight when writing the review. However, in the case of “Cloud Atlas,” not only did I want to save my hand all that stress, but thought it’d be interesting to see what stuck after the 164-minute multiple storyline epic without writing a single note or looking at the press notes. No book, no notes, no Googling. This is what I took from “Cloud Atlas.”
We’ve got quite a few characters and storylines in play here. There’s Tom Hanks’ Zachary, a man living in a village, fighting off a vicious enemy tribe while assisting Halle Berry’s space-age character in her quest to send a call for help to her home planet. In the 1800s, one of Jim Sturgess’ characters befriends an escaped slave while sailing home to his wife. In the early 1900s, Ben Whishaw’s Frobisher goes to work for a famous composer where he gets the inspiration to pen the Cloud Atlas Sextet. In the 1970s, Berry is a journalist who catches wind of a scandal and is chased by a corporation assassin trying to stop her from exposing the story. In the present we get Timothy Cavendish, a man who’s tricked into signing himself into an old age home by his brother. Finally, well into the future, we meet Sonmi, one of many identical robot-like humans who are made to staff a fast food restaurant. They’re designed to sleep in their boxes, wake and go to work, but one day, Sonmi can’t help, but to recognize that she’s got hopes, dreams and feelings.
I can’t believe it, but I think I actually managed to account for every “Cloud Atlas” scenario. Yes, they’re merely simplistic descriptions of the stories, but when you’ve got a total of six narratives within a single film that don’t connect on a literal level and are all playing out simultaneously, it’s a wonder how someone can keep track of them all after a single viewing. And perhaps that goes to show that writer-directors Tom Tykwer, Lana Wachowski and Andy Wachowski did achieve a degree of success with their unusual methods.
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No, it’s not right to knock a film for a lengthy runtime, but if a movie is pushing two hours, it better be able to justify it. In The Way Back’s case it does – kind of. While the first portion of the film drags considerably despite impressively effective imagery, it isn’t until over an hour into it that things really become compelling. There’s nothing wrong with a film that saves the best for last, but it still needs to be entertaining while you’re waiting for the good stuff and The Way Back comes a little too close to missing that mark.
In the midst of Stalin’s Reign of Terror, Janusz (Jim Sturgess) is sent to a Siberian gulag after his wife is coerced into convicting him of espionage and criticizing the Communist Party. It doesn’t take long for Janusz to realize he’ll never survive his 20-year sentence and dreams of freedom. As the conditions worsen with the prisoners being forced to brave terrible blizzards and live on measly portions of food, other inmates become aware of Janusz’s plan and together they make their escape.
There’s Mr. Smith (Ed Harris), the stoic American, Valka (Colin Farrell), one of the few real criminals in the camp, Zoran (Dragos Bucur), a former accountant, Tomasz (Alexandru Potocean), a sketch artist who survived in the camp by selling pictures of naked women, Voss (Gustaf Skarsgard), a priest and Kazik (Sebastian Urzendowsky), the youngest of the bunch who suffers from night blindness. Together they must brave the wilderness, the elements and the Communist regime in order to trek south to safety in Mongolia.
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Zack Snyder is clearly a master of visuals, but look at 300 and Watchmen. The minimal plot of 300 was completely overshadowed by the masterful imagery and while those unfamiliar with the source material couldn’t quite understand Watchmen, there was no denying that the film was downright mesmerizing. Sadly, it looks as though Snyder has fallen into a similar trap with Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole. The film looks gorgeous, but unfortunately it’s also quite evident that he attempted to cram three books into just one film. The story itself is sloppy.
Based on the first three books of Kathryn Lasky’s series, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole follows the adventures of a young owl named Soren (voiced by Jim Sturgess). All his life he’s enjoyed hearing his father’s (Hugo Weaving) stories about the legendary Guardians of Ga’Hoole, a group of owls dedicated to keeping peace throughout the owl kingdom. However, his brother Kludd (Ryan Kwanten) views his father’s stories as just that, tall tales. One day, while practicing a pre-flying technique called branching, both Soren and Kludd fall to the ground, a nightmare of a place for owlets. But before the creatures down below can get a hold of them, something else does, something far worse, the Pure Ones.
The Pure Ones take the brothers back to their lair where they enslave young owls, forcing some to work and others to train to become warriors. Kludd is instantly seen as a potential fighter, but when Soren attempts to defend a tiny elf owl, Gylfie (Emily Barclay), Soren is punished and assigned to be a picker, a worker that must pick through pellets to find special “flecks.” Eventually Gylfie and Soren see an opportunity to escape and take it and that’s when the real adventure begins. Their only hope of freeing the other owlets and stopping whatever scheme the Pure Ones have in the works is to find the Guardians of Ga’Hoole.
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