Mania Review: Cloud Atlas -

Mania Review

Mania Grade: F

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  • Starring: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Doona Bae, James D'Arcy, Ben Whishaw, Jim Sturgess, Keith David and Susan Sarandon
  • Written by: Tom Tykwer and Lana & Andy Wachowski
  • Directed by: Tom Tykwer and Lana & Andy Wachowski
  • Studio: Warner Bros
  • Rating: R
  • Run Time: 172 minutes that you will never see again.
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Mania Review: Cloud Atlas

W. T. F.

By Rob Vaux     October 26, 2012

 I emerged from Cloud Atlas with the sense that someone fed me roofies, violated my brain and dumped me on the interstate wearing someone else’s underwear. The film throws a pretentious shit storm of barely coherent ideas at us with the solemn smugness of a C-average philosophy student. It clearly believes in its own profundity, and brazenly crams that belief down our throats until we cry uncle. For nearly three hours, I sat dumbfounded at the audacity, like the audience at the end of “Springtime for Hitler.”  Its epic collapse stands as a strange achievement in and of itself, for only true visionaries can produce something so irresistibly horrible.

I blame at least some of it on the choice to cast the same actors in multiple roles – part of a Very Important Point about the immortality of the soul or some damn thing – then slather them in the worst make-up effects since Hoover. The wigs, stipple and latex cheeks break free of their handlers and launch a full-bore assault on the performers.  A pair of false teeth – brazenly wearing Tom Hanks in scene after excruciating scene – leads the charge, followed by an army of blobby noses, silly beards and curiously offensive racial traits that settle over everyone like face-sucking parasites. If you look closely, you can see the actors’ eyes pleading for help behind them.

They – and the hideous masks that enslave them – work in the service of a toxic soup of a plot, adapted from a supposedly unfilmmable novel written David Mitchell. Now that they’ve filmed it, the “unfilmmable” title stands pat. It encompasses six different stories, each involving some manner of oppression and the way the protagonists transcend or succumb to it. A notary from the 1850s (Jim Sturgess) battles illness on a Pacific ship. A gay transcriber in the 1930s (Ben Whishaw) creates a masterpiece while working for a monstrous composer (Jim Broadbent). Forty years on, his lover (James D’Arcy) helps a journalist (Halle Berry) uncover a sinister conspiracy. A present-day book editor (also Broadbent) finds himself trapped in a nursing home. A clone (Doona Bae) seeks freedom and escape in a totalitarian future, and a goatherd (Hanks) in post-apocalyptic Hawaii aids a scientist (also Berry) find a forbidden temple.

The book apparently wove these tales together with delicate precision: linking each one to the next through simple devices, then letting the readers discover the deeper connections for themselves. The movie refuses to deliver anything so elegant. Instead, it rushes back and forth between storylines without bothering to properly assemble any of them.  Directors Tom Tykwer and Lana & Andy Wachowski toss aside all semblance of emotional tone or humanity, instead pounding us over the head with pretension for its own sake. The nebulous connections between tales often make no sense, tossed in as afterthoughts or left deliberately obtuse (doubtless to convince us how deep and meaningful it all is).

Instead, it depends upon its role-swapping cast to show us the interconnections. The tactic backfires like a junkyard Pinto. So much hinges on the hideous make-up that we can’t get past the stunt in and of itself. You start playing Spot the Star instead of absorbing the drama… and in the process become painfully aware of everyone’s freakish  overacting.  Whishaw and D’Arcy more or less emerge with their dignity intact, and Broadbent does what he can, but the rest seem part of some horrible punchline. Hugh Grant as a cannibal! Hugo Weaving as Nurse Ratched! Everybody as a yellowface Asian caricature! Hanks tops it with the worst performance of his career (or six worst, depending on how you count), and may have irreparably damaged his legacy in the process. “Everyman” doesn’t mean “chameleon,” and watching him overplay every hammy moment constitutes a special torture for those of us who once thought so highly of him.

Within that morass, no coherent thought or narrative structure can escape. The editors compound it by slapping the disparate stories together like a crack-addled Muppet. We interrupt scenes in one sequence to give us moments from another, then back to the first, then on to a third, then over to a fourth… all without any clear sense of pacing, tone or human mercy. A six-minute scene thus gets pulled out like taffy over 20 minutes, and with it goes any interest in how it all comes out.

Mangling the narrative supposedly makes it easier for us to grasp the subtext, but the film’s Big Issues explode on the tarmac as well. Any sublime connections found in the book don’t survive the transition. We just get half-baked philosophizing about the struggles of man and a faux Zen message pounded into us with the subtlety of a jackhammer. This is a movie for white guys who quote Bob Marley and put Buddha posters up in their prep school dorm rooms. (Richard Gere’s gonna love it.) It’s a sham, a fraud, a pile of self-important drivel that inflicts three unwatchable hours on its audience in the fallacious belief that we’ll emerge better people as a result. I confess a certain so-bad-its-good quality in the middle of this – I’m counting the moments until RiffTrax takes a shot at it – and the production values are the kind that only $100 million can buy. That only compounds the filmmakers’ tragic belly-flop on full display for the world. As I fled from the wreckage of my screening, I actually found myself curiously grateful. The cinematic year can’t deliver anything worse than what Cloud Atlas vomits onto our laps.


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SinisterPryde 10/26/2012 1:31:54 AM

So, um, you didn't like it?

Dazzler 10/26/2012 4:12:28 AM

Movie does look like a mess....

DarthBob 10/26/2012 5:07:36 AM

Too bad this turned out to be another Wachowski turd because the book is quite good; turned out to be the mess I feared it would be.  Also, this movie is not fairing too well on RT or Metacritic.  This pair has made one good movie and that is the Matrix.  It will be an absolute disaster if they get their hands on the Justice League movie.  They are starting to approach M. Night Shyamalan directing territory.

monkeyfoot 10/26/2012 6:59:59 AM

Haven't read the whole review but I love your opening paragraph!

I still intend to see this though. I have sensed a level of pretentioness in stories about the film but sense the work of the Wachowskis and the subject matter interests me I will see for myself and make up my own mind.

ObiWannaJones 10/26/2012 7:32:44 AM

Rob, "This is the best review I've read in years. "Only true visionaries can produce something so irresistibly horrible"; "The editors compound it by slapping the disparate stories together like a crack-addled Muppet"; and my favorite: "This is a movie for white guys who quote Bob Marley and put Buddha posters up in their prep school dorm rooms. (Richard Gere’s gonna love it.)."Tell us how you really feel, Rob!

The first time I saw the trailer this past summer I thought to myself, "geez, does that look like a big steamy pile of fly infested bovine dung". .

VTGamehendge 10/26/2012 8:36:40 AM

I feel like this is probably one of those stories that's great in print as a book, but WAY to complicated and ambitious as a movie.  A lot of books just can't translate into film simply because there's really no way to transfer the narrative.  Just watching the trailer and the TV spots makes me think the movie really is a mess like Rob suggests.  It looks like there's just way too much going on to cram it all into a 2 1/2-3 hour movie.  And on top of all that it sounds like the movie just blows.  Blows hard.

VTGamehendge 10/26/2012 8:38:18 AM

I was thinking about going to see this this weekend, but now I think I'll go see the new Silent Hill instead.

VTGamehendge 10/26/2012 8:41:11 AM

Oh and, Rob.  I think you intended to refer to J. Edgar, not Hoover.

violator14 10/26/2012 8:49:28 AM

This is one of the reasons i love reading Rob's reviews. He knows how to destroy a movie into pieces, and then sh*t on every single piece afterwards. I had Siri read this review to me in my car on my way to the office, and i couldn't stop laughing my ass off. lol....

btw quite dissapointed, after seeing the commericals flash tons of praises for the movie, im a lil surprised. But to be honest, i was kinda skeptical about this one anyways. Looked too good to be true in a way. And ya, the W brothers' ONLY good movie were the Matrix trilogies. Hard to believe the same guys that made them are the same guys that made the other pieces of crap they called films.

dastallion51 10/26/2012 8:55:02 AM

I saw it last night and i honestly didn't think it was that having not read the book, didn't notice how each story was supposed to seamlessly connect, but i did understand how all stories related to each other, some more than others. And while i do wish the ending had a bit more rewarding climax, the movie was very entertaining. And although i may be in the minority I enjoyed it.

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