Cloud Atlas (2012), Dir: Tom Tykwer, Andy & Lana Wachowski

92764_gal

Jim Broadbent as the bitter and cantekerous composer Vyvyan Ayers and Ben Wishaw as the gifted and sensitive Robert Frobisher.

Rating: 6/10

“Our lives are not our own.  From womb to tomb, we are bound to others.  Past and present.  And by each crime, and every kindness, we birth our future.” So Says Sonmi-351 (Doona Bae) a fabricant rebelling against an oppressive corporate future world in Neo Seoul,  2144- and later worshipped as a goddess- in one of the film’s six narrative strands (co-directed evenly by Tom ‘Run Lola Run’ Tykwer and ‘Matrix’ directors the Wachowski’s directing three stories each). This message of transmigrating souls effecting the past, present and future, is emphasised continually throughout the film connecting these interlocking jigsaw-like strands across different time periods and worlds from the Pacific Islands in 1849 to Hawaii in 2321; most pointedly by using the same actors across the stories in different parts.

And so this epic two hours forty-three minutes film takes the brilliantly complex David Mitchell novel, which incorporates a colonial history, a queer tragi-comedy, an investigative thriller, a satiric farce and dystopian and post-apocalyptic sci-fi and attempts to make something more thematically and visually cohesive out of it. As Mitchell says himself about the adaptation “where text slides towards ambiguity, film inclines to specificity” and this ends up with mixed results, where a book can be more subtle in its messages and can take it’s time drawing you in, film only has a limited amount of time to get something across. But it’s a shame they felt the need to emphasise the aspect of love changing character’s destinies and the course of history, and added neat relationships that didn’t exist, as it makes it more Hollywood fare than the pioneering, provocative (largely German) film it’s meant to be. And the sheer amount of references to the transmigrating soul and actions reverberating through time theme does begin to grate. After the fourth or fifth reference we get it already.

The film is still certainly unusual and unlike anything you’ve seen before, although I would argue that films like Babel and Crash use the multi-narrative device to better, more subtle advantage (but then they are based in one contemporary time period). It’s premise means that the film can also be quite bewildering at times; the greyhound speed at which it rushes through the narratives makes you wish it would linger more on one story, which on the plus side does makes it seem shorter than its substantial running time. The film’s premise also means it uses cross-cutting to its best most inventive advantage here to create visual matches between the stories, one example that I particularly admired was a cut from a heavy metal door closing in the 2321 story to a vulnerable Sonmi imprisoned in an unforgiving metal cell.

cloud_atlas

Tom Hanks as Zachry and Halle Berry as Meronym in the 2321 story, they give strong and memorable performances in this film.

The fact that actors take on multiple parts is also a mixed blessing. Tom Hanks gives one of his best and most entertaining performances as the sinister and avaricious Dr. Goose in the 1849 story, and is pretty good at playing the fearful and conflicted Zachary in the 2321 story, but fails to really convince as a violent criminal Irish writer in the contemporary story. While Doona-Bae (in her first English language role, for which she learnt English from scratch) gives a moving performance as Sonmi depicting well her unfolding sense of humanity and injustice, but no matter how much make-up you put on her she still looks Asian when playing Westerners and struggles to do accents. Likewise Hugh Grant gives a career best performance as villainous characters such as the racist, arrogant Rev Giles Horrox in the 1849 story and as the smarmy, misogynist nuclear plant owner Lloyd Hooks in the 1973 story, but cannot be taken seriously as a primitive cannibalistic chief in the 2321 story.  At the same time Hugo Weaving as a heartless female nurse works not because he convinces as a woman, but because he is funny as a woman in what is meant to be the film’s most comic story.

But it really is the performances most of all which makes this film worth watching, aside from all the visual trickery and its monumental production design- it’s vision of a Blade Runner-like Neo-Seoul is particularly impressive (German technical expertise is certainly showcased in this film). Ben Whishaw perfectly conveys the frustrations of a desperate, sensitive and destitute gay composer who is manipulated by his employer, a once-famous composer (Jim Broadbent, equally good here as a comically grouchy and bitter old man) in the 1936 story, he also makes a startlingly good woman in the contemporary farce, unrecognisably so. While David Gyasi gives a dignified performance as a desperate and resourceful escaped slave in the 1849 story, and Halle Berry reminds us how good she can be as a brave and determined investigative journalist in the 1973 story.

It’s certainly one hell of a ride just don’t expect it to be as clever as it thinks it is.

London Spanish Film Festival, Spring Weekend: Agnosia, Dir. Eugenio Mira (2011)

Bàrbara Goenaga as the vulnerable and beautiful Joana who suffers from the rare condition of agnosia, leaving her virtually blind, and Eduardo Noriega as her dutiful and protective fiancé Carles.

Rating: 5/10

Directed by Eugenio Mira and co-written by The Devil’s Backbone writer Antonio Trashorras, this period gothic romance/thriller is an intriguing genre-defying prospect . Set in Spain in the early 1900s, it tells the story of  Joana Prats (Bàrbara Goenaga) a woman suffering from a rare condition, agnosia, which impairs her sensory input, leaving her severely visually impaired (which we see frequently through manipulated and distorted point of view shots).

Her father Artur (Sergi Mateu) is a lens-maker who early on in the film creates a magnifying lens which is powerfully accurate when used in rifles. However he decides to abandon it when he realises just how dangerous it’s use is. This leads to him being ruthlessly pursued by another rival lens maker, the determined Prevert (Martina Gedeck of The Lives Of Others and Baader-Meinhof Complex fame) who will do anything to get the formula for the lucrative lens. Wherein comes the espionage thriller element of the film, but what of the gothic romance part? Well, after Artur dies Joana is the vulnerable vehicle through which Prevert decides to get the formula and she uses Vicent (FĂ©lix GĂłmez ) (as well as other devices, but I won’t reveal them here), a doppelganger to Joana’s fiancĂ© Carles (Eduardo Noriega) to infiltrate Joana’s fortress-like home.

Continue reading

Submarine, Dir. Richard Ayoade (2010)

Oliver (Craig Roberts) and Jordana (Yasmin paige) experience growing pains in a small town in South Wales.

Richard ‘Moss’ Ayoade  directing and writing his first film could go either way: self indulgent vanity project or quirky off-beat gem. Thankfully this film is the latter. Submarine, based on the book by Joe Dunthorne, charts the story of 15 year-old Oliver Tate (19 year-old Craig Roberts), a geeky loner growing up in South Wales in the 80s. Oliver falls desperately in love with a girl at his school, the cynical and disdainful Jordana (Yasmin Paige), and plots to charm her into bed with him (losing your virginity, as countless films show, being the most important thing for any teenage boy). He also has to deal with the problems of his very middle-class and prudish parents Jill and Lloyd (Sally Hawkins-who is unrecognisable from previous roles -and Noah Taylor). Lloyd, a marine biologist, suffers from manic depression and often sits staring into space; while Jill, a frustrated office administrator, is having an affair with their next door neighbour Graham (Paddy Considine), an arrogant spiritual guru with one of the most ridiculous mullets in cinema’s history. An affair which Oliver suspects and brings upon himself to investigate.

The cast are brilliant without exception, and the film is peopled with great and memorable characters. Roberts as Oliver portrays well the insular melodramatic angst of an unpopular teenager trying his best fit in and find an identity for himself, which involves things like phases of only listening to French singers. His rushed breathless recitation of facts also suggesting autistic tendencies. His awkward and nervous attempts at seducing Jordana, including taking Jordana to an industrial site after she tells him how much she dislikes romance, are touching and funny. As are his desperate and obvious attempts to keep his parents together by such methods as inventing  a seductive letter from Lloyd. Jordana, meanwhile, could’ve been a very dislikeable character, she is sarcastic and joins in bullying an overweight girl at school; but there is a vulnerability underneath her casual carelessness, and her behaviour is made clear when we learn her mother has a terminal illness. The scene where we witness Jordana’s disappointment as she realises Oliver is not going to come to see her mother in hospital (Oliver still investigating with her is particularly poignant.

Continue reading

The Shop Around the Corner (1940), Dir. Ernst Lubitsch

Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart, as shop workers Klara and Alfred, are a perfect pairing.

 

Rating: 10/10

So this is what they mean by the Lubitsch touch. This masterpiece leaves me wondering why rom-coms are just bloody awful nowadays, especially when compared to the classics of the 30’s and 40’s (maybe all the possibly interesting story-lines have been done too well already). The remake of this film the dreadful You’ve Got Mail (how dated it already seems) is a case in point.

This film set in  depression era Budapest, follows the workers of a leather goods shop the Matuschek and Company store, and is based a lot on Lubitsch’s own personal knowledge of the family-run retail business having come from a family that ran a tailor’s shop which he had helped out in.  The engaging cast of characters include the lonely and authoritarian shop owner Mr. Hugo Matuschek (Frank Morgan aka the wizard in Wizard of Oz), the hard working, cultured and intelligent salesman and bachelor Alfred (the wonderful James Stewart) who has slowly worked his way up the shop’s hierarch. Then there is the humble, knowing and affable clerk Ferencz Vadas (Joseph Schildkraut) who acts as Alfred’s confidante, the pretentious, obsequious and manipulative Pirovitch who slyly solicits favour from Matuschek’s wife and the wisecracking, savvy and ambitious errands boy Pepi (William Tracy).Finally there’s Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan), the love interest and ambitious and clever saleswoman who is at first Alfred’s arch nemesis. Little do Klara and Alfred that they while they are exchanging witty barbs (such as this brilliant perfectly-timed exchange: Alfred Kralik: There might be a lot we don’t know about each other. You know, people seldom go to the trouble of scratching the surface of things to find the inner truth. Klara Novak (Miss Novak): Well I really wouldn’t care to scratch your surface, Mr. Kralik, because I know exactly what I’d find. Instead of a heart, a hand-bag. Instead of a soul, a suitcase. And instead of an intellect, a cigarette lighter… which doesn’t work.) they are falling in love with each other via anonymous correspondence.

Continue reading

Another Year, Dir. Mike Leigh (2010)

Tom (Jim Broadbent), Gerri (Ruth Sheen) and Joe (Oliver Maltman), the model middle-class family.

 

Rating: 9/10

Definitely one of my favourite films of the year, and up there with Topsy Turvy and Happy Go-lucky as one of my favourite Mike Leigh films so far (have yet to see his other renowned films such as Secrets & Lies or Vera Drake). The film follows the lives, through the seasons, of happy middle-class married couple Tom, an engineer,  and Gerri, a therapist,  played by Leigh veterans Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen. They live a contented and model  life attending to their allotment and catching up with their equally contented son Joe, (Oliver Maltman), a solicitor.

But they are anchors in a storm that surrounds them (let’s face it something had to disrupt their lives otherwise it would all be boring and undramatic) as their comfortable life is frequently disrupted by friends and family, such as Gerri’s co-worker Mary (Lesley Manville), who is a seething torrent of emotion, insecurity and neediness; a middle-aged woman, unlucky in love, who feels desperately lonely,  and clings onto Tom and Mary for respite and solace. Or the overweight  and also lonely Ken (Peter Wright) who like Mary is prone to bouts of depression after one too many drinks, and makes desperate passes at Mary, obviously sensing her loneliness. And then there’s Tom’s brother the monosyllabic Ronnie (David Bradley) who is lost and lonely (yes that word again) and when his wife die and who comes to stay with Tom and Gerri to recuperate.  He also has to deal with an ungrateful, rude and angry son (Martin Savage).

Mary who is used to dealing with depressed people in her job nevertheless has Continue reading

In Our Name, Dir. Brian Welsh (2010)

Rating: 6/10

This highly-researched feature debut  from British director Brian Welsh examines the effects of post-traumatic stress on female soldier Suzy (Joanne Froggatt). When Suzy returns home to Newcastle to rejoin her husband Mark  (Mel Raido), also a soldier, and eight year-old daughter Cass (Chloe Jayne Wilkinson) after having served a tour of duty  in Iraq, she struggles to adjust to civilian life and her family notice how distant she is. This particularly frustrates Mark (an alpha-male if there ever was one) who begins to suspect that Suzy has cheated on him with Paul (Andrew Knott), a soldier in her company, when she refuses to have sex with him.

Continue reading

The London Korean Film Festival 2010:Secret Reunion (2010), Dir. Hun Jang

Ji-won (Dong Won-kan) and Han-kyu (Kang Ho-Song) form a tense but later rewarding partnership.

 

Rating: 8.5/10

Hun Jang’s second film is a detective film which combines comedy with social commentary on the ongoing tensions between North and South Korea. The film pairs a South Korean ex-police detective turned private detective Lee Han-kyu (Kang-ho Song recognisable from his roles in the excellent Thirst (2009) and Memories Of Murder (2003)) with North Korean spy and hit-man Song Ji-won (Dong-won Kang).

The film starts off as a serious action thriller detailing a North Korean operation, involving Ji-won under the command of the ruthless assassin Shadow (Gook-hwan Jeon), to track down and kill North Korean defectors. When Song refuses to kill a child he is named a traitor and banished to South Korea, meanwhile Han-kyu starts a deadly gun battle with the spies and is fired as a result.

Continue reading