"Cloud Atlas," adapted from David Mitchell's multi-layered, densely constructed novel of the same name, follows the book's characters closely while abandoning Mitchell's literary structure completely. Many opined that the work was simply too esoteric, too inaccessible to be brought to the screen. The directors, Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer, thought not.
The film, like the novel, is composed of six vignettes, the narrative skipping across time, from the 19th to the 24th century. Unlike the novel, however, the film does not begin with one story, taking it to its conclusion; instead, using crosscutting, it moves back and forth, never completing one story before beginning another, hence any sense of linearity is absent.
"Cloud Atlas" starts with a young San Francisco lawyer, Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess), who falls ill while sailing on a square-rigger in the South Pacific. The year is 1849. The film then unexpectedly jumps ahead to 1973, where a journalist, Lisa Rey (Halle Berry), is investigating a nuclear power plant and finds herself in jeopardy. Cut to the 24th century where Zachary (Tom Hanks), a denizen of a neo-tribal village, is living on a tropical island, and visited by Meronym (Halle Berry), an enigmatic woman from an advanced civilization. Abruptly there's a shift to 2144 where a lovely "service fabricant," Sonmi 351 (Doona Bae), a genetically altered worker, is living in Seoul. Cut to pre-World War II England, and a young composer (Ben Whishaw) who is assisting an aging maestro (Jim Broadbent).
2 hr 43 min
Searching for Sugar Man
1 hr 25 min
And that's just a hint of what takes place as characters and set pieces are offered, never really cohering. The audience has to work at fitting the pieces together, while slowly discerning a pattern made manifest by the film's inherent ebb and flow rhythms.
As well, "Cloud Atlas" is a farrago of familiar actors who return in vignette after vignette, portraying different people with the help of makeup, wigs, prosthetic noses, and bad teeth, the point made, however metaphysically, that across the centuries there is a thread that binds us together, a quilt called life, souls reincarnated under the stars, a web linking all humanity.
To use the same actors also is a risky decision by the directors — beneath a balding pate, a tattooed face, a raised scar, a perspiring mime, a cinnabar wig, is, of course, Tom Hanks. Ditto for Jim Broadbent and Halle Berry and Hugo Weaving. This can be a distraction.
Without question, "Cloud Atlas" is a beautifully crafted and scored film. Risky. Almost reckless in its breadth. A kaleidoscope, shaken. A episodic juxtaposition, each giving only a hint of what is to come. But it also is daunting and abrupt and a challenge as it leaps across 500 years, crossing the heavens like a shooting star, a motif that appears in every story.
"Searching for Sugar Man"
"Searching for Sugar Man" is a complete surprise, perhaps because its subject, Sixto Rodriquez (also known as Rodriquez), an enigmatic folk-rock-blues singer-songwriter, remains ever-elusive, in spite of this very fine documentary.
What is not elusive is his music: haunting and lyrical, (the title of the documentary is taken from one of his songs). In fact, when Rodriquez plays and sings, a full orchestra in the background, the first thought is: Where has he been? Why isn't he famous?
That is the question that is embedded in "Searching for Sugar Man," a stirring and compelling film.
His first album was titled "Cold Fact." Its genius is self-evident. But this documentary is not just a showcase for an amazing talent. It's a mystery, a puzzle.
But it soon becomes evident that while Rodriquez was living in obscurity in Detroit, working as a day laborer, he has become an astonishing rock star, his fans numbering in the hundreds of thousands, on par with Elvis. However it wasn't in America; it was in South Africa, during the height of apartheid. And it was his music, as improbable as this sounds, that inspired a generation — a generation that embraced his songs and believed the urban legend that Rodriquez had immolated himself on stage while playing a dive-club gig.
His albums "Cold Fact" and "Coming From Reality" were bootlegged, played endlessly by young Afrikaners, and became an inspiration for a revolution against apartheid, as hard as that is to imagine.
Yet his creative genius is indisputable, and never fully recognized — at least not in America.