Who’s to blame for Hollywood’s lack of originality? Are the suits too eager to greenlight reboots and sequels? Are screenwriters so uninspired they can’t think past remaking their favourite 1980s TV shows? Do actors only consider characters based on video games?
Of course not.
The people responsible for the movie doldrums these days live in your mirrors and selfies. That’s right, if you go to the cinema and didn’t check out Birdman, Whiplash or Obvious Child but did go see Guardians of the Galaxy twenty-five times, you forced Hollywood’s hand, guaranteeing another ten years of the big screen exploits of comic book characters Rocket Racoon and company.
Guardians is a fun movie that people liked and Hollywood is in the business of giving moviegoers what they want, but the fear is that a constant stream of familiar feeling films could create a less discerning audience. If you are fed a steady diet of dog food eventually you’ll get used to the taste.
Birdman is an accessible and entertaining movie but with a total gross less than one weekend’s business for Guardians it’s unlikely to inspire a Birdman 2: No Plucking Way but bigger box office could inspire more adventurous films as an antidote to the slew of movies with numbers in their titles.
Big budget Hollywood doesn’t often take the path less trodden. People went to see Inception but I would argue that the reference point for that movie was the director Christopher Nolan, hot off the Batman streak and not the unique story. Less successful were originals like Edge of Tomorrow, despite the usually winning mix of great reviews and Tom Cruise and Transcendence, the computer hard drive horror that brought Johnny Depp’s box office average way down.
Despite those high profile failures this weekend Warner Brothers has gone off the map to show support for an original story from The Matrix directors, the Wachowskis. Jupiter Ascending is a space opera about genetically engineered warrior Caine (Channing Tatum) who helps human janitor Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) take her place as heir to the galaxy.
Big stars, name directors and a new story should appeal but already the knives are out. “Jupiter Ascending looks like a great movie,” wrote @RickIngraham on twitter, “to never see.”
Jupiter Ascending will rise or fall based on audience interest, but if it tanks it’ll be harder for other unusual stories to get made. There are already at least thirty sequels, reboots and spin-offs scheduled for 2015—everything from Star Wars: The Force Awakens to Paul Blart: Mall Cop II—so unless you want another Daddy Day Care reboot in 2016 get out of your comfort zone and see something new and original today.
Words like audacious and ambitious will be used to describe the sprawling three hour saga from co-directors Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer. Based on a novel by British author David Mitchell, it’s a non-linear epic that connects six characters—make that souls—throughout different times in history. It is audacious and ambitious, and all those other “a” words, but I’d add another word to the mix—baffling.
Careening through history like a time machine with a broken steering wheel, the movie jumps from the Pacific Islands circa 1849 to 1973 San Francisco, to Cambridge and London in the 1930s and present day to Neo Seoul in 2144 to a time known as 106 years after the Big Fall.
The structure seems random at first, but as the running time ticks on connections begin to assert themselves and through lines emerge. Each story has a distinct look and feel—Neo Seoul is futuristic, present day London is pitched almost like Benny Hill meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest—but share a common cast. Each actor plays many characters—to stop your mind from wandering you may find yourself playing a Where’s Waldo game, trying to identify the actors in their various guises.
Genders are bent and ethnicity skewed to make the point that each of these people are connected, their souls passed form one time frame to another. It’s as if we’re watching a history (and future) of civilization seen through a handful of people. “Our lives are not our own,” the film tells us, “we are bound to each other from womb to tomb.” In other words these characters are replaying their lives throughout eternity, raising questions of fate versus destiny.
It’s heady stuff, much of it, but while there are loads of ideas on display, only one is hammered home. The idea that we are all connected, while spiritually satisfying, is the most simplistic of the movie’s concepts. We get it in the first hour, it’s reinforced in the second and by the end of the third act you want to scream, “I know! I know! We’re all connected!”
It’s heavy handed concept wise, but there is much to enjoy here. The performances are strong. They have to be to battle with the nonlinear structure that sees these stories seemingly randomly cut and pasted together as the trio of directors slowly connect the story’s dots.
It’s a pleasure to see actors like Tom Hanks, Jim Broadbent and Hugo Weaving push their boundaries. Hanks takes on multiple characters with fake teeth, fake hair and in one case, even a really fake accent.
The action scenes, however, are a let down. Surprisingly for directors who redefined movie action in their “Matrix” trilogy, the anticipated Wachowskis touch is missing in the bigger set pieces.
“Cloud Atlas” is a sincere attempt to bring a difficult novel to the screen, and even though the filmmakers include a scene where a critic is thrown off a balcony to his death, literally exploding in a gory gusher, I have to admire it’s scope, if not it’s execution.
SYNOPSIS: Words like audacious and ambitious will be used to describe the sprawling three hour saga from co-directors Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer. Based on a novel by British author David Mitchell, the story careens through history like a time machine with a broken steering wheel. Jumping from the Pacific Islands circa 1849 to 1973 San Francisco, to Cambridge and London in the 1930s and present day to Neo Seoul in 2144 to a time known as 106 years after the Big Fall it’s a non-linear epic that connects six characters—make that souls—throughout different times in history.
Richard: 3 ½ (Interconnected) Stars
Mark: 4 Stars
Richard: Mark, the movie’s structure seems random at first, but as the running time ticks on connections begin to assert themselves and through lines emerge. Each story has a distinct look and feel but share a common cast. Each actor plays many characters—so to stop your mind from wandering you may find yourself playing a Where’s Waldo game, trying to identify the actors in their various guises. Did you find it confusing?
Mark: All part of the game, Richard, all part of the game. And the Wachowskis are nothing if not game players. There are some people who will think this is the best movie of the year. I don’t know about that but it is the MOST movie of the year-eight movies by my count. Usually after I see a film I want to go for coffee- after Cloud Atlas I felt I needed a vacation. But you can’t fault its ambition. What you can question is its spiritual balderdash of We Are All Connected. If so, why won’t Spielberg return my calls?
RC: I hear you, it is a whole lotta movie. I also get what you mean about he idea that we are all connected. While spiritually satisfying, is the most simplistic of the movie’s concepts. We get it in the first hour, it’s reinforced in the second and by the end of the third act you want to scream, “I know! I know! We’re all connected!” What did you think about each actor taking on six roles?
MB: Part of the fun, and an Oscar shoo-in for whoever did the makeup. There is another theme to the movie which I found less trite which is humanity’s pursuit of freedom and free will over the ages. Some of the stories make this point better than others; I was most engrossed in the Seoul 2144 plot and least impressed with the nursing home geezers, although Jim Broadbent was terrific, as always. But I found it kind of depressing to find that in the far, far future, we all talk like Ozark hillbillies.
RC: I liked the nursing home story! But then again Benny Hill always made me laugh. The action scenes, however, let me down. Surprisingly for directors who redefined movie action in their Matrix trilogy, the anticipated Wachowskis touch is missing in the bigger set pieces.
MB: I think if the action scenes were any bigger they might have overwhelmed the rest of the movie. But even if the film had one plot too many and one idea too few, it still made me feel the grandeur of what cinema can be.