Halle Berry

Cloud Atlas

David Mitchell’s magnum opus was the subject of discussion in our most recent book club, so I thought I’d watch the 2012 film adaptation by Lana and Lilly Wachowski and Tom Tykwer. As far as unfilmable novels go, Cloud Atlas is a doozy: six separate stories set in six different timelines, each written in a different prose style and covering a different genre, from 19th-century pastiche to science fiction. Moreover, how do you visually translate a book whose chief attraction is Mitchell’s virtuoso use of language? This would have been enough to make most filmmakers run away screaming, so kudos to Wachowskis and Tykwer for even attempting something this ambitious and daunting. While I didn’t think that the movie succeeded overall, it’s a kind of high-aiming failure you can’t help but admire.

The epic storyline of Cloud Atlas takes place between the years 1849 and 2346. In the 19th century, a young attorney befriends a runaway slave on a sea voyage. In pre-WWII England, a young poor composer is struggling to write his masterwork. In 1975, a journalist investigates a shady nuclear plant. In the present day, an old publisher finds himself imprisoned in a nursing home. In 2144, a fabricated clone in the dystopian Korea gains self-awareness. In even more distant future, one of the few tribes remaining after the collapse of human civilization are visited by a woman from a more advanced society. Phewww… Is it any wonder this film runs for almost three hours?

One of the biggest changes made during the film adaptation is structure: Mitchell’s novel is something like a nesting Russian doll, where all but one central story are split in half, and once you read the middle story you’d go on to finish the rest in the reverse order. The movie dispenses with this symmetry, and instead chooses to constantly crosscut between the narratives, often pairing up the story beats, emotional moments and situations from different time periods. It also drives the central themes of freedom and oppression rather more forcefully than the book, where the thematic connections between disparate stories would dawn gradually. The crosscutting approach yields mixed results; even though I was already familiar with them, the rushed and shallow introduction of settings and characters was frustrating. Throughout the film, I kept wishing it would just stop and let each story breathe for a while, instead of taking short sharp gasps before whoosh, it’s on to another storyline.

Another questionable artistic choice is the decision to cast the same actors across the stories, blurring the boundaries of age, race and gender. In theory, this emphasises the theme of interconnectedness, but in practice it’s often distracting and some actors fare better than others. Tom Hanks is a great talent but his range is not limitless, and among the unconvincing characters he’s saddled with a hard-boiled Irish gangster/author is the chief offender. Poor Hugh Grant is disguised by the dreadfully fake aging make-up in one story, and I’m sorry, but Hugh Grant made up to look like a savage cannibal warrior can only be hilarious. In the future segment, the movie tries to pass a few non-Asian actors as Koreans, but their heavy make-up and prosthetics only make them look like Star Trek aliens. Likewise, turning a young Asian actress into a middle-aged Hispanic lady and then into a freckled white European girl took me out of the movie.

Yet when the actors simply portray the film’s main characters sans heavy make-up, the casting is bang on, particularly Ben Whishaw as witty, bohemian, bisexual composer Robert Frobisher. He really could have stepped off the pages of the book. Halle Berry (a sporadic performer to say the least) is effective in her two main roles. Doona Bae is touching as the doomed clone Sonmi, though she’s a tad unbelievable as a speechifying revolutionary whose incredibly monotone broadcast is supposed to have transformed the society (in the book, Sonmi’s call to rebellion is done in writing). But then, this is from the filmmakers who gave us the equally robotic Architect speech from The Matrix Reloaded.

Some changes from the source material I didn’t mind, such as more romance and action, and the revised ending to the far-future story. The book found a way to end on an optimistic note, so it’s fine if the filmmakers choose to do likewise. While ultimately I don’t think that the movie quite works, it’s daring and imaginative and there are moments of genuine emotion and magic to be found. I’ve no idea how I would have reacted had I not read the book, but I’m glad that someone attempted to put Mitchell’s incredible vision on screen.

Catwoman

catwomanI’ve heard so many bad things about this movie over the years I always had a perverse wish to watch it… and yeah it’s as awful as they say. As far as superhero movies go, this is total kitty litter.

I’ve no idea why they tried so hard to make Halle Berry into an action star back in the 00s – yes the woman is drop-dead gorgeous and can turn in a good performance if her Oscar is anything to go by, but she’s got zero presence required for an action-oriented role with her soft face and a soft voice. Here in Catwoman she plays Patience, a shy and sensitive young woman who works as a graphic designer and wears dowdy, aggressively horrible outfits. I can just see the director instructing the costume designer: please give me the most hideous, mismatched, sexless outfit you can think of, so the audience knows this woman is in for a sexy makeover. One day, Patience sees a cat sitting on a ledge outside of her apartment window, and instead of acting like a normal person and, I don’t know, calling for someone with a ladder, she climbs outside like a lunatic and tries to rescue the animal by herself. The cat needs no saving whatsoever, but Patience ends up being rescued by a hunky cop called Tom (Benjamin Bratt), who of course fancies her immediately.

Meanwhile, the cosmetics company that employs Patience, run by the obviously evil power couple Laurel and George (Sharon Stone and Lambert Wilson), are on a verge of releasing their new cosmetics product with a dark secret, which Patience inadvertently discovers one night. She is promptly killed off, but the cat Patience had attempted to rescue shows up with her posse of presumably non-magical felines and literally breathes in new life into her, in a laughably fake CGI sequence (like everything else, CGI in this movie sucks). Soon, Patience discovers her new powers, like keen senses, superhuman agility and reflexes, together with an overwhelming urge to drink milk, hiss at dogs and sleep on the shelves, which looks just as stupid as it sounds. She also transforms into a brand-new badass confident woman who takes no shit from no one, hear her meow! To show just how liberated she is, Patience puts on some bright lippy and squeezes herself into a ludicrous dominatrix costume designed for the benefit of hormonal teenage boys, and goes on a quest of revenge and random jewelry theft, which complicates things with her cop would-be boyfriend.

I should mention the one and only thing I liked about the movie, as a certified cat obsessive, and that’s the stunning silver Egyptian Mau cat that follows Patience around. My friend has a couple of Egyptian Maus and they’re simply exquisite creatures.

Everything else in this movie is terrible: one-dimensional characters, thin semblance of a story, romance with zero chemistry, clunky dialogue, you name it. The worst offender for me though was the editing, which is probably the most shockingly inept editing I’ve seen in a major blockbuster, with pointless zooms and a million random quick cuts in a simple dialogue scene. God it gave me a headache; it’s like the film is so nervous your attention will drift that even when it’s just showing a character talking it will cut to… the same character talking. If anything it makes me appreciate someone like Baz Luhrmann whose frenetic editing might be exhausting at times but feels like something done by a guy who knows what he’s doing. Halle Berry does ok as the meek Patience but her attempts at being all vampy and kickass are rather embarrassing to watch. And while this would not be her only dud role, rubbing catnip all over your face surely has got to be the nadir of anyone’s career.