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Cloud Atlas
Directed by Tom Tykwer, and Lana & Andy Wachowski

There’s something inherently off-putting about attending a screening of a film at which the studio feels the need to warn the audience that it’s a difficult film to watch and one that demands patience. It’s also odd to watch the stars of a film on talk shows, seemingly attempting to explain in greater detail than one might normally expect, just what the film is about and how it’s structured. And I can’t help but assume that the filmmakers are concerned about whether audiences will “get” the film or care for what they’re getting.

I haven’t read the book of the same name that the film is based on, but I have read about it, in terms of its structure and storyline. And the film departs from that structure by telling the multiple storylines in a much more fragmented manner. That may upset fans of the book, but the book also sounds like it would have been hard to adapt in a more parallel fashion. Any attempt to tell such a story pretty much demands an ambitious vision, but “Cloud Atlas” may be too ambitious in that it takes an already somewhat complex concept and seems to complicate it even further.

The book tells six stories, separated through the centuries from our past to our future, with central characters that are essentially the same reincarnated soul inhabiting different bodies at different times. At each stage of the story, difficult and defining decisions have to be made that have residual effects for the next generation(s). It’s like a variation of the ‘Butterfly Effect’ only across time rather than just across continents and oceans.

But the film muddies this concept by having a central cast of major star power, with each of them playing multiple recurring roles across those stories and times. And, if nothing else and without dwelling too much on the narrative complications, it’s distracting to play the game of “spot the star” in the various subplots. This is a film that’s the dream project for a maker of prosthetic noses and you almost want “the nose guy” to get top billing. But it adds to the sense of stunt casting as they bury Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Susan Sarandon, Ben Wishaw,  Hugh Grant and several others behind multiple faces – some of which work far better than others, including some that look artificial enough to take you out of the moment.

Another unfortunate distraction is that dialog written for one of the future subplots is intended to sound like a variation of English that has morphed over time into something just recognizable for us to understand but clearly different enough to suggest the passage of time and isolation of the group. This would be neat if it didn’t sound uncomfortably close at times to dialog written by Jar Jar Binks moonlighting as a scriptwriter.

Still, there’s something wonderful in the attempt to bring this to the big screen. It’s ambitious and big and amazing at times in its vision. But it’s also weighed down by being overly ambitious in its casting and in its use of that cast. The themes are inherently profound – the nature of slavery, the founding of religion, and personal sacrifice amongst others – and the structure of the source material is inherently challenging. As such, it’s not a project that can sustain too many distractions and yet it’s a project that keeps piling them on with great gusto.

And so I find myself back where I started, apparently on the same page as the studio, choosing to warn future audience members to be open-minded and to be patient. This isn’t a film for those with short attention spans. Nor is it, at almost three hours, a film for those who chugged a Big Gulp on the way to the theater.

Fun Size
Directed by Josh Schwartz

“Fun Size” is an entirely predictable and derivative story about teenaged Wren who finds herself babysitting her kid brother Albert on Halloween, rather than attending the cool party that’s being hosted by the oh-so-dreamy Aaron Riley. The problem is that there’s virtually nothing in the film that doesn’t seem like things you’ve seen before in any number of teen babysitting and/or want-to-go-to-the-cool-party movies – including situations and scenes that seem lifted in their entirety from earlier films.

However, it’s also quite well done and often funny – and many in the cast make the most of the hackneyed material. What I have a hard time figuring out is quite who it’s targeted towards: It’s a PG-13 rated film that feels more like a slightly too hard PG rather than a softened R (and it’s the softened R’s that tend to make the most money). Which probably makes it better for tweens with liberal parents than for older teenagers who may be seeking out something a little edgier. It’s not bad, it just feels like an old joke you’ve heard before, being told by a new friend who’s younger than the joke. And that’s probably the key – most of the audience will also be younger than the joke and hearing it for the first time.


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