Cloud Atlas – 9.2/10
2012; Germany, USA, Hong Kong, Singapore; based on the novel by David Mitchell; written for the screen by Lana Wachowski & Tom Tykwer & Andy Wachowski; directed by Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski.
I have to admit that I’m a bit biased about this one: having first read David Mitchell’s novel back in 2004, and then having heard rumblings, rumours, and finally details about the film adaptation by some great filmmakers, I kind of loved Cloud Atlas before I saw it. That’s not to say that I didn’t attend this screening without reservations or objectivity; Cloud Atlas, while incredibly ambitious, challenging and visually spectacular is also quite flawed and certainly not for everyone. In fact, TIME recently put it at number one on its “10 Worst Movies” (and I heartily agree with FirstShowing.net’s response).
Since first seeing it at TIFF, I’ve seen Cloud Atlas two additional times: once in IMAX, and once with my cousin and another friend, both onto whom I pushed the book. While the degree of my anticipation diminished before these viewings (the almost three-hour runtime is pretty daunting), I found #2 to be the most enjoyable since I knew what to expect and could relax and take in more of the details; I didn’t need to think so much about following the fragmented stories or be distracted by the actors in so many diverse roles. The incredible editing and piecing together of the stories and characters had a much greater effect on me, and I felt like I was able to better connect with it emotionally.
The third time, however, was not quite as enjoyable. I was more aware of the film’s length, bizarre make-up jobs stood out more, and I didn’t feel like I was connecting to its “universal themes”. I’m not sure what my point is – maybe that this is a movie best enjoyed twice, but maybe hold off a bit on your third viewing… which I realize is pretty ridiculous advice since most people don’t see the same three-hour movie in the theatre three times in a relatively short period of time.
Anyway, all-in-all I loved Cloud Atlas and do consider it to be a success. It’s a joy to watch a film that is truly its creators’ labour of love, and there is no question at all that Tykwer and the Wachowskis really poured themselves into this project. Their love of the source material even surprised David Mitchell, who says in this New Yorker story that “they know my book much more intimately than I do.” The three directors each play to their strengths; while Tykwer’s three segments focus on period-based dramatic stories, The Wachowskis incorporate much-needed visual and action-based styles to balance things out. Actors truly embrace their multiple roles, with those by Jim Broadbent, Ben Whishaw and Hugo Weaving being the ones that really stood out to me.
I gave this film a pretty high rating right after I saw it, and I’m going to stick to it. While occasionally flawed and not necessarily accessible to the average movie-goer, they were more than successful in adapting a brilliant novel into an incredibly effective and ambitious film that delivers on so many levels. I can’t wait for the blu-ray to come out so that it can sit on my shelf while I muster up the energy to watch it again.
Click here to see the directors introduce the film at Winter Garden Theatre.
Boy Eating the Bird’s Food – 7.9/10
2012; Greece; written and directed by Ektoras Lygizos.
This film is often included in what some are calling the “Greek Weird Wave” – doc-style filmmaking with strange characters that maybe aren’t so strange… and then: Yup! They’re definitely strange. The main character of this one, John, lives in Athens, and is so affected by the financial situation in Greece that he can’t afford rent or even food – he can afford food for his bird, though, but then eats it himself because he is so hungry (so why didn’t he just buy himself food and eat the bird?). He’s too proud to ask his family for help, so we watch him for the duration of the film as he does even more interesting/strange things to find food and comfort.
I appreciate this different take on poverty as it explores the non-typical “poor person” – somebody who is in this position through no clear fault of their own yet faces the same harsh realities. I’m a big fan of documentary-style filmmaking as well as working with non-professionals. The director, in the Q&A, speaks about the relationship he formed with the young actor and how most of the time it was just him operating the camera with no other crew around.
It sounds pretty boring and many will likely find it as such, but there are a few scenes which certainly stand out (including one in particular that one can probably only ever see in a Film Festival or amateur porn site), but I do like challenging/inappropriate/strange films and therefore enjoyed it. I also enjoy watching non-regular Festival audience members squirm.
Click here to see the Q&A for Boy Eating the Bird’s Food.
Blackbird – 9/10
2012; Canada; written and directed by Jason Buxton.
Blackbird really blew me away, and is in my top picks not only for TIFF12, but for the year. I have always been drawn to the Bildungsroman (Bildungsfilmen?) as they are important stories about people that we can all relate to, in some way or another; witnessing a character change and grow – usually from some form of adolescence into adulthood, regardless of age – is, to me, an extremely powerful and hopeful experience that truly embraces the pains and joys of life. Blackbird is such a story, and it was made with a sensitivity that touched me deeply.
To some this may simply be a story of a troubled youth who does some off-the-cuff things with dramatic consequences; while this may be a flippant yet but accurate one-line synopsis, there is so much more to it that it’s actually difficult for me to write it all out. Broken families; extreme forms of personal expression as a sort of rebellion against not fitting in; media frenzy and panic leading to a lack of logic and reason; questionable practices in juvenile detention centres… add to the mix the general emotional confusion that teenagers go through in regards to sex, relationships, identity, etc… it may seem like this is a too many themes to address in one film but Buxton and his incredible cast succeed by simply presenting the audience with the facts and not being overly expositive.
Blackbird has no establishing shots and no musical score, so your experience of and reaction to the events is less contrived and manipulated. (When music is used, however, it has a jarring effect, and reminded me a lot of how I felt while watching Funny Games.) The photography is perfectly intimate without being overwhelming, and I’ve never seen seemingly mundane things such as ceilings and ice rinks in such a captivating way (Stéphanie Anne Weber Biron was also the photographer for J’ai tué ma mere and Les amours imaginaires – arguably the best things about Dolan’s first two films). Buxton and his actors, Connor Jessup in particular (who plays Sean, the protagonist), exhibit so much restraint and such a mature understanding of pacing and storytelling that it’s shocking to remember how early this project is in their respective careers.
Okay, enough gushing – Blackbird was a gem at this year’s festival and I am very excited at the idea of watching it again and again.
Click here to see the Q&A for Blackbird, with writer/director Jason Buxton, actor Connor Jessup and other members of the cast and production team.