CLOUD ATLAS FANTASY: Starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Ben Wishaw, Susan Sarandon. Directed by Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski and Tom Twyker. Cert 15a
Filming source material which was thought to be unfilmable has been providing something of a challenge for movie-makers of late. In recent months, we've had the mess that was Midnight's Children emerging alongside Ang Lee's mightily impressive Life of Pi and now David Mitchell's award-winning puzzle of a novel finally emerges on to the screen after a reportedly troubled production.
Of the trio of directors attached to the project, Tom Twyker has previous form when it comes to adapting 'difficult' novels, having gamely had a stab at Perfume a couple of years back, but whatever artistic credit the Wachowski siblings had banked after Bound and The Matrix was utterly devalued after the latter's two appalling sequels and the sheer drivel that was Speed Racer. From the off the odds were stacked against this movie.
The tagline 'Everything is connected' pretty much tells you all you need to know about the film, as it shifts backwards and forwards in time and space weaving six separate story strands together and using a topline cast portraying different characters (sometimes swapping genders) who all experience the joy and pain of being human.
Thus we move from Tom Hanks spouting futuristic patois over an off-world campfire centuries hence, back to an anti-slavery theme aboard a Pacific sailing ship in 1849, jump to the story of a gay musician (Ben Wishaw) in 1930s Edinburgh and then leap forward to a conspiracy thriller set in 1970s San Francisco, with Halle Berry as an investigative journalist out to nail a shady industrialist (Hugh Grant). Lob in a Matrix/Soylent Green -style segment in the New Seoul of 2144, a comic present-day-set strand involving a publisher (Jim Broadbent), who winds up in a nursing home and a post- apocalyptic theme involving extremely scary cannibals and you have what makes for a demanding, but not particularly fulfiling film.
In fairness, the middle hour of Cloud Atlas is rather engaging but the final 60 minutes descends into the farcical as the directors try to tie every strand together and you're left being spoonfed fortune-cookie philosophy by an excellent cast labouring beneath some of the most laughable prosthetic make-up imaginable.
Cloud Atlas certainly can't be faulted for its ambition but falls dismally short in the final product. Some stories should best be left on the page. ★★☆☆☆
MAMA HORROR: Starring Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nelisse, Daniel Kash. Directed by Andy Muschetti. Cert 15a
The debut feature from Argentina-born director Andy Muschetti began life as a 2008 short but caught the attention of horror aficionado Guillermo Del Toro, who encouraged its maker to expand the idea into a full-length film and, for two-thirds of its running time it works really well.
The story begins with a ruined financier (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) killing his business partners and estranged wife and taking his two young daughters (Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nelisse) to an isolated cabin in the woods where, it's quite clear, his intent is to wipe out his entire family.
He's mysteriously prevented from doing so and, five years later, his twin brother Lucas receives word that the girls have been found alive but have gone feral and are displaying some disturbing behavioural patterns, constantly referring to a spectral character called 'Mama'. Lucas's girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain), a free-spirited rock musician, rather reluctantly agrees to help take care of the girls but soon begins to have her doubts when strange and quite scary events begin to happen.
In setting up the story Muschetti shows great talent, using proven horror techniques to unsettling effect. The girls are terrific, Chastain gives another flawless performance and the sound design is excellent but, alas, the final third of the film blows the brilliant build-up and leaves the viewer ultimately deflated. A pity, certainly, but for an hour Muschetti create s a delightfully scary piece of entertainment.
LORE DRAMA: Starring Saskia Rosendahl, Kal Malina, Nelle Trebs. Directed by Cate Shortall. Cert 15a
Australian director Cate Shortall made a promising debut with Somersault in 2004 but has made a big leap forward with her second feature, adapting Rachel Sieffert's novel Dark Room set in Germany at the end of WW2.
With echoes of Two Women and Come and See, Lore follows the title character, the teenage daughter of fervent Nazis, as she and her younger siblings try to make their way from the Black Forest to the security of their grandmother's house near Hamburg as the country comes to terms with the chaos of war.
Saskia Rosendahl is remarkable in the lead role, delivering a gripping performance as a young woman slowly coming to realise that everything she's grown up believing in has been based on murderous lies. A very affecting and utterly haunting piece of work. HHHHI
SONG FOR MARION Drama. Starring Terence Stamp, Gemma Arterton, Vanessa Redgrave, Christopher Eccleston. Directed by Paul Andrew Williams. Cert 12A
The quest for the grail of the grey audience continues with this low-key but warm drama centred around a group of pensioners who get together for a choir competition.
Marion (Vanessa Redgrave) is suffering from a terminal illness but gains great solace from meeting up with her friends under the tutelage of perky music teacher Elizabeth (Gemma Arterton), much to the chagrin of her constantly grumpy husband Arthur (Terence Stamp). Stamp adds real grit to what could have been an unbearably cheery exercise, conveying a true sense of loss when Marion passes away and remaining at loggerheads with his estranged son (Christopher Eccleston). HHHII
THE HARDY BUCKS MOVIE COMEDY: Martin Maloney, Chris Tordoff, Owen Colgan, Peter Cassidy, Tony Kilgallon. Directed by Mike Cockayne. Cert 16
The internet-originated comedy's move to the big screen is less streamlined than in its TV incarnation and, for the opening 35 minutes at least, is genuinely amusing if not actually funny.
A group of eejits hanging around Castletown, a fictional town in Mayo, eventually decide to travel to Euro 2012 for Ireland's final game against Italy.
As was the case with so many British sitcoms from the '70s that made the move to feature films, The Hardy Bucks Movie opts for the tried and not particularly trustworthy method of taking characters out of their natural environment, in this case landing the crew with a staggeringly bad storyline involving Amsterdam, drugs and gangsters, which leaves the film floundering badly around the hour mark and wasting the promising opening. ★★☆☆☆