Finally, justice for Chiwetel. McQueen’s follow-up to Shame, which I skipped. I was bracing for a no-holds-barred art film, but it’s closer to a typical Hollywood drama than Hunger was, based on the real guy’s memoir and adapted by John Ridley (Three Kings, Red Tails).

Chiwetel is kidnapped by circus tricksters and sold to Django Unchained vet Chris Berry, who immediately kills fellow slave Omar and throws him overboard. Chiwetel is auctioned by Paul Giamatti to relatively-decent Benedict Cumberbatch, but pisses off watcher Paul Dano and so is sent to Fassbender’s place. Fass is fucking female slave Lupita Nyong’o and Fass’s wife Sarah Paulson knows it – guess which of those three will get the shit end of the stick (or the whip). Chiwetel seeks help from Garret Dillahunt, who sells him out, finally gets it from forward-thinking Canadian Brad Pitt.

Amazing story, certainly a well-made and well-acted movie, but the closing titles leave things depressingly unresolved and one yearns for some Django-style payback. IMDB lists the previous adaptation, starring Avery Brooks of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine fame, as a comedy/drama!

I think if Cloud Atlas took itself and its themes and lessons super-seriously it could have been tragically awful. The nursing home segment, genre thrills and obviously silly makeup help keep things on the amusing side. Another way to make the movie awful would be to present it as an anthology, separating the stories and letting each play through, since the main interesting thing about the film is its cross-cutting and the tentative connections between segments, previous events echoing into later ones, sometimes misinterpreted.

Clown Atlas:

Movie is full of “oh who is that guy, I’ve seen him before” moments, but mostly it’s because the same actor played a different role in the previous scene. I kept getting Ben Whishaw (of Bright Star and I’m Not There, playing the young composer/amanuensis) mixed up with Jim Sturgess, and wrongly imagined one or both of them might be Benedict Cumberbatch.

Pacific Islands, 1849: Mad doctor Tom Hanks poisons Jim Sturgess for his money aboard a slave ship.

Cambridge, 1936: Two guys in love – Ben Whishaw goes to work for composer Jim Broadbent (the second movie I’ve seen with an amanuensis after Delius – suppose it’s a cinematic way of showing the artistic creation process) and later kills himself.

San Francisco, 1973: Halle Berry is a reporter onto a murderous secret over some nuclear files provided by the guy from 1936 who didn’t kill himself (a Ralph Fiennes-looking James D’Arcy).

London, 2012: Gangsta author Hanks kills a literary critic, story follows his agent Jim Broadbent to a prison-like old folks home (governed by evil nurse Hugo Weaving) from which he plots to escape.

Neo Seoul, 2144: Doona Bae is a “fabricant”, a robot slave, freed in mind and body by militant freedom fighter Jim Sturgess – very Matrix-meets-V-for-Vendetta.

Big Isle, 106 Winters After The Fall: Hanks is tribal type haunted by an evil clown, rescues space-travelin’ Berry from cannibal warriors led by Hugh Grant.

Susan Sarandon also appears, and Wachowski favorite Hugo Weaving is everywhere. I never recognized Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe) as the poisoned lawyer on the ship and lead revolutionary of Neo Seoul, Doona Bae (sister/archer in The Host) as the escaped fabricant, nor Keith David (The Thing, They Live) as the cop who helps reporter Berry in the 70’s. Also lost track of what the comet birthmark shared by some characters signified.

Sure sure, I can slightly, vaguely, ever-so-minimally agree with some specific charges of political incorrectness and racial insensitivity I’ve read from online critics who would apparently prefer that Richard Gere make more movies instead of Tarantino. But Django Unchained was so awesome that even Katy loved it. Seems looser and less purposeful at times than his other movies, but that’s hard to say without having seen most of them in a long time.

Bounty Hunter Christoph Waltz (giving just as delicious a performance as in Inglorious Basterds, but this time as a good guy), the only non-racist in the slavery-era American south, frees Jamie “Django” Foxx from slave traders so Foxx can help identify and kill the Brittle Brothers. I figured from the trailer that they’d be more important, but they’re killed off a few scenes later with barely an introduction. Django stays on with Waltz, learning new strategies for killing villainous white men, until they come up with a plan to rescue D’s wife Kerry Washington from the estate of Leonardo DiCaprio. Many monologues follow, and when Leo gets wise to the scam, Waltz kills him (“I couldn’t resist”), leaving turncoat house-slave Samuel L. Jackson (the movie’s most hilarious performance) for Django to finish off. QT cameos as a doomed Australian.

A couple of quotes contradicting anything negative I said in the first paragraph:

Slant:

[Samuel L. Jackson] reveals himself as the film’s true enemy, a totally indoctrinated subordinate whose slave-subject mentality is so deeply inscribed that he acts out his master’s cruelty and viciousness even in his absence. He hints at the more complicated idea that the kind of violence Django trots out with decadent aplomb in the film’s finale is learned from white folks, a notion implied with more subtlety in the relationship between Django and Schultz. In visiting the film’s most protracted, and ultimately fulfilling, scenes of vengeance against a black man, Tarantino stumbled into his most intriguing social-historical corrective: a full-on reconsideration of classically defined algebra of Civil War antagonism, a counterintuitive take on the well-worn rivalry that pitted “brother against brother.”

A. Nayman:

Once again, in this deceptively baggy, ultimately precisely structured movie, the surface effect belies what’s going on underneath. The sight of two black men locked in a battle to the death at the behest of a white overseer is a tip-off to script’s true conflict. The expression of hatred on Jackson’s face as Django rides up to the inevitably named Candieland transcends the jokey Spaghetti Western posturing — it’s genuinely unnerving.