Friday, November 2, 2012

Cloud Atlas

Dinner and a Movie

Clouds of Green Monkeys

By Steve Herte

Cloud Atlas (Cloud Atlas Productions, 2012) Directors: Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski. Starring Tom Hanks, Halle Barry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Susan Sarandon, and Hugh Grant.

Warner Brothers has successfully released one of the most confusing movies in history. Featuring an all-star cast, the audience is whisked through six different time periods with six different characters for most of the film. To say this movie preaches reincarnation is putting it mildly. It took several hours to figure out what exactly I just witnessed and what was trying to be said by the film.

The time periods are introduced sequentially at the beginning of the movie, starting with 1849. There is a tall ship on which Dr. Henry Goose (Hanks) is treating Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess) for a brain worm, but is actually slowly poisoning him for the gold in his locked chest (the key is on a chain around his neck). Adam is saved by a self-freed black slave, Kupaka (Keith David) who (through Adam’s intercession) proved to the bigoted Captain Molyneux (Broadbent) that he was a seasoned sailor when he single-handedly drops the top mainsail on his ship.

The second time period is 1936 and Nazism is referred to by Tadeusz Kesselring (Weaving) who is mentoring a young musician, Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw) as together they write the Cloud Atlas Sextet. As we have six time periods and the musical piece is a sextet, it appears that it links the various stories. Robert is having a gay love affair during this mentoring which is only briefly depicted.

The third period is 1975, where Luisa Rey (Berry) is a newspaper reporter who has uncovered a plot to explode a nuclear power plant to prove nuclear energy’s unreliability and danger. There is an exciting scene where her Volkswagen Beetle is forced off the road into the ocean and her escape from it.

The fourth time period is 2012 where we meet the author of a failed book entitled “Knuckle Sandwich” at a high-rise penthouse party where he throws the reviewer who panned his book over the railing to his death below. This immediately makes his bomb of a book an instant success.

Number five is way in the future, the 22nd century, and the setting is Neo Seoul, Korea, a mega-metropolis with incredibly tall buildings, electric blue highways at several levels and thousands of identical “fabricants” (servant androids) doing the menial tasks and being disrespected by the ones they serve. We meet Sonmi-451 (Doona Bae) who has evolved to fall in love with Hae-Joo Chang (Jim Sturgess, again). The dizzying chase scene as he and she try to escape the authorities looks like something out of a video game.

The last time period doesn’t even have a date. It is scrolled on-screen as, “106 Winters After The Fall.” All is rural here and people are once again living in tribes, wearing what looks like macramé and sticks or anything they could wrap around themselves. The story focuses on Zachry (Hanks) and his tribe and their near extinction by a rival tribe painted up to appear demonic and who attack on horseback. Meronym (Berry), a more evolved being in a slinky white outfit, convinces Zachry to lead her to a mountain-top observatory (for want of a better word) from which she sends an SOS beacon to another planet.

The premise of Cloud Atlas is that one soul is transformed over several time periods from a heartless killer into a hero. Everyone is connected in some way to everyone else “from womb to tomb” per Sonmi-451. The time periods were deliberately chosen to depict man’s inhumanity to man – slavery, bigotry, greed, in particular – and those who rise above the basest of behaviors. The only problem is that the constant switching back and forth in time can be disconcerting. The movie begins with the character Zachry telling his tale, but we don’t know him yet. And…he’s speaking a pidgin English that takes some concentration to understand (no wonder Sandy Kenyon said he didn’t get it).

At two hours and 44 minutes, Cloud Atlas is a seat-shifter. It does have some entertaining humor in places and some breath-taking scenery, and Tom Hanks and Halle Berry do six of their best performances, but it might have made six separate movies much more comprehensible. 

Rating: 3 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Le Singe Verte
160 7th Avenue (19th/20th), New York City

Passing under the red awning you enter a suave bistro with soft gold walls and dark wood paneling matching the chairs and banquettes along the walls. The large-checked flooring and large mirrors reflecting the ample bar welcome you to the hip part of Chelsea. I have passed by the “Green Monkey” many times on my way to somewhere else and it always looked like people were genuinely enjoying themselves. Now it was my turn. On my way to my table in the back I noticed the Halloween decorations – thin black twigs and branches stretching across the ceiling with strange amorphous black talismans suspended from them – recalling the Blair Witch Trials to my memory. That plus the orange twinkle lights outlining the bar area completed the eerie atmosphere.

After presenting me with a glass of water and apologizing for being so busy, my waiter, Pierre (thank goodness, a French waiter in a French restaurant!) brought me the menu and the wine list. He then took my martini order and gave me time to peruse both. I had pretty much made my selection when I viewed the menu online (I have no idea why they play salsa music on the website) but it was good to sip my drink and take my time.

The menu, from top to bottom has classifications of “Pour Commencer” (Starters), “Les Moules Frites” (Mussels – Provençales, Saffron, or Marinières), “La Mer” (the Sea), “La Terre” (The Land) and Side Orders. I decided to choose my wine first as there were several well-priced choices. Unfortunately, they were out of the 2008 Pinot Noir from the Burgundy region I selected, but Pierre found a wonderful 2010 Hautes-Côtes-de-Nuits Burgundy which was perfect and I was happy.

The Soup du Jour was a lovely Butternut Squash purée with a small spoonful of fresh yoghurt and sprig of watercress in the center. It was piping hot but surprisingly, arrived simultaneously with the appetizer, La Rillette Maison - house-made “rillette”, croutons, cornichons (little pickles), cipolini onion. The rillette, fortunately served cold, is a delicious cylinder of finely-ground pork mixed with herbs which was delightful on sliced toasted baguette. Going back and forth from it to the soup with sips of wine in between, I felt as if I were in a Paris café.

The only main course not described in detail was Tripes à Ma Façon (loosely, Tripe My Way), Chef Pascal’s creation. Once Pierre described it I was sure I wanted it. An individual iron skillet comes to the table sizzling with sliced potatoes, vegetables and the delicate sliced tripe in a light tomato sauce. It was heavenly and went nicely with the bread and fresh butter served earlier. Needless to say, I finished every drop of my dinner.

How do you top a dinner like that? With Champagne Sorbet, of course! A delightful scoop of sorbet floating in (what else?) champagne served in the appropriate glass. Then a nice hot double espresso and a comforting glass of 1970 Laubade Armagnac and my “fantastique” French dinner was complete. Merci, Le Singe Vert.

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