I’m about 23% of the way off the end of the book (good old Kindle, redefining how we view our progress through books!), so I’ll hold off any kind of book vs movie theorising until I’ve finished that.

But in the meantime, as we remain on this side of the world premiere, I thought it would be a great time to reflect on a few other movies (ignoring previous films by the Wachowskis and Tykwer for the moment) that were similarly ambitious and succeeded brilliantly.

Or, in the case of today’s film, fell apart completely.















Director Richard Kelly appeared out of nowhere with the highly successful Donnie Darko in 2001 (just realised that was 11 years ago – where do the years go?). The tale of a depressive teen in the 80s, having apocalyptic visions of a killer bunny, time travel and great use of the song “Mad World” just seemed to appeal to everyone.

So after the success of that film, everyone was keen to see what Kelly would come up with next.

What he delivered was the film Southland Tales.

It’s possible that if I had read the three prequel comic books that Kelly wrote for this film, it might make some more sense, but I would argue that a film that requires you to track down three prequel comics to make sense of it, is probably already off to a bad start.

The story is set in a futuristic Los Angeles after some sort of war breaks out across America. My memory is fuzzy on this one, but there was something about a rather stoned-looking Justin Timberlake manning a rather large gun pointing out at the ocean, Seann William Scott dealing with a clone of himself, neo-Marxists, ex-porn stars and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson who crawls out of the desert at the beginning of the film, not sure what has happened to himself, but trying to piece everything together.

I believe the film might have been an attempt to make some sort of political statement, but no one is quite sure what. Patriot Act gone mad, maybe? While there seemed like there was a decent concept underneath all of this, it seemed to be buried beneath layers of weirdness. I love a bit of weird in films, but ultimately, there was nothing human you could connect with (apart from maybe Dwayne, who seemed as confused as we were for the duration of the film), and the whole thing fell apart.

That said, from a visual and musical standpoint, I really enjoyed the finale, which took place on a zeppelin. I was just watching Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade the other day and thinking that we need more films that have zeppelin sequences. Apart from that and The Rocketeer, I can’t think of any others. Anyone?

Anyway, my suspicion is that Cloud Atlas will work a lot more successfully than Southland Tales, because already what you can see from the trailer is that it is ultimately about simple human things that people can connect with – love, death, injustice. There are simply some core primal things that people will respond to time and time again – as long as they executed well – and the trailer managed to pack nearly all of them into its 5 1/2 minutes.

Also, despite the incomprehensibility of the trailer, having read most of the book, Cloud Atlas is quite easy to follow, once you understand the logic of its construction. The end of Southland Tales, however, still never quite made sense.

But, of course, there are plenty of books that have been turned into somewhat confusing films, so we shall see …

In the meantime, while we’re waiting, we’re finally starting to see some cast interviews come in describing the experience of playing multiple characters across different storylines.

This one with Susan Sarandon has been floating around for a few weeks.

This one I just came across today where Tom Hanks explains the characters he’s playing and also maybe confesses that he’s not sure what the book was all about …

4 thoughts on “Cloud Atlas: Why It Could Suck (Southland Tales)

  1. Good call, Dave. Completely forgot about “Up”. I believe there’s also Matthew Barney’s “Cremaster 1” as well, but that’d be getting a tad esoteric, even for this blog.

  2. how anyone can compare the likes of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson,Sarah

    Michelle Geller,Jason Lee,Janeane Garafalo,Sean William Scott

    to Academy Award Winner Tom Hanks (Philadelphia,Forrest Gump,Saving Private Ryan,My Big Fat Greek Wedding)

    Academy Award Winner Susan Sarandon (Thelma & Louise, Bull Durham,Dead Man Walking,The Client)

    Screen Actors Guild,Emmy Award,Golden Globe and Academy Award Winner Halle Berry (Alex Haley’s Queen,Introducing Dorothy Dandrige,Monster’s Ball,James Bond’s Die Another Day,X-Man:The Last Stand,Their Eyes Were Watching God)

    Academy Award Winner Jim Broadbent (Topsy Turvy,Bridget Jones’s Diary,Moulin Rouge,Iris,Gangs of New York,Harry Potter,The Iron Lady)

    Hugo Weaving(The Matrix,The Lord Of The Rings, Transformers, Captain America, The Hobbit)

    Keith David (Platoon, Mr & Mrs Smith,Requiem For a Dream,Volcano,Armageddon,Clockers)

    Ben Winshaw in James Bond’s Sky Fall

    Hugh Grant (Four Weddings and a Funeral,Notting Hill,Bridget Jones’s Diary

    ,Xun Zhou is beyond me

    1. Hi Fred,

      I don’t think the issue is casting. The cast for Southland Tales all turned in reasonably interesting performances, but it wasn’t a very warm film to work with, so no matter what they did, it never quite worked. But I agree with you that Cloud Atlas has a much better cast to work with.

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