Tag Archives: Wachowski

Jupiter Ascending

Smart about being Stupid.

by Jackson Tyler (@Tylea002)

jupiter ascending 2If you’re anything like me, then you love Speed Racer with all of your heart. Eviscerated upon release, it has come to be seen as the Wachowskis’ true masterpiece by a growing segment of those who are referred to in hushed tones as “film people.” They’ll tell you it’s actually beautiful and earnest, a pure expression of the potential of cinema without a cynical bone in its body. I am one of those film people, and I am here to tell you that it’s happening again.

Jupiter Ascending is not the quite cinematic revelation that Speed Racer was, buts its more conventional aesthetic choices are balanced with its nostalgic commitment to genre and a greater thematic richness. A space opera in the most literal of senses, it is a melodramatic love story, a wondrous tour through decadent costume and set design, and a pointed takedown of the underlying amorality of capitalism.

Summarising Jupiter Ascending is more than a little difficult, the plot initially laying the groundwork for a chosen-one teen drama, before instead shifting into the action-packed proceedings of intergalactic corporate legalese. Warring members of one of the universe’s largest family businesses fight over the deeds to the Earth, and somehow at the heart of all this is Mila Kunis’ Jupiter Jones, a poor girl still cleaning toilets every day. She is the film’s emotional heart, swept up into the drama through nothing but chance, shepherded from plot point to plot point, a cog in a machine that cares not one iota for her agency or personhood. The convoluted story and Jupiter’s passive nature are reminiscent of recurring complaints levied at your Twilights, your Divergents etc., but here the film elevates them from narrative flaws to integral thematic components. Jupiter Ascending doesn’t inherit the problems of its genre, it confronts them.

All that makes Jupiter Ascending seem like a dry affair, but the reality couldn’t be further than the truth. It’s dripping in camp, from Eddie Redmayne’s villainous drawl to the time it decides to just turn into Brazil for about five minutes. The film’s true strength is the lost art of sincerity, it embraces the inherent stupidity of its space opera universe and still commits to every single beat. Much like Lucy last year, it is smart and stupid in equal measure, celebrating its pulpy nature and never undercutting either it or its thematic ideas in order to bolster the other. I like Guardians of the Galaxy as much as the next guy, but if the only way we’re going to get space bombast in the future is to couch it in a self-effacing layer of snarky detachment, then we’re living in a sad world indeed.

Ultimately, these are not the words I truly want to write about Jupiter Ascending. Those words would be full of spoilers, a parsing of the films specific themes and ambitions, a celebration of every campy line read and overwrought piece of set design. It is a film that demands its audience to meet it half way, and if you do, there is so much worth talking about on the side. For a film that also features Bees genetically engineered to recognise space royalty, I cannot think of a greater compliment.

Be on the right side of history, this time. Go see Jupiter Ascending, then we’ll have the right conversation.

Jupiter Ascending is in cinemas in the UK right now (finally) and you can find Jackson Tyler on the gaming blog and podcast site Abnormal Mapping. If you like the site, why not support them via their Patreon page?

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GFF13: Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas Weaving Old GeorgeAfter Ang Lee’s visually striking, if slightly lightweight version of ‘the unfilmable novel’ Life of Pi last year, comes an even more ambitious adaptation in the shape of the Wachowski siblings and Tom Twyker’s take on David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. A labyrinthine epic spanning six different narratives over a 500-year period, the film has already divided critics and film fans on the other side of the Atlantic following its release last year. The UK finally gets its chance to make up its own mind this week.

Cloud Atlas stars Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, and Jim Broadbent in various roles across the six storylines. Other actors who appear in at least two (and often more) of the narratives include Jim Sturgess, Susan Sarandon, Ben Whishaw, Doona Bae, and an often unrecognisable Hugh Grant. Unfortunately, this will be the first sticking point for members of the audience, as the make-up work to enable these actors to appear as such a diverse range of characters is both incredible, and at times horribly jarring. Seeing Hugh Grant as an angry Korean restaurant manager, for example, is possibly the most disturbing cinematic sequence since, well, most of Antichrist. Looking beyond the make-up, some actors handle the range of performances required with more élan than others, with Hugo Weaving and Jim Broadbent displaying fabulous versatility, while Tom Hanks struggles in a few scenes; particularly as the Irish (possibly?) gangster Dermot Hoggins.

The key for this type of multi-layered film to succeed is that none of the interweaving storylines should bore you, and on the whole this is true of Cloud Atlas. In fact, a number of the strands would make excellent films in their own right. The personal stand-out story for me was the story of Robert Frobisher, a disinherited young libertine (Sturgess) who obtains work as the amanuensis to a world famous composer (Broadbent). Their working arrangement gives Frobisher the time and inspiration to write the Cloud Atlas sextet, a piece of music which echoes throughout the film’s extraordinary score. At times I wanted the film to give this story a little room to breathe and stretch its legs, but as soon as this pre-Second World War environment of duty, honour, and forcibly concealed sexuality got its hooks into you, the film moved onto a different timeline.

There is a huge potential for this to go horribly wrong and it really shouldn’t work, but somehow the Wachowskis and Twyker are performing cinematic alchemy right before our very eyes. On paper, there is so much about this film that shouldn’t work. Tonally, it’s all over the place; one minute you’re watching a farce about pensioners plotting an escape from the nursing home from hell, the next a dystopian science-fiction parable about conformity and rebellion. The editing can be hugely disorientating, sometimes jumping between three or four different narrative strands in a matter of seconds. Everything about this film is exactly what they teach you not to do in film school. And maybe that’s why some people (myself included) will love it.

There are moments I laughed out loud at the sheer lunacy of it all, especially during a frankly bizarre storyline set in the distant future where Tom Hanks and Halle Berry talk in an infuriating patois (“ain’t the tru tru”) and Hugo Weaving turns up an amalgam of Old Gregg and The Hitcher from The Mighty Boosh. I’m still not entirely sure what happened during that period of the film, but it never bored me for a second. And that’s the triumph; in a near three hour running time, with six separate narratives, it never once loses momentum. It is a relentless juggernaut of a film, and afterwards I felt like the victim of an intellectual hit and run.

I still find it hard to recommend though, as I know full well that a great number of people will hate it more than the Wachowski’s Matrix sequels. I just can’t help loving it more than The Matrix.

Cloud Atlas is released nationwide on Friday

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The Failed Critics coverage of Glasgow Film Festival is sponsored by Brewdog Bar Glasgow – providing award-winning beers and brilliant food in one of Glasgow’s friendliest bars.

We would have spent most of the festival there regardless, so we’d really like to thank them for their generous hospitality.