Starring: Tom Hanks, Hugh Grant, Jim Sturgess, Halle Berry, Ben Whishaw
Directors: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer (CERT 15, 172 minutes)
The plot: In the past, present and future, and across multiple continents, six separate stories connect with and impact each other. In 1849, a young lawyer (Sturgess) is being slowly poisoned by an avaricious ship’s doctor (Hanks); in 1936, a bisexual young English musician (Whishaw) is exploited by his composer boss (Jim Broadbent); in 2146, a genetically engineered slave (Doona Bae) is about to be recycled when she is swept away by a rebel (also Sturgess). And so on. David Mitchell’s “unfilmable” novel is reconceived for the screen by the makers of The Matrix and their pal Tykwer (Run Lola Run).
What’s right with it? Although it takes a while to get going, and you may initially wonder what these six seemingly unconnected stories have to do with each other, Cloud Atlas gets steadily more gripping across its epic duration. And the central conceit – the main actors play a different character in each of the stories, sometimes heavily disguised – is a cunning device, while also pushing the likes of Hugh Grant (unrecognisable as a post-apocalyptic savage entertainingly out of his comfort zone. The present-set tale, featuring hapless publisher (Broadbent), provides welcome comic relief.
What’s wrong with it? The made-up language spoken in the post-apocalyptic storyline is borderline irritating. The fast cutting between the tales means there is no obvious place for a loo dash – so, at nearly three hours, best not supersize your drink.
Verdict: A wildly ambitious Marmite movie that definitely won’t be to everyone’s taste, and demands a huge investment of attention. We loved it.
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
Director: Andrés Muschietti (CERT 15, 100 minutes)
The plot: Rock musician Annabel (Chastain) suddenly finds herself playing mum to her boyfriend’s young nieces, when they’re found living in a woodland shack five years after they disappeared.
What’s right with it? The titular ghostly presence that nourished the infants and has now followed them home is properly scary, and a punk-styled Chastain elevates her role as the initially reluctant parent. Coster-Waldau (Game Of Thrones) adds man candy.
What’s wrong with it? Creepy intrigue gradually gives way to more-routine CGI-heavy horror fare. Mama’s tortured back story is overly complicated.
Verdict: Presented by visionary executive producer Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth), Mama proved a big US box-office hit, and it’s not hard to see why. 3/5 Charles Gant
Starring: Gemma Arterton, Terence Stamp, Vanessa Redgrave
Director: Paul Andrew Williams (CERT PG, 93 minutes)
The plot: Grumpy Arthur (Stamp) hates the singing classes his ill wife Marion (Redgrave) attends – but after she dies, choirmistress Elizabeth (Arterton) helps him find his own voice.
What’s right with it? Vanessa Redgrave is brilliant as kindly, patient Marion, while Arthur’s grouchiness provides light humour. The bond between them is touching: a few scenes will put a lump in your throat. Meanwhile, it’s good to see Bond girl Gemma play against type as a worthy volunteer teaching pop songs to pensioners (including Salt-N-Pepa’s Let’s Talk About Sex!).
What’s wrong with it? Staged sentimentality and a few dodgy performances mean that this doesn’t always ring true.
Verdict: A patchy but sweet little Brit flick with a tear-jerking turn from Redgrave. 3/5 Anna Smith
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