THIS is one of the great DVD-download release weeks of the year, although not because acclaimed or successful films are being released. Rather, this week’s batch is a motley crew of glorious misfires and nearly-got-theres featuring big-name stars and alluring auteurs. And one film stars Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Cloud Atlas is the one that deserves most attention but viewers should find something to their liking among Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States, Steven Soderbergh’s pharma-thriller Side Effects, Lee Daniels’s The Paperboy and David Fincher’s series House of Cards.
You know what you’re committing to when jumping into Stone’s didactic doco series with Peter Kuznick about their homeland.
And Soderbergh’s supposedly penultimate film Side Effects (MA15+, Roadshow, 106min, $39.95), starring Jude Law, appealed to me greatly with its smooth sheen and neat performances (I get the Rooney Mara thing now, although her sister Kate annoys me a little in House of Cards).
And if you ever doubt how willing an actress Nicole Kidman can be watch The Paperboy (MA15+, Roadshow, 107min, $39.95), an incredibly flawed and erratic drama notable primarily for Kidman’s performance.
Then there’s Cloud Atlas. I still don’t know what I think of this adaptation of David Mitchell’s epic novel by the Wachowski siblings, Lana and Andy, and Tom Tykwer. The Wachowskis love noodling into geek philosophy and in Cloud Atlas (MA15+, Warner, 172min, $39.95) they have a doozy, a sprawling tale that interweaves six narratives, from a 19th-century Pacific island to a futuristic ‘‘Neo-Seoul’’ of 2144.
The film has many attributes the Wachowskis have loved in previous films including a cool assassin, futuristic Asians, and philosophical and narrative play about the nature of existence and recurring souls. And it occurs within a wildly ambitious raft of environments requiring complex cinematic engineering.
The stunning scenarios feature Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, Hugh Grant, Ben Whishaw and Jim Broadbent reappearing as different characters propelling the six crisscrossing plots in sometimes ingenious, occasionally preposterous guises. To be honest, the film doesn’t begin to make any sense until about 40 minutes in, which is not an issue given it runs for another two hours.
Of course, being a Wachowski film, it is in constant danger of disappearing up its own wormhole but you can’t help but be sucked in if you survive those opening two reels. There’s always something to savour or rail against.
It is ponderous and pretentious yet it seeks purpose. I suspect in the coming cycles of time with which it wrestles, Cloud Atlas will be the kind of film cinephiles revisit. As a noble, very watchable oddity rather than a soaring success.