We still can’t hop a plane … but at least we can count on the movies to whisk us away. Following are six flicks that can transport us to lands we cannot currently visit. (One guess why.) Happy travels …
‘Cloud Atlas’ (2012)
Filmed in Germany, Scotland and Spain, the genre-hopping “Cloud Atlas” is like watching six movies by constantly changing channels — until it dawns on you that the films all have themes, and cast members, in common.
Based on David Mitchell’s 2004 novel, the film by Andy and Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer weaves together stories set in 1849 (a young lawyer’s journey to abolitionism), 1936 (a tug-of-war between an elderly composer and a talented wannabe), 1973 (a corporation targets an investigative reporter), 2012 (a literary agent plots to escape a high-security old folk’s home), 2144 (clones are enslaved as fast-food workers) and 2321 (a techy joins forces with a primitive).
The scenery is pure eye candy — albeit, frequently computer-generated. Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Doona Bae, Hugh Grant and Susan Sarandon play multiple roles in an epic that shows you things that are horrible, funny and beautiful.
Babruvahana (Harish Raj) is a young man with a spiffy haircut who gets around on a spiffy cycle. He has returned to his home city of Bangalore after 10 years away, during which he wrote a best-seller. Babru searches for love while working on his next book, which is about a man who loses everything (a theme that is close to home). Much of the modern Bangalore is unrecognizable to Babru, and even some of the people he once knew.
He romances Radha (Meghana), a girl he has loved since kindergarten. His best friend Siddharth (Swaroop Kanchi) has become a monk with a devoted local following. His father (R.T. Kumar), who has months to live, is unapologetic about raising Babru to value financial success above all else. And Babru’s ancestral home is slated for demolition to make way for a highway.
“Bengaloored” — an English-language film made in India by writer-director Kanchi — has an unhurried pace, the better to bask in its many colorful, striking locations.
‘George Gently,’ Season 1 (2007-08)
Scenic Ireland plays the part of Northumberland and the region in the debut season of BBC One’s “George Gently,” written by Peter Flannery and based on a series of novels by Alan Hunter. The gritty (if sometimes soapy) series is set in the transitioning England of the tumultuous 1960s.
Martin Shaw stars as a straight-arrow detective who, sick of rampant police corruption in London, ponders retirement. But after his wife Isabella (Maria Tecce) is murdered by a shadowy syndicate, Gently transfers to remote North East England. There, he is teamed with young, hip Sgt. John Bacchus (Lee Ingleby, whose accent sounds like it was ripped from “A Hard Day’s Night”). Gently and Bacchus butt heads, but eventually hone a workable professional chemistry, with Gently frequently imparting sage professional and life advice to his sometimes reckless charge.
Season 1 of “George Gently” features many breathtaking exteriors of Ireland in all of its vast, misty, green glory.
‘The Island’ (2006)
Russian director Pavel Lungin’s “The Island” opens with a heart-rending World War II flashback during which Anatoly (Timofey Tribuntsev), a tugboat sailor, survives a terrible experience that leaves him wracked with guilt. He washes up on the shore of a remote community of monks who take him in.
Thirty years later, Anatoly (now played by Pyotr Mamonov) has himself become a monk, though he’s a loose canon who, his detractors say, “sings in a hateful voice” and takes sugar in his tea. Worse, he has attracted national repute as a healer, spurring regular intrusions from mainlanders who seek his blessings. But Anatoly is a tormented soul who can never forgive himself for that horrendous incident during the war.
Shot in the dead of winter on Russia’s hauntingly beautiful White Sea coast, the scenery is awe-inspiring — cold, vast, monochromatic, quiet, lonely. “The Island” is the perfect movie to watch during a blah day … or a global pandemic.
‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’ (2000)
Ang Lee’s romantic epic is a martial arts film — it has all the good stuff, right down to the noodle shop — that transcends the genre, affording mainstream moviegoers with an excuse to fall in love with a (gasp) kung fu movie.
Ostensibly, “Crouching Tiger” is about Green Destiny, a centuries-old, one-of-a-kind sword that changes hands throughout the story. But at heart, Lee’s film has us rooting for two seemingly doomed couples. It’s obvious to everyone around two skillful warriors, Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun Fat) and Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh), that they are meant for each other, but both parties deny themselves happiness in the cause of duty. Meanwhile, governor’s ostensibly snobbish daughter Jen Yu (Ziyi Zhang) and infamous bandit Dark Cloud (Chen Chang) become an unlikely couple while fighting over … a hair ornament.
“Crouching Tiger” is a feast for the eyes, shot amid mountain vistas that are right up there with John Ford’s Monument Valley.
‘Cassandra Cat’ (1963)
A promise: This fantasy made in Czechoslovakia by Vojtech Jansý is one of the weirdest movies you will ever see.
In a repressed Czech village, a bizarre circus comes to town playing Dixieland. The ringmaster (Jan Werich) is the twin brother of the village hobo. The star of the circus is Diana (Emília Vásáryová), an acrobat in a clingy red leotard carrying a cat that wears sunglasses. During Diana’s act, she removes the sunglasses and the cat peers into the audience, seeing what lurks in their black hearts. The village schoolmaster (Jirí Sovák), who has the clout of a mad dictator, orders the cat killed and stuffed. (He doesn’t want anyone to know he is messing around with his secretary.) Then all of the children in the village disappear!
Jansý tells his fanciful, ironic story amid lovely shots of cobblestone streets, endless green fields and rolling hills.
Note: “Bengaloored,” “The Island” and “Cassandra Cat” are complete movies; the rest are trailers. “Bengaloored” is an English-language film made in India. “The Island” is in Russian with English subtitles (and truly worthy of your attention). “Cassandra Cat” is in Czech language without subtitles. However, the synopsis I’ve provided, plus the fact that much of the storytelling is visual, will put “Cassandra Cat” within the grasp of adventurous viewers. (Small World Dept.: My nephew, the filmmaker Ian Voglesong, was a student of Jansý, who died last year at age 93.)