Friday, November 2, 2012

Cloud Atlas


Cloud Atlas is almost as hard to review as it is to watch. How do you go about explaining and analyzing a film that you don’t fully understand (especially when you feel the filmmakers involved aren’t particularly interested in having the film clearly defined anyway)?

Cloud Atlas is about as confounding and purposefully mysterious a film as we’ll see this year. It’s big, bold, and frequently nonsensical. But it’s also quite beautiful. And confident. There’s something to be said for a perplexing movie that carries itself with such poise. I can’t say I understood or even enjoyed a great portion of Cloud Atlas, but I’ll never deny that I didn’t appreciate it.
So what’s it about? Hell, I haven’t the slightest clue. The film cross-cuts several different stories from several different time periods (some old, some present, some future) regularly using the same actors to play a multitude of roles. Most of the sequences involve Tom Hanks and Halle Berry, who play characters who usually, somehow, come into each other’s lives. Some of the sequences make perfect sense (or about as much sense as anything in the film), while others are completely opaque in their desire for understanding.

Other common faces are Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Susan Sarandon, Ben Whishaw, Xun Zhou and on and on and on. And here’s where the review shifts to good. Most every single person in this movie play a multitude of roles, and everyone, from the A-listers to the day players, are fantastic. Without going into specific detail (because that would frankly occupy too much space), Hanks hasn’t been this good since Road to Perdition. Likewise Berry since Things We Lost in the Fire (which is a decent film that contains two flawless, horribly overlooked performances).
Anyway. One of the things Cloud Atlas gets right is casting. Certainly. Another thing is cinematography, and, well, hell, most every other technical aspect that goes into making an epic motion picture. In a rarity of rarities, the film has three directors. The Wachowski Siblings (who changed the game with The Matrix) were responsible for a handful of the film’s storylines, while Tom Tykwer (who changed the game with Run Lola Run) helmed the rest. The Wachowskis and Tykwer ran different crews entirely, only sharing the cast. And then somehow, rather miraculously, Alexander Berner cut them all together to deliver a… what?

Fact is, I can’t in good conscience call Cloud Atlas a seamless work of moving art (in the way I might The Tree of Life). I spent many minutes during Cloud Atlas’ near three hours bored and disinterested. My mind wandered, the time was checked, and I begged for a fleeting sense of coherent closure (even when I knew there wouldn’t be one). Many will agree with me, and plenty won’t. That’s fair. There’s no one right way to look at this movie. It’s a feel-wheeling puzzle that is continually easy on the eyes and taxing on the brain. It’s also about as original as movies come, for better or worse. B-

39 comments:

  1. I agree largely with your review. Then again, I must ask, does anyone ever fully understand a film?

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    1. Cool. And yes, certainly, although it depends on the film. I completely understand Cinderella, and, say... Irreversible.

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  2. Tippi reviewed this over at On the Screen, and it sparked a lot of debate. I haven't seen it yet, nor had I planned on seeing it. Some people either love it or hate it from what I've gathered. But almost everyone is confused with it on some level.

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    1. Yeah I actually read Tippi's write-up earlier. I didn't agree with a lot of it, but it was a very interesting read. It's a very polarizing flick, no doubt. And a confusing one at that.

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  3. Not perfect, but still very entertaining and interesting to watch. I don't really think it's as hard to read as others think, but I definitely think that many of your average watchers will probably leave this one a lot as they did at my screening for this. Good review Alex.

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    1. Thanks Dan. I agree, not perfect, but incredibly interesting. It's one I'll appreciate more with subsequent viewings, I suspect.

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  4. I loved the movie. I found it infinitely interesting and I fully respect the effort and daring it took to commit $100 million to this.

    It was like a book that jumped to the next chapter just as things were becoming clear. Made it move briskly.

    I think there is so much I didn't exactly understand, but trying to piece it all together made it more entertaining and engaging, as opposed to the usual, passive experience of major star-studded releases.

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    1. I agree with you all the way here. For $100 million, this is a goddamn impressive feat. I think they did wonders with that budget. And yeah, I have to give it props for trying something wholly different and not being a cookie-cutter star vehicle. It reached high, no doubt.

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    2. Yep. I took the line 'Honor thy consumer' as my review title, not only cause I think that drove many of the conflicts in the film (greed, primarily), but that as a filmgoer, I 100% got my money's worth...if that makes sense.

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    3. Yeah man, perfect sense. And that's partly what it's about... getting your money's worth. Glad you enjoyed it.

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  5. It was hard to follow through at first but as the film progressed, I started to get what Tykwer and the Wachowskis were going for. I really liked it and I liked the casting. I think Tom Hanks and Halle Berry do some of their best work in years. I had a hoot seeing Halle as an old Asian doctor and Ben Whishaw as Hugh Grant's wife. It's not a great film but I think people should see it. It's quite daring for a picture of that kind of scale.

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    1. Oh, daring indeed. No question. And I respect the hell out of it for that. And I agree, I started to dig it a little more as it progressed, and the casting was a real kick. Good flick, and bold.

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  6. Well, this is the biggest disagreement I''ve had with you thus far but I completely understand the slightly negative reaction not just from you but from all the detractors. There really is no 'right' way to decipher this one, it either works for you completely, like with me, or you were rolling your eyes. For me it just didn't feel like a three hour movie, I was always intently interested to see where all the stories were going to end up I was immersed in the performances and the mega-ambition involved here. I will say that since this was trying to be the time and space version of Babel (I disagree with you on that one as well, but anyway) this spoke to me much more fluidly than Inarritu's film. I guess it helps that I'm a huge Sci-Fi fan, so the concepts presented were not as eye-rolling as others might perceive it. Good review Alex you explained your position as well as you could and I hope you read my own thoughts on it.

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    1. Just finished your review. Loved it. I too think that, while we may not agree 100% on the film, you expressed your feelings and position well, and it is clearly one of the better flicks you've seen so far this year. (PS, I love how we ended our reviews with "for better or worse.")

      Interesting that you found this to be the time and space Babel... that didn't cross my mind at all, but that seems like a fair comparison. (I do indeed think Babel is one of the best films ever made, but, yeah, that's another story.)

      Sci-fi is actually my least favorite genre and, quite frankly, I liked Cloud Atlas a whole hell of a lot more than I thought I would. I respect it to no end. A real thinker, but one I'm just not too jazzed about.

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    2. Yeah, I like that fact too about 'For better and for worse', hey everything is connected, man. One thing I didn't touch on in the review is that the filmmakers took RISKS, major risks. Some worked other failed that's the thing about risks, but the most important thing is that the directors did take them with a major production and I cannot applaud them enough for doing so. Thank you for reading my stuff and your feedback on it, please continue doing so. I do my best to keep writing good...

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    3. I agree, they took serious risks - some paid off, some fell flat, but there is honor in taking them.

      I think I'd comment on most all of your blog entries if the comments weren't tied to Facebook. I know I've mentioned that before, but my blog/twitter world is very separate from my Facebook world, if that makes any sense. My "real" friends don't give a shit about my blog, so I try to not throw it in their face via Facebook. Lame but true.

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    4. You have the option of not having the comments posted to FB, If I'm not mistaken there is a check box somewhere in the comment field. They'll just be like regular comments here on your site. And again you have my email address, jeff_stewart@cityuponahillmedia.com, so please feel free to use that if you're still uncomfortable. I'd love any and all feedback. Thanks, man.

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    5. Just posted one! I'll be a regular commenter from now on.

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  7. I just saw it, and while it's not great, it's not exactly bad either. Or, as in your words: "I can’t say I understood or even enjoyed a great portion of Cloud Atlas, but I’ll never deny that I didn’t appreciate it."

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    1. Yep, that's what this flick all boils down to, for me.

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  8. so it is MATRIX repeats... most people didn't know what that one was about either :)
    I kinda knew it will be a boxoffice flop as soon as they cast Halle Berry, who is a curse to any film....
    Still, would love to see it for the visuals.

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    1. The visuals were impressive, no doubt. But I won't be seeing it again. No need.

      Halle Berry curses any film?! Ahh that's not completely fair. Monster's Ball, Things We Lost in the Fire, Jungle Fever, Bulworth, Introducing Dorothy Dandridge... all solid flicks to me!

      Either way, thanks for stopping by and commenting!

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  9. Love your review man. Though, I liked the film more than you did. I really don't know what to make of it, yet I was fascinated throughout the entire film. Though it's quite long, I never noticed. And I totally agree on the cast, technicals, and scope. Right now, it's close to being my favorite film film of the year, but I HAVE to see it again. It's like nothing I've seen this year, which is great.

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    1. Oh wow, that's cool that you dug it so much; I had no idea.

      A lot of it did indeed work for me, but most didn't. A perfectly fine way to spend three hours of a Sunday afternoon, but it'd be hard for me to recommend it above that. I gotta check out your review...

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    2. I love films that take me by surprise, and this one did. Saw it a second time, and it holds up very well. I was still captivated by it. Don't be surprised if it tops my list at the end of the year.

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    3. Not at all man! That's really cool. Curious: Did you have a favorite segment?

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    4. Hmm...speaking true true, I'd probably go with the Hanks/Berry tribal one. ;)

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    5. Nice. I'd have to think about mine. I wish Hanks got more screentime as that homicidal British thug. Dude was badass.

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    6. Yeah. More of that character would be awesome.

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    7. Did you see him say fuck on Good Morning America while channeling that character? Hilarious.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UdX8OexkEvQ

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    8. Ha! Somehow missed it. Thanks for that. :)

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  10. Interesting to see you gave it a B-, although you didn't make too much sense of it and you were bored. I agree, it seems to be too complex, but I still want to see it. Good review!

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    1. Thanks! Most of the positivity from my review (if not all) is because of the film's visual appeal and solid acting. But other than that... didn't really work for me. I'd recommend that you see it too. Be interested to hear your take.

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  11. A B- is a totally fair grade for this one. It is confusing and doesnt easily come together. :( You put it well - "It’s a feel-wheeling puzzle that is continually easy on the eyes and taxing on the brain. It’s also about as original as movies come, for better or worse." Rotten Tomatoes blurb worthy right there. LOL

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    1. Ha, thanks man! Now, if only I could figure out how to get on RT. But really, thanks so much for reading and commenting!

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    2. 50,000 unique visitors a month. :)

      Not a problem right? Race ya! ;)

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    3. 50,000? Try 500,000!! That is nuts.

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  12. JUST READ THE BOOK, PEOPLE!! IT'S AMAZING!!! THEN WATCH THE MOVIE AGAIN!!!

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    1. YOU HEAR THAT, EVERYONE!!?? DO IT!!!

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