Thursday, March 28, 2013

Cloud Atlas

  As a character proclaims in the movie at one point, "I will not be subjected to criminal abuse!", I wish the movie itself could say the same thing to the legions of haters it's garnered. It's fundamentally stunning how much hate this movie has gotten. I haven't bothered eyeing any critic's take on it beyond Roger Ebert, but around the web, people are saying this movie is crap. I secretly wonder to myself if that person is a 14 year old prepubescent boy who adores Michael Bay's Transformers movies. If that's the kind of audience that's hating this movie...  then we know this one must be good.

  Good, however is a hard term to slap onto this movie. It makes a fair share of blunders and such. It's overlong, the first half is sloppily edited, and again the first half struggles to keep you engaged. These are serious issues. For a three hour movie, to not hook you right away is a crime. Because, it'll lose you before it gets to it's selling point. Think of movies as a sales pitch, they have to grab your attention right away, then start telling you why you wanna buy what they're selling. If they don't grab your attention, it's akin to leaving you alone with their product in an empty room. You're waiting for it to be pitched to you. Lots of waiting.

  This is what Cloud Atlas does. It's a great product, but you're not hearing the pitch right away. Regardless, ditching the metaphor for now, there is something about the movie... from the beginning, despite how inert it is, that keeps you wanting to see more. You can't quite describe it either, it's like a subtle hint of greatness. Almost as if the movie is giving you a silent promise that something spectacular lies ahead. Just be patient. Still, being patient is asking alot when the movie feels very inert at first. Like, it doesn't know where it's going with itself.

  You have at least five parallel stories going on, and you cut back and forth between them like you're reading from five different books. A single page from book 1, then a single page from book 4, then a single page from book 2, 3, then 5, 2, 3, 4, 1... on and on. Meanwhile, someone is leaning over your shoulder, promising you they're all connected somehow. Sometimes these transitions are smooth and provides a glimpse at that aforementioned 'greatness', but other time they're just... jarring and unnatural. This can take an already un-sold audience, and alienate them.  So that's rough. Very rough.

  However, the movie seems to find it's footing after the first half or so. The first hour at the very least, so "half" isn't really fair. I think you get my point though. When it does find it's footing, you'd think you'd be privy to some revelatory stuff, still no unfortunately. However, you do see where the movie is taking you, and it looks to be quite promising. By this point, if you can invest your time and attention, I'm personally promising you it'll be worth it. The movie struggles through the first hour, but pulls itself together and finally captured my attention. I wanted to know the outcome of each one of those stories.

  The characters enlivened and the stories became engaging. You get emotionally invested at that point regardless of the tonal and pacing missteps the movie has made so far. You see master filmmaking unfolding, and more hints of greatness. What helps sell this movie past the first dragging hour is the actors. They're fantastic, not a weak link to be found. Weak roles maybe, but even those are performed with gusto, and when you have a single actor playing maybe 5 or 6 different roles they really need to sell the fact that these are indeed separate characters and not just a riff on the same one.

  It works. It works surprisingly well. As an informed movie-watcher, I'm eyeing all the different makeup jobs, and am stunned at how they've transformed a simple enough looking blue collar worker into a brutish looking homicidal thug. It's simply impressive, but only because the actors sell each character as an individual performance. The movie gets really neat when you can actually start picking up on the threads on precisely how these people and events are connected. Which is a MOST central and important theme.

  There is enough in Cloud Atlas to say there is something for everyone. Really. So many movies boast that, and don't deliver. But such is not the case here. There is adventure, romance, drama, comedy, and each story seems to be devoted to it's own brand of each and all of these things. And all this in varied settings from a sailing voyage on the high seas, to the high-tech Tokyo of the future, and a mysterious post apocalyptic world that's even closer than you might suspect. It's wonderful. Amazingly so.

  What's even more impressive is how emotional the outcome feels. It really hits you, which is stunning because you don't think it would. It doesn't seem like a strong enough movie to draw you in, in such a deep way. There's not much to hate about Cloud Atlas in the end, because it ends up being a damn good movie. An experience to behold. It ends up being quite the epic. Keeping an open mind and a clear schedule is key though. It's a long movie that can feel even longer, and sadly, not enough of this runtime feels necessary. It feels like excess that could be trimmed to provide a leaner and more direct movie. At least a good half hour (being generous) feels totally unjustifiable.

  However, this movie is the kind of grand far reaching film that I love to call a 'motion picture'. It's epic in a way that few movies even try to be. Thus, even though it stumbles a bit, I love it for what it is and what it was reaching for all along. Movies like this need to be embraced because we sorely need more like them. The uniqueness and creativity alone ensures a must see experience. But misleading expectations are alienating audiences and this is very sad to me.

  I love Cloud Atlas. From the gorgeous visuals, to the unconventional storytelling, even if it is painful at times, to the absolutely beautiful score, this movie is amazing. Not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, and hardly "great", but amazing for sure. Damn good flick that flirts with greatness. For my money, this is better than any stale, dead on arrival, Hollywood tripe any day of the week.

This movie should NOT be subjected to criminal abuse.

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