Is 'Cloud Atlas' a Noble Failure? Maybe Not.

Critics have called it “exasperating” and “contradictory” but isn’t the film’s brand of riskiness what the movies are all about?

Many critics are patronizingly dismissing Cloud Atlas as a noble failure, as though the film's outrageously creative vision and tremendous ambition are somehow negative qualities. In fact, it is Cloud Atlas’s willingness and eagerness to push boundaries in every sense imaginable is precisely why it should be celebrated. Brimming with audaciousness and technical innovation Cloud Atlas is pure spectacle, sparking the imagination and exploring new cinematic possibilities.

I dare you to come up with another film this year that so boldly and successfully weaves such a magnificent tapestry using story and art direction to span centuries and far into the future. The look of the film is eye-popping, the technical bravado on display is a pure thrill to watch, and there is an abundance of interest in each carefully composed shot. Whether staggering special effects or elaborately staged, gorgeously-lit action sequences (on ships or in '70s San Francisco), the Wachowskis (Lana and Andy) and Tom Tykwer have made a challenging, fragmented film narrative that is matched at every turn by a breathtakingly edited assemblage of imagery that introduces the audience to a myriad of intriguing stories and characters.

In my mind, no ensemble has been more fearless this year. Tom Hanks and Halle Berry, two of the most recognizable movie stars in the world, fearlessly experiment in their various characterizations with a ravenous zest; they sink their teeth into multiple roles that allow them to go to places neither has ever been in their respective careers. Theirs is an inspired and risky pairing that ends up serving the film perfectly and never feels gimmicky. Susan Sarandon (also a force in Arbitrage this year) and Ben Whishaw (also terrific in Skyfall as "Q") add an emotional rootedness, while Jim Broadbent and Hugh Grant provide a grandly operatic theatricality that has the vivaciousness of a great, colorful stage production. Doona Bae manages to be both vulnerable and electric, commanding the screen with a riveting presence in every scene she appears in.

It takes an exceptionally talented cast, one willing to collectively add flourishes of the absurd and perhaps unexplainable, to create something crackling with such fresh and daring energy. Each actor revels in being put through their paces and the level of commitment from all involved comes through clearly.

When the directors, actors and technicians all challenge themselves in such a rigorous way, there is an implicit expectation that the audience will act as co-conspirators and also challenge themselves by giving themselves over to the journey and suspending their disbelief to become truly active participants. That’s a tall order in these days where paying movie-goers are mostly not up for being pushed into new places by their entertainment and sort of demand the answers be easy and spoon-fed. Cloud Atlas doesn’t let anyone off the hook, thankfully, and the risk is well worth the reward.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.