Cloud Atlas Post-Release Review Roundup Part 1

Note: this is an archived entry. Some links might not still work, but I have tried to ensure scan and video embeds are still in place. If any linked material is unavailable, please let me know and I’ll attempt to find a copy in my personal archives.

[Note: this is the content edited from the prior post… I'll try to add some photos later when I have more time]

New Reviews Roundup (in no particular order):

Owen Gliebman, Entertainment Weekly: "Cloud Atlas is certainly out to be a ''visionary'' mindbender, but the film's secret is that it's a nimbly entertaining and light-on-its-feet Hollywood contraption, with the actors cast in multiple roles as if playing a game of dress-up… Cloud Atlas has been made with a channel-zapper consciousness — an invitation to go wherever the Wachowskis and Tykwer want to take you, with the trust that they know just what they're doing. Each story writes its own rules and unfolds in its own madly detailed, self-contained world… The movie's Big Idea is to wake us up to the ways that we're all linked through time: The dream of one person passes to the next, finally erupting in revolution. What I liked about Cloud Atlas is that it brings this rather banal revelation to life through an inspired fusion of form and content. The stories bounce off one another in devious and intricate ways. And the multiple-role casting, and bravura makeup that renders it possible (not just flipped genders but switched races as well), is more than a gimmick — it's like a burlesque of identity…. Cloud Atlas is like a gonzo miniseries that, at times, seems to be cramming the entire history of Hollywood genre films into one multi-tentacled parable of freedom and authoritarian control…  I would never call Cloud Atlas profound — it's more like a pulpy middlebrow head trip — but the hook of the movie is that Andy and Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer so clearly meant everything that they put in it. B+"

[CJ– I guess Gleibman has a different definition of 'profound' than I do. You can say the themes of Cloud Atlas are overstated or that you didn't find them well-realized, but they are, in fact, profound. The film does blend "elephant art" and "termite art" (high and low) methodologies. Those who say it's all surface haven't been paying attention.]

Susan Tunis, In One Eye, Out The Other: "[Cloud Atlas] was said by many to be unfilmable, and if asked, I would have agreed… And I would have been so very wrong. What Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski, and Tom Tykwer have achieved is nothing short of astounding. I'll cut to the chase and tell you that I LOVED this film. It will surely be my favorite of the year….  What these three writer/directors–apparently with limited input from Mr. Mitchell–did with this screenplay is extraordinary. It is brilliant…. I'm sure there were minor changes [from the novel], but nothing at all that made me cry foul. No, as I watched the film, memories of the novel came flooding back in the most wonderful way. These filmmakers did a magnificent job of realizing the world(s) that David Mitchell had created."

Terence Johnson, Awards Circuit: "Cloud Atlas, the mesmerizing film from the Wachowski siblings and Tom Tykwer, is a cinematic force of nature that jolts you out of your reverie and gives you reaffirmation of what it means to live. Tracking six  storylines that span from the 1850s to sometime around 2250, this film effortlessly blends the separate, yet interconnected parts, into an incredible whole…. There’s so much to enjoy about Cloud Atlas, thanks in large part to the narrative that forces you to pay attention. Thankfully the themes of the movie make it simple for you to follow along, even when you crosscut between eras. It’s a feat that this film can use both non-traditional framing, extensive voice over, and interrogation scenes and still be engaging and watchable. Even though the film throws virtually every framing device at you, the story hums along and the spectacle feels earned, due to the attention of detail put into the script… The film is edited and connected so flawlessly, it’s no wonder Warner Bros. didn’t harp on the contractual running time….   Of course the biggest selling point of the film is the actors playing different roles. It’s always thrilling to see actors stretching themselves and many of the joys in this movie are derived from seeing the actors in weird makeup or trying to spot the actors in different eras. Sometimes they are playing real people, sometimes they show up in photographs but they’re present at all times, allowing for the theme of inter-connectivity to really sink in. This is truly an ensemble picture, with the “weakest” links being the two lead performances…. The standouts were Ben Whishaw and Doona Bae. If Lars von Trier ever decided to turn his gaze to men or McQueen need another actor to put through the ringer, Whishaw should be first in line because no one plays a tortured tragic soul like him. He’s mastered the art of playing characters who find joy only to have bad things happen, but Whishaw is so damn charismatic that even when his story in Cloud Atlas reaches its tragic crescendo you never pity him.  Doona Bae’s performance is one that surprised me and gave me the greatest thrill to watch…  . By the time this film ended, I was a mess of emotions, and I actually cried on the way home, something I’ve never done before, during or after watching a movie. After spending almost three hours concentrating on figuring out the narrative and trying to spot the actors, my guard had been torn down and in its place was an emotional conundrum that I couldn’t shake. It wasn’t the tragedy that befalls a few characters or the euphoric highs some of them reach, but every emotion thrown together. I’ve never felt so alive, so in touch with humanity than I did after finishing this movie. Cloud Atlas that type of film, one that gets under your skin, breaks down your walls and sends your spirit soaring to the heavens reaffirming what it really means to have lived a life on earth and how we are all connected in some way, shape or form….I’m not necessarily sure what possessed the Wachowski siblings and Tom Tykwer to make this movie, but I’m glad they did." (4 Stars)

Joey Madgison, Awards Circuit: "There are moments in ‘Cloud Atlas’ that frankly are sure to blow your mind and take your breath away. There are also moments that will make you scratch or shake your head….  It’s definitely a flawed film, but the sheer gusto of it all helps to power it through. I had a few more issues than I would have liked to have had with the flick, but when it opens on Friday I expect a fair amount of people to be completely stunned. I’d even wager that someone’s new favorite film of all time is contained within. I can also see plenty of people absolutely hating it…. ‘Cloud Atlas’ is the type of film that rewards viewers on a scale that depends on how much you put into it. If you go see it this weekend with an open mind and an open heart, you’re much more likely to enjoy it than if you go in stubborn. I wasn’t bowled over, but I really appreciate what everyone was able to pull off here. Some will love it, some will hate, just like the critical word so far, and in this case I’m right in the middle of things. My thumb is up, but it’s not one of my absolute favorites of the year. I’m glad I saw it and really am overjoyed that movies like this are being made." (3 Stars)

Drew Taylor, Moviefone: "It's Unlike Anything You've Ever Seen Before…To achieve the replication of the book's style and form, the directors decided to have the same handful of actors (among them Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, Ben Whishaw, Susan Sarandon, Jim Broadbent and Hugh Grant) play roles in each section… The movie also cuts around between the various stories throughout the whole running time, never settling in one scenario for more than a few minutes at a time. The effect is something like the last 30 minutes of "Inception" (with multiple storylines existing on different planes of dreamlike reality), except stretched across a genuinely epic three-hour run-time. This structure does much to emphasize the movie's views on the elasticity of time and space and the recurring theme of reincarnation. The scope and scale of 'Cloud Atlas' are unbelievable, and it's a genuine feat to have the directors' corral their individual visions into a (mostly) cohesive whole… I had actually read Mitchell's novel. If you haven't, then whole swaths of 'Cloud Atlas,' no matter how hard the directors work to underline the movie's thematic concerns, will probably come across as a barely comprehensible muddle. (It's not.) Things become clearer after the movie's first hour, but that's a lot of work to put in just to keep up with the basic narrative (there was at least one walkout at the screening we attended). "Cloud Atlas" is definitely worth the effort, though… Despite all of the cutting around, the sheer beauty and romantic grandeur of "Cloud Atlas" persists. At times, each separate moment is so gorgeous and earnest that you get choked up. When these moments start to bump up against each other, cascading through time and space, is when the movie really hits its stride and becomes a singularly powerful piece of pop art, a kind of glittery cubist fairy tale… Actors are constantly shapeshifting, changing scale and size, gender and ethnicity. Sometimes the effects are clunky but you're never truly taken out of the story (which is priority number one), and for the most part, it adds another layer of gentle psychedelic on top of an already surreal world."

Sean P Means, Salt Lake City Tribune: " It was inevitable, perhaps, that the one-of-a-kind drama "Cloud Atlas" would fall short of its ambitions, but only because those ambitions are so cosmically and insanely grand…The writing-directing team of Andy and Lana Wachowski ("The Matrix" trilogy) and Tom Tykwer ("Run Lola Run") gambles big in adapting David Mitchell’s novel, an epic story of reincarnated souls covering six settings across five centuries and deploying an ensemble cast tackling multiple roles. The results are strangely moving and endlessly fascinating… Not all the transitions are seamless over the movie’s nearly three hours, and recasting the same actors sometimes comes off not as cosmic commentary but as self-referential gimmick. But the movie’s startling vision opens up wondrous possibilities of connectedness, of one life’s choices influencing the next. 'From womb to tomb, we are bound to others, past and present,' Sonmi-451 declares — and "Cloud Atlas" maps out that journey with powerful clarity."

Sara Michelle Fetters, Movie Freak: "For my part, I was hypnotized by Cloud Atlas, was held spellbound from the glorious opening moments all the way to the futuristic coda. I loved what the Wachowskis and Tykwer were attempting, found myself greedily lapping up the majority of their ideas and themes with overzealous glee. Does it always work? Do all of the threads tie back together in a wholly satisfying manner? No, not at all, but even when the filmmakers get lost in their own overzealous tendencies the movie still remains a towering humanistic marvel unlike anything else I’ve seen this year, and I have a feeling the more I ponder it the more this particular motion picture has the potential to become something of an enduring favorite worthy of significantly more contemplation… I really do think that the themes and ideas presented are not particularly difficult to comprehend, while at the same time also certain that it’s better to do so on your own without my interference. This is the kind of movie that is best experienced knowing as few of the major intricacies as possible, discovery of the nuances part of the joy of this particular  symphonic visual journey… Cloud Atlas is a marvel, of that I feel there is no doubt, and as such my hope is that potential viewers in the here and now take a chance on it and don’t leave it for future generations to discover decades down the road."

Kelly Vance, East Bay Express: "Don't worry about those six competing novella-size stories getting in each others' way. There's nothing here the mosaic-wise modern media audience can't handle. The best strategy is to relax, drink in the images, put your brain on cruise control (while still listening to the characters), and let the movie sort itself out… Instead of presenting each story as a discrete nugget, the co-directors interweave the events in a long, careful crescendo of crosscutting. It takes some getting used to, but we're shepherded by the recurrence of actors as well as by the continuity of Mitchell's persistent theme: rebellion against tyranny… As the stories unfold, Bae and Sturgess play multiple roles, as do Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant, Ben Whishaw, David Gyasi, and James D'Arcy in the large cast. Hugo Weaving, nemesis of the Wachowskis' Matrix movies, sticks to villainous parts throughout (his Nurse Noakes is a wonderfully hideous piece of work), but Hanks, Broadbent, and Grant all cross back and forth from protagonist to antagonist, with elaborate changes of makeup. [CJ– actually, Hugh Grants characters are all arguably as bad as Weaving's– in some cases worse.] And yet what we can only call the moral thrust of Cloud Atlas remains consistent. Mitchell's novel plays to the Wachowskis' and Tykwer's strengths as creators of characters in conflict with oppressive hierarchies.. Metaphors rebound on each other. The novel's lustrous prose survives in abridged form. The problem with most sci-fi is its limited ambition. Mitchell's fiction, however, has real substance and a beauty of language to go with its universal humanity."

Ry The Movie Guy: "We are treated to many different genres, from drama to comedy to mystery to sci-fi; this is truly an epic film. Although there are some clear crossovers between the storylines, for the most part they stand alone. It is the themes that crossover and connect in different ways. I found the cinematography to be downright gorgeous at points. I also loved the score, it is big, beautiful, and connects with the emotions of the movie perfectly. The Wachowskis explained in a Q&A after the screening how they adopted this complex book from David Mitchell to the big screen. One of the big changes was interlacing all the storylines together, whereas the book sticks with 1 storyline at a time. I have to compliment them on how well the movie flowed; it was easy to follow and kept each storyline on the same pace. This is not a film that has a definitive conclusion, instead it offers big ideas and grand themes that you can reflect on for hours after the screening. See it in the theater, open your mind, and enjoy."

Kevin Taft, Edge on the Net: "It is such a rich narrative of characters, situations, and ideas that to understand it in one viewing is impossible…And for some, this might be too trying a challenge. They might get confused. Others might be bored because they simply don’t understand how six stories that range from the 1800’s to the future are connected. And I understand. I get why people would give up early on and check out. But I also understand that even though the final ten minutes are both satisfying and confounding, others will leave the film dazzled by its ideas and actively begin to work out the complicated narrative threads and how they all fit together… It is a stunning achievement and whether you totally understand the film or not, you can’t deny the artistry that graces the screen….To explain the plot of 'Cloud Atlas' is like explaining the course of life. You can’t. You can just mention the players and some key moments, but how that spills one over the other is what is so compelling…  At times, it can be frustrating jumping from story to story, sometimes minute by minute, but this also keeps the film from becoming plodding. The stunning score by Tom Tykwer, Johnny Klimek, and Rienhold Heil is perfectly utilized and runs almost continuously and hypnotically making the entire film a tone poem of our lives. Production design by Hugh Bateup and Uli Hanisch is downright astounding. The detail in every sequence and time period is so flawless and so special, you could take a class just on that aspect alone. Everything from the editing to the art direction to the cinematography is magnificent. As for the actors, they excel in so many different ways it’s almost impossible to delineate the myriad of characters and performances."

Joan Schwartz, LA Movie Reviews Examiner: "Cloud Atlas' is a film that some people, like myself, will find absolutely brilliant… Some critics have already called it prententious as well as an indulgent mess. All these varying opinions simply prove one thing…When it comes to movies, art, music, culture…it's all so subjectective. Therefore, my suggestion, is that you go see this film and judge for yourself… There are six stories and the actors including Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon, Jim Broadbent, James D' Arcy, Hugh Grant, David Gyasi, Hugo Weaving, Ben Winshaw and the memorizing Doona Baein, play six different characters and they are all extraordinary, transcending genders in some cases… I could write pages about this complex, intriguing, fascinating film, but then why would you go see it…And see it, you must." (4 out of 5 Stars)

Landon McDonald, University Daily Kansan: "'Cloud Atlas' is a film driven by an ambition that borders on euphoria, a sprawling sci-fi sextet that bridges the gap between science and spiritualism by exalting the divine sparkplug that is the human heart….  If you feel like you should be taking notes, it’s not a bad idea. “Cloud Atlas” is the kind of movie that could easily dissolve into a pretentious migraine if it made the mistake of being too overwrought or self-serious. Thankfully the film manages to balance its weightier themes with moments of bracing humor, especially during a comic interlude where Broadbent, playing an addle-brained literary agent, is tricked into a nursing home by his brother. This section, which combines elements of 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest' and 'The Great Escape,' also features the unforgettable sight of Hugo Weaving essentially playing Nurse Ratched in drag… Although the makeup quality varies from transformative to ridiculous, the performances in 'Cloud Atlas' are uniformly excellent. ..  Broadbent is the film’s trump card, an actor who can shift from pompous to befuddled at the drop of a hat…'Cloud Atlas' represents a return to a kind of filmmaking long ignored by Hollywood: the spectacle of substance…  In an ideal world, audiences experiencing blockbuster malaise would be flocking in droves to see this. Creative independence comes at a heavy price these days, and efforts like this should be rewarded. This is a singular cinematic achievement, one that will be enjoyed and analyzed for years to come."

Aaron Shore, That Movies We Love: "Adapting 'Cloud Atlas' would be a test no brave filmmaker I feel could ever endure. Yet, some how the Wachowski’s & Tykwer found a way to bring this epic together. Perhaps the cohesive element was their only weakness, since it’s a film that’s extremely hard to follow along, even if you’ve read the book. But, the acting from the assorted cast is at high-level achievement, the stories are as strong as the book itself, and the final pay-off is one that will leave a crowd cheering and applauding… As you can see, the description for this film is, lack for a better word, complex. And I wouldn’t be surprised at all that the structure for the film may intimidate some folks. The early screening I was attending, nearly 20 people left during the middle of the movie, because it was just too damn smart for them. Here they thought they were getting a Halle Berry science-fiction movie, when that’s not the case at all. You’ve got an in-depth multi-character study lecture of the greatest kind, ranging all over the place. You’ve got a movie that’s several different genres rolled into one package… If you are up for the challenge,'Cloud Atlas' is a monumental movie that will leave a great emotional impact on you. Even if the end of the film confuses you, you cannot help be feel an overwhelming sense of sheer ecstasy it injects into you. Some may call it pretentious, others will say that the movie is self-indulgent; honestly you can say that about any piece of art, not just film. If you’re not willing to open your mind, that’s fine, but the movie is accomplishing an epic story focusing on themes of love, power, life, and death. The splendor of the imagery here should be acknowledged. It’s not very easy to have three directors working, collaborating on making a film that has a similar style, especially an esthetic one. I beg of you people to see this movie, not only is it a grand experience at the movies, but it’s by far one of the quickest three hours I’ve seen in quite sometime, and that right there is a major accomplishment."

Norm Schrager, Meet Me In The Lobby: "If a film’s entertainment value were measured by volume of storylines, variety of styles and frequency of timeline trekking, Cloud Atlas would be entertaining beyond definition. But it takes more than bursting-at-the-seams narrative to make a great movie; good thing, then, that directors Tom Tykwer and The Wachowskis have created a film that transcends its heft, adapting David Mitchell’s mega-novel into a brisk, cinematic showcase of excitement and surprises… Though the lead actors inhabit a multitude of stories — Tom Hanks and Halle Berry show up in six roles each — the screenplay doesn’t rely on typical character crossover time-travel tricks. Instead, the connective tissue within the Cloud Atlas world tends to exist in small details you might miss if you blink, with the universe moving along as one giant, ongoing parallel edit… If there’s a particular story that doesn’t hold your attention, then just hang on… With so many pieces and parts flying around, it’s tough to figure out where Cloud Atlas begins and ends, and how to identify which longer scenes are superfluous, and which shorter tastes are truly indispensable. But it shouldn’t matter. It’s far better to just follow it all along as it comes, heeding the suggestion of Hanks’ sputtering, post-apocalyptic Zachry, who forms the film’s bookends by saying in old-man pidgin: “Listen close, and I’ll yarn you…” And darned well, I’d say."

A.O. Scott, The New York Times: "Maybe the achievement of “Cloud Atlas” should be quantified rather than judged in more conventional, qualitative ways. This is by no means the best movie of the year, but it may be the most movie you can get for the price of a single ticket. It blends farce, suspense, science fiction, melodrama and quite a bit more, not into an approximation of Mr. Mitchell’s graceful and virtuosic pastiche, but rather into an unruly grab bag of styles, effects and emotions held together, just barely, by a combination of outlandish daring and humble sincerity. Together the filmmakers try so hard to give you everything — the secrets of the universe and the human heart; action, laughs and romance; tragedy and mystery — that you may wind up feeling both grateful and disappointed… Mr. Tykwer and the Wachowskis — abetted by the heroic editing of Alexander Berner — have abandoned [Mitchell's] symmetrical literary design, opting for the more cinematically manageable technique of crosscutting. The narrative strands are woven together, elegantly plaited and quilted at some points, tangled and snarled in others. Connective tissue is supplied by music (composed by Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek and Mr. Tykwer), by voice-overs and visual echoes, and also by the reappearance of the same actors in elaborate but nonetheless transparent disguises. [Hugo] Weaving, for example, memorably pops up as a devil, a Victorian capitalist, a sadistic female nurse, a corporate-totalitarian bureaucrat and a hit man… There is, in any case, a lot of acting here. It is delivered by the bushel, by the truckload, by the schooner, and the quality varies… Mr. Broadbent is, as ever, delightful, and Ben Whishaw is perfect as the witty and passionate Frobisher. Hugh Grant indulges in some sly, vulgar villainy, with impressive prosthetic teeth, and Susan Sarandon floats through a few scenes trailing mists of love and weary wisdom. As Sonmi, the South Korean actress Doona Bae is a haunting, somber presence… Mr. Tykwer and the Wachowskis emphasize the spiritual rather than the political dimensions of Mr. Mitchell’s novel and at the same time make his meanings less elusive and more accessible. Perhaps too much so. "

Keith Phillips, The AV Club: " Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer take a different route to the same destinations as their source material, using the film medium to make dramatic and thematic connections in ways impossible on the page, rhyming story beats against one another and matching situations and visuals across timelines. A blink and a cut, and the distance between the South Seas of the near past and the far future disappears. A matched composition, and the parallels between a Korean dystopia and an act of corporate malfeasance in ’70s San Francisco are made…It’s a beyond-ambitious undertaking, and at times an unwieldy one…To draw their narratives tighter, the filmmakers cast the same actors in different roles in each segment. To put it mildly, not everyone is Alec Guinness, nor does all the aging makeup rival Dustin Hoffman’s in Little Big Man…   These are real, and often significant flaws, but they’re flaws on the surface of a film more concerned with its depths…  The Wachowskis used science fiction to explore that same notion in The Matrix and its sequels, and in at least one respect, Cloud Atlas resembles those films (particularly the first, coherent one), becoming a stirring celebration of those who defy authority. It’s a movie-length rejection of oppression that values freedom as an absolute good, whatever its cost. In Cloud Atlas, science fiction is just one of the film’s modes, though it’s one of its most effective. Bae’s scenes in the Seoul of the near-future suggest the directors might easily have made another crowd-pleasing blockbuster as influential to this current decade as The Matrix was to the last. Yet as mind-blowing as that film might have been, it necessarily would have been less ambitious than the film at hand. Cloud Atlas’ smooshing of Nietzschean eternal recurrence with an Eastern notion of souls striving to improve over many lives is New Age mush as metaphysics, but works wonderfully as metaphor. ..t Cloud Atlas is the sort of work where the big picture matters more than the details. It’s an imperfect film of great daring and tremendous humanity, a work of many stories, but a singular achievement. (B)

Gary Dowell, Lakewood/East Dallas Advocate: "Whereas the novel used a sort of nesting doll structure to connect the episodes, the film version relies on that uniquely cinematic tool of cross-cutting between them. It also goes a step further in uniting them by casting its lead actors in multiple roles (sometimes as many as half-dozen), often requiring them (via some impressive makeup work) to perform outside their age, race, gender, and sometimes all of the above, with Hanks, Hugh Grant, and Hugo Weaving giving some especially chameleonic performances. (Be sure to stay for the closing credits, which provide some surprising unmaskings.)…  It’s the sort of thing that is easily dismissed as pretentious or self-indulgent, and it certainly has its flaws; but to focus solely on them  would mean dismissing Cloud Atlas too quickly. The pieces of the mosaic story line don’t always fit perfectly, but it would feel contrived if they did, and bitching about the amount of patience and engagement it demands of its audience only reveals a lazy viewer….Tykwer and the Wachowskis have created a lavish and carefully orchestrated epic that few other filmmakers could pull off quite as well, one that is occasionally naive and messy, often unconventional and insightful, and always stirring and challenging."

Roger Ebert: "Even as I was watching "Cloud Atlas" the first time, I knew I would need to see it again. Now that I've seen it the second time, I know I'd like to see it a third time — but I no longer believe repeated viewings will solve anything. To borrow Churchill's description of Russia, 'it is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.' It fascinates in the moment. It's getting from one moment to the next that is tricky…. Surely this is one of the most ambitious films ever made. The little world of film criticism has been alive with interpretations of it, which propose to explain something that lies outside explanation. Any explanation of a work of art must be found in it, not taken to it. As a film teacher, I was always being told by students that a film by David Lynch, say, or Warner Herzog, was "a retelling of the life of Christ, say, or 'Moby Dick.' " My standard reply was: Maybe it's simply the telling of itself… I was never, ever bored by "Cloud Atlas." On my second viewing, I gave up any attempt to work out the logical connections between the segments, stories and characters. What was important was that I set my mind free to play. Clouds do not really look like camels or sailing ships or castles in the sky. They are simply a natural process at work. So too, perhaps, are our lives. Because we have minds and clouds do not, we desire freedom. That is the shape the characters in 'Cloud Atlas' take, and how they attempt to direct our thoughts. Any concrete, factual attempt to nail the film down to cold fact, to tell you what it 'means,' is as pointless as trying to build a clockwork orange….But, oh, what a film this is! And what a demonstration of the magical, dreamlike qualities of the cinema. And what an opportunity for the actors. And what a leap by the directors, who free themselves from the chains of narrative continuity. And then the wisdom of the old man staring into the flames makes perfect sense."

Sasha Stone, Awards Daily: (In compiling her own review roundup) "I disagree with [EW's Owen Gliebman] on the note of whether it’s profound or not. I think it absolutely has that ability but it depends on your own personal belief system. I think what it says about ethnic and sexual identity is quite profound. But ultimately, like The Master and Life of Pi, your experience with it will depend on what you bring to it. Who you are when you walk in the door. What you think changes over time. Life becomes something different once you pass 40 years old. It’s important to remember that, always, when judging works of art. They are most often, simply, our own reflection…Like Ebert, I want to see the film a third time. In fact, I’m desperate to see it a third time. Every major organ in my body is pleading with me to see it a third time. My brain is hungry to solve the mysteries. My heart wants to swoon again. My body, well, that goes without saying, what with Ben Wishaw, Jim Sturgess and James D’Arcy all cast in the film. I know, ew, gross…As far as Oscars go, right now I see an original score frontrunner. Other than that, I don’t know."

[CJ: I've enjoyed following this critic's "journey" with the film through several articles and podcasts. And I haven't talked to any female fans who aren't swooning over at least one of the film's actors. Bae Doona has impressed a lot of male fans, and Halle Berry… well, she's still Halle Berry. 😉 I didn't find the film as mystifying as some, maybe because I prefer narratives where every plotline and themes is neatly tied together in a big bow at the end. And the film's notion of higher truths is both something I instinctively agree with and am skeptical about. When Sonmi says "The truth is singular, it's variants are untruths"… that's true of scientific fact, but so much in our experience is open to interpretation. Including most things people label as capital T Truth in a philosophical sense. Whenever I hear a religious person (any religion) insist that their truth is the only one, I reflexively shake my head. But I've read rapturously positive reviews of this film by atheists, Catholics, Protestants, New Age/Gaia adherents, Jews… even a Muslim critic earlier today. Is this down to what Agent Smith would call "vagaries of perception", or, less cynically, finding in art what we each want/need to, or does it point to some higher truth we can all agree on, in spite of basic differences in philosophy? I remain somewhat skeptical, but it's something worth hoping for.]

Justin Craig, Fox News: "'Cloud Atlas'should not work. But it does. Lana Wachowski, Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer have wrangled David Mitchell’s beast of a story and delivered a haunting, full-bodied tour de force, and a completely unprecedented movie experience… Rich in symbolism and metaphor, “Cloud Atlas” is not a movie to view just once. It’s a film that is equally popcorn entertainment as it is an experience to dissect and discover again and again… The only way to become accustomed to the outlandish structure is to be immediately thrown into the story, which the filmmakers do right away. From the start, 'Cloud Atlas' bounces back and forth through each story, from the 1849 to an indeterminable post-apocalyptic future, all the while unraveling a fascinating, if not very confusing, story. If at first you find yourself confused, don’t worry, you’re not alone. 'Cloud Atlas' is almost three hours and it takes about forty-five minutes for the film to catch its rhythm, but once it does it is a vastly rewarding journey… Just about on every level, “Cloud Atlas” provides a plethora of material to absorb, and seeing the actors in their different guises is just one of the many breathtaking elements to devour…The production design is extravagant. “Cloud Atlas” looks like six completely different movies. We see 1970s San Francisco, a frightening futuristic Seoul, a primitive post-apocalyptic landscape and a sundrenched ship on a passage across the Pacific. Even though the settings are all over the map, the film still feels like one single entity. "

Alexis Neal, Patheos: "Every once in a while, you see movies advertised as offering ‘something for everyone,’ and it’s usually just so much marketing malarkey. Cloud Atlas is an exception… These six stories are interwoven into a single, unique (albeit rather long) film. It is truly one-of-a-kind… It is a joy to see skilled actors inhabit such a wide range of characters in a single work, particularly when they are clearly having such a good time with their roles (see, e.g., Tom Hanks as a thug-cum-author, and Hugh Grant, Hugo Weaving, and Jim Broadbent across the board). This was my first exposure to James D’Arcy, who brings a certain quiet wistfulness to each of his roles. I found myself liking those he likes simply because he likes them (even when those he likes are utterly unlikable). Jim Sturgess, another newish face to me, is serviceable and sympathetic as an ailing young lawyer aboard a ship in the mid-nineteenth century, but really shines as the selfless rebel captain who handles the terrified fabricant/clone with gentle kindness but who, as it turns out, also kicks a fair amount of totalitarian behind. And I swear Susan Sarandon gets more luminous with every passing year. But the real stars are arguably the makeup artists, who certainly earned their keep (and probably an Oscar nomination, if not an outright win), skillfully distinguishing the various characters played by each actor and often crossing ethnic lines with surprising success…Regardless of whether we agree with the means used to combat injustice—or even with the filmmakers’ characterization of certain events and actions as unjust—this experience of injustice makes an excellent theme, for it is common to all."

Brian Juergens, AfterElton: "There are a lot of things being said about Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer's film adaptation of Cloud Atlas: it's the film adaptation of an unfilmable novel; it's brilliant and visionary; it's a muddy mess; it means well, but it's too big for its britches…All of these things are, to some extent, true. The film – which uses a core cast of actors to tell a half-dozen wildly different tales spanning genres and centuries – is staggeringly ambitious. It is also wildly uneven, the warp and weft of the various interweaving plot threads being at times gripping, at others touching, and at others cold-sweat clunky to the point where you fear it might unravel completely. Not particularly surprising, given the sprawl that the three filmmakers have chosen to tackle: David Mitchell's source novel (which he himself considered "unfilmable") is a massive, meta feverdream that attempts to encapsulate humanity's overarching struggle for survival and advancement through a selection of carefully curated and vastly different tales… The result is dizzying, but effective – and aided by the fact that they've also opted to employ a small central company in all of the tales, each actor playing different roles spanning a number of ages, races, and genders… [W]hile some of the race- and gender-switched characters are undeniably odd looking, they are all fascinating in their own way. At times it's difficult to identify the actor within the character, which is of course partly the point…  In fact, the point of Cloud Atlas is so essential to understanding the film that it almost supercedes the film itself: this is not a movie, it is a manifesto. A gonzo, breathtaking, deeply humane declaration of the belief that all people – regardless of class, race, gender, age, sexuality, and more – are deserving of the same level of respect… Fortunately, despite being massively ambitious and boasting lofty ideals, Cloud Atlas is also genuinely entertaining and manages to nimbly genre-hop while striking the appropriate tone of each. The brilliance of the approach – telling a single story through six distinct genres and casts of characters – is that it meets us where we already live."

Dan Gentile, Austinist: "Cloud Atlas aims to capture these uncanny emotions in a multi-century spanning film that jumps between time periods and genres, connecting characters by their written remains in order to show that the paths they walk are always paved by those before them… In a conceit that can be visually off-putting, the actors (including Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, and Hugh Grant) subvert their typecasts by tackling multiple roles. Despite the sometimes awkward make-up, the decision to take them outside their comfort zones gives the film a sense of playfulness and anticipation, as you never know where each famous face will appear next. Hanks changes from goatee'd gangland novelist to charlatan slave trade doctor to post-apocalyptic shepherd. Halle Berry does a stint as the caucasian wife of a mid-century composer. Grant is the perpetual money-hungry villain, and Hugo Weaving plays evil incarnate in the form of both the devil and a domineering female nurse who steals every scene in which (s)he appears…

But none of these clever decisions would be effective if it weren't for the compelling nature of the stories…  Like Cloud Atlas's characters, the filmmakers' reckless choices pay off against all odds, and it's no coincidence that the result is a movie that's larger than the sum of its meticulously moving parts. They've succeeded in creating a film that's broader in scope and ambition than the novel, and although the truncated plot lines can sometimes feel half-finished, the more intimate details are just a bookstore away."

Mark Mohan, The Oregonian: "Ambitious doesn't begin to describe 'Cloud Atlas,' a head-trip of a movie that uses a large cast playing multiple characters to weave together six vaguely interlocked stories from the past, present and future, ultimately spinning an epic tale of human connectedness, eternal recurrence, and the endless battle between freedom and oppression. Plus it has laser gun fights, forbidden love, and a rollicking group breakout from a fascistic old folks' home. What more could anyone want?… It's a uniquely cinematic and very effective choice to have each actor play multiple roles, sometimes of varying age, ethnicity and gender…The overall effect is of a sort of, well, matrix of performers and roles. "

Chris Vognar, Dallas News: "The whole thing can be maddening and painfully broad. It can also be a great deal of fun in places, once you fall into the movie’s rhythm. Cloud Atlas was directed by Andy and Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer, but the film is held together (to the extent that it holds together) by Alexander Berner’s editing, including some dandy bits of motion continuity, as one scene transitions to the next. It’s the connective tissue, the glue that keeps Cloud Atlas from flying all the way off the rails… The design can make momentum and engagement difficult, but it is admirably cinematic. There’s little sense in trying to graft a literary approach, designed for the page, onto the big screen…There’s a black-and-white, good-vs.-evil quality to the characterizations. Why does the evil Dr. Henry Goose (Hanks, sporting bad teeth) want to rob and poison the kindly Adam Ewing? Well, because Goose is evil. Why does the vainglorious composer Vyvyan Ayrs (Jim Broadbent, my favorite Cloud Atlas player) take advantage of his noble assistant (Ben Whishaw)? Because Ayrs is vainglorious… If you enter Cloud Atlas ready to scoff at mythopoetic hokum, you’ll find plenty of opportunity to indulge. But you’ll also find an audacity of scale and ambition very rare in movies. From its moment-to-moment triumphs, including the Tykwer-directed, present-day story line that finds Broadbent’s feckless book publisher plotting escape from a sort of senior citizen prison, to its macro failures, Cloud Atlas does nothing halfway…It has the courage of its convictions, as flighty as those may be."

Alex Bentley, Dallas CultureMap: "f there was any hope that the Wachowskis and Tykwer, who shared writing and directing duties, would ease the audience into this kind of mind-bender, that’s shot within the first five minutes. They whipsaw you from story to story, barely stopping to take a breath, let alone lay out proper introductions for the characters…This continues throughout the film, with visits to some stories sometimes lasting no more than a few seconds. Still, no particular story is given a higher level of importance over any other, as the trio makes sure to check in with every story before too much time has passed…It’s not until about an hour into the three-hour movie that it’s peculiar rhythm finally takes hold. But as confusing as the film is, the entertainment value is there from the beginning. Details within each story tantalize, keeping you present until the rewards start to get doled out… Although every actor does a great job of moving seamlessly from character to character, style points must be awarded to Berry, Broadbent and Weaving. They each play such a variety of personalities, ages and, in Berry’s and Weaving’s cases, genders. Their performances are an almost constant source of wonderment… Cloud Atlas is unlike any movie I’ve ever seen, which is a good thing — for the most part. At least it shows that ingenious filmmakers will always find a way to tackle material previously deemed unfilmable. That’s great news for all movie fans."

Preston Barta, Red Carpet Crash: 'Matrix' creators, the Wachowski siblings, and writer-director Tom Tykwer ('Run Lola Run,' 1998) joined forces and took a novel that was deemed unfilmable by its own author and made it into one of the most daring, ambitious and impressive spectacles in quite some time. Although the film is overly long (nearly three hours), and far from great, one cannot help but admire how it challenges its audience with its audacious style and complex, non-linear storytelling construct… An important aspect of the film is that the actors all play different characters throughout. Most of the main actors play six to eight characters that all live in different eras. But let it be known, that all of the actors give engaging performances, especially Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Ben Whishaw and Hugo Weaving… It is apparent that this film is not for everyone, and I imagine that many audiences will walkout within the first hour and wonder what they were watching. I can honestly say that the thought crossed my mind a few times. But if you are willing to give yourself over to a film that is unlike anything else— that covers subjects such as destiny, reincarnation and philosophy— then get ready to embark on a voyage that will take you to obscure places."

Kristy Puchko, Critical Mob: "The cast takes on roles within each arc, and it's fun to find them — often coated in thick prosthetic makeup — throughout the interwoven narrative. Moreover, it's exhilarating to watch actors play roles well outside their niche — like Hanks as a British bruiser or Grant as a bloody-mouthed cannibal — but what's most impressive is how well this mix of genres blends together… The connections are made between the characters arcs, emotions, and epiphanies, which makes the editing style supremely impressive and poignant. The cast, which is essentially asked to be in six films at once, likewise handles these shifts in genre, tone, and character with a magnificent skill and grace. With striking cinematography, awe-inspiring production design, dazzling performances, and some truly stupendous fight choreography that plays out like a violent dance number, Cloud Atlas is astounding." (4 out of 5 stars)

Peter Howell, The Record: "Early in Cloud Atlas, actor Jim Broadbent throws us a lifeline: “You will find there is a method to this tale of madness.” His droll publisher character Timothy Cavendish refers to something within the film, but he’s really addressing the audience — and also reassuring it… You can also see why the book was catnip to Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer, the co-writers/co-directors of the film. The Wachowskis are right at home in fantasy and sci-fi scenarios, having made The Matrix trilogy, and Tykwer’s breakthrough film Run Lola Run stopped and started time across its fractured narrative. They’re keeners, and believers in an audience that won’t shy away from big ideas about interconnected lives and reborn souls, and which can handle as many characters shifts than you’d find in a Dickens or Dostoevsky novel… You get caught up in their enthusiasm and ambition, and also the film’s lush visuals and score, even if a couple of the stories in Cloud Atlas feel a little thin or even silly. The Wachowski/Tykwer master strokes are changing the novel’s sequential stories into concurrent ones and having actors play multiple roles… Cloud Atlas is consistently challenging, frequently entertaining and occasionally maddening. The film is hard to get into at first, with so many stories being told at once. But it settles down and achieves the almost magical feat of pulling together most of the threads it so vigorously tangles at the outset."

Natalie Reyes, The Daily Californian: "'First catechism: Honor thy consumer.' Sonmi-451, a fast-food server at a glitzy, underground food court, utters the sacred phrase in Neo Seoul in the year 2144. It seems that directors Tom Tykwer and Andy and Lana Wachowski (sibling directors otherwise known as the Wachowski Starship) took this first catechism to heart in the film adaptation of David Mitchell’s 2004 novel 'Cloud Atlas.' The film, with an ensemble cast, stands not only as a faithful adaptation of a beloved book but also an exemplary piece of movie magic. It is the kind of production that reminds us that the film medium — and particularly the book-to-movie genre — is not dead…  If you’re not scratching your head about how these seemingly disparate stories are interconnected — or even related at all, save the obvious inclusion of Rufus Sixsmith in two stories — you probably should be. It’s a dizzying plot setup. Any one of the stories could surely be lengthened into its own feature film… And yet this is the format that Mitchell wrote (and the filmmakers tweaked for the silver screen), and with good reason: There is an interconnectedness, a relativity between the tales that speaks to the interdependence of humanity itself… With “The Matrix” and “V for Vendetta” under their belts, the Wachowskis are particularly adept at crafting worlds. The prosthetics in the film are impressive — each actor plays multiple characters, and part of the fun is trying to spot a familiar face in an unfamiliar body. Tom Hanks, for instance, transitions between seedy ship surgeon to an early 20th-century hotel manager to a soul-patched gangster. Sometimes the faces are unrecognizable, changing ethnicities and ages with remarkable smoothness and believability… I don’t believe it is a fluke that a film whose central theme is eternal, transcendent love could leave me so at peace and, yes, thoroughly in love with it."

Andrew O'Hehir, Salon: "I will tell you in the same breath that “Cloud Atlas” is a flawed and potentially ridiculous work and that I loved it, and can’t wait to see it a second time (and then a third). Indeed, all of that is connected, as the movie itself reminds us — perhaps too many times… I can appreciate a well-crafted work of Hollywood formula that gives the audience what it already knows it wants, at least up to a point, but I often come away feeling restless and unsatisfied. I’d almost always rather see the rare kind of pop spectacle that takes enormous risks, that reaches for grand themes, big ideas and operatic emotions, even if it makes indefensible mistakes along the way…. But its too-muchness is also the source of its power; I was absolutely never bored, and felt surprised when the movie ended. It’s an amazing, baffling, thrilling and (for many, it would appear) irritating experience, and for my money the most beautiful and distinctive big-screen vision of the year… You could say it’s a truth or a truism, that it’s fundamentally scientific or essentially religious. Individual human lives can seem like irrelevant or accidental phenomena, all too easily snuffed out; but the connections between them are more varied and diverse than we can ever see, and taken all together they are like a river of meaning and information, flowing inexorably into the future… Purely at a cinematic level, “Cloud Atlas” is full of eye-popping delights, a puzzle movie and an anthology movie that incorporates numerous different genres and styles. .. More important than that, the recurring presence of so many actors in different roles throughout the film – Hanks and Berry first and foremost, but also Sturgess, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant, Ben Whishaw, Korean actress Doona Bae, veteran Wachowski villain Hugo Weaving and numerous others – creates the sense of a tide or undertow that connects all these people and their stories but that’s impossible to define. I don’t think it’s supposed to be 'convincing' to see Berry or Doona Bae playing 19th-century Englishwomen. Perhaps it’s supposed to remind us that personal identity, like embedded social categories such as race or gender, is something we make up as we go along… I can understand why some people will back away from “Cloud Atlas” because it seems overloaded and pretentious and sentimental and infused with a spiritual vision that resembles the wise sayings found on the walls of organic-food cooperatives. It is all those things, but so (even more so) is Terrence Malick’s 'Tree of Life,' and I’m way more likely to want to watch this one again. It’s funny, violent and prodigiously romantic; it has immense heart and more gorgeous cinematic moments than I can describe. "

[To Be Continued– LJ Says Original Post Still Too Large…]


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