Cloud Atlas: a movie review

Synopsis by author David Mitchell: “An exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future, as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and an act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution.”


One viewing isn’t sufficient for a comprehensive “review” of a movie like this.  Like Roger Ebert, who called Cloud Atlas “one of the most ambitious films ever made,” I knew before it was half over that I wanted to watch it again.  Different critics have praised and panned the movie.  I want to offer a brief synopsis and weigh in with a solid two thumbs up.

It’s harder to move around in time in movies than in books. Inception 2010, notably altered the linear flow of time, with four levels of dreaming that unfolded simultaneously, yet fundamentally it was structured as a frame-tale.  Scheherazade did the same thing centuries ago in the The Arabian Nights.

British author, David Mitchell tried something more ambitious in his novel, Cloud Atlas 2004.  Six stories take place in different times and places, with implications that past, present, and future interconnect in ways that are too complex for a linear narrative.  For one thing, Mitchell says that the main characters in the different tales that bear an unusual birthmark are reincarnations of the same character.  Somni~451, the clone-turned-visionary in the dystopian future scene voices what I take to be the core theme of the movie:  “Separation is an illusion.  All our lives are interconnected.”

Counter to what I expected, the different stories were not hard to follow.  Anyone interested in fresh ways of imagining novels and movies should not miss Cloud Atlas.  I’m pretty sure you’ll want to see it more than once.

Men In Black III – A Movie Review

Saving the world one alien at a time

I want to say this is the best Men in Black yet and would do so except that they’ve all been fun, and this one assumes familiarity with the basic premise. Though it could not stand alone, this movie does not simply rest on the laurels of the franchise. It adds a number of plot twists including time travel and alternate futures.  We also learn much of the backstory of Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) through the excellent performance by Josh Brolin as his younger self.  We learn where much of his stoicism comes from in relation to Agent J (Will Smith), and we discover a hint of romance in the background of Mr. No Fraternization.   Throw in an earth-threatening bad guy, Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) and you have a movie that keeps your attention from start to finish.

Jemaine Clement as Boris the Animal

Boris escapes from LunarMax prison.  He’s the last of the Boglodites, a race that would have destroyed earth except for the ArcNet shield that Agent K (Jones) had sent into orbit on the first moon rocket on July 16, 1969.  Boris time-jumps back to July 15, 1969, kills K, and the Boglodite invasion begins in our time.  The earth’s only chance is Agent J (Smith) who follows Boris back in time and teams up with Agent K’s younger self in a desperate effort to stop Boris.

They meet a key ally, Griffin (Michael Stuhlbarg), at an Andy Warhol be-in.  Warhol is reveal as an agent, and Griffin as a 5th dimensional Arcadian who can see all possible futures.  At Shea Stadium, he recalls his favorite moment in human history – when the Mets won the world series.  His explanation of how this was possible made for a nice metaphysical aside.  Involving factors like a home run ball that was flawed because a factory worker’s wife had left him the day it was made, Griffin’s story served as a fine illustration of the Buddha’s teaching on the  interdependent arising of all phenomena.

young Agent K, Griffin, and Agent J

The plot depends on several nifty gizmos that just happen to appear at the right time, and we have the obligatory alien free for all and agent-gets-slimed moment, but those who liked the previous movies will enjoy the new situations, especially watching Will Smith overcome an alien shark with mustard.

I decided to see the non-3D version.  The glasses sometimes give me headaches, and I suspect the in-your-face effect of some of the creatures would have been distracting.  Either way, if you liked the earlier MIB movies, you’ll find a lot to like in this one.