I really want to talk about my new favorite TV show, but I’m much better at mocking terrible things. So bear with me while I warm up with some meanspiritedness (also, this entire post is guaranteed spoiler-free!)
I’ve been a fan of the Wachowskis ever since they were brothers. Well, that wasn’t so long ago. Ever since their nearly flawless, tiny little thriller Bound with Gina Gershon and Meg Tilly. Then of course came The Matrix and their real introduction to the world, and after that one of my favorite movies ever, V for Vendetta (as screenwriters).
But I’m here to talk about their next endeavor, Cloud Atlas, which I only watched because of my new favorite TV show.
This is a movie that almost defies explanation. I’ll skip to the end and say the message seems to be reincarnation and how we build up good or bad karma with how we live our lives, and how our actions in one life can have a butterfly effect on the future. I’m almost certain.
It spans several hundred (?) centuries and has a diverse spectrum of star power, from newcomer (to Westerners) Doona Bae to Hollywood royalty like Tom Hanks and Halle Berry. Also a whole bunch of Brits like Hugo Weaving, Jim Broadbent, and Jim Sturgess (to name a few).
The most interesting conceit about this film is that most of the stars play more than one character, some different races and even genders (with mixed success, shown here:)
(I say “mixed success” because, frankly, it’s very hard to make Caucasians look Asian (and vice versa) without a weirdly alien result. But if your bucket list includes a burning desire to see Hugh Grant as a Mad Maxian cannibal king, then have I got good news for you, friendo (his screen time is so brief, however, I barely had time to recognize him.)
I’m at such a loss to describe the plot, I’m going to laze out and copy IMDb’s summary: “An exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future.” If it sounds maddeningly vague, trust me, watching the movie doesn’t clarify things as much as one would hope.
The thing is, it’s not a bad movie if they could have severely edited the first half (it has a nearly three-hour runtime). Thirty minutes in, I got the sinking feeling this was the movie my good friend, Gerry, warned me to avoid. At the halfway mark, I had to take a break for real life and I seriously wrestled with whether or not to finish it.
I’m glad I did as it does come together nicely in the end, and the credits are a revelation when you realize (too late) how many different characters the major players actually portray. Not enough of a revelation, however, to endure it all over again. There are some amazing visuals (this is still a Wachowski production), but they’re unfortunately vastly outnumbered by “what the hell am I watching and is there something better I could be doing” moments. I never thought I’d prefer a “formatted for TV” version of a movie, but this one desperately needed an editor more prepared to kill some darlings.
But as I said, I only watched this because of the ubiquitous comparisons to my new favorite TV show, “Sense8” on Netflix (another Wachowski creation). This takes Atlas‘ tag line “Everything is connected” to the next level.
Short version: Eight complete strangers (sensates; get it?) from all over the globe and all walks of life suddenly become psychically linked. They can peer briefly into each others’ lives, experience each others’ feelings, and even borrow each others’ skills in dire situations.
I won’t spoil the reason behind all this; I can’t, as the season finale left us hanging.
What you do need to know is how simply gorgeous this show is. Shot entirely on location, it will transport you to Reykjavik, Seoul, Mumbai and Nairobi. The characters range from a Chicago cop to a German safecracker; a high-power Korean businesswoman to a poor Kenyan bus driver; a transgender lesbian to an Indian woman set to marry a man she doesn’t love.
It doesn’t shy away from sexuality either, in all its glorious variety, so if you’re opposed to glorious variety don’t bother–but it would be a real shame if you let that scare you off.
Because the only word I can think to describe this show is “transcendent”(also a recurring theme in most of the reviews I read); almost every episode has a scene of stunning beauty lovingly shot in slow motion. From a Pride parade in San Francisco to a Hindu festival for Ganesh to fireworks over the water in Chicago. Tiny, colorful windows into just a few of the beautiful things about our world.
To be sure, there is a Big Bad eventually, but honestly it isn’t nearly as interesting as all the smaller conflicts that make up the bulk of the season. Because the show primarily is about nothing less than the human condition (or as much of it as they could squeeze in without having a “Game of Thrones” cast of hundreds). It’s ambitious, and very slow building, but absolutely rewards the patient (as do repeat viewings. I’m on my second time through now and picking up tons of little clues and connections that are bound to be missed without knowing where they’re taking us). It’s like “Lost” or “Heroes,” if they hadn’t forgotten what they were trying to say halfway through.
I couldn’t find any one picture to encompass the grandness of it, so enjoy the epic opening credits instead.
(I think they deserve kudos for avoiding an overdone glimpse of Christ the Redeemer, which appears in every other international montage ever created.)
Is it perfect? Of course not. It’s slow building and therefore at times slow moving–it wasn’t until the last scene of the third episode that I decided to commit. The characters seem to take it in a little too much stride that they’re suddenly standing on the opposite side of the world talking to strangers. Everyone speaks English, albeit with genuine regional accents, to avoid distracting subtitles (which I was thankful for). And the acting is at times a bit stiff, but the cast is largely unknown newcomers (including again the aforementioned Doona Bae).
But it manages to create eight distinct characters that we can care about (some more than others, but they all have interesting–and believable–stories). It tackles some pretty huge subjects like sexism, racism, trans and homophobia, and a dozen smaller issues under those big umbrellas, without ever getting preachy, and shows us how everyone can be a hero, even in small ways.
Most importantly, it shows how we’re all more alike than different, and how things are better when we work together. You can roll your eyes and dismiss it as kumbaya and touchy-feely, but with all the crap going on today, I for one welcome anything that can remind me the world isn’t an entirely horrible place.
After my plans for an extended bike ride were tragically cut short by a disastrously misjudged curb hop that rendered me couchbound, I searched for horror movies on Xfinity™ cable (note: I am not a Comcast spokesperson). The first result was something I never expected to catch my eye: Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter.
I’m usually not snobby about horror movies–I enjoy cheesy, badly done titles as well as the rarefied few that manage to scare me. But I dismissed Lincoln in the theaters as mainstream junk.
Which was my bad. First, the short list of filmmakers known for producing well-done, visually distinctive films is, well, short: The Wachowskis of course, Guillermo Del Toro, Tim Burton (in the old days), Terry Gilliam and a few others. And Timur Bekmambetov, known for both Night Watch and Day Watch (beautifully shot, but I was absolutely incapable of staying awake for either, despite fighting valiantly), and Wanted with James MacAvoy.
His style is at the forefront in Lincoln. Imagine a fictional Honest Abe biopic (with vampires) with Matrix-like action sequences. It sounds ludicrous, but this movie makes it work by taking itself dead seriously, and fifteen minutes in I was astonished at how much I was enjoying it.
There’s not a lot of substance, so those looking for historical accuracy should stick to Ken Burns. But there’s a semi-all-star cast (if you know the British acting pool) including “Preacher’s” Dominic Cooper, Marton Csokas, Rufus Sewell at his malevolent ratfaced best, and even Alan Tudyk as the asshole senator who wants to keep slavery legal (sidenote: Wash, no!)
There’s also enough steampunk gear to fill a convention center, enough blood to fill another, and surprisingly adequate CGI.
The movie even manages some profound thoughts about history and the men who make it, between slashy good vampire-slaying fun.
I immediately went shopping for the Blu-ray when I noticed it came in 3D. Oh my goodness, yes please. With all the slo-mo axe swinging and whips whipping (to say nothing of a scene involving a room full of dust motes), this must look fantastic in 3D. No-brainer.