Saturday, October 27, 2012

If Neo and Lola had a baby

Three directors.

Two men and one former man who now identifies as female.

Two siblings (once brothers) and one who isn't related to them.

Two Americans and one German.

The directors of two of the best films of 1999 (The Matrix and Run Lola Run).

Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer and Andy Wachowski, as they are credited. Always in that order. (Ladies first I guess.)

However you slice it, Cloud Atlas is going to be interesting.

But will it be good?

Cloud Atlas looks like the classic example of a love-it-or-hate-it movie, and so far, the hate-its seem to be winning. You could say that its 52 Metascore means that those two opposing sentiments are averaging out almost perfectly, but if you were translating that score into a letter grade, it would be an F, not the C you would expect for a love-it-or-hate-it movie. (Then again, a straight translation doesn't work -- whereas a score of 59 or lower is an F in school, you're really probably looking at a Metascore of 25 or lower for the equivalent of an F. So I guess 52 probably really is a C, since it is described as "Mixed or Average Reviews.")

Yeah, I probably could have reconfigured that last paragraph to remove my faulty initial assumption altogether.

In any case, Cloud Atlas looks very much like the next installment in my series of movies that are "Too Shebulba," as described in this post. To refresh your memory, the term was inspired by Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain, in which the characters appear in several different time periods and the futuristic version of Hugh Jackman is left whispering the word "Shebulba!" at a tree floating through outer space. One of my commenters corrected my spelling of the term, explaining that the character is referring to the Mayan underworld Xibalba. However, the term was born as "Shebulba," and that's how it will stay for my purposes.

In fact, if Cloud Atlas most closely resembles one single movie, I'd say The Fountain is it. Especially as it seems to focus on a man and a woman whose love affair stretches out over generations and in different incarnations of themselves -- here Tom Hanks and Halle Berry, there Jackman and Rachel Wiesz. And if it does really resemble The Fountain, that's bad news for me, since I found that movie to be an interesting failure at best.

But then I return to the directors themselves, and consider some of the boundary-pushing movies they've made over the years. I mentioned The Matrix and Run Lola Run, but each director or directing pair has a second movie that I absolutely love -- in the case of the Wachowskis, even more than The Matrix, and in the case of Tom Tykwer, slightly less than Run Lola Run. The Wachowskis' Bound is among my 30 favorite films of all time, and Tykwer's Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is probably among my top 50. Both movies mesmerize me, and both demonstrate that these directors or directing teams have the kind of range that could make them perfect choices for an ambitious opus like Cloud Atlas.

I will probably find out Sunday night. Until then, I will continue to marinate in a sense of wary anticipation about what kind of weird and potentially brilliant oddity lies ahead of me.


Travis McClain said...

I just have no interest in this whatsoever. It looks generic to me. When I remarked about that recently on Facebook, some mutual pals of ours balked, citing its numerous settings and large cast, marveling at how it might all come together.

I've not seen The Fountain, but I'm no stranger to stories that span multiple settings. But then, I'm also the guy who found Inception to be an unoriginal, underwhelming and simplistic flick than the "mind-blowing" experience that so many others described. Various stories have stoked my imagination enough over the years that if something is going to try to "open my eyes" to the possibilities of the universe, it's going to have to do something that would surprise even Stephen Hawking if it's gonna entice me.

That's not to suggest my intellect is on par with Professor Hawking's, because obviously it isn't (though I would challenge him any day of the week to a James Bond trivia contest). I don't have a mind for the actual mathematics of quantum science, but I do grasp the concepts well enough that I'm not terribly impressed by sci-fi/fantasy stories that rely on multiple settings of time and/or dimensions as their main draw.

When Cloud Atlas enthusiasts say, "But it's got 17th and 19th Century settings and stuff in the future and all kinds of characters!" I say, "Yeah? So?" I'm just not impressed by those trimmings and trappings. If there's a compelling story to be told, then that's what will attract me. I respond to characters and themes, not razzle-dazzle gimmickry.

Vancetastic said...

I think that's a completely fair assessment. I am frequently wary of gimmicks, because they are almost always hiding some kind of problem with the story. We were invited to have our mind blown (to borrow your phrase) by a movie that featured both cowboys and aliens, but Cowboys & Aliens sucked.

Not only that, but "Everything is Connected" is a worrisome tagline. I’ve recently talked about so-called “hyperlink cinema,” where seemingly unrelated characters and storylines link up in ways that are also supposed to be mind-blowing. At their worst, movies like this can get bogged down on the mere narrative exercise of getting all the stories to match up, almost like pieces in a puzzle rather than story elements that really belong together. It’s gimmicky in the worst way.

That said, I do really worship the directors (though they have also made their share of stinkers). Given that and the fact that it’s sure to look grandiose on the big screen, this is a no-brainer theater movie for me.