Movie Review: Cloud Atlas

 

“Everything is connected.” So reads the tagline for the nearly three hour opus of one of the most unified pieces of cinema in recent years I have ever seen, period. I just saw it with some friends for the first time on Blu-ray and I cannot believe how well-crafted this film is. I’ve been meaning to see this for a while now after a good friend of mine recommended it but I never had the time until now.

In six different eras, we partake in six different stories as we see their impact on everyone else.

I usually have trouble with films that go beyond the 2 1/2 hour mark with very few exceptions (Solaris, Terminator 2: Judgement Day to name a few). It’s mainly due to pacing and wanting to reach the resolution but the film wants to pad it out some more. Here, I was fully engaged in each story and wanted to see how they would end.

Notably, the film features actors playing multiple roles, regardless of gender. Tom Hanks is the easiest one to spot out of each story but there were some surprises. The makeup is incredibly well-done. When the credits roll, you see the actor from era and believe me there are some surprises where you can do nothing but be impressed by the stellar job that was done.

The worlds of each era were immersive, particularly Neo Seoul and Big Isle. With Neo Seoul, I madly wish the technology to change the room’s appearance would be here NOW. The execution of the act is of course futuristic but also rather functional. With Big Isle, I felt like I was in a world where the island from LOST and the entire Myst series became one land.

I became engaged and attached to nearly every single character. When I wondered how a certain character was doing in one part of the story, I then saw it play out on the screen as if the film knew what I was thinking. I wanted each character to succeed in their arc but success is never a guarantee in life. With this infographic, you can see each story play out and how everything is connected (don’t see it until you’ve seen the film as there are spoilers).

The music is subtle and dynamic at the same time. It is not at all overpowering, trying to hammer in the feeling you’re supposed to feel at the moment; rather, it plays with sophistication and intelligence where no other piece of music would fit in the film except for what you hear.

This is one film that must be seen on Blu-ray on the biggest screen possible, no questions asked. After seeing this, I am definitely adding it to my library so that someday I can see it at home on Blu-ray, that is whenever I get a player.

The frustrating part about this film is that it was snubbed at the Oscars. By snubbed, I mean it was up for pre-nomination for Best Visual Effects but never made the actual list for any category. That breaks my heart, seeing all that hard work into making this film be ignored. As of this post, it has not made the 1001 list; hopefully that will be fixed in future editions.

This is more than a film, this is a work of Art with a capital A.

10/10

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Movie Review: Toy Story

NOTE: This is a fixed version of the Debuts Blogathon post mainly for posterity.

It’s a great feeling to know that a movie is still as great, if not better, as when you first saw it. When I was young and when my family would go on vacation, we would take a small TV and wedge it between the driver and passenger seats. Part of my preparation was to pick out the tapes we would watch. Toy Story was the one of the few tapes that would stay in our travel library; in fact, we only watched it on road trips. When it was time for freshman orientation a few years ago, our theme was “To Infinity and Beyond!” It was especially fitting as I met with fellow computer animation majors (back when that was my major before switching to film). Long story short, this film has stayed with me for as long as I can remember. Of course, watching this today immediately after seeing something like Monsters University is a bit of a shock to the eyes because it’s a noticeable step back in terms of aesthetics and technical execution. Still, it holds up and continues to entertain and enchant.

I’d hate to presume that everyone has seen Toy Story but for the sake of this special review, I’ll go over the plot and much more.

We begin with Andy playing with his toys. It’s child’s play as a make-believe session set in a western town includes a Slinky dog with force fields and a dinosaur who eats them just because they can. Woody comes in and saves the day, stopping a bad potato from robbing everyone. Good clean wholesome fun. It’s no ordinary day, as Andy is having his birthday party early before they move to a new house. As soon as Andy puts Woody on his bed, that’s when the toys really come to life.

Woody is the leader of the pack as they come together for a staff meeting. The toys are adults and treat each other as such, most of the time. The whole set-up is like an organization, with each member dedicated to making this one kid happy just by being toys. Things are going well until kids start showing up for the party with presents. Woody sends out army men to scope the scene for new additions to the crew. After hearing about same rather lame presents, Andy’s mom pulls out a surprise that’s really something. The toys don’t figure it out yet as a tornado of children storm up to Andy’s room and leave it in some disarray. Woody comes out from under the bed as the toys wonder why Andy would do something like that. Woody climbs up and then we see the fancy new toy: a Buzz Lightyear. Oh. My. Gosh. A Buzz Lightyear? Must want! Sorry. Well, after his introduction, Buzz doesn’t seem to make a good impression on Woody. Andy spends his time playing with Buzz as we see a change of his interests as Buzz is in drawings, posters, and bedsheets. It goes to the point of near ultimate shame as Woody is put in the toy box instead of Andy’s arms when he sleeps.

One afternoon, Andy goes to Pizza Planet. But before that, his mom calls him for some reason and leaves the room learning that he can only bring one toy. Fueled by jealousy, Woody knocks Buzz out of the window. Before the other toys have the chance to lynch him, Andy returns and takes Woody, disappointed that he can’t find Buzz. They stop at a gas station as Buzz and Woody fight and are out of the van as Andy leaves. They have an argument that leads to Woody screaming at Buzz “YOU ARE A TOY!!!!!!!!” They then hitch a ride on a Pizza Planet delivery car and try to make their way to Andy. That all fails when Sid, the evil neighbor next door, takes them after winning them in a claw game.

From there, it’s a matter of survival as they try to get back to Andy before the move. Sid’s house is far from paradise, with friendly mutant toys, a viscious dog, and Sid himself. How much worse can it get? Well, if you look at the carpet in the hallway from the top of the stairs, it’s a variation of the carpet from the Overlook Hotel from The Shining. Frankly, I’d like to have the carpet in my house but that’s a whole other story. They escape and scare the living daylights out of Sid. It’s then a race to the moving truck as the toys have to dodge traffic. All’s well in the end as Woody and Buzz fall with style into the van and celebrate their first Christmas together in the new house.

As a kid, I liked it because the toys could talk and that was about it. Now, it’s about the way the story works. The story was written by four people, one of them being  Joss Whedon. If that doesn’t get you excited, I don’t know what will. While there are musical numbers in the movie, none of them are performed by the characters, something Joss and John Lasseter agreed on. Could you imagine these toys breaking out into song in a film like this? Neither can I.

Toy Story debuted as the first ever full-length computer animated film and marked the start of John Lasseter’s directorial position in 1995. This film set the mark for what computer animated films can do. Computer animated features can be successful when they have a combination of a good story, characters we can relate and emote with, and a good style. Sadly, that’s not always the case as there are bombs like Dougal, Hoodwinked Too!: Hood vs. Evil, and Mars Needs Moms just to name a few. Computer animation is not cheap and when a film made in that medium fails, it’s a hard loss to write off.

Now, what else has John Lasseter directed? A Bug’s Life, the next Pixar film which set the stage for the Dreamworks vs. Pixar movies after Antz was released two months before Pixar released their bug-themed film, Toy Story 2, Cars, and Cars 2. Each film helped establish Pixar as the then-dominant computer animated movie house; now, it’s a fierce competition between Pixar, Dreamworks, Illumination Entertainment, and Blue Sky Studios. While each film grew better in visual quality, most people say Cars was when people realized that even the mighty can fall. I wasn’t a fan of the first installment mainly because of the characters. Sure, the cars looked great in different lighting situations but I couldn’t find a reason to care about why Lightning McQueen needed to race and leave Radiator Springs. The second one, well, click on the link. I guess I wasn’t the intended audience for that franchise.

This is one film that won’t vanish into obscurity. Whether it’s with kids, a bunch of college friends (especially animation majors), or even just by yourself because you feel like it, Toy Story remains as the benchmark for storytelling through computer animation and is one that will be enjoyed no matter how old you are. It was the first of many things and will be studied and enjoyed from now until infinity and beyond.

10/10

1001 MYMSBYSD selection

IMDB Top 250

AFI Top 100 (2007): #99

400 Nominations selection for AFI Top 100 for both years

Movie Review: 2001: A Space Odyssey

This is hands down my favorite movie of all time. This film is the one I wish I could have made or at least be a part of when it was made. It is nothing short of AMAZING.

Man learns and grows throughout time thanks to the monolith.

During my early years of high school, my dad would go to our library and get a movie to watch on Saturday night and some pizza. On one evening, he got 2001: A Space Odyssey. Not knowing what I was in for, I watched it with a sense of awe and confusion that over time has lead to a greater appreciation for the film and is what I consider to be one of the best films ever. I have used a clip of this in my editing class in college, where Dave is in the room beyond the infinite. I found out that only me and my teacher had ever seen this movie, much less any Kubrick film. I also used 2001 as my film analysis for Film as Art, also taught by the same teacher and featuring many of the same classmates.

After watching the film, the question that comes up is “What does it mean?” I try to do the best I can when explaining this to people after they see it. What I think it means is that the universe has mysteries that frankly we don’t want explained. I don’t want to know the answers all the time; that takes out the fun. The monolith is a mystery that in the movie is never really explained explicitly. Sure, there are theories but I like to come up with my own interpretation. By letting some things go unexplained, it allows us to wonder, to ponder, to suggest. We are by nature curious. There will be things that for whatever reason can never be explained. I’m perfectly fine with that.

I leave the unexplained to the viewer in some of my pieces, most notably Touch. Upon first viewing, it seems like it doesn’t make sense and a bit disturbing with the noises and the lack of answers. It is upon multiple viewings that people start to make their own connections as to what it means. Was there an explanation for the events? Yes, but I let it remain unanswered. When people ask, I ask them in return what they thought it meant to them. Most say it’s about facing the consequences of your actions. I stand there and thank them for their explanation. It helps me to know that my work does involve analysis and that people are taking the time to do so.

However, I understand that the unexplained is not for everyone. Some people have told me that they did not enjoy watching 2001, finding it too confusing or too long. The first half, I guess, is probably why Touch was not accepted at a local film festival. At this point, it’s my best narrative piece but I know that I can and will do better. I will still include the element of the unexplained, but not as complicated.

The visuals still hold up after many decades. The space attendant walking up a wall and going upside down while the camera is stationary is a solid piece of special effects work. You look for a green screen but you remember that greenscreen wasn’t used back then. The stargate sequence, even though it can be achieved with more ease today, is still an experience. And to think that this was done without computers is even more spectacular.

I played the stargate sequence as a personal christening when my family got a flatscreen. I knew it had to have been the first movie viewed on that television. I only have the regular disc but want to get the Blu-ray for it.

Yes, the actual year has come and gone (much like the sequel 2010: The Year We Make Contact) but it is still a movie that is to be watched, experienced, enjoyed, and wondered.

10/10

1001 MYMSBYD selection

IMDB Top 250

AFI Top 100 (1997): #22

AFI Top 100 (2007): #15

400 Nominations for AFI Top 100 for both years