Kal's Thoughts
Just Thinking Out Loud Here

Maybe I’m way off on this - I’m just shooting in the dark here - but it seems like when someone takes their own life and the people react, there’s a group that’s mad at the person who killed themselves. Especially when it’s someone who “didn’t seem depressed.” Never mind that we know clinical depression is an illness that has to be treated, and is different from “the blues” or just being sad — anyone who commits suicide is, in the eyes of these people I’m talking about (you know the ones), a selfish asshole who couldn’t appreciate life and should’ve sought help and also what were they so sad about?

Look, we’re all going to die. And it could happen randomly and senselessly and it is almost always out of our control. That’s why I support euthanasia in cases of people suffering from extremely painful terminal illnesses if it’s the patient’s choice. The way I see it, if I’m gonna’ go away anyway, you’re the asshole who’s keeping me alive and in pain.

And that got me to thinking - yeah. We all go. Why the hell is it anyone else’s business if I choose I want out early?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m terrifyingly afraid of death. It is something I have struggled with since I was a child; the fear of not knowing existence anymore. To have consciousness end. That’s excruciatingly scary to think about. So for the most part I don’t.

But we’re running a thought experiment here. And as uncomfortable a subject as it may be, it’s reality. We can’t ignore reality. I could die tomorrow. I could get hit by a bus or whatever. It’s not in my control.

What if it was?

Under what circumstances is suicide acceptable?

The primary argument leveled against those that commit suicide is that they were cowards who couldn’t handle what life was throwing at them, or that they were selfish for leaving behind people who depended on them.

What if you live in a third-world country (or, hell, America) and you’re starving to death and there are no good options to get out of your situation? Would you blame them for killing themselves? Would that be okay?

Now, let’s say I’m a forty-year old man. My parents have passed. I have no children, no significant other, no dependents, no pets, no close friends, I’m watching the news and getting incredibly depressed. I decide I want out.

I turn in my two weeks notice, sell off my possessions, take care of my post-death arrangements (funeral and burial costs, etc.), write a will, close my online accounts, terminate my lease, cancel my cable, pay off my credit cards. I’m sure this will raise some flags, but in this hypothetical situation, I’m more or less making it look like I’m moving out of the country.

Then I buy a plane ticket. Maybe to Mexico or the Caribbean. I charter a boat to take me out to international waters. Assuming the sheer beauty of the Caribbean doesn’t convince me to change my mind, I tie a lead weight to my ankle and jump off.

"What are you doing?" cries the shocked boat captain in Spanish, after realizing what I’m doing. But it’s too late! I’m sinking to the bottom of the ocean. I drown. Dead.

The captain finds a note I left, and a thumb drive with a video file confirming my intentions to kill myself. I could’ve brought a witness to verify that the captain meant me no harm, but they might try to stop me, so I do it this way.

The first thing you’d think is that if the hypothetical me didn’t really have any friends, who’s going to be upset? Who’s going to be around to go, “Man, I know he didn’t have a lot going on in life, but he shouldn’t have gone through with that. He should’ve joined a club or something.”

Well, if anyone reads this, which I doubt, and you’re one of the judgmental people who believes that depression isn’t a real disease and that you just have to want to cheer up to get better - then you. Are you mad at this guy who settled all his affairs beforehand, leaving no burden, other than the emotional shock the captain endured?

Fine, Mr. Judgy Pants. I BUY a boat, cheapest one I can get that can still make it to international waters. They’ll never find me (I’d still leave the note though), and I still kill myself.

I know this isn’t the reality. I’ve read stories about people who take their own lives, leaving behind underage children who depended on them. I know the emotional toll it takes on someone to lose a loved one that way is all too common. I really don’t expect you to change you’re mind about them being selfish.

But it’s really easy to feel superior to someone when they’re dead, isn’t it? It’s real easy to point at someone who by all accounts had a life way better than other people and chose to kill themselves anyway.

To future employers or anyone else who stumbles upon this, I am not considering suicide. As I mentioned before, I’m afraid of death. It has kept me up at night, thinking about the day that my vital organs cease to function and the neurons in my brain stop firing. Sometimes I wonder what the point of existence is if eventually we all lose it. But there’s a weird strength in that. I’m alive. I can’t control that either. I don’t want to be a burden on anyone. I have a family that I love very much: two loving parents who want the world for me and a brother who will need me for the rest of his life. And I like being alive. It’s great.

I just wish we’d stop shaming the people who suffered in life so much that they chose to take their own life. They are victims. Why can’t we all accept that?

Paul Blackthorne: Nicest freakin guy! #arrow #dragoncon (at Dragon*Con)

Paul Blackthorne: Nicest freakin guy! #arrow #dragoncon (at Dragon*Con)

"RoboCop" (2014) Review

Robocop (2014) never really knows what it wants to be, thanks to taking on the task of appealing to everyone. It eschews the satirical tone of the original and instead embraces the idea of putting a fatally-injured cop and putting him in a machine, and what the ramifications of that would be like.

There’s plenty of social commentary throughout. Gary Oldman’s character, Dr. Norton, struggles with the ethical issues of what he’s doing - increasingly stressed by the prospect of losing his funding, he has to bend to Omnicorp’s every whim, even when it means sapping Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) of his humanity, to meet CEO Sellars’ unrealistic release date and subsequent promotional appearances. The idea of humanity itself is explored, with this movie taking the approach that it’s a human’s brain chemistry that actually makes us who we are. And with Murphy’s chemistry controlled by Norton, talk of free will almost immediately presents itself.

But the movie is called “Robocop,” so there are the requisite action scenes, repurposing of classic lines, visual homages to the original, and other elements that pay tribute to the 1987 film. These two parts of the film - the philosophical exploration of humanity and the obligatory pieces the movie has to go through to be recognizable as “Robocop” - feel distinct and separate, never really quite meshing together. In the original, Robocop’s physical transformation from ordinary cop to robotic super cop takes about five or ten minutes. In this remake, it takes around half an hour, and it’s so clear that this is what the movie would rather be interested in being that by the time he goes out on patrol, it’s not long before he gets taken off the street and starts fighting his programming. The result is a movie that feels oddly-paced - going through looong stretches of Murphy adjusting to his new life as a robot, an action scene, and then back to the internal struggle of man vs. machine vs. corporate overlord.

It’s too bad, because the action scenes are pretty well-done. The special effects are convincing, and really help the audience become immersed in the action scenes. While many will lament the loss of the R rating, the violence is still effective, and the complete change in tone from the original means the over-the-top (and frankly silly) violence from the 1987 version (which completely worked in that context) would feel out of place in this new one. It all just feels too detached to seem like a cohesive whole.

Tacked onto the story is a subplot about police corruption and the man responsible for Murphy’s accident - an instantly forgettable villain involved in the arms trade. Because this movie plays up Robocop’s inner struggles, most of his enemies are too two-dimensional (and in one case too likable) to truly hate and make you want to root for Robocop to defeat. Even if this film was an original property, it’s hard to deny that the villains just aren’t very threatening or memorable in this film. Similarly, the audience is repeatedly told that the Detroit of this movie is crime-ridden and desperately needs a solution to its crime problem, but from what we see of the city, it looks like any other metropolitan area. It never seems bad enough that they needed a robot to clean up the town.

It’d be too easy for me to point to the original to show what doesn’t work in the new one (for example, the first movie wisely omits showing the reaction of Murphy’s family to his transformation, keeping them in the dark, and streamlining the main narrative), but the remake works hard to avoid comparison when it can. And a lot of things do work, like the visual of Murphy’s remaining organs without armor and prosthetics, which is creepy and cool. The new Robocop is much more agile, but for the better. And watching Robocop enter a building and destroy criminals and/or robots is really cool — there’s just not enough of it. Which is weird, because the movie runs only an hour and forty-three minutes and it still felt too long. Not a good sign for a hopeful franchise re-starter.

Finally, because the tone of the film is more subdued and straightforward, the acting follows suit. There are plenty of accomplished actors turning in decent performances; Michael Keaton is the only one who stands out as having any real personality, but Gary Oldman does lend his experience by adding nuance and gravitas to his role. Samuel L. Jackson as a Glenn Beck parody essentially plays himself, but at least commits to it. The rest of the cast, including the guy playing the main character, do what’s asked of them and little more. At the very least, none of the performances distract, and that’s not a bad thing.

In the end, it’s incredibly unlikely that anyone who enjoyed the original will be won over by the new one, but most should be able to at least appreciate the effort. And those who’ve never seen the original will miss most of the references, but might still be entertained by what’s essentially a pretty good action movie for a February release. It’s that fear of either committing to trying something completely new or capturing the tone that made the original so memorable and beloved that lands this movie right in the “average” category.

Spike Jonze’s “Her” Review

Disclaimer: Don’t read if you haven’t seen the film yet. There aren’t too many spoilers, but it won’t make sense if you haven’t seen it.

I was disappointed by Spike Jonze’s Her.

Parts of the film were very well done. It is beautifully filmed. I enjoyed the soundtrack. Across the board, the performances were convincing and believable. And I think a lot of the critical success that Her is enjoying is thanks in part to Spike Jonze’s indie cred, and in larger part to the “realistic” portrayal of the relationship that Joaquin Phoenix finds himself in with his operating system, Scarlett Johansson.

I put “realistic” in quotation marks to convey sarcasm and imply that I will follow up with a paragraph explaining what I did not find realistic about it. Look, I’ll own up to going in with certain expectations. Impressed by the trailers, I read several articles and reviews about the film, all of which warn viewers not to go in expecting Star Wars but rather a modern “hard Sci-Fi” story - something that could’ve been written by any of the Sci-Fi greats like Harlan Ellison or Richard Matheson, two names that pop up in Google when you search for “science-fiction” and “writer.”

Not being much of a reader, I’m really only aware of their work through their screenplays and movies and TV shows based on their work, and even then only that stuff that surfaces up to the mainstream through the sheer will of Hollywood’s marketing force. But I get it, no laser guns or jetpacks. No operatic stories about federations fighting the empires. Just an intimate story examining the human condition through the lens of the future. All that jazz.

But when you describe a movie as “hard Sci-Fi,” I expect a lot of work to be put into taking care that everything on the screen is plausible. And it’s this mindset that hindered my experience and made me more sensitive to things that are really just nitpicks.

First and foremost, at least from what we see, the future isn’t very different from today. It might be ten or twenty years in the future; it might be five. If the film said, I missed it, but the point is that it’s not some post-apocalyptic wasteland or a Jetsons-like utopia. I’m sure some of the sweeping shots of the city were digitally-enhanced to include more skyscrapers, but the establishing shots of the future don’t look crazy.

From that, we can assume that there weren’t any huge political changes in this world. The U.S. still looks like a capitalist society. And from there begins a lot of the implausibilities for me. First and foremost, Joaquin works as a custom greeting card writer. Now, that sets off a lot of flags for me. I don’t know if that’s actually a job right now, but could it possibly pay that well? Note that, while yes, Joaquin has been working at that particular job for several years, he’s going through a divorce. He’s paying a divorce attorney while putting off filling out paperwork, so that’s probably a money pit right there. And from his flashbacks, it looks like he’s the one who had to move out and get an apartment - which is fucking nice! It’s got a gorgeous view of the city and is super clean. Money is never, ever an issue in the movie. I’m not saying every movie has to have a character going, “I can’t afford that.” I’m just saying that this guy seems way better off than his job implies he would be.

Then there are the video games. I get annoyed when TV and movies depict video games like an abstract concept with no rules. I know it’s “the future” and video games will obviously be more advanced then, but with such resistance to motion controls from hardcore gamers today, I find it unbelievable that in the future we’ll be wagging our fingers to move a character in a 3D environment, like Joaquin does. And the dialogue during the silly Mom game Amy Adams’ character creates just sounds like lazy writing. “Oh, look, you brought cupcakes to school. You get jealousy points.” That just sounds like it was written by someone who has seen their kids play video games but has never picked one up himself. These aren’t throwaway moments either; these are entire scenes that center around characters playing video games.

You can write all of that off as not being essential parts of the movie. At its heart, the film is about Joaquin and his relationship with his O.S., and what that says about the human condition I guess. But the central conceit also feels silly to me. I believe that humans should not be afraid of technology. And even today, there are tons of teams of scientists working on technological advancements with seemingly few practical uses. So I believe some day, mankind will invent an A.I. on the level of Scarlett Johansson. I just can’t believe a corporation will sell that A.I. as an operating system to consumers without extensive testing that would’ve caught the issues they cause in the movie. The movie tries to hand-wave the problem away by mentioning that relationships between humans and their O.S.s are rare. Fine. But, spoiler alert, in the third act, the ending hinges on the O.S.s gaining sentience and acting independently of their programming.

In 2040, or whenever this movie takes place, there will be hundreds if not thousands more stories about A.I. gaining autonomy. So why would whatever company that sold this product take that risk? The liability these companies have opened themselves up to alone would scare off most major conglomerates and other synonyms for businesses that make money by selling stuff. Sure, companies screw up in real life, but there’s some semblance of rationale behind it. I’m not sure how any company could not anticipate the events that occur in this movie, nor do I really see the practicality of selling an A.I. as an operating system instead of as a seperate digital companion.

All those things distracted me from the main story, which I guess is supposed to question what it means to be human and provoke thoughts. Frankly, I’ll have to read someone else’s reading of the film to understand what exactly the film was saying because what I came away from it was: “If you don’t grow in a relationship together, one is going to outgrow the other.” And unless there’s some deeper shit I didn’t pick up on, which I’m sure there is, I don’t think the film was worth the 100-minute/$9.50 investment for me.

Things On TV & Movies That Annoy Me 1

When a new show starts - especially those centered around a workplace - oftentimes the pilot establishes the relationships between characters that have interacted with each other for years. You got the goof, the straight-laced person, the weird person, the aggressive person, etc. and they all treat each other a certain way. Someone likes another person, someone gets picked on by everyone, someone has slept with everyone, etc.

Because the first season is spent on everyone from the audience to the actors to the writers getting to know the characters, episodes mainly focus on characters finding things out about each other. And then by season three these characters are buddy-buddy, reference experiences from earlier episodes, etc. etc. But if they’ve known each other for years, why are they acting so differently over the course of a couple years?

Bad example: The Office. At the beginning of the show, Dwight, Jim, and Pam have been working at Dunder Mifflin under Michael Scott for at least three years, but certain characters have been there longer. And they act like reasonable people. The premise of the show is that you the Average Viewer might have worked in an office like that once. Nine years later, that premise has jumped out the window and Dunder-Mifflin is now employed by goofballs that have enough drama in their personal lives that it regularly interrupts the workday. There’ve been some personnel changes, but a good bulk of the workforce has been at Dunder-Mifflin since well before the pilot.

(I say bad example because the pilot did introduce an element that shaked up their lives and changed the status quo: the documentary crew. And obviously for a show that’s gone on that long, you’ve seen them together for longer than they knew each other before the beginning of the show.)

I’m just saying, if you create a show about a pair of detectives that have worked together for fifteen years but never spend time together off-hours and that’s your entire premise (no discovery of a wise-cracking alien or any other dynamic-changing element), I don’t really buy that in the first two seasons they’re suddenly having Thanksgiving together and going to concerts. They had fifteen years to break the ice. It ain’t suddenly gonna’ change now.

Nothing Makes Me Prouder Than A Photo Taken At A High Shutter Speed

I’m not what you’d call a “photographer.” I own a camera that I use 90% for video, but that last 10% is for when I’m at an event or a scenic location where I can’t capture the moment in a sweeping crane shot. Still photos have to do the job in those cases, which is nice because I can set them as my desktop background or my iPhone wallpaper. Win-win, really.

And man, nothing - but nothing - gets me in a good mood like a really bright, sunny day where I can jack up the shutter speed and snap away.

If you’re like me, 90% of the photos you take are with your phone. It’s already in your pocket, it’s small, and it takes pretty good pictures. You just got the new one with a fancier lens and more megapixels. But that doesn’t mean squat when you’re in a dark space and your hands kind of shake and the flash on your phone sucks and the picture comes out kinda’ okay when you look at it on that tiny screen but when you upload it to Facebook and look at it on a computer, you go, “Shit, I didn’t realize how blurry it was.”

See that’s the thing about the shutter speed - the darker the environment is, the longer the shutter in the camera has to stay open to capture light, and the blurrier your pictures get. But when it’s bright outside - I mean, real bright - you can jack that sucker way up. On a sunny enough day, I can get the shutter speed up high enough that blur is virtually non-existant unless you snap a picture while wildly swinging the camera. Put it on continuous burst and it’s damn-near to the point where you really don’t even need a tripod.

But that’s not even what I use it for. You ever take a picture of running water? On a phone or just with a low or even normal exposure time, it looks pretty much like it does to the naked eye - but crank that shutter speed up and it looks like you fucking froze the universe.

I was at the beach a year ago and I went out and got some photos of the waves crashing onto the shore. When I got home and reviewed them, it looked like God had come down to Earth and held every drop of water in place.

Like I said - I’m no pro with a camera. I’m lucky I can even use the damn thing. So I surf the Internet a fair amount for professional photos. Stock photo websites like istockphoto and shutterstock are a really good source for royalty-free professional photographs. And lots of pros have their own blogs, of course. So yeah, I’ve seen my share of pics professionally taken at high shutter speeds. Google “hummingbird in flight” and you’ll see some pretty sweet images that you’d never see with your own bare eyes. But there’s a unique sense of satisfaction knowing that you took your own photos. I’m probably like the billionth guy to take a photo of ocean waves, but when I look at it, my gut is filled with the satisfaction that it was me who took it.

I guess that sense of satisfaction could carry over to any photo you take. Maybe you really nailed the composition on a subject without cropping it up later. Maybe you took your time getting the exposure juuuust right. Hell, maybe you just lucked out and snapped a photo of a whale just as it was breaching the surface, and you had on a telephoto lens so the photo looks like you were right up on it.

But if I see even a hint of blur, that image will forever be tainted for me.

Why the fuck is it so hard to make a good Superman movie?

In spite of the many reservations I had, I allowed myself to go into Man of Steel with an open mind.  In spite of the fact that I thought Zack Snyder was a terrible choice to direct a Superman movie, and that hiring the duo that revitalized Batman (David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan) to write Superman – thematically Batman’s polar opposite – also seemed like a bad idea, I let my hopes rise because some of the recent commercials looked cool.

Those hopes were dashed around the one-hour mark when I realized the movie was going to fail to find a pace. Poorly edited, the tone of the movie will wildly go from a scene of two people having a simple conversation to people yelling and explosions exploding in very little time. Poorly written, the dialogue is a collection of military mumbo-jumbo and generic inspirational phrases (“You were destined for greatness.” “I believe in you, Movie Protagonist.” “You know what they always say, [insert a saying no one ever uses].”). Poorly directed, the acting is mostly too straightforward to be memorable and the shakiness of the camerawork is too distracting (I wanted to throw the footage into After Effects to stabilize it).

There is very little character development. Scenes meant to have emotional weight crumble when you realize that we barely know these characters. For example, when Jonathan Kent is swallowed up by a tornado, it’s at first heartbreaking to see Clark’s reaction as he watches his adoptive father die. But we’ve seen them onscreen for so little, there’s not a strong enough bond between them to warrant the emotional reaction. It doesn’t help that Pa Kent’s end is brought on himself when he goes back to free the family dog from their car. I have a dog. I love my dog. But that’s how he went out?

All of the emphasis in the advertising is placed on Clark’s fights with General Zod, and rightfully so. His plan to terraform Earth takes up the second half of the film, and his climactic fight with Superman is a stunning display of computer showmanship. A real joy to guess just how many computers it took to render all of the debris and glass and falling girders free from the burden of worrying if there’s anyone actually in the buildings Zod destroys (Metropolis in general doesn’t have many extras populating it).

At least Zack Snyder refrains from his traditional slow-motion. I gotta’ give him props for that, if for no other reason that it exposes that yes, even without his more gimmicky filmmaking techniques, he’s still not a good director. But David Goyer’s screenplay deserves equal criticism. It’s thin and explores no new aspects of the character that haven’t been explored in other mediums several years ago. Superman in the film has little personality, and the most interesting thing done with his character is when he commits genocide, but it’s brushed under the rug and never mentioned again.

This comes just seven years after Superman Returns, a movie America collectively shrugged at and went, “Eh.” Twenty years earlier, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace smeared theatres. And until trailers for Man of Steel showed Superman punching the hell out of people in black suits, most people were writing the movie off as WB’s obligatory attempt to catch up to Marvel.

This all begs the question: why the fuck is it so hard to make a good Superman movie? Why do people like Bryan Singer, David Goyer, Zack Snyder, and the producers of Superman III and IV keep getting attached to make the Man of Steel into movies? At one point during the 90’s, Tim Burton was attached, and his version was as fucking weird as you’d expect it to be. In the early 00’s, names attached to Superman included Brett Ratner and McFuckingG.

Why? Fucking why?

There have been great writers that have worked on Superman, in the comics and on television. I love Kurt Busiek’s Superman: Secret Identity, Mark Millar’s Superman: Red Son, and Bruce Timm’s Superman: The Animated Series. The restrictions of television ended up defeating the early-nineties show Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, but I loved creator Deborah Joy LeVine’s take on Superman.

There’s good Superman work out there. Read Alan Moore’s Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? John Byrne’s Man of Steel. Mark Waid’s Kingdom Come.

I know a lot of people criticize Superman for being boring, both because he’s often portrayed as a goody two-shoes boy scout and because he’s very powerful. He flies around in bright primary colors and wears underwear over his pants. Yeah, he’s goofy. But you’d think once you’ve filtered out those people, you’d be left with the people that buy into it. The folks that go, “I know it’s crazy, but I’m going to stick with it because I like the idea of Superman.” These folks never seem to be the ones that get to make the movies, at least not without warping the character by turning him into an absentee father/stalker/Chris Reeve impersonator.

You can see how frustrating it is for me, because I know the character can be great. He can be interesting. He can be relatable. Written correctly, the line “You will be an inspiration” can actually be accurate without sounding cheesy (I lied; it’ll always sound cheesy) if Superman is a character that isn’t written as a pre-destined good guy. He’s every good deed and decent human being – the ones the feel-good pieces on morning TV are about – rolled up into a cape and tights. If you buy that he has the most boring origin of any superhero ever invented – he was raised properly by loving parents – then you can buy that he’ll always do the right thing. Suddenly it makes sense that he’s the ultimate good guy. And you’re incredibly thankful that it’s him with the power to leap tall buildings and outrun speeding bullets.

We have our Punishers and Batmen. We have tons of Iron Men. We have Watchmen and Hancock. We have the antiheroes and morally-conflicted superheroes down pat and in abundance. Let Superman be the opposite. And then find good director to take a good script and make that.

You can call up any of the people I’ve gushed about already. They get it.

Last night I had a dream I was back at my high school outside one of the trailer classrooms with some friends and we found a newborn kitten. It was crying, and a cat we assumed was its mom came and picked it up like it was carrying it home. Instead it took two steps and then ate it like a snake eats a mouse.

Then later the same day, my friend who works at the zoo showed me a picture of a baby pigeon followed by a picture of a cat. I can’t help but feel like it means something.

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Kick Start My Heart- Motley Crue

"Cloud Atlas" review

Most of the issues I have with Cloud Atlas are fundamental, because it’s a fundamental-heavy movie. It presents six seemingly-unrelated stories, each different in tone, subject material, setting, & theme, and proposes that these stories are linked because the universe says so. Also, love.

It suggests that the cause of deja vu is an experience we’ve lived in a past life. It suggests that once we bond with someone in one life, we are eternally linked with them, destined to continue falling in love with them. As several characters explain in the movie, “Our lives are not our own.” But the movie does a very poor job convincing you of these things if you don’t already buy into them. For example, one of my least favorite concepts in fiction is the whole concept of destiny. I find very little appealing in the idea that, just because a worn piece of paper or a mystical, disembodied voice says that something is going to happen, it will. If even the knowledge of a future event and the free will to change it isn’t enough to stop a pre-destined event from happening, then what are the stakes?

While Cloud Atlas is not that kind of movie (there’s no prophecy or anything like that), it falls into another category of fiction that rubs me the wrong way. By suggesting that the lives of people are not truly their own, their free will is taken away, and by taking that concept to its logical conclusion, they’re not even people at all. They may make choices, and it may be that their choices are not predestined but in fact simply influencing the choices of future generations, but the film doubles down and introduces themes of reincarnation. Characters make choices and react based on feelings of intuition that are a result of their past lives. So if you’re like me and believe that your existence is defined by your experiences, you might be miffed to find that the movie throws that idea out and asserts, “You could be in a different social class, or a different race, even a different gender, and yet somehow, you will make choices based on what happened to you in a different life that you don’t remember.”

To give an example, in the story set in the 70’s, a corporate thriller, Tom Hanks’ character meets Halle Berry’s character. Afterwards, his narration explains that he’s somehow fallen in love with her after just one meeting. The implication being their lives have been linked across generations. And yet, their characters hadn’t met in any previous chronological incarnation, though they meet and fall in love again in the future. And to me that (plus Hanks’ line, “Do you ever feel like the universe is against you?”) implies that all of the characters’ connections go beyond the idea of simply recalling experiences from past lives. The movie hardly ever feels religious to me, but it was very spiritual. So the universe just wants those two to be together, without explanation. And that, as an idea, is uninteresting to me.

But if you were to strip the movie down to its essentials, it’s still mostly a misfire to me. When you tell multiple, loosely-related stories, it’s rare that you can manage to make them all equally interesting, even if they’re presented as equally important. So it’s no surprise that there are long stretches where the movie lost my attention simply because I was more invested in some of the stories than others. And for such a information-dense movie, that’s dangerous. It made already-boring stories even harder to follow because I’d either tuned out and missed an important piece of dialogue, or more frequently because so much time had passed that I’d forgotten what had been happening in one of the stories. The concept of reusing actors in the different stories to support the reincarnation theme at first sounds like a good way to anchor the audience from the burden of being flooded with so many characters. But in practice, cutting between the different stories so quickly and so often simply has the effect of making you forget which character any given actor is playing at the moment. You forget what their goals and motivations are.

On a technical level, the film is pretty to look at. The cinematography is lush and the special effects are top-notch. You get a sense that the $100 million budget was spent well and strategically. The movie is edited so that at times, long stretches are devoted to one story, while action is often intercut between the stories. I have to admit that this is pretty effective at keeping the momentum going. It’s only when the writing itself for a story is lackluster that the movie started to drag for me. The actors are often hampered by make-up of varying quality, so while I struggle to think of anyone who did a bad job, no one other than Tom Hanks sticks out positively in terms of performance. All this to say that I don’t really expect any less from the directors of Run, Lola, Run and The Matrix. I did like director Tom Twyker’s stories (the ones set in the 30’s, 70’s, and present), because they felt the most rooted in human emotion. This is definitely a film that, as a whole, is weaker than its individual parts. While I feel a strong sense of animosity towards Cloud Atlas days after seeing it, there are small moments and aspects of the film that I really respect and enjoyed.

To me, the biggest fault is that the movie as a whole feels like a hypocrite. In the introduction to the five-minute trailer on iTunes, the directors insist that the movie is really about the human experience and human emotions. For most of the movie, that’s really not the case at all. The two stories set in the future, for example, fall in the common sci-fi trap of using characters as puppets to serve a larger story about revolution, the survival of the human race, etc. The characters stop acting in their self-interest to spout drivel about fighting for a bigger cause or chasing the “magical cure” that will ensure humanity will survive another day. Up to this point in history, change has been the result of many people working together for long periods of time, not two people saving the world in two hours. And when you settle on the latter, you’re really going for the antithesis of the human experience. There’s only one story in this movie that felt like I was watching actors pour the heart and soul into recreating the raw emotions that all of us, as human beings, have probably felt at some point in our lives, and it’s the story about four senior citizens trying to escape a nursing home.

Which, incidentally, got left off the poster.