5/14/13: Cloud Atlas, Frankie Go Boom, Upstream Color, A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III

Cloud Atlas (R, 2012, Warner Bros.)
Oh, did you think the three-hour “Cloud Atlas” was simply a movie? It isn’t a movie. It’s six films in one if you obey the official synopsis, but it might actually be a dozen or two movies chopped and sprinkled into a salad that only can be made when three directors have a ton of money to spend and seemingly nobody minding how it’s spent. It might also be the most joyously grand or most treacherously self-indulgent piece of cinematic magic/tripe you’ve ever seen. “Atlas” takes place across time, with crisscrossing stories set in the past, present, distant future and a future even more distant than that. Albeit loosely — as in “pay attention with all your might and you’ll see it” loosely — the stories all hook together to form a single timeline. But whether these hooks even matter — enough not to find themselves completely engulfed by the surrounding spectacle, to say nothing of being profound enough to stand out in front of it — is a question contentious enough to span the entire spectrum of hyperbolic debate. Put another way? “Atlas” is completely bananas — a loud clash of epics, thrillers, science fiction, revenge fantasies and more that winds its heart up and lets it run with abandon down its sleeve. The same cast (Halle Berry, Tom Hanks, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving and Doona Bae, among others) plays different roles in each story, often transcending the boundaries of race and gender via makeup that’s sometimes amazing and sometimes amusingly crazy, and “Atlas” is both way too long and not nearly long enough to do justice to its grand ambition. Watched casually, it’s a crazed mess. But “Atlas” sprays its emotion and excitement without fear or filter, and soaking it in on these terms is bound — on first, second, third viewing and beyond — to unlock new surprises every time.
Extras: Seven behind-the-scenes features.

Frankie Go Boom (NR, 2012, Universal)
You know your luck stinks when your brother (Chris O’Dowd as Bruce) is the junkie criminal and you’re the one everyone makes fun of. For Frankie (Charlie Hunnam), the source of that misfortune is a video — of him vomiting on his would-have-been-bride at his not-quite wedding — that 18 million people have seen. (Fittingly, it was his wannabe director brother who filmed and uploaded the incident.) Now with Bruce out of rehab, Frankie is taking a break from avoiding his family to attend a ceremony commemorating the achievement. The reward for his selflessness is, of course, the promise of more traumatic misfortune — provided he can’t stop it this time. In other words, wacky antics ahead, and it’s best not to specify beyond that. “Frankie Go Boom” shows promise from the jump with a very funny opening scene featuring Frankie and Bruce as children, and even though things progressively get stranger in a manner typically befitting comedies that eventually go nowhere, it never loses that edge. Why does Ron Perlman’s character dress in drag and insist he’s a woman? “Boom” never remotely bothers explaining, but it uses the gag to sharply funny effect and Perlman’s part leads to yet more legitimately funny moments, so who cares? “Boom’s” storyline is full of pieces that should work against it, but it continually escapes from underneath them with lines, antics and scenes that are seriously funny. Seeing as the primary objective of a comedy is to be funny, docking “Boom” for not always making sense would be every bit as senseless as anything that happens here. (A note for “Sons of Anarchy” fans: Yes, Perlman and Hunnam have scenes together here. And yes, beyond being novel and really weird, they’re funny as well.)
Extras: Deleted/alternate scenes, two behind-the-scenes features.

Upstream Color (NR, 2013, erbp/New Video)
That spot on a Blu-ray’s packing that’s reserved for a synopsis is, on “Upstream Color’s” packaging, occupied instead by some additional art and a couple critic quotes that are, at best, allusions. And that’s fine, because what could “Color” possibly say for itself here? Here is Kris (Amy Seimetz), here is Jeff (Shane Carruth), and here is a story that is at once extremely simple and so painstakingly opaque as to passively-aggressively scold those who avert their eyes even momentarily, lest they get lost in a scramble to catch up and reconcile the non-verbal cue they missed completely. It isn’t so much that a proper synopsis of “Color” wouldn’t do it justice. Rather, “Color’s” story — such as it is, with style relentlessly battling substance and dialogue at an extreme premium throughout — is a slow peeling away of confusion until all that remains is that premise. It wouldn’t be very nice to just give that away, now would it? So here’s the gist. “Color” is, according to the conventional classification wisdom, science fiction. Arguably, it’s also a manifestation of every validation people seek when explaining why they hate art films. Unarguably, it’s dense and seemingly by design. But “Color,” it bears repeating, is not hard to figure out. Nor does it seem to want to be elusive even if a shallow glance at its style choices — which result in imagery both beautiful and hard to watch — suggest otherwise. Most importantly, as that premise comes into focus, the patience invested gets its due. “Color” exits on an extremely affecting note, and though it has little to say for itself, it leaves behind plenty to talk about once the show is over. No extras.

A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III (R, 2013, Lions Gate)
Ivana (Katheryn Winnick) has left Charlie (Charlie Sheen), and Charlie wants her back. And for the 86 minutes that comprise “A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III,” and to the consternation of the company Charlie keeps (Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Patricia Arquette) and eventually probably anyone watching, that’s almost all Charlie can think or talk about. “Swan” dresses its non-story up with an actual delving into Charlie’s mind, wherein pretty much anything — song, dance, car crashes and explosions — can happen in the service of metaphor. As an extra touch, “Swan” takes place in what looks like the 1970s, with clothes, hair and gigantic tape recorders and other eavesdropping devices to show for it. Some of it is amusing, particularly when Murray or Schwartzman are steering the ship and giving us a brief respite from Charlie’s moaning about Ivana. But even then, most of “Swan” just feels like silly for silly’s sake — not particularly funny, not imaginative, not even all that thoughtful, but just self-indulgently silly and that’s it. With low expectations, that might be enough. But given how much metaphorical activity happens between the first time Charlie aches over Ivana and the umpteenth and final time it happens, it’s remarkable how much, in terms of substantial emptiness, “Swan’s” collage has in common with the story it’s trying so hard to stretch out.
Extras: Writer/director commentary, two behind-the-scenes features.