Blu-Ray Review: Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas available on Blu-ray Combo pack, DVD and Digital Download 5/14

From acclaimed filmmakers Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer, and Andy Wachowski, the powerful and inspiring epic drama “Cloud Atlas” explores how the actions and consequences of individual lives impact one another throughout the past, the present and the future.

Action, mystery and romance weave dramatically through the story as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and a single act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution in the distant future.

The film jumps around six different stories in six different time periods. In 1849, a dying lawyer discovers an escaped, stowaway slave in his cabin. In 1936, young composer gets the chance of a lifetime working with an aging, famous composer. In 1973, a journalist gets wrapped up in dangerous corporate espionage. In 2012, a publisher finds himself locked up in a nursing home against his will. In 2144 Korea, a clone restaurant server dreams of something more than her life as a slave. And in the far distant future, a tribesman deals with an inner demon while escorting a woman to the forbidden mountains. Eventually, the stories begin weaving together with the message that “Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others, past and present, and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.” And the point is further pushed as the same actors play a variety of roles across each time period’s story. Most are easy to point out, despite the makeup. And in the end credits, each actor is shown in each role they had.

I haven’t read the book, so the story was new to me – other than the reviews from friends of mine. I had low expectations, hearing it was an over-done artsy film. But I was surprised by the power and drama of each story – moving and poignant. The acting was phenomenal. The music was enchanting. And the cinematography and special effects were stunning. The movie does drag at times though, and at almost three hours runtime became tiresome. Quite a bit could have been cut out and still had the same effect. While it’s a visually striking film, it was also emotionally draining. I don’t think that I would watch it again without skipping through a lot. But I’m glad I finally watched this epic fantasy. Most reviewers used the word “ambitious” when describing Cloud Atlas. I agree.

Blu-ray and DVD Elements:
Cloud Atlas Blu-ray Combo Pack contains the following special features:
• A Film Like No Other
• Everything is Connected
• The Impossible Adaptation
• The Essence of Acting
• Spaceships, Slaves and Sextets
• The Bold Science Fiction of Cloud Atlas
• Eternal Recurrence: Love, Life, and Longing in Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas Standard Definition DVD contains the following special features:
• A Film Like No Other

SciFi Book Review: Pivot Point

Pivot Point by Kasie West

Addison Coleman’s life is one big “What if?” As a Searcher, whenever Addie is faced with a choice, she can look into the future and see both outcomes. It’s the ultimate insurance plan against disaster. Or so she thought. When Addie’s parents ambush her with the news of their divorce, she has to pick who she wants to live with—her father, who is leaving the paranormal compound to live among the “Norms,” or her mother, who is staying in the life Addie has always known. Addie loves her life just as it is, so her answer should be easy. One Search six weeks into the future proves it’s not.

In one potential future, Addie is adjusting to life outside the Compound as the new girl in a Norm high school where she meets Trevor, a cute, sensitive artist who understands her. In the other path, Addie is being pursued by the hottest guy in school—but she never wanted to be a quarterback’s girlfriend. When Addie’s father is asked to consult on a murder in the Compound, she’s unwittingly drawn into a dangerous game that threatens everything she holds dear. With love and loss in both lives, it all comes down to which reality she’s willing to live through . . . and who she can’t live without.

Addie lives in a community of paranormals with special mental abilities. Addie can see the outcomes of decisions she’s faced with. Her best friend can erase memories. Addie’s mother can manipulate to her way of thinking (perfect for a mother!); and her father can tell if someone is lying. Addie is a level headed girl, and decides to choose live with whichever parent has the best outcome after Searching six months into both futures.

Once Addie begins Searching the futures, the chapters jump back and forth between her two choices. This doesn’t really get confusing as she quickly begins living two separate lives with very different friends. Though, the timelines overlap and converge at times as a mystery also unravels. It’s a complex and captivating story that I couldn’t put down. This impressive, YA scifi debut certainly stands out among the popular subgenre. Wholly unique with plenty of drama, mystery, romance, and suspense – Pivot Point was a surprising and unpredictable read that I highly recommend.

SciFi Book Review: The Spirit Well

The Spirit Well by Stephen R. Lawhead

The Search for the Map—and the secret behind its cryptic code—intensifies in a quest across time, space, and multiple realities.

But what if the true treasure isn’t the map at all . . . what if the map marks something far greater? Something one world cannot contain? Those who desire to unlock that mystery are in a race to possess the secret—for good or evil.

Kit Livingstone is mastering the ability to travel across realities using ley lines and has forged a link from the Bone House, a sacred lodge made of animal bones, to the fabled Spirit Well, a place of profound power.

His friend Mina is undercover in a Spanish monastery high in the Pyrenees, learning all she can from a monk named Brother Lazarus. Still determined to find Kit, she is beginning to experience a greater destiny than she can fathom.

Cassandra Clarke is overseeing an archaeological dig in Arizona when a chance encounter transports her to 1950s Damascus. There, she finds herself unwillingly drawn to the Seekers—the last living remnants of the Zetetic Society who need her help to track down the missing Cosimo Livingstone and his grandson Kit.

But there are darker forces at work in the universe whose agents always seem to be one step ahead of the rest—and they’re all desperate to gain the ultimate prize in this treasure hunt where the stakes increase at every turn. At the heart of the mystery lies the Spirit Well.

This is the third novel in the Bright Empires series. I have read the first, but missed the second. Though, I had no problem jumping back into the story. In fact, it didn’t seem like I had missed too much. And there was a nice recap at the beginning that caught me up on what all had happened, some of which I had forgotten.

The characters are fairly memorable, especially that of Mina who is an incredibly capable and self-sufficient young woman. As the novel follows the various characters and their journeys, the Spirit Well becomes the focus as the Skin Map takes a back seat.

Lawhead’s scifi/fantasy world is one of time travel and alternate realities where ley lines can send travelers to countless eras and destinations. The story is complex with many characters and subplots, but is still easy to follow. It’s an ambitious adventure, blending science fiction and fantasy. I enjoyed the pacing, but this installment wasn’t as suspenseful as the first. And it ended somewhat abruptly, but I’m not sure if the story is engaging enough keep me reading the rest of the series.

SciFi Book Review: Taken

Taken by Erin Bowman

There are no men in Claysoot.
There are boys—but every one of them vanishes at midnight on his eighteenth birthday. The ground shakes, the wind howls, a blinding light descends . . . and he’s gone.
They call it the Heist.

Gray Weathersby’s eighteenth birthday is mere months away, and he’s prepared to meet his fate—until he finds a strange note from his mother and starts to question everything he’s been raised to accept: the Council leaders and their obvious secrets, the Heist itself, and what lies beyond the Wall that surrounds Claysoot—a structure that no one can cross and survive.

Climbing the Wall is suicide, but what comes after the Heist could be worse. Should he sit back and wait to be taken—or risk everything on the hope of the other side?

Gray is headstrong yet likeable. He’s very different from his peacemaker brother. So when his brother disappears on his birthday and Gray learns a shocking secret, he decides to climb the Wall and discover the truth – even if it kills him.

Bowman has created a fascinating dystopia wrapped in a mystery that slowly unfolds throughout the novel. This is one fantastic debut that should not be missed. Full of mystery, danger, drama, romance, intrigue, and lies – Taken is impossible to put down. The characters are engaging and the story complex. Fast-paced and exciting – this will certainly make my list of favorites for the year.

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