Okay, let's start with the book. At the end of my Australian vacation, Kris lent me Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. I had requested a substantial book, one that would take me a long time to finish- I tend to fly through books, and I was hoping for something hearty that could keep me entertained for at least a few days. Cloud Atlas fit the bill perfectly- it's almost like six books in one, as the novel proceed through interlocking stories, each one containing a protagonist marked by a comet-shaped birthmark. The book starts out like historical fiction, with the story of an American sailing back from the recently colonized Chatham Islands (near New Zeland), and then on to a flamboyant British composer living in Europe during the 1930s. After that, we meet Luisa Rey, a reporter in the midst of uncovering a conspiracy at a nuclear power plant, in a section of the book that reads like a Grisham thriller. After Luisa, it's back to England for the present-day, and very humorous, tale of a British publisher. Then, the book completely switches gears into sci-fi and we meet Somni-451, a clone living in a futuristic Korea where genetically designed humans perform all menial labor and service industry jobs. Although I'm not normally a big sci-fi fan, this was by far my favorite section of the book. The world Somni-451 describes is utterly fascinating, as she recounts to a government archivist how she transitioned from an everyday waitress clone into a soon-to-be-executed rebel. The central chapter of the book is the most tedious- it takes place centuries in the future, in a bleak and violent post-apocalyptic Hawaii. So yeah, it's sort of like The Road, only written in a dialect normally associated with authors attempting to characterize poor, rural southerners. It was tough to get through, but after that section, the book moves backwards in time through all the stories, and finally ends with our American traveler circa 1850. Cloud Atlas is an impressive feat, with the complexity of formats and writing styles, but it was also a very enjoyable read (except for that one section in the middle, and even that was interesting, just tough to figure out the dialect). I thought it was great- well-written, creative, and full of engaging characters and interesting themes, and I'd definitely recommend it.
So I finally saw Where the Wild Things Are and... I didn't love it. Don't get me wrong, I did like it, and the cinematography and creatures are absolutely perfect- they look like big, furry wild things, not like something generated by a computer. But they were a little too glum for my liking. The movie did a great job of capturing the frustrating parts of being a kid- just like Max, I can recall getting angry and destroying a toy or something and then feeling guilty and sad about it later. However, I felt like it was missing something essential, the spirit of fun and freedom that comes from having an imagination, and focused too much on the negative. These wild things were way more emo than the ones I remember from the book.
I also saw An Education and thought it was fantastic. The story itself is not a new concept- a teenager at an all girls school in 1960s England starts dating a charming and debonair older man, who turns out to be not exactly what he seems. However, in this movie, the brilliance is in the details- the acting, the dialogue, the clothes and sets are all fantastic. Carey Mulligan is perfect as the young Jenny, and Peter Sarsgaard is excellent as her suitor David- he's just the right mix of charming and creepy. I thought the most poignant part of the movie was the relationship between Jenny and her parents, who are also swept of their feet by his seductive lies. An Education is fairly slow-paced, and don't expect any action scenes a la 2012, but sometimes that's a good thing.