David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas consists of six stories set in various periods between 1850 and a time far into Earth's post-apocalyptic future. Each segment lives on its own the previous first person account picked up and read by a character in its successor creating connective tissue between each moment in time. The various stories remain intact for Tom Tykwer's (Run Lola Run) Lana Wachowski's and Andy Wachowski's (The Matrix) film adaptation which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. The massive change comes from the interweaving of the book's parts into one three-hour saga — a move that elevates the material and transforms Cloud Atlas in to a work of epic proportions.
Don't be turned off by the runtime — Cloud Atlas moves at lightning pace as it cuts back and forth between its various threads: an American notary sailing the Pacific; a budding musician tasked with transcribing the hummings of an accomplished 1930's composer; a '70s-era investigatory journalist who uncovers a nefarious plot tied to the local nuclear power plant; a book publisher in 2012 who goes on the run from gangsters only to be incarcerated in a nursing home; Sonmi~451 a clone in Neo Seoul who takes on the oppressive government that enslaves her; and a primitive human from the future who teams with one of the few remaining technologically-advanced Earthlings in order to survive. Dense but so was the unfamiliar world of The Matrix. Cloud Atlas has more moving parts than the Wachowskis' seminal sci-fi flick but with additional ambition to boot. Every second is a sight to behold.
The members of the directing trio are known for their visual prowess but Cloud Atlas is a movie about juxtaposition. The art of editing is normally a seamless one — unless someone is really into the craft the cutting of a film is rarely a post-viewing talking point — but Cloud Atlas turns the editor into one of the cast members an obvious player who ties the film together with brilliant cross-cutting and overlapping dialogue. Timothy Cavendish the elderly publisher could be musing on his need to escape and the film will wander to the events of Sonmi~451 or the tortured music apprentice Robert Frobisher also feeling the impulse to run. The details of each world seep into one another but the real joy comes from watching each carefully selected scene fall into place. You never feel lost in Cloud Atlas even when Tykwer and the Wachowskis have infused three action sequences — a gritty car chase in the '70s a kinetic chase through Neo Seoul and a foot race through the forests of future millennia — into one extended set piece. This is a unified film with distinct parts echoing the themes of human interconnectivity.
The biggest treat is watching Cloud Atlas' ensemble tackle the diverse array of characters sprinkled into the stories. No film in recent memory has afforded a cast this type of opportunity yet another form of juxtaposition that wows. Within a few seconds Tom Hanks will go from near-neanderthal to British gangster to wily 19th century doctor. Halle Berry Hugh Grant Jim Sturgess Jim Broadbent Ben Whishaw Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon play the same game taking on roles of different sexes races and the like. (Weaving as an evil nurse returning to his Priscilla Queen of the Desert cross-dressing roots is mind-blowing.) The cast's dedication to inhabiting their roles on every level helps us quickly understand the worlds. We know it's Halle Berry behind the fair skinned wife of the lunatic composer but she's never playing Halle Berry. Even when the actors are playing variations on themselves they're glowing with the film's overall epic feel. Jim Broadbent's wickedly funny modern segment a Tykwer creation that packs a particularly German sense of humor is on a smaller scale than the rest of the film but the actor never dials it down. Every story character and scene in Cloud Atlas commits to a style. That diversity keeps the swirling maelstrom of a movie in check.
Cloud Atlas poses big questions without losing track of its human element the characters at the heart of each story. A slower moment or two may have helped the Wachowskis' and Tykwer's film to hit a powerful emotional chord but the finished product still proves mainstream movies can ask questions while laying over explosive action scenes. This year there won't be a bigger movie in terms of scope in terms of ideas and in terms of heart than Cloud Atlas.
Maybe you’re concerned Snakes on a Plane isn’t going to live up to the hype. Stop worrying. Those fanatic Internet bloggers who’ve been raving about the movie just from the snippets they’ve seen pegged the movie to a tee. SoaP is everything its cracked up to be and more a monster movie and disaster flick rolled into one. Granted the plot is wafer thin: FBI Agent Neville Flynn (Jackson) has to transport a key witness Sean (Nathan Phillips) from Hawaii to L.A. so he can testify against a nasty mob boss who in turn hatches such a diabolical plan to dispose of the witness that even James Bond would be impressed. That’s right. Said nasty mob boss arranges the release of several varieties of poisonous snakes on the flight so either a) Sean will get bitten and die and/or b) the plane crashes. End of story. How can you go wrong with that? Jackson is one smart cookie. He heard the title of this movie and said yes immediately--despite the objections of his agents--recognizing the brilliance of a title so obvious it's foolproof. “My agents have finally figured out that I’m going to do what I want ” the actor told Entertainment Weekly. “Every now and then I want to do a movie that isn’t ‘stretching my abilities.’ It’s that simple.” All we have to do to be satisfied is watch Jackson scream a few cuss words lay down the law with the freaked passengers say lines like “Well that’s good news. Snakes on crack ” and kick some serious serpent booty. There’s a bunch of unknown actors also onboard to serve mostly as snake food but a few do survive including former ER nurse Julianna Margulies who does a nice turn as the head flight attendant sparring with the snakes and getting a little cozy with Jackson. In the words of Indiana Jones “Snakes. Why does it have to be snakes?” There’s a distinct phobia in the air whenever you mention those particular reptiles so that’s why the “monster” part of SoaP is even more horrifying--and changing the rating from PG-13 to R makes a world of difference. I mean um OUCH. That’s basically what I was mumbling through the harrowing parts watching through splayed fingers. Director David R. Ellis even goes as far as to give you a snake’s perspective as it zeroes in on its next victim. Shiver. Yes the premise is ridiculous. Yes you have to sit through some silly exposition before the snakes show up and will be able to pick out the ones who’ll make it through till the end. But honestly if you love a good disaster-y thrill ride and don’t mind snakes SoaP is the last summer movie you should see.