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.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
Moviegoers gave Steven Spielberg's A.I. an A-OK $30 million opening this weekend.
Warner Bros. and DreamWorks' PG-13 rated sci-fi fantasy adventure A.I. Artificial Intelligence topped the chart with an enviable ESTIMATED $30.14 million at 3,242 theaters ($9,295 per theater).
A.I. 's average per theater was the highest for any film playing in wide release this weekend.
Written and directed by Steven Spielberg, it was produced by Kathleen Kennedy, Spielbergand Bonnie Curtis. Starring are Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O'Connor, Brendan Gleeson and William Hurt.
"I'm very happy," Warner Bros. Distribution president Dan Fellman said Sunday morning. "To open at the same level as Saving Private Ryan, which did $30.5 million, and The Truman Show, which did $31.5 million, (is very gratifying). All of these films were critically acclaimed and played primarily to adult audiences. And they all were released in the summer. So I've been watching these movies (box office numbers) carefully.
"In talking to the Spielberg camp, they're very happy. You know, it's a tribute to Stanley (Kubrick). This $30 million opening is the highest opening of any film in which Stanley had been associated. His biggest opening was his last movie, Eyes Wide Shut, which did $21.7 million (and went on to gross about $56 million in domestic theaters). Full Metal Jacket, which was his next biggest, had a domestic box office total of $46 million."
Who turned out for A.I. 's opening weekend? "The film attracted couples. About 51 percent of the audience were males and 49 percent were females," Fellman said. "It was primarily moviegoers 25 years and older. Major cities played the strongest, of course, across North America. The three biggest grosses came out of New York -- the Lincoln Square in two days was about $82,000, followed by Broadway, which was $75,000 and the Greenwich Village, which was $65,000.
"Over 80 percent of the audience rated the film good to excellent, so I think we'll be around for a while. It's a very provocative movie. People continue to talk about it. I think they're surprised when they walk in. After they see the movie, it may be a little different than what they expected. But it's certainly the kind of film that people talk a lot about."
Asked where it's heading in domestic theaters, Fellman replied, "Well, I'm certainly looking for the $100 million-plus mark. But obviously the rest of it is based on how we hold. The Truman Show ended up at about $125 million. Of course, Private Ryan is in a class of its own (with) over $200 million. We will definitely be watching this carefully and see what happens."
Universal's PG-13 action drama The Fast and the Furious drove down one notch to second place in its second weekend with a still muscular ESTIMATED $20.0 million (-50%) at 2,723 theaters (+95 theaters; $7,345 per theater). Fast, which was made for a modest $38 million, has a cume of approximately $77.8 million and is heading for $100 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Rob Cohen and produced by Neal H. Moritz, it stars Paul Walker, Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster.
20th Century Fox and Davis Entertainment's PG rated comedy sequel Dr. Dolittle 2 slipped one peg to third place in its second weekend with a still funny ESTIMATED $15.4 million (-38%) at 3,053 theaters (+4 theaters; $5,045 per theater). Its cume is approximately $51.0 million.
Directed by Steve Carr and produced by John Davis, it stars Eddie Murphy.
Paramount and Mutual Film Company's PG-13 rated action adventure Lara Croft: Tomb Raider was still plunging in its third week, down one notch to fourth with a softer ESTIMATED $9.8 million (-50%) at 3,349 theaters (+37 theaters; $2,926 per theater). Its cume is approximately $101.2 million, heading for $125 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Simon West, Tomb stars Angelina Jolie.
Columbia's R rated African-American appeal drama Baby Boy arrived in fifth place to a solid ESTIMATED $8.6 million at 1,533 theaters ($5,610 per theater). Its cume after 5 days is approximately $11.7 million.
Written, produced and directed by John Singleton, it stars Tyrese Gibson, Snoop Dogg and Ving Rhames.
"It's a good solid opening in a tough market," Sony Pictures Entertainment worldwide marketing & distribution president Jeff Blake said Sunday morning. "Certainly, the weekdays look to be very good next week and it should be a great weekend next weekend, as well.
"It's a $16 million negative (cost) picture that we think should end up right where we hoped it would be in the $30-40 million range (in domestic theaters)."
Baby Boy faced competition this weekend for its core audience of African-American moviegoers from Paramount's Chris Rock comedy Pootie Tang. Pootie, which some media observers criticized for opening when it would fragment the African-American audience, only grossed an ESTIMATED $1.55 million and failed to crack the Top Ten (see OTHER OPENINGS below for details).
"I think initially in our movie world it was a little disconcerting when Pootie Tang landed on our date," Blake observed. "But the more we thought about it, (we realized that) certainly you wouldn't hesitate to counter program an inexpensive comedy aimed at white teenagers against a more ambitious project. So I think a bit too much was made of it in this case. And, obviously, I don't think it ended up being much of a factor."
Buena Vista/Disney's PG rated animated feature Atlantis: The Lost Empire descended two levels in its fourth week to sixth place, making fewer waves with an ESTIMATED $7.8 million (-38%) at 3,030 theaters (-41 theaters; $2,573 per theater). Its cume is approximately $58.0 million.
Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, its voice talents include Michael J Fox, James Garner, Cree Summer and Leonard Nimoy.
DreamWorks' PG rated computer animated blockbuster Shrek dropped two rungs to seventh place in its seventh week, still holding well with an ESTIMATED $7.1 million (-32%) at 2,704 theaters (-303 theaters; $2,605 per theater). Its cume is approximately $227.5 million on its way to $250 million or more.
Directed by Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson, its voice talents include Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz and John Lithgow.
Buena Vista/Touchstone's PG-13 teen appeal drama crazy / beautiful arrived in eighth place to a not so beautiful ESTIMATED $4.5 million at 1,601 theaters ($2,815 per theater).
Directed by John Stockwell, it stars Kirsten Dunst and Jay Hernandez.
Buena Vista/Touchstone and Jerry Bruckheimer Films' PG-13 rated three-hour epic action romance Pearl Harbor fell two pegs to ninth place in its sixth weekend with a calm $4.4 million (-35%) at 2,305 theaters (-363 theaters; $1,918 per theater). Its cume is approximately $179.4 million, on its way to $200 million by late summer.
Directed by Michael Bay, Pearl was produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay. Starring are Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, Kate Beckinsale, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Tom Sizemore, Jon Voight and Alec Baldwin.
Rounding out the Top Ten was Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow's R rated action thriller Swordfish, down four rungs in its fourth week but still in the box office swim with an ESTIMATED $4.0 million (-48%) at 2,225 theaters (-435 theaters; $1,798 per theater). Its cume is approximately $60.5 million, heading for $70 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Dominic Sena and produced by Joel Silver and Jonathan Krane, it stars John Travolta, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry and Don Cheadle.
This weekend also saw Paramount PG-13 rated African-American appeal comedy Pootie Tang arrive to a not so funny ESTIMATED $1.4 million at 712 theaters ($2,020 per theater).
Written and directed by Louis C. K., it stars Chris Rock.
Miramax's R rated French comedy The Closet opened as a Miramax Zoe label release in New York and San Francisco to an encouraging ESTIMATED $0.080 million at 4 theaters ($20,000 per theater).
Directed by Francis Veber, it stars Daniel Auteuil, Gerard Depardieu, Thierry Lhermitte and Michele Laroque.
"This Friday we're adding another five markets, so we'll probably be in about 12 to 15 screens for this weekend," Miramax senior vice president, marketing David Kaminow said Sunday morning.
TriStar's R rated crime thriller The Crimson Rivers, opened to a slow ESTIMATED $0.035 million at 7 theaters ($5,000 per theater). Its theatrical run sets Rivers up for a home video release.
Directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, it stars Jean Reno and Vincent Cassel.
USA Films' PG-13 drama Pandaemonium opened quietly to an ESTIMATED $2,477 at 1 theater in Los Angeles.
Directed by Julien Temple, it stars John Hannah, Linus Roache, Samantha Morton and Emily Woof.
There were no national sneak previews this weekend.
On the expansion front, this weekend saw Fox Searchlight's R rated critically acclaimed British crime thriller Sexy Beast continue to widen in its third week with a still hot ESTIMATED $0.72 million (+17%) at 109 theaters (+48 theaters; $6,580 per theater). Its cume is approximately $1.9 million.
Directed by Jonathan Glazer, it stars Ray Winstone and Ben Kingsley.
"I feel very good (about its performance)," Fox Searchlight distribution president Stephen Gilula said Sunday morning. "In many of the core urban markets -- Manhattan, L.A., Washington, D.C., San Francisco -- the film is holding extremely well. A number of the new regional markets actually did quite well in addition. Portland was quite good. It's good everywhere and some of them are actually outstanding.
"So we feel very, very good that we're going to continue to expand and play through the summer and hold for long runs. We're adding another 20 cities for an additional 25 theaters this week so we'll be in about 135 runs this coming Friday."
Fine Line Features' R rated comedy The Anniversary Party went wider in its fourth week with a less lively ESTIMATED $0.42 million (-30%) at 103 theaters (+18 theaters; $4,110 per theater). Its cume is approximately $1.9 million.
Written and directed by Alan Cumming and Jennifer Jason Leigh, its ensemble cast includes Jane Adams, Jennifer Beals, Phoebe Cates, Alan Cumming, Kevin Kline, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gwyneth Paltrow, Parker Posey and John C. Reilly.
Lions Gate Films' PG-13 rated drama Songcatcher expanded in its third week with a quiet ESTIMATED $0.13 million at 37 theaters (+24 theaters; $3,390 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.27 million.
Directed by Maggie Greenwald, it stars Janet McTeer and Aidan Quinn.
Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 -- took in approximately $120.56 million, down about 6.22% from the comparable weekend last year when key films grossed $128.56 million for the Friday-Sunday portion of the five day July Fourth holiday weekend. July Fourth fell on a Tuesday last year, which allowed for a five-day weekend. This year the holiday falls on a Wednesday and is not part of the weekend.
This weekend's key film gross was down about 12.47% from last weekend this year when key films took in $137.74 million.
Last year, Warner Bros.' opening week of The Perfect Storm was first with $41.33 million (for three days) at 3,407 theaters ($12,129 per theater); and Columbia's opening week of The Patriot was second with $22.41 million at 3,061 theaters ($7,322 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $63.7 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $50.1 million.
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