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.
A few weeks ago, the much-anticipated Tron: Legacy soundtrack from Daft Punk -- a.k.a. those two French dudes in robot helmets -- hit shelves everywhere. The critical reaction to Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter's work? Some hate it, some love it. But regardless, the release got us thinking so we gathered a collection of our favorite motion picture soundtracks or scores in cinema history.
Tron: Legacy is out this weekend on December 17.
The Graduate (1967)
Director: Mike Nichols
Music by Simon & Garfunkel
At the end of The Graduate, as Benjamin grabs Elaine, we witness a protagonist broken by frustration but overtaken by hope. They finally escape, and in that moment of relaxation, as "Sounds of Silence" chimes in, Benjamin crashes -- identifying with his own realization that he doesn't know what the hell to do, he didn't grow up and he's the same fearful 20-year-old as before. Subtract the song? You're left with an empty, emotionless scene. So here's to you, Mrs. Robinson -- for breaking Benjamin. We really do love you more than you'll ever know.
A Hard Day's Night (1964)
Director: Richard Lester
Music by The Beatles
Sure, throwing The Beatles on the list may seem like an easy cop-out, but sometimes you just need to take a moment and recognize that there's a reason the Fab Four are widely regarded to be one of the greatest bands the world has ever known. Because, quite simply, they are fucking awesome. A Hard Day's Night captured Beatlemania at its highest point and showed off what the group did best: music.
Director: John Carney
Music by Glen Hansard, Marketa Irglová
In Once, we don't even know the main characters names, but that doesn't matter. With each song, we feel their heartbreak, their frustration and perhaps most importantly, their love. A much-deserved Oscar winner for Best Song, "Falling Slowly" will continue to be the best-fucking-heart-ripped-out-break-up song for years to come.
Director: Danny Boyle
Music by Various Artists
Sex, heroin, and punk music: does much more need to be said? Danny Boyle's Trainspotting not only used great music, but maximized its cinematic potential. Without the peppy, catchy "Lust for Life" from Iggy Pop or Lou Reed's heartbreaking "Perfect Day," the atmosphere of the worlds -- both good and bad -- of hard drugs would've been lost.
(Warning: This clip features heavy drug use. NSFW)
Good Will Hunting (1997)
Director: Gus Van Sant
Music by Various Artists
In his short career, the late Elliott Smith managed to be one of the most prolific songwriters of the modern music era. And despite his songwriting being so unbelievably sad, perhaps his most famous track, "Miss Misery," gives hope. The Oscar-nominated song found its fame placed at the end of Good Will Hunting, softly playing behind a man who has decided to leave all he knows just to see about a girl.
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Director: Wes Anderson
Score by Mark Mothersbaugh, Songs by Various Artists
In The Royal Tenenbaums, director Wes Anderson looked to one of the most brilliant musical minds of the past 40 years: Mark Mothersbaugh. The Devo-frontman contributes to an odd collection of artists -- ranging from Nico to Elliott Smith -- to form a seamless stretch of music that flows together so effortlessly the songs feel more at home on the soundtrack than in their place of origin.
This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
Director: Rob Reiner
Music by Spinal Tap
Turn it up to 11.
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Score by John Williams
With 45 Oscar nominations, it's safe to call John Williams one of the most prolific and successful composers of all-time -- and Raiders of the Lost Ark is his finest work. Through the grand and dramatic score, he channeled all his talent to capture the true essence of Indiana Jones and forever thrust him into the spotlight as a true hero.
Almost Famous (2000)
Director: Cameron Crowe
Music by Various Artists
Secretly, we all wish we were rock stars during the '60s and '70s. Few films illustrate the culture of spurring fame like Almost Famous. And what would a rock 'n' roll film be without rock 'n' roll? This soundtrack is more than a sweet mix-tape your cool uncle gave you. The music -- from Elton John's anthem "Tiny Dancer" to the harmonies of Yes -- perfectly shows the development of a young boy tossed into one helluva situation, yet somehow emerges a mature young man.
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Score by Bernard Herrmann
One way to measure success in cinema is to look at how a film stands up over time. Psycho, though released fifty years ago, still contains one of the most terrifying moments in movie history: the infamous shower scene. The reason for its enduring success? That disturbing screech.