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.
Memorial Day weekend marks the last stretch of May, but it's only the beginning of the summer movie season. For those who spend the winter and spring months anxiously awaiting Hollywood's blockbuster playground, the time has come for three months of non-stop action. For filmgoers looking for a smaller, quieter cinematic experience, it's three months of staying cooped up inside catching up on whatever Netflix has to offer. The anxious waiting shifts.
But I'm here to tell you: the theaters still have something to offer those lacking emotional investment in the characters of comic book universes or whose interests don't involve the word "reboot." With slightly less fanfare than the common action flick, scaled back comedies and dramas continue to make their way into theaters during the summer months — one just needs to find them. To help, here's the rundown on a few of the movie alternatives that will help beat the heat and quench your movie-loving thirst. There's something for everyone!
So if you're looking for…
An Indie Comedy That Still Depicts the Apocalypse:
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
Roland Emmerich knows how to destroy the world, but rarely do we get into the heads of the characters experiencing said destruction. Writer/Director Lorene Scarfaria hopes to take the story to the next level, pairing Steve Carrell and Keira Knightley to play out her pitch black comedic take on the end of the world. This may not be the movie for Michael Bay-lovers, but if you've ever wondered how people might handle an incoming asteroid apocalypse, this movie's for you. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World in theaters June 22.
An Auteur's Latest Whimsical Yarn:
To Rome with Love
The latest from director Woody Allen keeps his globetrotting sensibilities alive, jumping from France to the equally lovely and picturesque Italy. To Rome With Love weaves several stories of romance, all featuring A-List talent. Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page, Penelope Cruz, Alec Baldwin, Greta Gerwig and even Allen himself join in on the fun, a movie that looks overtly comedic in the wake of Allen's last, award-friendly effort. Arrives in theaters June 22.
A Sundance Breakout with an Epic Scale:
Beasts of the Southern Wild
The debut film from writer/director Benh Zeitlin wowed audiences at this year's Sundance Film Festival and took home a handful of awards at Cannes. Rightfully so — the story of a rough, tough girl surviving the backwaters of Louisiana (in a swampland called "The Bathtub") Beasts of the Southern Wild captures the plight of a tangible, but otherworldly society with unprecedented beauty. Read our review from Sundance, or just see this one without prior knowledge. Either way, it's primed and ready to blow audiences away. Arrives in theaters June 27.
A Family Drama They Don't Make Anymore:
People Like Us
There was a time where Hollywood actively produced modestly-budgeted feel good movies. The Help is the most recent entry in the category; a little sappy, but with solid characters, great performances and plenty of passion. That's People Like Us, a movie from the guys who brought you Transformers that couldn't be further from robot sci-fi. Chris Pine plays a down-on-his-luck salesman whose whole life is turned upside down when he discovers he has a sister he never knew, played by Elizabeth Banks. Like movies from yesteryears, People Like Us delivers laughs, tears and the right amount of saccharine. Arrives in theaters June 29.
A Reality TV Riff with Emotional Depth:
The Queen of Versailles
Another Sundance darling, Queen of Versailles is a documentary that begins in the vein of a Real Housewives spin-off. But in the wake of the economic meltdown, a family of 1%-ers fall from their castle in Florida to the world of normalcy. A riches to rags tale that's surprisingly poignant, no matter your socioeconomic status. Arrives in theaters July 6.
A Romantic Comedy with Quriky Sensibilities:
From the people who brought you Little Miss Sunshine comes a fanciful tale of a novelist (Sunshine's Paul Dano) whose perfect woman (Zoe Kazan) is conjured into reality after he wills her into existence. It's been six years since the twisted LMS broke out with the mainstream and they've re-teamed with Dano for what looks like a honest romance with magical undertones. Ruby Sparks was penned by Kazan, who is Dano's girlfriend in real life. Should help the two create some genuine moments in a season full of fluff. Arrives in theaters July 25.
The Latest Chris Rock Sequel That Doesn't Involve a Talking Zebra, Try:
2 Days in New York
A follow-up to writer/director/actress Julie Delpy's 2 Days in Paris, 2 Days in New York picks up with Delpy's Marion, who broke up with her former flame and is now living with Chris Rock's Mingus and his daughter. With her own son to care for, couple's relationship is put to the test when Marion's family arrives from Paris for an extended visit. The movie's a little corny, but Delpy has an ear and an eye for situational comedy, while Rock injects each scene with his signature brand of real world style. They're an unlikely match, but Delpy and Rock light up the screen. Arrives in theaters August 10.
A Rom-Com for the 60+ Crowd:
Summer is a slice of Hollywood's planning that's targeted directly at the 18 to 25 demographic — but occasionally, someone makes the smart move to counter program with a movie from the other end of the spectrum. Enter: Hope Springs, a dramedy starring Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones as an aging couple looking to get their moo back. With Steve Carrell as their counselor, the movie looks appropriately silly and emotional, putting aside comedy's usual R-rated gags for a light-hearted examination of the later years in life. Arrives in theaters August 10.
A Fairy Tale without Battle Scenes, Try:
Odd Life of Timothy Green
A few months after Snow White and the Huntsman graces screens comes another larger-than-life tale, the story of a couple who dream of having a child and get their wish one when on mysteriously appears in their backyard. Starring Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton, the movie comes from the mind of Dan in Real Life writer/director Peter Hedges, whose carved out a career making medium-budgeted movies that wear their hearts on their sleeves. The fantasy element is a hook — can anything really be as easy as making a wish? — but with Hedges at the wheel, the story should be uniquely human. The Odd Life of Timothy Green arrives in theaters August 15.
Woody Allen's To Rome With Love Trailer — WATCH!
'Beasts of the Southern Wild' Trailer: Worthy of All the Buzz?
Steve Carrell, Keira Knightley Prepare for the Apocalypse in 'Seeking a Friend' Poster