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.
In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.
Actress Katharine Hepburn will probably be released by the weekend, Reuters reports. The Academy Award-winning actress was hospitalized last week for a urinary tract infection but is responding well to treatment. Hepburn, 94, was going to be released last week but lost strength while being hospitalized and underwent a brief course of physical therapy.
A judge has accepted evidence that actor Jason Priestley has completed a three-month alcohol treatment program, BBC News reports. The former Beverly Hills 90210 star was sentenced to five days in prison last year by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor for a drunk driving conviction. Priestley also was ordered to serve three years probation and enter a drug and alcohol treatment program. In December 1999, Priestley crashed his silver Porsche into a lamppost and a parked car in the Hollywood Hills. The actor claimed he swerved to avoid a deer in the road. Chad Cook, a friend and passenger in the car, suffered a broken arm. Priestley appeared in Aaron Spelling's teen drama Beverly Hills 90210 and recently acted in London's Apollo Theatre in the Broadway play Side Man.
An Indianapolis homebuilder will have to pay more than $98,000 restitution to rocker John Mellencamp for allegedly falsifying billing invoices, The Associated Press reported. Timothy O. Eldredge is scheduled to appear Sept. 14 in Marion Superior Court and is expected to plead guilty to theft. Prosecutors charge that Eldredge double-billed John and Elaine Mellencamp after the couple hired The Eldredge Group of Indianapolis to build a $2.5 million home near Lake Monroe. If convicted, Eldredge could face up to three years in prison.
Missouri's attorney general has filed a lawsuit against Access Resources Services Inc., the Florida company that promotes TV's Miss Cleo's tarot psychic reading, The Associated Press reports. Attorney General Jay Nixon said Missourians were billed for free services and that the company misrepresented rates and waiver fees. Some Missouri residents complained that they were billed for time spent on hold waiting to speak to a psychic or being billed without ever having requested the service. Attorney Sean Moynihan says the state has no basis for the lawsuit and blamed billing errors on telephone companies.
Sen. Joseph Liebermann (D-Conn.) will convene on a hearing on entertainment ratings on Wednesday, Variety reports. Lieberman has been a longtime critic of Hollywood, claiming that the separate ratings used for films, music, TV programs and video games are too confusing and therefore not effective in shielding children from sex, violence and vulgarity. Nearly the entire entertainment industry opposes the idea of a universal rating system, arguing that movies, video games and music are fundamentally different. The House Telecom Subcommittee on Friday asked RIAA president Hilary Rosen to read aloud lyrics to Eminem's song "Kill You," but Rosen refused, arguing that words in such songs are not meant to be taken literally. It is the first time the House of Representatives has weighed in on the Federal Trade Commission study of Hollywood's marketing practices.
Justin Timberlake of 'N Sync wants to do a duet with gal pal and pop sensation Britney Spears, Rolling Stone magazine reports. Timberlake said he is helping Spears, 19, move away from bubblegum pop in favor of a harder sound. He said they would record together when the timing is right. "I want it to be somethin' new that they haven't heard us do, that they don't think we could de," he told the magazine, "It would be huge."
Bruce Willis is officially dating 23-year-old Versace model Emily Sandberg, Entertainment Tonight reports. The two have been dating since November, but her identity was kept under wraps until now. Apparently, Willis' ex-wife Demi Moore has given her stamp of approval on the lanky blonde. According to US Weekly magazine, Willis invited Sandberg to celebrate July Fourth in Hailey, Idaho, with Moore and their children.
Ray Romano wants to appear on a celebrity version of CBS' hugely popular show Survivor, according to Reuters. The network is contemplating an all-star installment of the reality show but CBS president Leslie Moonves was sketchy on details about when the show would air or how it would look. Several other celebrities have expressed interest but did not want to be named just yet. The shooting of the celebrity series would have to be compressed to about 10 days, Moonves said, without assistants, phones or faxes. Someone would be voted off every two days. Moonves joked that being voted off in front of 20 million viewers would be devastating for an actor. The concept for a celebrity Survivor is currently on the backburner while producer Mark Burnett focuses on the show's third and fourth editions. Survivor: Africa is currently in production in Kenya and will premiere Oct. 11. Survivor 4 will be shot at an unspecified location this fall and will air in March.
Nicole Kidman is committed to star in Lars von Trier's Dogville and is denying rumors that she was dumped from the movie, Reuters reports.
The Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet said Tuesday that executives at von Trier's production company Zentropa grew frustrated with delays in getting the actress to sign a contract. Daily Variety also reported that talks with Kidman had broken down, prompting producers to search for a replacement. "We've had enough of the Hollywood system. It may be commonplace in major movies that stars play the diva and don't bother to sign contracts, but we can't handle that, either psychologically or financially," Zentropa chief executive Peter Aalbaek Jensen told Aftonbladet. Kidman's publicist insists the actress is still doing the film, but has not yet signed on the dotted line.
Lawyers for actors Bradley Whitford, Allison Janney, John Spencer, and Richard Schiff are in advanced talks with producers for Warner Bros.' West Wing, the New York Post's Pagesix.com reports. The new contracts would earn the actors about $1.4 million each a season. A rep for the actors said that while they are still negotiating, talks are not too far apart. The four actors failed to show up for work when production began on its third season two weeks ago. Rumors swirled that the actors were unhappy with their $30,000 per episode salary.