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.
Gracie won’t win awards for originality with its happy ending “You can do it!” pep talks and intimidating bullies. But it is a fascinating semi-autobiographical look at actress Elisabeth Shue (of Leaving Las Vegas fame) and her family. Set in the late 1970s teenager Gracie Bowen (Carly Schroeder) loosely based on Shue lives a very middle-class existence in New Jersey with her four brothers dad (Dermot Mulroney) and mom (Shue). There’s even a soccer goal in the backyard a sport Gracie has grown playing with her brothers. After her soccer-champion older brother dies in a tragic car accident however Gracie obsessively practices soccer in order to take his place on the high school varsity team. Even though the boys push her down and her dad and coaches tell her to quit Gracie perseveres eventually making the team breaking down the gender barriers and kicking the heck out of the ball in the season’s final game. As Gracie Schroeder (Mean Creek) displays purity and resolution without any of the cutesy child actor affectations that can get in the way of a naturally inspired soccer player. The 16 year-old actress has a cryogenically frozen Pollyanna look with blonde hair and crystal-blue eyes but gives a toned-down minimalist performance. Shue channels her real-life mother portraying a defeated woman who settles for being a nurse despite wanting to be a surgeon. Like Schroeder Shue doesn’t try to do too much. Gracie however belongs as much to Mulroney (The Wedding Date) as it does to its young star. As the well-meaning dad who is obsessed with soccer and his kids Mulroney shows some volatile dramatic energy especially after his son’s death which nearly destroys him. And look for brother Andrew Shue as a coach his first acting role since his days on Melrose Place who gave it all up to play professional soccer. As a follow-up to his influential Oscar-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth all eyes and expectations are on director Davis Guggenheim. Married to Elisabeth Shue he co-wrote the Gracie story with Shue’s brother Andrew and despite the emotional familial ties it is an enterprising indie film. Guggenheim shows a flair for a different kind of storytelling – glossy fictional narrative instead of non-fiction reporting – wringing emotion from a story limited in scope. The film’s dialogue can be hackneyed to a fault with groan-inducing lines like “life is like a s**t sandwich and we all have to take a bite ” but the charm works. Gracie has a great soundtrack too including the Bruce Springsteen tune “Growin’ Up.” Inveterate soccer movie choreographer Dan Metcalfe (Kicking and Screaming) lends a hand to deliver exquisite sports realism while nature shots such as a cliff side or a close-up of a butterfly are also flecked throughout with beautiful stillness--as though Inconvenient Truth’s environment friendliness is breathing through Gracie.
As a disposable Harrison Ford vehicle Firewall is part Hostage part Catwoman. Physical violence is pervasive as Ford and his family (including Oscar nominee Virginia Madsen) are taken hostage by a band of thugs. Silver-haired Ford plays Jack Stanfield a computer-programming expert whose bank account accrues an unexplained $95 000 debt. Before he investigates a trio of men invade his house and rough up Jack’s wife (Madsen) daughter (Carly Schroeder) and son (Jimmy Bennett). At the same time a businessman (Paul Bettany) shows up at Jack’s office unannounced. A whole bunch of confusing stuff follows in which Jack must get his family back keep a low profile and not tell the police. After extorting $100 million from his company for ransom Jack tracks the bad guys down by finding the family dog’s whereabouts via Internet satellite dog collar. Bettany a real S.O.B. poisons the young son with a chocolate bar with nuts. It’s not clear why Ford and company chose to do Firewall. The script seems quite vacuous on the page and the actors’ onscreen excitement (or lack of) is palpable. Ford is brooding and frigid in the lead role. Madsen in her first role since Sideways is marginalized in the mother-hen role her earthiness underplayed. Bettany who starred in Firewall director Richard Loncraine’s previous Wimbledon is cartoon-like as a menacing hit man. Bettany reels off lines reminiscent of Sharon Stone in Catwoman. Ten-year-old Jimmy Bennett has become the go-to Hollywood kid for being pushed around in a mainstream movie (Amityville Horror Hostage). In Firewall he’s shoved poisoned and has his mouth is taped. Just another day’s work. Loncraine’s 30 plus-year directing résumé doesn’t have a whole lot of good films on it. He’s a British director with touches of aristocratic long-windedness whose best movies include Richard III with Ian McKellen and the 2002 HBO Winston Churchill biopic The Gathering Storm. Firewall is a Hollywood product stylized around action sequences bad dialogue and a persistent background soundtrack. None of Firewall's characters make an audience connection. Ford is prone to muddled logic and aloofness. Bettany as the lovably nefarious villain should have been a lot more lovable. I’m going to shift the blame of these two proven actors’ performances to Loncraine’s direction which given his history likely deserves it. References to Internet technology though presumably sound come off as jargon and white noise. The ensuing mess is a computer-code chase that doesn’t add up to much--and doesn’t whet an appetite for Harrison Ford’s upcoming Indiana Jones 4.
With six nominations each, Alexander Payne's wine-soaked Sideways and Joshua Marston's intense drug drama Maria Full of Grace lead the 20th IFP Independent Spirit Awards nominations, announced Tuesday. Both films were nominated for, among other categories, best feature, best director best male lead (Sideways' Paul Giamatti) and best female lead (Grace's Catalina Sandino Moreno). Actors Dennis Quaid and Selma Blair served as presenters at the event.
Others nominated for best feature were Mario Van Peebles' Baadasssss!; Kinsey, starring Liam Neeson as famed sex researcher Alfred Kinsey; and Shane Carruth's Primer, this year's Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize winner.
Dawn Hudson, executive director of IFP/Los Angeles, the largest non-profit membership organization for independent filmmakers, said in a statement, "Over the last 20 years, the Spirit Awards have consistently celebrated the most talented artists--known and unknown--working in independent film. We've honored many filmmakers and artists at the beginning of their careers, and this year is no different."
The winners will be announced at the IFP Independent Spirit Awards ceremony on Feb. 26, 2005 and will air live on the cable network IFC at 5 p.m. EST, as well as be rebroadcast that night on Bravo at 10 p.m. EST.
The complete list of nominations:
Maria Full of Grace
Shane Carruth, Primer
Joshua Marston, Maria Full of Grace
Alexander Payne, Sideways
Walter Salles, The Motorcycle Diaries
Mario Van Peebles, Baadasssss!
The Door in the Floor
BEST FIRST FEATURE
Brother to Brother
Saints and Soldiers
BEST FIRST SCREENPLAY
Brother to Brother
Maria Full of Grace
JOHN CASSAVETES AWARD
Down to the Bone
On the Outs
BEST DEBUT PERFORMANCE
Anthony Mackie, Brother to Brother
Louie Olivos, Jr., Robbing Peter
Hannah Pilkes, The Woodsman
Rodrigo de la Serna, The Motorcycle Diaries
David Sullivan, Primer
BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE
Cate Blanchett, Coffee and Cigarettes
Loretta Devine, Woman Thou Art Loosed
Virginia Madsen, Sideways
Robin Simmons, Robbing Peter
Yenny Paola Vega, Maria Full of Grace
BEST SUPPORTING MALE
Thomas Haden Church, Sideways
Jon Gries, Napoleon Dynamite
Aidan Quinn, Cavedweller
Roger Robinson, Brother to Brother
Peter Sarsgaard, Kinsey
BEST FEMALE LEAD
Kimberly Elise, Woman Thou Art Loosed
Vera Farmiga, Down to the Bone
Judy Marte, On the Outs
Catalina Sandino Moreno, Maria Full of Grace
Kyra Sedgwick, Cavedweller
BEST MALE LEAD
Kevin Bacon, The Woodsman
Jeff Bridges, The Door in the Floor
Jamie Foxx, Redemption
Paul Giamatti, Sideways
Liam Neeson, Kinsey
The Motorcycle Diaries
Saints and Soldiers
We Don't Live Here Anymore
BEST FOREIGN FILM
Bad Education, Spain
Oasis, South Korea
Red Lights, France
The Sea Inside, Spain
Yesterday, South Africa
Chisholm '72: Unbought & Unbossed
Hiding and Seeking: Faith and Tolerance After the Holocaust
Metallica: Some Kind of Monster
Ensemble cast of Mean Creek: Rory Culkin, Ryan Kelley, Scott Mechlowicz, Trevor Morgan, Josh Peck and Carly Schroeder