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.
Tuesday night’s episode of The Voice saw five more contestants eliminated in another battle round. War is hell.
Flamboyant farm boy Cody Belew and hip-hop dancer Domo (I know it’s “dah-mo,” but in my head I will forever pronounce her name like it comes before arigato) are sent to the gladiator games for the pleasure of Emperor Cee Lo Augustus.
Cee Lo has the pair sing Lady Gaga’s “Telephone.” He encourages them to incorporate choreography into the performance, but nevertheless emphasizes that their vocals should come first. In rehearsals, Rob Thomas offers detailed suggestions on how to hit each note. This makes sense, because when I think Lady Gaga feat. Beyoncé, Matchbox Twenty comes to mind immediately.
On stage, their dance routine proves to be a lot of fun, but — how many times do I have to say this, America? — detracts from the quality of their singing. This show’s called The Voice for a reason, son.
At first, this choice of song seemed to deliberately disadvantage Belew — it’s hard to imagine a track so obviously out of Cody’s comfort zone and so comfortably within Domo’s. (Couldn’t we have given her a mopey, acoustic country ballad?) Yet, Cee Lo ultimately chooses Cody. Domo accepts her loss gracefully, as demure as one can be from beneath aggressively crimped hair and neon-pink epaulets.
By the way, Domo’s dance troupe Rhythm City appeared on Season 4 of America’s Best Dance Crew, seen here in a clip that somehow feels incredibly dated despite being only three years old. But take note: Here, our intrepid performer is not Domo, but ooh-la-la Dominique — I feel like I don’t even know you, whatever-your-name-is. Domo-nique also had a pivotal role as Sassily Walking Woman #8 in this commercial for an HPV vaccine.
For her first battle of the night, Christina matches up Aquile, who delivered a lady-killing “Your Song” for his blind audition, and precocious 15-year-old Nathalie Hernandez. Hearing Aquile’s first run-through of “You Give Me Something,” Billie Joe Armstrong chirps, “I think it sounded better than the original!” (“Where am I?” continues Billie Joe, “Can I have some ice cream? Let’s hug!”)
Christina comments that Nathalie’s tender age will likely pose a challenge, as she hasn’t yet suffered the “heartbreaks” the song was written about (Xtina, please — s**t gets real in AP Calc). Nevertheless, in rehearsals, Christina soon coaxes an earthy maturity out of Nathalie’s voice.
Their duet is sweet, and I like the interplay between them, but Aquile — his name sounds like NyQuil because he soothes me and I’d abuse him every night if I could — simply kills it with his buttery smooth voice. (Fun fact: My boyfriend challenged me to use the phrase “buttery smooth voice” in my recap tonight, for no other reason than that he likes how it sounds. Little did he know I’d use it to describe the man I am now leaving him for. Goodbye, my love; helloooo, Aquile.)
Christina ultimately decides to keep Aquile, though she and the other coaches praise Nathalie’s youthful talent. “When I was 15,” Adam notes, “I was a zit.” Nowadays, of course, he’s long since matured into a boil. I’d assumed Blake would steal Nathalie, but no luck — that’s too bad; I liked her a lot.
Two condensed battles flash by. From Team Christina: Celica Westbrook, who sang that song from that thing where the guy who proposes to the girl with all the memes, vs. Lisa Scinta, who… I don’t remember. Camry Corolla Celica wins their duet of “My Life Would Suck Without You.” On Team Blake, long-haired grandpa Rudy Parris ousts smog technician Charlie Rey on “Bad Day.”
The last battle of the night is Adam’s: He pairs Caitlin Michele, who suffers from panic attacks and excessive eyeliner, and hipster Pebbles Flintstone Melanie Martinez. Levine assigns the indie artists Ellie Goulding’s “Lights” because it represents a slightly gritty, unusual niche within pop.
Both performers feel a little weak in rehearsal: I love Melanie’s voice, but it can err on the side of a little-girl whisper, and Caitlin is so musical theater-y that I find it difficult to buy her in any other mode.
But happily, their live performance is great; Christina rightly calls it the day’s “prettiest and most moving.” I have a soft spot for Melanie, so I’m psyched when Adam chooses her — but whichever artist you preferred, it’s a win-win, because Caitlin is quickly stolen for Team Cee Lo.
The Voice returns next Monday at 8 pm for two more hours of battles. Share your thoughts, questions, and/or haikus about Adam’s facial hair with me on Twitter @mollyfitz.
[Image Credits: NBC]
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