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.
Widening the thematic scope without sacrificing too much of the claustrophobia that made the original 1979 Alien universally spooky Prometheus takes the trophy for this summer's most adult-oriented blockbuster entertainment. The movie will leave your mouth agape for its entire runtime first with its majestic exploration of an alien planet and conjectures on the origins of the human race second with its gross-out body horror that leaves no spilled gut to the imagination. Thin characters feel more like pawns in Scott's sci-fi prequel but stunning visuals shocking turns and grand questions more than make up for the shallow ensemble. "Epic" comes in many forms. Prometheus sports all of them.
Based on their discovery of a series of cave drawings all sharing a similar painted design Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) are recruited by Weyland to head a mission to another planet one they believe holds the answers to the creation of life on Earth. Along for the journey are Vickers (Charlize Theron) the ruthless Weyland proxy Janek (Idris Elba) a blue collar captain a slew of faceless scientists and David (Michael Fassbender) HAL 9000-esque resident android who awakens the crew of spaceship Prometheus when they arrive to their destination. Immediately upon descent there's a discovery: a giant mound that's anything but natural. The crew immediately prepares to scope out the scene zipping up high-tech spacesuits jumping in futuristic humvees and heading out to the site. What they discover are the awe-inspiring creations of another race. What they bring back to the ship is what they realize may kill their own.
The first half of Prometheus could be easily mistaken for Steven Spielberg's Alien a sense of wonder glowing from every frame not too unlike Close Encounters. Scott takes full advantage of his fictional settings and imbues them with a reality that makes them even more tantalizing. He shoots the vistas of space and the alien planet like National Geographic porn and savors the interior moments on board the Prometheus full of hologram maps sleeping pods and do-it-yourself surgery modules with the same attention. Prometheus is beautiful shot in immersive 3D that never dampers Dariusz Wolski's sharp photography. Scott's direction seems less interested in the run-or-die scenario set up in the latter half of the film but the film maintains tension and mood from beginning to end. It all just gets a bit…bloodier.
Jon Spaihts' and Damon Lindelof's script doesn't do the performers any favors shuffling them to and fro between the ship and the alien construction without much room for development. Reveals are shoehorned in without much setup (one involving Theron's Vickers that's shockingly mishandled) but for the most part the ensemble is ready to chomp into the script's bigger picture conceits. Rapace is a physical performer capable of pulling off a grisly scene involving an alien some sharp objects and a painful procedure (sure to be the scene of the blockbuster season. Among the rest of the crew Fassbender's David stands out as the film's revelatory performance delivering a digestible ambiguity to his mechanical man that playfully toys with expectations from his first entrance. The creature effects in Prometheus will wow you but even Fassbender's smallest gesture can send the mind spinning. The power of his smile packs more of a punch than any facehugger.
Much like Lindelof's Lost Prometheus aims to explore the idea of asking questions and seeking answers and on Scott's scale it's a tremendous unexpected ride. A few ideas introduced to spur action fall to the way side in the logic department but with a clear mission and end point Prometheus works as a sweeping sci-fi that doesn't require choppy editing or endless explosions to keep us on the edge of our seats. Prometheus isn't too far off from the Alien xenomorphs: born from existing DNA of another creature the movie breaks out as its own beast. And it's wilder than ever.
Salt the propulsive new thriller from Phillip Noyce (Clear and Present Danger Patriot Games) has been dubbed “Bourne with boobs ” but that label isn’t entirely accurate. In the role of Evelyn Salt a CIA staffer hunted by her own agency after a Russian defector fingers her in a plot to murder Russia’s president Angelina Jolie keeps her two most potent weapons holstered hidden under pantsuits and trenchcoats and the various other components of a super-spy wardrobe that proudly emphasizes function over flash.
But flash is one thing Salt never lacks for. Its breathless cat-and-mouse game hits full-throttle almost from the outset when a former KGB officer named Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) stumbles into a CIA interrogation room and begins spilling details of a vast conspiracy. Back in the ‘70s hardline elements of the Soviet regime launched an ambitious new front in the Cold War flooding the western world with orphans trained to infiltrate the security complexes of their adopted homelands and wait patiently — decades if necessary — for the order to initiate a series of assassinations intended to trigger a devastating nuclear clash between the superpowers from which the treacherous Reds would emerge triumphant.
The Soviet Union may have long ago collapsed (or did it? Hmmm...) but its army of brainwashed killer orphan spies remains in place and if this crazy Orlov fellow is to be believed they stand poised to reignite the Cold War. It’s a preposterous — even idiotic — scheme but no more so than any of our government’s various harebrained proposals to kill Castro back in the ‘60s. As such the CIA treats it with grave seriousness even the part that that pegs Salt who just happens to be a Russian-born orphan herself as a key player in the conspiracy.
Salt bristles at the accusation but suspecting a set-up she opts to flee rather than face interrogation from her bosses Winter (Liev Schreiber) and Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor). A former field agent she’s been confined to a desk job since a clandestine operation in North Korea went south leaving her with a nasty shiner and a rather unremarkable German boyfriend (now her unremarkable German husband). She’s clearly kept up her training during while cubicle-bound however and in a blaze of resourceful thinking and devastating Parkour Fu she fends off a dozen or so agents of questionable competence and takes to the streets where she sets about to clear her name and unravel the Commie orphan conspiracy before the authorities can catch up with her. That is if she isn’t a part of the conspiracy.
The premise which aims to resurrect Cold War tensions and graft them onto a modern-day spy thriller is absurdly clever — and cleverly absurd. But Kurt Wimmer’s screenplay isn’t satisfied with the merely clever and absurd — it must be mind-blowing. Salt is one of those thrillers that ladles out its backstory slowly and in tiny portions every once in a while dropping a revelatory bombshell that effectively blows the lid off everything that happened beforehand. No one is who they seem and every action every gesture no matter how seemingly trivial is imbued with some kind of grand significance. The effect of piling on one insane twist after another has the effect of gradually diluting the narrative. When anything is possible nothing really matters.
But spy thrillers by definition trade in the preposterous and the principal function of the summer blockbuster is to entertain. In that regard Salt more than fulfills its charge. Noyce wisely keeps the story moving at pace that allows little time for asking uncomfortable questions or poking holes in the film’s frail plot. And he has an able partner in the infinitely versatile Jolie who having already exhibited formidable action-hero chops in Wanted and the Tomb Raider films proves remarkably adept at the spy game as well.
It’s well-known that Jolie wasn’t the first choice to star in Salt joining the project only after Tom Cruise dropped out citing the story’s growing similarities to the Mission: Impossible films. But she’s more than just a capable replacement; she’s a welcome upgrade over Cruise not least because she’s over a decade younger (and a few inches taller) than her predecessor. Should Brad Bird require a pinch-hitter for Ethan Hunt he knows where to look.
Roy Horn publicly describes attack for the first time
Roy Horn, one-half of the illusionist duo Siegfried & Roy, described for the first time his memories of being mauled by a tiger in an interview with Maria Shriver that aired Wednesday on the NBC special, Siegfried & Roy: The Miracle. Asked by Shriver what he was thinking at the time, Horn answered: "Dear God, let this be just a bad nightmare." Horn also told Shriver he remembers having a near-death experience on the operating table. "I saw a bank of white light, and then I saw all my beloved animals ... For a moment I stepped out of my body," said Horn, who now uses a motorized wheelchair. The magician was attacked by a 380-pound tiger named Montecore during a live performance at The Mirage hotel-casino in Las Vegas. The 7-year-old tiger bit into Horn's neck and dragged him off stage--until a show employee broke the animal's grip using a fire extinguisher.
Walters exits 20/20
Barbara Walters is giving up her role as co-host of the ABC newsmagazine show 20/20 after 25 years--and 740 interviews. Walters, 72, became a fixture on 20/20 in 1979 when she joined forces with then-host Hugh Downs. She has since interviewed the famous and infamous, including Richard Nixon, Michael Jackson, Erik and Lyle Menendez, Margaret Thatcher, Moammar Gadhafi, Monica Lewinsky, Bing Crosby, Robin Givens and Mike Tyson, Elton John and Ronald Reagan. But the veteran anchor says she is not retiring. "I'll be doing specials that I can pick and choose. I might even do an interview for 20/20 from time to time," Walters tells The Associated Press. "But in terms of anchoring 20/20--I'm done." Elizabeth Vargas will step in to replace her at the anchor desk next to John Stossel. On Friday, Walters will host a two-hour retrospective of many of her past interviews with 20/20. Then on Sept. 24, ABC will air Walters' last interview, a conversation with Mary Kay Letourneau, the former sixth-grade schoolteacher who went to prison for having sex with a student.
Johnny Ramone dies at 55
Ramones' guitarist Johnny Ramone died today following a five-year battle with prostate cancer, Reuters reports. He was 55. According to the group's Web site, Ramone died in his sleep at 3:03 p.m. at his Los Angeles home, surrounded by his wife, Linda Cummings, relatives and friends. Ramone, whose was born John Cummings, performed with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame punk band from its initial concert at New York City's Performance Studio March 30, 1974 to its 2,263rd and final show at the Lollapalooza festival at the Irvine Meadows Amphitheater Aug. 6, 1996. Ramone is survived by his wife and his mother. His body will be cremated during a private ceremony.
Zeta-Jones' stalker to stand trial
Superior Court Judge Patricia M. Schnegg yesterday ordered a woman accused of stalking actress Catherine Zeta-Jones to stand trial, the AP reports. Dawnette Knight, 33, was arrested June 3 at her Beverly Hills, Calif., home and pleaded not guilty to one account of stalking and 24 counts of making criminal threats. The judge ordered Knight held on $1 million bail and to return to court Sept. 27 for arraignment. The charges involve more than 24 letters sent to Zeta-Jones's husband, actor Michael Douglas. In one letter, Knight said: "We are going to slice her up like meat on a bone and feed her to the dogs." In another letter, she allegedly apologized, claiming she had been in love with Douglas. Dwight's case had been halted July 30 pending a psychiatric evaluation after she suffered from an overdose of barbiturates, but a judge found her mentally competent to stand trial.
Madonna goes to Israel for spiritual guidance
Following her concert tour Re-Invention, Madonna (or should we say Esther, her given Hebrew name) is heading to Israel for a little spiritual cleansing, Reuters reports. The pop diva, whose itinerary was kept under wraps for security reasons, arrived at a luxury hotel in Tel Aviv late Wednesday to join about 2,000 fellow Kabbalists from the Los Angeles-based Kabbalah Center to celebrate the start of the Jewish New Year. The Catholic-bred singer's interest in the religion has raised some controversy among some ultra-Orthodox Jews who are afraid the growing popularity of the movement among non-Jews is nothing more than a trend that demeans their religious beliefs. But Madonna has said she takes the belief in Jewish mysticism very seriously and is irritated by accusations. Madonna's schedule was to also include a visit to graves of Jewish sages in northern Israel as well as shrines such as the flashpoint Rachel's Tomb on the edge of Bethlehem, traditional burial place of the biblical matriarch Rachel, Reuters reports.
Bobby Brown heads to Bravo
Cable network Bravo has ordered 10 one-hour episodes of Being Bobby Brown, a reality series about the troubled singer. The show, set to debut in the second quarter of next year, will chronicle the R&B singer's efforts to clean up his life after his numerous run-ins with the law. Brown's wife Whitney Houston will appear, as well as his children from their marriage and previous relationships. "Being Bobby Brown will allow the public to see Brown outside the context of a pop icon and bad boy, rather, they'll witness an artist striving to clean up his life for his future and the future of his family," Bravo president Lauren Zalaznick said.
John Lennon musical in the works
Lennon, a musical about the former Beatle John Lennon's life, is set to open on Broadway next summer, in time for the 25th anniversary of his murder at the hands of a crazed fan, Variety reports. The project will include such post-Beatle songs as "Imagine," "Instant Karma," "Give Peace a Chance," "(Just Like) Starting Over" and "Whatever Gets You Through the Night." The play was written and will be directed by TV veteran Don Scardino. No cast is set as yet.
Kennedy Center honors John, Beatty
Elton John and Warren Beatty will be among six entertainers to receive the annual Kennedy Center honors this year, the center told Reuters on Wednesday. The other recipients will be the husband-and-wife team of actors and producers Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, soprano Joan Sutherland, and composer and conductor John Williams. The 2004 honorees will be feted at a gala performance in the Kennedy Center's Opera House on Dec. 5.
Kit Bowen contributed to this report.