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.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
Director Martin Scorsese will be heading to France next month to join the Cannes Film Festival's short film and Cinefoundation jury, where he'll be awarding the Palme d'Or for short film and three Cinefoundation awards. He'll also be there to support his upcoming film Gangs of New York, where roughly 17 minutes of the film will be screened. Scorsese isn't a stranger to the famed seaside film festival, having won the Palme d'Or in 1976 for Taxi Driver and the director award for After Hours in 1986.
On the injury-plagued set of the new James Bond movie, Die Another Day, Oscar-winning actress and confirmed "Bond" girl Halle Berry was the latest casualty. After she performed a stunt, debris from a smoke grenade lodged in Berry's eye, and she was taken to the hospital for minor treatment--however, returning to the set soon after. Star Pierce Brosnan was also put out of action for a couple weeks in February when he injured his knee. Sometimes it's difficult being a super agent.
Kevin Costner is not afraid to get back in the saddle again. The actor/producer/director will be directing his first feature in five years and guess what? It's another western. The film, Open Range, centers on the day-to-day lives of four men living in the West and will star Costner and Robert Duvall. Costner probably figures if he can win an Oscar with one western (Dances with Wolves), then why not two? Why not, indeed.
Who's your daddy? Eddie Murphy is set to star in Revolution Studios' Daddy Day Care, about a father who loses his job and decides to set up a day care center with his friends. The comedian will team again with producer John Davis, who produced the Dr. Dolittle franchise. Shooting will start in August.
Feature film director Richard Donner (Lethal Weapon) will be trying his hand at game show television. He has teamed with production company Stone Stanley Entertainment (ABC's The Mole) to create a comedic quiz show called The Real Deal, in which contestants compete for cash by correctly determining the origin of popular words, urban legends and superstitions, Variety reports. The Game Show Network is in discussions with the company to develop the series.
NBC's The West Wing characters will pay tribute to their real-life counterparts in a special episode April 24. The special will combine dramatic scenes with the series regulars with commentary from former White House staff, including former President Bill Clinton, his press secretary Dee Dee Myers (who acts as a consultant for the show) and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
Spidey is certainly "Livin' on the Edge." The Spider-Man theme song will be getting a decidedly harder edge when rock band Aerosmith records its own rendition for the upcoming blockbuster release. Other artists who contributed to the soundtrack include Sum 41, Nickelback and Macy Gray. Well-known film composer Danny Elfman created the score.
Eminem settled a civil lawsuit with a man, John Guerra, who claimed the rapper pulled a gun on him outside a bar June 2000, after Guerra allegedly kissed Eminem's then wife, Kim Mathers. The singer pleaded guilty to charges of carrying a concealed weapon and is serving a two-year probation. Now, Guerra will receive $100,000 minus lawyer fees.
The Lollapalooza tour will have to wait another year. Organizer and Jane's Addiction frontman Perry Farrell thought to bring back the tour, which features several alternative bands, this summer but has decided to shoot for the summer of 2003.
Star Wars guru George Lucas will be receiving a British Academy of Film and Television Arts/Los Angeles award for excellence in film. The Stanley Kubrick Britannia award will be presented to him by his good friends Harrison Ford and last year's recipient, Steven Spielberg, April 12 in Los Angeles.
Talent manager Helen Noga, best known for discovering singer Johnny Mathis and crusading for black entertainers to get the same privileges as whites in Las Vegas, has died of heart failure in Los Angeles. She was 88. Noga is survived by her daughter, a granddaughter and two great-grandchildren.
Maybe they should call Carlos Santana "King of the World." Just a few months after his veritable sweep of the Grammy Awards, Santana took three trophies, including the record of the year award for "Corazon Espinado," his duet with Mexican rock band Mana, at the newfangled Latin Grammys on Wednesday night in Los Angeles.
"It feels like the first kiss," Santana said after winning. "It feels very natural and divine and human." The guitar god extraordinaire dedicated his awards to Africa, the women of the world, bilingual education and Nelson Mandela.
It was a star-studded event, as they say. Heavyweights such as Jennifer Lopez, Christina Aguilera and 'N Sync were among those trolling down the red carpet, and Ricky Martin opened the ceremony by performing a tribute to the late Tito Puente. The show was hosted by Lopez, Gloria Estefan, Andy Garcia and Jimmy Smits.
The evening's other winners included crooner Luis Miguel (three awards), Shakira (two awards) and Marc Anthony (song of the year).
Here's a complete list of the winners:
Record of the year: "Corazon Espinado," Santana featuring Mana
Album of the Year: "Amarte Es Un Placer," Luis Miguel
Song of the year: "Dimelo (I Need To Know)," Marc Anthony, Robert Blades, Angie Chirino and Cory Rooney (Marc Anthony)
New artist: Ibrahim Ferrer
Male pop vocal performance: "Tu Mirada," Luis Miguel
Female pop vocal performance: "Ojos Asi," Shakira
Pop performance by a duo or group with vocal: "Se Me Olvido Otra Vez," Mana
Pop instrumental performance: "El Farol," Santana
Pop album: Amarte Es Un Placer, Luis Miguel
Rock performance by a duo or group with vocal: "Corazon Espinado," Santana featuring Mana
Male rock vocal performance: "Al Lado Del Camino," Fito Paez
Female rock vocal performance: "Octavo Dia," Shakira
Rock song: "Al Lado Del Camino," Fito Paez (Fito Paez)
Rock album: Reves/Yo Soy, Cafe Tacuba
Salsa performance: "Celia Cruz and Friends: A Night Of Salsa," Celia Cruz
Merengue performance: "Ni Es Lo Mismo Ni Es Igual," Juan Luis Guerra y 440
Ranchero performance: "Mi Verdad," Alejandro Fernandez
Traditional tropical performance: "Mambo Birdland," Tito Puente
Tropical song: "El Niagara En Bicicleta," Juan Luis Guerra (Juan Luis Guerra y 440)
Banda performance: "Lo Mejor De Mi Vida," Banda El Recodo
Grupero performance: "En La Madrugada Se Fue," Los Temerarios
Tejano performance: "Por Eso Te Amo," Los Palominos
Norteno performance: "Herencia De Familia," Los Tigres Del Norte
Folk album: Misa Criolla, Mercedes Sosa
Tango album: Postales Del Alma, Juan Carlos Baglietto & Lito Vitale
Flamenco album: Paris 87, Camaron Con Tomatito
Latin jazz album (two winners): Spain, Michel Camilo & Tomatito; Tropicana Nights, Paquito D'Rivera
Brazilian contemporary pop album: Crooner, Milton Nascimento
Brazilian rock album: Acustico0--MTV, Os Paralamas Do Sucesso
Samba/pagode album: Zeca Pagodinho Ao Vivo, Zeca Pagodinho
MPB (musica popular brasileira) album: Livro, Caetano Veloso
Sertaneja album: Sergio Reis E Convidados, Sergio Reis
Brazilian roots/regional album: Pixinguinha, Paulo Moura e os Batutas
Brazilian song: "Acelerou," Djavan (Djavan)
Latin children's album: A Mis Ninos De 30 Anos, Miliki
Classical album: La Dolores -- Tomas Breton, Tito Beltran, Placido Domingo, Manuel Lanza, Antoni Ros Marba, Elisabete Matos
Engineered album: Ni Es Lo Mismo Ni Es Igual
Producer of the year: Emilio Estefan Jr.
Music video: "No Me Dejes De Querer," Gloria Estefan
Photos courtesy of Frank Micelotta/ImageDirect and Livecast Inc.