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.
Last night, Julie Taymor talked to Stephen Colbert about everything that wasn’t what we’re REALLY interested in, and not enough about how she’s slowly killing off the human race with her Broadway musical.
The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30cJulie Taymorwww.colbertnation.comColbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogMarch to Keep Fear Alive
Jon Stewart talked about how the President is getting pretty irritated that no matter what he does, reporters are going to continue to insinuate that he’s doing the wrong thing because they operate on a 24-hour news cycle and he does not.
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Halle Berry talked to Jay Leno about her upcoming Broadway debut in Mountaintops, a play about what Martin Luther King did in his hotel room after he gave the “I Have a Dream” speech and before he was assassinated. Halle plays a waitress that she describes as a little “off.”
…which might not be that hard for her to do if she reacts to popcorn this way.
Paul McCartney told Jimmy Fallon about his Grammy nomination and being honored at the Kennedy Center.
And Barbara Walters was on Letterman and told him about who she thinks this year’s ten most fascinating people are. David called her out for putting Kate Middleton as a fascinating person, even though Barbara never talked to her…which is very cheating.
Top Story: Gest Now Blames Tabloid for Split
Producer David Gest told NBC Dateline's Stone Phillips in an interview to be broadcast Friday that his marriage to Liza Minnelli ended because of an article in the National Enquirer and not because of the alleged physical abuse. "She got the magazine on a Wednesday morning and on Thursday announced our marriage was over," Gest said, according to the AP. The article in question, which Gest denies having anything to do with, portrayed Minnelli as an alcoholic. Minnelli, 57, and Gest, 50, wed in March of 2002 at a celebrity-studded ceremony in New York with Michael Jackson acting as best man and Elizabeth Taylor serving as maid of honor. It was Minnelli's fourth marriage and Gest's first. Gest has since filed two legal actions against Minnelli, including a divorce petition and a $10 million lawsuit in which he alleges she beat him so badly that he suffered permanent injuries. Gest says the beatings caused him pain "so enormous that I get now 80 shots around the head to deaden the nerves," according to a news release from the network. Minnelli denies the abuse. Gest said he and Minnelli might still be together had the story not been published.
Super Bowl XXXVIII a Ratings Win for CBS
CBS' Sunday night telecast of the Super Bowl XXXVIII, aided by the close win by the New England Patriots over the Carolina Panthers, was the most-watched championship game in six years, the network said Monday. According to Nielsen Media Research, the championship football game drew an average viewership of just under 89.6 million people--the biggest audience since 1998 when 90 million tuned in. The numbers helped seal a Sunday night victory for CBS, as 33.3 million viewers stayed to watch the debut of Survivor: All-Stars, beating Fox's American Idol as the most-watched entertainment program of the season.
Halftime Exposure Is Most TiVo'd Moment Ever
Super Bowl XXXVIII viewers were just as enamored by the halftime show as they were with the game. According to The Hollywood Reporter, TiVo users took a keen interest in Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson's boob-bearing antics as viewers repeatedly replayed--and then paused--at the precise moment in order to see exactly what it was the singer had revealed to millions of Americans. TiVo said that particular halftime stunt was the most replayed moment not only of the Super Bowl but of all TV moments that the young company has ever measured. TiVo's technology revealed a 180 percent spike in viewership at the time of the Jackson's exposure.
Police Seized Computers from Jackson's Neverland Ranch
Court papers unsealed Monday reveal police seized more than a dozen computers, video, still cameras and videotapes in November's raid of Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch in search of evidence that he molested a young boy, Reuters reports. It is, however, unclear what evidence if any police found during their search. Included in the seizure was a laptop locked in a bathroom, letters and legal documents. The search warrant had been sealed by a judge at the time it was issued, but Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville agreed to release the information, cautioning that in order to ensure a fair trial for both prosecutors and Jackson, he would have to redact the documents to the point where little of substance remained.
O'Donnell Offers Peanuts in Support of Stewart
Former talk show host Rosie O'Donnell offered up peanuts--literally--in support of domestic diva Martha Stewart. After sitting in the front row for the third day of testimony in Stewart's obstruction-of-justice trial, O'Donnell approached prosecutor Michael Schachter and offered him a bag of peanut M&M's to drop the case. "The rest of your life, you're going to be known as the guy who tried to take down Martha Stewart," O'Donnell said. "You should have passed on this gig." Schachter smiled and politely declined the candy.
Helen Hunt Expecting
Actress Helen Hunt and her boyfriend, Matthew Carnahan, are expecting their first child this summer, People magazine reports. Hunt, 40, has been dating the 42-year-old producer since 2001, after her brief marriage to Hank Azaria ended. Carnahan penned the Fox series Fastlane in 2002, produced and created the ABC crime drama Thieves in 2001, and wrote, produced and directed a documentary on former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Rudyland. Hunt last appeared in Woody Allen's 2001 comedy,The Curse of the Jade Scorpion.
Manilow Released From Hospital
Singer Barry Manilow has returned to his Palm Springs, Calif., home after a 24-hour hospital stay brought on by stress-related chest pains and an irregular heartbeat, Reuters reports. Manilow, 57, underwent a series of tests and procedures and was discharged from the hospital late Sunday. The singer had been in New York, where he says he "endured two of the most grueling days of arbitration" in a lawsuit in which he and co-writer Bruce Sussman are fighting to regain the rights to their stage musical Harmony.
Vandross Won't Attend Grammys
Luther Vandross, who is nominated for five Grammy awards including song of the year for "Dance With My Father," will not be able to attend Sunday's awards ceremony in Los Angeles, the AP reports. The wheelchair-bound singer suffered a severe stroke last April and spent several weeks in a hospital before being transferred to a rehabilitation facility in the New York City area. His business manager, Carmen Romano, said in a statement Monday: "It would have been a tremendous moment for Luther to attend the Grammy Awards this year, but on the advice of his doctors, I regret to say that Luther won't be able to make this trip."
Void Wins British Award
The American docudrama Touching the Void (watch the trailer) was named best film at the 31st annual Evening Standard British Film Awards on Sunday in London. Set in 1985, the film recounts ad