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.
As with seemingly every other tentpole release to hit the multiplex this summer the action thriller Cowboys & Aliens is based on a comic book – albeit a lesser-known one. It’s directed by Jon Favreau whose previous comic-book adaptations Iron Man and Iron Man 2 proved how much better those films can be when they’re grounded in character. Unfortunately his latest effort is grounded not in character but a hook an alt-history scenario best expressed in the language of the average twelve-year-old: “Like wouldn’t it be awesome if like a bunch of 1870s cowboys had to fight a bunch of crazy aliens with exoskeletons and spaceships and super-advanced weapons?”
Like perhaps. The hook was compelling enough to get someone to pony up a reported $160 million to find out and the result is a film in which the western and science-fiction genres don’t so much blend as violently collide. After the wreckage is cleared both emerge worse for wear.
Daniel Craig stars as Jake Lonergan a stranger who awakens in the New Mexico Territory with a case of amnesia a wound in his side and a strange contraption strapped to his wrist. After dispatching a trio of bandits with Bourne-like efficiency he rides to the nearby town of Absolution where he stumbles on what appears to be an elaborate Western Iconography exhibit presented by the local historical preservation society. There’s the well-meaning town Sheriff Taggart (Keith Carradine) struggling to enforce order amidst lawlessness; the greedy rancher Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) who really runs things; his debaucherous cowardly son Percy (Paul Dano); the timid saloonkeeper Doc (Sam Rockwell) who’s going to stand up for himself one of these days; the humble preacher Meacham (Clancy Brown) dispensing homespun spiritual advice; et al.
Jake of course has his own part to play – the fugitive train-robber – as we discover when his face shows up on a wanted poster and a sneering Dolarhyde fingers him for the theft of his gold. The only character who doesn’t quite conform to type is Ella (Olivia Wilde) who as neither a prostitute nor some man’s wife – the traditional female occupations in westerns – immediately arouses suspicion.
Jake is arrested and ordered to stand trial in Federal court but before he can be shipped off a squadron of alien planes appears in the sky besieging Absolution and making off with several of its terrified citizenry. In the course of the melee Jake’s wrist contraption wherever it came from reveals itself to be quite useful in defense against the alien invaders. Thrown by circumstances into an uneasy alliance with Dolarhyde he helps organize a posse to counter the otherworldly threat – and bring back the abductees if possible.
Cowboys & Aliens has many of the ingredients of a solid summer blockbuster but none in sufficient amounts to rate in a summer season crowded with bigger-budget (and better-crafted) spectacle. For a film with five credited screenwriters Cowboys & Aliens’ script is sorely lacking for verve or imagination. And what happened to the Favreau of Iron Man? The playful cheekiness that made those films so much fun is all but absent in this film which takes itself much more seriously than any film called Cowboys & Aliens has a right to. Dude you’ve got men on horses with six-shooters battling laser-powered alien crab people. Lighten up.
Craig certainly looks the part of the western anti-hero – his only rival in the area of rugged handsomeness is Viggo Mortensen – but his character is reduced to little more than an angry glare. And Wilde the poor girl is burdened with loads of clunky exposition. The two show promising glimpses of a romantic spark but their relationship remains woefully underdeveloped. Faring far better is Ford who gets not only the bulk of the film’s choicest lines but also its only touching subplot in which his character’s adopted Indian son played by Adam Beach quietly coaxes the humanity out of the grizzled old man.
Top Story: Idol Whittles Down to Clay and Ruben
And then there were two. Viewers voted Kimberly Locke off Fox's American Idol competition Wednesday night, which narrows the field down to crowd favorites Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard. A spokesman for the show told The Associated Press that Aiken and Studdard had been friends with Locke throughout the competition and added they were in tears after she was voted out. Aiken, of Raleigh, N.C., and Studdard, a Birmingham, Ala., native, will go head-to-head on the show's May 21 finale, with the winner getting a recording contract. Last year's American Idol winner, Kelly Clarkson, saw her album debut at No. 1 on Billboard last month.
Presenters Set for MTV Awards
Presenters for the 12th annual MTV Movie Awards were announced yesterday, with Brittany Murphy, Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, Mark Wahlberg and Kate Hudson headlining the ceremony. Rapper 50 Cent, the Russian girl duo t.A.t.U and pop singer Pink are set to perform. The awards ceremony, hosted by Justin Timberlake and Seann William Scott, will be taped May 31 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles and will air on MTV at 9 p.m. EDT June 5.
CBS Unveils Fall Slate
CBS will introduce seven new series this fall, including Jerry Bruckheimer's Cold Case, a drama about a Philadelphia detective assigned to track unsolved crimes. Former Sopranos star Joe Pantoliano will star in The Handler as an FBI agent training undercover agents in Los Angeles, while Charlie Sheen will star as a bachelor with a Malibu beach house in Two and a Half Men. Others on the slate include Navy CIS, about special agents fighting crimes within the military; an all-star version of Survivor with Richard Hatch, Rudy Boesch, Tina Wesson, Ethan Zohn and Jerri Manthey; the small-town drama The Brotherhood of Poland, N.H.; and the comedyThe Stones.
Arnold Schwarzenegger: Video Game Star
Arnold Schwarzenegger, star of this summer's Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, will also star in an Atari video game due out this fall based on the movie, the AP reports. The 55-year-old action star said other companies are approaching him with ideas, including a pitch to make a game based on the 1977 weightlifting documentary Pumping Iron. "Two companies came to me with that idea to make it interactive, to have pose-offs," Schwarzenegger said Monday at an Atari party. "It can be something very educational but at the same time inspirational for kids to work out rather than become a couch potato," he added.
Spears and Skechers Settle Lawsuits
Lawyers for Britney Spears and the Skechers footwear company have settled competing lawsuits over a deal for the singer to market a line of roller skates and accessories, the AP reports. In December, Spears filed a $1.5 million lawsuit against Skechers, claiming the company did not pay her adequately for marketing a line of skates, failed to find outside businesses to make accessories for her line and used her presence in ads to increase sales of its own skate products. Skechers responded with a $10 million lawsuit, accusing Spears of fraud and breach of contract, claiming Spears refused to cooperate with designers and marketers in rolling out her products. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed.
Claudia Schiffer in Car Accident
Supermodel Claudia Schiffer and her three-month old son Caspar escaped injury following a car accident in London. Schiffer was traveling with her husband, film producer Matthew Vaughn, and their son Wednesday when their Range Rover collided with a white van. Schiffer's assistant was driving the car when they hit another vehicle. Newspaper photos showed a calm-looking Schiffer cradling Caspar after the accident near fashionable Kensington High Street in West London, Reuters reports.
Role Call: Snoop Dogg, Method Man in Soul Plane, Farrell's Anchor Man
Rapper-actors Snoop Dogg and Method Man are set to star in Soul Plane, MGM's urban version of the 1980 comedy Airplane! for director Jessy Terrero. Snoop Dogg will play the plane's pilot, and Method Man will portray the airline owner's best friend Muggsy, who is put in charge of the plane's business class ... Christina Applegate will star alongside Will Ferrell in the DreamWorks comedy Anchor Man: The Legend of Ron Burgundy for director Adam McKay. In the 1970s-set pic, Ferrell will play a local news anchorman ready for a national network job who falls in love with a cutthroat feminist reporter played by Applegate.