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.
Top Story: Travel Agent Sues Jackson
Travel agent Cynthia Montgomery is suing Michael Jackson for failing to pay the tab for the private jet that brought him from Las Vegas to Santa Barbara where he was arrested on child molestation charges, The Associated Press reports. Montgomery is suing for $50,000 in damages stemming from Jackson's failure to pay the $18,000 fee for the chartered XtraJet that flew the singer to Santa Barbara. According to her lawyer, Robert T. Moore II, during the three years Montgomery managed Jackson's travel arrangements she often paid travel fees up front with the singer paying her back later. Moore said at a press conference, "They told us in so many words that we're not going to get paid." In response the question of why Montgomery would pay for travel arrangements herself Moore replied, "Michael Jackson is kind of a slow pay and XtraJet would not deliver the jet without payment up front." Jackson is currently suing XtraJet over the cameras that secretly videotaped Jackson and his lawyer Mark Garagos as Jackson flew to Santa Barbara November 20th. Garagos won a temporary restraining order preventing XtraJet from releasing the in flight tapes.
Sex To Hit Theaters?
Michael Patrick King, executive producer of HBO's hit sex and relationships comedy Sex and the City, is in talks to bring the show to the big screen for HBO's theatrical wing, AP reports. Stars Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Cynthia Nixon and Kristin Davis are also in talks to reprise their roles as 30-something New Yorkers who navigate dating, careers, marriage, and of course, sex. The film would pick up where the series finale, which airs this Sunday on HBO, leaves off.
Tonight Show Gets "Stern" New Announcer
Former Howard Stern radio show provocateur "Stuttering" John Melendez will be the new announcer for The Tonight Show hosted by Jay Leno, AP reports. The show's current announcer, Edd Hall, is leaving the show after 12 years to pursue film roles. Melendez will serve as announcer as well as correspondent for the top late night show, getting involved in comedy sketches and interviews with people on the street. Melendez is apparently taking voice classes to help improve his announcing skills. On Stern's radio show, Melendez is known for his ability to embarrass the people unlucky enough to be interviewed by him, though he will reportedly tone this skill down for Leno's Burbank, CA-based show. Executives at The Tonight Show chose Melendez after seeing him on the ABC reality show I'm a Celebrity: Get Me Out of Here.
Supermodel Campbell Takes Case to House of Lords
In an effort to reinstate a ruling in her favor regarding UK privacy rights, Naomi Campbell has taken her case to the House of Lords, the highest court in England, Reuters and AFP report. Campbell, 33, successfully sued The Daily Mirror in 2002 over printing a report about her attending a Narcotics Anonymous meeting along with photos of her leaving the meeting. She was awarded 3,500 pounds when the court found the paper to be in breach of confidentiality and the Data Protection Act. The ruling was then overturned by the Court of Appeal, which ruled Campbell must pay the newspaper's 350,000 legal fees. The court agreed with the Mirror's contention that Campbell lied when she said she was not struggling with drug addiction and publishing photos of her leaving the NA meeting was "justifiable in the public interest". The hearing in the House of Lords is expected to last two days.
Peacock and Eye Win Sweeps
NBC and CBS have swept the second week of the four week February sweeps period during which networks vie for ratings to lure advertiser cash later in the year, according to The Hollywood Reporter. NBC's final season of Friends and the Donald Trump reality show The Apprentice scored high ratings, earning the network a 12.6 million viewer average. NBC's "Must See TV" was outpaced by CBS which won an over 14.2 million viewer average with CSI taking in a jaw-dropping 30.9 million viewers Thursday night, marking the highest ratings for a show this season. Fox also did well with American Idol, nighttime soap The O.C., and reality show My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancée. ABC only managed to rustle up an 8.3 million viewer average with their Extreme Makeover: Home Edition leading the way. UPN and WB did well with America's Top Model and Everwood respectively.
Raymond Loved By Top Markets
Syndication rights for the hit CBS comedy Everybody Loves Raymond are being gobbled up by Fox-owned stations, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The show is in its second syndication cycle meaning syndication rights are being renewed or purchased by addition stations. The first syndication deals were struck in 1998 with the newly signed deals taking effect in 2008. Though the cost of syndication rights were not released, it is estimated that they are at least $4.4 million for the national rights, double the cost for the first cycle in '98. Everybody Loves Raymond is currently in its 8th season.
Beastie Boys Back in June
New York rap trio Beastie Boys are putting the finishing touches on their new album to be released in June, Rolling Stone reports. This is the first album for the group since their wildly successful 1998 release Hello Nasty, which has sold 3.8 million copies since its debut. The Beasties began writing songs for the new album as far back as 2001 and recorded some of the tracks in 2002. Grand Royal, the label that released the Beastie's Check Your Head and Ill Communication has run into financial troubles of late, going bankrupt in 2002. It is currently for sale online with a starting bid of $10,000.
Role Call: Hornet Stings Smith; It's Open Season on Kutcher and Lawrence
Writer/director/New Jersey comic book store owner Kevin Smith is set to direct a big-screen adaptation of the comic book The Green Hornet for Miramax, AP reports. Hornet started out as a radio serial in the '30s and later spun off into a comic book. In the '60s it was made into a show starring Van Williams as Britt Reid, millionaire by day, cr