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.
This was no college like I ever attended! Take three typical high-school seniors--the nerd (Kevin Covais) the good-looking Regular Guy (Drake Bell) and the hell-for-leather go-for-broke Horny Fat Guy (Andy Caldwell)--and let them loose during freshman orientation at fictional Fieldmont University. Just add beer marijuana and wild sex and you’ve got what may well be a new Frat House Classic one that adheres studiously to the tenets of the teen-comedy genre which also includes defying authority and destruction of public property. When it comes to the so-called “guilty pleasures” of 2008 this makes the Dean’s List. Like any good college hangover you’ll hate yourself in the morning--but you’ll still be laughing. Credit an enthusiastic cast and a refreshing (but quite appropriate) disregard for the rules. Drake Bell (of Nickelodeon’s Drake and Josh fame) who looks far too old to be contemplating a college career is ostensibly the leading man here. Yet the principal selling point of the film is the onscreen camaraderie between he and co-stars Caldwell who plays it full-tilt a la John Belushi and Chris Farley (and that is meant as a compliment) but holds back enough when the ensemble demands require and Covais who all but steals the film with a smart shrewd take on the big-screen geek. A good deal of the film’s energy can be traced directly to them. The whole show is the three boys and they have a great easy rapport that transcends many of the worst trappings of a film like this. They feel like friends and that goes a very long way in a film that in some ways doesn’t deserve so rich an effort but benefits from it nonetheless. College marks the feature debut of director Deb Hagan who manages at times to give the film a fresh visual perspective while maintaining a relaxed but steady momentum. College is neither original nor good but it is enjoyable (far more so than would be expected) and it is fast-paced. It also delivers exactly what it promises. If it’s bang for the buck you want it’s bang for the buck you got when you enroll in College.
Although Tokyo Drift may not be as straightforward as the first Fast and Furious it is at least more credible than the second incorporating a nice fish-out-of-water element to its story. High schooler Sean Boswell (Lucas Black) loves to street race but unfortunately it gets him into a lot of trouble. After his latest stunt it’s either go live with his estranged military father stationed in Tokyo or go to jail. Sushi sounds nice. Once there however it doesn’t take long for Sean to be introduced to the underground world of drift racing by his new American buddy Twinkie (Bow Wow)--and boy does Sean get hooked. It’s perfect for his rebel style. But it doesn’t come easy to him. He has to put in his dues first and inevitably as rebels are wont to do ends up rubbing the some of the local drift-racing denizens the wrong way including D.K. (Brian Tee) the reigning champ who has ties to a Japanese crime syndicate. That’s OK though. Sean will win the race and get the girl no worries. Oh sorry did I give too much away? Many of you might remember Black as the cute but tough little kid Billy Bob Thornton’s Karl befriends in Sling Blade. But now all grown up the actor is definitely becoming a likable screen hunk with turns in films like Jarhead and Friday Night Lights. Obviously the comparisons to Fast and Furious regular Paul Walker are expected but Black definitely has his own style and charisma thanks to that distinctive Southern drawl. Bow Wow is a tad under utilized as the relegated sidekick while the token girl part is played by the bland but beautiful newcomer Nathalie Kelley. Sean’s adversary Tee (TV’s Zoey 101) is pretty badass though and Sung Kang (Better Luck Tomorrow) does a nice job as a smooth drift racer and small-time hood who is more sympathetic towards Sean. Veteran Japanese actor Sonny Chiba (Kill Bill Vol. 1) makes a memorable appearance as D.K.’s nefarious uncle. But make sure you stay until the end for a well-placed--and crowd pleasing--surprise guest cameo. So what is drift racing exactly? According to the notes it’s an exhilarating balance of speeding and gliding through a heart-stopping course of hairpin turns and switchbacks. Whatever the definition it looks pretty darn cool up on the big screen. Director Justin Lin (Better Luck Tomorrow) gives us some exhilarating racing sequences going from close-up cuts to slo-mo shots as cars zip flip glide and burn as much rubber as possible. One particular scene has the guys racing through the streets of Tokyo in which they have to drift their way through a large crowd of people. Seat-clenching stuff. Lin also does a fine job showing Japanese culture and how street racing is treated there. At one point Sean passes some cops going 197 mph. Wondering why they aren’t chasing him his Japanese passenger explains that since he was going so fast the Toyko police won’t even try to chase him because they know they’d never catch up. Wouldn’t that be nice? Oh and there’s a disclaimer at the end: All the racing done in the movie was handled by professional stunt drivers and we shouldn’t attempt to do any of this on our own. You mean I can’t drive home from the theater drifting around the cars on the highway? Darn my luck!