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.
Year in and year out, the American Idol judges’ panel claims the current crop of contestants is the best. Top 13. Of. All. Time. While it’s most certainly up for debate whether or not season 11 is made up of the most talented singers — season 7 would raise Phillip a David Cook while season 8 would raise Joshua an Adam Lambert — it seems after last night that we’re certainly looking at the smartest Top 13. Of. All. Time. While the remaining six contestants all presented viewers with perfectly enjoyable, tap-your-knee renditions of Queen’s greatest hits, they also picked (with the exception of our dear magical pixie Hollie) more obscure songs for their personal choice number.
Jennifer Lopez might have thought this was a risky endeavor, but, then again, so is showing up to a televised pop culture event without Kelly and Michelle to wear House of Dereon alongside you. Or officially passing the People’s Most Beautiful torch to Beyoncé via one of MC Hammer’s old pairs of pajamas. Or going anywhere without your trusty sidekick R2D2. I can’t stop. So… many… jokes about J. Lo’s outfit. Help us, Tommy Hilfiger, you’re our only hope!
But we can’t say Jennifer was wrong to label the song choices risky Wednesday night. But we can say they were as smart as Hollie desperately pleading with a sympathetic audience to save her. If these past few weeks have proved anything, it’s that American Idol is an unpredictable beast. But these past few years have proved it’s also the biggest media outlet on which to showcase your talent and musical style. For our Top 6, Idol is not so much about winning anymore — it’s about attracting a record label that will suit your musical needs and desires. Sure, Phillip, Elise, and Joshua could win performing lazy covers of crowd-pleasers like “Against All Odds,” “I Have Nothing,” and “Hallelujah,” but what can you lose by showing viewers and record labels who you really are?
NEXT: Phillip Phillips: Master of The (Kidney) StoneFor example, take Phillip Phillips. During his first number — an aggressive rendition of “Fat-Bottomed Girls” that left his face so cherry-red, I thought he would pop, much like many girls hearing the words “Phillip,” “cherry,” and ”pop” in the same sentence — I feared he might be walking into Jason Castro territory. After all, why not sabotage yourself on a series in which sensitive rockers have struggled following their respective victories? (I still love you though, David Cook and Kris Allen. And I still love to quickly change your iTunes version of “Treat Her Like a Lady” when I fear the stranger on the subway next to me is peering over my shoulder, Lee DeWyze.) But lest you think his choice to sing Dave Matthews was an attempt to mock his own reputation, just listen to his rendition of the aptly titled “The Stone.” It will kick you right in the kidney. The song’s lyrics even seem to atone to more lazy performances like “Fat-Bottomed Girls”: “Oh, I’ve been praying / For some way to show them / I’m not what they see.”
But the best part about Phillip is that — during most of his performances, like “Movin’ Out,” “U Got It Bad,” and “Still Rainin’” — Phillip is what the audience sees. As Randy told the contestant in a rare moment of poetic lucidity, “Die, sink, or swim, Phil Phillips will always be Phil Phillips.” We’re talking about a guy who so refuses to change, he won’t even wear a primary color. This isn’t a contestant who will unwisely sing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or “Proud to be an American” in an attempt to get votes — this is a singer who knows exactly who he is: A former pawn shop worker who can carry a tune as well as he can carry a large stuffed turkey. And nothing could be more attractive to a record company than an attractive singer who can attract a legion of fans through an already patented brand of music.
For Joshua Ledet, that brand of music is a little more unclear. Though the vocal powerhouse has become a judges’ favorite via his gospel take on hits, he’s realized he could find better success and marketability channeling the likes of Bruno Mars. It’s a smart segue, and an effective one — though Tim Urban, David Radford, Taylor Hicks, and Fantasia tried before him, not one Idol contestant had delivered a semi-decent version of “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” until Joshua stuck his retro-soul stamp on the song.
Smart as he may be, though, Idol’s judges have been rash in their judgments, doing the contestant little service leading up to the Top 5. Let me break it down for you: Twelve standing ovations. Twelve. Just how many solos have we seen from Joshua since the semifinals? Eleven, including Wednesday night’s “Ready For Love,” which, interesting a song choice it may be, hardly made me ready to get on my feet. Look, many of them were deserved, but the judges have been giving away standing ovations like a 2007 hipster gives away Juno quotes about China giving away babies like free iPods, Homeskillet. Not only does that turn off cynical Idol viewers looking for reasons to conspiracy theorize that Joshua is the target of judge favoritism (J. Lo literally telling Joshua that he’s her favorite doesn’t help), but it also makes it difficult for viewers to distinguish when we should really be blown away by Joshua. If every performance is special enough to receive a standing ovation, then, really, no performance is special enough to receive a standing ovation. You may want to give him “four checks” after every song, but, Randy, you’ve got to make sure you give him a balance of critiques.
NEXT: Boldly go where no one wants to ever go. Elise Testone might have evolved enough over the course of the competition to realize her strength resides in bohemian rock, but the contestant has yet to reign in her vocal style, just like she has yet to reign in her personal style. Singing in front of a ridiculous backdrop featuring the alphabet — the letters of which Randy furiously collected so he could later ask Joshua to sing them — Elise did rock out on “I Want It All,” finding her niche with a groovy beat and a tambourine. Or perhaps she simply connected with the title of the song, since it’s what she says every time she walks into a jewelry store.
But though her choice of Jimi Hendrix’s “Bold As Love” was refreshingly, well, bold, her execution of the song just made us wonder how the singer got Badger from Breaking Bad to accompany her on guitar. We needed the distraction hearing the performance — otherwise, we’d be forced to listen to the sound of Hendrix rolling in his grave. Honestly, “Bold As Love” is a difficult song to tackle, but Elise pounced on it like she was at WrestleMania. She beat out all of the song’s simplicity, turning it into a vanity number with as many runs as a Taco Bell bathroom. (SORRY!)
Surprisingly, though, on Wednesday night I wasn’t running from Hollie Cavanagh, who all but sealed a slot in the Top 5 thanks to a little help from her friends the producers (pimp spot!) and a crafty choice of song. First off was “Save Me” from Queen, one of those songs that can either work for you — literally demanding Idol’s voting fanbase to dial your number — or against you, placing you in the ranks of previous Idols with unfortunate cast-off songs. (Sorry, Charles Grigsby. Indeed, “You Can’t Win.”) Though I can’t be the only one uncomfortable with watching Hollie sing the lyric “I’m naked and I’m far from home,” which I’m pretty sure is the slogan for Four Loko.
NEXT: Hollie climbs?But as soon as Hollie was finished icily suggesting that Emily Thorne should stop dating her son Daniel, she changed into a fresh new wardrobe with a fresh new outlook to match. Typically, I hate contestants that sing the “I Believe I Can Fly” for the Twitter generation, but “The Climb” suited Hollie’s tone, helping us viewers remember the singer who expertly covered “The Power of Love” back during Top 11 week. Still, Hollie is hardly powerful enough to reach Idol’s confetti-filled summit, but this could help her climb the list of Idol’s power players.
Especially when Jessica Sanchez seems to be inviting Hollie to fill her teen-friendly slot in the competition. Ever since the contestant flirted with elimination two weeks back, she has yet to show us the return of that perky performer who somehow sucked in the maturity of a 50-something diva and channeled it into jaw-dropping performances like “I Will Always Love You.” (As my trusty Idol companion and mother said, “I feel like she got whipped and has no spirit in her heart.”) Despite the fact that Queen’s music somehow seemed to suit Jessica’s voice best — she sang circles around the rest of the Top 6 during the beginning group number — the contestant couldn’t quite deliver the proper drama needed to perform “Bohemian Rhapsody.” And that’s despite all the bells and whistles — the odd black-and-white footage, the backdrop that resembled a terrifying meth-induced nightmare… it all failed to even add up to the admittedly horrible, but no less entertaining, versions of the song we saw from the likes of Kellie Pickler and Constantine Maroulis (and paled in comparison to Michael Johns’ Hollywood version in season 7).
Of course, she made up for her lackluster “Bohemian Rhapsody” with a version of Luther Vandross’ “Dance With My Father” that had Grammy Performance written all over it. The gorgeous dress, dramatic lighting, wind machine that has gotten so much play, it might as well be named the seventh contestant — not to mention the vote-friendly family story behind her choosing the song. That said, though many might feel sympathy that Jessica’s father is being deployed to Singapore, she may be in danger of real elimination Thursday night. Not only because she was forced to sing in that cursed No. 1 slot, but also because the judges were less enthusiastic than Brian May at an Ace Young concert. In fact, even though J. Lo claimed Jessica’s “Dance With My Father” was the best version of the song she had ever heard, the trio failed to give the singer anything close to a standing ovation. Perhaps that’s just because they’re saving it for next week for when Joshua sings LFO’s “Summer Girls.”
And last, but most definitely not least, we have Skylar Laine, perhaps the smartest contestant of all. Who doesn’t reach for the pre-sale button knowing the contestant has a song under her noose-covered belt called “Diamond-Studded Pistol”? What religious Colton Dixon fan doesn’t shift their votes to Skylar after hearing she has a God-inspired tattoo? Who doesn’t turn up their televisions hearing her bursting version of “The Show Must Go On,” which came refreshingly devoid of the emotional histrionics reserved for most big Idol numbers? And who doesn’t have a hard time believing that “Tattoos on This Town” is actually a Jason Aldean song, and not a Skylar Laine original? Any other year, Skylar would be considered a favorite to win the whole shebang, but, with Joshua clinching the judge support, the young country star in the making might have to settle for being Idol’s dark horse. Still, I have a feeling this dark horse could ride straight into the finale, diamond-studded pistol in hand.
Readers, who do you think is the smartest Idol left? Was it not-so-smart for Hollie to accidentally call Skylar “thick-boned?” Was it nice to see Brian May and Roger Taylor back on Idol, especially when they’re not yelling at Ace Young? Did you wish Jimmy Iovine was around Wednesday to wear hats and coach contestants into choosing the wrong song? Why did Randy choose to talk when the pin on his jacket, “Yo,” could have pretty much done all the work for him? Was it not adorable watching Julianne Hough’s Phil Phillips crush be revealed — and then seeing her mouth “Oh s**t!” realizing cameras were filming her embarrassment? Can Ryan rock a pompadour? Is there any answer to that question besides “No”?
Follow Kate on Twitter @HWKateWard
[Photo Credit: FOX]
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Hayden Panettiere has sparked speculation that she has moved on from ex-boyfriend Milo Ventimiglia after she was spotted getting close to U.K. TV presenter Steve Jones on a yacht in Cannes, France.
The 19-year-old Heroes star called it quits with actor Ventimiglia last year, and gossips speculated the split was caused by the couple's 12-year age difference.
But now the actress has been linked with an even older hunk -- 32-year-old Welsh celebrity Jones, who has previously been linked to Halle Berry and Pamela Anderson.
Panettiere was first seen with Jones at London's Nobu Berkeley restaurant last week -- and the pair was snapped together again on Monday, sunbathing on David Furnish's yacht while in the French Riviera for the film festival.
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