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.
Theatrics slapstick and cheer are cinematic qualities you rarely find outside the realm of animation. Disney perfected it with their pantheon of cartoon classics mixing music humor spectacle and light-hearted drama that swept up children while still capturing the imaginations and hearts of their parents. But these days even reinterpretations of fairy tales get the gritty make-over leaving little room for silliness and unfiltered glee. Emerging through that dark cloud is Mirror Mirror a film that achieves every bit of imagination crafted by its two-dimensional predecessors and then some. Under the eye of master visualist Tarsem Singh (The Fall Immortals) Mirror Mirror's heightened realism imbues it with the power to pull off anything — and the movie never skimps on the anything.
Like its animated counterparts Mirror Mirror stays faithful to its source material but twists it just enough to feel unique. When Snow White (Lily Collins) was a little girl her father the King ventured into a nearby dark forest to do battle with an evil creature and was never seen or heard from again. The kingdom was inherited by The Queen (Julia Roberts) Snow's evil stepmother and the fair-skinned beauty lived locked up in the castle until her 18th birthday. Grown up and tired of her wicked parental substitute White sneaks out of the castle to the village for the first time. There she witnesses the economic horrors The Queen has imposed upon the people of her land all to fuel her expensive beautification. Along the way Snow also meets Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) who is suffering from his own money troubles — mainly being robbed by a band of stilt-wearing dwarves. When the Queen catches wind of the secret excursion she casts Snow out of the castle to be murdered by her assistant Brighton (Nathan Lane).
Fairy tales take flack for rejecting the idea of women being capable but even with its flighty presentation and dedication to the old school Disney method Mirror Mirror empowers its Snow White in a genuine way thanks to Collins' snappy charming performance. After being set free by Brighton Snow crosses paths with the thieving dwarves and quickly takes a role on their pilfering team (which she helps turn in to a Robin Hooding business). Tarsem wisely mines a spectrum of personalities out of the seven dwarves instead of simply playing them for one note comedy. Sure there's plenty of slapstick and pun humor (purposefully and wonderfully corny) but each member of the septet stands out as a warm compassionate companion to Snow even in the fantasy world.
Mirror Mirror is richly designed and executed in true Tarsem-fashion with breathtaking costumes (everything from ball gowns to the dwarf expando-stilts to ridiculous pirate ship hats with working canons) whimsical sets and a pitch-perfect score by Disney-mainstay Alan Menken. The world is a storybook and even its monsters look like illustrations rather than photo-real creations. But what makes it all click is the actors. Collins holds her own against the legendary Julia Roberts who relishes in the fun she's having playing someone despicable. She delivers every word with playful bite and her rapport with Lane is off-the-wall fun. Armie Hammer riffs on his own Prince Charming physique as Alcott. The only real misgiving of the film is the undercooked relationship between him and Snow. We know they'll get together but the journey's half the fun and Mirror Mirror serves that portion undercooked.
Children will swoon for Mirror Mirror but there's plenty here for adults — dialogue peppered with sharp wisecracks and a visual style ripped from an elegant tapestry. The movie wears its heart on its sleeve and rarely do we get a picture where both the heart and the sleeve feel truly magical.
The original plot of Red Riding Hood, the centuries-old fairytale and inspiration for the new Warner Bros. movie, which opens this week, is hardly the stuff of which classic film adaptations are made. A girl goes out into the forest to deliver a package to her grandmother, meets a talking wolf on the way, later encounters said wolf in the guise of the her grandmother, is swallowed whole by him, and is eventually freed from his stomach when a friendly hunter traps and kills the wolf. That’s it. Tossing aside the weirdness of the cross-dressing bit, the gross irresponsibility of the girl’s parents, whose daughter clearly suffered from some sort of developmental disability (one that prevented her from distinguishing between human and canine) and should never have been allowed to leave the house, much less cross a forest apparently stocked with predatory talking animals, and the gruesome details of her eventual release from her gastrointestinal prison, the storyline seems a bit thin, even by the less-than-rigorous standards of modern Hollywood blockbusters.
And so the task fell to Catherine Hardwicke, director of the 2008 teen vampire blockbuster Twilight, to transform this simple and vaguely disturbing children’s fable into a scary and sexy and relatable Hollywood film. Hardwicke responded with a supernatural mystery-thriller, one with a shape-shifting werewolf, a steamy love triangle, and a protagonist, played by Amanda Seyfried, who is strong and independent and certainly not the type of dim bulb who would fall for some hairy forest creature’s crude impression of Grandma. In an exclusive interview, Hardwicke talked about adapting the beloved fairytale, the “insane” Ms. Seyfried, and the similarities between her new film and Twilight.
You’ve turned the "big bad wolf" into a shape-shifting werewolf. Is there a basis for that in the original story?
The folk tale, or fairytale, had all of these different origins around the world. Charles Perrault put down his version and the Brothers Grimm put their version down, but there really were versions before that had werewolves. Because the wolf has always been that intriguing creature … there was a werewolf trial in Germany in 1589 of this one character [Peter Stumpp]. People are so freaked out by wolves that they make them into these mythological beings. And that’s been going on for hundred of years. But David Leslie Johnson, our writer, he did expand on it. In all these stories, [the character] doesn’t have a name, and we don’t know the mother or the father or anything. He really built a whole rich world around her, with all the secrets and lies and the intrigue and stuff.
This version is certainly far sexier than any that I can remember.
Well, in a weird way, [the original stories] are kind of sexual. Like in this version [points to an illustration from a Red Riding Hood book] the wolf is in bed, and he’s trying to get her to get into bed with him. The wolf is cross-dressing. The little girl invites the wolf. She’s in touch with her sensuality. She’s out picking flowers and not staying on the path like her mom told her. She meets the wolf and the wolf says, “Where are you going?” And she admits she’s going to her grandmother’s and where the house is. She’s inviting that dark side, the dangerous side, into her life. So the seeds are all there, even in the original tale.
Red Riding Hood has a lot of aspects to it that are inevitably going to draw comparisons to your previous film, Twilight. Was it a conscious effort to explore those similar themes in a different setting?
You know, I sometimes wonder if maybe Stephenie Meyer was inspired by the original Red Riding Hood stories with the werewolf. There are some themes that keep coming up in life. Every romantic comedy has a love triangle. It’s kind of hard to have a romance without some conflict in it. It’s boring when two people are happy at the beginning of a movie and happy at the end! So pretty much you’ve kind of always got something like that going, some kind of obstacle or conflict. It’s kind of the basis of drama.
I think there are things I think you can feel are parallels [with Twilight]. All kinds of movies have things that we relate to. But I loved a lot of things in this that gave me new things to explore. For example, in Twilight I had to convince you that a vampire could live in the real world, show up at your high school and you wouldn’t even notice. In this case, I had the chance to create a whole new world that we haven’t seen and convince you of that reality, suspend your disbelief and escape into a fairytale world.
Was Amanda already attached to the project when you came aboard?
No, but she was really the first person I thought of for this project. I knew Amanda; she had been to my house a few times with Emile Hirsch. She used to go out with Emile for a while. And I loved her when I saw her at this benefit for autism. She was up there speaking and there were 10 speakers and with everybody else you were kind of dozing off. And she gets up there and reads a simple little passage and she’s very compelling and emotional, and she just kind of drew me in. So I kind of clocked her and just started watching all the cool, different things she does: Mean Girls – funny; Chloe – sexy; Mamma Mia! – charming. I’m like, man, this kid can do anything. She’s like insane. She kind of had to be it for me. She’s really a positive force.
And then you have Gary Oldman, who’s another force entirely.
Yeah, that was a really big honor for me, to work with Gary, because Sid and Nancy, The Professional, there’s so many things he’s done that have just blown my mind. He had read this part and gone after it and said, “I wanna do that.” I think he liked the ride that that character was going to be on. For me, at first I was a little bit intimidated – it’s Gary F*cking Oldman!!! It’s like, how badass is he? Even his first scene in Harry Potter, you go wow, he’s just got that presence. Whatever the part is, you can’t take your eyes off him. So the ability to work with him on this character, who felt like he’d been deceived, who had a personal connection to this werewolf thing, and who wanted to do the right thing but his obsession just grows and grows, how fun would that be?
And he eventually almost displaces the werewolf as the villain.
Exactly. I loved working with Gary – he’s very funny. You’ve gotta be on your toes with Gary. That was quite a challenge. He loves to work in just jeans and a t-shirt. He did not like wearing the armor or handling swords.
Really? Because he looks to me like he probably wakes up wearing a suit of armor.
Yeah. But he really likes to be comfortable. If he could do every movie in jeans in a t-shirt, I think he’d be pretty happy.
Throughout your career, you've demonstrated a considerable knack for working with young actors - Emile, Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, etc. Where do you think that comes from?
Well it started, of course, with Thirteen, and that was just like an organic thing. I’d written several other screenplays and had been trying to get them made. But none of them were getting made, and then suddenly my friend, Nikki [Reed], she had a lot of problems. She was thirteen at the time and she had a lot of issues … and that turned into a film, trying to find a sort of creative therapy to help her do something positive.
That’s a really dramatic time of life. The first time you get to drive a car, or drink, or kiss a boy, or whatever. A lot of fun sh*t happens to you! And your body changes. And the most dramatic stuff, the most suicides, the most car accidents, the most unwanted pregnancies, murders, everything happens when you’re like a teenager. It’s not boring. So I think that’s one reason why a lot of dramatic writers are drawn to that time. A lot of people make their first film based on their own teenage years and stuff. For me, I wrote that script [for Thirteen] with a thirteen-year-old. I didn’t try to write a script about a thirteen-year-old; I wrote it with her. I guess from the beginning I’ve just always listened to that voice, or those people, instead of just trying to say, “This is it.” I think that it’s more participatory, to make people a part of the process. Having Kristen [Stewart] part of the process of casting the guy, having Amanda part of the process guys in this movie, to make sure they have that chemistry, instead of me trying to dictate to people.
Red Riding Hood opens everywhere March 11, 2011.