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.
Top Chef D.C. Recap: Arnold's Revenge
S7:E3: This episode of Top Chef was about assertion. Whilst top dogs Angelo and Kenny bicker and squabble, sneaky mischief-makers Arnold and Amanda sidle into first place. But firstly, Angelo is misanthropic! He eats breakfast outside on the dirt! He is a desperado, a tragic hero, the successful owner of a boutique gourmet sandwich restaurant. Meanwhile, Kenny has had it up to here with the Angelo show. We see him sitting silently in his room; a singular tear running down his face as he reads a billet-doux from his girlfriend Juicy. He becomes inspired, motivated. “Yes Juicy” he whispers fiercely, “We must succeed or we run the risk of failure.” Juicy is a Dan Quayle enthusiast.
Padma and the sensuous Gail Simmons greet the cheftestants at the door, accompanied by a man with ambitiously architectural hair and thick, imposing sideburns. He is introduced as Johnny Iuzzinni, Pastry God and head judge of TOP CHEF: JUST DESSERTS! YES. With Gail Simmons! YES! So much of the food produced on Top Chef, while ostensibly tasty and gourmet looks and sounds peculiar and unappetizing. Foams and mousses and raw beef and fennel and tuna everywhere – its hard to get behind such conceptual food. Top Chef: Just Desserts will be a saliva-fest. And Gail Simmons is just so luscious.
But the chefs are pissed. They are told to make a pie. A great American tradition! Except none of them can make pie! The chefs always complain about making desserts, to which I say ENOUGH OF YOUR EXCUSES. ENTERTAIN ME.
So it begins. Kelly explains that she is secretly good at desserts - suckers! She can barely contain her glee as she chops up cubes and cubes of butter for her chocolate pie. She really looks like Gollum.
Timmy Dean does his best Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon impression: “Pies? Pies!? Man I’m too old for this shit.”
Anthony expertly discusses the differences between being a savory chef and a pastry chef and astutely observes that pastry making is about precision and planning: “I thought that pies magically came from unicorn’s poop.”
Kenny makes Bananas Foster Pie Cobbler with Chinese five-spice, which sounds gross.
Judge Johnny Weir flirted shamelessly with Kelly (you are so smooth, you have a great emulsion), and informed Alex the Tan Russian that he had in fact made a tapioca quiche, not a pie (gag).
In the end, KENNY WON. YES! Fist Pumps! “THIS IS FOR YOU DAN QUAYLE, I mean, JUICY!”
Continuing in the theme of things these cheftestants can’t do, the Elimination is announced to be a grilling challenge at Mt. Vernon, home of George Washington, where they must prepare a picnic cookout for various interns. The chefs snicker but none bite the bait. Until Alex the Tan Russian swoops in with a “I’ve never taken advantage of an intern, wink wink, amiright?!?”. This proved to be only ominous foreshadowing of gross comments to come.
Barbeque is something not all the chefs are familiar with. Arnold interviews that grilling clogs your pores. Amanda casually mentions that she used to be a cocaine addict. The producers edit this anecdote into the visual equivalent of “Right. Moving on…”
So what’s for dinner? Angelo is making some “badass” Vietnamese wrap thing. It looks like Angelo is a sneaky only-makes-Asian-stuff guy, which Kenny notices and makes a note to exploit later. The Tan Russian and Amanda have an altercation over ovens; He calls her a bitch and she evokes “prison rules”. Uncomfortable knowing glances exchanged. Older random white guy Steven is wrapping stuff in bacon, while younger random white guy Ed is making a seared tuna hummus concoction.
Challenge day, and Timmy Dean starts things off with a robust burst of misogynist commentary about the general incompetence of women in all things worth doing. Namely grilling. But none of this is important. What really matters here is that JOHNATHAN WAXMAN has returned to us as a guest judge! He is like a small fountain or a quiet baby – so calming to look at.
Most of the chefs made some type of steak or pork and some type of hummus or couscous. In fact, Alex made pork butt. Cut to Alex’s interview: "I would eat the ass out of that pork butt all day.” What? Who says things like this on TV? Is this because he’s foreign?
Angelo declares his dish has clean, sexy flavors. Again. And a goose pooped on Timmy Dean.
So that about sums things up; frankly this was a boring round of entrees, though there was some sexual tension as the chefs tasted each other’s food and it was obvious that Angelo and Amanda want each other in a really gross way.
Winners? They were: Amanda’s ribs, Ed’s tuna sandwich, Angelo’s bringing Asian sexy back wrap, and Arnold with the ball of meat dish. In the end, Arnold took it away with a solemn, dignified curtsey.
Losers? The Bacon Dish was gross! Does this mean bacon isn’t cool anymore? Godammit. K. Sbrags made lame Puerto Rican food that offended Padma for some reason (on behalf of brown people?) and Tracey’s Italian sausage offended Tom for being shitty and also being Italian (I am Italian you cow!). In the end Tom had to send Tracey home for her white bread and slimy peppers and fennel-meat.
I didn’t love this episode - all meat and Mediterranean side-dish mediocrity. What is the point of having these successful executive-type chefs on the show if you are going to curb them creatively by making them churn out generic products in a medium they are unfamiliar with? Yes, a good chef should be able to grill and barbeque. But if they wanted 12 perfectly cooked skirt steaks they should have had a season of line cooks. Unfortunately, his type of bang-it-out challenge, in Tom’s words, was not a great day for American chefs.