J. F. Lawton moved to the A-list with his script for Garry Marshall's blockbuster "Pretty Woman" (1990). While the original screenplay, entitled "3,000", was much darker, the final result, which playe...
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.
Wrote and directed "The Hunted" (first directorial credit as J. F. Lawton)
Co-wrote (with Damon Wayans) the screenplay for the Mike Binder directed superhero parody film "Blankman"; also co-starred Wayans
Was one of four writers credited with writing the script for "Chain Reaction"
Directed first feature "Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle"; also scripted (credited as JD Athens)
Co-wrote the film adaptation of the popular video game "DOA: Dead or Alive"
Wrote and directed the ABC TV-movie "The Blue Angels"
Created the syndicated series, "V.I.P" starring Pamela Anderson
Breakthrough screenplay, "Pretty Woman"; directed by Garry Marshall and starred Richard Gere and Julia Roberts; received a nomination for Writer's Guild of America
Co-scripted the remake of "Death Race"
His film "Three Thousand," was selected by the Sundance Institute for their screenwriting workshop (title later changed to "Pretty Woman")
Co-executive produced and scripted the Steven Seagal vehicle "Under Siege"
Debuted first film, the short "The Artist"
Wrote and directed "Pizza Man" starring Bill Maher (credited as JD Athens)
J. F. Lawton moved to the A-list with his script for Garry Marshall's blockbuster "Pretty Woman" (1990). While the original screenplay, entitled "3,000", was much darker, the final result, which played much like a fairy tale and was enhanced by Julia Roberts star-making turn, catapulted Lawton to the forefront. Yet, this was not his first screen credit. While studying film at CalState Long Beach, Lawton had won attention for his short films "The Artist" (1981) and "Renaissance" (1983). The California native, the son of novelist Harry Lawton, started his film career editing trailers for Cannon Films for $300 per week. Ever enterprising, he created a trailer for a feature he wanted to make which caught the attention of low-budget producer Charles Band. Band offered him the opportunity to write and direct. The result, "Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle" (1989), which Lawton filmed using the pseudonym J D Athens, was a take-off of both Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" and Francis Ford Coppola's feature "Apocalypse Now" (1979). Shot in less than two weeks and featuring Adrienne Barbeau and Shannon Tweed, the film became a cult favorite and late-night cable staple, although it did not really advance his career. Neither did his second effort, also credited to J D Athens, the political satire "Pizza Man" (1991).<p>After "Pretty Woman", Lawton found some success as a screenwriter, collaborating with Barry Primus on the little-seen but much praised "Mistress" (1992), co-produced by co-star Robert De Niro. He fared better with "Under Siege" (also 1992) which confirmed the star status of Steven Seagal, cast as a Navy cook on a battleship who must save the world from terrorists and nuclear disaster. "Blankman" (1994) paired him with Damon Wayans who also starred in the title role of a crimefighter who uses his own homemade devices to capture crooks. Most critics found the film devoid of humor and audiences stayed away as well.<p>Using his own name, Lawton helmed and scripted "The Hunted" (1995), a lame thriller about an American businessman (Christopher Lambert) chased by ninja assassins. He was also one of four writers credited with the illogical drama "Chain Reaction" (1996) which laughably cast Keanu Reeves as a scientist who must save the world. He fared much better as the creator and one of the guiding forces behind "V.I.P." (1998- ), a syndicated adventure series that starred Pamela Anderson.
Wrote the book, Willie Boy: A Desert Manhunt (1960), which was the bases for the film "Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here" (1969)
California State University, Long Beach
"For awhile I only wore black, until I realized all writers wore black. I overheard a guy in black saying 'I love it. We don't have to wear suits.' Then I only wore suits and ties - this was during 'Pretty Woman' - and it so unnerved Garry Marshall, he almost ordered me to stop wearing them. He kept saying, 'Do you have a day job?'" - Lawton quoted in Movieline Magazine, March 1995
"I don't have a thing for angora sweaters, but besides that 'Ed Wood' is the story if my life." - Lawton quoted in Variety, Feb. 19, 1995