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.
In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.
In the cinematic desert that is the January-February movie-release schedule one gains a greater appreciation for mere competence. And that’s precisely what you’ll get with Man on a Ledge a mid-budget thriller with modest aspirations and genuine popcorn appeal. Sam Worthington (Avatar Clash of the Titans) stars as Nick Cassidy a former New York City cop wrongly convicted for the theft of a prized diamond. After exhausting all judicial avenues for exoneration he takes the unusual and seemingly desperate next step of planting himself on a ledge outside the penthouse of midtown’s Roosevelt Hotel and threatening to jump. An NYPD psychologist (Elizabeth Banks) is summoned to talk him down unaware that Nick harbors an ulterior motive. From his perch above midtown he is secretly orchestrating a scheme to take revenge against the corrupt corporate chieftain (Ed Harris) who engineered his demise and prove his innocence once and for all.
Director Asger Leth making his U.S. feature-film debut with Man on a Ledge keeps the pace brisk and never allows the tone to stray into self-seriousness which is crucial for a movie whose premise is so devoutly ridiculous. The script from Pablo F. Fenjves provides enough feints and twists to keep us engaged. Jamie Bell and Genesis Rodriguez aren’t the most believable of couples but there’s a screwball charm to their comic routine as amateur thieves charged with aiding Nick’s scheme. (Leth can’t resist inserting an entirely superfluous – but nonetheless greatly appreciated – scene of the criminally gorgeous Rodriguez stripping down to a thong in the middle of a heist.) Worthington makes for a likable populist protagonist even if his Australian accent betrays him on copious occasions and Harris’ disturbingly emaciated frame lends an added menace to his devious plutocrat villain.
For five nights and four days, the San Diego Convention Center will play host to the geekiest and nerdiest and scruffiest looking nerd herders at the 2011 San Diego Comic-Con. Fanboys and fangirls, your annual 96 hours of Zen have arrived.
Hollywood.com will be on hand at this year's Con to report on all the big events, but you're friendly neighborhood Couch Potato/fanboy is here to give you the skinny on what to expect over the next few days.
You're welcome. Just bring me back some swag!
Wednesday Night, July 20 - Previews Galore!
No, not free handouts of the Diamond Distributors catalog, but for those getting to the Con early, you can entrench yourself in Ballroom 20 for a three-hour marathon of some of the fall season's hotly anticipated TV shows. And if their not hotly anticipated, they sure will be by the time this night's over.
From 6-9PM, you can catch a plethora of pilots.CW's The Secret Circle - from Kevin Williamson and L.J. Smith (The Vampire Diaries), Fox's Alcatraz, which stars Jurassic Park's Sam Neill, Lost's Jorge Garcia and is produced by J.J. Abrams, and CBS' Person of Interest, which will star another Lost alum, Michael Emerson. Person gets the the extra uber-geeky award, for being both executive produced by Abrams, and being created by Jonathan Nolan (Christopher "Dark Knight" Nolan's brother). Preview night also includes the pilot premiere of the animated Supernatural series, which will debut on DVD and Blu-Ray.
After the pilot marathon, head back to your room, get some rest and put the finishing touches on your costume. You've got four epic feature-length days ahead of you.
Thursday, July 21 - Comic-Con Day 1: They Live!
The main event is here!
For lovers of spies and chins...
If you happened to have camped outside of Ballroom 20 after last night's screenings, then you must really love Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe, because the DVD premiere party will be happening here from 10-11AM. You'll get to hear from the series' creator, Matt Nix, star Jeffrey Donovan, and of course, the man, the myth, the chin himself, Bruce Campbell.
For seekers of the precious...
I know what you're thinking: "I'm not at Comic-Con for a Q&A of the hottest show on USA, I dressed like Gimli for cryin' out loud!" That's why from 10-11AM, you and your battle axe should swing on over to Room 7AB for a Q&A with "Quickbeam," Clifford Broadway and "MrCere," Larry D. Curtis, staff veterans of theOneRing.net for Hobbit Talk to get an unauthorized look at the upcoming Hobbit movies.
For anyone that's ever swung a stick making while making an electric humming noise...
If the story of Bilbo Baggins isn't geeky enough for you, then surely you must want to know about what's going on in a galaxy far, far away. One of the most anticipated XBox 360 Kinect video games in development, is St the Con, so grab your Padawan braids and force push your way to room 32AB for a sneak peek at Star Wars: Kinect where the wizards of LucasArts will be showing off the title's sure-to-be wild, addicting gameplay. Any Star Wars fan worth their weight in Jawas has dreamt of wielding a lightsaber, and now here's your chance. Later in the day at 4:45, in 6BCF will be the a preview of Star Wars: Clone Wars Season 4. If the prequel films have jaded you to the Star Wars Saga and have missed this incredible series, then you should check this preview out and then catch up on what is actually one of the best animated shows on TV.
For Twi-hards, there's really no word to describe your level of fandom...
The books and films that have captivated legions of teenagers the world over (and plenty of adults as well) are heading to the Hallowed Hall H at 11:15AM for a sneak peek at The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1, and for what's sure to be a shriek-inducing Q&A with the filmmakers and members of the cast.
For fans that came actually came for Comic Books...
Did you know that the San Diego Comic-Con is actually a Comic Book Convention?! It's true by golly, and DC is bringing it's big summer event to the Con. Room 6DE at 11:30AM will play host to "DC: Flashpoint," a discussion with the DC Universe's executive editor, Eddie Berganza and some of the talent behind the all but confirmed rumored reboot of the entire DCU. Then help the lovely staff at the Con clean the room up and get an even better seat for a discussion with acclaimed comic book writer, Grant Morrison at 12:45PM. At 3:15PM in 6DE will be a Batman Panel featuring a discussion about the caped crusader's new books and global appeal. 24 hours later in the same room, DC will preview their upcoming Superman books to see how the Man of Tomorrow will fit into the new DCU.
For Scoobies who long for Sarah Michelle Gellar...
When Bridget Martin witnesses a murder, she goes on the run posing as her wealthy twin sister, Siobhan and Comic-Con's Ballroom 20 gets to have a sneak peek at the new CW show called, Ringer, at 1:45PM. Panel to follow with Buffy herself, Sarah Michelle Gellar and costars, Ioan Gufford and Nestor Carbonell.
FOX fans need not apply...
The hallowed halls of Hall H have served as jump off points for films like Independence Day, X2, Avatar, and Wolverine. 20th Century Fox returns to Comic-Con to preview their upcoming sure to be hits for 2011 and 2012 at 3:15PM.
For the Targaryens in attendance...
I have to admit, I had never heard of George R.R. Martin's "Song of Fire and Ice" fantasy series before Game of Thrones debuted on HBO, and after a triumphant first season, I am waiting with baited dragon's breath for the second. Martin himself will be moderating the "Game of Thrones Q&A" starring Emilia Clarke (Daenrys Targaryan), Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Ser Jamie Lannister), Kit Harrington (Jon Snow), and the Khal himself, Jason Momoa (Drogo). Ballroom 20 at 3PM.
For every member of Batman, Incorporated...
While Warner Bros. is saving some advertising dollars by not bringing The Dark Knight Rises to the Con (and while fans are depressed over this, let's face it, TDKR doesn't need the hype— the film is already hyping itself), the company along with video game developer, Rocksteady is bringing the most anticipated game of 2011 to ComiCon - "Arkham City." Voice actors Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy will be on the panel that is showing off some secrets and gameplay of what is sure to one of the top three games of the year. (5-6PM, no room yet). Then get yourself some dinner and head to Room 8, because at 7:30, "Detecting Deviants in the Dark Knight: Profiling Gotham City's Serial Killers" will be looking at the expansive, intriguing and exciting Batman Rogues Gallery, featuring Forensic Psychiatrists of Broadcast Thought - MDs H. Eric Bender, Praveen R. Kambam, and Vasilis K. Pozios; teaming up with Mark E. Safarik, FBI retired supervisory special agent, Behavioral Analysis Unit. The quartet will be taking a very real look at some of Batman's most dangerous foes and their real world counterparts.
For the Dark Passenger in us all...
If you're a fan of Showtime's Dexter, then you know that the series is one of the best on TV, and the stars of the show, CS Lee, David Zayas, and Dexter himself, Michael C. Hall are headed to Ballroom 20 at 5:30 to partake in "Showtime's Tired of Ordinary Television?" panel to preview the upcoming sixth season of the acclaimed show. Also coming to ComiCon for this event are the stars of Shameless, William H. Macy and Emmy Rossum; and a preview of the networks's newest series, Homeland, from Howard Gordon and Alex Dansa (24), and starring Claire Danes.
Friday, July 22 Day 2 - They Wish to Cure Us, But I Say We Are the Cure....
I knew there'd be some Star Trekkin' going on...
A whole day has gone by at Comic-Con and no hide nor hair of Gene Roddenberry's epic franchise. That's all about to change at 10:15 in 6BCF, where Captain Sisko (Avery Brooks) and Captain James Tiberius Kirk himself, William Shatner will be on hand to present the Shat's new EPIX documentary series, in which he traverses the world interviewing he actors that have played Starfleet Captains in a panel moderated by the always geeked out voice of generation X, Kevin Smith!
For everyone siting in Sheldon's spot...
The world of TV invaded Comic-Con again, and this time it's by a bunch of actors playing the very geeks and nerds we happen to be, only way smarter. As "The Big Bang Theory," gears up for it's fifth season, the stars of the show (Johnny Galecki, Jim Parsons, Kaley Cuoco, Simon Helberg, Kunal Nayyar, Mayim Bialik, and Melissa Rauch; along with creators Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady converge on Ballroom 20 at 12:30 to talk up the new season and the upcoming Fourth Season DVD.
In brightest day, in darkest night...
Bruce Timm has been responsible for bringing the worlds of Superman, Batman, and the Justice League to life in some of the most memorable cartoons ever and now he's bringing his golden touch the emerald knight, The Green Lantern! Timm is bringing footage put together especially for the Con, previewing the upcoming animated series, which centers on Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps' trainer, the lovable Kilowog as they try to fight off a Red Lantern invasion. Most of us will have to wait until 2012 to raise our rings, but you can speak the oath at Comic-Con and get this sneak peek early in room 6BCF.
"Kate, we have to go baaaaaaack!"...
One year later, and uber-Losties, Jeff Jensen and Dan Snierson are still going on about islands, time travel, hatches, and Sawyer insults. At 3:30 in 5AB, the duo behind Entertainment Weekly's "Totally Lost" will tie up loose ends on their whacked out Lost theories and discuss promising new TV obsessions.
Not enough Bats in your belfry yet...
Batman is such a global media franchise, there's more than a few panels dedicated to the Caped Crusader, seemingly one for every angle the character can take! While many of us grew up loving the Dark Knight, there can be only one "Boy Who Loved Batman." Producer Michael Uslan will be in Room 4 at 4PM discussing his lifelong obsession with the World's Greatest Detective and his journey to bring fans the truest representations of the character on film. Maybe even get a taste of The Dark Knight Rises.
Now swinging into Hall H...
Some of us have been waiting impatiently for footage The Amazing Spider-Man movie and at 4PM, Sony Pictures is bringing Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, and director Marc Webb to talk about and maybe show some of the July 3, 2012 release. Sadly though, we're gonna have to endure Nicolas Cage as well, as the worlds biggest comic fan and coincidentally, one of its least improved actors, will be at ComiCon as well, pimping his second adventure as the flaming skull of vengeance in Ghost Rider - The Spirit of Vengeance. Also previewing at the Con will be the 30 Minutes or Less, panel starring Aziz Ansari, Nick Swardson, and Michael Pena. Lastly, it's time to start the reactor and stop starting at three-breasted Martian mutants, because the remake of Total Recall and stars Colin Farrell, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston, and John Cho will all be at ComiCon too.
Because Twilight is just too clothed for you...
The fourth season of True Blood is underway and Sookie's got to deal with fairies, vampires, and werewolves (oh my!). And many of the series' stars are going to have deal with the insatiable appetites of fans at ComiCon in Ballroom 20 at 5:30PM for a q and A with stars Ryan Kwanten (Jason), Sam Trammell (Sam), Rutina Wesley (Tara), Nelson Ellis (LaFayette), along with some others join show creator, Alan Ball and moderator, EW's Tim Stack.
The world premiere DVD you've been waiting for...
Yeah I know we've mentioned Bruce Wayne quite a bit in this ComiCon preview, but the big black bat does have that kind of media dominance. Friday night will culminate the world premiere of Batman: Year One, adapted for the acclaimed best selling Frank Miller mini-series. Ballroom 20 will play host to the movie, as well as then panel featuring voice stars, Ben McKenzie, Eliza Dushku, Katee Sackhoff, executive producer, Bruce Timm.
Check back soon for Part 2!
Brace yourself Dr. Laura. This clueless teen queen (Natasha Lyonne) has it all: good looks a football captain boyfriend and a popular pair of pom-poms. But her candy-colored world crumbles when her panicked parents stage an intervention after finding a Melissa Etheridge poster that leads them to conclude she's a friend of Ellen. After being carted off to an anti-gay rehab camp for teens the perky princess must choose between the straight and narrow-minded or the love that dare not speak its name.
The quirky ensemble casting is half this film's fun. Lyonne is charming as the pepster tempted by T&A and she sparks onscreen with swanky and sexy co-star Clea DuVall who plays the butch femme fatale suitor (alarmingly reminiscent of Nancy McKeon's Jo from "The Facts of Life.") Drag queen supreme RuPaul is unrecognizable out of his high heels and even higher blond wig wearing a "Straight is Great" T-shirt as a macho militant ex-gay counselor. Cathy Moriaty is sweetly sinister as the homophobic headmistress and Mink Stole steals scenes as the uptight upright meddling mom.
Kudos to Jamie Babbit for tackling this hot-potato topic but this well-intentioned film too often misses its mark turning potentially comical scenes into unbearably awkward moments. Babbit fouls when tugging at the heartstrings but hits home runs when the humor is at its broadest.