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.
Hey everyone, it’s that time again! No, not another CPA column, although thanks for reading. We’re in the midst of the best time of year, the Fall TV season, where hope is kindled anew and we patrons of the idiot box are treated to a dearth of new shows. Some reach phenomenal heights, becoming a part of the fabric of pop culture; others, no matter how critically lauded or devoted a fan base, linger in mediocrity for several seasons. And still more are just downright deplorable and cancelled faster than I can write a column about cancelled shows. “But sometimes, just sometimes, the crow can bring that show back to set the wrong things” – never mind, maybe that’s getting too meta. (I’ve been catching up on Community and Abed might be my new hero.)
Sometimes, shows are cancelled no matter how awesome they are. And then there are those shows that don’t seem to understand the meaning of the word “cancelled.” Thanks to undying fan devotion, these series (see: Family Guy) return from cancellation and endure more years of fun for everyone. Sadly, too many shows aren’t as lucky – they are cancelled way before their time and are never heard from again. These series are axed for poor ratings, network management turnarounds, or several other reasons. But one thing’s for sure, their cultish fan bases are never going to give them up.
Shows Cancelled Without Resolution
When good series die young, it just plain stinks; we’ll never get to know what happens next. Shows end on cliffhangers to build up suspense for the next season, or even the next episode. But when the network lowers the boom, we’re left wanting more simply because as a devoted fan we deserve more – we deserve closure.
Soap (ABC, 1977–1981)
I’m not quite sure how many of you out there have heard of this late-70s gem, but we’re going to begin our rundown with it, because Soap paved the way for or jumpstarted several careers (see: Billy Crystal, Ted Wass, Robert Guillaume, Katherine Helmond, Richard Mulligan, Robert Urich), not to mention blasted down the doors of night time TV comedy and expanded sitcom boundaries. The show focused on the well-to-do Tate family and their ne’er-do-well in-laws, the Campbells. Soap was aptly named, as the entire series parodied the extraordinarily madcap daytime soap opera genre and many of its wilder tropes, such as murder, mystery, cults, demonic possessions, wrongly convicted murders – the list is never ending and Soap always made it all hysterical. Due to the show’s cliffhanger in every episode, the show was cancelled as Jessica (Helmond) was about to be saved from, or executed by, a Communist firing squad.
The 4400 (USA 2004–2007)
As a former comic book nerd, I was a huge fan of J. Michael Straczynski’s Rising Stars. The yarn was about a group of children all conceived while a mysterious light hangs above the town of Pederson, Illinois. The babies are blessed (or cursed) with super powers, are all raised by a kind doctor and taught how to use their abilities. Do any of these elements sound familiar or reminiscent of Heroes? Well, The 4400 did it all and worlds better. The series centered on a massive group of people (and no we do not get to meet all 4400) who were abducted from the future at various points during the 20th Century and all mysteriously returned to Mt. Rainier, Washington. The group had to face many obstacles, like reconnecting with a world they have not seen in some cases for over fifty years. Eventually the series went from a “4400 of the week” format to crafting a deep mythology that became better than anything Heroes would ever do. The show also gave us the character of Jordan Collier (Billy Campbell), a messiah/Magneto-like 4400 who establishes his own society. Unfortunately, the show was a casualty of so-so ratings, budgetary constraints, and the Writers’ Guild strike, and we’ll never get to see the promises of Promise City.
Lights Out (FX, 2011)
I know a few people who bemoan the cancellation of Terriers, but for my money, if ever a series got the shaft after just one season, its FX’s Lights Out. Take Rocky’s retirement at the beginning of Rocky V, add The Fighter, multiply it by The Sopranos and you get Lights Out. After premiering strongly in Jan. 2011, the show told the story of Patrick “Lights” Leary (Holt McCallany), a former world champion who retired after losing his title and after poorly mismanaging his finances, is forced to get back into the ring. With strong performances from McCallany, Pablo Schreiber (Lights’ brother, Johnny), and the incomparable Stacy Keach (the Leary patriarch, Robert) there is no conceivable reason why this show was canned so early. Great boxing action coupled with a mob story, and a family tale of woe involving Boxer’s Dementia season, the finale had a great finale twist. Like many others on this list, we’ll never get to find out what happened to the Champ next.
Shows That Got The Axe Way Too Soon
They might not have been ratings darlings, but these dearly departed shows never left us hanging.
Arrested Development (Fox 2003–2006)
This is quite possibly the most popular cancelled series ever. The story of the dysfunctional Bluth family aired for an all too brief 53 episodes and introduced to us all to a cast of some of the wackiest characters ever. How loved was this series? Rumors of its revival by both fans and stars alike have never tapered off since the show’s cancellation. Luckily, it looks like fans are getting their wish: earlier this month it was reported the show is heading back from the grave, all leading up to what should be a monumental film.
Better Off Ted / Mr. Sunshine (ABC 2009–2010 / 2011)
Ted Crisp (Jay Harrington) is a single father and the most respected and beloved head of Research and Development at Veridian Dynamic. With a comedy, there are all kinds of wacky things for a company like Veridian to be researching and developing, like cryogenics. The affable Crisp was Don Draper with a conscience. His boss, Veronica (Portia de Rossi), was an ice queen who comically knew it would behoove her to be nicer to people (like giving Phil an award for bravery in hopes of not getting sued). Better Off Ted’s subversive and satirical blend of comedy sadly got lost in the shuffle of ABC’s other popular comedies like Cougar Town and the gargantuan genre-crossing Modern Family, and there was simply no room for a series like this. The alphabet network would try it again with Matthew Perry’s Mr. Sunshine, which is essentially the same show, except with a less likeable Ted (Perry’s Ben), a more mean-spirited boss (Allison Janney) and its arena setting with circuses performances, Smurfs on Ice, and sports teams. ABC saw the hyped show dwindle faster than the Titanic – it tanked it after nine episodes.
Mad Love (CBS, 2011)
It seemed like a good idea at the time. The affable Jason Biggs, along with the adorable Sarah Chalke, along with the biting wit of Judy Greer and Tyler Labine, who has become a bit of a TV curse (see: Reaper, Sons of Tuscon). Biggs’ Ben and Chalke’s Kate meet and start dating as the perfect couple. Anyone who watched could see the “mad love” chemistry between oddball Connie (Greer) and Larry (Labine) as the respective best friends who loathe each other. While it was always good for cutsey laughs, the series couldn’t pick up enough steam for a full season order and was cancelled. But considering the show’s How I Met Your Mother style humor, Mad Love had potential, which is why its cancellation was a bit of surprise.
Honorable Mention: Married…With Children
Yes, this show was on for 11 years, but while while the Bundys did entertain audiences all that time and along with The Simpsons helped to put the once fledgling Fox network on the map, Fox decided that the good faith the show built up for many a year wasn’t good enough to let the cast and crew know that there wouldn’t be a twelfth season. Poor ratings and progressively sillier stories would end the series’ run. But with the now fairly well-known story of Ed O’Neill learning of the show’s cancellation from a fan instead of from the network is just a downright deplorable way to do business.
Obviously, there are plenty of shows like The Critic and Deadwood that did not make this list. It doesn’t mean that I’m not aware of them, or of their greatness. But we’ve only got so much time. There’s a bevy of reasons networks take our favorite TV shows from us, and they’re all unfair because the bottom line is that we need great TV to watch, whether it’s That’s My Bush! or Flashforward or Jericho or some other series, a cancelled TV show is like a lost friend we only just met. Well it may not be that melodramatic, but you catch my drift.
So far this season, we’ve lost The Playboy Club, How to be a Gentleman, Free Agents, and Charlie’s Angels luckily none of these will raise the ire of fans. However, The Playboy Club (even if it was actually good) was dead on arrival due to all the negative publicity and How to Be a Gentleman moved to the death-sentence Saturday night slot before CBS flat out nuked it. Here’s hoping that any of the shows that we love this season aren’t unceremoniously cancelled before their time – note to Fox, leave my Fringe alone!
Commercials for MacGruber have been airing for weeks proudly boasting quotes that refer to it as “the best SNL skit movie since Wayne’s World” and “arguably the best action-comedy since Beverly Hills Cop.” Such outsized blurbs — usually accompanied by miniscule attributions — have long been a sine qua non of movie marketing strategy but what makes MacGruber’s case unique is that its praise came not from the usual studio fluffers but from The Atlantic the venerable 150-year-old publication that counts the likes of Longfellow and Ralph Waldo Emerson among its founders. Calling anything “the best SNL skit movie since ...” may be faint praise akin to "You're the smartest stripper I've ever met " but it’s still impressive for a film based on a shtick that typically struggles to conjure enough laughs to fill a two-minute sketch.
And it’s true. MacGruber star Will Forte and director Jorma Taccone (who also co-wrote the film along with John Solomon) much like the character Richard Dean Anderson they mercilessly parody took the scrap that was their middling SNL sketch and somehow turned it into one of the funniest films of the year.
The film which pits the super-handy MacGruber against his sworn enemy a nuke-stealing terrorist named Dieter Von Cunth (Val Kilmer gracefully entering the self-mocking stage of his career and selling it like a champ) works in part because it heartily exploits all the advantages unavailable to its television counterpart: a hard-R rating that lets it showcase among other things MacGruber’s unmatched throat-ripping skills and his willingness to suck a c**k to save American lives (let's see Jack Bauer try that); a script that clearly took more than a week — possibly as many as two — to construct; and guest stars who actually care enough to learn all of their lines. Forte's SNL co-star Kristen Wiig is fantastic as MacGruber's partner/love interest — a role more crucial to the comedy than you'd think — and even the much-maligned (by me mainly) Ryan Phillippe is pleasantly serviceable opposite Forte as his beleaguered straight man. In fact — dare I say it — he’s almost likable.
Don’t tell him I said that.
We all know Adolf Hitler did not die as a result of an organized assassination plot against him but this fact does not hinder the enjoyment of watching how that attempt by members of his own Nazi command plays out. Reminiscent of great ‘60s WWII conspiracy thrillers such as 36 Hours and Night of the Generals this film centers on the actions of Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise) a loyal German officer who nevertheless is horrified by what he sees Hitler doing to his country and is determined to find a way to stop him. In 1942 he tries to persuade senior commanders to overthrow Hitler and later in 1943 while recovering from combat injuries he joins the German Resistance a secretive anti-Hitler group comprised of several men in the highest ranks on the inside. Using Hitler’s own contingency plan labeled Operation Valkyrie to prop up the government should he die this group puts their assassination and take over plan in motion. As the eye patch-wearing SS colonel Tom Cruise is excellent. He comfortably manages to get to the heart of Stauffenberg and portray a man who clearly loves his country and feels it’s a patriotic duty to stop the madness. Wisely Cruise (who produced through his United Artists studio) surrounds himself with actors of the first stripe. Among those supporting the mission are: Kenneth Branagh in a relatively brief turn as an German officer; Bill Nighy as one of von Stauffenberg’s closest allies in the venture; and Eddie Izzard as a communications specialist charged with cutting Hitler’s contact to the rest of Germany. There’s also superb work from Terence Stamp as another high-ranking conspirator and the always great Tom Wilkinson as career officer Fredrick Fromm who seems to be playing all sides despite appearing to be a stern supporter of the Fuhrer. And as Stauffenberg’s loyal wife Carice van Houten (Black Book) looks lovely and hits just the right notes as her husband’s sounding board. Although he has guided big popcorn pictures such as Superman Returns and X-Mens director Bryan Singer has also given us intense thrillers like the Oscar winning Usual Suspects and Apt Pupil. So the command he shows in turning out this nifty thriller should come as no surprise. Clearly Singer knows how to grab hold of an audience and keep them on the edge of their seats -- no easy trick here since the outcome is never in doubt. He keeps this going like a speeding train ratcheting up the suspense at every turn and focusing his camera directly into the eyes and sweat of these courageous conspirators. Valkyrie is a pulse-pounding heart-racing excitement from start to finish.