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.
"Sorry if my snoring bothered you."
Those are not the first words I'd expect out of the mouth of someone who got up on a Friday morning to catch the 10:30 AM screening of a new movie but that is more or less what the fellow who'd been sitting behind me said as I passed him on my way out. I'd heard him snoring over the constant rat-a-tat-tat of bullets and butt-kicking being doled out by Milla Jovovich et al in this latest iteration of the never-ending Resident Evil series (this time in IMAX 3D) but I figured maybe I was hearing things. Nope he was asleep.
I used to play Resident Evil on my ancient PlayStation when it first came out. It scared the crap out of me. I enjoyed the first two movies — hey they included the skinless zombie dogs! — but I lost interest soon after that. How many times can you make the zombie apocalypse exciting? How many different skintight outfits can Jovovich wear while killing grotesque creatures who shoot evil grasping tentacles out of their mouths? Why should we care about all the blood and guts when we know the people we're supposed to be emotionally invested in will never die? We don't.
Try as he might there are only so many ways for writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson to give the Resident Evil series fresh new layers for each new movie. The Umbrella Corporation is the big bad. They were playing with biological weapons and somehow there was an accident that let one of the viruses loose... and boom you've got a zombie apocalypse on your hands. Our heroine is Alice played by Milla Jovovich and there is a rotating cast of characters who help her fight the good fight against the hordes of brain-eaters and whatever is left of the Umbrella Corporation that's now after her. There are some parallels to the video game series but Paul W.S. Anderson (a gamer himself) has taken lots of liberties with the basic plot over the years. While Anderson's flashy style is especially suited to these types of movies there's not enough plot to make it work.
We don't go to video game movies for plot of course but there has to be something to hold onto; otherwise why would we care if our protagonist were in danger? Anderson tries some neat tricks to snap us back to attention like bringing back characters that were killed in previous movies and throwing in a cloning subplot that calls into question some of the characters' true identities but it's still hard to get worked up about anything onscreen. However it ultimately sidesteps any deeper ideas that might take our attention away from all the guns. And there are so many guns and explosions and elegant butt-kickings doled out by Milla and her pals (or former pals in the case of Michelle Rodriguez's character Rain) that they blend together.
It is especially difficult to work up any interest in the story because it's a franchise and no matter how many times the stars or director might say they're not that interested in doing another everyone is just waiting to see how much money this will make before deciding to go forward. There is no question how franchise movies will end; there will be no derring-do on the part of the writer or director to actually kill off a beloved character permanently. At one point it seemed like Anderson was going to pull the old "And then she woke up!" trick which would have been bold both because it's such a hackneyed idea that it would make writing professors' heads explode all over the world but also because it would have required Anderson to play in a different universe and expand his repertoire a bit. Alas like Alice and Anderson himself we just can't seem to escape this rabbit hole.
Tyler Perry's most famous character Madea is actually the least obnoxious part of his latest movie Madea's Witness Protection. Given that Madea is Perry in drag as an overweight gray-haired woman who delights in threatening people with violence this is pretty amazing.
The Madea movies aren't supposed to be nuanced character portraits they're Teachable Moments. In this case it's about shady businesses and Ponzi schemes — Bernie Madoff is even referred to by name. Although there's no doubt we're all feeling the repercussions of the 2008 financial crisis and will be for some time to come Madoff isn't exactly breaking news any more. Perry also wants to have his cake and eat it too showing the greed and corruption of big companies while also offering at least one of the people at fault both the benefit of the doubt and a shot at redemption. None of it adds up and half of the movie is taken up by a tiresome group of snobs who deserve their comeuppance at the hands of Madea.
The Needlemans are a rich white family whose patriarch is inadvertently involved in a Madoff-like Ponzi scheme. The mob is somehow involved — don't ask — so the Atlanta ADA Brian (also Perry) puts them up at the safest place he knows: his Aunt Madea's house. George played by Eugene Levy's eyebrows is such a schmuck that he had no idea he was being set up to take the fall or that the company he worked for was stealing millions of dollars from charities. Denise Richards plays his typically brittle and much younger housewife Kate whose main interests seem to be yoga ("yoda" in Madea-speak) and carbs. They both let George's daughter Cindy (Danielle Campbell) walk all over them and George and Kate's son Howie (Devan Leos) is the subject of many "fat loser"-type jokes. George's mother Barbara (Doris Roberts) is either senile or pretending to be or is just pilled out from all the Valium they give her; she's also a horny old broad that keeps making googly eyes at Joe (Madea's brother Brian's father and of course Tyler Perry in old man drag). Cindy is so awful that it's a relief when Madea lets loose on her even though it's a truly cruel prank that sets the girl straight. They are all totally boring and incredibly annoying so much so that any time Madea or even Joe appears it's a relief.
The other half of the Teachable Moments equation is Jake played by Romeo Miller. Jake was living a life of crime until he got straightened out and then his dad a sickly preacher played by John Amos trusted him with all the money to pay off the church mortgage. Unfortunately he invested it in a company in New York that's no longer answering their phones. Jake tries to hold up Madea for cash after she leaves the grocery store. She gives him a sound talking-to the gist of which is he should get a job and stop trying to rob old ladies who have worked hard all their life. (True!) However he's just trying to raise the money he lost investing in a company in New York the money his sick father gave him to pay off the church mortgage that's now lost. In case you can't follow the dots that would be the company George worked for that lost all the money for his dad's church leading him to a life of robbing little old ladies for pocket change. Besides the tragic waste of Amos Marla Gibbs plays a nosy neighbor for about half a minute.
Perry's writing shows a disturbing amount of cynicism if not downright meanness for a family movie. When Kate and Madea have a heart-to-heart about Cindy Kate confesses that Cindy thinks her dad cheated on her mom with Kate. Kate says "What kind of person do you think I am?" And Madea purrs sotto voice "A woman." There are also plenty of jokes about Madea's previous life as among other things a stripper especially in conjunction with her weight. (She had to use a telephone pole when she danced. Get it? 'Cause she's fat! Hah!) It's unfortunate that the spoof reel that plays after the credits is more entertaining than the movie itself -- even if those jokes include Charlie Sheen grabbing Madea's boobs Madea/Perry pranking room service about the bidet and Eugene Levy making prison rape jokes.
I was one of the few people who were impressed by Tyler Perry's For Colored Girls a well-intentioned attempt to bring the feminist experimental play by Ntozake Shange to life. That didn't compel me to seek out any of his other movies though so Madea's Witness Protection was my first foray into the franchise that's made him a very very rich and powerful man. The weirdness of Perry's vision is well-documented and he has fans across the board. Unfortunately I'm just one of them.
Top Story: Busta Rhymes' SUV Sprayed with Bullets
The Associated Press reports police are still looking for the suspect who fired gunshots at Busta Rhymes' black GMC Suburban Friday night after the rapper left it parked on a Manhattan street in front of his management company Violator Records. Last month, an unknown assailant also fired shots into the Violator offices. No one was injured in either shooting.
Ex-Heartbreakers Bassist Dies
Musician Howie Epstein, the former bassist for Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, died in a New Mexico hospital Sunday night, Reuters reports. He was 47. Epstein was booted from the band last May due to legal and drug problems. His cause of death was not immediately known but an overdose is suspected.
George Harrison's First Guitar on Display
A small acoustic wooden guitar the late George Harrison bought in the mid-1950s went on display at the Beatles museum in Liverpool Tuesday, Reuters reports. Valued at $800,000, the guitar has been loaned indefinitely to the museum. Harrison died in November 2001 of throat cancer.
King of Pop Back in Court
According to AP, Michael Jackson filed a court injunction Monday against Martin Bashir and Granada Television to block them from releasing unused footage from their 90-minute documentary Living with Michael Jackson. Jackson and his company MJJ Productions Inc. said in a statement Monday the unseen footage should be held until wider disputes are settled--specifically whether Bashir "breached the terms on which he was permitted to film Jackson."
The "Love Rat" Sues FOX News
Princess Diana's former love, James Hewitt, known in the British tabloids as the "Love Rat," has filed a $1 million breach of contract suit against FOX News, Reuters reports. Hewitt, who is also a former British Army commander and Gulf War vet, claims he was fired as a war correspondent for the news organization after he allegedly leaked the terms of his deal to London's Daily Mirror.
MTV Nixes Rap Contest After Fans Go Haywire
MTV had to cancel their plans to hold a weeklong MC Battles rapping contest after thousands of wannabes who were lined up Monday outside Times Square in New York started pushing and shoving in the streets. Reuters reports a police statement said two police officers were injured and four people were arrested for disorderly conduct.
Pat Robertson Returns to the Pulpit
Hallelujah! A week after successful surgery to remove a cancerous prostate gland, evangelist Pat Robertson returned to spread the Word on his television program The 700 Club, AP reports. Robertson, 72, said in a statement he hopes his example will serve as a reminder to men older than 50 to get early screenings for prostate cancer.
ROLE CALL: Daniel Day-Lewis, wife Rebecca Miller Team Up; Peter O'Toole, Julie Christie Head to Troy
Variety reports Oscar nominee Daniel Day-Lewis will join his wife, director/writer Rebecca Miller, on their first collaboration together, the family drama Rose and the Snake. Day-Lewis will play the father of a 16-year-old, both living in an abandoned commune on an island off the northwest coast of Canada. British thesps Peter O'Toole and Julie Christie join the star-studded cast of Wolfgang Petersen's Greek epic Troy, including Brad Pitt as Achilles and Orlando Bloom as Paris. According to Variety, the search to cast the part of Helen of Troy, "the face that launched 1,000 ships," is still in progress.
ROLE CALL, Part II: Rob Lowe Battles Vampires; The Witching Hour Approaches
Ex West Wing-er Rob Lowe will star in the TNT miniseries Salem's Lot, based on the Stephen King book about a small Maine town being taken over by vampires. And speaking of the supernatural, Variety reports Columbia Pictures' has two witch projects in the works--a remake of the 1942 comedy I Married a Witch, with Danny DeVito on board to helm and Tom Cruise to possibly star; and the big-screen treatment of the 1960s TV hit Bewitched, with Nicole Kidman attached to star and writer/director Nora Ephron on board to write and possibly direct.