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.
SwimFan made an unexpectedly big box office splash, opening in first place to $12.4 million.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding continued dancing in second place, holding beautifully with $10.6 million. With its cume now at $96 million, Wedding is heading for an enormously profitable $125 million or more.
City by the Sea washed ashore quietly in third place with $9.1 million.
Signs placed fourth with $8.0 million while its cume entered mega-milestone territory with $205.8 million.
xXx finished fifth with $5.5 million as its cume reached $131 million.
With no new blockbusters driving the fall's first post-Labor Day weekend, key films (those grossing $500,000 or more) were down marginally by about 1 percent -- $68.2 million versus last year's $68.8 million. It was the eighth consecutive weekend in which business was down from last year.
THE TOP TEN
20th Century Fox's PG-13 thriller SwimFan kicked off atop the chart to a surprisingly strong ESTIMATED $12.43 million at 2,855 theaters ($4,354 per theater).
Directed by John Polson, it stars Jesse Bradford, Erika Christensen and Shiri Appleby.
Asked why SwimFan hadn't tracked like it would end up being the weekend's number one film, Fox executive vice president, distribution Rick Myerson said Sunday morning, "The tracking is a guide. It's not the Ouija board that gives you exact information. We noticed that the tracking for young females and young males was increasing all week. I think sometimes what people do is look at the overall tracking rather than get into the specifics.
"The audience was young females and young males and that started to come on (stronger) at the end of the week. There hadn't been a movie for young females since Blue Crush and there hadn't been a movie for young males since xXx. So all of a sudden they saw, 'Hey, this is the perfect vehicle for me. Let's go.' I think that had something to do with it."
IFC Films' release of Gold Circle Films and HBO's PG rated romantic comedy sleeper hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding held on to second place in its 21st week with a still outstanding ESTIMATED $10.59 million (-5%) at 1,695 theaters (+76 theaters; $6,249 per theater). Its cume is approximately $96.0 million, well on its way to $125 million or more in domestic theaters.
Wedding's average per theater was the highest for any film playing in wide release this weekend.
Directed by Joel Zwick, it stars Nia Vardalos and John Corbett.
Going into the weekend, with SwimFan not tracking like it would place first, insiders had speculated that Wedding could move up to the top spot.
"We fell a few meters short of SwimFan, but can't complain about a $10 million (plus) weekend that dropped off only 5 percent from a holiday weekend," IFC distribution head Rob Schwarz said Sunday morning.
Franchise Pictures R rated cop drama City by the Sea, released through Warner Bros., opened in third place with an uneventful ESTIMATED $9.14 million at 2,575 theaters ($3,550 per theater).
Directed by Michael Caton-Jones, it stars Robert De Niro, Frances McDormand and James Franco.
Buena Vista/Touchstone's PG-13 rated supernatural thriller blockbuster Signs slid three rungs to fourth place in its sixth week with an OK ESTIMATED $8.0 million (-41%) at 3,232 theaters (-205 theaters; $2,475 per theater). Its cume is approximately $205.8 million, heading for $225 million.
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan, it stars Mel Gibson.
Revolution Studios and Columbia's PG-13 rated action adventure thriller xXx slipped two notches to fifth place in its fifth week with a still macho ESTIMATED $5.5 million (-47%) at 3,088 theaters (-448 theaters; $1,791 per theater). Its cume is approximately $131.0 million.
Directed by Rob Cohen and produced by Neal H. Moritz, it stars Vin Diesel, Asia Argento and Marton Csokas.
"We keep working our way towards $150 million or very close to it and couldn't be more pleased," Sony Pictures Entertainment worldwide marketing & distribution president Jeff Blake said Sunday morning.
Miramax/Dimension Films' PG rated family comedy sequel Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams dropped two pegs to sixth place in its fifth week with a dull ESTIMATED $3.0 million (-50%) at 2,821 theaters (-429 theaters; $1,063 per theater). Its cume is approximately $73.9 million.
Directed by Robert Rodriguez, it stars Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino.
New Line's PG-13 rated comedy sequel Austin Powers in Goldmember slid one post to seventh place in its seventh week with a less lively ESTIMATED $2.76 million (-50%) at 2,102 theaters (-404 theaters; $1,308 per theater). Its cume is approximately $207.1 million.
Directed by Jay Roach, it stars Mike Myers, Beyonce Knowles and Michael Caine.
Asked where Goldmember is heading, New Line distribution president David Tuckerman said Sunday morning, "somewhere between $210-215 million probably." The previous sequel Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me did $205.4 million in domestic theaters in 1999.
MDP Worldwide's R rated horror film feardotcom fell three notches to eighth place via Warner Bros. in its second week with a soft ESTIMATED $2.35 million (-50%) at 2,550 theaters (theater count unchanged; $920 per theater). Its cume is approximately $10.5 million.
Directed by William Malone, it stars Stephen Dorff, Natascha McElhone and Stephen Rea.
Columbia took ninth place with what Sony called an "encore release" of its PG-13 rated blockbusters Spider-Man and Men in Black II with an ESTIMATED $2.0 million at 2,078 theaters ($962 per theater). Sony did not release a new cume for each film, but put the double bill's "encore release cume" at $2.0 million.
Directed by Sam Raimi, Spider-Man stars Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Cliff Robertson and Rosemary Harris.
Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, Men In Black II stars Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith.
"It's an encore run prior to what looks like spectacular video and DVD releases on each," Sony's Jeff Blake said Sunday morning. "Spider-Man on Oct. 31, a special Halloween release date. And a Thanksgiving release date on Men In Black II."
Rounding out the Top Ten was Universal and Imagine Entertainment's PG-13 rated romantic surfer girl comedy Blue Crush with a calm ESTIMATED $1.81 million (-59%) at 2,009 theaters (-811 theaters; $900 per theater). Its cume is approximately $37.2 million.
Directed by John Stockwell and produced by Brian Grazer and Karen Kehela, it stars Kate Bosworth, Michelle Rodriguez, Matthew Davis, Sanoe Lake and Mika Boorem.
This weekend saw the arrival of no other noteworthy releases.
There were no national sneak previews this weekend.
On the expansion front this weekend Fox Searchlight Pictures' R rated comedy The Good Girl went wider in its fifth week with a solid ESTIMATED $1.5 million (-48%) at 690 theaters (+23 theaters; $2,210 per theater). Its cume is approximately $9.7 million.
Directed by Miguel Arteta, it stars Jennifer Aniston, Jake Gyllenhaal and John C. Reilly.
Fox Searchlight Pictures' R rated thriller One Hour Photo continued to expand well in its third week with a strong ESTIMATED $1.45 million (-42%) at 173 theaters (+9 theaters; $8,382 per theater). Its cume is approximately $5.9 million.
Written and directed by Mark Romanek, it stars Robin Williams.
"Next Friday it expands to 1,200 runs," a Fox Searchlight spokesman said Sunday morning.
Focus Features' romantic drama Possession added a few more theaters in its fourth week with a still hopeful ESTIMATED $0.98 million (-49%) at 616 theaters (+2 theaters; $1,590 per theater). Its cume is approximately $7.9 million.
Directed by Neil LaBute, it stars Gwyneth Paltrow and Aaron Eckhart.
Paramount Classics' PG rated German romantic comedy Mostly Martha went wider in its fourth week with an OK ESTIMATED $0.3 million (-31%) at 70 theaters (+4 theaters; $3,720 per theater). Its cume is approximately $1.2 million.
Written and directed by Sandra Nettelbeck, it stars Martina Gedeck.
United Artists' R rated comedy 24 Hour Party People, released through MGM, continued to widen and hold well in its fifth week with an ESTIMATED $93,000 at 35 theaters (+3 theaters; $2,649 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.8 million.
Directed by Michael Winterbottom, it stars Steve Coogan.
Key films--those grossing more than $500,000--took in approximately $68.18 million for the weekend, down a marginal 0.93 percent from last year when they totaled $68.82 million.
Key films cannot be compared to the previous weekend of this year, which was a four day holiday weekend.
Last year, Universal's opening week of The Musketeer was first with $10.31 million at 2,438 theaters ($4,230 per theater); and Sony's opening week of Two Can Play That Game was second with $7.72 million at 1,297 theaters ($5,953 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $18.0 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $23.0 million.