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.
This week sees the release of The Debt, a multi-generational look at the high stakes world of international espionage. Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson and Cirián Hinds star as retired Mossad agents whose years of dedicated service have made them revered names in the industry. The film takes place in two parts, the first being set in the year 1997, as our heroes are now retired agents. The second part is a flashback to 1966 as the trio tracks down a Nazi war criminal with Jessica Chastain, Martin Csokas, and Sam Worthington play their younger counterparts, respectively.
Taking on the task of capturing the essence of a tremendous actress like Helen Mirren is no easy one. Does up-and-comer Chastain have what it takes? Who is she? Where did she come from?
Jessica Chastain has been working in film and television since 2004, but got her start on the stage. It was while she was performing in a production of Romeo and Juliet that one of her co-stars encouraged her to audition for Julliard. She ended up getting a scholarship from Robin Williams and, in her senior year, landed an ongoing deal with TV producer John Wells. She would do a number of television series over the next few years (including ER and Law and Order: Trial By Jury) as well as appear in a touring production of Othello alongside Phillip Seymour Hoffman.
Chastain’s first film role was the title character in the independent film Jolene, co-starring Chazz Palminteri and Dermot Mulroney. Right out of the gate, Chastain received an award for her performance, taking Best Actress honors at the Seattle International Film Festival.
She followed that up with a stellar turn in the thriller Stolen with Jon Hamm and Josh Lucas. From there, her career seemed to be on the fast track; just last month, Chastain starred in The Help, based on Kathryn Stockett’s international bestselling novel about a female writer who, during the civil rights movement, writes a book about the life experiences of African-American maids. The film has already proven to be a smash hit.
Jessica also starred with Michael Shannon in Jeff Nichol’s Take Shelter, which has already won big at the Cannes Film Festival. Although it was only released wide in American theaters this week, The Debt was making a splash with audiences at the Toronto International Film Festival last September. Toronto audiences will get another glimpse of Chastain when the Ralph Fiennes-directed Shakespeare adaptation Coriolanus, in which the actresses starred with Gerard Butler and Fiennes himself.
Jessica was also very fortunate recently to have had the chance to work with one of America’s great directors, Terrence Malick (The Thin Red Line, The New World), in the highly anticipated The Tree of Life. The film stars the likes of Brad Pitt and Sean Penn and tells the story of a shattered relationship between father and son over the course of a lifetime. The film won the prestigious Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Chastain’s complex and fascinating performance impressed Terence Malick enough to secure her for at least one more opportunity: an untitled project slated for 2012.
Clearly Jessica Chastain is someone to keep a close eye on in Hollywood. Her next project will see her co-starring with Al Pacino in an adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s Salome that Pacino will also be directing. It's obvious: Chastain’s unique screen presence and obvious devotion to her craft have her well equipped to be an enormous star.
Suffice to say, she won’t be under the radar much longer.
Disney's new movie Mars Needs Moms suffers from a classic mistake: focusing too much on one aspect of a production -- and in this case it's the visuals. The result is an unbalanced mess that looks terrific but doesn't have enough substance to leave the audience with anything more to "ooh" and "ah" at other than all the pretty colors. As we all know from that one really really hot girl/guy in high school who's now overweight and working a dead-end job looks can only go so far.
Adapted from the children's novel by Berkeley Breathed and directed by Simon Wells Mars Needs Moms follows Milo (acted by Seth Green voiced by Seth Robert Dusky) as he chases after his mother who's been stolen by Martians just a few hours after he told her he'd be better off without her. Once he arrives on Mars (by sneaking on the ship) he meets Gribble (Dan Fogler) who informs him of his problem: the Martians are ruled by a ruthless queen-like Supervisor (Mindy Sterling) who's decided that the hatchlings (babies who sprout from the ground like vegetables) must be divided: all males are thrown away into the dump and the females are raised by "nanny-bots" -- robots programmed by the "discipline" energy of good moms like Milo's from Earth. Milo and Gribble buddy-up and with the help of a rebel Martian named Ki (Elisabeth Harnois) the three of them venture to save Milo's mom before it's too late.
And venture on they do. Coming from producer Robert Zemeckis and utilizing the same motion-capture technology as The Polar Express A Christmas Carol and Beowulf Mars Needs Moms rushes forward embracing its visually stunning universe without taking a moment to stop and breathe. The characters never have a chance to do anything significant that would make the audience think they're substantial or important -- especially Gribble whom the filmmakers really really want us to care for. On top of that it relies on a plot line that we've all seen before and instead of diving into the parts that made it interesting (like the question of why men were thrown in the garbage and not women) it skims safely along the surface doing its best to avoid anything deeper than basic themes.
But that may be a little too picky. After all the movie is just supposed to be a fun little child's tale right? In that vein it succeeds. We feel like we're on an amusement park ride thanks to Ki's vibrant '60s flower-power paintings and the adventures on the Red Planet's surface. Even the moments that aren't super fast-paced present environments that are beautiful. Plus Fogler's performance as Gribble (as Jack Black-esque as it was) gives us some fun enjoyable moments and one-liners that kids will no doubt love.
Yet at the same time Mars Needs Moms' visuals aren't all glorious. In fact some hurt the plot because frankly the humans aren't animated very well. There's no life in their eyes. Simple movements like walking look awkward and too often characters facial expressions don't match the urgency found in their voices. Instead the animation just turns all the characters into weird cartoony versions of themselves that look so "almost human" they appear fake. And as always it's difficult to care for fake people.
Children will definitely enjoy Mars Needs Moms but from a filmmaking standpoint Wells really missed an opportunity to deliver something other than neat visuals and one-liners.