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.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
Forget the Battle of the Bands! Moviegoers felt the noize this weekend as the musical comedy School of Rock won the battle at the box office with a tuneful $20.2 million*.
Opening to positive reviews, the Jack Black vehicle easily outperformed Out of Time, starring Oscar winner Denzel Washington. The police thriller took in a sensible $17 million to place second.
"I think it has more to do with the subject matter than the stars," Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations, told The Associated Press Sunday. "School of Rock has a younger, school-age appeal. Black's like a big kid, like an Adam Sandler-type persona. Irreverent, funny, bucks the establishment. That brings in younger audiences."
Indeed. School of Rock's melodious take was also enough to make it the fifth best October opener ever, ousting the sci-fi comedy K-Pax. School of Rock follows the likes of October champ Red Dragon, which debuted in 2002 with $36.5 million; the 2000 comedy Meet the Parents, with $28.6 million; the 2002 comedy Jackass: The Movie, with $22.7 million; and the 2001 drama Training Day with $22.5 million.
Last week's box office topper, the jungle actioner The Rundown, dropped to third place with $9.7 million, followed by the sun-drenched romantic comedy Under the Tuscan Sun with $7.9 million. The family drama Secondhand Lions rounded out the Top Five with tame $5.3 million.
The Station Agent and Wonderland, which opened in limited runs in New York City and Los Angeles, also showed strong debuts with high per theater averages.
THE TOP TEN
Paramount Pictures' PG-13 rated rock 'n' roll comedy School of Rock debuted at the top of the box office this week with an impressive ESTIMATED $20.2 million in 2,614 theaters, averaging $7,728 per theater.
In the film, funnyman Jack Black stars as a hell-raising guitarist who impersonates a substitute teacher and turns a class of fifth-grade high-achievers into high-voltage rock 'n' rollers.
Directed by Richard Linklater, it stars Black, Joan Cusack and Michael White.
MGM Pictures' R rated police thriller Out of Time premiered in second place with an ESTIMATED $17 million at 3,076 theaters, averaging $5,527 per theater.
In the film, Academy Award winner Denzel Washington plays a Florida police chief whose life unravels as he begins to investigate a brutal double homicide.
Directed by Carl Franklin, it stars Washington, Eva Mendes, Sanaa Lathan and Dean Cain.
Universal Pictures' PG-13 rated jungle actioner The Rundown, last week's box office champ, dropped to third place in its second weekend with an ESTIMATED $9.7 million (-47%) in 3,154 theaters (+2 theaters; $3,100 per theater). Its cume is approximately $32.7 million.
Directed by Peter Berg, it stars The Rock, Seann William Scott, Rosario Dawson and Christopher Walken.
Buena Vista's PG-13 rated romantic comedy Under the Tuscan Sun fell two notches to No.4 in its second week with an ESTIMATED $7.9 million (-19%) in 1,697 theaters (+471 theaters; $4,661 per theater). Its cume is approximately $20.9 million.
Directed by Audrey Wells, it stars Diane Lane, Sandra Oh, Vincent Riotta and Raoul Bova.
New Line's PG rated family drama Secondhand Lions only dropped one spot to round out the Top Five in its third week with an ESTIMATED $5.3 million (-35%) in 3,032 theaters (-6 theaters; $1,773 per theater). Its cume is approximately $30.8 million.
Directed by Tim McCanlies, it stars Haley Joel Osment, Robert Duvall and Michael Caine.
Sony Picture's R rated supernatural thriller Underworld tumbled three positions to take sixth place in its third week with an ESTIMATED $4.8 million (-49%) at 2715 theaters (-213 theaters; $1,768 per theater). Its cume is approximately $44.5 million.
Directed by Len Wiseman, it stars Kate Beckinsale and Scott Speedman.
*Box office estimates provided by Exhibitor Relations, Inc.
Focus Features' R rated dramedy Lost In Translation climbed three positions to place seventh in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $4.2 million (+16%) in 864 theaters (+376 theaters; $4,393 per theater average). Its cume is approximately $14.1 million.
Directed by Sofia Coppola, it stars Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson.
Paramount Picture's PG-13 rated musical comedy The Fighting Temptations dropped three rungs to No. 8 in its third week with an ESTIMATED $3.2 million (-49%) in 1,762 theaters (-264 theaters; $1,864 per theater). Its cume is approximately $24.7 million.
Directed by Jonathan Lynn, it stars Cuba Gooding, Jr., Beyonce Knowles, Mike Epps and Steve Harvey.
Sony Pictures' R rated sequel Once Upon a Time in Mexico fell three notches to ninth place in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $2.5 million (-49%) in 2, 097 theaters (-825theaters; $1,216 per theater). Its cume is approximately $52.9 million.
Directed by Robert Rodriguez, it stars Antonio Banderas, Johnny Depp, Salma Hayek and Willem Dafoe.
Buena Vista's R rated thriller Cold Creek Manor slipped two spots to round out the Top Ten in its third week with an ESTIMATED $2.5 million (-43%) at 1,398 theaters (-97 theaters; $1,290 per theater). Its cume is approximately $18.3 million.
Directed by Mike Figgis, it stars Dennis Quaid, Sharon Stone, Stephen Dorff and Juliette Lewis.
Lions Gate Releasing's R rated biopic Wonderland premiered in five theaters in New York and Los Angeles with an ESTIMATED $90,000, averaging $18,000 per theater.
Directed by James Cox, it stars Val Kilmer, Lisa Kudrow, Kate Bosworth, Dylan McDermott and Josh Lucas.
Miramax's R rated drama The Station Agent, meanwhile, premiered in three theaters in New York and Los Angeles with an ESTIMATED $55,500, averaging a strong $18,500 per theater.
Directed by Tom McCarthy, it stars Peter Dinklage, Bobby Cannavale, Patricia Clarkson and Michelle Williams.
The Top 12 films this weekend grossed an ESTIMATED $82.1 million, up 2.9 percent from last weekend's $79.8 million. The Top 12 movies, however, were down 18.67 percent from this time last year when they took in $101 million.
Last year, Universal's R rated thriller Red Dragon came in at No. 1 in its opening week with $36.5 million in 3,357 theaters ($10,855 per theater); Buena Vista's PG-13 rated comedy Sweet Home Alabama came in second place in its second week with $21.3 million in 3,303 theaters (+10 theaters; $6,456 per theater); and DreamWorks' PG-13 rated comedy The Tuxedo finished third in its second week with $10 million at 2,051 theaters (unchanged; $4,893 per theater).