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.
UPDATE: While monitoring NBC's ratings may not be the most enthralling of games, watching as the peacock network rolls out its slate of new series is always diverting. We've watched the 2012 lineup of Chelsea Handler-inspired sitcoms and fedora-dependent dramas parade out before the viewing public, only for many of the flashier series to scamper off back to the place from whence they came. (Okay, okay. Are You There, Chelsea? is this close to scampering, but give it time, my friends.) But no matter which ones stick and which ones flop, NBC continually rolls things that make you go "Huh?" This year, we're once again doing the pug head tilt as we flip through the promising, perplexing and intriguing pilot-to-series pick-ups, just in time for next week's upfronts.
Hannibal Starring Hugh Dancy
The network has picked up ten episodes of Hannibal, a series about one of cinema's most beloved villains: Hannibal Lecter, immortalized by Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal and Red Dragon. Our Idiot Brother star Hugh Dancy is on board as Special Agent Will Graham (formerly played by Edward Norton in Red Dragon.)
1313 Mockingbird Lane Starring Eddie Izzard
In the 1960s, television introduced The Munsters: a life action fantasy-comedy about a family of working-class monsters (Frankenstein's monster, his vampire wife, their werewolf son, and Grandpa, a.k.a. Count "Sam" Dracula). NBC has picked up a reboot of the series, stressing the horror aspect. However, with comedian Eddie Izzard cast as Grandpa, there is likely to be a good deal of humor as well. NBC has picked up 13 episodes of 1313 Mockingbird Lane (a very apropos amount.)
Crossbones from the Creator of Luther
With cannibals and monsters on the way, NBC is covering all bases in terms of the dark and criminal: how about pirates? The network has ordered 10 episodes of Crossbones, a pirate-themed drama from Neil Cross, creator of Luther. The series is adapted from The Republic of Pirates by Colin Woodard, and is set in the 1700s.
Revolution Starring Giancarlo Esposito
When all of the world's electricity suddenly and suspiciously disappears, humanity is forced to pick up and start anew. Of course, easier said than done. Fifteen years after the incident, the world is overtaken by militant societies operating with guerilla warfare. When one girl loses her entire immediate family, she is forced to pick up and find a relative whom she hasn't seen since the planet lost its power. And of course, one question persists: why on Earth did this all happen in the first place?
Do No Harm Starring Steven Pasquale
Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde will be reinvented with a new, modern twist in Do No Harm. The new series stars Rescue Me's Steven Pasquale as an ingenious neurosurgeon, plagued by his malevolent, monstrous alter ego. Joining Pasquale are The Cosby Show's Phylicia Rashad and Law & Order's lana De La Garza.
Infamous Starring Meagan Good
NBC is delving into the world of soap operas and detective stories with Infamous (previously titled Notorious). The series stars Meagan Good who goes undercover among the wealthy family for whom her mother worked as housekeeper when Good's character was a child. She is bent on investigating the murder of one of the family members, who was also her childhood best friend. The series also features Victor Garber and Damages' Tate Donovan.
Guys with Kids Starring Anthony Anderson
In light of the recent "Having kids is funny" theme that is sweeping the comedy world, NBC has picked up Guys with Kids, a sitcom about three friends who are new fathers, all the while suspended in their own adolescence. Star Anthony Anderson actually tried this once already as a movie: My Baby's Daddy, back in 2004. But let's hope this time around, the project has a little more to it. The West Wing's Jesse Bradford, The Sopranos' Jamie-Lynn Sigler and The Cosby Show's Tempestt Bledsoe also star.
Chicago Fire from Creator Dick Wolf
Law & Order mastermind Dick Wolf has spent most of his career looking at the crime-laden streets of New York City, with a few trips to Los Angeles here and there. But Wolf's newest series, Chicago Fire, will focus on a team of fire fighters in the Windy City. The program stars Vampire Diaries' Taylor Kinney, Hawaii Five-0's Lauren German, and House's Jesse Spencer as members of a (if this is the same Dick Wolf we're talking about) entertaining but no-nonsense and dedicated fire department.
1600 Penn Starring Josh GadLike NBC's 30 Rock, which takes place (obviously) at 30 Rockefeller Center in New York, 1600 Penn is set at the house every American can recognize in a matter of seconds: The White House at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Along with President Obama's former speech writer Jon Lovett and Modern Family director Jason Winer, Book of Mormon star Josh Gad penned this sitcom centered on the First family, a group who turns out to be just as messed up as the rest of us. Gad will star alongside Bill Pullman (who will play the President of the United States once again) and Brittany Snow co-stars as the First daughter.
Animal Practice Starring Weeds' Justin Kirk
You had us Justin Kirk, but just to humor NBC, let's dig into the details. Kirk stars as a vet (as in an animal doctor, not a guy who runs the pancake breakfasts at your church) who tends to side more with the animals he operates on than their owners. Tyler Labine (Reaper) and Bobby Lee (MadTV) costar, but they'll have to wrestle for screen time because Kirk's animal hospital will also include a monkey, presumably in a tiny white lab coat. Go On Starring Matthew Perry The series sounds promising enough — a sportscaster who suffers a great loss finds solace in his support group — just imagine the Former Mr. Chandler Bing as the smug sports guy finally coming to the conclusion that it's okay to get something out of group therapy. However, we've seen this before. In fact, it's almost too familiar. This series is practically an evolution from the last two series Perry tried to get off the ground: Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and Mr. Sunshine. He's a flippant sportscaster dealing with loss; it basically offers to combine the gravity of Aaron Sorkin's SNL-inspired dramedy with the silly, quippy nature of Mr. Sunshine. That sounds like a perfectly adept progression... now let's just see if it sticks. The New Normal from Creator Ryan Murphy From the creator of Glee and American Horror Story comes a regular family sitcom about a gay couple (The Hangover's Justin Bartha and Book of Mormon's Andrew Rannells,) their surrogate (Georgia King) and their children. Ellen Barkin co-stars as the surrogate's (hopefully delightfully icy) mother and Murphy favorite NeNe Leakes (The Real Housewives of Atlanta) has secured a recurring role. No matter what happens with Leakes and Queen Barkin, there's no way the perfect pairing of Bartha and Rannells won't be worth tuning in at least once. Save Me Starring Anne Heche Anne Heche may have earned her designer shoes by heading up series like Men in Trees and earning roles on Hung and Ally McBeal, but she still can't manage to escape the stigma of her mental breakdown in 2000. Still, we've got to give the girl kudos, because she's getting back on the horse — by playing a woman doing the exact same thing. Heche stars as a woman in a broken marriage who decides to better herself, and produces miracles along the way. It's always a risk bringing miraculous happenings into play on a sitcom, but the quirky Heche might be just the girl to do it. Revolution from J.J. Abrams and Eric Kripke Not satisfied with past attempts to capture the post-apocalyptic mindset on television, Revolution attempts to traverse the territory for NBC. The series will follow a group of survivors (including Breaking Bad's Giancarlo Esposito and Twilight's Billy Burke) as they struggle in the new American landscape bereft of technology and civil order. Sure, it sounds a little like Cormac McCarthy's bestseller The Road, but with a sizeable ensemble cast like Revolution's, there will be plenty of series-worthy drama to weave into the otherwise bleak landscape.
Matthew Perry's NBC Series a Go Bill Pullman Gets Presidential (Again) With NBC Giancarlo Esposito Joins J.J. Abrams' Revolution
[Image: Daily Celeb]
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.
Salt the propulsive new thriller from Phillip Noyce (Clear and Present Danger Patriot Games) has been dubbed “Bourne with boobs ” but that label isn’t entirely accurate. In the role of Evelyn Salt a CIA staffer hunted by her own agency after a Russian defector fingers her in a plot to murder Russia’s president Angelina Jolie keeps her two most potent weapons holstered hidden under pantsuits and trenchcoats and the various other components of a super-spy wardrobe that proudly emphasizes function over flash.
But flash is one thing Salt never lacks for. Its breathless cat-and-mouse game hits full-throttle almost from the outset when a former KGB officer named Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) stumbles into a CIA interrogation room and begins spilling details of a vast conspiracy. Back in the ‘70s hardline elements of the Soviet regime launched an ambitious new front in the Cold War flooding the western world with orphans trained to infiltrate the security complexes of their adopted homelands and wait patiently — decades if necessary — for the order to initiate a series of assassinations intended to trigger a devastating nuclear clash between the superpowers from which the treacherous Reds would emerge triumphant.
The Soviet Union may have long ago collapsed (or did it? Hmmm...) but its army of brainwashed killer orphan spies remains in place and if this crazy Orlov fellow is to be believed they stand poised to reignite the Cold War. It’s a preposterous — even idiotic — scheme but no more so than any of our government’s various harebrained proposals to kill Castro back in the ‘60s. As such the CIA treats it with grave seriousness even the part that that pegs Salt who just happens to be a Russian-born orphan herself as a key player in the conspiracy.
Salt bristles at the accusation but suspecting a set-up she opts to flee rather than face interrogation from her bosses Winter (Liev Schreiber) and Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor). A former field agent she’s been confined to a desk job since a clandestine operation in North Korea went south leaving her with a nasty shiner and a rather unremarkable German boyfriend (now her unremarkable German husband). She’s clearly kept up her training during while cubicle-bound however and in a blaze of resourceful thinking and devastating Parkour Fu she fends off a dozen or so agents of questionable competence and takes to the streets where she sets about to clear her name and unravel the Commie orphan conspiracy before the authorities can catch up with her. That is if she isn’t a part of the conspiracy.
The premise which aims to resurrect Cold War tensions and graft them onto a modern-day spy thriller is absurdly clever — and cleverly absurd. But Kurt Wimmer’s screenplay isn’t satisfied with the merely clever and absurd — it must be mind-blowing. Salt is one of those thrillers that ladles out its backstory slowly and in tiny portions every once in a while dropping a revelatory bombshell that effectively blows the lid off everything that happened beforehand. No one is who they seem and every action every gesture no matter how seemingly trivial is imbued with some kind of grand significance. The effect of piling on one insane twist after another has the effect of gradually diluting the narrative. When anything is possible nothing really matters.
But spy thrillers by definition trade in the preposterous and the principal function of the summer blockbuster is to entertain. In that regard Salt more than fulfills its charge. Noyce wisely keeps the story moving at pace that allows little time for asking uncomfortable questions or poking holes in the film’s frail plot. And he has an able partner in the infinitely versatile Jolie who having already exhibited formidable action-hero chops in Wanted and the Tomb Raider films proves remarkably adept at the spy game as well.
It’s well-known that Jolie wasn’t the first choice to star in Salt joining the project only after Tom Cruise dropped out citing the story’s growing similarities to the Mission: Impossible films. But she’s more than just a capable replacement; she’s a welcome upgrade over Cruise not least because she’s over a decade younger (and a few inches taller) than her predecessor. Should Brad Bird require a pinch-hitter for Ethan Hunt he knows where to look.