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.
In This Means War – a stylish action/rom-com hybrid from director McG – Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) and Chris Pine (Star Trek) star as CIA operatives whose close friendship is strained by the fires of romantic rivalry. Best pals FDR (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) are equally accomplished at the spy game but their fortunes diverge dramatically in the dating realm: FDR (so nicknamed for his obvious resemblance to our 32nd president) is a smooth-talking player with an endless string of conquests while Tuck is a straight-laced introvert whose love life has stalled since his divorce. Enter Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) a pretty plucky consumer-products evaluator who piques both their interests in separate unrelated encounters. Tuck meets her via an online-dating site FDR at a video-rental store. (That Lauren is tech-savvy enough to date online but still rents movies in video stores is either a testament to her fascinating mix of contradictions or more likely an example of lazy screenwriting.)
When Tuck and FDR realize they’re pursuing the same girl it sparks their respective competitive natures and they decide to make a friendly game of it. But what begins as a good-natured rivalry swiftly devolves into romantic bloodsport with both men using the vast array of espionage tools at their disposal – from digital surveillance to poison darts – to gain an edge in the battle for Lauren’s affections. If her constitutional rights happen to be violated repeatedly in the process then so be it.
Lauren for her part remains oblivious to the clandestine machinations of her dueling suitors and happily basks in the sudden attention from two gorgeous men. Herein we find the Reese Witherspoon Dilemma: While certainly desirable Lauren is far from the irresistible Helen of Troy type that would inspire the likes of Tuck and FDR to risk their friendship their careers and potential incarceration for. At several points in This Means War I found myself wondering if there were no other peppy blondes in Los Angeles (where the film is primarily set) for these men to pursue. Then again this is a film that wishes us to believe that Tom Hardy would have trouble finding a date so perhaps plausibility is not its strong point.
When Lauren needs advice she looks to her boozy foul-mouthed best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler). Essentially an extension of Handler’s talk-show persona – an acquired taste if there ever was one – Trish’s dialogue consists almost exclusively of filthy one-liners delivered in rapid-fire succession. Handler does have some choice lines – indeed they’re practically the centerpiece of This Means War’s ad campaign – but the film derives the bulk of its humor from the outrageous lengths Tuck and FDR go to sabotage each others’ efforts a raucous game of spy-versus-spy that carries the film long after Handler’s shtick has grown stale.
Business occasionally intrudes upon matters in the guise of Heinrich (Til Schweiger) a Teutonic arms dealer bent on revenge for the death of his brother. The subplot is largely an afterthought existing primarily as a means to provide third-act fireworks – and to allow McGenius an outlet for his ADD-inspired aesthetic proclivities. The film’s action scenes are edited in such a manic quick-cut fashion that they become almost laughably incoherent. In fairness to McG he does stage a rather marvelous sequence in the middle of the film in which Tuck and FDR surreptitiously skulk about Lauren's apartment unaware of each other's presence carefully avoiding detection by Lauren who grooves absentmindedly to Montel Jordan's "This Is How We Do It." The whole scene unfolds in one continuous take – or is at least craftily constructed to appear as such – captured by one very agile steadicam operator.
Whatever his flaws as a director McG is at least smart enough to know how much a witty script and appealing leads can compensate for a film’s structural and logical deficiencies. He proved as much with Charlie’s Angels a film that enjoys a permanent spot on many a critic’s Guilty Pleasures list and does so again with This Means War. The film coasts on the chemistry of its three co-stars and only runs into trouble when the time comes to resolve its romantic competition which by the end has driven its male protagonists to engage in all manner of underhanded and duplicitous activities. This Means War being a commercial film – and likely an expensive one at that – Witherspoon's heroine is mandated to make a choice and McG all but sidesteps the whole thorny matter of Tuck and FDR’s unwavering dishonesty not to mention their craven disregard for her privacy. (They regularly eavesdrop on her activities.) For all their obvious charms the truth is that neither deserves Lauren – or anything other than a lengthy jail sentence for that matter.
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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.
Three major movie studio films opened nationwide Friday, including Jackass: The Movie, Ghost Ship and The Truth About Charlie--and it was the dumbest one that cleaned up at the box office.
Jackass: The Movie, the big-screen adaptation of the MTV series featuring a bunch of guys doing really stupid stunts, took in a rather tasteful $22.7 million, while The Ring chimed in second with a close $18.8 million. Ghost Ship finished third with a frighteningly real $11.7 million.
Sweet Home Alabama came in fourth with $6.4 million, while My Big Fat Greek Wedding placed close behind, taking in $6.3 million in its 28th week. Red Dragon lost steam in its fourth week, coming in sixth with $4.7 million.
Universal's The Truth About Charlie took in a tepid $2.3 million and averaged a low-slung $3,105 per theater at 752 runs.
THE TOP TEN
Paramount Picture's Jackass: The Movie opened with a strong ESTIMATED $22.7 million at 2,509 theaters ($9,047 per theater).
Directed by Jeff Tremaine, it stars Johnny Knoxville, Bam Margera, Chris Pontius, Steve-O, Dave England, Ryan Dunn, and Jason 'Wee Man' Acuna.
Jackass' average per theater was also the highest for any film playing in wide release this week. The film is rated R for dangerous and sometimes extremely crude stunts, language and nudity, perfect for its target audience of youngish males up to about 30 in age.
In Jackass, Knoxville and his crew take the concept of the MTV reality series Jackass to the extreme.
"I've basically given money to a bunch of idiots saddled with enough dimwitted ignorance to try one bad idea after another," MTV Films President Van Toffer told Reuters Friday. It looks like the gamble paid off.
The film is the third best October opener of all time (if estimates hold) behind Universal's Red Dragon, which took in $36.5 million when it debuted three weeks ago, and Meet the Parents, which grossed $28.6 million when it opened on Oct. 6, 2000.
Jackass' take also bucks Paramount's series of under-performing openings, including Abandon, The Four Feathers and K-19: The Widowmaker.
DreamWorks' PG-13 rated horror thriller The Ring came in second, although its ESTIMATED $18.8 million (+25%) take at 2634 theaters (+653 theaters; $7,137 per theater) is better than its opening weekend gross of $15.0 million. Its cume is approximately $39.7 million.
Directed by Gore Verbinski, it stars Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson and Brian Cox.
Warner Bros.' R-rated horror thriller Ghost Ship sailed third with an ESTIMATED $11.7 million at 2787 theaters ($4,203 per theater).
In Ghost Ship, a salvage crew comes across the remains of a vessel thought to be lost for more than 40 years floating adrift in a remote region of the Bering Sea.
Directed by Steve Beck, it stars Gabriel Byrne, Julianna Margulies, Ron Eldard and Desmond Harrington.
Buena Vista/Touchstone's PG-13 rated romantic comedy Sweet Home Alabama dropped to fourth place in its fourth week, with an ESTIMATED $6.4 million (-33%) at 3,182 theaters (-100 theaters; $2,011 per theater). Its cume is approximately $107.2 million, heading for $125 million in domestic theaters and is the 16th film released in '02 to cross the $100 million mark.
Directed by Andy Tennant, it stars Reese Witherspoon.
IFC Films' release of Gold Circle Films and HBO's PG-rated romantic comedy blockbuster My Big Fat Greek Wedding went down a notch to fifth place in its 2th week, with an ESTIMATED $6.3 million (-12%) at 1967 theaters (-47 theaters; $3,211 per theater). Its cume is approximately $177.8 million, heading for $185 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Joel Zwick, it stars Nia Vardalos and John Corbett.
Universal's R rated thriller Red Dragon, presented in association with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures, fell three rungs to sixth place in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $4.7 million (-46%) at 2886 theaters (-421 theaters; $21,635 per theater). Its cume is approximately $84.9 million, heading for $100 million.
Directed by Brett Ratner, it stars Anthony Hopkins, Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, Harvey Keitel, Emily Watson, Mary-Louise Parker and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Revolution Studios and Columbia's R rated romantic comedy drama Punch-Drunk Love expanded in its third week to a solid ESTIMATED $3.6 million at 481 theaters (+403 theaters; $7,277 per theater). Its cume is approximately $6.0 million.
Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, it stars Adam Sandler and Emily Watson.
The G rated animated feature Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie from Artisan's FHE Pictures and Big Idea Productions, came in eighth place in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $2.9million (-26%) at 1,625 theaters (+44 theaters; $1,785 per theater). Its cume is approximately $19.7 million.
Directed by Phil Vischer and Mike Nawrocki, it was produced by Ameake Owens.
20th Century Fox's PG-13 rated action drama The Transporter slipped to ninth place in its third week with an ESTIMATED $2.8 million (-44%) at 1880 theaters (-730 theaters; $1,513 per theater). Its cume is approximately $21.5 million.
Directed by Cory Yuen, it stars Jason Statham and Shu Qi.
Rounding out the Top Ten was Fox Searchlight Pictures' PG-13 rated romantic comedy Brown Sugar, which dropped five slots with an ESTIMATED $2.7 million (-47%) at 1,149 theaters (-229 theaters; $2,415 per theater). Its cume is approximately $22.3 million.
Directed by Rick Famuyiwa, it stars Taye Diggs and Sanaa Lathan.
This weekend also saw the arrival of six new releases, including The Truth About Charlie, Paid in Full and Frida.
Universal's PG-13 crime caper The Truth About Charlie opened with an all too modest ESTIMATED $2.3 million at 752 theaters ($3,105 per theater).
The film is a remake of 1963's Charade, which starred Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn.
Directed by Jonathan Demme, it stars Mark Wahlberg, Thandie Newton and Tim Robbins.
Miramax Fims' R-rated urban crime drama Paid in Full opened with an ESTIMATED $1.4 million at 268 theaters ($5,224 per theater).
The film, set in Harlem, New York, in 1986, is about a young man who is lured into the seductive world of drug dealing.
Dirceted by Charles Stone, it stars Mekhi Phifer, Wood Harris, Kevin Carroll, Esai Morales and Chi McBride.
Miramax Films' R-rated biopic Frida opened to a solid $0.2 million at 5 theaters (a whopping $40,000 per theater average).
The film is based on the life of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo--from her complex and enduring relationship with her mentor and husband, Diego Rivera, to her life as a political, artistic, and sexual revolutionary.
Directed by Julie Taymor, the film stars Salma Hayek, Alfred Molina, Geoffrey Rush, Ashley Judd and Antonio Banderas.
The top 12 films this weekend grossed an ESTIMATED $87.9 million, up about 19.53 percent from last weekend when they totaled $73. million, making this the seventh "up" weekend in a row.
The top 12 were also up 11.21 percent from last year when they totaled $72.47 million.
Last year, Universal's opening week of K-Pax was first with $17.2 million at 2,541 theaters ($6,775 per theater); and Warner Bros.' opening week of Thirteen Ghosts was second with $15.1 million at 2,781 theaters ($5,453 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $32.3 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $41.5 million.