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.
It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a decent ninja flick. When the Golden Age of Ninja Cinema (also known as the Dudikoff Era) ebbed at the close of the ‘80s the black-clad martial artists retreated to the shadows. This week director James McTeigue (V for Vendetta) aims to resurrect them with Ninja Assassin a hyperkinetic gorefest starring Korean pop star Rain.
But these ain’t your daddy’s ninjas. Though they boast the familiar wardrobe (black on black) and weapons (swords throwing stars etc.) the ninjas in this flick are thoroughly nasty buggers. Members of a super-secret international syndicate of assassins-for-hire they can dodge bullets turn invisible heal wounds and communicate telepathically. And for the low low price of 100 lbs of gold they’ll kill anyone you want no questions asked.
It’s that latter aspect that draws the scrutiny of law enforcement — specifically agents Mika Coretti (Naomi Harris) and Ryan Maslow (Ben Miles) of Europol (which appears to be a division of Interpol staffed exclusively with imbeciles). Fortunately for these hapless twits they find a potent ally in Raizo (Rain) a renegade ninja of unsurpassed ability who nurses a nasty grudge against his cruel former master Lord Ozunu (Sho Kosugi).
Fueled by childhood memories of the abuse he suffered while at Lord Ozunu’s ninja sleepaway camp Raizo will stop at nothing to bring the entire operation down. Which is good because his former chums are a persistent lot arriving in ever greater numbers to snuff out the powerful apostate.
McTeigue’s dizzying shaky-cam combined with the identical appearance of most of the ninja combatants makes the action difficult to follow at times in Ninja Assassin. It’s probably why he felt compelled to accentuate every fight scene with exaggerated bursts of CGI blood. Still as disembodied heads limbs and torsos fly across the screen in quantities not seen since Kill Bill it’s nigh impossible to determine who they belong(ed) to. Much easier to pinpoint are the glistening six-pack abs of Raizo a fighter so badass he can ward off his pursuers while wearing little more than a thin layer of baby oil.
It’s a pity Raizo couldn’t have applied his blade to the Ninja Assassin script which encumbers the first half of the movie with endless flashbacks gratuitous training sequences and pointless political squabbling. Or perhaps he could have imparted some of his skills at deception to McTeigue who exhibits all of the subtlety and unpredictability of a kamikaze pilot.
This is one ninja flick that should have remained in the shadows.
The crime spree is over. "The Sopranos" will have to kiss someone else's ring -- namely, the big boss man's, the president of the United States of TV America.
"The West Wing" was named Best Drama Series at the 52nd Annual Emmy Awards, capping a night wherein the political drama dominated, save for one major setback when James Gandolfini of "The Sopranos" bested Martin Sheen in the competition for Best Actor in a Drama Series.
"I think the Academy has an affinity for slightly overweight bald men," Gandolfini quipped onstage.
Gandolfini's win was the lone bright spot for "The Sopranos," which otherwise got whacked -- like when Sela Ward of ABC’s "Once and Again" beat both Edie Falco and Lorraine Bracco for the Best Actress in a Drama Series Emmy. "The Sopranos" came into the night with 18 nominations.
Hollywood.com's Sandy Kenyon asked Gandolfini: "It's been a long kind of overnight success for you. What was going through your mind and is this a form of sweet justice for you?"
"I didn't feel any miscarriage of justice last year or anything like that, I'm just pleased to be in the show, doing the work we do,” Gandolfini said. “I didn't feel anything went wrong last year, so this year is just icing on the cake for me personally."
Meanwhile, Sheen was doing a lot of congratulatory on-camera hugging, as his comrades made their way to the stage to accept their trophies. Among the other honors for "The West Wing" were Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (Allison Janney) and Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (Richard Schiff); Best Writing in a Drama Series (Aaron Sorkin and Rick Cleveland); and Best Direction in a Drama Series (Thomas Schlamme).
"I've got a 'West Wing' feeling," host Gary Shandling mused halfway through the telecast.
NBC’s “Will & Grace” came away with some big wins, including Best Comedy Series and Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for Megan Mullally and Best Supporting Actor in A Comedy Series for Sean Hayes.
The lead actor and actress in “Will & Grace,” Eric McCormack and Debra Messing, respectively, lost out to Michael J. Fox for ABC’s “Spin City” and Patricia Heaton of CBS’ “Everybody Loves Raymond.”
HURRY IT UP: The Emmys aren't known for brevity. In recent years, the broadcast has dragged on well past the allotted running time, but this year's festivities wrapped up within its three-hour slot. Just barely.
During the final hour, that tinkly "get off the stage, already" piano music was heard often as awardees dragged on too long with acceptance speeches. Host Shandling was cut off in mid-sentence as he introduced presenter Bruce Willis, who walked onstage before his cue and explained, "We're running really late" under his breath.
The producers tried (mostly in vain) using TelePrompTers to quicken the pace -- a fact that Jack Lemmon inadvertently revealed, when he unconsciously read the "please wrap up" cue out loud.
In his opening monologue, Shandling said, "You know what slows this show down? It's the awards," and jokingly suggested that the names of winners be taped to the bottom of their seats to save time.
Not a bad idea.
Here's a brief blow by blow of the highlights of the 2000 Emmy telecast:
THERE'S NOTHING LIKE A GOOD POTTY JOKE: This being an awards telecast, there were of course lots of pre-taped and live time killers in between the awards and commercials.
The best of these was a "Big Brother" parody, wherein Shandling was caught on camera in the men's room. The valet offering him a hot towel was David Duchovny, who informed Shandling that a vote was taken and his bathroom privileges had been revoked. Guess you had to be there.
The whole show began, of course, with a "Survivor" parody that featured a mock vote of the Tribal Council (with celebrity members including Andy Richter of "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" fame). The winner of which would be named host of the Emmy telecast and also get an SUV. Shandling tried to cop out, asking if he could just take the car instead. Guess you had to be there for that one, too.
There were other funny gags. Conan O'Brien did a self-effacing bit about paying lip service to women's issues so he could get a date to next year's Emmys; and Shandling did a tribute to his idea of "risk taking" TV: like the Home Shopping Network, "Jerry Springer," monster trucks, "Teletubbies," "Xena" and The Weather Channel.
PRESSING THE FLESH: Hubba, hubba. Was it just the fact that we're watching the Emmy telecast on crystal-clear satellite TV, or did everyone see Geena Davis' um, er, um, ahem ... nipples? Is Renny Harlin nuts? She's the most beautiful over-40 woman in the universe -- see-through, skin-tight outfit or no.
I SEE DEAD PEOPLE: The annual montage of dearly departed TV celebs featured Loretta Young, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Madeline Kahn, John Gielgud, George C. Scott, Larry Linville, Meredith MacRae, Gene Rayburn, Durward Kirby, Shirley Hemphill, Hoyt Axton, Nancy Marchand, Leonard Goldenson, Clayton Moore, Doug Henning, Craig Stevens, Mary Jane Croft, Mabel King, Charles M. Schulz, Alec Guinness and Walter Matthau.
WHO'S THAT, ER, GIRL? Cher's got blonde hair now. She looks just like Christina Aguilera, sort of. Just thought you'd like to know.
WE LIKE MIKE: The evening's biggest no-brainer was probably Michael J. Fox's win for Best Actor in a Comedy Series. The actor received the second standing O of the night (the first went to Jack Lemmon) as he took his first "Spin City" Emmy in four tries and fourth trophy overall (he got three for "Family Ties").
NBC won bragging rights for the night, taking 23 Emmys. HBO won 20, ABC 15, Fox 11 and CBS 7.