Thursday, October 25, 2012

Cloud Atlas versus Fun Size and more as John Gosling previews the week's new films (10-26-12).

Cloud Atlas is an adaptation of David Mitchell's sprawling, multi-layered book of the same name. It spans six different time periods, beginning in 1850 and ending in a distant post-apocalyptic future, and covers many aspects of the human condition and the idea of eternal recurrence. Thought to be impossible to translate into a screenplay (something Mitchell himself admitted) due to its complex nature and themes, it came as some surprise when director Tom Tykwer revealed in 2009 that he had begun work on a script for Cloud Atlas with The Wachowski's, who had optioned the rights to the book. This came about when The Matrix duo were shooting second unit on the 2005 flick V for Vendetta, and noticed star Natalie Portman engrossed in the book. After listening to Portman rave over it, both Lana and Andy read it and were equally as impressed. On the look out for a project on which they could collaborate with Tom Tykwer , they urged the German-born director to read it. He too was blown away and quickly joined the project. But commitments on both sides held back work until 2009 (Tykwer was finishing up The International, the Wachowski's were experimenting with Iraq war drama Cobalt Neural 9, a project on which they would not secure funding). By February 2009, the trio assembled in Costa Rica to begin work. 

They ran into problems of how to convey the different story-lines  yet keep the links between them in tact. There were also issues with how the book was set out and its use and partial invention of language. Furthermore, the story only follows a chronological path until half way through, when it reverses (meaning it starts and finishes in 1850). The directors attempted to break it down into hundreds of small scenes and arranged them into a time line which would (they hoped) resemble the order in which a traditional film would play out. Still they could make no headway, but with their time together almost up, they were hit by a revelation - they could have the same actors playing different roles in each story to show that the human soul is reincarnated and goes on - tapping into the aforementioned eternal recurrence (a major theme in the book). With this in mind, the Wachowski's started work on assembling a screenplay and thus began a back and forth between themselves and Tykwer. Having been burned badly by Alan Moore's comments regarding their V for Vendetta adaptation, they, along with Tykwer agreed that if author David Mitchell disliked their screenplay, they would scrap the work they had done and go their separate ways. Fortunately, Mitchell loved it and joked that the trio now knew his book and characters better than he himself did. With his blessing, they began to seek funding. Despite their combined clout (the Wachowski's Matrix trilogy had earned within excess of $1B in theatrical, home and ancillary sales for WB) they hit walls at every turn. Warner Bros. did eventually offer to distribute the picture domestically, but that fee would only partially cover the proposed $140M production budget. Worse was to come. While casting the film the studio put the deal on hold, claiming that the figures didn't add up (Lana Wachowski told The New Yorker that Warner Bros. had used the Darran Aronofsky film, The Fountain, as their financial projection model for Cloud Atlas).

Thanks to securing Tom Hanks for the project, they were able to return to WB and get the funding, though not as much as originally offered. Further money was also secured from the German Federal Film Fund. The project continued to stall a number of times, with the traditional method of raising funds out of the window. Instead, the production signed up a number of investors, but this still wasn't enough and left the picture in the risky position of falling apart if even one financier dropped out. Even a passionate presentation by Tykwer, The Wachowski's and Focus Features' James Schamus at the Cannes film festival in 2011 failed to generate enough funds. In fact the opposite took place - seeing a lack of investment in the project prompted others to withhold or withdraw their funding. Eventually the costs were scaled back to $100M, giving the picture an $86M shooting budget. The Wachowski's not only gave up their directing fees but also invested some of their own money into the film. With funding coming from so many sources, Cloud Atlas has been deemed one of the most expensive independent movies ever produced.  Casting could finally begin in earnest. Along with Hanks, the trio signed up Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Ben Wishaw, Susan Sarandon, Doona Bae and Halle Berry (taking the role originally earmarked for Natalie Portman), along with Hugh Grant, who was cast at the last minute. All would have multiple roles - Hanks would play four different characters, Berry had five while Weaving would play a different part in every single story. It was decided The Wachowski's would handle the 19th century chapter, along with the two future ones, while Tykwer took on the 30s, the 70s and the present day installments  Two separate crews would operate on the film, but work closely together. Shooting commenced in September 2011, primarily in Berlin but also counting Majorca and Scotland among its location shoots.

By December, filming was complete and the directors screened a 170-minute cut to Warner Bros. brass, who much to the trio's surprise, loved it. The only issue now was how they could possibly market the film to the public - attempting to convey its complexities in two minutes and thirty seconds. In a move as bizarre as their funding process, Tykwer and The Wachowski's issued an epic five minute long, online trailer, which sought to explain what the film was about, while displaying some incredible visuals. Furthermore, they created an introduction to the trailer in which the three talked about the film and its themes. Having had their lives shrouded in secrecy for many a year, after an earlier encounter with the Hollywood machine left them fearful, The Wachowski's (now classing themselves as Wachowski Starship) appearing on screen generated almost as much hype as the trailer itself. Knowing their livelihoods depend on the film's success, they have continued to use themselves to promote the picture, granting interviews and such like. Cloud Atlas premiered at the Toronto Film Festival to great acclaim and received a ten minute standing ovation. Subsequent screenings have gone equally well, but more than one critic has mentioned that while the movie is audacious in both theme and scale, it is almost as far from potential commercial success as is possible. At 164 minutes in length, with six interweaving and time spanning stories, along with the same actors playing multiple characters, Cloud Atlas may find success at the box office hard to come by this weekend. It opens on the fewest theatres (estimated at 1,950) of all this week's major new releases. Ultimately, will Tom Tykwer and Wachowski Starship end up losing their houses because of Cloud Atlas?

Our next new release this weekend is the Nickelodeon produced comedy, Fun Size, featuring Victorious star Victoria Justice. When Wren is invited to a Halloween party by a guy she has a major crush on, she couldn't be happy. But the plans fall apart when Wren's mother asks her to babysit/go trick or treating with her little brother Albert. Trying to kill two birds with one stone, she takes her brother along to the party, but inadvertently loses him among the crowds of people. With the help of two geek guys (who just happen to have a access to a car) and her best friend by her side, Wren faces a race against time - find Albert before her mother realizes he's missing. She soon discovers her Halloween adventure is about to get a whole lot crazier. Josh Schwartz makes his directorial debut on the picture, but is no stranger to the game, having created TV series The O.C, and been co-creator on Chuck and Gossip Girls, among a number of other TV productions. He was announced as director back in January 2011, and had cast Victoria Justice by March, to be joined a month later by Jane Levy, who was set to play Wren's best friend, April. With everything set to go on the production, bad weather delayed filming, causing newcomer Schwartz to have to shoot much faster than he'd anticipated when things finally got back on track. Switching locations from Minnesota, to Michigan and then finally Cleveland didn't help matters either. The first (and only) trailer for Fun Size was issued in June 2012, with a late October release set. Interestingly, despite being a Nickelodeon production, the film received a PG-13 rating, only the second time this has happened on a 'Nick' picture (the first being Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging). That could leave Fun Size in a tricky position - too old for the family market but not edgy enough for the teen crowd. How much Halloween itself affects the film's prospects is also open to debate given that many will celebrate this weekend. The good news is that Fun Size faces no direct competition this frame and could tap some of the market that made a flick like the first Diary of a Wimpy Kid a hit.

Next up this weekend is the true life drama Chasing Mavericks, which stars Gerard Butler and Jonny Weston. The film chronicles the life of surfer Jay Moriarty and his tutelage under local surf legend, Frosty Hesson. Moriarty dreams of surfing the most dangerous waves in North America but finds he still has a lot to learn about surfing and life in general. Hooking up with Hesson, who is initially resistant to the idea of teaching him, the two form a friendship as Moriarty prepares to realize his dream. Joining Butler and Weston is Elisabeth Shue, taking on her third role in the space of a few months (she featured in Hope Springs and House at the End of The Street). At the helm of Chasing Mavericks (Which was originally titled Of Men and Mavericks) are veteran directors Curtis Hanson and Michael Apted, known for, among other things, his work on the 'Up' documentary series. While Hanson has been directing since 1973 (his debut was the Roger Corman produced Sweet Kill), it was his 1990s output that shot him to mainstream success, beginning with Bad Influence, The Hand that Rocks the Cradle and The River Wild, before going on to direct arguably his best work, the multi-award winning L.A Confidential in 1997 (editor's note: Wonder Boys, from 2000, is also superb and one of that decade's best films). Chasing Mavericks shot around this time last year, with Walden Media and Fox opting for a busy Halloween release date. Real life dramas can go either way at the box office, but often have the power to surprise - 2011's A Dolphin's Tale opened to an impressive $19M, before going on to gross over $70M in North America. Furthermore the thinking here could be that people who would be out trick or treating wouldn't be likely to see such a picture as this anyway, so the film loses little box office potential due to its date clashing with Halloween festivities. At the time of writing, Chasing Mavericks is set to open at 2,000 locations.

Silent Hill: Revelations is the sequel to the 2006 minor hit Silent Hill, which was itself based on the best-selling Konami video game series (the adaptation borrowed elements from the first four games). Set largely in the titular town, the original starred Sean Bean, Radha Mitchell and Deborah Kara Unger and had been in development for a number of years before moving forward. Scripting on the original film went to Oscar winner Roger Avary, known for his work with Quentin Tarantino and for directing 1994's Killing Zoe and The Rules of Attraction in 2002. At the helm was Christophe Gans, who described the film as a labor of love. It would go on to make $46M domestically, with a further $50M coming overseas, and North America DVD sales in excess of 1.3M. Gans claimed in December 2006 he had a follow-up officially ready to go, but he would leave the project shortly after citing that he had other ideas he wished to work on instead. This caused a delay in proceedings which was exasperated when Roger Avary, already on board to write the sequel, was jailed in 2008 for vehicular manslaughter. There was little movement for almost two years, apart from Silent Hill video game artist Masahiro Ito declining the offer to work on creature design/general world aesthetics for the sequel. It would be November 2010 before Michael J. Bassett signed on to write and direct Silent Hill: Revelations. Bassett was an English born director whose previous work included the World War I horror Deathwatch and the 2009 action adventure Solomon Kane (which received a very limited release in North America just a few weeks ago).

Along with her father Christopher (a returning Sean Bean), Heath Mason has spent years evading malevolent forces. Just as she is about to turn 18, her father disappears and Heather discovers her identity and origins may actually be false. This discovery leads her to an alternate Silent Hill, which is controlled by Claudia (played by Carrie-Anne Moss) and Leonard Wolf (Malcolm McDowell). While there she also encounters Radha Mitchell's Rose Da Silva and soon discovers she may be trapped in the demonic world of Silent Hill forever. Filming on the sequel took place in Toronto in March and April of 2011, with the picture shooting in 3D as opposed to being converted in post-production. At the San Diego Comic-Con of 2012, two short clips were unveiled, followed by a trailer appearing online late July. Silent Hill: Revelations has its work cut out this weekend, as it faces not only the second frame of Paranormal Activity 4 but the still popular Sinister. Like the Resident Evil franchise, this could be another videogame adaptation that plays much better overseas than domestically, even with an estimated 3,000 location North American roll out.

John Gosling

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