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Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

Seattle Times writer Moira Macdonald muses on moviegoing. Email Moira: mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

September 10, 2009 at 4:52 PM

Toronto International Film Festival: Clooney in “Goats,” and more

TORONTO — A lady on the street asked me for directions today, which was kind of a kick until I realized that this is my eighth visit to this pleasant city for the festival, each time staying about a week, and I still only know about a ten-block downtown area; the rest of Toronto is a complete mystery. (Luckily the lady’s destination fell within my ten-block knowledge radius, so I was able to send her happily on her way.) That’s how TIFF works: you just get immersed in your little film world, with occasional forays into the street to admire all the movie-themed store windows and all the nice Canadian manners. This festival is so polite there’s even a volunteer stationed at the top of the escalator leading to the Varsity Theater (where most press screenings are) whose entire job is to smile. That’s all she does. She’s standing next to a sign that tells everyone where to go (basically, it says turn right), and she just catches your eye as you go up the escalator, smiles and warmly says hello. She’s done it to me several times already. It’s kind of disarming, but I like it.
So . . . two screenings down, and both were winners. Pedro Almodovar’s “Broken Embraces” isn’t quite as mesmerizing as “Volver” (seen here a couple of years back), but it’s a lovely, faintly noirish melodrama about a doomed romance, and about how film can bring a loved one back again. Filled with cinematic references (including a sly homage to Almodovar’s own “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown”), it’s got a ravishing dual role for Almodovar’s muse, Penelope Cruz, who’s heartbreaking and beautiful as always. I love how she can shrug using only her eyebrows, and how Almodovar dots the film with cherry-red.
Someone in the press line was spreading a rumor that we would be seeing the film without subtitles (which made no sense), but of course all screened properly. ,This was especially good news because otherwise I would never have heard the quite excellent phrase “dental erection,” used to describe a moment in a vampire movie that somebody in “Broken Embraces,” hilariously, wants to make. (Odd life-imitating-art connection here: I’m reading Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” this week and thoroughly enjoying it, even though it does make me want to write this blog in the manner of Victorian diary entries, letters and telegrams. Maybe I’ll try that tomorrow. Then again, maybe I won’t. Anyway, I’m going to keep track of how many vampire references I get in this festival. “Jennifer’s Body,” tomorrow, is sure to have a few.)
No vampires in “The Men Who Stare At Goats,” but it did have George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey, and a wonderfully random Angela Lansbury reference. (Doesn’t the very mention of Angela Lansbury make you feel good? It makes me feel good. Anyway.) “Goats,” about a psychic U.S. army unit, is a funny satire directed by Grant Heslov, and while it feels a little slight, it’s fun while it lasts, with Clooney note-perfect as, well, a guy who stares at goats with unexpected consequences, and is only a little bit defensive about it.
Clooney will be in town for this film and his other Toronto premiere, “Up in the Air” (see an image from Paramount Pictures, below) as will a slew of celebrities including the likes of Oprah (for “Precious”), the Duchess of York (who — who knew? — is a producer of the fest’s closing-night film “The Young Victoria”), Hugh Hefner (there’s a documentary about him, “Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel”), and Neil Diamond, who is actually not that Neil Diamond but another one, who’s directed an interesting-looking documentary called “Reel Injun” (about Native actors, directors, writers and performers) and whose life must be very trying indeed. Imagine having people wanting you to sing “Song Sung Blue” every time they meet you.
But enough for now. Tomorrow: two screenings (“Jennifer’s Body” and “Up in the Air”) and two interviews (Cruz, Nick Hornby), all before 2 p.m. Catch you later.
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