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Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

Seattle Times writer Moira Macdonald muses on moviegoing. Email Moira:

September 13, 2010 at 7:25 PM

At TIFF: “Hereafter,” “The Conspirator,” and more

TORONTO — In the last couple of days at the Toronto International Film Festival, I’ve watched depictions of people being killed, maimed, or tragically and emotionally scarred by a tsunami, a subway bombing, a homemade bomb, cancer (several kinds), an enormous boulder crushing a limb, stabbing, shooting, hanging, Alzheimer’s, alcoholism, suicide, and a frame-up for murder. Seriously, this is just since Saturday night. And you think film festivals are fun and games.
There’s been not much comedy here at TIFF, but maybe that’s just the films I happened to have chosen. (I hear Michael Winterbottom’s “The Trip” is a scream, and there’s definitely some funny, Juno-esque stuff in “Easy A,” but like most film festivals, drama prevails.) And maybe it’s the directors I’m choosing, too; it’s not like Clint Eastwood is known for making comedies. His “Hereafter,” which had its world premiere here last night, is an odd piece of work; a three-plotted story that’s really a meditation on life after death, without ever really addressing the topic directly. There’s some fine acting — Eastwood is always good with actors — and some moving scenes, particularly those involving a very sad little boy in London, but the film’s three stories stay disconnected for too long, and the ending is weirdly abrupt and inconclusive, as if Eastwood and screenwriter Peter Morgan had worked themselves into a corner and couldn’t get out. It might well play better on a second viewing (and one that isn’t the last in a four-movie day), but I don’t see this one being an Oscar contender, as Eastwood’s movies so often are.
Another veteran actor-turned-director, Robert Redford, is here with a new movie: “The Conspirator,” about the trial of Mary Surratt (Robin Wright), the mother of one of the conspirators in Abraham Lincoln’s assassination — who may have been a conspirator herself. The film starts slowly and a little awkwardly, but gradually finds its footing, and by the time we were staring at Wright’s fierce eyes in a dusty-lit courtroom, I was hooked. It’s a history lesson, sure, but one I hadn’t heard before. Currently it doesn’t have distribution — and was getting mixed reviews here — but I can’t imagine this one won’t find its way into theaters.
A few acting gems I’ve caught over the last few days: Paul Giamatti, getting an epic comic role (he ages 30 years) in “Barney’s Version” and creating a thoroughly annoying character you nonetheless root for, particuarly in his relationship with his father (Dustin Hoffman, at his most endearing). Lesley Manville, heartbreaking in “Another Year” as a fortysomething woman who hides her fear of growing old alone behind endless chatter and bottomless wine glasses; watch her in the film’s last sequence, where the brave, flickering light she’s carried in her face throughout the movie has gone out. Kristin Scott Thomas, baring her teeth in a terrifying smile as the boss-from-hell in the French thriller “Love Crime.”
Toronto continues to be gridlocked with famous faces, everywhere you look. (“That’s Woody from ‘Cheers'” said someone behind me as we walked out of “127 Hours.” I looked, discreetly, and sure enough, there was Woody Harrelson, right next to me.) And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this festival’s impressive legion of volunteers, more than 2,000 strong, who suffer the indignity of wearing bright-orange T-shirts with ever-smiling grace. I think they’ve all had smile training; their grins just pop up as you walk by.
For the record, I have not yet succumbed to the Burger King at the Scotiabank theater (the multiplex where I spend most of my days here), though I’m seeing more and more of my colleages heading into screenings with resigned expressions on their faces and large orders of French fries in their hands. (A sign in the Burger King says “Take Fries to the Next Level,” which has been mildly obsessing me — how can fries possibly go to a higher level? What’s higher than fries? Can a human being handle that much fabulousness?) It’s a lovely festival, but it is wearying. One more blog tomorrow, then I’m heading home tomorrow night. I think there’ll be people in orange T-shirts in my dreams.



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