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Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

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

September 8, 2011 at 8:40 PM

In Toronto: Brad Pitt, George Clooney

TORONTO — At the first screening I attended today, the first day of the Toronto International Film Festival, something unthinkable happened in this supremely well-run fest: a misstep. As a long, long line of press and industry types was being herded into Cinema 1 at the Bell Lightbox (the splashy, enormous, and beautifully designed new year-round base of the festival, complete with five cinemas and taking up an entire city block downtown), one of the volunteers noticed that the house lights weren’t turned on, and people were stumbling around in the dark. “Could you all just wait?” she said pleasantly. Nope — everybody just kept on marching, into the darkness, waving their cellphones like torches in a mine, tripping and lurching. “They’re all disobeying!” said the volunteer, who couldn’t help laughing. A little darkness, it turns out, isn’t about to stop determined TIFFgoers.
It’s nice to be back at this vast but welcoming festival, with a new downtown setting but all of its trademarks intact: the army of smiling volunteers in orange TIFF T-shirts; the way TIFF venues always seem to feature people decoratively standing around for no reason, like they’re waiting for a camera that hasn’t shown up yet. This morning I saw a young woman at the foot of the escalator at the Lightbox, dressed in a teeny-tiny minidress and very high-heeled shoes, just standing. An hour later I went by again and there she was, still just standing, but now she’d swapped out her shoes for flats. Very sensible, I guess.
Maybe she was waiting for Brad Pitt and George Clooney, but they were only present on the big screen (today,anyway; I think they arrive tomorrow for red-carpet galas). And both acquitted themselves like the movie stars they are. Pitt stars in “Moneyball,” a smart comedy about the business of major-league baseball, directed by Bennett Miller (“Capote”). It’s a sports movie without a lot of sports in it, but with a lot of guys sitting around engaging in funny dialogue and spitting into cups. Pitt plays Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane as an appealing mixture of laid-back and stressed-out; he’s trying to crack the secret to fielding a winning team, with young statistics expert Pete Brand (Jonah Hill) at his side. It’s not quite “Bull Durham” — my favorite baseball movie — but Pitt and Co. have a winner on their hands, and the movie’s full of moments that made me laugh out loud., and a few that just made me smile, which is infinitely more complicated. (I loved Pitt’s response to a grateful player who announces that he’s praying for Beane and his family: a half-smile, a shrug, and a breezy “No problem!”) (Credit for photo of Pitt and Hill, above, is Melinda Sue Gordon.)
Very different, but just as entertaining, was “The Ides of March,” with Clooney as director, co-writer, and star — well, kind of the star, as he generously hands the movie to Ryan Gosling. It’s a political thriller, based on Beau Willimon’s play “Farragut North” (I’ve never seen it; anyone?) about a Presidential campaign facing a crisis. Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman (who’s also in “Moneyball” as a disgruntled manager) and Paul Giamatti are wonderfully cast as a trio of political operatives, each with his own degree of obsession, and Clooney is almost alarmingly Presidential as a candidate who seems too good to be true. Snappy, swift, and smart; and even though I often could see the path the movie was travelling on, I was happy to walk it, right down to an enigmatic final long close-up that reminded me of “Michael Clayton” (seen here at TIFF, with Clooney, a couple of years ago).
And, as always, part of the fun of TIFF is chatting with people in line. Today I had a pleasant conversation with a woman who told me she was a festival donor, and that she planned to see 50 films. I blinked; remember, this festival isn’t SIFF, but is only ten days long. Sure enough, she showed me her schedule: five films a day, for ten days. I asked her if she lived nearby in town, and she pointed upwards. “Pardon me?,” I said, thinking, what, this lady lives in heaven? No, turns out she lives in movie heaven: She owns a condo directly above the Lightbox — and bought it, she said, “so I can go to movies in my pajamas.” I believe her. Sounds pretty nice, doesn’t it?
Also saw today a Major Movie that I’m embargoed from blogging about until Saturday, because that’s when the official press screening is. So I’ll just say that it was great, and you can wonder until Saturday. An excellent first day; and now, to bed, with four movies tomorrow. Talk to you then.

Comments | Topics: " George Clooney, "Ides of March", "Money Ball


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