Editor’s note: This post is written by Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald, whose technical difficulties continue at TIFF.
TORONTO — The Toronto International Film Festival got underway Thursday with “Looper,” the time-travel sci-fi movie directed by Rian Johnson (“Brick”) and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who has too many credits this year to list); it’s a movie that everyone here seems to like, and that I didn’t see due to having to make some tough scheduling choices (and because it’ll be opening in Seattle later this month).
Other topics of conversation I overheard or read today: the first planned public appearance of Kristen Stewart since The Great Unpleasantness (and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, congratulations) for “On the Road” here tonight; the really excellent new self-service soft drink dispenser at the Scotiabank (the cavernous multiplex where most press screenings are held; and yes, it’s awesome); the extreme hotness of Ryan Gosling (who’ll be here with “The Place Beyond the Pines”); and general complaining about hotel rooms, a conversation I overheard both in English and in French today. (I also might have heard it in Italian, but can’t be sure.) I’m actually quite thrilled with my hotel room (booked at a deep discount), a vintage place with so many late-Victorian florals I feel like Edith Wharton with a laptop.
I wonder what Ms. Wharton might have thought of “Anna Karenina” set primarily on a theater stage, as in Joe Wright’s new version, scripted by playwright Tom Stoppard.
It’s a gloriously beautiful movie, often stepping close to Baz Luhrmann territory in its over-the-top color and choreographed movement, and it works like catnip for those who love lavish period films, which I do. The theater-as-metaphor setting doesn’t always work — it’s not carried throughout, and sometimes it seems as if Wright has forgotten it — but just try to take your eyes off this movie’s painterly visuals and striking performances. Keira Knightley makes a lovely, girlish Anna (she’s actually exactly the right age), Aaron Taylor-Johnson a dashing, callow Vronsky (sporting a sneery mustache that seems to be commenting on the action), and Jude Law — who would have made a splendid Vronsky a decade or so ago — is remarkable as Anna’s quietly devastated husband.
Fun fact: According to the press kit, cinematographer/wizard Seamus McGarvey (who also shot Wright’s “Atonement,” among others) used a Christian Dior stocking as a filter on the camera lens, to create a soft, glowing effect. “Anna Karenina” opens in Seattle in mid-November.
“West of Memphis,” the documentary directed by Amy Berg and produced by Peter Jackson, has an essential question it needs to answer: Why make this film, when there’s already an excellent three-film series (“Paradise Lost”) about the West Memphis Three, the trio of young men accused of brutally murdering three little boys? The answer is that this fascinating, devastating story well deserves a re-telling, particularly one as gripping as this one. You walk away newly appalled by the horror of three innocent men imprisoned for 18 years — and the idea that the children’s murderer (whose identity is pretty clearly indicated in the movie) is walking around a free man. Berg, at TIFF five years ago with the equally compelling “Deliver Us From Evil,” tells the story efficiently, yet fills in a wealth of detail; it’s a long film that goes by in a flash. At the end, seeing the three men finally free (under an agreement finally reached a few months ago), the movie suddenly becomes unexpectedly lyrical, showing us birds in flight.
Also Thursday was “Seven Psychopaths,” Martin McDonagh’s follow-up to “In Bruges” — but really, nothing could follow “In Bruges,” could it? (That film, from which I can quote no lines because they all feature words I’m not supposed to use in this blog, still cracks me up. If you ever meet me in person, I can imitate Colin Farrell from that movie quite well.) A similarly toned ultra-dark comedy, it’s got a fine cast and many funny moments, but it just doesn’t quite hang together; its concept — that Farrell’s character here is a screenwriter who’s writing a movie called “Seven Psychopaths” but struggling with it — gets a little tired by the end. Farrell’s a kick, though, as is Christopher Walken as a sort of psychopathic dog thief and Woody Harrelson as a gangster whose dog Walken has the misfortune to steal. (Nice work by the dog, too.)
A commenter earlier wondered how I choose what movies to see here, considering that the screening schedule is packed with overlapping films. Well, part of the reason I’m here is to bank some interviews for the upcoming season, so a movie for which I’m offered an interesting interview will take some priority. (I’ll be doing interviews for all three of today’s movies.) And, however tempting, I try to remember that movies opening in Seattle in the next few weeks (i.e. “Looper”) probably shouldn’t be top priority, as I can see them at home soon enough. And I try to throw in some wild cards, and be sure to include a few movies just because they sound like something I’d like. And factor in where they’re located and how long it takes to get there. And whether there’s time for dinner, which I had at 10:30 Thursday. Better luck Friday, I think. Talk to you then.
(Photos: Keira Knightley on the “Anna Karenina” red carpet by Stuart Wilson. Amy Berg at the American Film Festival in Deauville, Normandy, France, Sept. 2, by Michel Spingler.)