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Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

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

September 9, 2012 at 2:23 PM

At TIFF: ‘Cloud Atlas,’ ‘Silver Linings Playbook,’ Susan Sarandon

TORONTO — Whatever happened to opening credits? I’ve seen eleven movies since Thursday and I think not one of them had a credit sequence at the beginning; they all just jump right in. So I’ll jump right in and say that “Cloud Atlas,” directed by Lana and Andy Wachowski (formerly Larry and Andy Wachoski) and Tom Tykwer and based on David Mitchell’s novel, is such an insanely ambitious piece of filmmaking that it feels unkind to say that it’s a bit of a mess. But I’m going to say it anyway. The film combines six stories taking place in various time periods (two of them in the future) and countries, using the same crew of actors — Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Susan Sarandon, Jim Sturgess, Hugh Grant — in multiple roles, often unrecognizably. (Grant in old-age makeup is not a sight you’ll easily forget.)
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“Cloud Atlas” careens back and forth between its stories, which all involves themes of storytelling, of karma, of slavery, of creation, of secrets, of hope. The cinematography is often breathtaking, and there are moments when “Cloud Atlas” works beautifully — a ravishing piece of music, for example, carried from one story to another. But at nearly three hours, it feels far too long, and the stories have such different tones that it sometimes feels like six different movies interspliced. I haven’t yet read the book, and will do so before writing my full review of “Cloud Atlas,” which will open in Seattle in October. The film is certainly an accomplishment, but it’s hard to imagine exactly who its audience might be.
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In contrast was my early screening this morning of TIFF’s first true crowd pleaser: David O. Russell’s “The Silver Linings Playbook,” which had its world-premiere public screening last night to, I hear, great acclaim. (And it got a hearty round of applause from its press-and-industry audience, which almost never happens — first time I’ve heard such a thing here this year.) Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are quirky perfection together as two people struggling to put their lives back together: he’s a former teacher institutionalized after assaulting his wife’s lover, now released to his parents’ home; she’s a young widow drawn to him, and needing a favor. Nothing unfolds quite like you think it will — which is how things happen in Russell’s movies — but by the ending, which is a quietly unexpected montage of the idea of home, you’ve fallen a little bit in love yourself. Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver are wonderful as Cooper’s character’s parents; Julia Stiles is perfectly cast as Lawrence’s older sister (they have the same dry-as-dust voices, and similar features). I haven’t met a soul who didn’t love this one — and you might, too. It’ll open in Seattle around Thanksgiving.
Speaking of husky voices, three of the last five movies I’ve seen had Susan Sarandon in them. (Shouldn’t somebody cast her as Stiles and Lawrence’s mother?) She’s in the ensemble (though underused) of “Cloud Atlas,” spoke as a voice for drug-law reform in the intriguing documentary “How to Make Money Selling Drugs” — and plays a former member of the Weather Underground in Robert Redford’s “The Company You Keep.” The latter film, in which Redford also stars as a man trying to outrun his past, unfolds fairly predictably but offers the pleasures of an old-fashioned thriller, complete with Redford’s old-school jabs at a cocky young New Journalist, played by Shia La Boeuf. It’s one of those movies full of name actors popping up in small roles — Sarandon, Julie Christie, Richard Jenkins, Sam Elliott, Chris Cooper, Nick Nolte, Anna Kendrick, Terrence Howard — making you think that Redford’s Rolodex (and I’m guessing he’s got one, an old-school one) must be very impressive indeed. “The Company You Keep” was acquired for distribution prior to TIFF, and will be released in 2013.
Though I’m spending my days in the Scotiabank multiplex, where you can order chicken with poutine to eat during the movie (wouldn’t it be too drippy? or just too scary?) and where lines unfold everywhere with labyrinthine precision (helped along, when needed, by long lines of orange-T-shirted volunteers holding hands, which is unexpectedly poignant), elsewhere TIFF seems to be a 24-hour party. Crowds gather on sidewalks in the hope of spotting a star; newspapers and blogs burst with party details all over town (Matt Damon and Ben Affleck dined together! Bradley Cooper and Ryan Gosling are buds! So are Kristen Stewart and Jennifer Lawrence!). What’s happening on screen, though, is as exciting as any bash — and I’m guessing none of the celebs had to be in line before 8 a.m. this morning, as I was. (And I wasn’t anywhere near first in line.) I’m taking the evening off, though, to go have dinner with a friend in a particularly swanky part of town; will let you know how the star-spotting goes. More tomorrow.
(Photos: “Cloud Atlas” by AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures, Jay Maidment. Jennifer Lawrence by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP.)

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