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Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

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

September 10, 2012 at 3:29 PM

At TIFF: ‘Hyde Park,’ ‘Great Expectations,’ Dame Maggie

TORONTO — If you were to ask me what was the single moment at TIFF this year that I’ll most regret that I missed, I’ll name not a movie but an incident reported in the Globe & Mail this morning: that Dame Maggie Smith, walking the red carpet for “Quartet,” charmed the press line by “doing impressions with co-star Philip Seymour Hoffman, and even answering a question or two as her character in ‘Downton Abbey.'” What would the dowager countess think of all this film-fest nonsense? (Alas, though, I wonder if the writer was confused; Philip Seymour Hoffman isn’t in “Quartet,” but is here with the similar-sounding “A Late Quartet.” I’ve been wondering all week how many mix-ups those two movies would cause. So what was PST doing on the red carpet with Dame Maggie? Did he just pop by for fun? Is he a ‘Downton Abbey’ fan? Or did the writer mean Dustin Hoffman, who directed “Quartet” and who would be rather impossible to mistake for PSH?) Regardless, it sounded like a jolly time.
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(Photo: Billy Connolly, Maggie Smith and Dustin Hoffman clown on the red carpet, by AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Aaron Vincent Elkaim.)
Two years ago, “The King’s Speech” made a splash here at TIFF before going on to Oscar glory; quite possibly the makers of “Hyde Park on Hudson” were hoping for a little of its magic. It’s a period piece about a historical event: the 1939 visit of King George VI, stutter and all, and his wife Queen Elizabeth to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s country home, where he and Eleanor served a hot-dog picnic to Their Majesties. Alas, the weekend visit isn’t much to hang a movie on, and “Hyde Park” feels very slight indeed, despite enjoyable performances by Bill Murray as an affable, randy FDR, Laura Linney as his distant cousin and new confidante, Olivia Williams as an amusingly crabby Eleanor, and Olivia Colman as Elizabeth, who has the pained royal smile just right. I interviewed Linney this morning, and she described how her character, Margaret (Daisy) Suckley, left behind a suitcase of letters and diaries after she died that illuminated her relationship with FDR — a secret nobody knew. (She also mentioned that her made-in-Seattle movie, “The Details,” will be coming out in November and that she loves her “crazy” character in that film.) I think “Hyde Park on Hudson” will find a small, appreciative audience when it’s released later this year, but it’s most definitely not “The King’s Speech 2.” Unfair to make the comparison, to be sure, but given the subject matter it’s impossible not to.
Speaking of period dramas, Mike Newell’s “Great Expectations” screened today; it was just acquired for distribution a few days ago here at TIFF by Outsource Media Group. (No word yet when it’ll play in theaters.) I watched it curious to see what Newell would do with such a familiar story (answer: he plays it straight, with none of the wildly creative flourishes such as what we saw earlier in “Anna Karenina,” but with competence and confidence), and wondering if Helena Bonham Carter was really as perfectly cast as Miss Havisham as I thought she’d be. She was. Held captive in an elaborate wedding dress and veil that seemed to be disintegrating into dust before our eyes, Bonham Carter brought a wry, offhand dottiness to the role; funny and poignant and strangely beautiful. The film suffers a bit when she’s not on screen, even though the cast (which also includes Ralph Fiennes and Robbie Coltrane) is strong and the filmmaking handsome — you just want her back again.
Yesterday I mentioned how right it felt to have Julia Stiles and Jennifer Lawrence cast as sisters in “The Silver LInings Playbook,” and thought again today about the intricacies of family casting. In “Writers,” a pleasant if unsurprising tale of a family making its way back together, I was struck by how very right Jennifer Connolly and Lily Collins looked as mother and daughter, and (in a movie I won’t name as it’s a bit of a spoiler, but I’ve mentioned it already in TIFF coverage), Britt Marling’s parentage was spot-on. It’s a little more of a stretch, though, to buy Bradley Cooper as the son of Robert DeNiro and Jacki Weaver in “Silver Linings” — or, for that matter, Hugh Grant and Jim Broadbent as siblings in “Cloud Atlas” — but the actors make it work.
Business continues apace today, with Sarah Polley’s well-received autobiographical documentary “Stories We Tell” getting picked up by Roadside Attractions. And, in case anyone remembers my stories about people constantly falling up the stairs in the Scotiabank Theater from last year — yes, it’s happening again. There’s just something odd about the stairs in that multiplex’s theaters: nobody falls going down (that would be scary), but at every screening numerous people trip or stumble going up. It’s a popular topic of discussion; I heard a guy today saying that he fell yesterday “and took two people down with me.” What’s going on? Is the filmic richness of TIFF making us dizzy? Are the steps haunted by the ghosts of bad movies past?
Squeezing in two more movies tomorrow morning — Terrence Malick’s “To the Wonder,” and the contemporary Henry James adaptation “What Maisie Knew,” starring Julianne Moore” — and then flying home to Seattle. I’ll try to update tomorrow between movies and airport; if circumstances make that impossible, we’ll catch up on Wednesday. In the meantime, I’ll try to imagine Maggie Smith doing impressions. See you later.

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