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Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

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

September 12, 2012 at 11:14 AM

At TIFF: ‘To the Wonder, ‘What Maisie Knew’

(I’m back in Seattle this morning, but my head’s clearly still in festival mode. As is my email inbox, full of invitations to screenings and parties taking place seemingly in an alternative universe . . .)
So, did you know that Henry James is now permanently next to E.L. James (i.e. “50 Shades of Grey”) on bookstore shelves? Strange bedfellows indeed. I learned this in a Toronto bookstore looking for a copy of “What Maisie Knew,” the James novel thoughtfully turned into a contemporary drama making its world premiere at TIFF, starring Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan as self-absorbed parents squabbling over custody of their young daughter. You’d never guess the James pedigree here (which is why I’m now dying to read the book): Moore plays a rock star who adores her little girl but isn’t particularly interested in parenting her; likewise Coogan’s character seems more interested in irritating his ex than in being a father. Though beautifully performed — especially Moore, who makes an unlikable character into somebody we understand and ache for — the characters feel a little too villainous, and their newer, kinder spouses seem too saintly. But the central performance here — the one whose point of view dominates the film — is seven-year-old Maisie, played with irresistible sweetness by young Onata Aprile. That child has a look of sadness that can break your heart — which the movie does, quietly, before ending on a note of hope. “What Maisie Knew” got picked up by Millennium Entertainment this week; it’ll be in theaters next spring.
And what of The Malick? Many moviegoers did not share my fondness of “The Tree of Life” last year (I have the emails to prove it), but I think there’s going to be more general agreement on his new film, “To the Wonder” — which is to say, I think it just doesn’t work. The movie, which has very little dialogue, is a story of love, in which a more-or-less nameless American man (Ben Affleck) and European woman (Olga Kurylenko) fall for each other, marry, but find passion fading away. Kurylenko, a willowy and exquisite presence, clearly captivated Malick, and much of the movie is filled with shots of her looking exquisitely pensive with tousled hair flowing, or dancing, childlike, in a field or on a sidewalk. (Rachel McAdams is also in the movie, briefly, as another love interest; but as a guy behind me said, she’d have had more screentime if she’d played a blade of wheat.) Every frame of this movie is gorgeous — as we expect now from Malick — but “To the Wonder” doesn’t have the power that “The Tree of Life” did, the sense that it’s reaching for something larger; despite a subplot involving Javier Bardem as an idealistic priest. (It seems a stretch to call anything in this movie a subplot, as its plot is barely there.) I enjoyed watching it, because immersing yourself in something beautiful to look at is a pleasure — but ultimately it seemed too free-flowing to grab on to; a stream of images, without enough ideas behind them.
Those were my last two TIFF movies before hopping on an Air Canada flight home, but the dealmaking continues: Lionsgate acquired Joss Whedon’s low-budget “Much Ado About Nothing,” — which I didn’t see but got good reviews from the people I eavesdropped on — and which must have been a delightful contrast to making “The Avengers.” IFC acquired “Byzantium,” Neil Jordan’s vampire drama (a return to the genre, 18 years after “Interview with the Vampire”); “Imogene,” a comedy from Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (“American Splendor) starring Kristen Wiig and Annette Bening, got picked up by Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions in a joint deal, and the same pair of distributors are making a deal for the sex-addiction comedy-drama “Thanks for Sharing,” with Mark Ruffalo and Gwyneth Paltrow.
Post-TIFF is always the story of The Films That Got Away. I made strategic decisions to skip “Looper” and “Argo,” as they’d be coming here very soon, but heard very strong buzz on both films so can’t wait to see them back home. Elsewhere, I wish I could have caught “Do Not Disturb” (a French remake of Lynn Shelton’s made-in-Seattle comedy “Humpday”), the crime thriller “The Place Beyond the Pines” with Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper (lots of divided opinion on this one, which’ll open theatrically next year); Sarah Polley’s “Stories We Tell,” which everyone seemed to love (also likely opening next year); “Central Park Five,” a documentary that got raves in the press; and so many more. Of the ones I did see, my personal favorites were Joe Wright’s swirling, gorgeous “Anna Karenina”; David O. Russell’s utterly and unexpectedly winning “The SIlver Linings Playbook”; and Paul Thomas Anderson’s strange, mesmerizing “The Master.” The greatest compliment you can give a movie, walking away at the end, is to wish that you could watch it again immediately; I felt that with those three films. So yes, a good TIFF. But it’s nice to be home.

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