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Good vibrations in Toronto for Bill Pohlad's Beach Boy biopic

Posted by: Tim Campbell Updated: September 9, 2014 - 12:21 PM

Bill Pohlad, right, directing Paul Dano in "Love & Mercy," in a scene showing Brian Wilson producing the Beach Boys' landmark "Pet Sounds" album." (photo by François Duhamel)

Minneapolis filmmaker Bill Pohlad and pop visionary Brian Wilson got a standing ovation Monday night at the Toronto Film Festival premiere of “Love & Mercy,” the Wilson biopic that put Pohlad back in the director’s chair for the first time in decades.

Early reviews suggest a smash.

The highly influential trade magazine Variety called it a "finely crafted split portrait" -- Paul Dano plays Wilson in his hitmaking prime, while John Cusack represents his older, embattled self -- that is "miles removed from the cookie-cutter approach taken by so many other rock bios."John Cusack with Elizabeth Banks in "Love & Mercy."

"An unusual, moving portrait stuffed with the thrill of music-making," summed up the Hollywood Reporter, adding that Cusack (pictured at right with Elizabeth Banks) "gives one of the best performances of his career."

The Los Angeles Times report echoed a common thread in the reviews -- that while music biopics are typically tedious, "Love & Mercy" is a "refreshing surprise" that breaks the mold and invigorates the form. No doubt part of the credit belongs to screenwriter Oren Moverman, who also scripted "I'm Not There," the kaleidoscopic Bob Dylan portrait that featured six actors portraying different facets of the enigmatic singer/songwriter.

Pohlad told the L.A. writer that he dusted off an old screenplay about Wilson and enlisted Moverman for a rewrite. “If it was just telling young Brian’s story about the music, I don’t know that I would have done it,” he said. “But there were a lot of different levels besides that. On another level it’s about creative genius vs. madness. And it’s also a story of how [his future wife] pulled Brian Wilson out of a deep hole.”

After the disappointing reception of his feature debut, 1990's "Old Explorers," Pohlad kept close wraps on "Love & Mercy," showing it to virtually no one until its premiere Sunday, as he told the New York Times in a piece last weekend.

He also -- cannily, it appears now -- held off on striking a distribution deal for the film. Do we smell a bidding war?

As a side note, I want to mention that our own critic, Colin Covert, had planned to attend Monday's premiere. Regrettably, he suffered a bicycle accident last month but is now recovering at home and eagerly monitoring the news out of Toronto. I can't wait to read Colin's own take on this film.

There's no trailer for the film, so it seems fitting to give Wilson the last word:

 

James Sewell working on ballet with filmmaker Frederick Wiseman

Posted by: Claude Peck Updated: September 3, 2014 - 3:14 PM
James Sewell of Sewell Ballet / Star Tribune photo by Tom Wallace

In what may seem like an odd pairing, James Sewell of the Minneapolis-based Sewell Ballet is working with veteran documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman on a new ballet based on an old Wiseman movie.

Wiseman's 1967 "Titicut Follies" documented the residents and inmates at Bridgewater State Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Bridgewater, Mass.

This early Wiseman documentary ignited controversy when state authorities sought to prevent its release, saying it violated inmates' privacy. The legal case rolled through various jurisdictions, but the film was withheld from distribution for years. Wiseman went on to wide fame for his fly-on-the-wall documentaries on a variety of subjects, including high-school life, meat, public housing, boxing and, in two movies, the world of dance.

Fast forward to 2014, when a new Center for Ballet and the Arts is set to open at New York University. Wiseman is among the center's first group of fellows. He announced this week that as part of that fellowship he is planning a ballet based on the film, to be created by choreographer Sewell.

Sewell said Wednesday that he and Wiseman have been talking by phone about the project this summer, and that Wiseman is due in Minneapolis later in September for meetings and in-studio improvisation. Wiseman is a "visionary," Sewell said, "and it extends beyond his medium. We've synthesized how our worlds can connect."

Sewell said the ballet, which may retain the movie's title, is likely to require 10 male dancers, as well as other characters to potray the state hospital's doctors and nurses. Likely to premiere in Minneapolis about two years from now, the ballet will include music and possibly video from the original film, Sewell said.

"When I first saw the film -- so intense, so strange -- I thought, 'how could you make a ballet of this?' But the elements are all there -- humorous, poetic, horrifying, sad," Sewell said.

The movie's title comes from an annual variety show that Bridgewater officials and inmates staged at the hospital. "These violent criminals and mentally ill inmates would put on a show, singing Gershwin with pom-poms in their hands," Sewell said.

While funding and other details remain to be worked out, Sewell said he "could not be happier" about this collaboration, which "dropped in my lap." He hopes to find a way, in dance, to portray "the inner landscape" of the often abused, catatonic or disruptive Bridgewater population.

Wiseman, 84, just won the Golden Lion Career Award at the Venice Film Festival.

Jeff Bridges shows he really can sing at the Pantages

Posted by: Jon Bream Updated: August 25, 2014 - 1:46 AM

A few thoughts on the performance by Jeff Bridges and the Abiders at the sold-out Pantages Theatre Sunday:

  • Bridges is a better singer -- stronger, more forceful and more musical -- than his albums and Oscar-winning “Crazy Heart” movie would lead you to believe. It helped that he had a stellar band of his buddies, the Abiders, to support him, especially musical director/guitarist Chris Pelonis.
  • “This is a special night for me,” Bridges explained at the outset. Because he had a lot of family in the house and because “this is the home of Prince. Robert Pirsig of ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” (which didn’t get much of a reaction) and [in an exaggerated voice of eerie doom)  home of the Coen brothers.” He was talkative and likable – and the crowd was respectful, with only a handful  of fans shouting out lines from “The Big Lebowski.”
  • Bridges dedicated the show to Robin Williams, with whom he costarred in “The Fisher King.”
  • Many of Bridges tunes were written by his pal John Goodwin – not to be confused with actor John Goodman, the singer explained – whom he met in 4th grade and took tap-dancing lessons with and went to cotillion together (mom forced them). The best Goodwin number was probably “Van Gogh in Hollywood,” with its creepy verses and scorching blues-rock choruses. It was from the movie “Tideland” about which Bridges said, “For half the movie, I play a carcass.” He also pointed out that the film was directed by Minneapolis-born Terry Gilliam.
  • In his 95-minute set, Bridges mixed in a few covers – Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Lookin Out My Back Door,” Townes Van Zandt’s “To Live Is To Fly” (which showed off the power of Bridges' upper register), Tom Waits’ “Never Let Go” (a moving Irish-flavored ballad done on piano) and encores of – what he called a Dinkytown song --Bob Dylan’s “The Man in Me” and the Byrds’ “So You Want To Be a Rock n Roll Star.” The diversity of those selections suggests the kind of musical influences Bridges has. But most of his own material was in the roots and Americana vein.
  • Bridges’ 8-year-old grand nephew was dancing up a storm in the front row, much to the delight of Uncle Jeff. There were lots of Bridges relatives at the show, including his sister who lives in the area and a niece who goes to the University of Minnesota. Even Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon – a friend of the family from Eau Claire -- stopped by to chat up the Dude after the show.
  • Jeff Bridges plays Tom Waits' "Never Let Go"

    Jeff Bridges plays Tom Waits' "Never Let Go"

Beer and a movie on the bikeway

Posted by: Claude Peck Updated: August 21, 2014 - 5:16 PM

Weather looks iffy, but the Bike-In Movie is on for Thursday night (Aug. 21) on the Midtown Greenway. The 4th annual event features food by Taco Cat, beer by Indeed Brewing Co. and a screening, about 9 p.m. or a bit earlier, of "Elemental," a documentary about three committed eco-activists in different parts of the world. In case of rain, the event will take place inside Freewheel Bike Shop.

A pre-movie mixer is scheduled for 6:30 to 8 p.m. More Info: facebook.com/events/440636552743931
On Twitter: @aigamn #bikeinmovie

TV critic Neal Justin: Memories of Robin Williams

Posted by: Neal Justin Updated: August 12, 2014 - 11:03 AM

Robin Williams/ AP photo

I won't pretend for a nano-second that I really knew Robin Williams, although our paths crossed a few times.

The last occasion was this past January during a visit to the set of "The Crazy Ones," a sitcom unjustly cancelled by CBS after just one season.

I noted at the time that the comic genius seemed more at rest than he had previously when he could often suck up all the oxygen in the room with his manic energy. He said something telling that January afternoon that may go a long way in explaining the demons he was battling:

"It's not a contest, but it is a joy. You get a laugh, you go, 'Yeah, I'm OK now.' Sometimes it works and other times, no. Then it becomes very sad for a moment. The desperate comic boy comes out."

I also had the pleasure of seeing Williams in 2008 when he did three shows at the intimate Acme Comedy Co., in prepartion for a HBO special in Las Vegas. I was seated in the front row, which made me and my companions the all-too-willing targets of his improv humor.

In 2009, while he was promoting that HBO concert, he told me he had fond memories of his time in the Twin Cities:

"I was enjoying playing a place that was literate, where you could make references to Shakespeare's newest work, 'So That's the Way You Like It,' and have people go, 'I got it. Thanks.'"

In that same interview, Williams delivered one of his best lines as he talked about his recent heart operation:

"It was interesting that I had the surgery at the Cleveland Clinic. And I woke up, going , 'Where am I?' And they said, 'Cleveland.' And I kept going, 'Why?'"

Sadly, Williams time at Hazelden earlier this summer wasn't as successful at healing him.

He leaves us with a great legacy, work both celebrated and underappreciated. Here are 10 contributions that will stick with me:

"An Evening With Robin Williams" (1982): Williams' legacy begins and ends with stand-up. If you've never seen his entire, exhausting act, start with this HBO special taped in his beloved San Francisco.

"The World According to Garp" (1982): He would go on to make better movies, but this was the first that made us sit up straight and realize that Williams could do more than just vomit out one-liners. He's quite touching as John Irving's ultimate protagonist.

"Comic Relief" (1986): I'm deliberately leaving "Mork & Mindy" off the this list. While it served as a great showcase for Williams' fast-paced talent, it was actually a less-than-average sitcom that almost always spun out of control. Williams' greatest gift to television was "Comic Relief," the long-running telethon he hosted with Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg that helped raise $80 million for America's homeless. The trio dug deep into their Rolodexes to bring together the best and brightest in the comedy. Williams gave constantly to various charities, including the LiveStrong Foundation and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. 

"Dead Poets Society" (1989): Seize the day, indeed.

"The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" (1992): Everyone remembers that Carson's last night with guests included Bette Midler singing "One For My Baby" through tears. But let's not forget the evening's other guest was Williams. The fact that the King of Late Night selected him for that penultimate show speaks volumes.

"Aladdin" (1992): There was talk that Williams should have gotten an Oscar nomination for his voice contributions to this animated classic. Hard to remember that when he signed up, big-name actors didn't do cartoons. That soon changed.

"Homicide: Life on the Street" (1994): Much has been made of Williams' ability to throw out the jokebook and tackle dramatic work. Three years prior to winning an Oscar for "Good Will Hunting," he played a tourist on this critically acclaimed crime series who goes through grief and anger when his wife is murdered. It remains one of Williams' most devastating performances.

"Good Will Hunting" (1997): His role as a loner shrink who tries to break through Matt Damon's shell could have been unbearable, but Williams managed to sidestep every cliche and collect his well-deserved Oscar.

"Blame Canada" (2000): Williams had nothing to do with "South Park: The Movie," but he was the ideal candidate to perform the film's centerpiece number when it was nominated for an Academy Award. It's a vigorous performance that pretty much stole the show.

"Louie" (2012): WIlliams played himself in a super-short, strangely sentimental story about he and Louie CK being the only ones to show up to the funeral of a despised comedy-club owner. To honor the man, they decide to visit his favorite strip club where they learn some startling things about the deceased. It's not Williams' best work, but it's the one that keeps rolling around in my head.

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