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Burning the midnight oil

Posted by: Graydon Royce Updated: September 11, 2014 - 10:45 AM
Photo by Ann Heisenfeldt

As host of “A Prairie Home Companion,” writer Garrison Keillor works up to the Saturday performance deadline, tinkering with his script. Playwright Garrison Keillor knows that will not work in the theater – although he’s pushing things as far as he can with “Radio Man,” at the History Theatre in St. Paul.

Keillor delivered a significant rewrite on Wednesday. An aide delivered the copy to director Ron Peluso, who leafed through a few pages and muttered something about “having a heart attack.” But he put on his best smiling face when the playwright arrived at rehearsal for the show, which opens Sept. 27.

"You've been busy," Peluso joked when Keillor arrived at rehearsal a little later. In an interview, Keillor said he felt he owed it to the actors to be finished with the script by Saturday – which coincidentally is the opening show of the 40th annniversary season of “A Prairie Home Companion.”

Keillor mentioned this Saturday deadline to Peluso as they walked into the rehearsal hall after a break. “Saturday? I was thinking maybe tomorrow,” the director said. They agreed on Friday and then got back to work.

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:

 

Minnesota talent represents at the Toronto International Film Festival

Posted by: Colin Covert Updated: July 25, 2014 - 2:08 PM

There’s a fair amount of Minnesota heat at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.

The prestigious Opening Night slot goes to “The Judge,” written by Minneapolis native Nick (“Gran Torino”) Schenk. The film boasts the world’s biggest movie star, Robert Downey Jr., as a cosmopolitan superlawyer who finds himself in his corn belt home town, defending his estranged father (Robert Duvall) on a murder charge. First Clint Eastwood as a testy retired auto worker, then Duvall as a peppery retired jurist. Schenk sure has something about grumpy old men.

After decades away from the director’s chair, longtime producer William Pohlad  takes the helm with “Love & Mercy,” a biographical drama about the Beach Boys’ troubled genius Brian Wilson. Since directing his first film, 1990’s “Old Explorers,” he’s collaborated with the likes of Ang Lee, Steve McQueen, Robert Altman, Terrence Malick, Doug Liman and Sean Penn. It should be interesting to see how the Twins scion has upped his game. His new film stars Paul Dano, John Cusack and Paul Giamatti.

The there’s “Wild,” a new drama from Jean-Marc Vallée (“Dallas Buyers Club”) based on the memoir by Minnesota native Cheryl Strayed. Reese Witherspoon plays Strayed as she copes with personal issues on a long-distance hiking adventure that challenges and heals her.

The Toronto International Film Festival runs Sept. 4-14.

Local talent produces a double feature

Posted by: Colin Covert Updated: June 20, 2014 - 5:59 PM

Notable deals from a couple of local filmmaker types.

Screenwriter Nick Schenk (of Clint Eastwood’s “Gran Torino”) has another Warner Bros. star project due in theaters Oct. 10. Robert Downey, Jr., Robert Duvall, Billy Bob Thornton and Vera Farmiga star in “The Judge,” Schenk’s story of a hotshot criminal defense lawyer who must defend his estranged father on a murder charge. David (“The Wedding Crashers” ) Dobkin directs.

Eric D. Howell, whose Minneapolis- shot short  “Anna’s Playground” was shortlisted for a 2009 Oscar is slated to make his feature debut with the psychological thriller “The Voice of the Stone.” Emilia Clarke from HBO’s “Game of Thrones” will star as a nurse in 1950s Italy helping a boy traumatized by the sudden death of his mother, a famed opera singer. She discovers that the family’s Tuscan castle harbors a malevolent force. "It's a ‘Sixth Sense’-like tale of how she’s ensnared, a slow-burn haunting,” Howell said. “Is it real or is it not?”

Clarke is a fast-rising star, slated to play Sarah Connor in the upcoming “Terminator: Genesis” alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger. The independently financed ghost story is scheduled to begin production near Siena in October, Howell said, with an eye to a debut on the following year’s fall film festival circuit.

Baraka to be toasted in the Twin Cities on Saturday

Posted by: Rohan Preston Updated: April 10, 2014 - 6:20 PM

The works, memory and achievements of Amiri Baraka, the influential poet, playwright, essayist and cultural theorist who died Jan. 9 at 79, will be celebrated Saturday in the Twin Cities, a place where he had tremendous influence.

"Dutchman," Baraka's landmark play that was turned into a film, was the first work produced at Mixed Blood when the theater was founded by Jack Reuler in 1976. It was directed by Lou Bellamy, who would go on to found Penumbra Theatre.

Baraka gave frequent readings in the Twin Cities, often travelling with family members.

"Spirit Reach," as the tribute is titled, will be hosted by novelist, professor and educational theorist Alexs Pate, and Arleta Little, arts program officer at the McKnight Foundation.

The slate of performers includes multi-instrumentalist and composer Douglas Ewart, rapper Toki Wright, actor Sha Cage and dancer Leah Nelson.

The free event also will feature performances by such pre-eminent spoken word artists as Bao Phi, Tish Jones,  J. Otis Powell, E.G. Bailey, Truthmaze, Andrea Jenkins and veteran poet Louis Alemayehu.

2-4 p.m. Sat., Capri Theater, 2027 W. Broadway, Mpls. 612-822-0015 or online. Admission is free.

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