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PARK CITY, UTAH --
The sad and lovely musical biography “Low Down” stars John Hawkes as the late Joe Albany, a talented but troubled jazz pianist who recorded with Charlie Parker and Lester Young in the 1940s.
It’s a typically observant piece of work by Hawkes. He transforms himself with chameleon skill into a tender father and unreconstructed drug addict raising his adoring daughter (played by Elle Fanning) in a seedy Hollywood hotel.
The most breathtaking aspect of the performance may be the extended scenes of Hawkes fingering the keyboard in perfect synch with Albany’s punchy bop recordings. It’s the type of commitment Hawkes typically brings to his work. After all, he learned to type with a mouth stick for his role as a quadriplegic journalist in last year’s “The Sessions.”
Director Jeff Preiss covered similar jazz-noir ground as cinematographer for the Oscar-nominated 1988 Chet Baker documentary “Let’s Get Lost.” Preiss lauded Hawkes’ commitment following a screening at the Sundance Film Festival. Hawkes, a guitarist and songwriter himself (he’s on the “Winter’s Bone” soundtrack) worked intensely with musician Ohad Talmor, who assured Preiss that Hawkes was ready for his turn in the spotlight.
The film’s first music scene, a trio playing at a bohemian party, is a complicated bit of choreography that showed the Alexandria-born Hawkes playing from several angles. “We left it till the end of the day,” Preiss said. “All day John had a little keyboard in his trailer. He just sat there concentrating. Came the time, he went through the whole tune on the first take. I was looking at the monitor aw we were roving the room and there’s John playing. We go back to his hands and it’s perfect. We come off and go around and back to his hands. It’s perfect, two or three times. End of the song, I say ‘Cut,’ and there was the sound of a stampede in the hallway.” The door banged open as the off-set crew, who had monitored the proceedings on video screens, burst in.
“They could not believe they had just seen something that didn’t seem possible,” said Preiss, who has directed music videos for everyone from Iggy Pop, Malcolm McLaren, REM and the B-52s to Mariah Carey, said, “it’s an amazing feat that John Hawkes did, an incredible example of his brilliance as an actor.”
“The Book of Mormon,” the blockbuster musical that had a sold-out run in Minneapolis last February, will return to the Twin Cities to kick off the Hennepin Theatre Trust’s 2014-15 Broadway on Hennepin season, announced Wednesday.
The lineup also includes fresh-from-Broadway productions of the Cyndi Lauper musical “Kinky Boots,” the jukebox show “Motown the Musical” and the revival of “Pippin.”
Altogether, the shows have won nearly three dozen Tonys.
“It’s a season of fun,” said Tom Hoch, president of the trust. “A lot of these shows do have deep meaning, but if you don’t want to find something deep, you can just have a great time.”
The season begins Aug. 20-Sept. 7 with “Mormon,” the acidic send-up of white missionaries in Africa by the creators of “South Park” that won nine Tonys.
Closing out the season is “Kinky Boots,” the musical about the revival of a bankrupt footwear business that won six Tonys last year, including best musical (July 28-Aug. 2, 2015).
In between, look for:
• “Dirty Dancing,” a stage adaptation of the 1987 film that starred Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey (Oct. 7-19).
• “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas,” which had a successful engagement at the Ordway a couple of seasons ago (Nov. 25-30).
• The holiday slot is given over to the soulful sounds of “Motown the Musical,” the behind-the-scenes story of the iconic record label, written by co-founder Berry Gordy and with songs made popular by the Supremes, Smokey Robinson, the Temptations and many more (Dec. 16-28).
• “I Love Lucy Live on Stage,” a adaptation of the classic TV show featuring Lucy and her Latin love (Jan. 20-25, 2015).
• “Pippin,” the Stephen Schwartz musical about showbiz in ancient times that won the Tony for best revival last year (Feb. 17-22, 2015).
• Perennial favorites “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” (March 10-15, 2015), “Annie” (March 31-April 5, 2015) and the popular Four Seasons musical “Jersey Boys” (April 28-May 3, 2015).
In addition, Theater Latté Da artistic director Peter Rothstein will revive “Oliver!” at the Pantages Theatre as part of the trust’s locally produced Broadway Re-Imagined series (Feb. 4-March 1, 2015).
Tickets are available for season subscribers, donors and groups at 9 a.m. Wed. Individual tickets go on sale later. 1-800-859-7469 or via fax, 1-800-329-8587, or online.
(Note: this trailer contains fleeting partial nudity.)
Some thrillers set out to move you and others aim to mess you up. “Bastards” (***, unrated, in subtitled French and English) the prestige shocker from director Claire Denis, is a ravisning example of emotionally assaultive moviemaking. Its fact-inspired story about recent French sex ring scandals fuels a tense, fatalistic film noir to haunt your darkest nightmares.
The film’s elliptical editing fragments the story into a jigsaw of disorientation. With an eerie electronica score by the British indie pop band Tindersticks, the film weaves together themes of corporate greed, revenge, incest, infidelity and suicide.
Craggy, handsome Vincent Lindon plays Marco, an oil-tanker captain who abandons ship after receiving an SOS from his family. His brother-in-law has jumped to his death, the family shoe factory is in ruins, and his teenage niece (the luminous Lola Creton) has been hospitalized following a sexual assault. The man at the center of these sprawling events appears to be a tycoon (Michel Subor). Marco, determined to probe beyond the cursory police reports, sets out to seduce and entrap the man’s much younger mistress (Chiara Mastroianni.)
Literally and figuratively in the dark for much of the film, Marco gropes toward answers that elude us as well. Swaths of story don’t make sense, but neither do the daily headlines. But Denis creates an immersive sense of dread that’s hard to shake. Her work here combines the masterful visual control of Michael Mann, the creepy atmospherics of David Lynch and the labyrinth plotting of Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut.” She conjures a world where an unguarded moment of emotion can be as dangerous as a bullet. “Bastards” is an imperfect film but a perfectly mesmerizing one.
(7 and 9 p.m., Dec. 16-17, Trylon Microcinema, 3258 Minnehaha Av., Minneapolis. Admission: $8, Call 612-424-5468.)
Barkhad Abdi in "Captain Phillips" (Sony Pictures photo)
The Screen Actors Guild has honored Somali-born Minneapolis resident Barkhad Abdi, 28, with a nomination as best supporting actor for his work in the reality-based piracy drama “Captain Phillips.”
The first-time actor’s costar, Tom Hanks, was also nominated in the lead actor category for his work in the film.
Director Paul Greengrass picked Abdi from an open casting call in a Cedar Riverside community center, praising his ability to seem “menacing and [to] have a humanity too.”
As a raider forced into piracy by desperate poverty, Abdi was alternately fierce and gentle, improvised the film’s unnerving key lines: “Look at me. Look at me. I’m the captain now.”
Abdi's rivals for the SAG award are Daniel Brühl, for "Rush;" Michael Fassbender, for "12 Years a Slave;" the late James Gandolfini, for "Enough Said" and Jared Leto, for "Dallas Buyers Club." The awards ceremony takes place Jan. 18.
Hollywood oddsmakers consider Abdi a likely best supporting actor competitor when the Oscar nominations are announced. Jan. 16.
It's time again for a commercial interruption. Walker Art center's annual presentation of the cream of Britain's TV advertising opens Friday and runs through Jan. 6. As always, the spots in the 75-minute showcase display extraordinary creativity, whether they're clipped, clever info-blips or ambitious entries dripping with cinematic production values.
A few even boast movie stars, peppering the spots with the kind of smartly targeted celebrity appeal not often seen in U.S. advertising. There's Hugh Jackman getting slapped silly for Lipton Tea, Kiefer Sutherland longing for a high school crush for Axe Body Wash, and Kevin Bacon, Michael Fassbender, Godzilla and He-Man making cameo appearances.
Some of the commercials are riotous (a small girl's fantasy of playing house with imaginary friends on Ikea furniture), some shocking (the ambulance service advert comparing cancer and accident fatalities) and some solemnly breathtaking. The Commercial of the Year winner, "Meet the Superhumans," a tribute to the extraordinary commitment of athletes in the Channel 4 Paralympics, will make any viewer reconsider his definitions of "handicapped" and "disabled." Tickets ($12 for the public, $10 for Walker members) sell out fast. Call (612) 375-7569.
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