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Screenwriter Michael Starrbury up for an anti-Oscar

Posted by: Colin Covert Updated: January 24, 2014 - 4:41 PM

Local screenwriter Michael Starrbury ("The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete") is coming off a remarkable week and looking forward to another one.

On Jan. 15 he dined at the White House, where his dramatic comedy about a pair of hard-luck New York City minority kids was presented for an audience including the First Lady. 

In addition to dinner and a bag of official White House popcorn, "I got to meet Mrs. Obama. It was an incredible experience. She's so humble and sweet," he said.

She had nice things to say about him at the event as well, leading a round of applause for his work and smiling, "Well done, well done... This movie ws so powerful to me." (The comments begin at the 12 minute mark of the video above.)

And on March 1, the day before the Oscars ceremony, Starrbury will be at the Independent Spirit Awards in Santa Monica, Calif. He's nominated for best first screenplay prize.

"I've had calls from people telling me they likes it and they're voting for it," he said, "but the main thing is to go and chill out and get out of this Minnesota weather for a minute."

While he's there, Starrbury will be pitching a new feature for Universal Studios, a kids' comedy.

He'll also attend New Line Studios live reading of his upcoming script "The Great Unknown," based on the graphic novel by Duncan Rouleau. Also attending will be the project's director Jorma Taccone ("MacGruber.") The project is a low-fi action comedy about a daydreaming slacker convinced that telepathic thieves are stealing all his great ideas. 

John Hawkes hits all the right notes in "Low Down"

Posted by: Colin Covert Updated: January 24, 2014 - 3:56 PM
Elle Fanning and John Hawkes in "Low Down." (Photo: Sundance Institute)


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," "Motown" and "Kinky Boots" in the Minneapolis Broadway line-up

Posted by: Rohan Preston Updated: January 22, 2014 - 9:04 AM
Phyre Hawkins, Mark Evans and Christopher John O'Neill in "The Book of Mormon." (photo by Joan Marcus)

“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.

Glorious "Bastards': French thriller is hypnotic

Posted by: Colin Covert Updated: December 16, 2013 - 4:58 PM

(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.)

Screen Actors Guild nominates 'Captain Phillips' actor Barkhad Abdi

Posted by: Colin Covert Updated: December 11, 2013 - 2:28 PM

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.




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