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Good times: "Wilson" opens to warm applause at Sundance

Woody Harrelson as the imperfect lovable title character in "Wilson." Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Park City, Utah

"Wilson," one of the most long awaited films ever shot in Minnesota, finally received its world debut Sunday night at the Sundance Film Festival to boisterous applause. 


One of the hottest tickets in this year's 120 feature films, the R-rated comedy starring Woody Harrelson, Laura Dern and Judy Greer had been in progress since the shoot ended in late summer of 2015. The screening filled to capacity the 1259-seat Eccles Theatre, which hosts many of Sundance's biggest premieres.

Harrelson stars as the title character, a middle aged curmudgeon more skilled in expressing affection to pet dogs than people. After his father passes away, he finds an unexpected chance for a family of his own. His ex (Dern) gave birth to a child he never met, and he tries his best to reunite the three into an ad-lib family. 
Daniel Clowes' original screenplay, inspired by his graphic novel of the same name, has a lightness of feeling and optimism rare in films adapted from his earlier works "Ghost World," and "Art School Confidential." Harrelson's character is deeply flawed, gregarious and lovable. If there is an awards category for feel good films about abnormal, impaired families, this will be near the top of the list.

After the screening, director Craig Johnson noted with evident nostalgia that "this was all Minneapolis-St. Paul. We had a wonnnderful time there."

Both the shoot and the setting were a fond memory for Dern, as well.

"It was the gift of a lifetime. I've had the privilege of being at Sundance so many times with movies I've loved, but this is just one of the great expberiences of my life as an actor. And really for all of us as a family. We really had this radical summer vacation together!"

Harrelson, who took time off between scenes to check out the season's biggest rock shows at Rock the Garden and the Basilica Block Party, was happy about "getting the opportunity to do this out in Minneapolis." 

It was a bit of a homecoming. In 1999, Harrelson settled into an extended stay at the Theatre de la June's Lune to direct his own play, "Furthest from the Sun." He starred in 2005's legal drama "North Country," then sang and strummed as a musical cowboy in 2006's "A Prairie Home Companion."

The "Wilson" cast also found a rich source of rest and relaxation on the local bar scene during their 6 weeks of shooting. Recalling the experiences triggered happy smiles but woozy memories. 

Trying to name the "dive bars" the team frequented, Johnson was embarrassed at being absentminded.

"Oh, we went to some great ones and we're a bunch of idiots."

"We can't remember them," Greer agreed.

"We were so wasted," Johnson said.

"Me especially, at 16, right?" said Isabella Amara, with a note of pride. The young actress, now 18, plays Wilson's long lost biological daughter. "I'm the party animal of the group, clearly!"

"I'll have to go back and look over my notes," Johnson said, moving right along. "But we went to them and we, as you can see, had a little too much fun at them."

"Wilson" opens in theaters March 24.

New Bob Dylan musical takes place in Duluth during Great Depression, will premiere in London

LOS ANGELES -- Bob Dylan must be hoping that things have changed.

The first attempt to bring his catalogue to the theatre, "The Times They Are a-Changin'," closed on Broadway after three weeks.

Now the recent Nobel Prize winner is trying again. "Girl From the North Country," which is expected to sample generously from Dylan's vast catalogue, is set to premiere at London's Old Vic Theatre in July, The play is being written by acclaimed Irish writer Conor McPherson who is personally selecting the songs and directing.

Not much is known about the highly-anticipated production aside from statements made by the Old Vic artistic director Matthew Warchus's upon revealing the 2017 lineup.

"“It works rather like a ritual or a church service in that there is dramatic dialogue, story and then you become airborne for a moment in the Bob Dylan music," said Warchus who succeeded Kevin Spacey in 2015. "It is very clever and unique. There’s nothing really to compare it to.”

Despite the amount of secrecy surrounding the project, I was able to squeeze some thoughts out of lead actor Sam Reid, who is also starring in "Tennison," a PBS prequel to its popular "Prime Suspect" series.

Reid confirmed earlier this week that the story will take place in Duluth during the Great Depression and that he'll portray a young man eager to burst out of his seemingly dead-end life.

"It's very depressing," he said with a laugh, adding that he took the role as a departure from the string of wealthy aristocrats and authority figures that he's usually associated with. "I had to let go of some stuff to do this, but this is a very special project."

Reid said it was too early to speculate on details and will know more once the cast starts workshopping the project in February. He doesn't even know if he'll adapt a Minnesota accent, although the Aussie actor assumes that the cast will speak "American."

He wouldn't even confirm what songs might be included, but he's getting familiar with all of the Minnesota bard's work, listening to classics while driving in his car.

He's partial to the "Slow Train Coming" album and has also been impressed by Dylan's often under-appreciated vocal range.

"He's a chameleon," he said. "To hear him sing 'Lay, Lady, Lay' is so different than the vocal sond he's usually identified with."

Reid confesses that he wasn't a Dylan aficionado before landing that the role,but that his parents grew up on his music.

"They're so thrilled," he said.

Does Reid think there's any chance the normally reclusive musician will offer him some personal insight?

"Potentially, Reid said. "I know he and his team have been very supportive."

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