Sunday, May 28, 2006

A Prairie Film Companion

Yesterday I had planned three screenings at the Seattle Film Festival.

The first, winner of awards all over the world and well-received at Cannes (it also cleaned up every major honor at the Transylvania Film Festival), was the Romanian film The Death of Mr. Lazarescu. It's a dark tale about a sick man who is unable to get the medical care he needs. What begins as a darkly comic film as Mr. Lazarescu shuffles about drinking and complaining to his neighbors about the pains in this stomach and head, plummets into a nightmarish race in an ambulance from hospital to hospital in order to get medical treatment before he dies. I liked the first half of this film, and wanted to like it all, but I found it overlong and ultimately just too bleak.

We were late to our second film of the day, the documentary The Giant Buddahs, and ended up watching X-Men 3 instead, a film I thought suffered without previous X-Men director Bryan Singer at the helm.

Since the mid-1980's, I have been fond of Garrison Keillor's public radio program "A Prairie Home Companion." Its folksy, homespun sensibility has always brought me pleasure. Blending folk and gospel music, live radio drama, and old-fashioned storytelling centered in the fictional town of Lake Wobegon, Minnesota, Keillor practices an art lost to radio programming today.

My love of his radio show and books generated an interest in seeing the musical comedy A Prairie Home Companion, directed by the American auteur Robert Altman (Nashville, M*A*S*H, Gosford Park among many others). Keillor wrote the script at Altman's request about a businessman (Tommy Lee Jones) who buys Keillor's radio station with plans to turn the theater into a parking lot. The film is in real time, taking place over the course of the final performance of the "Companion" radio show, with most of the action taking place back stage as a mysterious interloper played by Virginia Madsen enters the WTL theater during the performance. Kevin Kline is at the height of his comic powers as Guy Noir, the detective and WTL security expert who is "hot" on Madsen's tail. Altman's film is intimately staged and shot, masterfully directed, genuinely moving at times and truly funny at others. The cast, which includes Meryl Streep, Woody Harrelson, Lily Tomlin, John C. Reilly and Lindsay Lohan, are perfect in their roles as performers on GK's radio show.

A Prairie Home Companion opens June 9.


Rick said...

really really glad PHC came out good, and i look forward to partaking next week. as for X3, i suspended judgment since a different director was on board. my only detraction was "what really happened to scott?" - there seems like something was left on the cuttingroom floor there.

Todd said...

Isn't that true of nearly every sequel? I am perplexed at the number of sequels coming from Disney of late. Bambi 2?? Can you really top the original? Uncle Walt is doing cartwheels in his grave!

James said...

Bambi 2! Shameful!