Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A Prairie Home Companion (and other DVD releases, Oct. 10)

(better late than never) ...

Robert Altman, veteran master of the multilayered, oddly contoured ensemble movie, applies his considerable skills as a cinematic manipulator to A Prairie Home Companion (New Line, $27.98), inspired by Garrison Keillor’s long-running radio National Public Radio show of the same name.

Fans of the NPR program will find much to admire in Altman’s uneven toast to Americana; others, though, may wonder what the fuss is all about.

Keillor, he of the golden pipes and a screen persona that’s less than charismatic, stars as G.K., the affable host of a Midwestern-based radio show that’s being shut down because – yes, it’s true – the station’s new owners don’t care for the old-time nature of the program.

The comic drama takes place during the fictitious final broadcast of the movie’s “Prairie Home Companion” show (meanwhile, Keillor’s real-life program, built around fake characters, is alive and well).

Altman’s film centers on the last show’s backstage action and onstage music performances, a selection of old-line popular standards and country-rooted music played by some of the same musicians who appear on the NPR show.

Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin grab attention as the Johnson Sisters, who finish each other’s sentences and allow their lines to overlap in Altman’s familiar style. Virginia Madsen plays a rather irrelevant angel and Maya Rudolph is an overworked stage hand. Several characters from the real-life radio program become flesh-and-blood creations in Altman’s movie, to varying effect: Kevin Kline is mildly interesting as private eye Guy Noir, and Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly are quite funny as singing cowboys Dusty and Lefty.

Tommy Lee Jones is reliably oily as the corporate weasel assigned the dirty job of canceling the program, and the cast also includes Lindsey Lohan. Folk singers Robin and Linda Williams are among the most intriguing of the musical performers.

An audio commentary with Altman and Kline, deleted scenes and a behind-the-scenes documentary are among the extra features. Also included is “Onstage at the Fitzgerald: A Music Companion,” which offers extended versions of the musical numbers and the faux advertising segments.


Quirk is the word for Art School Confidential (Sony, $26.96), an offbeat little comedy that’s the second collaboration from director Terry Zwigoff (“Crumb”) and screenwriter/cartoonist Dan Clowes; their earlier project, 2001’s “Ghost World,” was funnier and more appealing.

Art school, of course, is the setting for this tale of a new student, Jerome (Max Minghella) who develops a king-sized crush on a beautiful artist’s model, Audrey (Sophia Myles). She’s hung up on an older guy (Matt Keeslar) who is gaining acclaim for work that’s more commercially appealing.

The story’s characters also include Jerome’s teacher, a failed artist (John Malkovich); a grungy off campus mentor (Jim Broadbent) for the school’s students; and a wise faculty member (Anjelica Huston).

Deleted scenes, a making-of-the-movie documentary, a Sundance feature and a blooper reel are among the extra features.

Released at the same time was Zwigoff’s 2003 Bad Santa, in a new “director’s cut” version (Dimension, $19.99). Extras: Commentary with Zwigoff and editor Robert Hoffman; behind-the-scenes feature; deleted scenes; alternate scenes and outtakes.


Adam Sandler goes sentimental with Click (Sony, $28.95), the story of a harried architect who magically discovers a way to control his universe.

The incredibly derivative comedy – re: It’s a Wonderful Life, The Family Man or a half-dozen other similar movies – co-stars Christopher Walken as a supernatural inventor, sort of, and the cast also includes Kate Beckinsale and David Hasselhoff.

Extras: Commentary with Sandler, director Frank Coraci and others; deleted scenes; seven making-of-the-movie documentaries.

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