DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEW of A Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor: The Man on the Radio in the Red Shoes, The Ice Storm, The Ice Harvest, The Devil's Pond, Beautiful Girls


Title:  A Prairie Home Companion

Release Date:  2005

Nationality and Language: USA, English

Running time: 105 min

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Distributor and Production Company: PictureHouse, Greenstreet

Director; Writer: Robert Altman, Garrison Keillor


Cast:  Kevin Line, Virginia Madsen, Garrison Keillor, Tommy Lee Jones, Lily Tomlin, Woody Harrelson

Technical: Full 2:3 to 1

Relevance to DOASKDOTELL site:  Minnesota film 


This  is a rather large Cinemascope film for this file but fits because it was filmed entirely in St. Paul, MN with the help of the MN film community (after I had moved back to VA) and is on one of the “indie” labels. Robert Altman has an all star veteran cast and the film is somewhat simpler than most of his earlier efforts. The story is simple: Garrison Keillor ("Lake Wobegon") is hosting his last radio broadcast (the look of the film is early 1970s, given the pay phones, permitted smoking, etc. – in those days St Paul had a place called the Noble Roman) in a building that looks like the Orpheum Theater in St Paul on the main park. I used to hear his famous broadcasts (for which this film is named) on Saturday afternoons, sometimes at a friend’s house in Roseville. Keillor makes good word salad, with inventive jokes and memories of simple farm life with new recipes of activity. There is no great pretense beyond pleasant life. “Life is a struggle…. We are a dark people,” he says of Minnesotans. Kevin Kline plays the “private detective” as the film opens at Mickey’s Rail Car Diner, across the park—where I have eaten at least once. The film will end there as the principles get together for an after show repast (like I did at Applebee’s not too far away, near Hamline University, after my lecture on crutches in 1998). Most of the film is inside the theater, on lavish ornate sets, featuring entertaining country and western numbers and entr’actes. There is a comedy CW routine with punnish risqué humor “diarrhea is hereditary—it runs in the genes”). There is odd Altman-like discussions – why would somebody major in physics or chemistry but not philosophy – because you can’t put Descartes before the horse! Philosophy as a major was a trendy idea among some of my LPMN friends in Minnesota in the late 90s – I think I heard that joke the night of my own lecture. So for me the movie is a bit of déjà vu. But it gets better. An old codger is found dead of a cardiac arrest, and nobody can do anything about it. Then the “Dangerous Woman” (Virginia Madsen) appears and claims to be an Angel, and for all we know, maybe she is. (Another one of my own screenplay ideas that I have leaked out on this site!)  At one point Guy Noir detective pays homage to the fairer sex and pats a pregnant belly, even standing for, and suggests giving up sex with the opposite sex. The cast also has Woody Harrelson, Tommy Lee Jones (“Axeman”), Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin. After the film, I was prepared to drive back to by old life in downtown Minneapolis in that chummy apartment, but that life is gone.    


Garrison Keillor: The Man on the Radio in the Red Shoes (2009, PBS American Masters) Blogger.


The Ice Storm (1997, Fox Searchlight, dir. Ang Lee, 112 min, R) was a spouse-swapping party that takes place in New Canaan, Conn., on a night where a real ice storm strikes and the results are tragic. I’m not used to seeing people trade house keys like they do in this movie. I don’t do that!  The idea that sex is for self-discovery and pleasure rather than for family commitment and life transmission seems taken as far as it can go in this film, which was quite a hit in the go-go late 90s. Times are a-tougher now.


The Ice Harvest (2005, Focus, dir. Harold Ramos, 89 min, R) is another slick little film based on goings on during an ice storm, this time on Christmas eve in Wichita, Kansas. The rain freezes on contact, all right, making a landscape that rivals Dallas on New Years Day 1979. Indoors, Charlie Arglist (John Cusack) and bumpkin partner Vic Cavanaugh (Billy Bob Thornton) has embezzled two million dollars, and they need to get it out of town. Pretty much a simple plan. The sot Peter (Oliver Platt) makes a sidekick, and accomplice Roy (Mike Starr) never shows his face. Eventually Charlie, Vic and Roy wind up on a quay on a frozen pond (it ain’t Crater Lake in Smallville) with Roy compressed in a trunk, a man falling into the ice to drown, and all three shot. That scene is masterful, and even reminds one of Blood Simple. This was Focus’s other major Christmas release, almost on equal footing with Brokeback until awards time. This little film should have gotten more recognition. The DVD includes Bibbly Bob Thornton doing another imitation of his speech (uh-huh) from "Sling Blade." The film was apparently shot near Chicago, and it actually rained a lot even in the winter when they filmed -- global warming.


The Devil’s Pond (2003, Artisan/Splendid, dir. Joel Viertel, 92 min, R) is a two-character drama reduced to essentials. Handsome hunk Kip Pardue, usually a nice guy, still seems like one as he plays a psychotic groom (Mitch) trying to trap his bride on a honeymoon island in “Heaven’s Pond.”  Julianne Olsen (Tara Reid) has to outwit him. At one point Mitch says, “you’re not a real man until you have a wife and family of your own.” Some people really believe that. This little indie certainly makes a great point (as do some soap operas) about how an appealing man can go awry when he believes that family formation a mandatory prerequisite for manhood and freedom.


Beautiful Girls (1996, Miramax, dir. Ted Demme, R)  A little bit like “The Ice Storm” – Timothy Hutton plays a pianist who corrals his buddies for a reunion and begins a bizarre but platonic friendship with a teen girl. Blogger.


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