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Ready or not, the Summer Olympics are finally coming!

Still branded as the 2020 Games, the 29th installment of the summer athletic spectacle is set to begin this weekend in Tokyo after being postponed from last year due to the circumstances of the pandemic. As to whether or not the Games SHOULD be going forward, well … that’s a complicated question. But, from where we sit as I write this introduction, mere days before the opening ceremonies, it certainly seems that they are going forward.

Now, as someone who is a fairly well-informed general sports fan, I possess a certain degree of Olympic awareness – more than most, I’d wager. However, that awareness is hardly enough for me to be able to give you any sort of reasoned analysis about the Games. I certainly won’t be able to give you an accurate prediction with regard to who might medal.

So I thought instead, why not share a collection of fun tidbits and trivia about assorted Olympic sports as a way to look forward to the next couple of weeks of athletic excellence? There’s stuff here from the distant and not-so-distant past, as well as some talk about what’s happening this time around.

I also dug around and found a few Maine connections to the Summer Games – there aren’t quite as many as we find in the Winter edition, for obvious reasons, but you might be surprised at some of the fun connections to the Pine Tree State.

And really, while this is the culmination of a lifetime for these competitors, for us – the people at home – the fun is what it’s all about.

So we’ve passed the halfway point in 2021. Movie theaters have opened back up and the blockbuster summer movies we’ve come to expect are finally making their way to the big screen, many after a delay of a year or more. Seemingly every weekend, we’re looking at a new big-budget extravaganza coming to a theater near you.

But what about the movies we’ve already seen this year?

As a rule, I don’t do midyear looks back, but considering the bifurcated nature of the movie year, it makes sense to take a quick peek at what we saw before the dividing line as opposed to after.

Let me be clear – these are not necessarily the movies I would consider the BEST (though plenty would cross over to that list), but rather my favorites. I’d wager that there are a couple on here that wouldn’t make any of the lists currently making the rounds, actually. Some of these just arrived on the scene, others are from way back in January. But hey – that’s part of the fun.

I should also note that there are a number of big-time films that I saw in 2021, but that received releases in 2020, that I decided not to include. This means that shiny award contenders and winners like “Judas and the Black Messiah,” “Minari” and Best Picture winner “Nomadland” are not here. Without that caveat, they would top my list.

So here we are. Check out my favorite films of 2021 so far – some good ones, a couple of great ones and one or two that are just plain weird.

(Films presented in alphabetical order)

Tuesday, 06 July 2021 21:51

MIFF brings movie magic back to Waterville

Written by Allen Adams

WATERVILLE – Movie magic is returning to Waterville’s big screens this summer.

The Maine International Film Festival, one of the highlights of the region’s cultural calendar, is back in action once again. Running from July 9 through July 18, MIFF has once again assembled a top-notch slate of films. We’re talking dozens of movies running the gamut – comedies and dramas and documentaries, feature-length and short, international offerings and movies made right here in Maine – all collected and curated by the folks at the Maine Film Center. It’s a typically outstanding program for what promises to be another dynamite festival.

MIFF was one of the many cultural institutions forced to pivot last year due to the circumstances of the pandemic. One could argue they were among the nimblest in doing so, teaming up with the Skowhegan Drive-In to present a pared-down and safe version of the festival last summer.

That relationship is continuing this year, even though MIFF’s indoor venues – Railroad Square Cinema and the Waterville Opera House – are both open and available. It’s a wonderful expansion of the festival, both geographically and in terms of the way in which the films can be enjoyed.

It’s also worth noting that there is a virtual component to this year’s festival. Through the MIFF website – www.miff.org – viewers can access a number of offerings, including all four of the short film compilations. It’s a great opportunity for those unable to travel to the festival site to still engage with some of the wonderful films that are part of the slate.

Additionally, the festival is featuring an exhibit called The Kneeling Art Photography Project, an exhibition of photos of Mainers from many different backgrounds taking a knee in support of anti-racist actions in their respective communities. Those who attend will have the opportunity to have their own photos made as they themselves take a knee and become part of this statewide solidarity. Also, there will be a live music and projection event in Castonguay Square following the opening night film on July 9.

I spend a lot of time at the movies. And while I embrace the bombast and excess that has come to mark the cinematic summer, there's something wonderful about the idea that scores of great films - films of all shapes and sizes from filmmakers that span the globe - are all going to be assembled and played for Maine audiences over the course of 10 marvelous days.

Trying to describe the entire bill of fare at MIFF would be a fool's errand; there are simply too many excellent offerings to try and fit them all in. Instead, let's take a look at a handful of potentially interesting highlights. This list will be far from comprehensive, but it should provide an informative cross-sectional peek at the wide variety of films assembled by the festival's programming team.

To that end, we'll be taking a look at an offering from every day of the festival. Please note that this list barely scratches the surface: you can get a look at the full schedule at the festival website at www.miff.org.

(All film descriptions come from the Maine International Film Festival website.)

What are your favorite concert movies of all time? The best concert films make you feel like you’re present in the best seat in the venue with superb sound and visuals. A great concert film can take you from the audience to the stage, backstage, and into the lives of the performers.

Some concert films capture profound historical moments that could never be duplicated, such as “Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not be Televised),” set to premiere July 2 on Hulu.

Filmed over the course of six weeks in the summer of 1969 at the Harlem Cultural Festival, the event presented now legendary soul, R&B and blues performers at the peak of their powers but the film reels and audio tapes ended up collecting dust in a basement for about 50 years until being resurrected for this film directed by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson of The Roots.

Stevie Wonder, Sly and the Family Stone, The 5th Dimension, B.B. King, and The Staple Singers, among others, took the stage in an event that received scant contemporary media attention compared with the coinciding festival that unfolded about 90 minutes away on Max Yasgur’s Bethel, New York dairy farm, which became the setting for Woodstock.

Why was the historic footage presented in “Summer of Soul” relegated to history’s dustbin? Thompson’s film promises to explore the reasons while also speculating how it might have become a game changer had it been shaped into a movie at the time.

As Thompson said to IndieWire of the footage presented in “Summer of Soul”: “What would have happened if this was allowed a seat at the table? How much of a difference would that have made in my life? That was the moment that extinguished any doubt I had that I could do this.”

Our heightened anticipation over “Summer of Soul” got us thinking about some of our favorite concert films of all time. I came up with a preliminary list which was revised several times as I viewed each film again. I expect most readers will take issue with the fact that I neglected to include one or more of their faves.

Led Zeppelin fans, for example, will notice that I didn’t include “The Song Remains the Same,” a perennial entry on many concert movie best-of lists. It did appear on the penultimate version of my list but when I watched it again recently, it became clear that it doesn’t belong here. It is a significant film in that it was the only official live footage of Led Zeppelin released during the band’s lifetime, but as a movie, it’s a mess.

The best available live footage of Led Zeppelin can be found on the 2003 double DVD set, “Led Zeppelin,” containing over five hours of footage. As that set is an anthology compiled from about nine different concerts performed over 10 years and intended for home viewing, it’s outside of the scope of the films profiled here, which all chronicle either a single show, a festival, a tour, or a series of shows shot expressly for a single film.

As much as I’d love to rhapsodize about my favorite music documentaries, such as The Who’s “The Kids are Alright” or “The Beatles Anthology,” most don’t fit the above criteria, and as such, are not included.

The subjective nature of determining a “best of” just about anything is an exercise in futility. Everyone’s taste is different which is why I expect your list of favorite concert films probably differs significantly from mine. My goal here was to come up with 10 great concert movies to be presented in no particular order of excellence.

In addition, Super Genius assignment editor Allen Adams has selected one of his personal favorite concert films from an artist who helped craft a legendary 1984 rock concert movie with his former band which appears below.

(Editor’s note: It’s true. I have. Although I can’t compete with Mike’s expertise and my pick is definitely a little different from his excellent selections.)

Those of you who know me know that I’ve spent most of my life rather hopeless in the kitchen.

However, in recent years – and especially over the past months – I’ve become more adept in the ways of cooking. Still, while I’ve managed to turn myself into a competent, albeit largely unexciting cook, the vagaries of baking remain beyond my grasp.

Anyone who knows anything will tell you that baking is as much art as science, a delicate dance where the slightest change in quantity and/or quality of an ingredient can completely alter the outcome. Not to mention all the specificity with regard to times and temperatures and a dozen other variables.

Even so, with the help of people in my life who are truly gifted in that arena, I have found myself slowly but surely learning the ways of the baker. Now, I’m by no means good or even competent when it comes to baking, but I’m making progress.

And I’ve had VERY good teachers.

As a way to celebrate the summertime, I thought it might be nice to share some of the recipes that we’ve enjoyed in the past. While I’ll confess to having tried and failed to make most of these delectable treats, I can tell you that I have definitely succeeded in eating said treats when they were made by someone more capable than myself – and they are delicious.

These are all fruit-driven recipes (well, except for our inclusion of a Maine stalwart – we couldn’t run this story and NOT have whoopie pies in the mix). The majority feature fruits that are in season, but you should know that in almost all cases, frozen will serve you just as well. And while there’s a pie crust recipe included here, you’ll be just fine using your own or even store-bought – it’ll be tasty no matter what you decide.

So here you are, a collection of pies, cakes, scones and breads, along with whoopie pies and, as an aperitif, a little homemade blackberry liqueur that will pin a boozy button on your big baking adventure.

Ah, summer – we’ve missed you. And after many months, something else that we’ve missed – the theatre – is making a triumphant return.

For those who love live theatre, there are loads of options. Companies near and far are bringing exciting work to stages all over the region; no matter where you might be, there’s a good chance that you’ve got some excellent theatre happening nearby. There’s a lot of variety out there just waiting to be experienced.

We’ve been waiting a while for this, thanks to the circumstances of the pandemic. Summer stages were largely dark last year. And not every company is quite ready to mark their return. But numerous groups are bringing their talents back over the coming weeks, giving those of us who love the theatre a chance to experience that love once again. If you choose to see a show, be sure to familiarize yourself with the company’s individual protocols – different groups will have different policies in place. Some will be outdoors, others will be inside, but all will be bringing live theatre back.

I know you’ve missed it. I’ve missed it too. So let’s all take the time to get out there and see something. One thing is for certain – there are plenty of options. Here’s a look at just some of what’s to come.

PORTLAND – One of the state’s most beloved cultural events is back after a one-year break, albeit in a different form.

PortFringe, the Portland-based fringe theatre festival, was forced to take last summer off as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. They made the decision to come back this summer, marking their 10th year, but with so much uncertainty still swirling, they opted to try something different.

Instead of a collection of live performances, they’d move to film.

The result is “Fringe-on-Film,” a collection of 21 short films created for the festival. Some of the artists are longtime PortFringe participants, while others are first-timers. But all have fully embraced the chaotic creativity that is fringe.

These 21 films have been divided into seven programs of three films each. PortFringe will be hosting virtual watch parties for each slate, with each of the seven receiving four screenings in all. It’s an assemblage of all the wild weirdness that we’ve come to expect from PortFringe, but this time, instead of traveling to one of the many venues that have hosted the festival in the past, you can enjoy the work from the comfort of your own home.

It’s not the ideal situation, of course – like so many other artists, the powers that be at PortFringe would like nothing more than to return to a world filled with live performance. But for now, this is the next best thing.

While the shared social events will be taking place from June 11-19, fear not - if you're unavailable to see these pieces at one of the virtual watch parties, there will be an on-demand period stretching from June 20-30, with pay-what-you-can ticketing. You'll have plenty of opportunity to see some or all of this wonderful work.

Tara McDonough and James Patefield are two of the forces behind PortFringe; the pair was kind enough to make time to answer a few of our questions about the festival, the pivot to film and the never-say-die spirit of Fringe.

As we prepare to hurtle headlong into the summer after the Memorial Day weekend, we should do our best to really embrace the opportunities for outdoor fun provided by the too-brief summer months. The clock is ticking – it’s time to really start leaning the fun in the sun portion of 2021. Even the cruelest of weather patterns will allow us a few days over the coming weeks in which to get out and enjoy what the season has to offer.

However, there’s only so much lounging one can do. There are only so many places to go for a swim. And sometimes, you’re looking for something fun that doesn’t involve taking a trip to the coast or to your favorite dipping spot.

That’s where lawn games come in.

Nothing says summertime quite like being out in your yard with a frosty beverage in your hand and the scent of the grill in your nostrils. If you can add an element of competition to that, how can you go wrong?

There are plenty of traditional games that many of us have played since we were kids and will likely bring back fond (or not-so-fond) memories of summers gone by. However, there are also some more adult-oriented games that prove to be a lot of fun as well.

It should also be noted that there’s the still-extant issue of COVID-19 lurking out there. Things have been getting better, yes, thanks to Maine’s robust and well-executed vaccination plans, but there’s still risk out there. Gathering outside largely negates much of that risk, so it’s an ideal time to introduce or reintroduce lawn games back into the rotation. These days, outdoor fun is about the safest fun there is.

We’re going to take a look at a few personal favorites. We’ll revisit a couple of classics, but we’ll also bring some newer games to the table – some that you may have heard of before, others you may not have. And among these newer games, chances are good that you’ll find at least one that speaks to you in that so-special “crush your enemies and see them driven before you” summertime kind of way.

(As an aside, if there’s anyone out there with a set of vintage lawn darts that they’re looking to get rid of, by all means contact me. Nothing says summertime fun like potential grievous bodily harm and the looming specter of death. This is very real talk – This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it if you’ve got a line on getting me my Jarts fix.)

Let’s talk lawn games.

Monday, 24 May 2021 15:31

Bari Newport bids goodbye to Bangor

Written by Allen Adams

BANGOR – One of the Bangor area’s artistic stalwarts is saying goodbye.

Bari Newport, longtime artistic director of Penobscot Theatre Company, is moving on after nine seasons at the PTC helm. She will be continuing her artistic journey at GableStage in Miami, Florida, assuming the mantle of producing artistic director at the company.

Over the course of her tenure at PTC, Newport has been at the forefront of the steady growth of the region’s creative culture. The company has long been a foundational piece of the artistic fabric of the area; under her stewardship, the already outsized presence of the company continued to grow.

The company has thrived under her leadership. She was a major part of the ongoing effort to renovate the interior of the Bangor Opera House, updating the space in ways beneficial to both comfort and aesthetics. It was also on her watch that the company purchased and renovated the former firehouse that would become the combination scene/costume shop known colloquially as “the Theatre Factory.”

And of course, there’s the work itself.

Putting together a cohesive season for a regional theatre is no small task, but Newport has assembled some excellent ones during her time here. Finding the balance between artistic challenge and aesthetic spectacle, she was able to build seasons that provided broad appeal for audiences and broad opportunities for actors both near and far.

(In the interest of full disclosure, this is probably where we should note that the writer of this piece has a longstanding relationship with Penobscot Theatre Company and with Bari Newport. I could sit here and tell you that I’m going to remain unbiased, but that would be a lie. PTC is an important place to me and Bari is my friend; this story will reflect both of those truths.)

The summer season is back!

With COVID restrictions easing and movie theaters reopening, the 2021 summer box office looks pretty crowded; there are a LOT of offerings, though as always, one anticipates the level of quality will be wide-ranging.

That said, there are few things I enjoy more than looking forward at the movie release slate to come, so now that I have the opportunity, I intend to take full advantage.

To that end, here is a list of 21 films coming to theaters over the next few months. Now, there are some of these movies that will be receiving simultaneous streaming releases – mostly the Warner Brothers/HBO Max entries and a few Disney+ offerings, with a handful of others as well – but they will all be hitting the big screen.

It’s worth noting that there will be plenty of big-time streaming-only films coming from Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and the like. These movies have their own blockbuster bona fides, but I’ve chosen to focus on films hitting the silver screen for the ticket-buying public.

In addition, this is just a fraction of all the movies coming your way this summer. If I missed something that you’re looking forward to, well – apologies. And I’m not saying these are the 21 BEST movies of the summer – a quick glance should disabuse you of that notion. This is just a cross-section of the (hopefully) good, (possibly) bad and (potentially) ugly from the weeks ahead.

(Please note that all of the listed release dates are subject to change.)

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