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To many, the more granular aspects of wine might seem inaccessible. The finer details picked up by the oenophiles among us are largely lost on those on the outside looking in. And make no mistake, there are A LOT of finer details … and only the select few who fully grasp all of those details can achieve the title of master sommelier.

But what if your passion for wine isn’t enough? What if there are other forces at work, personal and professional responsibilities that are at odds with your singular goal?

That’s the conflict at the center of “Uncorked,” the new drama from Netflix. Written and directed by Prentice Penny, it’s the story of one young man whose love of wine inspires him to try and pursue an oenophile’s education, much to the chagrin of the father who wants him to take over the family business.

This sort of father/son conflict is pretty standard fare for family drama, but this film explores it without ever devolving into boilerplate. Sure, there’s a formula at work here, but thanks to some smart choices and a handful of really compelling performances, the movie never succumbs to cliché. Instead, we get a heartfelt and extremely watchable drama – one to which you’ll have no problem raising a glass.

Published in Movies

I’m on record as being a big proponent of coming of age stories. For whatever reason, I find tales of young people crossing the various Rubicons that come with growing up to be endlessly fascinating. There’s a universality to them; while the details may change, the fundamental underpinnings are simple and constant.

That said, while I personally enjoy them all, there’s no denying that, as with any genre, there are good ones and bad ones.

My guess was that “Big Time Adolescence,” the new film streaming on Hulu, would trend more toward the latter category. Instead, the feature debut from writer/directory Jason Foley surprised me. It’s a thoughtful and heartfelt meditation on the connections we make when we’re young and the people with whom we choose to make them … not to mention the relative wisdom (or lack thereof) inherent to those choices. While it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it also manages to avoid the saccharine pitfalls that often undermine these kinds of stories.

Published in Movies

BANGOR – One of the most challenging and beautiful theatrical works to grace an area stage in years took place at Penobscot Theatre last weekend. Alas, it saddens me to say that due to the current circumstances, you won’t be able to watch it from a seat in the Bangor Opera House.

That’s the situation with Penobscot Theatre Company’s new production. “Safety Net,” a play written by Daryl Lisa Fazio and directed by PTC’s own Tricia A. Hobbs. While the measures taken in recent days due to the spread of the COVID-19 virus mean that the Opera House seats will remain unfilled, PTC is hoping to take unprecedented action of its own.

Here’s how it’s going to work. Through this next week – up to March 22 – PTC will be presenting a livestream of the production at regular showtimes. From Wednesday through Sunday, March 18-22, the company will present a real-time video performance of the show. Tickets can be purchased in the usual way via the PTC website – www.penobscottheatre.org. Purchasers will be given instructions, a link and a password dedicated specifically to the night of their ticket purchase. It might not be the usual manner in which you see a play, but I’d advise you to take advantage of it.

Because any way you slice it, this is a remarkable piece of theatre.

(Full disclosure: I can’t speak to the experience of watching this show on video. I was one of four non-production personnel in the house for one of the early performances. But if watching it on a screen is even a tenth as impactful as seeing it on stage, it will be worth every cent and every second you spend on it.)

Published in Buzz

Memories of the hardwood still echo following the recent high school basketball tournaments – memories of hard-fought, hard-won games. But it’s a different sort of scholastic competition playing out this weekend in venues across the state - a competition whose players are just as devoted and just as passionate as any who took to the floor at the Cross Insurance Center, the Augusta Civic Center or the Cumberland County Civic Center.

Stages all over the state being prepared for the largest scholastic drama weekend of the year - the Maine Drama Festival.

The Maine Drama Festival has been a going concern for nearly a century, giving high school students an opportunity to take to the stage and encounter like-minded peers in a competitive, yet supportive environment. Under the auspices of the Maine Principals Association, schools from across Maine come together to present theatrical works they have produced.

Published in Buzz
Tuesday, 11 February 2020 11:55

‘Horse Girl’ a wild, weird ride

Sometimes, you sit down to watch a movie with certain expectations, only to have those expectations completely subverted because it turned out you really didn’t have any idea what you were getting into.

That’s an apt description of my experience with “Horse Girl,” newly streaming on Netflix after its recent debut at Sundance. Starring Alison Brie, who co-wrote the screenplay alongside director Jeff Baena, the film is a difficult-to-describe experience, a seemingly straightforward look at a socially awkward woman’s struggles that rapidly deteriorates into a what’s real/what’s not tightrope walk between mental illness and paranormal experience – and it occasionally loses its balance.

It’s an uneven and strange viewing experience, one that is unafraid to be opaque and confusing with regards to what is happening and why (or even if). The jaggedness of the plot and the fluidity between reality and fantasy and which is which can present some problems in terms of engagement with the story. Still, with a strong performance from Brie and some bold aesthetic and narrative choices, there’s more than enough here to warrant a look.

Published in Movies

Sometimes, films come along that are outsized in the universal acclaim they receive. These movies are capital-G Great by consensus, leaving seemingly every single person who sees them breathless with effusive praise. These films are heaped with accolades and celebrated from on high.

But it’s rare – truly rare – that a film not only earns every accolade, every commendation and compliment, but somehow manages to also come off as somehow underappreciated. Rare … but not unheard of.

And here we arrive at Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite.” Simply put, it is a masterpiece. It is a movie that deserves consideration not only as 2019’s best film, but as one of the decade’s best. Hell, one of the 21st century’s best. It is a brilliantly conceived and meticulously constructed piece, driven by an immersive narrative, an exquisite aesthetic and outstanding performances. It is smart and funny and brutal and cruel, a tense and complicated work that weaves together family drama, social commentary and sly wit. It is a film of challenges and contradictions – an intimate explosion.

(Full disclosure: “Parasite” is a South Korean film and hence is subtitled for American audiences. There are some who will automatically dismiss it because of that. I implore you – do not let your perceived issues with foreign language films prevent you from seeing this movie. It is beautiful and haunting no matter what tongue you speak.)

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 07 January 2020 12:43

Sandler sparkles in ‘Uncut Gems’

It’s easy to poke fun at Adam Sandler. His output in recent years has been largely of the “working vacation with my friends” variety, comedies that are basic and kind of lazy. Oh, and not particularly funny. Sandler has found a formula that works for him; the dude works only as hard as he has to, contenting himself with good enough.

Of course, it’s ALSO easy to forget that when Sandler is given the right material and given a proper push, he can be brilliant. It’s been a while, but we’ve finally got another great performance to add to the list.

“Uncut Gems,” directed by filmmaking brothers Josh and Bennie Safdie from a script written by the Safdies and Ronald Brownstein, is a visceral and gritty drama, a moment-in-time period piece set all the way back in the bygone time of 2012. It is a character study of a man with little character, a self-absorbed degenerate who can’t help but succumb to his own baser impulses. It is a brutal, ugly story, driven by a collection of terrible people, few of whom possess any kind of truly redeeming qualities.

Published in Movies
Monday, 23 December 2019 22:23

‘Bombshell’ not quite a dud

With the cultural pervasiveness that came from the #MeToo movement, it was only a matter of time before we started seeing cinematic representations of those narratives.

“Bombshell,” directed by Jay Roach from a screenplay by Charles Randolph, is one such movie. A dramatization of the story of sexual harassment behind the scenes at Fox News, the film stars Charlize Theron, Margot Robbie and Nicole Kidman, each of whom portrays a woman impacted by the behind-the-scenes actions of men in power.

Unfortunately, while the performances are undeniably excellent across the board, the framework in which those performances exist is somewhat lacking. There’s a thinness to the proceedings that undermines the overall experience, with motivational and behavioral questions left unanswered in a manner that renders the film rather unsatisfying.

 

Published in Movies

Telling true stories via movies has always been complicated. On the one hand, when one hears those words – “true story” – one has certain expectations that the events portrayed actually happened. On the other hand, the telling of stories should allow for some creative flexibility for the storyteller – these are dramatizations, not documentaries.

A movie like Clint Eastwood’s “Richard Jewell” is an apt representation of the myriad gray areas that come with representing real people and their stories on screen. The story of the titular Jewell – the security guard who discovered a pipe bomb during the Atlanta Olympics and saved hundreds, only to become a very public person of interest regarding the planting of that same bomb – is a complicated one; he was a very flawed man who was treated very badly largely because of those same flaws.

Jewell is the sort of man to whom Eastwood gravitates and the sort of uniquely American story that he greatly enjoys telling. It’s also problematic in its way, with some challenging the veracity of certain portrayals. It’s an incomplete portrait of an imperfect man.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 10 December 2019 12:04

When love leaves – ‘Marriage Story’

When does the story of a marriage end? And how should it be told when it does?

That’s the fundamental question behind “Marriage Story,” the latest offering from writer/director Noah Baumbach. The film – which stars Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson – is a portrait of a marriage in dissolution, a relationship that has arrived at its expiration date. It is emotionally raw and darkly funny, driven by moments of passion and poignancy.

There are many reasons for two people to choose to be together. There are many reasons – some the same, some altogether different – for two people to choose to stay together. And there are many reasons – a surprising number shared with the previous choices – for two people to choose to break apart. And the underlying reality is that the story of a marriage has two sides … and the truth lives somewhere in the middle.

“Marriage Story” is unrelenting and discomfiting – and one of the year’s best films.

Published in Movies
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