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Wednesday, 01 September 2021 11:43

‘Only Murders in the Building’ one killer show

Few pop culture phenomena have been as pervasive in recent years as true crime podcasts. Even if you don’t listen to them yourself, odds are that you know at least one person who listens obsessively to one or more. “Serial,” “My Favorite Murder,” “Dirty John, “Dr. Death” – the list goes on and on. Hell, the latter two pushed so fully into the zeitgeist that they got TV adaptations.

But while some of these programs have made the leap across media, a new Hulu show has a different idea about how to bring true crime podcasts to the small screen.

“Only Murders in the Building” is a 10-episode series on the streaming service; the first three episodes dropped on Aug. 31, with subsequent episodes landing every Tuesday from September 7 through October 5. The show was created by Steve Martin and Dan Fogelman; it stars Martin alongside Martin Short and Selena Gomez.

The fundamental question is simple – what if true crime enthusiasts were presented with an opportunity to go in-depth on a murder of their own? The result – thanks to great performances, strong writing and a genuine affection for the genre – is a show that is funny, smart and sincere, managing to parody this very specific world while also crafting a great example of that world.

(Note: Eight episodes of the show were made available for critics.)

Published in Style

Sometimes, we sit down in hopes of being challenged. We seek out art that causes us to ask questions and engage with larger ideas. We watch or we listen or we read in hopes of learning something new, or at least a new way of looking at something we already understand (or think we do). These are powerful artistic experiences, addressing something at our core.

Other times, we just want to escape. Maybe you want to laugh, maybe you want to be frightened, maybe you want a bunch of explosions. You’re not here for fundamental truths. You’re here for fart jokes and fistfights and jump scares.

Both experiences have real value. We want what we want when we want it – and that’s OK.

“Vacation Friends,” newly streaming on Hulu, is very much the latter sort of film. Directed by Clay Tarver from a screenplay Tarver co-wrote with Tom & Tim Mullen, Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, the comedy is a coarse trifle, a movie built solely around outrageous situations – getting into them, getting out of them, you know the drill.

There are a handful of charming moments here where things threaten to develop some sort of meaningful underpinning – bits where deeper themes of adult friendship and loyalty and the like bob briefly to the surface – but those are quickly drowned out by the nonsense.

It’s fun. Dumb fun. Unchallenging fun. But fun. And sometimes, that’s all you’re looking for.

Published in Movies

Haven’t you ever thought that the self-help and wellness realm is just a little … sinister?

We live in a world where the notion of improving one’s health – physical, emotional or otherwise – has become a billion-dollar industry. Yet we ALSO live in a world where, if there’s a way to make money through duplicitous and/or unsavory means, someone will do so.

Unsurprisingly, we’re seeing a lot of creative work that addresses that particular slice of the self-actualization pie.

The latest offering along those lines is “Nine Perfect Strangers,” the new limited series from Hulu. Created by John Henry Butterworth and television icon David E. Kelley and based on the 2018 novel of the same name by Liane Moriarty, the show offers a look at a secretive high-end wellness retreat that – surprise! – might be considerably more than it appears to be.

With an absolutely stacked cast – Nicole Kidman leads the way, but there are exceptional talents scattered all over the call sheet – and a setting that looks both bucolic and expensive, the show has a lot going for it. And when you toss some weird and mysterious narrative developments into the mix, well … you’ve got something.

I’ll put it this way: for the most part, “Nine Perfect Strangers” gets the dosage just right.

Published in Buzz

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a music guy. For whatever reason, music had never resonated with me in the way it did so many of my otherwise like-minded peers. It wasn’t my thing. But sometimes, I’d experience something that would give me a clearer sense of that passion.

Maybe it was a song I heard at a party or at a bar. Maybe I was sitting in a theater – movie or stage. Maybe it was someone feverishly proselytizing about a band they loved that I’d never heard of. Maybe someone showed me “Stop Making Sense.” Maybe it was as simple as: “You need to hear this.”

I always cherish those moments when I have them, the gooseflesh-raising instances when music gets inside me.

“Summer of Soul” was one of those moments.

Published in Style

Baby horror has long been a vital subgenre beneath the horror umbrella. The possibilities that come with the fundamental mysteries of pregnancy and giving birth are myriad. You can do demonic possession or supernatural rituals or weird science, all with a body horror underpinning that comes part and parcel with the whole situation.

Of course, these movies aren’t always good.

Take “False Positive,” newly streaming on Hulu. I had high hopes for this one, honestly. Ilana Glazer stars and co-wrote the script with director John Lee. Both of them have some legitimately weird credits to their name. Throw in Justin Theroux and Pierce Brosnan as co-stars and you’ve got my attention.

Unfortunately, while the film starts with some real promise, it never quite gets to where we want it to be. Instead, it devolves into a muddled mishmash of dream sequences and “What is real?” psychodrama that never finds its footing after the strong start. Too many decisions make little or no sense; there’s never any sense behind why people are behaving the way that they are. We’re left with a confusing and ultimately unsatisfying film that never quite decides what it wants to be. Again, there are moments of strength, but not nearly enough of them.

Published in Movies

For many high schoolers, interscholastic athletics are a highlight of their young lives. The joy of competition intermingles with the many lessons that can be learned on the playing field – lessons of determination, of sportsmanship, of the value of hard work – and sports become an integral part of the overall school experience.

But those opportunities don’t always get extended equally.

“Changing the Game,” a documentary currently streaming on Hulu, takes a look at three individuals who are dealing with the struggles forced upon them due to their respective identities. These three young people are transgender, attempting to navigate high school sports in a landscape where different states have different rules and different attitudes about how (or even if) transgendered kids are allowed to compete.

The film, directed by Michael Barnett, follows these three athletes through their sporting journeys. Each of them is faced with prejudices regarding who they are and questions about the fairness of their presence, even as we see the support systems at work around them. It’s a thoughtful and well-executed piece, an at-times heartbreaking examination of the politicized chaos drummed up by fear and lack of understanding that also finds time to celebrate the victories of its subjects, both on and off the field.

Published in Sports
Tuesday, 01 June 2021 09:58

‘Plan B’ gets an A

Despite the fact that my teen years are a distant memory, I still have a soft spot in my heart for teen comedies. In particular, I love a good buddy comedy; give me all the curse words and gross outs and what have you, but as long as we have engaging relationships at the center, I’m in.

Now, the majority of these films are male-driven, though that tendency is gradually changing – we’ve seen a handful of really good teen comedies centered around female friendship in recent years and we can only hope that the trend continues.

“Plan B,” a film marking the directorial debut of Natalie Morales and currently streaming on Hulu, certainly does its part to explore the potential hilarity and heart that comes with pairing teen girls and sending them on an up-all-night adventure.

Featuring plenty of foul language and outlandish situations – not to mention an absolutely dynamite central pairing – “Plan B” takes the standard teen romp formula and injects it with some real stakes. This isn’t about getting drunk or high (though they do that) or finding the right party (though they do that too) or hooking up (yep – you guessed it); it’s about what it means to deal with the consequences of our actions without much help from anyone except your always-game best friend.

Published in Movies

Living as we do in a world where superhero movies have become the primary currency of the cinematic landscape, you’d be forgiven for assuming that the comic book world reflects the relatively clear nature of the MCU.

But Marvel Comics has a LONG history, and not all of it is nearly as straightforward as the movies make it seem. There’s a lot of obscure weirdness hiding in the various nooks and crannies that come from 60 years of building and expansion.

One of the odder characters in Marveldom is M.O.D.O.K. (an acronym for Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing), created when a man named George Tarleton (born in Bangor, Maine – shout out!) undergoes experiments that turn him into a giant-headed computer-brained supervillain. M.O.D.O.K. would go on to do battle with all the names you know – Captain America, Iron Man, the Hulk – as he led his superscience organization Advanced Idea Mechanics (A.I.M.) toward his overarching goal of world domination.

And now he’s got his own animated TV show coming to Hulu.

“M.O.D.O.K.” – also known as “Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K.” – hits the streaming service on May 21 with a 10-episode season. And it is an altogether different experience than any other Marvel property out there. Created by Patton Oswalt (who also voices the titular villain) and Jordan Blum, the show features a dynamite collection of comedic talent in the voice cast and perhaps the most advanced stop-motion animation we’ve seen yet from Stoopid Buddy Stoodios, best known for Adult Swim’s “Robot Chicken.”

This is a show that embraces the comic book grotesquerie largely ignored by the MCU machine. It is a gross-out comedy that also takes great pleasure in fan service, tossing out deep cut after deep cut from Marvel’s back catalog. All that, plus a family element that allows for skewering of sitcom tropes as well. It is weird and ridiculous and an absolute delight, the sort of show that might not be for you, but if you dig it, well … you will DIG IT.

Published in Buzz

True crime has become a thriving subgenre of programming across all media. Podcasts, TV shows, books, articles – we as a people love engaging with the deconstruction of heinous acts. What that says about us, well … your mileage may vary.

One of the hallmarks of true crime content is the idea that what we think we know can be upended at any point. The supposed truth at one point in the story can easily veer in an entirely new direction. It’s all about the deeper surprises dredged up once we delve beneath the surface of a story.

And when you throw Bigfoot into the mix, then all bets are off.

“Sasquatch” is a new entry into the true crime oeuvre, a three-episode docuseries on Hulu. Directed by Joshua Rofe, the series begins as an effort by one man to uncover the truth behind a decades-old murder whose initial explanation defied belief. But as he digs into the bizarre-on-its-face story, he begins to learn far more than he ever expected.

You’d be forgiven for expecting that this series is about, well, Sasquatch. And for stretches, it is. But what it’s truly about is the shadowy and sinister reality of the world of cannabis farming in Northern California, as well as the fact that the most frightening monsters of all are the ones that look just like us.

Published in Adventure

One of the realities of big business these days is that so much of what the money is buying doesn’t actually exist yet. Millions of dollars thrown at ideas that may or may not come to some sort of fruition, a quest to find the next big thing – the next “unicorn,” VC speak for a company worth a billion dollars. And when you’re operating in a world where ideas can be everything, there will be people who prove capable of talking their way to the top.

“WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn,” currently streaming on Hulu, tells the story of the bright burnout of the ostensible tech company WeWork and its CEO Adam Neumann. Directed by Jed Rothstein, the film depicts the company’s rapid rise and fall, from a peak value of $47 billion to near bankruptcy in a matter of weeks – illustrative of some of the dangers that come with investing in opportunities that seem too good to be true.

Published in Buzz
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