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Few writers are as fascinated by the intricacies of interconnectedness as David Mitchell. Fewer still have the literary skill to coherently translate those complexities to the page.

Yet the British author has built his entire oeuvre on doing just that. From his very first novel – 1999’s “Ghostwritten” – he has shown a propensity for creating layered stories featuring a multitude of perspectives from multiple points of view. And thanks to a wonderful narrative broadmindedness and wildly impressive attention to craft and detail, each of those meticulously-constructed books shares connections with all the other works in Mitchell’s canon, binding them all together in a sort of metanarrative – a David Mitchell Literary Universe (DMLU), if you will.

Mitchell’s ninth and newest book is “Utopia Avenue” (Random House, $30). It’s a story of the rise and fall of the titular band, an eclectic group of ahead-of-their-time musicians that fate (and an enterprising manager) brings together in London in the late 1960s. Through this idiosyncratic crew, Mitchell explores the peculiarities of fame and success during one of the weirdest, wildest times in the history of popular music.

It’s a sweeping psychedelic story, an alternate pop history that features a slew of famous and familiar names crossing the paths of our heroes in the course of their ascent. It’s a brightly colored and brutal fable that is equal parts celebration and warning regarding the raw power inherent to music. The pull of creative forces can sometimes be beyond our control, leaving the creator no choice but to hang on tight and hope for the best – a best that is far from guaranteed.

Published in Buzz

If you’re like me, you’ve often wondered what would happen if you were to combine ABBA with Bjork, divide that into into two people and enter the result in the Eurovision Song Contest. Now, thanks to Will Farrell and Netflix, we finally have an answer.

“Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” – directed by David Dobkin and starring Ferrell (who also co-wrote the script) and Rachel McAdams – is the story of a mismatched pair of Icelandic oddballs whose strange band accidentally winds up representing their country in the legendary Eurovision Song Contest.

This is a legitimately weird movie, one that revels in its sense of exaggerated cultural absurdity and is unapologetic in its steadfast refusal to concern itself with making sense. It is both celebration and satire, a goofy love letter to Eurovision that leans into the over-the-top pomp and circumstance that helps define the beloved contest. It is relentlessly ridiculous, loose and shaggy and rife with inexplicable accents. It is a movie that won’t be everyone’s cup of brennivin, but if you’re into it, you will be INTO IT.

Real talk: I enjoyed the hell out of this movie, but your mileage definitely may vary.

Published in Movies

Movies are rarely kind to prodigies.

Most of the time, when we meet an ultra-talented child on film, we quickly learn about the multitude of difficulties faced by that child. Whether they’re a brilliant mathematician or a chess master or an amazing musician, these kid geniuses unfailingly face significant personal obstacles apart from their gifts.

How those problems are handled, both by the filmmakers and by the characters within the narrative, defines the sort of movie you get.

“Mighty Oak,” a film directed by Sean McNamara from a screenplay by Matt Allen, handles its child genius – in this case, a rock and roll prodigy – with a good degree of care. While the young man’s life is marked with tragedy, that tragedy is offset by a sense of connection – connection to the people around him … and to the universe.

It isn’t the sort of story to get bogged down in negativity; the filmmakers go out of their way to generate a feel-good vibe, an effort helped greatly by a charming cast and some solid musical offerings. It’s a warm and welcoming film, a scrappy, scruffy underdog of a movie that, despite a few issues, will likely leave you with a smile on your face and a song in your heart.

Published in Style

Hollywood loves making movies about music. Now, we’re not talking movie musicals (although that genre seems to potentially be making a comeback as well) so much as movies about the makers of music.

There’s a particular affection for the juxtaposition of those struggling to make it against those who have already made it; stories of upward and downward trajectories and the intersection of those lines.

“The High Note,” directed by Nisha Ganatra from a script by Flora Greeson, is the latest in this long line of rise-and-decline tales – one that doesn’t venture very far from the fundamentals. This story of a world-famous diva and her aspirational personal assistant doesn’t offer much in the way of surprises, but it’s tough to argue against the relative quality of its execution.

It’s a well-made movie, featuring good performances from its leads. And the music is solid (and in a couple of cases more than solid) – a major key to the relative success of this kind of film. It’s a reasonably entertaining experience; the tune is a familiar one, and there’s nothing wrong with liking a song you’ve heard a hundred times. All in all, the movie is … fine, even if it does occasionally wander off-key.

Published in Movies

Every once in a while, a movie comes along that is an unexpected blend of various things that you like, a mélange of your specific combination of interests. Of course, these great tastes may or may not taste great together – that’s up to the talents involved.

Strangely enough, “How to Build a Girl” - currently available on VOD - is just such a blend, and while it isn’t a perfect combination, it is definitely a winning one.

The film – directed by Coky Giedroyc from a screenplay that author Caitlan Moran adapted from her own novel of the same name – checks a lot of boxes for me. Coming of age story? Check. Period piece set in the ‘90s? Check. Culture critic for a protagonist? Check. Hell, it even manages to check the box of “featuring music from the extremely brief period when I gave a crap about music.”

Like I said – a LOT of boxes.

It helps that it is incredibly earnest and packed with charm, driven by a lead performance from Beanie Feldstein that is yet another indicator of just how sincerely talented she is as an actor. It might get a little shaggy and ring overly familiar at times, but the quality of work put forth by everyone involved pushes it beyond mere formula. It is genuine and disarming and unabashed – a story of the difference between becoming the person you think you want to be and the person you’re actually meant to be.

Published in Movies

There are a million stories out there of people who went out into the world and took a shot with their talent. For all but a handful, that shot misses, leading them down a different path. Is there anything wrong with their allowing themselves to go in a different direction?

Emily Gould’s “Perfect Tunes” (Avid Press, $26) is one of those stories, a tale of a woman who makes her way to New York City at the very beginning of the 21st century, determined to make a name for herself. But her rapidly ascending star goes out too quickly, sending her life down a road of struggle, though she’s never quite fully removed from the possibility of what could have been.

It’s an exploration of what it means to just miss being a star and of the passion and motivation behind creation. It’s also a story of mothers and daughters (and parenthood in general) and of the consequences of compromises. It is also a wry and irreverent look at being an artist and how elusive popular creative success really is.

Published in Buzz
Tuesday, 03 December 2019 13:58

Word on a wing – ‘Bowie’s Bookshelf’

Confession time: I assume that I can determine what kind of person you are by looking at your bookshelf. It’s true. I will walk into your house for the first time, seek out any and all bookshelves (within socially acceptable parameters, of course) and make sweeping generalizations about who you are.

Anyone who spends serious time with books believes that much can be gleaned about a person by the books with which they choose to surround themselves. We are what we read. That’s true of us regular folks, but it’s also true of the creative giants who walk among us. Much can be learned about the artist through the art they consume.

Artists like the late David Bowie.

Veteran music journalist John O’Connell has written a book that grants us the next best thing to poking around Bowie’s personal library. “Bowie’s Bookshelf: The Hundred Books that Changed David Bowie’s Life" (Gallery, $18) offers up snapshot looks at the literary works that most inspired Bowie, from his early days through the end of his life. Through brief essays, O’Connell builds some connective tissue between the artist and the books on this list.

Published in Style

December is here, and hence the holiday season is in full force. The snow has started falling, the lights have started shining and the shopping has started in earnest. Hopefully, you’re out there shopping local whenever you can – a thriving community depends on consumers buying from their neighbors.

But shopping local doesn’t end with retail. You should shop local when it comes to your Yuletide entertainment as well. And here’s the thing – you can do that, because there is an embarrassment of riches out there for locally-offered holiday performance.

Sure, you could sit at home and watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” for the umpteenth time or run through your Christmas Spotify playlist. But where’s the fun in that?

Especially when you take into account that our region is absolutely jammed with possibilities. There are stage shows and concerts galore. There is comedy and drama and so much music. There are holiday classics and brand-new creations. All of it right here in your backyard.

Look, if you want to stay home and drink hot toddies in front of a roaring fireplace, that’s perfectly OK. No judgment – sounds like you’ve figured out what it is you want from the holiday season and life in general. But if you’re looking to be entertained, well … you’re in luck.

In recent years, it seems as though every December has had a wealth of options. But this year more than ever, it feels like there really is something for everyone out there.

Please note that this isn’t even close to everything out there. I’ve just chosen a handful of options that might pique your interest. Keep your eyes open and your ears to the ground, because there is just so much out there, with so many people celebrating with their own joyful noises.

Published in Cover Story

BAR HARBOR – An icon of stage and screen will soon be treating a local audience to a gamut-running concert extravaganza.

The legendary Mandy Patinkin is bringing his show “Mandy Patinkin in Concert: Diaries” to the Criterion Theatre in Bar Harbor on November 3. The concert is set to start at 3 p.m.; tickets are available at the Criterion’s box office or by visiting their website at www.criteriontheatre.org.

Patinkin will be accompanied by Adam Ben-David on piano. The show will include a wealth of songs pulled from his ongoing musical project “Diaries,” recorded as a sort of digital diary over the course of many months. His new album “Children and Art” – featuring some of the songs from these sessions – was released by Nonesuch Records on Oct. 25; it is Patinkin’s first album in over 15 years.

Few performers have achieved the kind of varied success that Patinkin has over the years. You might know him from his eight years as Saul Berenson on the Showtime series “Homeland” or his well-regarded stints on shows like “Chicago Hope” (for which he won an Emmy). Or maybe you know him from his time on the Broadway stage, winning acclaim for his work in musicals such as “Evita.”

And of course: he was Inigo Montoya, the swashbuckling Spaniard from the beloved film classic “The Princess Bride.”

(Editor’s note: Real talk, don’t sleep on 1988’s “Alien Nation” – he’s legitimately fantastic in that.)

In the following conversation, Patinkin offers a glimpse into his process. He talks about how “Diaries” came about and what led him to want to tour, as well as some insight as to how much music means to him and his well-being. And don’t worry – there’s a little “Princess Bride” talk in there as well.

Published in Cover Story
Wednesday, 18 September 2019 08:53

Celebrating Lucas! A 2019-20 BSO season preview

BANGOR – The Bangor Symphony Orchestra, led by musical director and conductor Lucas Richman, is set to kick off its 124th season next month.

The BSO is one of the cultural cornerstones of our region. It has the lengthiest history of any of our area’s arts organizations. Indeed, it has one of the lengthiest histories of any community orchestra in the entire country, bringing music to the Bangor masses since the waning days of the 19th century.

The 2019-2020 season features the symphony’s standard selection of excellence, with the six shows of the Masterworks series taking place at the Collins Center for the Arts on the campus of the University of Maine. Other BSO traditions will continue to be observed as well – their beloved partnership with the Robinson Ballet on a production of “The Nutcracker” will happen in December, while their annual Pops concert (titled “Music of the Knights” for reasons that will soon be made clear) has moved from its usual slot in March into late May.

It also marks the tenth year in the tenure of the BSO’s music director and conductor Lucas Richman; this season is intended to celebrate his time here in Bangor, with original works and performances from the man himself along with the usual excellence of the orchestra and its guest artists.

In addition, thanks to the symphony’s partnership with the Bangor Arts Exchange, the BSO is also providing a wealth of smaller-scale programming over the course of the year, with numerous events – many of them free to the public – taking place in the BAE building, located on Exchange Street in downtown Bangor.

Published in Cover Story
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