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Monday, 07 December 2020 16:51

The beat goes off – ‘Sound of Metal’

What happens to us when circumstances leave us unable to do the thing that we believe defines us? How can we recover from such a loss – particularly when that loss seemingly destroys the foundation on which the rest of our identity is built?

That question serves as the central concept in “Sound of Metal,” a new film currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video. Written and directed by Darius Marder, it’s the story of a heavy metal drummer who must deal with an unexpected and rapid deterioration of his hearing, a devastating blow that pushes the former addict toward a potential relapse.

It’s a powerful exploration of what it means to lose what defines us, as well as what we might do to regain that definition and ultimately achieve a redefinition. It also looks at what it means to not only need help, but to be willing to accept that help. Anchored by a transcendent lead performance and an immersive and innovative sound design, “Sound of Metal” hits hard.

Published in Movies
Monday, 23 November 2020 16:41

And the band played on – BSO goes digital

BANGOR – It’s an old adage in the arts – one of the oldest, really: “The show must go on.”

Artistic organizations find themselves putting that sentiment to the test these days, with everyone searching for ways to move forward even as the ongoing pandemic hinders their ability to do so. Everyone is adapting on the fly, searching for ways to continue their respective missions while also doing the right thing and keeping performers and audiences safe.

Suffice it to say, this wasn’t what the Bangor Symphony Orchestra intended for its celebratory 125th season.

And yet, even in the face of the these obstacles, the folks at the BSO have found a way to assemble a first-rate program for this auspicious anniversary, one that – thanks to tremendous effort and patience from many – looks to be an exceptional continuation of the orchestra’s ongoing mission.

Published in Cover Story

There’s something great about being surprised by a movie.

It doesn’t happen all that often when you’re steeped in the trappings of the cinematic world, but it does happen. Movies that have flown under the radar for various reasons – or at least, flown under your particular radar – only to pop up at an opportune moment.

I’ll freely admit that I had never heard of “Le Choc du Futur” (translation: “The Shock of the Future”) when I crossed paths with it. Nor had I ever heard of Marc Collin, the French musician who was making his writing/directing debut as a feature filmmaker. But it was an official selection at SXSW and got a fair amount of positive attention, so I figured why not?

Little did I realize what I was getting. This gauzy, meandering day-in-the-life movie – the story of a young woman in late-1970s Paris coming to terms with the many looming changes in the music world – is a remarkable treat. It’s leisurely and languid, the type of film that cares far less about plot than it does about the overall vibe. Often, that sort of attitude only serves to undermine the viewing experience. Here, it enhances it.

Oh, and the music is (unsurprisingly) killer.

Published in Movies

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
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