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Triple-slash projects have long been a subject of fascination for me. The amount of confidence, bravado and sheer will necessary to write, direct AND star in a film is considerable; add to that the fact that these sorts of movies tend to be passion projects and you’re almost guaranteed something that will be, if not necessarily good then at least interesting.

“Vengeance,” the new film from writer/director/star B.J. Novak, is both.

It’s a compelling tale of a writer and aspiring podcaster making his way to Texas to try and use tragedy as fodder for his own creative endeavors, marked by smartly executed mystery and plenty of dark comedy. It’s also a thoughtful exploration of the exploitative nature of a certain kind of storytelling and the impact that those stories can have not just on the audience, but the subjects.

Published in Movies

The collision of worlds can provide rich fodder for storytelling. Not in the literal sense, of course (although plenty of excellent speculative fiction has sprung from just such a scenario), but rather finding new ways to combine contexts in the service of a compelling tale.

Take “Secret Identity” (Flatiron Books, $28.99), the new novel from Alex Segura. It’s a mystery with noir elements, only set in the world of comic book publishing in the mid-1970s. It might sound strange, but these oddly shaped pieces have been fit together to form something altogether different, a story both of and beyond its parts.

Fast-paced and quick-witted, it’s a novel that takes full advantage of its disparate elements, finding room for moments seedy and sublime alike as it takes the reader on a twisting and thoughtful ride.

Published in Style

There’s nothing quite like a good whodunit. And the absolute O.G. of the whodunit is Agatha Christie, who wrote scores of novels and short story collections, all devoted to laying out literary mysteries for us to solve … or at least, for us to enjoy being solved.

One of Christie’s iconic characters – Detective Hercule Poirot – is currently in the midst of a big-screen renaissance, courtesy of the efforts of one Sir Kenneth Branagh, who is devoted to bringing the character back into the popular consciousness by working both in front of and behind the camera.

Indeed, “Death on the Nile” marks the second outing for Branagh as both director and star – he plays the iconic Belgian crime-solving genius (mustache and all) even as he steers the ship. It’s not quite as engaging as 2017’s “Murder on the Orient Express,” for a variety of reasons – the level of ensemble talent isn’t quite as high and there’s a pasted-on feel to most of the exterior shots, making the whole thing feel just a touch low-rent – ironic, since this is a story that revolves around the rich.

Even taking those issues into account, however, it is a perfectly pleasant piece of pop cinema, a throwback of sorts (though one could certainly argue that “Death on the Nile” is no less IP-reliant than any superhero movie) that mostly works despite a fair share of flaws.

Published in Movies

It’s easy to forget how long the publishing process really takes. Books are written and proofed and edited and reproofed and reedited and so on and so forth, with release dates scheduled months in advance. So far in advance, in fact, that you occasionally wind up with something that is accidentally timely.

So it is with Chris Bohjalian’s latest thriller “The Red Lotus” (Doubleday, $27.95). It’s excellent in the way that Bohjalian’s work is always excellent – smart, crisply-paced, well-plotted – but it also happens to feature a central plot point revolving around the threat of a weaponized disease. While there are essentially zero actual similarities between Bohjalian’s plot and current events, the timing of the book’s release means that the comparison is unavoidable.

Still, once you move past that odd bit of synchronicity, you can enjoy this book for what it is – a taut and twisting work that features the intrigue and idiosyncrasy that are hallmarks of Bohjalian’s work. It is evocative and exciting, a quick and engaging read that will prove a welcome experience for fans of thrillers.

Published in Style
Tuesday, 03 December 2019 13:52

‘Knives Out’ a cut above

Is there anything better than a good old-fashioned whodunnit? Getting dropped into the midst of a mystery as it unfolds can be an utterly delightful entertainment experience, whether we’re talking about the page, the stage or the screen.

Of course, the key here is the word “good.” Because while a good whodunnit is great fun, a bad one is decidedly not. There are a LOT of ways for a mystery to go bad and it is far from easy to make one that engages in all the ways it needs to engage.

“Knives Out,” the latest offering from writer/director Rian Johnson, isn’t good. It’s great.

From the film’s opening moments to its dynamic conclusion, “Knives Out” is firing on all cylinders. The aesthetic is exquisite, packed with details both ornamental and load-bearing. The narrative is nuanced, with a twisty-turny plot that finds ways to both celebrate and subvert the conventions of the genre. And the cast is magnificent, a collection of top-tier talent welded together into one of the most entertaining ensembles to hit theaters this year.

It is a modern twist of the knife, so to speak; a combination of Agatha Christie-esque manor house mystery with a 21st sensibility. It is smart and self-aware, layered and tense and surprisingly funny. It embraces stylistic formula while simultaneously being something altogether itself. It cuts quickly and deeply … and so very effectively.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 12 September 2018 11:25

‘Searching’ tells its story through screens

Trying new things can be dangerous.

Experimenting with methods of cinematic storytelling is often risky. You want to stay true to the story and avoid technical distractions. You don’t want those choices to come off as superfluous and/or gimmicky. It’s a fine line between telling a story a new way and simply being different for the sake of being different.

The new film “Searching,” directed by feature first-timer Aneesh Chaganty from a script he co-wrote with Sev Ohanian, is a thriller revolving around a father whose daughter has disappeared. You’ve seen it a million times. However, this film unfolds entirely through communication technology – through FaceTime and laptops and group chats, through social media and text messaging and online video. Sure, that’s not a brand-new concept, but it’s certainly still new enough to catch your attention. And while other movies and TV shows have experimented with the idea, none have done so as successfully as this one.

Published in Movies

Young adult fiction means different things to different people. The very label leaves loads of room for variance and interpretation. And while there are those who look down their nose at YA fiction, the reality is that there’s plenty of nuance and sophistication to the best work in the genre.

Maine author Gillian French’s work definitely demonstrates those qualities; her latest is “The Lies They Tell” (HarperTeen, $17.99), a thriller featuring a young woman trying to get to the bottom of a tragic mystery that haunts her small island town. Secrets and lies abound even as the dynamics between the town’s wealthy summer visitors and the year-round residents who serve them grow complicated.

Published in Style

BANGOR – This is a city built on secrets.

We’re not talking about the typical everyday mundane secrets, the little things that you’ll find in any city. No, we’re talking about the deep-down secrets. The weird secrets. Secrets like ancient crowns with mysterious social powers or a cohort of prominent figures who are probably robots.

Those secrets.

We here at The Maine Edge have never been ones for what you’d call “real journalism” – that’s never really been our beat. As a rule, we like to stay in our lane as far as that goes. But longtime readers know that every once in a while, we’re swept up into the whirlwind of a story that won’t let us go until we reach its (almost-certainly strange) ending.

This is one such story.

Published in Cover Story

Bohjalian’s twist-laden mystery an energetic and exciting read

Published in Buzz

Mystery remake features all-star ensemble

Published in Movies
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