Fantastical Captain Fantastic

CAPTAIN FANTASTICPublished in Issue 15, Craccum Magazine 2016.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen a film as uplifting and thought-provoking as this one. Captain Fantastic follows Ben (Viggo Mortenson) and his six children, living off the grid in the Pacific Northwest. It is revealed that the family moved into the woods when Ben’s wife Leslie was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. Thinking it would help her condition, they rejected the capitalist world they disliked and built a self-sufficient life free from society’s mores. “What we created here may be unique in all of human existence,” Mortensen says. “We created paradise.”
To members of polite society, Ben and his children’s way of life is viewed as abnormal. Their daily routine consists of a rigorous exercise regime followed by a deep meditation session, garden maintenance, hunting, musical practice then reading around the campfire. The family are happy, until Leslie, who has been moved to a mental institution, commits suicide. Suddenly, Ben and his family are forced to leave their isolated life and journey to New Mexico for the funeral, exposing the children to the ‘real’ world – depending on your view of what ‘real’ really is, of course.
This is perhaps the central question that the film grapples with. Which lifestyle is more ‘real’? The one of video games and consumption that the children encounter while staying with their cousins? Or the one amidst nature and secluded from society altogether? Ben’s father in law is no fan, and threatens to take the children from him so that they can be raised ‘normally.’ “Even if they make it through whatever it is you’re doing to them, they’re going to be totally unprepared for the real world,” he asserts.  Ben’s answer is simple: “and I happen to think the opposite is true.”
The best thing about Captain Fantastic is the chemistry within Ben’s family. Mortenson plays the role of loving, idealistic father perfectly – it almost seems as though the role was made for him. The children, in particular eldest son Bodevan (George MacKay), are outstanding. Funny, sweet and completely convincing in their portrayal of kids raised in the wild, they, alongside Mortenson, carry this film. Captain Fantastic is an important work which critiques our materialistic and technology-driven society, raising questions of authenticity, survival and what really living is. Definitely recommended.

Everybody Wants Some!!

evwryWantsSome4-3Published in Issue 15, Craccum Magazine 2016.
This movie will have you wishing you were a teen in the eighties. Or more specifically, a teen in America in the eighties. No doubt about it. Not only was the fashion 100% cooler, but the music was bangin’ and the atmosphere very, very chill.
Everybody Wants Some!! follows college freshman Jake (Blake Jenner) as he moves to Texas and shares a house with his new baseball teammates. Not a lot happens during the movie, but that’s why it’s so great. Basically, it’s about a group of college guys in the days leading up to class, partying, looking for girls and hanging out – in the eighties. It’s a pretty normal concept, but one that is easily relatable. The guys muck around playing table tennis, getting stoned, razzing each other and telling jokes. It’s the type of thing we’ve all experienced at some point during our teens or early twenties, so watching it brings on a certain responsiveness and also a sense of nostalgia.
What makes this film, hands down, are the characters. While Jake is the protagonist, his baseball teammates are the stars. Fellow freshmen Plummer (Temple Baker) and Brumley (Tanner Kalina) are solid, perfectly portraying the role of new kids joining a group of older, more superior kids. Dale (J. Quinton Johnson) is on point as the mediator between the two age groups, while Nesbit (Austin Amelio) is the light-hearted ‘bully’/asshole of the team. However, it’s Finn (Glen Powell) who really steals the show. Charming, witty and amiable, Finn is a character you can’t not like. He doesn’t lord his higher ranking over the freshmen and is simply out to have a good time.
Essentially, that’s what Everybody Wants Some!! is about – having a good time. We watch the guys enjoy themselves doing regular teenage activities, and enjoy ourselves in the process. It’s uplifting, inspiring and surprisingly perceptive. This is a feel-good film that’ll put a smile on your face (as corny as that sounds). Check it out.

 

The Miltones: Live at Golden Dawn

the-miltones-2View it on mac+mae here!
If you’re into Americana, early Seventies rock or the blues, then Auckland band The Miltones are an act you don’t want to miss. Playing at Golden Dawn last Friday, the five-piece group did not disappoint. Known for their unique sound, solid lyrics and infectious energy, The Miltones are a band that clearly love what they do and have a real passion for the art. This makes for some great listenin’!
The show opened with Firing Way, a catchy song which set the tone for the rest of the night. Upcoming hit Pursed Lips was a highlight, but the centrepiece of the night would have to be the foot-stomping country-blues tune Bleeding Blues. This is the sort of song that can get even the most dance-opposed person out on the floor, and in Golden Dawn’s smoky interior it almost felt like you could be in some dusty Southern USA joint. The gig finished with one of the band’s early songs, Gypsy Queen. An epic and emotionally strung-out piece, it was the perfect way to end the set.
The band work seamlessly together, led by vocalist and guitarist Milly Tabak, whose raw voice you won’t be forgetting any time soon. Lead guitarist Liam Pratt keeps the energy coming with banging solo after solo, while keyboardist and trumpeter Guy Harrison adds a touch of jazz to the music. Bassist Chris Marshall and drummer Tom Broome are solid, keeping the rhythm alive. While their sound is definitely original, fans of Fleetwood Mac and Neil Young would dig these guys for sure.
In sum: if you’re looking for a down-to-earth Kiwi band with a whole lotta soul, then The Miltones are it. Check them out.

Monterey

21_Monterey-opt-1024x566View it on mac+mae here!
Directed by Lisa Burd, Monterey follows Kiwis Paul and Mira as they open their dream café in Grey Lynn. The couple want to create a café different to the array of minimalist eateries populating Auckland, instead providing something cosy and familiar. The first step is finding a chef, and this comes in the form of Samoan Jacob, or J as they refer to him. J makes this doco, hands down. He is funny, charming and dedicated to his job, grateful to be given the opportunity to work as a head chef despite having no formal training whatsoever. As Paul and Mira both point out, J is what Monterey is all about – he is the heart and soul of the homely cafe.
Added to the mix is J’s brother, Tausaga, or Ti, fresh out of prison for armed robbery. Not long after his arrival, J’s cousin Aosoli joins the team. The three Samoan’s work smoothly together, always remaining calm and keeping the kitchen fun and lighthearted with the laid-back, cheeky humour common of the Pacific Island community. They are “the three core” of the business, as Paul calls them.
Monterey is best in its examination of these three men’s lives and relationship with each other. The doc becomes about much more than food – rather, it focusses on the people brought together by food. J, Ti and Soli are proud of their Samoan culture and heritage, and appreciate their positions at Monterey and the ability to provide for their families. J talks about the poor upbringing he had and how his children are able to enjoy simple things he did not, such as having shoes and lunch to take to school each day. The men are content and happy with their lives, striking a chord in the viewer as one thinks of the many dissatisfied New Zealanders who have come from far more privileged backgrounds.
The harmony in the Monterey kitchen is suddenly disrupted with the arrival of British chef Dan. Realising that money is tight, Paul decides to try something new and add a dinner menu to the cafe, making it slightly more up-market. Now with Dan as head chef, J, Ti and Soli are forced to reconsider their positions at Monterey. The new kitchen dynamic is interesting to watch – Dan is a nice guy, and a skilled chef who is essentially just doing his job – but we are attached to the Samoan family by this point and it is hard to see them grow disheartened.
The lowering in moral leads Paul and Mira to reconsider their decision and redefine the heart of the business. Is it about making money, is it about the vibe, is it about family? The documentary’s resolution is poignant and leaves one considering the role of cafes in New Zealand, the position of cafe staff and our country’s Samoan community. In all, a well-formed documentary that provides an interesting insight into New Zealand’s unique culture and makes for an enjoyable watch.

Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise

o-MAYA-ANGELOU-facebookView it on mac+mae here!
From the opening scene, this documentary captivates. Viewers are confronted with a mash-up of black and white images and video clips from key moments in the African American Civil Rights Movement of the Twentieth Century – the lynching of fourteen year old Emmett Till, who was murdered for whistling at a white woman in Mississippi, the Greensboro sit-in of 1960, Rosa Parks riding a bus, President Obama and more. It is instantly powerful, and just as captivating for those who know little or nothing about the movement or Angelou.
The first documentary about Angelou, And Still I Rise covers the iconic African American’s life chronologically. Directors Bob Hercules and Rita Coburn Whack seamlessly blend together filmed footage, rare photos and commentaries from those who had known Angelou to create a coherent and interesting film. What is best about this documentary is that Angelou herself is given the primary voice – having only passed away in 2014, Angelou was able to tell her life story first, so we get to hear it in her own words. In a way, this is Angelou’s departing gift to us all – for as those that knew her declare, she was not just a poet, an author, a singer or an actress, but a storyteller.
Angelou’s story beings as a young child in Los Angeles. When her parents separated, Angelou and her brother were put on a train and sent to live with their grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas. “It was terrible rejection,” Angelou remembers, and goes on to describe life in the South as a young African American girl. Angelou’s childhood was dominated by abuse, both racial and sexual. The Ku Klux Klan made regular visits to the village, and at just seven years old she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. Her attacker’s subsequent murder caused Angelou to become mute for five years, certain that her speaking out was the reason for his death. At sixteen, she became pregnant, and after giving birth to a son, Guy, Angelou began to dance and sing in bars to earn money.
Poetry was next on the cards, and Angelou’s literary journey saw her move to Harlem, the African American cultural hub of New York. During the fifties and sixties Angelou met many famous and influential African Americans, including poet Langston Hughes, author James Baldwin, and civil rights activists Martin Luther King Junior and Malcolm X. Angelou describes her respect for both King and X, praising their different approaches to black equality. Angelou worked with the New York branch of King’s organisation the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and later became an advocate for X’s black nationalist rhetoric after meeting him in Ghana. “I loved him so much,” she recalls, recounting her devastation at his assassination in 1965 and King’s just three years later.
The year after King’s assassination, Angelou’s first autobiography was published. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings covers the early years of Angelou’s life and went on to become hugely successful. She was the first female African American to write about her experiences in such a way, opening the door on ‘hidden’ issues like sexual abuse which many young black girls had experienced.
And Still I Rise covers the next decades of Angelou’s life, during which time she continued writing, acting and speaking, and also married and later divorced British author Paul de Feu. In 1993, Bill Clinton asked Angelou to write a poem for his presidential inauguration. Angelou’s poem, On the Pulse of the Morning, was “an eternal gift to America,” Clinton remarks. “And it’ll read well a hundred years from now.”
When Angelou died in 2014, she left a mark on everyone who had ever met her. It was not just the films she had starred in or directed, the poems and books she had written or the songs she had sung, but her demeanour, her personality and the vision she had shared. There was no one like her, this documentary asserts – and there won’t be another. As actress and friend of Angelou, Alfre Woodard says, “nobody is guna talk like she talked, and nobody is guna walk like she walked.” Do yourself a favour and watch this documentary so you can understand why.

Leon Bridges and the Texas Gentlemen: Saint James Theatre

leon.jpegView it on mac+mae here!
If you haven’t heard of Mr Bridges, you’re going to. The 26 year old Texan has been rapidly gaining attention since the release of his debut album, Coming Home, in June last year – and for good reason. ‘The kid,’ as backup singer Brittni Jessie calls him, is not just extremely talented, but refreshingly unique.
Blending raw soul and gospel with doo-wop and urban blues, Bridges’ sound takes you back to a time when music was about just that – music. With a nod to the great African American musicians of the fifties, sixties and seventies, Bridges’ style remains consistently ‘oldschool.’ Each number invokes a sort of nostalgia in the listener, a longing for a different time when things were more authentic. In keeping with the feel of his music, Bridges’ dress and mannerisms herald those of decades past. A single glance at his Instagram confirms this: monochrome photos of Bridges wearing trousers and collared shirts reveal a true dedication to his style and sound.
Ending his world tour in Auckland on January 9th, there’s no surprise that Bridges chose the Saint James as his venue. The historic building was a perfect match for an artist who has been hailed as a contemporary Sam Cooke or Otis Redding. When they arrived on stage, Bridges and his seven-piece band, all immaculately dressed in fine suits, showed the crowd what a real concert should be like. There were no flashy sets, no costume changes and no awe-inspiring light displays. Bridges and The Texas Gentlemen simply played, filling the room with an energy and passion you really needed to be there to understand.
After an introductory song, Bridges proudly announced, in a purposefully Southern accent: “we are from Fort Worth Texas, and we rode in on our horses.” He then proceeded to play the entire Coming Home album, as well as a handful of new numbers. This was a foot-stomping, finger-clicking get-down-and-do-the-twist concert – everywhere you looked, people were dancing. While every song was amazing, there were of course highlights. The upbeat melody Twisting and Grooving, written about Bridges’ grandparents, was an instant mood-setter, as were new songs Let You Down and Mississippi Kisses. Bridges didn’t lose any power by slowing things down, however. The crooning number In My Arms was like something straight out of a 1950s dance party, while the rich, gospel song River was the climax of the show.
Ultimately, Bridges is well-worth going to. And while he is clearly the star of the show, his band also has to be acknowledged. Without the amazing talents of saxophonist Jeff Dazey, who Bridges professed “has been with me right from the start,” and the flawless backup vocals of Brittni Jesse, the music would have quite a different sound.
A passion for real music is what immediately hits you upon hearing or seeing Leon Bridges and the Texas Gentlemen. Not one to let things go to his head, Bridges waited in the St. James foyer after the concert to take photos with fans and sign posters in an informal meet and greet. Did I meet him? Of course. He was soft-spoken and polite as he signed my poster with a quote from the album’s title song. More than that, he was appreciative. “Nice to meet you man,” he told my boyfriend. “Thank you.” Thank you, Leon, for giving us something to look forward to in the music world.

Coming Home: Leon Bridges

leon2           Published in Issue 18, Craccum Magazine 2015. View it here!
If you’re a fan of gospel, jazz, doo-wop or the blues then there is a 99% chance that you are going to become as addicted to Leon Bridges’ debut album Coming Home as I am. Hailed by critics as a modern-day Sam Cooke, Bridges’ tunes are smooth and catchy, his voice rich and soulful. But there is something very earnest about his music which reminds his listeners of Cooke, and other soul greats such as Otis Redding. That he plays with a full band (complete with horn instruments and backup singers) adds to the authentic sound of his songs. This is real music which takes you back to the ’50s and ’60s, not some young pop artist trying to make a quick buck by ripping off the style of classic jazz and soul figures.
The title track and lead single of the album was the first song I heard, and its old-school, genuine sound instantly caught my attention. Bridges’ expressive voice, combined with the simple, feel-good music and soft lyrics makes this a very hard song to dislike. The rest of the album does not disappoint. I cannot name a song on it that I don’t like, though certainly some are better than others. The jazzy track Smooth Sailing, with its tidy, ‘cool’ feel is a definite highlight, but it’s the doo-wop numbers which stand out. Better Man is catchy and brilliant in its simplicity, lyrics such as “what can I do to get back to your heart? / I’d swim the Mississippi River, girl” giving Bridges’ Southern roots a nod. Lisa Sawyer is another doo-wop gem, which Bridges wrote about his mother’s life growing up. Slow and sweet, it tells a story in a mellow kind of way which is actually really effective. The third track on the album, Brown Skin Girl, is an amazing piece with a very catchy bass line and lazy rhythm, while River, Pull Away and Shine are all great, slower gospel tunes.
Ultimately, Bridges is a very cool guy. His old-school style isn’t just his music; he wears suit pants and leather shoes and felt hats, and keeps his Instagram alive with black and white photos, as well as filming several of his music videos in monochrome. It’s this all-round dedication to his style and sound that sets him apart, and makes him one to watch for the future.

The End of the Tour

The-End-of-the-Tour-ReviewPublished in Issue 16, Craccum Magazine 2015. View it here!
Jesse Eisenberg is what brought me to this film, and I will be forever grateful to him because of it. Knowing basically nothing about the story, I went in with an open mind and left in awe. A film that is both uplifting and sad, The End of the Tour is based upon Rolling Stones reporter David Lipsky’s (Eisenberg) book about the five days he spent interviewing author David Foster Wallace (Jason Segal). Wallace has just found fame with the huge success of his novel, Infinite Jest, and Lipsky, who is trying to find his own footing in the world of fiction writing, begs to be given the story.
Eisenberg is excellent as the nervous, envious and intelligent Lipsky, convincingly portraying a young writer eager to make his own mark on the literary scene. He is a likable character, and yet the skill that Eisenberg lends to the role is to never quite let viewers know where Lipsky stands. He has the power to shape his story on Wallace in a negative or positive light, and until the films’ end the direction he will choose remains ambiguous. While it is clear that he admires Wallace and enjoys his company, this does not stop him from snooping around Wallace’s house or insisting that his tape recorder remain on the majority of the time.
While Eisenberg upholds his impressive acting ability, it is Segal who really blows you away. There was a fair amount of controversy when Segal was cast as Wallace, largely based around the fact that the How I Met Your Mother star is not considered a ‘serious actor’, and Wallace himself was a deeply sad person. If he wasn’t a ‘serious actor’ before, he most certainly is now. He is awkward and shy and self-deprecating as Wallace, bewildered at suddenly being labelled ‘famous’ and sceptical of how this will affect his work. Segal gives us a raw performance that reveals the complexities of a man who was extraordinarily brilliant and perceptive, and yet also very lonely.
What makes this film so effective is that it’s not really about David Foster Wallace, as such. It is about Lipsky, examining Wallace, examining Lipsky; two writers at very different stages of their careers who learn a lot from – and about – each other during their five days together. Wallace committed suicide in 2008, but is still considered one of the greatest and most insightful writers today. “Fiction’s about what it is to be a fucking human being,” the real Wallace said, and the film leaves viewers to dwell on this sentiment; on the nature of the novel and on the human condition.