Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Emory Alums Adam Hoffman, Matt Lipkins and Scott Schwartz make up the Shadowboxers, who got their start opening for The Indigo Girls and released their first full-length album Red Room in 2013.
As the members of the Shadowboxers took the stage at the Masquerade last Thursday night, a subtle smile came across lead vocalist and keyboardist Matt Lipkins’ face.
The crowd was filled with fans eager for headlining indie pop band MS MR, so at first they were pretty uninterested in the soul pop sounds of the relatively new, lesser-known opener. But Lipkins, calm and confident, knew he could turn the audience’s ritual and polite clapping into genuine applause.
The Shadowboxers learned of this opportunity just two days prior and jumped at the chance to test out their new material.
The Masquerade is definitely one of Atlanta’s more unique performance spaces, but the two-story “heaven and hell”-themed building lacks the physical structure to deliver a clear and audible sonority.
Nevertheless, the Shadowboxers’ strong performance soared and made the audience forget the imbalanced acoustics.
The iconic harmonies of the three vocalists sliced through the audience and turned heads. During the show, I had trouble keeping my eyes off the group’s most recent addition: bass player Carlos Enamorado. Armed with a fretless bass and a style reminiscent of jazz bass legend Steve Bailey, his addition has allowed the group to explore new territory while providing a jaw-dropping visual.
When Lipkins met his now-bandmates Adam Hoffman and Scott Schwartz at Emory in 2008, there were no established bands on campus and limited avenues for the arts. Lipkins and Hoffman joined a cappella group No Strings Attached, which allowed them to develop their vocal abilities and cultivate their chill-inducing harmonies early on. With no other groups competing for shows, they became the go-to band at and around Emory.
Over the course of their four years at Emory, the group honed their craft while developing a true musical bond with one another. Local performances grew in size, and so did their fan base.
In 2010, the Shadowboxers became the opening act for fellow Emory alums the Indigo Girls, validating their hopes to pursue music professionally. But after the tour, the group was back to square one.
With no label or the fan base to support a headlining national tour, the group began shifting their focus to refine their style and attract fans through an online marketing campaign: #covertuesdays.
For the last year the group has released YouTube videos on the first Tuesday of every month, putting their unique pop soul twist on songs spanning a vast array of artists, from Paul McCartney to Frank Ocean.
Validation for a group can come in many different forms, but nothing really compares to a tweet from Justin Timberlake. In December, none other than JT himself retweeted the Shadowboxers’ cover of “Pusher Love Girl.”
The tweet garnered thousands of new listeners, and after two more posts praising their performances, it’s clear that the Grammy Award-winning Renaissance man is a fan.
So what’s next for the Shadowboxers? When we sat down to chat last Monday, Lipkins explained, “There’s no master plan.” Recently, the band has been focusing on their songwriting.
The members joked that they “lock themselves in for days,” individually pitching riffs and ideas and then collectively experimenting with new song structures, vocal styles and fresh sounds. They approach each song as if it was a cover, trying to rewrite material the same way they arrange their covers.
The greatest struggle of an emerging band is producing a unique sound distinguishable from a large and mostly generic market.
The Shadowboxers recognize that and, from the very start, have utilized their tight vocal harmonies to add a unique twist to their once squeaky clean pop sound. For years, the band wanted to infuse their pop songs with funk and soul.
With the additions of bassist Carlos Enamorado and drummer Cole McSween, Schwartz explains, “We can finally make the sounds we hear in our heads.” Adam says their music is “Stevie Wonder songs with Crosby, Stills and Nash singing them.”
It’s their songwriting process and new musical direction that will set them apart in an extremely competitive market of new artists.
The band’s first full-length album Red Room was released in January of last year. The album showcased raw talent and breadth of musical ability; however, the songs were disjointed and left the listener wondering what type of band the Shadowboxers aspired to be.
Hoffman says Red Room “spanned the full spectrum of what we could do and liked at the time.” The Shadowboxers attempted to capture what they do live with mixed results.
Given the influx of electronic sounds, correction software and other studio technologies, studio and live performance have become two entirely different worlds.
However, the band promises to “harness a sound for [their] next album,” something more concerted and unexpected. It’s a common problem for new artists, but it’s clear that the Shadowboxers have learned from experience and plan to wait some time before returning to the studio.
As we discussed their history, the three singers stressed the role Emory played in their success.
In our conversation, the bandmates agreed that although opportunities in the arts at Emory are somewhat limited, there are a ton of talented students just waiting to find each other. Their senior year, the harmonious trio lived with two filmmakers and an actor.
Their advice to current Emory students interested in pursuing the arts: surround yourself with other creative people.
All six of the students living in that house went on to pursue their dreams, defying professional norms and abandoning their academic pursuits.
The band concedes that although it may set them back a few steps in “cool points,” being Emory grads is something they are truly proud of. Schwartz explained that Emory gave them the critical thinking skills, determination and work ethic to set themselves apart from other acts their age.
As we wrapped up our interview, I asked the Shadowboxers a difficult question: where do you want to be in 10 years? Aside from hoping to be the same weight with 12 kids, Lipkins humbly responded that he simply hopes they are still growing as a band and as individuals.
Hoffman jokingly interjected, claiming that they will surely be “the biggest band in the world.” With such immense potential and an unpredictable future ahead, we can only hope he’s right.
— By Jason Charles
Courtesy of MS MR
Producer Max Hershenow (left) and vocalist Lizzy Plapinger comprise the duo of MS MR, who released their first full-length album Secondhand Rapture last May.
Sometimes things are just meant to be. That’s certainly true for Brooklyn-based duo Max Hershenow and Lizzy Plapinger, the names behind MS MR.
Although they attended the same university together, it was not until after they graduated that their creative energies joined Plapinger’s vocals and Hershenow’s music, thus forming the euphonious universe of MS MR.
Albert Einstein once said: “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.” MS MR released their debut EP Candy Bar Creep Show anonymously via Tumblr in 2012.
And while Hershenow and Plapinger’s identities may have been a mystery to most at the time, their entrancing sounds were a full experience of artistically crafted beauty.
Ever since Candy Bar Creep Show, the gates to MS MR’s musical universe have opened to the world, and the beauty of their sounds remains riveting today.
Last year, MS MR released Secondhand Rapture. Each song — from the escalating darkness of “Dark Doo Wop” to the pristine smoothness of “Strings” to the shadowy sultriness of “Hurricane” — has a radiating rawness that raids deep into the core and mind of listeners. Synth-pounding MS MR is currently on tour until June.
Hershenow and Plapinger took the time to answer some questions via email for Copy Chief Benazir Wehelie, discussing everything from Tumblr to their favorite television shows to world domination.
Benazir Wehelie: You both attended the same university but did not make any music together during that time. When did you eventually decide to pursue music together?
MS MR: We only started to make music together after we graduated as a result of a somewhat blind email exchange. We didn’t know each other very well, but Max was looking for opportunities to explore production and Lizzy was looking for an unbiased critique of her voice and songwriting. We connected pretty much instantly, and the rest is history.
BW: When you initially began releasing music, you kept your identities a secret. What was the reason behind that, and how do you feel now that MS MR is no longer a mystery?
MS MR: So often pop music becomes more about the personalities creating the music than the music itself, so we decided to release our initial tracks anonymously so people would come to it for the right reasons. Additionally, Lizzy has worked in the industry most of her life and we didn’t want that to color the listener’s experience (for better or worse), or to make the project more about Lizzy than Max. But it was never our intention to stay mysterious — even at our first shows we didn’t wear masks or anything, and since then it’s been great to open up and share who we are beyond the music.
BW: You released your debut EP Candy Bar Creep Show via Tumblr. What role does Tumblr play in your music today?
MS MR: For us, Tumblr is an ever-evolving mood board that we pull from when we need inspiration for videos, photo shoots and even the music itself, but it also serves as an incredible way to relate to and engage our fans.
BW: You have said you struggle to define your musical influences and draw inspiration from all kinds of music genres and styles. How does drawing inspiration from a wide variety of music impact your creative process?
MS MR: It further emphasizes our love and dedication to experimentation and opens the door for us to continue to push our music in unexpected ways. Our best songs come from combining seemingly disparate sources of inspiration.
BW: Describe the creative process and meaning behind your first single “Hurricane.”
MS MR: “Hurricane” was inspired by Hurricane Sandy, which threatened New York City in 2011. Even though we spent the night apart preparing for the storm, we separately started working on the ideas of what would become the song. The next morning Max sent Lizzy the track he had started and Lizzy used the lyrics she had started the night before. It all came together seamlessly and more quickly than any other song we’ve written — we recorded it the very next day.
BW: “Hurricane” was featured in a runway show by designer Tom Ford, and “Bones” was used in a trailer for the HBO television series “Game of Thrones.” What are your must-have or favorite clothing items and television shows you love to watch when you are on tour?
MS MR: We’re huge fans of “Game of Thrones” and now that it’s back on we’ll definitely be watching as it unfolds on tour! Aside from that, Lizzy has been watching “True Detective,” “Cosmos” and “Nashville.” Max has been rewatching “Twin Peaks” and guiltily binging on “Scandal.” We both can’t go anywhere without our black motorcycle jackets.
BW: Max, you have lived in Latin America and Lizzy, you grew up in London, but you both now live in New York. What are your favorite aspects of each of these areas in the world?
MS MR: The culture in each of these places significantly influenced our love of music and continues to shape our work in often unexpected ways. But it’s sort of impossible to choose a favorite aspect of a place you’ve lived for a long time!
BW: What is something your fans would be surprised to know about each of you?
MS MR: If we weren’t in the music industry, we could have both potentially ended up in fine arts or dance.
BW: Complete the sentence: MS MR is looking forward to _____.
MS MR: … world domination (and meeting Beyonce).
— By Benazir Wehelie
The Emory music program never ceases to amaze. This Sunday, various student chamber ensembles performed in two concerts at the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts’ Emerson Concert Hall. Each concert featured student musicians in more intimate settings than those afforded by large ensembles such as the Emory Symphony Orchestra and the Emory Wind Ensemble. With fewer than 20 performers in even the largest ensemble performing Sunday, every musician played a crucial role. Since this was a setting so focused on the individual, it was exciting to see my peers perform this way.
To begin the first concert, which featured various woodwind, brass and percussion chamber ensembles, the Emory Percussion Ensemble took the stage with two pieces featuring a range of percussion instruments.
The opening work of the performance, “Trio per Uno” by Nebojsa Zivkovic, was written for a percussion trio (and in this case, performed by College sophomores Matt Gallub and Cole Owens and Goizueta Business School sophomore Dan Martin) circled around a large bass drum turned on its side. Necessarily rhythmic, it started the show off with energy and fun and set the stage for what was to come.
The Emory Percussion Ensemble then put on a larger ensemble of keyboard percussion instruments (think instruments related to the xylophone!), which presented the surreal and ethereal “Ceiling Full of Stars” by Blake Tyson.
Next came various woodwind and brass groups, the first being the Emory Saxophone Quartet featuring College senior Max Farina, College freshman Moon Young Lee, College sophomore Ryan Sutherland and College freshman Jaehoon Cho, performing a selection from Russell Peck’s “Quartet for Saxophones: Drastic Measures.” This work was a challenging selection, which the quartet played exceptionally well. Following the Emory Saxophone Quartet was the Emory Tuba-Euphonium Trio, featuring College sophomore Rohin Aggarwal on euphonium and College juniors Stephanie Mundel and Will Vander Pols on tuba, who performed two works arranged by Vasille Babuseac, including the “Renaissance Suite” and “Tico Tico non Fuba” by Zequinha de Abreu. With the Emerson Concert Hall’s bass frequency-friendly acoustics, the performers were both well-heard and well-received.
Afterwards, the Emory Woodwind Quintet took the stage and performed Thomas Schneider’s arrangement of J.S. Bach’s “Prelude and Fugue, No. 22” from “The Well-Tempered Clavier.”
The group consisted of College senior Melanie Zhang on flute, College senior Alexander Zhang on oboe, College sophomore Michelle Rosenthal on clarinet, College junior Alex Lutz on horn and College freshman James Cahill on bassoon. Ultimately the piece sat quite well with the instrumentation and was light and recognizable.
The Emory Flute Ensemble sat down to play after the quintet had left the stage, presenting the audience with an arrangement by Nourse of the overture to Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” Appreciated by the audience for its positive airiness, it provided a great contrast to the previous pieces.
Ending the concert with a very real bang, the Emory Samba Band stormed the hall. The largest group that performed on Sunday, the Emory Samba Band featured 17 Emory students on various percussion instruments from the Brazilian Samba tradition. It was a riveting performance, with not a single still-body in the audience — no one I noticed could resist at least tapping their foot to the Afro-Cuban rhythmic symphony before us.
My personal favorite moment of the concert was in the first piece the band played, one of two traditional sambas, in which the ensemble as a whole danced around in time to what they were playing.
They were clearly in love with their music — a powerful end to the first chamber concert of the day.
The evening concert, featuring two piano duos and various small string groups, programmed some serious music.
College sophomores Casey Costello and Oscar Gryn performed two pieces for piano duo, specifically selections from Maurice Ravel’s Debussy transcription “Nocturnes for Two Pianos” and Manuel Infante’s “Danses andalouses for Two Pianos,” both of which were technically challenging and quite invigorating for the audience to watch.
The second Emory Piano Duo, which included College sophomores MaryAnn Haynie and Daniel Latzanich, performed Darius Milhaud’s “Scaramouche for Two Pianos,” a work that garnered significant applause from the audience.
Following some preliminary adjustments on stage, the first of two Emory String Quartets approached the stage, featuring College junior Meg Winata and B-school sophomore Iris Yeonjae Lim on violin, College junior Rebecca Flank on viola and Marcus Autism Center fellow Carolyn Ranti on cello.
The quartet played a selection from the “String Quartet in F major, Op. 96 ‘American’” by Antonin Dvorak, a very famous and popular piece that many in the audience immediately recognized.
Emory String Quartet II, featuring College senior Benito Thompson and College junior Sunny Yue on violin, College senior Emily Caesar on viola and College junior Thomas Sandlin on cello, then performed a thoughtful rendition of a selection from Felix Mendelssohn’s “String Quartet in E minor, Op. 44, No. 2.”
The Emory String Quintet followed, featuring College junior Joseph Matthews and College freshman Michael Crawford on violin, College sophomore Caroline Holmes and College junior Kara Goldstone on viola and College junior Caitlin Anderson on cello, performing a selection from Antonin Dvorak’s “String Quintet in E-flat major, Op. 97,” better known as the “Viola Quintet” that was methodical and forward-moving.
The last group of the evening was the Emory Piano Quintet, featuring College seniors Dallas Albritton and Nimia Zoe Maya on violin, College junior Minjee Kim on viola, College freshman Clifford Redwine on cello and College senior Xiaoqing Carey Shi on piano.
This group presented a selection from Antonin Dvorak’s “Piano Quintet,” offering a rousing end to the evening that left the audience wanting more: only after a few moments of an empty stage, and silence, did the crowd slowly file out the door.
The Emory music community has many talented students, and this evening certainly proved that it is worth the effort to make it out to their performances — you will be amazed at what your peers can do.
— By Samuel Budnyk
Courtesy of Scott Rudin Productions
Ralph Fiennes (center) stars in writer/director Wes Anderson’s latest effort “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” The film also features Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Jude Law, Adrien Brody and many more.
Wes Anderson has out Wes Anderson-ed himself.
It’s not to say that Anderson’s eighth feature “The Grand Budapest Hotel” will turn you sour to his mad scientist inventions of make-believe stirred up with violence and deceit and finished with gilded elaborateness and Pantone color schemes. But it might make you tired.
One watches an Anderson film as though one has received a pair of 3D glasses in the lobby. It’s hard not to want to reach out and touch the misted mountaintops or take a bite out of the rows of boxed Mendl’s courtesan au chocolats or push all of the buttons on the hotel’s elevators.
Anderson has a way with extreme wide and traveling shots as well as a strong attention to mise-en-scene that makes each frame a postcard. Call it over-particular or persnickety, but it’s all so clearly a product of what Anderson sees when he closes his eyes: dream stuff.
Set in a fictional eastern European spa town during the downtime between world wars, “Grand Budapest” tells the story of Monsieur Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes, “The English Patient”), a concierge of The Grand Budapest Hotel with an incredibly high opinion of himself and a taste for blonde, down-on-their-luck, wrinkled old maids.
Gustave soon hires Zero Moustafe (newcomer Tony Revolori) as a lobby boy, a kid with wide eyes and a drawn-on line of a mustache, who, for the entirety of the film, follows him around at a six-inch distance. Zero, we learn, is in love with the lovely and brilliant Agatha (Saoirse Ronan, “Atonement”), a pastry chef at the famous Mendl’s bakery who wears a birthmark on her right cheek in the shape of Mexico.
As soon as we feel like we’ve met the whole group, we find that Madame Céline Villeneuve Desgoffe und Taxis (Tilda Swinton, “Moonrise Kingdom”), the 84-year old widow countess who had been in love with Gustave, has been murdered just as Gustave and Zero steal celebrated Renaissance painting “Boy With Apple.” All of this triggers a breakout from any established homeostasis and results in a chase through the bleak and snowy countryside. Closely pursuing our protagonists are Inspector (Edward Norton, “Fight Club,” a buddy of Anderson’s), Dmitri (Adrien Brody, “The Pianist”) Madame D’s F-word abusing son and hitman Jopling (Willem Dafoe, “Spiderman”) who wears brass knuckles, all black and a shark-like smile.
In the spirit of all things Anderson, this story is told within another story. And that story is told within another story, making the guts of the narrative a product of not only Anderson’s imagination, but of the many characters telling it. The first frame is set up in the 1985 home of a seasoned writer (Tom Wilkinson, “Batman Begins”), who lives in a town called Old Lutz. The writer remembers 20 years earlier staying at the nearly deserted Grand Budapest Hotel and meeting Moustafa. We are then transported to the hotel in 1968 in what is referred to as the Alpine Republic of Zubrowka, where everything is faded and depressed from Cold War infection.
In this second framing device, the writer (now played by Jude Law, “Sherlock Holmes”) shares a thousand-course meal with Moustafa after meeting him in the Arabian bathhouse, and Moustafa recalls how it all started — back when the Grand Budapest was, as it suggests, grand.
Budapest is a visual spectacular with cinematography that cannot be contested. Anderson utilizes three different aspect ratios for the three different time periods. He employs unconventional cutting patterns in the dialogue-driven scenes. He even throws in some stop-motion animation to take us even further out of reality. Still, there’s something about this film that makes it hard to grip. This slipping feeling can partly be attributed to the complications of its double framing device, but the je ne sais quoi is also a product of the fact that Anderson’s movie is so clearly a movie.
This piece is so heavily stylized and closely manicured that we’re incredibly aware that we’re watching something. It’s hard to lose oneself in Anderson’s world when it’s more reminiscent of a puppet show than the world we know.
Anderson’s vision earned some serious accolades and grossed 100 million in box offices, suggesting that it resonated deeply with moviegoers despite its often-untidy structure and conscious way of storytelling. Its success can also be attributed to its heavier core, its political jabs and mockeries that make it just as much of a statement as it is a farce. The political violence in Budapest conjures up reminders of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin and the darker moments of the 20th century, even though it’s all done in the most absurd way possible. Anderson has a way of treating history like clay, manhandling it into shapes that will resonate with us. Communism here is turning a grand hotel from bubblegum pink to gray.
This film lacked the psychology and depth of character that pieces Anderson directed previously like “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “Rushmore” boasted. We got to know Agatha as a loyal girl in love with Zero who spends her time crafting pastries, but we could gather that from a single frame, making it seem like this film might work even better as a graphic novel.
It’s not to say Anderson went so over-the-top with “Budapest” that this film suffered, but the fact that his fingerprints covered this so heavily should make his fans question his versatility and wonder how much room he’s allowed himself to continue to grow.
— By Ellie Kahn
Courtesy of Tom Cassaro
College junior Tom Cassaro stars in AdHoc Productions’ Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, a rock musical about the life of President Andrew Jackson. The performance will run through next Sunday, April 20 at the Black Box Theater in the Burlington Road Building.
Of all the American presidents, who was the biggest rock star?
Probably not a question you ask too often. But that was precisely the topic of AdHoc Productions’ newest musical performance Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, which opened on Thursday, April 10 at the Black Box Theater in the Burlington Road Building and will run through next Sunday.
In case the title doesn’t give it away, Andrew Jackson is the rock star of the performance. And rock he does.
Played by College junior Tom Cassaro, Old Hickory sings, jams, fights and shouts his way to the top of the United States government.
Along the way, he falls in and out of love with his wife Rachel (College freshman Carys Meyer), tangles with the more “traditional” Washington politicians and completely screws over the American Indian tribes of the South.
But all in the name of working for “the people.”
The show explains that Andrew Jackson adopted his notorious hatred for American Indians after they made his childhood on the frontier difficult. Instead of fuming silently, he decides to become a leader so he can fume audibly and rid the country of the “horrors of the natives.”
In one particularly hilarious (and disturbing) scene, Jackson sits at a meeting with the chiefs of American Indian tribes, searching desperately for a way to get them off the frontier land. When they can’t reach a “mutually agreeable” situation, he jumps out of his chair and begins literally pushing the chief away.
“Can’t we talk about this rationally?” the chief asks, irritated.
“No!” Jackson shouts back, still pushing him.
In that way, most of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is absorbed by the absurdity of this set-up.
Jackson wears tight jeans and guy-eyeliner, which is visually striking against the traditional 19th-century garb of the other characters.
The performers sing their way through political problems (“Populism, yeah, yeah!” chants the ensemble in the opening number).
And the staging itself harkens back to rock concerts of the 70s and 80s: one giant American flag spans the back wall, behind a band who spends the entire show onstage.
And as much as I’d like to say I know the exact meaning for all of these elements, I don’t.
But either way, it’s still just a really fun show.
The songs are just catchy enough and just ridiculous enough: particularly noteworthy are the narrative “The Corrupt Bargain” and the tragic but thoughtful “The Great Compromise.”
These numbers could have easily fallen into the trap of highlighting the outrageousness of these situations, but they ultimately serve as an opportunity to explain the motives of the characters and allow the audience to reflect on the larger implications of the show.
Not to say that they’re not laugh-out-loud entertaining: the political figures’ interactions always garnered a huge laugh, and Jackson’s no-nonsense, shoot-’em-up approach to all his problems were incredibly over-the-top.
“That’s right, motherfuckers! Jackson’s back!” he shouts, in the midst of a musical number.
Each role was cast perfectly, in such a way that no one role really outshone the others. Cassaro was just absurd enough and just sensitive enough to pull off the role of Jackson.
College sophomore Josh Young was, as always, deadpan hilarious, as the pot-bellied Martin Van Buren who ultimately becomes Jackson’s headset-wearing assistant. (“Tell the Indians to get lost!” Jackson cries. Running offstage, Young mumbles into his headset, “Get lost, Indians.”)
And College junior Julia Weeks was enchanting as both Jackson’s silently menacing friend-turned-foe Chief Black Fox and the squirrel-carrying, politically-ambitious Henry Clay.
One final aspect of the show which deserves exceptional credit is the choreography.
College junior Aneyn O’Grady contributed to the steps, which served as the perfect complement to the entertaining, melodic songs.
Through O’Grady’s tight yet buoyant movement, the ensemble members managed to be engaging to watch on their own but not so overwhelming that they detracted from the enjoyment of the songs themselves.
As far as understanding the overarching meaning for this rock concert of a political story, the closest we got for that was one of the final lines of the show.
“Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” winds down as Jackson realizes his political career isn’t going to be quite as straightforward as he had hoped (“They can’t stop me from doing what I know the people want!”), and the storyteller (College junior Chelsea Walton) explains that though Andrew Jackson was pretty popular at the time of his presidency, history has recently begun to question whether he was, in fact, “a people’s president, or just a genocidal murderer.”
At that, Jackson cries, “Fuck history!”
The storyteller looks at him skeptically and calmly responds, “You can’t shoot history in the neck.”
And maybe that was the whole point of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.
He fought his way to the top, pretty much killing anyone who got in his way — but that method of facing his problems wouldn’t help him change how history perceived him.
Or maybe the whole point was just to have a fun rock show.
And given the laughs, music and story that it provided, that explanation is also just fine by me.
— By Emelia Fredlick
I went to the Atlanta Film Festival not having done my research. It’s not to say I didn’t go prepared; I did some due diligence on the directors whose work I’d be seeing and what kind of acclaim some of the films had already received, but I didn’t read synopses or look up plots. For the majority of my life, I’ve walked into theaters and watched movies I’ve basically already seen in full: 50 percent through trailers and another 25 through incessant network plugs, and this weekend I wanted my experience to be nothing like this. I wanted instead to sit down, put my feet up on the chair in front of me, and just go with it. And this is exactly what I did. I saw four films, and each film was a portrait of a different set of lives highly unlike my own that allowed me, for an afternoon, to get out of my head and get back in touch with my own ability to empathize. Most of these films will now travel to other festivals around the country as well as internationally.
In “Bobô,” a Portuguese film directed by Inês Oliveira, Guinean housekeeper Mariama (Aissatu Indjai) comes to stay at the home of Sofia (Paula Garcia), a wealthy architectural illustrator in downtown Lisbon per the request of Sofia’s mother. The film is beautifully captured and portrays Sofia’s depression with extreme close-ups and long takes that make the film appear more like photography than narrative. Although the politics of the film are highly present — Mariama is protecting the young Bobô (Luana Quadé) from her grandmother who wants to circumcise the girl under Guinean tradition — they are secondary to the film’s emphasis on Sofia’s intellectual but emotionless life. Mariama disrupts Sofia’s silent house and forces her out of her insularity, which Oliveira touches on a lot more than the complexity behind Bobô’s story, so maybe this film may have benefited from sticking to one conflict rather than two. The beauty of this piece is in its pacing, which is slow and extremely representative of how it feels to be alone.
“The Sublime and Beautiful”
Director Blake Robbins of “The Sublime and Beautiful” introduced his film as a piece about grieving, which is really the only way to explain it. The film opens with David Conrad (Robbins) a college professor and father of three in the kitchen getting his children ready for school. As we watch Conrad go about his usual day, we’re treated to sprawling views of rural Kansas and interior shots, until he receives a phone call that causes him to race to the hospital. That’s when Conrad receives the news that his kids have been killed in a car accident caused by a local drunk driver. Grieving, which is traditionally categorized in five stages, makes up the film’s plot structure, which consists of Conrad’s aloneness, his aggression, violence towards his children’s killer, depression and need for control and ultimate acceptance. There is no emotional break in this film or ultimate peace of mind, which makes it both unsettling and limiting artistically. It’s a tough film to watch due to the size of its conflict compared with the size of its possible resolution.
“1982” drew the largest crowd of any I saw at the festival, and rightfully so. Directed by Tommy Oliver, the film introduces a family living in 1980s black Philadelphia in the midst of the crack cocaine epidemic. Timothy (Hill Harper) works to protect his daughter Maya (Troi Zee) from his wife Shenae’s (Sharon Leal) developing drug addiction, but struggles to find a voice in his failing marriage and equally deteriorating urban environment. There’s a power behind this film that I got in less than five minutes which can be partly attributed to the strength of Harper’s acting and also to the quality of Oliver’s script. The conversations between Timothy and his daughter late at night, the moments between him and the neighborhood drug lord on the basketball court and the sound of his wife banging on the door desperately trying to enter her own home are all scenes that are incredibly dramatic, well-written and emotionally charged. This is a piece about greater concepts like parenthood and vulnerability and the importance of taking action but mostly depicts a portrait of Timothy as a father. The artistic and creative merit of this film isn’t devalued by its heavy content, and it’s one that deserves to circulate.
The gem of the film festival was undoubtedly “Workers,” directed by Mexican director José Luis Valle. It tells two unrelated stories, both taking place in Tijuana, that fit together more and more meaningfully as the film’s narrative progresses. One story is of Rafael (Jesus Padilla), a middle-aged janitor who has worked in a light bulb factory for 30 years to the day and is ready for retirement, and the other story is of Lidia (Susana Salazar), one of seven staff members working in the home of a rich old woman with a dog that eats prime rib and takes bubble baths in a temperature-controlled porcelain tub. Rafael, who spends the first half of the film preparing for his retirement by buying himself new shoes and a new tattoo to mark the occasion, is told by his boss that he will not receive pension and must continue working due to his illegal status. Meanwhile, Lidia discovers that the mistress of the house has died and has left her estate and fortune to her dog, Princess, under whom she is now technically employed. Luis Valles’s film is saddening, excruciating and hilarious. It successfully portrays the divided socioeconomic politics of Mexican culture through exaggerated (but not too exaggerated) stories of individuals. The camera moves slowly and allows each frame to last several moments too long in order to make us too feel tired. It’s a farce but also a piece that feels like raw footage of two daily lives. “Workers” is sophisticated in its filmmaking and evocative in its meaning without any pretension.
— By Ellie Kahn
Saturday was a beautiful day for the Spring Festival on Ponce, the kind of day that made everybody want to indulge in the locally-made ice cream sandwiches (with flavors like espresso and bourbon) and popsicles. With more than 150 artists gathered in Olmsted Linear Park, the heat was a good motivator as it drove people to seek coolness in the shadows of the artists’ tents. “Art,” as a very broad term, encompassed a nearly overwhelming number of mediums — three-dimensional paintings, wire-mesh sculptures, wind chimes with plants growing inside of them, locally made grills and more. I quickly lost myself, however, in the main event — the long lines of white tents and the artists inside.
There was so much to do that I found myself completely occupied for hours upon hours. A children’s playground constantly emitted laughter, lines of food trucks and local treats like kettle corn (in exciting flavors like “Rainbow Magic”) drew an ever-constant stream of lines and children and adults alike explored stalls all day with sticky fingers and face-paint all over their bodies. In the background of all this were local Georgian country bands and the occasional violist by the side of the park.
Perhaps one of the most special things about going to art festivals like these is appreciating not only the work, but the artist and method behind them. Despite the widespread talent of the variety of artists, I found that after asking, “So, how is this done?,” no two answers were exactly alike. For some, it was effortless. Inga and Evija, designer of handmade recycled wallets and purses, said that their cloth came from a wide variety of sources and were put together randomly to “keep the energy and uniqueness.” When I asked Nelms Creekmur, a local blacksmith, what inspired him to hammer words like “Walrus,” “Velvet” and “Snow Lion,” on his brass, copper and steel cuffs, he sheepishly shrugged. “My head gets a little hot and stuffy up there sometimes. Honestly, who knows.”
On the other hand, some artists emphasized the effort that went into the work. Ryan Holis, a professional fine art landscape and travel photographer, said that the main factor behind his work was “Research, research, research. I have to keep in mind the time of day, the angle of light, the season, the people — it’s all research just to get one good shot.”
When I asked Michael Terra, designer of unique ceramic three-dimensional poetry, what his inspiration was, his first answer was simply, “You.” He then went on to explain, “I basically get my inspiration from listening and paying attention in the little bits that are in relationships we see all the time. The mother and daughter, the parent and daughter, the lovers, the siblings. And in the course of listening … I get to hear this little nugget of truth. True things that all mothers and daughters talk about, true things that all lovers need to talk about, true things that all parents tell their children. And if I can get to that little nugget of truth, then I can write a story about that, and if I’m really good, if I get rid of all my ego in writing that story, what’s left is something that when you read it, it reminds you of something you already know.”
The most gratifying experience of all this, though, was not in the wares themselves — the delicious caramel kettle corn, giant turkey leg, copper ring or steel cuff I bought — it was in the artists, the real people that were making these pieces of art. Though I, of course, absolutely loved looking at their work and talking to them about their methods, I also found it interesting to talk to them about anything. I thought it was amazing that several artists remembered the conversations we had since I attended last year’s Fall Festival on Ponce — whether it was saying I “had a familiar face,” or excitedly gushing to me about how her dog gained 12 pounds since the last time I saw her. Making a human connection with the professionals behind their work was truly a heartwarming moment.
Though a lot of things made me smile that day, I couldn’t grin wider than when the women at Copper Dancer Designs yelled after me, “We’ll be sure to give Ginger a good pat for you when we get home!”
— By Emily Li
Across campus from the traditional Dooley’s Week events, Emory experienced a bit more than chocolate fountains and Chance the Rapper last week.
At the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts last Friday evening, the “Voices & Harps” performance of the Donna and Marvin Schwartz Artists in Residence, Moya Brennan and Cormac De Barra, presented an eclectic mix of traditional Gaelic and more contemporary music accompanied by Irish-Celtic harps.
I entered Emerson Concert Hall rather apprehensively, as only a guitar and keyboard synthesizer greeted me on the left of the stage and two harps sat alone on the center and right of the stage — I had done my research, but I still had no idea what to expect.
Featuring Grammy Award-winning vocalist/harpist Brennan and vocalist/harpist De Barra, the concert had been referred to as a “Celtic collaboration” in the Schwartz Center’s press release.
Both Brennan and De Barra are native Irish Gaelic speakers who work to preserve Ireland’s unique musical heritage, and this “Voices & Harps” (after their 2011 album of the same name) partnership puts this preservation at the forefront.
Although traditional Irish Gaelic songs hold a special place in their repertoire, these songs are intermixed with instrumentals and songs sung in English.
The character of their work is surreal and relaxing, as their voices are sweet and harmonious, with only the harp and guitar or flute acting as accompaniment.
How this concept was to translate to a live performance was wholly lost on me.
I was curious to see how it could be done, and I took my seat in Emerson Concert Hall, ready to listen.
The hall, a bit less crowded than usual, was quiet until the three musicians walked onto the stage, at which point they were greeted with polite, but vigorous, applause. The harpists went to their harps, the guitarist to her guitar.
The lights dimmed, and the performers began to play without a single word.
Vocal balance issues made it difficult to appreciate Brennan’s singing in the first piece (a traditional Irish song) as anything resembling words: the sound was muddy and difficult to decipher.
Whether it was only for want of a warm-up on Brennan’s part (jet-lagged, after coming from Ireland) or an issue with the sonic balance of the amplification, the issue was resolved by the start of the second piece, and the concert continued without any further technical glitches.
Of the traditional Irish songs, two sung in Irish Gaelic stand out as particularly exceptional performances. “Sean Duine Dóite,” which closed out the first half of the concert, relates the tale of a young woman who married a wealthy old man, expecting him to soon die.
But he has, as De Barra put it, “other plans” and the young woman finds him full of life, forcing her to look for ways to hasten his death.
As Brennan and De Barra explained onstage, a variation of the song can be found in almost every Irish county — a quintessentially Irish tune.
The audience laughed throughout the explanation of the piece, and during its performance, I could see the entire hall moving in time to its tempo.
Another piece worth mentioning is a lullaby that De Barra explained his grandmother would sing to him before he fell asleep: “Seoithín Seó.” Peaceful and evocative of sleep, the lullaby had a profoundly moving effect on me.
It certainly made me feel at rest, and De Barra’s luscious singing simply made an already beautiful piece a surreal experience.
It was an enjoyable night, with the banter between Brennan and De Barra bringing consistent laughter from the audience, with De Barra acting as the ever-amiable sideman. The music was part of a healthy, well thought-out program that stuck to its guns.
Pieces that are not traditionally performed on harp were selected carefully, such as the 1980 Grammy-winning Christopher Cross single “Sailing,” and the duo kept any of the selections from feeling gimmicky.
Brennan’s daughter, Aisling Jarvis, also joined the pair on stage, providing accompaniment on guitar, flute and keyboard while singing harmony.
The performers even utilized audience participation without resorting to clichéd gimmicks, teaching the crowd choruses so that they might join in the song, too.
The concert closed out with a lively encore performance, for which Brennan and De Barra called up two fiddlers from the audience to join the group on the stage.
The ensemble brought the audience to clapping along, and by the end of the song everyone was involved.
It was a strong, positive end to a solid, if eclectic concert.
I certainly gained a greater appreciation for my own Irish heritage and a renewed interest in learning about the past.
Exploration pays well.
— By Samuel Budnyk
There wasn’t a single dull moment when famed English indie pop band The xx took the stage at the Georgia Theatre last Thursday, engaging the crowd with their eclectic beats and soothing lyrics.
The band performed in Athens, a small city and the central location for the University of Georgia (UGA). The Georgia Theatre is one of the city’s main venues, located a mere two blocks from the University’s quad. The xx has stated in the past that they like to try new, smaller regions for their concerts in order to keep things interesting, and they certainly did just that this week.
The theater itself is intimate, with exposed brick walls flanking the large stage on either side. Deep velvet curtains, a vintage bar circa 1980 and an upper loft area created a charming set for the concert, and myself and other concert-goers noted that the inclined floor and tight walls made for great acoustics.
Mood Rings, an Atlanta based indie-rock band, opened the show with a short set. The five-piece band played punk-inspired and psychedelic-sounding hits like “Pathos y Lagrimas” that transported the crowd back a couple of decades.
After a lengthy intermission — which ended up being approximately the same length as The xx’s set — the headliners finally took stage. The xx includes Oliver Sim on bass and vocals, Romy Madley Croft on guitar and vocals and Jamie Smith on beats and the MPC (music production center).
Croft and Sims have been together since they were young: they became fast friends as toddlers before attending the same secondary school. The duo eventually formed a two-member band before adding Smith and Baria Qureshi for beats and guitar. Qureshi ultimately separated from the band in 2009 due to irreconcilable, creative differences, much “like a divorce” as Croft once said.
But now The xx has found its rhythm, and it’s a good one. Clad in their signature black ensembles, the trio sauntered on stage and began singing “Crystalised” without any opening remarks. They were immediately greeted with enthusiastic cheers from the crowd. The upbeat tune set the stage for the entire concert as the crowd watched Sim and Croft swing around and latch onto each other like magnets.
After “Crystalised,” Sim addressed the crowd, thanking them for their support and informing them that Athens, Ga. was one of their many stops on the way from New York to Texas, where they are going to record their next album.
The trio followed Sim’s introduction with a new, unnamed song that will be featured on their forthcoming record. The new song, much like their earlier ones, featured deep beats by Smith but more xylophone-like sounds than their other tracks. Before making their way to Georgia, The xx gave a series of small shows in New York City in order to allow for more experimentation and to strip down the production process.
The set-list, like the venue, was intimate. The trio played a short selection of eight songs that covered everything from old favorites like “Shelter” from their eponymous debut album to newer hits like “Angels” off of their sophomore record, Coexist.
During “Shelter,” the entire crowd sang along, hanging onto each word that left Croft’s mouth. The beautiful song seemed to touch everyone in the venue as the crowd swayed methodically to the beat. Her rendition was more uplifting than the version on their record. The fresh take on their classic song featured lighter beats and a stronger presence of the xylophone and chimes done by Smith.
With each song, the audience was able to witness the unique relationship between Sim and Croft. They floated around the stage together as perfect complements, swaying to the beats that they create, while Smith (also known as Jamie xx, maintained his position behind his beats-station in the back.
When they played “VCR,” which features dialogue between Croft and Sim, the vocalists danced together in an oscillating fashion, allowing their minds to turn over the rhythms that they played. Everything about their chemistry came off as organic and entirely unrehearsed.
The trio ended the concert with “Angels,” what I believe to be one of the most beautiful tracks on their sophomore record. The vocals are done almost entirely by Croft with Sim swaying behind her in the background. The song, like the end of a concert, had a bittersweet tone with the heartfelt lyrics contrasting against the sorrowful melody.
I first saw The xx perform at the celebrated the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, Calif. last year, but was equally impressed by the threesome the second time around. They maintained the same minimalism in both concerts with the simple black outfits and alluring lights show to complement the songs.
“This is nothing like Beyonce,” I heard an unidentified, female UGA student whining from behind me in the crowd in Athens. And yes indeed, she was right. At both concerts that I have been to, The xx created a show that is absolutely more unique than anything Beyonce could ever give us (no offense to Queen B). Their concerts rely not on flashy lights and gimmicky costumes but on the personas of the musicians and every note of the music itself.
The trio strips the show of all the unnecessary features that some would argue makes a concert an experience.
Their bodies and stage remain unadorned, the light show is striking but minimal enough that the music is the true star. In essence, The xx creates an experience based on their music alone and the dynamic between the artists, something that few musicians are truly able to do.
The xx does something utterly beautiful and unique in their concerts. Instead of playing the songs as they are on the record, the trio completely alters the beats, giving an energetic essence to their normally velvet-like pulses, leaving the crowd animated, enchanted and completely looking forward to whatever the next tour, and album, will bring.
— By Jasmine Tang
From one superhero fan to another, I can tell you that “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is everything I needed and more. Since Marvel reboots and future sequels seem to pop up like daisies from the two-year-old grave of “The Avengers,”
I entered the movie with an initial feeling of fatigue and low expectation: surely, it was going to be another CGI fest of corny jokes, easy morality, abs, bad guys with conveniently bad aim and technology porn.
It was all of those things, to an extent. But this sequel to “Captain America: The First Avenger” — I almost dread to say it — was different from all the rest of the Marvel clichés. It just hurt so good.
In “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” Chris Evans’ (“Fantastic Four”) Steve Rogers returns to center stage after being annoyingly depreciated in “The Avengers” film.
The film picks up after the events of “The Avengers” and “Captain America: The First Avenger” with the Cap as the goodhearted super-soldier extracted from 1945 America and slammed into a technologically advanced present.
Rogers finds that in the 21st century, America’s wars are dirtier and her espionage is more ruthlessly utilitarian and amoral than ever.
Rogers retains the embodiment of the “golly-gee” goodness of 1940s America; but this time, we see him struggle with the alarming winds of change and the disruptive ghosts of the past.
He keeps a little book worth of seven decades of cultural events he missed out on. (“Rocky,” Nirvana and Marvin Gaye make the list.) He mentions that the internet is handy, but he still struggles with keeping up.
When asked about his weekend plans for fun, he gingerly responds that he has none, for all the members of his barbershop quartet are dead.
These aspects lead to excellent drama and tension, even if it’s a familiar trope.
The best thing about it is that Evans pulls it off believably, confidently treading the line between campy and po-faced melancholy.
Meanwhile, Samuel L. Jackson’s (“Django Unchained”) Nick Fury, director of the government spy agency S.H.I.E.L.D., has developed a new weapon called Project Insight: an assembly of three mega-drones that can lock on and dispatch homing projectiles against any living target in the world. “S.H.I.E.L.D. takes the world as it is, not as we’d like it to be,” Fury says, to which Rogers retorts, “This isn’t freedom. This is fear!”
But as long as this power is in the right hands, we’re fine. Right? Unfortunately, Fury’s secretary Alexander Pierce (played by “Sundance Kid” Robert Redford) has other plans in mind that involve sacrificing 20 million lives for the “safety” of 40 million.
The Russo brothers (“You, Me and Dupree”) direct this impressively rich, yet balanced, behemoth of political intrigue, espionage and exquisite action sequences.
Some believe that the film’s subtitle is a reference to the Winter Soldier Investigation of 1971: a movement of hundreds of veterans and anti-war protestors to expose the heinous war crimes committed by the U.S. Armed Forces during the Vietnam War.
This piece of American history definitely adds to the achingly current valence of distrust against homeland security, a theme which this film heavily capitalizes on.
Or maybe that’s just gratuitous analysis getting in the way of what’s really important: the Winter Soldier is the name of Captain America’s new nemesis.
The Winter Soldier is, without revealing too much, a figure from Rogers’ past who matches him in intelligence, speed, strength and all-around demi-godness.
The enemy is a furious living corpse of a doppelganger who engages in a final climactic clash with the Captain that made me think:
If Rogers had been a product of our time instead of that unrealistically idyllic Golden Age, would the Captain merely be a part of the corrupt forces he is taking down in this film?
The character development is phenomenal here. “Iron Man 3” attempted at emotional darkness with Tony Stark’s Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but his panic attacks ultimately came through as groundless and, at times, rather shameful moments of comic relief.
In “The Winter Soldier,” Rogers bonds with Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie, “The Hurt Locker”) over the theme of coping with the heavy persistent guilt that follows after years of active military service.
Their comradeship is genuine and soon develops into a wickedly cool partnership. No doubt it opens up possibilities for plots in future “Avengers” films.
That said, this film has an alarmingly high body count: all to further achieve that ever-persistent filmmaker’s mission of grounding the superhero genre in gritty reality. A la Christopher Nolan (“Inception”), there are dire consequences for each moral decision the Captain and his team make.
Scarlett Johansson (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona”) reprises her strong female role as Natasha Romanoff, Agent Black Widow.
She shares a teasing yet wonderfully platonic rapport with the Cap, letting the right amount of vulnerability and humanity show through the cracks of her super-heroine invulnerability. “Hey fellas,” she smirks at Rogers and Wilson from a car window. “Either one of you know where The Smithsonian is? I’m here to pick up a fossil.”
Her character gets better and better with every appearance in these films: The time is right for a standalone Black Widow film.
The close-quarters fighting sequences are stunning as Captain America athletically rushes into battle like an American Achilles. Parkour games and anatomical-physiological lightning are filmed in flashes of cuts with the shaky urgency of steadicam.
Yet that same sort of raw camerawork cleverly and cleanly reveals the fine and intelligent emotional performances put on by the cast of actors.
There was a reason why I chose to buy the Captain America mug at the Marvelverse portion of Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure, over the Wolverine, Hulk and Iron Man ones.
Captain America is the pinnacle of the all-too-seductive idea of a truly faithful and honest hero to rest our problems on.
After the caveman fury of the Hulk, the borderline heartless sleaze of Tony Stark and the endless brooding of the Wolverine, the Captain serves as a much-needed breath of fresh air.
— By Malika Gumpangkum
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