HHMx: Film and music reviews

Valley Hush - HHMx

Valley Hush
by Matt Brown

The air resonated with a hot thickness in Old City Hall on Thursday Sept. 24.

This could have been due to the bright lights or people packed inside Bay City’s casual fine diner. More likely it was in combination with the heavy tones of Valley Hush, a Detroit based duo.

First playing at a Hell’s Half Mile event less than a year ago, player and producer Alex Kaye and vocalist Lianna Vanicelli delivered a dynamic show. “Cause I feel it creepin’, feel it creepin’ through my veins,” sang Vanicelli, thoroughly describing the possession in the crowd as bodies bobbed to the beat.

Kaye, a multi-instrumentalist, thrived on his cream Jaguar guitar and brought voluminous sounds via keyboard. Surrounded in floral motifs Vanicelli was no less impressive, adding silken and soulful textures.

The duo was met onstage with Jeff Cuny and Dave Dionise. These players perform with the band live in order to produce the copious textures heard on their two EPs: “To Feel Small” and “Don’t Wait.”

The hazy tunes were a saving grace for the festival Thursday night, acting as an accidental antithesis to the raunchy feature film “Too Late,” which seemed to have left hellions burnt out.

Once the venue turned down the lights, allowing Valley Hush’s projector show to be seen, the heat seemed to slip away.


Ampersand Castles, Pink Lightning, Cold Blood Club, and Passalacqua
by Alex Kostka

Anticipation and ecstacy showed on the faces of those in attendance at the The Empire Room show on Friday, Sept. 25.

Kicking off the evening of music was Bay City’s very own and recently formed band, Ampersand Castles. Consisting of members from local and state area bands such as YUM (Cody Marecek), Tokyo Morose (Trevor Edmonds), and An American Underdog (Aaron Cianek), you could call these gentleman a supergroup. Providing some synth and progressive rock ‘n’ roll, they most certainly know how to put on a show and had no problem proving that on this evening.

Pink Lightning (Detroit) followed and was able to keep the crowd’s adrenaline high while providing post-punk, soul, and rock all in one set. Chris Butterfield (vocals) stepped up to the plate to bring his energetic stage presence. Everette Rinehart (Bass), Neal Parks (Drums), Neal McWilliams (Accordion) and Tom Bahorski (Guitar) followed Ampersand’s lead and kept the audience grooving. With an eerie sound that might remind you of Interpol or The Killers, Pink Lightning might be just what you’re looking for in a live show.

Cold Blood Club, which followed Pink Lightning, was one of my favorite performances of the night. The members who hail from Brooklyn, New York provided an excellent mix of new wave and indie rock with strong vocals. Kendra Jones (Vocals), Tom Stuart (Vocals, Guitar) and Emily Laquinta (Vocals) sang over a fun energetic mix of rhythm played by Tom Cordell (Drums) and Hilary Davis (Violin) and I must say, the whole venue was moving. Their most recent single “Michelada” hypnotized people with it’s poppy rhythm.

Closing out the night was Detroit’s very own Passalacqua. Spitting rhymes over rhythms throughout their set, these two have shared their voice before during a Hell’s Half Mile off season show. Members Brent Smith and Bryan Lackner, also known as Blaksmith and Mister, riled the crowd with their impressively interactive stage presence.

In regards to playing at Bay City’s festival Lackner says, “Everyone here is very receptive, which is encouraging for bands to keep coming back. It’s a really cool thing to be a part of.” There’s no doubt that the crowd’s response helped keep the energy glowing throughout their set making the night a success.


Valentiger - HHMx

PINES, and Valentiger
by Alex Kostka

On Saturday night, Sept. 26, Hell’s Half Mile presented a music line-up at the Masonic Temple’s Blue Room that featured an array of talented bands.

Kicking off the show with an ambient, shoegaze-y sound was Davisburg’s very own, Pines. Members Anthony Spak (Drums), Sam Boyhtari (Bass, guitar, vocals) and Logan Gaval (Vocals, guitar) are not strangers to the Hell’s Half Mile scene as they proved themselves during an offseason event. They definitely earned their spot at this year’s festival. Their performance shined as they provided emotional music and lyrics to win the crowd over.

Valentiger (Grand Rapids) had no trouble following the strong kick off by Pines. Brent Shirey (Guitar, vocals), Scott Rider (Drums) and Bill Kahler (Bass, vocals) played their well crafted rock ‘n’ roll sound to the Bay City crowd who seemed to have a good time. This powerful three piece can blend their instruments and pleasant vocals live. Their confident and fun set was the biggest highlight of my night, which left me wanting more Valentiger in the end.

The Lippies - HHMx

The Lippies
by Jordan Roberts

Explosive. Feminist. Totally Badass.  Hailing from Grand Rapids, The Lippies are a female fronted pop-punk band that offered catchy tunes and relatable lyrics to listeners at the Masonic’s Blue Room on Sept. 26. The band utilizes their emotional energy to discuss topics such as modern despair, nostalgia and what generally pisses them off.

The Lippies are comprised of Tonia Broucek (Vocals), Lawrence Kole (Bass), Taylor Shupe (Guitar) and  David Sparks (Drums).  Founded in December of last year, they’re already making waves in the midwest and west coast music scenes.

Their music is raw, energetic, fun and showcases influences from a variety of classic punk scenes that they proudly wear on their sleeves. Broucek is a vivacious vocal blowtorch who soars above cascades of distortion and punchy bass guitar lines, all to be grounded by a strong rhythm provided by the drummer. The band’s stage presence meshes so well it’s hard to believe they’re not well-seasoned.

The group’s ability to connect with the audience was a pivotal element of their show, while their message is the focal point of their art. “Shame on me for occupying space. Shame on me for having a face. Shame on me for having two legs. Shame on me for being a female in the first place,” shouts Broucek in the song “Sidewalk Talk.” These lyrics epitomize the band’s message about standing up for yourself, calling out oppression and objectification, coupling it all with a middle finger and a smile.

While the whole set was excellent, the songs that stood out were “Drop Off,” “Sidewalk Talk” and “Take a Ride in My Hot Air Balloon.” You can listen to their EP at thelippies.bandcamp.com, or if you’re in Lansing, Oct. 6-8, you can catch them at the GTG festival.


Stepdad - HHMx
by Dominic Arthur

Stepdad, out of Grand Rapids, closed the energetic night with a performance that literally drove myself and others out of the Masonic Temple’s Blue Room to a nearby bar. Stepdad drained the energy from the crowd that The Lippies built.

There were some minor technical issues going on throughout the night, but not even those issues can excuse their performance. There was a lot of eye rolling and a lot of “What the F’s” from hopeful listeners. The end-of-the-night performance left a lot of festivalgoers with a bad taste in their mouths. The lead singer, Mark Tafel, must’ve had a terrible cold, because I believe that a pained, crying child could hit notes higher than he did that night.

Stepdad is a band that sounds better coming from Spotify than live. They sound completely different. They sound so different that one would think they were different bands with the unfortunate same name. Everyone has a bad night, but their performance left longtime fans scratching their heads and wondering, “Who are these guys, and where’s Stepdad?”

The band had Pabst Blue Ribbon and wine on stage with them; but it was clear that no amount of alcohol was going to save them – or us – as the Masonic ran out of beer. It was a tragedy that almost ruined Hell’s Half Mile’s big Saturday night. Thankfully the bars were still open as festivalgoers were able to drink the confusion away.

Stepdad’s performance was about as easy to love as your real stepdad. Nearby bars should be thanking them for driving people into their establishments.


Too Late
by Peter Skrzypczak

“Too Late” is a film that tries too hard. It’s a neo-noir detective film that (anachronically) follows P.I. Sampson (John Hawkes) and is shot over the course of five long takes. Prior to actually attending Hell’s Half Mile, this was the film I was anticipating most… though it dropped that ball.

The whole piece wasn’t a mess but they clearly were not skilled enough to make a greater whole. When you start a film and say you’re going to limit yourself – particularly with five separate single takes – everything needs to be built around that. The movie’s locations didn’t lend to this. Maybe if they had created their own fictional town it could have worked, but instead they chose Los Angeles – a city too large to capture in one long shot.

The only time they get creative with the long shot is in the beginning. The shot splits in two establishing a new location that gives you a better perspective on the actors. That part sold me for a second. “The movie starts now,” I thought. However, it only did it twice (in the same scene too!) and never reached that level of creativity again.

The acting was adequate. I wasn’t really blown away by anyone’s performance or the movie’s characterization. Every female, except for the grandma, is either in their underwear or a bikini at some point. One female character even walks around f(or the majority of the scene) naked from the waste down

To sum it up, this movie feels like a poor Tarantino attempt. The director, Dennis Hauck, lauded the use of film as opposed to digital and moaned that you don’t get to show movies like that anymore. What gets me is the lack of understanding that what is filmed is what matters – not the method in which you film.


by Peter Skrzypczak

I cried laughing at this movie. It is a very dry, tongue-in-cheek film. However while I enjoyed this film, I have to say it’s not for everyone.

It follows the exploits of number one best friends and roommates Carl (Lenny Zimlinghaus) and Larry (Aaron Wertheimer). They have one week to pay $2,000 for rent to their new mean landlord. The pair, but really the whole cast, perfectly under acts the whole thing flawlessly. The purposefully bland acting cements it’s style.

It isn’t a perfect movie; but that’s not to say that I have glaring issues with it either. I guess I could say that I wish there were more jokes, but it definitely wasn’t lacking. A good amount of the cast also took a hand in the production side, which I assume helped the entire piece keep that dry humor. There were no outright apparent production problems that made me like the movie less. Funny enough, it isn’t the kind of movie where production problems would all that much matter. If anything it could have made it even funnier. And that’s the thing about this movie that may split it for people. It’ll either be just enough, or not enough at all.

Diamond Tongues
by Sammi Schenkel

This is a movie I was excited to see. It has a musician in her first acting role, it’s Canadian and is marketed for its great soundtrack. In the end though it left me feeling a bit bored.

Edith (Leah Goldstein), a struggling actress in her early 30s, is generally known for her roles in terrible films like “Blood Sausage.” Things get worse when her recent ex-boyfriend, Ben (Adam Gurfinkel), goes into acting on a whim and lands a leading role.

I liked it, not loved it. The cinematography was really well done ranging from loud parties to a quiet bar. The ambiance of the room was perfectly captured from the lighting, camera angles and the conversations. For her debut, Goldstein performed like a seasoned film actress.

Now to why I didn’t like it: everything was overdone in stereotypical “indie” fashion. Everything looked like it was bought at a thrift store, expertly put together in high/low design. Everyone was trying to look so unique, it left them looking inauthentic. This left no variety: no darker souls, no casual people in a t-shirt and jeans, nothing. It tryied to hard to be a quirky indie movie and didn’t bring anything new to the table. Besides, you can find better versions of this idea on Netflix.


They Look Like People
by Peter Skrzypczak

I love how the eeriness of classical horror set the mood. It wasn’t people getting maimed. They didn’t follow brainless, amorous teens as they blindly stumble to their deaths. Slashers and other similar movies have always been defended for the cathartic feeling they give the audience; I’ve never been interested in that. I don’t like getting introduced to a group a sleazy, irresponsible archetypes and then sitting for one to two hours to watch them slowly die off. Why is it supposed to be cathartic to watch a horror where people die in brutal ways. It’s because it is primal to see these kinds of things. Like anything primal, it’s easy to get behind it and doesn’t take a lot of understanding. This is a trend and defense I hate. That is why I love this film so damn much; it requires understanding and wants you to realize the troubles the protagonists have.

In this film we are introduced to Wyatt (MacLeod Andrews) as he meets up with a childhood friend, Christian (Evan Dumouchel), who he has not seen in years. Wyatt is nervous, paranoid and doesn’t plan on staying in town long. Christian has self esteem issues and listens to motivational recordings to get him through the day. This movie has one thing most other horror movies don’t: heart. There are a few scenes speckled throughout where we see the characters act like they are kids again and it is moments like this that give the tragedy more weight. Some people might say it clashes tonally but I would argue otherwise. It wouldn’t feel as real without these moments. Life isn’t all a drag. Why should a horror movie be all scary and foreboding? It’s more effective to build a sense of safety and familiarity.  

However, if the likes of Alfred Hitchcock or Sergio Leone were alive today they probably wouldn’t like it. They would most likely say it releases the tension poorly. I think it releases so much better than Hitchcock or Leone’s work. It all happens in a moving, profound way that takes a step back from typical movies of the same genre.


by Sammi Schenkel

Andrew Putschoegl directs this comedy/documentary about trying to get Tom Lenk (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) a one-man, one-night only show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Beginning with preparations in Los Angeles–where his super fans come and support him–as he perfects his alternative stand-up comedy act; we see pictures from childhood, drawings from audience members, all while back-lighting his singing and acting talent.

We do see Tom struggle as he puts himself out there, as any artist might. He is always laughing during this journey though, fighting off nerves while meeting two HUGE fans of his. One fan even has a Buffy room!

The film had a generally great reaction and was a well-told, honest and funny documentary about figuring out the comedy festival’s going-ons.

Lenk was a theater nerd, played in the drumline, and loved singing Broadway songs. He loves this about himself. Embrace the nerd in yourself too, even if the kind of nerdiness in the film isn’t your personal brand…

Uncle John
by Sammi Schenkel

Hell’s Half Mile had a strong buzz around this particular film, seeing that it starred John Ashton of “Beverly Hills Cop” who was in attendance. Steven Piet who wrote and directed, and the producer Erik Crary also tagged along to Bay City.

The film follows two different narratives in two different Midwestern landscapes. One being Wisconsin, where John (Ashton) resides, and Chicago, where Ben (Alex Moffat) lives a very different life. John resides in the rural countryside, enjoying small town life which entails morning coffee with the old men. Ben works in a firm specializing in package design and starts to fall for a pretty new co-worker Kat (Jenna Lyng).

As Ben flirts with Kate, rumors of a murder spark in the town where John lives. We see these two stories intertwine as it becomes apparent who Uncle John is. A love story begins, the murder is figured out and the ‘rest’ is up to the viewers to see.

The cinematography and acting were top-notch, and as this film is not one I’d usually run too. It was written so well, with repeated audio in two separating plots to put the story together. I really enjoyed it.


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