Tag Archives: The Oakland Press

Coming-of-age film ‘Superior’ showcases beauty of Northern Michigan


Photo/Edd Benda

Birmingham-native filmmaker Edd Benda returned to his home state last year to put together the Upper Peninsula adventure film “Superior.”

The idea for the film came to Benda, 25, at a family Thanksgiving dinner table a few years ago. His uncle, Karl Benda, shared the story of a bicycle trip he took Up North more than 40 years ago with friend Dan “Dudza” Junttila, before they were deployed to Vietnam.

The tale inspired Benda to share the beauty of Lake Superior and uncertainty of young adulthood through “Superior,” his first feature-film as a writer and director.

“‘Superior’ is a snapshot of America in 1969, when futures were uncertain, and yet the most outlandish adventures remained possible,” Benda says.

“I was so fascinated by the time, place and adventure itself (of his uncle’s story) that I started writing this movie. Superior is not just based on their story — it’s more of a patchwork quilt mash-up of stories I’d listened to over the years. My dad is from family of nine kids who went on lots of adventures, and he was always sharing stories with me also.”

After graduating from The International Academy in Bloomfield Hills, Benda moved to Los Angeles. Studying filmmaking at the University of Southern California, he stayed on the West Coast after college, making short films through his independent film company “Beyond the Porch Productions.”

Benda shared his idea to base a film on his uncle’s story, and his team was interested in the project. Benda’s dream to create “Superior” became reality in summer 2014. He thoroughly researched the time period, considering his uncle’s story as well as life in the 1960s and early ’70s — especially for young men facing the draft — and the story line came together.

For 21 days, they filmed in the Keeweenaw Peninsula, the northernmost point in the Upper Peninsula.

The film crew, who were mainly from Los Angeles and had never been to the Midwest, also got into character, camping and living the Northern Michigan lifestyle the movie centers on.

“We not only spent time making this movie about an adventure, but were living it on our own,” Benda says. “It was a big part of the creative process.”

“Superior” stars Paul Stanko and Thatcher Robinson, as well a cast of what Benda described as “true-blue Yoopers,” noting he wanted to truly bring out the Michigan character.

“The movie takes place in Northern Michigan, and showcases one of the most beautiful parts of the state that I get to call home,” Benda says. “You couldn’t make this movie anywhere else — it had to be made in Great Lakes state.”

In addition to filming on location true to his uncle’s story, Benda wanted to make everything true to the times. Finding old vehicles and props was sometimes a challenge, but the bicycles ridden in the movie were those used by his uncle and friend back in the day.

While the film is only roughly based on his story, Uncle Karl has enjoyed being a local celebrity, Benda says. And “Superior” has been praised by people in the UP as well as nationally.

Following screenings in nine Michigan cities and locations around the country, the final showing of “Superior” is on Monday, Nov. 9, at the Maple Theater in Bloomfield Township. Benda says he’s excited to bring his work back home.

“To round it off in my hometown is what I’m most excited about,” Benda says. “This film is very much a labor of love of mine, and it showcases the state I love so much and the kind of world that created me. I went to school in Birmingham, and had a lot of friends and support in local community — it’s part of who I am.”

For more information about Superior and Edd Benda’s other work, visit eddbenda.com/. Tickets to the screening at the Bloomfield Maple Theater can be purchased at themapletheater.com/.


Rochester Art & Apples Festival back in the park Friday

Stephanie Sokol for The Oakland Press

Artwork, treats and entertainment will fill Rochester Municipal Park, along Paint Creek Trail, for the 48th annual Art & Apples Festival this week.

What started as one large tent and a few Rochester artists eventually was picked up by Paint Creek Center for the Arts and grew into a fair featuring more than 290 local and national artists.

Today, Art & Apples is Michigan’s second largest art fair, ranked 13 in the nation by Sunshine Magazine.

FYI: The 48th annual Art & Apples Festival takes place Sept. 6-8 at Rochester Park in Rochester. Hours are 4  to 7:30 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free, with a suggested donation of $5. Proceeds benefit the Paint Creek Center for the Arts. Visit www.artapples.com for directions and more information.

“Art is important because it allows us to see things in a different way that we might not typically see them,” festival Director Laura Bates said. “Once you get art into your life you start to see things differently.”

Karri and Michael Mohr of The Painted Garden have brought their hand-painted slate tiles to the Art & Apples Festival in Rochester for 10 years. Photo/The Mohrs

Karri and Michael Mohr of The Painted Garden have brought their hand-painted slate tiles to the Art & Apples Festival in Rochester for 10 years. Photo/The Mohrs

Milford residents Karri and Michael Mohr of The Painted Garden have brought their hand-painted slate tiles to the festival for 10 years.

Michael said Karri’s mother started the slate painting, and they picked up the idea because it suited their love of nature.

The Painted Garden’s art is made with imported slate, which they embellish. Michael said he and his wife enjoy working Art & Apples, naming it among their top three shows in the nation.

“The surroundings at Art & Apples Festival are beautiful — the rolling

An example of the Mohr's painted slate tiles.

An example of the Mohr’s painted slate tiles. Photo/The Mohrs

hills, Paint Creek running right through it,” Michael said. “The mature trees are beautiful, providing a lot of shade, which is always a plus, and the quality of art is always top-notch.”

In addition to the art, the apple pie-baking contest is a newer tradition to the festival, which started seven years ago and has become a favorite among guests, Bates said. Winners receive a pie plate or dessert dish created by PCCA artists.

“We have a few apple-related things at the festival each year,” Bates said. “This year, Yates Cider Mill will be doing the apple pies on Saturday, and the Boy Scouts will be doing their pies on Friday and Sunday. And we also have the apple pie contest in its seventh year. The contest has become a really good part of the festival that people look forward to.”

When festivalgoers take a break from enjoying apples and art, entertainment is available on the Main and Acoustic Stages, with musical performances in addition to dance groups from studios like Deborah’s Stage Door showing off their routines.

PCCA is still seeking volunteers to work the festival. Nonprofits work to keep the festival going, so proceeds from admission donations go to benefit both them and the arts center.

“Paint Creek is one of the only arts organizations in downtown Rochester and we offer year-round classes, exhibitions in Rochester, and do different outreach programs as well,” Bates said. “So I think the festival not only makes Paint Creek’s awareness grow in the community, and the region, but it’s also a fun way for people to become a part of art.”

Concert Review: Shinedown lets Carnival of Madness crowd be the boss

Stephanie Sokol for The Oakland Press

Brent Smith of Shinedown at DTE Energy Music Theatre on Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013. Photo/The Oakland Press

Brent Smith of Shinedown at DTE Energy Music Theatre on Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013. Photo/The Oakland Press

Shinedown lead vocalist Brent Smith was a commanding presence Tuesday night, Aug. 27, at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, uniting the crowd through both song and story during the fourth annual Carnival of Madness tour.

The group headlined this year’s lineup, which also included Papa Roach, Skillet, We As Human and In This Moment.

We As Human, from Nashville, started the show with a five-song set that included a new song, “Zombie,” which was co-written by Skillet’s John Cooper, and “I Stand,” which frontman Justin Cordle dedicated to U.S. armed forces personnel.

View slideshow of pictures from the concert by Ken Settle

In This Moment followed, with flamboyantly dressed and emotive lead singer Maria Brink leading the group through a six-song set that featured tracks “Rise With Me” and “Adrenaline,” closing with “Blood.”

Its members clad in black, Skillet turned in an energetic 70-minute, 11-song set, encouraging fans to throw their hands in the air during “Sick of It” and finishing with “Rebirthing.”

Papa Roach frontman Jacoby Shaddix, meanwhile, asked the rhetorical question, “Do we have any old-school Papa Roach fans in this (expletive)?!” as the group charged through its own 12-song, 55-minute performance. Shaddix got up close and personal with those fans, too, running into the audience during “Give Me Back My Life.”

The best was saved for last, however, as Shinedown opened its pyrotechnic-accented 14-song, 90-minute set with “I’m Not Alright,” bringing a bit of carnival-style madness with dancing carnies and the band members’ carnival-style stagewear.

Tapping into Shinedown’s faith-based roots, Smith asked fans to introduce themselves to each other and paid tribute to the group’s following, telling them they were the bosses — and then seeking to please with performances of “Diamond Eyes (Boom-Lay Boom-Lay Boom),” “If You Only Knew” and other numbers that turned into singalongs.

Shinedown slowed it down with an emotional performance “Simple Man” dedicated to bassist Eric Bass, who lost his dog of 11 years earlier that day, and ended the show with an inspiring performance of “Bully,” telling the audience to be themselves and not let others get them down.

On Tuesday, Shinedown certainly lived up to its end of that bargain.

Detroit native Porcelain Black teases album with live video series

Porcelain Black grew up in Detroit, and will be releasing a series of five live videos with personal intros. Photo courtesy of Porcelain Black

Porcelain Black grew up in Detroit, and will be releasing a series of five live videos with personal intros. Photo courtesy of Porcelain Black

Stephanie Sokol for The Oakland Press

Fans of Detroit native and musician Porcelain Black should know who is behind the music they listen to.

Alaina Marie Beaton, known more commonly by her stage name, began releasing a series of five live performance videos with personal narrative intros on her Youtube channel “PorcelainBlackMusic” last week.

“Coming from Detroit, it’s a very real place,” Black said. “I live in L.A., and it’s just so fake and different. I just feel it’s good for people to know your story and learn about you, to connect with you on more of a person-to-person level, not just like, ‘Look at my fancy videos, look at what I’m doing’ — people can relate to you more and know that you’ve been through things as well.”

The live performances were filmed during a private show at SIR in Hollywood two months ago.

Black said she spent a lot of time figuring out exactly what she wanted to discuss in the intros, and will film the rest in L.A., with each video having a different story.

The first, “Mama Forgive Me,” begins with clips of Detroit, as Black talks about growing up in the city.

She will also add personal intros to “Rich Boy,”  “Pretty Little Psycho,” “How Do You Love Someone” and “One Woman Army,” from her upcoming album “Mannequin Factory,” released through 2101 Records.

While Black sees Marilyn Manson as a musical and visual performance muse, she said Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails is her favorite artist. She considers Reznor a musical genius, though her father got her into music in the first place.

“My biggest inspiration growing up for music was my dad,” Black said. “He would put on Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, AC/DC, Nirvana, and would be like, ‘Who’s playing guitar? Who’s singing?’ He just schooled me on rock ’n’ roll.”

Breaking into the music industry came easy, but the journey that followed required a lot of work. Black was signed immediately when she was 18 and living in L.A. for one week, but she described the next phase as an “uphill battle.”

The industry was tough, and she says she had to be true to herself as an artist, be bold and have respect for her art, though it took a long time from when she was signed to finally releasing this album.

“Everybody’s journey is so different and so crazy,” Black said. “Stay true to your art and what you want to do. Don’t get pigeonholed and don’t get swayed into doing something that you don’t feel proud of and happy about at the end of the day. The industry’s definitely a f—– up place and it’s not easy at all. Only the strongest survive and that’s the way it is — it’s a lot of heartbreak.”

The sound she creates mesh dance music with grunge for a genre she describes as “industrial pop,” with a gritty, strong guitar sound.

“(I wanted to create) good music people like — that touches them. Music that can help people, empower them and make them feel strong,” Black said. “I just really hope (the fans) like it. There are so many musicians out there. I hope people see what I’m doing and that it inspires them to do what they want to do artistically and live out their dreams.”


Concert Review: The Backstreet Boys still have a place “In a World Like This”

Stephanie Sokol for The Oakland Press

INDEPENDENCE TWP. — Though the world is changing, there’s still a place for The Backstreet Boys.

The quintet proved that on Thursday night, Aug. 8, at DTE Energy Music Theatre, with performances of their most popular songs as well as new tracks from the just-released “In a World Like This” album.

Jesse McCartney opened  for the Backstreet Boys at DTE, performing new songs as well as his older pop hits. Stephanie Sokol/The Oakland Press

Jesse McCartney opened for the Backstreet Boys at DTE, performing new songs as well as his older pop hits. Photo/STEPHANIE SOKOL

Before the Boys performed, Jesse McCartney took the stage to open with “Leavin’,” from his 2008 album “Departure.” During his 12 song, 45-minute set, McCartney and his band were classily clad in suits and ties and danced with Michael Jacksonesque choroegraphy. McCartney’s upbeat performances of “How Do You Sleep” and “Body Language” prompted endless, high-volume cheers from the audience, while new tracks such as “Checkmate” and “So Cool” showcased his smooth voice through a more R&B sound.

McCartney’s concentration was tested when the sound system malfunctioned during “It’s Over,” but he continued singing and dancing despite the interruption. He also showed off his instrumental skills, and ended with his 2004 claim-to-fame hit “Beautiful Soul.”

Backstreet Boys started their 22-song, two-hour set in dramatic fashion,

Nick Carter plays guitar during at DTE Energy Music Theater. STEPHANIE SOKOL/The Oakland Press

Nick Carter plays guitar during at DTE Energy Music Theater. Photo/STEPHANIE SOKOL

emerging from beneath the stage amidst a cloud of billowing smoke to kick off the night with “The Call.” “Looks like you guys are here to party with the Backstreet Boys—I personally want to welcome all of you beautiful people,” Nick Carter said after the high-energy opening, and the group members’ humble personalities and sense of humor added to the light mood of the evening. Backstreet Boys constantly reminded the crowd that they wouldn’t be where they are today without their fans, promising to “party like its 1999” — when the group was at its career zenith. They executed signature boy-band dance moves throughout the show, with three outfit changes from white suits to grungy vests and casual looks.

And though celebrating their 20th anniversary, Backstreet Boys were certainly anxious to showcase “In a World Like This.” Brian Littrell said it’s the first album where they had “complete creative control,” and that it was created “for the fans.” AJ McLean and Kevin Richardson talked about their children, saying that becoming fathers inspired the new song “Show Em What You’re Made Of.” The album and tour mark Richardson’s return to the group after a six-year hiatus, and the joy of the reunion was evident on stage. “Permanent Stain” was soulful, while “Breathe” brought an ’80s vibe. The group’s sound has clearly evolved over the years, growing more mature and somewhat alternative while still embodying the boy-band pop charm that made them famous.

The concert featured '90s pop hits by the band, in addition to songs from their new album, "In a World Like This." Photo/STEPHANIE SOKOL

The concert featured ’90s pop hits by the band, in addition to songs from their new album, “In a World Like This.” Photo/STEPHANIE SOKOL

An acoustic three-song set toward the end of the main set showcased Backstreet Boys’ pure vocal harmonies, while they joked about learning to play instruments since they wouldn’t always be able to dance. Bringing about three dozen fans on stage, the group explained that the new “Madeline” was about ending bullying and teen suicides, and for “Quit Playing Games with My Heart” Howie Dorough directed each side of the DTE crowd to sing parts of the chorus on their own, adding to the fun.

Ending the night with “Larger than Life,” the Backstreet Boys proved they still have it, providing a music party that truly felt like something out of the turn of the century.

“Rifftrax: Starship Troopers” brings laughs to local Theaters

Stephanie Sokol for The Oakland Press

Science fiction fans seeking a laugh are in luck, as “Rifftrax: Starship Troopers” hits theaters in Oxford, Walled Lake and other Michigan and national locations at 8 p.m. Aug. 15.

Comedians Michael Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett are the men behind Rifftrax. The group creates comedic commentary to play over or be performed live during with films, the next being 1997 TriStar and Touchstone Pictures alien-bug movie, “Starship Troopers.”

Photo Courtesy of Fathom Events

Photo Courtesy of Fathom Events

“Expect a lot of dead bugs, of course, but also, it should just be a really fun show,” said Nelson, Rifftrax creator and former “Mystery Science Theater 3000” host. “(We have) always done public domain movies we love. But to do a blockbuster sort of excites us all and excites the crowd.”

Rifftrax started in 2009, and was based on the comedians’ original series “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” affectionately known by fans as “MST3K.”

FYI: “Rifftrax: Starship Troopers” plays at 8 p.m. Aug. 15 in the Goodrich Oxford 7, 48 Washington St. in Oxford, and Regal Commerce Township 14, at 3033 Spring Vale Road, Walled Lake. Tickets are available at www.fathomevents.com. For more information about Rifftrax, or other theater locations, visit www.rifftrax.com.

MST3K was a show about a man and his robots held hostage by mad scientists, and forced to watch bad B-movies. To amuse themselves, they added their own dialogue, talking over the films. The show aired on Comedy Central and later the Sci-Fi Channel.

“Starship Troopers,” a big, loud propaganda movie, was a popular request from fans, with a portion of it incorporated into MST3K, Nelson said.

A Kickstarter campaign helped them get the funds needed to pick up a big-budget movie, and after going to Sony about licensing, they were approved to give “Starship Troopers” the Rifftrax treatment.

Behind the scenes on Rifftrax, the three work to come up with plotlines and figure out which direction to take the films comically. Nelson said the fun part is bringing their ideas together and getting an audience response.

Whether the group is doing live shows onstage for more than 600 theaters, or creating MP3 recordings for fans to play along with the movies at home, Nelson said the group’s goal is to help the audience have a good time.

The hope is to have the audience “laughing for two hours straight,” Nelson said.

“It should be a lot of fun. If you’ve never tried out a Rifftrax, this is the perfect time to check us out.”

Musician Stewart Francke tells the world “What Makes Me Strong”

Stephanie Sokol for The Oakland Press

Music makes a difference in people’s lives. For musician and Saginaw native Stewart Francke, it saved his life.

In his memoir, “What Don’t Kill Me Just Makes Me Strong,” Francke discusses how music and the Detroit community helped him get through his struggles to

Photo courtesy of Untreed Reads

Photo courtesy of Untreed Reads

come out tougher, dealing with a bone marrow transplant and treatment for leukemia and overcoming drug addiction.

“Music was essential to surviving. Music changed my life and saved my life on many occasions,” Francke said. “When I was 17 and I didn’t know what I wanted to do, music helped me figure that out. Later, it helped me get through the transplant; it saved my life — literally saved my life. It’s that important — music is as essential as breathing.”

Francke has performed on tours with Bob Seger, Sheryl Crow, Eddie Money, Chicago and Hall and Oates.

He was named Most Popular Musician by Hour Detroit from 2002-2004, and won a music Lifetime Achievement Award from the Saginaw County Cultural Arts Commission. Francke also wrote as a music critic for the Metro Times.

Francke was diagnosed with leukemia in 1998.

Throughout the two years following, as he went through treatment and turmoil with the bone marrow transplant, he wrote songs as a way to deal  with the pain, as well as worries that his wife and young children might have to live without him.

During his struggle, he founded the Stewart Francke Leukemia Foundation as a way to help others suffering from the disease.

Concerts and music recordings brought in donations for the cause.

Through fundraising, Francke raised $200,000 to help minorities find bone marrow donors, because the process is expensive and it is difficult to find a match.

“(I chose this cause) because the disparity between Caucasians and minorities is enormous,” Francke said. “It’s so hard to find a match in the donor pool, that it was just calling out to be addressed. Detroit is a great blend of much ethnicity and races, and it was just something that needed to be addressed.”

Francke’s memoir shares his story, with commentary and flashbacks to different parts of his life. He said writing it was a long process, but helped him make sense of the situation.

“(It was) really cathartic to get it all out emotionally, to look at it in a chronological order of how things happened,” Francke said. “At the time, everything feels like chaos — a pandemonium. You don’t know if you’re going to make it from one second to the next. And then you look back on it, and it reads like a novel. Life makes more sense in retrospect.”

While the story itself is strong, Francke also said he is proud it was published eco-friendly as an ebook through Untreed Reads.

He said he wants people to approach his memoir with an open mind and take from it what they want.

“I want them to read it because I think it’s a compelling story, like a soldier that gets close to death,” Francke said.

“The experience helped me get some insight that I wouldn’t have had normally. The story is compelling — both poignant, with moments of great humor, real seriousness and battle.”