Six-pack Cinema & A Shot

As winter comes to Delaware, enjoy the warm sun and sand from these tropical locales, but remember not all—in fact, not much—is well in paradise.

Cast Away (2000)
Director Robert Zemeckis and actor Tom Hanks, who worked together effectively on Forrest Gump, re-team for this modern-day take on Robinson Crusoe. Hanks plays Chuck Noland, an efficiency expert for FedEx who finds himself stranded on a deserted island after a plane crash. Although the before and after-island scenes seem superfluous, the actor carries more than half the film by himself as he learns to survive on his wits…and with the repurposed debris washed up from his FedEx plane.

The Impossible (2012)
Directed by J.A. Bayona, The Impossible depicts the impact of the devastating Thailand tsunami of 2004 on the people in its relentless path. Focused on a vacationing British couple (Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor) and their children, the film explores the human tragedy of natural disasters—powerfully re-created on film—as this family is battered (literally) and separated in an unfamiliar and horrifying landscape. I have qualms with the focus placed on a Western couple amid a Southeast Asian disaster, but the human drama still resonates.

Lilo and Stitch (2002)
Plucky but lonely adolescent Lilo finds a strange creature that she mistakes for an especially ugly dog, but Stitch (as she calls him) is actually an extraterrestrial genetic experiment gone rogue. Feared as violent by his creators, the escaped Stitch is adopted and domesticated—somewhat—by the irrepressible Lilo. Woven into this “girl and her dog” tale is a backstory based on the Hawaiian concept of ohana, or family, where bonds of love and interdependence can overcome even an alien invasion.

South Pacific (1958)
The big-screen translation of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic musical about sailors and nurses on a South Pacific isle during World War II still shimmers with terrific R&H songs: “Nothin’ Like a Dame,” “Bali H’ai,” and the luminous ballad, “Some Enchanted Evening.” But the romance between Mitzi Gaynor’s Nellie and Rossano Brazzi’s Emile feels overblown on screen, in part due to the chemistry-free casting. Ray Walston as hustling Seabee Luther Billis is a delight.

Tropic Thunder (2008)
The parts are greater than the sum in this often silly, occasionally hilarious parody of war movies, as it depicts a group of superficial, pampered actors trying to make a war movie. Starring Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey Jr. and Steve Coogan, the movie contains some great moments and ideas (including Downey lamely trying to play a black character) but it suffers from Stiller’s inability as the director to stay focused. The best gag is a barely recognizable Tom Cruise as a profane studio executive.

The Year of Living Dangerously (1982)
A sterling cast, mostly unknowns at the time (Mel Gibson, Sigourney Weaver and Oscar-winner Linda Hunt), illuminate this tense drama set during an attempted coup in 1960s Indonesia. Directed by Peter Weir, this film has a lot on its mind (political turmoil, journalistic ethics, poverty, exploitation) and conveys it compellingly. Gibson and Weaver create sparks in the central romance, which is given further depth through Maurice Jarre’s thrilling score.

And a shot…coming to Theatre N in December.

Little Sister Screening Dec. 16-18
This offbeat dark comedy by fledgling writer-director Zach Clark centers around a strong if strained sibling relationship within a dysfunctional family. Colleen has reluctantly returned home to Asheville, N.C., to reconnect with her seriously disfigured brother, a recent Iraq War veteran. But she must also contend with parents and a community that have an out-of-date understanding of who she is. Ally Sheedy plays Colleen’s passive-aggressive stoner mom, perhaps her Breakfast Club character become an adult. For a full Theatre N schedule and more information, go totheatren.com.

Montana Wildaxe: 30 Years and Still Jammin’

And they’re as popular as ever. Catch them at The Queen Dec. 29.

There are a handful of Delaware bands that have been around for years and years: Love Seed Mama Jump, The Bullets, Dr. Harmonica & Rockett 88 and The Cameltones are just a few that come to mind. They all include plenty of cover songs in their acts, and they’re all still playing regular gigs, whether it’s throughout the summer at the beach or even this month in Trolley Square.

But Montana Wildaxe trumps them all, having played the local scene for more than 30 years. Their unique blend of Grateful Dead and Allman Bros. covers, psychedelic rock, and jam band improvisation attracts hippies and hipsters alike. It’s a style and vibe that’s difficult to describe unless you’ve seen them live.

These days, “Montana,” as fans affectionately call them, are as popular as ever, even though they play less than a handful of dates each year. While that statement might not make sense on the surface, it’s a matter of simple economics; the diminishing supply of live performances has resulted in an increase in popularity and demand, both with diehard fans and the venues still fortunate enough to host the band.

Uncovering the Cover Band

Back in the ‘80s, the music scene was a whole lot different, according to Montana Wildaxe bassist and vocalist Tony Cappella. Original bands dominated the scene in the tristate area, and now-defunct Wilmington hotspots like The Barn Door and The Coyote Café featured live and local originals most nights of the week.

“There were a ton of original bands back then, really, and if they had any chops, they had no problem finding venues to play in Delaware,” Cappella says. “I think a lot of it sparked from acts like George Thorogood and The Hooters, who really opened the door. Everyone who could play an instrument jumped on the bandwagon, hoping to be the next big thing.”

Cappella joined Montana Wildaxe in 1987, just a few years after Kurt Houff (lead guitar, vocals) and Chip Porter (rhythm guitar, lead vocals) had started the band with a few other musicians. The current lineup that includes keyboardist Dan Long, percussionist Tim Kelly, and drummer/vocalist Glenn Walker would form in full by 1991.

Porter says he and Houff decided to become a jam band for two reasons: they wanted to improvise musically, rather than being boring or repetitive, and their vocal and guitar abilities somewhat mirrored the godfathers of the jam band, the Grateful Dead.

“I’d probably seen the Dead 100 times by the time we started the band,” says Porter. “Jerry Garcia’s guitar solos were the most beautiful thing I’d ever heard. Plus, we could sing like Garcia and Bob Weir, who were some of rock’s greatest poets ever.”

Houff says the arrangement of the songs and the style of the music are big reasons why the band has stayed together for so long, even if in a somewhat limited capacity the last decade or so. “Each song, each night is up for specific interpretation. Each and every moment is the product of all the preceding moments.”

Houff says he knew the band would be successful from the get-go, but didn’t know it would be a lasting part of his life until sometime in the ‘90s. For Cappella, however, the first gig he played with Montana Wildaxe set the tone for decades to come.

“I remember my first show with Montana, downstairs at the Logan House. The place was packed and the smell of weed was in the air,” Cappella says. “I’m not sure I’d ever seen a cover band get a crowd like that before. From then on, any Deadhead within spitting distance knew about us, and they came out in droves to see us play.”

Low Supply, High Demand

After nearly 20 years of hitting it hard on the local circuit, the members of Montana Wildaxe decided to play fewer shows as they moved closer to middle age, with families and full-time jobs taking up much of their time. But rather than fade into the music scene ether, they’ve continued to show up.

“I think our musical chemistry is the main element that has kept us together for so long,” Walker says. “We are all very good listeners while we play and can pick up and follow subtle variations in the music as it’s being played. The crowds are proof that it works.”

Staff members at World Cafe Live at The Queen on Market Street feel as if it works pretty well, even though Montana only plays there two or three times a year (including an upcoming annual holiday show on Thursday, Dec. 29). Director of Programming Christianna LaBuz is a longtime fan who is especially looking forward to jamming with Montana.

“Their shows are a social event that everyone—the fans and our staff alike—always look forward to,” LaBuz says. “They’re wonderful humans to deal with on a professional level from beginning to end and their music is phenomenal. The guys also play with so many other folks and contribute their talents toward many of the collaborative shows we present throughout the year.”

When Kelly’s Logan House General Manager Tim Crowley was asked to plan a 60th birthday party for one of the bar’s most esteemed guests, the idea of featuring a live band upstairs was suggested. Crowley booked Montana Wildaxe without blinking an eye.

“They’ve been playing here for years, so there is certainly a longstanding connection between Montana and Kelly’s, but it’s more than that,” Crowley says. “If we have a big event and I have my druthers, Montana Wildaxe is my first choice because they always have a great crowd and bring an incredible, fun vibe.”

For Cappella, the high praise comes as a welcome surprise. “I think we can actually be a pain in the ass to deal with,” he says, laughing. “But I guess that’s with each other since we’ve been together so long. It’s nice to hear, though.”

A Literal Connection

So, what’s with the name, many people ask. Who is from Montana, and what does “Wildaxe” even mean? The genesis, it turns out, goes back to the band’s college days in the ‘80s at the University of Delaware. One of Porter’s roommates, an English major, coined the name while reading the Kurt Vonnegut classic, Slaughterhouse-Five.

“It was a big house, and one of the many people coming and going gave the name to our bassist at the time, who was always wearing a cowboy hat while he was practicing,” Porter says. “The character from the book was named ‘Montana Wildhack,’ but we changed the ‘hack’ to ‘axe,’ to reference the guitar. The ‘Montana’ part fit because of the big hat he wore.”

It’s a story that every band member is familiar with, even if they’re not familiar with Vonnegut’s sci-fi story. Neither Porter, nor Long, nor Walker, nor Cappella have read the book. Only Houff, who coincidentally shares the same first name as the novel’s author, has read the World War II satire.

“The biggest parallel I made when we stuck with that name is that Vonnegut writes the book in these flashes of going back and forth in time,” Houff says. “I’ve always felt like music has the ability to do that, to transport us to different places in our minds.”

Tickets to Montana Wildaxe’s Dec. 29 show at The Queen are on sale at worldcafelive.com for $13, or $15 the day of the show. Doors open at 7 p.m., and the show begins at 8.