Throwing stuff at the internet to see what sticks
Saturday, July 13, 2013
So I'll start by telling you what happened and then I'll tell you what I hope you'll do about it.
A couple of years ago, our basement flooded. It's not as bad as it sounds; only an inch of water or so, and it didn't even cover the whole basement, and we don't generally keep water-soluble items on the bare floor down there anyway, as a lingering result of some long-since-resolved drainage problems. But it did force me to clean out the space under the stairs, which is really the only tiny pocket of hoarder-ism in our entire house. I found some things I had no idea were in there. Like, for instance, a guitar. To this day I have no idea where it came from.
It was a smallish acoustic, and Trash wanted to learn how to play it. She's always wanted to learn to play guitar, and while it may not make much sense that I'd never taught her how in two decades of marriage, there had been two seemingly insurmountable obstacles to this. One was that Trash has tiny little Kristen Wiig hands that make it difficult for her stumpy fingers to reach any but the easiest chords. The other is that I'm a lousy teacher.
But this smaller guitar seemed to help with the first problem, and the second solution presented itself in the form of M. Edium's karate instructor, who we already knew was an excellent teacher but also turned out to be a talented guitarist. He started teaching her how to play, much better than I ever could have. And a weird thing happened once she knew a bunch of chords: she started putting them together. In order. In the right order. And with words.
A visit to Guitar Center later, Trash switched to a new acoustic-electric guitar made to be played by what she calls her "Muppet-hands." Before we knew it, her "guitar lessons" had become band rehearsals, with me sitting in on bass and running Garage Band on the iPad. We were playing, recording, and improving Trash's songs. Which are remarkable in their melodies, harmonies, lyrics, variety, and sheer number. Don't believe me? The ones you'll find here only represent a small fraction. And we've got more and better ones that we just haven't gotten around to finalizing yet.
We started playing open mic nights here in Minneapolis, and took part in a couple of acoustic performance festivals organized by local rock & roll bodhisattva Mike Michel, whom we'd invited by for a listen and who was quite impressed. And Trash came up with the only possible name for a trio composed of a large, powerful black man; a smart, hot blonde; and me: We Could Be Brothers.
But we haven't gone fully public yet. Until now.
Because our first gig is coming up. And so is the call to action.
On Thursday, August 1, we're playing our first full live set. We're playing at Veterans' Memorial Amphitheater in St. Louis Park. That's at 3700 Monterey Drive, in the park behind the Trader Joe's on Excelsior Boulevard. More good news: we're playing at 7:00 PM, so you can bring the kids or anything else you'd normally need a sitter for. And there's no admission fee. Bring a camp chair or a blanket and you're all set.
Trust me: we're good. Trash is an amazing songwriter whose music comes from even she knows not where. Jefe Dos is an ingenious all-around musician whose guitar, vocals, and piano bring the songs alive, and their intertwining harmonies are reminiscent of the Indigo Girls or the Civil Wars. If you've been to one of The Question's gigs lately, you know about half of what I can do with a bass. Trash has even mastered all her guitar chords. And don't worry; we'll also play some songs you know, even if you've never heard them done quite the way we do them.
So there's the push. Come out on the first of August and enjoy some good music on what we hope will be a great evening outdoors. We'd love to see you there!
Seems like we should get something good out a flooded basement.posted by M. Giant 2:16 PM 1 comments
Yet another reason for me to move back to Minneapolis. Wish I could be there.
Tuesday, July 09, 2013
M. Ovie Reviews: Monsters University
When James P. Sullivan (John Goodman) shows up at Monsters University, everyone assumes he's destined for greatness because of who he is. He's almost literally the proverbial 300-pound gorilla with the famous name who apparently doesn't even have to try hard to get great results, even as he's surrounded by lesser creatures who are doomed to failure despite working their asses off.
Kind of sounds like Pixar, doesn’t he?
Let's face it, the institutional genius that created Wall-E and Finding Nemo is kind of coasting when its 2013 slate consists of not one but two sequels. It's still head and shoulders above most of the other animation shops, like DreamWorks or Blue Sky or Sony, who may work as hard as Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) but are never going to be great because it's just not in them. As much as kids love Scrat from the Ice Age movies, they luuuurve Woody and Buzz.
The plot of Monsters University is lifted almost wholesale from Revenge of the Nerds, if Ted McGinley had been ousted from the cool frat early on and joined the Tri-Lams. It's more interesting thematically, though. And by "interesting" I mean "problematic." As long as I can remember, our culture has been telling kids that they can grow up to be anything they want to be. Monsters University tells them, "Not so fast, champ."
To be fair, the movie spends a lot of time finding the strengths of the band of misfits that the cool kids have written off as losers, to the point where the cool kids start acting pretty threatened. But mainly we're teaching kids the value of futility. As if Pixar is saying to its rivals, "Aren't you cute?" Yes, the Ice Age franchise is cute, but I'd put Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs up against half of Pixar's catalog, not least of all because it's the kind of movie Pixar will never deign to make.
As the saying goes, some are born to greatness, others achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them. Not to give too much away, but this is a prequel after all, and if you remember the ending of Monsters Inc. you already know how Mike eventually finds his. The other two routes are closed off to him in this movie. So I'm not sure it stands alone so well, even if it avoids including too many callbacks to the previous movie (in fact, it includes the exact right amount). And there are some decent jokes and sight gags and a very satisfying moment near the end that almost makes it all worth it.
I'm sure I'm not the only one who has tried to quantify whatever it is that sets most Pixar features apart from other animated films. I still haven't figured it out. But Monsters University, alas, doesn't have it.posted by M. Giant 1:17 PM 0 comments
Monday, July 08, 2013
M. Ovie Reviews: Man of Steel
Some people were nervous about Zack Snyder directing the new Superman movie. I suppose the question was which Zack Snyder it would be: the Zack Snyder who directed 300, a somewhat controversial but generally successful stylistic experiment? Or the one who directed Watchmen, another superhero epic but one that slavishly recreated dozens of panels from the graphic novel in the process of getting almost everything else wrong? Personally, I was holding out for the Zack Snyder who directed Dawn of the Dead, my favorite modern zombie movie (yes, even in a world where 28 Days Later exists). Alas, we got the worst-case scenario: Man of Steel was made by the Zack Snyder who directed Sucker Punch.
If one prefers to think of Sucker Punch not as a single narrative but as an anthology of over-the-top action sequences, it's not nearly as bad. However, that approach isn't really going to work for a Superman film, origin story, reboot, remake, or whatever this is. Look, comparisons to the best superhero movie of the twentieth century (yes, even in a world where Batman exists) are going to be unavoidable here, especially given that they both feature a prestige cast surrounding a little-known pretty boy in the title role. But that doesn't prevent Snyder from trying his best to avoid those comparisons. And being Zack Snyder, his primary strategy is to turn every major story beat into, you guessed it, an over-the-top action sequence. Which backfires.
Like, the 1978 version of Krypton made it look like the entire planet was some kind of new-age church. Whereas Snyder populates Superman's homeworld with steampunk Time Lords and tasks his Jor-El (Russell Crowe) with feats of derring-do that would have killed Marlon Brando several times over. A simple race up the driveway from Richard Donner's 1978 film morphs into a scene from Twister. Clark can't even discover his Fortress of Solitude without getting into a fight with a flying robot.
This is not to say there weren't things I liked. Most of the effects were pretty good, although the technology to make super-speed look anything other than totally dumb on film remains frustratingly elusive. Henry Cavill looks good in both The Suit and his Clark Kent civvies, though I wish less of his emotional range registered as irritation. The story structure is interesting, jumping back and forth through time rather than Superman: The Movie's rigidly chronological take (well, except the end there). I mostly buy the new Clark's story and motivation, as much as one can when talking about an all-powerful alien orphan. And I certainly can't fault the movie for having an unambitious scope or low stakes. I mean, almost literal planet-raping with double penetration? Plus the third act practically rains 9/11s.
Despite its destruction early in the film (sorry, spoiler!) Krypton dominates this movie. Old Kryptonian conflicts spill over onto our planet, along with overwhelming loads of Kryptonian production design. Almost to the point where at times I felt like I was watching Prometheus (another not-terribly-flattering comparison). Fortunately, Kryptonians also have the little-known power of Super-Exposition, an ability that allows them to explain heady interplanetary politics to each other even when one of the parties to the conversation is dead or unconscious.
And then there's the gender politics. The men are all brave and noble and self-sacrificing (even Michael Shannon's General Zod, in his twisted way), but female characters tend to be the object rather than the subject. Actually, the movie does fine with Kryptonian women, as Zod's lieutenant Faora (Antje Traue) and Superman's birth mother Lara (Ayelet Zurer) are both pretty bad-ass. But for such an allegedly tough broad, Lois Lane (Amy Adams) spends a lot of time being told what to do, threatened, and physically carried by dudes. And Martha Kent (Diane Lane) is just borderline batty.
Finally we get to the end of the dark, scary, brooding tale and the movie does something really irritating: it starts to get witty. Like, do you mean to tell me we could have been having fun all this time? It's like getting to hear one of Arnold Schwarzenegger's one-liners after you're the one he just beat up.
By complete coincidence, M. Edium is almost exactly the same age I was when my dad took me to see Superman: The Movie. I, however, will not be taking M. Edium to see Man of Steel any time soon.posted by M. Giant 11:47 AM 0 comments
Friday, June 14, 2013
You know, if you’re going to name your movie Epic, you’re kind of giving yourself a lot to live up to. But not as much as if you’re setting out to make a gender-neutral animated movie.
Which there’s very little percentage in actually doing. Every kid you know will see every Toy Story and Ice Age and Madagascar movie that gets plunked down in front of him or her. And if the girls in the audience aren’t thrilled that Jessie and Ellie and Gloria are on the back burner, well, their parents’ money spends just as well. Meanwhile, there aren’t that many boys in that demographic who won’t avoid an Arietty or Brave or even Tangled like a pink Barbie Dream House. So it’s actually pretty admirable that Blue Sky has gone to the trouble of making an animated action-adventure movie with a female protagonist and a hippy-dippy natural world setting. Something that will appeal to both, in other words. Even more admirably, they seem to have pulled it off.
There are some great action set pieces here, from vertiginous flying sequences to huge (relatively) battles to a nice exploration of what a heist scene is like when the thieves are centimeters tall. But it also doesn't skimp on the relationships that hold it all together, with a screenplay that leaves the obvious unsaid verbally and facial character animation that rivals Pixar. Yeah, I said it.
Yes, some of the jokes are corny and there's a lot that's never explained and/or doesn't hold up to analysis, but your daughters will love it and so will your sons.
I took M. Edium to see Epic the evening of his last day of school, so for him it probably benefited somewhat from the residual euphoria he was experienced. What a cruel irony, then, that later that night Trash made me go see The Purge.
You know the concept: a near-future America has solved all its problems by the simple expedient of suspending all laws for one night a year, up to and including those against murder. By a remarkable coincidence, the events of The Purge take place on that very night, which I guess is good because otherwise it would have been even more boring.
I don't disagree with those who have lamented that this fertile, high-concept idea ended up as a cheap home-invasion story. In fact, the movie it reminded me the most of was 2011's In Time, which showed a world where time was literally money, and if you ran out of it you died on the spot. Both movies present an alternate world that could serve as a fascinating thought experiment, if only for undergrads to sit around their dorm rooms going "what if?" Both premises are highly unlikely, if only because society would never grant the universal buy-in they'd require. Both situations offer the allegorical opportunity to say something thought-provoking about the way society treats its lower classes as disposable. And both movies MESSED IT ALL UP.
At least In Time was more ambitious, sending its Bonnie & Clyde protagonists on a temporal Robin Hood crusade that led them all over the place and brought them in contact with every manner of characters who would spring up in a time-based economy. The Purge confines the action to one house. In fact, for that reason, it probably would have worked better as a play, because it is a crap movie.
Ethan Hawke, arguably our generation's most punchable leading man, plays a character who seems to have the early potential to be interesting. He and his family don't participate in the Purge themselves, but he's still morally complicit because he supports it, argues its benefits to his kids, and even makes his living off it, selling high-end (yet ultimately useless) security systems that in this otherwise crime-free utopia are only needed one night a year. When circumstances seem poised to force him to become an active citizen in Purge Nation, it should get good. Instead he just turns into a poor man's John McClane, stalking his own darkened house with the contents of his gun safe.
And oh, what crushing, grinding poverty that aforementioned poor man endures. I don't expect a cozy, smug, suburban alpha-douche like Hawke's James Sandin to possess any tactical training, but who waits politely for the conclusion of a florid speech from the armed bad guy announcing his intent to kill you, when everyone knows you shoot that bad guy in the face in midsentence? Who responds to the forced entry of an armed, murderous gang by scattering his family all over the house?
But then look who he's facing off against. Except for one, all of the invaders enter the home wearing masks. To hide their identities? During the commission of crimes they won't be prosecuted for? Against people they don't expect to survive? Or is it because when you enter a darkened, unfamiliar house to kill people defending their own turf, you want your vision to be as limited as possible?
In fact, all of the invaders' actions seem calculated to creep out the audience rather than accomplish any actual Purging. Ooh, there's the missus, stealing quietly down the hall, unaware that a masked killer is right behind her! But he'd rather be all motionless and creepy for our benefit rather than increase his own chances for survival by shooting an armed defender in the back when he has the chance.
Which is the problem with The Purge: nobody behaves the way a person would actually behave in most of the circumstances presented throughout the movie. But maybe that's the point of the Purge: a society that would get behind it clearly has no sense of self-preservation left anyway.
And I paid good money to see it, so look who's talking.posted by M. Giant 12:21 PM 0 comments
Thursday, June 06, 2013
M. Ovie Reviews: May Movies
Obviously I’m pretty behind on reviewing the movies I saw last month, it now being this month and all. So I figured it would be better to do capsule reviews of what I saw in May in all one post rather than a full review of each of them, which I think we all know was never going to happen anyway. Better partial than never, right?
Iron Man 3I knew this would have to be better than Iron Man 2 (of which I remember nothing but a lot of whining about existential crises and daddy issues), but not as good as The Avengers (last year’s damn-near-perfect movie), and probably not quite as good as the first Iron Man (a revelation, in multiple senses of the word), and I was dead-on. Go me.
Here’s the thing: the comic-book title is The Invincible Iron Man, which makes it a little tricky to come up with the Credible Threat that every action hero needs to face. The first movie solved this by having Tony Stark spending a lot of time and effort getting to the point where he can be sucked through a jet engine and suffer no injuries that couldn’t be healed by a little Bondo. In the second movie, Tony’s greatest threat was from within. Boring. Here, however, events conspire (with Tony, it must be said) to hurl him time zones away from home with a broken suit and no resources, not to mention a whole new, much less boring existential crisis. In short, dude is in a position to take himself a really thorough vincing.
But here’s the great thing. If Captain America’s challenge to him in The Avengers -- "Take away the suit and what are you?" -- remains hanging in the air, despite how effectively Tony batted it away with a verbal response, then this movie is a case study in how actions speak louder. Turns out that even without the suit, Tony's still kind of a badass. 42 suits? Forget about it.
Not to mention, probably the most underrated area of his genius is in usability, because damn.
Based on a true story about one of the most amazing, remarkable, brave, spectacularly stupid feats of exploration ever undertaken. In 1947, Swedish anthropologist Thor Heyerdahl set out to prove that French Polynesia was initially colonized by Aztecs from Peru, who floated across five thousand miles of the Pacific Ocean on a balsa-wood raft -- by attempting to do the same thing. Most people who know enough about the story to bother seeing this movie already know how that turned out, but that doesn't stop the final reel from being as tense as that of this movie's spiritual sibling, Apollo 13. This isn't an especially talky film, for two likely reasons. One is that it was filmed simultaneously in two languages, so who would want to double an excess of dialogue? And the second is that six Scandinavian dudes, even confined to a tiny space for more than three months, much of which time is spent lounging around in boxer briefs, aren't going to get all that chatty anyway. Heyerdahl's persistent hope and optimism is probably intended as a beacon of leadership, but it starts to come off as infuriating as he insists that what they're attempting succeeded before. Well, maybe, but probably not every time. After all, nobody's ever been able to get an exact replica of the Wright Flyer off the ground, Sunshine.
Star Trek: Into Darkness
People seem to either like ST:ID or get pissed off by it. Here's how you know which one you'll be before you see it. Do you already know who Carol Marcus is? If not, you'll probably like it. If so, it'll probably piss you off, at least during the parts you're not busy liking it.
I have a whole separate, unresolvable issue with Star Trek movies anyway, which is that Star Trek is supposed to be a weekly series, not a big, overblown, two-hour-plus event that blasts onto screens at intervals of multiple years. I'm never as invested in the captain (with the exception of Benjamin Sisko) as I am in the whole ensemble, and the limitations of a movie series by necessity squeezes out any stories that don't center on the top of the chain of command. Like. I want to know more about Sulu, and all he ever gets is a moment or two. Not to mention the movies can't take on a plot that isn't about the very survival of Earth, the Federation, or humanity itself, because when they attempt that we end up with Star Trek: Insurrection and nobody's happy.
That said, this is a big, loud, dumb, fun movie. I've seen a lot of remarks that it's not a true Star Trek movie, as though such a narrowly defined thing actually exists any more. You never see people complaining about something not being a true Doctor Who episode these days, do you? That's because there are lots of definitions, and now we have a new one for Star Trek. It may not be as much of a reboot as a remix, with old elements like Tribbles and Klingons and references to Harry Mudd thrown into a blender with some 24. Yes, 24, and not just because Peter Weller is in it.
That's because both the once-and-future Fox series and ST:ID explore what happens when an open democracy faces devastating terror attacks and responds by becoming violently, self-justifyingly paranoid. That, I've decided is what the title refers to. The refreshing thing is that ST:ID seems to be arguing the opposite side. When Spock is urgently trying to talk Kirk out of a pragmatic but "morally wrong" course of action, one can easily picture Kiefer Sutherland thumping Zachary Quinto on the head and stuffing him in a supply cabinet before doing what he wants anyway. Just like I'm sure he wanted to when ZQ was on the show during Season Three.
With Trash being done traveling for a while, and me being between shows for a while, she's been insisting on having me go see movies some nights even when there's nothing I want to see. Hence Quartet. Here is a redemptive, feel-good tale set in a British nursing home for retired musicians. The cast is headed by Maggie Smith, who for the first time in her long and celebrated career gets to step in front of a movie camera with her actual hairstyle. As you can imagine, there are lots of fragile, wrinkly people drifting about at all times in various states of battiness, and there's so little happening that we spend the first half of the film just waiting for one of them to keel over. Instead, when Maggie Smith shows up, her arrival completes the foursome who decades before gave a triumphant performance of Rigoletto, and the rest of the movie is spent overcoming the entirely tedious obstacles that prevent them from doing a reprise. The most obvious obstacle is, of course, the fact that it's impossible to imagine any of the four (Tom Courtenay, Pauline Collins, and Billy Connolly fake-aged to look like the current John Cleese) ever having been opera singers, let alone now. So the end is of course a giant cheat, and then we have to see the credits that show photos of all the aged, frail, wizened supporting players in the glory days of their energetic, vital, balls-out youth. Which in most cases were taken after I was out of high school. Yep, it seems I'm one generation younger than people in nursing homes. The only comfort was in imagining the director's deceptively youthful presence behind the camera: Dustin Hoffman (75).
As for why I saw this, see above re: Quartet. It's easy to imagine The Sapphires as an abortive attempt at a star-making vehicle for Chris O'Dowd that never really got rolling, the problem being that if there's anyone not ready for a starring vehicle, it's Chris O'Dowd. It's set in 1968 Australia and Vietnam and is centered around a singing group composed of four Aboriginal relatives, so you can imagine there's plenty of social and racial injustice to really dig into. Think an antipodean The Commitments if the trailer had been set to the strains of "For What It's Worth." Well, in terms of how this movie tackles the heavy issues, the music's quite good.
Iron Man 3
Saw it again on May 31. Still holds up, mostly.posted by M. Giant 8:40 AM 0 comments
Saturday, April 06, 2013
I’ve walked out of three movies in my life. The first was The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and her Lover. I would have stayed, but at some point Trash had enough and I left with her. Not that I minded much; it never bothered me enough to go back and see the rest.
The second one was just a few years ago. Chao took me to see a movie called Audition at a midnight showing at the Uptown. I had stuffed myself to the uvula at a Brazilian steakhouse earlier that evening, and some time after this sad, intimate living-room drama veered irrevocably into Japanese torture porn, I pretty much passed out in my seat for a few seconds. Which was in the front row of the balcony. Looking back, I’m kind of surprised I made it out of there alive.
Tonight I walked out of Evil Dead.
I’ve been looking forward to this movie for months, if not a year. I loved the original, both as the scariest movie I’d ever seen as of junior high and as the camp classic I saw it as in my thirties. My personal hero Bruce Campbell had been talking it up on his Twitter feed, a friend of a friend did an uncredited pass on the screenplay, and I’m uncool enough to love a good remake. It was win-win.
I invited a couple of friends to go with me tonight, knowing Trash was going to want no piece of this. But then neither did they. Instead Bitter and Febrifge and I went to dinner, called it an early night, and I got home in time to go catch a late showing on my own. Mistake.
Not because I mind going to movies alone, because obviously I don’t. It’s just not a good movie. Or maybe it is; it’s just not for me.
Call me a wuss if you want. It’s not that I was scared; I had no investment in or concern for any of these asshole characters and didn’t give a shit what happened to a single miserable one of them. Plus I knew all the main beats the story was hitting from the original and pretty much where it was going from here, and I was just…grossed out. I realized that sitting through this movie was going to be a straight-up feat of endurance, and for what? Maybe it was the huge dinner again (Mexican this time) combined with my traditional Coke Icee, but when I started feeling physically ill, I asked myself, why am I here? What am I trying to prove? I wasn’t having any fun, and I didn’t want to get sick, so I left. Fuck it.
Sorry, Bruce. Sorry, FOAF. My friends were right. We didn’t need this shit.posted by M. Giant 10:41 PM 0 comments
Thursday, March 21, 2013
Man, am I behind on movies this year. I'm also behind on reviewing them. Or, I should say, it. Given all the TV I've been covering for TWoP since January, there hasn't been much time to get out to the theater. I really miss Icees.
But I have managed to see one movie in 2013, and I apologize that I'm just now getting around to reviewing it. As you may know, I'm something of a fan of zombie stories, which I gobble up like the brains of the living. So I knew I was going to see Warm Bodies, even if I wasn't all that excited about it.
I was wrong about Warm Bodies as it turns out. Not to not be excited about it, I was dead on there. No, what I mean is that I got the impression from the ads that the protagonist, R, is a living dude only pretending to be undead so he can blend in with the shambling hordes infesting the airport he's trapped in. That's because he's also the narrator of the film, and his lucid inner monologue belies the fact that he's actually as undead as the next zombie. It's just that his articulate, thoughtful mind is trapped in a decomposing meatsack that can occasionally produce the word "hungry," although we do see from his habitat that he retains some pretty impressive fine motor skills.
Every zombie story needs a mythology, including some aspect that departs from the usual conventions of the genre. In 28 Days Later it was their speed, in The Walking Dead it's the fact that the infection resides dormant in the living, in Shaun of the Dead it was their Britishness. Here, as in Coulson Whitehead's Zone One, there are two levels of undead. One is your basic slow-moving zombies, which don't look nearly as gross as other specimens from the genre and might even be mistaken for unwashed Goths; and the others are "skeletons" to which each of them is supposedly devolving. Basically CGI Deadites from Army of Darkness. It's not a bad setup for the story.
Unfortunately, it's not that good a story. I've seen Warm Bodies compared to Twilight but with zombies in place of vampires. Since all I know of Twilight is what I was unable to avoid absorbing through cultural osmosis, I can't really speak to that. But if it's an accurate comparison, I can see why a lot of people really hate Twilight.
It's probably not giving too much away to say that in a zomromcom, love will conquer all. Things end up working out pretty well for R, even if he never does remember the rest of his name (though an on-the-nose scene at the end of the second act gives a pretty clear indication of what it probably was). Admittedly, he goes through some shit to get there, so it's not totally unearned.
I think what I keep looking for in zombie stories is something that doesn't have a totally unsatisfying ending. They always leave me wanting more, hence my continued interest in The Walking Dead, which to date doesn't have an ending at all. As for the ending of Warm Bodies, all I can say is that I'm still looking.posted by M. Giant 8:48 PM 1 comments
Awww, I thought it was cute. It did take me an embarassingly long time to realize that it's a zombie retelling of Romeo & Juliet, though.