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Saturday, July 13, 2013  

We Could Be Brothers

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.

By Anonymous Tempest, at July 16, 2013 at 11:03 AM  

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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


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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


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