Wednesday, December 31, 2003

2003 Deathwatch

Well, I'm not really up for writing the big year-end extravaganza I had planned for today. I seem to have the SARS or some other new mutant virus. Chest-rattling coughs, wonky eardrums and a big leaky cement-head are what I have to show for myself on this New Year's Eve. Doesn't look like I'll be raising any flutes of champagne at midnight with the glitterati, but rather curled up with a warm dog and a snootful of Nyquil watching Dick Clark, if indeed he's still alive, or Dick Clark's head in a jar, if he's not so much.

So, should old acquaintance be forgot and all that jazz. Champagne for my real friends and real pain for my sham friends. See y'all in '04.

Sunday, December 28, 2003

Here is my Top 10 list of the best movies of 2003, along with those of my fellow cultural buzzards. I'd love to tell you I sweated and strained over it, making sure to carefully weigh each movie against the other, with an eye towards creating the perfectly balanced list, with just the right number of foreign and arthouse films, quirky choices, and a worthy mainstream effort or two. I've done that in the past, but as I look over my previous lists (this is the fifth I've done for CV), I can only shake my head and wonder what I was thinking. My 2000 list is particularly baffling. Is it really possible that High Fidelity and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon meant enough to me to include them on the list? And Human Traffic? I guess I vaguely remember that. But Winter Sleepers and Girl on the Bridge - I think I was trying too hard to create that magically balanced list when I included those. And my enduring favorite movie of that year - O Brother, Where Art Thou? - isn't even on the list, because I hadn't seen it yet by the deadline.

The 2001 list is better - I'll definitely stand by Mulholland Drive, Ghost World and The Royal Tenenbaums. Including Linklater's Tape, however, was a real stretch. Last year's list just makes me shrug. It was a lousy movie year and I suppose I did my best, although in hindsight Gangs of New York should have taken the top spot.

This year, I took less than two minutes to scribble out my list. It looks okay to me at the moment. A little documentary-heavy, maybe, but it was a good year for docs. I had much more fun putting together my 10 Worst list, which should be showing up at the High Hat soon, presumably after the start of the year. Watch this space.

Saturday, December 27, 2003

And now, just because it makes me happy, a picture of my dog wearing antlers:

Friday, December 26, 2003

Seems like my Christmas rounds get more convoluted every year, to the point where I should probably invest in a sleigh with eight tiny reindeer or just give up on the whole thing and stay home. Neither of those things is likely to happen in the near future, though. It does seem a bit much, flying from Austin to Boston, immediately taking the treacherous mountain pass to western Mass., returning the next day, then heading south to parties in Middleboro and Rhode Island, then riding a bus up to Maine the following day. Was it worth it?

In the case of the North Adams leg, the answer is yes. Much-needed laughs were had on the way and upon arrival, much-needed commiseration and venting followed, then more laughs, then more booze, then some groovy bomb shelter-era board games, more booze, then the usual wave of exhaustion that hits when I realize I've been awake for 20 hours. A visit to the Mass MOCA (that'd be the Museum of Contemporary Art) in the morning was welcome, too. I do love the big weird art and they've got plenty of it.

On the other hand, this year's trek to the south was a case of diminishing returns, and although you can never entirely count out the Christmas happenings in Pawtucket, RI, this was definitely an off-year. Not that it was a complete bust, just...underwhelming.

My ride to the South Station deposited me at the bus terminal almost three hours early, and the bus ride itself is four hours, and all this added up to way too much time for me to be alone with my thoughts about the Upsetting Thing. Not really the optimum use of my Christmas Eve. I gotta put it out of my head, but goddammit, it just ain't right. I demand a rewrite. I want Ashton Kutcher to step out from behind a curtain and tell me I've been Punk'd.

Finally get home to the ancestral manse, drop off my luggage, head over to dinner at my sister's. The kids are on a Christmas Eve high, which takes my mind off the bad stuff for a while. That continues the next morning, as dozens of presents are suddenly and violently parted from their wrapping paper. My haul includes DVDs, books, socks, and a digital camera. Here is the first picture I took, the remains of my favorite readin' swing, which was demolished by a falling branch during a snowstorm last week:

I've manage to avoid leaving the house for two days, except to get a haircut today, so I'm starting to regain my equilibrium from all the to-ing and fro-ing. I may make it through the holidays yet.

Thursday, December 25, 2003

Merry Christmas from Moonshine Mountain! Help yourself to the good Christmas corn likker. It's under the sink, behind the drain cleaner.

Saturday, December 20, 2003

Despite my repeated vows never to travel again, I'm off to points east in the morning. (That's the idea anyway, but the airlines may have other plans for me as usual.) It's been one of the all-time miserable weeks here on Moonshine Mountain, and I'm looking forward to getting away from this lousy soap opera and debriefing with my nearest and dearest over warm mugs of mead or what-have-you. I'm sure I'll be plugging back in here a few days hence, but if I somehow miss Christmas, may your stockings be stuffed with things that don't suck.

Moonshine Mountain: The Lost Months Part III

We are proud to present the concluding installment in our series of rare archival ravings from Moonshine Mountain.

Saturday, September 27, 2003

It's good to be home. Not literally "home," of course, since my mandatory detention period after being removed from my flight in handcuffs is 48 hours. Sheesh, you'd think no one had ever barricaded himself inside the lavatory with the drinks cart before.

Sunday, October 5, 2003

My first week of residency at Serenity Ranch has seen a startling transformation in my demeanor. To anyone who spots me cheerfully whistling as I gather brush, shovel manure or mend small holes in the fence, it's clear that sobriety agrees with me. As the last purple rays of the setting sun fade into twilight, I slip on an errant cowflop and fall face-first into a mound of bovine excrement the size of Ford Escort. It smells like victory.

Monday, October 6, 2003
At approximately 3:15 am, I escape Serenity Ranch using a shiv carved from my toothbrush and a bungee cord comprised of some 700 rubber bands. In the morning, they'll find nothing but my shoes.

Wish I'd brought my shoes.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003
I've been staying with a kindly group of marine biology graduate students in their communal residence. Since moving in I have learned how to prepare over a dozen tasty dishes using plankton as a primary ingredient, how to operate a mucous bag suspension feeder, and how to play "Uncle John's Band" on the acoustic guitar.

Monday, November 3, 2003
I have been asked to leave after Creech complained during the house meeting that I'd been tampering with the chore wheel. No hard feelings. I feel as though I've had enough adventures over the past six months to last a lifetime. As I hotwire Creech's VW microbus and peel out of the driveway, I can only wonder what tomorrow will bring.

This concludes Moonshine Mountain: The Lost Months. We now return to our regularly scheduling whining, already in progress.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Moonshine Mountain: The Lost Months Part II

Our series of digitally remastered, never-before-seen Moonshine Mountain entries continues…

Wednesday, August 13, 2003
Turns out I have to hang out in Vegas for six weeks waiting for the annulment to come through. The good people of Circus Circus have agreed to put me up in the John Wayne Gacy Suite for the duration of my stay. They’ve given me a job on the casino floor as a “cooler”; it is my task to bring bad luck to anyone who might be in the midst of a winning streak. This duty is generally accomplished by deploying my trusty bottle of seltzer.

I don’t mind the floppy shoes so much, but the red nose is a tad undignified.

Friday, August 29, 2003
Circus Circus gave me my walking papers today. In retrospect, it was perhaps not my finest moment when, fueled by an assortment of Happy Hour-priced cocktails from Bobo’s Big Top, I goose-stepped up behind a wealthy Israeli investment banker at the high-stakes poker table and announced in my best Colonel Klink voice, “The Jew’s got jack shit!”

Saturday, August 30, 2003
Attended my first AA meeting at the Little Chapel of the Bells on the Strip. Six individuals received their 30-day chips, including two Elvis impersonators. Nearly a dozen weddings took place during the meeting, each more moving than the last. After a frank chat with my sponsor, however, I now realize that participating in each of the champagne toasts was counterproductive to my goal.

Tuesday, September 9, 2003
Once again, good fortune has smiled upon me. It seems Roy, of the famous Siegfried & Roy entertainment consortium, was mauled by one of his white tigers during last night’s performance. I happened to be at the show and, while consoling Siegfried backstage, mentioned that I was currently between jobs. I start tonight.

Thursday, September 11, 2003
The Siegfried and Scott Extravaganza has been put on “hiatus” after only two performances. It’s just as well, as I was getting a little uncomfortable with Siegfried’s traditional pre-show sponging ritual.

Friday, September 26, 2003
My divorce is final and I’m free to leave the City of Sin. I bid farewell to my new friends on the city’s forensics unit, with whom I’ve been doing some freelance work over the past couple of weeks. As a prank, I slipped a drowned wino’s liver into Stuey’s lunchbox before heading to the airport. I’m gonna hear about that one!

Moonshine Mountain: The Lost Months will continue…

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Moonshine Mountain: The Lost Months

Between May 16 and November 16, 2003, there were no new entries to Moonshine Mountain. What went on during these six mysterious months? We’ve recently unearthed some astounding archival material from the vaults and now, after a meticulous digital restoration process, we are proud to present Moonshine Mountain: The Lost Months.

Friday, May 30, 2003
Embarked this morning on 17-day fishing trip. Traveled to remote location just north of the Canadian border. Supplies on hand: 12 cases of beer, 24 boxes of saltine crackers, 18 hearty wheels of jack cheese, The San Pedro Beach Bums: The Complete First Season on DVD, one banjo, one Learn to Play the Banjo in Twelve Easy Lessons manual, one checkered sportscoat, and the complete Harry Potter series of books on tape, as read by Vladimir Putin.

Forgot tackle box.

Monday, June 16, 2003
Returned from fishing trip a little older, a little moister, but a little wiser.

Friday, July 4, 2003
I celebrated Independence Day in the usual manner, by getting together with my Republic of Texas faction and plotting our secession from the United States. Red suggested the armed takeover of a number of Stuckey’s restaurants along the I-10 corridor. Goober read selections from his proposed New Constitution of the Independent Nation of Texas. Was particularly impressed with paragraph 12 of subsection 72: “Dripping Springs will henceforth be known as Goober Falls.”

Sunday, July 27, 2003
My 36th birthday passed largely without incident, unless you consider drinking 17 whiskey sours and piloting a stolen Jet-Ski into the Bush compound at Kennebunkport while singing “Baby Got Back” at the top of your lungs an “incident.”

Saturday, August 9, 2003
Was I surprised to wake up in a suite at the Circus Circus in Las Vegas this morning with an empty wallet, a raging hangover and a new wife named “Sally Dimples”? You could say I was surprised.

Moonshine Mountain: The Lost Months will continue…

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Okay then. Don't know how long it will last, but I'm feeling about a million times better than I have over the past few days. Had the right chat with the right person over the right amount of beers. Life? Confusing. Perspective? Fleeting. Moments of clarity? Priceless.

Sometimes putting off the Christmas shopping until the last minute pays off. Just received as a gift a $50 gift card for the nearby corporate book shoppe (which of course I would never patronize with my own money, as I am so damn noble and righteous). Now I can head on down there and swap it for a couple of presents at no net loss to myself. That doesn't count as re-gifting, does it?

Monday, December 15, 2003

I dunno, I don't think using this blog as my shrink is really doing the trick. Still haven't slept or eaten in, what, 36 hours? What I really need is that doohickey I just saw in the ad for that new Ben Affleck movie - some kinda memory-eradication apparatus. That would be handy, although like all futuristic inventions that seem like a really good idea, I suppose there are unintended Twilight Zone-y consequences, and I'd probably just end up stuck in an endless loop reliving the very memories I'm trying to escape. So - no futuristic memory eradication for me, thank you very much!

So I guess that means I'm stuck with my own electronic Dr. Melfi here. The regular readership of Moonshine Mountain (estimated to reach well into the single digits) may recall my little tribute to Thanksgiving, which I also used as an excuse to bash New Year's Eve, always my least favorite holiday (and highly likely to remain so as we ring in ought-four, all the pundits agree). Of course, this is the time of looking back and assessing whether it was good year, a bad year or just another year, and the arbitrariness of this is especially maddening here in the waning days of 2003. Because you can't just count the good days, count the bad days and see how it all weighs up in the end. As with the Oscar race, the first eleven and a half months of the year really don't count. I mean, sure, objectively I probably actually had more good days than bad this year, but once everything goes to shit, most folks don't have the ability to say, "Yeah, but so what? August 11th was really awesome!"

But then, I expected this. Six months ago or whatever, I just couldn't believe how sweet life had become - everything was swinging my way. A book deal, money rolling in, a great group of new friends and the girl of my dreams. And I said to myself, "Self? You know damn well where this is going, don't you? Long dark nights of blogging, that's where!"

But what are ya gonna do? As a valued associate astutely observed, summers are for love, love is for heartbreak, and deadlines are made to be broken. Six months from now everything could be different again, and if I got nothing else out of this shitty year (there, it's official), I did get my bestest friend in the whole wide world, this lovable li'l critter curled up loyally in my lap, the chihuahua-beagle mix name o' Maury. And that counts for a lot.

So, thank you for listening, Dr. Melfi. And I promise the next Moonshine Mountain post will be 100% whine-free.

Yes, I am a wreck this morning. Zero sleep last night. Am utterly emotionally exhausted. Feel like there's a 500-pound boulder on my chest. Feel like a sucker and a fool.

But hey, at least Sandra won Survivor. If Jon or Lill had won, you couldn't have got me out of bed this morning with a forklift.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

So, fuck it. Post deleted. Whatever.

Saturday, December 13, 2003

Couldn't find this on the Star-Telegram site yesterday for some reason, but I'm sure no one rushed out opening night to see it...

Stuck On You

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Well, it's down to the Final Four as the big rock 'em sock 'em Survivor finale approacheth on Sunday night. Tonight was one of the all-time greats, one of those power-shift episodes where everything falls into place and you remember why you love this show. If you do, which I do.

I never gave up on Sandra, even after her bonehead move two weeks ago when she re-aligned with Jonny Fairplay - a snake she already knew she couldn't trust - and helped boot Tijuana instead of Burton. Tonight was the payoff for that mistake, and it couldn't have been sweeter if it was scripted (conspiracy theorist alert). Lill somehow managed to do the right thing amidst her complete mental breakdown and now Burton has the dubious honor of being the first person ever voted out of Survivor twice. I still cannot believe Burton had the sack to say "Lill, I hope you can live with yourself for breaking our alliance" when HE VOTED FOR HER MINUTES EARLIER!!! Sweet holy Jesus, what a tool.

The Final Four are an eclectic mix, and it always seems to break down this way. There's Darrah, the under-the-radar nonentity (see Mama Kim, Vecepia and Butch in previous seasons), Lill the cannon-fodder oldster (Rudy, Paschal, Jan), Jon the devious supervillain (Rich, Lex, Amazon Rob) and my rooting interest, Sandra (Kathy, Helen, Matt). If history is any guide, Sandra is screwed, but I'm hoping this time will be different. Here's how it should play out:

Darrah is voted out first. She's an immunity threat, having won three times in a row, and she hasn't pissed anyone off. No one can possibly beat her in the final vote. That leaves Jon and Sandra with their goat, Lill. Jon and Sandra have to realize they're best off against each other, and there's little chance of Lill winning the final immunity, which is always an endurance competition. So she gets third place as she's already predicted. That leaves Jon and Sandra as the final two.

From here, it's not so cut and dried. Sandra gets Rupert's and Christa's votes for sure. Jon gets Burton's for sure. Tijuana and Darrah might stick with Sandra out of female solidarity, but they don't seem to like her much. Lill is certainly a loose cannon, and who the hell knows what Ryno will do? It may be wishful thinking, but I'm gonna go on record and predict Sandra as the winner of Survivor Pearl Islands by a 4-3 vote.

If Lill wins, I will shit stuff I have not eaten.

I've been obsessed with Survivor since the night it premiered in May 2000, and I remember immediately emailing west coast friends after the first show aired, urging them to watch this strange hybrid of "Gilligan's Island, Lord of the Flies and Battle of the Network Stars." This week the inexplicable cable channel Trio, which is apparently programmed by monkeys, aired some vintage installments of the Battle of the Network Stars, something I never expected to see again. I happened across the 1976 edition of the Battle and got a tape into the VCR about 20 minutes into it. Here are the highlights:

6:20 pm: Telly Savalas in a speedo.

6:24 pm: Host Howard Cosell says the following, and I am not making this shit up: "What a glorious view. The rugged California mountaintops. The awesome Pacific Ocean in the background. One looks upon it and feels as Balboa and his men must have when, in the words of Keats, they gazed at each other with a wild surmise, silent upon a peak at Darien. [cut to Farrah Fawcett jogging in white shorty-shorts] But these girls aren't gazing. They're getting ready. Getting ready for the running relay!"

6:26 Team members are introduced. The ABC squad is particularly impressive, featuring not only dueling Kotter 'fros of Gabe Kaplan and Robert Hegyes, but future esteemed directors Penny Marshall and the man the New York Times recently called "the best middlebrow popcorn movie-maker of his generation," Ron Howard.

6:30 Unofficial results: NBC wins running relay.

6:31 Telly Savalas lodges an official complaint. The last runner for NBC picked up the baton too early. ABC wins. Robert Conrad of NBC is not happy.

6:36 Conrad still upset. Threatening to pull NBC out of competition.

6:38 Conrad challenges ABC captain Gabe Kaplan to a 100 yard dash to determine the winner.

6:42 Kaplan kicks Conrad's ass in the 100 yard dash.

6:47 Golf? Are you shitting me? Fast-forward.

7:01 Dunk tank. A real disappoint, as no one manages to sink Robert Conrad. As Cosell observes, "Conrad voices his truculence." They really have to bring this show back. Can you imagine the thrill of seeing, say, Bernie Mac sinking some pompous jackass like Kelsey Grammer?

7:17 Penny Marshall bests Mackenzie Phillips in the obstacle course, thus proving she had access to a higher grade of cocaine in 1976.

7:19 Adrienne Barbeau running. She has my undivided attention.

7:30 For some reason, Howard Cosell is interviewing Dr. Joyce Brothers. She explains that the audience enjoys seeing the celebrities' human frailties. Isn't that what I just said with my dunk tank comment? Keep up, Joyce.

7:36 Volleyball. This is a real mess. Telly Savalas falls into the crowd, nearly crushing a small child with his gold chains.

7:49 The finals: ABC vs. CBS in the tug-of-war. Hal Linden is confident. Gabe Kaplan does a terrible Muhammed Ali impression. Lynda Carter is showing lots of asscheek. Juan Epstein nearly has an anuerism. It's a real nail-biter, but in the end, ABC pulls it off.

ABC wins the Battle of the Network Stars!

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

How 'bout a couple stupid-ass movie reviews I didn't write? First, here's Neal Cavuto of Fox News, who insists: "I like my Santa sober. I like my Santa kind. I like my Santa decent." Somebody break it to him, please:

Bad Santa

And from one of the highbrow cineastes at Ain't It Cool News, here's an early peek at The Return of the King. Juvenile and homophobic, yes. But I'll admit to getting a chortle out of the line, "You will shit stuff you did not eat when you see it."

Seriously, you're twisted.
You are: THE JOKER!

Which Batman Villain Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Struggling with the Christmas shopping? I know I am. Of course, there's always this:

I believe this is the Asshat.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Who is your ideal presidential candidate? Find out here.

My Results:

1. Your ideal theoretical candidate. (100%)
2. Dean, Gov. Howard, VT - Democrat (90%)
3. Clark, Retired General Wesley K., AR - Democrat (79%)
4. Kucinich, Rep. Dennis, OH - Democrat (79%)
5. Edwards, Senator John, NC - Democrat (74%)
6. Gephardt, Rep. Dick, MO - Democrat (66%)
7. Sharpton, Reverend Al - Democrat (65%)
8. Kerry, Senator John, MA - Democrat (60%)
9. Lieberman, Senator Joe, CT - Democrat (47%)
10. LaRouche, Lyndon H. Jr. - Democrat (44%)
11. Moseley-Braun, Former Senator Carol, IL - Democrat (41%)
12. Libertarian Candidate (37%)
13. Bush, President George W. - Republican (11%)
14. Phillips, Howard - Constitution (2%)

Looks about right, I guess.

Friday, December 05, 2003

Taking Sides

Thursday, December 04, 2003

My old grammar school, where my mother still teaches and my niece and nephew do their book-learnin', is closing due to mold:

Mold & Memories

Wimps. When I went to school there, they served that stuff with the hot lunch.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

24 Hour Party Pooper

For some reason, I’m still watching this show 24 every week. It’s easier to understand why I stuck with it through the first two seasons. The first half of each season made the real-time gimmick work like a charm, with the suspense ratcheting up to an almost unbearable level at times. But the powers-that-be could never sustain it, and things fell apart in the second half of both seasons, with increasingly contrived stalling tactics, ludicrous plot twists and endless perils for Kim, the fetching but dimwitted daughter of our hero, Jack Bauer. I complained that the show should have been 12, but no one listened to me except the other critics who stole my line.

Last season ended on a cliffhanger (the President being poisoned), so I tuned in again for round three. As it turned out, the cliffhanger was yet another red herring, as the show picked up three years after the events of the previous season, with the Pres all hunk-dory except for some goo on his hand and occasional lightheadedness. Now dim-bulb Kim Bauer is a computer whiz working in the same CTU office as her father, who has developed a heroin addiction while undercover with terrorist Ramon Salazar. Now Salazar’s brother has threatened to release a deadly virus in Los Angeles blah blah blah twenty-four hours blah blah blah. Meanwhile, President Palmer is still in the picture, but I can’t figure out why. His storyline is complete ass, and I can’t imagine anyone gives a shit what’s going on with him and his boring girlfriend. If there are no plans to integrate him more fully into the main storyline, then they should have just had him die at the end of last season.

Things started to pick up when Jack decided to go all rogue agent and break Salazar out of jail, and I was briefly interested again, but this week’s episode just pissed me off. I’m not a big fan of storylines based entirely on miscommunication (Three’s Company excepted, of course), and this was one of those “if only we could reach Jack, all this could be averted, but oops, he’s turned off his radio” numbers. Meanwhile, after a remarkable five or six hour stretch, Kim is back in peril again, as yet another CTU mole has caught her with her hand in the cookie jar. (I’d like to see an episode devoted to updating the screening process at CTU’s human resources department.) The only bright spot is the return of CTU pain-in-the-ass Ryan Chapelle, played by The Sopranos’ Monsignor Jughead, Paul Schulze. So…yeah, I guess I’ll tune in next week. But I’ll be cranky.

Over the long holiday weekend I rented the first few episodes of Alias on DVD, and now I’m thinking maybe this is the spy show I should have hitched my wagon to back in ought-one. For one thing, with all due respect to Keifer Sutherland, who does a great job of keeping a straight face through all the 24 shenanigans, Jennifer Garner is much more fun to look at. There’s one early episode in particular where she dons a blonde wig and a skintight blue leather dress that really made the steam rise from my collar. As opposed to 24’s rigid real-time structure (actually not all that rigid, since any point in Los Angeles county can be reached from any other point in Los Angeles county in ten minutes or less), Alias has a goofy approach wherein the A-plot might begin 22 minutes into one episode and resolve 37 minutes into the next (always allowing for a cliffhanger at the episode break). I can imagine this might get annoying if you were watching the show week-to-week, but it’s a hoot if you’ve got the DVDs and can watch a chunk of episodes at a time. In fact, the show almost seems designed to be viewed this way, as if the season were one long spy movie.

I also like the way the story plays out like one of those Myst-like computer games, where each spy mission results in another piece to the McGuffin, some kind of Renaissance-era super-techno-clock or something. Like I said, I’ve only seen the first few episodes, and there’s every reason to believe it will get just as irritating as 24 in the long run. And that’s when I’ll move on to Hack.


Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Sheriff Harry S. Truman
You are Sheriff Harry S. Truman.

You're efficient, dedicated and loyal, which makes
you the perfect small-town sheriff. And where
other men might have been threated by the FBI's
involvement in the case, you accepted Agent
Cooper right from the start, in the best
interest of solving the mystery. All in all,
you're a damned good guy.

Which Twin Peaks Character Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Hmm. Wouldn't have expected that.