Friday, June 30, 2006

I am tardy. I been swamped. I try to post later today. Maybe have to do weekend post instead. So sorry.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Just This League of America

Record: 46-28, first place in AL East

Did you ever read the Justice League of America comic books? You know the Justice League – all the great DC heroes like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman , the Green Lantern and yes, even Aquaman, teamed up to battle the forces of evil. If you read the comics, you might recall an annual “event” – a crossover with the Justice Society of America. Some dimensional gateway would open up, and all these relics from the 1940s comics like Hourman and Captain Ho-Ho and Dr.Codpiece and Tooty Frooty Man would show up and it was all very exciting…sort of. I mean, it was always clear that these “Golden Age” superheroes were second-rate and certainly not good enough to sustain a comic book of their own, but hey, they had a certain novelty value.

Which brings us to interleague play. It’s the same thing, really – for a couple weeks each summer, there’s a rift in the space-time continuum and all these strange teams from the National League like the Phillies and the Marlins show up to play their peculiar brand of baseball against the American League. And, much like the Justice Society, they are so severely over-matched, it’s a little sad. Okay, it’s not that sad, considering that the Red Sox haven’t lost a game since my post a week ago, having swept three consecutive 3-game series against National League opponents.

The Washington Nationals didn’t put up much of a fight. The Phillies were a little tougher, requiring walkoff hits in extra innings in back-to-back games, both courtesy of the ever-clutch David Ortiz. Last night, one of the few really good teams in the NL, the New York Mets, rolled into town. As it happens, this year is the 20th anniversary of the infamous 1986 World Series between these teams, and before the game last night, many members of the '86 Red Sox squad returned to Fenway to be honored before the game. (Bill Buckner didn’t show, but received an ovation anyway when his picture was shown on the Jumbotron; Roger Clemens was otherwise engaged, pitching for the Astros and probably wishing he had the Sox offense backing him up.) Former Red Sox ace and current Mets pitcher Pedro Martinez received a video tribute and a standing ovation from the Fenway faithful. The Sox have won 10 in a row and now lead the Yankees by three and a half games. Pedro pitches tonight against his former team for the first time since departing after the 2004 championship – must-see TV.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Hills Have Eyes

In my capacity as America’s foremost hickologist, I felt obligated to see this remake so that I’ll be prepared when the big money offers start rolling in for the revised and updated edition of my book. And indeed, there was some reason to believe it might actually be watchable; I did have some good things to say about director Alexander Aja’s previous excursion into horror, High Tension.

Hills gets off to a promising start with a credits sequence that’s like a three-minute version of The Atomic Café, but what follows isn’t much of an improvement on the overrated original. The set-up is basically the same: a family traveling across country stops for directions at a creepy gas station in the desert (thus proving they did not read my “Top 10 Things I Learned From My Day of Hillbilly Horror”, specifically #6: “The old man at the gas station? He's in on it, too.”) He directs them to a supposed shortcut that instead leads them into a deathtrap set by a family of cannibalistic mutants. Oops!

Aja has taken the curiously popular approach of assembling a group of characters ranging from the mildly irksome to the downright repugnant, so that, rather than rooting for anyone, we are left to simply sort them into the order we would most like them to be disemboweled. The makeup and gore effects are, of course, a technical improvement on the impoverished original, although no prosthetics can adequately replace the immortal mug of Michael Berryman.

The only major change is the addition of an “atomic village” in the third act, a setting lifted from the killer hillbilly movie Brad Pitt leaves off his resume, Kalifornia. Someday a great movie will take place in such a location. This is not that movie. My only question now is whether the inevitable sequel will actually be a remake of The Hills Have Eyes, Part II, with its motocross plot and doggie flashbacks. Because that I’d definitely have to see.

Bad Company

Not the 2002 buddy movie with Chris Rock and Anthony Hopkins, but rather the 1972 buddy movie starring Jeff Bridges and someone named Barry Brown who would eventually do guest shots on Alice and Barnaby Jones. Actually it’s a buddy movie and a road movie and a western and sometimes thinks it’s a comedy and sometimes thinks it’s a groovy counterculture flick. Brown is Drew Dixon, a goody two-shoes who falls in with a gang of young roughneck wannabes while heading west to escape conscription into the Union Army. Bridges is Jake, the charming but duplicitous leader of this mild bunch. The movie is episodic and the pieces don’t always fit together – there are some jarring shifts in tone – but it’s an agreeable enough journey.


This movie is shitdiculous. I can’t blame Richard Price, who wrote the screenplay based on his novel, because I’ve just checked out director Joe Roth’s resume on IMDb and learned that he is the man behind Christmas with the Kranks and Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise. Let’s blame him. This one goes off the rails early on, when detective Lorenzo Council (Samuel Jackson) questions a woman who has just been carjacked, Brenda Martin (Julianne Moore). When he learns her son was in the back seat, the movie suddenly throws a nutty –the camera’s swinging around, the music starts blaring, everyone’s shrieking and bugging their eyes, Jackson’s taking hits off an asthma inhaler and gasping for breath – and from that moment on, Freedomland is pitched at a level of hysteria so high, only dogs can hear it.

There is a brief oasis, about an hour in, when Edie Falco shows up and restores some dignity to the proceedings. In fact, she has one quietly intense scene that's so tremendous, for a second I thought she'd singlehandedly saved the movie. Alas, this is followed up by its polar opposite, an endless horrendous monologue by Julianne Moore that made me feel like I'd been dragged to some horrific off-off-Broadway one-woman show. (This has got to be her worst performance, by a long shot.) Then the big race riot breaks out. It’s just a little overstated for my liking.

Monday, June 26, 2006

True Colors

A peculiar day in Deadwood began with the return of Wu and Blazanov by stagecoach, soon followed by the arrival of a new character, flamboyant showman Langrishe (Brian Cox). I have no idea what they’re going to do with this guy, but his presence accounted for some nice, unusual moments with Swearengen: a leisurely tour of the camp (a set that just gets better and better – it’s a shame they’ll ever have to tear it down) and some chummy banter. (Discussing Langrishe’s theatrical enterprises, Al marvels over a performer who “farted seemed near an hour.” (Could he have been witness to the great fartiste Le Petomane?)

Another new arrival: Hearst’s cook Aunt Lou. She and Richardson have the makings of another great comedy duo, and after spending most of the hour in Aunt Jemima mode right out of a ’30s movie, it was sweet to see her after hours, flashing her mad Mahjong skillz and her contempt for Hearst.

Speaking of the boy the earth talks to, Hearst was at the center of most of the hour’s most memorable encounters. I thought the “people as dogs” metaphor was a bit overplayed (although Maury enjoyed it), but I must admit, it does look like there’s a place for Cy this season. His motivations are still murky, but I’m willing to take it on faith at this point and it will be interesting to see if he allies with Hearst or Swearengen or just does his own thing.

Other stuff: the scene between Merrick and Blazanov was another Twin Peaks-y touch, but good for Merrick finally finding someone on his wavelength. I hope there aren’t going to be a lot more scenes of the Doc coughing up brown pus. And it looks like those of you who aren’t big fans of the li’l General are going to be unhappy next week. Overall, this one wasn’t the barn-burner last week’s episode was, but things are simmering along and judging from the previews, will soon come to a boil.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Hey, it’s Casual Friday! I’m posting without pants!

I’ve got nothing new in the paper today, so here are some links of varying degrees of interest. First, an optical illlloooosion!

Is this the unlikely sequel ever? If you don’t recognize the character names, here is a review of its predecessor I wrote for culturevulture a few years back.

And I’ve added some new links to the sidebar: former Here Be Monsters proprietor Phil Nugent is back in blogness with the modestly named Phil Nugent Experience. And a couple other pop culture blogs I’ve stolen ideas from: What’s Alan Watching (which has a tidbit today about the forthcoming season of The Wire) and The House Next Door.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Certain Incidents Have Expired

The sixth season of The Sopranos was something of an enigma, starting with the question of whether or not it was actually a season. HBO would have us believe that the final eight “bonus” episodes next year are actually a continuation of S6, which is probably why they made a point of not referring to “Kaisha” as the season finale. Still, it was the last episode of the year and, judging from the general reaction on the Internets, folks were anticipating a bit more in the way of action and resolution. (Indeed, the powers that be may be wishing they’d blown up the Bada Bing as a cliffhanger, given the precarious state of certain negotiations.)

Taken as an act break rather than a finale, “Kaisha” worked for me; it had that air of gathering menace that characterizes many of my favorite episodes, even if nothing has yet come of it. But the most recent batch of episodes was admittedly flawed, hit-and-miss after getting off to a very strong start. I’m not sure where I read this, but my understanding is that the decision to add extra episodes came after the first five or so had been shot. I have no trouble believing this, as the momentum was somewhat derailed by digressions and (literal) side trips, some more successful than others. (I would rank the mid-season episode “Luxury Lounge” – which rehashed Christopher’s Hollywood dreams and Artie’s restaurant woes – at the bottom, despite a couple of killer scenes.) Herewith, kicking off the Thursday Five feature, are my top 5 episodes of season 6 (or season 6.1 or whatever it was) of The Sopranos:

5. Live Free or Die Yes, Vito’s adventures in Gay Hampshire probably ate up a bit too much screen time this year, but the episode that introduced us all to Johnnycakes was classic “Where is this going?” Sopranos. Vito flees New Jersey, blows a tire in a rainstorm and, dressed like Little Red Riding Hood, wanders into a fairytale New England town. Vito discovering his eye for antiques as X’s “Fourth of July” cranks up on the soundtrack is a neat distillation of the season-long theme of alternate lives and the road not taken.

4. Mr. and Mrs. John Sacrimoni Request An alternate title for the series might have been Four Hundred Funerals and a Wedding. We’ve come close before – Janice tried on a wedding dress and Adriana suffered through a bridal shower – but those nuptials didn’t quite come to fruition, and when Christopher did finally tie the knot this season, it was an off-screen drive-through job in Atlantic City. So it’s probably fitting that the one time we see the whole gang gather to celebrate wedded bliss, it’s for a character we’ve never seen before, Allegra Sacrimoni. (“Allegra,” says Christopher, “isn’t that a cold medicine?”) And it’s the tackiest wedding a mob boss could buy for his daughter, complete with metal detectors, clandestine plotting, a schmaltzy rendition of “Daddy’s Little Girl,” and the forced removal of a tearful Johnny Sack, who loses all his power in the blink of an eye.

3. Cold Stones As Sopranos fans are well aware, it’s generally the penultimate episode that packs the most fireworks, and such was the case again here. Vito learns that you can’t go home again, Silvio and Carlo carve up a side of beef in the back of the pork store, and Carmela has a haunting encounter with Adriana on the streets of Paris.

1. & 2. Join the Club/Mayham I’ve ranked these together as they are essentially a two-part episode depicting Coma Tony’s adventures in limbo/dreamland/Costa Mesa. Usually hearing Gandolfini speak in his real voice drives me crazy; Tony Soprano’s guttural accent is so firmly imbedded in my consciousness, the real thing sounds phony. Here is the exception, an alternate Tony as regular guy schlub and sweet-natured family man in existential crisis. His identity has been swapped with a salesman named Kevin Finnerty and he can’t find his way back home. Buddhist monks accuse him of selling them a faulty heating system. He falls down a stairwell and is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He makes his way to a Shining-like hotel, where he is greeted by a man in a tuxedo who could be his dead cousin or the grim reaper or both. For some strange reason, a lot of people hated these episodes. That’s okay. For me, they’re everything I love about The Sopranos: strange, funny and oddly moving. And if you don’t like that stuff, hey, Paulie whacks some guys, too.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

I Am Not the Fine Man You Take Me For

Now ain’t that a fine fuckin’ portrait of the artist at work? Alas, after the drink-throwin’ and throat-slittin’, our man Swearengen would find himself in unfamiliar territory and learn first-hand (ouch) that he was no longer the biggest fish in the muddy Deadwood pond.

It was quite a week in our favorite western town, with developments that need interpretatin’ on every front. (And with that, I will now forego further attempts at writing in the dialect, although it’s mighty addicting.) The stage was set with a theatrical flourish when a drunk launched into a pre-dawn monologue from the platform outside the Gem, orating how his life had gone to hell in Deadwood, then stumbled and broke his neck for good measure. Call me Sherlock, but somehow this struck me as a harbinger of sorts.

The emergence of Hearst as a major threat to Swearengen’s power is not so much unexpected, but Major Dad is well on his way to claiming the Who Knew He Had It In Him? award for his performance as a worthy adversary. Being an actual historical figure and all, Hearst adds an unusual element of suspense to the proceedings; unless David Milch takes some mighty big liberties, it’s clear he isn’t going to end up as dinner for Wu’s pigs (here’s the wikipedia entry on the real George Hearst). Has Al’s time passed, or can he muster some sort of victory consistent with the historical record? His alliance with Bullock, which could have played like Captain Kirk and Karl Klingon teaming up to take on a greater threat from the Whiffenpoof dimension, instead feels completely earned and right for the story.

On the other hand, aside from the not-since-Abbott-and-Costello comedy stylings of Leon and Con Stapleton, I have little interest in the goings on at the Bella Union these days. It seems extraneous now, and Bible Cy is flirting dangerously with “Ben Horne in the Civil War” territory (the other six of you who stuck with Twin Peaks through the second season know of which I speak). Of course, I don’t know what’s coming and there may be a payoff, but I wonder if Cy should have gone ahead and died of his gut wound (like I often wish Janice Soprano had left Jersey for good after Livia’s funeral).

Otherwise, the episode was an embarrassment of riches: Farnum’s “vote for me, I’m not a Jew” campaign speech; Jane’s sober and profanity free Custer lecture; some more delightful frontier medicine; Bullock and I discovering simultaneously that his wife is a hot schoolmarm, especially when she’s angry. And can we all get together and take poor Ellsworth out for a beer? I bet he wishes he was still beholden to no human cocksucker.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Escape From the Errordome

Sorry. I need another day for Deadwood. But it will be worth it! Ha ha ha, no, I joke. It so won’t be. Anyway, I’ll do the Red Sox stuff today and then tomorrow Deadwood for sure.

Record: 40-28, first place in AL East

A week ago the Sox arrived in Minneapolis for a three game set against the Twins at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. It’s probably best not to have big expectations for a building named after Hubert Humphrey, and indeed, the Metrodome is a hellish place for a baseball game, what with its Hefty bag walls and shag carpeting and migraine-inducing crowd noise. The series was summed up nicely in one swing of the bat by David Ortiz, who launched a screaming 450-foot homerun that instead clunked off a speaker hanging from the rafters and bounced onto the field for a single.

The first game was actually a taut pitcher’s duel between Schilling and Santana that went into extra innings and was blown in spectacular fashion by Julian Tavarez, he of the face (and the arm) only a mother could love. The bullpen explosion continued for the next two nights, and the Sox were swept by the Twins. On to Atlanta for an interleague series with the reeling Braves, who proved to be just what the doctor ordered. Playing in Atlanta offers its own annoyances, not so much with the stadium itself as with the embarrassing and incessant war-whooping, tom-tom drumming and tomahawk chopping. The Braves fans didn’t have much to whoop, drum or chop about, however, as their downward spiral continued and they fell to the Sox in all three games. I particularly enjoyed new Brave Edgar Renteria’s futility in the series, considering he played shortstop like Fred Sanford last year in Boston.

Opening a homestand against the Washington Nationals last night, the Red Sox had a problem: no starting pitcher. With Matt Clement on the disabled list and David Wells apparently in the witness protection program, the team snagged someone named Kyle Snyder off waivers from the Kansas City Royals. Basically, they needed a warm body on the mound, so they went with a guy who was dumped by the worst team in baseball. It’s so crazy it just might work! And it did – the kid did an okay job, giving up three runs in five innings, the offense piled up six runs and the bullpen managed to hold the lead. With the Yankees losing three in a row, the Red Sox now have a two game lead in the American League East.

On a semi-related note, on Friday night I attended a Round Rock Express game. Why would I do such a thing? Well, the Express are the AAA affiliate of the Houston Astros, and on that night Roger Clemens was pitching his final tune-up start before reporting to the major leagues. I happened to see this announced the morning he signed with the Astros and must have been one of the first people to snap up a ticket, because I had a great seat – second row, right behind home plate. Five seats over from Matthew McConaughey, Lance Armstrong and Governor Haircut. (I should mention that the teenage girl sitting in front of me just happened to have some 8x10 glossies of Matty Mac in her possession which, so far as I can tell, she had snapped while sitting behind him at the Rose Bowl in January. I guess restraining orders aren’t what they used to be.) Anyway, the Rocket sputtered in the first inning, giving up three runs, but settled down after that. I left after the fifth inning to beat the traffic because, hey, it was a Round Rock Express game. True, it was Fireworks Friday, but still.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Do You Know What I Idi Amin?

Now making their way back to Netflix headquarters:

The Culpepper Cattle Co.

This 1972 western suggests what Lonesome Dove might have been like if Call and Gus hadn't been around and we'd just been left with the idjits, goons and callow youth. It starts out about as gritty as The Apple Dumpling Gang, with gee-whiz kid Ben Mockridge signing on with grumpy Frank Culpepper’s cattle drive to serve as the cook’s “Little Mary.” Stick with it, though, and it does get rougher as it goes along, especially once Ben is sent to a truly dank and dangerous looking cantina to recruit some desperate characters for the drive. Pretty good Peckinpah Lite ending, as the gang comes to the aid of creepy preacher Brother Efram, who doesn’t exactly seem grateful for their efforts.

The Passenger

I taped this movie back during my big Nicholson phase in the ’80s and never did manage to get more than 10-15 minutes into it, despite at least a half dozen attempts. It’s finally available on DVD and now that I’ve seen it, I’m not sure why I had so much trouble with it back then. True, it’s a little pokey in the early going, but this is Antonioni after all, the guy who takes a thriller premise (reporter switches identities with dead arms dealer) and turns it into an existential quest. With a car chase. And a very long continuous shot at the end that should be more famous than it is. At least, I don’t recall it ever coming up whenever folks discuss the first shots of Touch of Evil or The Player. It’s a great one, though, encompassing many mysterious elements as it pushes out the barred window of Nicholson’s hotel room, into a courtyard, circles around and comes back again. I re-watched this scene with Nicholson’s audio commentary, hoping to get some insight. Here is my recreation thereof:

(Nicholson voice): “Still the same shot…still the same shot…still the same shot…still the same shot…”

Really, that’s about it, although at the end he does reveal how the camera got through the window bars (which I had already guessed). Anyway, the movie as a whole is moody and intriguing, albeit somewhat flawed by Maria Schneider’s performance, which was…just odd, really. I do have an inexplicable fondness for movies set in tumultuous African countries in the ’60s and ’70s – something about the contrast between the Space Age, jet-set look of the cities and the jungles hopping with machete-wielding guerillas conducting an endless series of coups and counter-coups. The best script I ever read during my stint as a reader in Hollywood was about CIA agents carrying on their three-martini lifestyles while destabilizing the Congo. Of course it was never made. But anyway, The Passenger captured that whole scene beautifully and led me to take another look at…

General Idi Amin Dada

Barbet Schroeder’s “self-portrait” of the Ugandan dictator is more an example of great access and a great subject than a great documentary – it’s fascinating but feels incomplete somehow. As the narrator freely admits, many of the scenes were staged by Amin in hopes of showing himself in the best light – but his idea of the best light is somewhat flawed. He’s a jolly enough fellow for a mass murderer, a bit fuzzy on his own political philosophy (though he’s a big fan of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion), and basically obsessed with the military and all the toys it has to offer. He’s certainly more comfortable directing a mock heavy artillery assault than leading a cabinet meeting, although the looks on the faces of his ministers are priceless as he lectures them on the importance of loving their leader. The dangerous side of Amin is mostly submerged beneath buffoonery, although it does surface occasionally, notably towards the end when he is addressing a group of doctors (telling them not to be drunks) and a truly terrifying death-stare replaces his usual goofy grin. Talk about having final cut – in an interview included on the DVD, Schroeder tells of Amin demanding that two and a half minutes of footage be trimmed. When Schroeder initially refuses, Amin takes a hotel full of French citizens hostage until he agrees to the changes. (The missing footage has since been restored.) Amin also plays a mean accordion.

I have changed the template again! This version appears preferable to the one that caused my links to vanish in a sea of green.

Also, those who guessed it would take only one day to screw up the new format were correct. Due to technically difficulties, I have not yet seen this week's Deadwood. Therefore, today will be Netflix Monday and tomorrow will be Deadwood Tuesday.

Why am I doing this?

Friday, June 16, 2006

Also, please comment on the greenness of this place. It seemed appropriate, and it's a standard blogger template, but the word on the street is that some folks aren't happy with it. It looks okay to me, but maybe that's just my computer.

Moonshine Mountain is a sad neglected place, a shadow of its former self, which wasn’t all that spectacular to begin with. It’s time to bring some order to this lawless place and some discipline back to my writing schedule, that I might finally begin work on a follow-up book. (Note: good ideas still welcome, all mine suck.) Yes, it’s time to steal ideas from other, better blogs and set a regular line-up of daily content! The categories will change over time, but for now, this is what I have planned:

Deadwood Monday Yeah, real original. This would of course transmute into The Wire Monday and Sopranos Monday, but Jebus willing, never Desperate Housewives Monday.

Netflix Tuesday What’s in my queue? What’s on its way back to Netflix headquarters in the little red envelope? Find out here!

Red Sox Wednesday Follow the June swoon, the July fade, the August resurgence and the September kick in the nuts here, complete with angst and gratuitous A-Rod bashing!

The Thursday Five A day of lists. Could be anything. Five best pizza places, five worst Dylan albums or five creepiest pictures of Tom Cruise. The key is “five.”

Casual Friday Eh, don’t expect much. Some links. Random goofage.

So there you have it. This will start Monday. If you’d like to place a bet on how long I’ll stick with it, please use the handy comments feature.

Okay, I have comments enabled now, although all the old comments are gone since I'm now using Blogger's feature instead of Haloscan. I will now test said feature.

Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Well, I have fucked this place up flatter than hammered shit. I'm trying to bring a fresh new look to this stale-ass blog, in accordance with SOME BIG CHANGES I plan to announce tomorrow, but it ain't going so well. At least I managed to resurrect the sidebar, but apparently I flushed all the comments. I'll try again later.

Friday, June 09, 2006

The King

Monday, June 05, 2006

Here is a feature on TV bad guys I hath penned for the Star-Telegram in anticipation of the return of Deadwood next Sunday.

And speaking thereof, good news for those of us fearing we would not get a proper send-off for our funny-talking Western-type friends.

I have thoughts about the Sopranos season finale or mid-season intermission or whatever you call it, but no time at the moment. But I'll just say, as is often the case, that I don't agree with the naysayers. More later, if I can muster the energy.

Friday, June 02, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth

Yeah, I thought that line about Poseidon sinking was pretty clever at the time. Apparently so did a dozen other reviewers. Oh well.