Tuesday, March 25, 2008


So as some of you may know, I've been writing a little pulp fiction serial called Test Drive over on Shuffleboil for the past few months...but that website recently shifted gears, content-wise, meaning Test Drive (and some other former Shuffleboil refugees) will soon be taking up residence here at The Ol' Blog Shop.

If you haven't been following Test Drive, CLICK HERE to catch up on the story thus far...

...otherwise, hang onto your hats, because this week's episode starts right now...


Through the windshield of the cruiser, Frank saw the biplane descending, saw the Jaguar avoid it by inches, careening in a panicky swerve into the fuselage of a vintage British Spitfire, saw the vehicle’s passengers lurch forward in a burst of airbags...

...while Hombre only saw that Red had stopped moving. He drew a bead and fired, again and again, blowing out her tires, closer every second to the final, orgasmic shot that would finish her forever...

...until Frank grabbed the barrel, trying yet again to wrestle the weapon away. Hombre stomped the brakes and they both lurched forward. A bullet discharged like a thunderclap, deafening in the claustrophobic Crown Vic interior, scorching Frank’s temple with a bright hot lightning bolt of pain. He cried and recoiled, reaching for the heat as Hombre scrambled from the car...

...then, opening eyes he’d clamped shut instinctively, Frank glanced in the passenger side mirror and spotted a nasty black powder burn above his right eye and realized he was still alive.

Launching over the seat, Frank yanked a baton from the state trooper’s belt, muttering, “I’m really sorry about this.”


It was Ray-Ray Alvarez’s third day on the job. The first day had been kinda cool, the second kinda boring and since that morning, of course, everything had pretty much gone to shit. If there had been something in his training about the possibility of a seemingly dead crash victim suddenly lurching to life to attack his rescuer for no reason, he was pretty sure he’d missed it, but even so it was still pretty goddamn embarrassing to be in his current predicament, kidnapped and cuffed with his own goddamn cuffs in the back of his very own goddamn patrol car, and he certainly had no intention of letting some other peace officer find him trussed up like a goddamn hog in such a humiliating, fucked-up scenario -- he knew for a goddamn fact he would never hear the fucking end of it -- and so the second the perps were out of the vehicle, he quit playing dead and swung into action as fast as he could in his compromised, immobilized condition. Thankfully, he’d taken the off-the-record advice of his DEA buddy, Marko, and purchased a back-up piece, currently strapped to his ankle, which, at the time, had seemed like a superfluous macho accessory but now seemed like the smartest purchase of his life.

And, fortunately, the maniac from the Diablo wreckage hadn’t cuffed his wrists behind his back, so it was relatively easy to reach the gun. The tricky part was positioning the barrel so it blew apart the chain connecting the cuffs, and Ray-Ray put several bullets into the floorboard of the Crown Vic before he finally managed to free himself.

And then he was out the door, pumped with the adrenaline of success and righteous fury, dashing across the air show field towards the spot where the Jaguar had rammed the Spitfire. The greasy perp in the sharkskin suit was there now, yanking a voluptuous redhead from the wreckage onto the ground by her long, curly hair, screaming, “Come here, bitch! I wanna talk to you!”

The redhead fought like a rabid coyote, thrashing and snapping her jaws until the perp smacked her across the jaw with Ray-Ray’s 9mm, pinning the woman with his knees on her arms while he forced the barrel of the weapon into her mouth. The rage on the redhead’s face was practically demonic as the greasy perp cocked the hammer of the pistol and snarled, “Remember me, you fucking harpy? Huh? Who am I? Say it...“the love of your fucking life!” Remember? SAY IT!

Ray-Ray dropped into a firing stance and raised his backup piece, but then before he could draw a bead on his target or shout a warning, the lanky perp who’d stolen his security baton suddenly lunged at the sharkskin hombre from his blind side, cracking the club against the maniac’s skull with enough force to drop him to his knees.

Hombre bellowed like a stuck pig, losing his grip on the 9mm as Frank lunged for the piece and Red shot to her feet, yanking her own silver gun from her garter.

“HOLD IT!” Frank demanded, swinging the 9mm back and forth to cover both Hombre and Red. “Now everybody just calm the fuck down!”

“Frank!” Hombre wailed up from the dirt, “We got her, man! What are you doing?”

“Turning her over to the cops...and you too...”

“Goose, please...” Red began.

“Shut up!” Frank said, noticing the barrel of her little silver pistol now pointed at his chest. “Where’s my car?”

And then the Texas state trooper they’d all been too busy to notice cocked his own gun and screamed, “EVERYBODY DROP YOUR WEAPONS! NOW!

Monday, March 24, 2008


In last week’s episode, Baron Von Doviak’s car was stolen right at the start of my visit to SXSW 2008. The car’s stereo had been swiped a few weeks earlier...but then, in a humorous turn of events, police found the stolen vehicle, complete with a brand new stereo the thieves had installed. So there you go: crime DOES pay.

After an exhausted St. Patrick’s Day in Austin, I flew to meet Amy, my lovely Polish bride, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which reminded me very much of Los Angeles, except without the ocean, the film industry or the colorful flora.

But New Mexico DID have the following:

* The awe-inspiring (for me, anyway) Very Large Array, a series of 27 giant radio telescopes in the middle of nowhere (and featured in the movie Contact) used by scientists to map the universe and search for extraterrestrial intelligence.
* A pretty awesome zoo, with a very friendly giraffe.
Vacation Fun Fact #1: Giraffes have long, prehensile tongues like black snakes.

Speaking of snakes, we also visited the Rattlesnake Museum, one of the few non-turquoise-jewelry-selling establishments in Old Town, ABQ. The owner of said museum took a photo of the wife and me with an ancient Polaroid camera, and informed us that, because Polaroid no longer manufactured their classic instant developing film, ours was the second to last Polaroid photo of dorky tourists posing with snakes the Rattlesnake Museum would ever take. Oddly enough, the FIRST dorky tourist ever photographed with said camera was Ansel Adams.

Vacation Fun Fact #2: The Rattlesnake Museum, like just about every other business in Albuquerque, had its doors wide open for the United States Bowling Congress, whose Open Championships are evidently taking place in the city from February to July this year. Sadly, the wicked pissah rattlesnake bowling shirt on display in the Rattlesnake Museum was not for sale.

Vacation Fun Fact #3: While visiting the Ten Thousand Waves spa in Santa Fe, I finally became one of those fancy people with cucumber slices on my eyes. Sadly, no photographic evidence exists.

Vacation Fun Fact #4: If you’re ever in Santa Fe, there’s no better restaurant to visit after a nice relaxing spa treatment (or anything else, really) than the Cowgirl Hall of Fame on Guadalupe, especially on Saturday afternoons during the bluegrass jam.

Vacation Fun Fact #5: Mexican restaurants in New Mexico generally have honey on the tables, the better to enjoy sopaipillas, a local fried dough staple that may account for New Mexico’s ranking as one of the fattest states in the nation (although, to be fair, most of the people we saw were not especially corpulent).

Vacation Fun Fact #6: According to Frommer’s guide to New Mexico, some of the hippies in Taos live “off the grid” in half-underground houses called earthships. And after visiting Taos, I believe it.

Now we’re back, and I’ve got a screenwriting class tonight, where I plan to share a very astute quote from Georgia O’Keefe that I picked up at the Santa Fe museum dedicated to her work:

“Nothing is less real than realism...
Details are confusing.
It is only by selection, by emphasis,
that we get at the real meaning of things.”

Sunday, March 16, 2008


So, the Baron (a.k.a. Scott) and me finished up the film portion of SXSW with a documentary about (and named for) George W. Bush’s favorite cynically selected folksy backdrop...I mean, uh, vacation spot, Crawford. The film profiles the titular town and its residents from just before the future commander-in-chief's arrival (he bought his ranch there around the time of the 2000 presidential campaign, back when he was governor of the state) through the Decider's recent reversals of fortune. The film was interesting, though less moving and more preachy-to-the-choir than Full Battle Rattle, and taught me the following things about Crawford:

  1. The town is small, but not really as dusty and rural as the president would have you believe. In fact, in one of the doc’s best moments, the filmmakers reveal how dozens of different TV news crews use the same farm equipment as a backdrop for their reports from the "Western White House," while carefully framing out the modern high school adjacent to the folksy rustic hardware.

  2. There’s a pretty wide, purple-state range of opinions in the heart of "Bush country"...and, in fact, a “peace house” was sitting smack dab in the middle of Crawford even before Cindy Sheehan and the Camp Casey crowd showed up.

  3. Once the novelty wears off, having your small town crammed with reporters, protesters and secret service agents gets old pretty quick.

And so, with the film portion of the festival done, Scott and me turned our attention to the other two legs of the South-By Trifecta, namely music and barbecue. First, we trotted over to The Side Bar to check out some former bandmates of Scott’s friend Hayden in their new incarnation as the Dexateens from Tuscaloosa, Alabammy, along with a pair of bands from Athens, GA (Modern Skirts and Mouser) that Hayden’s son, Abe, thought were very loud.

Next it was on to Club de Ville, where I unexpectedly discovered my new favorite Swedish chanteuse, Lykke Li, who sounds like a cross between fellow Swede Nina Persson of the Cardigans and the Motels’ Martha Davis, with a sprinkling of Bjork’s growling, bouncing performance style along with Tom Waits’ percussion and megaphone fetish. Lykke’s music sounds wilder live than the studio stuff featured on her website -- and, no offense, but girlfriend needs a stylist (the white Soccer Mom shorts were at odds with the rest of the Eurosexy package) -- but I sure hope an American label signs this lady pronto before I wind up dropping $35.00 (plus shipping!) on her import-only debut CD Youth Novel.

And finally, after all the music (and crazy-hot sunshine), the day ended with some damn fine barbecue at Stubb’s...

...then, over breakfast tacos this morning...THE COPS FOUND SCOTT’S CAR!

To Be Continued...

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Saturday, March 15, 2008


So, after breakfast at the second annual SXSW Morning After party, we hit the outdoor music-palooza of South Congress, where every restaurant and vintage clothing store seemed to have a band or singer out front or playing on the back patio.

It was crazy, Amazon hot, so I didn’t stay anywhere very long, but in between hydration breaks, I managed to catch the hypnotic, opium den electro-chant of Pity Party, the laid-back noveau-Guthrie harmonica and guitar goodness of AA Bondy, and some extremely fine Bloodshot recording artists (including the enjoyably mid-period Tom Waits-y Firewater) at the annual Yard Dog party (where, this year, they substituted the free, unlimited goodness of Pabst Blue Ribbon with the even better goodness of somewhat less unlimited free Shiner Bock).

Later in the day, we hit the Alamo Drafthouse for the first movie I’ve seen this year that might potentially wind up on my year-end Top Ten: Full Battle Rattle, a documentary by Jesse Moss and Tony Gerber about a simulated Iraqi province in California’s Mojave desert, populated by Iraqi-American citizens and U.S. Army “insurgents” in a full-immersion training scenario where soldiers practice both their combat and diplomacy skills before heading off to the real war in Iraq.

At first, it’s funny to watch battles interrupted by visits from the ice cream man, and fascinating to see the way the military combines role-playing and stagecraft to create what seems like a strange, gorey theme park or game show (complete with graphically wounded mannequin “casualties,” designed to prepare fledgling medics for the realities of war).

But it’s those harsh realities waiting for the participants beyond all the play-acting that provide Full Battle Rattle with its emotional core, as we come to know the various players, including an Iraqi immigrant terrified of being deported and an American combat vet who admits, tellingly, that after returning from a tour of duty, it takes him several days to start viewing his Iraqi colleagues as people again, rather than potential enemies. By the time the simulation ends and the soldiers we’ve come to know say goodbye to their families and ship out to an uncertain future, the lady next to me in the movie theater was openly weeping, and there seemed to be something in my eye as well.

Our second feature of the night, Not Your Typical Bigfoot Movie (another documentary about men blurring the lines between truth and simulation), profiled a pair of hard-luck backwoods Sasquatch enthusiasts who've invested so much of their time and self-esteem in pursuit of the legendary monster that I began to wonder whether or not the whole production wasn't a giant Blair Witchy scam. If not, then the likeable, desperate true believers depicted here by director Jay Delaney (more or less without exploitive condescension) really need a more productive hobby...but then again, I’m writing all this for a blog that hardly anyone reads, so who am I to judge?

And now...still yet more indie films!


Friday, March 14, 2008


A laid-back day in Aus-Town yesterday as the Baron and myself enjoyed some tasty sankwiches at the local Whip-In, then hit a screening of Second Skin, an interesting but seriously overlong documentary about the positive and negative societal and individual aspects of spending way, way, way too much time online playing Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) like World of Warcraft and Everquest.

Our plan was to then go check out a mumblecore psychodrama about three female frenemies called Yeast, but as we dawdled through the carnival atmosphere of Sixth Street, packed with hipsters and weirdos and with bands on every rooftop and streetcorner, we decided it would be more fun to just barhop through the scene, grab a Sergio Leone pizza from Frank & Angie's and check out Austin supergroup Spoon at Auditorium Shores. And then...Survivor (poor Penner!). And Lost (poor Jin!). Yes, even during SXSW, our Thursday night stories take precedence over the real world!

Thursday, March 13, 2008


I’ve just experienced my second day at the SXSW film festival in beautiful, sunny Austin (and really, the weather and foliage here are fantastic, although, according to filmmaker David Zellner (via The Austin Chronicle), “South by Southwest takes place during the best time of year, which gives visitors an interesting misconception that Austin’s always really pleasant and wonderful to live in. Sure, the weather is perfect today, but in two months, it’s going to be hell. But they won’t ever experience that.”

David, together with his brother, Nathan, have been crafting distinctive independent cinema since 1996, but I first became aware of them at a terrible parasite film festival called 30th Parallel that leeched onto the back of the 1997 SXSW fest, analogous to the Slamdance/Sundance arrangement, but much shoddier (and short-lived, since 30th Parallel barely made it through its first and only installment).

I know about the 30th Parallel Fest, because it featured the Texas premiere of my own indie film, Apocalypse Bop. The whole misbegotten affair kicked off with a reception in the back room of some hotel notable for a sad tray of vegetables and the absence of any members of the 30th Parallel staff to greet us. This led to some awkward bonding among the invited filmmakers as we all stood around, confused, waiting for some information about what we were supposed to do. Then, eventually, we all left.

Because just about every movie theater, auditorium and/or other screening venue in Austin was booked for SXSW, 30th Parallel mostly screened its selections in the back rooms of bars, which wasn’t a terrible idea in theory. Unfortunately, the Zellner Brothers had the misfortune of premiering their surrealist mime masterpiece Plastic Utopia on “Melrose Monday” at some 6th Street dive, meaning that many of the 30th Parallel films screened that evening were drowned out by blaring Melrose Place-themed trivia questions from the front of the bar.

Additionally, the 30th Parallel projectors were seeming World War II-era relics that kept jamming and breaking down every few minutes...and, even when they worked, they often caused the projected films to stutter, blur and, occasionally, melt.

And yet, it is to the Zellner Brothers’ credit that, despite all the hellacious distractions, I not only sat through the entire, tortured screening of Plastic Utopia, but came away considering it one of the most brilliantly deranged independent films I’ve ever seen, a surrealistic cult classic that, sadly, has never inspired nearly the cult it deserves.

Yet, while not cult figures on the level of, say, John Waters, Kevin Smith or Jim Jones, the Zellners have slowly built a small, devoted following, in Austin and elsewhere, despite their tiny budgets and occasional peculiar experiments like 2001’s Frontier, a faux foreign film in a fake foreign language (Bulbovian) starring an older, puffier Wiley Wiggins (of Dazed and Confused fame).

Recently, the Zellners have devoted themselves to dry, absurdist short subjects which highlight the pair’s strengths: unexpected, offbeat writing and visuals combined with their own very likeable recurring screen personas: David, the excitable, put-upon cynic and Nathan, the mellower zen weirdo.

The shorts (available for viewing at ZellnerBros.com) opened the door to the influential Sundance Film Festival, which recently premiered their latest feature film, Goliath, once again starring David and Nathan, with cameos by Wiggins and mumblecore poster boy Andrew Bujalski.

The film, in terms of tone and subject matter, plays like the bastard child of Little Children and Year of the Dog. Goliath, the titular tiger-striped tabby owned by David Zellner’s protagonist, goes missing and his recently divorced owner goes more than a little insane, eventually scapegoating a neighborhood sex offender (played by Nathan) as the source of his troubles.

The film plays out in a deadpan naturalistic style that left me yearning for a little more of Plastic Utopia’s antic narrative drive and visual invention, yet nevertheless hooked me with its own peculiar rhythms, dry wit, occasional slapstick, Asian porno drumming (yeah, you heard me) and its sometimes harrowing depiction of the hazards of love and pet ownership...without giving too much away, I’ll just note here that if you’re a tender-hearted pet lover, this may not be the movie for you.

Yet, despite its occasional grim moments, Goliath is a Disney Holiday on Ice compared to the equally low-budget Wellness, which snagged the SXSW Grand Jury Award on Tuesday and may be the least sexy movie ever made. The cinéma-vérité squirmer (written and directed by Jake Mahaffy) follows a homely, middle-aged salesman (a visceral performance by Jeff Clark) from one ugly, snowy, low-rent hovel to another as he deludes himself and his white trash customers about an obvious Ponzi scheme involving a vague, almost certainly fictional “international” pharmaceutical brand called “Wellness.” Clark’s growing psychic and financial desperation as his character, Thomas, blindly adheres to the poisonous false promises of his odious “business unit manager” (and, by extension, capitalism itself) would be unbearable if not for the humanity and bleak humor of the protagonist and the sense that, no matter how bad your life may seem at times, at least you’re not any of the characters in this movie.

Finally, my Wednesday movie-going wrapped up with a screening of the big-studio adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s novel Choke, which I’m told is daring and provocative and, apparently, beloved by hipsters. The theater was filled with big studio Men in Black armed with night vision goggles and whatnot to prevent any pirating of their upcoming release...odd, considering the much more likeable and successful Knocked Up got screened at last year’s festival without nearly so much off-putting, paranoid nonsense.

Anyway, Choke tells the story of sex addict Sam Rockwell and his sex addict friends (including Joel Grey?!!?!?) and their struggles with sex addiction, which is apparently a terrible problem in Los Angeles and, uh, probably other places...although, to be fair, I’m guessing it’s more of a problem for sex addicts who don’t get to screw around with gorgeous starlets like Kelly Macdonald and Bijou Phillips. Rockwell’s character also likes to pretend he’s choking in restaurants, because the attention it brings him makes up for the love he was denied by his wacky, now Alzheimer’s-afflicted mother (played by recent bad-mom specialist Anjelica Huston). Ho-hum. Not a bad movie exactly – there’s some funny bits involving a colonial theme park and, of course, plenty of nudity – but I left the theater wondering how many better movies Jake Mahaffy and the Zellner Brothers could have made with the millions they spent on this utterly disposable studio offering.

And now...brunch.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Greetings from warm and sunny Austin, Tejas!

After getting up very, very early for a morning flight out of Manchester, New Hamster, my Southwest flight made a brief stopover in Nashville to disembark the squares and take on a fresh cargo of goateed, tattooed, square-framed, comically be-hatted guitar-toting hipsters bound for the South-By-Southwest Film and Music Festival.

After touching down at the lovely Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (notable for its locals-only terminal vendor policy and the groovy three-piece combo serenading the baggage claim area), I was startled to discover (via voice mail) that my host for the week, Baron Von Doviak, had gotten his car swiped from the spot in front of his building THAT MORNING...meaning our carbon footprint on this year's SXSW will be just as small as last year, when the Baron's car died only minutes after picking me up at the airport.

Deciding to stay positive about the local constabulary's auto-recovery efforts and not let a little grand theft auto spoil the day, we made our way to Guerro's, a local Mexican food landmark, where I had the first of many margaritas and Shiner Bocks and enjoyed my new favorite Mexican meal, the Mauro Plato, which was like steak served in a big dish of gooey, cheesy French onion soup, but without the soup.

Then it was on to the Continental Club for more Shiners and margaritas and the multigenerational musical stylings of Planet Casper, a nice group of fellahs with an old-timey repertoire and a baby-face fiddle player.

After some billiards and fake video golf at Ego’s, I hit my first flick of the fest: Dreams With Sharp Teeth, a tribute to cantankerous sci-fi icon Harlan Ellison, a raging but entertaining egomaniac who was a big influence on my own teen and college pop-culture geekery with his cynical and insightful collection of media essays The Glass Teat, his gritty urban youth-gang novel Web of the City and classic episodes of Star Trek and, later, Babylon Five.

Like Ellison himself, Dreams With Sharp Teeth was fascinating but ultimately exhausting (or maybe it was just the fact that I’d been up since six a.m. and drinking since three p.m., Central Time), and the day ended shortly thereafter with the discovery my favorite pair of sunglasses had somehow gotten trampled underfoot by some fellow filmgoers at the Paramount Theater and a quick cab ride home, followed by a deep Texas sleep.

And now...breakfast tacos.

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