In a nutshell:
"Ooh, that Osama bin Laden, he'll be...neither mean nor condescending, except, of course, to...a gang of cutthroat..."popular" artists," most of whom would...welcome relief from the assaultive smarm that passes for...unbroken Republican control of the...spicy food behind bars."
Today's Planner Returns to Its Normal, Celebrated Weak Form
Two weeks ago, it didn't seem possible that we, as a nation, might ever find things to laugh at again. Or that we would ever allow ourselves to be distracted by trivialities. But as it turns out, in the words of the tired old phrase and the family TV drama from the early 90s, life goes on. Despite the tragedies of Sept. 11, lawns need to be mowed, bills need to be paid, cars need to be worked on. Perhaps it is because these tiny annoyances are fading back into focus that it seems right to go back to our weekly roundup of entertainment. It's not like we'll forget the images of the tragedy, or that the reverberations will cease to be felt. We all know that's impossible. It's just that laughter, for instance, is such a crucial part of the healing process. Which is why this week we begin with an offer of something we all feel ought to be required reading.

Proving That Laughter Truly Is the Best Medicine:
Within a week of the air attacks on America, Salon.com's David Beers raised the question of whether irony was indeed dead. About that same time, the editors of The Onion, one of the finest comedy sources on the Web, announced it would not publish an issue in the week following. "There's no way we cannot acknowledge what happened," said Stephen Thompson, editor of the paper's A.V. Club section. "There will be humor, but not now. We're not feeling especially relevant right now. What are we going to say? 'Ooh, that Osama bin Laden, he'll be the victim of our rapier wit!'" Well, two weeks to the day after the worst American tragedy, the writers of The Onion delivered possibly the funniest single issue in the paper's history. Anyone whoever doubted that humor had a healing effect should read "Bush Sr. Apologizes to Son for Funding bin Laden in 80s," "American Life Turns Into Bad Jerry Bruckheimer Movie," "God Angrily Clarifies Don't Kill' Rule" or—especially—"Hijackers Surprised to Find Selves in Hell." As one of its proposals for "Making America Safer," the Onion suggests that Americans should wear T-shirts "bearing the likeness of Osama bin Laden with phrase, Fuck You, Asshole,' so if bin Laden sees one, he'll know he's an asshole and can get fucked." See? Bin Laden did end up the victim of the paper's rapier wit after all. —Jeff Drake

Director/star/co-screenwriter Ben Stiller's amiable, sweet-natured satire is one of those SNL-styled, extended sketch films, though closer to Austin Powers (which it most resembles) and Wayne's World than It's Pat or A Night at the Roxbury. Unlike most current comedies, it's neither mean nor condescending, except, of course, to male models, who probably won't recognize the ridicule anyway.
     Stiller is the title character (originally developed for VH1's Fashion Awards by the actor and the film's executive producer Joel Gallen), an unabashed cover boy who turns to the screen with his one, sucked-in-cheeks expression, which he dubs "Blue Steel," and plaintively asks, "Is there more to life than being really, really, really ridiculously good-looking?" He unwittingly becomes embroiled in a secret agent plot to brainwash him Manchurian Candidate-style (chosen because of his mind's complete emptiness, natch) into killing the ruler of Malaysia, who is ready to wipe out child labor in that country. Crazed designer Mugatu (a scene-stealing turn by SNL's Will Ferrell), greedy garmento Maury Ballstein (Ben's hilarious dad Jerry of Seinfeld fame) and Milla Jovovich's blood-thirsty, leather-clad dominatrix are behind the nefarious plot.
     The story, of course, is merely an excuse for a series of mostly hilarious sight gags and Dumb & Dumber-styled interplay between Stiller and his chief runway rival, Owen Wilson's surfer dude cum Fabio clone Hansel. Fabio is one of the many who make cameos, including David Duchovny (spoofing his X-Files persona), David Bowie, Andy Dick (almost unrecognizable as a horse-faced masseuse), Cuba Gooding Jr., Steve Kmetko, Sandra Bernhard, Lenny Kravitz, Natalie Portman, Gwen Stefani and Winona Ryder. Jon Voight and Vince Vaughn play Zoolander's south New Jersey coal-miner father and brother who are appalled at what he's become, while Stiller has also cast, aside from his father, his wife Christine Taylor (Marcia Brady in the Brady Bunch movies), his mom Anne Meara and sister Amy.
     If you liked Woody Allen's earlier, funnier films, you should respond favorably, and America could sure use a relatively mindless, but definitely not stupid, comedy like this right now.
     The Hollywood Records soundtrack includes versions of "Relax" by Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Powerman 5000, a crucial plot element in the movie. Also: No Doubt's spot-on cover of "Love To Love You Baby," the Wallflowers doing the Bee Gees' "I Started a Joke" and Rufus Wainwright's straight-faced take on "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother." The film's website, www.derekzoolander.com, allows you to e-mail soundbites and includes a lesson plan from Derek Zoolander University, fake bios and magazine covers as well as audio streams of the various songs. —Roy Trakin

Don't Say A Word (20th Century Fox):
Michael Douglas plays a well-to-do New York City psychiatrist for the twisted young of Manhattan sophisticates. His perfect domestic life comes unraveled a la Fatal Attraction when a gang of cutthroat bank robbers kidnap his daughter and demand he help them get a number that's locked inside the mind of one of his autistic teenage clients. Directed by Gary Fleder (Kiss The Girls), the movie is reportedly creepy, sadistic and intense, a combination moviegoers already frazzled by real-life events might not exactly be in the mood for. Douglas once more plays the put-upon, steel-jawed protagonist in a bind that recalls the Mel Gibson-starring Ransom. As a parent, I find kidnapping stories particularly excruciating and difficult to watch. The film's score soundtrack, featuring music by Mark Isham, is available on Varese Sarabande, while the official website at www.dontsayaword.com, offers little to dispel the mystery of what those six numbers hold the key to. Oh, well.

Hearts In Atlantis (Warner Bros.) / L.I.E. (Lot 47): Touted as the film from "the writers that brought you The Green Mile" (Stephen King and screenwriter William Goldman) but only tangentially by the director who brought you Shine (Scott Hicks). It's about a fatherless boy (Russian-born newcomer Anton Yelchin) who befriends a mysterious stranger with a secret (Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins). From the trailers, it seems he has some gift of prophecy or something, but it's all a little murky and metaphysical. The soundtrack album, featuring music by Mychael Danna, is on Decca/UMG soundtracks, while the website can be found at www.heartsinatlantis.net. Reviewers have pointed out the oddities of a man that age befriending a young boy, which is also the theme of one of this week's other theatrical releases, the highly touted indie film, L.I.E., from first-time director Michael Cuesta. The film is about a 15-year-old teen (newcomer Paul Franklin Dano) whose mother has been killed in a car accident on the titular Long Island Expressway and father is oblivious to the boy's lingering grief. He comes under the lustful advances of an older man (veteran actor Brian Cox, who played the pipe-smoking head of Rushmore), learning some important lessons about power and desire along the way. There's a lot of controversy about Cox's character, at once a patient father figure who cares for the boy and a predator pedophile who is recognizably human. Check the distributor's website at www.lot47.com for more. —R. T.

Various artists, Listen to What the Man Said and Coming Up (Oglio Records):
This matched set of Paul McCartney tribute albums—one from "popular" artists" (most of whom would find that description laughable), the other from indie acts—unfolds with the sort of scrupulousness normally found in recordings of the classical canon. Fair enough: Of the melodist/arrangers of the last 40 years, has anyone amassed a body of work as consistently tuneful and sophisticated as Sir Paul's? If the two-disc anthology Wingspan (Capitol) reminded us that Macca's peak period extended at least a decade beyond Abbey Road, these two tribute albums demonstrate the functionality and ongoing seductiveness of McCartney's wondrous aural architecture.
     A spot-on simulation of "Band on the Run" opens Listen, as Owsley negotiates the song's ultra-dynamic transitions with a mixture of scholarly faithfulness and wide-eyed wonder—he's like a 12-year-old taking a joyride in his big brother's hot rod. Whether the exercise is charming or pointless is in the ear of the beholder; for me, a great song performed impeccably has far more appeal than most of the new music that comes my way.
     That said, Listen's strongest tracks aim for something more than faithfulness per se. These come in two forms: (a) fully assimilated interpretations by distinctive artists, and (b) performances that add a rational dimension to the originals. In the former category are Semisonic's crisp and cranked-up "Jet," the Finn Brothers' rollicking "Too Many People" (which pours out with the heady ebullience of their work in Split Enz) and Matthew Sweet's drily intimate "Every Night" (which sounds like a Girlfriend outtake). In the latter are Sloan's coolly propulsive "Waterfalls," Virgos' "Maybe I'm Amazed" (think "True Love" meets "Helter Skelter") and a ravishingly baroque "Dear Friend" from Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey in their Minus Five mode.
     Apart from a lovely reworking of "Let 'Em In" by Starbelly, Coming Up, the sister collection, contains wall-to-wall competence but little inspiration. Even so, you can't really go wrong with material of this quality.
     According to the notes, a minimum of $1 per album will go to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. —Bud Scoppa

Life seems to be as back to normal as it possibly could be here—even the Knitting Factory (located only a few blocks away from Ground Zero) is back and open for business. Friday night has Wilco at Town Hall, and I can't think of a better place to see them. Wilco is consistently wonderful, so their show should be just what the doctor ordered. Weezer is at Jones Beach on Saturday night, and even though I missed the whole Weezer boat, I do know that there are some songs on the new album that are pretty damn catchy. Sunday afternoon, head to Hoboken for the Arts & Music Festival. The bands performing aren't that noteworthy, but they're nice background music while you're looking at all the arts and crafts. (I do love crafts!) That night The Vue are at Brownies. Their sound (high-energy, sexy and chaotic rock & roll) isn't completely original, but the band always puts on a great show. Also, if none of these are up your alley, there are numerous WTC/NYPD/NYFD benefit shows happening around town, with a variety of artists in a slew of genres. If you've already donated or volunteered, it's a great opportunity to give even more while getting something out of it as well. —Heidi Anne-Noel

Plus Lucky Numbers!
Our fortunes and lucky numbers are guaranteed not to be rigged by someone at McDonald's.
There's a good chance of a romantic encounter soon.
2, 3, 20, 24, 25, 38

13 Ghosts:
Promise me—before the inevitable piece-of-crap, soulless, made-by-committee, teen-targeted-gorefest remake hits theaters next month—that you'll take a look at William Castle's 1960 original version of 13 Ghosts. Like most of the celebrated horror impresario's best-remembered work (The Tingler, the original and superior House on Haunted Hill), Ghosts had a gimmick: "Illusion-O." Audience members were handed "ghost viewers" (which resembled 3-D glasses) upon admittance. That way, when the spooks appeared in the midst of this rather whimsical family-in-a-haunted-house tale, you could look through the red "viewer" window to see them or the blue "remover" window to make them vanish. It's a testament to Columbia's gorgeous DVD package that they've included a reproduction ghost viewer in the box; the accompanying featurette highlights the appeal of Castle's work to a generation of horror fans. The film itself deftly balances hauntings and humor, with some nice performances by Martin Milner and (in a cheeky nod to her role in The Wizard of Oz) Margaret Hamilton. Still, there's a child-in-jeopardy element (with an intriguingly queasy subtext) that adds weight and creepiness to the proceedings. Maintaining the atmosphere of a carnival spookshow throughout, the original 13 Ghosts, in glorious black-and-white, is a welcome relief from the assaultive smarm that passes for fright flicks these days. —Simon Glickman

"Questions are never indiscreet; answers sometimes are." —Oscar Wilde

Extreme G 3:
That's right kidz, LPzee, that Latin brotha you luv to hate cuz he always getz tha hottt games before your momma duz, is back Holla ya heard. When you're going fast, things start to look like they're blurring by. When you're going really, really fast, you can start to feel the effects of gravity, with the same forces of inertia that keep a roller coaster on it'z track in a loop. When you're going really, really, really fast, your face starts to tear back from tha pressure, your eyes bulge, your senses go haywire, you lose motor control skills and you basically become a quivering blob of LP'z jelly zooming along at unbelievable speeds so fast that your body travels faster than tha sound of your screaming. Extreme G 3 goes really, really, really, really fast...and then some. Tha third in this unbelievably swift jet bike series ratchets up tha speeds, with tha power of tha PlayStation 2 computer entertainment system boosting incredible graphics and velocity. Whip through loops and upside-down tracks on gut-wrenchingly extreme courses, racing on tha edge of gravity against a field of up to 12 rocket-powered racing bikes. Blast away tha competition with weapons, and seize tha lead with precise control and a razor-sharp field of view. Then bask in your victory lap with astonishing special effects—break tha sound barrier and enter a racing zone few have experienced, with an eerie whir of lost sound and only a haze around you to remind you of how fast you are really going. —Latin Prince, AKA Speed Racer!

Grover Cleveland, our 22nd and 24th president, was born March 18, 1837, in Caldwell, NJ and May 27, 1838 in Garden City, KS, respectively. Cleveland's election as president—the first one, specifically—ended 24 years of unbroken Republican control of the office. Because the Democrats had been out of power for a generation, one of the first problems Cleveland faced was that of patronage. Loyal and deserving Democrats were eager for positions, but the horde of office seekers so annoyed and distracted him that he said of the presidency: "My God, what is there in this office that any man should ever want to get into it?" During the four years that Cleveland was out of office he had little to say about the questions then confronting the country, because he thought it was improper for a former president to speak out on public issues. He spent his time as a private citizen in New York City, practicing law with a Wall Street firm. Cleveland's second term was served by "Evil Grover"—identical to "Good Grover" in every way but the goatee. Believe it or not, Cleveland's first name was actually Stephen but he chose to go by Grover. Go figure. Best Anagram Of His Name: Never call God, Rev.

Wait a Minute! He's Denied Something in Prison? The Injustice!
A Hong Kong court has thrown out an appeal by a Chinese man to cut his prison term short because he can't get spicy food behind bars. Law Kwok-hing told the court he had a hard time adjusting to life in prison because dishes from his native Hunan province were not available, the South China Morning Post reported. "I am a native of Hunan and I like spicy food, but there is no spicy food here," the paper quoted him as saying. Law, a garment worker, had been convicted five times in Hong Kong since 1990 for offences including theft, giving false information to police and illegally staying in the territory. J.D.

Upcoming Birthdays
Sept. 28-Oct. 4

28—Confucius (would have been 2552) & John Sayles (51)
29—Madeline Kahn (would have been 59) & Lech Walesa (58)
30—Truman Capote (would have been 77) & Eli Wiesel (73)
Oct. 2—Mahatma Gandhi (would have been 132) & Groucho Marx (would have been 111) 3—George Ripley (believe it or not, he would have been 199)
4—Damon Runyon (would have been 117) & Buster Keaton (would have been 106)

Special Events
September is Latino Heritage Month
28—Teacher's Day (Taiwan)
29—Goose Day (Lewiston, PA)
Oct. 2—Sukkot & Jashan Menhergan

A new student arrives with mixed credentials: she's a princess and a habitual runaway—and she's already planning her next escape.

Marketshare machers. (10/27a)
Lamar enters the House of Jody. (10/27a)
It's a lock. (10/27a)
Planning for an Election Day hopped up on painkillers. (10/27a)
Vote. Do it now. (10/27a)
Bring your umbrella.
Mulling possible surprises.
Why not wear a mask indoors?
What drugs will help us get there?

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