“Actually, there are three new people that I think write great songs. One is Ryan Adams. Another is Pete Yorn. And the other is John Mayer, whose album is called Room for Squares. They've gone back to listening to the great writers and been influenced by them.”
——Elton John in
The New York Times


We’ve Got Siena in the Office Pool
For roundball fans, the last three weeks of March are as exciting as an extended Christmas would be for an 8-year-old. The very thought of it—64 teams in a single-elimination format slugging it out till only two are standing on April 1—makes us pant in anticipation. The fact is, they oughta declare the first two days of the NCAA Tournament a national holiday so that Americans can concentrate on the 32 games that comprise the first round (fortunately, there are lotsa teevees in the HITS office, and a memo from the top says each one MUST be tuned to CBS, which is carrying the whole thing). For you non-hoopsters, along with those laptop-toting SXSW attendees who are reading this bunk, some alternative diversions are described below—but you don’t know what you’re missing, kiddies.

In Anthony DeCurtis’ March 10 New York Times interview with Elton John and Billy Joel, he asked the two venerable artists for their opinions on the current state of songwriting. After acknowledging Alicia Keys’ potential while bemoaning an overall decline in songcraft, John said: “Actually, there are three new people that I think write great songs. One is Ryan Adams. Another is Pete Yorn. And the other is John Mayer, whose album is called Room for Squares. They've gone back to listening to the great writers and been influenced by them.” John’s anointing of this trio of gifted twentysomethings nearly caused me a dislocated shoulder from patting myself on the back, because I’ve been on a crusade to get my friends to listen to these three albums, all of which made my top five of last year, along with Bob Dylan’s Love and Theft and Lucinda Williams Essence. The difference between Adams, Mayer and Yorn and most of the newcomers I’ve championed over the years, from Big Star on, is that these three are actually making commercial inroads. Yorn’s ultra-hooky musicforthemorningafter (Columbia) has sold more than 350,000 units in its 11 months of release, as the label puts the big push on the album’s most accessible song, “Strange Condition”; Mayer’s heady Room for Squares (Aware/Columbia) broke 200,000 this week; and Adams’ critically acclaimed Gold (Lost Highway) is closing in on 200,000. Granted, these are hardly huge numbers—the English quartet Coldplay (Nettwerk/Capitol) is the only member of the current neoclassic posse to sell a million-plus—but each artist’s fan base is rabid and vocal, generating extremely effective word of mouth. On this level, the fact that 12,000 people picked up Mayer’s disc last week is meaningful, as is the fact that 6,000-7,000 fans throw down for Yorn’s CD every week. Props to Elton for doing his part to mainstream what is already a grassroots phenomenon… And speaking of power trios, Warner/Reprise’s early 2002 release schedule, featuring career albums from upstart Kasey Chambers, veteran Chris Isaak and legend Neil Young calls to mind Burbank’s golden age, prestige-wise. All three records sound like a million bucks; let’s hope they sell like it as well. Bud Scoppa

 Showtime (Warner Bros.):
The real question is what the heck two supposed superstars like Robert DeNiro and Eddie Murphy are doing in this seemingly B-level buddy-buddy action parody about two cops starring in a TV reality show. DeNiro continues to turn into late-period Marlon Brando, parodying himself like he has in movies such as Meet the Parents (where he was funny) and Analyze This (where he wasn’t). He plays a suspended detective who is forced to team up with a cocky patrol officer (Murphy) in what this movie’s producers undoubtedly hope will be a 48 Hours-meets-Midnight Run-style success. The always-lovely Rene Russo is the female lead, a powerhouse TV producer (think Faye Dunaway in Network), while the supporting cast includes William Shatner, from the trailers, apparently playing himself as the butt of some T.J. Hooker jokes. Brown University grad Tom Dey, who made his directorial debut with the similarly themed odd couple Owen Wilson-Jackie Chan-starring Shanghai Noon, is at the helm. The soundtrack, the initial release from Shaggy’s Big Yard/MCA soundtrack, is a mix of R&B and reggae hybrids, including tracks by Shaggy himself, his longtime partner Rayvon, Rude, Whitney Houston, and Bounty Killer, among others. The website, www.showtimemovie.com, is pretty comprehensive, including a chance to create your own cop show script by the numbers.

Kissing Jessica Stein (Fox Searchlight): Just your typical girl-meets-boy, boy-drops-girl, girl-meets-girl sexual comedy, starring co-writers/co-producers Jennifer Westfeldt and Heather Juergesen. After a dating spree from hell, the title character (Westfeldt) answers an ad with one drawback—it’s in the “women seeking women” classified section. The new twosome then proceeds to muddle through a slapstick courtship, alternatively funny, surprising and ultimately poignant, with Rose O'Donnell nowhere in sight, thank goodness. The trailers look a lot better than that description sounds, with Tova Felshuh getting kudos as Jesssica’s well-meaning, but domineering (is there any other kind?) Jewish mother. Director Charles Herman-Wurmfeld makes his 35mm feature-film debut after helming the documentary From There To Here about John Oszajca (now on www.ifilm.com.). The website at www.foxsearchlight.com features Jennifer and Heather’s uptown and downtown N.Y. picks, including restaurants, vintage clothing stores, bookstores, spas and theaters.

Resident Evil (Screen Gems/Sony Pictures): The odds-on pick to top the box office charts this week and winner of the best trailer of recent vintage for its shot of star Milla Jovovich turning around and facing all those snarling dogs. Hey, just like that case up in San Francisco with the killer canines. The film is based on the video game of the same name and was directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, who did the honors on ‘95’s Mortal Kombat, arguably the most successful of the vidgame-derived movies, grossing $150 million worldwide, so he obviously knows what he’s doing. The plot, taken liberally from Alien, involves a deadly viral outbreak in an underground genetic research center controlled by a vast supercomputer/artificial intelligence, The Red Queen, which seals the facility to contain the leak, killing the trapped employees. Jovovich and The Fast and the FuriousMichelle Rodriguez lead a rescue mission only to discover the workers have turned into ravenous zombies. The team must pass through a deadly maze including lasers, the aforementioned mutant dogs and the company’s latest project gone awry—the T-virus, which has the ability to reanimate dead cells and rejuvenate CGI companies. The special effects look prime, and the metalcore Roadrunner soundtrack includes new music from Slipknot, Coal Chamber, the Crystal Method, Adema, Static-X, Saliva, Depeche Mode, Ill Nino, Mudvayne, Method Man, Fear Factory and an original score by Marilyn Manson. The website, www.Resident-Evil-The-Movie.com, offers a trailer, story synopsis, a sweepstakes and a link to eBay where you can bid for props and wardrobe from the movie.

Ice Age (Twentieth Century Fox): Fox’s entry into the computer-animation sweepstakes looks like it could be worth a few chuckles, as long as you don’t expect anything as intricate or sophisticated as Shrek or Monsters Inc. Ray Romano plays Manfred the wooly mammoth, John Leguizamo is Sid the sloth and Denis Leary is a menacing saber-toothed tiger named Diego as the three furry, prehistoric characters band together to reunite a human baby with its family on the cusp of the titular deep freeze. There’s plenty of interspecies bickering along the way, too, in a Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest mode. The film was directed by Oscar winner Chris Wedge (for the animated short Bunny), one of the founders of Blue Sky Studios, where the movie was produced. The website at www.iceagemovie.com takes the form of a journey and includes Flash imagery, games (like Operation: Acorn, Whack-A-Scrat, Frozen Recall and Ice Track Derby), downloads, information about the movie’s production and related links to Fox Kids, Cold Stone Creamery, Cartoon Network, Burger King, Discovery Channel, HarperCollins and Parenting.com. Roy Trakin

This here race comin’ up is 5 of 36 in the season, so we done got us some racin’ under our belts awreddy, but it’s still jes’ beginnin’, if’n you get what ahm sayin’. This week’s Cup throwdown is called the Carolina Dodge Dealers 400, and them left-turnin’ gas-guzzlin’ gladiators is gonna be tearin’ it up at good ole Darlington Raceway in Souf Cair-o-lie-nee. Now, afore we go any further, let’s look at last week’s run in Atlanty, home town of Home Depot: Guess who won that there MBNA America Fahv-hunnert? That’s right, mah boy: Tony Stewart in the Joe Gibbs Racing #20 HOME DEPOT Pontiac, under the watchful wrench of Greg Zipadelli. (Jes like ah sed. If that don’t up mah credeebility some, ah don’t know what will.) Now, if that seems lahk a bit of a coinceedence to any o’ y’all, the point ta all of this is this here: They’s three cars you should be watching this here week: Ward Burton in the Bill Davis Racing #22 Caterpillar DODGE, under the watchful wrench of Tommy Baldwin Jr; points leader Sterling Marlin in the Chip Ganassi Racing #40 Coors Light DODGE, under the watchful wrench of Lee McCall; and Jeremy Mayfield in the Evernham Motorsports #19 DODGE Dealers/UAW DODGE, under the watchful wrench of Sammy Johns. Remember, it’s the dang ole DODGE Dealers 400. Jes’ you think about that a spell. But if one of the above don’t git the job done, look for that sissy Jeff Gordon in the Hendrick Motorsports #24 Dupont Chevrolet, under the watchful wrench of Robbie Loomis. (God how ah hate that purdy boy—but he done won this race five times already.) And last, but not least, of course, is that gol-durned hell-raisin’ Bud swillin’ Dale Jr. in the Dale Earnhardt Incorporated #8 Budweiser Chevy, under the occasionally watchful wrench of Tony “Oops, we’re out of gas again” Eury—jes’ cuz Jr.’s mah guy. So sue me. —Guy W.T. Goggles

For me, this year’s SXSW is a drive-by. I arrived very late Wednesday night, and I’m leaving after my panel on Friday. I’d stay through Sunday were it not for the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival at UCLA this weekend. How could I miss seeing Television and Big Star, not to mention Wilco, Jim O’Rourke, Destroy All Monsters, Stereolab and curators Sonic Youth? For a complete lineup (including set-times), visit www.wayahead.com/atp/sy2001.htm. While in Austin, I’ll definitely pay a quick visit to my favorite stores. First stop, as always, is Waterloo Records at 6th St. and Lamar Blvd. Across the street is By George, Austin’s best clothing store (both sexes). If there’s time, I’ll take a quick twirl up to “The Drag” (Guadalupe St. between 21st and 25th), where there’s another By George, as well as Cadeau, Urban Outfitters and other stores catering to the UT crowd (Go Longhorns). As soon as I get back to Los Angeles, I’m heading over to the Focus on AIDS 9 Auction at Barneys. More than 100 photos by world-renowned photographers (Eggleston, Claxton, Weber, etc.) will be auctioned off, with the proceeds benefiting AIDS charities. The auction will take place 7:30-11:30 p.m., but bidding can also be done online at www.focusonaids.com. —Ivana B. Adored

I feel like I'm being totally defeated this weekend. The first show that I was going to recommend for Friday, the Dismemberment Plan and Death Cab for Cutie show at Bowery Ballroom is sold out. My second choice, Billy Joel and Elton John at Madison Square Garden, is also sold out. Guess I'll go with Cub Country at Maxwell’s (whoo-hoo, Jersey!), which is essentially members of Jets to Brazil trying their hand at the Wilco/Son Volt-esque alt-country thang. My Saturday pick was going to be Enrique Iglesias at Radio City Music Hall (my little cousins kept playing his video over and over during the holidays, and by the 100th time, I came to realize that his song is really, really catchy). Of course, that show is sold out, too, so I'll go with the Lyres at the Ding-Dong Lounge. Not to be confused with the Liars, these Lyres are the real 1980 deal. Sunday, check out Sarah Shannon at Knitting Factory. You might remember her as the lead singer for Velocity Girl, but on her solo debut she's lost the early-’90s twee-ness and has taken on a more adult feel. As of now, the show isn't sold out, but considering my luck with picks this week, I'd recommend getting there early. Heidi Anne-Noel

Remember DIVX, the other DVD format? The DivX we’re talking about here is much cooler. This new rival to QuickTime 5 and Windows Media Player 7 is rapidly gaining wide acceptance. The new DivX 5.0 (www.divx.com) is the highest-quality, highest-performance video-compression technology available to date. The new DivX will provide you with the following features: smaller file sizes, DVD-quality video, universal architecture, increased optimizations and encoding performance. The best part about it is that you never have to worry about a video file not playing because you don’t have the proper video codec. Last week, in the first 48 hours of this product being available, there were more than 1.5 million downloads—can you say eight downloads a second? Trust me on this one and download the software; it’s free. —Paul Karlsen

That’s what you call a bitch move:
Hi, how was your week? Great, that’s great. Anything going on this weekend? No? Heard it’s supposed to rain in New York on Saturday, so you might want to stay inside, even though it might get kind of warm. Yeah, almost 60. On Sunday you should go out to lunch or something. It’ll be mostly cloudy, but temps will be in the mid-40s. Sure, it’ll be cold Sunday night. Me? I’ll probably be outside most of the weekend, though it looks like it’s going to rain on Sunday. The winds have died down, but it will be a little cloudy on Saturday and getting into the mid-60s. Typical L.A. weather—mid-60s, mid-40s. A little cooler on Sunday, and if it rains, it’s going to be sucky. Good thing there’s college hoops on. Alright then, talk to you next week.
David Simutis, Senior Meteorology Correspondent

We'll miss those smoke-filled rooms. (5/10a)
Some guys have all the luck. (5/10a)
Big ups for the mogul previously known as Big Jon (5/10a)
Our resident redhead praises girl in red. (5/10a)
Alan Jackson brings back hard country. (5/10a)
The musical tapestry we know as R&B.
Predicting the next big catalog deal.
Once we all get vaccinated, how long before we can party?
How is globalization bringing far-flung territories into the musical mainstream?

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