What's wrong with the Lakers? It’s not the losing, although losing is never pleasant. It’s their almost total lack of entertainment value in this unremittingly butt-ugly season. Watching a team throw the ball away 20-plus times while making a third of its shots, night after night, is no fun to watch whatsoever.


Time to Paste On a Phony Smile, Say Something Disingenuous and Suck Down the Eggnog
1. John Mayer at the Troubadour: Columbia
Records celebrated one of the year’s most heartening success stories Thursday night at the Troubadour with an invitation-only performance by the young dynamo John Mayer. Along with the industryites and scenesters who packed the club for a show that marked the end of two solid years of touring was a healthy representation of the Internet-savvy artist’s adoring young audience, their digital cameras and cell phones held aloft—Mayer wasn’t about to leave the kids out on Santa Monica Blvd. while the weasels partied inside. During the set, the 24-year-old wunderkind showed off the bracing combination of facility, flash and soulfulness that make him so captivating onstage. Fronting a super-tight four-piece band, Mayer effortlessly shifted between singer-songwriter, shtickmeister and guitar god (with facial expressions worthy of Nigel Tufnel during his solos), as he displayed a remarkably dynamic sensibility that encompasses jazz, math and elevated literacy. He played a pair of intriguing new songs, a zeitgeist-laden number called “Something’s Always Missing” and another uptempo tune that morphed (there’s lots of morphing in Mayer’s sets) into the wonderful “3x5”; during the latter, the band hooked into a mega-groove that bore an uncanny resemblance to the Police at the Whiskey in ’78 (earlier, the band had played the Police's "King of Pain" as a lead-in to "1983"). Sure, he’s a showboat, and he’ll never have an issue with low self-esteem, but the kid is so charismatic, so prodigiously talented that you have to forgive him if he’s uncool enough to allow the world to see that he’s actually enjoying himself up there. Indeed, I give Mayer points for understanding that he’s in showbiz. What a talent—can’t wait to see what he does next. —BS

2. Die Another Day (MGM): New Zealand director Lee Tamahori brings a vibrant, dark energy to the latest James Bond movie, which is a lot better than the last few I’ve seen. The film practically eliminates all dialogue, and a suitably deadpan Pierce Brosnan is settling into the role as the best 007 since the days of Sean Connery, with Halle Berry providing the requisite Bond girl eye candy—even if she’s not required to do much in the way of acting. The set-pieces are kinetic, if not spectacular, but the best parts of the movie revolve around the self-referential parody to past installments. Madonna’s techno title song is the worst Bond theme in recent memory, though the opening title sequence, featuring the secret agent being tortured by North Koreans with, among other delights, scorpions, is one of the best. And when was the last Bond movie based on an actual Ian Fleming book? —RT

3. Baby brouhaha: How many of Michael Jackson's toddlers can you catch as he dangles and drops them over his hotel balcony? This challenging game of skill pits you against the King of Pop as he plops his progeny over the railing and into your basket. But watch out! Don't let Michael distract and confuse you by dropping his "latest, horrible records.” —JO

4. John Stockton: At 40, the NBA’s all-time assists leader still hasn’t lost his singular skills, nor does he look any different than he did in his rookie year with the Utah Jazz 19 long seasons ago. He’s as bony and pale as a computer geek; he’s also the most annoying player in the league—annoying to other players, that is. The Pasty Gangsta, as Jim Rome has dubbed him, has a complete command of the seemingly invisible nuances that gain him an advantage over the guy guarding him—the poking, grabbing, shoving and tripping, none of which seems to be noticed by the refs—while making his opponent look bad (and NBA players can’t stand looking bad). Sunday, Stockton will attempt to make the Lakers look bad (as if they needed any help; see below) for the second time in four nights, and you can bet on the fact that it won’t be pretty…but it’ll be maddeningly effective. —BS

5. The “What Would Joan Jett Do?” T-shirt: Some of my guy friends refuse to give props to the original American bad-ass Runaway: Joan Jett. Black hair, Converse high tops, punk rock and metal rolled into one. If she were sometimes a little stiff, she was also a little snarling... and even at her most mainstream, she wasn't afraid to hold the line for her kind of brutal glitter/metal/punk/pop music. “Bad Reputation" was enough estrogen-soaked bravado alone to make her stand on her own right. And this T-shirt (available though www.bust.com) offers the girl with 'tude the perfect default solution mechanism. After all, the hard-charging singer/songwriter/guitarist/rocker (her version of Gary Glitter's "Do You Wanna Touch" alone is worth the push) took nothin’ from no one—yet never lost her basic blue collar whaddaya-need decency. —HG

6. Frailty (Lions Gate Home Entertainment): The directorial debut of actor Bill Paxton (who also stars) is a suitably creepy, but never explicitly gory, murder mystery. Taking place in rural Texas, the movie’s about a father who convinces his two young sons he’s been chosen by God to fight demons, then begins to murder actual people. It’s also one of the few American movies, this side of The Rapture, to deal with the contradictions of religious faith in any meaningful way. The film moves inexorably to its surprise ending with a final cosmic jolt. —RT

7. Washington St. at UCLA: The outcome of Saturday’s SEC and Big 12 championship games will add some clarity to a delightfully muddled bowl picture, but this Pac 10 season finale has more subplots than The Sopranos. According to Chris Dufresne in the L.A. Times, no less than 17 bowl games will be affected by the outcome. In terms of local plotlines, if UCLA manages to upset the Cougars, crosstown rival USC wins the Pac 10 and gets an invitation to the BCS-participating Rose Bowl, while Bruins coach Bob Toledo increases the odds of keeping his job. If Washington State wins, all hell breaks loose in the BCS picture, with at least one deserving team likely to get royally screwed. Follow the bouncing pigskin on ABC starting at 1:30 PT. —BS

8. Long-sleeved T-shirts from the Gap: This year’s model of the classic fall-winter shirt is made of surprisingly soft and thick cotton, the rich feel giving the impression that it’s more than yer basic utilitarian T—and that it costs a lot more than 20 bucks. Less bulky than a sweatshirt, the Gap long-sleeve, worn over a short-sleeve T, is ideal for what passes for cold weather in SoCal. You can’t have too many—get ’em while they last. —BS

9. Kiehl's Eucalyptus Youth Aids Bath and Shower Liquid Body Cleanser: All the profits from the specially marked bottles of Eucalyptus Liquid Cleanser go straight to the Youth AIDS Foundation. What will go straight to your head is the sinus-opening scent. It makes your bath a deliciously warming swirl and snap. When it comes to shaving one's legs, it is nick-proof! Makes the skin smooth and coated enough the keep that razor sliding. Order from 800-KIEHLS1. —HG

10. What's wrong with the Lakers? It’s not the losing, although losing is never pleasant. It’s the team’s almost total lack of entertainment value in this unremittingly butt-ugly season. I can tell you from plentiful first-hand experience that watching a team throw the ball away 20-plus times while making a third of its shots, night after night, is no fun to watch whatsoever. If they’re a .500 team with Shaq, as they have been in the eight games since he’s returned to the lineup, while showing no signs of imminent improvement, we’re looking at a three-time championship team that ends the season in April at 38-44, folks. I know it sounds unbelievable, but if you don’t think that scenario is becoming increasingly possible, just watch a game or two. Now, the Lakers not making the playoffs is hardly tragic—they've had a terrific run—what's dispiriting is the idea of spending the next five months watching their descent to abject mediocrity. —BS

Can’t think of a thing to say when cornered by your peers at those forcibly jolly year-end gatherings? Simply pick at random from the following menu of utterances, and you’ll be just fine.

“It’s tough out there.”
“The problem is, nobody’s doing artist development anymore.”
“Where’s the love?”
“The kid’s a total star, but the songs aren’t there yet.”
“My guys love it, but my guys’ guys don’t get it.”
“Give me a call in a few weeks, after I get the funding together.”
“I hear he’s out.”
“The service was for shit, but the lobster bisque was off the hook.”
“They look kinda old—she’s at least 27.”
“I think we may get a soundtrack.”
“It’s a hit, but it’s not a smash.”
“Let me crunch the numbers and get back to you.”
“Let us beseech our dark lord, Satan, for a profitable quarter.” Simon Glickman

Adaptation (Columbia)
Premise: Already one of the most anticipated movies of the season, this is the follow-up from Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman, the team behind the hit Being John Malkovich. It details the real-life (and imagined) travails of a twin brother screenwriting team (both played by Nicolas Cage) to adapt the actual non-fiction book, Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief.
Stars: Cage, Meryl Streep (as Orlean), Chris Cooper, already named best supporting actor by the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures, as the fanatical orchid breeder title character, Tilda Swinton, Brian Cox, John Cusack, director David O. Russell and Catherine Keener (as themselves) and Maggie Gyllenhaal.
Director: Spike Jonze stakes his claim as a PoMo Hollywood auteur after this one.
Thumbs Up: More metaphysical fun about art and life from filmdom’s headiest pair.
Thumbs Down: Can you take two Nicolas Cages?
Soundtrack: The Astralwerks album includes original score composed by Jonze collaborator Carter Burwell.
Website: www.sonypictures.com offers a clever introduction to the characters and plot, along with selected scenes, in the form of an annotated film script.

Analyze That (WB)
Premise: The sequel to the Billy Crystal-Robert DeNiro comedy, in which DeNiro’s mob boss fakes a nervous breakdown to get out of prison. After being released into the care of Crystal’s shrink, he attempts to make it in the real world, where his gigs include selling cars and script consultation on Mafia movies.
Stars: Crystal, DeNiro, Lisa Kudrow, Anthony LaPaglia, Cathy Moriarty.
Director: Comic veteran Harold Ramis (Bedazzled, Analyze This, Multiplicity, Caddyshack), with characters created by Kenneth Lonergan (You Can Count On Me) and Peter Tolan and a screenplay by Ramis, Peter Steinfeld and Tolan.
Thumbs Up: DeNiro has turned into a deft comic actor, and the trailers are at least mildly amusing.
Thumbs Down: The Sopranos is a helluva lot funnier without even trying to be.
Soundtrack: The TVT album features the soundtrack by David Holmes, who also did the one for the new James Bond movie.
Website: www.Warnerbros.com offers a cursory glance at the movie, with cast information, production notes, downloads, video and a section entitled “On the friggin’ couch,” which allows you to analyze the mobster’s psychiatric files and take a quiz to find out “What kind of gangster are you?

Empire (Universal)
Premise: The story of a Latino drug dealer (John Leguizamo) trying to go straight who trusts his money to a business investor and his girlfriend, only to find out they’re con artists.
Stars: John Leguizamo, Denise Richards, Peter Sarsgaard, Ruben Blades, Isabella Rossellini, rappers Treach of Naughty by Nature and Fat Joe.
Director: First-timer Franc Reyes, who also wrote the screenplay.
Thumbs Up: Good cast, especially Denise Richards, always lovely.
Thumbs Down: A b-movie is a b-movie, even if it is being marketed to the Latin community.
Soundtrack: The Motown Records album features tracks from 702, Mobb Deep, DMX, India.Arie, Jon Secada, Angel Lopez, Luis Fonsi and Jose.
Website: www.Empiremovie.com offers sites in English and Espanol, along with a synopsis, photos, soundtrack information and a “making of” feature.

Equilibrium (Dimension)
Premise: Sci-fi film taking place in the future, where a strict regime has eliminated war by suppressing emotions, with books, art and music strictly forbidden and feeling a crime punishable by death.
Stars: American Psycho’s Christian Bale is a top-ranking government official responsible for destroying those who resist the rules. When he misses a dose of the mind-altering drug Prozium, which suppresses emotion, he finds himself in a position to overthrow the Big Brother government. Also stars Sean Bean, Taye Diggs, Emily Watson, Dominic Purcell.
Director: Kurt Wimmer, who previously penned the screenplay for the remake of Thomas Crown Affair and Barry Levinson’s ’98 sci-fi movie Sphere.
Thumbs Up: Will it be the anecdote to the turgid Solaris, or more of the same?
Thumbs Down: Originally scheduled as a wide release last March… Does that tell ya something?
Soundtrack: none
Website: www.dimensionfilms.com Roy Trakin

Atlanta +4 at Tampa Bay
Shoot fire, danged ol’ Atlanta is gonna git stuck with two losses his week. The Braves is gonna lose Tom Glavine, and the danged ol’ Falcons is gonna lose this here game. Them Falcons are on a roll and have won too many dang games in a row for this here parity-driven NF of L. Now, I told ya last week that Tampa Bay was gonna lose cuz they had won too many. Same thing applies this week. Take Bucs and give the 4.

Oakland -2 at San Diego
Dang, I hate pickin’ the danged ol’ Raiders. Die, Al Davis, die! The truth of the matter is, the danged ol’ Chargers is too banged up, and the fact they upset the Raiders earlier this year tells me it’s time for some danged ol’ Raider revenge. I hate pickin’ against the Chargers cuz they is going to be our new team in L.A. But a Guy With the Goggles has gotta do what a Guy With the Goggles has gotta do. —Guy W.T. Goggles
(Year to date: 13-9)

Hot Hot Heat, Make Up the Breakdown (Sub Pop):
These Canuck post-punks from Victoria, BC, hark back to the golden age of ’80s British new wave, with Steve Bays’ bouncy keyboards and angular vocals recalling such melodic art-pop forebears as Squeeze, XTC, Elvis Costello and a more upbeat Cure. Songs like “Naked in the City Again,” “Bandages” and “Oh, Goddamnit” are romantic plaints that wear their heartbeat on the sleeves of the malleable rhythm section of bassist Dustin Hawthorne and drummer Paul Hawley. Masters of economy, the four players pound out 10 songs in a little over 30 minutes, with the closing “In Cairo” recalling the sophistication of Roxy Music, thanks to a winding guitar solo by Dante DeCaro. —RT

Spoon, Kill the Moonlight (Merge):
Paralleling the filmmaker’s command in the album title, the fourth album from the Austin-based revisionist-pop band (c.f., Sloan, Blur) removes the sweetening from the song form, reducing it to its rhythmic essence in a conceptual tour de force that’s also delightfully listenable. Opening track “Small Stakes” contains nothing but click track, electric piano and tambourine under Britt Daniel’s vocal, until trash-can drums enter in its final seconds, setting up a framework of almost binary minimalism in which every sound counts and the drama derives not from a payoff but rather from the threat of a payoff. Daniel sounds like the young George Harrison at times, and Beatles touches are everywhere, bringing warmth to this exercise in cool. Plus, it’s got a good beat, and you can dance to it. Bud Scoppa

Lauren Macleash/PD, KTCZ Minneapolis
Norah Jones, Come Away With Me (Blue Note):“What can I say? It’s just beautiful—and great for singing and swaying with the baby.”
Bruce Springsteen, The Rising (Columbia): “The first album by a heritage artist in a long time that actually had some thought (not to mention heart) put into it.”
Coldplay, A Rush of Blood to the Head (Capitol): “Makes this 38-year-old feel “cool,” like when I listened to the Cure and the Pursuit of Happiness in the ’80s. A solid band.”
Beck, Sea Change (Interscope): “I can feel him crying into his beer, heartbroken, from track to track. But then, I like depressing mood records.”
Dean Martin, 31 Favorites (Capitol): “No one is as sexy as Dino. His voice makes my heart flutter.”

After 20 weeks of me babbling about my life, or lack of it, I’ve decided to give you guys a chance to speak. I’ve accumulated quite a bit of interesting, sometimes creepy, “fan” mail, and from those I’ve chosen a few of my favorites. Each week I’m entertained by your endearing date propositions, endless praise and always surprising (and often disturbing) descriptions of your most valued body part. I’m giving a big shout out to those of you that e-mail me every week. Thanks for reading, and I’ll do my best to keep you laughing in the new year. My cocktail of the week is dedicated to all those brave souls who send me their comments.

Brave Bull
1 oz. Cuervo
oz. Kahlua
Stir and serve over ice

The Truth Hurts:
Hello, Denise, I must tell you that was a very “eye-popping” article you wrote. First off, I can’t tell you how saddened I am, as my image of women’s behavior at parties is shattered. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not shallow, I know women can be as bad as men, but telling stories of “cocktail sausages” to a person that she just meets? Man, that’s low. I mean, guys, yeah we talk about encounters, but usually that’s only to a buddy.

So, do you have any suggestions to what a guy can do so he doesn’t become targeted like he was an “enemy aircraft” at a party? I mean, I’m no “Dirk Diggler,” but I’m definitely no “Pee-Wee Herman” either. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go see a doctor about an enlargement operation. It’s not for me; it’s for a friend of mine.
Tony S.

Well, Tony, just to let you know, I feel that it is my duty to inform all of you men out there just how horrible women are. We can’t help it. It’s part of our genetic make-up. Unfortunately, there’s no way for you to protect yourself from this type of target practice. And, if you dump a girl, you can be sure of being bashed in an all female gossip session. We’re women, and we like to talk—plain and simple. Personally, I don’t share the negative aspects about a guy I’m dating unless he really pisses me off, after that it’s no-holds-barred. I let it rip! But, I do share the REALLY positive things. I let my friends know what he’s doing right. For women, it’s like comparing who got the better deal on a pair of designer boots. We just like to be sure that we’re not getting the short end of the stick—literally—if you know what I’m saying; it’s a form of comparison-shopping. I’m not proud of this, but just like men love beer drinking and endless hours of sports, we love cosmopolitans and a different kind of sport—boyfriend bashing.
Hugs and kisses,

Be Careful, You Might Hurt Yourself:
Denise, I will have to respectfully request that you tone down the humor in your Friday column. I have heard that women enjoy nice asses, so in order to keep mine, I cannot continue to laugh my ass off each week while reading your column It’s hard enough out there on the single scene, even with a nice ass. Have a great week!
Peace, love and understanding.
Jim S.

As always, I enjoy your responses. I’m glad that I can make you laugh your ass off, but you had better be careful about that. I think it’s important that you don’t lose your entire ass! Take care.

SWF Looking for the Impossible:
I’d like to know your view on skateboarder/writer/filmmaker/hot-rod/song writer-types. Oh yeah, I need a wheel barrel for my third leg too. Damn, I’ve been reading your column for a while now, and I think your ideal guy is almost impossible, but my ideal female doesn’t exist either. Sigh.

Hi! I’m glad that I can entertain you. You’re probably right. I’m sure my ideal man doesn’t exist but one can at least have hope. I’m not sure what my view is on skateboarder/writer/filmmaker/hot-rod/song writer-types, but that’s quite a combo. I have to say that I’ve never met such a type, but I’m sure they’re wonderful. About the wheel barrel, WOW, good for you! Keep reading.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?
Hey Girlfriend! I say go for the Bachelor open call in San Diego. If you don’t get chosen, you can go check out those handsome sailors!
Hug & Kisses,
Your Sister

Well, if a girl can’t rely on her sister to send her off into the scary unknown, then whom can she rely on? I know that you’re living vicariously through me, so I’ll make sure we have a wild ride!
Lots of Love,
Your sweet, sexy and modest li’l sis

What were last weekends plans that made this week so intriguing and unable to share with your throng of readers? I mean if I was an avid and loyal follower of yours and you left me hangin’, I might be offended. What of the loyal ones? What of their continued support of the “Weakend Cocktail”? How disappointed must they be? Waiting with baited-breath to find how the adventure went. Latching their pathetic, hollow lives on your every move, possibly their only source for entertainment. Finally, seven long days pass, and they double click their mouse. What do they get? A big-old “cocktease” is what they find, no new of the adventure, just a notion of craziness. What they are left with is a keyboard they are unable to stroke. Is that the way you treat your fan base? I think not. Now they’re left limp. Holding their mouse.

Hey Adam! I believe the “adventure” that you’re referring to was proposed in my November 15th column. I didn’t mean to leave you “limp,” as you put it. Sorry about the “cocktease” thing, but hey, I’m a woman. Unfortunately, you must still remain waiting with “baited breath,” but all good things are worth waiting for.

It’s a Love/Hate Thing:
“I’m guessing that certain people in this city think they’re entirely more important than they are.”
Doctor, heal thyself.

Obviously, you’re not taking the quote in the context with the rest of the point I was making. If it appears that I think I am “entirely more important” than I am, then so be it. It is my column and in it I write about my opinions—what a concept. So, if the doctor needs to “heal thyself” maybe you could suggest a good therapist. I still love you for your opinion, and you don’t have to like what I write about. It’s better that way, because I’m sick of getting praise after praise.
Hugs and kisses,

Thanks again for taking time out of your busy days to read my neurotic take on life, dating and drinking. Keep sending me your love. Until next week, hugs and kisses. DeniseBayles

Contributors: Kevin Badami, Denise Bayles, Holly Gleason, Simon Glickman, Guy W.T. Goggles, Jill Kushner, Mike Morrison, Jon O'Hara and, of course, Roy Trakin

Editor: Bud Scoppa

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