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It's time to consider the following crucial questions between Kobe and Shaq: Who works harder in the off season to improve his game? Who plays with more passion, pride and consistency? Who wants to win more? Which one is more clutch? Who will most likely stay healthy in the coming years? Who is years younger? Who is more fun to watch??? Who wants to be the best player in game?
A WEAKEND PLANNER THAT LASTS
LONGER THAN BRITNEY’S MARRIAGE
Making Book on Dennis Lehane, the Beatles Come to America, Shaq vs. Kobe, the Cherry Bombs Reunion and Peter Case’s McCabe’s Homecoming
Baby, it’s cold outside. The media circus gets underway today in Santa Barbara, where the press corps will show up for Michael Jackson’s arraignment, but that’s not the only war being fought this weekend. The NFC and AFC championships will be decided, and then it’s on to some real rumbles, with the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primaries signalling the start of the year-long march to see if anyone can whack Bush. As for us, we’ll be at UCLA talking to a class of 27 students from Japan who don’t speak English, but want to become music editors and journalists. Talk about Lost in Translation… How do you say, "Have you considered law school?" in Japanese?

POPCULT TOP 10
1. Dennis Lehane, Mystic River: The book has it all over the movie, which boasts some classic Method performances, but buries the surprising denoument in favor of character. The novel fills in the gaps and deepens the relationships and sense of place, until the conclusion seems as inevitable and fatalistic as a Greek tragedy. Can’t quibble with Clint Eastwood’s casting, though his substitution of Laurence Fishburn for the role of Whitey, a pot-bellied veteran Sergeant who compares himself to Brian Dennehy is an obvious marketing ploy. See the film, then read the book to get the full effect of what seemed a little too coincidental on the screen. (Roy Trakin)

2. The Beatles First US Visit (Apple Corps/Capitol DVD): A true revelation, much of it never available, this 80-minute footage captures the Fab Four at their most fresh-faced. Famed documentarians the Maysles brothers (Gimme Shelter, Grey Gardens) capture the moptops from the moment their Pan Am flight touched down at New York’s then-Idlewild airport, including that first press conference, the screaming fans outside the Plaza Hotel and all three historic performances from The Ed Sullivan Show. Much of the film is a direct precursor to Richard Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night, capturing the lads listening to their music being played on a transistor radio, kibbitzing with "5th Beatle," manic WINS d.j. Murray the K and goofing on passengers during a train ride to Washington, DC. The footage from their closed-circuit TV performance at the Washington Coliseum, where they played in the round as Ringo himself shifted his drum kit so they could face a different segment of the audience for each song, is a true eye-opener. The band seems dumbfounded, but delighted at the reception, unable to wipe the goofy grins off their faces as they try to be heard above the shrieking teenybopper girls whose boyfriends look on in wide-eyed disbelief. (RT)

3. Kobe Over Shaq: What’s wrong with the L.A. Lakers? Elektra Entertainment VP Press & Artist Relations Joel Amsterdam thinks he knows, and wrote the following letter to the L.A. Times Sports Section, causing a firestorm of protest when it was published last week:

Dear Jerry [Buss] and Mitch [Kupchak]: It's time to consider the following crucial questions between Kobe and Shaq: Who works harder in the off season to improve his game? Who plays with more passion, pride and consistency? Who wants to win more? Which one is more clutch? Who will most likely stay healthy in the coming years? Who is years younger? Who is more fun to watch??? Who wants to be the best player in game? And Dr. Buss, whose contract doesn't break the bank and stifle your flexibility for YEARS TO COME? Whose bogus sexual assault trial will leave him a "free" agent in all sense of the word this summer? The answer is, of course, obvious. Shaquille has become an embarrassment. Horrendous fundamentally combined with zero pride and professionalism. BE BOLD. Trade Shaquille while you still can, build around a 25-year-old superstar and keep this great organization winning championships. Wait too long and it will be a LONG, ugly road back. (JA)

4. Long Since Forgotten, Standing Room Only (RocketStar): Before people called Weezer and Jimmy Eat World "emo," guys who poured out their hearts with alternately loud and soft guitars were called rock musicians. Long Since Forgotten, straight out of Syracuse, are the kind of no-frills/all-hooks rock band that make you remember some of the greats. Their sophomore album is a polished gem, thanks to producer Ed Rose, and every song has the singalong quality you’re looking for in a rock record. Nothing groundbreaking, nothing too clever, here, it’s just completely solid from start to finish. Which is quite an accomplishment in this day and age. (David Simutis)

5. Airline (Mondays, 10 p.m., A&E): Flying is a pain. Flying Southwest can be a real pain, since it’s so no-frills and they don’t pre-assign seats. First come, first serve is no way to go through life. But they always have the cheapest flights to Vegas. Airline is a reality show that follows life in the Southwest Airlines world in Chicago Midway and Los Angeles airports. It’s not as fast-paced as it could be, preferring to tell a few tales each episode, letting employees become a little more indepth. Still, removing the stress of having to actually travel makes watching the people too drunk to fly being turned away, or the impossible to deal with parents, that much more entertaining. (DS)

6. Cherry Bombs Reunion: The band Rodney Crowell put together as a Texas expatriate served as the anchor of the Southern California country-rock movement that was the legacy of the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt and, eventually, Emmylou Harris. We're talking Vince Gill, Tony Brown (the man behind Steve Earle, Lyle Lovett, Nanci Griffith, Patty Loveless, the Mavericks and an Elvis alum), Hank DeVito (who penned "Queen of Hearts") and Richard Bennett (Mark Knopfler's strum de camp)—plus supplementals Eddie Bayers, John Hobbs and Michael Rhodes. The Cherry Bombs were Crowell's baby, Gill's refuge from Pure Prairie League and Rosanne Cash's touring soul… and they were the crucible of new wave/pop merging with real live high-flying country music. Organic, yet rooted. Deep, yet willing to smile. Honky and tonky and country and Elvis Costello. It didn't push the envelope, it re-created it… and it did it with the songs of a man who could only be considered modern country music's Bob Dylan. Twenty years later, it's the same combustion—only the lives have been lived, the insight gleaned and the grooves deepened. (Holly Gleason)

7. Fantasy Golf: Envying my friends who play in those "fantasy" baseball leagues, but never having the acumen to get in on that action, this is the same name, different game. And it opens up a whole new league of compatriots and rapscallions—marauding the cyberfairways in the name of the weekly winnings. Watching the PGA leader board has never had a vested interest before—hopefully it won't taint my amateur status! Oh, wait… Having not swung a club seriously in two decades, nothing could disarm my state of utter amateurism. (HG)

8. www.rockthevote.com: There's just no excuse! You don't have to drive anywhere, figure out which room, hope you have the right hours. You hit this site, answer the questions, print out…then put in an envelope and mail to the address they give you. Nothing is simpler. Show up. Sign up. Help your country get up…because democracy only works if we make our voices heard. (HG)

9. Peter Case, live at McCabe’s, L.A.: The room barely fits 100 people, but some of the biggest names in folk, blues, soul and rock have appeared on its tiny stage, surrounded by banjos, mandolins and guitars of all shapes and sizes. Looking slightly pudgier, like a cross between Cameron Crowe and Peter Holsapple, transplanted Buffalo singer/sonwriter Case celebrated the 20 years since he first performed there after leaving his new wave garage band The Plimsouls. The 22-song, two-hour set reached back to the beginning with "Walk in the Woods" (which he recalls as the first song he ever played at the venue) and included "Steel Strings," a semi-autobiographical nod to his rock-band roots. There was a typically eclectic batch of covers, including Memphis Minnie’s "Bumblebee," a gravelly voiced take on Mississippi John Hurt’s "Beulah Land" and Neil Young’s "Flying on the Ground is Wrong." Case dedicated a delicately wrought version of "A Whiter Shade of Pale" to original British Invasion soul singer Terry Reid, whom he noted still performs at local club the Joint on Monday nights. A self-proclaimed busker, Case abandoned the mic, unplugged his acoustic and climbed down into the crowd to play Tom Russell and Bob Neuwirth’s "Beyond the Blues," before finishing with Shane MacGowan and the Pogues’ "A Pair of Brown Eyes." Leading the audience on a singalong of the chorus, "A-rovin’, a-rovin’, a-rovin’ I’ll go," it sure felt like he arrived home. (RT)

10. The Simple Life (Fox): A crazy quilt cross that combines the dull buzz of reality TV with the absurd sitcom classicism of Green Acres (fish-out-of-water urbanites take to the country) and Petticoat Junction (horny farmgals), this series is a serious meditation on class differences in the U.S. It’s all hidden behind the hilarity of dumber-than-dirt debutantes Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie, who are so spoiled and clueless as to make Richie Rich look humble. Even without credit cards or cell phones, the duo cause havoc and scandal, as half the teenage boys in town think they’re heading for Hollywood stardom, while the gals laugh all the way to the bank. There’s a real sweetness lurking underneath the surface that preserves everyone’s dignity, which is the biggest reality check of all. (RT)

ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL?
Sorry for mixing up the two games last week, but we told you we lost interest after the Jets were eliminated from the play-offs. That said, once we got the schedule correct, we turned out to be right about the Colts beating the Chiefs and the Eagles beating the Packers, but wrong that Tennessee would top New England and St. Louis would triumph over the Panthers. That said, we feel fairly confident the Eagles and Donovan McNabb will best the Panthers in chilly Philly, especially if Stephen Davis can’t go, though be wary of Carolina’s running attack, since the Eagles got scorched last week by the Packers’ Ahman Green. In the other contest, it’s hard to pick against the streaking Pats against Indy in frigid Foxboro, even though we’ve been doing it all year, but here’s to a sneaking suspicion that Peyton Manning’s shining moment has come, even if it takes overtime for him to prove it. (RT)

THE SITCOM PROBLEM
Look, I hate Sunday night—not just as a reminder that I must shortly return to this festering cesspool after a blissful weekend of cleaning gutters and taking bids on mold abatement, but as a deeper dread carried over from a childhood of schoolyard terror. That the only TV shows I watch regularly (TiVo’s for movies, dude) are clustered on that night has traditionally provided a modicum of comfort. Yet I found myself feeling strangely restive during shows I adore (Curb Your Enthusiasm, Arrested Development) and ones I don’t, but must watch because I’ve been following them for years and live with a woman (Sex and the City). All three shows seemed even more contrived than usual. Was it a phase of the moon? An early-season slump? In point of fact, these shows appeal despite their form; the sitcom is a contraption. With great writing and energetic performances, they can overcome the gratingly mechanical formula that is half-hour comedy—but only for so long. I expect a middling mush from Sex, with the occasional good gag (and great work from Cynthia Nixon), but the Baryshnikov thing is godawful and I’m actually delighted the series is almost over. Arrested makes up for its Rube Goldberg structure with great ensemble work (Jessica Walter, in particular, is a revelation), but the strain of making its "wacky" plotlines collapse on each other is beginning to show. It pains me indeed, meanwhile, to say that even my beloved Curb felt forced last week; I could visualize Larry David furiously scribbling and then crossing out ways to have his character inadvertently wound Ben Stiller. Don’t get me wrong: It’s still mostly a delight. But I miss the sense of liberating, disastrous free fall that made the show so unique in the first place. Maybe they should turn it into an hour drama. (Simon Glickman)

TRAKIN’S PICKS TO FLICK
Along Came Polly (Universal)
Premise:
A man who's afraid of risk, but makes a living analyzing risk, ends up getting involved in a risky romance after his new wife cheats on him, which turns his stable life upside-down.
Stars: Ben Stiller, Jennifer Aniston, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Debra Messing, Hank Azaria and Alec Baldwin.
Director: John Hamburg (co-author of Meet the Parents and Zoolander in feature debut).
Thumbs Up: Meet the Parents was an underrated comedy find, while the comic interplay between Stiller and Aniston could be promising.
Thumbs Down: It’s another one of these studio January dumps, even with the massive advertising campaign, while Stiller sure looks like he’s repeating the nebbishe straight guy routine ad infinitum as he looks to repeat the box office success of There's Something About Mary.
Soundtrack: None.
Website: www.alongcamepolly.com includes a nifty intro, trailer, TV spots, clips, ecard, wallpaper, screen savers, story, photo gallery, cast/crew information and production notes.

Torque (Warner Bros.)
Premise:
Set in the world of motorcycle racing, long-time biker (and non-gang member) Cary Ford is framed by the rival leader of biker gang the Hellions for the murder of Sleepy D, the brother of Trey Wallace, chief of feared biker gang the Machine.
Stars: Ice Cube, Martin Henderson, Monet Mazur.
Director: Joseph Kahn, music video director making his feature bow.
Thumbs Up: Cold weather entertainment for the genre crowd.
Thumbs Down: Another January dump, and 2 Fast 2 Furious wasn’t exactly a blockbuster.
Soundtrack: Score by ex-Yes member Trevor Rabin.
Website: www.torquemovie.com has a little something for everyone, with a game, cast/crew information, photo gallery, etc.

NEW YORK MINUTE
Go ahead and brave the bone-chilling cold this weekend if only for the love of music. Bette Midler lets it all hang out for a two-nighter at Madison Square Garden (34th St. at 7th and 8th Ave.) beginning Saturday (Jan. 17). On Sunday, Hoobastank, Linkin Park, P.O.D. and Story of the Year will have Uniondale, N.Y.'s Nassau Coliseum (1255 Hempstead Turnpike) moshing in motion. As a bonus, former, ahem current, New Kids fans, none other than Jordan Knight is slated to play B.B. King's Blues Club (243 W. 42nd St.) on Tuesday (Jan. 20). (Valerie Nome)  

QUOTE OF THE WEEK
What's Britney's idea of spin control after defacing marriage with her 55-hour nuptials to childhood pal Jason Allen Alexander? Going on MTV's TRL.

Among the Briticisms:

"I do believe in the sanctity of marriage, I totally do," she explained in a phone call broadcast Wednesday, "but I was in Vegas and it took over me and things got out of hand."

In fact, why the world cares that she tied the knot Jan. 3 is something she just can't understand. "Do you realize we landed on Mars that day?" she said. "Why isn't the world talking about that?"

When VJ Damien Fahey tried to find out about the "connection" after the 5:30 a.m. ceremony, Brit replied, "I was in Vegas with my friend and we just hit it off ... completely. Let's talk about something else."

Pressing again, Brit fired back "That's a personal question ... but I do have a video coming out and it's really cool."

Er, that video is called "Toxic." (VN)

YOUR WEAKEND QUESTION
I’d like to thank all of the people who responded to my query on the whereabouts of ex-Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil. However, Thayil’s whereabouts remain a mystery. But time marches on, and I consoled myself by watching TV. At the end of a commercial for Saturn’s new SUV comes to a close, the strains of one of perhaps the finest song of 1986 plays. Hearing Cameo’s classic, "Word Up," brought up a question I’ve often asked myself. As you should remember, Cameo singer Larry Blackmon wore a fire-red codpiece. My question to you, dear readers, is "Where is Larry Blackmon’s codpiece now?" Send your answers to [email protected]. Thank you, and word up. (DS)

YOUR WEAKEND WEATHER
While limits of this space prevent me from explaining how global warming is taking place, despite the fact that it’s 200 degrees on the East Coast, the short explanation is that carbon in the atmosphere creates unstable climate conditions. Think of it as causing wild mood swings in the atmosphere. Ocean water temperatures help regulate the climate, and as those warm, you’ll see more hurricanes, droughts, heat waves, and cold snaps. Of course, if you’re getting your science from this site, the world is in trouble. In New York City this weekend, it will be an amazing end to a death-inducing cold. Temps will reach the low 70s, with lows in the mid-60s…if you’re smart and don’t go outside. On the outside of your apartment, temps will approach the 30 degree mark. But seriously, stay inside. In Los Angeles, it ill be sunny, with temps in the low 70s and lows in the low 50s at night. Sure, it sounds great—but really, don’t move here. The traffic’s bad enough as it is. (DS)

Thanks to Roy Trakin, Joel Amsterdam, David Simutis, Holly Gleason, Valerie Nome and Simon Glickman for allowing us to get a quick annulment of this Weakend Planner.

 

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