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The latest episode of Six Feet Under encompassed laugh-out-loud hilarity and heartbreaking angst. The range of topics is almost as dark as real life itself. This is black comedy with a shining light at the end of the tunnel.
WEAKEND PLANNER GETS A CASE OF THE WILLIES
All We Can Do at This Point Is Take a Deep Breath and Live in the Moment
As tens of thousands of American and British troops encircle the Cradle of Civilization, the Santa Anas are blowing up a storm here in L.A. The loco wind further intensifies this collective sense of dread that’s in the air, so palpably Biblical that you have to hand it to that bidding-war band for naming itself The Rapture. The knowledge that a number of our contemporaries at Sony Music, and a couple more old friends right here at HITS, got laid off yesterday, makes the present moment seem all the more somber. So what do we do now? We watch the NCAA Tournament, or we slide in a rented movie like The Ring or Possession, more grateful than usual to have what we hope will be compelling fare to focus on. How do we reconcile our need to become emotionally involved in ritual and fiction at times like these? Nicole Kidman made the point with remarkably simple eloquence Sunday night when she accepted her Best Actress Oscar. “Art is important,” she said. We can add nothing to that.

WEAKEND POPCULT TOP 10
1. Six Feet Under (HBO):
The best show on television has gotten even better this season, with enough delicious reality subplots to make even The Sopranos look like an overblown soap opera. This past week’s episode was the best yet. It encompassed laugh-out-loud hilarity (Michael C. Hall’s conversation with Freddy Rodriguez about ball-shaving, Peter Krause imagining his mother and wife as the same person, Frances Conroy’s belated sexual awakening), as well as heartbreaking angst (Lauren Ambrose’s amazing combination of self-confident bliss and terrified vulnerability, the Puccini opera sung at the funeral). The range of topics is almost as dark as real life itself. Creator Alan Ball has given us a canvas that does something only the greatest art can—emphasizing our common humanity and an inspiring acceptance of the universality of desire that transcends the barriers of repressive convention, while ruefully acknowledging its presence. This is black comedy with a shining light at the end of the tunnel. And just in the nick of time, brace yourself for the return of Rachel Griffiths’ Brenda this week. —RT

2. The Onion: Tired of 24/7 "embedded" news? One of the last bastions of satire in the U.S. has stepped things up with its own war coverage. For one thing, they've added a headline crawl. Even better, you can read pointed, unflinching items like "Dead Iraqi Would've Loved Democracy," "U.S. Forms Own U.N.," "New Bomb Capable Of Creating 1,500 New Terrorists In Single Blast" and my personal favorite, "Sheryl Crow Unsuccessful: War on Iraq Begins." Hitting at mindless militarism and goofy protesters alike ("The International Socialist Organization Needs a Ride Home," is listed among "Top Anti-War Slogans"), it's a cool balm of withering scorn in a wasteland of robotic sloganeering. —SG

3. The Thorns Hotel Tour: The heading may not be altogether accurate, but four hotels were indeed on the itinerary as the preeminent post-millennial harmony group conducted an initial series of acoustic performances in front of invited audiences during the last few weeks. Kicking things off at a Triple A convention on the Big Island, Matthew Sweet, Pete Droge and Shawn Mullins wowed invited audiences at L.A.’s Chateau Marmont, the Driskill Ballroom at SXSW and NARM in Orlando, concluding it March 20 at the Lamb’s Theatre, a small room inside a church in Midtown Manhattan. The invited guests showed up for the New York set despite a driving rain and a big anti-war rally that led the NYPD to close off 44th St., where the theater was located. Tastemaker reactions included the following: "They sound like the sons of Graham Nash playing late ’60s Beach Boys tunes as channeled by Mike Campbell of the Heartbreakers and Peter Buck of R.E.M. It's the sort of sound that never gets dated." "This is beautiful stuff" "They were great! When can I do the interview?" The album isn’t coming till May 20, but they’ve already got their first cover, on Paste magazine’s current issue. This isn’t a paid promotion, kids—it’s a labor of love. The Thorns is my favorite album of 2003, and these guys absolutely kill live. You gotta hear it. But I don’t hear any Graham Nash in it; to me, a closer parallel would be Crosby, Stills & Young... Aha—just received word from Columbia's Angelica Cob that the line above about Graham Nash was erroneous. The quote should have read "...as channeled by the sons of Gram Parsons." That I can live with. —BS

4. Dave Gleekman: Gleek, who died Thursday of Hodgkin’s Disease, wasn’t as famous as Henry Droz, but he, too, was a music-biz legend to those of us who crossed paths with him while he worked as a regional out of Detroit for Zoo in the ’90s. Craig Northey, who spent lots of quality time with Gleek back in the day as a member of the Odds, sent me this eulogy: “"Dave Gleekman was at the top of a game that never gets any coverage. He was on the unlisted world's top five true music fan list...for sure. He lived at the center of rock intensity—Detroit. Driven by his huge-hearted enthusiasm, he became an expert on the things he enjoyed most and worked tirelessly to help musicians get a leg up. I laugh just thinking about how hard he worked to make sure everyone was enjoying the rock & roll moment. Nobody could have enjoyed it as much as him. Flying mane of gray hair, jean jacket, jingling bracelets and a smile that filled a room. Thanks, Gleek." —BS

5. Possession (Universal Studios Home Video): Noted misogynist Neil LaBute (In the Company of Men, Your Friends & Neighbors) turns out to be, of all things, a Victorian romantic poet at heart in this adaptation of a novel by A.S. Byatt about a pair of academics who stumble upon the hidden correspondence between a bard famous for his fidelity and his secret lover, only to fall in love themselves. Like The Hours, the movie jumps between the present (featuring Gwyneth Paltrow and LaBute regular Aaron Eckhart) and the past (where a dapper Jeremy Northam plays the straying writer). It’s all quite literate and measured in a Merchant-Ivory sort of manner, though it is refreshing to hear a movie that exalts the power of the written word. The only problem is, the tepid modern-day romance suffers in comparison to the passions of the past, which feature not only betrayal but lesbianism, suicide and ecstasy, along with some predictably repressed agony. A definite date DVD for English majors. —RT

6. Fiction Plane at The Knitting Factory L.A.: Joe Sumner and mates aren’t a huge draw—yet—but anyone who’s been hooked by their MCA debut knows that’s likely to change. And those hearing the bulk of the album (plus some new numbers) at this gig got a taste of what a fine live band FP already is: Many of the recorded nuances came off the stage effortlessly, while a few added dynamic twists and turns kept things interesting. This is no Zenyata Mondata flashback—these kids rock. —JO

7. What’s Spinning in Spinning Class? Special “Life During Wartime” Edition: Spoon’s “Everything Hits at Once,” Foo Fighters’ “Times Like These,” Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower,” White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army,” Blondie’s “Rapture,” Neil Young & Crazy Horse’s “Powderfinger,” Talking Heads’ “Life During Wartime,” The Jayhawks’ “Stumbling Through the Dark,” Todd Rundgren’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” The Thorns’ “No Blue Sky,” The Beatles’ Let It Be,” Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind.” —BS

8. City of God (Miramax): This amazing film, shot documentary-style and set in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, is a real gang movie, and an electrifying one at that. I recommended it to E! Entertainment celebrity Dave Adelson, who now tells me it’s one of his five top films of all time. It’s going into wider release, and you don’t want to miss it. One cautionary note: This movie is not for the faint of heart. —LB

9. Kathleen Edwards, Failer (Zoe/Rounder): Sheila Rogers at Letterman and Barbara Libis at The Tonight Show beat me to this wonder of still-life kinda country by a 21-year-old Canadian newcomer. Edwards’ debut album contains snapshots from the brokedown part of town, moments stolen from the hall of shame—and a spirit that will not quite requite. Witnessing such an unquenchable thirst for experience at such a young age, we can all rest assured that Edwards will continue to carry the same fire that burns with such intensity inside Lucinda Williams. —HG

10. The Ring (DreamWorks Home Entertainment): This remake of a Japanese film gets its scares out of suggestion and anticipation, in the manner of The Shining and Sixth Sense, rather than Scream-like gore, and does so masterfully. Naomi Watts, so spellbinding in Mulholland Drive, provides a well-defined, extremely desperate protagonist; she obviously has a taste for offbeat films. I don’t actually know whether her character gets out of the movie alive—during one especially scary scene, we were jolted by a small earthquake that felt like a bomb had gone off nearby. At that point, we decided to finish the film in broad daylight. —BS

IN THE CHANGER
Simon Glickman, HITS loser, Mysterypop singer
1. The Joel Plaskett Emergency, Down at the Khyber (Brobdingnagian Records):
Nova Scotian Plaskett (ex-Thrush Hermits) is a blazing, totally original talent—it’s high-lonesome New Wave soul-prog, or something. Highlights: The title track, “Clueless Wonder” and “True Patriot Love.”
2. Kim Fox, Return to Planet Earth (Oglio/Franklin): If you dug Kimmy’s DreamWorks disc from ’97, this’ll knock you out. “I’ve Got Music” is the slam-dunk pop single everyone in this town would kill to write; “I See Too Well” is a glorious ballad.
3. Cody ChesnuTT, The Headphone Masterpiece (Ready Set Go!): That mad-catchy Roots track can’t prepare you for this sprawling, audacious work, recorded on four-track. “Serve This Royalty,” “Look Good in Leather,” “My Women, My Guitars,” “The Seed” and “6 Seconds” are all classics.
4. White Stripes, Elephant (V2): Me like vinyl. Current faves: “The Hardest Button to Button,” “I Wanna Be the Boy,” the Bacharach cover.
5. Bleu, Redhead (Aware): Brilliant Bostonian pop-rocker collaborates with Jellyfish's Andy Sturmer and Semisonic's Dan Wilson. "Somebody Else" was on the Spiderman ST, but the whole album kills me. "Somethin's Gotta Give" is incredible.

SHINY ROUND THINGS
Lucinda Williams, World Without Tears (Lost Highway):
Williams’ seventh album is a complete return to the form of 1998’s Grammy-winning breakthrough, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. The music world would be a lot more interesting if her sultry single “Righteously” was the “country” represented at the top of the charts, but there’s no accounting for mass taste. If there were, everyone would be transfixed as this legendarily difficult artist evokes Neil Young on the plaintive opener, “Fruits of My Labor,” while proving equally at home with the gender-bending “Bleeding Fingers,” which has all the rocking swagger of the Stones. Toss in a devastating, “dirt under your nails” take on the underbelly of domestic poverty in ”American Dream,” which Williams puts across with shrugging despair, and you have one of the leading contenders for album of this or any other year. Roy Trakin

Postal Service, Give Up (Sub Pop): This side project between the principals of Death Cab for Cutie and Dntl opens with what sounds like a sensitive-troubadour type accidentally walking into a room full of analog synths. But said troubadour, DCFC’s Benjamin Gibbard, quickly gathers himself, morphing into Marc Almond through the course of the track, while the synth operator, Dntl’s Jimmy Tamborello, gets his creaky old machines clattering like crazy. This delight, “The District Sleeps Alone at Night,” is immediately followed by three more retro gems, the propulsive single “Such Great Heights,” the electro-protest song “Sleeping In” and “Nothing Better,” an ingenuous duet with Jen Wood that seems to channel the Human League. Postal Service absolutely nails the gloriously cheesy sounds of synthpop’s heyday in 1982-83, and the duo’s longplayer sounds less like a side project than a career move. Bud Scoppa

The Coral, The Coral (Deltasonic/Columbia): There’s a madcap energy and kitchen-sink eclecticism to this Merseyside, U.K., band’s latest disc, but these elements are more than balanced by superb songwriting and passionate performance. Fusing the sharp retro-pop instincts of The La’s and Supergrass with elements of ska revivalism, monster-mash frug-a-thons, old-school psychedelic freakouts and even a bit of pirate singing, singer/guitarist James Skelly, keyboardist/singer Nick Power and mates exert formidable charm; the music is hip and irreverent but still soulful. Highlights: the irresistible uptempo single “Dreaming of You,” “Waiting for the Heartaches,” which could almost be a lost Electric Prunes track, and the Beefheart-esque “Skeleton Key.” Simon Glickman

The D4, 6Twenty (Hollywood): New Zealand has a new export, and it ain’t kiwi fruit, baby. While closely aligned sound-wise to Sweden’s Hives and fellow kiwis The Datsuns, The D4 nevertheless bring a uniquely over-the-top sense of fun to their bruising, Ramones-inspired garage blitz. That vibe is pretty much summed up in the titles of the first three tracks: “RnR MF,” “Get Loose” and “Party.” This trio of scorchers sets the pace, which doesn’t let up for anything, driven to the brink by the manic stick work of drummer Beaver. It’s as unselfconscious and unpretentious a celebration of the need to rock as one can imagine, and the emotional payoff is off the charts. Other hot spots: “Pirate Love” and the rifftastic “Rebekah.” Crank it. Jon O’Hara

TRAKIN’S PICKS TO FLICK
Basic (Columbia Pictures)
Premise: DEA agent is brought in by an old friend to investigate the disappearance of several Army Ranger cadets and a legendary drill instructor during an exercise at a basic training camp in Panama.
Stars: John Travolta (as DEA agent), Samuel L. Jackson (the drill sergeant, and his first appearance with Travolta since Pulp Fiction), Andy Garcia (his friend), Taye Diggs, Connie Nielsen, Giovanni Ribisi, Tim Daly, Roselyn Sanchez
Director: John McTiernan
tries to get back to the heights of Die Hard and The Hunt for Red October after the disaster of Rollerball)
Thumbs Up: A first-rate director and an intriguing cast, featuring the always interesting Jackson
Thumbs Down: Travolta has been in a series of turkeys, and McTiernan seemed to have lost it on Rollerball, with some bad advance word the plot is too confusing to care.
Soundtrack: None
Website: http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/basic/index.html gives you a plot synopsis, cast and crew information, a flash 6 intro, the chance to enter a “Seeing is Deceiving” sweepstakes, showtimes and a trailer.

The Core (DreamWorks Pictures)
Premise: Journey to the Center of the Earth update, with a band of NASA “terranauts” forced to set off a nuclear detonation when a change in temperature in the earth’s core threatens to stop the planet from revolving.
Stars: Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank (reportedly playing a man), Bruce Greenwood, Richard Jenkins (the dead father in Six Feet Under), Delroy Lindo, Stanley Tucci, Alfre Woodard
Director:
Genre-jumper Jon Amiel (Copycat, Entrapment, Sommersby, The Man Who Knew Too Little) takes on sci-fi for the first time.
Thumbs Up: Great cast, but how are the special effects?
Thumbs Down: Sounds like a sci-fi art flick, and we all know how Solaris did.
Soundtrack: None
Website: www.thecoremovie.com allows you to enter a “Core Crew Challenge,” view the trailer and access downloads, along with the requisite cast and crew information.

Head of State (DreamWorks Pictures)
Premise: Chris Rock is a Washington, DC, alderman who is unexpectedly picked by the Democratic party to run for President, with Bernie Mac as his unsophisticated brother enlisted to be his running mate.
Stars: Rock, Mac, Robin Givens, Tamala Jones, Lynn Whitfield, Dylan Baker (so great as the pedophile in Todd SolondzHappiness), James Rebhorn, rapper Nate Dogg as himself
Director:
Following in the footsteps of Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor, Rock makes his directorial debut.
Thumbs Up: Chris Rock in the White House…get it?
Thumbs Down: Up next, Chris Tucker as President of the U.S. We’re not kidding.
Soundtrack: None
Website:
www.headofstate-themovie.com is an elaborate site that includes a plot synopsis, production notes, downloadable photos, e-cards, trailers, clips, a making-of featurette, cast information, including interviews and a Mix Masta feature that’s “off the hizzle fa shizzle,” allowing you to play various musical selections, control the moves of a group of White House dancers and edit in lines from the movie.

Assassination Tango (MGM/UA)
Premise: An assassin is sent to Argentina to kill a general and while waiting, decides to “kill time” with a beautiful dancer as he becomes involved with the fascinating culture of tango dancing.
Stars: Robert Duvall, Kathy Baker, Ruben Blades, Julio Oscar Mechoso, Luciana Pedraza
Director:
Duvall, who also wrote the screenplay, in his third go-around as a director, after Angelo My Love and The Apostle… Why do all his films begin with an “A”?
Thumbs Up: Last Tango in Buenos Aires? Or Strictly Ballroom crossed with Day of the Jackal?
Thumbs Down: The musical thriller isn’t exactly a proven genre.
Soundtrack: RCA Victor album features music from Argentine composer Luis Enriquez Bacalov.
Website: www.assassinationtango.com traces the dance steps of the tango to a trailer, plot synopsis, cast and crew information and production notes. —RT

DENISE’S WEAKEND COCKTAIL
It’s happening again—my addiction to The Bachelor. Last night was the first episode of the third season, and at the end, I was left feeling unsatisfied and dirty—unsatisfied because it was an hour filled with fluff. He didn’t even eliminate any girls, making me wait until next week for the tear-filled interviews that I love—and dirty because I actually watched it.

On an even dirtier note, remember last November, when I mentioned an open call being held in San Diego for The Bachelor III? Well, a lot of you wrote me and encouraged me to go, which I did, and the funny thing is, after many interviews with casting directors and producers, I made it into the top 50 finalists out of thousands of girls. This was a surprise to me, because I thought everyone could tell that I’m a bitter, single girl who definitely doesn’t want to get married—at least right now. My beauty must’ve blinded them. I was eliminated over Christmas break because they had chosen a “different” bachelor than they had wanted to pair me up with. I guess I’m not compatible with a young, handsome bachelor who is an heir to the Firestone fortune.

The fact I considered going on a show, which I claim to despise, proves once again that I’m certifiably crazy—making me like most women, so I must be normal. My cocktail of the week is dedicated to all of the other crazy women who wouldn’t mind living like a princess—mansion in Malibu, limo drivers, hot tubs, swimming pool, free clothes—even if it means you have to share your guy with 24 other gals. I guess everything has a price, even if it does leave you feeling a little dirty.

Dirty Princess
1 oz. Crown Royal Whiskey
3 oz. Pink Grapefruit Juice (with pulp—hence dirty)
Splash grenadine
Shake well and pour into a cocktail glass with ice

It was a huge relief when I didn’t get chosen for the show—my friends back in Indiana were the ones who were upset. Sure, I’d love to hang out and do nothing for a few weeks except going on fancy dates and making out in hot tubs, while I get paid and live the high life in a Malibu mansion, but in a way, by going on the show I would be selling out and looking pathetic while my future dates watch. Plus, there’s the “desperate single girl” stigma that hangs over your head forever when you go on a dating show. I’m OK with my “bitter single girl” stigma, but I don’t wish to add “desperate” to that. So, if they called me tomorrow and wanted me to be on The Bachelor IV, would I do it? Probably—I’m pathetic!

De’s L.A. bar pick of the week: If you’re like me and have an addiction to bad reality TV, give into it by gathering your gal pals and indulging together with a Bachelor viewing party. Next Wednesday after the bachelorettes put their claws away and the catfights end, head to the Liquid Kitty on Pico in West L.A. to experience a little “cattiness” of your own. This extremely dark, subdued joint is the perfect place to gossip with your girls about the show. The drinks are huge and strong, just like we like our men—oh my!

De’s diss of the week: Although I love being pampered like a princess, I prefer not to have it done in a nightclub setting such as the Beauty Bar on Cahuenga in Hollywood. Maybe I was there on a bad night, but the place was boring, and when I go out, I’m already dressed to impress. I can barely keep from smudging my wet nail polish when I’m sober; after a few drinks, forget about it. If you want a bar that doesn’t have to try to be cool, I would suggest skipping the Beauty Bar and going a few doors down to The Room.

As I endure my six weeks of self-inflicted torture—The Bachelor III—I will keep all of my loyal fans updated on my pathetic addiction and dismal dating life. Until next week—hugs and kisses. —Denise Bayles

Contributors: Denise Bayles, Lenny Beer, Darren Cava, Holly Gleason, Simon Glickman Jon O’Hara and Roy Trakin

Edited by Bud Scoppa

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