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Although the Farrelly brothers are probably best-known for the gross-out humor of Dumb and Dumber and There’s Something About Mary, the directors’ anything-goes comedy is actually less cruel than compassionate, especially when it comes to the handicapped and deformed, who are always treated as real people rather than freaks.

A WEAKEND PLANNER NOT EVEN AL GORE WILL ENDORSE

21 Grams, The Thrills, The Farrellys, Azure Ray and the Music of Cold Mountain Ring in Holiday Cheer as Denise Bails
The political races are off and running, and why does Democratic front-runner Howard Dean remind us more of Michael Dukakis and George McGovern than Bill Clinton? Even if, like father, like son, George W. looks to be vulnerable if casualty numbers continue to rise in Iraq and the job losses continue, even with the economy showing a slight uptick. How about a Democratic convention that isn’t decided until a real dark-horse comes out of nowhere, like Hillary "Just Say No" Clinton or the always-amusing Reverend Al "Please Please Please" Sharpton, to snare the nomination? It should be an exciting and unpredictable race—at least until the Republicans figure out a way to steal another election. Of course, now that Dean has Al Gore’s support, at least the Dems can count on something—they’ll once again lose Tennessee. So, let’s bring on the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary… and may the Dem with the best chance to do some Bush-whacking win.

POPCULT TOP 10
1. 21 Grams: Like his Mexican feature Amores Perros, this down-and-dirty English language debut from director Alexander González Iñárritu centers on an automobile accident that changes the lives of everyone involved. The narrative is fractured a la Memento, using flashbacks and flashforwards to piece together the inexorable plot like a jigsaw puzzle, meditating on the twin existential poles of fatalism and free will, and the role of a vengeful, implacable higher force in the process. Sean Penn, as the recipient of a new heart and a new romance, is both better and grittier than his method acting in Mystic River, while co-stars Naomi Watts and Benicio del Toro immerse themselves in their parts with frightening ferocity. Even the minor players, such as the long-suffering companions played by Charlotte Gainsbourgh and Melissa Leo, shine in a movie where everyone has their own particular cross to bear. Equal parts grueling and illuminating, the film’s title is finally revealed at the end—pinpointing the physical weight one loses at death, or the material make-up of one’s soul, whatever that is. (Roy Trakin)

2. www.sheckys.com/barstar/vol69.htm: The site which calls itself, "Nightlife style with a twist!" predicts the following trends for 2004. Out: The Matrix Revolution, In: Kill Bill Vol. 1; Out: Botox, In: Aging Gracefully; Out: Joe Millionaire, In: 50 Cent; Out: Reality TV, In: A Book; Out: J.Lo & Ben, In: Gwyneth & Chris; Out: Williamsburg, Brooklyn, In: Harlem; Out: Metrosexuals, In: Real Men; Out: KaZaA, In: Apple iTunes; Out: Watching Friends, In: Having Friends; Out: MTV, In: Fuse; Out: Internet Personals, In: Flash Mobs; Out: Pointy-toed stilletos, In: Uggs; Out: Trucker Caps, In: Fedoras; Out: Your Wallet, In: Your Soul. (RT)

3. The Thrills, So Much for the City (Virgin): This winsome Dublin foursome spent a summer in San Diego and came out California dreamin’. Their debut combines a Byrds-like jangle ("Santa Cruz [You’re Not That Far]"), Buffalo Springfield wanderlust ("Deckchairs and Cigarettes"), a Flying Burrito Brothers/Eagles twang ("One Horse Town," "Hollywood Kids") and wide-screen Pet Sounds romanticism ("Old Friends, New Lovers") into a whole that transcends the sum of its borrowed parts. Their wide-eyed innocence evokes fellow Irishman Jim Sheridan’s similarly elegaic In America, answering affirmatively the Lovin’ Spoonful’s musical question posed in the film, "Do You Believe In Magic?" (RT)

4. Stuck On You: Although the Farrelly brothers are probably best-known for the gross-out humor of Dumb and Dumber and There’s Something About Mary, the director-siblings' anything-goes comedy is actually less cruel than compassionate, especially when it comes to the handicapped and deformed, who are always treated as real people rather than freaks. The seemingly outrageous premise of their latest, featuring Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear as conjoined twins who head to Hollywood to further the latter’s acting career, isn’t played for easy laughs or pathos, but instead concentrates on the very real notion of human needs and desires. There are still plenty of guffaws—especially when it pokes fun at show business with hilarious cameos by the likes of Cher, Meryl Streep, Frankie Muniz and Griffin Dunne playing themselves, and a Swifty Lazar-type portrayal of an agent past his prime by the always-reliable Seymour Cassel. But the heart of the movie is a love story between brothers who can’t live without the other. Surprisingly moving, the film continues the all-inclusive family-style approach to moviemaking the Farrellys demonstrated in the underrated Kingpin, Me, Myself & Irene and Shallow Hal. With a typically eclectic soundtrack that features both Bread and Kings of Leon, Stuck on You is that rare combination—a satire that touches the heart without ignoring the head. (RT)

5. Celebrity Poker Showdown (Bravo): You might think all I do is watch TV, in which case, quit stalking me. Actually, watching people play cards shouldn’t make for the greatest TV, but five people who are usually on TV or in movies playing poker against each other taps into that thing where you root for or against people from the start. Bravo, borrowing from the surprise hit poker shows of the summer, pits five celebrities against each other in no-limit Texas Hold ’Em, with the winner of each game moving on to a final game. Winners’ money goes to a charity of their choice. As players are knocked out, they move to a back room, where they watch the games and dis the players still in. Upcoming players include Hank Azaria, Michael Ian Black (from Ed and various VH1 specials), Coolio, Sarah Silverman, Shannon Elizabeth, Carrie Fisher, Tom Green and David Cross. Be sure to watch my new show, Celebrity Bingo Extreme Showdown, this spring. (David Simutis)

6. Sun Kil Moon, Ghosts of the Great Highway (Jetset): Perhaps you remember the depressive, down-tempo stylings of Red House Painters, in which case, you will know the name Mark Kozelek. The leader of that band did a couple of solo records, and now returns with his new band, which includes Tim Mooney of the like-minded American Music Club. This sparkling debut is paced a bit faster than RHP, but it’s still molasses slow and introspective. Perfect for cold days when the sun goes down before the afternoon is over and the night begins. That doesn’t mean there isn’t the stunning, Crazy Horse-inspired epic "Duk Koo Kim," or that Kozelek doesn’t paint vivid pictures with gorgeous instrumentation. Have patience; it’s worth it. (DS)

7. Azure Ray at the Troubadour, Hold on Love (Saddle Creek): Recently relocated to mentor Conor Oberst’s hometown of Omaha from Athens, GA, band principals Orenda Fink and Maria Taylor’s music is all hushed tones and whispered confessionals. It may sound boring, but live, the two cast a seductive spell, as Maria makes eye-contact with almost every member of the audience, while Orenda peaks out from her cascading bangs, turning the chilly club setting into the intimacy of a boudoir. The set is climaxed with an appearance by Moby, who strums guitar and sings "The Great Escape," his collaboration with Fink and Taylor from 18. The band’s third album features producer (and on-stage member) Eric Bachman (of Archers of Loaf and tourmates Crooked Fingers), who provides a subtle sonic weave with keyboard and strings. The result is chamber music, the pop equivalent of an Ingmar Bergman movie, punched up with sprightly harmonies and instrumental flourishes. Delicate on the surface, but bubbling under with the passion of sorrow, loss and resurrection on songs like "The Devil’s Feet," "Drinks We Drank Last Night and "We Are Mice," Azure Ray create a quiet storm that sucks you into its vortex. (RT)

8. Ben Jelen: The music world stepped out to witness a star in the making at New York City’s SIR Studio C this week. This Maverick Records signing captivated the crowd with the triple threat of a smooth croon, sensitive lyrics and striking piano keys as he glided through cuts such as "Setting Sun," "Come On" and "She’ll Hear You" from his forthcoming label bow. Give It All Away is set to hit the streets in March. Here’s to a winning combination. (Valerie Nome)

9. The Words and Music of Cold Mountain at Royce Hall, UCLA: Producer T-Bone Burnett, coming off his success with the Grammy-winning O Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack, revisits that film’s Appalachian mountain music roots on his new score for the Anthony Minghella adaptation of Charles Frazier’s acclaimed Civil War saga. Performances by Jack White, Alison Krauss, Sting (who penned "The Scarlet Tide" for Krauss) and score composer Gabriel Yared are interwoven around a fascinating Q&A with the director, who explains how the film’s rhythms derive from this music, and clips from the film. Stars Nicole Kidman, Jude Law, Kathy Baker and Brendan Gleeson read spoken-word passages from the novel, script and various inspirations for the film, including the Book of Job. White, who also has a role in the movie and wrote a pair of songs for it, takes a break from his red-and-White Stripes persona as an itinerant Dylanesque folkie in a nondescript brown jacket. The climax features a gospel rave-up by the Sacred Harp choir from Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains, taking it all the way back to the stark, spiritual chants which pre-date even O Brother. The album comes out on Burnett’s own DMZ/Columbia label, and this special charity performance (with proceeds going to the Second Harvest Food Bank of Nashville) seems to anticipate a full-fledged tour. (RT)

10. The Passion: Mel Gibson's movie isn't your father’s film about Jesus, for sure. It is one of the most powerful motion pictures I have seen, boasting some of the best acting I have seen, but don't trust me. After all, I'm an Irish Catholic. It is a film that had me averting my eyes from the screen as the bloody and gruesome torture and crucifxion is shown throughout. This ain't a date film and it's tough to sit through. But unlike many a movie, I'm not questioning what I did with my two hours. But, please keep in mind, it is just a film. I hear it’s also based on a book. (Dominic Griffin)

YOUR WEAKEND WEATHER
Seriously, these Southern California winters are tough. It rained on Sunday, and part of Wednesday and Thursday. I even saw people wearing jackets. Anyway, this weekend, life returns to normal, with highs in the mid-60s and lows in the low 40s. Mostly sunny. Ah, this is the life. On the other side of the country, where it snows so much that people don’t yell and scream every time a flak hits them, there are no blizzards scheduled for the next 48 hours. There will be rain/snow on Sunday, and temps all weekend won’t cross the 40-degree mark, but you’re tough. You’re a New Yorker. That’s all folks. Time to pack the barometer for the holidays. See you on the other side. (DS)

NEW YORK MINUTE
Best bets for this weekend include The Raveonettes, who play the Bowery Ballroom (6 Delancy St.) on Friday, and Rasputina, who take over the Knitting Factory (74 Leonard St.) Sunday. (VN)

QUOTE OF THE WEEK
Rolling Stones
rocker Keith Richards isn't too pleased with Mick Jagger's knighthood."It's not what the Stones are about. I thought it was ludicrous to take one of those gongs from the establishment when they did their very best to throw us in jail. I don't want to step out on stage with someone wearing a f***ing coronet and sporting the old ermine. I told Mick, 'It's a f***ing paltry honor." Wait until Keith hears Charlie Watts has been made a Count. (VN)

TRAKIN’S PICKS TO FLICK
Something’s Gotta Give (Columbia Pictures)
Premise
: A New York City music executive who dates mostly younger woman falls in love with his latest girlfriend’s mother after suffering a heart attack while visiting their East Hampton beach home, then finds himself having to compete for her affections with his doctor.
Stars: Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton, Amanda Peet, Keanu Reeves, Jon Favreau, Frances McDormand, Paul Michael Glaser
Director: Nancy Meyers
(What Women Want, The Parent Trap) also wrote the screenplay, her first without husband/collaborator Charles Shyer since their separation in 1998.
Thumbs Up: Great premise, praiseworthy performances by Nicholson, Keaton (who earned Best Actress honors from National Board of Review).
Thumbs Down: Why should it be a big deal when a "middle-aged" male actor actually has a romance with someone in his age group?
Soundtrack: Columbia/Sony Music Soundtrax album features Hans Zimmer score and standards such as "La Vie En Rose," "I’ve Got a Crush on You" and "Love Makes the World Go Round."
Website: www.sonypictures.com/movies offers film info, recipes for romance, promotions, synopsis, cast and filmmaker information and production notes.

Stuck on You (20th Century Fox)
(see above review)

Girl with a Pearl Earring (Lions Gate Films)
Premise: Based on the novel by Tracy Chevalier, which was inspired by the anonymous girl in Dutch master painter Johannes Vermeer’s painting of the same name in 17th century Holland. The 16-year-old housemaid is employed by the Vermeer family and takes care of his six children, while working for his wife.
Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Colin Firth, Tom Wilkinson, Essie Davis, Alakina Mann, Cillian Murphy, Judy Parfitt
Director: Peter Webber
(English TV director making feature debut)
Thumbs Up: Johansson’s luminous performance, her second this year, has been generating Oscar buzz.
Thumbs Down: Ivory-Merchant has trod this turf before.
Soundtrack: None.
Website: www.girlwithapearlearringmovie.com includes information about the film, photo galleries, a trailer, reviews and a message board.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (New Line) (opening Dec. 17)
Premise: The final chapter of the trilogy, in which all the loose ends are wrapped up.
Stars: Elijah Wood, Sir Ian McKellen, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, Orlando Bloom, Viggo Mortensen, John Rhys-Davies, Andy Serkis, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving
Director
: Peter Jackson
Thumbs Up
: Reportedly the best of the three, and a leading Oscar Best Picture contender.
Thumbs Down: If you’re not a fan by now, it’s too late now.
Soundtrack: Reprise/WMG Soundtracks album features score by Howard Shore and Annie Lennox’s "Into the West," along with several tracks by famed flautist Sir James Galway.
Website: www.lordoftherings.net includes summaries of the previous two films, a rundown of the characters, cultures, locations, effects and interviews, trailers, video and photo galleries, downloads and a sweepstakes.

DENISE’S WEAKEND COCKTAIL
Ho! Ho! Ho! It’s that time of the year again, and I think this has been the longest year of my life. The changes that have happened in my life since last Christmas have been gigantic, and I’m sending 2003 off in a very different manner than I welcomed it in. Don’t get me wrong; this wasn’t a bad year by any means—just a year of big change. I don’t think change is bad, but it can be a little scary. You guys are probably wondering why I’m rambling on about this crap, instead of jumping into the good stuff, like sex and the trials of dating. Well, as I said before, I’m ending 2003 very differently than I started it. Not only have I done the impossible and found myself in a somewhat normal relationship, but I’ve also found myself a new career. I’m trading in my meager pay and the fringe benefits of the music industry, such as free concert tickets and casual clothes, for a huge pay raise and pantyhose in the corporate world. It’s true. I’m selling out—at least that’s how some of you might view it. I decided that I was sick of living like a college student on a pasta-and-tuna-fish diet (because that’s all I could afford), so I put to use some of what I learned as a Boilermaker and got myself a "Big Girl" job. As of yet, it’s still undetermined whether or not "Denise’s Weakend Cocktail" will return with the New Year, so I thought I should say my thank yous and good-byes now—just in case it didn’t.

Although some people, who shall remain nameless, never took this column or me seriously, many of you did and continued to read religiously every week, and I thank you for that. Your weekly emails filled with praise (and occasionally pure disgust) kept me going week after week. Each week, for the past 72 weeks, I’ve shared with you all of my distorted dating views, embarrassing hook-ups, pathetic ramblings about single life and one very unfortunate bicycle accident, and you’ve listened. Some of you read because you related to my pure distaste for being single and sexless, and the rest of you read because you’re masochists—whatever your reason, this final cocktail is dedicated to you. I used this drink in one of my very first columns, but because it’s so appropriate, I had to use it again.

Adios Mother F*cker
1/2 oz. vodka
1/2 oz. rum
1/2 oz. gin
1/2 oz. tequila
1/2 oz. triple sec
1/2 oz. blue curacao
Splash sour mix and 7-Up and be prepared to have a hangover the next day!

So, it’s Christmas and I’ve been relatively good this year—I’ve only walked the Walk of Shame a few times. For those of you who remember my Christmas list from last year, out of the 10 things I wanted, I’ve received half, which I think is pretty good. Although I didn’t get snow in Los Angeles, the BCBG spring line, a book deal, my column in print or the ability to eat whatever I wanted without gaining a pound, the things I have been blessed with are much more valuable. I’ve gained a great new career with a great big paycheck and lots of opportunity; a fabulous apartment (even if it is missing the hardwood floors); a tall, dark-haired handsome man who is proving to be a wonderful boyfriend and the support of my readers over the past year. All that helped get me through those days when I was frustrated and ready to move back to Indiana because it was me against this city and L.A. was winning.
So, what do I want for Christmas? A gal can’t be greedy. I feel like after all of my bitching and whining over the past 72 columns that somebody finally listened and dropped a huge pile of good fortune in my lap. For all of you who feel right now how I did a year ago, hold on and keep your chin up, and watch out for sand when you’re riding a bike on the Venice Beach bike trail—that shit hurts! If someone would’ve told me on New Year’s Eve last year how this year would end, I would’ve never believed them. Am I going to wake up tomorrow morning and realize it was all a really great dream or is this how life feels when the pieces fall into place? If it is a dream, please don’t wake me up.

De’s pick for L.A.’s best bars: I’ve been writing this column for a year and a half, which has entailed going to a lot of bars. I thought the proper way to end this would be to recap a few of my absolute favorites. Coming in as my new favorite dive bar—The Roost on Los Feliz Blvd. I absolutely love it! You can buy a domestic beer for $2.50, which is almost unheard of in this city. My long-standing favorite dive bar is The Casting Office on Cahuenga West (just north of Barham). If it weren’t for Moses, the bartender on Monday and Tuesday nights, "Denise’s Weakend Cocktail" would’ve never seen the light of day. So if you’re one of my non-fans, he’s to blame. If you’re looking for an Irish pub that has an East Coast feel, then go to Timmy Nolan’s on Riverside in Toluca Lake. The food’s great and the bartenders are HOT! Where should you go if you want to get into the Christmas spirit? The Blue Room on San Fernando Blvd. in Burbank. The decorations are phenomenal. Believe it or not, as much as I hate Hollywood bars, I discovered a hip little gem called Forty Deuce on Melrose Ave.—half-naked hot chicks dancing on the bar and hot guys standing around watching. And finally, the bar not to go to even if your life depends on it—Gotham Hall in Santa Monica on the Promenade. There’s only one thing I can say about that place—GHETTO! Actually there’s something else, the owners are horrible and operate under less-than-ethical practices. In remembrance of all the hangovers I’ve endured trying to find the hottest places for you guys to drink and get laid, everyone should check out all of my favorites—at least once. Drink up, call a cab and have Gatorade and aspirin ready for the next morning.

I wish all of you a happy holiday season. Be safe, have fun and never stop believing! If you want me to keep you updated on my creative ventures (maybe I’ll get that book deal), then email my link below and I’ll put you on the "To Keep Updated" list. If you can’t fathom a weekend without "Denise’s Weakend Cocktail" and don’t want it to go away, then email any link that appears on this site and whine about it.

Thank you to Bud Scoppa for bringing me into the cesspool and teaching me (whether or not you realized that’s what you were doing). Thank you to Roy Trakin for being you and making me laugh on those days I wanted to cry. Thanks to Todd Hensley for not giving me a bunch of shit to do on Thursdays when I wrote this crap and thank you to everyone else at HITS who allowed me to put in my creative two cents worth every week in the Weakend Planner. Until…hugs and kisses—Denise Bayles

Thanks to Roy Trakin, David Simutis, Dominic Griffin, Valerie Nome and Denise Bayles for wrapping this one up and stuffing it in a stocking.

REVENUE CHART:
RAINING CATS & DOGS
Starring Doja Cat, Nipper and Ms. Larry David (5/13a)
RECORDING ACADEMY LOCKS IN HARVEY MASON JR. AS CEO
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. (5/14a)
TIME TRAVELING
WITH CLIVE (UPDATE)
Beam us up, Uncle Clive. (5/13a)
ROCK HALL INDUCTEES:
NEW & OVERDUE
Todd gets in. Finally. (5/13a)
KG's HOT ALT SUMMER
She also reviews the best outdoor Bluetooth speakers. (5/13a)
RHYTHM, BLUES AND THE FUTURE
The musical tapestry we know as R&B.
WHO'S NEXT?
Predicting the next big catalog deal.
JUST THE VAX, MA'AM
Once we all get vaccinated, how long before we can party?
WORLDWIDE GROOVE
How is globalization bringing far-flung territories into the musical mainstream?
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