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Crumb and Ghost World director Terry Zwigoff’s bleak comedy of errors, in which Santa’s a con man waiting to knock over the department store, flaunts every notion we have about this icon of holiday cheer.
A WEAKEND PLANNER NOT
ON SALE AT WAL-MART
We Don't Need No Stinking Non-Union Labor to Produce the Low-Cost Goods on In America, Paris Hilton, Grammy Noms, Sign of the Fox, Ron Howard and More
That’s right, the place America not only shops, but hangs out, according to Paris Hilton in The Simple Life, who asks if it’s also where you can buy a wall. This Jessica Simpson thing is catching on. Anyway, the following drivel was not manufactured by third world denizens toiling in a Manila sweat shop for $2.75 a week. Actually, it was produced by American citizens (most of ‘em) stuck away in the San Fernando Valley earning multiples of that, but not as many multiples as you might think, in similarly horrendous conditions. The end of the year approaches, and with it the Weakend Planner dwindles down to a precious few. Of course nothing beats watching Nicole Richie stick her hand up a cow’s butt, does it?

POPCULT TOP 10
1. In America: My Left Shoe and In the Name of the Father director Jim Sheridan’s loving ode to his own emigration from Ireland to New York City in the early ‘80s is a modern-day fairy tale, complete with bogeymen and angels. The film is literally seen through the eyes of two young girls, magically played by 10- and six-year-old sisters Sarah and Emma Bolger, the older taping it all on her yellow camcorder. Combining the movie myths of E.T. and Grapes of Wrath (both quoted), Paddy Considine (24 Hour Party People) and Samantha Morton make their way to the New World with their two daughters as if it were the early 20th century, escaping the specter of the infant who passed away from a brain tumor, but still hangs over all their thoughts. They settle in a tenement building in Hell’s Kitchen, where they meet up with a frightening array of menacing junkies, petty thieves and at least one bellowing AIDS victim with a heart of gold, played by hulking Djimon Hounsou of Amistad fame. Sure, the film partakes of the current heart-wrenching trend of featuring missing or killed children, but it earns its emotional wallop with an unsentimental streak that still recognizes the possibility of happy endings. (Roy Trakin)

2. The Simple Life: Combines Fear Factor’s mordant appeal of seeing sexy debutantes stuck in a creaky bedroom crawling with bugs and insects and The Newlyweds’ superiority complex engendered by Paris Hilton wondering what a water well is for. Can’t wait to see if the two ever do manage a menage a trois with the brother, but why do I feel the only thing that’s going to get penetrated here is that cow’s butt by Nicole Richie’s fist? Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but bestiality just made its debut on prime-time television. Now if they’d only find a way to air that sex video. (RT)

3. Grammy nominations: Not many surprises here except that thirtysomething Jersey pop-rockers Fountains of Wayne, with three albums and several offshoots under their belt, are still considered a New Artist by the Shelby Lynne definition. My initial picks would be Eminem’s "Lose Yourself" for Record; OutKast for Album; "Beautiful" for Song, and Evanescence in a mild upset over 50 Cent for Best New Artist. And yes, I’m going for perennial winner Jimmy Sturr in the Polka category once again. (RT)

4. Most Extreme Elimination (Spike TV): A simple premise makes for a simple laugh. Japanese game show Takeshi's Castle has contestants competing to finish bizarre obstacle-course games. MXE, as it’s known, takes the source material and overdubs English commentary and dialogue with puns and nonsensical jokes. Think of it like Jackass as a game show. With contestants running full speed at doors that may or may not open, running across courses of rolling logs, or sledding an inner tube down an impossibly steep hill, there are lots of injuries to regular people, which means people who like to laugh are the real winners. (David Simutis)

5. Blink-182, Blink-182 (Geffen): What has to be one of the most surprisingly mature records of the year is the newest from these punk-rock jokesters. They’ve grown up to the point where The Cure’s Robert Smith will guest on a track, electronic ambience colors a majority of the record, and the hooks—always the trio’s strong suit—are darker, less obvious, yet engaging. The first single, "Feeling This," only hints at the strong songwriting and experimentation that fills the record. Like looking in the mirror and realizing you’re 30, the minor-key instrumental passages and muted lyrics are about realizing that there’s a time to be serious, and it doesn’t mean getting old. (In its dour mood and electronic/analog merging, if it has a companion piece, it would have to be Death Cab for Cutie’s Transatlanticism, if you’ve heard it.) Borrow your kid’s copy and listen to a band coming into its own. (DS)

6. Sign of the Fox: This local outfit is one of our fave new pop-punk entries of the year, and we’re not just saying that because we used to work with ex-HITS grueler Mark Gracious and we're fans of Wax bassist Burdie Cutlass. The band appears at the Knitting Factory in L.A. on Monday (12/8), with a pre-show holiday bash just a few doors down at the Shelly Café from 7-8:30, then they’ll wheel on-stage at 8:40 for one of their typically rousing performances. Call out for "How Lucky Am I" from the gang’s self-titled debut, pogo like it was 1978 and listen for some new songs they'll soon be demoing. (RT)

7. Bad Santa: Bill Bob Thornton is a reprobate mall Kris Kringle. Exactly the guy you don’t want your kids hanging around…and, in spite of his worst intentions, he’s managed to find a young person dying to be inspired by him. Crumb and Ghost World director Terry Zwigoff’s bleak comedy of errors, in which Santa’s a con man waiting to knock over the department store, flaunts every notion we have about this icon of holiday cheer. For the cynic or ironic grappling with the crass consumerism of the season. (Holly Gleason)

8. The Missing: Ron Howard’s ode to the wide-screen scope of John Ford’s The Searchers is fine from the waist up, as N.Y. Times critic Elvis Mitchell put it. The flinty visages of stars Cate Blanchett and Tommy Lee Jones stand out against the craggy backdrop, but the story—about rescuing a daughter kidnapped by white slave traders and a butt-ugly Apache brujo—lacks the requisite racial and sexual terror that would give it the Ford movie’s moral sting. Howard’s more interested in the primal father-daughter relationship between Blanchett and Jones anyway, but that’s no excuse to end his film with a sloppy battle sequence that takes place in the dark, literally and figuratively. Filmmaking has come a long way technically, but Opie’s failure to show the courage to face up to his own demons derails the movie from the mythic resonance of its noble forebears. (RT)

9. www.rottentomatoes.com: Wanna know just how bad a movie is before you invest a couple of the few free hours you have between now and Christmas. Well, not only do they shoot straight—and their analysis ranges from a coterie of this country’s best critics—but they are acerbic fans with a gift for language. This is some of the most entertaining stuff around. Read it and swerve (away from the stuff where the hype makes the film unrecognizable), or weep, if you’re just checking in for the sheer entertainment value. (HG)

10. Thor the Rock Warrior: Who needs Ahnold? Body builder-turned-glam-rocker-turned-heavy-metal-gladiator, this Canadian rock god recorded for Engima, Megaforce, Mongol Horde and every other indie metal label back in the day. He’s also starred in a bunch of Roger Corman movies, bent steel bars and appeared in both Punk magazine and Kerrang! Check out the man, the myth and the legend at the Knitting Factory in Los Angeles on Dec. 14. Visit www.thorcentral.com for more info. (RT)

ROCK IN A HARD PLACE: If you think rock & roll can still change the world in 2003, you probably also believe Dennis Kucinich has a shot at winning the Presidency. Rock, as we boomers knew and loved it, is over as a revolutionary cultural force, but it’s still capable of some amazing mutations. You have to love a pop landscape that can encompass the White Stripes and OutKast, Sleepy Jackson and 50 Cent, Ludacris and Cat Power. That said, the pickings were slim when it came to critical faves which were also chart successes. ALBUMS: 1) The White Stripes, Elephant (V2): Almost single-handedly holding the fort for the garage-band sounds of our collective youth. 2) Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Greendale (Reprise): Half-summary, half-reinvention, all Neil. Geezer record of the year. 3) Fountains of Wayne, Welcome Interstate Managers (S-Curve/Virgin): The power-pop neo-Beatles record of the year from this year’s dark-horse Grammy nominees for Best New Artist. 4) Jane’s Addiction, Strays (Capitol): Metal comeback of the year. 5) Adam Green, Friends of Mine (Rough Trade/Sanctuary): Boho post-punk folkie geek of the year. 6) Sleepy Jackson, Lovers (Astralwerks): Aussie neo-space cowboy of the year. 7) Radiohead, Hail to the Thief (Capitol): Anglo art-rock record of the year. 8) OutKast, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (Arista): Even Dem hopeful Wesley Clark’s on the bandwagon. 9) Clinic, Walking With Thee (Universal): Anglo art-rock runner-up of the year. 10) Cat Power, You Are Free (Matador): Neurotic confessional female singer/songwriter of the year. Runners-up: 50 Cent, Pete Yorn, Jesse Malin, Lucinda Williams, Rooney, Yo La Tengo, Ludacris, Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players, Offspring, Jet, Steely DanSINGLES: Eminem, "Lose Yourself," White Stripes, "Seven Nation Army," Coldplay, "Clocks," OutKast, "Hey Ya!," 50 Cent, "P.I.M.P."/"In Da Club," Cooler Kids, "All Around the World," Fannypack, "Cameltoe," Fountains of Wayne, "Stacy’s Mom," Johnny Cash, "Hurt," Jet, "Are You Gonna Be My Girl" NOVELTY RECORDS: Liam Lynch, "United States of Whatever," Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, "I Keed," Weird Al Yankovic, "Couch Potato" ("Lose Yourself" parody)… MOVIES: American Splendor, Lost in Translation, Kill Bill Vol. 1, Shattered Glass, Spellbound, A Mighty Wind, The Mayor of Sunset Strip, School of Rock, In America, Swimming PoolTV: The Office (BBC America), Playmakers (ESPN), Pardon the Interruption (ESPN)… FICTION: Colson Whitehead, John Henry Days; Marc Spitz, How Soon Is Never?; Carl Hiaasen, Basket CaseNONFICTION: George Jacobs/William Stadiem, Mr. S.: My Life With Frank Sinatra; Donna Gaines, A Misfit’s Manifesto; The Spiritual Journey of a Rock & Roll Heart; Nick Hornby, Songbook; Jim DeRogatis, Milk It!; Arthur Kempton, BoogalooOVERRATED: Mystic River, Seabiscuit, Apple iTunes… UNDERRATED: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Weird Al Yankovic, Fleshtones, Cramps... COMEBACKTupac, Iggy Pop and the Stooges, Al Green, James Chance and the Contortions, Television... REISSSUES/ARCHIVALRolling Stones/ Bob Dylan catalog on SACD, Television, Live at the Old Waldorf, Talking Heads, Once in a Lifetime... LIVE: The White Stripes at the Greek, Radiohead at Hollywood Bowl, Lou Reed at the Wiltern, The Contortions/Har Mar Superstar at All Tomorrow's Parties, Long Beach, R.E.M. at the Avalon, High Society at the Knitting Factory, Strokes/Kings of Leon at the Shrine Auditorium, John Mellencamp at Town Hall NYC, Supergrass at Irving Plaza NYC, Azure Ray at the Troubadour... ACTORS: Jack Black (School of Rock), Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean), Paul Giamatti (American Splendor), Bill Murray (Lost in Translation), Hayden Christensen (Shattered Glass), Eugene Levy (A Mighty Wind)... FEMALE ACTORSScarlet Johannson (Lost in Translation), Hope Davis (American Splendor), Sarah and Emma Bolger (In America), Uma Thurman (Kill Bill, Vol. 1), Cate Blanchett (The Missing), Charlotte Rampling and Ludivine Sagnier (Swimming Pool)... DIRECTORShari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (American Splendor), Quentin Tarantino (Kill Bill, Vol.1), Sofia Coppola (Lost In Translation).  (RT)

TRAKIN’S PICKS TO FLICK
The Last Samurai (WB)
Premise
: Civil War vet travels to Japan to fight as mercenary, ends up becoming a samurai warrior against the government, falling in love with his one-time foe’s daughter.
Stars: Tom Cruise, Ken Watanabe, Billy Connoly, Tony Goldwyn, Timothy Spall, William Atherton
Director:
thirtysomething’s Edward Zwick (Legends of the Fall, Glory, Courage Under Fire, The Siege), with a screenplay co-written by partner Marshall Herskovitz
Thumbs Up:
A sprawling epic set against an intimate love story. WB’s banking on this $100 million-plus Christmas entry turning into Dr. Zhivago.
Thumbs Down: The trailers look so cheesy.
Soundtrack: Elektra album includes original Hans Zimmer score.
Website: http://lastsamurai.warnerbros.com/ is as elaborate as the film itself likes, including video, story, production notes, cast and filmmaker information, a photo gallery, a making of feature and a multicultural timeline to set the story in context.

Honey (Universal)
Premise
: Flashdance meets Fame. A tough sexy dancer from the inner city becomes a successful music video choreographer, a career threatned when her mentor makes her either sleep with him or get blacklisted within the industry. She then decides to pursue her lifelong dream of opening a dance studio for inner-city youths.
Stars: Jessica Alba, Mekhi Phifer, Lil Romeo, Lonette McKee, Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott, Ginuine.
Director: Music video auteur Billie Woodruff in his feature debut.
Thumbs Up: Powerful performers, great music, could be alternative programming for the holidays. And who wouldn’t like to see Jessica Alba (DarkAngel) strut her stuff.
Thumbs Down: Did I hear someone say, "Glitter"?
Soundtrack: Elektra album includes tracks, by Elliott, Blaque, Sean Paul, Erick Sermon/Redman, Nate Dogg, Tamia, Tweet, Fabolous, Jadakiss/Sheek, Amerie, Goapele and Yolanda Adams.
Website: www.honey-movie.com/ has a trailer, information about the film and soundtrack, video remixes, photo gallery, story, cast & crew information, production notes, downloads and media.

Big Fish (Columbia Pictures) (Opens Dec. 10 in L.A., N.Y. and Toronto)
Premise: A son tries to learn more about his dying father, a traveling salesman, by piecing together the various fantastic tales and legends he’s been told over the years. Forrest Gump meets Edward Scissorhands?
Stars: Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Helena Bonham-Carter, Billy Crudup, Jessica Lange, Alison Lohman, Steve Buscemi, David Denman, Danny DeVito, Faye Dunaway, Robert Guillaume, Julianne Moore.
Director: Tim Burton tries to recapture his magic realist touch after the box office missteps of Planet of the Apes and Sleepy Hollow)
Thumbs Up: Trailers look strangely, wonderfully enticing and Finney is being touted for a Best Actor nod.
Thumbs Down: Is the whole less than the sum of its disparate parts? And there hasn’t been too much advance buzz, either.
Soundtrack: Sony Classical album features original Danny Elfman score and tracks by Pearl Jam, Bing Crosby, Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, Canned Heat, Allman Brothers and the Vogues’ "Five O’Clock World."
Website: www.sonypictures.com features a trailer, a plot synopsis, a register for e-mails and a place to submit your own tales

QUOTE OF THE WEEK
Paris Hilton
and Nicole Richie are the new "It" girls now that their reality show, The Simple Life, has taken television by storm. Both celebutantes are recording albums, and although Nicole Richie, whose father is Lionel, has golden pipes in the family, she won’t be recording with her dad. "No, no, no," Nicole told MTV News. "That’s so dumb." Um, OK. (Valerie Nome)

NEW YORK MINUTE
On Friday, Earth Wind & Fire steam up Madison Square Garden and Linkin Park roll into Hammerstein Ballroom (311 W. 34th St.).

Catch the Fiesta 2K2 Tour featuring Beenie Man and Tantro Metro & Devonte at the Emerald Lounge in the Bronx on Saturday. Also tuning up for date night are The Offspring, who take the stage at Hammerstein Ballroom.

It’s a retro delight on Sunday, when Simon & Garfunkel, the Everly Brothers and Paul Simon light up East Rutherford’s Continental Airlines Arena (Meadowlands Sports Complex, 50 Route 120).

THE WEEK AHEAD: Be sure to catch Z100’s Jingle Ball at Madison Square Garden on Thursday, Dec. 11, featuring Three Doors Down, Beyonce, Hilary Duff, Jason Mraz, Jay-Z, Kelly Clarkson, Michelle Branch, Sean Paul, Simple Plan and Matchbox Twenty. The big bash is hosted by none other than Jessica Simpson, Nick Lachey and, oh yeah, Jennifer Lopez! (VN)

YOUR WEAKEND WEATHER
Sunshine on my shoulder makes happy. Sometimes you take for granted how good you’ve got it. Here in Los Angeles, it’s going to be a decent weekend, though there’s a slight, slight chance of rain on Sunday. On Saturday, highs will be right around 70, lows right around 50. Sunday, temps will be about five degrees lower on each side.Take a jacket if you’re going out at night, take your pants off if you’re going out during the day. Maybe that’s backwards. Anyway, people in NYC were complaining to me this week that it snowed. I told them to move. Those of you unable to pack your things and move into my garage will experience a weekend with a strong offshore flow, bringing moisture just as a low pressure troth heads up the coast. (Yeah, that’s actual weather talk.) Rain, sleet, snow follows the low, as they say. It’s going to be a mess with snow and wind. Highs in the mid-30s, lows in the upper 20s. Stay inside until it passes…winter, not the weekend. (DS)

Thanks to Roy Trakin, David Simutis, Holly Gleason, Valerie Nome and all the little people for helping pluck and skin this chicken and prepare it for dinner.

HITS LIST IS
IN THE MAIL
A not-so-subtle reminder to fill out that ballot. (10/15a)
NEAR TRUTHS: THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD
The lives behind live music. (10/14a)
HARVEY MASON JR.:
THE HITS INTERVIEW
The Grammy chief takes our call. (10/14a)
RAINMAKERS 2020: COMING SOON
It will rain again this fall--we guarantee it. (10/13a)
STEVIE WONDER PARTNERS WITH REPUBLIC
First music in 15 years. (10/14a)
RAINMAKERS 2020
Bring your umbrella.
GRAMMY OUTLIERS
Mulling possible surprises.
HALLOWEEN IN QUARANTINE
Why not wear a mask indoors?
ELECTION 2020
What drugs will help us get there?
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