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The big surprises in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind are Sam Rockwell’s breakout perform-ance as Chuck Barris and director George Clooney, whose go-for-broke experimentalism is remarkably suc-cessful. Rarely has an actor-turned-director demon-strated such avant-garde chops in a first feature.
WEAKEND PLANNER GOES TO THE MOVIES, WATCHES SOME GAMES
What We Did on Our Christmas Vacation
Funny how many of us Hits cesspool-dwellers wound up doing the exact same things during our glorious 18 days off last month: We stayed close to home, watched some absolutely sensational football games and went to the movies, lots of movies, preferably in the daytime. Naturally, this experience made us instant experts on contemporary cinema and inspired the spewing out of opinions on no less than 15 current films. The moviegoing participants are (in alphabetical order) Lenny Beer, Holly Gleason (an ex-Hits staffer who escaped to Nashville), Simon Glickman, Marc Pollack, Bud Scoppa and Roy Trakin. Like bona fide big-time movie reviewers, all of them have their thumbs up... Propriety prevents us from completing the preceding sentence. So why not have the critiques immediately below serve as your guide to scamming Academy screeners?

WEAKEND POPCULT MOVIE SPECIAL
About Schmidt:
Jack Nicholson finds new reserves in his portrayal of a staid Midwesterner forced to face his stunted emotions. Alexander Payne’s film is engrossing and thoughtfully detailed (and Kathy Bates is typically priceless), but the third act leaves something to be desired. (SG) / While the impact of Payne’s third feature (the follow-up to his starkly brilliant Election) depends to a large extent on the viewer’s willingness to allow Jack to disappear inside Schmidt, his performance—including the “Dear Ndugu” narration—adds up to a wondrous merger of crushing melancholy and physical hilarity. Nicholson is surrounded by a terrific ensemble cast, with the reliably excellent Bates and the ponytailed Dermot Mulroney especially winning. The film is by turns broad and acute, as Payne either fails to resolve this dichotomy or chooses not to—but from moment to moment, About Schmidt captivates. (BS)

Adaptation: Kill me now—rarely have I hated a movie as much. (LB) / I could’ve told Beer he wouldn’t dig this, but I did. Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze whip up a dizzying meta-movie so crammed with ideas that it practically spills off the screen. The cast (especially Cage in dual roles, the reliably wonderful Streep and a revelatory Chris Cooper) is on fire, and virtually every scene crackles with invention. That said, things go seriously off the rails by the end. (SG) / Like Jonze and Kaufman’s previous Being John Malkovich, this sly satire to the act of creation is a little too in love with its own cleverness, but the commitment of the performances by Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper are just enough to pull it off. The meta-conceit, a mobius strip of a script that both comments on and furthers the narrative by alternating between “reality” and “fiction,” is amusing enough, but the real power is in showing the longing for something to be passionate about, no matter how esoteric. (RT) / Skewering and succumbing to every Hollywood cliche along the way, this flips it all over—and while never really nailing Orlean’s amazing book, The Orchid Thief, it's a great story well-told in a skewed but engaging way—which is fast-becoming the benchmark of Spike Jonze. (HG)

Catch Me if You Can: With A.I., Minority Report and now this deceptively light black comedy, Steven Spielberg has created a trilogy that examines the hidden crevices in the American family with a clear-eyed, but never cynical, view. The key here is Christopher Walken’s sad-eyed performance as a beleaguered husband/father whose carefully constructed Rotarian world is destroyed, only to have his son Leonardo DiCaprio’s attempt to resurrect it through play-acting and avoiding being labeled by what you do for a living. The creeping sense of an economy grinding to a halt gives the film its prescient gravitas, and while the denouement is predictable, how we get there is anything but. Call it Father Knows Best and Worst. (RT) / Spielberg’s breeziest outing in some time makes fine use of DeCaprio, Hanks and Christopher Walken—and is a generally delicious yarn of deft con artistry. (SG) / Wanna know why Leo is the king of Page 6? With a twinkle in his eye and a bounce in his step, he takes Ferris Beuller to unscaled heights. This is one big romp across civilization, occupying every male fantasy along the way. Classic set design, the costuming is smile-inducing, the casting perfection. It's the fun "eff ewe" movie of the season. (HG) / Entertaining in an old-fashioned way. (LB)

Chicago: Yeah, yeah, I know—it’s a musical. But if you allow yourself to go with it, you will have fun. (LB)

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind: I preferred this Charlie Kaufman adaptation, frankly. He turns game-show visionary Chuck Barris’ “unauthorized autobiography”—half vivid, self-mocking showbiz memoir, half hallucinatory spy fantasy—into a diabolically enjoyable whole. The cast is uniformly superb, including dynamite performances from Drew Barrymore as Barris’ loyal, long-suffering paramour, Rutger Hauer as a melancholy assassin and a career-best Julia Roberts as the ultimate femme fatale (look for hilarious cameos by Brad Pitt and Matt Damon, too). But the big surprises are Sam Rockwell’s breakout perf as Barris and director George Clooney (who also uses his deadpan acting style to great effect as CIA recruiter Jim Byrd), whose go-for-broke experimentalism is remarkably successful. Rarely has an actor-turned-director demonstrated such avant-garde chops in a first feature. Kudos to cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel (Usual Suspects, X Men) for the film’s gorgeous textures and inspired use of light. But Beer probably won’t like it. (SG) / A real surprise, clever and incredibly well-made. Simon's guesses of my opinions are as right-on as his knowledge of the music business. (LB)

Far From Heaven (Focus Features): Todd Haynes homage to the ’50s soap operas of Douglas Sirk captures perfectly the repression of the times, while revealing just enough of the taboos hidden in the original to place this moral tale in a modern context. Julianne Moore is suitably chilling as the housewife whose world is torn apart when she discovers husband Dennis Quaid’s homosexuality, but it is Dennis (24) Haysbert’s gentle, African-American gardener which captures the heartbreak of subverted passion and Patricia Clarkson’s over-solicitous neighbor that underlines the hypocritical deceit. The characters are a little too aestheticized to fully relate, but the meticulously captured artifice of the classic Hollywood production bypasses the human to touch on the eternal. (RT) / Haynes’ rapturous homage is more than an accurately detailed period piece, it’s the year’s most gloriously beautiful movie, a visual symphony of autumnal reds and golds. Julianne Moore’s anxiously restrained performance is as brilliant as the critics have asserted, 48-year-old Dennis Haysbert is a late-blooming star and Elmer Bernstein’s neoclassic score is the musical equivalent of the falling leaves that flutter poetically throughout the movie. (BS)

Gangs of New York: Village Voice calls this Scorsese’s blockbuster maudit, and its virulent politics, linking American development with both violence and xenophobia, is impossible to take your eyes off, though the ears take some getting used to Daniel Day-Lewis’ anachronistic Brooklyn accent. The out-of-his-depth Leonardo D. and Cameron Diaz are both miscast, but James Broadbent is more than amusing as Boss Tweed. Like such epic forbears as Heaven’s Gate and Once Upon a Time in America, this unsettling, unpleasant film makes us reassess everything we’ve read in our history books. (RT) / A towering performance from Daniel Day-Lewis and typically kaleidoscopic Scorsese storytelling make up for the film’s flimsy history (they got the Draft Riots mostly wrong). (SG) / Lotsa gore, matted hair, streets running with blood. If you like period pieces with ratted costumes, this will be the chubby du soir. Added points for real live history lesson. Amazing performance by Daniel Day Lewis. Leonardo is rakish. Jay Cocks’ script is vivid and right there, with dialogue that’s witty, saucy and bravado-laden in turn. Still, maybe because history sometimes got dry and tedious, it dragged. (HG)

The Hours: An acting tour de force across the board, moving, emotional and a major contender for Oscar glory. (LB) / The three female leads are riveting, especially Nicole Kidman, who absolutely disappears into the character of Virginia Woolf. But I gotta admit, the density of the collective female clinical depression made me feel claustrophobic throughout the flick. As in, get me outta here. But hey, maybe that’s my problem rather than the movie’s. (BS)

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers: Credit New Zealand auteur Peter Jackson for making beautiful popcorn epics out of Tolkien's mammoth tomes. Towers, like Fellowship, flows gracefully between the epic (the battle scenes are generally breathtaking) and the intimate (Elijah Wood's Frodo struggles with the ring's influence, and ruin-of-a-creature Gollum pines for it—both compellingly). Also, the ancient, literally lumbering Ents (tree-men who prove allies to our heroes) are pretty cool. Still, I found myself growing weary of the onslaught of new mythical races and peoples. (SG)

Narc: A gripping police drama with strong lead performances by a brooding Jason Patric and an over-the-top Ray Liotta. The film’s kick ass opening sequence thrusts you right into the feature. The ending’s nifty twist brings this picture home perfectly. (MP)

The Pianist: Not the strongest lead character here. Rabbit-Proof Fence is a far subtler and more poignant piece. (LB)

Rabbit-Proof Fence: An instant classic; as good as moviemaking gets. (LB) / Think about it: Take the aborigine children, try to reculture them as white. Take them from their families, their customs--in the name of a better life. Think about your kids... Realize all these little girls wanted to do was go home. And they did. It’s the Rocky of the dingo set! (HG)

Talk to Her: An amazing movie that makes you wonder, "Who could possibly think of this story?" (LB) / Did I say Far From Heaven was the year’s most beautiful movie? Pedro Almodovar is a master of color as well as character, and virtually every shot in this strange but engaging film is suitable for framing. Gorgeous. (BS)

25th Hour: Edward Norton is arguably the finest actor of his generation, and in this film, he shines as a drug dealer trying to come to terms with his last day on the outside before serving a long prison sentence. The film’s support cast is impeccable, with Barry Pepper and Philip Seymour Hoffman outstanding as Norton’s best friends, each of whom has to come to grips with his leaving. This is perhaps Spike Lee’s most accessible film to date, although there is a typical Lee rant in the midst of it. (MP)

Two Weeks Notice: Stars Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant, the feel-good dream dates of our generation. So squeaky clean, cute, geekily funny. And here they are mirroring each other even as they play yin and yang. Like those Doris Day/Rock Hudson workouts that littered Saturday morning TV, this is a chick flick of the first order...and it works on that level. Will it make you forget a Jerry McGuire? No. But they don't all have to do that. (HG) / This one would be bad even as a TV movie of the week. (LB)

GUY WITH THE GOGGLES' NFL PLAYOFF PICKS
Pittsburgh + 4 at Tennessee (Sat. 1:30 PT, CBS)
This here game is going to be a knockdown, drag-out, spit-in-yer-eye, blow-snot-on-the-ground, pound-it-out football game. I like it. It’s payback time for the danged ol’ Oilers—I mean Titans. Ever’body knows, back in the ’70s, Mike Renfro got robbed of a TD and the danged ol’ Oilers never made it to the Super Bowl. They had what we now call a “Tagliabue” put on them. This here is a good un, but I’ll take the Titans and give the 4.

Atlanta + 7 1/2 at Philadelphia (Sat. 5, Fox)
Now, before y’all go fallin’ in love with Mike Vick, keep in mind this here is the team that backed into these here payoffs. What they did to Green Bay was a danged ol’ fluke. I like this here team—next year. THIS year, ya gotta like the danged ol’ Eagles at home, in the dump they call Veterans Stadium. Them dang people in Philly is crazy, but they sure got good cheese steaks. I know this is Donovan McNabb’s first game back, but shoot, this here’s the best dee-fense in football. I’ll take the Eagles and lay the 7 1/2 .

San Francisco + 5 at Tampa Bay (Sun. 10, Fox)
We’re down to the nut-cuttin’. Now this here game is interestin’ cuz the danged ol’ Bucs always seem to take a dive in the playoffs. I don’t like the fact that Brad Johnson is gonna be quarterbackin’ first week back. So you know they prob’ly ain’t gonna score a lot of points. On the other hand the danged ol’ 49ers shouldn’t even be playin’ this here game, but they done shot their wad last week in that dang big ol’ comeback. It’s hard to pass on the 5, but ahm jest gonna have to. I’ll take the Bucs.

New York Jets + 5 1/2 at Oakland (Sun. 1:30 CBS)
This here game I love. And it’s very scary bettin’ on the JETS-Jets Jets Jets, but shoot fire, I got a feelin’ these guys is gonna win the whole dang thing. Besides, I hate Al Davis. Die, Al, die. This here game is gonna be close—prob’ly a field goal, one way or the other. So I’ll take the 5 1/2 . —Guy W.T. Goggles
(Regular season record: 13-9)

WORDS
Frederick Exley, A Fan’s Notes (Dimensions):
Dubbed a fictional memoir, this book, originally published in 1968, is like the novel Holden Caulfield would have written as an alcoholic, depressed 30-year-old wasting his life away watching football on the tube from his mother’s davenport in his hometown of Watertown, N.Y. At once an indictment of the so-called American Dream and a searing self-excoriation at the same time, Exley’s obsession with his USC college roommate, football star Frank Gifford, is compared to his own failure to become the famous writer he always wanted to be. Part of a trilogy that includes Pages From a Cold Island and the concluding Last Notes From Home, this is a cautionary tale that must be re-read every few years, its biting, humorous commentaries a precursor of such great misanthropic tracts of self-loathing as Curb Your Enthusiasm and drunken romps like Leaving Las Vegas. Roy Trakin

MUSIC
The Shazam, Tomorrow the World (Not Lame):
No wonder Little Steven has been raving about this Tennessee trio and spinning them endlessly on his Underground Garage radio show: These guys have got the stuff. With power-pop chops galore, neo-punk intensity and the kind of attitude you’d expect from a “The” band, singer-guitarist Hans Rotenberry, bassist Mick Wilson and drummer Scott Ballew also turn out terrific songs. They neatly satirize the whole neo-garage genre in this Brad Jones-produced disc’s opening salvo, “Rockin’ and Rollin’ (with My) Rock ‘N’ Roll Rock ‘N’ Roller,” then steamroll over any remaining doubters with “We Think Yer Dead” and the giddily wonderful “Gettin’ Higher.” There’s more to love here, but you’ll have to get your own damn copy; I’m not lending mine out.
Simon Glickman

TRAKIN’S PICKS TO FLICK
Just Married (20th Century Fox)
Premise
: Can the marriage of a loser traffic reporter and a spoiled writer from a wealthy family survive the honeymoon?
Stars: Dude Where’s My Car? and That ’70s Show star Ashton Kutcher and 8 Mile sexpot Brittany Murphy test their star power in a mid-January release.
Director: Big Fat Lair’s Shawn Levy, with a screenplay by Sam Harper (Rookie of the Year)
Thumbs Up: Kutcher and Murphy Generation Y’s answer to Tracy and Hepburn?
Thumbs Down: Kutcher and Murphy Generation’s Y’s answer to Rob Schneider and Colleen Haskell.
Soundtrack: None
Website: www.JustMarriedMovie.com features movie info, cast and crew, stills, video, downloads and a compatibility test.

P.S. Your Cat Is Dead (TLA)
Premise
: Steve Guttenberg’s debut as a director/screenwriter, based on the James Kirkwood Jr. novel/play about a struggling L.A. writer/actor who confronts a gay burglar and his own sexuality. No, seriously.
Stars: Guttenberg, but keep an eye peeled for an appearance by gossip columnist-turned-tabloid TV reporter AJ Benza.
Director: Guttenberg
Thumbs Up: It’s gotta be better than Short Circuit.
Thumbs Down: Can’t be as good as Police Academy.
Soundtrack: None
Website: www.psyourcatisdead.com offers a homemade, but comprehensive site, with story, actor bios, video of the trailer and behind-the-scenes footage, stills and publicity contact information.

Blue Collar Comedy Tour: The Movie (WB)
Premise
: WB does the white-trash version of Kings of Comedy
Stars: Jeff Foxworthy
, Bill Engvall, Larry the Cable Guy and Ron White
Director: The OsbournesC.B. Harding makes his feature-film debut.
Thumbs Up: They work blue without bleeps, unlike on the Comedy Channel.
Thumbs Down: It’ll be on the Comedy Channel next month.
Soundtrack: Someone should jump on this.
Website: www.BlueCollarcomedytour.WarnerBros.com offers a poster image, a gallery of clips, a trailer and a place to buy tickets and check showtimes. —RT

NO SMOKING GUN? COME ON DOWN!
Remember the protest marches of yore? Old lefties may feel nostalgic twinges, along with the usual camaderie and shared outrage, at the many rallies opposing war with Iraq on Saturday. A roster of events around the nation can be found at the United for Peace site. But look for me at the big Pershing Square confab in downtown L.A. I'll be the one with the sign that says "It's Pronounced 'Nuclear,' George." —SG

DENISE’S WEAKEND COCKTAIL
Happy New Year…is it time for my nap? Wow, having a couple of weeks off really can throw a gal out of the loop. I’m happy to announce that I’m back and full of new adventures, which will allow you to once again live vicariously through me.

I’ll start with some quick updates. From my list of the 10 things I wanted for Christmas, I got snow and that’s it. I know…pathetic—nothing in a blue box or boxers and no book deal, but I still have hope. From all of the responses I’ve received, it seems that quite a few of you were amused with my Top 10 New Year’s Resolutions. I am happy to report that I’m well on my way to keeping all of them. I’ve already added some new, and rather sexy, silk and lace to my collection and pampered myself with a massage and facial. I’m looking forward to keeping the remaining eight.

Does anyone know how to fill out a missing-persons report? I’m looking for the great guy I met right before Christmas at a certain Valley bar. My first cocktail of the year is dedicated to all of those unforgettable nights with men who somehow forgot about us.

Stoli Oh What a Night Martini
1 1/2 oz. Stoli Ohranj Vodka
1/2 oz. Lemon juice
3 oz. Orange juice
1 oz. Raspberry syrup
Shake ingredients and strain into martini glass
Garnish with orange slice

This type of thing always stumps me—it seems like you have a great connection with someone, only to never receive the phone call that you thought was a sure thing. This isn’t the first time, nor will it be the last, I’m sure, but that doesn’t make it any less confusing. There must be some mystery land filled with all of those Mr. Rights who never called. The really sad part is that I find myself making up excuses on why he never called, just so I can feel better about myself. I mean…maybe he typed the number in wrong on his cell phone, or maybe he lost his cell phone, or maybe it was him calling with the “unavailable” number, which I didn’t answer because I was screening, or even worse, maybe he was abducted by aliens—poor guy. I DOUBT IT!

I’ve had a lot of time to ponder this and many of my other dating dilemmas during the break, and I feel as if I’ve had something of an epiphany—pretty hard for a blonde. It all relates back to sex, and if the guy thinks he has a chance. Now, I didn’t sleep with this tall, blonde and handsome stranger, but I did make-out with him a little bit. Maybe I was a little too prudish—meaning I didn’t lead him on enough. I didn’t allow him to believe that sex might happen, and then not give it up. Sure, that could be seen as teasing, but if it gets him to keep calling, I don’t see the harm.

There’s a fine line a gal must walk. For example, everyone knows about the three-date rule—you can’t have sex on the first or second dates, because the other party might assume you’re a slut, and we all know that men don’t get into relationships with gals who are easy—sure they’ll sleep with them, but not date them. But, by waiting until date three, he no longer cares whether or not you’re a slut, because he wants to get laid and you’re suddenly a challenge, therefore making a relationship still a possibility. The key is that on date one and two you must dangle a carrot of sorts. Maybe if I would’ve spent a little alone time with my mystery man in the Firefly’s coed bathroom, I might’ve gotten the call that I desired.

De’s bar pick of the week: I often reference and have even dissed this place in the past, but it’s about time that it makes my pick of the week. The Firefly in Studio City is the Valley’s one and only hip, Hollywood-style lounge/restaurant. Besides being filled with the prettiest people in the 818 area code, it has the ever-so-famous coed bathrooms that I constantly rave about. I still have to take my turn breaking them in. Although I was angered about six months ago when I wasn’t allowed entrance one Saturday night, my attitude has since changed due to the fact that a very cute and spunky doorgal named Sanny has replaced the very mean, and obviously blind, doorman who refused to let me in. Next time you’re hanging on this side of the hill, visit the Firefly for great drinks, hot guys (including a certain bartender I know) and a little action in the coed bathrooms. Cheers!

De’s diss of the week: I’ve decided that I haven’t been back in L.A. long enough for someone or someplace to piss me off, so I’m starting the New Year without a diss. Shall we place bets on how long that will last?

As always, I would love to hear from you, so e-mail my link. Until next week—hugs and kisses. Denise Bayles

Contributors: Denise Bayles, Lenny Beer, Darren Cava, Holly Gleason, Simon Glickman, Guy W.T. Goggles and Roy Trakin

Editor: Bud Scoppa

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