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By the time the Democratic convention rolls around this summer, it may well go down to the 187th ballot, with dark horses Hillary Clinton and liberal gadfly Michael Moore’s first choice, Oprah Winfrey, chosen to lead the party, whose "jackass" symbol never seemed so appropriate.
A WEAKEND PLANNER FOR
HOWARD DEAN TO SHOUT ABOUT
A Presidential Campaign Goes Out With a Whimpering Bang, Ben Kingsley Fumbles the American Dream in the Fog, a Basketball Team Grows in Brooklyn and Theron does the Monster Mash
The Iowa caucus was Dick Gephardt’s farewell, and it may well be the end of Howard Dean’s presidential bid, too, after his nationally televised freak-out. By the time the Democratic convention rolls around this summer, it may well go down to the 187th ballot, with dark horses Hillary Clinton and liberal gadfly Michael Moore’s first choice, Oprah Winfrey, chosen to lead the party, whose "jackass" symbol never seemed so appropriate. And while the "geek" factor has undermined Dean’s promising start, it still works just fine for the following contributors to our weekly proof that, in the Blog New World, the playing field for opinions is not only leveled…but sinking faster than Dennis Kucinich’s campaign.

POPCULT TOP 10
1. Dean Screams: For those of you who can’t get enough of Dean’s Iowa meltdown (more than the flailing arms and the scream, what got me was the lunatic glint in his eyes), here’s a site that compiles the remixes of the speech. What surprises me is that no one has used "Mule Train" (it already has a great yell) or James Brown’s "Night Train." I, for one, would love to compare JB’s scream with Howie’s…and he’s already going to Washington, DC. (Steve Mirkin)

2. House of Sand and Fog: Before it flames out with an overly melodramatic ending, director Vadim Perelman’s first feature is a morality play that resides in the nebulous gray area of its title while racheting up the tension to an almost unbearable degree. Ben Kingsley’s Iranian Colonel turned blue-collar worker in the U.S. dominates the story with his determination to give his family the American dream in the form of a house by the ocean nabbed in a county auction. But it is Shohreh Aghdashloo as his quietly anguished wife and Jonathan Ahdout as his loyal son who pay the price for his intransigence. Jennifer Connelly, as the alcoholic home owner who sets the story in motion by failing to open her mail and pay a $500 business tax, has never been more seductive, playing a woman who is used to getting what she wants with her sexuality. No one emerges unscathed in this damning tale, which shows how easy it is to fall off society’s radar. It is one of the few American films to delve into the crushing expectations of a middle class rapidly losing its hold in a country where the rich get richer and the poor get screwed. (Roy Trakin)

3. Bands Reunited (VH1): The liner notes to Big Black’s final album read, "Breaking up is an idea that has occurred to far too few bands, sometimes the wrong ones." VH1’s reality show attempts to undo breakups by some classic and not-so-classic bands from the ’80s for one day of rehearsal and then a one-night-only concert. It’s sort of Behind the Music meets scavenger hunt, which is clearly a labor of love for host Aamer Haalem, as he tracks down wayward musicians who are now a little more corporate and thicker in the middle. Will Berlin’s drummer agree to join the band he walked out on as they were recording their second album? Will Klymaxx bury the hatchet? What will Frankie Goes to Hollywood do since they live on two continents now? Some of the 10 bands profiled turn down the offer, but most decide that bygones are bygones. It’s actually kind of sweet. (David Simutis)

4. Brooklyn Nets: The owners of the New Jersey Nets accepted a $300 million from local developer Bruce Ratner and rapper Jay-Z to sell the NBA team, paving the way for a move to Brooklyn. That would give the borough its first major league sports team since the beloved Dodgers moved from Ebbets Field to L.A. after the 1957 season. It’s just too bad that two of Brooklyn’s finest point guards ever, Stephon Marbury and Lenny Wilkens, have just relocated to Manhattan’s Madison Square Garden to play and coach the rival N.Y. Knicks. I was a Net fan back when the ABA team played in the Nassau Coliseum and boasted the likes of Julius Erving and Rick Barry. Unfortunately, I jumped ship after then-owner Roy Boe sold Erving to the Philadelphia 76ers so he could afford to pay the entrance fee to the NBA. Can you imagine what those Park Slope condos will be worth now? (RT)

5. Lloyd Sachs, T-Bone Burnett cover story, No Depression: Rock's great enigma. The man who twisted the nobs for Los Lobos, the Wallflowers and Counting Crows, who created that amazing evocative soundscape bridge between the divine and the secular River of Time and who beat the game at its own game, by refusing to take the bit or follow the rules. By seceding from the mill, T-Bone created an album that put acoustic roots music back at the fore with the Oh, Brother soundtrack and gave Rodney Crowell a forum for his personal rumination on adulthood with Fate's Right Hand before transitioning back into the studio himself. His thinking debunks much of the music business's conventional wisdom, though his comments also reveal an uncommon intelligence that defies most that chase this dream. Burnett's tightrope—as well as those fetching progressive-pop records from wife Sam Phillips—is as engaging as it is vexing for us mere mortals. But oh, what a standard to aspire to. (Holly Gleason)

6. Monster: By turns disturbing and profoundly depressing, director/screenwriter Patty Jenkins’ portrait of a serial killer, despite its best intentions and a jaw-dropping, Oscar-worthy performance by Charlize Theron as executed murderer Aileen Wuornos, seems to exploit the poor woman for her own liberal feminist political agenda. There has never been a more gruesome depiction of hetero sex, with Wuornos’ only redeeming quality the short-lived romance with partner Christina Ricci, also remarkable as her naïve, butch lover. The white-trash backdrop and arena-rock soundtrack is authentic, as is Theron’s depiction of Wuornos’ dead-end desperation and alienation, but this walk on the wild side tries to turn its lead character into a symbol of something wrong with society, when she’s really just a sad, unique anomaly. (RT)

7. The Eternal Marketing Science of Anniversaryhood: Of all classic-rock devotees, Yes fans are arguably treated best. A continuous stream of product feeds their hunger for the British band’s majestic, fussy prog. Even so, the action on the Roundabout these days is enough to make the heads of the faithful explode, as Yes members celebrate the group’s 35th Anniversary with a schedule that would topple men half their ages. First, a crop of shiny, Roger Dean-encrusted artifacts: the DVD Yesspeak (Classic Pictures), yet another multi-disc anthology, The Ultimate Yes (Elektra/Rhino) and well-padded reissues of lesser albums Tormato and Drama and the band’s one moment of pop-radio effulgence, 90125. Now, the events: a Craig Kilborn appearance, in-store at the Sherman Oaks Tower Records (just a Starbucks’ throw from this cesspool), a fan-only event that will broadcast live (along with the DVD doc) from L.A. to movie houses nationwide, and, of course, a tour (to be announced at the Sherman Oaks in-store). As Jon Anderson (or our own Ivana) would say, "The truth of sport plays rings around you." Don’t ask—just listen. (Simon Glickman)

8. AOL Straw Poll: Vote for your favorite Dem and find out how America Online users, Republicans though they may be, are voting state by state. It’s one of the best features on the service since they started offering Instant Messaging. (SG)

9. Traffic, Welcome to the Canteen (Island): It’s no surprise that Steve Winwood has turned to jam band fans of String Cheese Incident and Phish to revitalize his career, especially given the evidence of this live reissue, first released in 1971. The benefit concert, recorded at London’s Fairfield Hall, features the band’s strongest line-up, with bassist Rick Grech, vocalist/guitarist Dave Mason, drummer Jim Gordon, vocalist/percussionist Jim Capaldi, Chris Wood playing saxophones, flute, piano and organ and "Rebop" Kwaku Baah on congas, timbales and bongos. The result is a revelation, Traffic stretching out, but never dull, at once more melodic and tuneful than the Dead, and more eclectic musically than the Allmans. Highlight is the almost-11-minute-long version of "Dear Mr. Fantasy," which never strays from the band’s intention to "play us a tune, something to make us all happy." (RT)

10. Albano’s Brooklyn Pizzeria: Longtime rock manager Dave Wolff (Cyndi Lauper, Beth Hart) and business partners, Lou Albano (no relation to the former wrestling manager) and Grammy-nominated engineer Tal Herzberg (Black Eyed Peas), are opening their second restaurant venture this Sunday (1/25) at 2229 Ventura Blvd. in Studio City. The invitation-only grand opening bash begins at 6 p.m. (tell’ em HITS sent ya). Of course, any place that promises a New York-style pizza is a must-visit for us. It will open to the public late next week. The original pizzeria, located at 7261 Melrose Ave., is also co-owned by Albano and Wolff. East Coast native Wolff boasts that you "won't find a better slice in the Valley" and, "if things go well, we might have a platinum pizza on the wall." (RT)

I’VE GOT SOME L-WORDS FOR YOU
Though my hopes weren’t high for Showtime’s "lesbians in the city" series The L Word, given the poor advance buzz and the obvious cheese of the promos, I had to watch the pilot—because I’m an aficionado of premium cable hour dramas, of course. Well, watching fine honeys pawing one another in various states of undress has its appeal as well. OK, I watched for the fine honeys. But the writing and direction were so consistently awful that even the few moments of medium-spicy kanoodling weren’t enough to salvage the experience. Pitching violently from the overwrought and pretentious to the maddeningly superficial, L is unified only by its cluelessness. Worst of all, this alleged peek into the L.A. lesbian life—where all sapphics are apparently darling, skinny femmes with good jobs, great haircuts and perfect skin—is clearly aimed at straight folks in the heartland with a taste for the Spice Channel. Exhibit A: The main story line follows Jenny (Mia Kirshner, gorgeous but whiny), a cute, brainy straight girl (coded Jewish and intellectual by the fact that she wears a chai and is always dropping authors’ names). She comes to Tinseltown to join her boyfriend and falls into an ambivalent rondelay with exotic cafe owner Marina (Karina Lombard, smokin’ hot, but excessively European). Of course, before being treated to their bafflingly choreographed love scene, we must suffer through 40 minutes or so of Jenny’s agonizing over her strange new stirrings—which invariably culminate in her muttering "I have to go" and storming out a door. Then there’s workaholic art dealer Bette (Jennifer Beals, still stunning but clearly campaigning for an Emmy) and her neglected lover Tina (Laurel Holloman, corn-fed and doleful), who bicker tearfully between hashing over "relevant" lesbian issues and comically trying to find a sperm donor so they can have a baby together. (Pam Grier is shamefully squandered as Beals’ sister). Throw in two mightily irritating comic-relief characters, the starchy, closeted tennis pro Dana (Erin Daniels, severe yet clownish) and nattering bi "journalist" Alice (Leisha Hailey, breaking the perkiness barrier) and you’ve got a nice-looking, but not terribly likable bunch. The one bright spot: the rockstar-like heartthrob Shane (Katherine Moenningdamn), who fucks whomever she likes and doesn’t bother overthinking it. Moenning’s incredible head-to-toe hotness is amplified by her husky voice and strutting nonchalance—she’s the real star among the new faces. Sadly, she’s a background character for the time being. As it stands, the L words this wretched hour of "premium" cable brought to mind for me were lousy, lame, leaden and lamentable. (SG)

YOUR WEAKEND QUESTION
Perhaps you recall a certain early MTV-era superstar named Lionel Richie. Perhaps you remember a certain ballad, "Hello," from his classic 1983 record Can’t Slow Down. Perhaps you can think back to the video in which a blind student makes a sculpture of Richie’s head. It’s one of the greatest moments in MTV history. So grand and touching, even though the sculpture only looks vaguely like him. Still, it begs the question: Where is the sculpture of Lionel Richie’s head now? Send answers to [email protected] and tell me how to win your heart, ’cause I haven’t got a clue. (DS)

YOUR WEAKEND WEATHER
Unpredictable like Howard Dean’s rantings, the California winter can bring wind, rain, or sunshine. This weekend, let’s say partly cloudy with highs in the mid-60s and lows in the mid-40s. In New York City it will be just like that, minus around 40 degrees, on Saturday. Sunday will bring snow showers and temps hovering at 20 degrees. Don’t be sad—rain is coming later in the week. (DS)

TRAKIN’S PICKS TO FLICK
The Butterfly Effect (New Line Cinema)
Premise
: A young man struggling with the psychological effects of sublimated childhood memories travels back in time to inhabit his childhood body, only to find every visit to the past has unintended results on his present self as he keeps returning to his childhood to try to repair the damage.
Stars: Ashton Kutcher, Amy Smart, Elden Henson, Eric Stoltz, Ethan Suplee, Melora Walters
Director: Eric Bress
and J. Mackye Gruber, who also co-wrote the screenplay, in their feature debuts.
Thumbs Up: Kutcher and Smart make for a smart couple, and the premise has some promise.
Thumbs Down: Dude, where’s my motivation? Can Kutcher succeed in his first dramatic role?
Soundtrack: La-La Land Records release features score by Micheal Suby.
Website: www.Butterflyeffectmovie.com features an eerie flash intro, plot synopsis, cast information, an excerpt from the novelization, crew information, trailer, photos, place to order soundtrack, behind the scenes interviews, desktop, e-cards, posters, AOL IM icons and screensavers. There’s also a section called "Confronting Chaos," where sci-fi writer Bruce Sterling writes about his short story featuring a fictional version of rock critic Lester Bangs and Around the World in 80 DaysPhineas Fogg.

Win A Date with Tad Hamilton! (DreamWorks)
Premise:
When a hot young actor agrees to participate in a "win a date" contest for his new movie, his world is turned upside-down when he falls in love with the winner, a grocery store checkout girl from West Virginia, where he shows up to profess his love. The confession inspires her best friend to admit he’s loved her all along.
Stars: Kate Bosworth, Topher Grace, Gary Cole, Pete Monash, Sean Hayes, Nathan Lane.
Director: Robert Luketic’s follow-up to Legally Blonde.
Thumbs Up: Who’ll have the larger first-week box office gross among That ‘70s Show stars, Grace or Kutcher?
Thumbs Down: Bye Bye Birdie without the music?
Soundtrack: Aware/Columbia/Sony Music Soundtrax album features Wilshire’s "Special" and tracks by John Mayer, Liz Phair, Five for Fighting and BT, among others.
Website: www.winadatewithtadhamilton.com features story, photos, quiz, character bios, multimedia, downloads, buddy icons, wallpaper, soundtrack info and a fake Tad Hamilton fansite.

NEW YORK MINUTE
Kick off your weekend with a walk on the soprano side. Phantom of the Opera diva Sarah Brightman takes the stage at Madison Square Garden (34th St. between 7th and 8th) on Friday (1/ 23). If you prefer metal with your music, then you’ll want to grab that fur coat and camp out at Hammerstein Ballroom (311 W. 34th St.), where Iron Maiden suit up for a two-night stand Friday and Saturday (1/24-25). By Sunday, nothing could be finer than kicking back with the Old 97’s at Bowery Ballroom (6 Delancy St.). Damnwells open. (Valerie Nome)

QUOTE OF THE WEEK
This week, Simon Cowell’s harsh tongue returned for its third season on American Idol. Speaking with reporters at the Television Critics Association recently, the jilting judge riffed on the hotness factor of today’s pop stars.

"Britney is cute, isn't she? Beyonce is good-looking. Jennifer Lopez is good-looking. Madonna used to be good-looking."

When he noticed that Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson were not amused, the Brit bemoaned, "She's a housewife!" (VN)

Thanks to Steve Mirkin, Roy Trakin, David Simutis, Holly Gleason, Simon Glickman and Valerie Nome falettin' us be ourselves again.

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