War in Iraq, AIDS in Africa, an impending Election, the 9/11 Commission... FORGET ABOUT IT!!! Let’s talk about some important issues...like WHAT ARE THESE PURPLE AND GOLD ASSES THINKING????? Never has professional sports seen such a disgraceful display of ego, avarice and greed. The Los Angeles Lakers are on the verge of one of the sports world's biggest pratfalls... or are they?


It’s Tip-Off Time for NBA Playoffs, But Take a Time Out for HBO’s Deadwood, soulful newcomer Keaton Simons, radical rockers MC5, crossover specialists N.E.R.D., the Subservient Chic
The NBA playoffs get underway, with all eyes on whether the star-studded Lakers, and the engimatic Kobe Bryant in particular, can overcome their inner turmoil, as well as the aches and pains of a grueling 82-game regular season. Can they turn it on in time to make Gary Payton and Karl Malone champions for the first time? Or will silent, but deadly San Antonio stalwart Tim Duncan thwart them once again? Can Minnesota’s lanky, but tough, Kevin Garnett make a run? Can the Knicks and Stephon Marbury give their cross-state rivals the Nets and Jason Kidd—the two point guards were once traded for each other—a run for their money? Who’ll self-destruct first—the Maloof Bros.’ Suckramento Kings or Mark Cuban’s hotshot, but porous Mavs? Other than that, wake us when school’s out for summer.

(Note: Ex-Elektra VP Media and Artist Relations and diehard Laker fan Joel Amsterdam penned the following assessment before Kobe Bryant’s two miraculous three-point shots Wednesday night to beat the Blazers in double overtime and secure the team’s division title and #2 seed going into this weekend’s playoffs)

War in Iraq, AIDS in Africa, an impending Election, the 9/11 Commission... FORGET ABOUT IT!!! Let’s talk about some important issues...like WHAT ARE THESE PURPLE AND GOLD ASSES THINKING????? Never has professional sports seen such a disgraceful display of ego, avarice and greed. The Los Angeles Lakers are on the verge of one of the sports world's biggest pratfalls... or are they? That's what makes the NBA Playoffs in general and the Lakers in particular SO damn fascinating this year. They are the ultimate Hollywood traffic accident and Laker fans can't help but watch in both horror and amazement. How could a collection of talent this dazzling, combined with the greatest coach the sport has ever known, end up being the biggest sports embarassment this city has ever endured? Well, there are a couple of reasons. 1) They really aren't that good. People talk about four Hall of Famers, but really only one of them is in his prime and #8 has been a little distracted this year. They are old, slow, unathletic and couldn't guard the Beverly Hills High girls club right now. 2) Their gigantic EGOS have swallowed them whole and rendered them lifeless and unmotivated. It's clear that the Zen Master's motivational techniques have not worked because it require selfless belief in team and this particular bunch cares more about their Ferraris, being "The Man" and Bling then about rebounds, sharing the ball and defending the Pick & Roll. To my eyes, it's a combination of both. Can they win it all? Will they get swept in the first round? Beats me. But I'll be watching... with my arm covering my eyes... (Joel Amsterdam)

1. Deadwood (HBO): Thank god for TiVo. Without it, I wouldn’t have gotten past the first episode of this revisionist Western, which transposes The Sopranos’ rule of brute force and naked greed to a lawless South Dakota gold-rush town circa 1876 right after the Custer massacre and right before the U.S. annexation. Ian McShane steals the show as the Tony Soprano character, ruthless saloonkeeper Al Swearengen, reminiscent of Daniel Day-Lewis’ Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York. Keith Carradine is also fine as a grizzled, burnt-out Wild Bill Hickok, who actually met his end from an assassin in the town. Like N.Y.P.D. Blue, which he also created, David Milch’s take on the western, including such seemingly anachronistic language as "cocksuckers" and "dudes," immerses the genre in mud, blood, slime and grime, showing not only how the west was won, but lost. (Roy Trakin)

2. Keaton Simons, Currently EP (Maverick): Wiser than his years and more soulful by half than most of his contemporaries, this 25-year-old singer-songwriter and guitar virtuoso works primarily in a rootsy pop-rock mode. Indeed, he can evoke the smoky past (as on the jazzy, sensuous KCRW fave "Currently") with such subtle power that one is inclined to believe in reincarnation. But he can also rip into fiercely bluesy material like "Lift Me Up" with real passion; his vocal calls and guitar responses are equal parts ferocity and invention. "Lightning," meanwhile, is a wrenching lullaby of loss with a gem of a chorus, and the ballads "To Me" and "Long Way from Home" come on quietly but pack a real wallop. Ably produced by Andrew Bojanic and Liz Hooper, this disc offers the first glimpse of a tremendous talent. Simons performs with his trio at the Temple Bar in Santa Monica on Sat. night (4/17). (Simon Glickman)

3. MC5: A True Testimonial (Private Music/BMG DVD): Word is the commercial release of this award-winning documentary is being held up by legal issues. Which would be a shame, because the story of the rise and fall of these legendary Motor City rockers captures a time when people thought music could actually bring about revolutionary change. Managed by Detroit radical John Sinclair of White Panther party fame, kicked off their original label, Elektra, because of an obscene advertisement they took out in a music magazine, then hooking up with Jon Landau for their comeback effort, the group strike a compelling figure. Afro-haired, bespectacled Rob Tyner, looking like a white Julius Erving from his ABA days, is an incredible, blue-eyed soul shouter, fronting a band that included a pair of ace guitar-slingers in Wayne Kramer and the late Fred "Sonic" Smith (later married to Patti Smith). There are reminiscences from surviving band members, as well as rare appearances by Sinclair and Landau. For those too young to remember, or old enough to forget, this Behind the Music-style glimpse evokes the sheer power of the band and one of rock’s wildest tales. (RT)

4. N.E.R.D., Fly or Die (Virgin): Like OutKast’s Speakerboxx/The Love Below and DJ Danger Mouse’s The Grey Album, Pharrell Williams, Chad Hugo and Shay are doing their bit to join rock & roll and Urban music in one multicultural melting pot. Taking their cue from Prince and The Time’s funk-driven roots, the trio proves more than the sum of its individual parts, with a freewheeling approach that bends genres without breaking them. And while the kaleidoscopic approach doesn’t exactly leave you with too many hummable melodies, the overall effect is not unlike Todd Rundgren’s A Wizard, A True Star, with studio magic in the service of good, old-fashioned soul and rock. In an industry fragmenting into too many disparate pieces, N.E.R.D. insists you can put them all back together again. (RT)

5. SubservientChicken.com: In what looks like the oddest fast-food promotion ever, Burger King is backing up its offer of chicken "just the way you like it" with this (already notorious) online stunt. A garter-clad guy in a chicken suit, standing submissively in a modest-looking apartment, awaits your command; type in a few words and see what he does (hint: the word "disco" evinces a very satisfying result). The scene resembles a cross between a Monty Python sketch and some sinister porno-webcam setup, and it’s surprisingly addictive. Visitors to the site can also see stills (!), download a chicken mask and, naturally, read about BK’s TenderCrisp Chicken Sandwich. Have it your way. Or just keep abusing the guy in the suit and order something from Koo Koo Roo. (SG)

6. Nathanael West, A Cool Million: The third of the writer’s trilogy, written in 1934 after Miss Lonelyhearts and The Day of the Locust, pokes a satiric hole in Depression America’s belief in the Horatio Alger myth of rags-to-riches. Tracking the downward spiral of one Lemuel Pitkin, a naïve New Englander who heads to N.Y.C. to pursue his destiny, only to lose his teeth, eye, thumb, scalp, leg, and ultimately, life in the process. West’s surreal tale prefigures post-modern writers like John Irving, while totally nailing such issues of then and now as xenophobia, fascism, anti-Semitism, mob rule, capitalism and the international banking conspiracy. The backdrop of human suffering and poverty eerily echoes the present-day, with West skewering the American dream every bit as thoroughly as he does love and Hollywood in Lonelyhearts and Locust, respectively. (RT)

7. The Barbarian Invasions: French-Canadian director/writer Denys Arcand’s study of a socialist professor dying of cancer who reconciles with his stockbroker son amidst his group of once-radical friends was nominated for Best Foreign Film and Best Original Screenplay and it is certainly literate. Remy Girard plays someone who has savored life to the fullest and has to reconcile himself to the idea of death, while Stephane Rousseau is his disapproving, but ultimately forgiving, child. Marie-Josee Croze is especially touching as an addict daughter of a friend who helps the dying man overcome his pain while sharing her own. The bittersweet remembrances of times past are interspersed with some pointed commentaries about Canadian health care, American materialism, legalized drugs and euthanasia in a film that uses witty conversation to get at the quiet at the heart of the soul. (RT)

8. Various Artists, Cocktails with Cole Porter (Capitol): Another lovely mix in the Ultra-Lounge line, which should have guests at your next soiree swooning into their gimlets. The 20-song anthology boasts timeless gems from Nat King Cole ("Just One of Those Things" and "Miss Otis Regrets"), Ella Fitzgerald ("It’s De-Lovely" and a duet with Louis Armstrong on "Let’s Do It") and Julie London ("My Heart Belongs to Daddy"), not to mention Porter tunes assayed by Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Judy Garland, Louis Prima, Peggy Lee, Liza Minnelli, Sarah Vaughan, Steve Lawrence and more. Raise your cocktail glasses and drink up. (SG)

9. Dyson DC07 vacuum: When you’re the man of the house, there are certain chores that fall in your lap. If you make the mistake of being gadget-obsessed, in addition to opening stuck jar-lids and killing spiders, you get to be in charge of vacuuming. I like to think of it as indoor lawn-mowing—collecting the hair from a dog and two cats, plus all the dirt I bring home from this cesspool. Which is why I’m happy that I now have a Dyson vacuum, the iPod of vacuums. Its claim to fame is that it doesn’t lose suction after sucking up a ton of dirt. Recommended by two of my sisters, including the slightly OCD one who owns three vacuums and two steam cleaners, the Dyson is an amazing sucking machine. The Dyson employs what it calls a RootCyclone to produce 100,000 G of centrifugal force. It’s basically eight mini-tornados pulling the dirt out of your carpet. The machine itself is intuitive to use, with a clear collection bin, a handle that doubles as an extention tool, and a clean, modern design. It’s no exaggeration that I’ve used it every day this week. My life really does suck. (David Simutis)

10. Jet and The Vines at Wiltern LG, L.A.: You gotta say this about these two Aussie bands—they have a real reverence for their garage-rock roots. If I had to choose between the retro-revivalism of Jet and their closest current chart competitors, The Darkness, I’d lean toward the un-irony of the former over the tongue-in-cheekiness of the latter. Jet’s successful Elektra debut, Get Born, is steeped in the verities of ‘60s and ‘70s rock, from the "Lust for Life"/"You Can’t Hurry Love" bass beat of their smash "Are You Gonna Be My Girl?" to the AC/DC-like flourishes and Bon Scott yelps of "Cold Hard Bitch." With the Who-styled theatrics of their windmill guitarslinging, the band looks intent on playing arenas, which could just happen before the summer is out. Here’s a band new Atlantic Records Group head Jason Flom will know what to do with. The Vines also mine the Stooges songbook, with charismatic lead singer Craig Nicholls writhing like a cat in heat, and the band putting out a steady wall-of-grunge like it was 1969, the album as well as the year. The headliners were a little less accessible than their Down Under management stablemates, pushing the envelope towards Nirvana-styled art grunge on songs like "Ride" from their sophomore Capitol Records album, Winning Days. And while the requisite level of sturm und drone is achieved, the band is still in search of an anthem like Jet seems to have created with their iPod-driven Bic-flicker. (RT)

With my ten-year college reunion looming—no, I’m not going—and the sand of time clearly visible in my grey hairs, I find myself wonder this: Did I really go to college only to end up writing 200-word love letters to a vacuum? Fellow Miami University alums, tell me why I should donate to the alumni funds: [email protected]. (DS)

NOME ON THE APPRENTICE FINAL: So relieved that Bill won, words cannot express. I thought I was going to be sick when it looked like it was leaning towards Kwame, like I can't be in public at a time like this! (Valerie Nome)

Hey Kids: After seven incredible years, I'm taking my leave of the HITS cesspool to, as they say, "pursue other opportunities," including yours. I will miss my HITS family, my weekly beat, writing for the Planner and the free postage. But I'm only an e-mail away; hit me up at [email protected]. (SG)

It's a weekend of multiple night gigs. Melissa Etheridge begins a three-night stand at Roseland (239 W 52nd St.) Friday (April 16), and Stereolab plays Irving Plaza (17 Irving Place) both Friday and Saturday (April 17). (VN)

Kill Bill Vol. 2 (Miramax)
The Bride continues her quest to wreak vengeance upon her former employer and other members of their assassin circle for shooting her at her wedding and leaving her for dead. Reportedly more of Tarantino’s dialogue than the first with a nod to the Italian "spaghetti" westerns instead of Vol. 1’s homage to his beloved Asian kung fu and samurai flicks.
Stars: Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Sonny Chiba, Vivica A. Fox, Daryl Hannah, Samuel L. Jackson, Lucy Liu, Michael Madsen, Bo Svenson
Director: Quentin Tarantino
, of course.
Thumbs Up: Fills in the background on the characters, moves the story forward and manages to work in some of Q’s patented discourse.
Thumbs Down: If you weren’t a fan of the first, here’s guessing you won’t be enamored of the sequel
Soundtrack: Maverick Records album includes dialogue, tracks by Ennio Morricone, Charlie Feathers, Johnny Cash, Malcolm McLaren, Luis Bacalov, Salerosa Chingon, Meiko Kaji and Lole Y Manuel.

The Punisher (Lions Gate Films)
Based on Marvel Comics character, an undercover FBI agent whose family is killed after they accidentally view a mob hit, turning him into a vengeance-wreaking, gun-toting death machine.
Stars: Thomas Jane, John Travolta, Samantha Mathis, Will Patton, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Roy Scheider, with cameos by defrocked shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge and wrestler Hulk Hogan.
Director: First-timer Jonathan Hensleigh, with screenplay by Michael France (The Hulk, Cliffhanger)
Thumbs Up: A comic book movie with a noirish edge.
Thumbs Down: After awhile, one of these superhero comic book movies looks an awful lot like the next.
Soundtrack: Wind-up Records album includes hard rockers like Drowning Pool, Puddle of Mudd, Nickelback, Queens of the Stone Age, Seether/Amy Lee, Smile Empty Soul, Trapt, Chevelle, Damageplan/Jerry Cantrell, Mark Collie, Atomship, Submersed, Seven Wiser, Hatebreed, Finger Eleven, Edgewater and Ben Moody/Jason Miller/Jason Jones

Connie and Carla (Universal Pictures)
Based on Some Like It Hot, two traveling female dinner theater singers are forced to go undercover as drag queens after witnessing a mafia hit.
Stars: Nia Vardalos, Toni Collette, David Duchovny, Stephen Spinella, with a cameo by Debbie Reynolds
Director: Michael Lembeck
(The Santa Clause 2), with a screenplay by Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding)
Thumbs Up: Amusing premise for follow-up to indie smash.
Thumbs Down: Vardalos is best in small doses.
Soundtrack: Sony Soundtrax album features original score by Randy Edelman, and renditions of Broadway show tunes by Vardalos and Collette, along with Peaches & Herb’s "Shake Your Groove Thing"

Let’s hope if you were counting on doing something outside in Los Angeles on Saturday, you have an alternate plan—such as watching the Lakers game. Looks like it could rain, with temps only in the upper 60s. Sunday will be the day to hike, surf, or lay in the yard and drink Zima, since it will be partly cloudy with temps right around 70. Overnight lows both days will be in the low 50s. Get those heat lamps out. In NYC, it will actually be more pleasant than Los Angeles. Partly cloudy both days, with highs on Saturday in the upper 60s and on Sunday in the mid-70s. Welcome to Spring. Lows will be in the upper 50s. (DS)

Thanks to Roy Trakin, Joel Amsterdam, Simon Glickman, David Simutis and Valerie Nome for taking this Weakend Planner to the hoop.

Going yard (7/11a)
I.B. will be your guide. (7/15a)
On your Marks, get set, go. (7/8a)
Half of Island's one-two punch (7/15a)
These two are tight. (7/15a)
Who's already a lock?
Three chords and some truth you may not be ready for.
The kids can tell the difference... for now.
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