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The negotiations now underway between YouTube and the music giants for their video archives made me think of what would’ve happened if the record labels had tried to play ball with Shawn Fanning’s original brainchild instead of insisting on destroying it.
AN UNSEASONABLY COOL
WEAKEND PLANNER
There May Be No THERE There in Mid-August, but While We’re Waiting for the Action to Start, a Number of Viable Diversions Are Available
TRAKIN CARE OF BUSINESS: SAME AS IT EVER WAS
1. Sufjan Stevens, The Avalanche (Asthmatic Kitty):
If you thought Illinois was a fluke, these self-described “outtakes and extras” from that album come across as Godfather II, a sequel that fills in the spaces and gives the original even more layers of complexity. There are more than two-and-a-half hours of music on the two CDs, more than enough to fill the Broadway play that is currently in the planning stages. In place of the first album’s John Wayne Gacy and Carl Sandburg, this one counters with fellow Illini “Adlai Stevenson”  (“Ad-a-lay, Ad-a-lay, what did you say?”) and “Saul Bellow” (“Get in solid walls with the know-it-alls”). The title track comes on like Simon & Garfunkel in search of “America,” all delicately plucked banjo and wistful flute, a metaphor for turning debris into art (“Make it right! Make it yours!”), a symbol for the reclamation job Stevens does with these leftovers from Illinois. For all you “Chicago” fans (“All things go”), used so wonderfully as an instrumental to accompany the ramshackle Volkswagen van hitting the highway in Little Miss Sunshine, there are three different reprises here, including acoustic, adult contemporary easy listening and Multiple Personality Disorder versions that explore new crevices and possibilities in the irresistible melody. The muted “Penny Lane” trumpets and overlapping Philip Glass/Steve Reich pulse of “Dear Mr. Supercomputer” typify the approach, at once avant-garde and traditional Americana musical theater in the Charles Ives/Van Dyke Parks mode. Yet another pop musical genius from the hotbed of Detroit, Sufjan Stevens obviously lives in a world of his own. With The Avalanche, he begins to find a larger context for it.
Roy Trakin

2.
World Trade Center: There’s something unsettling about Oliver Stone’s new movie, which harks back to his band-of-brothers, we’re-all-in-this-together feel of classics like Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July, where men are at their finest battling together against a common enemy. Ironically, for one of our most political filmmakers, this “never forget” tribute to those who survived 9/11, as well as lost their lives trying to help others, is strangely non-partisan, something that can be embraced by left and right alike in its tale of heroism under extraordinary circumstances. Unlike Paul Greengrass’ clinical, repressed United 93, World Trade Center is filled with emotion, sometimes unbearably so, especially as Stone cuts from dark to light, from the two NYC Transit Authority cops played by Nicolas Cage and Crash locksmith Michael Pena (the latter a star-making turn), buried beneath the rubble, fighting for their lives and trying not to lose hope, to their wives, Mario Bello and Maggie Gyllenhaal, desperately trying to do the same by keeping things normal as their families are torn apart. The only glimpse as to where the disaster might lead is in the scary character of Michael Karnes’ ex-Marine, who declares the country is at war and heads straight for Ground Zero, where he leads the rescue mission for the two trapped cops only after getting the go-ahead from his priest. The middle section, where Cage and Pena exchange small talk about their families to stay conscious, is incredibly claustrophobic, but strangely effective, Stone’s way of showing the cosmic tragedy’s human impact, even if I could do without the vision of Jesus with a water bottle. His one stylistic flourish is a single camera shot which rises from the two immobile men and tracks straight up through the debris to a satellite orbiting above the earth transmitting the news around the world. It’s a way for Stone to suggest the event’s dimension, even as his target goes beyond petty politics and hidden conspiracies to a vision of the God in all of us—the light at the end of the tunnel after a hellish passage. —RT

3. Tristram Shandy: Michael Winterbottom’s film version of Laurence Sterne’s 18th century English comic novel, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, originally made for HBO, is a Pirandellian combination of fellow Brit Ricky Gervais’ HBO series Extras, Spike Jonze’s Adaptation and Fellini’s 8 ½, which it acknowledges with its use of composer Nina Rota’s score. U.K. comic Steve Coogan, best known for portraying the goofy talk-show host Alan Partridge on the BBC series, plays himself as the title character both on- and off-set, as he squabbles with Rob Bryden about everything from the color of his co-star’s teeth to the size of his heels, lest he appear taller on-screen. One segment, in which Factory founder and British TV personality Tony Wilson, whom Coogan portrayed in Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People, interviews the actor on the set of the film, barges straight through the fourth wall with hilarious results and is included unexpurgated as a bonus feature on the DVD. The book’s theme of digression and procrastination is brilliantly realized in the film’s tangents off-screen, as the individual “real” actors’ lives intersect and overlap with their on-screen personae. English literature has never been so much fun. —RT

4. Inside Man: Like Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center, Spike Lee’s first big-budget studio film since 1995’s Clockers is his vision of a post-9/11 New York City, at once torn apart by racism, suspicion and paranoia, all conveyed by a meticulously plotted Wall Street bank heist involving the taking of hostages, with Denzel Washington going head-to-head vs. robber-as-terrorist Clive Owen. Lee stays within his genre limitations here, paying explicit homage, as he states on his DVD commentary, to the hard-boiled New York City corruption of Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon and Serpico, where the bad guys and the good guys are not quite what they seem. Christopher Plummer reprises Sir Laurence Olivier’s Marathon Man role, while Jodie Foster gets a chance to show off her legs in Manolo Blahniks as a high-powered facilitator with friends in high places. And while Lee sticks to the taut mechanics of the plot, he’s not afraid to make several amusing digressions, including an outraged Sikh who complains about his civil rights only to be told by Denzel, “At least you can get a cab.” There are also several Knicks in-jokes (Washington’s detective is named Frazier after Walt, while Lee’s attempt to call his partner Monroe was quashed by Denzel) as well as a glimpse, in the assembled hostages, of an ethnic melting pot that colorfully mirrors his beloved New York City. —RT

5. Weeds (Showtime): After the comparative realism of cable comedies like Big Love, Huff and Entourage, the calculated outrage in the second season opener of Jenji Kohan’s suburban satire is almost jarring in its surrealism, as if we were all walking through life in a stoned-out haze, which we are, but hey, who isn’t these days? It’ll take a while to get used to the characters’ offbeat rhythms, which if I remember correctly, was what happened after the series premiere last year, as I gradually came to familiarize myself with the eccentric cast. The ensemble, headed by the sexy and perpetually wide-eyed Mary Louise-Parker, is completely loopy, with Elizabeth Perkins’ caustic and cancerous rabble-rouser the nosey next-door neighbor you love to hate but grudgingly learn to admire. Kevin Nealon, never very funny before, seems to have found his métier as the clueless, and perpetually high, City Council head, while Justin Kirk’s shameless attempt at becoming a rabbinical student to avoid being drafted would make for too-easy laughs if it weren’t for his earnest obliviousness. Sure, there are the criticized racial stereotype of the drug-dealing mama played by Tonye Patano, whose larger-than-life portrayal is meant to be a caricature, which she infuses with life. Still, for a show that centers on pot, there’s enough going on to keep even nonsmokers in a forgiving mood. You could even say it gives you more bong for your buck…and leaves you hungry for another hit. —RT

6. Coming Attractions: Unlike most moviegoers, I kinda like trailers, both because they give you some leeway on getting to your seat on time and you get to see what’s in the pipeline. I saw the latest batch of fall releases before World Trade Center, and there are several intriguing films I am going to want to catch. Brian DePalma’s Black Dahlia, with a screenplay by L.A. Confidential’s James Ellroy, looks like it could be a good noir in the manner of Chinatown, though Josh Hartnett seems a bit callow for the hard-boiled detective type—and is Scarlett Johansson in every movie these days, or does it just seem that way? Another interesting trailer was Amores Perros and 21 Grams director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Babel, which reminded me a little of Antonioni’s recently revived The Passenger, with a long-in-the-tooth Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett stranded in some strange land unable to connect. Steven Zaillian’s remake of Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men (the 1949 Oscar-winning version was directed by Robert Rossen, with Broderick Crawford in the lead role) starring Sean Penn as populist Southern politician Willie Stark, based on Louisiana Governor Huey Long, looks like it might be good, as a leathery Penn chews scenery with drawling abandon. Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, on the other hand, suffers from a confusing trailer and what looks like a standard genre exercise about undercover cops a la Donnie Brasco, even with a cast that includes Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson and Leonardo DiCaprio, though I’d never count out Scorsese on this turf. Ridley Scott’s A Good Year, with Russell Crowe as a snobby rich Englishman who inherits a vineyard in Provence, where he learns to appreciate the simple life and the love of an earthy woman, appears to be a bomb. Finally, Zach Braff in Tony Goldwyn’s The Last Kiss, with a screenplay by Oscar winner Paul Haggis, looks like a sequel to Garden State, which could be either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your point of view. —RT

7. YouTube.com: At least until daddy enforces his copyrights and takes the intellectual properties away, this veritable Napster for video is an absolute treasure trove of found artifacts, and an incredible way to waste away hours of sitting at your office desk with nothing to do. I recently spent the better part of the afternoon combing videos of Arthur Lee and Love and then the New York Dolls, most of which were decent quality, including a ’60s performance by the former of Burt Bacharach’s “My Little Red Book” on American Bandstand to a disbelieving audience, including a camera shot of one black girl that made me laugh for its obviousness. With major companies like NBC getting involved, and negotiations now underway with the music giants for their video archives, it made me think of what would’ve happened if the record labels had tried to play ball with Shawn Fanning’s original brainchild instead of insisting on destroying it. Oh, well. Guess we’ll never know the answer to that. —RT

8. Rick Ross, Port of Miami (Def Jam/IDJ): Michael Mann was right. Never mind Phil Collins, Glenn Frey or Jan Hammer, rapper Rick Ross’ latest is the real sound of Miami Vice, a city that has taken on global significance as a center for the international drug trade and as a hotbed for hip-hop. The sound of Ross’ Carol City Cartel is the commercial sweet spot for the genre these days, a combination of Luke’s classic Miami bass sound and dancehall in the same mixture that created reggaeton. When Ross says he’s “Hustlin’,” he ain’t kidding, either, with 19 tracks that are polished to a sharp edge on songs like “Push It,” “Blow” and “Cross That Line,” featuring Akon. Whether the guy was or still is a drug dealer becomes a moot point in that his description of the trade sounds pretty authentic, and the ingenuity and bravado in cuts like “Street Life,” featuring Lloyd, and “I’m a G,” with Lil Wayne, are more than enough to convince us he’s fo’ real. Anybody care for some lines? —RT

9. The Truth About Elvis: Just in time for the anniversary of the King’s alleged death on Aug. 16 comes this documentary in progress from Cleveland filmmaker Adam Muskiewicz, who has set up a pair of websites (www.Elviswanted.com and www.TruthAboutElvis.com) to collect information regarding the current whereabouts of one Elvis Aron Presley. In conjunction with a U.K. company called William Hill, he’s got a standing $3 million offer to the person who actually leads him to the original Kung Fu Fighter, proving he’s still alive and well and eating fried-peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches somewhere out there. As if Bill Bixby’s two-part Fox special several years ago wasn’t enough to disprove the theory that Elvis is still out there shaking his hips. The websites contain the rantings of any number of conspiracy theorists with their own puzzled takes on the events on the day of Elvis’ death, while Muskiewicz has interviewed several Elvis insiders, including Joe Esposito, Linda Thompson and George “Dr. Nick” Nichopolous. The completed film is scheduled to come out next year and American Pie/Final Destination producer Warren Zide is one of the principals. Was that Elvis in that coffin, or a wax figure? Did he have rigor mortis when he was discovered on the toilet, or was he still alive? What was the mysterious hearse parked in back of a shopping center after the funeral? Do you care? If you do, check out these websites and immerse yourself in this ghoulish enterprise. —RT

10. Gripe of the Week: I try not to correct my kids’ grammar because I don’t like it done to me [Ed. Note: Sorry about that, Roy], but one of the most annoying forms of speech for both is to substitute “like” for “said,” as in, “And then she was like,” followed by what they said, and so on. It’s right up there with using “a lot” for “a great deal” or the nervous “ya know” and “know what I’m saying?” It’s funny, because as I was thinking about that, I was reading Nick Hornby’s A Long Way Down, where the pugnaciously punky teenage girl, one of the four protagonists who take turns telling their side, describes in first-person how she uses “like” in just that way because she can’t quite help herself, knowing full well how annoying it is. To combat that, she proceeds to convey her narrative in screenplay form with each character speaking their lines in turn after the requisite colon. I’m afraid the habit is so ingrained in my kids at this point, they will never be able to wean themselves, but for a writer who’s also a father, it’s still, like, a thorn in my side. —RT

CALENDAR
Friday, Aug 18th
7:00am
Christina Aguilera: Good Morning America Concert Series @ Bryant Park (ABC)

2:00pm
Family Values Tour Featuring Korn and Deftones @ Cricket Pavilion, Phoenix.

7:15pm
Dodgers vs. Giants @ SBC Park (Prime Ticket): The Dodgers begin one of their most important road trips of the season. This really could determine whether the Blue Crew is for real or not, whether they're contenders or pretenders.

8:00pm
Wyclef Jean & Shakira @ Arrowhead Pond, Anaheim
 
Hurt @ Belly Up Tavern, San Diego

Saturday, Aug 19th
3:00pm 11:00pm
AmsterJAM @ Randalls Island: Rock icons Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and the Foo Fighters will perform solo sets and then meet onstage for a mash-up performance, which oughta be way-cool. Also on the bill are LL Cool J, Busta Rhymes, New York-based Latin/funk combo Yerba Buena and rReggaeton star Tego Calderón. The all-day, 21-and-over event will take place in a 480-acre park sitting in the East River Manhattan, the Bronx and Queens.

3:00pm
The Power 106 Summer Splash: Featuring Sean Paul, Christina Millian, Kelis, Baby Bash and others @ Queen Mary Park, Long Beach

6:05pm
Dodgers vs. Giants, Game 2  (Prime Ticket)

7:00pm
Nickelback, Hoobastank, Chevelle and Hinder @ Mandalay Bay Events Center, Las Vegas

7:30pm
Reggae Sunsplash @ Bank of America Pavilion in Boston: The message of the festival may be one of love, peace, and harmony, but there’s a shitload of acts on the bill, including UB40, Maxi Priest and Toots & the Maytals. Then there's Elephant Man, the big-eared artist whose music has been described as the “punk rock of dancehall”; he recently signed with Diddy's Bad Boy Records.

Sunday, Aug 20th
1:05pm
Dodgers vs. Giants, Game 3 (Channel 9)

2:00pm

Ozomatli: Stern Grove Free Summer Concerts Featuring @ Stern grove in San Francisco.

7:00pm
Breaking Benjamin @ Concrete Street Amphitheatre, Corpus Christi, TX

8:00pm
Teen Choice Awards @ Gibson Amphitheatre, Universal City
An evening of comedy with Jamie Kennedy @ House of Blues (Downtown Disney), Anaheim

 
Gary Numan w/New Skin @ House of Blues on Sunset

Joan Jett & the Blackhearts @ Iowa State Fair, Des Moines

JE-C'S NEW-MOVIE RUNDOWN
The Illusionist
Starring:
Edward Norton, Jessica Biel, Paul Giamatti and Aaron Johnson
Synopsis: When word of the famed Eisenheim's illusions reaches Crown Prince Leopold, the ruler attends one of the magician's shows in order to debunk the performance. But when the Prince's intended, Sophie von Teschen, assists the magician onstage, Eisenheim and Sophie recognize each other from their childhoods—and pretty soon they're totally hot for each other. As the clandestine romance continues, the Prince's best cop is charged to expose Eisenheim, even while the magician gains a devoted and vocal public following.
Thoughts: It’s getting to be that time of the year when the real movies start to come out. If we’re lucky, this one will start a positive trend for the upcoming months.

Snakes on a Plane
Starring:
Samuel L. Jackson, Byron Lawson, Kenan Thompson, Rachel Blanchard and Flex Alexander
Synopsis: An assassin lets a bunch of poisonous snakes loose on a passenger plane in an attempt to kill a witness being shepherded to Los Angeles from Hawaii by an FBI agent.
Thoughts: Stupid, stupid, stupid. Samuel L. is not picking good movies anymore.

Accepted
Starring:
Justin Long, Blake Lively, Mark Derwin, Columbus Short, Maria Thayer and Ann Cusack
Synopsis:
Eight out of eight colleges reject high-school senior Bartleby “B” Gaines; this doesn't go over big with his parents. So how does a guy facing a bleak career please his mom and dad and get noticed by dream girl Monica? He opens his own university: the South Harmon Institute of Technology.
Thoughts: Yes, this movie looks stupid, but the concept is funny, and I’m hoping there are some good laughs.

Other Movies Opening This Weekend:
10th and Wolf:
Mob movie with a pretty good cast.
Material Girls: Total chick flick starring the Duff sisters.


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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