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MySpace darling Dane Cook is all over HBO these days, though it’s hard to tell whether he has any discernible comic talent—aside from an uncanny ability to evoke hilarity in his inexplicably enthusiastic audience.
ARE YOU READY FOR SOME WEAKEND PLANNER?
It May Still Feel Like Summer Outside, but It's Starting to Look Like Autumn on TV
TRAKIN CARE OF BUSINESS:
OFFICIAL NFL KICKOFF EDITION
1. New York Jets:
With our concentration focused on the New York Mets’ triumphant, season-long pennant celebration, we probably won’t be paying too much attention to our favorite cursed football team until October, which is coincidentally, when they should be limping along in last place, if preseason prognostications hold up. The funny thing about the jinxed J-E-T-S Jets Jets Jets, who have failed to even return to the Super Bowl in the 37-some-odd years after Joe Willie Namath’s Faustian guarantee in 1969, is that the higher the preseason expectations, the lower the ultimate results. It’s been only two years since the only thing keeping the Jets from the AFC championship game was a coupla short-range wide-left field goals. And while no one looks for the Jets to do anything this year, there’s still enough talent in an incredibly balanced (read: mediocre) league to steal maybe eight or nine games, which would put them in the hunt for a playoff spot. As for my own realistic hopes: playing meaningful games in November is all I ask, along with the oft-injured Chad Pennington standing upright until then. —Roy Trakin 

2. Half Nelson: First-time feature director Ryan Fleck’s searing tale of a basehead inner city junior high history teacher and girls basketball coach, played with brave authenticity by Ryan Gosling, and the African-American student/player, a just-as-dazzling Shareeka Epps, he befriends and ultimately disappoints, is an extension of his 2004 short, Gowanus, Brooklyn. Call it To Sir, With Crack, an ultimately depressing tale of an idealist’s downward spiral as he crosses paths with someone to mentor, only to have her teach him some harsh life lessons of his own. The shaky, hand-held camera and soft focus reflect Gosling’s increasingly loose grip on reality, as he segues from earnestly teaching his charges how opposites lead to change to freebasing in the girl’s locker room after practice. The third main character is a drug dealer, portrayed in a non-judgmental manner by the superb Anthony Mackie, making a case for being the more reliable role model of the two for the youngster. Six Feet Under’s Tina Holmes, who played James Cromwell’s daughter, is the ex-girlfriend who has moved on, but from first frame to last, this is Gosling’s movie, his movingly attenuated, Oscar-worthy performance perfectly capturing a man whose life is slipping away from him, and can’t seem to help it. —RT

3. The Sleepy Jackson, Personality--One Was a Spider, One Was a Bird (Astralwerks): The nom de plume of visionary Perth, Australia-based singer/songwriter Luke Steele, this is the long-delayed sophomore follow-up to 2003’s fine Lovers. Personality is an ambitious popera in 12 chapters that partakes of the epic scope of Brian Wilson’s Smile or Sufjan StevensIllinois in its sonic grandeur and faithful SoCal mythos. “Devil Was in My Mind” could be the pagan answer to George Harrison’s yearning Buddhism and the pitched harmonies in “Work Alone” evoke Beach Boys pop at its most winsomely psychedelic, while “I Understand What You Want But I Just Don’t Agree” is smooth, blue-eyed R&B/soul as only an Aussie white boy can emote (think a hip Bee Gees). “Dragons don’t sleep at night/They live in transaction from copied light,” he sings in “God Lead Your Soul,” a lysergic-soaked romantic with a penchant for recognizing the yin-and-yang at the heart of every relationship—the one inside his own head. “How can I be calm? You’re on my mind,” he repeats, as he tries to reconcile love’s basic contradiction with the dulcet tones of his spectral pop. If there were only a radio format to play his music, Steele would be as big in his idealized vision of America as he dreams he can be. As he insists in “God Knows”: “All I want is to lead you there into the light.” Here, he’s starting to point the way. —RT

4. Reading Books: You remember books? They were the original Xbox, my first escape from a mundane world of three-channel black and white TV, worlds apart from Howdy Doody, Rudy Kazooti, Lucy & Desi and Captain Kangaroo. I first learned how to read from pop culture. I went into kindergarten literate, thanks to Walt Kelly’s Pogo comic strip. We have met the enemy and he is us. Oh, sure I liked the pictures as much as what they said, but the combination was what exhilarated me. I eventually graduated to John Tunis’ baseball books, The Kid From Tomkinsville, and Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows, which I loved as much for the EH Shepard illustrations as I did the words, every other one of which I had to look up in the dictionary. From there, it was onto Nancy Drew mysteries with their erotically charged covers and then just a short step to Ian Fleming’s James Bond series and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Best-sellers, potboilers and masterpieces alike, followed, from Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls to John Le Carre’s Spy Who Came In From the Cold, Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint, which taught me that high literature could be synonymous with gut-busting porn and shtupping chicken livers. Other faves? Counterculture classics like Steal This Book!, Soul on Ice, Be Here Now, Slaughterhouse Five, Catcher in the Rye, Catch 22, A Fan’s Notes, Fear and Loathing, Day of the Locust, Fear of Flying, Less Than Zero, Bright Lights, Big City… The perennials: Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Joyce’s The Dubliners, Bellow’s Herzog, Ellison’s Invisible Man, Wright’s Native Son, Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea, Dostoevsky’s The Idiot… Who do I read these days? The Jonathans, both Franzen and Lethem. Corrections and Fortress of Solitude resonate. I dig Richard Ford; looking forward to his new one. Tom Wolfe and Michael Chabon always spin a good yarn. Ditto Caleb Carr. Love pop-culture ironists like Carl Hiaasen from Southern Florida, Chuck Klosterman from the heartland and Nick Hornby by way of London. Don Delillo’s Underworld is monumental. Donna Tartt’s The Secret History sucks you in. Reading isn’t simply fundamental, it’s fun. Why shouldn’t it be as cool as listening to a sound file on your iPod? Which it can be, too, come to think of it. In fact, I still get just as much of a thrill from cracking open a new book as I do from listening to music, and I’ve been writing about the latter for almost 30 years now. Not even virtual reality can match your imagination when you read. —RT

5. Denis Leary vs. Mel Gibson at the Red Sox Game (YouTube): I’ve never been a big Leary fan, but I’m ready to forgive him everything after experiencing this well-traveled rant about Mel Gibson when he visited the press box to join the Red Sox announcers, which you can check out here. After learning Boston first baseman Kevin Youkilis isn’t Greek, but Jewish, the Irish Leary goes into unabashed shtick: “They got the Manischewitz, we got the Jamieson… Same bad food, same guilt,” he jokes. When Youkilis makes a tremendous backhand catch, Leary starts crowing: “Where’s Mel Gibson now? He’s in rehab and Youkilis is at first base. You happy, Braveheart? Call Jeffrey Katzenberg and ask him for a job when you get out.” Recommended viewing. —RT

6. Nicole Atkins, Bleeding Diamonds EP (Columbia): A Steve Greenberg signing now getting the attention of the current regime, this Jersey shore native out of Neptune, just one town away from Asbury Park, is being compared to everyone from the Boss himself to Sufjan Stevens, Julee Cruise, Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen. Her ghostly double-tracked vocals have one foot in traditional Broadway, the other in the dark recesses of a girl group in a David Lynch movie, as Rolling Stone recently put it, calling her One to Watch in ’06. She looks like a more angelic version of Tina Fey, and is reminiscent of another label phenom, Nellie McKay, in her ability to combine girly innocence with an air of knowing danger. Songs like the title track, about watching the Iraq war on TV and seeing the bombs explode across the screen, capture the anxiety of the times, while “War Torn” transfers that intensity to forcefully trying to remove oneself from a long-distance relationship and “Snowshakes” describes the seductive awfulness of a coke jag. But it is the deceptively nostalgic “Neptune City” that captures Atkins at her most effective, looking back at a childhood so idyllic you can’t let go, yet realizing you must move on with your life, a conundrum that gives her music its emotional tug. —RT

7. Howard Stern All-Request Labor Day Weekend: Sifting through 23,000 hours worth of tapes from his years at WXRK (aka K-Rock NY) and coming up with these gems couldn’t have been easy, but it was certainly instructional to know that, at one point, the King of All Media was just another frustrated disc jockey battling with almost everybody to break through to the masses. The irony is, he’s back to being a cult figure again with his move to satellite, accessible only to true fans and diehards—and after listening for almost 16 years, I count myself one. It was wonderful to hear him baiting Steven Spielberg with the relentless spoofing (and exaggerated dialect) of the director’s adopted black children, crossing the line of politically incorrect racism while puncturing the morally superior bubbles of the Hollywood elite. The time when Rodney Dangerfield confronts Jackie Martling about the $1,000 he owes him while the hapless sidekick insists he paid the debt in jokes captures real life intruding on show business with all its humiliating consequences. And finally, Artie Lange’s description of taking off from The Mad Show in the middle of a taping to cop coke while dressed in a pig outfit at the depth of his addiction is both funny and sad, deftly turning horror into comedy with self-effacing honesty like only the amazing Lange can. What can I say? If you’ve been following along until now, it made for some great radio. —RT

8. Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride: Hunter S. Thompson on Film (Starz): This made-for-cable documentary, which debuts on the Starz channel Nov. 13, concentrates less on the well-known writer's literary accomplishments and more on the larger-than-life cult figure as seen through the eyes of Hollywood pals like Bill Murray and Johnny Depp, who portrayed him in Where the Buffalo Roam and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, respectively. That’s all well and good because, by the end of his life, Thompson had become Raoul Duke, his own caricature (by way of Garry Trudeau) of that macho, hard-living, hard-boozing, drug-taking, gun-shooting persona. There are also admiring interviews with Sean Penn, John Cusack, Benicio del Toro, Gary Busey, Harry Dean Stanton, Ed Bradley, Senators George McGovern and Gary Hart, as well as literati Tom Wolfe and a mildly disapproving (and frightening-looking) William F. Buckley. Seen in the context of the ’60s and ’70s cultural upheaval, Thompson is regarded as an anti-establishment icon who created his own brand of self-described gonzo journalism, a term to which, much to his chagrin, he became inextricably linked. The movie focuses more on the legend than the work, which has, over time, taken second place to what Thompson's scabrous, no-holds-barred attitude has come to represent. —RT

9. The Aristocrats/Dane Cook Vicious Circle (HBO): I finally caught the Paul Provenza/Penn Jillette-directed The Aristocrats on cable, watching for a disbelieving hour without laughing once before skulking away. Seems that explaining a joke isn’t nearly as funny as telling it, especially one with as big a build-up as this legendary vaudeville “shaggy dog” story that enables comics to work as blue as their little hearts desire. Trouble is, the shock of profanity has long since been dulled by frequent exposure on cable TV, the movies and even satellite radio. There is no scenario too filthy or disgusting to recount, and that truly blunts the impact of this supposedly taboo joke. Hearing comics like George Carlin, Irwin Corey, Chuck McCann and Don Rickles talk about their craft is always interesting, but when your movie is stolen by Martin Mull, Bob Saget and a mime who acts out the titular jape, it’s a problem. Meanwhile, MySpace darling Dane Cook is on HBO these days more often than all those legendary stand-ups put together, though it’s hard to tell whether he has any discernible comic talent—aside from an uncanny ability to evoke hilarity in his inexplicably enthusiastic audience, which here fills up a 15,000-seat arena and includes my 16-year-old daughter. Amazing, but it shouldn’t be surprising. Cook is kinda like the Ryan Seacrest of comedy, an observational stand-up pleaser who makes Jerry Seinfeld look like Andy Kaufman. Aside from the occasional “fuckin’,” he works completely clean and never delves beyond the obvious, shamelessly stroking his fans’ sense of recognition with obnoxious regularity. After 20 minutes of slack-jawed bafflement, I clicked away. —RT

10. Gripe of the Week: If you thought culture critics were an endangered species before, last week was the final nail in the coffin. First came news that longtime Village Voice rock scribe Bob Christgau was relieved of his duties from a post he’d held, off and mostly on, since 1969 for matters of “taste,” a harsh condemnation of the carpetbagging New Times people, who have now gobbled up most of this country’s alternative weeklies. If that wasn’t bad enough, neither last week’s #2 movie at the box office, the adrenalized Crank, nor the #3 movie, Neil LaBute’s The Wicker Man, was shown to critics prior to their openings, making it impossible for all those Siskel & Ebert wannabes from properly doing their job. What makes it even more absurd is the fact Crank had actually received some advance buzz as a sleeper, while LaBute, even though word on the film was weak, is often championed by journalist types. Oh, well. The other film kept from writers last week was Mike Judge’s Idiocracy, a futuristic satire with Luke Wilson that actually got good reviews, though most of those appeared on the following Monday, just in time for the film to be relegated to DVD and midnight-movie cult status. And, even when a movie does get critical kudos, like the recent Brothers of the Head, it’s gone if no one goes to see it. The whole thing seems like Bizarro world to me, but then again I was raised on the lively days of Sarris vs. Kael, so what do I know? And please don’t ask me, “Who are they?” —RT

 
CALENDAR
Friday, Sep 8th
12:00pm
mewithoutYou @ Harvest Moon Festival, Edmonton, AB

6:00pm
Sugarcult @ Ventura Theatre, Ventura, CA

7:00pm
Rakim w/Kid Capri and Special Guest Ras Kass, Styles P. G. Malone @ House of Blues on Sunset

7:30pm
Ben Harper w/Damian Marley @ Bank of America Pavillion, Boston.

8:00pm
Tool @ Staples Center

Hoobastank and Nickelback @ Thompson-Boling Arena, Knoxville, TN

The James Gang (w/Joe Walsh, Jimmy Fox and Dale Peters) and JD & the Straight Shot @ The Mountain Winery, Saratoga, CA

9:00pm
Ryan Adams and the Cardinals @ House of Blues (Downtown Disney), Anaheim

Saturday, Sep 9th
12:30pm
#19 Penn State @ #4 Notre Dame (NBC): Oddly, the suspect Irish defense was more impressive last week against Georgia Tech than its vaunted offense. ND's first home game should give us a better idea of the team's strengths and weaknesses on both sides of the ball. 

2:00pm
Disney Live! Mickey's Magic Show @ Dodge Theatre in Phoenix: If you’re in the Phoenix area, this one’s perfect for the whole family. It’s going on throughout the weekend. (http://disney.go.com/disneylive/)

5:00pm
#1 Ohio State @ #2 Texas (ABC): If the prognosticators are right, these two powerhouses will meet again in January, making this match-up an early-season must-watch. Remarkably, this is the first regular-season game pitting the two top-ranked teams in a decade. 

6:30pm
John Mayer & Sheryl Crow @ First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre, Tinley Park, IL

8:00pm
Snow Patrol @ Electric Factory, Philadelphia

8:30pm
Vayden @ The Key Club: Larry Mazer-managed hard-rockers from Phoenixwho are generating lots of label buzz.

10:00pm
Pete Yorn @ Martyr’s, Chicago

Sunday, Sep 10th
10:00am
The NFL, Week One: From now on, they count.

6:30pm

Faneuil Hall Marketplace: Celebrates 30th anniversary with '70's icons KC & the Sunshine Band.

7:00pm
Willie Nelson @ Hollywood Bowl

Tracy Lawrence @ House of Blues on Sunset

JE-C’S NEW-MOVIE RUNDOWN
Hollywoodland
Starring:
Adrien Brody, Ben Affleck, Diane Lane, Bob Hoskins, Robin Tunney
Synopsis:
A private detective investigates the mysterious death of Superman star George Reeves and uncovers unexpected connections to his own life. The affair Reeves had with the wife of a studio executive might hold the key to the truth.
Thoughts:
I really have a high interest in seeing this movie and am hoping for the best, although the early buzz hasn’t been too encouraging.

Other Movies opening this weekend:
The Covenant:
From the producers of Underworld
The Protector: Starring Tony Ja

JE-C’S TOP MOVIES OF THE YEAR SO FAR
V for Vendetta:
This is my favorite movie of the year so far, for many reasons. It's more than just a comic book adapted for the big screen; it’s a movie that makes a big political statement that we can all relate to these days. Definitely a movie that was slept on, and I advise everyone to check it out if you haven't yet.
World Trade Center: Another important movie that I urge people to see. I was in tears, and although a lot of it is hard to watch, it’s quite an astonishing story.
The Illusionist: Giamatti and Norton are truly awesome.
X-Men III: The Last Stand: If this is the last one, it certainly satisfied my appetite. It had it all, including some incredible action sequences.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Simply awesome!!! Johnny Depp is brilliant, Bill Nighy is creepy, Keira Knightley is sexy and it has great special effects and nonstop action.
Mission Impossible III: OK, people are getting sick and tired of Tom Cruise, but if you can just get past him, this movie is actually really good. A lot of people are missing out because they’re so turned off by the star’s off-screen antics.
An Inconvenient Truth: The most important movie of the year…A MUST-SEE!!!
Nacho Libre: The funniest movie of the year. Jack Black rocks.
The Devil Wears Prada: This movie is making my list because Meryl Streep was truly brilliant, and if you haven’t seen it, or are on the edge about seeing it, go for her performance, if nothing else.

NEW RELEASES:
CATCH A WAVE
Deja vu all over again? (4/6a)
WEEKND PREVAILS IN EXTRA INNINGS (UPDATE)
What a cliffhanger. (4/6a)
RIP, NEIL LASHER
We've lost a true mensch. (4/6a)
ICYMI: ACM PRESENTS: OUR COUNTRY
Special revealed an unprecedented degree of intimacy. (4/6a)
PINGING: SURF MESA
Here comes another one. (4/6a)
WE FOUND SOME TOILET PAPER
Also known as back issues of HITS.
SOCIAL DISTANCING
We turn out to be pioneers.
STREAMING STORIES
The music doc shows new muscle.
ELECTION 2020
Not postponed yet.
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