HITS Daily Double
When Jack Black solemnly intones the film’s classic epilogue, “It was beauty that killed the beast,” not only doesn’t the line make sense in this new “girl meets ape/girl falls in love with ape” interpretation, you half expect him to break out his Stratocaster and crank out a Tenacious D riff.


We Feel Pretty Bad About Sucking Last Year.
We Hope to Suck a Little Less This Year.
Thank You for Your Patience.
1. Brokeback Mountain: Yeah, I squirmed, too, when I saw the coming attractions, accompanied by nervous twitters from the audience. Even if you’re a committed homophobe who can’t stand the sight of two men groping and kissing, you owe it to yourself to see Ang Lee’s heartbreaking, but seriously repressed, love story. The combination of Wyoming’s wide-open spaces and a suffocating, unrequited romance creates a palpable mood of melancholy that transcends the same-sex nature of the relationship. And while Heath Ledger swallows most of his, unh, sentences, his taciturn, aching performance will undoubtedly be honored with an Oscar nomination (where he will go up against Capote’s Philip Seymour Hoffman and Good Night, and Good Luck’s David Strathairn, with Crash’s Don Cheadle, Walk the Line’s Joaquin Phoenix and The Constant Gardener’s Ralph Fiennes in the mix). I’m also looking for the movie to grab the big prize, too, the first gay-themed film since 1969’s X-rated Midnight Cowboy to take home a Best Picture Oscar. It’s that rare film that takes your prejudices and fears and stands them on their—pun unintended—head. The sheep are nervous for a reason, folks. It’s all that pent-up testosterone.

2. Munich/Syriana: These two “torn from the headlines”-styled thrillers work because of—surprise—their characters and intricate, satisfying plots, rather than any political insights. In fact, one of the targeted Palestinian terrorists in Spielberg’s swifly moving, never boring, three-hour epic, exiled in Italy, where he’s translating Arabian Nights into Italian, remarks how he undertook the task because of the original’s belief in how an effective narrative can save the life of the teller. And that’s precisely how Munich works, inexorably exhibiting the ways and means of revenge as the Mossad assassins, in typical neurotic Jewish fashion, question their own motives and results. And there are fewer better tellers of cinematic stories than Spielberg. On the other hand, Traffic screenwriter Stephen Gaghan uses that film’s overlapping plots to construct a “six degrees of separation” plot that intertwines all the various characters and their murky motivations into an interlocking web. And while some viewers have complained the complicated series of invents are hard to follow, the obfuscation merely mimics the characters’ own sense of being wrapped up in something they only partially understand. Meanwhile, both movies are anything but agitprop, knee-jerk liberal filmmaking, taking careful pains to show, like Jean Renoir’s Rules of the Game, everyone has their motives, and nothing is completely black and white. Even if Tim Blake Nelson’s ardent speech about how “corruption keeps us safe and warm” is this year’s “greed is good.” Take that, Eliot Spitzer.

3. King Kong: Peter Jackson’s re-imagining of the classic ’30s tale of “beauty and the beast” falls prey to that old bugaboo—the impressive set pieces overwhelm the characters. Jack Black and Adrian Brody are seriously miscast, while the admittedly easy-on-the-eyes Naomi Watts manages two expressions playing against the blue screen, registering shock and awe, even if it does turn into erotic longing. Perhaps it’s just my nostalgia for the original, my first experience watching a film multiple times during its annual appearance on local N.Y. channel WOR’s week-long Million Dollar Movie. Also, the racist elements are even more pronounced than in the original, with the only thing missing in its hyper-realist explicitness a shot of Kong’s dong. And when Black solemnly intones the film’s classic epilogue, “It was beauty that killed the beast,” not only doesn’t the line make sense in this new “girl meets ape/girl falls in love with ape” interpretation, you half expect him to break out his Stratocaster and crank out a Tenacious D riff.

4. Texas vs. USC, Rose Bowl: For the first time in memory (or maybe since 2003’s double-overtime Ohio State victory over Miami in the Fiesta Bowl), a championship football game lived up to its advance billing. Unlike that battle, though, this one featured the pigskin version of Frazier-Ali, with two heavyweights taking turns pounding each other, coming off the canvas swinging for a knockout in one of the “Greatest Games of All Time.” USC didn’t so much lose as run out of time, succumbing to an out-of-body, super-human performance by Texas junior QB Vince Young, who now faces an interesting dilemma since he’s already announced he’s coming back to school for his senior season. With his hometown Houston Texans holding the first pick in the April NFL draft, which everyone widely assumed would be USC Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush (now there’s a good Texas name), does Vince now declare himself eligible? And, if he does, would Houston pick him, considering they already have a previous #1 in QB David Carr? The current ESPN mock NFL draft has my N.Y. Jets picking Young, if he declares, at #4, but knowing my bumblers, we’ll find a way to blow it. Actually, with USC QB Matt Leinart looking like the #2 pick for the New Orleans…unh, Los AngelesSaints, and Tennessee eyeing mammoth Virginia OT D’Brickashaw (how’s that for the name of an offensive lineman?) Ferguson, that would leave Young for the J-E-T-S Jets Jets Jets, whose QB is the currently injured Chad “$64 Million Man” Pennington. Can’t wait to see how they botch this one.

5. Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve: Sure, I realize there’s a tradition of old man time, with scythe in hand, giving way to a diaper-clad baby at “Auld Lang Syne” time, but the sight of a mumbling Dick Clark, the World’s Oldest Living Teenager, all of a sudden looking his age, was almost as depressing as watching All About Eve wannabes Ryan Seacrest and Carson Daly angling for his title. Had to switch over to ESPN2, where Stuart “Boo-Ya” Scott and Steven Van Zandt, of all people, were co-hosting a sports-highlights-set-to-music package that featured, lo and behold, a midnight performance of “Personality Crisis” by what’s left of the New York Dolls, a wig-headed David Johansen and leather-jacketed Syl Sylvain. Somewhere, Arthur “Killer” Kane was smiling. And even though the cameras cut away midway through, it was enough to put a smile on my face. Now, if only Mr. American Bandstand would agree to retire, I’ll promise him, every New Year’s Eve, when the clock strikes midnight, we’ll refer to the ball dropping “at the stroke of Dick.”

6. In Good Company: I missed this movie, directed by American Pie and About a Boy’s Paul Weitz, when it came out at the end of last year, and only recently caught up with it on HBO over the holidays. For my money, it’s the best American movie of 2004, head and shoulders beyond Clint Eastwood’s depressing Million Dollar Baby. And while its themes of corporate mergers, downsizing and being replaced by hot-shot kids half your age at a flagship magazine loosely based on Sports Illustrated might seem so last year, Dennis Quaid and That ’70s Show’s Topher Grace bring flesh-and-blood to what could be well-worn clichés. Toss in the never-lovelier Scarlett Johansson as Quaid’s daughter who has an affair with his boss (Grace), and you get one of those movies that makes you laugh and cry at the same time. And while the film’s sympathy for the upper-middle-class bourgeoisie might not be popular in leftist critical circles, it is one of the few American films, like the underrated The Weather Man this year, that acknowledges the emptiness of the mindless pursuit of materialism at the same time as it acknowledges the lack of a meaningful alternative in today’s go-go capitalist society.

The holiday vacation for me was very relaxing, I got to hang with my girlfriend and chill at my parents’ Laguna Beach house, but I also was assigned to listen to some music. My dad felt that I needed to increase my knowledge of the music world by giving me about 16 CDs to listen to. However, these weren’t just any CDs; they were some of what the music world considers the best of the best. Among those I listened to were Joni Mitchell’s greatest hits, a couple of older Rolling Stones albums, a Traffic best-of and Elvis Presley’s Sun Sessions. My favorites definitely had to be Elvis and Joni Mitchell, both of whom have amazing voices. The great thing about the Elvis CD is that it is so raw, which is what I enjoyed most about these CDs. The one where the rawness was most noticeable was Al Green’s Lets Stay Together, which has brilliant vocals and live instruments. Nowadays it’s all about production, production, production, and you end up missing out on true talent—or else the studio gloss is used to hide the artist’s flaws. By contrast, hearing Al Green in his natural state just gave me the chills. I think that’s what made me enjoy this assignment the most; although I didn’t enjoy all the CDs I listened to, I still appreciated them for what they were. Another CD that I really enjoyed was by Bob Marley & the Wailers. I’m not really into reggae, but this album is truly uplifting and the songs are catchy and so much fun to listen to.

I also went to see a bunch of movies during the holiday break. Among my favorites were Munich, King Kong and my sleeper, Family Stone. Family Stone wasn’t your typical holiday dumb comedy; it was more of a heartfelt tearjerker with comedic elements. King Kong absolutely blew me away, and even though I saw the midnight screening, my eyes were wide open the entire time. Munich is an intense film that really just leaves you speechless. If you haven’t seen any of these three movies yet, I suggest you head out to theaters and check them out. Another movie that was high on my list was Narnia. Although I thought the characters were semi-annoying, the story was very cool, the effects were awesome and Tilda Swinton, although not very attractive, steals the movie with her amazing performance.

Friday, Jan. 6th
Bill Graham Birthday Bash featuring Jackson Browne, Mickey Hart & Bob Weir and The Neville Bros. @ The Fillmore, San Francisco

Paul Rodriguez @ the comedy store in San Diego: This guy is one of the funniest guys in the business, so if you have never seen him, I suggest you check him out!!

700 Sundays National Tour@ Wishire Theater: Actor/comedian Billy Crystal has enjoyed extraordinary success in front of the camera, as an actor in film and television and behind the scenes as a writer, producer and director. In 700 Sundays, Crystal takes center stage in an original one-man show about the cast of characters who shaped his life and career.

Barrington Levy w/ H.R. (of Bad Brains) @ House of Blues on Sunset (18 and over)

Social Distortion w/ The Black Halo's @ House of Blues, Anaheim

Arc Angels @ Antone's, Austin

Saturday, Jan. 7th
L.A. Auto Show @ Los Angeles Convention Center: If you have never been to this even it is truly amazing, it is running up until next weekend as well so if you get a chance before its over, definitely plan a night to head down to the convention center.

Wild Card Saturday: Redskins @ Buccaneers (ABC): The Redskins are one of the hottest teams in the league having won their last five to sneek into the playoffs. Tampa Bay has a suddenly very capable Chris Sims at quarterback. This game, I predict, will be a smash-mouth, low-scoring affair, as both teams have a stellar defense and Tampa is really good at home.

Wild Card Saturday continues with the Jags @ the Patriots (ABC): The Jags come in to this contest with an 11-5 record and maybe a confidence boost in getting starting quarterback Byron Leftwich back in the lineup. The Patriots look like the Pats of old but are still a little banged up and might be without their leader Tedi Bruschi for this game. I think the Jags will be able to hang with the Patriots and may be able to pull an upset, but you can bet that New England will come out with a lot of energy considering they will be at home, where it is so tough for an opponent to win come playoff time; they've won nine straight post-season games.

Sunday, Jan 8th
Wild Card Sunday kicks off with the Panthers @ the NY Giants (Fox): The Giants are banged up on the defensive side of the football, but are undefeated at home. Carolina has been to the playoffs recently and will look to use their experience to pull the upset and win on the road. The key to this game is John Fox returning to N.Y. to face his old team. I think he can go in there and beat them because I think Carolina is a Super Bowl contender, and New York is too beat up. I think the Giants hopes of winning this game is how fast Eli Manning grows up in the first playoff appearance of his career.

Palm Desert Golf Cart Parade: The resort town of Palm Desert is the only city in the world where golf carts are street-legal, so it makes perfect sense that they would be home to America's largest golf cart parade. What started as a lark for the locals in 1964 has grown into a full day of fun and festivity. Check out the website for more info.http://www.golfcartparade.com/ . As my dad always says, everything is about golf.

Disney on Ice: Finding Nemo @ The L.A. Sports Arena: Ending this weekend, this is your last chance to head on down to the Sports Arena and check out the live version of Finding Nemo on ice.

Wild Card Sunday concludes with the Steelers @ the Bengals (CBS): Cincy struggled in its last two games and their starting superstar quarterback Carson Palmer may not be at full strength. This is a game that may be dictated by the Steelers, who will play smash mouth football at both the defensive and offensive end. Cincy has a really dangerous offense but the Steelers are very skilled and experienced defensive team and I don’t know if Cincy can make enough defensive stops to beat Pittsburgh. However, Cincy is at home, so their hometown fans may give them the lift they need. I look to the slightly favored Steelers to beat the home team.

Stoney Curtis Band @ Mother Lode, Hesperia

MTV2 $2 Bill Concert Series Presents Yellowcard @ SOMA, San Diego

Starring: Kristanna Loken, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Rodriguez, Will Sanderson and Michael Madsen
Synopsis: BloodRayne, a sexy hybrid of vampire and human, is a member of the Brimstone Society, which hunts down supernatural threats. She's given her deadliest assignment yet: Kill Kagan, king of the vampires.
I haven’t really seen too much on this movie, however, it’s got sexy Kristanna Loken, and I know its got a lot of action, so I am definitely seeing this movie!!!

Jay Hernandez, Derek Richardson, Eythor Gudjonsson, Barbara Nedeljakova
and Jana Kaderabkova
College buddies Paxton and Josh backpack through Europe with their friend Oli, an Icelandic friend they met along the way. He leads the two Americans to a Slovakian town that's rumored to have a hostel stocked with beautiful Eastern European women. Surprisingly, this turns out to be true, and Paxton and Josh are soon hooking up with Natalya and Svetlana. However, things take a darker turn when they discover the cheap, babe-filled lodge holds a terrifying secret.
Thoughts: Even though I have seen Saw I and Saw II, I have no intention of seeing this movie. All it is a bunch of people getting tortured, and sorry but I don’t want to see it. The difference, I think, between this movie and the Saw films is they had cool twists and an interesting story behind them; it wasn’t just about killing people.