HITS Daily Double
Q: Would you rather be raised by wolves or dolphins? Why?
A: Dolphins. I've wanted to slap a lot of people in my day.


Brand-New Year, Same Old Drivel
1. NFL Wildcard Games: The second-best pro football weekend of the season, with two contests apiece on Saturday and Sunday after a year with no dominating teams. Just like in baseball, the field is wide-open for whoever gets hot at the right time, so hope springs eternal, even for a .500 team like the Giants. There are several intriguing match-ups here, including two pairs of division rivals in Giants-Eagles and Jets-Pats, the latter highlighted by a rubber game between New England mentor Bill Belichick and his student Eric Mangini, two Wesleyan grads who live, eat and breathe X’s and O’s. If you remember, I hopefully predicted back in Sept. my J-E-T-S Jets Jets Jets could sneak into the playoffs with an easy last-place schedule, but this is where things get tough. I like the underdog Jints vs. Philly—I mean, stand-in QB Jeff Garcia has to come down to earth eventually—but look for favorites Seattle to beat back the sputtering Cowboys and IndianapolisPeyton Manning to throw enough to offset the Chiefs’ vaunted running act, led by Larry Johnson. As for my beloved Jets, it would be too much to ask for them to beat their hated foes twice in one season up in Foxborough, but I expect a hard-fought, wham-bam affair that’s settled by a field goal one way or the other. No way do the Pats win by the 8½ points they’re favored by.

2. The Wire (HBO): After studiously avoiding creator David Simon’s complex, hip-hop policier—the cast of characters, none of them familiar, was too bewildering to try to delineate at first—I finally succumbed to good friend/reissue maven Gary Stewart’s entreaties to give it a look after he sent me a DVD of the first year and a book based on the series. Choosing instead to start with this fourth season via On Demand, the show immediately thrusts the viewer into a modern-day Baltimore that resembles Dante’s Inferno meets Bonfire of the Vanities, where the good guys and the bad guys (and girls) are often interchangeable, with reverberations in the highest offices of power felt on the grittiest street corner, as the "hoppers" (adolescent drug dealers) sell their wares and no good deed goes unpunished. The new episodes juxtapose the rise of a white mayor against the backdrop of a crumbling urban school system populated by blacks that seems more concerned with moving them through the ranks and getting its government aid than education. It’s an old story, but told with an authenticity and a keen ear for street vernacular that rivals the best of Richard Price (Clockers, Freedomland), who wrote several of this season's most engrossing episodes. The performances are uniformly sublime, but among those that really hit home are the fiery Jamie Hector as drug lord Marlo Stanfield, Gbenga Akinnagbe as his casually cruel hitman Chris, the amazing Felicia Pearson as herself, the sadistic, wise-cracking sidekick Snoop, Jim True-Frost’s do-gooder cop-turned-teacher, Lance Reddick’s indomitable police lieutenant, Aidan Gillen’s idealistic, but doggedly practical, Mayor, Andre Royo's doomed street junkie Bubbles, Robert F. Chew's rotund, savvy Proposition Joe and Robert Wisdom’s sad-eyed reformer, who bangs up against the establishment to little avail. With a novelistic attention to detail and narrative, and a grim acknowledgement of the insurmountable problems it addresses, the show makes The Sopranos look like I Love Lucy. It’s a turf not many of us are familiar with, but by the time you’re done, you’ll feel as if it takes place next door, which is precisely the point.

3. Pan’s Labyrinth: A sort of Alice in Wonderland and Wizard of Oz crossed with Schindler’s List, in which Mexican writer/director Guillermo del Toro (who has helmed such cult horror classics as Hellboy and Blade II) applies his masterful surrealist touch to an adult fairy tale set in 1944 Spain, as Franco’s fascists try to root out the last remnants of the resistance. Real-life brutality is juxtaposed with an underground fantasyland, as an 11-year-old girl named Ofelia—a remarkable Ivana Baquero—travels with her pregnant mother to live with the sadistic Capitan Vidal, a black-leather-gloved Nazi played with relish by Sergi Lopez who seems to savor torturing the weak and innocent. A clicking cricket-turned-fairy and a Pan-like creature lead our heroine into a series of mythic tasks she must perform that brings her face-to-face with a giant vomiting bullfrog and a Pale Man who sees by placing eyeballs in the palms of his hand, but nothing could top the horror she witnesses on earth. Del Toro succeeds in creating a shifting psychedelic fantasy universe that appears to coexist alongside the increasingly bleak so-called “real world.” His transcendent ending is a satisfying intersection of the pagan and Christian points-of-view. Along with fellow countrymen Alejandro Inarritu (Babel) and Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men), del Toro has made Mexico a hotspot for a new breed of visionary auteurs.

4. Borat: Being a big fan of the HBO series, I was a little afraid to see this, but Sacha Baron Cohen’s groundbreaking comedy is a true original that evokes the slapstick pathos of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin and fuses it onto the post-YouTube confrontational comedy of Andy Kaufman, supercharged by the Internet into something that speaks to its times every bit as much as The Great Dictator or Dr. Strangelove did to theirs. Of course, Cohen’s insistence on doing promotion for the film in character has a tendency for overkill, especially when he began repeating the same jokes for the umpteenth time, but the film is full of so many individual set-pieces that you tend to forgive the guy his tireless shilling. In fact, without it, he probably wouldn’t have reached the crossover audience he did—heck, even my mom and husband Murray saw it after reading all the four-star reviews, though they termed it “not funny and disgusting,” but at least they bought tickets. And while the in-your-face humor can be a bit cruel, the parody of xenophobia, racism and sexism puts a funhouse mirror up to America’s (and by extension, the world’s) ever-widening hypocrisy and prejudice. It will be fascinating to see whether Cohen can squeeze the same amount of zeitgeist yucks out of his gay fashionista persona Bruno.

5. Children of Men: Alfonso Cuaron’s vision of a dystopic near-future, based on the speculative novel by P.D. James, in which widespread infertility has caused no new births in 20 years, the death of the world's youngest citizen, an 18-year-old, elicits widespread mourning and illegal immigrants are routinely caged on public streets guarded by armed soldiers, has been compared to Blade Runner, but its bleak vision and stark English backdrop put the setting closer to 1984. The sturdy Clive Owen is a disaffected office worker drawn into rescuing the first pregnant woman in decades with a radical group headed by Julianne Moore, a situation that causes him to utter in disbelief, “Jesus Christ,” which does seem rather obvious given the circumstances. Michael Caine is a longhair stoner dropout who resembles John Lennon (the comparison is made obvious by including him on the soundtrack) and smokes humongous amounts of a weed he calls "strawberry cough." There are several great scenes involving a backwards car chase and a full-on fire battle in the streets of a burned-out city, with the soldiers stopped in their tracks by the appearance of a divine baby in their midst. It’s a more explicit, fully realized version of V for Vendetta, crossed with a dollop of A Clockwork Orange, with an ending that offers hope for tomorrow, though the downbeat premise is tough to overcome. Not quite as awe-inspiring as some of its supporters would have you believe, it’s still a chillingly real glimpse at an apocalypse that may not be now, but is not that far off, either.

6. Blondie at the Canyon Club, Agoura Hills, CA: After checking one of three local performances, which also included stops at the Key Club and an Orange County New Year’s Eve celebration, it seems a shame the band is winding down, considering that its recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction should have given it some career momentum. This gig, held at a suburban supper club, which included a menu featuring prime ribs and bar mitzvah-style seating, could have been a downer, but a usually skittish Deborah Harry, in orange wig and “Busted” tee-shirt, seemed as relaxed and effusive as I’ve ever seen her. There was a marvelous interpolation of James Brown’s “Sex Machine” in the middle of “Rapture” as tribute, while the always energetic Clem Burke wailed away as the closest thing to Keith Moon you can get. Co-founder Chris Stein’s effects-laden guitar practically defines the group’s ’80s sound, which local opening band Test Your Reflex praised as a major inspiration, along with Duran Duran, Depeche Mode and The Cure. Don’t know what the future holds for Blondie, but if they hadn’t been picked for the Hall, I’d say they were one of the more underrated bands of the last 30 years in terms of their influence, which remains strong to this day.

7. Blood Diamond: I’m not a big fan of thirtysomething creator Edward Zwick’s previous feature films Glory or The Last Samurai, and this old-fashioned adventure tale about a hunt for a rare diamond, basically Treasure of Sierra Madre with a bogus political overlay, is similarly overblown, from Leonardo DiCaprio’s rather fake South African accent, which kinda comes and goes, to the histrionics of co-star Djimon Hounsou, a black man who teams with his white cohort to find his lost son. And while DiCaprio’s damaged mercenary is a fascinatingly flawed character, the movie still posits him as the savior of the long-suffering black native in a twist on the hoary old White Man’s Burden subtext, given a dollop of relevance by the questioning of the morality of big gem companies illegally acquiring so-called “conflict” diamonds. The issues raised by the film seem to have made more of an impact than the movie itself, which isn’t a bad thing, but they’re also used to try to reinvent the film’s clichés, which doesn’t make them any less hackneyed. Overlong, with a lot of loud fighting that doesn’t really move the story along, Blood Diamond fails as a movie, but is passable as agitprop-aganda.

8. The Good Shepherd: Closer in spirit to the gray men in overcoats of John Le Carre novels than the martini-sipping, gadget-employing James Bond super agent, director Robert DeNiro’s overlong, talky, excruciatingly slow recount of the CIA's founding has its moments, with a somber Matt Damon as the ultimate invisible man behind the scenes pulling the strings (or having the strings pulled on him ) for the agency’s ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, which serves as the film’s framework and has prompted absurd comparisons to The Godfather. The opening scenes at Yale’s infamous Skull and Bones fraternity, which has included both President Bushes as well as John Kerry, is fascinating in no small part due to its blatantly homoerotic initiation rites, as is DeNiro’s cameo as the mysterious founder of the CIA, a supposedly patriotic organization that nonetheless will systematically exclude “Negroes and Jews.” There are some wonderful turns by the likes of Michael Gambon as a cryptic professor who is also a double agent, the currently red-hot Alec Baldwin as one of Damon’s phlegmatic FBI contacts and Joe Pesci as a Mafia kingpin who helps with the Cuban invasion, but Angelina Jolie is completely wasted as a pouting housewife left in the dark at home, and Eddie Redmayne’s doomed son is more a convenient narrative construct than a real character. DeNiro’s rather conflicted view of the agency—he recognizes its good intentions gone irretrievably bad—results in a movie as blurred and hard to follow as its internecine plot.

9. David Lee: Who knew this white boy from Florida, who played under coach Billy Donovan, a low first-round pick, would turn out to be the second coming of the great Dave DeBusschere for the Knicks? He’s been averaging almost 15 rebounds a game and shooting at a clip over .600, and whenever he starts, the woebegone New Yorkers seem to find a way to win, or at least compete. Trouble is, Isiah Thomas seems to prefer Lee coming off the bench, which has most roundball pundits scratching their heads and wondering what he’s thinking. It couldn’t be racism, could it? Or the fact he laid $30 million on free-agent signing Jared Jeffries, who plays the same position, but has been an absolute stiff so far? N’yah. No way. Maybe when Thomas is finally shown the door, the next Knicks coach will appreciate the man’s hustle and flow. He may not be able to hit a long-distance jump shot, but Lee is money around the basket, collecting offensive rebounds as the ultimate garbage man. On a squad filled with shoot-first defensive liabilities, Lee does the dirty work you need to win basketball games.

10. Gripe of the Week: Is it just me, or is New Year’s Eve invariably the biggest anti-climax? I never did like the idea of forced gaiety, and the fact that midnight is delayed for three hours on the West Coast makes it even more redundant. I mean, even the dropping of the ball is tape-delayed for us Pacific Time Zoners, which means by the time the climactic moment takes place, most of the world is already celebrating a New Year. I don’t know what the solution is. Maybe I’m just too old to appreciate it… Yeah, that’s probably it. The more you reach a certain age, the more you want to hold back the hands of the clock, not celebrate its continuing forward momentum. Which is why it depresses me to see Dick Clark finally showing his age. I don't argue his right to get in front of the camera on his night, but who needs to be reminded that the World's Oldest Teenager is now just another senior citizen? Who wants to see Father Time dragging his scythe when we'd all rather be babies in swathing, right? Auld Lang Syne indeed. —Roy Trakin

I’ve become good friends with Kirsten Adams, as she and I worked on ads for Columbia last year. She was one of the cutback victims at the end of 2006. Give her a holler. She's a solid worker with a great sense of humor as you can see from my sitdown below with her. Reach Kirsten at her e-mail address: [email protected] and ask her why she was foolish enough to appear on this site.

Do you own an iPod? If so, what’s on it?
Oh yes, and it’s the very first iPod they ever came out with...and for some reason I’ve been gathering a lot of Scandinavian rock bands.

What's on your TiVo?
That's a very personal question... There are a lot of things I'm not proud of on there.

What was the last movie you saw?
Tim Burton
's Charlie & The Chocolate Factory. What a weirdo.

What was the last book you read?
The Thief Taker. It’s a crime novel set in 18th century London—pretty good, actually.

Bong, blunt or cocktail?
Ketel One and tonic.

Would you rather be raised by wolves or dolphins? Why?
Dolphins. I've wanted to slap a lot of people in my day.

Would you rather have your feet replaced by wheels with no brakes or your hands with hooks? Why?
I'm going to go with hooks…There’s nothing worse than the feeling of not being able to stop!

What's your favorite restaurant?
In Vino, a tiny wine and cheese place in the East Village...although no one has ever been mad at McDonald’s hotcakes.

Where were you born and raised?
New Jersey. Exit 98.

Where did you go to college and what was your major?
Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, PA. Major: American Studies. Minor: French.

Friday, Jan 5th
Clippers @ Wizards on KTLA and NBA TV: The Clippers fly to the nation’s capital to take on one of the hottest teams in the league, led by the hottest player in the league. It ‘ll take the Clippers’ best defensive performance of the year to stop Gilbert Arenas and his high-scoring teammates.

My Morning Jacket @ House of Blues Anaheim

Saturday, Jan 6th
Chiefs @ Colts on NBC: The Colts will be at home, but the key to victory will be stopping Larry Johnson—not an easy task for the league’s worst defense against the run.

Cowboys @ Seahawks on NBC: Both teams limped into the playoffs, but somebody has to win, so one of them will be moving onto the next round. My money is on the Seahawks at home.

Akon w/ Monica @ 4th and B in San Diego

Sunday, Jan 7th
Jets @ Patriots on CBS: The Jets come into the playoffs red-hot; it’s a shame that they have to New England in the first round. It’s always hard to beat the Pats in the playoffs, let alone on their home turf.

Giants @ Eagles on Fox: Jeff Garcia has resurrected his career and, in the process, the Eagles’ season. They look to advance against the banged-up G-men, who finished the year 2-6. Can Eli rally the troops?

A new year has begun, and that means all the bad movies start coming out. Rarely do we get a good movie until at least March. My recommendation is to review my top movies of the year below and check out the ones you have yet to see.

V for Vendetta
This is my favorite movie of the year, 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.

Babel: This may be the most depressing movie I have ever seen, but also maybe one of the best. It’s simply breathtaking and almost leaves you speechless when it ends. I must warn you that this film isn’t easy to watch, but it’s definitely worth seeing.

The Last King of Scotland:
All I can say about this one is Forrest Whitaker is unbelievable, and although there are still plenty of good movies to come out, I hope Forrest wins for this role. He is truly one of the most underrated actors of our time.

Happy Feet:
Sheer brilliance. More than just an animated movie about penguins, it has real-life political views and it is definitely a movie the whole family can enjoy. The music is awesome, and the dancing is sensational, thanks to Savion Glover.

Notes on a Scandal: Really good and really intense, and both Kate Blanchett and Dame Judi Dench are amazing.

Blood Diamond:
Yes, it’s extremely violent and gory, but well worth seeing nonetheless. Plus, Jennifer Connelly is so beautiful.

Little Children
: This movie is incredible in so many ways, including the unique way it was executed. Hard to describe, it’s one of those movies that just leaves you breathless.

Casino Royale:
One of the best Bond movies I’ve ever seen.

Borat: All I have to say is, “very niiiiiiiiice, I like it.” This is by far the funniest movie of the year.

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 brilliant.

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.

The Devil Wears Prada: Makes my list because Meryl Streep is truly brilliant, and if you haven’t seen it, or are on the edge about seeing it, go for her performance, if for nothing else.