HITS Daily Double
What is interesting is that Richards appears to be doing a shtick that starts careening wildly out of control—an Andy Kaufman-style performance piece that channels Don Rickles’ insult humor, except without the funny part.


Somewhere, Andy Kaufman Is Smiling
1. Stranger Than Fiction/Music from the Motion Picture (Sony Music Soundtrax/Columbia):
Director Marc Forster’s previous films have dealt with harsh reality (Monster’s Ball, for which Halle Berry won a Best Actress Oscar) and literary fantasy (Finding Neverland, with Johnny Depp nabbing a Best Oscar nom as Peter Pan creator Sir James Barrie), but his latest has a bit of both. And while star Will Ferrell isn’t likely to duplicate the feat, doing his deadpan Bill Murray Lost in Translation turn as a buttoned-up, white collar I.R.S. auditor who suddenly learns he’s the subject of an ongoing narrative voiceover in his head, there are plenty of other candidates in the colorful cast. There's daft Emma Thompson as the neurotic, chain-smoking novelist suffering from a severe case of writer’s block, a sassy Queen Latifah portraying the editorial assistant sent by the publisher to help her, a sensuously tattooed Maggie Gyllenhaal, a slyly professorial Dustin Hoffman and a virtually unrecognizable Tom Hulce playing a New Age human resources shrink. The script by newcomer Zach Helm is clever, but fairly linear, a more straightforward version of Charlie Kaufman’s reality sleight of hand in Adaptation, Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, as well as elements from The Truman Show and Richard Quine’s 1964 Paris…When It Sizzles, with William Holden starring opposite Audrey Hepburn as a down-on-his-luck screenwriter simultaneously penning the film’s narrative as it takes place on screen. Ferrell is tightly controlled as the by-the-numbers bean counter who suddenly gets a new lease on life when he discovers that the voice inside his head, which describes what he’s doing but “with a better vocabulary,” is intent on killing his character off. His scenes with Gyllenhaal as a hippie baker who seduces him with milk and cookies are touching, climaxed by his fumbling rendition of Wreckless Eric’s “Whole Wide World” he learned to play on the guitar he bought as part of his spiritual rebirth. And while the film starts off with logic, figures, calculations and day-to-day routine, as visualized by the on-screen calculations shown going on inside Ferrell’s head, it eventually gives way to the warmth of human contact. The sheer exuberance of the soundtrack, created by Spoon’s Britt Daniel and producer Brian Reitzell (and kudos to Sony Films Music head Lia Vollack for another shrewd hire after tapping Paul Westerberg to score Open Season), includes a number of Spoon tunes (chief among them “The Way We Get By” and “My Mathematical Mind”), an acoustic demo version of The Jam’s “That’s Entertainment,” a great old-school track by late-’70s British post-punk polemicists Delta 5 and a dreamily ambient orchestral theme from Vangelis that reminds you how evocative his score for Chariots of Fire was. Despite all the high-tech trappings and meta-literary tropes, Stranger Than Fiction is an old-fashioned movie romance in which two oddly matched souls find each other against all odds, which is where the logic of science gives way to the uncertainties of the heart.

2. Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Live at the Fillmore East March 6 & 7 (Reprise): These 1970 archival performances, from a triple-bill headlined by Young with the Miles Davis Quintet and the Steve Miller Band (!!), features Neil fronting Crazy Horse (including the late guitarist Danny Whitten and legendary producer/songwriter Jack Nitzsche on piano) for a galloping six-song set that followed his own solo acoustic turn. There’s a woozy “Come on Baby Let’s Go Downtown,” a new Whitten song that would eventually surface on Tonight’s the Night, with rousing, call-and-response harmonies by Young and his doomed bandmate, who would eventually succumb to the heroin addiction intimated in the song’s metaphoric title. It’s sandwiched in between a 12-minute-plus “Down by the River” and a final, mind-scorching 16-minute “Cowgirl in the Sand,” with bassist Billy Talbot and drummer Ralph Molina barely keeping Young and Whitten’s dueling leads from completely going off the rails—making it clear that this was arguably the greatest garage-rocking jam band ever.

3. American Music Awards: As awards shows go, not excruciatingly bad as in train wreck, though the lack of a truly compelling, larger-than-life superstar is exactly what’s hurting the record biz today. Host Jimmy Kimmel was practically a non-factor after a brief opening monologue and a sketch in which workers put a Kevin Federline dummy in a wooden crate, hammered it shut and tossed it in the ocean, only to usher on a gum-chewing Britney Spears, looking peeved, but apparently wearing underwear, to present the first award. Well, at least the handing out and accepting of glass statues was quickly dispensed with in favor of the nonstop performances. Opener Beyonce, her hair flowing in the electric-fan-generated breeze, managed to get the crowd to its feet, while Carrie Underwood is an attractive presence who knows how to put over a song. The Dixie Chicks benefited from audience good will, and Mary J. Blige continues to belt it out like she means it, man, but Jay-Z’s performance of “Show Me What You Got,” rather than a high point, seemed rather muddled by a poor mix, an anti-climactic disappointment, and a face-lifted Lionel Richie failed to hit the high notes, let alone dance on the ceiling. Fall Out Boy at least tried to inject some excitement, with bassist Pete Wentz climbing on a speaker amidst the punk-rock twitching, while Rascal Flatts stirred some emotion just through sheer doggedness (i.e. they forced the crowd out of their seats). Gwen Stefani’s “Wind It Up” sported a production meant for the stage, while Akon’s duet with Snoop Dogg and a medley of his two current hits, “Smack That” and “I Wanna Love You,” closed the show—not with a whimper, but not quite with a bang, either. At any rate, it couldn’t beat the evening’s highlight: seeing rulers L.A. Reid, Jimmy Iovine and Steve Bartels march in single file back and forth from the front of the stage to the dressing room all night long. The AMAs’ November date now provides it with a big head start on the Grammys, and judging by the assembled star power, it will continue to give its more established music awards-show rival a run for the money in the future.

4. Pat Hazell’s The Wonder Bread Years (Miracle Theatre Productions at the Theatre in Old Town, 4040 Twiggs St., San Diego): At least this former member of the Seinfeld team isn’t reduced to ranting racial epithets at the Laugh Factory, as one of the series' original four writers, Pat Hazell, brings his one-man reminiscence of growing up boomer to this small regional theatre. His aim is to simultaneously recall the title white bread, which made the perfect peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich as well as such other suburban delicacies as Spam, Velveeta and six packs of breakfast cereal like Sugar Smacks and Cocoa Puffs, while restoring the sense of adventure we all had as kids growing up. An opening film collage sets the stage for what’s to come, with visions of hula-hoops, Davy Crockett coonskin caps, Slinkies, Silly Putty, Frisbees and Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots recalling a simpler, more innocent time. Hazell’s humor is gentle, prodding, as he leads the audience in an opening "Pledge of Allegiance" and riffs on their memories of other school activities like “Show & Tell” in his 90-minute spiel. All that was missing was a mention of Jerry’s precious Pez dispensers, though there was more than a little of Seinfeld’s observational humor incorporated. The high point was when Hazell pulled out an imaginary slide projector to click through snapshots of an idyllic childhood romping in the snow with his dad, getting matching yellow raincoats for Christmas or relatives that he’d never seen before, recalling the late stand-up Jackie Vernon’s similar Ed Sullivan Show shtick. The piece climaxes with the affable Pat cutting up a folded piece of paper and magically creating a flurry of snowflakes that shoot from his hand and shower the stage, no two the same, bringing home his point about sharing our individual memories to recall that wonder, both bread and marvel. And while some of the references seemed lost in the haze of time, they mostly hit home with me. As a baby boomer, I’m used to my past being fetish-ized. It was just nice hearing someone else do it for a change. For more info, go here.

5. Seinfeld: The Lost Episode: Speaking of Seinfeld, this clever National Lampoon parody posted on the ebaumsworld website (which you can see here) takes highlights from the series and skillfully edits in Michael Richards’ Laugh Factory rant and his subsequent apology on Letterman in between to create a brand-new episode, with hilarious results, as the rest of the cast register various degrees of shock over Kramer’s exploits. The plot seamlessly blends in a Kramer feud with “that monkey” (“He just pushed my buttons, Jerry. I couldn't help it”) and the time he shows up in blackface to a room full of African-Americans after spending too much time in the tanning salon, adding a sitcom subtext, complete with laugh track, to his real-life antics. “How about that Kramer?” says Jason Alexander’s George at one point, watching TV. “The way he just says stuff.” Indeed.

6. Double-Jointed: Steve is an 18-year-old skater punk from Connecticut who plays drums in seven bands—“metal, progressive metal, ska, pop, pop-rock, jazz, emo and classic rock”—his favorite being Abeyant, an opening act for the likes of the Misfits, Ill Nino, God Forbid, Drop Dead Gorgeous, Overkill and Royden. What got my attention was his YouTube video (which you can see here), a demonstration of his you-have-to-see-it to-believe-it, double-jointed skills. Wearing a grinning mask right out of V for Vendetta, he faces the camera, twisting his body in such strange pretzel-like positions, including wrapping his foot over his back around his head, using his arms to jump rope, dislocating his shoulder with his finger and twisting his hand on its wrist in a 360-degree circle, that it causes you to wince. Gross but compelling.

7. Jew or Non-Jew: Now you, too, can play “Guess Who’s the Jew,” the fun party game that originated on Howard Stern, with Fred Norris as Kurt Waldheim, Jr., an unabashed Nazi with an expert nose to sniff out the Chosen People. Take the Jewlarious.com quiz here and test your ability to guess whether Harrison Ford, Paula Abdul, Geraldo Rivera, Michael Richards, Lisa Benet, Bronson Pinchot, Sacha Baron Cohen and a tomato are Jew or goy. Just don’t expect us to give you any tips.

8. Sacha Baron Cohen Rolling Stone interview by Neil Strauss: The Man Who Would Be Ali G, Borat and Bruno finally comes clean, revealing he keeps kosher, doesn’t work on the Sabbath and has an 81-year-old grandmother who lives in Haifa, Israel, pretty much putting his anti-anti-Semitism into sharp relief. Strauss gets behind the man’s ubiquitous masks to discover an insecure artist who toils to remain in character and tries to keep his methods secret, though the author does reveal how certain scenes were set up by his production staff, a lawyer present throughout to advise on the legality of each scene. The author finds out that Cohen’s people obtain releases under false pretenses, then offer their quarry anywhere from $100 to $500 to take part. There are even comments from some of his Borat marks about how they were duped, stating their desire to participate in some of the movie’s grosses. What comes across most is Cohen’s fanatical dedication to doing all interviews for the film while in character, admitting he hides behind his various personae to avoid the pitfalls of fame, hoping to have it both ways.

9. San Diego: They may have an inferiority complex when it comes to their northern rivals in L.A., but this burgeoning burg has a lot going for it, including a livable factor, relative lack of traffic and weather that may well be the finest in this hemisphere. My college buddy John made his fortune in the real estate market there, building two homes in an area bordering on ultra-exclusive Rancho Santa Fe that went from being in the middle of nowhere—he needed an electric generator for the first six months he lived there and had to make phone calls by patching into a line down the road—to sitting adjacent to a development with several hundred $4 and $5 million homes, a pair of 18-hole PGA golf courses and a road that connects the area’s two biggest north-to-south freeways, the 5 and 15, making it less than a half-hour car ride downtown. Of course, it’s pretty Red State down there, and there aren’t a whole lot of ethnic types outside the city limits, but there's no lack of culture (including a vibrant local theatre scene anchored by the Old Globe), a first-place NFL team (which L.A. hasn’t had in over a decade…a team, that is) and the breeze of the ocean, never more than a few miles away. With home prices dropping, it’s pretty inviting, if you can find work.

10. Gripe of the Week: The Michael Richards brouhaha, something that might have occurred in front of a few hundred people in the pre-YouTube era, is now a media lightning rod, but as far as I’m concerned, the answer is not to ban the N-word, because that won’t get rid of racism; it will just force it back below the surface, where it continues to fester. Besides, think of all the “Afro-American” entertainers, from Chris Rock to 50 Cent, whose careers would go down the drain if they were forbidden to use it. It's not the word anyway, it's the anger underlining its use. What is interesting is that Richards appears to be doing a shtick that starts careening wildly out of control—an Andy Kaufman-style performance piece that channels Don Rickles’ insult humor, except without the funny part. What was amusing was the raft of secondary stories: Richards’ ashen-faced “mea culpa” on Letterman; the real-life Kramer’s denial that he himself was a racist; Jesse Jackson having a contrite Richards apologize on his radio show, then turn around and demand a boycott of the new Seinfeld DVD, with sales actually rising; Richards’ career either dead in the water or given new life, depending on which pundit you’re listening to. It takes a lot to get noticed these days in the highly competitive world of entertainment media. You have to shout pretty loud just to get heard over the din. Richards’ Kramer always did announce his presence dramatically by sliding through the door to Jerry’s apartment with his pop-eyed, chicken-necked, herky-jerky gait. He’s done the same thing this time with the equivalent of yelling “fire” in a crowded theatre. Is it actually on fire, though? Is Richards’ anger a sign of his particular pathology or does it point to a widening gap between the races in America, a fact he seemed to hint at during his Letterman debriefing? Can we ever view his endearingly wacky Kramer character in the same way? Probably not, which is as much on our perception as it is on Richards, who in groping for his own identity apart from Kramer, stumbled on a persona that got our attention for all the wrong reasons. Or did he freak out for our sins? That discomfort we felt apparently didn’t prevent millions from checking the clip out online for ourselves, if only to rubberneck at a nervous breakdown as it took place. We all walk a thin line between right and wrong, a distinction rapidly vanishing in an age of instant access and shifting public opinion.—Roy Trakin

Friday, Dec 1st
Eighteen Visions @ Phoenix Hill Tavern, Louisville, KY

Honeytribe (featuring Devon Allman) & Gregg Allman and friends @ Alex Madonna Expo Center, San Luis Obispo, CA

Hoobastank @ The Stone Pony, Asbury Park, NJ

Spoon @ Waterloo Park, Austin, TX

Sparta @ The NorVa, Norfolk, VA

Army of Anyone @ The Phenix, Seattle, WA

Saturday, Dec 2nd
Wake Forest vs. Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship: Nobody expected these two teams in the big game, but that’s why they play the games, and I feel that Wake Forest will crush Georgia Tech.

USC @ UCLA on ABC: One game and one team stand in the way of the Trojans and the championship game. Yes, I know, it’s the lowly Bruins, but my gut tells me they’ll make it difficult for the Trojans, for at least the first couple of minutes.

All Access Magazine.com 7th Annual Rockin' The Toy Box Toy Drive @ Harper's, Northridge, CA (for more info, go to www.allaccessmagazine.com)

Arkansas vs. Florida in the SEC title game on CBS: This should be an ultra-competitive game, but look for Arkansas to bounce back from their loss to LSU and upset the Gators. I expect McFadden to have an enormous game rushing.

Nebraska vs. Oklahoma in the Big 12 Title Game: Haven’t really watched either team, but my feeling is Oklahoma will win this one in a dogfight.

All American Rejects @ Gibson Ampitheatre, Universal City

Saosin @ House of Blues, Chicago

Dixie Chicks w/ Pete Yorn @ Philips Arena, Atlanta

Lakers @ Clippers on KTLA: The Clippers, who have been struggling of late, look for revenge after a loss to the Lakers last week.

Sunday, Dec 3rd
Saliva @ Fillmore Auditorium, Denver

Orland Magic @ Clippers on NBATV High Def: The red hot Magic come into town, and the Clips will look to defend their home court.

Parlour Boys @ Uncle Pleasants in Louisville

Gary Allan with Jack Ingram @ House of Blues, West Hollywood

No promising movies to review this week, so I’ll just list my top three movies to go see, if you haven’t already done so:
Happy Feet

Casino Royale

The Lupe Fiasco CD is a must-have if you’re a hip-hop fan—it’s a nearly flawless debut for the Chicago-based rapper. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but as soon as I popped the disc in the car, I found myself hypnotized.

John Legend’s sophomore album, Once Again, is absolutely brilliant. It’s definitely more adult than the big-selling 2005 debut, as Legend solidifies himself as one of the best R&B singers around. A must-have for R&B fans, young or old.

The Game’s Doctor’s Advocate: One of the best rap records of the year. This return to old-school West Coast rap has a Dr. Dre feel to it. A must-have for any hardcore rap fan, this one might start a West Coast comeback.

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.

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. It is more than just an animated movie about penguins, it has real life political views and it is defitnetly a movie the whole family can enjoy. The music is awesome; the dancing is sensational thanks to Savion Glover.

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 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.