HITS Daily Double
The Office forms the best hour of comedy on TV, alongside the offbeat rhythms of My Name Is Earl, Thursday nights on NBC.


Love Monkey Fails to Capture Weasledom, Hustle and Flow and A History of Violence Come to DVD and Kate Beckinsale Is Back in Black
1. Hustle and Flow: Writer-director Craig Brewer’s gritty drama, about a Memphis pimp played by the remarkable Terrence Howard who attempts to change his life by becoming a rapper, raised expectation levels when MTV Films acquired its rights for $9 million at Sundance, then fizzled at the box office earlier this year. I finally caught up to it on DVD, thanks to the increasing buzz over Howard’s performance, which is a complete departure from the smooth TV director he played in Crash and every bit as impressive. The movie captures the local color with authentic turns by Taryn Manning as the hooker who wants to find her other calling, Anthony Anderson as the married, middle-class producer lured into helping and Crash co-star Ludacris the superstar rapper whose return to his hometown Howard hopes is the break he’s been waiting for. An inevitable eruption of violence accompanies the clever ending, which casts an ironic eye on how hip-hop feeds on celebrity and notoriety, yet provides a way out for those who desperately need one.

2. Love Monkey (CBS): A single-male variation on the Sex and the City formula, this new hour series is set in the music business, historically a turn-off to audiences, though given a charmingly hip veneer by Ed’s Tom Cavanagh as a commitment-phobic 30-something A&R exec of the kind that hasn’t really existed since about 1999 or so. Co-producer cum music supervisor Nic Harcourt sprinkles the familiar (The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside,” Franz Ferdinand’s “The Fallen,” K.C. and the Sunshine Band’s “Boogie Shoes”) and the obscure (Damn Glad, SoIHadToShootHim, Chilly, Hank Kim), giving the proceedings a touch of authenticity the scripts often lack, with the too-snappy-by-half male-bonding banter ringing the most false. On the other hand, music geeks will relate to Cavanagh when he ruefully notes his girlfriend using a line from Sting—“If you love someone, set them free”—while breaking up with him. Highlight of the first episode is Cavanagh’s impassioned, Jerry Maguire-like speech about musical integrity in front of the entire staff at the aptly named Goliath Records, which prompts the label head, played perfectly by a smug Eric Bogosian, to fire him on the spot. As in all stories set in the record industry, the importance is in the right details, and here Love Monkey gets it wrong a little too often. During a “rock” tour of New York City conducted by Cavanagh for the would-be label signing played by the real-life Columbia Records teen idol/John Mayer spin-off Teddy Geiger, as L.A.Times critic Robert Lloyd astutely points out, the New York alley where he claims Dylan shot his famed “Subterranean Homesick Blues” video was, in reality, filmed in London. Also, when the A&R exec takes the kid to the Chelsea Hotel, he doesn’t mention it’s where Sid Vicious was accused of knifing girlfriend Nancy Spungen, even after making a big deal about knowing the Sex Pistol’s real name, John Simon Ritchie, and that his friends called him “Sly” just a scene before. On the other hand, while visiting the punk mecca CBGB’s, the Talking Heads’ “Thank You for Sending Me an Angel” correctly plays in the background. Love Monkey, named for its lead character, who is admonished for going from vine to vine without settling down, is a pleasant enough diversion. At its best, it evokes Almost Famous' sweet, if naive, notion that rock is something to base your life around and could well be the vehicle to launch promising, shaggy-haired crooner Geiger’s career. If nothing else, that would be a major accomplishment.

3. A History of Violence: David Cronenberg’s neo-noir neatly encapsulates some of his pet obsessions, with the sibling rivalry of Dead Ringer, the juxtaposition of sex and violence of Videodrone and the dueling personalities vying for control of a single body in The Fly. The plot, a father resorting to force in defending his family from a vicious attack, echoes Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs, with some of the most erotic scenes you’ll ever see in a mainstream American movie between Viggo Mortensen and the sexually charged Maria Bello, who seduces her husband in a cheerleader outfit. The thesis itself, like Munich, that violence begets violence, isn’t anything new, but the explicit nature of the carnage is grotesquely compelling and the relish (with hot dog) that Ed Harris and William Hurt bring to their roles as malignant gangsters, not to mention the chilling Stephen McHattie and Greg Bryk as a pair of truly scary In Cold Blood killers, deepens the texture and illuminates the ever-shifting nature of good and evil.

4. Rodney Crowell @the Troubadour, The Outsider (Columbia Records): Guess it’s already a cliché that country is the new rock, but this woefully under-appreciated Houston native and onetime husband of Rosanne Cash is probably the best songwriter nobody’s ever heard of, a former Grammy winner whose new Sony Nashville effort is up for two awards this year as Best Contemporary Folk Album and Best Country Collaboration with Vocals for his version of Dylan’s “Shelter From the Storm.” Live, he’s joined by a crack band of young’uns featuring Mobile, AL, guitar slinger Will Kimbrough, running through a two-hour-plus set of something that sounds suspiciously like classic soul-blues-folk-rock as much as it does country. “Preachin’ to the Choir” is gloriously speeded-up rockabilly, while the sardonic “The Obscenity Prayer,” with its jibes at materialism and social climbing, channels both Motown (“You Keep Me Hanging On”) and Iggy Pop (“Lust for Life”). The latter is just one of several politically pointed songs on the new album, including the title track, which Crowell performed, and “Don’t Get Me Started,” a marvelous “no-spin-zone” rant about current affairs that manages to skewer right and left, which he didn’t. The set closed with a pair of covers in the revitalized “Tobacco Road” worthy of Edgar Winter's White Trash and a stirring audience-participation version of “Like a Rolling Stone,” while the encore paid tribute to his ex-father-in-law with “I Walk the Line (Revisited),” his memories of “getting my teeth rattled” by hearing Johnny Cash for the first time as a kid in the back seat of a ’49 Ford—complete with a pitch-perfect evocation of The Man in Black singing the chorus by Kimbrough.

5. The Office: Not being a big Jon Stewart fan, and a huge admirer of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s original series on the BBC, I was a little late to this Americanized sitcom with 40 Year-Old Virgin’s Steve Carell, but after just a coupla showings, it forms the best hour of comedy on TV, alongside the offbeat rhythms of My Name Is Earl, Thursday nights on NBC. And while Carell brings his own befuddled persona to the woefully inappropriate boss originated by Gervais, the real find is geeky Rainn Wilson, so good as Frances Conroy’s similarly geeky, reluctant love interest in Six Feet Under. The show remains true to its source’s deadpan sardonic wit and excruciating humiliations, with the bland Midwest of Scranton, PA, standing in for the original’s nondescript working-class Brit burg. And the unrequited romance between John Krasinski and receptionist Jenna Fischer survives with all its repressed emotion and furtive glances intact.

6. Rock School: Long before Jack Black turned classic rock into an academic study for School of Rock, Philly native Paul Green was teaching 9-year-olds to sing Black Sabbath and tutoring youngsters in the technique of performing a guitar solo at his self-titled Paul Green School of Rock Music in his native city. The parallels between the two films are eerie, as seen in this documentary, now out on DVD, in which the disaffected and the driven flock to Green’s clubhouse for individual lessons and group performances of the oeuvre of ‘60s and ‘70s titans such as Journey, REO Speedwagon, Billy Joel, Meat Loaf and, especially, Frank Zappa, a particular favorite of Green’s, who is into musicianship and performance above all. It’s Mr. Holland’s Opus for rockers, and a true inspiration to committed teachers in any field, with the charismatic, 33-year-old Green alternating cursing out, cajoling and encouraging his charges. It’s a little freaky to think that rock & roll is now an adolescent pursuit alongside Little League baseball, soccer and karate, but that’s where we are, with the boomer parents hilariously... and sometimes not so hilariously, living vicariously through their kids. The highlight: a morose young misfit named Will O’Connor, who finds solace in the school’s community, only to move on when he admits to not being able to make the full commitment to his music. Green is currently opening a branch of his school in Hollywood, which gives him a total of 12 locations nationwide. The finale features Alice Cooper singing “School’s Out” with the students.

7. Red Eye: Wes Craven’s in-flight thriller is preposterous from the outset, but taut, charged performances by Rachel McAdams and the red-hot, milky-eyed Cillian Murphy keep you riveted for most of the 75-minute running time before the movie devolves into a slasher chase finale that practically ruins everything that came before. Still, the scenes on the plane are effectively claustrophobic, with the initial attraction between McAdams and Murphy turning deadly before our eyes.

8. NFL Playoffs: Gotta admit I was surprised by the respective meltdowns of the Pats and the Colts, but, in the case of Seattle and Denver, you gotta figure home field advantage is worth quite a bit more than the three points generally laid by the oddsmakers. In the NFC match-up, Carolina appears crippled—they’re down to their third-string running back—and you have to wonder if Jake Delhomme, the only remaining QB to actually play in a Super Bowl, can make up the difference. Seattle will be getting MVP Shaun Alexander back and will have the advantage of playing before one of the loudest crowds in the league. I give ’em the edge. In the Broncos-Steelers match-up, never underestimate the Steel Curtain’s ability to churn out yardage and impose its will along the offensive and defensive lines, but I like Denver’s opportunistic defense to force a coupla Roethlisberger turnovers and create some shots for Jake the Snake, like in the Pats game. Imagine, I’m picking Jake Plummer in a championship game. IMO, the Bus stops here.

9. Gustavo Santaolalla: Winner of a Latin Grammy for Producer of the Year, this Argentine-born composer just earned a Golden Globe for the Brokeback Mountain song he co-wrote with Bernie Taupin, “A Love That Will Never Grow Old,” sung by Emmylou Harris. I like his sad, mournful instrumental for the film even better, its somber chords and wistful theme doing almost as much to convey the movie’s melancholy and hope as the superb cast. Look for the Verve Forecast soundtrack to pick up some sales steam over the next few weeks... It’s already #1 on Amazon.com.

10. Adam Carolla: I’m trying to both give him the benefit of the doubt and cure my Howard Stern jones at the same time, but it’s getting increasingly difficult to abide his nasal wise-guy deadpan, even if he is a "smart" aleck. The trappings of the show are the same—wacky sidekicks, comedian guests, racy bits, jocular bantering, song parodies, all the staples of morning radio, but there’s a thin line between riveting and lame, and this show hasn’t crossed it yet. But like I say, the jury is still out. I ain’t buying Sirius...yet.

NAMM: The National Association of Music Merchants
trade show is happening this weekend at the Anaheim Convention Center Thursday through Sunday. Manufacturers from all over the world will be introducing new products for the year. Hundreds of companies, like Taye Drums, Sabian, Evans, JBL, Soldano, Vater Drumsticks, Fender, Warwick and Vox, will be on hand, showing off their latest goodies. For more info, check out www.thenammshow.com.

Friday, Jan. 20th
Photo LA @ Santa Monica Civic Auditorium: Whether you're looking for a priceless daguerreotype or something soothing to hang on an office wall, you can probably find it at Photo LA, the largest photographic exposition in the country.

One Ring Celebration @ Pasadena Civic Auditorium and Conference Center: For all things hobbit and Lord of the Rings, this is where you need to be. This mega-convention on all things Middle Earth, which unites all the peoples of Los Angeles under their one, compelling love for the land that Peter Jackson exploded into mainstream acceptance. On hand for the three-day party are a trio of Hobbits, including Elijah Wood, Billy Boyd and Sean Astin, plus Miranda Otto and a host of faves from the films. Purdy good writin’, huh?

Social Distortion
w/The Vacancies @ House of Blues Sunset (all ages)

Cake and Tegan and Sara @ Hammerstein Ballroom, NYC

Mavericks vs. Clippers @ Staples Center (Fox Sports 2): This is a game the Clips have to win after their disappointing loss to the Pacific Division-leading Suns. It’ll be another test for the suddenly slumping Clippers, who haven’t been able to win consistently since their ace Corey Maggette went down. However, every team has injuries, and the Clips have plenty of firepower and talent to win while Corey is on the sidelines, so they just need to suck it up and start playing better. The Mavs will definitely be a test, but the Clips certainly are capable of beating this team.

Less Than Jake w/ DaMone @ 9:30 Club, Washington, DC

Saturday, Jan. 21st
Winterfresh SnoCore featuring Seether, Shindown, Flyleaf and more @ Rex Baxter Building, Amarillo, TX

Anthrax w/ Sworn Enemy @ The Avalon Hollywood

Lifehouse @ House of Blues Las Vegas

Judge Jackson f/ our own J. J. Garcia!!! @ Judge Roy Bean’s, Simi Valley

The Chimpz @ Paladinos, Tarzana

Sunday, Jan 22nd
Steelers vs. Broncos (CBS):
The AFC Champioship has all the makings of a great smash-mouth football game. Both teams have stellar defenses, great running games and quarterbacks on the rise. I think the Steelers definitely have a shot of pulling this one out if Big Ben is on his game.

Warriors vs. Clippers @ Staples Center (Channel 5): The Clippers will end their longest home stand of the season against the slumping Warriors. Yes, they are slumping, but they have a lot of firepower, and the Clips can’t take them lightly, despite the fact that they beat Golden State earlier in the season. The Clips need to come out strong and end the home stand on a positive note.

Panthers vs. Seahawks (Fox): I’m not sure about this game because there are so many what ifs. Is Julius Peppers is going to play, and if he does, how affected will he be? On the other side of the ball, Shaun Alexander will be back, but will he be able to really contribute or will he still be suffering from the affects of the concussion he suffered last week? Carolina will also suffer because of the loss of Deshaun Foster, meaning they’ll look to Nick Goings and hope for another big game from Steve Smith. Carolina has been to the Super Bowl before, and they definitely have the edge on experience, but in my opinion this is anyone’s game.

Jagermeister Music Tour featuring Disturbed w/ bloodsimple and Fireball Ministry @ House of Blues (Disneyland), Anaheim

6ixteen days w/ The Crystelles & more @ Club London, Hollywood, (18 and over)

Underworld: Evolution
Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Bill Nighy, Shane Brolly, and Michael Sheen
Synopsis: Vampire Selene and hybrid Lycan Michael must find the oldest immortal member of the vampire clan to explain the death of Viktor before the vampires and Lycans clash with each other.
Thoughts: Yes!!! Finally, the sequel is here, I have been waiting for it since I saw the first one, which quickly erased my initial skepticism and totally blew me away. Naturally, I’m hoping the second one is even better—plus, Kate Beckinsale is so hot in her tight latex outfit!!!

The New World
Starring: Colin Farrell, Christopher Plummer, August Schellenberg, Q'Orianka Kilcher, Christian Bale
In 1607, a crew of English explorers sponsored by the Virginia Company lands in North America. On board is a rebellious man sentenced to hang, John Smith. As soon as they drop anchor, the crew discovers that the land is inhabited by a complex empire of native tribes, ruled by the chieftain Powhatan.
Thoughts: Another movie that is way too long, which is why I am hesitant to see it. I think that Terence Malick is a genius when it comes to filmmaking, but I just don’t know if I can sit through this movie. However, it is an interesting take on the story of Pocahontas, so who knows, maybe I’ll end up seeing it.

Those of you who didn’t see Hustle and Flow in theaters truly missed out. Terrence Howard is amazing in his portrayal of a pimp who becomes a rapper trying to make it in the crazy world of rap music. For those of you who don’t like rap music, don’t worry, neither does my mom, and she stilled enjoyed it.