HITS Daily Double
Sorry, but I can’t stand the week off in between the NFL championship games and the Super Bowl. If you ask me, it’s one of the reasons we get so many anti-climactic, boring matches.


In the Immortal Words of Tom Petty, "The Waiting Is the Hardest Part"
1. The Last King of Scotland:
You already know about Forest Whitaker’s eye-popping, Oscar-nominated performance as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, and the way he captures childlike innocence morphing into madman cruelty is truly worth the price of admission. Whitaker inhabits Amin like previous winners Jamie Foxx and Philip Seymour Hoffman did their real-life characters, so he’s the odds-on pick to take home the Academy hardware. Check him lumbering around wide-eyed at a political rally brandishing a spear and sporting a demented grin, sitting in a kilt beaming as an African choir croons “Loch Lomond” and donning a cowboy hat to lasso a startled aide while riding a horse. Lost in all the hype, though, is James McAvoy’s quiet, but nuanced performance as the callow Scottish doctor looking for excitement who gets more than he bargained for when enlisted by Amin as his personal physician. Also notable is Peter Morgan’s script, meaning the U.K. screenwriter created both of what will probably be Oscar-winning turns by a pair of very different rulers in Whitaker and Helen Mirren’s Queen Elizabeth, capturing the details in each character with behind-closed-doors dialogue and palace intrigue that ring awfully true. Director Kevin MacDonald, previously known for documentaries on Mick Jagger, Errol Morris and Howard Hawks, chooses to go with a hand-held realism, all dark and runny colors, which serves the exotic, steamy locale, and feels way more authentic than, say, Blood Diamond, particularly in its depiction of the white man’s enigmatic role as an outsider in Africa.

2. Extras (HBO): Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s follow-up to The Office is kind of a cross between Curb Your Enthusiasm and an updated Broadway Danny Rose, a comedy of humiliation and anti-manners made all the more excruciating by the traditional British tendency for stiff-upper-lip repression. The second season begins promisingly with Gervais overseeing his own self-described "shit"-com at the BBC, a hilariously dumbed-down version of The Office called When the Whistle Blows that finds him in a fright wig and glasses, spouting a ridiculous double-take catch phrase, “’Aving a laugh? Is ’e ’aving a laugh?” The first episode takes the piss out of a preening Orlando Bloom, who refuses to believe that Gervais’ dutifully honest, if a little dense, cohort played by Ugly Betty’s Ashley Jensen doesn’t find him irresistible. The second episode ups the ante, as Gervais is faced with critics trashing the show’s premiere, then gets serenaded by a piano-playing David Bowie, who leads an entire room full of revelers in calling him a “little fat man with a pug nose.” Merchant is spot-on as his partner’s hapless manager, who ferrets out a favorable Internet review, only to learn it’s about Wind in the Willows. Too many of the jokes get thrown away in typically deadpan Brit fashion, meaning, as in The Office, you need one hand on the TiVo to rewind and catch them, but it's well worth the effort, as they hit and sting.

3. 24 (Fox): You gotta love a show that detonates a nuclear bomb in Valencia, CA, of all places, by the fourth episode, tosses in D.B. Woodside’s skittishly indecisive African-American President, Ally McBeal’s cherubic Peter MacNichol as an aide anxious to dismantle the Constitution at the first sign of dissent and Harold and Kumar’s Kal Penn playing your ethnic suburban terrorist next door. The pace remains pretty breakneck in this, its sixth improbable season, and the prevailing moral arguments about how far one should go to combat terrorism give it a timely spin. This year, Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer seemed to be at the end of his rope when he was led in from his 18-month Chinese imprisonment bearded and haggard, looking more like Saddam Hussein than the savior of the Western World. But sooner than you could say, “Bond, James Bond,” Jack was biting off the Adam’s apple of a captor, who made the mistake of leaving him alone in a room for 30 seconds. If you step back a moment and try to make sense of the narrative, the whole thing collapses like a deck of cards, but from moment to moment you can’t beat the show for sending out an adrenaline jolt. And we love the newly glamorized Lynn Rajskub's poker-faced computer whiz. Now all they need to do is add some members of the Israeli Mossad to the action for some real Jimmy Carter-style balance. 24 is the archetypal post-9/11 entertainment even as it begs the question: will the San Fernando Valley be annihilated before the series ends? And could this happen in real life? There goes my home equity.

4. Harvey Kubernik, Hollywood Shack Job (University of New Mexico Press): The indefatigable Kubernik is an L.A. factotum, a Fairfax High alum and one-time A&R exec for MCA Records, where he shepherded Tom Petty’s first album through the system, an invaluable resource for all things Angeleno. As the West Coast correspondent for Melody Maker at the same time I served a similar role in N.Y., Kubernik was the first person I befriended when I made the cross-country journey more than 20 years ago, and he welcomed this Noo Yawk refugee with open arms. His latest tome is the successor to This Is Rebel Music, offering, as only Harvey can, a comprehensive overview of the ongoing, symbiotic relationship between rock and the movies, Hollywood style. In typical Kubernik fashion, the book is separated into extensive Q&As with a variety of idiosyncratic, unsung heroes (D.A. Pennebaker, Andrew Loog Oldham, Melvin van Peebles, Kim Fowley, Stephen Wooley and Harry E. Northup) as well as some that boast more name recognition (Robbie Robertson, Steven Van Zandt and Chris Columbus, Ice Cube, Paul Thomas Anderson, Jim Jarmusch and Baz Luhrmann). Of course, I’m not entirely objective, since there’s a chapter devoted to me, but reading Kubernik’s flights of free association memories is like sitting on a bar stool listening to someone who was there. Sure, they could be edited, but when he gets up a good head of steam, HK’s lyrical flow rivals that of the finest rappers. Only he could segue from The Association to the Monkees to Laura Nyro to Sammy Davis Jr. to Timi Yuro to Bob Dylan to Pinky Lee, Pee Wee Reese and Doodles Weaver, and that's just in the acknowledgments. The man's a fount of west coast pop culture knowledge and he tosses it back at us with all due respect...and love.

5. Dreamgirls Oscar snub: There appear to be several reasons that the Academy rank-and-file failed to give Dreamgirls a Best Picture nod, meaning it’s the only movie in history to lead the field in nominations while not getting included for top honors. First, there’s definitely the backlash factor, which we saw in action last year with Brokeback Mountain losing to Crash and several years ago, when Shakespeare in Love came from behind to top favorite Saving Private Ryan. There’s the whole underdog thing, but also the Oscar voters don’t like to be told what to do… they’re kinda finicky that way, and Paramount and DreamWorks all but gift-wrapped Dreamgirls to the Academy as a Best Picture fait accompli. There’s also the demo factor, with the majority male membership spurning the film’s largely female and gay fan base. Then there’s the tiny issue of race. The Color Purple was the sole previous all-black film to grab a Best Picture nod, one of 10 nominations it received in 1996, only to get shut out in every category on award night. And while Dreamgirls wasn’t my personal choice for best picture of the year, I do think it excelled in precisely the kind of categories that usually wins a Best Picture Oscar—art direction, costumes, production design, music, etc., and predicted it would. I know there was some grumbling in critical quarters about the hackneyed plot and watered-down soundtrack, but I felt it was one of the best filmed musicals of the modern era, with several career-making performances and at least a pair of old-fashioned showstoppers.

6. Thank You For Smoking: Guess there was a reason I avoided Jason Reitman’s satire during its theatrical run. As much as I usually like Aaron Eckhart, the movie’s a little too glib for its own good, kinda like a Michael Moore film in pushing its agenda by making people look venal and absurd. And while I can appreciate the sharp cynicism of Eckhart’s tobacco lobbyist, and the cleverness of his rationale, the movie just didn’t connect for me. Sure, there are some cool moments, but most of them you’ve seen in the coming attractions—Eckhart calmly putting down a schoolgirl for blurting out that her mother says smoking kills by asking if Mommy has a medical degree; the assistant to a studio boss offering his son Red Bull, the subsequent meeting about making a sci-fi movie that features cigarettes in which Rob Lowe blithely proposes to change the screenplay to allow smoking with no oxygen in space. The film wants it both ways—you’re supposed to admire Eckhart’s charisma, but question for what purpose it’s put to work. Sorry, but the moral dilemma of a man paid well to defend American tobacco seems, like cigarettes themselves, just so much smoke and mirrors.

7. www.celebstoner.com: The latest Internet blog from former High Times editor Steve Bloom is the perfect example of finding a niche and super-serving it. The site is the Perez Hilton.com of pot, where the compelling issues include “Does Alpha Dog Make Potheads Look Bad?,” Michael Vick’s marijuana-flavored water bottle and the latest Cincinnati Bengal busted for bud. There’s also a section where you can vote for the Next Top CelebStoner, with the candidates including Chris Robinson, Sarah Silverman, Owen Wilson, B-Real, Kate Hudson and Adrianne Curry. And, of course, there’s the classic headline: “David Crosby on Cannabis: I Like to Smoke Pot!” This ingenious corner of the web caters to all of us who feel the same way.

8. www.sohoweeklynews.com: Back in the glorious mid-to-late punk-rocking ’70s in downtown N.Y.C., this pioneering alternative weekly was the snotty upstart to the even-then venerable Village Voice. Among its alumni are humorist Cynthia Heimel, Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post classical music critic Tim Page, Paper publishers David Hershkovits and Kim Hastreiter, photog Allan Tannenbaum, N.Y. Times Magazine editor Gerald Marzorati, former Details editor Annie Flanders, N.Y. Times political reporter Jane Perlez, N.Y. Daily News columnist Stanley Crouch, pundit Doug Ireland, Larry King producer Michael Shore, Village Voice gossip Michael Musto, legendary music journalist Danny Fields, cartoonist Bill Plympton, screenwriter/author Paul Slansky and many, many more, including yours truly, when the pay was $5 an article to write cover stories on Television, Blondie, the Clash and this one on Sid Vicious' alleged stabbing of Nancy Spungen at the Chelsea Hotel back in 1978, a big deal in the local community at the time, which you can read here.

9. Pretty Ricky, “On the Hotline” (Atlantic): These four brothers from Miami come across as kind of a post-hip-hop, more street version of Jodeci. They are poised to top the charts next week, thanks in large part to this single, which has been burning up the R&B/hip-hop charts since it debuted last year on BET, where it resides at #1 on the station’s popular 106 & Park countdown. The hook comes from Salt N Pepa’s “Let’s Talk About Sex,” but the lyrics are a salacious paean to the joys of phone (and computer) sex with the classic refrain, “Yeah I met u on MySpace/Now I’m about to fly u out to my place.”

10. Gripe of the Week: The music business used to be a fun place to work, but now it feels like a particularly grueling episode of Survivor. Last one out the door, turn off the lights… Sorry, but I can’t stand the week off in between the NFL championship games and the Super Bowl. If you ask me, it’s one of the reasons we get so many anti-climactic, boring matches. The extra time seems to make the teams more tentative as they fall out of their weekly routine… Joke of the week: What’s the difference between a musician and a pizza? A pizza can feed a family of four… Best line of the week: In New York, when someone says, “Fuck you,” they really mean “Hello.” In L.A. when they say, “Hello,” they really mean “Fuck you”…


Donna DeCoster, a former PD at Clear Channel’s Top 40 station WKFS, started her career as a broadcaster with WKRQ in 1994. DeCoster went on to host her own midday show and was a TV freelance entertainment reporter for WKRC and WXIX. She is currently a consultant/freelance writer and resides in L.A. with her husband Matt.

Last week’s tragedy of a young mother of three who died from water intoxication while taking part in a contest for radio station KDND in Sacramento answered the question for radio: Can someone actually get hurt doing this stunt?

The headlines for the past week have painted a bleak picture of radio stations and their carelessness, if not callousness, in their attempts to secure ratings with their non-stop contesting. This was the exception in that the worst possible scenario took place.

Jennifer Strange, the KDND “Hold Your Wee for a Wii” contestant, died after drinking more than two gallons of water in a two-hour period attempting to win a Nintendo videogame for her children. Despite the declarations by other listeners who called into the morning show warning of the stunt’s dangers, the on-air jocks were cavalier about the threat of death and, in fact, joking, laughing and commenting how all the contestants signed release forms so KDND were not responsible. Of course, the show went on and someone did die. The cruelty continued when one of the jocks from the “morning rave” show could be heard on air saying, “Maybe we should have researched this.” Well, duh. Or in fact, maybe they should have listened to the people telling them 40 minutes before the contest started that someone could possibly die from drinking too much water.

Assuming for a moment those at the KDND morning show are not a bunch of raving lunatics that like to kill people on the weekends, it was their naiveté or the conditioning from their surroundings that made them oblivious to the clear and present danger. With so many jocks, programmers and promotional teams trying to come up with the most creative way for listeners to get involved and interested in their stations and its giveaways, they will try just about anything if it rhymes and sounds funny on the air. And the listeners all stand in line to win.

While shock jocks like Howard Stern, Bubba the Love Sponge and the boys from Jackass have all made careers by “stunting,” some so dangerous or, in my view, stupid, it’s a wonder something like this hasn’t happened before. It does lend to the notion or the hardening: this is just a fun prank, a contest for kicks, it’s been done before maybe even on Fear Factor.

All this begs the question: How can something like this have gone wrong? How does radio survive the backlash? In this day and age when radio is competing with so many other entities—iPods, the Internet andsSatellite radio, stunting and contesting seemed to be one of radio’s assets.

Will radio bounce back with new stunts, and if so, isn’t it the responsibility of all programmers, jocks and anyone involved to research a stunt before ever soliciting listeners to get involved? And if radio stunts again, will the listeners show up? If radio does not stunt again, will it affect the ratings? One station PD stated the only contesting he would be doing is “asking for caller 9.”

This was a horrible accident with absolutely no intent to kill anyone. But it’s the hardening of the jocks on the “morning rave” show that is disconcerting. Someone has to bare the brunt of this horrific accident. So far, 10 people have been fired at KDND, lawyers for the victim’s family are asking the FCC to pull KDND’s license, Chairman Kevin Martin has directed the Enforcement Bureau to investigate Entercom and KDND. And most recently a wrongful death suit has been filed by the family; WITH defendants ranging from Entercom’s VP/Market manager, to the “morning rave” show producer and its principals—Adam Cox, Steve Maney, Patricia Sweet and Matt Carter. In all, eight people have been charged with the wrongful death of Jennifer Strange. This was a high price for Entercom to pay for a stunt gone badly.

As a former Top 40 PD who has used stunts in the past, this was a wake-up call. Not to say all stunting should be outlawed, but perhaps executed in a more responsible way. There has always seemed to me something creepy about sleep deprivation or ingesting something in your body to win concert tickets. In the event that the “hardening” continues and we forget what happened at KDND, remember two words: Jennifer Strange.

Friday, Jan 26
The Van Wilder Tour f/Everclear @ House of Blues on Sunset

Slayer w/ Unearth @ SOMA, San Diego

HoneyTribe f/Devon Allman @ Q’s Sports Bar & Grill, Thomaston, GA

The Game @ the Moore Theatre, Seattle.

Hollywood Allstarz w/Judge Jackson @ Harper’s Bar & Grill, Northridge, CA

Saturday, Jan 27th
Cheap Trick @ Family Arena, St. Charles, MO

Bowling for Soup @ House of Blues (Downtown Disney), Anaheim

From a Second Story Window @ Champ’s, Burbank

SnoCore Tour f/Army of Anyone @ House of Blues, Myrtle Beach, SC

Timberwolves @ Clippers (Ch. 5): This is a big Western Conference showdown between two teams battling for the eighth and final playoff spot. The Clippers will look to take the upper hand when all is said and done.

Sunday, Jan 28th
Daughtry @ House of Blues (Downtown Disney), Anaheim

Smokin’ Aces
Starring: Ben Affleck, Jason Bateman, Peter Berg, Brian Bloom, Sharon Bruneau, Common
Buddy "Aces" Israel is a small-time Las Vegas magician who suddenly becomes very popular after ratting out his boss, who has ties to the mob, to the FBI. After the Feds shuttle Aces off to Lake Tahoe for safe-keeping, an army of assassins swarm the tiny resort town looking to cash in on a prize hit.
Thoughts: The upside to this movie is the amazing cast; the downside is that with such a good cast you’d expect it to come out later in the year, not at the beginning, among all the flops.

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, 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.