HITS Daily Double
As suburban pot dealer Nancy Botwin, Weeds star Parker takes the show's satiric edge and burrows directly inward, touching on areas you rarely see exposed in popular culture.


This Week, Complete Instructions on How to Forge a Prescription for Medical Marijuana

1. Beck, The Information (Interscope): This may well be Beck’s masterpiece, a survey of all his previous styles, from the elemental blues-rap of Odelay (“Elevator Music”) to the techno-funk of Midnite Vultures (the charming nursery rhyme sing-song of “Cellphone’s Dead,” with its “Day in the Life” midsection), the shimmering sound layers of Sea Change (“Dark Star”) and the polyglot psychedelia of last year’s Guero (the exotic South American instrumentation of “We Dance Alone”). “Think I’m in love/But it makes me kinda nervous to say so,” he admits amid the playground rhythms and swirling melodies of “Think I’m in Love,” creating the anxiety that seems to ripple through the album, produced by Nigel Godrich and apparently started three years ago before it was interrupted by the recording of Guero. There’s a Radiohead-like obliqueness to the method, which is anything but mad, as Beck continues to approach the studio with a DIY openness that’s reflected in the album’s interactive packaging (he provides stickers from various artists to create your own CD booklet) and the homemade videos on the accompanying DVD. The hour-long disc provides a history of rock, rap, hip-hop, funk and techno, with Beck playing a wide array of instruments, including a melodica, kalimba, sitar, harmonica, Gameboy and what sounds like a typewriter carriage bell. There’s the Satanic Majesty’s Request acid-rock of “Strange Apparition,” which segues into a “Wild Horses”-style honky-tonk halfway through, while “Nausea” fuses a computerized Bo Diddley tribal stomp onto a melody that mashes the Dolls’ “Private World” and Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life,” with a trip-hop backbeat to anchor it. By the time the album kicks into the backstretch, starting with “No Complaints” (“But I wish I had the top of my brain”) into the spacey “1000BPM,” the futuristic “Motorcade” and the sepulchral background chorale of the title track, we’re into the farthest reaches of outer and aural space. The closing, 10-minute “The Horrible Fanfare/Landslide/ Exoskeleton,” is a Scientology version of “Revolution #9,” an icy linking of transcendence and interplanetary travel that is as disturbing as it is mesmerizing. The Information may well lack the warmth and accessibility of Guero or Sea Change, but it more than raises the bar by refreshing a thoroughly exhausted pop-rock genre in need of a transfusion of Beck’s audacious, if cold-blooded, genius. Call it L. Ron Hubbard’s Sgt. Pepper.
Roy Trakin

2. Mets/Jets: Yeah, we know. This should be the best of times for a long-suffering 'Ets rooter, but unfortunately we have been conditioned to expect the worst from years of dashed hopes and dreams, enlivened only by seeming miracles—the Mets’ ninth-to-first 1969 triumph over the Baltimore Orioles, the Jets’ Namath-guaranteed Super Bowl III victory over the Baltimore Colts and Johnny Unitas, Bill Buckner’s boot that enabled the 1986 Mets to snatch a win from the jaws of the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. Could 2006—marking 20 years since that memorable seven-game war—be one of those celebrations? I was certainly beginning to think so as the Mets stormed their way through the National League this year, building up a lead that grew to 16 ½ games. Unfortunately, since they clinched two weeks ago, they’ve plummeted, losing nine of 12 and threatening to enter next week’s playoffs not only on the year’s worst downswing, but with ace Pedro Martinez now out for the entire post-season. As for my J-E-T-S Jets Jets Jets, they have surpassed all the pre-season doom und gloom with two victories in their first three games, albeit over fellow NFL little sisters of the poor Tennessee Titans and Buffalo Bills, still good enough for a first-place tie with the hated New England Pats. This week, they face the powerful Indianapolis Colts and Peyton Manning, so the jig may indeed be up for 35-year-old wunderkind coach (so far) Eric Mangini—a Wesleyan grad, no less. Being accustomed to this kind of tease, we are careful to diminish our expectations. Now, if only we could just learn to live in the moment and enjoy our present good luck…even as the future scares the shit outta us. —RT

3. Open Season Featuring the Songs of Paul Westerberg (Lost Highway): Thanks to Sony Pictures music head Lia Vollack for plucking the great ’Mat founder to write the songs for this animated feature and have it released through Luke Lewis’ Lost Highway as Paul’s first major label release in years. This could well pass as a Westerberg solo album, and it’s a brilliant idea for transforming his undeniable songwriting talent into a potential Randy Newman-style career in film music, as he not only pens the individual tracks (including Cake spinoff Deathray’s T. Rex-meets-Bay City Rollers-meets-“Crocodile Rock” cover of “Wild As I Wanna Be” and Pete Yorn’s heartfelt reprise of “I Belong”), but also contributes to the score. Having not seen the movie itself, I can’t judge how the songs fit the screen, but they are among the best Westerberg has done since he was on a major, and the discipline of writing for another medium seems to have freed up his muse. Sure, “Meet Me in the Meadow” is a rewrite of “Kiss Me on the Bus,” but its twangy break shows how Paul could easily make the mainstream move to Nashville like Yorn, Semisonic’s Dan Wilson and the JayhawksJay Louris did with the Dixie Chicks, if he chooses to go that way. On “I Belong” and “Whisper Me Luck,” Paul is in his “Here Comes a Regular” mode, proving he’s quite capable of writing a Tin Pan Alley tune, even if a wryly plaintive one, belying his commercial-poison rep. And even though the typically punny “Right to Arm Bears” was created specifically for the movie, Paul still manages to inject his own unique sensibility, interpolating a mock-patriotic rant set to the tune of “Hail to the Chief” (thanks to Bill Holdship for the correction) right in the middle of it. But it’s “Good Day,” from his 1996 solo album Eventually, that captures his characteristic survival-in-the-face-of-disaster spirit the best: “Yes, a good day/Is any day that you’re alive.” With Open Season, Westerberg proves he’s not just alive, but kicking. —RT

4. The U.S. vs. John Lennon (Lionsgate): David Leaf and John Scheinfeld’s documentary about the American government’s campaign to discredit and ultimately deport Lennon and Yoko during their politicized, early-’70s Sometime in New York City period is a bit of a tease, threatening to reveal smoking guns from the FBI’s secret files on the pair, but playing more like an elegy to a long ago time when pop music and social revolution were literal bedfellows. The old footage is great, from John and Yoko’s 1971 appearance at the John Sinclair Freedom Rally in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to wonderful excerpts from the duo’s famed 1969 honeymoon Bed-ins and Bagism rallies for peace in Amsterdam and Montreal to a rare Beatles’ performance of “Revolution” for British TV. From talking heads like Gore Vidal, George McGovern, Walter Cronkite, Maxim publisher Felix Dennis (?!) and Black Panther Bobby Seale (who now looks like a doughy cross between What’s Happening!’s Fred “Rerun” Berry and present-day George Foreman), it’s pretty obvious where the filmmakers’ prejudices lie, even if the most compelling interview is with an unrepentant G. Gordon Liddy. Lennon good, Nixon bad is a throwback to the good old days when things seemed to be black and white, not the shades of gray we have today. While Lennon’s bravery, honesty and vulnerability remain compelling 25 years later—as do the musical segments that underline the action—it’s a sad fact that the revolutionary Beatle was apparently more at risk from his own fans than the government. The filmmakers seem to want it both ways. Either Lennon was no threat to the U.S. status quo, and the Nixon/ Hoover paranoia was laughably overblown, or he was, and the right-wing vigilance was justified. At any rate, the doc does point out the parallels between then and now, only we have someone a lot more devious in the White House, and much more subtle…with no modern-day pop cultural equivalent to Lennon, let alone Abbie Hoffman or Jerry Rubin, in sight—unless you count Kanye West’s “George Bush don’t care about black people” as a rallying cry. —RT

5. Jerry Schilling with Chuck Crisafulli, Me and a Guy Named Elvis (
Gotham Books): A certified member of Elvis’ Memphis Mafia, Schilling first encountered the superstar when he joined a local pick-up football game and Presley, less than a week after cutting “That’s All Right Mama” in Sam Phillips’ Sun Studio, was his quarterback. Jerry caught the pass and that launched a 20-year-plus friendship that developed into a working relationship, as he took up residence in Graceland and became one of the King’s closest confidants. Unlike many Presley bios, this is less about the larger-than-life legend and more about the man, an intimate portrait that includes Schilling taking an LSD trip with Elvis and Priscilla, driving them to the hospital for the birth of their daughter Lisa Marie, accompanying Presley to his infamous White House meeting with Nixon and being a pallbearer at his funeral. It’s a remarkable tale, as Schilling maintains a love and admiration for the man’s generosity, as well as acknowledging his shortcomings. There are also great sketches of such indelible characters as his father Vernon, producer Phillips, manager Colonel Tom and an array of individuals who were part of Presley’s orbit. Even as Elvis’ superstardom grew to mythic status and threatened to overwhelm everyone and thing in his path, Schilling’s account never loses touch of the shy, dirt-poor Memphis kids that still lurked within both of them. —RT

6. Mary-Louise Parker:
As Nancy Botwin, the most unflappable pot dealer in the ticky-tacky suburb of Agrestic, Weeds’ star takes the satiric edge of the show and burrows directly inward, touching on areas you rarely see exposed in popular culture. The scene in which she brings her DEA husband of convenience together with her African-American growing partner to resolve their differences is a model of a woman being upfront with her ideas, if not her emotions, as she juggles love and work in a way that is being increasingly explored by empowered modern females. Botwin has a dazed twinkle in her eye that hasn’t come from getting high until last week’s episode, where she toked up for the first time to “watch the grass grow” in her marijuana hothouse. She also admitted to wishing sometimes she were free of her parental responsibilities, and when was the last time you heard that thought from a TV mother? Her dilemma with her oldest son, who wants to forsake college to join her mom’s illicit business, is particularly compelling in a world where a private, liberal arts education is now open only to the most wealthy in this supposedly democratic society. And when he accuses her of being a hypocrite, she responds by saying, as a mother, it is perfectly within her right. Beyond the bong and dildo jokes, Weeds raises some important issues confronting an increasingly beleaguered middle class, women and men, and still has time to talk about the “gimmel-spot,” Hebrew for where to give a woman an orgasm. Sometimes it hurts to laugh. —RT

Six Degrees (ABC): The latest episodic series from J.J. Abrams is being called Lost in Manhattan, though its soap opera structure makes it more like his Felicity, with a cast of characters inevitably drawn together into one another’s lives in a “six degrees of separation” conceit. I’m not usually one for coincidences, but New York City is the perfect backdrop for the show’s overlapping relationships ruled by chance encounters, though the various characters seem to be more like stereotypes than fully rounded human beings. The cast, though, is pretty good, featuring indie film stalwarts Hope Davis as a widower caring for her child and Campbell Scott as a rehabbing, headstrong art photographer trying to regain his mojo and his eye. The impossibly thin Bridget Moynahan is the ambitious advertising exec with a philandering boyfriend who gives Scott a second chance, while Swimfan’s Erika Christensen is a pouty narcissist on the run from a deep, dark secret. Filling out the ethnic balance sheet is Dorian Missick’s Damian, an African-American working as a chauffeur, but being lured back into his criminal past by his brother (shades of last year’s Desperate Housewives) and Jay Hernandez’ Carlos, a Latino public defender hopelessly smitten with Christensen’s mysterious Mae. The first episode’s “did I really see that?” moment features Moynahan and Davis bonding over attending the same Sonic Youth concert (the latter sports the band’s T-shirt), complete with a Steve Shelley reference (?!). There’s already chatter about Abrams’ limited involvement, given the fact he hasn’t written or directed any of the early episodes, and despite the charm of the characters, it’s pretty pulpy, but I’m in for the short term, at least. —RT

8. Brothers and Sisters (ABC): Although it’s hyped as “from the people who brought you thirtysomething,” the only ones involved from that groundbreaking show are Ken Olin, who’s director/executive producer (along with The West Wing’s playwright Jon Robin Baitz and Everwood’s Greg Berlanti) and fellow thirtysomething cast member (and Olin’s wife) Patricia Wettig, who plays the paramour of the new family drama’s husband/father. The show marks the return to series TV of Ally McBeal’s Calista Flockhart, heading an impressive cast that includes Six Feet Under’s Rachel Griffiths, Sally Field (in a role that originally belonged to Betty Buckley) and Skerritt (who sure looks like he dies at the end of the first episode). The plot revolves around an extended California clan and its family-run food-packaging business, but there are all sorts of modern-day dilemmas thrown into the mix, including politics in the guise of Flockhart, who is an Ann Coulter-style right-wing radio commentator making the move from east to west for a TV show, Dave Annable’s drug-addicted veteran of the Afghan war and Matthew Rhys’ gay lawyer. I spent the first installment trying to figure out who’s who, but the presence of political debate is a revelation in a weekly TV series, as is the highly realistic parent-child, brother-sister dynamic, marital impotence and infidelity, as well as the admission of a downwardly mobile economy. The show has already benefited from following Desperate Housewives; it will be interesting to see if it can hang on to its lead-in viewership. —RT

9. Audrey Hepburn Gap TV Spot: In this age of TiVo and Internet access, where ads compete with multiple layers of instant content for our attention, it takes something to grab us. This spot, which incorporates Audrey Hepburn’s lithe, black turtle neck/black leotard-clad dance in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and adds AC/DC’s “Back in Black” to the soundtrack, is a true piece of indelible postmodern pop-culture genius. It’s even better than that commercial featuring Fred Astaire dancing with the broom. See it on YouTube here. —RT

10. Gripe of the Week: So I’m perusing the USA Today ticker in the office elevator, where I get most of my late-breaking news, and discovered the following pertinent stat: if the Presidential election were held today, 55% would vote Democratic and 42% Republican. Now, that’s pretty heartening for a knee-jerk lefty like me, but it doesn’t account for the identity of each party’s actual candidates in Nov. 2008. The problem, of course, is with the fractious Democrats, who are already splintering over a potential Hillary Clinton run, which is bound to throw things into a bloody, drag-’em-out war typical of the stubborn party whose symbol is, quite appropriately, a mule. The GOPs at least know when to put their dirty laundry behind them and unite behind a single winner. Plus, going against the Iraq war might seem like a popular move today, but it’s a tricky strategy in the sense that there’s no way of anticipating what the landscape will look like even a year from now, when the races begin to heat up. That said, none of the Democratic candidates—from the two Johns, Kerry and Edwards, to current media darling Illinois Senator Barack Obama and Hillary herself—has put any distance between themselves and the competition. Which means there’s still plenty of time for the much-maligned Dems to blow what seems like a healthy margin. Think we can get George Clooney to run? —RT

…is on vacation and will return next week.

This could be a big weekend for movies, lots of different choices, from Ashton Kutcher as a cartoon to Forest Whitaker playing Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in a role that is already generating an Oscar buzz. There’s also a film that boasts the unlikely pairing of Billy Bob Thornton and Jon Heder.

Open Season
Starring the voice talents of: Ashton Kutcher
, Martin Lawrence, Debra Messing and John Favreau
A domesticated grizzly bear named Boog (Lawrence) meets a deer named Elliot (Kutcher) in the woods during hunting season, and the two try to find their way out of the forest while avoiding the hunters. Messing voices Beth, a park ranger who raised Boog.
Thoughts: Finally, this movie is coming out! It’s been at least six months since I first caught the trailer, and I’ve been waiting for it ever since, because the trailer convinced me that Open Season could be one of the funniest movies of the year. The key is Ashton, who may be playing an animated deer this time out, but the important thing is that he’s in a comedic role, where he rules.

The Guardian
Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher
Ben Randall, a maverick teacher who trains rescue swimmers for the coast guard, shows the talented Jake Fischer how to become a member of his team. But danger looms large when the men set off on a trip to Alaska.
Thoughts: In his second opening of the week, Ashton tries something new, starring in a dramatic action film, so this one could go either way. Although I’ve been a big fan since That 70’s Show, I have yet to see him in a serious role. I’ve got my fingers crossed, Ashton.

The Last King of
Forest Whitaker
A Scottish doctor in the 1970s becomes the personal physician of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. Once he realizes Amin's insanity and viciousness, he's appalled that he's abetting the tyrant.
I saw this preview a long time ago, and thought it could be a contender for an Oscar, and the word is it is going to be. I’m hoping this is one of those rare movies that manages to live up to the hype.

School for Scoundrels
Jon Heder, Billy Bob Thornton, Michael Clarke Duncan, Jacinda Barrett, David Cross and Sarah Silverman
Jon Heder plays a shy young man who enrolls in a course on how to succeed with women. Unfortunately, his sleazy teacher has designs on the woman of the hero's dreams.
Man, what a killer cast. Let’s hope that not all the laughs are in the trailer.

I just got the Lupe Fiasco CD, and if you are a hip-hop fan, this is a must-have—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.

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.
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 awesome.
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.
Nacho Libre: The funniest movie of the year. Jack Black rocks.
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 nothing else.