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HAVING DIGITAL CABLE: Despite the fact that getting digital cable is a chore, requiring an hour-long wait in line, the folks at Time Warner have one heckuva product on their hands, proving that the best things are worth waiting for. The self-installation kits were easy-peasy to use, the cable modem makes the Internet as fast as DSL and the on demand features virtually ensure that there's always porn when I need it. But what really gave me the warm fuzzies wasn't that block of Cars' videos on VH-1 Classic at two in the morning, it was the letter from someone at Time Warner offering to do anything in their power to help me get digital cable after last week's complaint. Bringing a multi-national corporation to its knees is extremely satisfying and so is finally having digital cable. A- -- Eric Gillin

BRAVO'S CELEBRITY POKER SHOWDOWN: The only reason Bravo still occupies a spot on your cable box is because the pussies at NBC relegated Queer Eye to basic cable. Now the Peacock's trying to position Bravo as the network for hip niche programming. Their latest attempt to fill time between West Wing reruns is Celebrity Poker Showdown. The show features celebrities playing Texas Hold'em for a chance to win $250,000 for charity. If the first episode is any indication, Bravo's definition of "celebrity" is shockingly broad. Sure, they got David Schwimmer, Don Cheadle and Ben Affleck, whose shit-eating grin makes him look like he's a sip of Chardonnay away from a full-blown relapse. But they also booked the dude who played the gay friend on Sex in the City, and some blonde skank who claims she's on CSI. Any buzz the show has disappears when the recently Gigli-ized Affleck is the biggest star in the room. And it doesn't matter that the Travel Channel's World Poker Tour is ten times more entertaining than this wet fart. The pretty people will rule the game until the Fab 5 are dispatched to makeover Doyle Brunson's flabby ass. D -- S.E. Shepherd

THE POKER PLAYING ON BRAVO'S CELEBRITY POKER SHOWDOWN: I can forgive bad lighting, a hideous set, poor pacing, pathetic banter between segments and irritating graphics. I cannot, however, forgive poor play. Last weekend I taught my little sister how to play hold 'em and she probably could have won this tournament. I was rooting for Don Cheadle, but he kept going in with unsuited 5-7s, and David Schwimmer seemed okay, but played pocket aces scared even after flopping a set. Emily Procter's poker ability and showbiz career have something in common -- you will be hard pressed to find proof of either. As one would expect of a man with a gambling problem, Ben Affleck made the final round, only to push too hard and tilt after a bad beat near the end. The winner, Willie Garson of Sex In The City, is maybe the worst poker player in the history of organized gambling. He sucked out on everyone, all day, all the time, with shitty cards and then won, making him the kind of guy you want to smash in the hand with a hammer. The only things saving this show in my eyes are co-host Phil Gordon, a former poker pro, and the fact that I love poker, even bad poker. Besides, I can't wait to see Coolio betting the big blind next to Paul Rudd. C -- Tom Hoban

THOSE COMMERCIALS WHERE SOMEONE GETS A CAR AS A PRESENT: It's December, and that can only mean one thing: the reemergence of those commercials where someone gets a car as a present. You know the commercial. The couple is sitting inside on a snowy Christmas morn, sipping hot chocolate and frolicking in the wrapping-paper remnants of another great year of gifting. After a quick giggle, the perky brunette wife coyly presents the totally clueless husband with a single, silver key. They scurry out to the driveway where the husband finds a fully loaded Lexus wrapped in a giant red bow. "Merry Christmas, honey," the wife whispers as the husband stares at the $60,000 whip. What a great


Christmas. The part we don't see on TV, though, is ten seconds later when hubby realizes his dumbshit wife just handed him a $600 monthly car payment. "How the fuck am I supposed to pay for this?" he screams as wifey slinks back inside. "There's a reason I drive a goddamn Tercel, bitch!" Pure holiday magic. F -- S.E. Shepherd

UGG BOOTS: Where I was raised upstate, the creepy hippies who lived in yurts on the outskirts of town would rent a cheap storefront every christmas and sell ugg boots and cheesy animal skin vests. When I was 7 or 8 I knew a kid whose father hunted deer and stuff they made the Ugg boots from. One day I was walking in the woods with the kid and he said; "My dad can stretch his dick out to here!" while pointing to a spot on his thigh. I stopped hanging out with that kid. Ugg boots have given me the creeps ever since. F- -- kelly denison-cole

THE LAST SAMURAI: In this thrilling movie, Tom Cruise learns the ancient Japanese art of Bukakke. I wish. Actually, this movie is all about the nobility of Tom Cruise, the most conceited man in the world. Tom plays a soldier who makes amends for helping to destroy not one but two ancient cultures: Native American and Samurai. The camera is on Tom about 95% of the time, and in the movie, over a 10-month-span, Tom becomes a Samurai expert, masters Japanese, and personally convinces the Emperor of Japan to change his mind about signing a treaty with the United States. When the Emperor asks Tom how a certain Samurai leader died, Tom responds, "I'll tell you how he lived." Yep. It's that type of movie. Only saving grace: a cool fight scene between the Samurais and a bunch of Ninjas. D- -- Josh May

TRANSFORMERS' UNICRON ACTION FIGURE: Like the Death Star, Unicron was built to destroy planets and instill fear. But he didn't resort to a pathetic beam of light to do his dirty work. He simply swallowed whole worlds into his giant, gaping maw like so many Krispy Kremes. Oh, and he could transform into a gigantic robot... with the voice of Orson Welles (go ahead, look it up on IMDB). If you are male and grew up in the '80s, you know that Unicron was, and apparently still is, the ultimate Transformer. Even with the return of this phenomenon to toy shelves, I never expected to see those glowing red eyes staring up at me between G.I. Joe and He-Man. Could it really be? He was, of course, out of scale with his Autobot and Decepticon pals and loses points for being smaller than Fortress Maximus, but the detail was amazing. Now that I have a mortgage, the $50 price tag leaves me admiring from behind the plastic, even for something I would have given my left nut for five... er, 15 years ago. Maybe it is time to start making babies after all. A- -- Tim Brixius

KUROSAWA RETROSPECTIVES: Hey, no one loves Rashomon more than I do, but is it really necessary for New York repertory theaters to average FIVE tributes to the anti-Zen master a year? Am I unaware of some implicit provision of the Marshall Plan to foster post-war Japanese cinema, or are we all basking just a little too enthusiastically in the glow of the Lost in Translation success story? Okay, so Star Wars owes its every frame to The Magic Fortress, but does that REALLY merit fifty additional examinations of swordplay-as-metaphor-for-good-versus-evil within the span of any given MoMA calendar month? What ever happened to basing lengthy career retrospectives on criteria like stylistic range? Besides, if I wanted to watch military derring-do against a backdrop of Eastern ruins, I'd turn on CNN. And just imagine the potential downturn in overexposed 12-hour Quentin Tarantino efforts! Still not convinced? I close with six words: Tom Cruise in The Last SamuraiC -- Rachel Natelson

INTERSTELLA 5555: THE 5TORY OF THE 5ECRET 5TAR 5YSTEM: In my mind the unholy trinity consists of equal parts anime (for its big eyes, nonexistent noses, and analogous plot devices), house music (for its uninspired and unyielding thump-thump-thump-thump-chicka), and musicals (because it truly sucks balls when characters spontaneously break into impeccably choreographed song and dance routines). Then why can't I stop watching Interstella 5555? Dubbed "The animated House Musical" by musicians Daft Punk and anime pioneer Leiji Matsumoto, this 67-minute masterpiece essentially illustrates the plot of Daft Punk's brilliant 2001 pseudo-concept album Discovery. Despite a few flaws and a goofy-assed subtitle Interstella 5555 manages to get its point across: that the music industry is a soul sucking force of evil bent on global domination… More importantly it reiterates the timeless message that there's really nothing cooler than a guitar shaped spaceship. Harder. Better. Faster. Stronger. A+ -- Z.

THOSE NOISES YOU MAKE WHEN YOU GET UP: When my friend Jon -- 38, like me -- started going *hnrr* every time he got out of his chair in the office, I realised we were all getting older. And realised what kind of noises I was making, too. There was the vague *unhh* when I get out of bed at weekends when the back's giving me gyp due to lying in for too long. And the slight *gnrr* when I bend down to tie the laces in my trainers (should I still be allowed to wear them past 30? Should I have spent £50 on a tracksuit jacket in a surf shop in Notting Hill at my advanced age?). The worst thing, of course, is that you don't notice any of these things until your whippersnapper mates of 28 point them out to you. Bloody kids. D- -- Clair Woodward

SALVATION ARMY SANTAS: They are the scourge of the strip mall, a speed bump of guilt on the way to some cleansing holiday conspicuous consumption. Their affectless pleas for a little change for the needy fall on ears deafened and jaded by the drunk who promised he'd be buying a sandwich but instead drinks that 40 we could've better drunk ourselves. Those smudged red suits are poorly tailored at best, oily rags on a bleached skeleton at worst. Don't get me started on the bell. OK, get me started. The bell makes us want to kick the cutest puppy in a snowman sweater we can find, clutching at our ears for the ringing to stop. Don't these beggars see that our arms are laden with Nordstrom bags and there's only 22 shopping days left until Christmas? If we had a free hand we'd have it in our pocket, merrily diddling ourselves to the tune of Jingle Bells, not tossing some change into a red spitoon. Fuck you, Salvation Army Santa. We're naughty and keeping our change. If we want to help the poor, we'll drop last week's issue of Entertainment Weekly in the wicker basket at Starbucks. F -- Bunsen

THE WORD "TWEEN": This term drives me crazy. Just do a Google News search with the term and you get a total of 102 articles since November 1, 2003. Most of the articles address the changing "tastes" and "needs" of children aged nine to 12. Apparently, this age goup is growing according to The Tennesseean. No it's not morons. This age group was always there but they were playing Nintendo and reading The Babysitter's Club books before the advertising agencies got a hold of them. Tweens do not need lava lamps and Moroccan doorway beads, which are now on sale at Toys R Us. These are for bachelor pads and marijuana dens in college. This Christmas, why don't you buy the KIDS you know a Ouija Board instead. F -- Kathie Fries

BACARDI & COLA TV ADS: Let's hear it for the distilled spirits industry, folks. The voluntary industry-wide ban on TV ads that spanned a few decades was an admirable display of solidarity. Really, it was impressive. Then they finally decided to relax the restrictions a bit, and Bacardi goes and ruins it for everybody. If you haven't already seen the ads for "Bacardi and Cola," they feature a pair of 70s porn wannabes -- one white man (Bacardi) and one black man (Cola) -- who serve as spokesmen for the company's new slogan "They Get the Job Done." Marketing your product to date rapists and roofie dealers is a bit 1994, but they get extra credit for trying hard to piss off those do-gooders at MADD. A- -- J.F.