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Sunday, Dec 9, 2007

It’s considered by many to be director Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s masterpiece, an over 15-hour epic that took nearly a year to complete. Focusing on Franz Biberkopf, a typical German underling drawn deep into the underworld with no escape in sight, the moviemaking maverick used the complex character study as a corrosive allegory for the rise of Nazism. Finally available in all its episodic glory, the premiere preservationists at Criterion flesh out the multidisc packaging with all manner of supplements – the best of which remains the original, 1931 film by Phil Jutzi. Oddly enough, it only runs 90 minutes.


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Sunday, Dec 9, 2007

This is not Sinatra in his prime, the too-perfect demigod who ruled the roost of American popular music for roughly a decade and a half beginning in the early ‘50s and ending sometime after the ascent of the Beatles. This is the young Sinatra, the jazz singer who fought his way up from obscurity singing with Harry James and Tommy Dorsey’s wartime big hands, who broke out of the established mode of mannered slow dance music to create for himself an improbable career as a universal heartthrob and slightly dangerous talent as a brash interpreter of popular song. The four discs presented here arrange Sinatra’s career in a roughly thematic arc, beginning with the most indicative material of the Big Band years before segueing into his mushrooming solo career and the creative adventurousness that defined the era immediately preceding his mid-’50s breakout period. Not exactly chronological, it still does a good job of presenting exactly how Sinatra’s music evolved during the period in question, taking him from a precocious youth in giant suits (strikingly distinctive fashion choices which dimly anticipate David Byrne in Stop Making Sense), facing off against crowds of rapturous bobbysoxers, up to the point where he became something more: an artist of lasting import and impeccable taste.


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Sunday, Dec 9, 2007

Just the thing for your favorite eco-conscious consumer pal, this mini coffee table book highlights practical, whimsical, and artistic objects, each made from recycled materials put to innovative use. Divided into sections like ‘fashion’, ‘house’ and ‘outside’, the sheer variety of things created from materials that could have become trash or actually were reclaimed from the local dump is amazing. From ‘elephant poo poo paper’ (prettier than it sounds) to a ‘sun trap handbag’ crafted with a solar panel in the base that gently glows when opened, allowing you to find your keys at the very bottom, these objects are both usable and sustainable. Don’t miss the snazzy bottle openers made from recycled bike chains or the oddly mesmerizing ‘giggles bracelet’ created from the slightly creepy faces of discarded Barbie dolls.


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Sunday, Dec 9, 2007

The War is one of the most educational, informative, enlightening, and inspiring documentaries ever made. Equally important, this documentary feels like a well deserved tribute to those who fought WWII, at the battlefront or at home, and had to make immense sacrifices. The War makes us think about the many social and cultural complexities that haunt warfare, and are often ignored by books and popular media. For those who missed this groundbreaking documentary when it first aired, or for those who wish to revisit its enlightening presentation of WWII, PBS Home Video has released The War in this lavish DVD set. The seven chapters of The War are spread over six discs and include a couple of interesting extra features. Most notably is the audio commentary by Burns on two episodes, where he recalls the genesis and challenges in the making of the series. A making-of documentary and a few deleted scenes nicely round up the package.


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Sunday, Dec 9, 2007

It’s easy to want to dismiss Jars of Clay’s Christmas Songs because, really, the world probably doesn’t need another “boys with guitars play Christmas songs” album. That they haven’t done it to date (aside from an early EP) in their ten-year career, however, might indicate that they were waiting for the right time, when they had enough quality originals and covers to put out something wonderful. Indeed, Christmas Songs is a wonderful little album, with a version of Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” that miraculously doesn’t make you want to bang your head against a wall until it bleeds, and a perfectly majestic original called “Peace Is Here”, which sounds like something Lennon might have written were he still around. The crowning achievement here is an electronic take on the standard “O Little Town of Bethlehem” which changes the melody entirely, in the process re-establishing the solemnity and quiet majesty of the song. It’s hard to say that Christmas Songs will be remembered for years from now, but for right now, it’s refuge from the bombast of the season, a perfectly subtle slice of Heaven.


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