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Sunday, Dec 17, 2006

The New York Times Dessert Cookbook by Florence Fabricant [$29.95]

For the foodies in your life, here’s the full course meal.  Terri Pischoff Wuerthner, a 10th generation Cajun, offers up both a primer on Cajun cooking as well as a wealth of family stories alongside a treasure trove of classic Acadian favorites, including staples like jambalaya (several varieties) and etouffee and family specialties such as shrimp fricassee.  The best part of the book is the section on the basics of this delicious cuisine, including lessons on concocting a perfect roux and how to cook rice to best accompany these dishes.  Finish up with beignets or head over to The New York Times Dessert Cookbook to discover more than 400 recipes straight out of some of Manhattan’s best restaurant kitchens.  This volume covers dessert from A to Z, with some of the most indulgent inventions you can imagine.  If you can find the time to bake such delicacies as “lemon coconut cake served with raspberry coulis”, you’re likely to ascend to true foodie heaven.


 


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Sunday, Dec 17, 2006

With the recent suggestion that XTC’s recording days may be over (at least as far as founding bassist Colin Moulding is concerned), one is left to wonder about the future of Swindon’s finest. Actually fans don’t need to imagine anything—they can simply pick up this magnificent eight CD set of demos (along with a bonus ninth disc and a companion book penned by guitarist/god Andrew Partridge) and hear all the songs that may forever be lost on the winds of artistic destiny. Criminally unappreciated in their time, XTC is comparable only to The Beatles in breadth and scope of their musical acumen. Though only Andy participated here, the link to XTC’s overall sound is never too far away. As either a testament or tombstone, pop doesn’t get any more masterful than this.


 


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Sunday, Dec 17, 2006

Rome: The Complete First Season [HBO - $99.98]


HBO took a huge gamble with this potentially problematic dramatic series. As periods go, Ancient Rome has always had a certain staid Hollywood approach to its production design—massive columns, ornate statuary, people parading around in pristine togas. But the producers of this revisionist version of history wanted to make the era a living, breathing place, with recognizable and realistic elements. They’ve succeeded beyond any TV fans wildest dreams. Easily taking its place with channel champions The Sopranos as mandatory viewing, the current trend towards quick turnaround releases of single season box sets means that followers can drink in the incredible designs—and delicious narrative dynamics—of this sensational series over and over again.


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Sunday, Dec 17, 2006

Playboy After Dark [Morada Vision - $39.98]


In 1959, Hugh Hefner needed a way to expand his burgeoning Playboy empire. The magazine, while successful, was still tagged as an unacceptable social pariah. Hoping to clean up his pornographer’s profile, Hefner got a local Chicago TV station to produce his “classy” variety show, Playboy’s Penthouse. Sadly, sponsors were hard to find, and after a short run, it was cancelled. Fast forward eight years, and suddenly it’s the sexual revolution. Hefner sensed a chance to retake the airwaves and created Playboy After Dark. Lasting only one season, it too became a cultural icon, a glamorized look at debauchery as a debonair lifestyle. With a three disc set of six episodes finally hitting store shelves, new generations can see just how corny – and creative – these antiestablishment shows really were.


 


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Saturday, Dec 16, 2006


Looking to seek their fortune in the Colorado territory, a group of miners follow fellow gold rusher Alferd Packer deep into the Rocky Mountains. Along the way, they run into a band of scurvy trappers who steal Packer’s prized pony Liane. No longer concerned about wealth or riches, angry Al marches the mystified men farther off the well-beaten path and closer to death’s doorway. A stop-off at a local Ute Indian Reservation provides a last chance at avoiding tragedy, but Packer will not be persuaded. He eventually places his party into one Donner of a dilemma. And soon, it’s shinbones and short ribs for everyone as fallen members of the ore obsessives become bar-b-qued and fricasseed. Strangely, only Packer escapes. When pressed, he tells a wild tale of murder, mayhem, and massive helpings of man meat. It’s enough to put you off your pemmican as a Broadway-style back story leads to a tuneful trial and an even more melodious mob scene with everyone trying to determine if Al is a real life butt muncher, or just the subject of an insane song saga called Cannibal!: The Musical.


Outrageous, amateurish, guaranteed to make your toes tap, your fingers snap, and your gag reflex respond all in one sitting, Cannibal!: The Musical is the small, silly sapling from which a mighty comedy oak eventually grew. The titanic tree of unbridled, brave humor is today known as South Park and the creators of that crazy comic chaos are Matt Stone and his partner in perversity, Trey Parker. Trey is the tricky mastermind behind this musical version of the (supposed) crimes of Colorado’s most infamous flesh-eater, Alferd Packer. Anyone who has ever doubted Parker’s flourishing genius with paper cut-out cartoon characters need look no further than this ambitious, anarchic pseudo-student film to realize that he (along with Stone) were bound for bigger, longer, and uncut things. Cannibal! is filled with juvenile humor, unprofessional performances, lapses in taste and tone, and—above all—a severe drop-off in inventiveness toward the end. But it also contains classic tainted Tin Pan Alley tunes, a genuine love of gore horror films, and enough sharp, hilarious wit to outshine a few hundred Hollywood dark gross-out comedies. Cannibal!: The Musical is an idea that shouldn’t work (and occasionally heaves and lurches like a block and tackle about to fail), but thanks to Parker’s vision and his merry band of borderline student psychotics (the film was made while Trey and pals were at the University of Colorado film school), he manages to corral Cannibal‘s potential calamities and make the mess work. It is far from perfect, but it’s also entertaining, endearing, and filled with infectious, fantastic musical numbers.


This may be the very definition of a cult film. It is a movie made for a specific mindset. You are either “in tune” to its troubled, terrific manic mantra or not. No amount of big screen talkback or audience participation prop pandering will make it click. You will either “get” Cannibal!: The Musical or it will seem static, insipid, and scattered. Just like his efforts on that Comedy Central kiddie show (or the unjustly dumped sitcom spoof That’s My Bush), Parker operates from a big picture, avoiding a non-stop salvo of junky jokes to hopefully create a certain amount of depth and irony to his work. His goal always seems to be the complete deconstruction of typical cinematic and humor norms, only to rebuild them with his own twists. Many critics clamor that Parker and Stone are irrevocably stuck in an infantile world of farts, feces, and offensiveness (stereotyped Japanese men as Ute Indians?). And Cannibal! could very well be used as an example of such salacious obsessions. But in reality, it is a smart take-off on the musical format mixed with historical drama and laced with a noticeably lowbrow sense of stupid humor—and it succeeds more times than it derails. There are some forgivable lapses in character and plot development (the trappers should have had more involvement in the story) and the good-natured goofiness of the songs leave you wanting more of them (there are a couple of lost tracks—a barroom rap/funk spectacular called “I’m Shatterproof” and the cautionary choral entitled “Don’t Be Stupid Motherf******s”). Still, Parker is out to simultaneously celebrate Packer and bury him. And he does so with a little song, a little dance, and a lot of fake blood down the pants.


Surprisingly, Cannibal!: The Musical understands the strange dynamic of having characters break out into song and plays on that unreal magic magnificently. Where else would you find victims of frostbite, so hungry they are unable to move or even sit up straight, singing a joyful—if immobile—roundelay of special sentimental wishes called “That’s All I’m Asking For”? Or how about a lynch mob gaily swing choiring their way through a jubilant reading of the local riot act called “Hang the Bastard!”? The juxtaposition of traditionally non-musical moments with outrageous parodies of Great White Way standards is what marks Cannibal! (and South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut for that matter) a step above other attempted mismatching. Parker is a gifted writer, and along with original score arrangements by Rich Sanders, the songs are rich, resonant, and instantly memorable. Indeed, this flesh-eating effort may be the first fright flick you’ll ever find yourself humming afterward.


Some of the efforts in the sonic domain would have been better spent in the script department. Admittedly written over a couple of nights, there is a heavy reliance on Cartman and Kyle style curse word putdowns and silly non-sequiturs. But every once in a while, the cast’s comic timing kicks in and the humor is randy, robust, and rib tickling. With exceptional production values (the crew used several actual locations from Packer’s past and a perfectly recreated ghost town to provide untold realistic set design delights) and that great score, Cannibal!: The Musical is a recommended pre-success visit to a podunk mountain town filled with fledgling funny men in training. If the idea of a mock-historical western that is part Brigadoon and mostly Sweeney Todd sends your satire senses into a shiver, then Cannibal!: The Musical is the movie for you. While it may have some substandard elements, it’s still as funny and fresh as a baked potato. It’s a spadoinkle film!


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