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Sunday, Dec 17, 2006

Decades before he invaded the Great White Way with his musical version of the comedic masterpiece, The Producers, Mel Brooks was known for pushing the boundaries of taste and tact in service of his scandalous, scatological comedies. While the aforementioned classic is missing from this set and a pair of less than successful films—Robin Hood: Men in Tights and The Twelve Chairs—are included, this is still a comprehensive look at the crazed comic genius who first flummoxed a less than prepared, slightly prudish populace. Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, specifically, stand as benchmarks of expertly realized (and socially relevant) spoofs, while Silent Movie and History of the World, Part 1 proved that Brooks’ Borscht Belt bedlam could work in almost any cinematic genre.


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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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