Media Mix

A Quick Take on New Releases for Sunday, September 2, 2007

  Title Basic Story Sample Grab What You'll Love What You Won't Grade
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An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England

By Brock Clarke



When the homes of literary icons go up in flames, suspicion turns to self-described "bumbler" Sam Pulsifer, who served a youthful prison stint for accidentally torching Emily Dickinson's house.

"Who knew that there were so many people with so many necessary things to say about themselves?"

— Sam wonders at the burgeoning memoir section in a local bookstore

While the premise screams farce, Clarke uses his placid Everyman to poignantly illuminate the many mysteries embedded within each family.

The novel's first third is something of a slow burn until the author perfects his mix of hilarity and heartbreak.

— Reviewed by Adriana Leshko

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Tree of Smoke

By Denis Johnson

Farrar, Straus and Giroux


The cultishly adored author delivers a rough, labyrinthine novel that tracks a group of soldiers and American agents negotiating life during the Vietnam War.

"Here, of course, where the people are so poor, so sick, you can't love them. It would pull you under. You would go under. Everyone here knows how to love, but love them back -- it's quicksand."

— A Catholic missionary ponders the landscape

Peppered with piercing images and vivid details, the story's finer moments read like a collective emotional history of a desperate age.

Johnson has built a following with spare, intense novels that home in on the essences of his subjects, but this work is off-puttingly all over the map.

— Sara Cardace

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La Radiolina

Manu Chao



The global pop icon returns with an often brisk, sometimes brilliant album. Will it make him a North American idol?

"Politik needs ignorance / Politik needs lies / Politik kills"

— "Politik Kills"

Fast but not too furious, Chao delivers his political salvos at tempos speedy enough to make most techno sound sluggish.

With 21 songs in multiple languages, it can get disorienting.

— Reviewed by Chris Richards

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Yellow Dog

Greg Brown



The throaty folk singer records a live benefit concert for the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve in Michigan.

"And I reckon where I'm headed / I might need me different clothes / Way up in Michigan / Where the Laughing River flows"

— "Laughing River"

Brown counters his coarse vocals (Tom Waits meets Van Morrison) with nimble guitar work.

Solo and unplugged, the set quickly starts to feel a bit samey.

— Reviewed by C.R.

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Sentences: The Life of M.F. Grimm

By Percy Carey and Ronald Wimberly

Vertigo/DC Comics


This autobiographical graphic novel opens with Carey getting shot and retraces his journey from childhood star on "Sesame Street" to underground rap icon.

"You might not recognize it, but this is how hip-hop began. Just big neighborhood parties where everyone from the block would come and have a good time."

— Carey reminisces about rap music's early days

With Wimberly's elastic drawings punctuating drama and humor, Carey skillfully transports hip-hop's braggadocio energy and irresistible rhythms onto the page.

Those looking for the debunking of street life's most troubling cliches may have to look elsewhere, as drugs and profanity abound in "Sentences."

— Reviewed by Evan Narcisse

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30 Rock: Season 1

Not rated



An ensemble comedy about a "Saturday Night Live"-style show follows the power struggles among the head writer (Tina Fey), an exec who oversees the show (Alec Baldwin) and the loose-cannon star (Tracy Morgan).

"I'm gonna make you a mix tape. You like Phil Collins?" "I've got two ears and a heart, don't I?"

— Tracy (Morgan) and Jack (Baldwin) seal a deal with a song

After a sluggish start, the show quickly became one of the weirdest and funniest on television. The generous package includes cast commentaries, deleted scenes and bloopers.

Those lacking a funny bone might not get the show's deadpan nuttiness.

— Reviewed by Greg Zinman

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The Wind That Shakes the Barley

Not rated



This Palme d'Or winner at Cannes takes place in 1920 when a med student (Cillian Murphy) becomes an Irish revolutionary who fights against his brother (Padraic Delaney) in the ensuing civil war.

"If we ratify this treaty, all we're changing is the accents of the powerful and the color of the flag."

— Freedom fighter Dan (Liam Cunningham) argues against establishing the Irish Free State.

The acting is uniformly strong, the cinematography captures the brilliant green of Ireland's rolling hills, and director Ken Loach teams up with a historian for an informative commentary.

The cliched brother-against-brother plot slows the film's second half. Some viewers might be bored by Loach's history-lesson didacticism.

— Reviewed by G.Z.

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Jeanne D'Arc

PlayStation Portable

Rated Teen



Take the tale of Joan of Arc. Add magic spells and armies of demons. Enjoy.

This history-fantasy hybrid is thoroughly engrossing, if a bit weird. Who knew St. Joan's holy army included so many anthropomorphic animals?

Unlike in most role-playing games, you can alter and customize your characters' skills before each battle.

The system of rules is as deep as the epic story line: Expect a tough learning curve.

— Reviewed by Christopher Healy


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Adapted from version orginally published in The Washington Post

© 2007 The Washington Post Company