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Six Picks: Recommendations from the Monitor staff

Christopher Guest displays his musical talents, quirky 'This American Life' puts out a second DVD, Martin Luther King Day offers a chance to make a difference, and more.

January 16, 2009

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NIGEL TUFNEL'S SOFTER SIDE

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Free associate "Christopher Guest" and "music" and you're almost certain to blurt out "Nigel Tufnel," the name of the East London headbanger in the cult-classic film "This is Spinal Tap." But the accomplished mocumentarian has a sideline as one-third of the instrumental trio "The Beyman Bros," which just released their debut CD Memories of Summer as a Child. This is original, ambient joy: the pleasing acoustic/electric, synthesized strains of lightly picked mandolin, guitar, keyboard, and light percussion.

historical perspective... as we make history

"Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!" was the rallying cry of Alabama governor George Wallace. John Frankenheimer's award-winning 1997 TV miniseries, George Wallace, which humanized this controversial figure, comes out on DVD inauguration day, making it a good way to measure just how far we've come. It stars Gary Sinise, who won an Emmy for his portrayal, and Angelina Jolie in her first major role.

for the ideas hungry

It's not new but it remains a unique aggregator of fascinating, well-written articles and essays on everything about culture, art, and literature. Arts & Letters daily – www.aldaily.com – adds fresh items each day, as its name suggests, from all over the English-speaking world. Worth a visit for a thought-provoking read.

Radio comes to DVD

NPR listeners have long been fans, but now everyone can enjoy the quirky intelligence of This American Life. In the TV show's second season, now on DVD, host Ira Glass makes the most of his visual opportunities – giving viewers a chance to get a gander at a ladder, fashioned from dental floss, that was used in a failed prison break, for instance. Glass also uses his pay cable platform to push the envelope – a couple of segments are edgier than anything ever heard on NPR. Talk radio never looked so good.

a classic, Revisited

The latest version of Evelyn Waugh's 1945 novel, Brideshead Revisited, which explores faith, love, and the British aristocracy, is out on DVD this week. The 2008 movie is a more egalitarian and faith-oriented adaptation of the book than earlier renditions. And don't miss the superb performance by Academy Award-winning actress Emma Thompson as Lady Marchmain and the marvelous Michael Gambon, who plays her estranged husband.

Make change

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?' " In 1994, legislation challenging Americans to transform Martin Luther King Day (celebrated on Jan. 19 this year) into a day of citizen action volunteer service was signed into law. For opportunities to serve in your area this weekend, go to USAService.org.

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