Top Picks: 'Afghan Star,' Sistine Chapel, 1% Music, and other recommendations

Insightful 'Afghan Star' on DVD, the Sistine Chapel up close online, 1% Music compilation to help save the planet, and more top picks.

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    A contestant on 'Afghan Star,' Afghanistan's equivalent of 'American Idol.'
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'Idol' Afghan-style

A contestant on "American Idol" might risk humiliation, but a contestant on the Afghanistan "Idol" spinoff TV series "Afghan Star" could risk his or her life. The documentary "Afghan Star," now out on DVD, uses the TV show as a window on the entire Afghan culture. Under Taliban control in 1996, war-torn Afghanistan banned music, dance, movies, and television. It was not until 2005 that the ban was lifted, but warlords and Islamist leaders still exert a heavy toll. When one of the four finalists, 21-year-old Setara, lets her head scarf slip during her number, she is threatened and forced into hiding.

Sistine singularity

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If you are an art lover and can't quite swing a trip to Italy, now a team from Villanova University brings Vatican City's iconic Sistine Chapel to your fingertips with a 360-degree Internet tour – www.vatican.va/various/cappelle/sistina_vr/index.html. Granted unparalleled access, a team of faculty and students snapped several thousand digital photographs, including Michelangelo's famous frescoes. Stand in the center, zoom in, zoom out. It almost beats being there as you could rarely expect such unblocked viewing in the real chapel.

Welcome to Middle-Earth

Fans of the J.R.R. Tolkien classic, "Lord of the Rings," can mark April 6 on their calendars. Both Peter Jackson's film trilogy and Ralph Bakshi's animated version arrive in Blu-ray clarity – more detail, pristine sound, and a clearer view of both artists' creative visions. Extras include behind-the-scenes shorts, TV specials, literary analyses, and an interview with Bakshi. The films will also be available via cable and satellite on-demand options as well as a digital download at online retailers.

making a career out of intense curiosity

If you ever thought of conducting an experiment with pickle juice, you may be on your way to a career in science. Tune in to the PBS documentary, "Naturally Obsessed: The Making of a Scientist," April 8 at 8 p.m. (check local listings) to watch the trials and errors of three grad students as they learn what it takes – and discover that, yes, pickle juice is a superb catalyst if you know how to use it.

When girl meets boy

"An Education," just out on DVD, is a coming-of-age story about a precocious schoolgirl whose new, older boyfriend turns out not to be all that he seems. Adapted from a memoir by the British journalist Lynn Barber, the story follows Jenny, played by charismatic newcomer Carey Mulligan, as she encounters the school of life.

1% music

Saving the planet is not something you'd normally associate with downloading music, but a Vermont-based organization is making it possible with "1% for the Planet: The Music Vol. 1," a 41-track compilation featuring roots music veterans and up-and-comers that benefit its mission to persuade businesses to donate 1% of their sales to environmental organizations. The rare or live tracks have a similar homespun vibe. Standouts include California jam band ALO, indie pop duo The Submarines, and Jackson Browne. All 41 are available for $9.99 or 99 cents each at http://music.onepercentfortheplanet.org.

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