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Ken Tucker on Sofia Coppola's post-punk perfection

Ken Tucker celebrates a post-punk classic in ”Marie Antoinette,” Alec Baldwin and Forest Whitaker on TV, music by Citizen Cope, and ”American Dreamz” on DVD

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Kirsten Dunst: Leigh Johnson; Gang of Four: Robert Matheu/Retna Ltd.

Ken Tucker on Sofia Coppola’s post-punk perfection

1. Gang of Four’s ”Natural’s Not In It” in Marie Antoinette
Not to take anything away from director Sofia Coppola and star Kirsten Dunst’s pink-taffeta tear through history, but really, the song Coppola chose as the opening-credits music for Marie says it all: ”Natural’s Not In It,” from the Leeds post-punk band’s 1979 debut album Entertainment!, sports a title that suggests the film’s artful artificiality. The song itself, an exhilarating chunk of jagged guitar chords and rumbling drum rhythm, gets right to the center of the movie’s look at willfully innocent decadence and class-system cluelessness: ”The problem of leisure/What to do for pleasure” states the thesis nicely, as does the song’s falling-away final refrain, ”This heaven/Gives me migraine.” The music and the movie will not.

2. Citizen Cope’s ”Brother Lee”
From Every Waking Moment (RCA)
Clarence Greenwood — a.k.a. Citizen Cope — sings in a slurry moan about missed romantic connections, lost family hopes, and fond dreams. He’s making white-man’s funk with acoustic guitar and a subtly powerful, rolling rhythm section. On ”Brother Lee,” Cope talks about a brother named Lee ”who looks just like me/Got a lot of enemies,” and so he (and Greenwood?) spend their lives on the road, fleeing from danger, but also commitment, and the possibility of forgiveness and, perhaps, love. It’s a terrific travel song, taking in the whole country as traversed by car, train, and plane, with a propulsive groove that makes him talk-sing faster, with great emotional urgency.

3. Alec Baldwin as current TV champ
He’s single-handedly made 30 Rock worth watching, and the man is peerless as a talk-show guest currently making the promotional rounds. Baldwin had Letterman in stitches with his being-directed-by-De Niro impersonation, and Conan was gasping for breath when Baldwin did a jabbering Martin Scorsese discussing improvisation on the set of The Departed. I’m sick and tired of the petty tabloid reports of his off-camera temper: even if true, artistry trumps a lot of bad behavior.

4. American Dreamz
(Universal DVD)
This woefully underrated satire of both American Idol (Hugh Grant gets the Simon Cowell cockiness just right) and the Presidency (Dennis Quaid is a Bush-surrogate denied access to the real world by his power-drunk handlers) deserves its place among contemporary works that document the mad foolishness of our time. It’s my favorite Mandy Moore movie.

5. Forest Whitaker on ER
(NBC, Thurs., 10-11 p.m.)
Denied of his rightful Emmy for last season’s turn as a very mean, neurotic cop on The Shield, the movies’ current Idi Amin arrives on the small screen in a five-episode arc as a luckless patient at County General. I know, I know — aren’t all the patients luckless there? But Whitaker, who breathes life into the cliché ”eloquent silence,” is bound to be fascinating as a sufferer (he has a stroke after being admitted with a bad cough) amidst all of ER‘s standard hubbub.