A handy guide to movies, CDs, DVDs, TV shows, and books that made the grade (A- or better) in EW during the past month

By EW Staff
July 28, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT

MOVIES

MONSTER HOUSE
The voices of Steve Buscemi, Nick Cannon, Maggie Gyllenhaal (PG)
If cars can be anthropomorphized and turned into beings with personalities, why not houses? That conceit — a cranky haunted home in need of some serious improvement — propels this summer gem from first-time feature director Gil Kenan, who furnishes a kids’ tale with dazzling CG animation and a cool, sly wit.

CARS
Voices of Owen Wilson, Paul Newman, Bonnie Hunt (G)
The geniuses at Pixar have created a star vehicle for a bunch of…star vehicles. A bunch of wisecracking automobiles, to be exact. Director John Lasseter (Toy Story, A Bug’s Life) ably mines the pleasures of small-town America you can’t see from any highway.

WHO KILLED THE ELECTRIC CAR?
(PG) General Motors, that’s who. This summer’s ”other” eco-consciousness-raising documentary examines, with prosecutorial zeal, the tragic and all-too-brief life of an emissions-free car.

MUSIC

JOHNNY CASH
American V
The later work of Cash — that is, the series of unforgettable recordings he made with producer Rick Rubin — was informed by an unshakable sense of his own mortality. And no more so than on the weary but defiant tracks of this haunting album.

KEANE
Under the Iron Sea
The sweeping piano accompaniments and obsessive-lover prose that once brought this Brit trio unfair comparisons to Radiohead and Coldplay have been replaced by gorgeous symphonic arrangements and more self-assured songs.

SUFJAN STEVENS
The Avalanche
Those who prefer their indie pop esoteric and literate should appreciate these tracks left over from Stevens’ glorious Prairie State ode, Illinois. Few can sing about Adlai Stevenson and Saul Bellow — and fewer still really mean it.

JOAN JETT AND THE BLACKHEARTS
Sinner
Crunchy riffs? Check. Big servings of sass and grit? Check. Raspy, sexy vocals? Check. No doubt about it, this is Ms. Jett’s best work in years.

THELONIOUS MONK with JOHN COLTRANE
The Complete 1957 Riverside Recordings
It’s not an exaggeration to describe this collaboration as history in the making.

GOLDEN SMOG
Another Fine Day
These alt-country pioneers have adopted a sound that is less rootsy, even as the songwriting turns more pungent and evocative.

DVDS

YI YI
Wu Nianzhen, Elaine Jin, Jonathan Chang
(Unrated) Writer-director Edward Yang explores, in great and loving detail, the business of everyday life for three generations of a Taipei family. Chang, in particular, shines as a young boy tormented by his own curiosity (and a pack of girls). This spiffy new Criterion release boasts a terrific transfer and lotsa cool extras.

WHY WE FIGHT
(PG-13) The long-term effects of that murky governmental/corporate culture Eisenhower called the ”military-industrial complex” are laid out in Eugene Jarecki’s provocative documentary — and we should be both frightened and angry.

JOHN WAYNE — JOHN FORD FILM COLLECTION
(Unrated) If John Ford truly is, as many critics and academics think, one of the world’s all-time great directors, and John Wayne was his all-time favorite actor, why wouldn’t you buy this amazing eight-film set? Reach for your wallet, mister, nice and slow…

KISS KISS, BANG BANG
Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer (R)
A petty thief, on the run from cops in New York, finds himself — after a series of strange encounters — in Los Angeles, preparing for a screen test by trailing a tough PI (who happens to be gay). Beyond being a swell piece of comedy noir, this film is also a swell piece of movie-making that reminds us of the superlative talents of Downey, Kilmer, and writer-director Shane Black.

TV

Entourage
(HBO, Sundays, 10 — 10:30 p.m.)
In season 3 of HBO’s delectable summer treat, the pitch-perfect ensemble is back in full force as Vince and crew deal with the aftermath of Aquaman‘s success. Real-life guest stars like Paul Haggis lend Hollywood weight, and, as always, Jeremy Piven hammers it home as Vince’s charmingly incorrigible agent, Ari. Lloyd!!

BROTHERHOOD
(Showtime, Sundays, 10 — 11 p.m.)
Politics and family ties get twisted when two Irish-American siblings — state legislator Tommy (Jason Clarke) and gangster older brother Michael (Jason Isaacs) — battle it out to see who’s king of the Hill district in working-class Providence.

LIFE ON MARS
(BBC America, Mondays, 10 — 11 p.m.)
Follow the challenges facing a modern-day detective (State of Play‘s John Simm) after he gets hit by a car while tracking a serial killer and ends up in…1973? This is not your mother’s procedural drama.

BOOKS

THE RUINS
by Scott Smith (Horror)
Tourists encounter unspeakable terrors when they find themselves stranded in Mexico’s jungles. Smith, in his first novel since 1993’s A Simple Plan, crafts a taut thriller that can deliver chills on even the hottest of days.

CROSS COUNTRY
by Robert Sullivan (Nonfiction)
Sullivan’s absorbing travelogue of his family’s drive across the U.S. is a real trip.

THE NATURAL DISORDER OF THINGS
by Andrea Canobbio (Mystery)
A beautiful dame, a solitary architect, and a dead dog are all entwined in this cleverly sinister, noirish tale, translated from its native Italian.

GET A LIFE
by Philippe Dupuy and Charles Berberian (Comic)
Fall in love with relationship-awkward Parisian Mr. Jean in the hilarious, touching volume of his earliest misadventures.

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