A handy guide to movies, CDs, DVDs, TV shows, and books that made the grade (A- or better) in EW during the past month
Ryan Gosling, Shareeka Epps (R)
A genre defined by the feel-good triumphs of Lean on Me, Dangerous Minds, and To Sir, With Love is expanded in this story of a dedicated teacher at a Brooklyn junior high school who just happens to be a crackhead. At the center of this amazing movie is the performance of Gosling, whose small body of work already holds the promise of a brilliant career.
Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza (R)
Spelunking is, in itself, a dangerous enough pursuit: The tight spaces and near-liquid dark can easily vanquish the hardiest of souls. In his bracingly scary movie, director Neil Marshall adds a terrifying race of subterranean creepy flesh eaters (and neatly examines the postfeminist dynamics at work in the six members of this all-female cave-exploring crew). Smart, thrilling, and inventive, it’s the perfect movie to see with that friend of yours who still doesn’t know a modern horror masterpiece from, well, a hole in the ground.
ROME: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON
Ciarán Hinds, Kevin McKidd, Ray Stevenson (Unrated)
This is hardly your average swords-and-sandals drama — there’s enough intrigue, blood, and sex to make Gladiator look like A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Lend this standout series your (eyes and) ears…
ERIC ROHMER’S SIX MORAL TALES
Jean-Louis Trintignant, Jean-Claude Brialy (Unrated)
Words almost always speak louder than actions in these half-dozen conversation pieces from the prolific director. My Night at Maud’s, in particular, earns big talking points.
APOCALYPSE NOW: THE COMPLETE DOSSIER
Martin Sheen (R)
Both versions of Francis Ford Coppola’s flawed Vietnam War opus are presented here — along with some great extras, including Coppola’s insightful commentaries. Sadly MIA: the essential 1991 doc Hearts of Darkness.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Nora Zehetner (R)
It’s a thoroughly daunting conceit: presenting a young man’s investigation into the murder of a fellow high school student as a modern-day noir. But writer-director Rian Johnson — assisted by a terrific cast — pulls it off. It’s all there, from the canted camera angles to the mysterious femme fatale. Rarely do genre conventions work so unconventionally.
(Discovery Channel, Tuesdays, 9-10 p.m.) A fine mess: Host Mike Rowe scours high and low to uncover those who lead lives of grime so we don’t have to. From sifting through turkey carcasses to taking down moldy Rose Bowl Parade floats, Rowe approaches his tasks with genuine curiosity, injecting a dose of humanity into each chore without ever stooping to condescension.
(Webisodes, nbc.com) The stellar Office support cast shines in this weekly series of original two-to-three-minute gems. Looks like someone’s ripped off $3,000 from the company, and it’s up to accountants Angela, Oscar, and Kevin to root out the perp, questioning their co-workers to often hilarious effect.
(Sundance, Wednesdays, 9-9:30 p.m.) A captivating reality show that takes an inside look at Florida Congressman Robert Wexler and his staff’s day-to-day affairs. It’s The West Wing meets Capitol Hill, minus the hyper-articulate Aaron Sorkin banter.
JAMES TIPTREE, JR.
by Julie Phillips (Biography)
A smart, complex portrait of Alice B. Sheldon, an insecure Virginian who found her voice by writing under the guise of another persona — 1960s and ’70s science fiction author James Tiptree, Jr.
THE BEDROOM SECRETS OF THE MASTER CHEFS
by Irvine Welsh (Novel)
The latest from the Trainspotting author is a rip-roaring yarn about a carousing lush that’s both hard to stomach and impossible to put down.
THE LEFT BANK GANG
by Jason (Comic)
A witty, biting reimagining of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Ezra Pound as 1920s cartoonists in Paris.
by Daniel Woodrell (Novel)
Woodrell’s story of a 16-year-old girl in search of her father bursts with crackling prose and heartbreaking soul.