Kelly Willis finds her voice on ''Translated From Love.'' Plus: the RZA talks ''Shaolin,'' Jerry Lee Lewis inspires David Kirby's poetry; DVD sheds light on ''Army of Shadows,'' and Jeffrey Donovan lights up ''Burn Notice''

By Ken Tucker
Updated July 02, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT

Army of Shadows

  • Movie

Marvel(ette) at Kelly Willis’ new CD

1. Kelly Willis Becomes A One-Woman Girl Group on ”The More That I’m Around You,” on Translated From Love
(Ryko CD)
Willis has grown up and away from the music-industry-imposed image of her as a country-rock siren, pining for love and success. In fact, she tweaks the latter by covering Iggy Pop’s ”Success,” wittily rearranging the song to sound like a lost collaboration with the Sir Douglas Quintet. And you can’t fault her taste — three cuts by the perennially underrated Jules Shear attest to that. On ”The More That I’m Around You,” working with her husband — the wizard-musician Bruce Robison — the mother of four really takes off. The chanted la-la-la syllables in the chorus render her the twangy version of a female soul group like the Marvellettes, with whom Willis shares a clear-eyed, realistic romanticism that breaks your heart while melting it.

2. DVD Commentary of the Year Thus Far: The RZA on The 36th Chamber of Shaolin
(Dragon Dynasty DVD)
The Wu-Tang Clan man shares the recording studio with movie critic Andy Klein, and about 15 minutes into their scrupulous analysis of director Liu Chia-Liang’s 1978 martial-arts training-film saga, the RZA bedazzles both Klein and us with his vast knowledge of the entire genre, his acute analysis of the director’s body of work, and his endearing memories of seeing this movie first on TV as a child, and then later as an informed adult, experiencing the same thrills all over again. Klein graciously cedes much of the time here to the RZA, and kung fu has never sounded so intricate, inspiring, and wondrous.

3. Poet David Kirby Rocks the House In The House On Boulevard St.: New and Selected Poems
(Louisiana State University Press)
Kirby, who teaches at Florida State University, writes long poems with long lines — informal but not (ugh) ”confessional” — about life in and out of academia, with an invaluable appreciation for popular culture because he knows that it is culture, our country’s culture. To take just one fine example, from the middle of a lengthy account of a Jerry Lee Lewis concert he attended, called ”I Think Satan Done It”:

” …Jerry Lee begins his concert by saying, ‘Before
we start rockin’ and getting’ it and throwin’ stuff and goin’ to jail,
I wanna sing a song for Johnny Cash,’ the song being ‘I’m Going
To Take My Vacation In Heaven,’ which brings tears
to the eyes of many of the 1,500 because of its aesthetics rather than
its expressed truth, for while the young may weep at circumstance,
as a student’s father told her recently,
the old weep at beauty because they already know the world is sad…”

4. The Director-As-Dictator In the Anti-Dictator Masterwork Army of Shadows
(Criterion Collection DVD)
Jean-Pierre Melville’s unblinking, impossibly lyrical 1969 movie about the French Resistance was hailed as one of the best films of last year upon its first American theatrical release. Its DVD release arrives with the usual bounty we’ve come to expect from the Criterion Collection. This includes a number of interviews and short documentaries about Melville who, while the maker of one of the great critiques of Hitler’s oppressive regime, proves to be quite the autocrat himself. We read in the DVD’s booklet that Melville’s brusque, controlling manner led to such a falling out with star Lino Ventura that the two men were barely speaking throughout the filming. We see Melville glare haughtily, contradict, and condescend to interviewers and members of his own cast during a TV interview. The man seems insufferable, but then you remember he made a great movie about suffering and defiance — he earned his ego and his manner by crafting first-rate art.

5. Snark Redeemed On Burn Notice
(USA Network, Thursdays at 10 p.m.)
As a tarnished government spy, Jeffrey Donovan strides through this glib parody with a worldly swagger. The best thing is, he knows his character shouldn’t be swaggering — his Michael Western has been ”burned” by his unnamed agency; that is, cut off without notice, left to hang in the wind. Instead of whining or glowering vengefully, Western (as befits his name) sucks it up and goes it alone, taking on cases as a private eye until he can figure out why his government has abandoned him. His smart-aleck voiceover narration — an overused device until someone like Donovan and his writers revitalize it with hard-boiled terseness — draws you into his mindset, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s telling you how to get things done: in fights, in surveillance, in getting the bad guys.

Army of Shadows

  • Movie
  • 140 minutes
  • Jean-Pierre Melville