Critics’ Picks

Salon's culture gurus tip you off to their favorite things this week: A knockout '70s R&B singer, a ravishing anime, the best season of "Survivor" in years.

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Critics' Picks

Margie Joseph’s “Margie Joseph”

In the 1970s there were just too many terrific R&B singers to keep up with, so it’s little wonder some fell through the cracks. One of those is Margie Joseph, who, after recording two albums on Volt in the early 1970s, moved over to Atlantic to make this knockout of a record, produced by the great Arif Marden. Long out of print, “Margie Joseph” has been recently rereleased, along with several other Joseph LPs from the ’70s, on the Collectors’ Choice label, so you can hear Joseph, with her liquid-gold voice, covering (and doing justice to) the likes of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.” Would you have wanted to share a label with Aretha Franklin in the early ’70s? Now Joseph finally gets her due. – Stephanie Zacharek

“Secret Lives of Great Authors” by Robert Schnakenberg

Famous writers, to paraphrase Fitzgerald, are different from you and me. Well, they’re certainly kinkier. Kafka attended a nudist spa; Joyce got turned on by soiled ladies’ underwear; Yeats had monkey glands implanted in his scrotum to recharge his virility. And don’t get me started on that dope fiend Louisa May Alcott. Fortunately, Robert Schnakenberg’s fun and unpretentious grab bag traffics as much in quirk as in dirt. Hans Christian Andersen, we learn, was Charles Dickens’ houseguest from hell. Virginia Woolf, while still a girl, was slapped by Auguste Rodin for peeking at one of his busts. And Ayn Rand’s favorite TV show? “Charlie’s Angels.” – Louis Bayard



Hayao Miyazaki’s “Porco Rosso”

At last, summer seems like a real possibility instead of just a half-forgotten dream, and there’s no better way to whet your appetite for the sun-soaked season than Miyazaki’s ravishing anime about a sea pilot plying his trade in the islands of the Adriatic Sea during the 1920s. Even though the main character, a former WWI flying ace, has been cursed with the head of a pig, the story has all the dreamy romanticism of an old Humphrey Bogart film, set against a deliriously idealized Mediterranean full of starlit nights and tiny coves. – Laura Miller

Lil Mama’s “VYP — Voice of the Young People”

“What you know ’bout me?” Lil Mama demanded to know on her 2007 pop smash “Lip Gloss,” “‘Cept my lip gloss is cool?” Well let’s see … in addition to schooling us on her cosmetic supremacy, that bumptious single demonstrated that Lil Mama could spit rhymes with Missy Elliott attitude and Busta Rhymes loquaciousness, and keep pace with Ying Yang Twins-style minimalist beats — the song was kids’ stuff, but her saucy delivery made it a girl-power anthem. Her second single, “G-Slide,” proved that she could make a big, fat, cloying, juvenile mistake, and the third, “Shawty Get Loose,” and its Janet-like video, gave her a career and seemed to raise her age from 14 to 18 in less than a year. Lil Mama’s debut album, “VYP — Voice of the Young People,” teaches us plenty more about Niatia Kirkland. An actually short teen mother from Brooklyn’s East New York ghetto, herself motherless, Kirkland blabs about keeping it real, but she also comes off so desperate to make it that she’ll try any angle. Mama sacrifices consistency, but her salesmanship turns “VYP’ into the best kind of hustle — every track has a new hip-pop twist, and she puts most of them over. She apes Nelly on “One Hit Wonder,” she mixes Jay-Z’s strident oratory with Christina Aguilera’s pipes on “L.I.F.E.,” and on the remarkable “College,” she narrates a heartbreaking visit to her father in prison, proving there’s more to her future than a catchy commercial for L’Oréal. – James Hannaham

“Survivor: Micronesia — Fans vs. Favorites”

Thanks to a heady mix of overconfident returning favorites competing with wide-eyed, willfully dorky fans, this season of “Survivor” (8 p.m. EDT Thursdays on CBS) has been one of the best on record, with every other episode featuring a major power shift among the ranks. But things didn’t truly get ugly until the favorites turned on their own: Ozzy may have made a name for himself by swimming like Aquaman and looking like a Latino Johnny Depp, but his arrogance led to his early demise when he neglected to use the immunity idol that would’ve kept him in the game. With several conflicting alliances and battle lines drawn between the remaining fans and favorites, this is anybody’s game. Who knows? Maybe the willfully dorky will inherit the earth! – Heather Havrilesky

Alix Lambert’s “The Mark of Cain”

If you’re already a member of the subculture that’s fascinated with Russian prison tattoos — a subculture apparently delighted with the accuracy of Viggo Mortensen’s tats in “Eastern Promises” — then you know about Alix Lambert’s brave, oddly tragic documentary “The Mark of Cain,” which takes you inside the inky codes of Russia’s notorious penitentiary system (little changed since the Soviet era and, for that matter, since the czars). For the rest of us, Lambert’s film, now something of a cult item on DVD, offers a brutal and even heartbreaking tour of a world of hardened, desperate men and the outsider-art tradition they’ve nourished. — Andrew O’Hehir

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