Critics' Picks

What you need to see, read, do this week: The Violent Femmes' Gnarls Barkley homage, an early gay-marriage prototype, and a "Sex and the City" antidote.

Published June 21, 2008 8:00PM (EDT)

The Violent Femmes' "Crazy"
The Violent Femmes and Gnarls Barkley are a mutual appreciation society formed in oddball heaven. Two years ago, Barkley did a cover of the Femmes classic "Gone Daddy Gone" that took the song's already hypnotically manic energy and bent it into something new and just as lovably weird. Now, the favor has been returned. Visitors to the MySpace page for an ensemble billing itself Violent and Crazy can currently sample a taste of the Femmes' reimagining of Barkley's athemic smash "Crazy" before the single releases later this month. Whereas the original was a falsetto summer brain freeze, the homage is a stripped-down, mercury-shattering throb, set to Gordon Gano's trademark just-shy-of-psycho plaintive vocals. It may be madness, but these guys make it sound sublime. -- Mary Elizabeth Williams

"The Thief of Bagdad" on DVD
A mechanical horse that not only comes to life but flies; a carpet that glides through the air; a 100-foot jinni in giant orange underpants. Before there were multimillion-dollar CGI special effects, there was the 1940 Technicolor adventure "Thief of Bagdad." This new transfer from Criterion looks particularly gorgeous, and the extras include commentaries by Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese, as well as a documentary featuring interviews with special-effects gurus like the great Ray Harryhausen. -- Stephanie Zacharek

USA's "In Plain Sight"
The USA network's new dramatic series about U.S. marshals attached to the federal witness protection program, "In Plain Sight," is a somewhat calculated hybrid of "The Closer," with its eccentric female chief detective, and the delectable "Burn Notice," a summer cocktail combining wit, insouciance, spies and Miami Beach. The show, which airs Sundays at 10 p.m. EDT, stars Mary McCormack as Mary Shannon, a surly, wisecracking, commitment-phobic hard-ass who shows a refreshing contempt for strappy Jimmy Choo sandals. Recommended for anyone suffering from "Sex and the City" overload. -- Laura Miller

Shearwater's "Rook"
Jonathan Meiburg, the lead singer of the alt-rock quartet Shearwater, is an ornithologist in his down time, which may explain why his voice climbs so effortlessly from David Byrne-ish yelps into the sonic troposphere. Meiburg may be the centerpiece, but he's by no means the only piece of Shearwater's brooding, majestically beautiful "Rook." This follow-up to the Austin, Texas, band's acclaimed "Palo Santo" plays out over a sleek 35 minutes, but don't be misled. It's music on a large scale. Harps, hammer dulcimers and woodwinds weave with traditional rock instruments to produce a texture that is both dense and luminous -- and ever shifting. The second cut, "Rooks," leads in with a banjo and then releases into a gorgeous squeal of mariachi trumpets. And rising above it all: Meiburg's countertenor, as lyrical or as urgent as the occasion demands. -- Louis Bayard

"Chris & Don: A Love Story"
English writer Christopher Isherwood and American painter Don Bachardy were a Los Angeles power couple decades before anyone had ever said "gay" and "marriage" in the same sentence -- unless they meant a tipsy hetero pair -- but the documentary "Chris & Don: A Love Story" is much more than an illustration that, hey, homos can have real relationships. Isherwood was already a middle-aged famous writer (author of "The Berlin Stories") when he met the much younger Bachardy on Santa Monica Beach in 1952, and in the succeeding years the duo both embodied stereotypes about homosexual love -- theirs was something of a master-pupil relationship, and not altogether monogamous -- and uprooted them. Direction by Tina Mascara and Guido Santi is straightforward, but this appealing mixture of home movies, contemporary interviews and animation captures the spirit of a pioneering sexual, personal and artistic partnership and the remarkable literary-artistic circle -- Aldous Huxley, Bertrand Russell and Igor Stravinsky were among their friends -- that nurtured it. (Now playing in New York and Rochester, N.Y. Opens July 4 in Los Angeles; July 18 in Boston and San Francisco; July 25 in Chicago, Lake Worth, Fla., Minneapolis, Philadelphia, San Diego, Washington and Wilmington, Del.; and Aug. 1 in Atlanta, St. Louis and Seattle, with more cities to follow.) -- Andrew O'Hehir

"Flipping Out" on Bravo
You really have to envy the producers and editors of "Flipping Out" (10 p.m. EDT Tuesdays on Bravo), who spend their days witnessing one moment after another of pure comic genius. Real estate investor Jeff Lewis, the antihero of this dysfunctional reality tragicomedy, may be one of the finest characters ever to appear on television. In the second season, the real estate market is crashing and Lewis is forced to step outside of his fully staffed, temperature-controlled hothouse for a second to see how the rest of the world lives. Do the hard times bring him wisdom? Not exactly. "I'm being punished. God's punishing me!" he tells his business partner, Ryan. But honestly, is there anything better than seeing a pampered, petulant yuppie suffer? ******

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