Critics' Picks

What you need to see, read, do this week: A sexpert's look at Sarah Palin, the exhilarating return of "Entourage," and a bad-cake blog.

Published September 6, 2008 12:00PM (EDT)

Susie Bright on Sarah Palin
Whenever a right-winger gets mixed up in a sex-related controversy, the first person I turn to for commentary is Bright, whose take is guaranteed to be fresh, unconventional and hilarious. On her blog, Bright has already pronounced Palin "an L-Word fantasy writ large, and the perfect example of why butch straight women set hearts aflutter no matter where they appear," while at the same time calling her on the carpet as a "two-faced prig." I'm sure Bright will have even more piquant observations on the new V.P. candidate in a forthcoming episode of her must-listen podcast, available from, a source for in-depth interviews, cutting-edge advice and all the skinny on the rubber/men's room/diaper-fetish scandals that seem to rock the GOP once a week. -- Laura Miller

HBO's "Entourage"
Each season of HBO's "Entourage" is built from the same primitive parts: repetitive frat boy banter, limp exchanges with hot lady fans, a rapid volley of frantic cellphone calls, some confrontational meetings with rival agents and studio heads and, finally, a poolside toast at sunset to celebrate Vince's latest career victory. As predictable as the show becomes a few episodes into each season, though, there's always something a little exhilarating about rejoining these plucky Hollywood jackasses after a long break, and the fifth season premiere is no exception (10 p.m. EDT Sunday, Sept. 7, on HBO). Like the first exciting minutes of a flashy but ultimately dull party, the "Entourage" season premiere starts with a bang: Vince is surrounded by hot naked girls in some photogenic tropical paradise while his agent, Ari, the true, tireless star of this show, is battling mounting stress over the latest horrible reviews of "Medellin." With Vince's career on a downward slide, it's only a matter of time before those cellphones start ringing. So tune in while the champagne is still cold and Turtle hasn't mentioned his desperate need for pussy several hundred times in a row yet. -- Heather Havrilesky

Cake Wrecks blog
Nothing is more human than a failed cake, and nothing is much funnier, either, judging from the savagely amusing Cake Wrecks blog. Conceived in the spirit of James Lileks' Gallery of Regrettable Food, Cake Wrecks highlights all the things that can go wrong with professional cakes: ghoulish gobs of icing, sunken layers, avalanches of frosting. More than simply showcasing incompetence -- the inscription that reads "Happy Birthday Aunt Slash Mom," the blue horse that was supposed to be a blue house -- Cake Wrecks celebrates the grand folly, the confection so spectacularly misconceived it creates an envelope of awe. Someone, it seems, really did think up that mound-of-rotting-fish cake, and if that doesn't restore your faith in humanity -- or in something -- I don't know what will. -- Louis Bayard

Jamie Bell in "Mister Foe"
Jamie Bell, who plays the title character in the new film "Mister Foe," is the next Christian Bale. At least. Introduced to the world as the star of 2000's "Billy Elliot," he went on, at age 14, to beat out seasoned folks like Russell Crowe for a 2001 BAFTA Award, the British Oscar. Bell has since diversified his résumé, alternating between small roles in blockbusters like "King Kong" and large roles in quirky indies like David Gordon Green's Southern Gothic flick "Undertow." He has a Streepish way with accents: in "Undertow" he's convincing as a rural Southerner, in "Mister Foe" he's a Scot. From some angles he's quite handsome, from others, just off, but he's always fascinating to watch. His transition into adult roles couldn't concern a more complicated character than Hallam Foe, a creepy, indecisive and devious young guy, prone to painting his face with lipstick and wearing what looks like a badger carcass on his head, who accuses his father and stepmom of murdering his mother (he also has sex with the stepmom), runs away from home and spies on his new boss (who reminds him of his mother), picks locks, becomes a squatter in a clock tower, begins an affair with the boss, blackmails the boss's lover -- he's a hot Highlander mess. Foe is a reverse Hamlet in Macbeth country with a little Phaedra thrown in for good measure, and the fact that you can leave the theater feeling sympathy for such an outrageously fucked-up antihero has everything to do with Bell's terrific, heartbreaking performance. -- James Hannaham

"Primo Levi's Journey" on DVD
For an illustration of Faulkner's maxim that the past isn't dead -- and isn't even past -- consider Italian director Davide Ferrario's extraordinary documentary "Primo Levi's Journey," now available on DVD. After his release from Auschwitz in the spring of 1945, the weak and sickly Levi traveled with a group of other Italian refugees on an erratic train-and-truck journey across Poland, the Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria and Germany before finally returning home to Turin. That odyssey produced "The Truce," the work that defined Levi as one of the century's greatest literary voices, and it also provides the jumping-off point for this film, which follows Levi's route through present-day Europe and through the last six decades of history. The results are frequently hilarious, occasionally terrifying and more than a little tragic. Ferrario finds a continent both inexpressibly alien and completely familiar: Statues of communist icons have become tourist kitsch, Chinese immigrants sell flat-screen TVs in Budapest and pierced teenagers listen to Eminem, while Soviet-style collective farming lives on in Belarus, a dispute over pop music ignites an anti-Russian pogrom in the Ukraine and neo-Nazis rally in Munich. In this new English-language version, actor Chris Cooper reads passages from Levi's work, which provide a startling counterpoint to the images on-screen and (for me anyway) shed new light on the writer's 1987 suicide. -- Andrew O'Hehir

"Stand Up to Cancer's" "Survivors" by Errol Morris
Who better than a filmmaker known for his unflinching yet elegant style to create the eight most devastating minutes about cancer we've seen in possibly forever? Errol Morris' "Survivors," an extended version of what was shown on Friday's "Stand Up to Cancer" TV special, which can be downloaded for free on iTunes, is a crazy quilt of stark testimonials of the ravages of disease and the power of love, hope and courage. Against a stark black background, ordinary folks as well as personalities like Tom Green, Scott Hamilton, Christine Lahti and Carson Daly offer their first- and secondhand experiences with the disease. There are men, women, children and one dog. There are stories of getting the diagnosis, of invasive procedures, of pain and loss. There are long sighs and simple shrugs. And if by the time Ron Reagan Jr. points out the "billions of dollars we spend every year dreaming up more inventive ways to kill one another" you find yourself in helpless tears over yourself or someone you've loved, it's OK. "Survivors" is meant to stir you and shock you and piss you off. Cancer is, as one of Morris' subjects says, "a monster." The only question now is, what does it take to vanquish it? -- Mary Elizabeth Williams


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