Critics' Picks

Become a Tarvuist, see Palin in the White House, sample "Acid Tongue," and watch your grammar.

By Salon Staff
Published October 18, 2008 11:00AM (EDT)
What is it they say about history, tragedy and farce? Well, whatever it is, it's no longer clear in which order they're supposed to arrive. The interactive satirical Web site -- a clickable glimpse of Sarah Palin in the White House -- confuses that lineup even further by gazing into a scary possible American future for maximum yuks. Click on a window and see oil rigs at work outside the Oval Office. Click on a door and watch books burning in the hallway. Listen to President Pitbull ignore the ringing red telephone: What happens if you click on it? "Uh-oh." Hunt around with your cursor for new items, to be added until Nov. 4, at which point it may cease to be a laughing matter. -- James Hannaham

"Things That Make Us (Sic)" by Martha Brockenbrough
I peruse style manuals the way some people pore over cookbooks: hungrily, looking to have my senses elevated. My favorite recent example was Bill Walsh's "The Elephants of Style," and to that esteemed company I can now add Martha Brockenbrough's witty and steely "Things That Make Us (Sic): The Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar Takes on Madison Avenue, Hollywood, the White House, and the World." Brockenbrough is the founder of SPOGG, the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar, and in defense of syntax, she defers to no one. The book is filled with her outraged letters to the likes of Rick Moranis (for "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids"), the Founding Fathers (for overusing Latin) and the Toronto Maple Leafs ('nuff said). Personally, I think Brockenbrough could go a little easier on folk usages: She is less appalled by the rape in "Deliverance" than by the rapist's description of Ned Beatty's mouth as "real pretty." But, like the best grammarians, she favors clarity over purity, and in her final chapter, she incites open rebellion against "the rules that never were." So go ahead, my brothers and sisters, split those infinitives! End your sentences with prepositions! And if you're feeling really crazy, use "like" as a conjunction! Martha's got your back. -- Louis Bayard

Jenny Lewis' "Acid Tongue"
Two years ago Jenny Lewis, the lead singer of Los Angeles-based indie outfit Rilo Kiley, released a solo album -- actually, it was a collaboration with the L.A.-based singing duo the Watson Twins -- called "Rabbit Fur Coat," a twisted little record about, among other things, love, loss and betrayal. Lewis' voice has a spun-glass delicacy, but its core is pure steel, and with "Acid Tongue," her latest solo project (this time sans Twins, but featuring guest vocals from the likes of Elvis Costello and Zooey Deschanel), she once again mines the usual gospel, blues and country influences in a way that's fresh and exhilarating, if a little scary. (Exhibit A: A grimly funny little number called "Jack Killed Mom.") But then, Lewis never shies away from the dark side, which may be why she always sounds as if she'd be equally at home in church or down at the roadhouse. -- Stephanie Zacharek

"A Lion in the House" on DVD
At nearly four hours, Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert's 2006 Emmy-winning documentary "A Lion in the House" is better suited to DVD than it was to film festivals or broadcast TV. In all senses of the phrase, "A Lion in the House" is a lot to take. Bognar and Reichert are a married couple whose own daughter battled cancer in childhood (I'm giving nothing away), and they bring us on intimate and wrenching voyages with five American families facing the same array of hope, heartbreak, hospital visits, befuddling medical terminology, insurance bureaucracies and profound moral and emotional uncertainty. It's a big movie about the biggest subject any parent can imagine: How hard will you fight for your child's life, and at what cost? Fair warning: Once you're in, you're in, and "Lion" will leave you exhausted, grieving and deeply grateful for every good day your family has ever had. -- Andrew O'Hehir

Tarvuism: The Official Internet Website for the Tarvuist Faith
Sure, Tarvuism is far from the first parody religion, but the others (including FSM and Subgenius) have never fully mastered the parody aspect. Tarvuists have masterfully deployed the moronic feel-goodism of superchurch outreach efforts, from the saccharine recruitment videos to the blather of dumbed-down Scripture to the excruciatingly bland photocollages of beaming believers. It has something to do with octopuses and women in ties, but the best thing about it is that it's so easy to join. -- Laura Miller

Ra Ra Riot's "The Rhumb Line"
Anyone who would dare to cover "Suspended in Gaffa" by Kate Bush is a friend of mine. Throw in an artful but restrained use of cello and violin, female backing vocals, and a steady progression of melancholy melodies that suggest a lonely adolescence spent listening to the Smiths and the Cure around the clock, and you've got the perfect indie-pop release ready for heavy rotation. But don't be fooled by the spring in their step: The agile instrumentation and sweet little melodies of Ra Ra Riot's full-length debut add up to something a little more substantial on repeat listens. Drummer John Pike's accidental death last summer haunts songs like "Ghost Under Rocks" and "Dying Is Fine," both co-written by Pike. But while the album may serve as a finely crafted memorial to Pike's genius, there's still an irrefutable shining future ahead for the purveyors of melodic pop this thoughtful and infectious. -- Heather Havrilesky


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