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  CONSUMABLES: FINDING NEMO, THE KILLS, 100 HEROES & VILLAINS AND THE THORNS.  
   
   
   
 

THE KILLS "KEEP ON YOUR MEAN SIDE"
For those who like "Rid of Me" more than "Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea," these guys salute you. I prefer the latter myself -- I love the way Polly Jean Harvey turned her caustic screeds into full-bodied, emotionally rippling songs that lost none of their intensity by honing their sound. As for this kinetic duo, well, who knows how bright their future will be? Their raw, violent, sensual tunes evoke the Doors or Howlin' Wolf at his most raging. Hard rock used to be blues-based sex music, nasty and grimy. The Kills understand this better than just about anyone else around. Room for improvement, to be sure -- "Rid of Me" was just as forceful and monochromatic in its assault. But once they vary the attack, watch out. A-

RICHARD THOMPSON "THE OLD KIT BAG"
He's got old-fogey written all over him. He's made dozens of albums before this one, and, God willing, he'll make dozens more after this one. So what it lacks in urgency it makes up for in weathered feeling and heartfelt sympathy. He's known for his guitar, and his playing remains restrained and precise -- emotional without ever calling attention to itself. Buy this album or not, he'll keep touring, writing, grousing, falling in love and having it not work out. On the opposite side of "hot" and "exciting," there deserves to be extra consideration for thoroughly dependable artists like this. B+

CURSIVE "THE UGLY ORGAN"
Perhaps the album's best song contains its best line. "My ego's like my stomach," underdog Tim Kasher moans, "it keeps shitting what I feed it." The fact that the song is called "The Recluse" makes it all the more fitting and perfect. Cult bands who enjoy being on the fringes -- who like hurling Molotov cocktails at the popular and well-liked -- get off on doing what they want, saying whatever they think, damning the consequences. But that doesn't always mean they connect. Like Modest Mouse, they add palpable tension and the threat of violence to their emo. Nevertheless, the nice guy in me would like to politely point out that melodies aren't always the enemy. And that nobody cares about your struggles in the record business. Clearly I'm not in their cult, and so this is one more group whom I respect more than I love. B

THE BLACK KEYS "THICKFREAKNESS"
I dunno. I mean, I get it. Blues rock. Passionate reverence. Overamped guitars. Two dudes. Yeah yeah yeah. Right tone, right feel, right style, right snarl -- it's all there. But it rarely moves me. When people complain that the White Stripes are a hype, well, at least they have a sound of their own. B

AFI's 100 YEARS...100 HEROES & VILLAINS
Oh yeah, of course I had better things to do with my Tuesday night. Exercise, meditation, my latest attempt at figuring out why they're called "graphic novels." But, damn it, I got sucked in. The allure of these CBS specials is the pure pleasure of lists, obviously, but there is also the unstoppable rush of deathless clips. I mean, c'mon, anything from 2001 always gives me a rush. Same with Raiders of the Lost Ark, Casablanca, Lawrence of Arabia, you name it. The glossy mixture of music, interviews, and classic scenes -- it's brainless, absolutely. But, hey, these shows always remind me why I fell in love with movies in the first place. There's no point in being snooty about it now. B+

SPELLBOUND, DIRECTED BY JEFFREY BLITZ
Hoop Dreams for pencilnecks. The filmmakers gather enough of the necessary ingredients -- social commentary, cultural observation, character curiosity -- to make a minor classic about an arcane subject that is uniquely American. But don't call it a masterpiece. Rather than go deep, we go broad, combing the different races and cultures and economic classes to present our country as one big melting pot of silly competition. Informative and diverting, but not insightful and gripping. This one's a great crowd-pleaser, but its slickness and buzzy good feeling at times can beg for a little more journalistic grit. B+

THE SEARCH FOR SIGNS OF INTELLIGENT LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE
Lily Tomlin is an actor's actor and why shouldn't she be? Dedicated and devoted to craft, she lends charisma, strength, and good humor to the ordinary people she excels in portraying. (Even the soggiest of movies and TV shows perks up a little when she strolls by.) And this piece of theater, fresh from its acclaim on Broadway, probably plays to her strengths as well as anything -- it adores her charm, her dexterity, her compassion. All I could ask is that I liked it more. Jane Wagner's play is a well-regarded institution, and anyone can see why. Flawless sound and lighting design, a timeless why-are-we-here theme, nice touches throughout -- it never demands too much of its audience and resolves its troubling questions in the most comforting of ways. But this institution still has resonant things to say, and a great person to embody them in Tomlin. Anchoring a show that enjoys being cute and precious, she's best when she gets away from the play's softer side. Like when the macho loser muses about the prodigy he donated the sperm for but will never know. Like when the middle-aged debutante longs for the passionate life of a suicide. B

 

 
 

GOOD THINGS.

FINDING NEMO, DIRECTED BY ANDREW STANTON
As if flaunting just how much better they are than their slave masters at Disney, they beat them at their own game. Squint just right, and this Pixar movie looks awfully familiar: father-and-son issues, the quest toward manhood, an enchanted ocean backdrop. But then throw in this group's always-astounding animation, a fantastic Thomas Newman score, and, oh yes, that story. Moving when it wants to be, scary without mercy, funny with plenty of heart, yet another great action set piece -- is there anything they can't do? Albert Brooks is redeemed for going soft years ago. No cloying songs. No hip asides. I'm not saying it's better than Toy Story, but it at least made me think about it. A

IRAQ: A LOOK BAQ
By now, you know how great The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is. But this timely reminder doesn't hurt either. A compendium of the best of the show's mocking coverage of that little skirmish in the desert a few months ago, this special is a best-of that summarizes the program's brilliance while giving us an overview of a conflict (and an administration) still almost too scary to consider. As usual, Stephen Colbert is the MVP -- mock-arrogant and pseudo-smug because of his white skin and good looks. If The New York Observer was a human being, it would be him. Those Rumsfeld press conferences actually happened. So did the Bush aircraft-carrier landing. The stuff Stewart and his team made up was almost as funny. A

 

BAD THINGS.

THE THORNS "THE THORNS"
This supergroup of little-known singer-songwriters means to be folksy, casual, luminous with its harmony vocals and melancholic songs about dragonflies, dark skies, the dearly departed, and, oh yeah, chicks. Instead, it's a woozy irritation. Its pretty, ringing acoustic guitars and its pretty, vacant singing are enough to give you a headache, enough to make you pledge allegiance to Metallica, enough to send you running into the arms of red meat and fast food forever. I always knew Matthew Sweet could write rings around Pete Droge and Shawn Mullins, but I didn't realize just how much those lamebrains would dampen his gifts. Great Sweet albums are rich in oooooooohs and aaaaaaaaaahs -- his multitracked voice remains the personification of romantic heartbreak -- while never forgetting his nasty streak, his dark side. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Younging with his grateful buds, though, he's just boring -- one more sensitive wimp the industry doesn't need. This seems like a weird way to remind us what a vital talent he can be. C+

 
 

 

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*BT*

Tim Grierson is an editor of The Simon, a weekly online publication of culture, politics, and humor.