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Southlander: Diary of a Desperate Musician

Everybody needs to insert some indie cred into their DVD player every once in a while, and Steve Hanft and Ross Harris' Southlander: Diary of a Desperate Musician will do just the trick for any hipster on your shopping list wondering where the indie rock film scene has gone to since the days of R. Kern and Desperate Teenage Lovedolls. The plot focuses on keyboard player Chance (Rory Cochrane), who rummages through the junkyards of Los Angeles to find his stolen analog synth, the 1969 Moletron, before his band takes off on tour without him. But the interest focuses on the soundtrack and featured appearances by Beck, Beth Orton (who plays Chance's love interest), Hank Williams III, Union 13, Lawrence Hilton Jacobs (Washington from Welcome Back, Kotter), and the late Elliott Smith. A deep-fried chunk of lowbrow California kitsch, high in cholesterol and dopey charm.

Growin' a Beard

"May the best beard win -- because I'm fixin' to turn mine loose," says the determined former champion Richard Smith at the beginning of Mike Woolf's wacky documentary Growin' a Beard. The movie follows a handful of Shamrock, Texas, residents (and one full-follicled Austinite) as they grizzle up for the town's annual Donegal beard-growing contest. Think Abe Lincoln: The Donegal stretches from ear to ear, minus the mustache and the neck hair. The movie spans the 76 days between January 1 -- Day One of the contest -- and the hour of judgment on St. Patrick's Day. Hilariously entertaining, this short picture makes the commonplace heroic, without a trace of condescension. Playfully soundtracked by Texas bluegrass band the Gourds, Growin' captures prickly rivalries and itchy trash-talking throughout the furriest of competitions. Facial hair philosophy and method meet, uniting a town for 45 minutes of charming absurdity. Available at

The Godfather

We have yet to meet a man who's breathing who wouldn't squeal like a girl upon receiving the Godfather trilogy in a nice DVD set. Don Corleone and the gang scheming and plotting and killing everyone in their path to wealth and power -- what could be cheerier for the holidays? This classic is the most sophisticated look we'll ever get at the world of La Cosa Nostra.


Inside Björk

Björk's British record label One Little Indian has recently released no fewer than eight different DVDs marking the tenth year of her innovative solo career. These range from various live performances to collections of her music videos. But this documentary is perhaps the most special of the bunch, offering real insight into the artist as she is interviewed amidst the natural wonders of her Icelandic homeland. Seeing her float on a boat past icebergs, her quirky context begins to make sense, perhaps for the first time to some. Though not essential to the tale, celebrity "testimonials" from folks ranging from Missy Elliott and Radiohead's Thom Yorke to, curiously, Sean Penn, help demonstrate her insanely wide reach in an entertaining way.

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts

Real Wild Child: Video Anthology

This collection of 35 videos and performances charts a course from Jett's sexy longhaired days to her current maneuvers as a platinum blond vixen. And though it's a 20-year-plus journey, you wouldn't know it, since her energy remains essentially unchanged. It's all a revelation for those who may have only seen the "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" video (included here in its until-now-unseen color version); also fascinating is the interview with Jett and manager Kenny Laguna. This is definitely the ultimate in Joan Jett worship items (except, perhaps, for the "What Would Joan Jett Do?" T-shirts sold on

Live and Swingin': The Ultimate Rat Pack Collection

When the footage of this long-ago charity event was found in a dusty vault a few years back, it was heralded as the Rat Pack Hope Diamond. As it well should be, since the once-lost footage of Frank, Dino, and Sammy on that fateful Father's Day in 1965 is the only remaining visual relic of their live, onstage camaraderie. Emceed by a young Johnny Carson (who'd been hosting The Tonight Show for only two years), the highlights of the disc include Dean Martin's slurred performance of "Send Me the Pillow You Dream On" and Sinatra making jabs at the "no good" band, which happened to be the Count Basie orchestra led by Quincy Jones. The package is accompanied by a CD of excerpts from a one-week stand at Chicago's Villa Venice in 1962. In a word: Delovely.

Number Ones

This chronological compilation of Michael Jackson's top hits is a fascinating document for two reasons. First, it clearly demonstrates how the King of Pop single-handedly established the music video as a cultural phenomenon -- transforming it from the dingy LiteBrite sidewalk on "Billy Jean" to the digital wizardry of "Black or White." And by closing Number Ones with such disappointing recent efforts as "Blood on the Dancefloor" and "Earth Song," the DVD also shows the grievous decline of Jackson's career (not to mention the downright chilling transformation of the man himself). All told, the gems on the first half of the comp make it well worth the sticker price, even if the lemons at the end leave a sour taste.

Riding in Vans With Boys

Using as its models Zeppelin's Song Remains the Same and Dylan's Don't Look Back, the usual tour documentary paints an indulgent portrait of a guitar hero pitted against the world. Riding in Vans With Boys lightens this tradition by documenting the antics of Kut U Up, a third-tier SoCal pop punk act who spent two months opening blink-182's Pop Disaster Tour. The film's low-rent guffaws offer a choice of a) drunk guys hurting themselves; b) drunk guys hurting each other; or c) drunk guys smashing stuff. And, hold on to your hats, sometimes there are even drunk guys pooping where they aren't supposed to! These zany bits are set to a score of Green Day, Jimmy Eat World, and blink-182.


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