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The Don't-Miss List: 'Sleepwalk With Me,' Fleetwood Mac and More

See it! Hear it! Read it! Do it! The best of movies, TV, music, books and beyond

October 31, 2012

MOVIES

Sleepwalk With Me
Friday, August 24
 
Comedian Mike Birbiglia is used to fans' incredulity about his autobiographical routines. "Inevitibly someone will come up to me and say, 'Was that true?" And I say, 'Yeah.' And then they say, 'Was it?,'" recalls the This American Life regular. "I don't know how to respond to that. I guess I could say it louder, like YEAH!!!" This quirky, funny film, adapted from Birbiglia's one-man show about his sleep disorder, is likely to inspire the same question — and answer. Yes, the comic/bartender/commitment-phobe played by Birbiglia really is Birbiglia. And yes, the disturbing spurts of sleepwalking were really disturbing. (Though, no, Lauren Ambrose was never his girlfriend.) 
 
WORTH THE TRIP

Venice Film Festival
Aug. 26 to Sept. 8
 
As if the gondoliers' serenades echoing off the stone walls of this incredibly romantic city aren’t enough. The glitz of a storied film festival and a lineup that has cinephiles salivating have made Venice utterly irresistible at the moment. Paul Thomas Anderson’s much-anticipated The Master (with Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman in performances earning critical raves) vies with new work by Terrence Malick and Brian De Palma for the coveted Golden Lion. Then there’s the promise that the 80-year-old festival is on the verge of an exciting era, one being ushered in by new artistic director Alberto Barbera, who is presenting a slimmed slate of films to ensure that each carries weight. “The festival is like a grand old lady, a refined lady, but one in need of being freshened up.” Barbera told Italian journalists. “We’re starting a change in Venice’s skin.”
 
BOOKS

Ascent of the A-word: Assholism, the First Sixty Years, Geoffrey Nunberg
 
Our century has been dubbed The Digital Age, The Information Age, The Knowledge Age, The Age of (take your pick) Power, Paranoia, Greed. Now comes the provocative Zeitgeist proclamation of linguist Geoffrey Nunberg: We are living in The Age of Assholism. The book not only traces the trajectory of the term from its first literary use — in Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead (“A Cornell man, a Deke, a perfect asshole”) — but also asserts that our collective fascination with and worship of asshole-achievers (think Patton, Zuckerberg, Trump) reveals our contemporary values about class, relationships, authenticity and fairness. Of course, there is no more perfect paragon of this phenomenon than the late Steve Jobs, about whom Nunberg writes, “I know of one person who says he quit his high-level job at Apple because he got tired of wiping Jobs’ spittle off his glasses.”
 
MUSIC

Just Tell Me You Want Me: A Tribute to Fleetwood Mac
Various Artists
 
You don’t know his name, but he knows what you like. Salon calls music producer Randall Poster “the man with perfect taste.” Best known as director Wes Andersen’s music guru, Poster has worked on unforgettable soundtracks (I’m Not There, Velvet Goldmine) and contributed to more than 50 films and HBO series as well as countless commercials, burnishing a reputation for discovering your next favorite band. For this Fleetwood Mac tribute, Poster invited indie artists like the New Pornographers, Best Coast and Bonnie “Prince” Billy to take on the iconic group’s ouvre. With Poster at the helm, the results are pure alchemy. “What really knocked me out," he says, "was how Billy took a song ['Storms'] that really is such a staple of FM and made it sound like this Appalachian folk song. When that kind of transformation happens, it’s kind of breathtaking.”
 
TELEVISION

Abby & Brittany,
Series premiere, August 28, TLC
 
Conjoined twins Abby and Brittany Hensel are more than a medical miracle, they’re exemplars of the tenacity of the human spirit. The 22-year-old Minnesota girls have separate heads, hearts, stomachs, spines, spinal cords and distinct personalities — but share the same body. This fascinating TLC series offers an intimate look at the sisters’ lives, from small tasks like bike riding to the big stuff like college graduation, a post-grad trip to Europe and a job hunt. While it is fascinating to see how they navigate the world — each controls one half of their body — there’s one thing above all that makes Abby and Brittany truly compelling: They always seem to be smiling.

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