Movies and Music That Rise From the Winter Wasteland

January is an entertainment graveyard. It's usually where forgettable movies, music and books go to die. Like most early-winter culture, some of this week's releases aren't worth the eulogy; but there are a few that rise up from the winter wasteland. So check out the entertainment guide before you hastily enter cultural hibernation. (Hermits are so passé).


Former rapper -- and one-time holder of street cred -- Ice Cube returns to the silver screen this week with another PG-13 rated family-friendly flick. But instead of co-starring with lovable children as he did in last year's "Are We Done Yet," the NWA alumnus shares "First Sunday" with two comedians who spew more cuss words per sentence than verbs -- Tracy Morgan ("30 Rock") and Kat Williams (HBO's "Pimp Chronicles").

Surprisingly, the Disneyfied version of these conveyors of crass actually works. This caper comedy bubbles with their likability. The movie follows Durell (Cube), who needs to pay off a debt to keep his ex-girlfriend from moving to another state with their son. He and his friend LeeJohn (Morgan) fumble their scheme to steal the money from a neighborhood church, and they end up spending the night there with the kooky congregation and the effete choir director (Williams).

"First Sunday" is more parent-inclusive than Cube's other Sunday matinee movies, but he's got a lot further to go before he can buddy up with Dr. Dre and Mickey Mouse at the same time.

"The Pirates Who Do Nothing" is the newest Veggie Tales movie for children, and the latest installment in the inanimate-objects-that-talk genre. "Pirates" follows three animated, lovable legumes with facial hair that go from performing in a pirate-themed restaurant to saving a real-life vegetable princess from real-life vegetable pirates. On the way, they must fend off snack attacks, a phobia of wicker furniture and, of course, eye-patch-wearing bandits. This Veggie Tales' theatrical release -- its first -- will crack up kids and charm adults. It's a solid addition to the series that has already sold more than 50 million DVDs since 1993. For newbie Veggie viewers, think of "Pirates" as "Three Amigos!" -- but with Chevy Chase played by a cucumber.

Jason Statham -- better known as that bad-ass British guy with the perfect, chiseled jaw -- furthers the confounding existence of his career as an action film star with "In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale." The movie, inspired by the video game "Dungeon Siege," follows Statham as a farmer who defends the kingdom from an evil sorcerer and his band of Krug -- essentially an army of Orcs with poor dental hygiene. Ray Liotta stands out as the evil sorcerer who tries to defeat the kingdom while unwittingly impersonating Derek Zoolander's patented look, "Blue Steel."

New to the small screen this week is last year's remake of Western "3:10 to Yuma." A critic's favorite, the movie is driven by powerful performances from Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, but a smarmy Ben Foster steals almost every scene he's in.

"Zodiac" was nominated for the Palm d'Or at last year's Cannes Film Festival, but back here Stateside it was one of the year's most overlooked movies. The crime thriller's two-disc director's cut provides even more obsession-worthy fodder about the real-life Zodiac killer's unsolved case. Available on DVD and HD-DVD, the new version features commentary from the movie's major players, an exhaustive behind-the-scenes documentary and a feature-length documentary about the real-life investigation. Watch it, and get even more sucked into this haunting story.


Twenty-year-old Kate Nash's debut album, "Made of Bricks," will draw many comparisons to the songs of Lily Allen and Regina Spektor. But this singer-songwriter -- who graduated from the same arts school as Amy Winehouse -- is no mere copy. Her guileless boyfriend-dissing raps, punchy piano and occasional non sequitur lyrics will be familiar to Allen and Spektor fans, but Nash's childlike enthusiasm and playful pop is so smile-inducing and head-bop-worthy that her music sounds original. Brits ate up Nash's debut album, sending it to the top of the U.K. pop charts in its first week. She wrote the album on her laptop while stuck at home recovering from a broken foot, but this record, filled with playful jangly beats, is as fun as it gets.

Sia's "Some People Have Real Problems" is an excellent soundtrack for a cold January spent bundled up indoors. This soulful, Australian singer-songwriter has a knack for hook-filled, melancholy music. She has two hits in the United Kingdom, and her single "Breathe Me" garnered her some fame in the United States when it played in the final episode of HBO's "Six Feet Under," but she's paid her dues singing for Jamiroquai and Zero 7. Sia worked with Beck on her third LP, "Some People Have Real Problems," and her lilting piano and guitar tracks bear some of the brooding vocals and subtly sophisticated string arrangements that marked the white-suited singer's brilliant 2002 album, "Sea Change." Beck's influence really bolsters the album, maybe even more than Sia's godfather (Men at Work frontman Colin Hay) could have.


Janet Evanovich, the best-selling author of quirky adventure romance novels, returns with "Plum Lucky," the 16th installment in the Stephanie Plum series. This time the fashion-obsessed lingerie-buyer-turned-bounty-hunter hits the road for Atlantic City. The book has the usual, weird Plum fare: gambling, plus-size modeling, green sweatpants, stolen money and a runaway grandmother in a Winnebago. As with Evanovich's other books, the "Plum Lucky" plot plays sidekick to the starring role occupied by the author's style. Every paragraph could stand on its own, and the novel's 176 pages brim with catty fashion critiques, quips about food and, of course, an unabashedly shameless appreciation of tall, dark, handsome men.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright kicks off this year's barrage of political books with a fresh take on the personal memoir. Her "Memo to the President Elect: How We Can Restore America's Reputation and Leadership" is written as a collection of highly confidential "night notes" to the new president (whoever that may be).

She used this same style when communicating with President Clinton after hours, when she served as one of the Democratic leader's aides. Her analysis is insightful, blunt and enjoyable to read. It brims with her characteristic brashness and warmth. Political gossip mongers will be disappointed that the unusual book format allows her to skirt sharing lurid -- and potentially damning -- details from her time in office. But her wisdom shines through, and the book is a must-read for political junkies and voters who read between the talking points. Loyal Bushies beware: Albright doesn't mince words: She writes like a grandmother taking Dubya by the ear.