Off the shelf

DVDs, by Andrew Gospe

‘The Lives of Others,’ dir. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

It’s 1984 in communist-controlled East Germany, and upstanding Stasi (secret police) agent and expert interrogator Gerd Wiesler (the excellent Ulrich Mühe) is assigned a rudimentary task: Monitor writer Georg Dreyman and his girlfriend for potentially subversive behavior. In the weeks and months that follow, Wiesler bugs the couple’s apartment and spies on them day and night. But when internal corruption within the Stasi causes him to lose faith in his mission, Wieser begins to feel empathy for his subjects, directly intervening in their lives as Dreyman tries to get a controversial article published in the West. Von Donnersmarck’s debut film won the 2006 Academy Award for best foreign language film, and it’s a tense and unyielding look at the human element behind the iron curtain.

Odegaard Media Center / DVD SONYHE 053

‘Open Your Eyes,’ dir. Alejandro Amenábar

Director and composer Alejandro Amenábar’s second film is often overshadowed by its English-language remake, 2001’s Cameron Crowe-directed, “Vanilla Sky.” However, “Open Your Eyes” isn’t just the original film; it’s also darker, with superior acting and a merciful lack of Tom Cruise. The film centers on César (Eduardo Noriega), a handsome and wealthy youth in Madrid whose face is terribly disfigured in a car accident. When he finds himself in prison for a murder he doesn’t remember committing, César attempts to piece together his twisted past through a series of flashbacks. As this compelling psychological drama unfolds, it blurs the line between César’s visions and reality and offers a testament that, in film, some things do get lost in translation.

Odegaard Media Reserve / DVD ARHE 033

CDs, by Joseph Sutton-Holcomb

‘Mos’ Scocious: The Dr. John Anthology,’

Dr. John

Dr. John is 71 years old, but the April 3 release of his latest album, “Locked Down,” produced by Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach, proves he still has it. Nevertheless, he’s put out some excellent music since he arrived on the scene in the ’60s. This two-disc compilation is a juicy cross-section of his vintage work. The eight-minute sprawler, “I Walk on Guilded Splinters” sports excellent harmonies and demonstrates the good doctor’s knack for thoughtful, if bizarre, songwriting, both of which he retains in his new album. He’s not always accessible, but there’s a reason he’s won five Grammys. For listeners suffering from a lack of R&B and spooky voodoo, Dr. John writes a great prescription.

Odegaard Media Center / Cd RNO 025

‘Going to A Go-Go,’ Smokey Robinson and the Miracles

Outside of their collected hits, many ’60s soul and Motown groups sound like broken records, falling in or out of love over and over. Smokey Robinson is guilty of dwelling on these themes, too, but he never sounds rote, and “Going to A Go-Go” is a stellar example. The album opener, “The Tracks of My Tears,” is about heartbreak, but moreover, about trying to keep it hidden; it has a level of complexity, both lyrically and musically, that sets it apart. The title track, a bouncy soul-clapper, follows directly after, showcasing the range of this album. Smokey and his Miracles understand the nuances of romance and know better than to make it repetitive.

Odegaard Media Center / Cd MOT 006

Books, by Kristen Steenbeeke

‘The Shell Collector,’ by Anthony Doerr

Along with being incredibly detailed and poetic, Doerr’s short stories are imaginative in a way that almost borders on the surreal. The stories in “The Shell Collector” follow fascinating characters ranging from a high-school volleyball player’s love for a metal-eater, to a hunter’s wife who seems to communicate with animals, to the man in the title story who accidentally heals someone with a special cone shell. Doerr’s personal experiences abroad color the collection with a perspective unmatched by many others.

Odegaard Stacks / PS3604.O47 S54 2002

‘Tomorrow’s Living Room,’ by Jason Whitmarsh

An occasional visiting lecturer for the UW’s poetry in Friday Harbor seminar, Jason Whitmarsh’s poems strike me as those to be enjoyed by poetry regulars and poetry newbies alike. The mix of his colloquial voice and penchant for classic poetic forms combines to provide an experience at once entertaining and intellectual. And besides, who wouldn’t want to read a poem that starts, “Unlike the other porcupines, this one is trouble all the time”?

Suzzallo/Allen Stacks / PS3623.H58548 T66 2009

Reach the Arts & Leisure staff at arts@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @ArtsUWDaily

Please read our Comment policy.