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Can't Miss documentary honors Helen Thomas

Helen Thomas is celebrated in the documentary "Thank You, Mr. President." Other best bets include "Tropic Thunder"  and a new Joe Bonamassa CD.
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

Television

Image: Helen Thomas
Veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas takes her front, center seat before U.S. President George W. Bush officially opened the remodeled Brady Press Briefing room at the White House in Washington, in this July 11, 2007 file photo. Thomas, 88, will make a rare appearance on August 18, 2008 on cable network HBO, as an interview subject in a documentary \"Thank You, Mr. President: Helen Thomas at the White House,\" reflecting on her life, career, and abiding devotion to the ideal that democracy thrives best when a vigilant press holds the nation's leaders accountable to the public. REUTERS/Jason Reed/Files (UNITED STATES)Jason Reed / X00458

You don’t hear “Thank you, Mr. President” that often these days. It’s just a sign of the times. But in her long and distiinguished career as a White House correspondent, Helen Thomas has become synonymous with the phrase. She is the lady in the front row who has asked tough but respectful questions to U.S. Presidents since John F. Kennedy. Her life is the subject of  “Thank You, Mr. President: Helen Thomas at the White House,” the latest entry in the HBO documentary film series. To say Ms. Thomas is old school is not a shot at her age, but rather an honor. After all these years, she still believes the function of the press is to keep an eye on government, and that goes for U.S. presidents, too. Thank you, Ms. Thomas. (HBO, Monday, 9 p.m.)

Movies

Image: Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr.
In this image released by Paramount Pictures, Ben Stiller, left, and Robert Downey Jr. are shown in a scene from, \"Tropic Thunder.\" (AP Photo/Paramount Pictures, Merie Weismiller Wallace) ** NO SALES **Merie Weismiller Wallace / Paramount Pictures

“Tropic Thunder” is getting some flak, and it’s not the kind fake Hollywood soldiers can protect themselves from with fake flak jackets. I won’t get into what’s offensive and what isn’t. I just know that laughter emanating from theaters showing this film seems to be drowning out whatever complaints are out there. Ben Stiller said he worked on the script for this picture for about eight years. During that time, he’s had some hits and some misses. But “Tropic Thunder,” the story of Hollywood actors doing a war movie who find themselves unexpectedly thrust into real conflict on location, represents the kind of victory most phony Tinseltown infantrymen would bayonet their agents to achieve. (DreamWorks Pictures, in theaters now)

Music

Image: Joe Bonamassa's \"Live From Nowhere in Particular\"
Premier Artists

The beauty of the blues is often lost on young musicians. Usually bluesmen are in their 60s, 70s and beyond, into B.B. King territory (82). But Joe Bonamassa is that rare cat who has carved out a place of honor in the blues world at a relatively young age. At just 31, he has established the kind of reputation that other blues devotees take a lifetime to achieve. “Joe Bonamassa: Live From Nowhere In Particular” is a two-CD set that serves as a scorching example of his blazing talents. Bonamassa is not only a wicked blues guitarist but an exceptional vocalist as well. Some of the more memorable tracks in this collection include the acoustic marvel, “Woke Up Dreaming,” and a cover of Warren Haynes’ “If Heartaches Were Nickels.” This is further proof that the blues have no age limit. (Premier Artists)

DVD

Image: The Small Black Room
Criterion Collection

Director Michael Powell and writer Emeric Pressburger were a storied British filmmaking team best known for “The Red Shoes.” After that Technicolor ballet spectacle became a commercial success, they followed it  in 1949 with a small character study called “The Small Back Room,” which hits DVD shelves this week. It’s a moody and suspenseful tale about a scientist and bomb expert who is hired by the government to study a new German secret weapon. “The Small Back Room” gets the full Criterion DVD treatment, with audio commentary by film scholar Charles Barr, a video interview with cinematographer Chris Challis, and lots more. This is one partnership that deserves to be saved for posterity. (Criterion Collection)

BooksA

Image: Paul Auster's \"Man in the Dark\"
Henry Colt and Co.

ugust Brill is a 72-year-old retired book critic who is recovering from a car accident at his daughter’s Vermont home. He has a lot on his mind: his granddaughter’s boyfriend was recently killed in Iraq, and his wife just died. To battle boredom and depression, he makes up stories, one of which keeps haunting him: the U.S. falls into a civil war after the 2000 election. (In a way, not so farfetched.) Brill’s battle with his real demons and the parallel struggle against his imagination form the basis of Paul Auster’s fascinating new novel, “Man in the Dark.” It seems part of Brill’s fantasy involves an assassin who comes from an alternate universe to kill him. As Auster reminds us, often the worst wars are those fought in one’s own mind. (Henry Holt and Co.)