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Here are the week's best releases from the pop-culture universe: 

DVD -- There Was a Crooked Man . . . : This 1970 western -- about a new prison inmate who clashes with a tough warden -- is a gritty, funny poke at conventional westerns. It's also included in Amazon's DVD Decision 2006 series, in which customers pick 10 classics to debut in the format. Also recommended: sci-fi mind-bender The Illustrated Man.

BOOK -- Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper: Now out in paperback, Diablo Cody's hilarious account of her time on the pole is as much a sociology experiment as it is a behind-the-scenes look at strip clubs. Cody doesn't reveal anything new -- gentlemen indeed prefer blondes, and dancers come from some pretty fucked-up families. But she offers helpful tips to clothes-shedding newbies, like which songs to avoid. Topping the list: "Any Eminem song about matricide."

CD -- Hip Hop Is Dead: Nas' tribute to old-school N.Y.C. rappers boasts his toughest beats and rhymes in years. Dr. Dre and Kanye West are among the vets who help Jay-Z's new labelmate resurrect the gasping genre. Best: the title tune, which cribs its loopy rhythm from Iron Butterfly's "In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida." Hip-hop may still have life yet.

DVD -- MI-5: Volume 4: BBC's cool spy show features the slickest British secret agents since James Bond. This five-disc box compiles all 10 episodes of the series' fourth season, plus 15 minutes of action that never made it to the Stateside broadcasts. Bonus goodies include commentaries, interviews, and behind-the-scenes peeks. Brainy, brawny, and tons of fun, MI-5 is like Alias with funny accents.

BOOK -- Sound Bites: Eating on Tour With Franz Ferdinand: Alex Kapranos, frontman for the peppy Britpop group, documents the most memorable meals of his band's 2005 tour in this tasty read. Because he was a chef before his band hit the big time, Kapranos' taste buds are well qualified to sample such delicacies as bull testicles, blowfish, and donuts. And because he pens a weekly column for the U.K.'s Guardian, his gastronomic escapades are as well written as they are mouthwatering.

CD -- Wincing the Night Away: On their adventurous third album, the Shins' breezy, melodic pop gets fuzzy, jagged, and hazy. Strings, samples, and keys slip in and out of the songs, uncovering sonic layers merely hinted at on 2003's splendid Chutes Too Narrow. It's a good bet Garden State's Zach Braff will pillage songs from this for his next dozen projects.

COURTESY FLUSH, PLEASE -- Open Season: There have been so many talking-animal CGI movies over the past few years, it's hard to differentiate one overcaffeinated rodent from another. This dud (now out on DVD) features the voices of Ashton Kutcher and Martin Lawrence as a furry odd couple leading a forest of critters against gun-wielding hunters. It's a smarmy mix of poop jokes, pop-culture references, and songs by former Replacements frontman Paul Westerberg. Where's Ted Nugent when you need him?

-- By Michael Gallucci

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