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Underrated: The xx, 'Thirst'; Overrated: 'An Education,' the History Channel

November 29, 2009

The xx: Its name and austere design aesthetic give the impression of spartan-minded hardcore punks, but instead this English indie pop group's debut album, "XX," is one of the coolest slabs of minimalist electro-soul this side of Portishead. Built on the dreamy vocals of Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim and achingly spare guitars nicked from the Cure, this album is rated for all audiences.

'Thirst': We expected some dark scares from this South Korean import, but this film offered further evidence that the best ideas in vampire movies are coming from the other side of the world. No offense to the legion of "Twilight" fanatics, but that franchise could learn a lot from the sly humor, rich drama and raw sensuality in this story of a priest-turned-vampire and his star-crossed love affair.

'An Education': While there's no quarreling with Nick Hornby's scissor-sharp dialogue or Carey Mulligan's turn as a '60s London schoolgirl, the film as a whole failed us. Little about Mulligan's relationship with charming cad Peter Sarsgaard surprised us, and the film rushed to a tidy finish that felt better suited to a Hugh Grant comedy. We could've learned so much more.

The History Channel: We suppose everyone needs to attract viewers these days, but this network's seemingly easy-to-peg focus seems to be losing its way. The recent "WWII in HD" makes sense, but how are sensationalist, faux-factual shows like "UFO Hunters" and myriad Bigfoot and Freemason documentaries tied into history? C'mon, guys, it's not like you have a shortage of material.

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