1 Twin Cities pianist/playwright Joseph Vass brings George Gershwin’s younger brother out of the shadows in the new “Words by … Ira Gershwin and the Great American Songbook” at Park Square. Actor Ari Hoptman, right, plays Gershwin with an avuncular, self-deprecating style, and vocalists T. Mychael Rambo and Jennifer Grimm dig into the lyrics of more than two dozen songs. A line such as “It Ain’t Necessarily So” has such perfect cadence with a five-syllable word tucked inside the three shorties, with that open “oh” at the end. It sounds simple, but that is the genius of genius. www.parksquaretheatre.org.
2 Peter “Lord of the Rings” Jackson has found his groove again with “The Desolation of Smaug,” a rip-roaring wizards-and-lizards escapade that delivers a full quota of thrills while remaining true to the lighthearted spirit of the source material. This 2¾-hour film is not the place for the uninitiated to enter Jackson’s Tolkien universe. However, the initiated will be richly rewarded. And it’s not just the snazzy effects technology that sings here, it’s the storytelling.
4 Did “Minnesota Beatle Project” organizers save the best for last? It’s debatable after the four previous charity/tribute albums, but “Vol. 5” — the purported finale — certainly makes that case. Like its predecessors, it’s rich in diversity — from Secret Stash soul man Sonny Knight’s hard-blasting “Day Tripper” and indie rockers Zoo Animal’s “Dig a Pony” to electro-ambient wizard Dosh’s gorgeous instrumental take on “Blue Jay Way” and twang-pickin’ versions of “Mother Nature’s Son” by the Okee Dokee Brothers and “This Boy” by the Cactus Blossoms. Proceeds benefit music education around Minnesota.
3 You might have to get a loan to afford the $300 price tag on “Breaking Bad: The Complete Series,” but the bonuses may be worth the investment. The boxed set comes with a whopping 55 hours of extras, a Los Pollos Hermanos apron and a commemorative coin. Most important, there’s a two-hour documentary tracing the final, riveting season, which includes footage of stars Bryan Cranston (below) and Aaron Paul reading the final scene for the first time.
5 Even if the Minneapolis Downtown Council might become the Grinch that stole Holidazzle, let’s enjoy one last weekend of the Twin Cities’ quickest and most kid-friendly parade. Grab a warm seat in the skyways or tough it out on the curb and watch the twinkling lights, the storybook characters and Santa parade by. If the Downtown Council doesn’t re-up for next year, we’ll always cherish the memories of our boss marching down Nicollet Mall enveloped in a costume of blinking lights.