Before Homeland there was Prisoners of War, and though they share a general premise, you cannot assume you know what to expect. In the original Israeli series, two POWs return home after seventeen years in captivity. Seventeen years. Time enough that one soldier faces teenage children who don’t know him at all, while his comrade is confronted with a fiancée who has since married his brother. A third hostage returns in a coffin, but his sister sees and hears him as if he survived. Extraordinary in its quiet, tense moments, Prisoners of War is a complex and provocative exploration of the effects of torture, suspicion, and the struggle to reintegrate into both family and society.
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“I just love finding new places to wear diamonds,” said Marilyn Monroe in the 1953 musical comedy Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Director Howard Hawks’ style and Jane Russell’s sharp delivery, with Marilyn’s iconic performance of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” make this female buddy film a lighthearted pleasure.
Adapted from Jules Feiffer’s play, 1971’s Little Murders is a pitch-black paranoid satire which follows a couple and their supremely dysfunctional family through an absurdly (and disquietingly) chaotic New York City. Don’t miss Donald Sutherland’s legendary extended cameo as an unorthodox wedding officiant.
Prior to making one of the best films of the 1990s (Rushmore), Owen Wilson and Wes Anderson introduced their blend of sweet-tempered humanism and low-key comedy with Bottle Rocket. Ostensibly a heist flick, Bottle Rocket is in actuality an exceptionally laid-back tale of adolescent camaraderie and small ambitions. Fresh from a stay in a mental hospital, Anthony is recruited by his reality-challenged friend Dignan in an absurd plan to become master criminals. However, after another friend becomes involved, the trio’s schemes begin to disintegrate into aimlessness. Affable performances from the Wilson brothers turn Bottle Rocket’s gently ambling pace and charming comedic quirks into a picture one can’t help but like.
Vivian Maier was an area nanny whose ubiquitous camera captured life in Chicago in the mid-century. Her rich, evocative work remained unnoticed until 2007 when thousands of negatives were purchased at a storage unit auction. Curiosity in the woman and appreciation for her work have since skyrocketed. Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows offers a glimpse at her talent, and the new DVD Finding Vivian Maier attempts to shed light on the artist.
For a Hollywood love story about a marriage on the rocks, Two for the Road is structurally complex: throughout the film, the story seamlessly cuts back and forth across four different time periods. These sometimes-abrupt shifts follow Joanna and Mark Wallace (Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney) during four road trips through the south of France spanning a twelve-year period. Frederic Raphael’s clever script uses this device to place the banter of early courtship alongside the pointed barbs of a troubled later marriage, and what emerges is a refreshingly multifaceted portrait of how both people and relationships can change over time. Supported by Raphael’s incisive dialogue and a novel editing scheme, Stanley Donen’s surehanded direction reveals an engaging chemistry between Hepburn and Finney in moments both comedic and dramatic.
The anime and manga series Attack on Titan is an action-packed and unique story. Set in a world where huge man-eating giants called Titans terrorize the earth, this story follows a group of young people who are sick of living in fear.
A body is discovered lying across the border of Sweden and Denmark, and it’s only the first in a series of violent crimes designed to draw attention to social ills. A fascinating achievement of international television, Bron / Broen (The Bridge) straddles intersecting character arcs in a tension-filled series that examines the boundaries we cross.
Michael Cera plays one of those insufferable hangers-on, the type of guy who’s always the last to leave the party (long after the hosts have expressed their desire for sleep) in Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus, a surprisingly poignant indie road-trip flick. On a single-minded quest to find, prepare, and consume the titular “magic cactus,” he hooks up with three sweet-natured Chilean brothers. Also on board is a free-spirited American girl named Crystal Fairy (a magnetic Gaby Hoffmann), who frustrates him with a goodness that he sees as an obstacle to his desired hallucinogenic journey. It’s an offbeat ride, for sure, but the dynamic that develops between these disparate characters is fascinating and leads to a heartbreaking revelation.
I was a member of the audience for the premier of Big Eden at the world famous Castro Theatre in June 2000 and happily joined in the thunderous 10 minute standing ovation. Big Eden is a winsome gay romantic comedy which turns stereotypes upside down with humor and a heart-warming romance.