Valley Public Radio - Live Audio

Mark Jenkins

The latest teen-girl fiction series to become a movie franchise, Divergent delivers adolescent viewers some bad news and some good news. The bad is that the dystopian future will be just like high school, with kids divided into rigid cliques. The good is that adulthood will be just like high school, so teens face no major surprises.

If you're only going to see one film about the Battle of Stalingrad — and there are many — Stalingrad would be the wrong choice. Russian director Fedor Bondarchuk's treatment of the World War II turning point is shallow and contrived, if sometimes impressively staged. The movie wins points, however, for sheer wackiness.

Israeli director Eran Riklis often depicts characters separated by borders. In The Syrian Bride, a Druze woman leaves Israel to marry, knowing she can never return to visit her family; in Lemon Tree, a privileged Israeli woman and a disadvantaged Palestinian regard one another warily from opposite sides of the fence between free and occupied territory.

Zaytoun is different: This time, the director allows his characters to cross the frontier. That makes for a story that's sweeter, but also less convincing.

Relocating Dangerous Liaisons, the 18th-century French erotic intrigue, to 1930s Shanghai is a bold move. And yet it's not especially surprising. In Chinese movies, that city in that decade frequently serves as shorthand for decadence. And what could be more decadent than two debauched ex-lovers cold-heartedly planning to destroy the innocence of not one but two virtuous women?

The original French title of The Big Picture — an adaptation of a novel by American expatriate writer Douglas Kennedy — means "the man who wanted to live his life." That's pointedly ironic, since this existential thriller is about a person who seeks personal freedom by becoming somebody else.