Weekly Video Picks

The American Revolution (1994)

The United States is almost unique among nations, in that it was founded on a set of ideas rather than an ethnic group, and, at this moment of national crisis, it's worth examining the principles for which we have always fought. The American Revolution, an A&E miniseries, chronicles the people and events that triggered the rebellion of the American colonies against England. Director Lisa Bourgoujian and writer Don Cambou combine battle re-enactments and location filming with paintings, engravings and the narratives of actual letters and documents from the 1770s.

Well-known actors playing different historical figures narrate the story. Both sides of the struggle are fairly and intelligently presented. We follow George Washington (Cliff Robertson) from the French and Indian Wars through the Revolution and the Constitutional Convention. Also singled out are Benjamin Franklin (Charles Durning), Abigail Adams (Michael Learned), King George III (David Warner), and Benedict Arnold (Kelsey Grammer). Expert commentary is provided by Bill Kurtis, Gen. John Galvin, Thomas Fleming and others.

Not Without My Daughter (1991)

Women in the Middle East are often treated differently than in the United States and Europe, and sometimes true love does not conquer all. Not Without My Daughter, based on Betty Mahmoody's real-life memoir, tells the story of an American woman (Sally Field) who marries a Muslim physician of Iranian descent named Moody (Alfred Molina). They live in Michigan and have a daughter, Mahtob (Sheila Rosenthal). Their relationship is happy until Moody takes his wife and child back to Iran for a vacation. Once there, he decides to settle permanently.

Betty discovers that women have few rights in that culture. She's forced to wear a chador in public, and her daughter must be raised Muslim. If Moody divorces her, he gets custody of Mahtob, and she will never see her again. When Moody beats Betty, she decides to escape to the West with her daughter. Although the melodrama is at times overheated, director Brian Gilbert (Tom and Viv) skillfully builds the story to a suspenseful climax.

The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965)

The Catholic Church has commissioned much of the greatest art ever created. These works represent the finest flowering of Western civilization. The Agony and the Ecstasy, based on Irving Stone's novel, dramatizes the conflicts between Michelangelo (Charlton Heston) and Pope Julius II (Rex Harrison) that produce the Sistine Chapel ceiling. The film recreates the inspiration and pain of the artistic process better than almost any other Hollywood movie.

Director Carol Reed (The Third Man) and screenwriter Philip Dunne (The Last of the Mohicans) depict Michelangelo as a perfectionist, who works on his back on a towering scaffold until he's almost blind. He defies tradition and chooses his models from thieves, drunks and lepers found at local inns. His patron, the warrior pope, is not above pulling rank and summoning troops to get his way. He is also often late in paying the painter, but shows a sensitive and intelligent appreciation of the results. “When will you be done?” the pontiff demands. “When I am finished,” the Renaissance genius replies.