Picks of the week
‘The Water Diviner’
(R, 111 minutes, Warner): Oscar-winning actor Russell Crowe, in his directorial debut, tackles a tricky story of post-World War I reconciliation with a canvas large enough to encompass generous dollops of romanticism, adventure, melodramatic sentiment and mysticism. Working with a script by Andrew Knight and Andrew Anastasios, Crowe returns to classic storytelling values with this sweeping-yet-intimate, serious-yet-swashbuckling epic; that he succeeds only part of the time shouldn’t detract from the worthiness of his mission.
The film begins in 1915, several months after Allied forces from Australia and New Zealand invaded the Turkish peninsula known as Gallipoli; in the last throes of that notoriously vicious battle, three brothers are felled by enemy fire. The story then jumps to four years later, when the soldiers’ father, Joshua Connor – played by Crowe with sturdy, soulful understatement – is trying to rebuild his life as well as manage his wife’s lingering grief. Riven by guilt, Connor travels to Turkey to find the boys’ remains and finally carry them back home. Through a series of encounters – with a cheeky Istanbul urchin and his pretty mother, with snippy British military bosses and a dignified Turkish major and, finally, with the members of Turkey’s burgeoning post-war nationalist movement – Connor comes to grips with trauma, closure and multicultural sensitivity long before those concepts would be household words.
Handsomely filmed in tones reminiscent of hand-tinted postcards, graced with stirring, carefully stage-managed images of vast Australian horizons, Istanbul’s Blue Mosque and denuded battlefields, “The Water Diviner” has clearly been made with care and a tasteful eye. Contains war violence and disturbing images. Extras: A making-of and a featurette on the battle of Gallipoli.
(PG-13, 97 minutes, in French, Arabic, Bambara, Songhay, Tamasheq and English with subtitles, Cohen Media Group): This Oscar nominee for best foreign-language film focuses on a part of Africa where citizens – most of them Muslims – suffer indignity, violence, repression and death not as an abstract worst case but as daily life. Set in the titular city in Mali, the breathtaking, heartbreaking movie takes viewers into a world not their own, inviting them to explore it in ways more compassionate than didactic, and leaving them both better informed and perhaps more connected to people whose aspirations, joys and anxieties aren’t so different from their own. “Timbuktu’s” chief ambassadors are Kidane and Satima, who live in an open tent in the desert outside Timbuktu with their daughter and a young shepherd boy.
Although jihadists have taken over the city, Kidane and his family are mostly left alone while bullies patrol the streets with bullhorns banning smoking, soccer and music, and forcing women to wear socks and gloves in the punishing sub-Saharan heat. In time, however, their peaceful countryside existence will collide with the malign forces nearby because of a tragic chain of events involving Kidane’s cows, a grievous error and escalating misunderstandings. Contains violence and some thematic elements. Extras: An interview with director Aberrahmane Sissako.
(PG-13, 96 minutes, Alchemy): This taut yet hackneyed thriller about a wrongly accused fugitive with the authorities close behind borrows heavily from “North by Northwest,” “The Bourne Identity” and “The Fugitive.” Milla Jovovich plays Kate Abbott, a recent hire at the American Embassy in London in charge of security. She’s good at her job, too, which makes her unpopular with a group of killers who are plotting an attack on American soil. The crew sends a relentless assassin (Pierce Brosnan) after her. He goes by the code name Watchmaker, and when his plot to blow up Kate in a restaurant bombing goes awry, the terrorists try a different approach: Make her the prime suspect for the deadly blast. Suddenly her face is flashing across every screen in England, and she has to figure out how to evade both corrupt police officers and the icy, unyielding Watchmaker. Meanwhile, she has to solve the mystery of what these terrorists are plotting so that she can stop the attack. That’s a tall order, but any fan of the genre knows it’s doable. Contains violence and strong language.
“Me Without You”
“If There Be Thorns”
“Roman de Gare”
“Children of Giant”
“The Fisher King”
“Pound of Flesh”
“When Calls the Heart”
“Rolling Stones From the Vault: The Marquee Club Live in 1971”
“Curious George 3: Back to the Jungle”
“Graceland: Season 2”
“Workaholics: Season 5”
“Young Hercules: The Complete Series”
“Ripper Street: Season Three”