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#AnneFrank - Parallel Stories

A documentary about Anne Frank makes for an awfully sobering Friday night’s watching, but #AnneFrank—Parallel Stories is well worth the discomfort and sadness. The 75th anniversary of the Auschwitz liberation in 2019 was marked by this poignant and illuminating documentary, presented on camera by Helen Mirren centering on the Anne Frank story. The acclaimed Mirren is an odd choice to helm this feature, but as always, her acting transports the listener as she reads passages from Anne’s famous diary in a reconstruction of Anne’s secret room in the Amsterdam house. These readings, infused with Mirren’s emotions, are intertwined with testimony from current Holocaust survivors; poignantly, the survivors featured here were all born in Anne’s birth year, 1929. Their accounts are delivered in stoic fashion and speak to the resilience of the human spirit. These testimonies are woven with contributions from World War II and Holocaust historians, as well as photos and footage of skeletal survivors and corpses. Mirren also narrates the journey of a young woman, @KaterinaKat, as the viewer knows her, through Europe to places important in Anne's story. @KaterinaKat hears the stories of survivors and sees where the events took place long ago, posting about her journey on her social media platforms. It’s hard to watch much of #AnneFrank—Parallel Stories, but in the end, I was glad I spent the time learning about history and a remarkable and inspiring young woman. This documentary is a great way for teens to make emotional connections to the not-so-distant past, the past in which their very own grandparents could have been children. As @KatarinaKat shows us, social media can sometimes be a thoughtful part of our collective understanding of events, past and present. (TV-14, Netflix)


British import Quiz is exactly the kind of hidden gem I love to find on North American TV, although it was hardly hidden when the three-part series aired on the UK’s ITV to monster ratings. If you love Who Wants to Be a Millionaire as I do, you will be even more hooked into this ripped-from-the-headlines dramatization of how married couple Major Charles (Matthew Macfadyen, Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice) and Diana Ingram (Fleabag’s Sian Clifford) attempted an outrageous heist on Millionaire—or did they? This series is so layered with clues and winks that you don’t know if the Ingrams were guilty or innocent of winning a million pounds on the show as a direct result of cheating. The first episode makes you think that yes, Charles did receive help from an audience member to direct him to the right answer when the audience member coughed at opportune times. Was it just random coughing or strategic? The second episode flips everything on its head and makes you think that Charles was completely innocent! Even after the third episode, which features the gripping court case, you end up drawing your own conclusions. Macfadyen played Darcy 15 years ago, and this roleof affable though schlumpy Charlesshows his vast range as an actor. The series, based on a West End play of the “coughing scandal,” which asked the audience at the end of each performance to vote on Ingram’s guilt or innocence, engrosses the viewer with clever writing and compelling acting performances. (TV-14, AMC, Amazon Prime)

McFarland, USA

Recently, my family and I were looking for a movie to watch together, and my sophomore daughter was panning all of my suggestions. Then she offered one of her own, and it ended up being perfect. As a Spanish immersion student, she had seen this inspirational sports movie several times in various classes, except we were watching it in English and she had watched in Spanish. I can see why her teachers thought McFarland, USA, was a good pick as it not only features a fabulous Spanish music soundtrack, but it focuses on a Spanish-speaking subculture: Mexican immigrants who pick almonds and oranges in a California town. Track coach Jim White (Kevin Costner, who has not lost his movie-star quality) is a newcomer to a predominantly Latino high-school. The town is poor, and Coach and his family have inherent biases; they have a lot to unlearn. But just before he bolts, Coach White discovers that some of the boys are exceptional runners, and he starts the school’s first cross-country team. He has an uphill climb with these boys and their families, but as he begins to admire their work ethic and team spirit, he and his family change along with the runners. Based on a stirring true story, McFarland, USA has its tropes, sure, but in the end, we found ourselves cheering these runners across the finish line. (Rated PG, Amazon Prime, YouTube)

Love, Guaranteed

Netflix continues to give Hallmark a run for their money with its holiday sleigh-full of feel-good rom coms, and Love, Guaranteed is a perfect example. Thankfully, between the two winning leadsRachael Leigh Cook and Damon Wayansand a witty, fizzy script, this story of two likeable singles finding love checks all the boxes for cozy and uncomplicated viewing. The movie follows Susan (Cook), a struggling lawyer who has taken too many pro bono cases and is now in danger of folding her business. Enter Nick (Wayans), a wealthy single man who hires Susan to represent him as he sues the dating app “Love, Guaranteed” for promising but not delivering love. When the film begins, he has gone on 1,000 dates, which have all gone bust for one reason or anotherincluding the woman who brought her parents on the date and the woman who talked about cats the whole night. The dating site’s fine print stipulates that you must go on 1,000 failed dates before they pay up, and that’s what he hopes Susan can make them do. Of course, the two of them begin to fall for each other, and it actually becomes fun to predict what will happen at every turn because every prediction comes true. Still, this little charmer does what it sets out to dogive viewers something to watch while sipping hot cocoa with marshmallows. Wayans is especially good at this rom-com leading man thingwho knew? Though it falls apart a bit at the end, Love, Guaranteed is an endearing way to spend an evening. The Hallmark Channel better watch its back. (TV-PG Netflix)

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

Now for something genuinely inspiring: A movie that doesn’t just pull at your heartstrings but actually catalyzes you into thinking differently about poverty and resilience. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is a shining gem that tells a true story so preposterous no Hollywood screenwriter would ever dare make it up. William Kamkwamba (Maxwell Simba) is an exceptional boy with a talent for mechanics and fixing what is broken, which in the case of his Malawian village, is radios. He picks around in the junkyard, looking for parts that might fix what is broken, but what is shattered on a larger level is his village and his country. William’s family cannot afford to send him to school, and they nearly starve to death amid corruption and famine. Though he faces a multitude of hardships, William sets about building a windmill out of random parts to generate enough electricity to water the parched fields and save his family and village from drought and famine. Oscar-nominated actor Chiwetel Ejiofor’s skilled directorial debut does not sugarcoat the grit and hardship of famine, but this is still suitable for family viewing. William provides a much-needed hero for our daya young person who tackles massive challenges with tenacity and courage. (TV-PG, Netflix)

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