The horror genre long ago choked on its own blood. The decades-long rise of Gore Porn and Torture Porn has left cinephiles nostalgic for masters like Stanley Kubrik, William Friedkin and the goose-bump king: Alfred Hitchcock. This biopic (starring Anthony Hopkins as Hitchcock and Helen Mirren as his wife/crutch, Alma) reveals how the director's obsession with Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) drove the making of Psycho and takes us back to the golden days when suspense was an art.
The Greatest Hits, Il Divo
They may have been manufactured by impresario Simon Cowell, but there's nothing artificial about the adoration that's embraced the multinational pop opera quartet over the past eight years. With such classics as "Can't Help Falling in Love With You" and Roy Orbison's "Crying," this compilation proves what fans (and Cowell) have known all along: the only thing better than a gorgeous voice taking on a timeless love song is four gorgeous voices.
Frontline: Fast Times at West Philly High, PBS, Dec. 4
The formula may be familiar, but that doesn't make it any less riveting. Compassionate teacher meets neglected kids. Teacher and students embark on impossible quest against staggering odds. Kids succeed! Guaranteed to inspire, Fast Times chronicles a group of inner-city high schoolers with an especially astonishing mission: Build super-hybrid cars (from scratch!) that can get 100 miles per gallon competing against some of the most talented and well-financed engineers and universities around the world. On the line is $10 million and an even bigger prize: pride.
Swimming Home, Deborah Levy
Two couples renting a holiday villa on the French Riviera arrive to find a surprise floating in the pool: a naked woman. She's attractive, unstable and obsessed with the poet who has come to vacation there with his wife and friends. As Francine Prose noted in her New York Times review, this "disturbing and frequently funny" novel (short-listed for the Man Booker Prize) explores themes that complicate so many of our lives: "the weight of history and the past, the alarming ease with which mental illness can infect the relatively healthy, the intimacies and estrangements of marriage and family life, the insecurities of youth and the indignities of age."
WORTH THE TRIP
Tour Lincoln's Virginia
Thanks to Stephen Spielberg, Daniel Day-Lewis and Lincoln, one of our country's most momentous milestones has been brought to life with such artistry that it has set off an epidemic of Abe-itis. Lincoln lovers can keep buffing up on history with a trip to Richmond, Va., for tours like "Lincoln's Footsteps on the Trail of Enslaved Africans" and "Looking for the Lincolns." There's even a "Lincoln stayed here" rate at the Jefferson Hotel, the home away from home for the film's cast and crew.
Pamela Miller is a freelance writer in Los Angeles.