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Six Picks: Recommendations from the Monitor staff

India's epic history on TV, Japan's thriving game arcades, and a game of charades that you can play by yourself.

January 2, 2009

Courtesy of PBS

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epic history of a subcontinent

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India has an ancient culture that gave birth to four world religions; now its diverse population is embracing the modern world of computers, invention, science, and industry. This beautifully filmed, six-hour miniseries touches on the great figures of its past – Alexander the Great, Buddha – as well as 20th-century figures like Gandhi and Nehru while depicting eye-popping geography from the deserts of Turkmenistan to the mountainous Khyber Pass. The Story of India airs on PBS Mondays, Jan. 5-19, 9-11 p.m.

another great performance

In the classic play Cyrano de Bergerac, it's a tossup which weapon is deadlier in the tragic hero's tool kit – his wit or his rapier. Few actors can bring both the elegant verse and elaborate stage fights to life as well as Kevin Kline. Watch the lovelorn poet/warrior woo the beautiful Roxane (Jennifer Garner) in PBS's "Great Performances" film of the 2007 Broadway production. It airs Wednesday, Jan. 7, at 8 p.m.

Inside Japan's game arcades

Arcades went out of fashion in the West about 10 years ago – blame great platform creations from Nintendo and others – but in Japan, "game centers" are still in vogue. Brian Ashcraft's new book, Arcade Mania!, covers various genres, from side-scrolling shooters to rhythm games, like "Dance Dance Revolution." Ashcraft is an editor of Kotaku, one of the biggest blogs on the Internet, and his writing style is as fast and furious as the pixelated, fantastical landscapes he evokes.

a moral dilemma

Don't go see Nothing but the Truth alone. When director Rod Lurie's political thriller ends with a blind-curve plot twist, you'll want to talk it over with someone. Kate Beckinsale plays a journalist who goes to prison for refusing to reveal the identity of a source. (The plot was inspired by the Valerie Plame affair that led to the jailing of former New York Times journalist Judith Miller.) You'll talk for hours about the extent to which you'd sacrifice yourself to uphold a principle.

Senior Cinemaphiles

YouTube has its own Siskel & Ebert: an octogenarian duo who call themselves "The Reel Geezers." Veteran producer Marcia Nasatir and her longtime friend Lorenzo Semple Jr., screenwriter of films such as "Three Days of the Condor," bring their senior-citizen sensibilities and film-industry perspective to critiques of recent cinema releases. You'll find their charming and funny reviews at reelgeezers.com.

Charades 'solitaire' online

Charades is usually played at parties with lots of people. But there's no need to wait until the next bash. Check out www.youCharades.com. Choose a category (like movie titles), then watch a video clip of someone pantomiming the answer. Type in your guess or click on "Give Up!" and move on to the next one. Good news: Hints are available. Bad news: This can be addictive. But hey, now you're a party of one!

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