Six Picks: Recommendations from the Monitor staff

Garry Shandling's humor on DVD, an Italian cook's life in paperback, Cuban music after Castro, and more.

Kudos film and tV/BBC
Courtesy of Shout! Factory
Courtesy of Kuandi Studio

A war in motion

War dramas are not easy to watch and often – if the battles are still raging – not long on insight or perspective. The BBC's award-winning "Occupation," a three-part tale of three British soldiers involved in Basra after the Iraq invasion, manages to bring a war into a meaningful, if darkly emotional, focus as it explores the impact of billions of dollars of US investment and an uncertain prognosis for both the local population and those who are prosecuting the effort. Begins on BBC America Oct. 18.

Groundbreaking comedy

Before Larry David, Ricky Gervais, and Steve Carell, there was Garry Shandling and his groundbreaking cable show on Showtime. Back in 1986, just as he was set to become a permanent guest host for Johnny Carson, he opted to create "It's Garry Shandling's Show," in which he self-consciously mocked every premise of late-night TV. The show ran for a mere four years, but every comic who came after him built on his routines of deadpan turns to the audience and witty irony. All four seasons will be released as a boxed DVD set on Oct. 20.

Boogie with Che?

Cuban music after Castro's revolution was largely a state-controlled art subject to rigid censorship to filter out Yankee influences, but for a few years the state looked the other way when Cuban bands mined US styles for inspiration. "Si Para Usted, Vol. 2" (Waxing Deep), is a well annotated CD compilation revealing young Cuban musicians with one ear tuned to Miami radio, the other to Radio Havana. Sixteen rowdy bands tinker with fuzz-toned psychedelic rock, blaxploitation soundtrack music, and jazzy funk. Nothing sounds dated today, making this an exhilarating capture of an unfettered musical era.

Marcella's memoir

Her books and classes have introduced the purest of Italian cooking to America and now her memoir "Amarcord: Marcella Remembers" (Gotham Books, $16), out in paperback, recounts that journey. Evocative and full of affection, it shows how central food has always been to Marcella Hazan's life, even though it wasn't until she arrived in New York from Italy as a newlywed that she learned her way round the kitchen.

Bicoastal celebration

"Ancient Paths, Modern Voices" is a bicoastal, month-long celebration of Chinese culture launching Oct. 21 at New York City's Carnegie Hall and Oct. 11 in southern California's Orange County. Featuring music, theater, art exhibitions, and dance, the "Ancient Paths" include world-renowned pipa virtuoso Wu Man (pictured at left), playing traditional Chinese music, and the Quanzhou Marionette Theater puppet opera. "Modern Voices" include international superstars such as Lang Lang, Yo-Yo Ma, and Tan Dun.

Secret composers

Ever seen birds sitting on wires and wondered what it would sound like if you translated their bodies into notes on a staff. That's what Brazilian film director and musician Jarbas Agnelli did. The result is a sweet, surprisingly melodic tune. To hear it go to

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