Visit Cuba for a weekend with Geoffrey Baer

Travel with host Geoffrey Baer to explore the heart of Cuba’s magical capital city, now open to Americans after more than 50 years. Three young locals—architect and restorationist Daniel de la Regata; Irene Rodriguez, one of Cuba’s top flamenco dancers; and Grammy-nominated jazz pianist Roberto Fonseca—serve as enthusiastic guides, allowing viewers to experience this vibrant and historic place through the eyes of those who love it and call it home. Witness the adventures in Weekend in Havana.

PBS Distribution releases the DVD July 25; the program will also be available for digital download.

Baer, host of the PBS series 10 That Changed America about game-changing buildings, homes, parks, owns as well as more than 20 specials on Chicago history and architecture, takes to the streets of Havana with his guides and new fast friends, Daniel, Irene, and Roberto. After meeting up at a café in Cathedral Plaza in Old Havana, he is given a whirlwind tour of Cuba’s fascinating and colorful history, a hands-on introduction to Afro-Cuban music and dance, a primer on Havana’s varied architecture and efforts being made to restore many of the city’s ruins, and an inside look at how everyday Cubans live in this “old city trying to find its place in the modern world,” a land off-limits to Americans for decades.

Guided by his new friends, Geoffrey witnesses the nightly firing of the cannon at the fortress of San Carlos de la Cabana; visits Plaza de Armas, the city’s first public square; rides in a 1950s-era red Chevrolet on a journey through Havana’s breathtaking but sometimes crumbling architecture; and meets an auto mechanic charged with keeping many of Havana’s vintage automobiles in running order. He also takes a wild ride in a “coco taxi,” a small yellow vehicle sans seatbelts that looks like a coconut, and gets an overview of the vivid local arts scene, which includes street musicians along El Malecón’s crowded sea wall. He dines in one of the city’s many paladars (intimate family restaurants in what were once private homes), and hobnobs with the fashionable young crowd at La Fabrica, a series of art galleries, bars and performance spaces located in an old factory.

Geoffrey also visits a ruined sugar plantation where African slaves once toiled and takes part in a present-day Santeria ritual in a private home. From Roberto and his band, Geoffrey gets a quick tutorial on Afro-Cuban percussion at the famous Studio Areito, one of the oldest surviving recording studios in the world. After a visit to the U.S. Embassy, Geoffrey watches young athletes taking part in America’s and Cuba’s joint national pastime, baseball, unearths some reminders of the turbulent Cuban Revolution era, and is granted rare access to one of Havana’s most important restoration projects: El Capitolio, Cuba’s Capitol building, modeled after the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. He also imbibes at one of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite watering holes and boats out to the small fishing village of Cojimar, the setting for The Old Man and the Sea, and visits Hemingway’s home in San Francisco de Paula

Geoffrey checks out the glitzy floorshow at the Tropicana nightclub, and ends his journey at La Guarida’s rooftop piano bar, perched atop a crumbling mansion. With Roberto’s band playing in the background, he reflects on the new understanding he has gained of Havana.

25 years after its release, “Juice” still is a powerful flick, now on its Blu-ray debut

Paramount is pushing the power of Juice. A powerful morality tale steeped in ’90s urban culture, Juice marked the feature directorial debut of Spike Lee’s acclaimed cinematographer Ernest R. Dickerson and the first starring roles for Omar Epps and an electrifying Tupac Shakur.

Now, 25 years later, the gritty and influential film continues to be celebrated for its realistic portrayal of Harlem life, the early New York hip hop scene and the fate of four friends in pursuit of the power and respect they call the Juice.

To mark the film’s silver anniversary, Paramount Home Media Distribution has released the film on Blu-ray for the first time ever, and it’s packed with brand new interviews with Dickerson, producer David Heyman, Epps and fellow actors Khalil Kain and Jermaine Hopkins.  The cast and crew look back on making the film, share heartfelt stories of working with Shakur and reveal the influence that Juice had on them both personally and professionally. The in-depth featurettes are also loaded with never-before-released footage of the cast on set and vintage interviews with Shakur, Queen Latifah, Cindy Herron of En Vogue, the Shocklee brothers, Eric B, EPMD, Cypress Hill and more.  Along with a brand new commentary by the director, fans also will get to see the original ending and hear Dickerson detail the reasons that it was changed prior to the film’s theatrical debut.

Juice has also been released on DVD and on Digital HD.

Two new DVD frame the lives of John James Audubon and Alice Waters

We turn the spotlight onto two must-have documentaries on DVD: Public Media Distribution’s Audubon (available June 20) and PBS Distribution’s American Masters: Alice Waters and Her Delicious Revolution (now available).

John James Audubon was one of the most remarkable men of early America. A contemporary of Lewis and Clark and Davy Crockett, he explored the American frontier in search of “the feathered tribes” he loved and studied. A self-taught artist and ornithologist, he left a legacy of art and science that made him famous in his lifetime and endures to this day. His portrait hangs in the White House, his statue stands over the entrance to the American Museum of Natural History, and his name was adopted by the nation’s first conservation organization.

The program, filmed in locations where Audubon painted, brings to life his timeless paintings with dazzling footage of the living birds he immortalized—and celebrates visually the natural world he described in his writings. Interviews reveal the man, explore his art, and put his groundbreaking work in modern perspective.

Alice Waters and her now-famous restaurant Chez Panisse became a major force behind the way Americans eat and think about food, launching the explosion of local farmers’ markets and redesigned supermarket produce departments.

Distressed by the food she saw in public schools, Waters started an organic garden with an integrated curriculum at the Martin Luther King Middle School near her house, an idea inspired by The Garden Project at the San Francisco county jail. The idea of an Edible Schoolyard has now spread across the U.S.–and inspired similar programs worldwide. She is an activist with a flawless palette who has taken her gift for food and turned it into consciousness about the environment and nutrition, and a device for social change.

“Nova: Building Chernobyl’s MegaTomb” proves another disaster looms

Ever wonder why Nova, now in its 44nd season, is the most-watched primetime science series on American television, reaching an average of five million viewers weekly? The series remains committed to producing in-depth science programming in the form of hour-long (and occasionally longer) documentaries. Witness another wonder: Nova: Building Chernobyl’s MegaTomb (PBS Distribution).

In 1986, in the heart of the Ukraine, the Chernobyl nuclear reactor exploded, releasing 400 times more radiation than the Hiroshima Bomb. It was the world’s worst nuclear disaster.  Thirty workers died. 50,000 people fled the nearest city. And radioactive fallout made an area larger than Long Island a no-go zone. Hastily, a so-called “sarcophagus” was built to contain the radioactive materials that lingered at the site after the explosion. But 30 years later, the sarcophagus is crumbling, and another disaster at Chernobyl looms.

Now, an international team of engineers is racing the clock to assemble one of the most ambitious superstructures ever built … an extraordinary 40,000 ton, 1.5 billion dollar mega dome to entomb the crumbling remains of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor. Battling arctic winter weather–and lethal radiation–this DVD features the inside story of the epic race to build Chernobyl’s MegaTomb.

“Masterpiece” dials back the clock to spotlight the influences to create “Prime Suspect: Tennison”

Behind every great detective is a backstory. Masterpiece dials back the clock to spotlight the influences that turned 22-year-old rookie WPC (Woman Police Constable) Jane Tennison into the savvy, single-minded crime fighter beloved by Prime Suspect viewers over the course of seven seasons. Stefanie Martini stars as Tennison–the iconic role immortalized by Helen Mirren.

Prime Suspect: Tennison (PBS Distribution), based on the bestselling novel Tennison by Lynda La Plante, will be available on DVD and Blu-ray July 11; the program will also be available for digital download.

A prequel to one of the most innovative crime series in television history, the program also stars Sam Reid as Jane’s mentor, DCI Len Bradfield; Blake Harrison as Bradfield’s volatile sergeant, DS Spencer Gibbs; Jessica Gunning as Jane’s female colleague and friend, WPC Kath Morgan; and Alun Armstrong as crime family kingpin Clifford Bentley.

Tied to murder, gambling, narcotics, prostitution, and high-stakes break-ins, the Bentleys and their underworld rivals give Jane a crash course in the gritty realities of police work—an experience that is all the more challenging because she is a young woman trying to make it in the sexist culture of the force.

Set in 1973 amid the sounds of the pop tunes of the day, Prime Suspect: Tennison opens with Jane a newly minted Woman Police Constable, performing her probationary stint at Hackney Police Station in East London. Relegated to traffic incidents, dispatching, and other routine police chores—in addition to serving the senior officers tea—she gets her big break when a murder case of a young girl calls for an all-hands-on-deck investigation.

So commences Jane’s real education. The case officer, DCI Len Bradfield, discovers that she is an eager learner and an indispensable assistant for any task that comes up: from observing an autopsy to surreptitiously gathering clues while comforting the victim’s parents. Not to mention, Bradfield finds Jane irresistibly attractive.

The murder victim is a young prostitute and drug addict from a respectable middle- class family. The case is more complicated than it appears, with baffling wounds on the corpse, signs of captivity and bondage, and a widening circle of potential suspects.

Meanwhile, in a nearby prison, Clifford Bentley is about to be released after serving a sentence for burglary, which is the least of his crimes. He wastes no time setting the wheels in motion for a new felony—his masterpiece. Little does Jane know, but she has already met some of the participants in this plot, which will have a profound impact on her personality and outlook, helping to mold the hard-bitten, hard-driving character that millions of Prime Suspect viewers know as DCI Jane Tennison.

“Family Mission: The TJ Lobraico Story” is profound, powerful

105th Airlift Wing NY Air Nation – Used by Permission of the Lobraico Family
TJ Lobraico, a young Air Force Staff Sergeant from a small-town in Connecticut, was on patrol with his unit in Afghanistan, five miles north of Bagram Airfield in September of 2013. The American patrol interrupted an enemy IED team, and TJ ran into enemy fire to protect his teammates and the K9 unit patrolling with them.   He was hit multiple times by small arms fire and died on the battlefield.
TJ was born into a close USAF family that served together at Stewart Air National Guard Base in New York. His mother is a Lt. Colonel and his father a USAF Master Sergeant in the security forces, both in the same unit in which TJ served. His stepfather is a former Air Force medical technician and his grandfather a retired two-star general.  TJ’s brother-in-law was with him when he died.
He was sworn in by his mother, and later buried by her after falling in combat. Family Mission: The TJ Lobraico Story (Virgil Films) is TJ’s story, but also that of an Air Force family that lost their youngest member to enemy fire, but still continues to serve; service to country is a true family mission.

A wonder, woman: “The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen: Awesome Female Characters from Comic Book History”

Think strong female protagonists are a modern invention? Think again. Women have been a staple of comics since the creation of the medium. Prepare for a deep dive into pop culture and the fantastic female characters who shaped the world of superheroes with The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen: Awesome Female Characters from Comic Book History (Quirk Books, $24.95).

Author Hope Nicholson, owner and founder of Bedside Press, is one of the fastest rising stars of the comic book industry. Here,  Nicholson plumbs each decade of comics’ rich history, from the ’30s to today, exploring not only prominent women (both fictional and real) but also key trends. Readers will time-travel through the birth of the industry in the ’30s, the wartime comics of the ’40s, the Golden Age of superheroes in the ’50s, the popularity of romance comics in the ’60s, the indie comics boom of the ’70s, and the creation of the modern comic book trade from the 1980s to today.

Immersive chapters highlight a diverse slate of iconic and forgotten characters, with each heroine receiving her own write-up, paired with vintage art and essential reading suggestions. Each chapter ends with an “Hero of theDecade” feature packed with facts and thoughtful critique about some of the most important female protagonists of all time, including Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Watchmen’s Silk Spectre and Ms. Marvel. These heroines are celebrated for their lasting pop-cultural impact and the important role they played in redefining the way people interacted with women in comics.

The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen introduces long-lost characters while allowing readers to see their favorites in a whole new light.  We also learn that the superwomen of the comic book industry weren’t merely confined to the page.

Throughout the book Nicholson reveals fascinating anecdotes about women who worked in the medium, from the all-female creative team at publisher Fiction House during World War II to the surge of female creators during the independent comics boom of the 1970s.

Longtime and recent fans alike will love this comprehensive look at the female characters who have defined comics since the very start. From the halls of comic cons to the halls of academia, The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen will become your go-to reference for history’s greatest heroines.

First Run Features releases two great new DVDs . . . and all that jazz

Streisand wondered how do you keep the music playing? We wonder what does it take to keep Jazz Age music going strong in the 21st century? Two words: Vince Giordano. He’s a bandleader, musician, historian, scholar and Madhattan institution. For nearly 40 years, Giordano and The Nighthawks have brought the joyful syncopation of the ’20s and ’30s to life with their virtuosity, vintage musical instruments and more than 60,000 period band arrangements.

They take to the stage of Iguana (240 West 54 Street) every Monday and Tuesday evening. Three sets are performed from 8 p.m.-11 p.m. (doors open at 7 p.m.). There’s a $20 cash cover charge at the door + a $20 food/drink minimum. For reservations, call (212) 765-5454.

Can’t take the A train to NYC? We strongly encourages viewing Dave Davidson and Amber Edwards’’s There’s a Future in the Past (First Run Features), a beautifully-crafted documentary that offers an intimate and energetic portrait of a truly devoted musician and preservationist, taking us behind the scenes of the recording of HBO’s Grammy-winning Boardwalk Empire soundtrack, and alongside Giordano as he shares his passion for hot jazz with a new generation of music and swing-dance fans.

The DVD starts swinging on July 11.

Also swinging that day from FRF: The Penguin Counters. Armed with low-tech gear and high-minded notions that penguin populations hold the key to human survival, Ron Naveen lays bare his 30-year love affair with the world’s most pristine scientific laboratory: Antarctica. The film follows Ron and his ragtag team of field biologists to one of the harshest corners of the planet, where they track the impact of climate change and ocean health by counting penguin populations.

What’s unique about this film is the verité style of filmmaking (by Peter Getzels, Harriet Gordon and Erik Osterholm) on a scientific quest in the Antarctic, skillfully embedding an important environmental message with a good yarn. Special permits allowed unprecedented access to remote penguin colonies–in all their chaos and splendor.

Haunted by the ghosts of fallen explorers and charmed by the eccentricities of feathered bipeds, the penguin counters’ treacherous, heart-warming journey poses the ultimate question in the world’s fastest warming region: What can humans learn from penguins on the frontlines of climate change?

PBS takes a dramatic, often depression peek in “Victorian Slum House”

What would it be like . . .

In the landmark living history series, a Victorian tenement in the heart of London’s East End has been painstakingly brought back to life. Host Michael Mosley joins a group of 21st-century families as they move in and experience the tough living and working conditions of the Victorian poor.

The experience: Victorian Slum House.

Progressing decade by decade, the Slum residents begin life in tough conditions of the 1860s, when London, capital of the world’s first industrial superpower, and the richest city on Earth, was also home to the nation’s most desperately poor. Most managed to get by but putting food on the table and paying the rent involves long hours of hard labor.

As the slum dwellers move into the 1870s and the 1880s, they are faced with a dire economic depression and increasing competition for jobs; and revolution is in the air. Things get better for some in the 1890s, as Victorian Britain’s economy picks up but it’s during the early 1900s that progressive social change starts to make a real difference. Through their incredible journey they discover the extraordinary story of how the Victorian East End changed Britain’s attitude to poverty forever.

 

Anne Frank was right: Paper has more patience than people, and “An Anthology of Decorated Papers” stuns

Papercrafting has just gotten more elegant, more exciting and much richer and more dignified with the stunning An Anthology of Decorated Papers  (Thames & Hudson, $60). P.J.M. Marks, P. J. M. Marks, curator of bookbindings at the British Library,  has pulled together a collection of gorgeously reproduced decorated papers, along with a thoughtful and carefully researched history of this often-overlooked art.book cover

Rich in ornamentation, decorated papers have been in use for centuries—as wrappers and endpapers for books, as the backing for playing cards, and even as linings for chests and cases.

Yet despite the many contexts in which they can be found, they often go unnoticed. The remarkable new book An Anthology of Decorated Papers not only showcases several hundred of the best and most exquisite examples of decorated paper, but also provides a fascinating introduction to its history, traditions and techniques.

“Decorated papers have been produced worldwide for centuries,” Marks writes in the introduction to the book. From rudimentary paper in the Chinese court in 105 AD to block printing in China and Japan in the ninth and seventeenth centuries, respectively, to pre-industrial European decorated papers in Germany, France and Italy, to the impact of decorated papers, including Benjamin Franklin’s introduction of bank notes printed marbled paper to counter fraud, Marks examines the many paths and uses of decorated paper throughout history, including in art, bookbinding, and stationery.

Drawing on the Olga Hirsch collection at the British Library, one of the largest and most diverse collections of decorated papers in the world, this beautifully produced anthology will both delight and inspire designers, bibliophiles, and anyone with a love of pattern and decoration.

 

Petrucelli Picks the best in books, music and film . . . and then some