All posts by alanwp

Jane Fonda goes evil! She lends her voice to Disney’s animated adventure “Elena and the Secret of Avalor”

Jane Fonda evil? Never, unless you ask those Vietnam vets. The 79-year-old actress lends her voice to the ever-youthful evil sorceress Shuriki in the small-screen Disney animated adventure Elena and the Secret of Avalor.

If you’ve been addicted to Fonda’s comedy-drama web television series Gracie and Frankie (co-starring her 9 to 5 co-star Lily Tomlin), you can see how the Avalor fuss began in the flick. And you can discover the secret behind the legend of Disney’s new Crown Princess.

Frozen in time and trapped inside the Amulet of Avalor for more than 40 years, Elena has finally found the one, brave princess who can set her free: Sofia of Enchancia.  With help from magical flying Jaquins, spirit animal Zuzo and young wizard-in-training Mateo, Princess Elena must unite her people and battle Shuriki as she tries to reclaim her throne.

You will recognize many voices, especially Aimee Carrero as Princess Elena and Ariel Winter as Sofia. This DVD is packed with laughs, new characters to cherish and heart, as well as four extra episodes, a music video and an exclusive Flying Jaquin mobile. What were you expecting, a Barbarella poster?

PBS offers the fascinating “Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise,” on TV and on DVD

She has been distinctly referred to as “a redwood tree, with deep roots in American culture.” She is a woman who has gone out on many limbs to make the world a better, safer and more living place.

Dr. Maya Angelou led a prolific life. As a singer, dancer, activist, poet and writer, she inspired generations with lyrical modern African-American thought that pushed boundaries. Best known for her autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, she gave people the freedom to think about their history in a way they never had before.

Her story is told in the marvelous American Masters: Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise, making its national broadcast premiere on Tuesday, February 21 at 8 p.m. on PBS as a continuing celebration of part of Black History. The DVD of the documentary will also be available (from PBS Distribution) that same done, and will include bonus features. The program will also be available for digital download.

With unprecedented access, filmmakers Bob Hercules and Rita Coburn Whack trace Dr. Angelou’s incredible journey, shedding light on the untold aspects of her life through never-before-seen footage, rare archival photographs and videos and her own words. From her upbringing in the Depression-era South and her early performing career (1957’s Miss Calypso album and Calypso Heat Wave film, Jean Genet’s 1961 play The Blacks) to her work with Malcolm X in Ghana and her many writing successes, including her inaugural poem for President Bill Clinton, American Masters: Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise reveals hidden facets of her life during some of America’s most defining moments.

The film also features exclusive interviews with Dr. Angelou, her friends and family, including Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Common, Alfre Woodard, Cicely Tyson, Quincy Jones, Hillary Clinton, Louis Gossett, Jr., John Singleton, Diahann Carroll, Valerie Simpson, Random House editor Bob Loomis and Dr. Angelou’s son, Guy Johnson.

American Masters: Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise premiered to critical acclaim at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. It won the Audience Award at AFI Docs and was featured at notable film festivals worldwide, including Full Frame, Sheffield, IDFA and Seattle, winning 17 awards on three continents, and has been nominated for an NAACP Image Award.

The show’s title comes from an Angelou poem:

“Out of the huts of history’s shame / I rise / Up from a past that’s rooted in pain / I rise / I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide, / Welling and swelling I bear in the tide. / Leaving behind nights of terror and fear / I rise / Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear / I rise.”

“American Experience: Battle of Chosin” recounts the epic, historical conflict

On Thanksgiving Day 1950, American-led United Nations troops were on the march in North Korea. U.S. Marine and Air Force pilots distributed holiday meals, even to those on the front lines. Hopes were high that everyone would be home by Christmas. But soon after that peaceful celebration, American military leaders, including General Douglas MacArthur, were caught off guard by the entrance of the People’s Republic of China, led by Mao Zedong, into the five-month-old Korean War.

Twelve thousand men of the First Marine Division, along with a few thousand Army soldiers, suddenly found themselves surrounded, outnumbered and at risk of annihilation at the Chosin Reservoir, high in the mountains of North Korea. The two-week battle that followed, fought in brutally cold temperatures, is one of the most celebrated in Marine Corps annals and helped set the course of American foreign policy in the Cold War and beyond. Incorporating interviews with more than 20 veterans of the campaign, American Experience: Battle of Chosin recounts this epic conflict through the heroic stories of the men who fought it.

The PBS Distribution documentary will be available on DVD on January 24; the program will also be available for digital download.

The events that led to the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir started five months earlier when Korea unexpectedly became the battleground for the first hot conflict of the Cold War. Split across the middle at the 38th parallel in the political settlement that followed World War II, the Korean peninsula had solidified into separate states by 1950.

The two new governments symbolized the rising struggle between the world’s dominant political ideologies: democracy and communism. The Soviet Union and Mao Zedong’s new Communist China supported North Korea while South Korea had the backing of the United States and other Western democracies. This balance of power held until June 25, 1950, when North Korea led a surprise attack against South Korea and quickly overran most of the Korean peninsula.

The United Nations Security Council approved a resolution to end the hostilities in Korea and authorized the United States military to lead a multi-national force against North Korea. President Harry Truman told the world that the United States would take “whatever steps were necessary” to contain Communist expansion in Korea. This included the possibility of unleashing nuclear weapons on China. Fears of World War III filled the news.

Under the command of General Douglas MacArthur, American-led forces had turned back North Korea’s aggression. MacArthur then set his sights on quickly pushing north to the Chinese border and reuniting the country under democratic rule. On the eve of MacArthur’s final offensive, the First Marine Division was strung out on a single 78-mile-long supply route leading to the Chosin Reservoir.

Mao Zedong had won a long and deadly civil war a year earlier and united China under the communist flag. When MacArthur’s UN forces threatened his border in the fall of 1950, Mao decided to act. By late November 1950, tens of thousands of Chinese soldiers had quietly infiltrated North Korea and surrounded MacArthur’s forces. On the night of November 27, Mao sprung his trap at the Chosin Reservoir.

The worst of the Chinese onslaught landed on the forces encamped in the hills around the Chosin Reservoir—the First Marine Division, under the command of General Oliver P. Smith, and a small, attached Army unit. Night after night, Mao’s army swept down from the hills and attacked the vastly outnumbered American troops.

The only hope for the surrounded men was to fight their way back to the coast, a perilous journey into the teeth of a subarctic winter, through tens of thousands of Chinese soldiers waiting in the high ground above the single road out. For the next two weeks, General Smith’s men fought brutal battles against the Chinese in some of the harshest conditions American forces had ever experienced. Dead bodies, frozen in grotesque and contorted shapes, littered the battlefield. Finally, 14,000 surviving troops made their way back to safety.

The carefully staged withdrawal succeeded and also inflicted devastating losses on the enemy. Two Chinese divisions were entirely destroyed, and an estimated 40,000 Chinese soldiers were killed.

Thousands of North Korean refugees were also fleeing south, many trailing the column of Marines. Nearly 100,000 refugees were part of the massive evacuation of American and UN troops out of North Korea.

Pickin’ and playin’ and reveling “The History of Rock in Fifty Guitars”

Here we are, strumming along to tell you about a nifty little book that traces the evolution of the guitar. And then some.

The pickin’ and playin’ began in the ’20s with experiments with steel cones and resonators. With these additions, the role of the guitar transformed from accessory to vital band member—introducing electronic amplification to the 20th century music scene. The new intensified sounds inspired a much more colorful style of playing, and in turn, a string of new genres from jazz and blues to skiffle and country.

With the growing beatnik movement rearing its head in the ’50s, a new musical landscape was in high demand and rock ’n roll was born with a guitar in hand. Bruce Wexler reveals the 50 most beloved guitars in rock history and the artists who played them in The History of Rock in Fifty Guitars (The History Press, $24.95).

What a crowd! There’s Jerry Garcia’s famous Tiger guitar, customized by Alembic; John Lennon’s Gibson-made “Revolution” Casino guitar heard on “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”;  Jimi Hendrix’s Fender Stratocaster that he played on the Woodstock stage; B.B. King’s Gibson ES-355 charmingly nicknamed “Lucille” and Kurt Cobain’s fusion Fender Jag-Stang.

Each vignette counting down the top 50 guitars offers insight into the history behind the guitars, the star-studded instrumentalists who played them and the hit songs and albums the guitars helped to compose. Many limited-edition tribute guitars are highlighted and enhanced with closeup shots detailing the guitar’s features—including gold-plated hardware, locking tuners, double-necks, P-90 pickups, f-holes and more—that make them entirely unique and groundbreaking. A book that traces the development of the guitar over seven decades of rock music, The History of Rock in Fifty Guitars will enthrall guitar aficionados and music buffs.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ star turn as Clash lead singer in “London Town”

Petula Clark sang about the reasons going downtown. After all, a visit “can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares.” That was then. Fast forward a decade or so, and the music and energy about to explode in the ’70s punk underground electrifies the coming-of-age drama London Town (IFC Films). Featuring a stunning performance by Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Joe Strummer of the legendary band the Clash, the film comes to DVD from IFC Films on February 14.

Think of this as a musical valentine.

When 15-year-old Shay (portrayed by Daniel Huttlestone) hears the music of the Clash for the first time, it’s a revelation, opening up a new world of social consciousness and anti-establishment defiance beyond anything he’s known in his dead-end London suburb. After his father is injured in a work accident, Shay takes over driving his cab and one fateful night, picks up none other than Joe Strummer (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), the lead singer of the Clash. Drawn into the heart of the city’s burgeoning punk scene, Shay forges two relationships that will change his life, falling in love with rebellious cool girl Vivian (Nell Williams) and finding and unexpected connection with the Clash’s electrifying frontman.

Through being forced to take care of his family, his friendship with Strummer and his relationship with Vivian, Shay passes some important milestones on his way to adulthood.Propelled by a blistering soundtrack that bounces from the Clash to the Ramones to Buzzcocks, London Town captures the sound and spirit of a scene that shook the world. And lives on still.
The IFC Films theatrical release co-stars Natascha McElhone and Dougray Scott. It features the classic music not just of the Clash but of such other major artists as the Ramones, Buzzcocks, the Stranglers, Toots and the Maytals, Willi Williams and Stiff Little Fingers. It was an official selection of the BFI London Film Festival and the Los Angeles Film Festival.

 

Martin Torgoff’s “Bop Apocalypse: Jazz, Race, the Beats, and Drugs” is an addictive look at America’s early drug use . . . and the music that went with it

A few pages into this book got us addicted. That’s a good thing. To fully understand national discussions on drugs—whether it’s the legalization of marijuana or the use of Naloxone for heroin overdoses—we must look at how the American drug culture was born: With herbal jazz cigarettes (think joints) at the Savoy Ballroom and the Beats high on Benzedrine in Times Square. In Bop Apocalypse: Jazz, Race, the Beats, and Drugs (Da Capo, $25.99), Martin Torgoff explores the early days of America’s drug use and marries it with our counter culture history taking us back to the beginning of the 20th century when modern drug law, policy, and culture were first established, and when musicians, writers and artists came together under the influence.

The narrative of Bop Apocalypse encompasses:

  • the birth of jazz in New Orleans
  • the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, Harry Anslinger and his “Marijuana and Musicians” file which included Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie and others
  • Louis Armstrong and Chicago in the ’20s
  • “Reefer Madness” and the Marihuana Tax Act of ’37
  • Kansas City and the birth of swing
  • Bebop and the arrival of heroin to the streets of Harlem in the ’40s
  • the con­joining of principal Beat Generation characters in New York—Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady and William Burroughs; their journeys and the creation of the three jazz-imbued masterworks (On the Road, Howl and Naked Lunch)
  • the birth, by 1960, of a new bohemian culture in cities and on college campuses across America

    The last known photo of Billie Holiday, snapped during a Verve recording

The juxtaposition of genius and addiction is notable throughout. Billy Holiday’s heroin addiction is discussed candidly with revealing new details from bebop hooker Ruby Rosano who shot up with Holiday’s help in a basement apartment while Charlie Parker played a blues nearby. Other vignettes like the engagement of the Miles Davis Quintet at the Café Bohemia in ’56 introduced John Coltrane’s brilliance to an audience of adoring fans as he spiraled into addiction and Davis reemerged clean.

A book that lays bare the ways in which race, drugs, and music collided to create a culture of both creative ingenuity and, at times, self-destruction, Bop Apocalypse tracks the impact of music’s long love affair with illicit substances.

Ever wonder how certain animals survive when it’s 50 below zero? Turn to “Snowbound: Animals of Winter”

It’s certainly a hot topic: The coldest and snowiest places on earth pose a challenge to anyone visiting such locations as the Arctic Circle or Antarctica, but what about the year-round animal population? How do they cope for many months with life in these frozen wonderlands where temperatures can plummet to as low as minus 50 degrees?

In Nature: Snowbound: Animals of Winter (PBS Distribution), Gordon Buchanan, a wildlife cameraman used to filming in frigid lands around the globe, explains how creatures like the wolf, Arctic fox, bison, reindeer, lynx, weasel, polar bear, penguin, Weddell seal and woolly bear caterpillar adapt to their surroundings or employ clever tactics to survive in these extreme climates. The documentary will be available on Blu-ray and DVD on February 7; the program will also be available for digital download.

In the opening segment, Buchanan is seen calmly stroking the thick coat of a wolf in Norway’s Polar Park where wolves have grown up with humans. He shows how the wolf’s fine hairs provide much needed insulation, while its longer, outer hairs repel snow and water. Also helping to reduce a wolf’s heat loss, despite its paws being in constant contact with ice and snow, is an ingenious adaptation: An image displayed on a thermal camera illustrates that as a wolf’s warm blood flows down its leg, it cools down. This means only cold blood stays within the paws and all the warm blood can remain within the body.

The Arctic fox however has a different solution to keeping warm during the winter months: its thin brown summer coat undergoes an amazing transformation to one that is white, very fluffy and 200 percent thicker, the warmest coat of all arctic mammals.

The film also cites hibernation as another cold weather strategy practiced by several animals including the brown bear, ground squirrel, and polar bear. Buchanan explains that even though a female polar bear’s heart rate drops dramatically in hibernation and she doesn’t eat or drink and relies solely on fat reserves, she can still give birth during this time. The cubs are kept warm by her body heat and grow quickly due to their mother’s extremely fatty milk. The wildlife cameraman is on hand as tiny twin cubs crawl out of their winter den to explore the outside world.

Possessing super senses gives other animals an edge when it comes to successfully hunting prey during the big freeze. Buchanan describes how a lynx can use its keen vision to spot a mouse 80 yards away or the benefits a reindeer has with ultra violet vision. He also remarks on how the great grey owl employs its super sensitive hearing to detect the movement of mice or voles beneath two feet of snow. Similarly, a young Arctic fox can pick up the faint sound of lemmings under the snow. To nab its unseen victim, the fox performs a special pouncing technique known as mousing. Buchanan says foxes align their pounce to the earth’s magnetic field in order to pinpoint the right spot for the kill. The film concludes with the remarkable metamorphosis of the Arctic woolly bear caterpillar that spends most of its life frozen stiff during the winter months and miraculously thaws itself in the spring, as if rising from the dead.

Whether it’s undergoing a physical adaptation, using super senses, employing clever tactics to gain the advantage, or just being built for frigid conditions, these animals of winter not only subsist, but thrive in some of the coldest places on earth.

 

Need to feel good? Meet Wilko Johnson, one of the founding influences of the English punk movement

In a jam because you are too embarrassed to admit you;ve never heard of Wilko Johnson? Don’t feel good?

Here’s what Peter Weller has said of Johnson: “Wilko may not be as famous as some other guitarists, but he’s right up there. And there are a lot of people who’ll say the same. I can hear Wilko in lots of places. It’s some legacy.”

Never heard of Weller? Get the hell out of here.

Continuing his association with the reactivated Chess imprint, the label that issued so many of the tunes that inspired him in his youth, I Keep It To Myself-The Best of Wilko Johnson draws together 25 tracks recorded between 2008 and 2012 by the legendary guitarist and songwriter. The tracks are backed mostly by Blockheads Norman Watt-Roy (bass) and Dylan Howe (drums), the same rhythm section that performed on Wilko’s enormously successful Going Back Home album with Roger Daltrey. The two-disc CD releases on February 24.

Including re-workings of Wilko penned Dr Feelgood favorites “She Does It Right”; “Twenty Yards Behind’”; “Sneaking Suspicion” and “Roxette’” alongside further dynamic numbers such as “Turned 21”; “Some Kind Of Hero”; “Out in the Traffic”; “I Really Love Your Rock ‘n Roll”– I Keep It To Myself-The Best of Wilko Johnson is a splendid collection of high octane rhythm and blues with that unmistakable Johnson Fender greatness stamped all over it. Songs that are sung from the heart and played from the soul.

The video is a bit shaky . . . perhaps the person filming it was simply too excited.

He sings of many things; of water, of lust, of despair. He sings about fortune tellers and drug dealers. He sings of lovers, crazy lovers, wonderful lovers, and love gone bad.

And then he writes a song such as “Turned 21”, which has little to do with the blues or this genre or that genre, but is just a great song, raw, rough and affecting.

And you think to yourself: So that’s Wilko Johnson!

Crazy over coconuts? Savor Ramin Ganeshram’s new tasty cookbook

The big question: Are coconuts nuts?

The simple answer: No. Coconuts are classified as drupes (more specifically “dry drupes”; a drupe is a fruit with a hard stony covering enclosing the seed (like a peach or olive).  Got it?

Now get Cooking with Coconut: 125 Recipes for Healthy Eating: Delicious Uses for Every Form—Oil, Flour, Water, Milk, Cream, Sugar, Dried & Shredded (Storey Publishing, $18.95) the new book by Ramin Ganeshram, an award-winning cookbook author and professionally trained chef. That may be a long title, but coconuts are among the hottest food trends around, with eaters everywhere eager for new and exciting ways to incorporate it into their diets. Not only is it a superfood—boosting energy and improving heart health—but coconut is delicious, bringing fresh, rich flavor to any dish.

In her book, Ganeshram (who grew up with an appreciation for coconut, passed down from her Trinidadian father) presents all those original recipes that use coconut in all its forms, from coconut milk and oil, dried and powdered, to fresh coconut. Options span the menu, from breakfast dishes like Gluten-Free Coconut Bread with Meyer Lemon Glaze, and Savory Coconut Crepes, to dinner and dessert dishes like Coconut Tikka Masala, and Coconut Rum Crème Brulee. Ganeshram also tells the captivating stories behind her dishes, many of which have roots in traditional coconut-producing countries like Brazil, Jamaica and Thailand.

Ganeshram dishes up everything home cooks and health-conscious eaters need to know to fully enjoy this delectable powerhouse. Mmmm!

Loretta Swit’s new role? An artist whose watercolors of animals are wonderful. So here, we give her and her book hot lips service

Art isn’t easy. That’s what Sondheim says. But Loretta Swit makes it look so . . . well, maybe not easy, but gorgeous that Ed Asner contributes it to the actress’ “animal magnetism.”

This year marks the 45th anniversary of M*A*S*H, and at 79, Swit is as active now as she was then, currently touring the country with the release of her book SwitHeart: The Watercolour Artistry & Animal  Activism of Loretta Swit (Ultimate Symbol, $49)  as she prepares for her roles in the stage productions of Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks and Eleanor Roosevelt: Her Secret Journey.

SwitHeart chronicles the artwork of Swit, such a champion of the animal kingdom that she received the Betty Award Award–“for all she has done to protect and care for animals”–from Actors & Others for Animals on last month.  In September, she was awarded the 2016 Global Wildlife Conservation Champion Award by the GES Africa Conservation Fund for her support of animal conservation efforts, kindness, compassion and generosity.  Ask her and she’d probably agree such awards mean more to her than the two Emmys she won for her portrayal of Major Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan.

What many fans may not know about is that Swit has been an artist from age six. SwitHeart documents her animal portraits along with descriptive anecdotes about each and her extensive philanthropic work. “I’m thrilled to see my passion for animals and my passion for art merge in a book that will help benefit and protect the animals on our planet,” she coos.

Coos M*A*S*H star Alan Alda: ““Her pictures are created as much with her compassion and dedication as they are with her talent and artful vision.”

SwitHeart includes 65 full-color paintings and drawings, as well as 22 photographs.  Proceeds from the book will be donated to charities and programs that are as dedicated, as Swit is, to ending animal suffering and cruelty. Someone named Mies Hora is listed as “writer/editor”; the book must have been outsourced for printing since spelling of “watercolours” is so unAmerican.