Category Archives: DVDs

“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.

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.

 

Up, up and away with “Air Warriors: Season 1” on DVD

Take flight with Public Media Distribution’s Smithsonian Channel original series Air Warriors: Season 1 on DVD. The program is filled with stories of a winged fighter that hasn’t lost a fight in 26 years; a lifesaver that’s part plane and part chopper; and an attack helicopter our enemies call the Black Death. These are America’s undisputed kings of the sky: the F-15 Eagle, the V-22 Osprey, and the AH-64 Apache. And their success stories are as remarkable as they are improbable.Image result for Air Warriors: Season 1 on DVD

They are the ultimate fighting machines. And they’ve kept our skies safe from enemies both here and abroad. Air Warriors profiles some of the most powerful aircraft ever flown by our armed forces. In-depth interviews, archive footage and access to military installations around the world tell the story of how these engineering marvels influenced our nation’s course.

Osprey
Follow the journey of the U.S. Marine’s V-22 Osprey, from early failures to war and humanitarian mission triumphs.

Apache
Hop aboard the AH-64 Apache, one of the most heavily fortified and well-armed helicopters ever built.

F-15
Get an inside look at the USAF’s go-to fighter jet, the F-15 Eagle, and discover the secrets of its unprecedented success.

“The Impossible Has Happened: The Life and Work of Gene Roddenberry, the Creator of Star Trek” flies high

The impossible has happened . . . and we don’t mean why we continue to question why William Shatner is a “star.”Image result for william shatner 2017

Last September marked the 50th anniversary of the debut of the world’s most successful science fiction television series: Star Trek. In The Impossible Has Happened: The Life and Work of Gene Roddenberry, the Creator of Star Trek (Aurum Press, $19.99), author Lance Parkin, goes in search of the show’s creator.

This book reveals how an undistinguished writer of cop shows set out to produce “Hornblower in space” and ended up with an optimistic, almost utopian view of humanity’s future that has been watched and loved by hundreds of millions of people around the world.

Along the way Parkin examines some of the great myths and turning points in the franchise’s history, and Roddenberry’s particular contribution to them.Image result for The Impossible Has Happened: The Life and Work of Gene Roddenberry, the Creator of Star Trek 2017 He will look at the truth in the view that the early Star Trek advanced a liberal, egalitarian and multi-racial agenda, chart the various attempts to resuscitate the show during its wilderness years in the ’70s, explore Roddenberry’s initial early involvement in the movies and spin-off Star Trek: The Next Generation (as well as his later estrangement from both), and shed light on the colorful personal life, self-mythologizing and strange beliefs of a man who nonetheless gifted popular culture one if its most enduring narratives.

PBS Distribution’s “Nova: Holocaust Escape Tunnel” is a powerful history lesson

Once again, PBS Distribution has released a documentary that demands viewing . . . and a place in your library. Make note, please: Nova: Holocaust Escape Tunnel, available now on DVD and also available for digital download.

For centuries, the Lithuanian city of Vilna was one of the most important Jewish centers in the world, earning the title “Jerusalem of the North,” until the Nazis destroyed it. About 95% of its Jewish population of Vilna, its name in Hebrew and Yiddish, was murdered and its synagogues and institutions were reduced to ruins. The Soviets finished the job, paving over the remnants of Vilna’s famous Great Synagogue, for example, so thoroughly that few today know it ever existed. Now, an international team of archaeologists are trying to recover this lost world. They will excavate the remains of its Great Synagogue and uncover one of Vilna’s greatest secrets: a lost escape tunnel dug by Jewish prisoners inside a horrific Nazi execution site.

Robert Mugge offers a revealing, musical look at the life of Al Green in “Gospel According to Al Green”

Listen up, folks. Let’s stay together.

After filmmaker Robert Mugge produced Black Wax with Gil Scott-Heron for Britain’s Channel 4 Television in 1982, he and Channel 4’s Commissioning Editor for Music Andy Park wanted to collaborate again. Park suggested Mugge create a portrait of African American gospel star Andraé Crouch. But Mugge, a longtime fan of soul and pop singer Al Green, countered that suggestion. Mugge figured that Green’s rejection of soul music to become a Memphis-based preacher and gospel singer perhaps made him a richer potential subject. (Interestingly, Green was kicked out of the family home while in his teens, after his religiously devout father caught him listening to Jackie Wilson).

Indeed.

Park agreed. Mugge needed 13 months to secure Green’s approval, getting his approval only days before the planned Seventh Anniversary Celebration of Green’s Full Gospel Tabernacle. That Sunday afternoon church service featured not only Green’s usual church choir and musicians, but also a second choir from Ellington, South Carolina and most of Green’s touring musicians and backup singers. Mugge arranged to document that December 18, 1983 service with three 16mm cameras and a 24-track audio recording truck, making it the first (and reportedly still the only) Al Green church service to be committed to film, Gospel According to Al Green.

While in Memphis, Mugge and his crew went on to film an interview with legendary Hi Records producer Willie Mitchell (who had produced and co-written Green’s commercial hits of the ‘70s), a studio rehearsal featuring Green and his musicians and an extended interview with Green himself. In Green’s interview, he explored his early days in the music business, his creation of such popular hits as “Tired of Being Alone” and “I Can’t Get Next to You”, the traumatic events that led to his abandoning of his successful soul and pop career, the purchase of the Memphis church building which he transformed into a church of his own, and the ways in which his soul and gospel backgrounds had each informed the other.

Image result for Mary Woodson White
Mary and Al

Perhaps the most emotional part of Green’s interview was his discussion of the so-called “hot grits incident,” wherein spurned girlfriend Mary Woodson White assaulted him in the shower of his Memphis home with a pot of boiling hot grits, then ran to another room of his house where she shot and killed herself. (Although she was already married, White reportedly became upset when Green refused to marry her). This interview, conducted two days after his church service, was the first occasion on which he discussed this experience publicly, and he included facts that even his own band members had never heard.

In February of 1984, Mugge also filmed Green and his band in concert at the Officers Club of Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C., this time utilizing four 16mm cameras and the same Nashville-based 24-track recording truck he had hired to record the Memphis church service. It should be noted that, at that point in Rev. Green’s career, he had embraced the Southern fundamentalist notion that blues, rhythm ‘n’ blues, and rock n’ roll were “music of the Devil,” and that, therefore, he should now perform only gospel music.

However, among the numbers Green performed at the D.C. concert was Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready,” which exists somewhere between soul and gospel. In addition, during the staged rehearsal in Memphis, Green agreed to perform “Let’s Stay Together,” which had been one of his biggest commercial successes and now represented a recurring theme in the film. Along with fragments of a few more hits he performed during his interview, these songs helped to depict “Al Green the pop star” who had preceded “Al Green the pastor.”

Among the top Memphis musicians who appear in this film are, number one, Lawrence H. “Larry” Lee, Jr., who was best known for touring with Green and for performing at Woodstock and elsewhere with Jimi Hendrix’s Gypsy Sun and Rainbows; and number two, Mabon Lewis “Teenie” Hodges, who co-wrote Green’s hits “Take Me to the River” and “Love and Happiness” and toured and recorded widely as a guitarist with the Hi Records Rhythm Section. Lee can be seen performing in the church service and rehearsal sequences of the film, and Hodges can be heard, and briefly seen, playing incidental guitar behind Green during much of his interview. Sadly, both men are now deceased.

The resulting 96-minute film, Gospel According to Al Green, had its world premiere presentation in the summer of 1984 at Filmfest Munchen (a film festival in Munich, Germany), its television premiere over Britain’s Channel 4 later that fall, and its U.S. theatrical premiere at Coolidge Corner outside Boston a year later. After each of the two opening night screenings on October 25, 1985, Green sat on the Coolidge Corner stage and, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, freely offered the commercial hits that he had mostly refused to perform during the making of Mugge’s film, thereby demonstrating his storied unpredictability. Naturally, audience members at both shows were enchanted by his presentation, and since these and other premiere screenings, the film has been in constant release around the world.Image result for al green 2014

As to Rev. Green—now Bishop Green—this past December, he and his congregation celebrated the fortieth anniversary of his Full Gospel Tabernacle church. For MVD Visual’s new worldwide Blu-ray and DVD releases, director Mugge has overseen 4K remastering of the film and created a new 17-minute video titled Soul and Spirit: Robert Mugge on the Making of Gospel According to Al Green. Other bonus features include audio of Green’s entire 1983 interview, audio of the climactic final hour of Green’s seventh anniversary church service, an extended film version of a key song from the church service, and the personal telephone answering machine message Green recorded for Mugge in the mid-’80s.

“As Good As You” is a bittersweet, poignant and funny lesbian drama

First Run Features continues to live up to its name. What else were you expecting?

FRF offers the Los Angeles theatrical premiere of As Good As You on June 9 at Laemmle’s Music Hall. The lesbian drama/comedy—named winner of Best LGBT Film by Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival—marks the feature film debut of Heather de Michele. The screenplay is by Gretchen M. Michelfeld, executive produced by Michelfeld and produced by Reena Dutt. Another reason to celebrate Pride Week.

Laura Heisler leads an outstanding cast in this poignant and witty film about a bereaved woman searching for meaning and purpose in the aftermath of her wife’s death. Jo (Heisler) enlists her brother-in-law Jamie (Bryan Dechart) as a sperm donor in an effort to salvage her dream of raising a family. Along the way she leans a bit too heavily on her two best friends, a lesbian punk photographer named Lisa (Anna Fitzwater) and a straight male barfly named Nate (Raoul Bhaneja).

The film also features Peter Maloney, Karis Campbell, Elizabeth Herring and Annie Potts. The story is consistently tender in its portrayal of grief, even as the film becomes a kind of willful, triumphant comedy. Director de Michele navigates the tonal shifts with good timing, taste and craftsmanship.

Director Heather de Michele is a co-founder of the NY comedy troupe Lesbian Pulporama, which included playwright Michelfeld and her late partner. The film is inspired by Michelfeld’s own story and partly a tribute to her partner, also a performer in the troop who died in 2012, made by close personal friends. It is the first feature for both director and writer. In fact, de Michele’s partner plays Lisa in the film.

“Lesbian pregnancy, infertility, hormone shots, artificial insemination–these were subjects I hadn’t seen explored in film yet,” de Michele explains. “I told Gretchen she should get on that; then her partner got sick and it all stopped. Once she passed, too shortly thereafter, Gretchen dove back into her work. She needed to write. We were all grieving madly. The story of As Good As You became a hybrid of all of these experiences. It’s deeply personal for both of us. ”

IF YOU GO
Laemmle Music Hall
9036 Wilshire Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA 90211
310.274.6869
laemmle.com

 

The brilliant “King Charles III” comes to DVD after critical UK and Broadway acclaim

A willful king . . . a prophetic ghost . . . family betrayals . . . revenge! It sounds like a play by Shakespeare, but it’s a drama about the future. Masterpiece presents an adaptation of the Tony-nominated Broadway show King Charles III, starring the late Tim Pigott-Smith as Prince Charles after his accession to the throne, sometime in the years ahead.

King Charles III, a co-production with the BBC, will be available on DVD June 27. The program will also be available for digital download.

Pigott-Smith, who died unexpectedly on April 7, had appeared in several Masterpiece productions, including The Jewel in the Crown and Downton Abbey. “The Masterpiece family is heartbroken at the loss of Tim Pigott-Smith, a wonderful actor and a warm and charming man,” says Executive Producer Rebecca Eaton. “We are going to miss him.”

King Charles III playwright Mike Bartlett remembers him as “one of the real greats, both as an actor and a man.”

Daringly scripted in blank verse by Bartlett and directed by Rupert Goold King Charles III focuses on the crisis-strewn transition of power after the eventual death of Queen Elizabeth II, currently the longest-serving monarch in British history. For his part, Charles is the longest heir-in-waiting ever, and Bartlett envisions the turmoil that rocks the monarchy when his turn finally comes.

Also starring are Oliver Chris as Charles’s heir, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge; Charlotte Riley as William’s bride, Kate; Richard Goulding as Charles’s younger son, Prince Harry; Tamara Lawrance as Harry’s love interest and self-proclaimed revolutionary, Jess Edwards; Margot Leicester as Charles’s doting wife, Camilla; and Adam James as the polished British prime minister, Tristan Evans.

The original London staging of King Charles III won Best New Play accolades from both the Laurence Olivier Awards and the Critics’ Circle Theatre Awards. Moving across the Atlantic, it garnered five Tony nominations during its Broadway run. The New York Times hailed the production as “flat-out brilliant … dazzlingly presumptuous.” And in London, The New Statesman marveled at the playwright’s audacity: “If the Lord Chamberlain still policed the stage, Bartlett would be in the Tower.”

Shakespeare-lovers will detect echoes of Hamlet, Macbeth, Richard III, and Henry IV, among other of the Bard’s works. They will also revel in the rhythmic music of blank verse—unrhymed iambic pentameter—which captures the natural flow of the English language and which Elizabethan dramatists helped popularize, revived by Bartlett to startling effect.

“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” That piece of blank verse is from Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part II, and it perfectly portrays the hero’s quandary in King Charles III.