Category Archives: DVDs

‘Secrets of the Dead: Nero’s Sunken City’ takes a riveting look at Roman Beverly Hills

Beneath the turquoise waves of the Bay of Naples lies an extraordinary underwater archeology site, the ancient Roman city of Baiae. From the first century to the third century AD, Baiae was the exclusive playground for the rich and powerful among Rome’s elite. What made Baiae such a special place? What really went on there? And why did it disappear?

For the first time, an international team of scientists, archaeologists and historians is meticulously mapping the underwater ruins and piecing together evidence that could provide answers to these questions in the riveting documentary Secrets of the Dead: Nero’s Sunken City. The DVD will be available on May 9; the program will also be available for digital download.

While some of Baiae’s ruins remain intact on land, more than half of this coastal city is submerged under water. These underwater ruins are three times the size of those in Pompeii. Archaeologists have found a network of roads, miles of brick walls and villas with rich marble floors, and splendid mosaics. But what they haven’t found are any identifiable public buildings, no forum, temple or market place.

The remains consist of one vast luxury villa after another–a Roman Beverly Hills–with elaborate spas and water features, marble statues inspired by Greek art, ponds for farming fish and more. The villas were like mini-cities. No expense was spared to create these seaside vacation homes where barges floating in the bay were the site of raucous parties.

More than any other emperor, Nero was infamous for his hedonism and Baiae was his escape. Here, he could indulge in his sadistic fantasies. But Baiae was more than a place of opulence, the Las Vegas of its day. It was also the site of some of the most treacherous political dealings of ancient Rome with Emperor Nero and his enemies hatching deadly plots against each other.

What lengths was Nero willing to take to gain his Aunt Domitia’s villa? What plans did Gaius Calpurnius Piso, a wealthy nobleman, have for the emperor as he vacationed at his villa?  What scheme did Nero devise in Baiae to end the power struggle with his mother?

In the fourth century AD, seismic activity caused half of Baiae to sink into the bay. Located 150 miles south of Rome, Baiae remains one of the least explored places in the Roman Empire. Until now.

‘Viva Puerto Rico’ documents the work of three conservationists restoring the island’s most endangered species

Manatees, parrots and turtles, oh my! There are important conservation efforts underway in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico to protect its endangered native wildlife from extinction on land and sea. Once home to ancient rainforests that covered the Caribbean island when Columbus first landed in 1493, centuries of development have impacted Puerto Rico’s rich natural resources. By 1900, only five percent of its rainforests remained, causing a major loss of habitat.

Nature: Viva Puerto Rico (PBS Distribution) follows the work of three conservationists and the ways in which each is trying to restore populations of the island’s most endangered species:  the Puerto Rican Amazon parrot, Leatherback turtle and the manatee. The documentary  will be available on DVD May 16; the program will also be available for digital download.

The film states that there was a time when only 13 Puerto Rican Amazon parrots were left in existence. But wildlife biologist Jafet Vélez-Valentín, who manages the Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Program, has devoted his life to increasing their numbers. He and his team run a captive breeding program for these rare birds at an undisclosed location in the rainforest. They have developed techniques to improve the number of chicks that hatch. They employ exercise training for the juveniles to build up their wing muscles and increase their ability to fly long enough to evade predators in the wild. The episode documents the release of Vélez-Valentín’s largest ever flock, composed of 24 parrots, into El Yunque National Forest increasing the wild population by 10%.

The warm tropical waters surrounding Puerto Rico are home to five threatened native species of sea turtles. Carlos Diez is a world-renowned turtle conservationist whose research on the Hawksbill turtle led to an international trade ban on its shell. Diez documents the key evidence needed to make the legal case to protect a crucial nesting site of the endangered Leatherback turtle from potential development at Dorado Beach. At night, a female Leatherback emerges from the sea to dig her nest two feet down in the sand, then lays about 80 eggs. Two months later, the last of the hatchlings are seen at sunrise making a mad dash to the ocean to evade capture by sea birds. Diez then presents his testimony in court along with other members of the community and the judge decides the fate of the beach.

The final story takes place at the Manatee Conservation Center where Dr. Antonio (“Tony”) Mignucci and his team care for, treat, and rehabilitate injured and stranded marine mammals. The film focuses on Mignucci’s efforts to prepare two juvenile manatees for a return to the sea. Before that happens, they will need to weigh at least 600 pounds each and be in good health.

With only 700 manatees left in the Puerto Rican waters, it is hoped the two manatees, a male and female, will also breed when they are released. When it’s time to transport the pair to a fenced off area of a bay to allow them time to acclimatize, the Center receives all kinds of help from the National Guard, Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, the police, and dozens of volunteers. In three months, the gates to the sea pen will open to allow the manatees to head into the ocean. As for the island’s rainforests, more than 60 percent are starting to recover as conservation awareness and efforts continue to be adopted by the people of Puerto Rico.

MHz Choice offers three great international shows . . . a free 30-day trial

We continue to share the wonderful releases MHz Choice offers U.S. viewers with streaming access to MHz Networks’ expanding library of the best international television mysteries, dramas, comedies and documentaries subtitled in English.  MHz Choice delivers a high quality experience to a growing list of subscribers who watch online and across a suite of apps and services, including Amazon Channels, Amazon Fire TV, Android, Apple TV, iOS & Roku. New customers receive a free 30-day trial. For more information or to subscribe, go to mhzchoice.com.

Some of the latest . . .
The Bridge Season 3

Since its initial release in 2011, The Bridge has been captivating audiences all over the world. Starring Robert Award-winning actress Sofia Helin as the socially awkward but brilliant police investigator Saga Norén. The Telegraph hails The Bridge as “a masterclass in tone, plot and characterization.” FYI: The Robert Awards are given out by the the Danish Film Academy and are regarded as “The Danish Oscars”.
When a famous Danish gender activist and owner of Copenhagen’s first gender-neutral preschool is found murdered, Saga is assigned to the case. The murder sparks the beginning of a series of spectacular crimes reaching back into Saga’s own past. With her career at risk, and the question of personal responsibility haunting her, it looks as if she might be pulled from the case. When her mother unexpectedly re-enters her life, Saga must also cope with unforeseen and unwanted demands.

Murders at Barlume
The hit Italian TV show, Murders at Barlume is a colorful new series of quirky mysteries based on the novels by Marco Malvaldi and produced by the same team that brought Detective Montalbano to the small screen.
Set in the idyllic beach resort town of Pineta on the beautiful Tuscan coast, the show stars Filippo Timi as Massimo Viviani, the recently-divorced owner of the local watering hole, Barlume. Massimo loves puzzles of all kinds, and his sharp mind comes in handy as he frequently finds himself moonlighting as an amateur detective, solving strange crimes along with the gossipy gang of eccentric septuagenarians who frequent his establishment.
Filmed on the magical island of Elba, Murders at Barlume is an irreverent mix of twisty mystery, outlandish comedy and Italian charm.

Agatha Christies’s Family Murder Party
Agatha Christie’s iconic novel Hercule Poirot’s Christmas is delightfully adapted in the four-part French mini-seriesAgatha Christie’s Family Murder Party.
It’s sexy, witty and definitely addictive! Superintendent Larosière and Inspector Lampion are the lead investigators in this delicious prequel to The Little Murders of Agatha Christie. The mystery begins when chateau owner Simon Le Tescou is found dead in his home . . . and all of his grown children have motives for murder.

First Run Features offers two first-rate documentaries

First Run Features offer two new titles that are, as usual,  first-rate features.

Some info to intrigue you:

Concrete Love (German with English subtitles)
Pritzker Prize laureate Gottfried Böhm is widely regarded as Germany’s preeminent architect. The son of a master builder of churches, he’s also the patriarch of a modern architecture dynasty to which his three sons, Stephan, Peter and Paul, belong. But with the death of Gottfried’s wife Elisabeth, also an architect and a key source of inspiration for all the Böhm builders, the family loses its emotional lodestone.

One German shares his take on Maurizius Staerkle Drux’s documentary: “Concrete Love tells a multi-layered tale of love, the passion for architecture and four generations of German history. With sensitive observations, intimate interviews and stirring filmic explorations of an extraordinary architectural legacy, the film creates a lasting impression of the buildings and the people.”

The Ruins of Lifta ( Arabic & Hebrew with English subtitles)
The village Lifta, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, is the only Arab village abandoned in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war that has not been completely destroyed or repopulated by Jews. Its ruins are now threatened by an Israeli development plan that would convert it into an upscale Jewish neighborhood.

Filmmaker Menachem Daum–an Orthodox Jew from Brooklyn–sets out to discover the story behind the headlines. He meets Yacoub, a Palestinian who was expelled from Lifta and now leads the struggle to save the haunting ruins of his village from Israeli plans to build luxury villas on the site. Learning that Lifta was once a place where Jews and Arabs got along, Menachem joins Yacoub’s campaign in the hopes that Lifta can serve as a place of reflection and reconciliation. This leads to a climactic encounter between a Holocaust survivor and a Nakba refugee amidst the ruins of Lifta.

Was Leonardo da Vinci a true renaissance man . . . or a fraud?

His notebooks contain plans for hundreds of inventions, including the machine guns, diving suits, construction cranes, robots and flying machines that would be created hundreds of years later. Was Leonardo da Vinci a genius? A prophet who anticipated the modern age by 500 years? Or was there another explanation?

The answer can be found in Secrets of the Dead: Leonardo, the Man Who Save Science. Da Vinci is, of course, best known as one of the world’s greatest artists. At his death in 1519, he was famous for such masterpieces as the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. But he was more than a painter: He was also a musician, writer and showman. In the pages of his notebooks, written in a secretive reverse script, and unpublished for more than 400 years, we discover yet another Leonardo, the man of science.

https://youtu.be/byQFzbZhX8s

Secrets of the Dead: Leonardo, the Man Who Save Science (PBS Distrbution) will be available on DVD May 2; the program will also be available for digital download.

One of the many inventions attributed to Leonardo is the parachute. But did he actually invent it? In 1968, researchers discovered sketches from the studio of 15th-century Italian inventor Mariano do Jacopa, known as Taccola, which were similar to Leonardo’s study for such a device.

Taccola, who was 70 years older than Leonardo and died the year before Leonardo was born, was an engineer of the early Renaissance and among the first to use drawings as a design tool. But just as Leonardo copied from him, Taccola’s idea is copied from a Muslim inventor, Abbas Ibn Firnas.

The program features drawings of da Vinci’s most famous ideas and inventions, some of which trace their original creation to ancient Greece while others were a product of the scientific inventions of the golden age of Islamic learning. Leonardo never affirmed that his projects came from his original ideas.

Is Leonardo just a copycat?  Or, as the program suggests, did he, in reinventing ancient technology, spark a renewed interest in scientific experimentation lost in Europe during the Dark Ages until the Renaissance. “Dealing with a problem or understanding a phenomenon for him meant to see how it is related to other phenomena,” says Fritjof Capra, historian of science. “In this way, I think, he generated what we now call the scientific method, and he single-handedly created the scientific method.”

 As one of PBS’s ongoing limited primetime series, Secrets of the Dead is a perennial favorite among viewers, routinely ranking among the 10 most-watched series on public television. Currently in its 16th season, Secrets of the Dead continues its unique brand of archaeological sleuthing and employing advances in investigative techniques, forensic science and historical scholarship to offer new evidence about forgotten mysteries. Secrets of the Dead has received 10 CINE Golden Eagle Awards and six Emmy nominations, among numerous other awards.

 

Climate change doesn’t exist? Only idiots believe that. Welcome to “Wild Weather”

Climate change doesn’t exist? Then catch PBS Distribution’s Wild Weatheon DVD. Weather: It’s big, it’s beautiful–and it’s wild.

Nature takes simple ingredients like wind, water and temperature and transforms them into something spectacular and powerful. This documentary reveals exactly how it does it. The only way to truly understand the weather is to get inside it. This program features scientists from around the globe who are creating their own weather in an attempt to examine the secret processes at work.

 

Scientists such as Dr. Nigel Tapper of Monash University (Australia) tries to create his own massive dust storm so he can examine the microscopic moments when dust particles begin to bounce high into the stratosphere. Engineers Jim Stratton and Craig Zehrung from Purdue University,  use a high powered “vacuum cannon” to fire homemade hailstones at over 500 mph. It sounds like fun, but their work has a serious purpose: to discover whether hail is actually stronger than ordinary ice.

Meanwhile Walter Steinkogler of the WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF in Davos, Switzerland, is trying to find out how something as light and delicate as snow can travel at 250 m.p.h when it’s in an avalanche. His solution is to start an avalanche of his own in an attempt to see the secret snowballs he believes are hiding beneath the powder cloud.

Dr. Kazunori Kuwana from Yamagata University, Japan has spent the last 10 years trying to capture the rare moment that can turn a bushfire into a formidable fire whirlwind. Here he fulfills a lifelong ambition by starting a 10-meter high fire whirl of his own.

American meteorologist Reed Timmer, together with a bizarre tornado-proof armored car called “The Dominator 3,” is attempting to do something that no-one has ever done before: fire a flying probe right into the heart of a tornado.

As Reed explains, “near the base of the tornado is one of the biggest mysteries of tornado science and it’s also the most important to understand because those are the wind speeds that cause all the destruction.” The show follows Reed and his team on their groundbreaking mission.

Meanwhile Dan Morgan of the U.K.’s Cobham Laboratories creates lightning bolts in his lab to try and measure the destructive power not of lightning, but of thunder. Although we think of thunder as merely the sound of lightning, it is actually a powerful destructive force of its own. In a world-first, Wild Weather makes it possible to actually see thunder for the first time.

Wild Weather  is a fresh and informative documentary featuring a series of ambitious, surprising and revealing experiments that will change the way you think about weather forever.

The DVD goes on sale May 2; the program will also be available for digital download.

Vin Diesel is back in the explosive “xXx: Return of Xander Cage”

When a group of lethal mercenaries steal a hi-tech weapon that poses a global threat, the world needs superspy Xander Cage. Remember him? Recruited back into action, Xander leads a team of death-defying adrenaline junkies on a mission to kick some ass, save the day and look dope while doing it. Who better to return than Vin Diesel?

Welcome to  xXx: Return of Xander Cage. Packed with some of the most mind-blowing stunts ever caught on film, the film features a powerhouse international cast including Donnie Yen, Deepika Padukone, Kris Wu, Ruby Rose, Tony Jaa, Nina Dobrev, and Samuel L. Jackson.

The flick x-plodes on 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack, Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD and On Demand May 16, 2017 from Paramount Home Media Distribution.  X-cited fans can be the first to get it two weeks early on Digital HD May 2. The 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray Combo Packs are loaded with more thanr an hour of action-packed special features, including in-depth  interviews with the all-star cast, plus a behind-the-scenes look at the film’s incredible stunts, locations and much more.  The film also boasts a Dolby Atmos soundtrack remixed specifically for the home theater environment to place and move audio anywhere in the room, including overhead.

Ready for blast-off?

“Frontline: Exodus” explores first-hand stories of refugees and migrants seeking better lives

The horrors continue. They are not dreams, but real-life nightmares that remain embedded on our minds with profound grief. Since 2011, millions of people have fled their homes in Syria and other countries besieged by violence, helping to fuel Europe’s largest migration crisis since the end of World War II.

Frontline: Exodus (PBS Distribution) explores the epic, first-hand stories of refugees and migrants as they make dangerous journeys across 26 countries seeking safety and better lives. The program draws on camera and smartphone footage filmed by refugees and migrants themselves–from inside a sinking dinghy on a route across the Mediterranean Sea where thousands have died, to the tents and fires inside Calais’s notorious “Jungle” camp. The riveting documentary is available on DVD; the program will also be available for digital download.

Through its harrowing access and intimacy, the program vividly exposes a shadow-world of human traffickers exploiting the crisis for profit, how countries are handling the influx of people, and the challenges and choices these refugees and migrants face every day.

“Anyone can become a refugee,” says Hassan, a former English teacher who fled his home in Damascus, after he says he was beaten by government forces. “It’s not something which you choose, it’s something that happens to you.”

Hassan’s journey is one of several at the heart of the program. Viewers will also hear the stories of:

  • Isra’a, a young Syrian girl who fled Aleppo with her family, including her disabled sister, after a missile destroyed their home.
  • Ahmad, who fled Syria when his village was invaded by Islamist extremists, and who is trying to reunite with his wife and young daughter.
  • Alaigie, a young Gambian man whose father recently died, and who dreams of reaching Italy and lifting his brothers and sisters out of poverty.
  • Sadiq, who fled Afghanistan to escape the Taliban, and now wants to start a new life in Finland.

Together, their stories paint an indelible portrait of this global crisis, and what it means to be a refugee.

“I am a refugee, I am just like you, I have a family, I have dreams, I’ve got hopes,” says Ahmad. “I just want a peaceful life away from violence.”

 

Independent Lens focuses, finally, on D.W. Griffith’s racist “Birth of a Nation”

More than 100 years after the release of D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, which depicted the KKK as heroes and African Americans in the most racist caricatures imaginable,  there’s (finally!) a documentary that recounts the little-known story of the battle waged against the film by an early and largely forgotten civil rights activist named William Monroe Trotter. Angered by the film’s unrepentant racism, Trotter led African Americans in a pitched battle against the film’s exhibition that culminated with protests in the streets of Boston, laying the foundation for the civil rights movement to come.

Welcome to  PBS Distribution’s Independent Lens: Birth of a Movement on DVD.  The program will also be available for digital download.

As the first African American Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Harvard University, Trotter decried the film as a flagrantly racist glorification of the Klan, and as a dangerous and powerful new form of propaganda that would lead to the lynching of African Americans. Together with W.E.B Du Bois, Trotter founded the Niagara Movement, a national network of black activists that would grow into the NAACP.

Griffith’s film, originally titled The Clansman, opened in 1915, as America was celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Civil War. Although virulently racist, the film—a powerful retelling of Reconstruction that portrays the Ku Klux Klan as righteous vigilantes restoring America to greatness—was lauded in the press, and became the first film ever to screen in the White House. It was seen by a quarter of America’s population and transformed Hollywood and the history of cinema.

Ironically, it was Trotter who called for censorship of The Birth of a Nation to control “hate speech,” while Griffith advocated for freedom of artistic expression. Ultimately, Trotter would lose the battle as the film went on to become the first financial blockbuster and established racial stereotyping as a bankable trope. His fears that the film would unleash racial violence proved true; the film is credited with inspiring the rebirth of the Klan which, by the ’20s, was bigger than ever before.

Through interviews such sources as with Spike Lee (whose NYU student film The Answer was a response to Griffith’s film), Reginald Hudlin and DJ Spooky, Birth of a Movement explores how Griffith’s epic—long taught in film classes as a groundbreaking work of genius—motivated generations of African American filmmakers and artists as they worked to fight and reclaim their history and their onscreen image.

In the wake of the “#OscarsSoWhite” controversy, the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, and increasing social and political turmoil, the program traces the line between Griffith’s controversial epic and Hollywood’s continued legacy of misrepresentation and negative racial stereotypes. Based on the book The Birth of a Movement: How Birth of a Nation Ignited the Battle for Civil Rights, by Dick Lehr, the film features interviews with historians, writers and filmmakers and is narrated by Danny Glover.

John Lewis continues an unwavering fight for justice. His motto: “Get in the Way”

For more than 50 years, he has had one main goal: To continue an unwavering fight for justice. The life and career of John Lewis will be documented in the fascinating documentary John LewisGet in the Way. This is the first documentary biography of Lewis, the son of sharecroppers, who grew up in rural isolation, seemingly destined for a bleak future in the Jim Crow South.

But Lewis took a different path, rising from Alabama’s Black Belt to the corridors of power on Capitol Hill, his humble origins forever linking him to those whose voices often go unheard.PBS Distribution releases John Lewis–Get in the Way on April 18.The program will also be available for digital download.

The program covers more than half a century, tracing Lewis’ journey of courage, confrontation and hard-won triumphs. At the age of 15, his life changed forever when he heard Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the radio. It was 1955, during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and Lewis listened with rapt attention as the young preacher called for nonviolent resistance to the harsh injustice of segregation. Lewis embraced Dr. King’s spiritual call with a fervor that would transform the course of his life.

As a student activist in the vanguard of the civil rights movement, Lewis was arrested and jailed for the first time during the Nashville lunch counter sit-ins in 1960. During the 1961 Freedom Rides, he was repeatedly assaulted by angry mobs. He was the youngest speaker at the historic 1963 March on Washington, and in March 1965, Lewis led the Bloody Sunday march in Selma, Alabama, where state troopers attacked peaceful protesters with billy clubs, bullwhips and tear gas. Their horrific actions were broadcast on news reports into living rooms across America; eight months later, the Voting Rights Act was signed into law.

Following a film festival run and featuring never-before-seen interviews shot over 20 years, the program features Lewis, a masterful storyteller, relating the gripping tale of his role in these history-making events. Other key interviewees include civil rights activists Andrew Young, C.T. Vivian, Juanita Abernathy and Bernard Lafayette, as well as Lewis’ congressional colleagues Eleanor Holmes Norton, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Emanuel Cleaver and Amory Houghton.

Once an activist pushing from the outside, Lewis, now 77 years old, has become a determined legislator creating change from the inside. Considered by many to be the conscience of Congress, with equal measures of modesty and forcefulness, Lewis strives to persuade D.C. power brokers to hear the voices of the unheard. He fights for those suffering from discrimination, poverty, poor education, police brutality, inaccessible healthcare and limitations on voting rights. Despite setbacks—and there have been many—John Lewis’ eyes remain on the prize.