Category Archives: DVDs

A new TV special guaranteed to build the cult: “Building Star Trek”

When Star Trek debuted on September 8, 1966, the world was introduced to a number of alien concepts: Think hand-held communication devices, desktop computers, space shuttles, touch screens. Star Trek’s visionary creator Gene Roddenberry conceived of a world so unique that the series would go on to have a profound legacy in television history.screen-shot-2016-09-07-at-7-22-21-pm-580x460

Smithsonian Channel offers a behind-the-scenes look with Building Star Trek, an original special coming to DVD by PBS Distribution on November 1. The show follows the conservation team from the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, led by Dr. Margaret Weitekamp, as they attempt to restore and conserve the original 11-foot, 250-pound model of the U.S.S. Enterprise from the original series. The program also tracks the progress of Brooks Peck, the charismatic curator of Seattle’s EMP Museum, as he attempts to rebuild a model of the original U.S.S. Enterprise’s bridge by using authentic set pieces and props.

The program also profiles a new generation of engineers and scientists who are making Star Trek’s visionary technology real, pushing the boundaries of physics with inventions first conceived on the iconic series: Warp drives, medical tricorders, cloaking devices and tractor beams. Proving that one TV show has truly gone where no man has gone before, the program showcases clips from the original series that highlight each scientific innovation as well as recent technologies inspired by the series, such as flip phones and touch screens.

Hmmm, as Kirk once wondered: “Is there anyone on this ship, who even remotely, looks like Satan?”

Seventy years later, more proof why, still, “It’s a Wonderful Life”

James Stewart always thought it was a wonderful life. So did Donna Reed. And movie mavens worldwide. But the classic Yuletide film It’s a Wonderful Life almost didn’t make it onto the big screen and into our hearts.

The film is based on The Greatest Gift, a 1939 short story written by Philip Van Doren Stern.  He spent years trying to sell his story to publishers. No success, so in 1943, Stern self-published his work and sent it to 200 friends as a 21-page Christmas card. RKO Pictures wound up getting a hold of the “card” and bought the rights to the story. They had Cary Grant in mind to play suicidal do-gooder George Bailey.9511755_1

Time passed, and in 1945 Frank Capra was came on board and cast James Stewart as the star. Actresses such as Jean Arthur, Ann Dvorak , Olivia de Havilland and Ginger Rogers (who called the character “too bland” ) refused the co-starring role as George’s wife Mary. Donna Reed nabbed the role, and from here to eternity, is noted for her terrific performance.

When It’s a Wonderful Life opened in theaters in December 1946, the film received generally mixed reviews; it did, however, earn five Oscar nominations but won none. Gulp! it was somewhat of a box-office flop, failing to recoup its $3.7 million cost (it made $3.3 million during its initial run).its-a-wonderful-life-foto

No wonder George was suicidal! In the years following its release, It’s a Wonderful Life fell  into obscurity only to re-emerge during the ’70s and ’80s when it began appearing on television during the holiday season. In 1990, the nearly 45-year-old film was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress.

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Lionel Barrymore in a Sydney Greenstreet mode?

And who ever thought the baileys might think of a red Christ,as? In It’s a Wonderful Life received an official mark of disapproval from the FBI, which pegged the poignant film as Communist propaganda thanks to its populist themes and, more specifically, unflattering portrayal of big-city bankers.

Reads a section of a 1947 FBI memo titled “Communist Infiltration of the Motion Picture Industry”:

With regard to the picture “It’s a Wonderful Life”, [redacted] stated in substance that the film represented rather obvious attempts to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a “scrooge-type” so that he would be the most hated man in the picture. This, according to these sources, is a common trick used by Communists. In addition, [redacted] stated that, in his opinion, this picture deliberately maligned the upper class, attempting to show the people who had money were mean and despicable characters. [redacted] related that if he made this picture portraying the banker, he would have shown this individual to have been following the rules as laid down by the State Bank Examiner in connection with making loans. Further, [redacted] stated that the scene wouldn’t have “suffered at all” in portraying the banker as a man who was protecting funds put in his care by private individuals and adhering to the rules governing the loan of that money rather than portraying the part as it was shown. In summary, [redacted] stated that it was not necessary to make the banker such a mean character and “I would never have done it that way.”

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Why do we present such background? On October 11, Paramount Home Entertainment is releasing the 70th anniversary of one of the most beloved films of all time on Blu-ray and DVD. This 70th Anniversary Platinum Edition includes a beautifully colorized version of the film and the original black-and-white movie, as well as The Making of It’s A Wonderful Life, a documentary featurette hosted by Tom Bosley and the original trailer.  Plus, both the Blu-ray and DVD set include collectible, limited-edition art cards featuring images of original ads and lobby cards.

A Thanksgiving treat: Stuff yourself on the new take of “Anne of Green Gables”

Too many TV stations air too many turkeys on Thanksgiving. Never PBS. After your day of thanks, give your local public television thanks for airing L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables.

This is the classic Lucy Maud Montgomery story that tells the tale of Anne Shirley, a precocious young girl taken from an orphanage and placed in the care of the uptight Marilla Cuthbert and her brother, Matthew. The conservative Marilla has a profound effect on the adventurous Anne and creates a journey of learning and personal engagement that has resonated with generations since L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables was first published in 1908. The book remains an iconic work of Canadian literature and has sold more than 50 million copies worldwide and been translated into 20 languages.

Directed by John Kent Harrison and based on the original script by Susan Coyne, this adaptation, filmed in Canada, stars critically acclaimed Martin Sheen, who portrays Matthew Cuthbert, one half of the brother-sister couple who care for Anne Shirley.

Some people Anne, and not Annie, is the most famous in the world. Whatever. Ella Ballentine stars as Anne in the two-hour, made-for-TV movie. “My mom read Anne of Green Gables to me when I was younger,” Ella recalls. “And every now and then the cartoon came on TV, so I saw little bits of that. Then I did an episode of Reign on the CW, and Megan Follows is on that. I didn’t have a scene with her, but my mom was telling me, ‘Oh, you know, she played Anne of Green Gables before.’ And I thought, ‘How cool is it to be Anne of Green Gables?’ So then when there was the audition for this, I got really excited.1297803878688_original

Is there anything specific in today’s world that she would miss if she could go back in time to the late 1800s, when Anne of Green Gables is set?

Without an eye on an iPhone: “Modern hospitals,” she says.

Maybe she knows that we will remind you the PBS film is just that the doctor ordered? Can’t wait? PBS Distribution offers it on DVD on November 8.

 

Travis Gutiérrez Senger’s “Desert Cathedral” is so powerful you can feel the power of the film from beginning to end

Once in a while a film comes along that blows your head off. Witness Desert Cathedral. Ostensibly, the film concerns a dubiously successful realtor who, in searching for something better for his family, runs straight into the kind of midlife crisis that’s unimaginably painful.  And it is less of his financial failure and more of his tragic imagination and sense of responsibility that sends him spinning off to the climax.

Imagine Dostoyevsky’s Notes for the Underground updated to the ’90s. Peter Collins is backed to a wall from which he sees no escape.  He has a loving wife, Anna and a beautiful daughter, but has seemingly made a series of perfectly legal, but possibly financially ruinous, actions. Such is basically the action of the film, illustrated by Peter and Anna, and Duran Palouse, the private investigator she hires to find her husband who mysteriously disappears into the Southwest.desertcathedral_comingsoon2

As the film progresses, the audience learn more and more about each character and our sympathy grows for them.  The incredibly exciting aspect of this film is the narrative structure. Cheating only slightly here and there, the story is told through the found footage of the hero’s VHS camera, sort of a visual suicide note.  However, this footage is interspersed with home movies Peter and his family have taken throughout the years, so the audience is able to see the sort of life, the failure of an American Dream. that the hero is leaving for the romanticism of the West.

The impact is pretty extraordinary. Understanding and sympathy develops for Peter and Anna, while the remaining information is obtained by the observation of Duran, a bit sleazy at first, yet who grows in the audience’s appreciation as the film progresses.

This is the first major release of Travis Gutiérrez Senger, an author, director and artist to watch.  Handling original narrative in a film has got to be difficult, but Senger’s direction has a style and such a unique manner of handling the now near clichéd “found footage” technique is quite wonderful.  The three major performers, Lee Tergesen, Chaske Spencer and Petra Wright are all spot on in their performances, and you can feel the power of the film from beginning to end. Based on true events, Desert Cathedral won the Golden Bee, the festival’s top prize, at the Manchester International Film Festival; the festival awarded the film for its bold and unique storytelling. No surprise. Isn’t it great to have a film to which you have to bring your brain?

Sink your teeth into the seventh season of “The Vampire Diaries”

Once again, it’s time to give a fangs a lot to Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, who has released  The Vampire Diaries: The Complete Seventh Season on Blu-ray and DVD. Fans will devour all 22 one-hour episodes from season seven and feast on an hour of bloody good extras—including a brand-new featurette, the 2015 Comic-Con panel, deleted scenes and a gag reel.

For those too faint-hearted to recall every detail of season seven: An emotional goodbye is from Elena Gilbert; as Damon and Stefan’s mother, Lily (the gifted guest star Annie Wersching), tries to drive a wedge (stake?) between the Salvatore brothers; hope remains that Stefan and Caroline’s love story is tough enough to survive. Need more to quench your thirst for daring, demonic  drama? Damon does whatever it takes to take down his mother and her band of Heretics; when Bonnie and Enzo both try to decide where their loyalties lie, a surprising relationship will evolve. Plus, with Mystic Falls in disarray and the arrival of the Heretics—who are set on retaliation and mayhem—the suspense will be stronger than ever. Guest stars also include Todd Lasance, Elizabeth Blackmore, Scarlett Byrne, Teressa Liane and Leslie-Ann Huff.landscape-1469459749-the-vampire-diaries-desktop-wallpapers

It has long been rumored that the show was nearing its end after its lead star, Nina Dobrev, left the show after season six and its other stars, Ian Somerhalder and Kat Graham, hinted it is bye-byt time. But the cast and producers made the official announcement Saturday during their annual appearance at Comic-Con in San Diego.

 “We all have discussed it and we’ve made the decision that this is it,” TVD‘s producer, Julie Plec, told fans Saturday, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “This is going to be the final season ofThe Vampire Diaries. It’s bittersweet and emotional and we’re all going to be crying in a minute. It’s been a beautiful run. Get ready, because it’s going to be an epic ride.”

A morsel of trivia only die-hard fans may know: Paul Wesley, who plays Stefan, directed “Woke Up with a Monster”, an episode last season. Did he have any favorite scenes that were really fun to do?

Says Wesley: “I loved directing the episode. It was interesting. I shot all interiors, and when you’re doing a TV series, you’re prone to weather changes, and you’re losing daylight, you’re losing nighttime. I just literally shot on stages, so I had all this play room, and it was so fun. I’m doing a couple more this year, and I can’t wait. It reinvigorated this sense of pleasure. Obviously I’m excited to be on the show, but I’d been doing it for so long that it can be a little bit like you sort of know what you’re getting yourself into, but with the directing you just discover something new every time. You’re always trying to get better, and it’s been great.”

“The Nazi Games: Berlin 1936” offers a riveting look at the Nazis and the International Olympic Committee

How did the Nazis and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) turn a small sports event into the modern Olympics? The answers can be found in the riveting PBS Distribution DVD The Nazi Games: Berlin 1936. (The program will also be available for digital download.) The grand themes and controversial issues from the 1936 Berlin Games have continued to this day: Monumentality, budget overruns, collusion with authoritarian regimes, corruption and sometimes even bribery.

Through archival footage and new research, The Nazi Games: Berlin 1936 reveals how the Olympics, as we have come to know them, were shaped by the collaboration of interests between Hitler and ambitious Olympic planners. After initial distrust, both the IOC and the Nazis found common ground in turning the 1936 Games into the biggest Olympic show the world had ever seen.

A good trip: The Blu-ray and DVD release of the first season of “Into the Badlands”

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Daniel Wu, Stephen Fung and Aramis Knight promoting “Into the Badlands”

Going Into the Badlands is a good thing. AMC’s goal for the series was simple: They wanted to produce a compelling character drama, and introduce the highest caliber of martial arts filmmaking to a weekly series. Success was struck, thanks to the creative minds of creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, whose six-part series stars Daniel Wu as ruthless, prodigiously skilled warrior Sunny. He mentors teen boy M.K. during a spiritual journey across a feudal civilization known as the Badlands.

Violence? Of course. With the help of trained assassins like Sunny, the area is ruled by rival barons, and for decades Quinn has consistently outflanked and outmaneuvered his fellow barons to keep the upper hand. His invincibility, however, begins to fade in light of brazen attacks by the newest baron, The Widow, who believes M.K. is the key to her success. As the battle for control of the Badlands heats up, the destinies of the stoic assassin and the impetuous teenager become intertwined.

Those who missed any of the compelling action or want a revisit should save the date of November 8, when Anchor Bay Entertainment releases Into the Badlands: The Complete First Season on Blu-ray and Digital HD and DVD. For those who wonder: The second season of Into the Badlands returns to AMC in 2017.

Set in a world centuries from now, Into the Badlands: The Complete First Season focused on the spiritual journey of Sunny (Wu) and M.K. (Aramis Knight), a teenage boy who harbors a unique ability, and their growing relationship as teacher and student. Both discover their true purpose and decide to explore what lies beyond the borders of the Badlands, but as their Baron Quinn continues to battle against his own family as well as his rival Baron the Widow, Sunny and M.K.’s journey to a more peaceful existence seems further out of reach.

Those who now wonder about bonus features on the Blu-ray and DVD release of season one:

 

  • Inside Into the Badlands
  • Anatomy of a Fight
  • Building the World of Into the Badlands
  • The Characters of Into the Badlands: The Barons
  • The Characters of Into the Badlands: The Clippers
  • The Master: Into the Badlands Fight Camp Episode 1
  • Creating Real Kung Fu: Into the Badlands Fight Camp Episode 2
  • Bringing It All Together: Into the Badlands Fight Camp Episode 3
  • Into the Badlands Digital Comic

PBS offers a gorgeous look at Colorado, the state Streisand once despised

John Denver had a Rocky Mountain High. Barbara Streisand had, back in early ’90s, a distaste for Colorado. Back in 1992, the Supreme Court considered arguments for and against the Defense of Marriage Act; a hearing that recalled the court’s part in tossing out 1992’s Amendment 2, which prevented bodies in Colorado from recognizing gays and lesbians as a protected class. The passage of Amendment 2 led to Colorado being branded the “hate state.”

A boycott against visiting the state was subsequently called for by numerous high-profile stars: Babs got the boycott ball rolling after suggesting in a post-election speech that Hollywood types steer clear of Colorado “if we’re asked to.” But days later, the Associated Press quoted her as saying, “There are many citizens in Colorado who did not vote for the amendment. I support the organizations and people who are challenging its validity.”

That was then. Things changed . . . but not the beauty and wonder of Colorado. Proof for those who never stepped foot there: PBS Distribution is releasing Heart of the World: Colorado’s National Parks on DVD. Narrated by Grammy-winning Kathy Mattea, Heart of the World delves into the true wonder and beauty of nature, taking us through the seasons and centuries of some of the most spectacular sights on earth—Colorado’s National Parks. Combining stunning photography of the parks filmed throughout the seasons—along with breathtaking helicopter aerials and outstanding wildlife shots that include bears, bighorn sheep, moose and elk.

 

A perfect example of when crime pays: Netflix’s superb crime drama “Longmire”

Crime pays. Sometimes. Witness the sharp, superb writing and fine acting in the hit crime drama Longmire, based on the “Walt Longmire” mystery novels written by bestselling author Craig Johnson. After finding out who had a hand in his wife’s murder, Sheriff Walt Longmire is back for the fourth season of the hit crime drama; in this gripping three-disc, 10-episode set, characters test their courage and face challenges that will ultimately define them. The thrilling third season of this contemporary Western captivated fans across the country, demanding for Netflix to bring it back for a fourth season. Watch the cast below and learn why we all love it!

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Taylor as Longmire

Due to overwhelming fan demand, Longmire: The Complete Fourth Season also arrives September 13 on Blu-ray courtesy of Warner Archive, and will be available at Amazon.com and all online retailers.

The new season finds unflappable Sheriff Walt Longmire (the underrated Aussie actor Robert Taylor) and his deputies trying to put the troubling events of the past behind them. The mysterious White Warrior who tormented Branch Connally (Bailey Chase) is dead, Walt’s best friend Henry Standing Bear (Lou Diamond Phillips) is a free man, Longmire’s right-hand deputy Victoria “Vic” Moretti (Katee Sackhoff) is newly divorced, and the mystery of Walt’s wife’s murder is seemingly resolved.  However, just as it looks like a second chance is truly possible for everyone; the opening of the new casino on the Reservation brings dark new problems to Walt’s corner of Wyoming.  And his fresh start is further threatened as it becomes clear that some people cannot truly move on until they have either forgiven past injustices or avenged them.

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McRaney and Taylor.

We wondered who Taylor who like to be a guest star on the show.  he laughs. “Can we get Raquel Welch from 1973? We had Gerald McRaney. There may be a better actor out there but I’m not sure who they are. Sam Shepard was in Santa Fe and I see him around and know Adam [Bartley, who plays the bumbling Deputy Ferguson] has become buddies with him. He’s trying to get him to come on the show. And everybody talks about Sam Elliott. That’d be fun. He’d win the best mustache competition. That’d be fun.”

VAI releases Ann Southern’s TV take on “Lady in the Dark.” In one word: Brilliant!

First of all, kudos. applause, standing ovations and general huzzahs to VAI, otherwise known as Video Artists International. While other video companies are bragging about their release of a “lost” film such as Dracula and Frankenstein meet Ma and Pa Kettle and Have Ugly Children, VAI is releasing the wonderful Max Liebman television musical spectaculars from the ’50s.

Witness Lady in the Dark: a lost classic that maybe should remain lost, except for the VAI TV release. Some years ago, a college in Boston produced an uncut version of the Broadway show, partially paid for by the author’s widow, Kitty Carlisle Hart. It ran three hours and heavy change.  Forty minutes of music which, given Kurt Weill’s score, gave the audience more than two hours of Moss Hart dramatizing psychoanalyses.

Just as eyes were beginning to glaze over, the show’s sequences illustrating psychoanalysis in dream form had the stage become electric with the Weill score . . . only to saunter back into  Fun with Freud.  Finally, a fourth dream, The Childhood Dream, wraps everything up nicely with the beautiful song, “My Ship.”  Even if Gertrude Lawrence, the original lead, were alive, it would take a Herculean effort to make this work today.

Then there was the 1944 Mitchell Liesen film with Ginger Rogers, which today plays like a particularly vivid acid trip in an ’80s gay bar.
Then, at last, Max Liebman did a TV version in 1954, which VAI has released on DVD.  It stars Ann Southern, a very underestimated comedienne with a fine singing voice.  Having neither the somewhat chilly affectedness of Gertrude Lawrence nor the brassy colorfulness of Ginger Rogers, here is a leading lady we can believe. The whole thing come in at 90 minutes, with the Weill score more or less intact.download
Both Weill and Lawrence were geniuses, although Lawrence ages poorly.  Moss Hart had a tendency to write frequently in an autobiographical vein; think of The Man who Came to Dinner and Light Up the Sky. He also used his own extensive couch time to create Lady in the Dark, clocking in some 400 performances during its original Broadway run. However, the show is cloyingly long if performed uncut today.
But the Liebman take is transcendent, not only because of Southern, but also James Daly, Carleton Carpenter and, of course, Bambi Lynn and Rod Alexander, who seem to dance in all of Liebman’s TV shows.
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Ann Sothern as Liza Elliott finds herself torn between James Daly as Advertising Manager Charley Johnson and Robert Fortier as film star Randy Curtis
“My Ship”, “The Saga of Jenny” , “One Life to Live” there all here.  This is a difficult thing to say, but Lady in the Dark may well be the best of all the VAI releases.