Category Archives: TV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

 

Chances are you will love the bittersweet “My Mother and Other Strangers”

Chances are . . .

Hattie Morahan and Aaron Staton star as a village teacher and U.S. air force officer whose chance meeting in Northern Ireland during World War II leads to a friendship that blossoms into something deeper.

Welcome to Masterpiece: My Mother and Other Strangers (PBS Distribution), coming to DVD on July 11. Also starring is Owen McDonnell as the teacher’s dour but loving husband, along with Eileen O’Higgins, Michael Nevin, Des McAleer, Kate Phillips, Fiona Button and Ciarán Hinds.

During its recent UK broadcast, viewers and critics were deeply moved by this bittersweet tale. “No other recent drama has captured quite so keenly a sense of the complex, hidden, unspoken desires that can roil away beneath even the quietest surface,” wrote the reviewer for The Telegraph, who added, “Hattie Morahan is superb.”

Shot on the stunningly beautiful Ards Peninsula in Northern Ireland, the film portrays the culture clash when a U.S. bomber base is established near the fictional village of Moybeg in 1943, bringing hundreds of gum-chewing, swing-band-listening American airmen to a remote Ulster farming community, with its winsome women and stolid workingmen.

The action is framed from the point of view of a young boy, Francis Coyne (played by Nevin, with voiceover of Francis as an older man by Hinds). Francis’s childhood is populated by strangers. On the one hand, there are the friendly Americans in their Jeeps and airplanes, who treat him like a little brother. Then there is his mother, Rose (Morahan), an upright Englishwoman who married Michael Coyne (McDonnell) and moved to his hometown, Moybeg, where she is raising their three children, teaching in the village school, and tending a grocery shop next to Michael’s pub. Despite being a pillar of the community, Rose has never fit in. She speaks more properly than the locals, loves English literature, and has a lively interest in the wider world.

Into this isolated domain comes Captain Ronald Dreyfus (Staton), U.S. Army Air Forces, who encounters Rose during a walk on the heath. When they meet again, he quotes her a line from Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott”—one of her favorite poems.

Captain Dreyfus is as reserved as Rose is. But in his capacity as base liaison officer, he has occasion to see her frequently: dealing with a fracas between airmen and regulars at the pub, arranging for an army nurse (Phillips) to care for a sick child, and planning a Christmas party for the school.

Both would-be lovers fight against the stronger feelings that are overwhelming them—emotions that are increasingly evident to those around them.

Wary of betraying her husband, Rose feels seized by some otherworldly force, a sentiment she can only recognize from a piece of literature—Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights—which she quotes from memory: “Be with me always—take any form—drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you!”