Category Archives: TV

Ken Burns and Lynn Novick take a powerful, riveting look at “The Vietnam War”. It’s possibly their best, ever!

Anytime we hear that Ken Burns and Lynn Novick are creating a new documentary series, we stand. And cheer. Often and loudly.

Let us tell you about The Vietnam War, arriving on Blu-ray and DVD and Blu-ray on September 19, coinciding with its PBS airing. In an immersive narrative, Burns and Novick tell the epic story of the Vietnam War as it has never before been told on film. The epic program features testimony from nearly 100 witnesses, including many Americans who fought in the war and others who opposed it, as well as Vietnamese combatants and civilians from both the winning and losing sides.

Ten years in the making, the series brings the war and the chaotic epoch it encompassed viscerally to life. Written by Geoffrey C. Ward, produced by Sarah Botstein, Novick and Burns, it includes rarely seen, digitally re-mastered archival footage from sources around the globe, photographs taken by some of the most celebrated photojournalists of the 20th century, historic television broadcasts, evocative home movies and revelatory audio recordings from inside the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administrations.

“The Vietnam War was a decade of agony that took the lives of more than 58,000 Americans,” Burns says. “Not since the Civil War have we as a country been so torn apart. There wasn’t an American alive then who wasn’t affected in some way—from those who fought and sacrificed in the war, to families of service members and POWs, to those who protested the war in open conflict with their government and fellow citizens. More than 40 years after it ended, we can’t forget Vietnam, and we are still arguing about why it went wrong, who was to blame and whether it was all worth it.”

“We are all searching for some meaning in this terrible tragedy. Ken and I have tried to shed new light on the war by looking at it from the bottom up, the top down and from all sides,” Novick adds. “In addition to dozens of Americans who shared their stories, we interviewed many Vietnamese on both the winning and losing sides, and were surprised to learn that the war remains as painful and unresolved for them as it is for us. Within this almost incomprehensibly destructive event, we discovered profound, universal human truths, as well as uncanny resonances with recent events.”

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Airborne Brigade Vietnam War Hill 823

The Vietnam War features new, original music written and recorded by Oscar-winning composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. The film also features new music arranged and performed by Grammy Award-winning cellist Yo-Yo Ma and The Silk Road Ensemble. It is the first time Burns and Novick have worked with Reznor and Ross, as well as with Ma and The Silk Road Ensemble.  Additional music in the film was composed by David Cieri and Doug Wamble, both of whom are longtime collaborators with Florentine Films.

The series also features more than 120 popular songs that define the era, including tracks from The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Simon & Garfunkel, Janis Joplin, Ben E. King, Phil Ochs, Donovan, Johnny Cash, Barry McGuire, Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds, Otis Redding, Santana, Joni Mitchell, Nina Simone, The Temptations, Booker T. and the M.G.s and Pete Seeger.

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The cost of war, Horrors!

The film will be accompanied by an outreach and public engagement program, providing opportunities—facilitated by public television stations—for communities to participate in a national conversation about what happened during the Vietnam War, what went wrong and what lessons are to be learned. In addition, there will be a robust interactive website and an educational initiative designed to engage teachers and students through multiple platforms, including PBS LearningMedia.

Viewers are encouraged to join the conversation: #VietnamWarPBS

The Vietnam War rounds out a trilogy of Florentine Films’ exploration of American wars that began with Burns’s landmark series, The Civil War (1990), followed by Burns and Novick’s acclaimed seven-part series about World War II, The War (2007).

Accompanying the series will be a companion book—written by Geoffrey C. Ward, with an introduction by Burns and Novick—that will be published by Knopf, Burns’ longtime publisher, on September 5.

The Blu-ray and DVD sets contain 10 discs; there are more than 100 minutes of extra bonus footage, including a 45-minute preview program, two pieces on contemporary lives of two of the participants and bonus content. The program will also be available for digital download.

“Dark Angel”: The gruesome true story of Mary Ann Cotton, Britain’s first serial killer

May we serve you a nice cup of tea? Imbibe, as long as the beverage isn’t being served by Mary Ann Cotton.  Inspired by the book Mary Ann Cotton: Britain’s First Female Serial Killer by noted criminologist David Wilson, the PBS program Dark Angel (PBS Distribution) dramatizes the events that drew a troubled woman ever deeper into a career of casual murder, while her loved ones and friends, who were also her victims, never suspected a thing.

Joanne Froggatt, who stole the hearts of millions of viewers as Anna, the loving and resilient lady’s maid on Downton Abbey, stars in a totally different role in the spine-tingling two-part drama. Dispensing death from the spout of a warm teapot, Froggatt plays the notorious Victorian poisoner.

A Golden Globe-winner and three-time Emmy nominee for her Downton Abbey performance, Froggatt is joined by an exceptional cast, including Alun Armstrong as Mary Ann’s stepfather, Mr. Stott; Thomas Howes as her husband number two, George; Jonas Armstrong as her longtime lover, Joe; Sam Hoare as husband number three, James; Laura Morgan as her best friend, Maggie; plus additional actors playing other husbands, her many children, and the few citizens who suspect that something is not quite right about Mary Ann.

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Born in North East England in 1832, a child of the coalfields, Mary Ann Cotton grew up in poverty with the dream of escaping the hard life of a miner’s family, a goal she came tantalizingly close to achieving. Her chosen means were her good looks, sexual allure, and the dirty secret of nineteenth-century suspicious deaths: arsenic, which is tasteless and easily disguised in a cup of tea.

For authorities, the problem was that arsenic poisoning, if done skillfully, mimicked the symptoms of two of the major public health scourges of the day: typhoid fever and cholera. The passing of a child or husband after a week of severe stomach pains, convulsions, and other portents of disease was all too common—and even less surprising when several members of the same household succumbed.

Image result for Mary Ann Cotton

Mary Ann did tempt fate by taking out a modest insurance policy on her intended victims, whenever possible, but she inadvertently hit on the major success strategies of a serial killer: keep moving, be charming, and exude self-confidence. And along with others in this line of criminality, her body count can never be certain; the current best estimate is at least thirteen, ranking her far above her Victorian male counterpart, Jack the Ripper.

Female serial killers are so rare that criminologists continue to debate what makes them tick. Is it a thirst for power, a desire for material gain, or a sadistic delight in undermining gender stereotypes when they ask, “Why don’t I make you a nice cup of tea?”

“My Mother and Other Strangers” offers an absorbing adventure in 1943 Ireland

Shot on the stunningly beautiful Ards Peninsula Ards Peninsula in Northern Ireland, My Mother and Other Strangers (PBS Distribution) 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, whose 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, an upright Englishwoman who married Michael Coyne 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, 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 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!”

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.

Just how does nature (think wolves, owls, bison and beavers) survive a great freeze?

Filmed over the course of several intense months, from deep winter to early summer, Great Yellowstone Thaw: How Nature Survives (PBS Distribution) intercuts the stories of several different animal families—including wolves, bison, grizzlies, beavers and great gray owls. The program follows the animals in the Yellowstone ecosystem as they emerge from winter’s cold and adapt to an early spring thaw, before encountering the soaring summer temperatures. From winter to summer, Yellowstone’s temperature typically swings 140 degrees.

Dr. Kirk Johnson, Sant Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and a renowned paleontologist and author, hosts the program. Johnson and a team of Yellowstone experts explore how these animals fend off floods, starvation, and fires, as well as the area’s extreme evolution from cold to heat during the spring season. The program showcases the extraordinary survival instincts Yellowstone’s natural species possess. Viewers will learn how the early thaw brings the bears of the Rocky Mountain region out of hibernation prematurely, creating concern over food supply. The wolves, which have recovered from their extinct status in the 1990s, are now beginning to thrive, but the fluctuating temperatures pose a threat to the species once again. While the beavers have to make their homes in freezing rivers, the great gray owls must migrate to find food in thawed areas in order to survive.

“Fortitude Season 2” returns to the Arctic. For more chills. And thrills.

Remember the parasite threat from season one of Fortitude? It is gone, but the residents are still fleeing the Arctic town in droves. Cut off from the mainland, those who remain in Fortitude battle on. However, in the wilderness, nature is growing restless and unpredictable. When the sky turns red, locals fear it is a bad omen for the town.

Welcome to Public Media Distribution’s Fortitude Season 2 on Blu-ray and DVD. The new series sees Dennis Quaid, Ken Stott Parminder Nagra, Robert Sheehan and Michelle Fairley join its stellar international cast.

Having disappeared after shooting Elena, Sheriff Dan Anderssen (Richard Dormer) is presumed dead. Vincent (Luke Treadaway) remains traumatized by his attack and Hildur (Sofie Grabol) struggles to hold on to her marriage, and her office. Eric (Bjorn Hlynur Haraldsson) fails to step into Dan’s shoes, leaving Ingrid and Petra to police a fragile community. New faces are pulled into Fortitude’s vortex, including Ingrid’s stepfather Michael (Quaid). A fisherman, he is desperate to raise funds to buy treatment for his dying wife, and desperate times call for desperate measures.

At the research center, ambitious newcomer Dr. Surinder Khatri (Nagra) spots an opportunity that encourages her to push both medical and ethical boundaries. Then, a horrendous death rocks Fortitude. What looks like a careless accident involving a snowplow turns out to be a barbaric murder. As the police team investigate, a strange new figure appears hell-bent on destroying an evil spirit he believes has descended upon Fortitude and its inhabitants. There’s a demon amongst the herd and it has to be stopped, no matter what the consequences . . .

MHz Choices makes big (ger) news four days before my birthday

My birthday (September 17) is big news, but four days before, September 13,  MHz Networks makes small-screen history when they premiere 1864 on its streaming service MHz Choice. This Danish drama of love in the time of war, reaches across eras to connect individual lives, confront a nation’s trauma, and examine the events of an epic war that formed the self-image of Denmark. Internationally renowned “Danish New Wave” director Ole Bornedal, read the letters of the soldiers to create a factual fairy tale.

Shot as a feature film and available as eight episodes, this sweeping drama reflects Borndal’s renowned mix of stylistic experimentation with engrossing stories, as seen in his thriller Nattevagten (1994), which screened at the Cannes, Toronto and Sundance film festivals; the American remake of Nightwatch; I am Dina, winner at the Montreal Film Festival; Just Another Love Story; The Substitute and Deliver Us From Evil, all winners of international prizes and acclaim. Bornedal also directed the top American horror film of 2012, The Possession, and co-produced Guillermo del Toro’s Mimic.

Bornedal has gathered the top acting talent of the current golden era of Denmark’s film and television, such as Sidse Babett Knudson, seen in the hit television series Borgen and Westworld, who delivers an unforgettable performance alongside her Borgen costar Pilou Asbæk, also known for Game of Thrones and The Borgias.
A TALE IN TWO ERAS 

1864 
Following victories over the Prussian Empire in the war of 1848-51, Denmark is emboldened and begins scheming to annex Schleswig into the Danish Kingdom. Armed with nationalist furor, the leader of the Parliament dismisses the country’s European treaties and throws Denmark into war with Prussia. Amid escalating conflict, two peasant brothers grow up and fall in love, both with the same well-read and beautiful woman. When the war erupts, these two young men volunteer for service, setting the stage for a sweeping drama.

Pilou Asbæk (Borgen, Game of Thrones) and Sidse Babett Knudsen (Borgen, Westworld) star in 1864

2014 
Meanwhile, in 2014, a young girl suffers the loss of her brother to the war in Afghanistan. Depressed and despairing, she takes a position as aide to an aging Baron, who happens to reside in the same countryside inhabited by the brothers in 1864. Here, she discovers a diary and encounters the extraordinary love triangle. She becomes an eyewitness to history, powerfully connected to the brothers—and thousands of Danish soldiers—who fought one of the nation’s bloodiest battles, a slaughterhouse that changed Denmark forever.

Save the date: “Endeavour Season 4” hits shelves September 5 

It’s the summer of 1967, and the effects of the Cold War and ’60s counterculture are being felt in Oxford. It has barely been two weeks since the events depicted in the season three finale, and we find Oxford’s finest picking up the pieces of their personal and professional lives. Endeavour waits to hear the result of his Sergeant’s Exam, and self-medicates to numb his heartache over Joan, but whisky and Tännhauser will only get a man so far. Meanwhile, Thursday and Win deal with their own sense of grief. Their home is empty, Sam gone to the Army and Joan . . . who knows where?

Welcome to Masterpiece Mystery: Endeavour Season 4 will be available on DVD and Blu-ray on September 5. The program will also be available for digital download. Save the date!

A description of each of the episodes from Season 4 is listed below.

Game
Endeavour, struggling with Joan Thursday’s sudden departure, finds himself consumed by a nightmarish hunt for a serial killer. He must race against time to find the connection between a chess-playing “thinking” machine and a baffling drowning.

Canticle
When morality advocate Joy Pettybon receives a death threat, Endeavour must protect her at all costs. But the arrival of a rebellious band, The Wildwood, quickly drags Endeavour into a bloody war of social attitudes that just had its first fatality.

Lazaretto
Whispers of a cursed ward at the local hospital and a seemingly innocuous death begin a chain of events that leads Endeavour to investigate the dark depths of the hospital, its staff and its patients. Meanwhile, he is forced to confront his own ghosts as he discovers a chilling secret.

Harvest
The extraordinary discovery of a 2,000-year-old body reveals a new lead in a missing person case. Endeavour and Thursday must investigate the eerie village of Bramford, where nature is pitted against man and pagan rites hide nuclear mysteries.

 

Visit Cuba without needing a passport with “Weekend in Havana”

Travel with Geoffrey Baer to explore the heart of Cuba’s magical capital city, now open to Americans after more than 50 years. Three young locals—architect and restorationist Daniel de la Regata; Irene Rodriguez, one of Cuba’s top flamenco dancers; and Grammy-nominated jazz pianist Roberto Fonseca—serve as enthusiastic guides, allowing viewers to experience this vibrant and historic place through the eyes of those who love it and call it home.

Welcome to Weekend in Havana.

Geoffrey, host of the PBS series 10 That Changed America about game-changing buildings, homes, parks, and towns as well as more than 20 specials on Chicago history and architecture, takes to the streets of Havana with his guides and new fast friends, Daniel, Irene and Roberto.

After meeting up at a café in Cathedral Plaza in Old Havana, he is given a whirlwind tour of Cuba’s fascinating and colorful history, a hands-on introduction to Afro-Cuban music and dance, a primer on Havana’s varied architecture and efforts being made to restore many of the city’s ruins, and an inside look at how everyday Cubans live in this “old city trying to find its place in the modern world,” a land off-limits to Americans for decades.

Guided by his new friends, Geoffrey witnesses the nightly firing of the cannon at the fortress of San Carlos de la Cabana; visits Plaza de Armas, the city’s first public square; rides in a ’50s-era red Chevrolet on a journey through Havana’s breathtaking but sometimes crumbling architecture; and meets an auto mechanic charged with keeping many of Havana’s vintage automobiles in running order. He also takes a wild ride in a “coco taxi,” a small yellow vehicle sans seatbelts that looks like a coconut, and gets an overview of the vivid local arts scene, which includes street musicians along El Malecón’s crowded sea wall. He dines in one of the city’s many paladars (intimate family restaurants in what were once private homes), and hobnobs with the fashionable young crowd at La Fabrica, a series of art galleries, bars and performance spaces located in an old factory.

Geoffrey also visits a ruined sugar plantation where African slaves once toiled and takes part in a present-day Santeria ritual in a private home. From Roberto and his band, Geoffrey gets a quick tutorial on Afro-Cuban percussion at the famous Studio Areito, one of the oldest surviving recording studios in the world. After a visit to the U.S. Embassy, Geoffrey watches young athletes taking part in America’s and Cuba’s joint national pastime, baseball, unearths some reminders of the turbulent Cuban Revolution era, and is granted rare access to one of Havana’s most important restoration projects: El Capitolio, Cuba’s Capitol building, modeled after the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. He also imbibes at one of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite watering holes and boats out to the small fishing village of Cojimar, the setting for The Old Man and the Sea, and visits Hemingway’s home in San Francisco de Paula.

Geoffrey checks out the glitzy floorshow at the Tropicana nightclub, and ends his journey at La Guarida’s rooftop piano bar, perched atop a crumbling mansion. With Roberto’s band playing in the background, he reflects on the new understanding he has gained of Havana.

 

 

 

A Quaret of DVDs from PBS Distribution to watch inside and beat the heat outdoors

Too hot to enjoy the outdoors? PBS Distribution has made it cooler to stay inside and enjoy some of their DVD release.  Here are four picks.

Every year, millions of animals embark on epic journeys on an astonishing scale, crossing hostile landscapes, traveling hundreds of miles, overcoming fearsome obstacles, and facing intense dangers and voracious predators in a race to reach their destination. Follow three iconic animals—caribou, elephants, and zebra—on three of the world’s most breathtaking wildlife adventures, journeying across hundreds of miles of Canadian arctic wilderness and African bush.

Such is the world of Nature’s Great Race. Every decision could mean life or death, and for the first time ever, watch the animals every step of the way. Using the latest tagging technology, the scientific team tracks individual animal journeys precisely, ensuring that camera teams on the ground can follow and film key animals, capturing all of the action, the close calls, the successes, and the failures. Uncover the true driving forces that compel these animals to risk everything, and why they must win these great races.

Last Days of Jesus peels back thousands of years of tradition to explore a new political context to the historical events in Jerusalem.  Examining how dramatic incidents in Rome could have played a crucial role in shaping Jesus’ destiny, the program reveals an extraordinary political alliance that altered the course of history.

For almost 2,000 years, the story of Jesus’ final days has been celebrated by Christians around the world. From his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, through his eventual crucifixion six days later, the key moments have been immortalized in countless films, pieces of music and works of art.  However, in recent years, some historians have begun to question inconsistencies in the Gospels’ version of events.  They believe that the Gospels could hide a very different story: one that casts the historical Jesus in an entirely new light.

In an investigation that stretches from Dallas to Miami to an upscale resort in Costa Rica, Frontline and NPR examine two of the government’s key affordable housing programs to see whether they’re working as they should. Frontline: Poverty, Politics and Profit also explores the inseparability of race and housing programs in America, tracing a legacy of segregation that began more than 80 years ago.

From exploring why even those who receive Section 8 vouchers often struggle to find housing, to examining charges that developers have stolen money meant to house low-income people, the program is a timely and probing exploration of a system in crisis—and who’s being left behind.

What happens when prisoners convicted of first-degree murder as teenagers are given the chance to re-enter society? Frontline takes a look at the fight over the fate of some 2,000 individuals following a landmark 2012 Supreme Court ruling that found sentences of mandatory life without parole for juveniles unconstitutional.

Frontline: Second Chance Kids draws on the experiences of prosecutors, defenders, the families of the murder victims, and several offenders themselves.

Visit Cuba for a weekend with Geoffrey Baer

Travel with host Geoffrey Baer to explore the heart of Cuba’s magical capital city, now open to Americans after more than 50 years. Three young locals—architect and restorationist Daniel de la Regata; Irene Rodriguez, one of Cuba’s top flamenco dancers; and Grammy-nominated jazz pianist Roberto Fonseca—serve as enthusiastic guides, allowing viewers to experience this vibrant and historic place through the eyes of those who love it and call it home. Witness the adventures in Weekend in Havana.

PBS Distribution releases the DVD July 25; the program will also be available for digital download.

Baer, host of the PBS series 10 That Changed America about game-changing buildings, homes, parks, owns as well as more than 20 specials on Chicago history and architecture, takes to the streets of Havana with his guides and new fast friends, Daniel, Irene, and Roberto. After meeting up at a café in Cathedral Plaza in Old Havana, he is given a whirlwind tour of Cuba’s fascinating and colorful history, a hands-on introduction to Afro-Cuban music and dance, a primer on Havana’s varied architecture and efforts being made to restore many of the city’s ruins, and an inside look at how everyday Cubans live in this “old city trying to find its place in the modern world,” a land off-limits to Americans for decades.

Guided by his new friends, Geoffrey witnesses the nightly firing of the cannon at the fortress of San Carlos de la Cabana; visits Plaza de Armas, the city’s first public square; rides in a 1950s-era red Chevrolet on a journey through Havana’s breathtaking but sometimes crumbling architecture; and meets an auto mechanic charged with keeping many of Havana’s vintage automobiles in running order. He also takes a wild ride in a “coco taxi,” a small yellow vehicle sans seatbelts that looks like a coconut, and gets an overview of the vivid local arts scene, which includes street musicians along El Malecón’s crowded sea wall. He dines in one of the city’s many paladars (intimate family restaurants in what were once private homes), and hobnobs with the fashionable young crowd at La Fabrica, a series of art galleries, bars and performance spaces located in an old factory.

Geoffrey also visits a ruined sugar plantation where African slaves once toiled and takes part in a present-day Santeria ritual in a private home. From Roberto and his band, Geoffrey gets a quick tutorial on Afro-Cuban percussion at the famous Studio Areito, one of the oldest surviving recording studios in the world. After a visit to the U.S. Embassy, Geoffrey watches young athletes taking part in America’s and Cuba’s joint national pastime, baseball, unearths some reminders of the turbulent Cuban Revolution era, and is granted rare access to one of Havana’s most important restoration projects: El Capitolio, Cuba’s Capitol building, modeled after the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. He also imbibes at one of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite watering holes and boats out to the small fishing village of Cojimar, the setting for The Old Man and the Sea, and visits Hemingway’s home in San Francisco de Paula

Geoffrey checks out the glitzy floorshow at the Tropicana nightclub, and ends his journey at La Guarida’s rooftop piano bar, perched atop a crumbling mansion. With Roberto’s band playing in the background, he reflects on the new understanding he has gained of Havana.