Category Archives: TV

Two must-see PBS programs: “GI Jews” and “Art of the Shine”

We are always gushing over programs, documentaries, shows, specials, films and mini-series that are released on Blu-ray and DVD by PBS Distribution. And with good reason. They are always riveting. Here are two that could easily fall through the cracks. Take note!

Through the eyes of servicemen and women, GI Jews: Jewish Americans in WWII brings to life the little-known story of Jews in World War II—as active participants in the fight against Hitler, bigotry and intolerance. These men and women were religious and secular, Zionists, socialists, even pacifists. Some had been in America for generations; others were recent immigrants, with close family members left behind in Hitler’s Europe. Their extraordinary experiences are at the heart of the film, telling the story of World War II from a uniquely Jewish perspective.

Like all Americans, they fought against fascism, but they also fought a more personal fight– to save their brethren in Europe. In the midst of it all, they battled anti-Semitism within the ranks of the U.S. military, facing slurs and violence from their fellow servicemen. In the end, the story of the Jewish GIs is the story of becoming American; the story of immigrants who earned their citizenship by shedding blood and fought for democracy and tolerance abroad and at home.

Meet the men and women who make their living cleaning our shoes. From the brash street shiners of New York City, to the masked shoe shine boys of La Paz, this program takes viewers around the world to give viewers an insider’s perspective of this overlooked profession. The Art of the Shine introduces the people who do this job and the chance to see the world through their eyes.

Viewers discover that despite being literally and figuratively “looked down upon” by society, shoe shiners universally take great pride in their work. They like the freedom that comes with being their own bosses and enjoy interacting with customers who always walk away happy. People around the world have turned to shoe shining to provide for themselves and their families. These are their stories. Step into their world. You’ll never look at a shoe shiner the same way again.

Four words George Carlin would have proudly uttered: “George Carlin Commemorative Collection”

Just cause you got the monkey off your back doesn’t mean the circus has left town.

So said George Carlin, one of thousands of memorable one-liners.

OK, we’ll share one more: “One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor.”

Carlin devotees will relish the George Carlin Commemorative Collection (MPI Home Video and the George Carlin Estate), a 10-disc must-have DVD, CD and Blu-ray boxed set which features more than five hours of previously unreleased bonus material including rare performance footage from Carlin’s personal archive. The uncensored celebration hits shelves June 12.

George Carlin Commemorative Collection

“While digging around in dad’s stuff, we found a few gems that we just couldn’t keep for ourselves,” says George Carlin’s daughter, Kelly, who helped compile material for the set commented. “ It’s amazing to think that ten years after his death, we keep finding stuff I’d never seen before!”

Carlin was not only one of America’s greatest comedians whose albums topped the charts, he was a pioneer of cable TV’s concert format that has become a benchmark of success for all humorists ever since.

And now, all of Carlin’s pointed, often controversial but always hilarious specials originally shown on HBO have been gathered for the first time in the George Carlin Commemorative Collection. Encompassing over five decades of his groundbreaking career, all 14 of the legendary funnyman’s Emmy nominated HBO specials are now available in one package–a remarkable set that also contains a previously unreleased HBO special entitled 40 Years of Comedy hosted by Jon Stewart plus Carlin’s posthumous audio release, I Kinda Like It When a Lotta People Die.

One of the key bonus pieces of material is Carlin’s first stand-up special from 1973, The Real George Carlin which has not been seen since it first aired. Additional bonus material includes APT 2C (a never-aired HBO pilot from the ’80s) plus two one-hour stand-up comedy club performances that features material performed by Carlin for the first time.  There is also never-before-released material from the 1960s–when Carlin was a clean-cut, suit-wearing guest on the variety shows such as Talent Scouts, The Jackie Gleason Show and Hollywood Palace. 

The box set features also includes both DVD and Blu-ray discs of the HBO specials Life Is Worth Losing and It’s Bad for Ya plus liner notes written by comedian Patton Oswalt.

Carlin, a fearless commentator on society and a champion of free speech, now finally gets the boxed set he and fans of great, enduring comedy deserve and the set represents the most complete collection of Carlin performances to date.

Bravo!

Paul Giamatti narrates a fluttery “Nature: Sex, Lies & Butterflies”

Fly high this summer with Nature: Sex, Lies & Butterflies, now on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital HD from PBS Distribution. Butterflies have been flying around our planet for more than 50 million years, and today around 20,000 different species inhabit the globe. This program, narrated by Paul Giamatti, follows their lives from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to the emergence of the full-blown, winged creature.

Explore their astonishing survival techniques, including 360° vision, deceptive camouflage, chemical weaponry and fantastic flight. Through sophisticated macro-filming, look beyond the butterflies’ bright colors and fragile beauty to follow them on one of the greatest migrations on Earth.

Smithsonian Channel celebrates the greatness of American with two new DVDs

Oh say can you see . . .
Wait until June 12 and you will be able to see two great Smithsonian Channel  programs being released on DVD by PBS  Distribution.

A Star-Spangled Story: Battle for America
The Star-Spangled Banner is known by all, treasured for its powerful melody and stirring lyrics. And yet, only about 40% of U.S. citizens know all the words. And even fewer know their meaning. In this program, viewers can travel back to 1814, when Washington D.C. was under British attack during the “Second War of Independence,” and the very bricks and mortar of American democracy were reduced to smoking rubble.

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Stamp out your ignorance of the lyrics!

The program examines the battle that inspired Francis Scott Key to immortalize its final moments, then reveal how his poem transformed into an anthem.

They are studied in school and visited by millions. They are world-renowned symbols of the nation. But they are also shrouded in misinformation, mystery, and mythology. How much does America really know about its greatest monuments?

Finishing touches are made to the huge statue of Abraham Lincoln, which stands just inside the entrance of the Lincoln Memorial, prior to its dedication in Washington, D.C., on May 30, 1922.

From war memorials, to monuments honoring America’s founding fathers, to Arlington’s eternal flame, these soaring tributes in stone, steel, soil, and sky have amazing stories to tell. They are a permanent record of this nation’s history and evolution into the world’s greatest democracy . . .  a country of the people.

The cornerstones of civilization–war, religion, cities and trade–are explored in “First Civilizations”

The inevitability of war. A need for religion. The lure of the city.
A love of trade. Discover how our ancestors were motivated by the same impulses that persist today to create the first civilizations and empires.

Witness the facts in First Civilizations, available on DVD June 12 by PBS Distribution.

How did humans advance on the road to civilization despite having lived as mobile foragers for 99 percent of their time on Earth? How did they create villages, towns, cities and states and establish the blueprint for the modern world?

This series identifies four cornerstones of civilization–war, religion, cities and trade–and explores each in the context of different civilizations in Mesoamerica, the Middle East and the Indus Valley. Crisscrossing the globe, camera crews traveled to Mexico, Guatemala, Iraq, Turkey, Egypt, India, Pakistan, Oman, Morocco, France, Germany, Japan, the U.K. and the U.S. They recorded the latest archaeological discoveries, tested new theories and uncovered original information.

Dramatic reconstructions and computer graphics are used to visualize the lost world of the first civilizations. In each episode, the ancient story is also complemented by a modern-day analog, with an expert interviewee connecting the dots between past and present. Their story is our story.

Keegan Allen shows the mythical magic and dark dreams of “Hollywood”

Marilyn Monroe said it best: “Hollywood is a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul. I know, because I turned down the first offer often enough and held out for the fifty cents.”

Keegan Allen shows it best with his lavish tome Hollywood: Photos and Stories from Foreverland (St. Martin’s Press, $29.99). Allen, an actor; photographer; bestselling author and musician best-known from the No. 1 hit show on Freeform, Pretty Little Liars; reveals the Hollywood we see—and the one we don’t—with a photography narrative featuring more than 250 emotionally charged color and black and white photos. No wonder his first book, life.love.beauty, was a national bestseller.Image result for keegan allen

The Hollywood native grew up in a world that millions
visit and many more imagine. In his new book he turns his eye and camera to the place he knows best. Hollywood captures the beauty
and glamour of the place itself—with unusual angles of the famous sign, the Chateau Marmont at twilight, secret local hideaways, red carpets and more—but also the darker side of dreams unrealized in the faces, hands, eyes and footsteps of those who live on the fringe of celebrity. His photos are enhanced by revealing, intimate captions, lyrics, and other writing, as well as exciting parodies, and iconic emulations.

A book that will engage and surprise Keegan’s legions of fans and followers, Hollywood is an essential gift for anyone who has visited or imagined this storied place

Bill Nye closes on window and opens so many more . . . and each one is majorly important

Bill Nye is on a mission to stop the spread of anti-scientific thought and action. Once the host of a popular kids’ show and now the CEO of the Planetary Society, he’s leading a mission to launch LightSail, a satellite propelled by sunlight, while in turn fulfilling the legacy of his late professor and Planetary Society co-founder Carl Sagan.

With intimate and exclusive access, as well as plenty of wonder and whimsy, POV: Bill Nye: Science Guy (PBS Distribution)  is a behind-the-scenes portrait of the “Science Guy,” who continues to inspire millennials to participate in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). In addition to Nye, the film features Neil deGrasse Tyson, Ann Druyan and many other notable voices in the field.

In addition to taking off his signature “Science Guy” lab coat, Nye has started taking on those who deny the importance of science, from prominent creationist Ken Ham to climate change skeptic, meteorologist and occasional Fox News commentator Joe Bastardi. Nye goes head-to-head to advocate for the scientific community and its invaluable findings.

And Nye acknowledges that he’s ready for a new challenge. “The Science Guy show is over, and I’ve got to move on to something bigger,” he says. “We have this increasing anti-science movement in the United States. It’s worse than ever. The anti-science movement is more powerful than it’s ever been.”

Accordingly, in his role as CEO of the Planetary Society, Nye and his team are working toward the first-ever successful launch and flight of a solar sailing satellite propelled by sunlight in space. “When I was in class 40 years ago, Carl Sagan talked about a solar sail mission, but it never happened. So, this is realizing a 40-year-old dream of building a spacecraft that could fly in space propelled just by light. So, Professor Sagan, this one’s for you,” Nye says as the satellite is being tested for the first time.

But Nye’s focus never strays far from what initially propelled him to fame: education. “If we raise a generation of kids that can’t think critically, can’t think scientifically, we are headed for trouble,” he warns. “As a science educator, I am really more serious about it than ever. These people who are denying science, denying evolution, denying the efficacy of vaccinations and especially denying human-caused climate change—we just can’t have this. We’ve got to fight this fight. I’ve got to fight this fight.”

Nye’s mission is driven in part by anxiety about what future generations may face. Sitting on climate change denier Joe Bastardi’s porch, Nye implores, “What if you’re wrong? What about Garrett?” Garrett is Bastardi’s college-age son, who is following in his father’s footsteps by studying meteorology and also shares his father’s skepticism about climate change.

Another flashpoint in the film comes when Nye is touring the Creation Museum founded by Christian fundamentalist Ken Ham. The museum features displays suggesting that humans lived alongside dinosaurs and that the earth is 6,000 years old. Nye finds it alarming. He points out, “Humans and ancient dinosaurs did not live at the same time. The evidence for that is overwhelming, and to suggest this to school-children is irresponsible at best. It’s reprehensible at worst.”

Nonetheless, Nye is not without his own critics. Even some in the scientific community feel there have been times when Nye’s mission has taken a back seat to his ego. Some say that by agreeing to a televised debate with Ham about our evolutionary origins, Nye gave Ham undeserved media attention. “Nye’s mistake was giving credibility to Ken Ham by giving him a public platform. Everything I’ve seen about Nye is that he really misses being the Science Guy because he was much beloved and very popular. It’s hard to give up celebrity,” says evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne.

The program also illuminates Nye’s private life. He remains close to his two siblings, who are struggling with a hereditary neurological disorder that Nye doesn’t have. Numerous friends, both from his childhood and from his Science Guy days, speak to his quirks and ambitions. Nye even opens up about his romantic life.

Ultimately, the Science Guy and Nye are indistinguishable from each other. “Bill has always wanted to be famous,” one of his longtime friends says. Expertly chronicling the TV character and the very real human subject behind him, Bill Nye: Science Guy presents an absorbing, charming portrait of a man and his not-so-modest mission to educate and change the world.

The real royal marriage mess? King Edward VIII and his lover, American Wallis Simpson

Forget this upcoming royal marriage. The real gossipy, juicy royal mess happened on the weekend of December 5, 1936. A frazzled King Edward VIII sat alone at Buckingham Palace; in secret, he telephoned his brother Bertie to tell him of his major decision–that he could no longer be King if it meant abandoning the woman he loved, Wallis Simpson. But little did the royal brothers know that others were listening to their call.

Spying on the Royals (Public Media Distribution) shares declassified documents bring to light the secret story behind the events that stunned the world eighty years ago, detailing the most controversial espionage operation in British history. The targets were none other than King Edward VIII and his feisty American lover Wallis Simpson.

Image result for photos King Edward VIII and his feisty American lover Wallis Simpson.

Both were considered major security threats and were suspected of having Nazi sympathies by both Britain and America. This top-secret surveillance operation involved hundreds of spies over eleven years, spanning two continents, eight countries, and the Atlantic Ocean. Edward and Wallis were bugged, wire-tapped, and followed – on the orders of both the British prime minister and the American president. This documentary will reveal the greatest royal scandal of the twentieth century through an entirely new perspective.

Ashley Judd, Dennis Haysbert and Trace Adkins head the superb “Civil War 360”

A power film. An unforgettable war. The acclaimed Smithsonian Channel three-part miniseries Civil War 360 (Public Media Distribution) explores one of the most divisive eras in American history from multiple perspectives. Celebrity hosts Ashley Judd, Trace Adkins and Dennis Haysbert each helm an hour-long program that takes viewers back to a time when their ancestors and those of many viewers were involved in the conflict. Through exploration of iconic and often poignant Smithsonian artifacts, the hosts gain insight into their own family’s experiences and uncover new dimensions of our nation’s history.

Here’s some insights into each episode: 

Fight for Freedom
In some ways, the story that Haysbert tells is perhaps the least known of all, but it is an agonizing and heroic account of a great struggle for freedom. Haysbert experiences painful reminders of this struggle firsthand as he encounters Smithsonian treasures: a ship’s manifest listing a cargo of slaves, the inkwell Lincoln used to write the Emancipation Proclamation, and a hymnal owned by Harriet Tubman.  As Haysbert traces his ancestry back to enslaved people in America’s deep South, we are transported back to the brutal and complicated time when those with the most to gain also had the most to lose.  For Haysbert the lesser known stories, especially of individual courage, are the most inspiring, “So many people stood up and fought together to make this country a free country. It just gave me a different perspective on what our country is about and what we can be.”

The Confederacy
Hosted by dkins, this program begins back in 1861, when the South made the radical decision to leave the Union and form a new nation.  While honoring the experiences of everyday soldiers like his great-great grandfather, a Confederate infantryman from Louisiana, Adkins explores music, art, and firearm collections at the Smithsonian Institution. Says Adkins: “I’ve had a real personal connection with the Civil War ever since I was a kid. This is our last best chance to raise awareness. The battlefields, the guns, the pikes, the uniforms and flags–all these things are all that we have left from that pivotal period in this nation’s history.  They should be treated as treasures, and we should try to preserve them and save them for future generations. Because it’s impossible to know who you are if you don’t know your history, or where you’ve come from, or what you’ve done.”

The Union
It’s common knowledge who won the Civil War. But 150 years ago, a Union victory was anything but guaranteed. Judd seeks to understand the experiences of two of her great-great-great grandfathers, both Union soldiers from Kentucky. In the program Judd remarks: “I hope it inspires people to take a look at their own family history, and learn the interesting stories that can help enlighten them as well as move their hearts.”  Judd is visibly moved when she examines field surgical instruments, a Union private’s letter home about life in Kentucky, and battered dishes from Libby Prison- all providing glimpses of daily life during the grinding war.

A celebration of three real stories: “”True Grit,” “Braveheart,” “Live Free or Die Hard”

They’ve thrilled us, horrified us, and devastated us. They’ve raised questions about our past and given us hope for a brighter future. They are some of Hollywood’s biggest hits, all works of fiction, but all inspired by real events more dramatic than anything a screenwriter could dream up. Smithsonian Channel goes behind the scenes of Hollywood blockbusters to uncover the actual characters and true stories that inspired some of the world’s most famous films. On June 5, Public Media Distribution released a trio of three DVDs that tell the real stories.

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John Wayne in “True Grit”

The Real Story: True Grit
True Grit has the foundation of a typical Western–revenge, retribution and redemption. The story centers on the unlikely partnership between a 14 year-old girl and a one-eyed Deputy Marshal, who join forces to avenge her father’s death. The story may be fiction, but it’s closer to truth than many imagine. This program shows how the character of Rooster was inspired by a gun-toting Deputy Marshal; introduces “Hanging Judge” Parker, who delighted in sending legions of men to the gallows; and leaves the viewer with no illusions about what really happened in the Wild West.

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Mel Gibson in “Braveheart”

The Real Story: Braveheart
Mel Gibson’s Oscar-winning box office smash tells the story of real-life Scottish rebel and freedom fighter William Wallace. The savage battle scenes and cast of thousands created a film of epic proportion, but ever since it was first shown historians have challenged the accuracy of the movie. Did William Wallace really live the life that “Braveheart” depicts? This program draws on medieval accounts and uses forensic evidence and weapons testing to build a picture of the real man and his times.

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Bruce Willis is “Live Free or Die Hard”

The Real Story: Live Free or Die Hard
In the fourth film in the Die Hard franchise, New York cop John McClane takes on a sophisticated cyber-criminal mastermind who shuts down the USA remotely via the Internet. It’s a story that is chillingly topical. This program shows how a similar cyber-attack could be a real possibility. Featuring interviews with real-life cyber-criminals, FBI investigators and computer specialists, the program uncovers the shadowy world of hacking on a scale that could shutdown entire countries. Meet the government officials and former hackers who are tasked with ensuring it never does.