Category Archives: TV

Prepare for great TV viewing with these must-own DVDs from Public Media Distribution

Now  it’s public knowledge: Public Media Distribution has release some nifty DVDs that belong in everyone’s library.

Carnivals have a delightful place in the American imagination, with childhood memories of family fun, fantasy and summer nights. But rising expenses and changes in U.S. labor patterns have caused many employers to find labor outside of U.S. borders.

Filmed over the span of six years, Farewell Ferris Wheel follows a carnival owner, a labor-recruiter and workers from a small town in Mexico who join the carnival legally on seasonal visas. ​The program is an honest on-the-ground portrait of the financial, emotional, and physical challenges they all face.


With insights from several internationally notable scholars of mythology and literature, Tolkien & Lewis: Myth, Imagination & the Quest for Meaning engages these scholars while challenging viewers to draw their own conclusions about the meaning of life and the role that mythology and imagination play in determining belief.

On a dreary September evening in 1931, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and their friend and fellow scholar, Hugo Dyson, met for dinner in Lewis’s Magdalen College dormitory in Oxford, England. Lewis’s transformation from atheist to theist to Christian was based on the insights of Tolkien and Dyson as they engaged in deep conversation about mythology, reality, ritual, imagination, and faith. The program explores the fundamental characteristics of myth with an emphasis on how myth impacts our lives.


The Smithsonian Channel’s The Real Story: Saving Private Ryan is an intimate and behind the scenes look at the inspiration for one of the greatest war films ever made. The multi Oscar-winning “Saving Private Ryan” captures the sheer horror and brutality of combat that the men of World War II had to experience.

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Known for its realism, the film was selected in 2014 for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. So, was there a real Private Ryan? Uncover the real story behind this Hollywood blockbuster as the program conducts tests with weapons experts and gains insight from war historians. Viewers also hear the moving testimony of soldiers who landed at Normandy and meet the families whose tragic stories inspired the film that won five Oscars including Best Director in 1998.


Another look at wartime history: The Smithsonian Channel’s The Real Story: Platoon. The Oscar-winning anti-war film Platoon brought the true horror of the Vietnam War to the big screen. Based on filmmaker Oliver Stone’s own experiences as a soldier in the conflict, the film captivated millions of viewers all over the world. Yet how much of the film was real and how much was Hollywood fiction?

To reveal the real story, the program recreates scenes, and uncovers a radio transmission from the battle that inspired the movie’s climax. The program also includes interviews with Stone and cast member Willem Dafoe.

 


Even wee ones can savor the fun. Rose Cinderella thinks she is a regular teenager, but things change when she finds a magic key unlocking a world where fairy tales come to life!  Rose Cinderella quite literally falls into Fairy Tale Land and discovers that Cinderella is not only her grandmother but also the headmistress of Regal Academy, a school where fairy tale families teach the next generation how to become heroes. The fun is framed in Regal Academy: Rose Cinderella in Fairy Tale Land.

 

 


The film series Pirates of the Caribbean presents the buccaneer lifestyle of pirates as a back-stabbing, high-living, hard-drinking world. It makes for an entertaining series, but is it a true depiction of the times? Enter  The Smithsonian Channel’s The Real Story: Pirates of the Caribbean.

Historical evidence of real pirates shows that amidst the lawless merriment, pirates actually formed a highly organized society, where democracy ruled and voting and healthcare preceded England by a hundred years. The program interviews historians, weaponry experts, and one of the film’s screenwriters to show how true pirate adventures inspired the films.


The Special Air Service is the world’s most famous combat unit with the motto “Who Dares Wins”.  Yet the story of how it came into existence has been, until now, a closely guarded secret. For the first time, the SAS has agreed to open up its archive and allow Ben Macintyre to reveal the true story of their formation during the darkest days of World War II.

With unprecedented access to the SAS secret files, unseen footage and exclusive interviews with its founding members, SAS Rogue Warriors tells the remarkable story behind an extraordinary fighting force.

 

 


An instant box office smash when it was released in 1977, the sci-fi flick Close Encounters of the Third Kind grossed over 300 million dollars and was nominated for eight Oscars. Now audiences can get a glimpse into the actual events that inspired the classic film.

Few realize the film was inspired by a series of reported UFO sightings in Michigan in the summer of 1966, and witness testimonies given to a U.S. Government investigation about alien abduction are just a few events examined in The Real Story: Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Part of Smithsonian Channel’s original series The Real Story, this intriguing program allows viewers to separate science-based fact from science fiction.

It investigates the original cases that inspired the film–from the Michigan UFO chase to the first and most famous case of claimed alien abduction in the US, the Betty and Barney Hill abduction. Using modern technology, a re-examination of government documents puts old witness testimonies to the test.

 

PBS offers another chance to relive the majesty of the August 21 total solar eclipse

It will be one of those questions . .  . Where were you on August 21, 2017?

Millions were watching the first total solar eclipse since 1979, and the first to cross the USA since 1918. This extraordinary cosmic spectacle passed through 14 states and everyone in the continental U.S. had the opportunity to see at least a partial eclipse, possibly making it the most widely viewed American eclipse of all time.

Relive the excitement without those special solar glasses with Nova: Eclipse Over America. PBS Distribution makes the DVD available on November 14. The program will also be available for digital download.

Eclipse Over America is an amazing presentation of this spectacular celestial event. The program followed teams working on the forefront of solar science and solar storm detection, incorporating immersive CGI animation to reveal the sun’s secret mechanisms, stunning sequences of the eclipse itself, NASA footage, and more.

Paramount Home Media Distribution draws a winner’s circle ’round “Drawn Together: The Complete Collection”

For those if you who feel drawn together to watch so funny TV, may we suggest Drawn Together, the small-screen’s first animated reality show. The fun throws together eight cartoon archetypes, including a party-hearty superhero, a naive princess prone to singing, and a sexually ambiguous anime hero, in a house where cameras are on them all the time. As with most other reality shows, conflict ensues.

Available for the first time in one set, all three uncensored seasons of the irreverent parody series plus the 2010 feature film The Drawn Together Movie: The Movie! are packed in Drawn Together: The Complete Collection.  The 7-DVD, wonderfully presented by Paramount Home Media Distribution, set also includes loads of bonus features such as deleted scenes, audio commentary, karaoke sing-a-longs and interviews.

A plethora of must-see, must-have films, docs and specials from PBS Distribution

A slew of  DVDs have been released by PBS Distribution. We may he been a little late in bringing you the news, but trust us: These releases are must-see, must-own treats!

Enjoy a special night of music from the composer of Mary Poppins a other beloved Disney gems. Richard M. Sherman: Songs of a Lifetime features a landmark solo performance by the legendary Disney composer, whom with his brother Robert, composed some of the most beloved songs of all time, including music for Mary Poppins and The Jungle Book.

Oscar-nominated filmmaker Don Hahn brings this once-in-a-lifetime concert to the screen, filmed entirely at historic EastWest Studio in Hollywood where Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, and the Beach Boys famously recorded their albums. A brilliant cast of performers joins Richard, including the star of Broadway’s Mary Poppins Ashley Brown, as well as Juliana Hansen, Wesley Alfvin, and The Dapper Dans of Disneyland.


Rare: Creatures of the Photo Ark is a captivating three-part series that follows renowned National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore as he documents threatened species at zoos, in nature preserves, and in the wild. Throughout the program scientists and naturalists reveal surprising and important information about why ensuring the future of these animals is so critical.

When complete, the Photo Ark will be one of the most comprehensive records of the world’s biodiversity. Through the film, audiences can journey with Sartore across the globe—to Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, and Oceania—to chronicle his experiences.


Frontline: Life on Parole is a insightful documentary that explores how Connecticut is rethinking its parole program. More than two years in the making, the program is a remarkable, firsthand look at why some people stay out of jail, why some go back, and how one state is trying to break the cycle of recidivism.

About half of all inmates put on parole in the U.S. end up violating the terms of their release and are sent back to prison. Parole is a condition that offers a taste of freedom but comes with strict prohibitions on whom you can live with, where you can go, what time you have to be home, and more. But across the country, states are trying to change the way their parole systems work in an effort to lower recidivism rates and reduce prison populations.

With unique access inside Connecticut’s corrections system, as well as camera-phone footage filmed by the parolees themselves, the film follows four former prisoners as they navigate the challenges of more than a year on parole—from finding work, to staying sober, to parenting—and doing it all while under intense supervision from the state.


It’s one of the best series on TV. The new season has already garnered lavish praise. During the recent UK broadcast, The Telegraph (London) was delighted to find that “Corfu was still sun-drenched, the titular family of lovable eccentrics remained in perpetual chaos and … the tone was, as before, one of warm nostalgia and deep, abiding silliness.” And The Guardian (London) hailed Season 2 as “sweet, and charming, and pretty, and funny…. [It’s] that rather nice thing: Sunday night family drama entertainment.”

Welcome to the release of The Durrells in Corfu Season 2. Inspired by the beloved memoirs of Gerald Durrell, The Durrells in Corfu features Keeley Hawes as Louisa Durrell, the harried widowed mother of a brood of recalcitrant children (this season ages 12 to 22). Louisa moves the floundering family from England to Corfu in the mid 1930s to recharge their lives—hers included.

The new season finds the family in dire financial straits, as usual. They have a new landlady, Vasilia, an island beauty who holds a mysterious grudge against Louisa and insists on prompt payment of the rent. And then . . . think we’re giving it all away? Tune in!


 

 

“Craft in America” proves there are strong connections between the U.S. and Mexico

Despite what some idiots insist, there is a strong connection between America and Mexico. The proof can be found in Craft in America: Borders & Neighbors. PBS Distribution releases the DVD on November 21; the programs will also be available for digital download.

Craft in America, the Peabody Award-winning documentary series, is an inspirational journey to the artists, objects, techniques, and origins of American craft. Borders & Neighbors delve into the artistic heritage of Mexico and how it has contributed to our country’s creative landscape. These episodes will shine light on personal stories, cross cultural perspectives and historic context and will provide new avenues for community and understanding, stimulating critical thinking about the relationships between the U.S. and Mexico.

Borders explores the relationships and influences that Mexican and American craft artists have on each other and our cultures. We begin in Los Angeles with the Day of the Dead celebration, master altar builder Ofelia Esparza and Self Help Graphics & Art, the organization that first brought this event to the U.S. in the ’70s. We travel to Oaxaca, Mexico to experience Día de Muertos and to meet the Vásquez family of weavers who have revived and continue centuries-old methods in their craft, integrating ancestral Zapotec motifs into their work. American artist Jim Bassler, who lived and worked in Oaxaca for many years, takes us to the Oaxaca Textile Museum where we see contemporary and historical weavings made with feathers.

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Jim and his wife, potter Veralee Bassler, then lead us back to Los Angeles, to the colorful Oaxacan Guelaguetza festival and parade. We visit with Jim and Veralee at their home studio in Palm Springs, which is filled with Mexican folk art, long connected to the mid-century design aesthetic in America. Back in Oaxaca we meet Chicago artist Kiff Slemmons who works with maestro Francisco Toledo to create innovative and beautiful paper jewelry at the Art Paper Workshop, where artisans are practicing the ancient art of papermaking using local plants. This episode reveals that art is without borders. It is a pathway for creativity and the connections that make us all human.

Neighbors takes viewers to and from the U.S. and Mexico, exploring the people, history, traditions and crafts, noting how aesthetics cross over from one country to another and back again in a living and ongoing cultural exchange. We meet California ceramic artist Gerardo Monterrubio, whose work is inspired by murals as well as contemporary art forms such as graffiti and prison tattoos and drawings. We travel to Oaxaca, Mexico to meet ceramic artist Magdalena Pedro Martínez at work on her series of black clay female figures dressed in traditional indigenous attire. We also watch as her brother, world-renowned artist Carlomagno Pedro Martínez, creates clay figures of Zapotec characters and stories. Los Angeles glass artist Jaime Guerrero, born of parents who emigrated from Mexico, creates life size glass sculptures that represent children at the border. We film him at his studio in L.A. and at the state-of-the-art facilities at the Corning Museum of Glass in New York.

We return to Mexico where in the ’30s, Taxco became a center for jewelry production through the entrepreneurship of American architect and designer William Spratling. We meet a new generation of jewelry designers, including Carmen Tapia, Miguel Angel Ortiz Miranda, Cristina Romo and Eduardo Herrera, who are carrying on the art of silversmithing in new and modern ways. We explore murals in Los Angeles with Judy Baca and other artists who carry on the traditions of Mexican maestros Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros and José Clemente Orozco.

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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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.

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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 . . .