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John Turturro on HBO’s “The Night Of” . . . “the story was just reeking of the human dilemma”

Remember the night of when you watched a fascinating TV show that left you panting for me? Think The Night Of. The acclaimed HBO limited crime series that captivated TV audiences this summer has now taken up life on Digital HD an DVD and Blu-ray. Starring John Turturro in “a mind-blowing performance” (thank you, Wall Street Journal) and the “extraordinary” (kudos Boston Globe) Riz Ahmed, The Night Of is “an anthem to television’s unique power to turn a series of understated performances into sustained magnificence” (our pals at Los Angeles Times).

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John Turturro as John Stone
The series delves into the intricacies of a complex New York City murder case with cultural and political overtones. Pakistani-American college student Nasir “Naz” Khan (a brilliant Riz Ahmed), who lives with his parents in Queens, New York, takes his father’s taxi to go to a party in Manhattan. But what starts as a perfect night for Naz becomes a nightmare when he’s arrested for murder. The series examines the police investigation, the legal proceedings, the criminal justice system and Rikers Island, where the accused await trial.

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Riz Ahmed as Nasir “Naz” Khan


The ensemble cast includes Michael Kenneth Williams, Bill Camp, Jeannie Berlin, Poorna Jagannathan, Payman Maadi, Glenne Headly, Amara Karan, Sofia Black-D’Elia, Paul Sparks, Ben Shenkman, Afton Williamson, Paulo Costanzo, Ned Eisenberg, Mohammad Bakri, Nabil Elouahabi, Ashley Thomas, Glenn Fleshler and Chip Zien.

Inquiring minds want to know Turturro’s thoughts, so HBO worked some magic.

What appealed to you about The Night Of as a story and a project?
I felt that the story was just reeking of the human dilemma. Any time you have a prison film or anything about a crime, it’s kind of a microcosm of society. It reminded me of a Russian crime novel. And I know that [co-creator] Richard Price always had a Dostoyevsky-feel for this stuff. I really loved that you see these characters, all of them, as people.

Did you research or take inspiration from specific sources to inhabit the role of John Stone?
I got a lot of it from the writing. I was introduced to a very competent and well-regarded defense lawyer, Terry Montgomery. This guy, who looks like Idris Elba, he’s a star. I met with him a bunch of times, and he was able to take me through everything that he goes through. I went to court and I watched different guys, but with Terry I thought, that’s the kind of guy that Stone would have been if he had the stomach for it. I looked at a lot of old Sidney Lumet films, and I worked on a big vocal warm-up. I’m from New York, but I thought the accent was more from the ’70s. Like in The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, when they say “first,” they say “ferst.” That’s an older New York sound.

Did the initial casting of James Gandolfini as John Stone have any influence on your decision to take the role?
I was very good friends with James. And when they first mentioned it, I was like, this is maybe too difficult for me. But when I saw the pilot, James was barely in there. He still was interesting, of course — you see him with this big beard and everything — but he didn’t really talk very much, certainly not to Riz. I don’t think he knew yet what he was going to do, because he hadn’t done that much yet in the series. So for me, I didn’t have to erase that.

What did you make of the character’s eczema condition?
It’s an obstacle, and maybe it has something to do with John not being able to deal with everything because eczema does come out of stress. And then, it’s how it makes him feel and how it looks. When I had it on my face and walked around, some people looked away, some people were matter of fact. It’s another interesting element, and it also physicalizes. It physicalizes the world.

First Run Features offers a restored “Watermelon Woman” for its 20th anniversary

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Cheryl and Guinevere Turner in a sexy scene

First Run Features is always in first place. They make important moves, release important films. Check the case of the re-release of Cheryl Dunye’s landmark black queer film The Watermelon Woman.220px-watermelonwomanposter

Now remastered for its 20th Anniversary, with pristine 2K HD restoration overseen by 13 Gen, The Watermelon Woman will screen at Metrograph in New York City beginning Thursday,November 10. Following an international run on the LGBT festival circuit, the landmark film is connecting with a lively new generation of fans worldwide. First Run Features will then re-release the film on DVD and VOD January 31, 2017.

Set in Philadelphia, this is the story of Cheryl (Cheryl Dunye), a twenty-something black lesbian struggling to make a documentary about Fae Richards, a beautiful and elusive ’30s black film actress popularly known as “The Watermelon Woman.” While uncovering the meaning of Fae Richards’ life, Cheryl experiences a total upheaval in her personal life. Her love affair with Diana (Guinevere Turner), a beautiful white woman, and her interactions with the gay and black communities, are subject to the comic yet biting criticism of her best friend Tamara (Valerie Walker). Meanwhile, each answer Cheryl discovers about the Watermelon Woman evokes a flurry of new questions about herself and her future.


According to director Dunye, much about the character is autobiographical, but the historical references to the Watermelon Woman are fictional. “The idea came from the real lack of information about the lesbian and film history of African American women,” she explains, “Since it wasn’t happening, I invented it.”

The Watermelon Woman features cameo performances by notable LGBT figures including controversial cultural critic Camille Paglia, African American singer/songwriter Toshi Reagan, Pomo Afro Homo performer Brian Freeman, African American poet Cheryl Clark and novelist/activist Sarah Schulman.

The Watermelon Woman was Dunye’s first feature film and the first by a black lesbian. It was made on a budget of $300,000, financed by a $31,500 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), a fundraiser and donations from friends of Dunye.

The odd and queer, the eccentric and extraordinary, are spotlighted in “Atlas Obscura”

She’s not the kind of girl, yet Lena Dunham promises that “Atlas Obscura may be the only thing that can still inspire me to leave my apartment.”

She may be right.

When Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras and Ella Morton set out to write Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide To The World’s Hidden Wonders (Workman, $35), their goal was to create a catalog of all the places, people and things that inspire wonder. As the team behind AtlasObscura.com, a vibrant online destination focused on discovery, wonder and exploration, the trio had access to an unrivaled treasure trove of secrets, mysteries, intrigues, phenomena and curiosities. The result is an unprecedented guide combining compelling descriptive writing with arresting full-color photographs, maps and charts to share over 600 of the most unusual and fascinating compendium of wonders across all seven continents.

Just think! Lena can venture out and see . . .

Galileo’s severed middle finger, displayed in a goblet accented in gold in Florence, Italymiddle-finger-830x623

The “Door to Hell,” a fire that has been burning in the Turkmenistan desert for over 45 years

A sealed test tube containing Thomas Edison’s last breath

An Alabama museum displaying finds from unclaimed airline baggage, including a 3,500-year-old Egyptian burial mask and Hoggle, the dwarf puppet from the 1986 film Labyrinth

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On display at the Mütter Museum , located inside the headquarters of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia

Along the way, Atlas Obscura  reveals the world’s deepest places, hidden tunnels, greatest self-made castles, notable arbotecture (the art of shaping a living tree in order to create art or furniture), giant Buddha statues, abandoned film sets you can visit, murder houses, dinosaur parks, lake monsters of the USA, historical methods of preventing premature burial, a guide to psychotropic drugs used to enhance religious experiences, abandoned nuclear power plants and so much more.

Each entry for the astonishing sites in Atlas Obscura includes location information, GPS coordinates, and tips on when and how best to get there—and, sometimes, how to best sneak past the guards.

Ken Burns and Artemis Joukowsky unveil a little-known, yet essential, chapter in Nazi history

 

Ken Burns in one word?  Genius. He has created a canon of documentaries that are as educational as they are entertaining, even when the topics are pretty sharp. Witness: “Defying the Nazis: Sharps’ War”, a new documentary Burns co-directed with Artemis Joukowsky. PBS Distribution releases it on DVD  on September 20. The program will also be available for digital download.

This is the story of a little-known but important mission by an American minister and his wife to rescue refugees and dissidents in Europe before and after the start of World War II.

 

The film tells the story of Waitstill and Martha Sharp, a Unitarian minister and his wife from Wellesley, Massachusetts, who left their children behind in the care of their parish and boldly committed to multiple life-threatening missions in Europe. Over two dangerous years they helped to save hundreds of imperiled political dissidents and refugees fleeing the Nazi occupation across Europe.

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Waitstill and Martha Sharp

The story is cinematically told through the letters and journals of the Sharps, with Tom Hanks as the voice of Waitstill and Marina Goldman as the voice of Martha. It features firsthand interviews with the now adult children whom the Sharps saved, as well as leading historians, authors and Holocaust scholars, including William Schulz, Deborah Dwork, Modecai Paldiel, Ghanda DiFiglia and Yehuda Bauer.

Joukowsky, a film producer and co-founder of No Limits Media, is the grandson of Waitstill and Martha Sharp and has spent decades researching their story. He is the author of a companion book to the film, featuring a foreword by Ken Burns, which will be published by Beacon Press and has been released.

In January of 1939, as Americans remained mostly detached from news reports of the growing refugee crisis in the escalating war in Europe, Waitstill received a call from the Rev. Everett Baker, Vice President of the American Unitarian Association, asking if they would travel to Czechoslovakia to help provide relief to people trying to escape Nazi persecution. He invited Waitstill and Martha to take part in “the first intervention against evil by the denomination to be started immediately overseas.” The mission would involve secretly helping Jews, refugees and dissidents to escape the expanding Nazi threat in Europe. If they were discovered, they would face imprisonment, probable torture and death. Seventeen other members of the church had declined. With two young children at home, the Sharps accepted. They expected to be gone for several months. Instead, their mission would last almost two years.

During this time, the Sharps would face harrowing encounters with Nazi police, narrowly escape arrest and watch as the Third Reich invaded Eastern Europe. Their marriage would be tested severely and the two children they left behind would be saddened by their parents’ absence. But dozens of Jewish scientists, journalists, doctors, powerful anti-Nazi activists and children would find their way to freedom and start new lives as a result of their efforts. To recognize their heroic sacrifice, Martha and Waitstill were honored at Yad Vashem in Israel and declared “Righteous Among the Nations.” Of the thousands so honored, there are only five Americans, including the Sharps.

A must-see, must-own film for everyone’s library.

Does “Arrow” have Cupid connections? Stephen Amell on why Oliver loves Felicity

An arrow we don’t mind aiming right at us: The thrilling CW series Arrow. Viewers can catch up with the show as Warner Bros. Home Entertainment releases Arrow: The Complete Fourth Season on Blu-ray including Digital HD and DVD on August 30.  The show is so popular that it averages four million viewers weekly for each original episode; Arrow is The CW’s No. 3 show among Total Viewers, behind The Flash and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, and the No. 2 series on The CW among adults ages 18-34. Yep, this Arrow hits its target every time.
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The box set contains all 23 exhilarating episodes from the fourth season, as well as The Flash crossover episode; plus more than an hour-and-a-half of extra content, including the 2015 Comic-Con Panel, never-before-seen featurettes, deleted scenes and a gag reel.

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Stephen Amell as Oliver Queen; Photo by Cate Cameron/The CW

To catch up: After defeating his most formidable foe to date and riding off into the sunset with longtime flame Felicity Smoak, Oliver Queen (aka The Arrow) left Star City with the hopes of beginning a new life. But will Oliver ever truly be able to leave behind his past as The Arrow, and, if so, what becomes of the team he has worked so hard to assemble? Will military vet John Diggle, Oliver’s sister Thea Queen, and lawyer-turned-vigilante Laurel Lance continue Oliver’s fight without him? And with Malcolm Merlyn having ascended to the top of the League of Assassins as the new Ra’s al Ghul, is anyone really safe?

Arrow, based on the characters from DC Comics, stars Stephen Amell, Katie Cassidy, David Ramsey, Willa Holland and Emily Bett Rickards, with John Barrowman and Paul Blackthorne.

Amell never tires of the role or show. No kidding around.

“I was at a convention recently, and my response got a lot of play because the question was very straightforward,” he recalls. “It was, ‘Why does Oliver love Felicity?’ I had to give a straightforward answer, because it was like an eight-year-old girl who asked the question! So it’s not like I could be flippant and sort of dance around the question and give a sort of humorous response. It was more, this girl was legitimately asking and wanting to know, and I didn’t know how literally she took the characters, so I had to give a very straightforward response. You get great questions all the time, and they almost always come from kids.”

That maniacal murderer of the Third Reich hatched plans for a diabolical weapon. Witness “Bombing Hitler’s Supergun”

Spring 1943. World War II is slowly beginning to turn in favor of the Allied forces. But madman Hitler, growing desperate, hatches plans for a diabolical weapon: A bank of “superguns” housed in a massive underground complex in Nazi-occupied northern France. All together, the guns would be able to pump 300 heavy high-explosive shells into downtown London every hour—a target 100 miles away. This weapon could spell doom for the Allies. But how can such a massive gun possibly work?

Discover the DVD NOVA: Bombing Hitler’s Supergun (PBS Distribution) on which you will discover the two audacious missions designed to destroy the seemingly impregnable supergun complex, one of which is led by none other than Joseph Kennedy, Jr. Can these hair-raising missions save the Allied forces?

 

PBS Distribution releases an important DVD, “Can Alzheimer’s Be Stopped?”

It’s a documentary so important, so riveting, that it can best be described as transporting viewers to the front lines of this fast-paced, life-and-death detective story.

Alzheimer’s disease strikes at the core of what makes us human: our capacity to think, to love and to remember. The cause of Alzheimer’s­ and whether it can be stopped is one of the greatest medical mysteries of our time. Alzheimer’s ravages the minds of over 40 million victims worldwide, stripping them of their memories and often their dignity on a poignant march that can lead to death.

In PBS Distribution’s DVD NOVA: Can Alzheimer’s be Stopped?, a new one-hour documentary, investigators gather clues and attempt to reconstruct the molecular chain of events that ultimately leads to dementia, and follow key researchers in the field who have helped to develop the leading theories of the disease.

Along the way, meet individuals from all walks of life who will reveal what it’s like to struggle with Alzheimer’s. Among them, members of a unique Colombian family who have learned that their genetic predisposition all but guarantees early onset Alzheimer’s—but there may be hope. Join these courageous patients participating in clinical trials, and then go behind the scenes of the major drug trials to see how researchers target and test therapies that may slow and even prevent Alzheimer’s.

Trust in me: Disney’s second take on “The Jungle Book” hits Blu-ray and DVD

There have been a few big-screen adaptations of The Jungle Book, but audiences were mesmerized the most by Disney’s latest take of Rudyard Kipling’s classic stories with the live-action flick, which has earned (to date) more than $911 million at the global box office.  Missed it? Not to worry: Jon Favreau’s stunning reimagining of Walt Disney’s 1967 animated classic will be available early on Digital HD and Disney Movies Anywhere on August 23, and on Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD and On-Demand on August 30. The 3D version of The Jungle Book will be available later this year.

This is an adventurous tale of Mowgli, a man-cub who’s been raised by a family of wolves. But Mowgli finds he is no longer welcome in the jungle when fearsome tiger Shere Khan, who bears the scars of Man, promises to eliminate what he sees as a threat. We give a special nod to the film’s only on-screen actor,  charismatic newcomer Neel Sethi, who plays Mowgli.TheJungleBookBluray (1)

Venture deep into the jungle with in-depth bonus features that reveal the innovative filmmaking technology used to create the richly immersive jungle world and characters; follow the journey of (Mowgli); delve into a candid and humorous scene-by-scene audio commentary with director Jon Favreau and meet the all-star voice cast who help bring the film’s colorful characters to life, as well as the musicians who accent the adventure with a majestic music score.

We offer the bare necessities: The all-star cast includes Bill Murray as the voice of Baloo, Sir Ben Kingsley as Bagheera and Lupita Nyong’o as the voice of mother wolf Raksha. Scarlett Johansson gives life to Kaa, Giancarlo Esposito provides the voice of alpha-male wolf Akela, Idris Elba roars as the voice of Shere Khan and Christopher Walken lends his iconic voice to King Louie.

Nazis score 0, “The Boys of ’36” score 100 . . . another fuck you to the German bastards

Those who continue to hate the Nazis and all their terror will thrill at the true story of the American rowing team that triumphed against all odds in Nazi Germany with PBS Distribution’s DVD American Experience: The Boys of ’36. The documentary was inspired by Daniel James Brown’s critically-acclaimed book The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, which has been on The New York Times bestseller list for 95 weeks.

The book (and DVD) DVD  is the story of nine working-class young men from the University of Washington who took the rowing world and the nation by storm when they captured the gold medal at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. These sons of loggers, shipyard workers and farmers overcame tremendous hardships—psychological, physical and economic—to beat not only the Ivy League teams of the East Coast but Adolf Hitler’s elite German rowers. Their unexpected victory, and the obstacles they overcame to achieve it, gave hope to a nation struggling to emerge from the depths of the Depression.


Featuring interviews with Daniel James Brown, historians and surviving children of the 1936 Washington team, the program will be available

The DVD will be available on August 16 in conjunction with the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro and the 80th anniversary of the miracle crew’s triumph.  The documentary will also be available for digital download.

 

Anchor Bay Entertainment delivers the latest chapter (six) of “The Walking Dead”

They walk. They talk. They eat. They are dead. With the end of every season comes the bittersweet knowledge that we must wait with bated breath until the next ride. To keep your “The Walking Dead” appetite satiated, Anchor Bay Entertainment proudly continues the tradition of offering fans an opportunity to relive the so satisfying series by delivering “The Walking Dead: The Complete Sixth Season” on Blu-ray + Digital HD and DVD on August 23. Welcome back new cast members and guest stars for season six including Merritt Wever as Dr. Denise Cloyd, Ethan Embry as Carter, Corey Hawkins as Heath, Thomas Payne as Jesus and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan. Watch, savor and save another date: “The Walking Dead” Season 7 premieres on AMC this October.

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Just like the previous award-winning home entertainment releases, “The Walking Dead: The Complete Sixth Season” will take fans down a memory lane that refuses to be a dead end: All of the season’s most haunting and indelible moments, including never-before-heard audio commentaries, deleted scenes, six new featurettes, additional extras and the highly anticipated Alternate Negan Scene, live on Blu-ray and DVD.

Writer/producer Scott M. Gimple revealed that the sixth season would continue to remix material from the comic and explained that there would be a flashback backstory to some of the characters: “”There are other people that we’re going to see throughout the season from the comics, and I’m excited for people to see it, but I don’t want to tell them now. I think a few minor remixes, but some direct stuff from the comic as well, as far as these characters go. I think there’s a really cool aspect to the first half of the season that serves almost as a prequel to some direct comic stuff in the second half of the season. I think there’s a way that Robert did some of the story that we’re reaching that had a real past to it, where people are referring to some things in the past in the comic. And we’re able to portray some of that backstory in some ways that you didn’t get to see in the comic.”