Hugh Bonneville offers a revolutionary new telling of the son of God in “Jesus: Countdown to Calvary”

Praise the Lord! Hugh Bonneville offers a revolutionary new telling of the story of an itinerant Jewish healer and preacher, who went from hero to victim in a single week, 2000 years ago, and ended up dead on a cross. In this documentary, Hugh Bonneville sets out to discover why that one execution, in a century when as many as 500 people were killed in a single day by the Romans, had such seismic, lasting and global impact, for better and for worse.

Jesus: Countdown to Calvary (Public Media Distribution) will be available on DVD April 24. The program is also available for digital download.

For the first time on television, world-renowned actor and Cambridge theology graduate, Hugh Bonneville reveals how a perfect storm of political intrigue, power struggles and clashing religious passions combined, in a single week, to cause the event that changed the world: the killing of Jesus.

Bonneville uses all the investigative and storytelling tools at his disposal to reveal the context, characters and chain of events behind  that tumultuous week. In the process, he finds that this is no dusty religious story, but a political thriller, shot through with intrigue, spin, conspiracy, power battles, betrayal and terror.

She is an important woman who remains unknown. Until now. Welcome “Victorian Rebel: Marianne North”

She is an important woman who remains relatively unknown, Until now. Smithsonian Channel’s Victorian Rebel: Marianne North remembers one of the most adventurous female explorers and botanists of all time in a story of obsession, tragedy and ultimately triumph in Victorian England. At a time when women barely left their parlor rooms, Marianne North’s daring documentation of the world’s rarest plants propelled her to the top of a male-dominated world. Facing down Amazonian mudslides, starvation in Japan, and delirium in the Seychelles, North left an astounding legacy complete with new discoveries and records of now extinct species.

The program tracks the footsteps of a feminist icon living at the height of the British Empire–reliving her jaw-dropping adventures and recognizing her unbelievable achievements in the face of adversity. It will be available on DVD from Public Media Distribution on April 10. The program is also available for digital download.

Actress and North-admirer Emilia Fox takes viewers to the awe-inspiring locations of some of North’s greatest moments. The film uses stunning drama reconstructions, as well as North’s personal memoirs, letters and paintings to retell her amazing story–one of a Victorian rebel who rejected marriage and social convention to lead a pioneering life of conservation and exploration.

PBS’ “Little Women” remake marches along with Angela Lansbury, Michael Gambon and Emily Watson

One of Louisa May Alcott’s most beloved novels is being adapted and remade again, this time for PBS. Save the date:  MASTERPIECE: Little Woman premieres on May 13 and May 20; the Blu-ray and DVD hit stores May 22. The program will also be available for digital download.

 Set against the backdrop of a country divided, the story follows the four March sisters on their journey from childhood to adulthood while their father is away at war. Under the guidance of their mother Marmee, the girls navigate what it means to be a young woman: from gender roles to sibling rivalry, first love, loss and marriage. Accompanied by the charming boy next door Laurie Laurence, their cantankerous wealthy Aunt March and benevolent neighbor Mr. Laurence, Little Women is a coming-of-age story that is as relevant and engaging today as it was on its original publication in 1868.

Little Women is one of the most-loved novels in the English language, and with good reason,” says writer and executive producer Heidi Thomas. “Its humanity, humor, and tenderness never date, and as a study of love, grief, and growing up it has no equal. There could be no better time to revisit the story of a family striving for happiness in an uncertain world.”

Heading the cast are Emily Watson as Marmee, the devoted mother of the four adolescent March girls; Michael Gambon as Mr. Laurence; and Angela Lansbury as the March family matriarch, Aunt March.

The March sisters—the “little women” of the title—feature newcomer Maya Hawke as the willful and adventurous Jo; Willa Fitzgerald as the eldest and most virtuous, Meg; Annes Elwy as the shy sister, Beth; and Kathryn Newton  as Amy, the youngest of the family.

Also appearing are Jonah Hauer-King  as Laurie, the loveable boy next door; Dylan Baker  as Mr. March, who is serving as a chaplain with the Union Army; Julian Morris as John Brooke, Laurie’s cultured and handsome tutor; and Mark Stanley  as the charming Professor Bhaer.

A celebration of family as much as it is a recognition of the challenges of growing up and forging an individual identity, the program remains relevant due to the universal themes at its core. Backed by a nearly all-female creative team, Thomas’ adaptation doesn’t shy away from tackling the darker, more complex emotions the March family experiences. Drawing from a novel that was well ahead of its time the show speaks to current issues as much as it does to the issues women faced at the turn of the 20th century.

Devotees of the original novel will relish the book’s indelible scenes in this MASTERPIECE production: the cruel fate of Jo’s manuscript, Amy’s accident on the ice, Meg’s first ball, Beth and the forbidden piano, the pickled limes affair, and many other cherished episodes in a journey to a bygone time.

Although modern society would be disorienting in the extreme to the March sisters, Thomas notes that even today “girls are still confused about their desires and their desirability, and the passage from innocence to experience is more turbulent than ever.”

“We need hope, and we need empathy,” Thomas adds. “We need laughter, and we need catharsis, we need joy and inspiration. Little Women gives us all of these things.”

Ann Curry explores important issues with dignity and grace in “Well Meet Again”

Ann Curry spices up important issues. That’s one of the reasons we love We’ll Meet Again (PBS Distribution), her program that explores some of history’s most dramatic events through the personal stories of those who experienced them and brings together people whose lives intersected at pivotal moments. Executive produced and reported by  Curry, each episode reveals the powerful bonds forged among people who now, against the odds, have the chance to reunite with someone who transformed their life.

The tides of history can disrupt lives, throwing strangers together or tearing loved ones apart. We’ll Meet Again reveals these moving personal stories of hope, courage and love: From a Vietnam War baby desperate to find the American father she last saw 40 years ago to the military chaplain who helped a stranger through the trauma of 9/11, from a Japanese-American girl interned in 1942 who never forgot the classmate who helped her during her darkest hours, to civil rights workers whose lives were forever changed by the deep relationships they formed in the ’60s South.

The program takes viewers on a journey of hope, searching for clues in marriage records and war and immigration documents, and combing archives to reunite those separated by time and distance.

“This series helps people separated by conflict, war and humanitarian disasters find each other again and reveals untold stories of courage, survival, friendship and even love,” says Curry. “This is human history—not from the point of view of kings or politicians or generals—but of everyday people on the front lines of massive events they have no way to control. Their stories tell us something about what we are made of.”

Episodes include:

“Children of WWII”
Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the U.S. entered World War II. Two children whose lives were forever changed by the war search for lost friends. Reiko, a Japanese-American woman sent to an internment camp as a child, hopes to find the classmate who stood by her in the face of anti-Japanese sentiment. Peter, who fled the Nazis with his parents in 1938, searches for the family who befriended him in the last refuge open to the German Jews: the Shanghai Ghetto.

“Rescued From Mt. St. Helens”
When Mount St. Helens erupted on May 18, 1980, 57 people were killed and hundreds more injured. Volcanic ash was scattered across 11 states. In this episode, two people who survived the disaster reveal how the experience influenced their lives. Mindy, a trainee scientist whose inspirational team leader was killed by the blast wants to find his family to let them know he saved her life. Sue hopes to find the brave helicopter pilot who risked his own life to rescue her.

“Lost Children of Vietnam”
The war in Vietnam may have ended in 1975, but its impact lingers in countless lives today. Two children who became refugees after the war tell their stories. Tina, born in Saigon, searches for the American father she last saw more than 40 years ago, and Nam hopes to find Gary, the Texas cowboy he met as a 12-year-old refugee and who inspired his dream of coming to America.

“Heroes of 9/11”
During the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, DC, strangers were thrown together in unimaginable situations. Patrick, a businessman visiting New York, searches for Emily, the photographer’s assistant who comforted him after the collapse of the World Trade Center. Timothy, a military chaplain plunged into chaos at the Pentagon, hopes to thank the fellow chaplain who gave him the courage to carry on.

“Freedom Summer”
During the civil rights movement of the 1960s, Fatima, a teenager from New York, volunteered to register voters in Louisiana. Now, she returns to the South, hoping to find Thelma, the daughter of her host family, whose courage in the face of racism was unforgettable. Sherie searches for Lefty, the charismatic civil rights activist whose commitment to nonviolence inspired her own lifelong involvement with social justice causes.

 “Coming Out”
For decades, gay Americans did not have equal protection under the law; many faced prejudice, possible imprisonment and rejection from their families and society. Two stories of the struggle for acceptance are told in this episode. Tom longs to find Maria, the friend he trusted with his secret and who saved him from brutal electroshock conversion therapy in the ’60s. Paul, who was University of New Hampshire student body president in 1973, searches for Wayne, who organized the first gay student organization on campus. Wayne’s courage to take the fight to court against overwhelming opposition from the state’s conservative governor changed Paul’s life and ultimately helped him accept his own sexuality.

William Howard Taft: He who never wanted to be president, had sleep apnea and would have hated Herr Adolph Frump . . . yes!

We loathe Herr Adolph Frump.Yet William Howard Taft, who never wanted to be president and yearned instead to serve as chief justice of the United States, would have despised him even more.  Taft was the anti-Frump. He approached every decision as president in constitutional terms and believed the president could only do what the constitution explicitly allowed. He criticized Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson for ruling by executive orders and circumventing Congress on issues
ranging from the environment to economic policy. He criticized Roosevelt and Wilson for endorsing populism, criticizing judges by name, and arguing that the people had the right to overturn judicial decisions. He is a model of a pro-free trade, anti-protectionist, pro-environment, pro-immigration Republican–the opposite of Frump.

William Howard Taft

God bless the man who Taft had sleep apnea; he weighed more 300 pounds as president and, unable to sleep through the night, he would fall asleep in public
throughout the day, prompting his wife to prod him awake with a kindly prod. But after he lost 75 pounds on his paleo diet, he was alert and productive for the rest
of his happy life.

In the provocative assessment William Howard Taft (Times Books, $26), Jeffrey Rosen reveals Taft’s crucial role in shaping how America balances populism against the rule of law. Taft approached each decision as president by asking whether it comported with the Constitution, seeking to put Roosevelt’s activist executive orders on firm legal grounds. But unlike Roosevelt, who thought the president could do anything the Constitution didn’t forbid, Taft insisted he could do only what the Constitution explicitly allowed. This led to a dramatic breach with Roosevelt in the historic election of 1912, which Taft viewed as a crusade to defend the Constitution against the demagogic populism of Roosevelt and Wilson.

President William Howard Taft throws out the first pitch to start the season for the Washington Senators in 1912. | AP Photo
President William Howard Taft throws out the first pitch to start the season for the Washington Senators in 1912.

Nine years later, Taft achieved his lifelong dream when President Warren Harding appointed him chief justice, and during his years on the Court he promoted consensus among the justices and transformed the judiciary into a modern, fully equal branch. Though he had chafed in the White House as a judicial president, he thrived as a presidential chief justice.

The book is filled with wonderful detail, a feast for those who loathe the Herr.

“South Park” continues to amuse, shock and offend . . . thank you Trey and Matt!

Who would ever think that TV’s animated (mis)adventures that riddle South Park would last longer than Liza Minnelli’s career?

Come on down to South Park with all-new, uncensored episodes from the show’s incredible 21st season!  Join Cartman, Kenny, Stan, and Kyle as they take on the opioid epidemic, experiment with water bears, dig into the underbelly of social media, and go to war with Canada.

SP_S21_BRD_Front.jpg

Own all 10 episodes from South Park: The Complete Twenty-First Season  on either Blu-ray or DVD.   Save the date: The fun hits shelves June 5.

Each two-disc set also includes never-before-seen deleted scenes and season commentary by SP creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone.  The Blu-ray set additionally includes #SocialCommentary on all episodes.

Another reason PBS brings out the beast in us . . . witness “NATURE: Animals With Cameras”

We could say that PBS Distribution programs being out the beast in us.

Go where no human cameraman can go to witness a new perspective of the animal kingdom. NATURE: Animals With Cameras journeys into animals’ worlds using custom, state-of-the-art cameras worn by the animals themselves. Capturing never-before-seen behavior, these animal cinematographers help expand human understanding of their habitats and solve mysteries that have eluded scientists until now. The DVD will be available April 24.  The program will be also available for digital download.

Wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan (Nature: Snowbound: Animals of Winter) and a team of pioneering animal behaviorists join forces to explore stories of animal lives “told” by the animals themselves. The cameras are custom-built by camera design expert Chris Watts to fit on the animals unobtrusively and to be easily removed at a later point. From this unique vantage point, experience the secret lives of nine different animal species. Sprint across the savanna with a cheetah, plunge into the ocean with a seal and swing through the trees with a chimpanzee.

The one-of-a-kind sequences captured by the animals include several on-camera firsts. The cameras allowed for newborn meerkats to be shown in their burrow for the first time ever, as meerkat pups don’t emerge from the burrow until they reach three weeks of age. In the Atlantic Ocean, an unborn devil ray is shown kicking inside its mother’s stomach—a phenomenon never before captured on film.

 The program visits eight countries and features three different species per episode.

Harry Thaw, Evelyn Nesbit. Stanford White. This murder/rape case was the true crime of the century

When the weather thaws, I go off to Allegheny Cemetery, where I visit the graves of the (in)famous. My fave: Harry Kendall Thaw (February 12, 1871–February 22, 1947). I have been fascinated with Thaw for decades . . . not because he was the son of a Pittsburgh coal and railroad baron; not because he was heir to a multimillion-dollar mine and railroad fortune; not because he was plagued by mental illness since childhood;  not because he spent money lavishly to fund his obsessive partying, his drug addiction, his sexual appetite.

Image result for evelyn nesbit

I am fascinated by the wacko because of what gave him an historical legacy: On June 25, 1906, on the rooftop of Madison Square Garden, Thaw murdered renowned architect Stanford White, a partner of the firm McKim, Mead & White.

White had previously sexually assaulted Thaw’s wife, model/chorus girl Evelyn Nesbit, when she was 16.  During the opening-night performance of Mam’zelle Champagne, audience members noticed Thaw repeatedly glaring at White. Thaw eventually got up, crossed over to White’s seat and shot him point-blank while the show onstage was in the midst of a number titled “I Could Love a Million Girls”.

Keep in mind: Nesbit was considered the most beautiful and notorious woman of her day; she was one of artist Charles Dana Gibson’s “Gibson Girls”; fans showered her with $50 bills wrapped around stems of roses tossed at her feet. White kept a Fifth Avenue love nest, where he pushed her in a red velvet swing as she wore nothing but the jewels he gave her.

The trial of Thaw and its aftermath mesmerized the nation. Americans overwhelmingly supported Thaw–he had avenged his wife’s honor; what else mattered? But the district attorney, Travers Jerome, ferocious, brilliant, and unflappable, was determined to send Thaw to the electric chair.

Nesbit’s scandalous testimony, that White had drugged and raped her, caused a sensation. The president of the United States,  Theodore Roosevelt, wanted to prevent distribution of her verbatim
account by the newspapers; and Thaw’s appeal eventually went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The murder of White cast a long shadow: Harry Thaw twice attempted suicide and Nesbit battled a cocaine addiction during her acting career in Hollywood in the ’20s.

This riveting story–the first scandal of the century–broke Victorian taboos, heralded a new understanding of sex and sexuality, and ushered in the modern era. Simon Baatz has dome a magnificent job chronicling, detailing and dishing out the sensational story in The Girl on the Red Velvet Swing: Sex, Murder, and Madness at the Dawn of the Twentieth Century (Mulholland Books, $29).

Image result for evelyn nesbitNow, for the first time, comes an authoritative account of the brutal rape of Nesbit by famed architect White, whose attack of Evelyn Nesbit should have been called rape. The penalty for rape in 1901 was severe, more severe than in 2017, a prison sentence of 20 years under brutal conditions in the state penitentiary with no possibility of parole. Public opinion in 1906 (after the murder of White) overwhelmingly condemned White as a pedophile and rapist. But over the years, to burnish White’s
reputation as an architect, the rape was whitewashed as a
“seduction.”

Baatz’s book is a fascinating true-crime story, a thrilling account based on exhaustive research in the newspapers of the day. In 1901, Evelyn Nesbit, 16, an artist’s model and aspiring actress, dined alone with Stanford White, 47, at White’s Manhattan townhouse. That evening they drank champagne and Evelyn lost consciousness. She awoke, naked in bed, White lying next to her, tell-tale spots of blood on the bedsheets.

Picture of
White’s grave

Four years later Evelyn married Harry Thaw, playboy millionaire. One evening, at a performance of the musical comedy Mam’zelle Champagne, Thaw shot and killed White before hundreds of theatregoers. The trial of Thaw and its aftermath mesmerized the nation. Americans overwhelmingly supported Thaw–he had avenged his wife’s honor; what else mattered? But the district attorney, Travers Jerome, ferocious, brilliant, and unflappable, was determined to send Thaw to the electric chair.

 

No more Ambien! Try “Sleep: The Myth of 8 Hours, the Power of Naps, and the New Plan to Recharge Your Body and Mind”

Xanax. Sominex. Ambien. Belsomra. Zzzquil. Belsomra. Halcion. Warm milk. Lunesta. I’ve tried them all. Even the movies of Pia Zadora. The bottom line: I have trouble falling alseep. And staying asleep.

Now Nick Littlehales is reinventing sleep—transforming the way both elite athletes and everyday people get their rest. Though eight consecutive hours of sleep has long been heralded as the ideal amount and schedule, Littlehales proposes a new, personalized program dubbed the R90 Sleep Recovery Program. This program takes into account the stages of sleep, the sleeping environment, and individual needs and situations, all with the aim of optimizing sleep health and happiness.

Since the 1950s and especially since the advent of the Internet, people have been getting less sleep, which correlates to decreased physical and mental performance and even more serious conditions like heart disease and anxiety. Sleep: The Myth of 8 Hours, the Power of Naps, and the New Plan to Recharge Your Body and Mind (Da Capo Lifelong Books, $15.99) not only highlights the importance of sleep but teaches the best way for each of us to get back on track and recover from our poor sleeping habits. A “sleep coach” for many professional teams, such as the  team—and even personal work with David Beckham—Littlehales provides schedules and examples from professional athletes’ sleep journeys, emphasizing alternative sleep options that fit the needs of the individual. Topics include:

  • The importance of naps
  • Coping with a newborn
  • Weaning off sleeping pills
  • Having the correct mattress
  • Sleeping in the right temperature
  • Creating a sleep sanctuaryImage result for photos of sleeping

From the ideal sleeping situation with a partner to why we need to wake up at the same time every day, Sleep takes a fresh look at our dreaming hours and overhauls them.

“Extraordinary Ordinary People” is a music-fueled journey through folk and traditional arts in America 

Another First Run Features gem . . .

Extraordinary Ordinary People is a music-fueled journey through folk and traditional arts in America.

At a time when the existence of the National Endowment for the Arts has never been more threatened, this new documentary focuses on one of its least known and most enduring programs: the National Heritage Fellowship, awarded annually since 1982.

Featuring a breathtaking array of award-winners including musicians, dancers, quilters, woodcarvers and more, the film demonstrates the importance of the folk and traditional arts in shaping the fabric of America. From Bill Monroe and B.B. King to Passamaquoddy basket weavers and Peking Opera singers; from Appalachia and the mountains of New Mexico to the inner city neighborhoods of New York, the suburbs of Dallas, and the isolated Native American reservations of Northern California–each of the artists share exceptional talent, ingenuity and perseverance.

Petrucelli Picks the best in books, music and film . . . and then some