Two masterpieces from PBS: “Mrs. Wilson” and “Victoria, Season 3”

Mrs. Wilson
Ruth Wilson stars as her own grandmother in this true-life story of spies, plot-twists, love and betrayal, and a woman’s search for her husband’s real identity.

At the outset of World War II, Alison McKelvie (played by Ruth Wilson), took a secretarial job with the Secret Intelligence Service. There, she fell in love with an older man–Major Alexander Wilson (played by Iain Glen), a popular author of spy novels then doing real intelligence work for the war effort.

Fast-forwarding to 1963, Alison and Alec have been married for more than 20 years. While working on his new novel, Alec suffers a fatal heart attack. Prior to the funeral, Alison is confronted by a woman claiming to be Alec’s real wife. Alec’s colleagues offer condolences but refer to puzzling aspects of his work and personal life.

Nervously, Alison tracks down Coleman, Alec’s old spymaster, and enters the looking-glass world of secret intelligence, where agents assume identities, pursue careers, fake romances, and undergo public humiliations. Given Alec’s gift for creating plots, how much of what he confided to Alison was true and how much did he make up?


Jenna Coleman returns as her fearless Majesty Queen Victoria in the long anticipated third season of Victoria. A a runaway hit during its first two seasons, season three continues the story of Victoria’s rule over the largest empire the world has ever known.

Victoria: Season 3 introduces fascinating new historical characters, including Laurence Fox as the vainglorious Lord Palmerston, who crosses swords with the queen over British foreign policy. Also vexing the queen this season is Kate Fleetwood as Victoria’s devoted but troubled half-sister, Princess Feodora, who seeks refuge at Buckingham Palace due to political unrest back home in Germany.

 

 

Laugh loud and learn much with “George Carlin: 40 Years of Comedy”

So he had 10 words he shouldn’t say.
Hear them (maybe) in George Carlin: 40 Years of Comedy (MPI Home Video), broadcast live from the Wheeler Theater in Aspen, Colorado, was the great comedian’s 10th special for HBO.
Different from all of Carlin’s previous specials, this award-winning program is a career retrospective hosted by a young Jon Stewart, who conducts a lengthy interview with his comedic hero.
During the interview, Carlin talks about his early life and how his upbringing prepared him for a career in comedy.

Highlights from this special include Carlin performing three new, thought-provoking pieces of material— “Advertising,” “Pets” and “American Bullshit.” Some of the material performed here is unique to this special and was not repeated again.
This must-have DVD also features classic Carlin clips from the first four decades of his career – a treasure trove of the work of one of stand-up comedy’s most original, hilarious and enduring artists.

Kurt Russell and Alexis Bledel highlight “Crypto”, a gripping, timely cyber-thriller

When Wall Street banker Martin is sent to a bank branch in upstate New York, he uncovers suspicious cash flow through a local gallery selling million-dollar paintings. As the young agent is tasked with following a long trail of corruption and theft. During his investigation, he finds that the people involved are more powerful than he could have ever imagined. 
Such is the result with the current rise of cryptocurrency; people find ways to exploit the system and the global economy.

Welcome to Crypto. Kurt Russell and Alexis Bledel highlight this gripping, timely cyber-thriller. This searing action tale also stars Luke Hemsworth and Vincent Kartheiser.

The cyber-thriller will be available on Blu-ray (plus Digital), DVD and Digital on June 18 from Lionsgate.

Cohen Media Group to release the must-see “Shoah: Four Sisters”

Mark your calendar: On May 7, Cohen Media Group will release Palme d’Or winner Claude Lanzmann’s final film Shoah: Four Sisters on Blu-ray, DVD and digital platforms.
The film, completed shortly before Lanzmann’s death at 92 in July 2018, is the long-awaited follow-up to his monumental Shoah, which shook the world upon its release in 1985 as a profound cinematic memorial to the Holocaust.

In Shoah: Four Sisters, four Jewish women, survivors of unimaginable Nazi horrors during the Holocaust, tell their individual stories. Each of their testimonies was filmed more than 40 years ago as Lanzmann collected first-hand accounts in preparation for what would become the nine-and-a-half-hour Shoah.
Starting in 1999, Lanzmann made several films that could be considered satellites of Shoah, comprising interviews conducted in the ’70s that didn’t make it into the final, monumental work. In the last years of the director’s life, he decided to devote a film to each of four women from four different areas of Eastern Europe with four different destinies, each finding herself improbably alive after war’s end: Ruth Elias from Ostravia, Czechoslovakia; Paula Biren from Lodz, Poland; Ada Lichtman from further south in Krakow; and Hannah Marton from Cluj, or Kolozsvár, in Transylvania, Romania.
Survivors of unimaginable Nazi horrors during the Holocaust, these women tell their individual stories and become crucial witnesses to the barbarism they experienced. Each possesses a vivid intelligence and a commitment to candor that make their accounts of what they suffered both searing and unforgettable.
The four films that make up Shoah: Four Sisters are titled “The Hippocratic Oath,” “The Merry Flea,” “Noah’s Ark” and “Baluty,” and together they remind audiences of the immense courage it took for these witnesses to return to their painful past as they retell personal tragedies that represent the larger tragedy of the Holocaust.
Both the two-disc Blu-ray and two-disc DVD include a new conversation with globally renowned philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy moderated by Deborah Lipstadt at the Streicker Center in New York City.

“Throw Me to The Wolves” is an enthralling story of voyeurism, betrayal and the gray areas between truth and fiction in an era of tabloid media and fake news

In the aftermath of Brexit, the body of a young woman is found by the river Thames. The tabloids are instantly aflame, pointing fingers at her neighbor Mr. Wolphram, a former teacher at an elite boarding
school and the perfect target for media monstering: intellectual, introverted, and eccentric. Charged with investigating this murder is a detective who was once one of Wolphram’s students.

As the case unfolds, he must face memories from decades ago that he has tried hard to forget—the routine physical and psychologal abuse acted out by teachers at the school (never Wolphram), and of his friend and schoolmate Danny, who disappeared at the peak of IRA terror. In the midst of the present murder investigation, the detective confronts his own suppressed memory, which proves the ultimate source of both mystery and revelation.

Throw Me to the WolvesWith the momentum of classic crime fiction and the emotional depth of literary fiction, Throw Me to The Wolves (Bloomsbury, $29) vividly explores the harrowing force of the modern media spectacle to distract from more common and pervasive acts of violence, and the dangerous power of the ever-present news feed to dissolve the boundary between truth and fiction.

From the Man Booker Prize-longlisted author Patrick McGuinness, Throw Me to The Wolves is an enthralling story of voyeurism, betrayal, and the gray areas between truth and fiction in an era of tabloid media and fake news.

Barbara! Rosie! Star! Meredith! Whoopi! Elisabeth! “The View” was hardly a Joy

Here’s to the ladies who lunch.

Oops! Wrong drama.

When Barbara Walters launched The View, network executives told her that hosting it would tarnish her reputation. Instead, within 10 years, she’d revolutionized morning TV and made household names of her co-hosts: Joy Behar, Star Jones, Meredith Vieira and Elisabeth Hasselbeck. But the daily chatfest didn’t just comment on the news.

It became the news.

And the headlines barely scratched the surface.

Based on unprecedented access, including stunning interviews with nearly every host, in Ladies Who Punch: The Explosive Inside Story of The View (Thomas Dunne Books, $28.99) award-winning journalist
Ramin Setoodeh takes readers backstage where the stars really spoke their minds.

Ladies Who Punch: The Explosive Inside Story of "The View"

Here’s the full story of how Star, then Rosie O’Donnell, then Whoopi Goldberg tried to take over the show, while Barbara struggled to maintain control of it all, a modern-day Lear with her media-savvy daughters. You’ll read about how so many co-hosts had a tough time fitting in, suffered humiliations at the table, then pushed themselves away, feeling betrayed―one nearly quitting during a commercial. Meanwhile, the director was being driven insane . . . especially by Rosie.

Ladies Who Punch uncovers the truth about Star’s weight loss and wedding madness. Rosie’s feud with Adolph Frump. Whoopi’s toxic relationship with Rosie. Barbara’s difficulty stepping away. Plus, all the unseen hugs, snubs, tears―and one dead rodent―to show why The View can be mimicked and mocked, but it can never be matched.

Important books about film and film stars, published by the University Press of Kentucky.

Books about film and film stars—important books about film and film stars—are published by the University Press of Kentucky. Here is a handful of new and forthcoming film titles.

Legendary actress and two-time Academy Award winner Olivia de Havilland ($34.95) is renowned for her role as Melanie Wilkes in Gone with the Wind (1939). She often inhabited characters who were delicate, ladylike, elegant and refined. At the same time, she was a survivor with a fierce desire to direct her own destiny on and off the screen. She fought and won a lawsuit against Warner Bros. over a contract dispute that changed the studio contract system forever. She is also renowned for her long feud with her fellow actress and sister Joan Fontaine—a feud that lasted from 1975 until Fontaine’s death in 2013.

Author Victoria Amador utilizes extensive interviews and forty years of personal correspondence with de Havilland to present an in-depth look at the life and career of this celebrated actress .Amador begins with Havilland’s early life ( born in Japan in 1916 to a single mother and controlling stepfather) and her theatrical ambitions at a young age. The book then follows her career as she skyrocketed to star status, becoming one of the most well-known starlets in Tinseltown.

Readers are given an inside look at her love affairs with iconic cinema figures such as James Stewart, and John Huston, and her onscreen partnership with Errol Flynn, with whom she starred in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and Dodge City (1939 ). After she moved to Europe in the mid-’50s, de Havilland became the first woman to serve as the president of the Cannes Film Festival in 1965, and remained active but selective in film and television until 1988.

Olivia de HavillandLady Triumphant is a tribute to one of Hollywood’s greatest legends, who has evolved from a gentle heroine to a strong-willed, respected and admired artist


With celebrated works such as Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma & Louise, and Gladiator, Ridley Scott has secured his place in Hollywood. This legendary director and filmmaker has had an undeniable influence on art and the culture of filmmaking, but is also a respected media businessman.

In Ridley Scott: A Biography ($40), Vincent LoBrutto delves into Ridley Scott’s oeuvre in a way that allows readers to understand the yin and yang of his exceptional career. Presented is a unique crosscut between the biographical facts of Scott’s personal life—his birth and early days in northeast England, his life in New York City— and his career in Hollywood as a director and producer of television commercials, TV series, miniseries and feature films.

Every film is presented, analyzed, and probed for a greater understanding of the visionary, his personality, and his thought process, for a deeper perception of his astounding work and accomplishments. The voices of cast and crew who have worked with Scott, as well as the words of the man himself, are woven throughout this book for a fully realized, critical biography, revealing the depth of the artist and his achievements.


The many con men, gangsters and drug lords portrayed in popular culture are examples of the dark side of the American dream. Viewers are fascinated by these twisted versions of heroic American archetypes, like the self-made man and the entrepreneur. Applying the critical skills he developed as a Shakespeare scholar, Paul A. Cantor finds new depth in familiar landmarks of popular culture in Pop Culture and the Dark Side of the American Dream:
Con Men, Gangsters, Drug Lords and Zombies ($40). He invokes Shakespearean models to show that the concept of the tragic hero can help us understand why we are both repelled by and drawn to figures such as Vito and Michael Corleone or Walter White.

Beginning with Huckleberry Finn and ending with The Walking Dead, Cantor also uncovers the link between the American dream and frontier life. In imaginative variants of a Wild West setting, popular culture has served up disturbing—and yet strangely compelling—images of what happens when people move beyond the borders of law and order. Cantor demonstrates that, at its best, popular culture raises thoughtful questions about the validity and viability of the American dream, thus deepening our understanding of America itself.


Throughout his career, Alfred Hitchcock had to deal with a wide variety of censors attuned to the slightest suggestion of sexual innuendo, undue violence, toilet humor, religious disrespect and all forms of indecency, real or imagined. From 1934 to 1968, the Motion Picture Production Code Office controlled the content and final cut on all films made and distributed in the United States. Code officials protected sensitive ears from standard four-letter words, as well as a few five-letter words like tramp and six-letter words like cripes. They also scrubbed “excessively lustful” kissing from the screen and ensured that no criminal went unpunished.

During their review of Hitchcock’s films, the censors demanded an average of 22.5 changes, ranging from the mundane to the mind-boggling, on each of his American films. Code reviewers dictated the ending of Rebecca (1940), absolved Cary Grant of guilt in Suspicion (1941), edited Cole Porter’s lyrics in Stage Fright (1950), decided which shades should be drawn in Rear Window (1954), and shortened the shower scene in Psycho (1960).

In Hitchcock and the Censors ($50), author John Billheimer traces the forces that led to the Production Code and describes Hitchcock’s interactions with code officials on a film-by-film basis as he fought to protect his creations, bargaining with code reviewers and sidestepping censorship to produce a lifetime of memorable films. Despite the often-arbitrary decisions of the code board, Hitchcock still managed to push the boundaries of sex and violence permitted in films by charming—and occasionally tricking—the censors and by swapping off bits of dialogue, plot points, and individual shots (some of which had been deliberately inserted as trading chips) to protect cherished scenes and images.

By examining Hitchcock’s priorities in dealing with the censors, this work highlights the director’s theories of suspense as well as his magician-like touch when negotiating with code officials.


 

“Clarence Brown: Hollywood’s Forgotten Master” is a masterpiece of the man and his movies

There are good directors.

There are great directors.

Then there’s Clarence Brown.

Before the outbreak of World War I, Brown owned his own automobile dealership, the Brown Motor Car Company, in Birmingham, Alabama, earning a very comfortable salary of $6,500 a year. Armed with a double degree in engineering and a practical knowledge of machines, he worked for both the Moline Auto Company in Illinois and the Stevens-Duryea Company in Massachusetts before starting his own business.

By 1915, however, he was working with director Maurice Tourneur on Trilby, giving up a promising career in one burgeoning industry for another. For cinephiles, it was a fortuitous decision. Over the course of a five decade–long career, Brown directed numerous films that have stood the test of time—including The Last of the Mohicans (1920), Anna Christie (1930), Anna Karenina (1935), The Human Comedy (1943), National Velvet(1944), The Yearling (1946), and Intruder in the Dust (1949).

Though he crafted films that garnered 38 Academy Award nominations, Brown is not as well remembered as many of his contemporaries. Historian Gwenda Young hopes to change that with the publication of Clarence Brown: Hollywood’s Forgotten Master, the first full-length biography of the seminal director. She recounts his upbringing as the son of hardworking Irish immigrants, as well as his work with stars such as Lionel Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, and Mary Pickford, which created his reputation for introducing new discoveries as well as revitalizing fading careers. Throughout his long tenure behind the camera, Brown defied expectations to create a lasting body of work that spanned Hollywood’s silent and golden eras.

Brown repeatedly proved his worth by coaching and inspiring great performances. He directed Greta Garbo’s first “talkie,” Anna Christie, which earned her a Best Actress nomination. Garbo later described him as her favorite director. He introduced audiences to a more refined, mature side of Mickey Rooney in The Human Comedy (1943), which Rooney regarded as “one of the best I ever did.” Brown also excelled at redefining and reviving careers, like Norma Shearer in A Free Soul (1931), which helped her to shed her sweet girl persona and define herself as a modern woman for audiences. Perhaps most significantly, he was known for discovering stars, notably Elizabeth Taylor and Claude Jarman Jr.

Brown continually defied expectations, including W.C. Fields’ famous warning about working with children and animals. The Yearling earned a 12-year-old Jarman a special Academy Award for Outstanding Child Actor, and National Velvet introduced the world to Taylor, also 12 at the time. Both films endure for their representation of the relationships between children and their horses.
Though Brown was known for heartwarming slices of Americana, he created films that were hard-hitting and dealt with sensitive cultural issues as well. He explored sensuality in Flesh and the Devil (1926), where viewers were able to see Garbo and John Gilbert’s charged chemistry on screen for the first time, and he directed one of the most revealing depictions of racial prejudice in Intruder in the Dust.

In this first comprehensive account of the life and work of an innovative and unique filmmaker, Young presents the spectrum of Brown’s work in Hollywood as well as his life before and after his creative successes. Spanning from the silent era to technicolor, Brown’s career shows how the industry evolved, and Young reveals the depths of Brown’s hardworking spirit that led him from operating a car dealership in Birmingham, Alabama to creating films that helped define Hollywood across different eras.

Whoever says Shakespeare in all wet? “What Blest Genius?” does . . . with good reason!

Remember the failed “luxury music festival”  that was Fyre Fest? Or the messy (but ultimately rewarding) planning behind Woodstock? The logistics behind major festivals and events are always tricky and sometimes can outright fail. Even many centures. Many.

In Andrew McConnell Stott’s What Blest Genius? The Jubilee That Made Shakespeare (W. W. Norton & Company, $26.95), the focus is on Shakespeare’s Jubilee: the event that established William Shakespeare as the greatest writer of all time in September 1769.

It was also a ridiculous, rain-soaked disaster. Three thousand people descended on Stratford-upon-Avon to celebrate the artistic legacy of the town’s most famous son. Attendees included the rich and powerful, the fashionable and the curious, eligible ladies and fortune hunters, and a horde of journalists and profiteers. For three days, they paraded through garlanded streets, listened to songs and oratorios, and enjoyed masked balls. It was a unique cultural moment―a coronation elevating Shakespeare to the throne of genius.

The poorly planned Jubilee imposed an army of Londoners on a backwater hamlet peopled by hostile and superstitious locals, unable and unwilling to meet their demands. Rain fell in sheets, flooding tents and dampening fireworks, and threatening to wash the whole town away. Told from the dual perspectives of David Garrick, who masterminded the Jubilee, and James Boswell, who attended it, What Blest Genius? is rich with humor, gossip and theatrical intrigue.

“Master of Dark Shadows” takes viewers deep(er) into Collinwood

Baby Boomers have sunk their teeth into many small-screen shows, but was anything more darkly delicious than Dark Shadows?

Master of Dark Shadows (MPI Home Media), a comprehensive celebration of the legendary Gothic daytime series and its visionary creator, Dan Curtis, is a feature documentary about the undyingly popular story of vampire Barnabas Collins and all the eerie goings-on at the gloomy Maine mansion Collinwood. The documentary was directed by David Gregory.

Narrated by Ian McShane, Master of Dark Shadows offers insights from Curtis, in addition to Oscar-winning writer-producer Alan Ball, screenwriter William F. Nolan, author Herman Wouk, Whoopi Goldberg, Barbara Steele and Ben Cross. Of course many members of the cast chime in, including Jonathan Frid, David Selby, Kathryn Leigh Scott, Lara Parker, John Karlen, Nancy Barrett, Jerry Lacy, Roger Davis, Marie Wallace, Chris Pennock and James Storm.

In 1966, a phenomenon was launched when Dark Shadows debuted on ABC as a daily Gothic suspense series. Airing in the late afternoon, the show attracted a massive youth audience as it shifted to the supernatural with the introduction of vulnerable vampire Barnabas Collins. Witches, ghosts and scary story lines turned Dark Shadows into a TV classic that led to motion pictures, remakes, reunions and legions of devoted fans who have kept the legend alive for five decades.
The documentary reveals the fascinating history, far-reaching impact and lasting appeal of Dark Shadows with a compelling blend of rare footage and behind-the-scenes stories while also exploring the dramatic talents of creator-producer-director Dan Curtis.

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