Three “NATURE” programs that demand to be seen, flying high when bringing animal majesty to the screen

NATURE never fools with Mother Nature. Instead, the acclaimed PBS program produces incredible, educational must-see programs that land on DVD. Here is a triumvirate of recent faves.

Charlie and the Curious Otters
The program focuses on efforts to rehabilitate three orphaned river otters in Wisconsin, shows some ground breaking experiments using cool cameras and anatomical CGI, and captures other wild  encounters. At the Wild Instincts Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, Charlie is introduced to three orphan river otter pups and films their progress and training:  from needing around the clock care and feeding, to being taught the crucial skills they will need in order to return to the wild. Despite the fact otters can swim nearly a quarter mile without coming up for air, baby otters do not start out as natural swimmers and they don’t really like water. So the center’s manager Mark Naniot assumes the roles of surrogate mother and teacher. Charlie films him coaxing the pups into a small pool for swimming lessons and later adding minnows which the orphans instinctively chase and catch.

The filmmakers also go to Florida Springs, Florida where a clear spring fed river provides Charlie with great conditions to capture rare shots of otters hunting underwater. At the Oakland Zoo, he films otters hunting fish in slow motion to determine how they detect and capture their prey so quickly. He also visits the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s head vet Dr. Mike Murray who explains that sea otters have the densest fur in the animal kingdom which is a key survival asset both on land and in the water.

Naledi: One Little Elephant
The program chronicles the life of the orphaned baby pachyderm as she grows up with the help of her friends. Kiti, a gentle elephant in Botswana, was in her 661st day of pregnancy, a normal gestation period, when she finally gave birth to a baby girl. For nearly two weeks, the staff of Abu Camp, a halfway house for orphaned and former zoo and circus elephants, had been passing the time by coming up with a list of possible names for Kiti’s offspring. Perhaps because the calf was born at night, they called her Naledi, which means star in the local language.

But six weeks after giving birth, Kiti dies from a prolapse of the large intestine, and Naledi is left an orphan. Although elephant families are close, the program shows how precarious it is for a newborn to survive once it has lost its mother. Naledi needs to be nursed, so when the herd’s matriarch can’t produce enough milk and doesn’t know how to care for her, Mike, Wellie, and other caretakers decide to take drastic measures before it is too late. The film follows the team as they separate Naledi from the herd, relocate her to another part of Abu Camp, make sure a caretaker is always with her around the clock, work to establish a bond, and finally entice her to take milk from a bottle.

 

 

H is for the Hawk: A New Chapter
After the unexpected death of her photojournalist father, Helen Macdonald overcame her grief by training an adult goshawk, one of nature’s most notoriously wild and free-spirited birds of prey. She had trained birds before, but never this raptor which she named Mabel. Macdonald found healing in that cathartic experience which became the basis for her 2014 international best-selling memoir H Is for Hawk.


Now, 10 years after she trained Mabel (who died of untreatable infection just before the author finished writing her book), Macdonald is ready to take on the challenge again, prompted by watching how a pair of wild goshawks reared their chicks in an English forest. This film accompanies her on visits to the pair’s nest to observe the latest developments and follows Macdonald’s emotional and intimate journey as she adopts a young goshawk and attempts to raise it as her own:  feeding, nurturing, and training her new charge in the hopes the months of preparation will culminate in a successful first free flight.

 

 

Matt Damon, Julianne Moore and Oscar Isaac star in the darkly funny thriller “Suburbicon”

It’s 1959. The idyllic town of Suburbicon is the perfect place for Gardner Lodge to make a home. But beneath this tranquil surface lies a disturbing reality, where nothing is as it seems.  When a break-in leads to the shocking murder of his wife, Gardner must navigate the town’s underbelly of deceit and violence to protect his family from further harm.

Welcome to Suburbicon. The film It is loosely inspired on a 1957 incident in Levittown, Pennsylvania, in which a black family moved into the previously all-white neighborhood, leading to racial-charged harassment and violence against the family. (It was filmed in Fullerton, California.)

Matt Damon stars as Gardener; Julianne Moore and Oscar Isaac co-star. Director George Clooney’s suspenseful thriller arrives on Blu-ray and DVD February 6 from Paramount Home Media Distribution.

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The Blu-ray is packed with more than 50 minutes of bonus content. Join Damon, Moore and Isaac as they dive into the making of Suburbicon and discuss everything from the script to casting and more. Plus, check out the film’s unique score and find out how the composer was inspired by the storyline. Also included is a commentary by writer/director  Clooney and writer Grant Heslov.

“Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates, Jr.: Season 4” Goes Out on Many Limbs with Many Noted Fans of the Show  

The PBS series Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates, Jr.: Season 4  continues to branch out. Today’s leading artists, politicians, activists, performers and journalists discover surprising ancestral stories while learning their family history in the fourth season of the critically acclaimed series. Professor Gates, the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University and director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, continues exploring the mysteries, surprises and revelations hidden in the family trees of 28 of today’s most intriguing cultural trailblazers.

Comedian Larry David and politician Bernie Sanders discover they have more in common than they thought, tracing their roots back to Jewish communities in Eastern Europe. Comedic performers Amy Schumer, Aziz Ansari and Maya Rudolph learn contrasting stories of assimilation and independence all over the globe. Actors Fred Armisen and Christopher Walken and musician Carly Simon each learn about a grandparent whose real identity and background had been a mystery to them. Author Ta-Nehisi Coates, filmmaker Ava DuVernay, and author and activist Janet Mock see their basic assumptions about their families challenged, placing their ancestors—of all colors—into the greater context of black history.

Actors Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen and William H. Macy trace their nonconformist ancestors through American conflicts—the Civil War and the American Revolution, all the way back to the Puritan establishment. Journalists Bryant Gumbel and Suzanne Malveaux and producer and writer Tonya Lewis-Lee discover a tapestry of the unexpected as they delve into their ancestry, revealing slaves and free people of color, Civil War legacies, and forgotten European origins. Actor Lupita Nyong’o, NBA star Carmelo Anthony and political commentator Ana Navarro trace their African heritage, investigating the political choices of their fathers and discovering sometimes unexpected heritage.

Also, actors Tea Leoni and Gaby Hoffmann both have lives shaped by family mysteries and are introduced to the identities and life stories of their biological ancestors, thanks to DNA detective work. DJ and producer Questlove, talk show host Dr. Phil, and journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault’s family stories are rooted in the American south. Actors Scarlett Johansson, Paul Rudd and John Turturro, all with immigrant parents, gain greater understanding of the unique challenges their ancestors faced by way of prejudice and poverty at home and abroad.

Monsters aren’t real. Or are they? Find out when the frightfully funny family fest “Monsters at Large” arrives on DVD

Monsters aren’t real. Or are they? Find out when the frightfully funny family adventure Monsters at Large arrives on DVD, Digital and On Demand March 13.

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Alex decides to end his kid brother’s nightmares by forming a task force to take care of imaginary monsters. When their business becomes a hit, nothing can go wrong . . . until one of the monsters turns out to be real, and really big!

Mischa Barton, Brooklynn Prince and Austin St. John highlight this frightfully funny family adventure in the spirit of Goonies, Super 8 and Stranger Things.  

Approved by the Dove Foundation for all ages, the Monsters at Large DVD includes a “Monsters at Large: A Behind-the-Scenes Look” featurette. Stephen Tobolowsky, a fave star of The Goldbergs,  also stars in this spooky, silly, supernatural saga.

Lionsgate’s “The Executioners” will scare the shit out of you!

Halloween is many months away, but we celebrate all things horror year-round. You’ll have to wait until March 27 for  the intense horror-thriller The Executioners, arriving on DVD, Digital and On Demand from Lionsgate.

It’s worth the wait.

When four friends go on a retreat to a secluded lakeside cabin, they soon realize they’re not alone. Masked intruders try to take them hostage, but as they fight back, the friends get a taste for something more than the will to survive. Will their fate be as victim or executioner?

We ain’t telling. We still too scared.

“The Read Mad Men of Advertising” provides an inside look into the men and women who re-invented the advertising industry

Ah, men. Real men. Who know how to sell. Anything. Public Media Distribution has released the Smithsonian Channel series The Read Mad Men of Advertising on DVD. The series provides an inside look into the men and women who re-invented the advertising industry from post-WWII America through the ’80s. Driven by memorable, classic ad campaigns, many of which are in the collections of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, the series also features clips and interviews with the creators of the groundbreaking series Mad Men.

In 2015, the National Museum of American History accepted a donation of artifacts, costumes and props from the series Mad Men against the backdrop of actual advertising history as displayed in its exhibition, American Enterprise. The Real Mad Men of Advertising uses these museum objects to explore the fascinating commercials and ad campaigns of mid-century America. Ads from Howdy Doody to MTV reveal the impact of commercial culture, while clips and interviews with Mad Men cast and crew members offer a glimpse into the meticulously constructed world of the iconic series.

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Their stories are set alongside interviews with the real ad men and women of the ’50s through the ’80s–from the top ad creators of the ’50s to Brooke Shields, who as a teen model was the centerpiece of a controversial early ’80s Calvin Klein ad campaign.

 

 

Two new titles from PBS Distribution are must-see history lessons

PBS Distribution has released the series Slavery and the Making of America on DVD and Digital HD. Produced by THIRTEEN/WNET New York, this landmark series documents the history of American slavery from its beginnings in the British colonies through the years of post-Civil War Reconstruction.  The program examines the integral role slavery played in shaping the new country’s development, challenging the long held notion that it was exclusively a Southern enterprise.

Through the remarkable stories of individual slaves, the program offers fresh perspectives on the slave experience and testifies to the active role that Africans and African Americans took in surviving their bondage and shaping their own lives.


For months, reports of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election have dominated the headlines. FRONTLINE: Putin’s Revenge (PBS Distribution) tells the epic, inside story of how Vladimir Putin came to see the United States as an enemy, how U.S. intelligence came to believe he targeted the 2016 presidential election, the fallout under President Obama and now in the Trump administration, and the implications for the future of American democracy.

The program draws on more than 60 interviews with heads of U.S. intelligence agencies, diplomats, Russian politicians, historians and journalists to trace how Putin went from low-ranking KGB agent to long-serving president of a newly assertive Russia with the ability to wage cyber-war in the U.S. and across the globe.

With in-depth reporting from Moscow and Washington, D.C., Putin’s Revenge is a riveting and revealing documentary that explores why Putin has sought to sow distrust in America’s democracy.

The first part of the program is a portrait of what makes the Russian leader tick, and the events that shaped his belief that the U.S. has sought to undermine Russia dating back to the fall of the Soviet Union. It explores how Putin came to power and then carefully constructed his image, cracking down on independent media outlets and opponents. It also traces key turning points in Putin’s relationship with the U.S. over the years, including how his fear of a U.S. policy of regime change intensified, and how he came to see Hillary Clinton in particular as an enemy trying to oust him–despite State Department insistence it was only promoting democracy, not trying to steer the outcome of Russia’s election.

The second half delves into the riveting story of Russian involvement in the 2016 election, and how and why the Obama administration struggled to confront Putin about both election interference and, before that, Putin’s actions in Ukraine.  The program   shows Donald Trump’s repeated praise of Putin, how Russia is believed to have weaponized hacked emails to influence U.S. news cycles and exploit the gulf between Hillary Clinton’s and Bernie Sanders’ supporters, and how false stories picked up by Russian propaganda websites were then promoted by Russian trolls and bots on social media, and eventually found their way onto mainstream American news broadcasts.

Against the backdrop of investigations by the FBI and Congress into the role Russia played in the election, Putin’s Revenge is the must-watch, inside story of how we reached this point, what drives Putin, and what might happen next.

Dung beetles, bull elk, saber-toothed tigers and rhinoceros beetles star in “NOVA: Extreme Animal Weapons”

From lobster claws and dog teeth to bee stings and snake fangs, every creature depends on a weapon. But some are armed to extremes that make no practical sense—whether it’s bull elks with giant 40-pound antler racks or tiny rhinoceros beetles with horns bigger than their body. What explains giant tusks, horns and claws that can slow an animal down and even impair health and nutrition?

The answers are available in NOVA: Extreme Animal Weapons, coming to DVD from PBS Distribution on February 13.

Showcasing astonishing wildlife cinematography, the program investigates the riddle of outsize weaponry and uncovers a bold new theory about what triggers an animal arms race. In creatures as varied as dung beetles and saber-toothed tigers, shrimp and elephants, the same hidden factors trigger the race and, once started, these arms races unfold in exactly the same pattern. In this enthralling special, NOVA cracks the secret biological code that underlies nature’s battleground.

Christopher Kimball’s tasty new series “Milk Street” is the cream of the crop!

Public Media Distribution is always cooking some mighty tasty programs. Let us introduce you to the premiere season of Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street: Season 1 on DVD and Digital HD. The test cooks of Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street search the world over for techniques that can add a little kick, and convenience, to everyday American cooking. Each episode gives viewers the chance to see the process at work as they test, edit, and translate what they learn into the home-cooking environment from other countries and cultures. Where in the world will inspiration strike next? Join these cooks on their culinary quest to transform the way America cooks and eats.

Filmed across the world, Season One of Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street travels to Thailand, Mexico, Peru, Israel, and London–and also films in the home of their magazine and cooking school, the kitchen at 177 Milk Street in downtown Boston. Follow the journey from first bite to kitchen-tested recipe as they translate what they learn into new flavor combinations, like the tahini and cocoa powder used to elevate simple brownies. They revive old classics, like their caramel-sauced oranges recipe that borrows from the Brits by way of Italy.

Milk Street Television offers viewers great variety in terms of how to learn.  Cooking lessons are filmed in front of a live audience at Milk Street with host Kimball and a Milk Street cook. Milk Street Shorts are short, quick recipes that can usually be made in just minutes. Milk Street Basics offer viewers tips and techniques that apply to a wide range of recipes. The Milk Street Kitchen Cabinet introduces viewers to tools and cookware and also provides new ways to use them. Milk Street Pantry recipes offer simple instructions for making sauces, dips, and the like. Finally, Milk Street Travels gives viewers a glimpse into the wide world of food with segments filmed on location, from London to Thailand.

Queen Elizabeth and Her “Secret Service” . . . a father and son team who Bond to her

It’s tough being queen even for a day. Yet imagine what her “secret service” goes through. You can find out with the Queen Elizabeth’s Secret Agents (PBS Distribution)  on DVD and Digital HD.

The documentary  will be available on DVD on February 13; the program will also be available for digital download.

Discover the secret agency that helped Queen Elizabeth I while she was in power for more than 40 years. During a time when Britain and Queen Elizabeth’s realm was divided, unstable, and violent, the world’s first secret service was born. Run by William and Robert Cecil, this father-and-son team had the duty of protecting the Queen and the Country.

Leading historians study the period from different principals’ points of view. They dissect the minds and motivations of key players, to uncover an intricate, covert spy network, revealing how Elizabethan England really was. In three in-depth episodes, the program takes us through the biggest events of Elizabeth’s reign, the entrapment and execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, the capture and escape of catholic fugitive John Gerard and the most infamous terrorist conspiracy in British history, the Gunpowder Plot.

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