Nikola Tesla: PBS remembers the “mad scientist” in a must-see DVD

He’s been dubbed the “patron saint of geeks” and has had electric cars, rock bands, a unit of measurement, a minor planet and a lunar crater named after him. Yet visionary scientist Nikola Tesla is still relatively unknown, eclipsed by contemporaries such as Edison and Marconi. And he died impoverished and largely forgotten.

During his lifetime, he gained international fame for his invention of a system of alternating current that made possible the distribution of electricity over vast distances and is the basis for the electrical grid that powers 21st century life. But the visionary Tesla imagined much more—robots, radio, radar, remote control, the wireless transmission of messages and pictures, and harnessing the wind and sun to provide free energy to all.

A showman, he dazzled his scientific peers who flocked to see him demonstrate his inventions and send thousands of volts of electricity pulsing through his body. His fertile but undisciplined imagination was the source of his genius but also his downfall, as the image of Tesla as a “mad scientist” came to overshadow his reputation as a brilliant innovator. But it is his exhilarating sense of the future that has inspired renewed interest in the man, as his once scoffed-at vision of a world connected by wireless technology has become a reality.fair-edison-tesla-westinghouse-people

PBS introduces him to audiences in the DVD American Experience: Tesla.  The program is also available for digital download.

Born in 1856 to a Serbian family in Croatia, the tall, gangly, 28-year-old inventor arrived in New York in 1884, almost penniless but with a letter of introduction to his hero, Thomas Edison. Tesla was convinced that he had solved the problem that had plagued Edison’s plans to electrify the world, not just the tip of lower Manhattan. Edison relied on direct current (DC) to transmit electricity, which was severely limiting. Tesla had found a way to do what had so far stumped everyone: invent a motor that could run on alternating current (AC), making the distribution of electricity across long distances possible.Nikola_Tesla_on_Time_Magazine_1931

“Before Tesla, you would have to have thousands of little power plants at every mile,” explains biographer Marc Seifer. “After Tesla, from one power source—Niagara Falls—you could light up and power the entire northeast.”

Edison immediately hired Tesla, who abruptly quit just six months later, frustrated by Edison’s refusal to adopt his idea. After a grim winter of digging ditches, his luck turned. The wealthy inventor and entrepreneur George Westinghouse knew that the future—and immense profits—would be found in electricity and he quickly bought the young inventor’s patents, making Tesla a rich man. But when Westinghouse became overextended, he revised Tesla’s deal, stripping him of a royalty that would have made him one of the wealthiest men in the world. Nevertheless, Westinghouse’s gamble on Tesla’s ideas paid off; the company beat Edison for the contracts to wire the Columbian Exposition in Chicago and to harness Niagara Falls to generate AC current, ending once and for all Edison’s hopes for his now antiquated DC technology.

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Tesla was now a celebrity, the new Edison. He moved into the luxurious Astor House, dined at Delmonico’s, and became a friend to the rich and famous, including Mark Twain, John Jacob Astor and J.P. Morgan. But he was plagued with a plethora of odd phobias that had followed him since childhood, when he often suffered from inexplicable visions and a difficulty in separating reality from his imagination. Everything he did had to be divisible by three, he had a manic fear of germs, and couldn’t bear the sight of earrings or the touch of human hair.

In 1899, Tesla headed west to Colorado Springs where he set up a laboratory and began to build massive coils that produced a million volts of electricity; he soon announced that he could transmit electricity over vast distances by sending currents though the earth. But he never produced the evidence and his credibility slipped, tarnished even further by his claims that he had received signals from Mars. His imagination, so critical to his inventive powers, began to betray him.99774988_136425712297

Returning to New York, Tesla managed to convince Morgan to invest in his next idea, the transmission of wireless messages, although Tesla dreamed of transmitting electric power without wires as well. With Morgan’s money, Tesla bought 200 acres on Long Island’s North Shore and began building a transmission tower. But an Italian electrical engineer, Guglielmo Marconi, doomed his dream by sending the first wireless transmission across the Atlantic in 1901—based on Tesla’s patents. The invention of wireless telegraphy—radio—would win Marconi a Nobel Prize and send Tesla into a downward spiral.

By 1916, he had relinquished the Long Island mortgage to the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, where he had lived on credit for almost 20 years. He would spend the rest of his life imagining new inventions and searching for investors while his ideas became increasingly bizarre and fantastical, more science fiction than science. His mind drifting, his money gone, he died alone in 1943 in the New Yorker Hotel. Six months later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the patents to Marconi’s wireless device belonged to Tesla, and that he, not Marconi, had launched the wireless world with the invention of radio.

James Pattersion’s bestselling young adult fantasy novels hit the big-screen with a “Maximum Ride”

James Patterson is pretty prolific. And pretty rich.

Based on the phenomenal bestselling young adult fantasy novels by their author, Maximum Ride takes flight on DVD on December 6 from Paramount Home Media Distribution.  Patterson’s book series spent 144 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list, has sold more than 20 million books worldwide and has spawned 11 Manga comics.

The film brings to life the extraordinary journey of six DNA-enhanced young orphans with the ability to fly who are on a mission to rescue the youngest of their flock while discovering the diabolical, scientific secrets of how they came to exist.  Their leader is Max, wise beyond her years, who must summon all her courage and acumen to outmaneuver the brutal half-human/half-wolf creations known as “Erasers”, confront her own inner demons and ultimately face a stunning betrayal.

Maximum Ride boasts a sensational cast of up-and-coming talent including digital influencers such as Allie Marie Evans, Patrick Johnson, Lyliana Wray, Luke Gregory Crosby, Gavin Lewis, Tetona Jackson, Zayne Emory,  Carrie Wampler and Peter O’Brien.

The film ran into trouble in early 2012, when Catherine Hardwicke quit as the film director. When asked about the odds of a movie still being made, Patterson claimed he was “very hopeful as opposed to mildly depressed”. Trouble continued with the death of screenplay writer Don Payne on March 26, 2013. Two years later, the plans geared into a maximum ride and the flick was made.

 

A most memorial event: The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s new DVD

Think of this as a memorial event. Each year on Memorial Day weekend, The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center takes up residency in one of the country’s most beautiful historic sites: Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill in Kentucky, where a vibrant Shaker community once flourished.

Live From Lincoln Center went on the road with the ensemble for the first time in its 40-year history, taking its cameras, trucks and a 15-member crew into the heart of rural America. Performed for a riveted audience in a converted tobacco barn, the concert celebrated American music with unparalleled intimacy and intensity, climaxing with Aaron Copland’s iconic Appalachian Spring, which incorporates a traditional Shaker theme at the heart of the work. Pulsing with the spirit of the Shakers, the film draws poignant parallels between art and craftsmanship; the beauty and hardships of the frontier; and the quest for transcendence in American life.

The result? Simple Gifts: The Chamber Music Society at Shaker Village (PBS Distribution). Featured on the DVD are performances of Copland’s Appalachian Spring; Gottschalk’s The Union; Dvořák’s Sonatina; Barber’s Souvenirs; O’Connor’s F.C.’s Jig; and selections from Foster’s The Social Orchestra, plus an additional 52-minute bonus documentary, A Gift to be Simple with a behind the scenes look at the Chamber Music Society and the story of the Shaker community.

They are SuperBirds! Hummingbirds can fly backwards, upside-down and float in mid-air!

Hummingbirds are amazing creatures to behold. They are the tiniest of birds, yet possess natural born super powers that enable them to fly backwards, upside-down and float in mid-air. Their wings beat faster than the eye can see and the speed at which they travel makes people wonder if it was indeed a hummingbird they actually saw. They also are only found in the Americas. These attributes have both intrigued scientists and made it challenging to study the species, but with the latest high-speed cameras and other technologies, the program reveals new scientific breakthroughs about these magical birds.hummingbird_hero_roger_levien

See the magic in Nature: Super Hummingbirds (PBS Distribution). The program is also available for digital download.

Emmy-winning filmmaker Ann Johnson Prum  returns with her second film on hummers which presents new scientific discoveries such as how they drink a flower’s nectar so quickly or why they are able to thrive in the thin air at high altitudes. For the first time, viewers will see the birds mate, lay eggs, fight and raise families in intimate detail.

The program begins with the research of Dr. Alejandro Rico-Guevara, who returned to his native Colombia after getting his doctorate at the University of Connecticut (he’s currently a postdoctoral researcher at University of California at Berkeley), to determine how a hummer is able to lap up nectar inside a flower at a rate of 20 times a second. A hummingbird spends its days darting from flower to flower to drink the nectar so vital to fueling its metabolism to keep it in the air.

To solve the mystery, Rico-Guevara mounted a real flower onto a clear feeding tube containing the same amount of nectar found in a genuine bloom. After attracting a hummer to the test site, high-speed macro photography revealed that the hummingbird’s long tongue has forked tips that open as the tongue dips into the nectar. Grooves are created along the edges of the open tips that collect and fill the tongue with nectar. Identifying this highly efficient means to drink nectar so rapidly was a scientific breakthrough never seen before.

The program also chronicles a major discovery by Dr. Christopher Witt and his University of New Mexico team high in the Peruvian Andes where oxygen is 40 percent more scarce than it is at sea level. Tests were conducted on hummers living at high altitudes to determine how little oxygen they needed to fly and the results were impressive. For example, only when the oxygen level reached six percent did the Sparkling violetear reach her limit which is an altitude equivalent of 43,000 feet. Witt discovered that a protein called hemoglobin, which humans also have in our blood, has evolved in each hummingbird species to match its elevation. He also found that these flower feeders are able to fly at such dazzling speeds due to an ability to capture extra oxygen with every breath, a true super power.

In the rainforests of Costa Rica, Dr. Marcelo Araya-Salas of Cornell University has spent seven years studying and recording the vocal stylings and mating rituals of Long-billed hermit hummingbirds. As the film shows, male hermits gather in a place called a lek to attract and compete for females by singing and performing elaborate choreography. After shooting more than 2,000 hours of footage, Araya-Salas caught his first video of hummingbirds mating, one of the first times it has ever been filmed. The documentary then concludes with a life cycle of super hummingbirds, from the nest-building, to the motherhood, to the first flight!

Hummers may be the smallest birds in the world, but what they lack in size, they make up in speed and the ability to adapt in ways we’re just beginning to learn about as they continue to evolve.

 

We all have that family member who ruins holidays. Is he as bad as “Uncle Nick”?

Christmas may bring good cheer, but sometimes it brings a completely boorish relative to spoil the family gathering. My Aunt Thelma was one such creature.unnamed-2
Yet she wasn’t as bad as Uncle Nick, a drunken horndog who sets his sights on his brother’s stepdaughter . . . the endearing antihero of the raunchy comedy. Brian Posehn, a familiar and beloved comic character actor, gets the starring role of his career in this riotously anti-feel-good comedy arriving just in time for the Big Day.

Indeed. Lewd, drunken Uncle Nick stumbles his way through his brother’s cookie cutter family’s annual Christmas gathering in the hopes of scoring with a super-hot party guest . . . who just happens to be Nick’s brother’s stepdaughter!

The arrival of Uncle Nick’s equally crass sister coupled with Nick’s liquor-fueled faux pas cause family secrets to bubble to the surface . . . secrets that just might spell disaster for the whole clan before the night is over. Oh, and that super-hot guest(Melia Renee, Transparent)!

Presented by executive producer Errol Morris, Uncle Nick is a raucously funny comedy of inappropriate behavior, uncomfortably interrupted trysts and a monumental over-serving of 10-cent beers.

Maybe I will stay home, alone, with Uncle Nick (except on DVD) and Aunt Thelma.

One-horned rhinos! Asiatic lions! Hoolock gibbons! Take a tour of “India: Nature’s Wonderland”

It’s home to over a billion people. Yet India is a place where you can see animals that exist nowhere else on Earth, where the natural world has been woven into people’s lives and where wilderness still holds strong. Wildlife expert Liz Bonnin, actress Freida Pinto and mountaineer Jon Gupta reveal the wonders of India’s natural world in India: Nature’s Wonderland (PBS Distribution) on DVD. From the Valley of the Flowers in West Himalaya and turtles hatching on the beaches of the east coast to the lions of the Gir forest, the film reveals a land packed full of unrivaled wildlife experiences.

 

Here, descriptions for each of the two parts included on the DVD.

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An Asiatic lion family in Gir Forest

Part 1
Liz Bonnin visits the Gir Forest, home to the world’s last Asiatic lions, where she witness two females hunting, before watching elephants walking through a tea plantation. Freida meets a man who has dedicated his life to the Hoolock gibbon, India’s only ape, which starts the morning by singing. Jon climbs into the Himalayas and stops off at Debprayag to bathe in the sacred waters at a holy place where the River Ganges begins.

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Mama and baby one-horned rhinos

Part 2
Every winter morning the desert town of Khichan is invaded by thousands of Demoiselle Cranes. Liz can hardly believe the number of birds. Freida needs to ride on an elephant to get close to one of India’s rarest sights–the One Horned Rhino. Not only does she get to see one in the tall grass, she also sees its baby.  Jon comes down from the mountains to a beach on the Bay of Bengal to witness the mass hatching of Olive Ridley Turtles, more than a million baby turtles will erupt from nests buried in the sand.

 

No passport needed!

Bette Midler to star in an all-female version of “Ben-Hur”? Watch out Jack Huston!

We know the story well: Ben-Hur is the epic story of Judah Ben-Hur, a prince falsely accused of treason by his adopted brother Messala, an officer in the Roman army.

The story’s highlight still remains the chariot race: Both the 1925 silent film version, starring gay icon Ramon Navarro as Ben-Hur, and the 1959 blockbuster with dead gun advocate Charlton Heston, remain memorable with Biblical proportions. (Three were two other adaptations of the 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace: The 1907 silent film starring Herman Rottger and the 2003 animated film with Ben-Hur voiced by Heston. Wallace’s tome is in public domain: How about an all-female take, with Bette Midler as Bennette-Her?)800px-ben-hur-1925

A new version  hit theaters earlier this year, starring Jack Huston in the title role. Paramount Pictures’ and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures’ breathtaking action-adventure arrives on Blu-ray Combo Pack and DVD December 13, from Paramount Home Media Distribution.  The film arrives two weeks early on Digital HD November 29.

BEN-HUR is the epic story of Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston), a prince falsely accused of treason by his adopted brother Messala (Toby Kebbell), an officer in the Roman army. Stripped of his title, separated from his family and the woman he loves (Nazanin Boniadi), Judah is forced into slavery. After years at sea, Judah returns to his homeland to seek revenge, but finds redemption. Based on Lew Wallace’s timeless novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, the film also stars Rodrigo Santoro, Ayelet Zurer, Pilou Asbaek, Sofia Black D’Elia and Oscar winner Morgan Freeman.

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We treat you the the entire 1907 film, below.

The Ben-Hur Blu-ray Combo Pack with Digital HD features over an hour of bonus content including an in-depth look at the creation of the film’s spectacular chariot race, an exploration of the story’s legacy and enduring relevance, behind-the-scenes interviews with the cast, deleted and extended scenes, music videos from Andra Day, For King and Country and Mary Mary and more. In addition, for a limited time, the Blu-ray Combo Pack will include a $10 movie card that can be applied to the purchase of a ticket for any movie in theaters.

The combo pack includes access to a Digital HD copy of the film as well as the following:

Blu-ray

  • Feature film in high definition
  • Ben-Hur: The Legacy
  • The Epic Cast
  • A Tale for Our Times
  • The Chariot Race
  • Deleted & Extended Scenes
  • Music Videos

DVD

  • Feature film in standard definition

 

 

“Monday at 11:01 A.M.” is terrifying at any time of the day (or night)

 

A young couple find themselves in a beautiful yet eerie mountain town where everyone seems strangely familiar. While Jenny busies herself in a small antique shop, Michael wanders into the local watering hole. The bartender dares Michael to check out Olivia, a sultry brunette in the corner. After a drink, Michael takes him up on the offer and moves to sit next to her. The two begin an ominous flirtation with Olivia slipping him her phone number. monday-at-1101-am-poster

Michael and Jenny decide to stay overnight at the dimly lit and aging hotel. During the night Michael is jolted out of bed when he hears frantic screams from another room. When he calls the front desk for help, he is met with cold indifference. No one believes him . . . including Jenny. As his hallucinations become more real through a series of horrific events, Michael finds himself desperately trying to walk the line between reality and the terror that awaits him.

Welcome to Monday at 11:01 A.M.  The fright flick from K Street Pictures stars Charles Agron as Michael and Lauren Shaw as Jenny; the DVD and Blu-Ray also include a 20-minute behind-the-scenes discussion with co-stars Lance Henriksen and Charles Agron; director Harvey Lawry; and cinematographer Emmanuel Vouniozos.

When Donald Trump whined “This election is rigged”—he should know.  His buddies rigged it.

 

It’s been called “arguably the best pro-Civil Rights film made since 2014’s Selma.”  Welcome to The Best Democracy Money Can Buy: A Tale of Billionaires and Ballot Bandits.

Rolling Stone investigative reporter Greg Palast busted Jeb Bush for stealing the 2000 election by purging Black voters from Florida’s electoral rolls. In Best Democracy Money Can Buy, Palast is back to take a deep dive into the Republicans’ dark operation, Crosscheck, designed to steal a million votes by November.

Crosscheck is controlled by a Trump henchman, Kris Kobach, Kansas Secretary of State who claims his computer program has identified 7.2 million people in 29 states who may have voted twice in the same election—a felony crime.  The catch? Most of these ‘suspects’ are minorities—in other words, mainly Democratic voters. Yet the lists and the evidence remain “confidential.”

Palast and his investigative partner Leni Badpenny do what it takes to get their hands on the data, analyzing it to find the names of nearly one million Americans about to lose their vote by November.

They hunt down and confront Kobach with the evidence of his “lynching by laptop.”  Then they are off to find the billionaires behind this voting scam.  The search takes Palast from Kansas to the Arctic, the Congo and to a swanky Hamptons dinner party held by Trump’s sugardaddy, John Paulson, a.k.a. “JP The Foreclosure King.”  Palast and Badpenny stake out top GOP donors, the billionaire known as “The Vulture” and the Koch brothers, whom Palast nails with a damning tape recording.

In this real life detective story brought to life in a film noir style with cartoon animation, secret documents, hidden cameras and a little help from Law & Order: Special Victims Unit detectives Ice-T and Richard Belzer; Shailene Woodley; Rosario Dawson; Willie Nelson; and Ed Asner, Palast and his associates expose the darkest plans of the uber-rich to steal America’s democracy.

For the film, Graham Nash re-recorded his Crosby, Stills & Nash blockbuster hit “Chicago,” re-writing the words to reference Ohio, the most crucial swing state in the coming election. Cartoons are by Emmy award-winning artist Keith Tucker.

Vote to assure you see it.

The Zappa Family Trust and UMe make it easy to rock around the Christmas tree with 5 vinyl releases

And so the music is flowing, from A to Z, with the emphasis on Z . . . as in “Zappa.” Following this month’s release of three new Frank Zappa albums, the Zappa Family Trust and UMe are continuing their extensive reissue campaign by releasing five iconic works of the musical innovator on vinyl for the first time in decades: Cruising With Ruben & The Jets, Joe’s Garage, Lumpy Gravy, Weasels Ripped My Flesh and We’re Only In It For The Money. The albums spanning Zappa’s incredibly fertile late ’60s-late ’70s period will be pressed on 180-gram vinyl and available December 9. Talk about rockin’ around the Christmas tree!

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This year marks the 50th anniversary of Zappa’s first release, the Mothers of Invention’s debut album Freak Out!, and to celebrate the Zappa Family Trust and UMe are steadily reissuing the cultural icon’s catalog and rarities from his famed vault on CD, LP and digitally as part of a long-term licensing agreement. The five vinyl releases follow new albums Meat Light (The Uncle Meat Project/Object Audio Documentary) Little Dots and Chicago ’78, released earlier this month, and several other exciting projects. The 50th anniversary of Zappa’s first single “How Could I Be Such A Fool” is also being celebrated with a limited edition pink vinyl 7-inch; the flipside will feature “Help I’m A Rock (3rd Movement: It Can’t Happen Here).”

The five albums represent some of Zappa and his cohorts’ most challenging, exhilarating and groundbreaking work.

Zappa’s first solo album, Lumpy Gravy is the work of Zappa the composer. Recorded at Capitol Studios in 1967 by legendary producer Nick Venet, Zappa’s compositions were performed by the 50-piece Abnuceals Emuukha Electric Symphony Orchestra, which included several musicians from the legendary Wrecking Crew. Armed with the session tapes and a razor blade, Zappa sat in his New York City apartment and pieced together a masterwork that included the use of tape collages, dialogue, parody, musique concrete and DADAist tendencies. The self-produced album became one of his personal favorites. The LP will be pressed on 180-gram vinyl from a pristine 1968 analog safety tape found in Zappa’s vault.zappa

In the top 300 of Rolling Stone’s 500 greatest albums, We’re Only In It for the Money is a scathing satire of right-versus-left politics that’s as fresh in today’s charged political atmosphere as it was upon release in 1968. In part a parody of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the album pits the hippies against the squares, skewering them equally, as pawns held sway by corporate sellouts catering to the masses in the name of profit.  The restored original 1968 mix is pressed on 180-gram vinyl from FZ’s approved Digital Master.

Cruising with Ruben & The Jets is the fourth Mothers of Invention album. Released at the end of 1968, the concept album was written in the style of 1950s doo-wop and classic R&B, a childhood love of Zappa’s and members of the band, including singer Ray Collins, who all came up with the idea while in the studio recording other music. It is being reissuedwith the original 1968 mix from the master analog tape on 180-gram vinyl.

Weasels Ripped My Flesh is the last album of recordings made by the original Mothers of Invention lineup released after it was disbanded by Zappa. The group, which included a horn section, made the blend of studio and live experimental and traditional tracks from 1967-69. Weasels Ripped My Flesh, released in 1970, provides a fascinating look at the group’s range and diversity of influences, from avant-garde tracks like “Didja Get Any Onya” to the straight-up R&B of their cover of Little Richard’s “Directly From My Heart to You.” In an interesting historical footnote, Lowell George makes an appearance here with the band previous to forming Little Feat with bass player Roy Estrada.

Conceptually and musically as challenging as anything Zappa released in the ’70s, three-act rock opera Joe’s Garage was released as two separate packages in 1979 (the new release arrives as a three-LP set). Zappa described the dystopian tale as “a stupid little story about how the government is going to do away with music.” The rock opera proved prophetic years later when the government began to examine ways to limit the spread of explicit content in music. The song cycle, conceived over a weekend, tells the story of a young rock ‘n’ roller who’s thrown into prison and released into a world turned upside down by evil corporate, political and religious forces who’ve outlawed music. Zappa used the practice of “xenochrony” to record parts of the album, taking previously cut live guitar solos and overdubbing them onto new studio tracks. This 2016 vinyl edition is mastered in all analog by Bernie Grundman using the 1979 1/4” safety master tapes from The Vault.

Taken together the albums are a master’s class in subversive wit, creative genius and uncompromising artistry that flies in the face of convention.

 

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