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Gift Guide 2017: Petrucelli Picks the Best PBS Distribution DVDs of the Year

PBS is world-renowned for their specials, documentaries, miniseries and films and TV fare . . . simple always first-rate. Some of our favorites released this year:

The best DVD set of the year? The Vietnam War, another epic miniseries by the master, Ken Burns. and Lynn Novick.  In an immersive narrative, they tell the epic story of the Vietnam War as it has never before been told on film.

The epic program features testimony from nearly 100 witnesses, including many Americans who fought in the war and others who opposed it, as well as Vietnamese combatants and civilians from both the winning and losing sides.
Ten years in the making, the series brings the war and the chaotic epoch it encompassed viscerally to life. Written by Geoffrey C. Ward, produced by Sarah Botstein, Novick and Burns, it includes rarely seen, digitally re-mastered archival footage from sources around the globe, photographs taken by some of the most celebrated photojournalists of the 20th century, historic television broadcasts, evocative home movies and revelatory audio recordings from inside the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administrations.
The series also features more than 120 popular songs that define the era, including tracks from The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Simon & Garfunkel, Janis Joplin, Ben E. King, Phil Ochs, Donovan, Johnny Cash, Barry McGuire, Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds, Otis Redding, Santana, Joni Mitchell, Nina Simone, The Temptations, Booker T. and the M.G.s and Pete Seeger.

Second best: May we serve you a nice cup of tea? Imbibe, as long as the beverage isn’t being served by Mary Ann Cotton. Inspired by the book Mary Ann Cotton: Britain’s First Female Serial Killer by noted criminologist David Wilson,  Dark Angel dramatizes the events that drew a troubled woman ever deeper into a career of casual murder, while her loved ones and friends, who were also her victims, never suspected a thing.Image result for Mary Ann Cotton
Joanne Froggatt, who stole the hearts of millions of viewers as Anna, the loving and resilient lady’s maid on Downton Abbey, stars in a totally different role in the spine-tingling two-part drama. Dispensing death from the spout of a warm teapot, Froggatt plays the notorious Victorian poisoner. Born in North East England in 1832, a child of the coalfields, Mary Ann Cotton grew up in poverty with the dream of escaping the hard life of a miner’s family, a goal she came tantalizingly close to achieving. Her chosen means were her good looks, sexual allure, and the dirty secret of nineteenth-century suspicious deaths: arsenic, which is tasteless and easily disguised in a cup of tea.
For authorities, the problem was that arsenic poisoning, if done skillfully, mimicked the symptoms of two of the major public health scourges of the day: typhoid fever and cholera. The passing of a child or husband after a week of severe stomach pains, convulsions, and other portents of disease was all too common—and even less surprising when several members of the same household succumbed.

She’s back. And as spirited a teen as ever. Anne of Green Gables: The Good Stars is the second installment of the classic best-selling Lucy Maud Montgomery story returns after the successful Thanksgiving 2016 premiere, which reached more than 3.2 million viewers. In this installment, Product DetailsAnne Shirley turns 13 and faces complex situations with friends, learns from inspirational adults, and experiences an escalating friendship with Gilbert. Her free-spirited nature is challenged by her perceived need to be sensible, a journey fraught with confusion and some unfortunate—albeit amusing—(mis)adventures.

The Real Jesus of Nazareth Starring no less than seven Academy Award winners, the 1977 miniseries Jesus of Nazareth was a global television event–one of the most celebrated TV biographies of Jesus ever made. Now, 40 years later, the actor who portrayed the Son of God, Robert Powell, is returning to the Holy Land to seek out clues to the real historical figure who inspired Christianity.
Jesus of Nazareth featured a cast of blockbuster stars, including Anne Bancroft, Ian McShane, Sir Laurence Olivier and James Earl Jones, but for his lead character, legendary Italian filmmaker Image result for robert powell as jesusFranco Zeffirelli chose the relatively unknown British actor–Robert Powell–who gave a performance for the ages. Since then, the series has become an Easter and Christmas television tradition for many–more than 90 million people have watched the series in the U.S. alone. Now, this new program will draw parallels between the scripted depiction of the biblical story and the real history behind it by breaking down the life of Jesus and the world he lived in–a world ripe for a radical message that would change history.

Edgar Allan Poe: Buried Alive draws on the rich palette of Poe’s evocative imagery and sharply drawn plots to tell the real story of the notorious author. The film, featuring Tony Award-winning and Emmy-nominated actor Denis O’Hare, explores the misrepresentations of Poe as an alcoholic madman akin to the narrators of his horror stories. Image result for Edgar Allan Poe: Buried AliveIt reveals the way in which more than any other writer of his time, and even our own time, Poe tapped into what it means to be a human being in our modern and sometimes frightening world. 
 
The Durrells in Corfu: The Complete Second Season This charming and hugely popular series returns to follow the further adventures of the eccentric Durrell family as they embrace life on the gorgeous Greek island of Corfu. Based on Gerald Durrell’s trilogy of Corfu novels, this latest series sees sparky English widow Louisa Durrell and her brood continue to put down roots in their dilapidated rented house, alongside an ever-increasing menagerie of animals brought home by youngest son Gerry.Masterpiece: The Durrells in Corfu Season 2 DVD Doing their best to settle into the community, they must earn enough money to pay their aggressive new landlady Vasilia, who sees Louisa as a love rival for charming playboy Hugh. With the help of Spiro and Theo, the Durrells resort to selling typical British produce at the market. But accidentally poisoning the locals might not be the best way to start a new business? 
 

Does George Warleggan finally have the upper hand against his archenemy, Ross Poldark? Can George’s growing power in Cornwall cement his control over the fate of his populist foe? Dream on! In Poldark: The Third Season, follow the latest thrilling exploits of Ross Poldark and his fiery partner, Demelza,  as the intrepid eighteenth-century duo. The new season costars Jack Farthing as the dastardly George and Heida Reed as his bewitching wife, Elizabeth, now estranged from her first love, Ross—or is she?

Also enlivening the new season are a mysterious plague of frogs, a thwarted famine, and Aunt Agatha’s eagerly anticipated one-hundredth birthday party, which has a catastrophic catch. But the most stirring action involves the French Revolution, which manages to ensnare one of the program’s main characters in its Reign of Terror, prompting Poldark’s most dangerous mission yet.

Cook’s Country: Season 10 features the best regional home cooking in the country and relies on a practical, no-nonsense food approach where family-friendly recipes are scientifically re-imagined for the modern home cook. Join hosts Bridget Lancaster, Julia Collin Davison and your favorite chefs from America’s Test Kitchen as they uncover blue-ribbon specialties Cook's Country: Cook's Country, Season 10 DVD from across the country and classic fare in need of a makeover. The DVD also includes tips & techniques, food tastings, equipment tests, and printable versions of all 31 recipes!

The Gene Doctors
Every year more than one million babies are born worldwide with an error in one of their many genes. These errors, or mutations, can cause genetic illnesses that are often severe and can rob people of sight, breath, movement and life. Now, for the first time, doctors can take aim at the root causes of these diseases.  The Gene Doctors DVDThrough intimate stories of families whose lives are being transformed, the program takes viewers to the frontlines of a medical revolution.

NOVA: Ghosts of Stonehenge
In this Stone Age detective story, archaeologists analyze the bones and piece together tantalizing details of the elite families who presided over Stonehenge. Remnants of huge feasts that fed the laborers at the site have come to light, including evidence that they traveled from far corners of the British Isles to raise the stones and celebrate the winter solstice. Yet Stonehenge’s place as a centerpiece of ancient culture was not to last.

Join NOVA as they reveal intimate details of the Stonehenge people and why their power began to fade soon after they raised the mighty stones.

NOVA: Secrets of a Shining Knight A knight in shining armor may sound like a character out of a storybook, but once upon a time, knighthood was serious business. For countless medieval fighters, their armor was what stood between their life and death. But what was it really like to live beneath the metal? Product DetailsHow was that shining armor crafted and how strong was it? Could it withstand impacts from the most lethal weapons of the day, including crossbows, muskets and primitive hand guns?

The Story of China History lessons Greek to you? Welcome PBS’ offer of an unprecedented, six-part series exploring the 4,000-year history of China, home to more than a billion people and an emerging global superpower with Michael Wood. He brings a joyful curiosity to the series that is matched only by the warmth and enthusiasm of the Chinese people, suggests that to understand China today we must examine its past.

The all-new fashion-centric miniseries Masterpiece: The Collection on DVD and Blu-ray. World War II is over and stylish clothes are back as Paris recovers from the horrors of the Nazi occupation. Richard Coyle, Mamie Gummer and Tom Riley star as a family struggling to build a fashion empire at any cost. Set in 1947,The Story of China with Michael Wood Blu-ray The Collection captures a turbulent era in French history, when partisans hunted down Nazi collaborators and anyone with something to hide shunned the past and embraced the future. Fashion became the perfect expression of this impulse to look ahead. Wartime rationing, drabness, and erotic restraint gave way to alluring displays of color, form, and fabric in women’s clothes—for those who could afford them.

Teresa Brewer suggested we put another nickel in the Nickelodeon so we could hear “music, music, music!” Now Robert Redford steps up to the plate (or platter) by narrating American Epic, the essential that explores the pivotal recording journeys at the height of the Roaring Twenties, when music scouts armed with cutting-edge recording technology captured the breadth of American music and discovered the artists that would shape our world.

Virtually no documentation of these extraordinary events survives and nearly ninety percent of the recording masters have been destroyed. A vital part of American cultural history has been lost. Over three episodes, narrated by Redford, American Epic rescues this history. The remarkable lives of these seminal musicians are revealed through previously unseen film footage and photographs, and exclusive interviews with music pioneers, their families and eyewitnesses to the era.

 

Ken Burns and Lynn Novick take a powerful, riveting look at “The Vietnam War”. It’s possibly their best, ever!

Anytime we hear that Ken Burns and Lynn Novick are creating a new documentary series, we stand. And cheer. Often and loudly.

Let us tell you about The Vietnam War, arriving on Blu-ray and DVD and Blu-ray on September 19, coinciding with its PBS airing. In an immersive narrative, Burns and Novick tell the epic story of the Vietnam War as it has never before been told on film. The epic program features testimony from nearly 100 witnesses, including many Americans who fought in the war and others who opposed it, as well as Vietnamese combatants and civilians from both the winning and losing sides.

Ten years in the making, the series brings the war and the chaotic epoch it encompassed viscerally to life. Written by Geoffrey C. Ward, produced by Sarah Botstein, Novick and Burns, it includes rarely seen, digitally re-mastered archival footage from sources around the globe, photographs taken by some of the most celebrated photojournalists of the 20th century, historic television broadcasts, evocative home movies and revelatory audio recordings from inside the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administrations.

“The Vietnam War was a decade of agony that took the lives of more than 58,000 Americans,” Burns says. “Not since the Civil War have we as a country been so torn apart. There wasn’t an American alive then who wasn’t affected in some way—from those who fought and sacrificed in the war, to families of service members and POWs, to those who protested the war in open conflict with their government and fellow citizens. More than 40 years after it ended, we can’t forget Vietnam, and we are still arguing about why it went wrong, who was to blame and whether it was all worth it.”

“We are all searching for some meaning in this terrible tragedy. Ken and I have tried to shed new light on the war by looking at it from the bottom up, the top down and from all sides,” Novick adds. “In addition to dozens of Americans who shared their stories, we interviewed many Vietnamese on both the winning and losing sides, and were surprised to learn that the war remains as painful and unresolved for them as it is for us. Within this almost incomprehensibly destructive event, we discovered profound, universal human truths, as well as uncanny resonances with recent events.”

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Airborne Brigade Vietnam War Hill 823

The Vietnam War features new, original music written and recorded by Oscar-winning composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. The film also features new music arranged and performed by Grammy Award-winning cellist Yo-Yo Ma and The Silk Road Ensemble. It is the first time Burns and Novick have worked with Reznor and Ross, as well as with Ma and The Silk Road Ensemble.  Additional music in the film was composed by David Cieri and Doug Wamble, both of whom are longtime collaborators with Florentine Films.

The series also features more than 120 popular songs that define the era, including tracks from The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Simon & Garfunkel, Janis Joplin, Ben E. King, Phil Ochs, Donovan, Johnny Cash, Barry McGuire, Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds, Otis Redding, Santana, Joni Mitchell, Nina Simone, The Temptations, Booker T. and the M.G.s and Pete Seeger.

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The cost of war, Horrors!

The film will be accompanied by an outreach and public engagement program, providing opportunities—facilitated by public television stations—for communities to participate in a national conversation about what happened during the Vietnam War, what went wrong and what lessons are to be learned. In addition, there will be a robust interactive website and an educational initiative designed to engage teachers and students through multiple platforms, including PBS LearningMedia.

Viewers are encouraged to join the conversation: #VietnamWarPBS

The Vietnam War rounds out a trilogy of Florentine Films’ exploration of American wars that began with Burns’s landmark series, The Civil War (1990), followed by Burns and Novick’s acclaimed seven-part series about World War II, The War (2007).

Accompanying the series will be a companion book—written by Geoffrey C. Ward, with an introduction by Burns and Novick—that will be published by Knopf, Burns’ longtime publisher, on September 5.

The Blu-ray and DVD sets contain 10 discs; there are more than 100 minutes of extra bonus footage, including a 45-minute preview program, two pieces on contemporary lives of two of the participants and bonus content. The program will also be available for digital download.

Holiday Gift Guide 2016: The Year’s Best Celebrity (Auto)Biographies (Part One)

After he died in the backseat of a Cadillac at the age of 29, Hank Williams, a frail, flawed man who had become country music’s first real star, instantly morphed into its first tragic martyr. Having hit the heights with simple songs of despair, depression, and tainted love, he would, with that outlaw swagger, become in death a template for the rock generation to follow. Mark Ribowsky’s Hank: The Short Life and Long Country Road of Hank Williams (Liveright, $35) examines Williams’ music while also re-creating days and nights choked in booze and desperation. Ribowsky traces the miraculous rise of this music legend from the dirt roads of rural Alabama to the now-immortal stage of the Grand Ole Opry, and finally to a sad, lonely end on New Year s Day, 1953. But unlike those other musical giants who never made 30, no legacy endures quite like that of the “Hillbilly King.”

Bram Stoker, despite having a name nearly as famous as his legendary undead Count Dracula, has remained a puzzling enigma. Now, in Something in the Blood: The Untold Story of Bram Stoker, the Man Who Wrote Dracula (Liveright, $35), David J. Skal exhumes the inner world and strange genius of the writer who conjured an undying cultural icon. Stoker was inexplicably paralyzed as a boy, and his story unfolds against a backdrop of Victorian medical mysteries and horrors: Cholera and famine fever, childhood opium abuse, frantic bloodletting, mesmeric quack cures, and the gnawing obsession with “bad blood” that informs every page of Dracula.

From his time as a session guitarist in the ’60s, working with legendary rock groups like The Kinks and The Who, to his time with the Yardbirds and his eventual founding on Led Zeppelin and his post-Zeppelin career, No Quarter (Overlook, $35) is a rich, insightful telling of Jimmy Page’s story. It has all the sex and drugs you’d expect from a rock icon, but Page is widely considered to be a mysterious figure and Martin Power’s biography will shed light on the man who made music.

Historian Betty Boyd Caroli spent seven years exploring the archives of the LBJ Library, interviewing dozens of people, and mining never-before-released letters between Lady Bird and Lyndon Johnson. The result? Lady Bird and Lyndon: The Hidden Story of a Marriage that Made a President (Simon & Schuster, $18) They married with a tacit agreement: This highly gifted politician would take her away, and she would save him from his weaknesses. The conventional story goes that Lyndon married Lady Bird for her money and demeaned her by flaunting his many affairs, and that her legacy was protecting the nation’s wildflowers.
But Caroli shows that she was also the one who swooped in to make the key call to a donor, to keep the team united, to campaign in hostile territory, and to jump-start Lyndon out of his paralyzing dark moods.

Described by his friend Richard Burton as “the most original actor to come out of Britain since the war,” Peter O’Toole was also unpredictable with a dangerous edge he brought to his roles and to his real life. With the help of exclusive interviews with colleagues and close friends, Peter O’Toole: The Definitive Biography (Thomas Dunne Books, $28.99), paints the first complete picture of this complex and much-loved man. The book reveals what drove him to extremes, why he drank to excess for many years and hated authority, but it also describes a man who was fiercely intelligent with a great sense of humor and huge energy. Giving full weight to his extraordinary career, this is an insightful, funny and moving tribute to an iconic actor who made a monumental contribution to theatre and cinema.

On August 16, 1952, Ian Fleming wrote to his wife, Ann, “My love, This is only a tiny letter to try out my new typewriter and to see if it will write golden words since it is made of gold.” He had bought the golden typewriter as a present to himself for finishing his first novel, Casino Royale. “It marked in glamorous style the arrival of James Bond, agent 007, and the start of a career that saw Fleming become one the world’s most celebrated thriller-writers. And he did write golden words. Before his death in 1964 he produced 14 best-selling Bond books, two works of non-fiction and the famous children’s story Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang. Fleming’s output was matched by an equally energetic flow of letters. He wrote constantly, to his wife, publisher, editors, fans, friends and critics; his letters also reflect his friendship with such contemporaries as Raymond Chandler, Noel Coward and Somerset Maugham. Enjoy The Man with the Golden Typewriter: Ian Fleming’s James Bond Letters (Bloomsbury, $30).

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Palmer and his yellow lab, Mulligan, riding around his home in … what else? a golf cart!

Arnold Palmer is considered the most important golfer in history. As a follow-up to his 1999 autobiography, Palmer takes stock of the many experiences of his life in A Life Well Played (St. martin’s Press, $22.99), bringing new details and insights to some familiar stories and sharing new ones. He offers advice and guidance, sharing stories of his career on the course, success in business and the great relationships that give meaning to his life. This book is Palmer’s gift to the world–a treasure trove of entertaining anecdotes and timeless wisdom that readers will celebrate and cherish.

Breaking bad, reading well. In his riveting memoir A Life in Parts (Scribner, $27), Bryan Cranston traces his zigzag journey from his chaotic childhood to his dramatic epiphany, and beyond, to mega-stardom and a cult-like following, by vividly revisiting the many parts he’s played. With great humor, and much humility, Cranston chronicles his unlikely rise from a soap opera regular, trying to learn the ropes and the politics of show business on the fly. Discussing his failures as few men do, describing his work as few actors can, Cranston has much to say about innate talent, its benefits, challenges, and proper maintenance, but ultimately the book is about the necessity and transformative power of hard work.

Derailed in the ’70s by mental illness, drug use and the shifting fortunes of the band, Brian Wilson came back again and again over the next few decades, surviving and thriving. In I am Brian Wilson (Da Capo Press, $26.99), he weighs in on the sources of his creative inspiration and on his struggles, the exhilarating highs and the debilitating lows. Whether he’s talking about his childhood, his band mates or his own inner demons, Wilson’s story, told in his own voice and in his own way, unforgettably illuminates the man behind the music, working through the turbulence and discord to achieve, at last, a new harmony.

This is the story of the Beatles’ harrowing rise to fame: Focusing on that seven-year stretch from the time the boys met as teenagers to early 1964, when the Fab Four made their momentous first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. From the boys’ humble beginnings in Liverpool, to the cellars of Hamburg, When They Were Boys: The True Story of the Beatles’ Rise to the Top (Running Press, $24.95) includes stories never before told, including the heartbreaks and the lucky breaks. Included are an eyewitness account of that first meeting between Lennon and McCartney, the inside story of how Ringo replaced Pete Best, an exploration of the brilliant but troubled soul of manager Brian Epstein, and the real scoop on their disastrous first visit to Germany and the death of Stu Sutcliffe.

Amy Winehouse died at 27. With a worldwide fanbase and millions of record sales to her name, she should have had the world at her feet. Instead, in the years prior to her passing, she battled addictions and was often the subject of tabloid headlines. Amy’s mother, Janis, knew the real Amy as no one else did. In Loving Amy: A Mother’s Story (Thomas Dunne Books, $26.99) Janis reveals the full story of the daughter she loved. As the world watched the rise of a superstar, then the freefall of an addict to her untimely death, Janis simply saw her Amy, the girl she’d given birth to in 1983; the girl she’d raised and stood by despite her unruly behavior; the girl whose body she was forced to identify two days after her death-and the girl she’s grieved for every day since.