Audiences Of All Types Will Appreciate PBS’ Latest Video Bio

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

Next Friday, November 22nd marks the fiftieth anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.  Everybody knows the story of how Kennedy was gunned down while riding through the streets of Dallas, Texas.  Countless conspiracy theories have been crafted about his death in the years since his murder.  Just as many people know the associated conspiracy theories.  But just how many people know what Kennedy was doing in Dallas to begin with?  PBS answers that question and more in the new episode of its hit series, American Experience: JFK follows the life and career of John F. Kennedy from his birth to his rise to the Presidency to his untimely death in 1963.  Along the way, viewers are given a look not only at his own life, but how his own family roots led to his career in politics as well as much more.  This is one part of what makes this documentary an impressive addition to any history buff’s home library.  Those same history and political science junkies will appreciate the addition of some familiar footage from Kennedy’s career, and some more rare footage from his personal life as well as his career.  JFK is made even more impressive thanks to the manner in which the story was assembled.  The four-hour, two-part documentary is split up into a way that doesn’t require viewers to be afraid of missing anything.  That aspect of the overall presentation works with the previously mentioned factors to make it one that anyone with even the slightest interest in history and/or political science will appreciate.

Most audiences that watch JFK are sure to come into the presentation with at least a general knowledge of Kennedy’s time in office.  After watching this presentation, audiences will come out of it having learned more about Kennedy than they ever thought they would learn about him.  That is thanks to the bounty of information provided about his life and that of his family.  While more seasoned viewers might already know, others will be interested to find out that John and his brother Bobby weren’t the only politicians in the Kennedy clan.  Their father was also a well-known politician.  And their brother died serving America.  Just as noteworthy are the revelations about the secrets of the Cuban missile crisis.  According to the program, narrated by veteran actor Oliver Platt, Kennedy negotiated a secret deal with Nikita Khrushchev in order to get Khrushchev to remove his missiles from Cuba.  Platt goes on to explain that even after the crisis, this part of the story had not been revealed to Americans.  It wasn’t until years later that this information was made public.  There is much more information provided with JFK.  And viewers will find that it collectively makes this program another enjoyable addition to PBS’ American Experience.

The story presented by writer Mark Zwonitzer and his cohorts behind the documentary is one that is certain to interest anyone with even a fleeting interest in JFK’s life.  The story alone isn’t all that makes this edition of American Experience work so well.  Audiences will be just as impressed by the inclusion of so much vintage footage throughout the feature.  Some of the footage is relatively similar.  A prime example is that of Kennedy riding through the streets of Dallas, TX.  Less familiar but just as interesting is footage of Kennedy talking to his cabinet throughout the Cuban missile crisis.  There are also still photos of Kennedy in the Oval Office used to illustrate his state of mind through his ups and downs.  They and the video footage together make the overall presentation of this episode of American Experience even richer.

The video footage, still photos, and historical information together are key elements that make JFK another successful episode from PBS’ American Experience.  The overall makeup of the presentation puts it over the top.  That’s because of the “episode’s” four-hour run time.  Four hours over two discs seems like a lot.  Those four hours are split into much shorter and distinct segments.  Viewers aren’t forced to take in large amounts of information at one time.  This plays perfectly to the attention span of the average viewer.  And in turn, it makes this feature even more of a win for PBS because that means it could potentially bring in an audience group that they otherwise might not have had if only for that reason.  That aspect of the feature mixed with everything already mentioned will not only bring in more casual viewers, but those that are more inclined to watch regardless.  It will be available next Tuesday, November 19th, on DVD and Blu-ray and can be ordered direct from PBS’ online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=24514266&cp=1378003.29088156&ab=Aspot_JFK&parentPage=family.  More information on this and other programs from PBS’ American Experience is available online at http://www.facebook.com/AmericanExperience and http://www.pbs.org/americanexperience.  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Unfinsihed Song A Complete Joy

Courtesy:  Anchor Bay Entertainment

Courtesy: Anchor Bay Entertainment

Everybody knows the story of The little Engine That Could.  Well now, people are going to start learning the story of the little movie studio that could.  That’s thanks to Anchor Bay Entertainment’s latest home release, Unfinished Song.  This latest release is one more from Anchor Bay that has found its way onto this critic’s list of the year’s best independent movies.  The other is the recently released rom-com, Shanghai CallingUnfinished Song is nothing like Shanghai Calling.  It is also entirely unlike 20th Century Fox’s geriatric drama, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  Despite attempts by some to make a comparison, there is no comparison as the two are wholly separate stories.  Unfinished Song is its own story.  And it is a story that will both entertain and move audiences just as much as the aforementioned works.

Unfinished Song boasts so much heart throughout its roughly ninety-minute plus runtime.  It is centrally a story about family.  On a deeper level, one could argue that it is also a story about appreciating life.  Throughout both story elements, writer/director Paul Andrew Williams throws in more than enough laughs to keep audiences of any age laughing, too.  His ability to balance both the story’s dramatic and comedic elements is to be highly commended, especially considering the story’s length.  Also to be considered in the success of Unfinished Song is the story’s casting.  Terrence Stamp (Superman II, Get Smart, The Adjustment Bureau) was the perfect choice to fill the role of grumpy old Arthur Harris.  And Vanessa Redgrave (Howard’s End, Mission: Impossible, Cars 2), was just as solid a choice to play Arthur’s wife Marion.  The two play off of each other so well.  Their interpretation of Williams’ scripts draws viewers in even deeper, and thus makes suspension of disbelief that much easier.  The resultant effect of both of that acting prowess and the general writing make this movie one more surprise hit from Anchor Bay, and one of the year’s surprise hits.

The writing behind Unfinished Song is, as already noted, one of the keys to the movie’s success.  Despite attempts by some to compare this movie to the likes of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, the two stories are total opposites.  The latter is centered more on the elderly acquaintances’ personal journeys of self realization.  Unfinished Song is its own story in that it is more centered on family.  Audiences are introduced in this story to Arthur Harris, a very Scrooge-like character that doesn’t want to have a good time or smile.  He’s just a crotchety old man.  But underneath that rough exterior, Arthur is very much the sympathetic character, as audiences will learn as the story progresses.  The change that he eventually undergoes as the result of a tragic event completely envelops audiences and makes them cheer even more for him; perhaps even more than his fellow choir members.  By the story’s end, Arthur’s transformation is complete so to speak.  And audiences will realize just how deeply they have been pulled into the story thanks to Williams’ writing and by Stamp’s acting.

The acting on the part of the veteran Stamp was perfect from start to finish.  Though, his wasn’t the only acting that audiences will appreciate.  The passion in Redgraves’ voice when Marion sang ‘True Colors’ to Arthur will bring even the strongest person to tears.  And his reaction to what happens after the fact is even more powerful.  Of course there are some funnier moments that come from the supporting cast.  Audiences will find themselves laughing uproariously as the members of the elderly choir perform Motorhead’s ‘Ace of Spades’ and Salt ‘N Pepa’s ‘Let’s Talk About Sex’ to an audience made up of people of various ages.  There is just something hilarious about a group of older people trying to rock out to Motorhead.  And one would think that older people would be more conservative when approached with the idea of singing Salt ‘N Pepa seductive song.  Yet, they were entirely open and enthusiastic about it.  Their reactions are more than worth the laughs that are generated.  And countered by Arthur’s view of the song, it makes this moment even funnier.  Paul Andrew Williams has given audiences quite the story, as is evidenced here.  He has written a story that boasts a perfect balance of comedy and heart.  It is a story with equally excellent acting.  Whether for the acting, the writing, or both factors, both work hand-in-hand to make Unfinished Song a story that will leave viewers feeling entirely complete.  It will be available this Tuesday, September 24th on DVD in stores and online. It can be ordered direct online from the Anchor Bay Home Entertainment website at http://www.anchorbayent.com/detail.aspx?ProjectId=3967a252-b0ce-e211-838a-d4ae527c3b65.  More information on this release is also available here and through Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/AnchorBayEnt.

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Anchor Bay, Weinstein Company To Release Indie Dramedie Unfinished Song This Fall

Courtesy:  Anchor Bay Entertainment/The Weinstein Company

Courtesy: Anchor Bay Entertainment/The Weinstein Company

Anchor Bay Entertainment and The Weinstein will release one of the year’s most talked about dramedies of 2013 this fall.  Unfinished Song will be released by Anchor Bay Entertainment and The Weinstein Company on Tuesday, September 24th.  The movie features a cast led by Academy Award nominee Terrence Stamp (Get Smart, Smallville, The Adjustment Bureau) and Vanessa Redgrave (Nip/Tuck, Howards End, Cars 2).

Unfinished Song centers on the story of Arthur (Terrence Stamp).  Arthur is an elderly gentleman who has become set in his ways over the course of his ways.  He is happy with his daily routine and his wife Marion (Vanessa Redgrave).  But Arthur is thrown a curveball one day when Marion tricks him into joining a local singing group in the couple’s hometown.  The choir is led by the much younger and energetic Elizabeth (Gemma Arterton—Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time).  At first, Arthur is resistant to this new change in his daily routine.  But eventually, Arthur and Elizabeth develop a friendship that leads Arthur to realize his hidden passion for music.  The discovery adds a whole new spark to Arthur’s otherwise predictable schedule.  It also helps him to reconnect to those closest and most important to him in the process.

Writer/director Paul Andrew Williams shared his thoughts on the movie and the influences behind the story in an interview about the movie.  He said of how it came to life, “It’s a very personal story for me” and that he drew from his own family experience as a source for the story’s plot.

Unfinished Song will be available Tuesday, September 24th.  Its bonus features include deleted scenes and a gag reel.  To keep up with all of the latest updates on this and other releases from Anchor Bay Entertainment and The Weinstein Company, audiences can “Like” both companies’ Facebook pages at http://www.facebook.com/AnchorBay and http://www.facebook.com/weinsteinco.  Audiences can also check in at both companies’ official websites at http://www.anchorbayentertainment.com/Entertainment.aspx and http://weinsteinco.com.

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Stand Up Guys Is A Stand Out Story

Courtesy:  Lionsgate

Courtesy: Lionsgate

Lionsgate’s new star-driven drama Stand Up Guys was soundly panned by critics and viewers alike when it premiered in theaters early this year.  It was panned, citing poor writing, bad acting, and equally poor pacing.  It is quite obvious that in noting these slights, the individuals in question that made these comments couldn’t see the forest for the trees.  More than likely, these same individuals went into the movie with overblown expectations of it being just another generic gangster flick with lots of gunfights, drugs, and sex.  This critic is guilty of that, too.  But unlike those other critics, this critic was pleasantly surprised at how much Stand Up Guys stands out.

Stand Up Guys is not just another gangster flick flooded with drugs, sex, gunfights and foul language.  The reality of this story is that it is less a gangster flick and more a story about friendship that just happens to be centered on two geriatric gangsters played by veteran actors Christopher Walken (Catch Me if You Can, Batman Returns) and Al Pacino (The Godfather I – III, Dog Day Afternoon, Any Given Sunday) that are reunited when the latter is released from jail.  Val (Pacino) just wants to get his life on the right track after having been in prison for so many years, yet he is haunted by the ghost of a past crime, which leads his friend Doc (Walken) to face the issue of what is the right thing to do himself.  Throughout everything, the story does end up with a happy ending and even a big shootout to satiate all the viewers that had been chomping at the bit for a shootout scene throughout the story’s ninety-five minute run time.  Heck, there’s even a Steve McQueen style car chase thrown in about halfway through the movie for good measure.  So those wanting some action out of the movie do get that.

Given the opportunity, audiences will see just how much Stand Up Guys has to offer.  It can be said though that for all of its positives, the story does struggle at least slightly as a result of its pacing.  There is no denying this.  While the movie’s run time is just over an hour and a half, the pacing may in fact leave some viewers checking their watches and/or clocks sporadically throughout the story.  Luckily though, it makes up for the pacing with a story that will keep viewers engaged despite the pacing.  Audiences will want to see if Walken’s Doc can keep himself from making a bad choice and maintaining his friendship with Val.  Again, those themes of friendship and loyalty help to make this movie stand out.  They help to prove once again that while it isn’t another gangster flick, it is much more than that.  It is a drama that will entertain those whose minds are open enough and willing to see it for its true value.

The story behind Stand Up Guys is one that given the chance will entertain and engage audiences whose minds are open enough.  Without the right actors though, the story would not work.  Luckily this pair of veterans showed through its combined experience that even a script for a story such as this can work and that old dogs can in fact learn new tricks.  Despite the pacing issues, the two were able to work together and interpret each scene in a way that elicits the intended emotions from viewers, thus making the movie’s pacing more forgivable.  In turn, it makes the movie as a whole that much more watchable more than once.  In fact, this is a movie that given the chance will grow on viewers increasingly with each watch.  And this is definitely a good thing.  It is a surprising story that in the end proves to be a dark horse candidate to make this critic’s list of the year’s best new movies.  It is available now in stores and online and can be ordered direct from the Lionsgate store at http://www.lionsgateshop.com/search_results.asp?Search=Stand%20Up%20Guys.

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Anne Hathaway Talks Oscars In New Issue Of Us Weekly

Courtesy:  Us Weekly Magazine

Courtesy: Us Weekly Magazine

Anne Hathaway has been all over the news ever since Oscar night.  It’s largely been for her much talked about awards night attire.  But Us Weekly has a new feature focusing not only on her dress, but also on her acceptance speech.  In a brand new interview with Us Weekly, Hathaway showed a more vulnerable side, admitting that comments about her previous acceptance speeches had upset her.  “It does get to me,” the 30 year-old actress noted.  “But you have to remember in life that there’s a positive to every negative and a negative to every positive.”  A source close to Hathaway added in the article that “She was very aware that she had been the butt of everyone’s jokes.”  The result was that Hathaway practiced her Oscar speech very hard so she would be more likeable. 

In discussing the now infamous Oscar dress, the same source close to Hathaway noted that she actually had four dresses in the running, including one by Valentino, who had also designed the dress for her 2012 wedding to Adam Shulman.  The entire article is available online now at http://www.usmagazine.com/celebrity-news/news/anne-hathaway-practiced-her-oscar-speech-a-lot-to-be-more-likable-2013262#ixzz2M18a9xrI.  To get even more celebrity news from Us Weekly, just go online to http://www.facebook.com/UsWeekly or http://www.UsMagazine.com

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Les Miserables Not 2012’s Best, But Close To It

Courtesy:  Universal Pictures

Courtesy: Universal Pictures

Adapting classical literature for the big screen is one of Hollywood’s most time honored traditions.  Countless books have been adapted for the silver screen since the industry’s Golden Era.  Just as common for movie studios to do is to adapt stage plays that have themselves been adapted from books.  So as common as this practice is even now in Hollywood’s modern era, it takes a lot to make a movie of this fashion stand out in today’s overly crowded movie market.  Enter the newest big screen adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic story, Les Miserables.

The latest adaptation of Victor Hugo’s timeless story of redemption is one of the best movies of 2012.   It isn’t the year’s best.  But it does come close as it struggles with at least two glaring issues.  Those issues are the movie’s scene transitions and its general cinematography.  Much of the cinematography issue goes hand in hand with the problematic scene transitions.  Though there’s just as much problem with this movie’s shooting style not directly linked to the transitions in question.  Despite having issues with shooting and scene transitions, the movie’s positives far outweigh its negatives.  And those positives are many.

The most obvious problem weighing down this latest adaptation of Les Miserables is its shooting style (I.E. its cinematography).  Director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) makes a valiant attempt to bring out as much of the emotion as possible from each scene with his shooting style.  The problem is that he tried too hard.  Throughout the story’s near three-hour run time, this shooting style is so consistent that it could potentially leave audiences feeling somewhat dizzy and even confused.  The cameras spin, cut, and make every other possible transition so much that it leaves audiences not knowing where they are going to go next.  It happens so much that it would be no surprise if it leaves some audiences so bothered by it that it makes audiences contemplate just walking out because they can’t take feeling the way which they feel.  The issue with the shooting style is just the tip of the iceberg for this movie’s problems.  To make matters worse, the shooting style is at times linked directly to its problematic scene transitions.

Anyone who has seen Les Miserable live on stage knows that while they take time, the scene transitions are smooth enough to keep track of exactly what’s going on in the story.  The case with the latest on-screen adaptation is the polar opposite of the stage play.  The scene transitions in this version happen so fast that viewers almost need a program to keep up with what’s happening.  This is one of the areas in which Hooper obviously struggled to do honor to the legacy established by this timeless classic.  Rather than making smooth transitions, it felt almost as if much of the movie was just a load of scenes tied together with jump cut edits.  Add in that problematic shooting style, and audiences get a work that felt anything but fluid.  Rather it felt like each scene was piecemealed together.  The two factors together made the movie noticeably less enjoyable than it could have been, despite the outstanding performance on the part of both Jackman and co-star Anne Hathaway.

While Hathaway (The Dark Knight Rises, Get Smart, The Princess Diaries) isn’t technically a veteran in the acting business, she surprisingly proved herself in the role of Fantine.  Her chops as a singer were the most impressive part of her performance.  The emotion with which she sang made her portrayal fully believable.  There are those who have alleged that she was doing little more than simply hamming it up for the cameras.  But that obviously isn’t the case.  Considering her previous roles, this could finally be the one to catapult her to the upper echelons of the movie industry.  And while he is already in the businesses’ upper echelons, the choice of Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean was common sense considering his current track record both on stage and screen.  He carried the movie on his shoulders.  Watching his moment of redemption at the story’s end will leave any viewer with more than just a tear in his or her eye.  Perhaps the only poor choice in casting this movie was that of Russell Crowe.  Crowe’s portrayal of Inspector Javert worked on the superficial level.  He is old enough that he looked the part.  But his general performance simply was not believable.  Luckily that was about the only poor choice in casting this take on the time honored classic.  That being the case, it is no surprise that this take on Les Miserables has been nominated for a handful of Golden Globes.  And it would be no surprise if it makes the Oscar nod list more than once, too.

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Philip Sayblack can be contacted at psayblack@wnct.com