WWII From Space An Excellent Introduction To The History Of World War II

Courtesy:  History Channel/A&E Home Video

Courtesy: History Channel/A&E Home Video

History Channel’s latest WWII documentary, WWII From Space is a good jumping off point for anyone that has ever had any interest in the…well…history of World War II.  Much like last year’s release of History of the World in Two Hours, this documentary is not intended to go into the massively in-depth discussions of perhaps Vietnam in HD or WWII in HD just to name a couple of other History Channel war documentaries.  Rather, this feature scratches the surface in the war’s history.  It does so over the course of roughly an hour and a half.  And it does so largely thanks to its mass of CG based visual aids employed throughout the presentation.

Some audiences have criticized WWII From Space because of its use of CG based visual aids.  The reality is that this is not such a bad thing.  Rather, it along with the feature’s relatively short run time that is solidly segmented makes it a wonderful addition for any high school and entry level college history course.  The CG based maps of the earth present the movement of both the Allied and Axis forces throughout WWII.  It also employs the use of what would be the equivalent today of military spy tech to present the different movements and weaponry of forces on both sides of the war.  It’s like something out of the recent Iron Man movies.  And keeping this in mind, it is sure to entertain not just younger audiences, but older audiences, too that are enamored by the ever changing scape of technology.

The CG based maps make for excellent visual aids in following the course of the war.  Adding even more interest to this feature is the use of CG based graphics to illustrate the battles both on the land and in the air.  One good example of this would be the comparison of U.S. forces killed in Pearl Harbor as compared to Japanese forces that were killed.  Audiences learn the massively wide ratio of U.S. forces killed in comparison to Japanese dead.  It uses helmets highlighted to show each side’s dead and points out the ratio clearly on screen.  This is just one time that this strategy is used.  It is used throughout the course of the program.  Again, there is nothing wrong with such a method being used.  Instead of simply filling people’s ears and minds with facts and figures, these illustrations help to drive home the sheer magnitude of the seemingly overwhelming odds that Allied forces faced over the course of the war.

The CG based graphics are the biggest part of this introductory level WWII documentary.  Those behind its creation should also be applauded for touching on more than just the facts and figures of the war’s numbers in terms of casualties and force sizes, etc.  Throughout the feature, audiences will notice the constant subtle note that the war was largely economic both in the Pacific and European theater.  It takes the time to note that it was in fact an embargo on Japan that eventually led to the island nation’s military forces to attack American forces in Pearl Harbor.  Anyone that has any interest in this side of the war would be well recommended to read author Evan Thomas’ book, Sea of Thunder: Four Commanders and the Last Great Naval Campaign 1941 – 1945.  This book clearly notes the effect of the embargo on Japan and how it led to the decision by the Japanese government to attack U.S. forces in Hawaii.  Even more interesting to learn in reading this book is something echoed by actor/director Clint Eastwood’s 2006 WWII foreign language movie, Letters From Iwo Jima.  This movie, much like the aforementioned book actually points out that not all Japanese citizens wanted to go to war with the United States, nor did certain members of the Japanese government and military.  Again these much more in depth discussions are all started by History Channel’s WWII From Space.  So it proves just how valuable this documentary is even at an introductory level.

While the program and those behind it are to be applauded for their work providing introductory information concerning the economic influences of the war, there are other factors that are left untouched.  For instance, the late mention of Truman making the call to drop the atomic bombs on Japan was more than merely Truman making the call.  As anyone that has seen any of History Channel’s other documentaries will recall, Truman didn’t merely make the call.  He offered Japan more than one opportunity to surrender before making the call.  What’s more Truman took over during the course of the war after Roosevelt died.  History Channel’s multi-disc set focusing on some of our nation’s most well-known presidents goes into depth about this very subject.  Again, this goes back to the importance of this feature as an introductory level feature.

That WWII largely takes an introductory level is a very good thing for audiences of all levels despite what some might want to believe or say.  It doesn’t attempt to go into too much depth.  And yes it does move at a relatively fast pace.  But it also is segmented as if it was a televised feature.  There are breaks throughout the course of the documentary that will allow for audiences to stop, take breaks, and come back to the show at their own pace.  This is especially helpful both in the living room and in the classroom as teachers won’t be forced to decide where to stop for the sake of class time.  And home viewers can simply take the program at their own casual pace.  What’s more, the Blu-ray presentation of WWII From Space will allow viewers to stop the program, take it from one Blu-ray player to another and bring it back to the original player, and pick it up from where it was stopped on said Blu-ray player if so desired.  This is a minor detail on the surface.  But in the grand scheme of things, it proves to be one more nice addition to the overall presentation.  It prevents audiences from having to go through the scene selection menu on the main menu or from even having to search through the program to get back to where they originally stopped.  Again, this is subtle but impressive.  And combined with everything else already noted concerning this feature—from its CG based visual aids, to its introductory level information about the war, and its segmented presentation—it proves to be a great feature both for teachers and home viewers at any level and an enjoyable watch for anyone that has ever had any interest in the history of one of the world’s biggest conflicts.  It is available now in stores and online.  It can be ordered direct online from the History Channel store at http://shop.history.com/detail.php?p=450976&SESSID=30040cc7fc45da7ca4832f41ee690e27&v=history.

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Battle For Brooklyn One Of 2013′s Most Important Documentaries

Courtesy:  Virgil Films

Courtesy: Virgil Films

Battle for Brooklyn is one of the most important documentaries to be released this year.  The film follows the battle of one Brooklyn neighborhood in its fight against a group wanting to build a new arena for the now Brooklyn Nets on top of their homes.  It originally debuted at the Brooklyn International Film Festival on June 3rd, 2011.  It then went into a limited theatrical release on June 17th, 2011.  But it wasn’t until January 15th of this year that the movie was finally released to DVD.  And now that it’s available for the masses on DVD, audiences can and should pick up a copy of this gripping documentary.

Battle for Brooklyn was filmed by activist Daniel Goldstein, who takes audiences through his personal battle against Forest City Ratner in an attempt to keep his home and those of everyone in his neighborhood from being taken.  The six year-long battle is expertly documented over the course of the documentary’s ninety-three minutes.  In that hour and a half plus run time, Goldstein effortlessly manages to keep viewers engaged through the timeline of the events that unfolds.  At the center of Battle for Brooklyn is the controversial issue of eminent domain, which is essentially the same thing as its predecessor, manifest destiny.  Audiences are taken through the battle of one Brooklyn neighborhood against development firm, Forest City Ratner. The battle happens as Ratner has its sights aimed squarely at the community in question as the sight of the new home of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets.  Some have called this presentation rather one sided.  But in watching it, audiences will see that that couldn’t be farther from the truth as employees of Forest City Ratner are interviewed just as much as those living in the endangered neighborhood.  And while Goldstein and those at his side make a number of very arguments against Forest City Ratner, the firm’s Executive VP makes at least one solid argument regarding economic progress.  This argument is sure to be a point of contention that will bring about discussion among audiences; some of which may get heated. 

The subject matter of this documentary is much like that of the hit movie, Barbershop 2 as it too focuses on a similar issue.  One of the most powerful moments that viewers are presented with in Battle for Brooklyn comes when viewers discover that those who originally stood by Goldstein had either taken buyouts and their associated gag orders, or simply started taking the side of Forest City Ratner.  Just as powerful is the revelation of some very interesting tax documents filed by a group known as B.U.I.L.D.  The documents in question seem to hint that despite what one member of B.U.I.L.D. claimed, the forms show that a rather large amount of money was given to B.U.I.L.D. by Forest City Ratner.  It’s just one of many revelations that show the power of business and political interests.

Goldstein has crafted in this feature, a story that’s just as gripping as any major legal thriller out there today as is already evidenced here.  The difference is that unlike those legal thrillers, this story is real life.  It shows a topic that while it has been used for movies and TV shows alike, it’s just as serious as those stories if not more so.  It shows an unbiased look at the effect of corporate might on entire communities.  The neighborhood placed in danger here is just one example of something that happens throughout the country.  It adds an extra example in the bonus feature, “More To Talk About” The Tragedy Of Urban Renewal.  Audiences learn that the history of eminent domain goes as far back as the 1950’s and the Truman presidency.  Even as a mini-history lesson, it is an eye opener that puts the main story into even more focus.  Together, the pair makes for a documentary that is just as good as any legal thriller penned for the big screen.  It can be ordered direct now via the Virgil Films online store at http://www.virgilfilmsent.com/store/product.php?pid=604.

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War In HD Box Set An Excellent Piece Of Military History

Courtesy:  History Channel/A&E TV/A&E Home Video

Courtesy: History Channel/A&E TV/A&E Home Video

History Channel released one of its most impressive box sets yet earlier this year with the release of WWII in HD: Collector’s Edition.  That four-disc set took audiences in the lives of just a handful of members of the “Greatest Generation.”  It was the follow-up to the network’s equally impressive military history piece, Vietnam in HD.  Now for all the military history lovers out there, History Channel has combined both mini-series into one full six-disc set featuring both presentations in their entirety.

War in HD is a good gift idea for the military history lover in anyone’s house this holiday season.  The entire thing starts with the hugely acclaimed WWII in HD.  This series takes viewers through the history of WWII from its earliest days before the United States’ entrance to its final days.  This mega set even includes the bonus segment, “The Air War” from the previous releases of WWII in HD.  Presented in full HD, the footage culled for the presentation that is WWII in HD looks outstanding, even on standard def DVD.  And new light is shed on life on the frontlines and stateside from the interviews collected for this mini-series.  One of the most intriguing factors of WWII in HD is the drastic difference in support for the war.  Whereas support for the war in both the Pacific and in Europe was overwhelming from America, support for the war in Vietnam was quite different.

Support for the War in Vietnam went from being in support of the troops to being completely against the men fighting the war.  But now thanks to the inclusion of Vietnam in HD those who perhaps have always had a certain view of how things went down get an entirely new view of what really happened.  It’s intriguing to see the progress made in support of South Koreans in the fight against the North.  From new schools and much needed medicines, American forces did a lot to try and help the South Koreans.  Just as intriguing to learn from this double disc portion of War in HD was that despite the draft being in full effect, nearly one-third of the men serving in Vietnam by the late 1970’s were actually volunteers.  Considering how many were drafted into service (and that number is given), that one-third of enlisted men were volunteers is still quite eye opening.  It changes the view of things from that angle.  And for that matter, viewers actually learn that about four years in the war, North Vietnamese casualties far outnumbered those of American forces.  Narrator Michael C. Hall (Dexter) explains that the measure of victory in Vietnam was not by ground taken (as was the case in WWII), but by the body count.  That perhaps is what makes the Vietnam War so controversial more so than what happened during the war.  That military brass openly said that was the measure of victory set off both citizens back home and the men serving on the frontlines.  There is so much more eye opening material that audiences will appreciate from Vietnam in HD than just what is noted here.  On the note of the forces fighting the war, there is a discussion on the part of deciding whether to save the life of a fellow soldier or decide if one of the locals was a North Vietnamese fighter.  That brief moment makes for quite the discussion.  And it’s just one more of the many topics raised in this half of History Channel’s new War in HD box set.

War in HD is available now.  It can be ordered online at http://shop.history.com.

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The Presidents Re-Issue Adds Even More For Audiences

Courtesy: PBS

Binders, Bigbird, and great balls of fire.  Both our current President and his opponent are all over the television and radio this year.  And it’s not entirely for good reasons, either.  How many people out there remember the debates between other presidential candidates?  For that matter, how many people out there can name even half of the men who have led this great nation?  Thanks to PBS, both general viewers and students alike will be reminded of nearly a dozen of those men.  From Roosevelt to Truman to Reagan all the way up to Bill Clinton, this seventeen disc set is an excellent watch for anyone who has any interest in politics and political science both inside and outside the classroom.

There are those who have made certain allegations about PBS.  But in watching this series, perhaps those same people will change their tune in seeing how wrong they are.  It is a fully unbiased look at the lives of some of our nation’s most well known and respected leaders.  It pulls no punches, showing each President in his high times and low.  For instance, the program focusing on Clinton leaves nothing out, including the scandal centered on former intern Monica Lewinsky.  Perhaps one of the most interesting facts from the newly added piece on Clinton was that he apparently originally did not want to get involved in the Serbian conflict in the late 1990s.  From what the feature notes, he originally wanted to leave that conflict to NATO forces.  But amid growing pressure from the national and international community, he finally gave in and took the lead in the air war that ended things there.   His ongoing conflict with then Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich was just as interesting.  Any movie buff will see some similarities to the Frank Capra helmed 1939 movie, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington in the pair’s ongoing conflict.

Another of the more interesting segments included in this updated re-issue focused on President Harry Truman.  Anyone who has any interest or knowledge of Presidential history will find his history to be unlike any of the other Presidents featured in the set.  Truman, as documented in the set, came from the most humble of roots.  He grew up in a less than well-to-do family in Missouri.  He was unlike nearly every President before and since.  He ended up marrying his wife Bessie after having first met her when he was only five years old.  Through all the years that he could have strayed, his heart never did.  Even when he spent part of his young adult life in Kansas City, he never strayed a single bit.  At that time, as the feature notes, Kansas City was a rather seedy area.  So seeing that he didn’t break from his upbringing even then is incredible.  Even more interesting is that even after having married Bessie, he moved into her mother’s home with her and dealt with her mother for many years without even the slightest problem from him.  There is so much more that audiences will learn about Truman here as he gets two of the discs in the total seventeen discs included in the set, as does Clinton.

The features on Clinton and Truman are just a couple examples of what viewers can expect in this newly re-issued set.  Also included are:  Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, LBJ, Richard Nixon, and Jimmy Carter.  The material on these presidents is more than enough to last an entire semester for a college level political science class and an entire academic year in a public high school.

The Presidents is available now.  It can be ordered online at PBS’ online store, http://www.shoppbs.org

To keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it or its companion page, http://www.facebook.com/pages/Reel-Reviews/381028148587141.  Fans can always keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.