The Amish Shunned Shows The True Reality Of Amish Life

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

PBS proved time and again throughout 2013 why it is the last true bastion of worthwhile educational programming. Where History Channel, Discovery Channel, and The Learning Channel have all allowed themselves to fall victim to the plague that is “reality television”,PBS has stayed the course, standing tall while the aforementioned networks have become but pale shells of what they once were. As 2014 is still in its infancy, PBS continues to prove to audiences why it sits atop the broadcast spectrum with the release of the latest piece in its American Experience series, The Amish Shunned. The first part of this presentation that audiences will appreciate is the stories shared by those on both sides of the divide. Audiences won’t find any Breaking Amish or Amish Mafia style stories here. What audiences get in this presentation is real reality. Just as key to this new documentary is its editing. The entire presentation runs roughly two hours. The manner in which the documentary was edited goes a long way toward keeping viewers engaged throughout the course of the program. The last piece of the whole that makes The Amish Shunned is the cinematography. The work of those behind the cameras works directly with the editing and the storytelling to make this piece another impressive presentation from PBS proving why it remains the last bastion of true worthwhile programming.

 

The stories presented in The Amish Shunned are the central piece of the whole that makes this program well worth watching. They are nothing like the overhyped, over the top drama ofAmish Mafia and Breaking Amish. Instead, viewers see the true emotional impact on young Amish individuals in their decisions to leave their communities. Right from the program’s outset, audiences are introduced to a young Amish girl that had made the decision to leave her community. It’s shocking to learn the lengths to which she had to go in order to make her escape. Just as eye-opening is the revelation of how she (and other Amish individuals) initially feel a certain amount of guilt for leaving the Amish church despite knowing they need to break away. Her story of her departure from the Amish church is just one of many that are shared over the course of this program’s roughly two hour run time. Each of the stories shared by those that have left the Amish church presents more drama than audiences will ever get from those shows on Discovery and TLC. They are far more moving, too.

 

The stories shared by the subjects in The Amish Shunned are in themselves quite moving and powerful. Making the stories so powerful in part is the program’s editing. Editor Rachel Clark is to be commended for her work. The transitions from one subject’s story to the next are clear and solid. On top of that, her ability to reach the emotional heart of each story with her editing is to be applauded. As audiences will notice throughout each story, footage of daily life within the Amish community is used to heighten the emotional depth of each story. And it works quite well. On a more subtle yet important level, audiences that watch closely will notice that the face of the program’s first subject is shown a little more each time she is re-introduced each time throughout the program. This editing illustrates how she is becoming increasingly open to her new lifestyle and feeling less guilty for having broken away from the Amish church and culture. As subtle as it is, it is a powerful statement. And it’s just one of so much expert editing done throughout this piece that audiences will appreciate about this new release.

The editing and storytelling both are integral pieces to the overall presentation that is The Amish Shunned. Just as key to the overall presentation is the camera work. The work of those behind the cameras works in direct connection with the documentary’s editing. The wide shots of the Amish countryside are outstanding to say the very least. The serenity portrayed in those shots in comparison to those of the city life that the program’s subjects have taken will actually lead some to wonder in the backs of their minds why in fact they would leave such peace and serenity.  That isn’t to say that they shouldn’t have.  But it definitely opens the door for some discussion.  It’s just one of so many examples of how effective the cinematography was in this piece.  There is much more worth noting in terms of the documentary’s cinematography.  And audiences will find out just how much more there is to note when they order the program for themselves.  It is available now on DVD and can be ordered direct from the PBS online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=30498866&cp=&sr=1&kw=the+amish+shunned&origkw=The+Amish+Shunned&parentPage=search.  More information on this and other documentaries 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.

Dancing: A Man’s Game Will Have Gene Kelly Fans Dancing With Joy

Courtesy:  Entertainment One/Warner Brothers Entertainment, Inc./Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation

Courtesy: Entertainment One/Warner Brothers Entertainment, Inc./Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation

The art of dance is something that has been traditionally associated more with women than with men.  Any man that has ever openly admitted to being a dancer or even a fan of the dance arts has been stigmatized.  Terms such as “sissy” and worse have been commonly used for said men.  It’s a sad reality even now into the 21st Century. Thanks to Entertainment One’s brand new re-issue of Omnibus: Gene KellyDance: A Man’s Game though, one can hope that the fight to make dancing socially acceptable among men. This is the biggest and most important of the positives in this new re-issue from E1.  Just as important to the documentary is its historical aspect.  This is just one episode from one of television’s most revered series. It’s also an example of what once made NBC a powerhouse among television’s very limited options during its day.  In watching the near hour-long presentation, one must also take into account the actual presentation of the episode.  Considering the age of this episode’s footage and its quality, one can’t help but be impressed.  That along with the bonus booklet brings everything full circle and makes Omnibus: Gene KellyDance: A Man’s Game a piece of entertainment history that any viewer will appreciate for one reason or another.

Omnibus: Gene Kelly—Dance: A Man’s Game is an important piece of entertainment history.  It’s important first and foremost because it touches on a topic that still is very pertinent to society even today.  Simply put, it transcends generations.  It also crosses the lines in terms of its key viewer base. It manages to reach not just one but many different audience groups by having a famous actor discuss said topic. So whether audiences are fans of Gene Kelly the actor, Gene Kelly the dancer, dancers themselves, fans of the dance arts, or even athletes, this episode of one of television’s groundbreaking series reaches so many audiences without even trying.  Kelly makes an argument in support of dance that has been used countless times since this episode.  It had even been used at the time of this episode, obviously, and before.  The argument in question ties together the movements of athletes into the world of dance. The argument in question is used in hopes to dispel the long-held stereotypes centered around men that dance.  Unlike all of the other times that this argument has been used, Kelly enlists some rather famous friends to help illustrate how the two separate worlds are in fact more closely related than one might otherwise think.  The value of this episode of Omnibus is crystal clear from this factor alone.  But there is even more to appreciate in this near hour-long episode of NBC’s landmark series.  The historical value of this episode is just as important as the episode’s content.

The content of this episode of Omnibus reveals that it is timeless to say the very least.  It covers a topic that is still very relevant even now in the 21st Century.  That is just the beginning of this re-issue’s value to viewers.  Looking at this episode from a larger historical side, its value is increased even more. Viewers today are offered so many channels thanks to cable and satellite.  Yet despite the massive number of channels, viewing options are actually quite limited.  Television today is limited largely to crime and medical dramas, reality (voyeur) TV, countless awful rip-offs of Star Search, and just as many news magazine shows that are front loaded with real life crime stories.  PBS is television’s only network today that offers any programming even remotely near the level of Omnibus.  That’s because even the once powerhouse Discovery Communications networks (Discovery Channel, TLC) and History Channel have fallen victim to the reality show virus.  To that extent, it goes without saying that any television history buff will appreciate this episode of Omnibus if only for the fact that it serves as a reminder of what once made television great.

Any television history buff will appreciate this episode of Omnibus first and foremost because it serves as a reminder of what once made television great.  On a deeper level, television history buffs will appreciate this episode because of the quality of the footage.  Gene Kelly’s episode of Omnibus was originally broadcast on December 21st, 1958.  That is a span of nearly fifty-five years.  Audiences see in this episode the original footage from that broadcast.  There are some audio jumps throughout the course of the episode’s near sixty-minute run time.  And the footage itself is quite grainy.  But all of this is a good thing.  It’s a good thing because it means viewers today are seeing this episode almost exactly as it was in its original broadcast.  For some, that will certainly generate a warm and happy feeling of nostalgia.  For others, it will be appreciated as that audio and video mix shows just how far television has come since its infancy.  Regardless of the effect of the footage on viewers, the general positive emotional and historical appreciation felt by viewers pushes this episode of Omnibus even higher.

Everything that went into resurrecting Gene Kelly’s episode of Omnibus makes it a wonderful watch.  But one would be remiss to note, too the bonus booklet included with the DVD. The booklet included with this DVD is a bonus in every sense of the word.  It offers an in-depth look at Kelly’s own career, as well as everything that went into bringing this episode to life.  There is even a copy of the episode’s script included as a visual aid for viewers among so much more.  That much more includes photos taken from the set of this episode, publicity photos, newspaper reviews of the original broadcast, and even Kelly’s own words in which he explains his view of society’s stereotype of men and dancing.  That mass of information brings everything full circle in this brand new release from Entertainment One and the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation.  It will be available on DVD Tuesday, December 17th, just in time for Christmas.  Audiences can get even more information on this release and all things Gene Kelly on the official Gene Kelly website, http://www.GeneKelly.com and the official Gene Kelly Legacy Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/GeneKellyTheLegacy.  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.

Nazi Mega Weapons A Rare Must See WWII Documentary

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

Television today has become increasingly dumbed down day after day. “Reality TV” (for those that really want to believe that moniker) seems to be increasingly dominate the airwaves. Even History Channel, Discovery Channel, and The Learning Channel are but pale shadows of what they once were. Enter PBS. PBS has shown time and again throughout 2013 why it has remained a shining beacon of worthwhile television with its documentaries, and dramas. That reputation has been maintained even more with the release of its new WWII based documentary, Nazi Mega Weapons. This six-part “mini-series” of sorts looks at some of the greatest achievements of the Nazi military and how despite their greatness, they in essence led to the downfall of the German forces. This documentary is a must see first and foremost in that it is aimed at no fewer than four distinct audience groups. It is just as worth seeing because of the stories told through each of its three segments. Just as noteworthy in this collection of episodes is the ratio of each segment’s run time to its content. Each segment is so well balanced that whether one is watching these segments in the classroom or the living room. The amount of content and its arrangement over the course of the segments’ run time is the finishing touch to what is one of PBS’ best WWII based documentaries of this year.

Nazi Mega Weapons is easily one of PBS’ most intriguing WWII based documentaries to have been presented by the network in 2013. The first thing that has been done right with this documentary is the fact that it has been separated into six distinct segments. Those segments are separated over two discs and a total of roughly six hours, or one hour each. Nothing is left out of this documentary. From the well-known V-2 rocket program to Hitler’s “Atlantic Wall” and the lesser discussed Nazi sub base on the coast of France, every aspect of Nazi technology is discussed throughout each segment. Whether one is a history buff, a military history buff, or even an engineering specialist or WWII historian, this documentary is so successful first and foremost because it reaches so many audiences across the spectrum. One can’t but be amazed at the technological and engineering feats achieved by the German forces as shown over the course of Nazi Mega Weapons. Just as amazing is the fact that despite those advances and feats, it was all for naught. As viewers will see, also portrayed here are how those same advances and feats also led to the eventual downfall of the Nazi forces.

The stories shared about the advances and feats achieved by the Nazi forces in WWII are absolutely amazing, considering where the world was at that point technologically and in terms of what had been in the world of engineering. Just as amazing to note is how those same advances that made Nazi forces so dangerous also led to their downfall and the downfall of the entire Nazi force. A prime example is shared in the mini-series’ opening segment on D-Day. It explains that for all of the preparations made on Omaha Beach, little preparation was made to ensure it was actually defended against Allied forces. Everyone knows that Allied forces took Omaha Beach. But how many knew that Omaha Beach was taken in roughly a little over three hours because German forces had only enough ammunition to last them three hours? That’s just one of the many stories shared that will amaze many viewers. Another equally noteworthy story lies in the segment on the well-known V-2 rocket program. Some might be interested to discover that so much time was spent perfecting the V-2 rockets that by the time Nazi leaders were ready to use them, it was too late. While the rockets had done substantial damage to Britain, it wasn’t enough to turn the tide of the war in Germany’s favor.  These are just a small handful of the stories shared throughout all six segments across the documentary.  They are also just minor pieces of the overall material used to expertly illustrate each segment’s overall story.

The overall material used to illustrate each segment is expansive to say the least.  Individuals that specialize in given fields are brought along to the “Atlantic Wall”, the infamous Nazi U-boat base in France, and even the places where Werhner Von Braun’s V-2 rockets were developed.  Rather than just seeing these places in vintage footage, audiences get to see them as they are now.  This allows viewers a close up look at what the Nazis had achieved both technologically and in terms of engineering.  It is a highly effective visual aid, as is the original wartime footage included alongside those historical “visits.”  The re-enactment segments are just as effective to the overall presentation.  And the fact that each of these elements was so well balanced with the other within the context of each segment’s near hour-long run time makes the overall presentation that much more enjoyable for viewers.  This internal balance works hand in hand with the back story of each segment and the general separation of the segments to put Nazi Mega Weapons over the top.  All things considered, it becomes one more of PBS’ best documentaries of 2013, and potentially another of the year’s best documentaries overall.  It will be available Tuesday, November 5th and can be ordered direct from PBS’ online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=22850906.  More information on this and other PBS programming is available online at http://www.pbs.org and http://www.facebook.com/pbs.  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.

How The States Got Their Shapes Teaches Even More Fun Facts In Its Second Season

Courtesy:  History Channel/A&E Home Video

Courtesy: History Channel/A&E Home Video

How the States Got Their Shapes Season 2 is a welcome follow-up to the show’s original season.  Season Two is just as entertaining as the show’s debut season.  The primary reason for this is that Season Two takes viewers into more depth than just how the states’ borders were developed.  This season, viewers are taken more into depth in the history of the states along with the history of the states’ shapes, too.  While Season Two’s episodes go into more depth on the different states in the union, they don’t go into so much depth that they become too involved for viewers.  Rather, they are simple enough for viewers of any age to grasp.  What’s more, each episode minus commercials clocks in at just under half an hour.  So whether in the classroom or the living room, it’s a fitting new installment to this hit History Channel Series, and an equally fitting addition to any history buff’s home library.

The second season of How the States Got Their Shapes is made up of a total of eighteen episodes.  Over the course of those eighteen episodes, host Brian Unger takes viewers deeper into the history of the states.  Rather than just focus on how the states got their shapes, Unger takes viewers into history lessons such as: the history of the infamous feud between the Hatfields and McCoys, what makes one state red and another blue and when the terms “red” and “blue” first came about, and the impact of a state’s population on politics.  There are other equally intriguing concepts across this season’s three discs.  But viewers can find out for themselves what each one is, and what makes each one so important this season.  Audiences will be surprised to learn in the episode ,”Hatfields vs. McCoys” that despite the popular belief, it might not have in fact been a pig that started the cross-state conflict, but a member of one clan fighting for the “wrong” side in the civil war.  According to the history shared, the alleged theft of a pig might have just been one of many factors that caused the conflict to escalate.

Just as interesting for viewers to learn, is that the terms “red state” and “blue state” didn’t even exist until the 2000 election between President George W. Bush and Al Gore.  “Red State vs. Blue State” reveals that this now commonly used phrase wasn’t even a reality until the news media made it so during the course of the now infamous election that centered on hanging chads and elderly voters in Florida.  How many adults or even younger viewers can honestly say that they knew this little tidbit of information?  This critic will honestly say that he did not know this until having watched this episode.  It serves as a reminder that as much as even adults would like to claim they know about political science, not all adults know nearly as much as they’d like to believe.

“Red State vs. Blue State” was just one of a number of episodes that offers viewers a civics lesson in How the States got their Shapes Season 2.  The lessons permeate the season’s eighteen episodes.  Just one more example of this lies in the episode, “Big vs. Small.”  This episode takes a different angle on the show’s political science sessions.  It explains to viewers through interactions with average people how the size of one state versus another has a vast effect on the state’s pull in elections.  For instance, it compares the size of Texas and Rhode Island, and ties it to the number of representatives and senators a state has in connection to the state’s size and population size.  Yet again, whether a viewer is young or more world-wise most viewers will be surprised at just how much they had either not known or had forgotten over time.  It’s just one more episode that makes this season of How the States got their Shapes so entertaining and interesting.

The lessons and concepts raised through this season’s episodes take viewers deeper into the states’ history.  As in depth as they get, not one episode gets too in depth for casual viewers.  Unger interviews people from every walk of life in each episode instead of just politicians and academics.  Those individuals are there.  But there are just as many ordinary people in these episodes, too.  And because of the large number of ordinary people interviewed, Unger is able to talk to them (and in turn viewers) on a casual level.  This casual discussion will make viewers feel less like Unger and the show’s producers are talking down to them.  This serves even more to make this season just as entertaining and enjoyable as Season One.

The general informational content of each episode is on the level of any casual viewer, whether fifteen or fifty-years old.  In simple terms, this season’s episodes are just as viewer friendly, content-wise, as Season One’s episodes.  The episodes included in this season are just as viewer friendly because of the length of each episode.  Each episode comes in at just under half an hour.  That’s because there are no commercials to have to navigate.  And because the episodes are on DVD, viewers can fast forward or go back to wherever they want with just the push of a button.  This only makes each episode collectively even more viewer friendly and even more worth watching not just once, but any time.

The key to the success of How the States got their Shapes Season 2 can be summed up in two words, as one should be able to tell by the factors noted here.  Those two words are “viewer friendliness.”  The episodes are short.  And the producers have written the facts and figures in a way that makes them easy for viewers of any age to understand and appreciate.  Even host Brian Unger comes across like an every guy.  And he interviews everyday people as well as academics and politicians.  This works with everything else noted to make this season all the better both in the classroom and in the living room, regardless of whether this is the last season for the show or not.  It is available now on DVD and can be ordered online direct from History Channel’s website at http://shop.history.com/detail.php?p=450943&SESSID=1f92713358ed29d46f0205c1e2c6d1f9&v=history#tabs.  Audiences can find out more about this show on the official History Channel Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/History and its official website, http://www.history.com.

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 in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Ultimate Tut A Good Addition To PBS’ Secrets of the Dead

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

The latest installment of PBS’ series, Secrets of the Dead is one of the series’ most interesting episodes.  That is because the episode’s subject is one that has intrigued people the world over for ages.  The subject of study in question in this episode is none other than the boy king, Tut.  This near two-hour episode is a fully immersive study of not just how he died, but of what happened to him after his death.  The theories presented here make this a wonderful companion piece to last year’s release by History Channel of the Ancient Egypt anthology.  The re-enactments on the part of the episode will both entertain and help enlighten audiences.  And the demonstrations and computer models presented with each theory make the episode complete.  They tie directly into the re-enactments to bring each theory into full view and make each one understandable by even the most casual of viewers.  All of this in turn makes this episode of Secrets of the Dead more proof of the importance and value of public broadcasting yet again.

The theories centered on how King Tut died seem to be as many as the stars in the sky.  The most commonly held belief of those masses of theories is that he was murdered by a jealous rival.  While this is seemingly debunked by the individuals in this episode, the concept of a jealous rival does come into play later in the segments surrounding Tut’s embalming and entombment.  That in itself is just as eye opening as the theory on how Tut died.  That’s because it plays out like something right out of a modern day movie.  Getting back to the theory on how Tut died, the theory in question presented here is that he wasn’t murdered, or the victim of malaria or even an infection from a hippo bite, but that he was in fact run over by a chariot on the field of battle.  The aforementioned re-enactments and computer models present a rather compelling argument in favor of this theory.  Though it’s interesting that if Tut was indeed run over by another chariot, the question remains to whom did the chariot belong?  While the theory is largely sound, it does have one hole.  That hole is the discussion of who exactly Tut and his forces would have been battling at the time.  This seems like a minor detail.  But in the grand scheme of things, to make the theory watertight, one would have to have solid evidence of the battle that would have led to his falling from his chariot and in turn run over by another chariot.  Without proof of the battle that is theorized, it is difficult to not question it at least to some length.  It would be interesting to have the experts in question re-visit this theory and see if this can be tied in to their theory.

The theory presented here on how Tut died is rather thought provoking, but not watertight.  It is definitely interesting to consider, though.  Just as interesting are the discussions centered on the theories of what happened to Tut in the moments and eons after his death.  Among the most interesting of the discussions is that of how Tut’s body ended up in the state in which it was found.  According to the scientists that examined Tut’s body, the theory is raised that his body was prepared very quickly and carelessly due to the personal ambitions of Tut’s personal Vizier.  This brings back the previously mentioned belief that Tut was murdered.  According to the experts interviewed for this program, the skull damage found on Tut was not from a blow to the head, but as a result of Tut’s body being moved when it was originally damaged.  It definitely will lead to even more thought provoking discussions among viewers at any level. 

The theories of how Tut came to be in the condition in which he was found are sure to create their own in-depth discussions among viewers.  They aren’t the end all do all though.  Other theories are sure to come up.  And as noted in the final minutes of this episode, another tomb very close to Tut’s has been discovered, but has yet to be unearthed.  Its discovery raises even more curiosities.  And it is sure to raise even more theories in the future; theories that are sure to make for more than enough fodder for another episode of Secrets of the Dead.  Until then, history buffs will have this episode to take in and share with one another.  It will be available Tuesday, July 23rd.  It can be ordered online direct from the PBS online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=21689776&cp=&sr=1&kw=secrets+of+the+dead&origkw=Secrets+of+the+Dead&parentPage=search

Audiences can find out even more about this episode and every episode of Secrets of the Dead on the show’s official Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/SecretsofTheDead and its official website, http://www.pbs.org/secrets

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.

Defiant Requiem One Of The Most Powerful, Deeply Moving WWII Stories Ever Told

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

Defiant Requiem is one of PBS’ best documentaries of 2013 and one of the best documentaries of 2013, period.  If ever there was a work that proved the importance of supporting PBS, this documentary is it.  The near ninety-minute program tells the story of a group of Jewish captives that used music as a means to tell the world of their mistreatment at the hands of the Nazis.  It is a piece that will appeal not only to those with a love and respect for classical music, but also for anyone that has ever had or has any interest in the history of World War II.  It is so deeply moving that it must be seen to understand and appreciate this.

As a bit of background for viewers, Verdi’s Requiem is one of the most beautiful yet intense works in the history of classical music.  What makes this musical masterpiece by itself so interesting is that it was considered sacred music, despite the fact that Verdi himself was supposedly an agnostic.  Its ten-part “Dies irae (Day of Wrath)” segment incorporates themes of mortality and judgment.  These themes definitely are in contrast to Verdi’s own alleged beliefs.  Put into the context used by the Jewish prisoners of the Terezin concentration camp, these themes take on a whole new meaning as they were sung towards the very individuals who treated them as less than humans.  This was absolutely brilliant of fellow prisoner and composer Rafael Schachter to do.  As audiences will learn through the course of the program, it was because of Schachter’s efforts that the Jewish prisoners at the camp were able to use their rehearsals and performance of the music as a source of strength both personally and as a people.  It allowed the prisoners to confront their captors in the presence of the Red Cross without fear of retribution.  This alone is deeply emotional.  Whether one is an expert in music history, war history, or history in general, it will still leave any viewer deeply moved on a number of levels.

The music of Verdi’s Requiem is itself extremely moving and powerful.  Once one understands the extent of its emotional influence, it makes the story told by the Terezin survivors that much more moving.  The program features interviews with the survivors, and shows their reactions to the Requiem being performed for them and their families’ decades later at the very sight of the pain that took so many lives.  The symbolism of the performance left barely a dry eye in the house during the performance.  The sight of the survivors’ emotions will bring about certain emotions among viewers at home, too.  The inclusion of archived pictures ties directly into the stories shared by the survivors.  It brings everything into crystal clear view, expertly illustrating the horrors experienced by Jewish prisoners at Terezin.

Along with stories from the survivors of Terezin, Defiant Requiem also features re-enactments by professional actors.  The re-enactments on the part of the actors in Defiant Requiem are on par with another of PBS’ major documentaries from earlier in 2013, The Abolitionists.  It’s something that is being seen less and less frequently on certain other networks by comparison, making this documentary that much more impressive and necessary both inside and outside the classroom.  It also makes PBS that much more important for those searching for educational programming, and that much more worth financially supporting with viewer contributions.  If the archived pictures from Terezin made the story crystal clear, the re-enactments made them crystal clear at an Ultra High Def level, for lack of better comparison.  As painful as it is to learn of what happened, these re-enactments, archived pictures, and performance of the Requiem help bring history alive.  They help viewers of any age understand what happened within the walls of Terezin.  All assembled together, everything included in this new documentary makes it one that crosses interests and in turn makes it one of the best documentaries of 2013.  It will be available Tuesday, July 23rd and can be ordered online from PBS’ online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=20427106&cp=&kw=defiant+requiem&origkw=Defiant+Requiem&sr=1.

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.

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.

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.

The Abolitionists PBS’ First Great Documentary Of The Year

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

Half documentary, half historical film and all educational and entertaining, PBS’ the Abolitionists is even more proof of the value of public broadcasting.  This three part/three hour documentary from PBS’ American experience series is a wonderful tool both inside the classroom and outside.  Its mix of documentary and re-enactment does something very rarely seen with PBS’ documentaries.  This is a piece that would typically be more closely akin to those programs produced for the History Channel.  So seeing such a presentation from PBS shows that the network is just as capable of producing such entertaining and educational content.

The presentation of the Abolitionists as part documentary and part re-enactment is the most notable of the positives from this outstanding story.  Within the three-hour course of this feature, audiences will appreciate not just the re-enactments themselves, but also the story’s organization.  What audiences have here is the historical equivalent to a movie with an ensemble cast as it focuses on not just one person, but five.  The documentary seamlessly weaves together the stories of Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Angelina Grimke, Harriet Beecher Stowe and John Brown without allowing each figure’s story to step on the other.  Rather each one nicely compliments the other throughout the documentary’s three segments.  This may seem minor.  But in the larger scale of things, it goes a long way towards keeping audiences of all ages engaged within the context of each hour-long segment.

Within the context of each of the documentary’s three segments audiences are given even more reason to enjoy this recently released DVD through the re-enactments and the actual words of Stowe, Brown and the others.  The actors portraying the famed figures do an outstanding job in their roles.  The addition of readings of each figure’s own words makes those portrayals and each individual’s role in ending slavery hit that much harder.  And actor Oliver Platt’s narration was a solid fit.  His delivery combined with the film’s editing and music come together to make each segment equally solid.  Kudos to all involved for such impressive work.

The general make-up of The Abolitionists plays the largest role in the overall success of this recently released DVD as has already been noted.  On a more specific level, the presentation’s construction so to speak itself plays its own role in viewers’ engagement.  Viewers will be quite impressed at the cinematography and the re-enactments.  The re-enactments within this release could easily go toe-to-toe with the documentaries released by the History Channel.  The combination of the historically accurate clothing, sets, and even dialects show that those involved with bringing this special from the American Experience series took its creation with the utmost seriousness.  The same can be said of those running the cameras during the re-enactments.  The historical re-enactment segments were beautifully shot.  They look and sound like anything that might be seen any day on the silver screen.  Coupled with the telling of each figure’s story, the Abolitionist’s cinematography will grab audiences and keep them right to the final minutes of the final segment.

Whether for re-enactments, the presentation’s overall structure–music, editing, narration, etc.–or for something smaller such as the inclusion of each figure’s own words, it’s obvious that a lot of work went into bringing The Abolitionists to life.  The end product is a feature from PBS that easily holds its own against releases from the History Channel and that has made its argument to be one of the best documentaries of the year.  It is available now and can be ordered online at the PBS online store at http://www.shoppbs.org

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Ancient Rome Box Set An Amazing Look At An Amazing City

 

Courtesy:  History Channel/A&E Entertainment

Courtesy: History Channel/A&E Entertainment

Rome wasn’t built in a day.  Who hasn’t heard or even spoken that old adage at one point or another in their life?  It’s true; Rome wasn’t built in a day.  As a matter of fact, it took Rome ages to become the city and the world power that it was in the ancient world.  Now, a new box set from History Channel is taking viewers deeper into the history of Rome than before.  Ancient Rome Anthology is comprised of six discs each in their own slipcase encased in a larger box.  Each disc takes viewers on a journey into specific aspects of Rome that made it one of the most important cities in the world then and even today.

The first pair of the discs in the Ancient Rome Anthology features some of the most important battles in the history of the Roman Empire.  They are taken from History Channel’s special, Decisive Battles.  The first of those decisive battles was the slave revolt led by Spartacus.  Unlike in so many of History Channel’s specials, this one actually opted for something other than live actors to re-enact the scenes being discussed.  Rather, it uses video game style animation to outline how the various battles happened.  This is an excellent method, despite what some might want to believe.  It makes for an excellent visual aid, especially when used in the classroom.  In an age when video games dominate young minds, this will easily get the attention of younger audiences.  In the process, maybe that initial interest will even lead to a growing interest since the topic being discussed is major battles.

From the major battles, the Ancient Rome Anthology moves into a discussion of the most important leaders in Rome’s history.  Of those most important were Julius Caesar and the infamous Constantine.  Both men are featured in the third disc of the set along with the equally infamous Caligula.  All three rulers are featured as part of History Channel’s special, Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire.  This special is more in line with History Channel’s other specials in that the lives of the three featured rulers are portrayed by actual live actors.  Yet again, this is a good tool in that for older audiences, it can hold the attention of older audiences.  The actors help to illustrate what is being discussed in each ruler’s segment.  Even more interesting that even in standard definition presentation, the visuals come across in stark clarity.  This is especially the case with the set’s next presentation.      

After going through three of Rome’s most influential (and infamous) rulers, audiences are taken through the engineering feats that helped to make Rome such an incredible city.  Along with the city’s engineering feats, the feature continues its discussion on Rome’s rulers in connection.  It discusses how Julius Caesar, Claudius, and others influenced the great structures of Rome.  One of the most important of those was the aqueducts, which were crafted by Claudius.  Yet again, the visual aids in this segment play a bigger role than some would think in its success.  In discussing the aqueducts, History Channel uses a mix of computer graphics and blueprint style visuals to illustrate how the aqueducts were built.  Even Nero himself is featured in this portion of the set.  He is featured for his construction of his lavish estate on the backs and money of the Romans.  As impressive as the estate would have been, it was the execution of its construction that leads to his inclusion in this segment.  The final product was astoundingly beautiful.  But by contrast, his own view of himself is what led to its construction, and eventually his downfall.  That in itself makes for quite the discussion.  The discussion of Rome’s engineering greatness doesn’t end with Nero.  It goes into far more depth for those who are truly interested in everything that put Rome so far ahead of its time.

The fifth disc of the Ancient Rome Anthology finishes out what had been started with the set’s fourth disc.  It explains how Rome’s roads were built, along with some of its greatest monuments.  This is how much there is to discuss in terms of Rome’s architectural greatness.  The entire set is closed out with what is best described as a bonus disc in its sixth disc.  The set’s final disc offers bonus segments featuring the long hidden catacombs of Rome, and a pair of other features of one of the world’s greatest cities.  There is so much here and in the rest of the set that it more than makes a perfect gift idea for any history buff or for teacher looking for the perfect teaching tool, regardless of whether it is used in public school or college.  It is a wonderful tool for either level.  And it is available now.  It can be ordered online now at History Channel’s online store, http://shop.history.com.

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Ancient Egypt Anthology An In-Depth Journey Through Country’s History

Courtesy:  History Channel/A&E Entertainment

Courtesy: History Channel/A&E Entertainment

History Channel’s recently released box set, The Ancient Egypt Anthology is more excellent material both for history buffs and history teachers at every level.  This new six disc set contains the network’s previously released specials in one complete box.  It opens with the double disc set, Planet Egypt before expanding a little more in the set’s next pair of discs featuring the special, Beyond The Pyramids.  Next up is the single disc presentation of Engineering An Empire.  The entire set closes out with a compilation of other specials on Egypt on the set’s sixth disc.  At an estimated price of $50.00, the six discs included in this make the price well worth the purchase.

The set opens with the double disc set, Planet Egypt.  This presentation was released earlier this year in its own double disc presentation.  Fittingly, it opens this new complete box set, too.  Planet Egypt tells the story of Egypt from its earliest days through the rise of its most influential and important pharaohs.  It tells of the military might and political power of each pharaoh including the one and only Pharaoh Hatshepsut.  It also discusses how the pyramids come to be as a result of each leader.  From the discussion on the pyramids, The Ancient Egypt Anthology moves into an even more in depth discussion of them by going Beyond The PyramidsBeyond The Pyramids takes viewers even deeper into a study of the pyramids.  It explains to viewers how the pyramids were built and why each was built with its given internal structure.  Along with that, it also helps to highlight what made the pyramids so important as it compares the lives of the Pharaohs to that of the ordinary Egyptian during the time of the Pharaohs.  This comparison works with the discussion on the pyramids construction and cultural significance to make for a fitting continuation of what was started with Planet Egypt.

The fifth disc in the new Ancient Egypt Anthology is a good finishing touch to this set.  Having already discussed the construction of the pyramids, the Ancient Egypt Anthology goes into even deeper depth with a more broad discussion on how engineering helped not only bring the pyramids to their heights, but also Egyptian society as a whole.  This segment starts off with a discussion on the annual flooding of the Nile River Valley, and its impact on life in the region.  It proceeds to discuss how given rulers used their own engineering methods to help build and maintain Egyptian society through its most important times.  It makes for a nice final piece in the set.  But it isn’t all.  As an added bonus, the Ancient Egypt Anthology offers viewers a sixth disc in which topics such as medicine in early Egypt, and more material about the pyramids and a pair of Egypt’s most famed Pharaohs.  It makes for a nice extra touch on a set that already will impress any history buff and history teacher.  Anyone who has any interest in the history of Egypt will enjoy this and the set’s other five discs, too.  The Ancient Egypt Anthology is available now.  It can be ordered online at http://shop.history.com.

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.