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.

Cuban Missile Crisis Documentary Another Interesting Piece From PBS

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

Early in 2013, tensions between North and South Korea almost reached a head, with the United States’ almost becoming involved.  That moment left many wondering if the world was once again on the brink of war.  Thankfully that didn’t happen.  There is an irony to this as not long before the buildup in the Koreas happened, PBS released a documentary about another moment of human history in which the world also nearly reached all out war.  That moment was the now infamous Cuban Missile Crisis.  And now thanks to Cuban Missile Crisis: Three Men Go To War, a new generation can hopefully learn from the past and keep a moment such as this (or another situation such as with the Koreas) from happening again.

Cuban Missile Crisis: Three Men Go to War is more proof of the value of public broadcasting.  This near hour long documentary is an unbiased look at the political tensions of the time and how they almost led the “Doomsday Clock” to strike midnight.  The documentary presents the building tensions through interviews with those that were very closely connected to everything that happened.  Most interesting is that among those interviewed for the documentary is the son of Nikita Khrushchev, Sergei.  What makes his inclusion in the program important is that it offers a new perspective on this truly important moment in history.  His commentary shows that the feeling of the then U.S.S.R. being the bad guy went the other way.  The feeling in Russia was much the same about the U.S.  Interestingly enough, this came right around the time that the space race had started, too.  Tensions between the two nations were already high as is because of this.  So add in talks of military buildup, and tensions increase even more. 

The commentary on the part of Sergei Khrushchev is just one commentary that makes this documentary so interesting.  Other academics and high ranking military officials are also interviewed for the program, adding to the program’s interest.  The commentaries combine with the actual audio footage of then President Kennedy discussing with his advisors, a plan of action concerning how to react to actions by Cuba and the Soviets make the feature all the more hard hitting.  Also added in to the feature is footage of events directly tied to the crisis.  This footage will take viewers back to this pivotal moment in which two of the world’s went toe to toe.  The footage, the audio recordings, and the interviews all come together to make this documentary a piece that is a very good fit for any high school and even introductory level college history class.  It’s just as enjoyable for any history buff that wants a brief overview of this important period in history.  It is available now and can be ordered online from the PBS online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=15506546&cp=&kw=cuban+missile+crisis+three+men+go+to+war&origkw=Cuban+Missile+Crisis+Three+Men+go+To+War&sr=1.

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Suddenly Re-Issue Another Welcome Remnant Of Hollywood’s Golden Age

Courtesy:  Image Entertainment

Courtesy: Image Entertainment/United Artists

Almost half a century ago, the United States suffered one of the worst tragedies of the twentieth century.  That tragedy was the assassination of then President John F. Kennedy.  Conspiracy theories aside, what many people might not know is that according to author Kitty Kelley, it was Sinatra’s 1954 movie, Suddenly that was the alleged influence behind Lee Harvey Oswald’s assassination of then President John F. Kennedy.  According to her bio on the singer, His Way: The Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra, Oswald allegedly watched the movie the day before he changed history.  As a result of this accusation, the movie was pulled for years before it was finally allowed back into the public realm.  And now audiences can see how Suddenly may have played a role in that dark day for themselves as it has been re-issued on Blu-ray by Image Entertainment.

Suddenly is hardly the longest movie ever made.  But that’s not a bad thing, either.  In a time when it seems like so many movie studios seem to be competing with one another to see who can make the longest possible story, this movie comes in at a little less than ninety minutes.  Throughout the course of its hour and fifteen minute run time, audiences are kept engaged thanks to the growing tension between Sinatra’s psychopathic ex-military officer John Baron and Sterling Hayden’s clean cut fellow ex-military officer Sheriff Tod Shaw.  Much like 12 Angry Men which wouldn’t see the light of day for another three years, what really heightens the story’s tension is that the majority of the story takes place in a limited set.  This is a minor factor to some audiences.  But in viewing the movie from a more analytical vantage point, it’s a factor that plays a much larger factor.  Understanding this makes the movie that much more interesting and worth the watch.  Add in the understanding of the controversy surrounding the movie, and audiences get a movie that is that much more intriguing, underappreciated, and worth the watch.

A single viewing of Suddenly shows how Lee Harvey Oswald could easily have been influenced to commit a copy-cat act.  But it’s not necessarily the attempted act in question that will have audiences talking after watching.  If anything it’s Baron’s (Sinatra) comment late in the movie that he wasn’t the one committing the act.  Rather he was doing it for someone else, purely for the money.  Baron told Sheriff Shaw that he didn’t know for whom he was working and didn’t care to know, either.  If anything this brief moment will surely re-ignite the discussions between conspiracy theorists about whether or not Oswald worked alone.  On another level, it serves as one more example of the possible power of media to influence real life.  Should there be any credence to the influence of Suddenly on Oswald’s actions, it can be just as strongly used as another warning to the media in regards to taking responsibility for the potential impact of what is written for TV shows and movies.

Getting back to the story behind Suddenly as art.  Writer Richard Sale accomplished quite the feat with this movie.  It wastes no time establishing the story’s plot and its cast.  As a result of this quickness, the rest of the story is spent in just a few rooms of a house.  For most film makers and script writers today, limiting a story to so few sets would prove a mind twist, so to speak.  That’s because so many of today’s movies rely more on flash-boom-bang special effects and overt sexuality to drive their stories.  But for Sale, his writing was solely story based.  It allowed for more tension between Sinatra and Hayden.  And that tension is what keeps audiences so engaged.  There was obviously some chemistry between the two as they expertly played off of one another throughout the story making it increasingly emotional.  The chemistry between the two men made for a movie that was entirely enthralling; so much so that it’s ironic that it wasn’t Hayden whose character was ultimately responsible for the movie’s final outcome.  That outcome won’t be ruined for those who haven’t yet seen it.  But it is an ending that has quite the twist in and of itself.  It’s a twist that will leave audiences completely breathless after everything that had happened through the course of this underrated thriller.  That twist ending is the icing on the cake for Sale’s writing here.  And combined with the equally expert acting of both Hayden and Sinatra (and their supporting cast), it all comes together for a movie that is at the same time underrated and underappreciated.  And now that it’s available once more on Blu-ray, it’s a movie that every movie lover should see at least once.

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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

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