Martha & Friends’ Latest DVD Another “Magnificent” Holiday Themed Release

Courtesy:  A Squared/Vivendi Entertainment/Gaiam

Courtesy: A Squared/Vivendi Entertainment/Gaiam

The new Martha & Friends Easter themed DVD, Martha’s Magnificent Egg is another entertaining feature for the entire family.  The new release finds young Martha and her friends working on designs for Easter eggs that will be entered for a chance to present one winning egg to the President himself at the annual White House Egg Roll.  But what story would be complete without conflict?  When Martha and her friends present a webcast on how to design eggs, her classmate Samantha copies her designs verbatim.  Martha’s friends aren’t too impressed by the young lady’s general lack of creativity, especially when it leads to a tie between Martha and Samantha in the contest.  But on the eve of the tie-breaking contest, Martha’s basket goes missing.  The kids find the basket the next morning, which leads to a happy ending for both Samantha and for Martha.  Kids and parents alike will enjoy and appreciate the morals of friendship and that winning isn’t everything presented at the story’s conclusion.

The friendship moral is just one positive to this latest release.  While it is entirely CG-based, the bright colors used both in the main feature and the companion webisodes will keep young viewers engaged.  The features’ music also plays its own role as it’s just subtle enough to help set each scene’s mood.  Among the bonus webisodes included on this disc is another Easter themed short as well as a Valentine’s Day short.  Both shorts and the other two each show audiences some crafty things to do from making cupcakes themed for each month of the year to making an armoire for cheap that will help keep one’s stuff organized.  And it can be made from stuff right in one’s own home.  This saves time and money, just as young Martha points out. 

The bonus webisodes make a nice addition to this disc just as with the previous Halloween themed 2012 release.  Though there is one more bonus that kids and parents will enjoy.  That bonus is another of “Martha’s Craft Corner.”  This time, parents and kids can learn how to make a bunch of Easter themed crafts including: Chick Cakes, an Egg Wreath, Eggshell Flower Pots and plenty more.  Though, it should be noted that this feature might not work on some computers when put into their DVD drives. Parents would be well advised to try this feature on one’s own DVD player first since the compatibility issue might arise from one computer to the next.  That aside, it’s still nice to see that Vivendi and Gaiam have included Martha’s Craft Corner yet again.  It’s a great way to get kids into crafts and engaging their creative side.  On a deeper level, it’s a great way to get kids and parents interacting together.  In an age when the divide between kids and their parents is growing ever wider, this bonus is one more salvo in the fight to lessen that divide.  So, kudos is in order once again for Vivendi and Gaiam for this icing on a fun and festival holiday special.  It’s available now in stores and online.

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Martha Stewart Holiday Collection Offers Lessons, Ideas For The Holidays

Courtesy: A Squared

Martha Stewart recently announced that she has made a deal with Hulu to have some of her programming broadcast via Hulu.  Now, audiences of all ages have a brand new way to enjoy Martha Stewart like never before.  Martha & Friends:  Holiday Collection follows a ten your old Martha and her friends (Hannah, Kevin, and Lily) through the holidays.  The single disc collection starts off on Halloween.  In Martha’s Halloween, Martha and her friends have to go hunting for her dogs, Francesca and Sharkey, after the dogs get scared during Kevin’s filming of his Halloween movie.  Martha, Lily, and Hannah play a trio of “glampires” who attend a Halloween costume party with the aim of turning everyone else into “glampires.”  The dogs think that Martha and her friends really are vampires, so they run off and accidentally pull the plug to the power in the old barn in which Kevin is filming his movie.  This leads the kids to go off in search of the dogs.  There’s nothing overly scary here.  So both parents and kids of all ages will be able to sit down and enjoy this episode that would be a great fit for any child’s Halloween party.

Martha and her friends learn in Martha’s Halloween that as a certain president once noted, we have nothing to fear but fear itself.  She and her friends learn even more valuable lessons in the collection’s Thanksgiving episode.  In Martha’s Thanksgiving, Martha and her friends all have family visiting from out of town.  Along with their aunts and uncles, all four kids have to deal with their cousins, too.  So it’s up to Martha to figure out how to entertain her friends’ cousins and her own cousin, too, all while managing their Thanksgiving plans, too.  The kids’ cousins aren’t the only hurdle that Martha and her friends have to face in the collection’s Thanksgiving episode.  They learn that the elderly Mr. McGregor isn’t the mean person that they were previously led to believe he was.  In turn, they learn not to let what they’ve heard be the basis of what they think of someone.  These are more great lessons for viewers of all ages.  It all comes together to make for a fun and memorable addition to the collection.

Along with the valuable lessons about family that this episode teaches, audiences are also reminded of proper pet care during Thanksgiving.  Francesca and Sharkey (Martha’s dogs) remind audiences that dogs can’t eat turkey bones because it’s not safe for them.  So instead, they show audiences how the turkey bones can be used to help make a broth.  That creativity echoes throughout all three episodes of this collection.  It too is something that parents and kids alike will love. 

Viewers learn one more very valuable lesson in the final piece of the Martha and Friends:  Holiday Collection.  In the Christmas episode included in the set, Martha and her friends are setting up a Christmas tree for the annual Christmas tree decorating contest.  She wants to win really badly.  Even her friends realize that maybe she’s a little too caught up in what she’s doing.  So when things don’t go exactly as planned, thanks to the weather, young Martha realizes what’s really most important.  Parents will love the lesson taught by this episode.  While it’s a holiday episode, the lesson taught here is one that will resonate throughout the year.

The trio of holiday shorts included in this set teaches audiences lots of great lessons that will apply throughout the year. They’re just a part of what makes the shorts a joy for the whole family.  There are also lots of ideas of how to decorate and cook special dishes for the holidays that kids and adults alike will enjoy.  Parents can even pop the DVD into their computers to access bonus content including:  cookie cutter templates and templates just to name a couple bonuses.  There are also a handful of bonus webisodes that families can enjoy without even the use of a computer.  It all combines to make a holiday DVD that the whole family will enjoy again and again throughout the holiday season.

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Martha Stewart, Emeril Lagasse Come To Hulu & Hulu Plus

Martha Stewart is now on Hulu.  And she hasn’t come alone.  Stewart has brought friend and chef Emeril Lagasse with her as part of the deal between the Martha Stewart Network, Hulu and Hulu Plus.  Lagasse’s show, “Emeril’s Table” debuted yesterday online along with her shows, “From Martha’s Kitchen” and “DIY Crafts.”  Late night host Conan O’ Brien joined Stewart in the premiere episode of “DIY Crafts” while celebrity chef Mario Batali made a guest appearance on “From Martha’s Kitchen.”

“From Martha’s Kitchen”, “Emeril’s Table” and “DIY Crafts” are just a drop in the bucket with this new deal.  Thanks to this new deal, audiences will also get to check out special Martha Stewart seasonal programming.  This comes just in time for the holidays.  Hulu is also planning on adding even more content during the month of October and into the year’s end, giving audiences a prime location to get all the latest shows from the Martha Stewart Network.

Fans can check out the first batch of episodes from “Emeril’s Table”, “From Martha’s Kitchen” and “DIY Crafts” now via Hulu at http://www.hulu.com/emerils-table, http://www.hulu.com/from-marthas-kitchen, and http://www.hulu.com/diy-crafts

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New PBS DVD Shows The Importance Of Knowing One’s History

Courtesy: PBS/Inkwell Films/Kundhart McGee Productions/Ark Media/WNET Thirteen

America is a melting pot.  Its history is made up of the stories from the immigrants who settled here from its earliest days.  Sadly, many of those stories have been lost because we as a nation have forgotten our roots.  We have forgotten from where we came.  Now thanks to PBS, a new special has been released that will hopefully re-ignite the fire among Americans to learn their family roots. 

“Finding Your Roots”, hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is a ten part special spread across three discs.  Gates interviews many of this great nation’s most famous names, discussing their family roots with them.  The famous names come from the world of music, acting, politics, and more.  One of Gates’ most interesting interviews comes in the segment featuring musicians and friends Harry Connick, Jr. and Branford Marsalis.  Another was his interview with actors Robert Downey, Jr. and Maggie Gyllenhaal.  And one of the most interesting cross sections shown in this ten-part special comes in his interviews with Doctor Sanjay Gupta, comedian Margaret Cho, and famed personality Martha Stewart.  They, along with the other unmentioned interviews, make this special one of PBS’ best to date.

“Finding Your Roots” starts with gates interviewing musicians Harry Connick, Jr. and Branford Marsalis.  Starting the mini-series with this pair of interviews is more than just an interview with a pair of famous musicians.  What gates and those behind the camera intended to do with this segment was to try and bridge the racial gaps of our nation.  The connection between Connick and Marsalis shows that while people may have different color skin, that’s all that really separates us.  Connick admits in his interview that he wanted to be black.  He says that he dressed and acted the part.  What’s really interesting about this is the discovery that one of his ancestors, James Connick, fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War.  On the good side, it should be noted that James Connick  did not fight for slavery.  He fought solely for economic reasons.  He wasn’t even a slave owner.  He was just trying to support his family.  Apparently, Harry didn’t know this.  But it raises what becomes a very interesting trend that viewers will see as the special moves to other notables.

Just as Harry Connick, Jr.’s roots proved to be rather interesting, so did those of Branford Marsalis.  Interviews with Branford’s famed father Ellis Marsalis, reveals that Branford may have actually gotten his musical abilities not so much from his father, but from his mother.  Or rather, he got his talent from her side of the family.  What’s more, it’s also revealed that one of his ancestors was actually the result of a relationship between a white man and black woman.  This brings this very first pair of interviews full circle.  Gates tells audiences that despite the popular belief, far fewer African American males were born of Native American blood than believed.  Many more will find that they have deeper African American and European roots than Native American.  What it seems that Gates is getting at in this first segment is that while the color of our skin is different, blacks and whites may be far more closely related than we think.  We need only take the time to look back and find our roots.

Gates’ interviews with Harry Connick, Jr. and Branford Marsalis are both entertaining and very insightful.  They’re just one part of what makes “Finding Your Roots” so impressive.  Another interesting pair of figures interviewed for the special is Robert Downey, Jr. and Maggie Gyllenhaal.  It’s revealed that both are descended from Jewish ancestry.  What’s more, Gyllenhaal’s Jewish ancestry is one hundred percent pure Jewish.  She admits in her interview some interesting facts that reveal ancestry and genetics play directly hand in hand.  Again, viewers will see this pop up a lot throughout all ten parts of the mini-series.  What’s really interesting to learn about Maggie Gyllenhaal is that apparently she’s descended from nobility.  It’s revealed through investigations and Gates’ interview with her, that Maggie Gyllenhaal is actually descended from King Henry I.  And somewhere along the line, she’s also linked to both George H.W. Bush and his son, George W. Bush, as well as Shirley Temple, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  She showed that she had no clue about any of these links, and just how amazed she was by all of it.

Robert Downey, Jr., on the other hand, had much different roots.  He and Gyllenhaal both are children of film makers.  And like Gyllenhaal, he too has Jewish roots.  It’s also revealed that he has Swiss roots.  Unlike Gyllenhaal’s roots, though, he can’t claim connection to any real famous historical figures.  Ironically enough, he himself has become one of the biggest names in Hollywood throughout his career.

Musicians and actors were only a tiny portion of the whole that makes up “Finding Your Roots.”  Gates also interviewed Sanjay Gupta, Margaret Cho and Martha Stewart.  This feature offers perhaps some of the most interesting material in the series.  These segments reveal to both the celebrities in question and to viewers some rather unexpected and surprising information.  One of the most interesting pieces of information is that Martha Stewart has links back to the Mongols.  She laughs in discovering this as she admitted to Gates that her dog is actually named Genghis Khan.  What’s more, many of her ancestors also had professions that involved much of what she does today.  As noted in previous segments, it seems yet again that there is at least some link between one’s ancestry and one’s own personal genetic makeup.  Maggie Gyllenhaal admitted her pleasant surprise at her link to her Jewish ancestry due to her own recent personal choices before her interview.  Branford Marsalis’ parents told Gates that he got his musical abilities from his mother’s side of the family.  That link is explained in the connection to specific well known acts from the rich history of music. 

The roots discovered in conversations with Martha Stewart are the revelations of Margaret Cho’s family.  Her interview reveals that one of her distant ancestors was a very well respected member of his community.  What’s most interesting in her discussions is that members of her family are not actually Korean.  They came from other regions of Asia.  She shows her surprise, laughing about it.  She tells Gates that this was a surprising revelation, being that her parents always claimed such national pride for Korea.  This discovery is made through genetic testing.

Sanjay Gupta’s interview was one of the most moving of the entire mini-series.  Gupta shows just how amazed he is by all of the information discovered through the research done for his interviewed.  At one point, he even begins to tear up.  That single moment is perhaps the defining moment of this entire special.  The emotion that he shows is the entire point of the presentation.  So few Americans are aware of their families’ histories.  It doesn’t matter if someone is related down the line to this famous person or that, or if they are simply related to some random person.  It’s that discovery of one’s past is the most important.  It can make all the difference in a person’s life.  It adds that much more to the nation’s already rich history as a whole.

Gates’ interviews with members of the entertainment community reveal some very interesting notes about them.  It also reminds viewers that they might be just as interested if they take the time to do some research into their own family roots.  There’s no telling what viewers might find if they take that time.  “Finding Your Roots” is proof of that.  “Finding Your Roots” is available on DVD now.  It can be ordered online at http://www.shoppbs.org.

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