Day Of Days Is One Of PBS’ Best WWII Documentaries To Date

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

June 6th is one of the most important dates in the history not only of America but of the world.  And this past June, the world stopped and recognized the seventieth anniversary of that day, also known as D-Day.  In honor of that day, many networks across the television spectrum presented their own programs, recalling the events of the day in question.  Few if any were as powerful as PBS’ Day of Days: June 6th, 1944American Soldiers Remember D­-Day.  This program is one of the most moving and powerful that PBS has premiered so far this year.  That is first and foremost because it is not just another documentary.  It is a group of firsthand recollections from just some of the men who fought on the beaches of Normandy on June 6th, 1944.  There are no animations.  There are no actors.  The only extras (if they are to be considered extras) are the collective snippets of the events from that day.  They are another part of what makes the entire experience in this program so powerful.  Of course, there is the “Beachhead to Berlin” newsreel.  That bonus is the final touch on a presentation that everybody should see at least once if not more.

Day of Days: June 6th, 1944American Soldiers Remember D­-Day is one of the most powerful WWII-centered pieces that PBS has ever premiered.  The central reason for that is the fact that it is anything but the steady stream of documentaries churned out by the various networks that handle such fare, PBS included.  There are no actors, “experts,” no special animations, or any other embellishments.  It is just a group of military veterans that were part of the Normandy invasion on June 6th, 1944.  The men recount the horrors that happened on those beaches.  Over the course of the program’s roughly hour –long run time.  In hearing their painful recollections, audiences will see and hear firsthand just why those that have served choose to not talk about what they experienced.  The tears that they shed as they recall the memories of those events are very real.  And they will deeply move anyone taking them in regardless of whether they are everyday viewers or themselves military veterans.

As has already been noted, Day of Days: June 6th, 1944—American Soldiers Remember D-Day is such a powerful piece from PBS because it isn’t just another documentary.  There are no “experts.”  There are no animations, re-enactments or any other embellishments.  The only “extra” of sorts that was partnered with the stories told by the veterans is a collection of actual footage shot as the Normandy invasion took place.  The footage itself is difficult to watch in its own right.  That is because audiences will actually see men being shot and falling, lifeless as they make their way onto the beach.  Again, this is not acting.  It is actual footage of those events.  There is footage of the firefight that took place from the sea off the French coast and much more.  That collection of footage partnered with the veterans’ stories make this program all the more powerful and memorable. It isn’t all that make the program memorable and powerful, either.

The vintage footage that accompanies the veterans’ recollections and the recollections themselves are both of the utmost importance to the presentation in whole. Just as important to the overall presentation is the bonus newsreel “Beachhead to Berlin.” This is an actual newsreel used to bolster patriotism among Americans in the days following the Normandy invasion. The newsreel uses much of the footage that is incorporated into the veterans recollections in the main feature. There is also footage not used in the main feature. The collective footage set against the voice over of a military officer writing a letter to the parent of a fallen soldier makes the newsreel truly powerful. It is later revealed that the officer writing the letter was himself a veteran and had received a purple heart for serving in the war. That final statement is the perfect closing moment for the newsreel. And together with the final thoughts of the veterans in the main feature, it becomes even harder hitting as a final moment for the entire presentation.

The primary feature presented in Day of Days: June 6th, 1944American Soldiers Remember D­-Day is by itself a program unlike anything that PBS has presented so far this year. The bonus newsreel that accompanies that feature is in itself just as moving. Both features together prove this program to be one that viewers of all backgrounds will appreciate, whether they be military or not. They prove the program to be one that everyone should see at least once if not more. It is available now and can be ordered direct via PBS’ online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=35620366&cp=&sr=1&kw=day+of+days&origkw=Day+of+Days&parentPage=search. More information on this and other releases from PBS 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.

Ruben Salazar: Man In The Middle Is An Important Piece Of Cultural, Journalism History

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

PBS released early this year a documentary centered on Hispanic journalist Ruben Salazar.  The documentary, Ruben Salazar: Man in the Middle is a fittingly titled presentation.  That is because it discusses the interconnection of his own personal life and of his life as an influential journalist.  The most important aspect of this program is that unlike so many others of its ilk, it doesn’t waste time going through his entire childhood and his adult life.  Rather, it focuses primarily on his short adult life.  The use of newspaper articles, interviews and video footage to aid the story’s illustration adds another layer of interest to the overall story.  And last but not least, the entire approximately hour-long presentation runs chronologically.  It follows Salazar’s rise through the ranks of the journalism world through his untimely death in 1970.  Each of these factors by themselves provides their own value to this presentation.  Together, they make Ruben Salazar: Man in the Middle a feature well worth watching by anyone with any interest in history and in the history of journalism.

Far too often, documentaries on the lives of important and influential figures tend to focus on the entire lives of said figures.  In some cases, going into such depth is necessary to help viewers understand how those figures became who they were and are.  In others, it’s not so necessary.  The case of Ruben Salazar is one in which the subject’s entire life story was not needed.   And thankfully documentarian Phillip Rodriguez realized this, too opting instead to focus primarily on the events that would eventually lead him to become the figure that so many have come to know today. This approach saves plenty of time without losing any of the most important information about Salazar’s importance both culturally and in the business of journalism.

The story of Ruben Salazar’s rise to notoriety and his untimely and still unsolved death is by itself rather interesting both for its cultural value and because of how that cultural importance played into his professional life. The tie in to the civil rights movement of the day makes Salazar’s story even more intriguing. As if that isn’t enough, the inclusion of actual footage and newspapers from the now much discussed events leading up to his death make the overall presentation even richer for viewers. They, along with the interviews with those closest to Salazar and the controversy raised by his allegations against the LAPD make for even more intrigue. They collectively will leave viewers wanting to do even more of their own research, trying to get answers for themselves due to the depth of the information shared by all three together.

The information shared by the included interviews, footage and interviews does an applause-worthy job of complimenting Phillip Rodriguez’s presentation in this program. The positives don’t stop here. There is still one remaining aspect of Ruben Salazar: Man in the Middle that viewers will appreciate in the overall presentation. That final factor is the program’s organization. Audiences will note that the events leading up to Salazar’s mysterious death are presented in fully chronological order. Presenting the events leading up to his death in this manner makes the program simple to follow. Believe it or not, there are those documentaries that have a tendency to jump randomly from one point to another through the course of their presentations even today. Ruben Salazar: Man in the Middle isn’t one of those documentaries. And because it doesn’t follow that model it makes all of the interviews and the story itself contained on this disc truly valuable as a piece not only of journalism history but of cultural history, too.

Ruben Salazar: Man in the Middle is available now on DVD. It can be ordered direct from PBS’ online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=32759016&cp=&kw=ruben+salazar&origkw=Ruben+Salazar&sr=1. More information on this and other releases from PBS is available online at http://www.pbs.org and http://www.facebook.com/pbs. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews, 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.

PBS Set To Release Three New D-Day Documentaries July 8th

PBS will release three new programs next Tuesday centered on one of the most pivotal moments of World War II next Tuesday.

Day of Days

Courtesy: PBS

PBS will release next Tuesday,  Day of Days: June 6, 1944: American Soldiers Remember D-Day, D-Day 360, and Nova: D-Days Sunken Secrets. The first of the documentaries brings together a group of WWII veterans that took part in D-Day. The men recollect the events of what is one of the largest collective operations in military history. Throughout their discussions, the men also discuss their uneasiness over being called “heroes,” their transformation from boys to men, and the loss of their friends in the assault on Normandy among other topics. The stories bring up very powerful and equally painful memories for the veterans. This program will be available on DVD and via digital download. It will be available for SRP of $24.99. It can be ordered online via PBS’ online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=35620366.

 

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

D-Day 36O, the second of PBS’ upcoming WWII-centered documentaries, re-creates the events of D-Day. It does so through the use of new data-driven and statistical tools to display the sheer immensity of the operation. It was on June 6th, 1944 that 3,000 planes dropped 23,000 airborne troops behind German lines, 7,000 ships delivered some 20,000 military vehicles and 130,000 allied soldiers to take on some 40,000 German soldiers, roughly two million mines buried in the sand, and 46,000 beach obstacles. Among those obstacles were hundreds of miles of barbed wire, shells, and bullets. The program focuses primarily on the exit at Vierville-sur-Mer, the most important stretch of Omaha Beach that day. It documents the events that unfolded over the course of five hours of fighting on the five-mile stretch of French coastline. The program will be available on DVD next Tuesday. It will retail for SRP of $24.99 and can be ordered online via PBS’ online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=35446756.

 

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

In the third and final of PBS’ upcoming D-Day centered programs, audiences are taken beneath the waves of Normandy to see the remnants of what is today one of the world’s largest underwater archaeological sites in Nova: D-Days Sunken Secrets. Audiences will see in this five-part program, a combined group of military historians, archaeologists, and other specialist divers as they explore the waters just off of Normandy’s beaches. They use submersibles, underwater robots, and the latest 3-D mapping technology to identify the tanks, ships, planes, landing craft and more that sunk just off of Normandy’s beaches that day. Along with that, audiences are also taken into the planning of the D-Day invasion, and how the work of scientists, mathematicians, inventors, and even meteorologists helped in said planning. The expedition which led to this presentation lasted six weeks and was led by Sylvain Pascaud. D-Days Sunken Secrets will retail for SRP of $24.99. It can be ordered online direct via PBS’ online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=34895296.

More information on each of these programs and others from PBS is available online at http://www.pbs.org and http://www.facebook.com/pbs. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Peg + Cat Gets Its Own DVD Release This Fall

Courtesy:  PBS/PBS Kids

Courtesy: PBS/PBS Kids

Officials with PBS and PBS Kids announced Monday that PBS Kids will release the first ever DVD from the network’s new series Peg + Cat this fall.

Peg + Cat: Chickens on the Loose and Other Really Big Problems will be released on DVD Tuesday, September 9th. The DVD will feature eight stories from the series along with bonus printable coloring pages and activities for kids and parents. In the first of those eight stories, Peg and Cat have to deal with one hundred chickens in two different ways. The pair has to get the chickens in question back into their coop in “The Chicken Problem” before the farmer sees that they’ve escaped. And in “The Space Creature Problem,” Peg and Cat have to get the chickens away from Big Mouth and back to their spaceship. The first of the pair teaches children size correspondence and the significance of the number 100. The second of the chicken-based episodes teaches children to count by tens to 100.

“The Messy Room Problem” is the third of the stories included on the upcoming first ever Peg + Cat DVD. Peg and Cat have to get Peg’s room cleaned in this episode, in time for company to come over and see Cat’s masterpiece, “The Circles.” This story teaches young viewers about both sorting and shapes in this story, as well as about keeping their rooms clean.

Peg and Cat go on an adventure in “The Golden Pyramid Problem,” the fourth of the stories included on the new DVD. Peg The Bold and Brave Sir Cat imagine that they’re Knights of the Round Table in this story. They have to retrieve the mermaid’s golden pyramids and return them to her. This story teaches solid shapes and counting by two to young viewers.

Peg and Cat form a super group called The Electric Eleven in “The Three Bears Problem,” the fifth story included on the DVD. In order to form their super group, Peg and Cat must first bring together, The Three Bears, The Three Little Pigs, and the Three Billy Goats Gruff. Children learn to count to eleven and add one in this story.

In “The Giant Problem,” the sixth story included on the DVD, Peg and Cat must evade a group of giants along with their eight fairy-tale friends before the giants can have them for lunch. Children will learn through this story, combinations that add up to 10 and the circle shape.

The penultimate story included on the brand new debut Peg + Cat DVD, “The Dinosaur Problem,” puts Peg and Cat in the middle of a prehistoric rain forest, riding dinosaurs. They have to diagram their way to safety along the way before the baby T-Rex catches them. Children learn about patterns and about following diagrams in this story.

In the final story on the new Peg + Cat DVD, Peg and Cat help famed composer Ludwig Van Beethoven as he writes one of his symphonies. And thanks to Cat’s laugh, Beethoven gets a great idea for his symphony. That’s in “The Beethoven Problem.” Children learn about patterns and ordinal numbers in this story.

Peg + Cat: Chickens on the Loose and Other Really Big Problems will be available on DVD Tuesday, September 9th. Its run time is 100 minutes. It will retail for SRP of $12.99. More information on Peg + Cat is available online at http://www.facebook.com/PegPlusCatTV and http://pbs.org/peg. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

PBS Proves The Reach Of 1964′s Events In New Dcoumentary

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

American Experience: 1964 is quite the interesting look at what was one of the most important years in America’s modern history. The approximately two-hour program takes viewers through the events of the year, showing the good, the bad, and the ugly. That fully unbiased presentation is central to the success of this edition of American Experience. Along the way, various figures are interviewed to help illustrate the importance of the events that made 1964 an important year. From historians to activists and more, each figure makes the year’s different subjects much clearer and more interesting than they would have otherwise been. That is another key factor to the overall success of this presentation. The subjects examined throughout the two-hour run time of American Experience: 1964 and those that helped to illustrate each subject work together to make this a presentation that any history buff will appreciate. There is one more factor to take into account in examining the program that makes it work as well as it does. That final factor is the program’s pace. A lot of ground is covered over the course of 1964’s two-hour run time. Even with as much as is covered over that time, those behind the program keep the pace at just enough of a pace to not lose viewers along the way. This final factor brings everything full circle in this episode of American Experience, making the program complete and even more well worth the watch whether it be in the classroom or the living room.

The first and most important factor that makes American Experience: 1964 is the completely unbiased presentation. Presented within the course of the program’s near two-hour run time is all of the good, the bad, and the ugly. It presents the violence that arose from the civil rights movement. It presents Lyndon Johnson’s attempts to fill the shoes of John F. Kennedy after his assassination. It even shows the cultural impact of the arrival of The Beatles in America and of the now influential book The Feminine Mystique on women across the country among much more. Through it all, the events of the year are presented chronologically from New Year’s Eve 1963 to the year’s end. It is all wrapped up nicely with the use of singer Sam Cooke’s hit song ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ as the discussion point for the events that would come as a result of everything that happened in 1964. The tone taken in those final moments is one of optimism. It drives home the argument that for all of the unsettlement experienced in 1964, it would lead to much positive change in the years to come.

The unbiased presentation of the events of 1964 and their chronological together form a solid starting point for the success of American Experience: 1964. The presentation is made even richer through interviews with various scholars, activists, and others. The interviews in question are used to help illustrate precisely why each of the year’s events were so pivotal. Some of the most powerful of the program’s interview segments are with civil rights activist Dave Dennis. At one point late in the program, he recalls the mistreatment of a young African-American male by police in riots that rose from other events. His reaction at recalling a conversation with one of three civil rights activists that had come down to help was just as powerful. There are other equally enlightening interviews from various scholars, journalists and more that illustrate the events that made 1964 such a pivotal year in America’s history.

The events discussed in American Experience: 1964 and the accompanying interviews go a long way toward making the program especially useful whether it be used in the classroom or the living room. The last piece of the presentation that will impress viewers is its pacing. At no point through the course of the program’s two-hour run time does its pacing ever go too fast or too slow.   And keeping in mind the number of topics covered over the course of the program’s total run time, the pacing becomes even more of a positive. Viewers aren’t left feeling like they were just rushed through a freshman level college history course by the program’s end. And it’s that, along with the program’s interviews and topics, that together make American Experience: 1964 a must see whether one is a history buff or just wants to learn a little bit of America’s history.

American Experience: 1964 is available now on DVD. It can be ordered directly from PBS’ online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=29630386&cp=&sr=1&kw=1964&origkw=1964&parentPage=search. More information on this and other episodes of American Experience is available online at http://www.facebook.com/AmericanExperience and http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/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.

Broadchurch Outshines Almost All Other Crime Dramas In Its First Season

Courtesy:  Entertainment One

Courtesy: Entertainment One

Crime dramas are all the rage on American television. Each one of the “Big 4” has more than its fair share of gritty crime dramas. Even the cable networks are becoming overloaded with their own crime dramas. Even PBS has its own crime drama series in the forms of Endeavour and the newly resurrected series Inspector Lewis. Considering all of this, it goes without saying that fans of the crime drama genre have more than their share of shows from which to choose. The problem is that save for perhaps PBS’ Inspector Lewis and Endeavour, the majority of the crime dramas that fill the broadcast spectrum today are relatively formulaic. Now thankfully, eOne has offered American audiences a series unlike any other crime drama out there today, including those on PBS. And that is saying something. The series in question is Broadchurch. The series’ first season is available now on DVD. And this debut season of the British import is nothing short of spectacular. Yes, it is a serial. But the show’s writing more than makes up for that. That’s just the beginning of what makes this first season a hit. The use of original music at the right moments will keep viewers’ just as much on the edge of their seats from episode to episode. The same can be said of the acting on the part of the cast. This includes not just lead actors David Tennant (Dr. Who) and Olivia Colman (The Iron Lady, Hot Fuzz, Locke), but to the cast in whole. Their acting, along with the wisely used music and even smarter writing together make Broadchurch: The Complete First Season a truly surprising first impression from this British import. And it gives quite a bit of hope for the series in its second season. Audiences that give this season a chance will largely agree with that sentiment when they purchase or order the box set for themselves.

Broadchurch is not the first imported drama or even crime drama to make its way to America’s shores. The series, as a matter of fact, has been adapted for broadcast on the Fox network this fall. Before audiences even begin to watch that Americanized ripoff, they would do well to check out Season One of Broadchurch if only for the show’s writing. That is the most important factor to the success of this season. Any viewer that is the parent of a small child will agree that this season’s story hits hard because of its reality. It’s a sad reality that children die in this country (and other nations) every single day at the hands of rather sick individuals. That reality gives so much depth and believability to this season’s story. Fair warning, it’s difficult to watch and will make any parent want to hold their child even closer by the season’s final minutes. Even more so, any viewer that is left dry-eyed after watching this season’s story simply isn’t human. Even this critic will admit to tearing up quite a bit by that time.

The emotional depth and believability of the writing is just the starting point of what makes the first season of Broadchurch such a surprise of a series. Audiences will appreciate just as much the twists and turns that are included over the course of this season. They are just enough that they will keep viewers watching on the proverbial edge of their seats right to the season’s end. The twists don’t just include the characters, either. There are minute details on which the camera focuses at random points that keep viewers thrown off the track right up to the shocking season finale. The finale won’t be given away for the sake of those that have yet to see Season One. But it is most definitely unexpected, though sadly very much a reflection of life. To that extent, it makes this season’s story all the more gripping and worth the watch.

On an even deeper level, the writers responsible for bringing Broadchurch to life are to be applauded for the manner in which the series’ first season was constructed. Rather than have eight separate episodes, the writers used the model from Fox’s 24 in establishing each episode. Whereas each episode of 24 is one hour, each episode of Broadchurch’s first season is a continuation of the previous episode. So, all eight episodes of this season comprise just one storyline. And each episode has been written so well (unlike 24), that audiences won’t be left feeling like they need a program to figure out what’s going on. It’s the final touch to the series’ writing that makes the writing the cornerstone of this first season.

The writers behind Broadchurch are to be highly commended for the painstaking efforts put into making this series’ first season the gripping first impression that it proves to be in the end. Just as worthy of applause in Season One are those responsible for the show’s music. Yes, the music in this series plays just as important a role in its success as the writing. This is hardly common in most American television series. Audiences will note in the series’ first season that unlike so many other shows out there, it doesn’t rely on popular songs or music put in just to be there. The music incorporated in Broadchurch: Season One plays directly in to the series’ writing. The smart use of dynamics and overall placement from scene to scene within each episode heightens each episode’s emotional depth. Whether it be the season’s more pained moments as when Danny’s mother saw him lying dead on the beach, or even the more tense moments of the search for the killer, those charged with music placement went above and beyond the call of duty. It’s one more factor that makes the debut season of this gripping British crime drama worlds better than its countless American counterparts.

The music and the writing behind the first season of Broadchurch are by themselves integral parts of the season’s overall success. Together they make Broadchurch a fully gripping and engrossing series in only its first season. There is still one more aspect of this first season that proves Broadchurch to be the standard by which so many other dramas should model themselves. That final factor is the acting on the part of the cast. That applies not just to lead actors David Tennant and Olivia Colman but to the entire cast. Each member of the show’s cast expertly interprets the show’s script, making it even more difficult to figure out who is the killer until said person is revealed in the season finale. On the other hand that expert acting also pulls in viewers on a deeply emotional level, too. That expert acting on both sides of the coin adds one more level of depth, thus making this season of Broadchurch even more gripping. That final factor, set alongside the season’s writing and music, makes the presentation whole and wholly of the best first impressions from any new series in recent history. It makes the first season of Broadchurch one that any fan of dramas must see at least once this year.

Broadchurch: The Complete First Season is available now on DVD in stores and online. It can be ordered direct from Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Broadchurch-Season-1-David-Tennant/dp/B00HGE90Z4/ref=sr_1_1?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1403311459&sr=1-1&keywords=broadchurch+the+complete+first+season. More information on this and other releases from Entertainment One is available online at entertainmentone.com/home. 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.

WHV Finally Gets It Right On Its Latest Peanuts DVD Release

Courtesy:  Warner Brothers Home Video

Courtesy: Warner Brothers Home Video

Warner Home Video has struggled quite a bit in the past year or so with its home releases. The 2013 releases of Tiny Toon Adventures Volume 4, Taz-Mania: Season 2 Part 1, and Hats Off To Dr. Seuss were all troubled with their own problems. 2014 hasn’t exactly been off to much of a better start thanks to the release of The Flintstone Kids: Rockin’ in Bedrock. That release presented only the main Flintstone Kids shorts minus the companion Captain Caveman and Son and Dino shorts. That alone took off major points from that set. But now WHV has finally started to pick up the ball and get things back on the right track thanks to the brand new release of This is America, Charlie Brown. This brand new double-disc has officially made its own spot on this critic’s list of the year’s best new DVDs and Blu-rays for families and children. The primary reason for that the features included in this set are both entertaining and educational. Another reason for the set’s enjoyment is the use of both hand drawn animation and historical photos to help illustrate each “lesson.” The last factor to examine in what makes This is America, Charlie Brown a success is its packaging. Each of the noted factors by themselves, play important roles in the success of the set. Together, they make this brand new release one of the year’s best new box sets for families and children.

The first and most important factor in the success of This is America, Charlie Brown is the combination of both entertainment and education. The eight features spread across the set’s two discs educate viewers in such fashion that it doesn’t even feel like viewers are being taught. Thanks to the legacy of the Peanuts gang, it feels more like viewers are going on a fun field trip through America’s history than just learning about history from another documentary. There are even some fun little pop culture references that parents will appreciate along the way. One of those references is to the command module of the Apollo 10 being named Charlie Brown. Lucy comments on this saying that she doesn’t know where such a name could have come from. The kids also see their own comic strip hanging in the Smithsonian Museum of Art. The little reference there is just as funny. On a more subtle level, audiences that know anything about animation history will appreciate Frank Welker (The Real Ghostbusters, Curious George, Garfield & Friends) as the voice of a number of characters here including Wilbur Wright in “The Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk.” Gregg Berger (Garfield & Friends, Aahhh!!! Real Monsters, G.I. Joe) joins Welker as the voice of Wilbur’s brother Orville. This isn’t the only feature to which Berger and Welker offer their talents, either. Lou Rawls joins them in “The Music and Heroes of America” and makes the journey all the more enjoyable even as being an educational journey. It serves as one more example of how the combination of education and entertainment is such an important factor in the success of this set. It isn’t the only important factor to the set, either.

The combination of entertainment and education in the features that make up This Is America, Charlie Brown is a solid foundation for the mini-series in whole. Just as important to the set’s success is the use of both hand drawn animation and historical photos to help illustrate and advance each story. Kids will be entertained by the hand drawn animation. And parents that grew up in the days of true animation will appreciate the original animation style of this Peanuts presentation. Those behind the mini-series balanced the animated segments with just enough historical photos to help drive home the stories in each feature. They even included some vintage video to help advance each “lesson,” too. And that video is just as balanced. The resultant effect is a presentation in each feature that will keep viewers of any age fully engaged from start to finish. It’s one more aspect of the whole mini-series that maintains the set’s value.

The visual presentation of the mini-series’ features and the ability of the features to entertain and educate without being too outright about their educational purpose are key to the success of This Is America, Charlie Brown. There is still one more factor to examine in the set in considering what makes it worth the purchase and the watch. That factor is the set’s overall packaging. Both of the discs in the set are placed on their own spindle inside the case. On one level, this protects the discs from scratching one another, thus increasing their life span. On another level, it minimizes the size of the box used to contain the discs. The bigger picture of this is that it conserves space on any viewer’s DVD rack. So not only is the mini-series in whole educational and entertaining, its case is ergonomic. Sure, there’s little else to the set whether extrinsic or even intrinsic. It’s a bare bones presentation. But these factors together make This Is America, Charlie Brown a much needed win for Warner Home Video and for fans that have waited so many years for this mini-series to get a proper release.

This Is America, Charlie Brown is available now in stores and online. It can be ordered direct online from the WB Shop at http://www.wbshop.com/product/this+is+america%2C+charlie+brown-+the+complete+series+dvd+1000411223.do. 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.

AmEx: Freedom Summer An Excellent Follow-Up To Spies Of Mississippi

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

PBS released earlier this year what is one of its most intriguing documentaries of the year in Spies of Mississippi. Now the network will release the “companion” program to Spies of Mississippi next week in a new episode of American Experience. American Experience: Freedom Summer will be released on DVD next Tuesday, June 24th. This latest program centers on the civil rights movement of 1964 that was centered on Mississippi. American Experience: Freedom Summer is an excellent companion to the previously released documentary in that it goes into even more depth than that program. That is the first aspect of this program that makes it well worth the watch. Making it even more interesting is the use of vintage footage from the Freedom Summer. Sealing the deal for the program is its writing and editing. Writer/director Stanley Nelson and editor Aljernon Tunsil are both deserving of applause for making the roughly two hour program pass by with ease without losing viewers along the way. This factor along with the in-depth stories and vintage footage make American Experience: Freedom Summer a piece that everybody should see at least once this year.

American Experience: Freedom Summer is a program well worth the watch by any viewer first and foremost because it picks up where Spies of Mississippi left off. While that documentary focused primarily on the efforts on a covert group to try and keep African Americans from registering to vote in Mississippi, this latest feature on the Freedom Summer goes into even more depth. It focuses on more than just that one aspect of the Freedom Summer. Rather, it focuses on the Freedom Summer in whole. It presents the movement from its roots to its end. Along the way, it also connects the Freedom Summer to its effects on the country as a whole. The whole thing is told by those that organized the Freedom Summer movement and by those that it affected. It adds a whole new layer to the story that was started by Spies of Mississippi, making the program in whole even more worth the watch.

Mississippi’s civil rights movement in the summer of 1964 was one of the most important cultural events in America’s history. That is made clear through the combination of American Experience: Freedom Summer and Spies of Mississippi. The additional layers of information added to the story of that movement here are just part of what makes this program well worth the watch. Making the program even more interesting and in depth is the use of vintage footage to illustrate the story. Actual footage of the events that happened during the Freedom Summer is included throughout the program in place of re-enactments. The use of re-enactments would have been the easy way out. But those behind the program didn’t go that route. It’s nice to see that this avenue was taken. It serves to pull in viewers even more and keep them engaged along the way. This plays directly into the last factor of the program’s success. That factor in question is its collective writing and editing.

The use of vintage footage, and of interviews with those directly connected to the Freedom Summer movement are both integral to the success of American Experience: Freedom Summer. Just as integral to the feature’s overall success is the program’s writing and editing. Everything included in this program had to be scripted in a certain order. That order in turn had to be edited so as to keep viewers’ attention throughout the course of the program’s approximately two-hour run time. Writer/director Stanley Nelson and editor Aljernon Tunsil both did just that. There is not one moment over the course of the program’s two-hour run time during which the program loses audiences’ attention. The pair is to be applauded for such expert execution of their job duties. Because both individuals went to painstaking lengths to make the program interesting, it makes viewers want to take in the vintage footage and the stories told by those that were directly linked to the Freedom Summer movement. All of these factors together make American Experience: Freedom Summer a presentation that is just as valuable in the classroom as it is in the living room. It proves in the end to be a candidate for a spot on this critic’s list of the year’s best new documentaries.

American Experience: Freedom Summer will be available next Tuesday, June 24th on DVD. It can be ordered direct from PBS’ online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=34894696&cp=&sr=1&kw=american+experience+freedom+summer&origkw=American+Experience%3A+Freedom+Summer&parentPage=search. More information on this and other episodes of American Experience is available online now at http://www.facebook.com/AmericanExperience, http://twitter.com/AmExperiencePBS, and http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/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.

Star Trek TNG’s Sixth Season Is The Series’ Best Season Yet

Courtesy:  CBS Blu-ray/Paramount Home Entertainment

Courtesy: CBS Blu-ray/Paramount Home Entertainment

Paramount and CBS Blu-ray will release Star Trek: The Next GenerationSeason 6 on Tuesday, June 24th. This penultimate season of TNG (as it will henceforth be known here) is one of the best of the series’ seven-season run. The primary reason for that is the same reason that the series’ previous seasons remain so enjoyable to this day. The reason in question is the series’ writing. Another reason for the success of this latest box set is the inclusion of the standalone Blu-ray containing the two-part episode “Chain of Command.” This is not the first season to include a key episode as a standalone feature. And odds are that it won’t be the last with one more season to go. Last but not least in examining this latest season’s box set and its companion Blu-ray is the bonus commentary included in both features. Audiences will learn some interesting pieces of information in listening to the companion commentary included with certain episodes. All three factors noted here come together both on the Season 6 BD box set and companion BD to make them collectively one more must have for any Star Trek fan that has yet to add Season 6 to their library.

Writing, whether it be for television or movies, is key to the success of failure of a script. It is the heart of everything. That being the case, the writing behind Paramount’s Star Trek: The Next Generation is to thank in large part for the series’ success. And in its penultimate season, TNG presented to audiences some of the series’ best writing to date. One of the key examples of the strength of the writing in Season 6 comes in the pivotal two-part story episode “Chain of Command.” This episode saw Captain Picard the victim of torture after being captured by the Cardassians. The performance on the part of Sir Patrick Stewart as he struggled to survive his horrible treatment was beyond believable. To an extent, it makes one think of what POWs in Vietnam and other settings of war must have gone through. That makes this even more of a powerful reflection of real life. It’s such a powerful episode that no matter how many years it’s been since audiences have seen it, it has just as much power today as it did in that original broadcast. It’s just one example of the wonderful writing exhibited in this season of TNG.

Audiences still needing convincing of the solid writing in Season Six need look no further than the episodes “Relics” and “Birthright.” These episodes are bookends of sorts for this season of TNG. “Relics” is a wonderful episode first and foremost because it brings back another member of the original Star Trek cast in the form of James Doohan. The commentary regarding this will be discussed later. But in learning how he was brought into the episode, audiences will see even more clearly why this minute aspect of writing is just part of what makes this episode so enjoyable. It might be a bit of a stretch, but one could potentially compare the writing in this episode to a religious allegory. That’s because Scotty (Doohan) was essentially a man brought back from the dead. He was resurrected in a manner of speaking. He is forced to come to terms with that fact that he is a man living on borrowed time and that he is completely out of place. The end result won’t be given away for the sake of those that have not seen this episode or haven’t seen it in years. Others might have a different interpretation of the script than that of this critic. But those that do prove even more the solidity of the writing in TNG’s sixth season.

One more example of the solidity of the writing in TNG’s sixth season lies in the season’s second two-part episode “Birthright.” Just as “Relics” brings back the original days of Gene Roddenberry’s beloved universe, “Birthright” presents in not so subtle fashion, the future of the Star Trek universe. Deep Space Nine is introduced along with one of the series’ lead characters, Dr. Julian Bashir. It even puts Worf onto the station, hinting at his future role in the series. This bookend is heightened even more thanks to the bonus commentary included on the previously discussed episode. Again, that commentary will be discussed later. But put simply, audiences will learn that the inclusion of Dr. Bashir and the station was no coincidence. Such willingness to show the future of the Star Trek universe at this point is key to TNG in terms of its writing as it showed that there was intent to end TNG’s run in the not too distant future. And of course as fans know, the series’ seventh season would be the last for this series. To that extent, one could easily argue that it was a respectful way of saying to TNG’s that the series would come to an end, but that they had no intent of just leaving viewers hanging. Once more, it is one more expert exhibition of how the writing in TNG’s sixth season was some of the series’ best.

On a more subtle note, audiences that pay close attention in the episode “Starship Mine” will notice actor Tim Russ capturing Captain Picard. Those more familiar with the Star Trek universe will recall that Russ would eventually go on to play Vulcan officer Tuvok aboard the starship Voyager. Of course he wasn’t Tuvok in this episode. But it’s one more interesting little tidbit proving one more time the strength of the writing in TNG’s sixth season.

Courtesy: CBS Blu-ray/Paramount Home Entertainment

Courtesy: CBS Blu-ray/Paramount Home Entertainment

The writing behind this season of TNG is some of the best that the series had seen to this point. That should be obvious by now. The episodes cited here are just parts of the proof of that. There are many more episodes that prove this argument. Moving on, Season Six is accompanied by the two-part episode “Chain of Command” on its own standalone Blu-ray disc separate from the primary box set. This episode was seen as being so pivotal because of its powerful story. Rarely had any TV show before or after tackled the entirely political topics of torture and war. And rarely had any series ever tackled them in such fashion. The bonus commentary included with this standalone episode makes it even more interesting. Audiences learn that there was apparently a certain amount of tension both in front of and behind the camera as a new Captain was brought in albeit temporarily as Picard was in the hands of the Cardassians. One of the individuals that discusses the episode compares the cast of TNG to a big family. So even bringing in a new cast member albeit for a short time can cause a feeling of being unsettled among the cast even behind the lens. That and the powerful writing show just why this was the proper episode to separate into its own disc versus the season’s other two-part episode, “Birthright.” It’s one more positive to a whole that every Star Trek fan will appreciate in this season.

The writing behind each of the episodes included in Season Six and the companion standalone episode are both important parts of the whole that makes this season another memorable piece of the Star Trek universe. There is still one last aspect of the whole set to note in examining this set. That aspect is the commentary included on various episodes. Audiences learn in the commentary that comes with “Relics” that it had been so long since the show’s writers and runners had kept from bringing members of the original series’ cast on to this series simply out of concern. It’s explained in the commentary that there had been an edict of sorts early on in the show’s run that there would be no mention of the previous series. It is ruminated that this was done out of fear that it would only heighten the comparisons between the two series. Yet purely out of chance, that episode in question came to life. And the inclusion of James Doohan happened organically. On another side, the commentary included in “Chain of Command” offers more depth than can even be touched upon here. Needless to say, that the commentary in question is quite in depth. And that depth serves to show once more what makes not just this episode, but the season in whole such a success. There is commentary included in other episodes of Season Six. What is noted here is only a glimpse of why the season’s commentary is a pivotal part of the season’s success. Audiences will find even more entertaining and informative commentary when they purchase TNG Season Six for themselves. In doing so, audiences will attain an even clearer view of why this season is one of the best from TNG’s seven total seasons, the set’s other factors aside.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Season Six will be available Tuesday, June 24th in stores and online. It can be ordered online via Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Star-Trek-Generation-Season-Blu-ray/dp/B00IURL19Y/ref=sr_1_1?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1402717281&sr=1-1&keywords=star+trek+the+next+generation+season+6. The “Chain of Command” standalone Blu-ray can be ordered via Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Star-Trek-Generation-Command-Blu-ray/dp/B00IUR3YI0/ref=sr_1_1?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1402717308&sr=1-1&keywords=star+trek+the+next+generation+chain+of+command.

More information on Star Trek: TNG Season 6 and other home releases from Paramount Studios is available online at http://www.facebook.com/ParamountMovies and http://www.paramount.com/movies/home-media. 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.

Viewers Will Discover Much To Like About The Lost Gardens Of Babylon

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

PBS released another new episode of its history-based series Secrets of the Dead today to the masses. Secrets of the Dead: The Lost Gardens of Babylon was released on DVD today. This episode of Secrets of the Dead is without a doubt, one of the best installments of the series to date. One of the reasons for this is the fact that it’s not just another piece with people investigating a given subject in a sterile environment. The search for the fabled Lost Gardens of Babylon takes Dr. Stephanie Dalley into the very heart of a war zone in the Middle East. During the course of Dr. Dalley’s investigation, she makes a stunning discovery that is more than just a historical discovery. The discovery in question is another aspect of this episode that makes it all the more interesting to watch. And last but definitely not least, it leaves viewers in the end—not to reveal too much—what the gardens might have looked like in their golden age. That final image in itself opens the door for just as much discussion as the discovery made by Dr. Dalley in her search for the Lost Gardens. All of these factors together make this episode of Secrets of the Dead one more that any viewer will enjoy regardless of how long they have watched the series.

The very first aspect of Secrets of the Dead: The Lost Gardens of Babylon that makes it well worth the watch is that it isn’t just another sterile history investigation. Presented in this episode of Secrets of the Dead is the search by one scholar—Dr. Stephanie Dalley—to find what is the last of the seven wonders of the ancient world—the lost hanging gardens of Babylon. Her search for the fabled gardens takes her away from the academic world and into what can only be described as a war zone in the Middle East. She makes the argument in this episode that despite the popular belief regarding the location of the gardens just south of Baghdad, she believes that the gardens are actually some two hundred miles plus north in Mosul. Mosul is hardly the safest city in the world. And as viewers will see in watching this program, even the people who come along are in constant and very real danger. That’s made especially clear when a pair of individuals is sent to videotape the site she believes to be that of the gardens. As is explained by narrator Jay O. Sanders, the men can only stay at the site for a given period of time before becoming too conspicuous. Understanding the reality of the danger faced by Dr. Dalley and all around her as they search for the gardens heightens the episode’s tension and in turn will keep viewers fully engaged.

The search itself for the lost gardens is only one part of what makes Secrets of the Dead: The Lost Gardens of Babylon so interesting. Audiences that give this episode of Secrets of the Dead a chance will find that in her search for the gardens, Dr. Dalley makes a very important discovery. She discovers how the water for the flowers, trees and other plants that grew in the gardens may very well have been provided by corkscrew style devices that were eons ahead of their time. It goes to show just how technologically advanced the builders of the gardens were. Taking into account this understanding, it opens a whole new window into the potential advances used to construct the pyramids, Stonehenge and some of the other most well-known architectural structures in the world. At the same time, it is enough to silence those people that would like to believe forces other than man constructed said structures. It proves that just because they didn’t have everything that humans have today doesn’t mean that the people of those times didn’t have the understanding of architecture and construction—or the means to build such structures–that we have today. Simply put, this serves as the starting point of a whole other program and discussion. Again, it makes this episode of Secrets of the Dead even more interesting to watch.

The discovery made by Dr. Dalley in her search for the Lost Gardens of Babylon and the danger experienced in the search are both important factors in the success of this episode of Secrets of the Dead. There is still one more factor to examine in the overall success of this installment of PBS’ hit series. That factor is the final statement offered by those behind the creation of this episode. Audiences are left with a fleeting glance of what the Lost Gardens of Babylon might have looked like in their golden era. The glance is given by way of computer animation. And it is impressive to say the least. Just as the discovery made by Dr. Dalley sets up a wholly new discussion and potential episode of Secrets of the Dead, so does the animation in question. It presents an image of beautiful, flourishing gardens in a terraced setting of sorts. The gardens sat just outside a palatial structure that was itself built at the mouth of a body of water that constantly fed the gardens. This image serves to heighten even more the discussion on architecture and construction started by the discovery made by Dr. Dalley in her search for the gardens. That discussion and any that spin off from it works in partner with the very search for the gardens to make Secrets of the Dead: The Lost Gardens of Babylon an episode of PBS’ series that every viewer will appreciate.

Secrets of the Dead: The Lost Gardens of Babylon is available now on DVD. It can be ordered online via PBS’ online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=34695396&cp=&sr=1&kw=secrets+of+the+dead&origkw=Secrets+of+the+Dead&parentPage=search. More information on this and other episodes of PBS’ Secrets of the Dead is available online at http://www.facebook.com/SecretsOfTheDead and http://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.