Constitution USA Makes Politics Enlightening And Entertaining

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

America is one of the greatest nations in the world today.  However, as Constitution USA with Peter Sagal points out, it isn’t a perfect nation.  The four-part documentary sees the host of NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me making his way across the country discussing some of the major hot button issues in America today, and how they relate to the Constitution.  More specifically, he discusses how specific portions of the Bill of Rights and of the Constitution itself still play a major role in Americans’ political views today.  It is one of the most impressive pieces of the year from PBS as it takes some very deep concepts and makes them easy to understand and entertaining all at the same time.

Constitution USA with Peter Sagal is unlike so many political documentaries that are out there today.  It doesn’t talk down to viewers, nor does it talk over their heads, either.  The people behind this program have shown that PBS can be intellectual while still being on the level of average viewers.  One of the figures interviewed in the course of the program is a lawyer.  She notes in her interview with Sagal that her job is to take the legal jargon written and spoken, and interpret it for her clients.  That’s what Sagal and company do in this program.  They take the over-the-top political jargon and make it easy for average viewers to understand and appreciate.  It really serves as a solid starting point for anyone that has any interest in politics.  And it serves to prove even to PBS’ brass that it is possible to make programming that is both entertaining and enlightening for average viewers.  Perhaps if more of PBS’ politically based programming takes this course, it could potentially lead to more eyes and in turn, more contributions to the network.  It’s one more piece that proves just how valuable and important PBS is to viewers to this day.   

Sagal and company make politics accessible and entertaining for average viewers of any age through Constitution USA.  They have also crafted a feature that through its roughly four-hour run time, is entirely unbiased.  Opinions are shared on both sides of the issues through Sagal’s interviews.  What’s more, they are shared by every day people, rather than politicians.  This circles back to the ease of understanding and entertainment value for audiences throughout all four segments of the program.  This is because in using a variety of subjects for interviews, audiences are seeing people just like themselves sharing their opinions instead of only some talking head in a stuffed shirt.  Of course, Sagal’s own rapport with his interviewees helps set these people at ease just like he does on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.  He has taken his interview skills from his NPR news quiz show and translated it so well to this format.  In its own way, this is another positive to this presentation. 

As minor as it may seem, Sagal’s rapport with his subjects plays its own part in the success of Constitution USA.  Far too often, political documentaries are presented either with a nameless, faceless narrator that speaks off camera over the presented material.  This is the exact opposite of those all too common presentations.  Whether or not audiences are familiar with Peter Sagal from his show on NPR, they will enjoy watching him as he gathers information and opinions from people on every level from ordinary citizens to academics and even politicians.  Sagal shows time and again his ability to talk to anyone at any level.  He shows that he has the ability to get them to loosen up and open up, rather than put on airs.  It’s a refreshing change of pace, especially being that this is a documentary about politics.  What’s more, his interviews are held in a variety of settings.  They’re not always in some sterile office environment.  Many of the interviews culled for the show are held outside or in classrooms.  That plays into Sagal’s interviews.  Because they aren’t all done inside those sterile office environments, they help establish a calmer mood both for the interviewees and for viewers.  Much like the use of colors in a movie or TV show, the variety of settings is a very psychological aspect.  Viewers won’t entirely recognize it on the surface, but it very much plays a role in keeping audiences’ attention.  Combined with everything else that went into bringing it together, it is one more piece of the puzzle proving the importance and value of Constitution USA with Peter Sagal.  It also serves to prove just why w as Americans need to better understand the Constitution.  It is available now and can be ordered online via the PBS online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=20427076&cp=&sr=1&kw=constitution+usa&origkw=Constitution+USA&parentPage=search.

After ordering Constitution USA with Peter Sagal, audiences can go online to the official PBS Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pbs and “Like” it to find out about all of the latest programming news and more from PBS.  Audiences can also keep up with all of the latest news from PBS on its official website, http://www.pbs.org.

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 First Ladies Shows The Power Of A Woman In The Presidency

Courtesy: PBS

There’s an old adage that states something to the effect of behind every great man is a great woman.  That couldn’t be more wrong.  Women don’t stand behind any man.  The proper adage should state that NEXT TO every great man is an equally great woman.  PBS’ special, The First Ladies is proof of that.  This two-disc, seven hour special from the network’s “American Experience” program presents five of the first ladies who have stood by their husbands and showed that they were just as great as their husbands at the same time.

Among the most influential of the five First Ladies profiled in this double disc set is the one and only Eleanor Roosevelt.  Mrs. Roosevelt had quite the life.  The profile on Mrs. Roosevelt takes up a large portion of the set’s seven hours, clocking in at just under two and a half hours.  It takes viewers on a journey from her birth to her death.  That’s right.  Her story doesn’t end when her husband died.  Throughout her life, Eleanor Roosevelt showed that she took some advice from her uncle (by marriage) Teddy very seriously.  Teddy told her when she was young, that she should never show fear.  She obviously took that to heart, as she became a fearless advocate for civil rights and women’s rights.  She became so active that she was under constant surveillance by the F.B.I.  Even after discovering that her husband, FDR, had had an affair with another woman, she showed no fear.  She stood up to him, and essentially forced him to give up his affair.  One can’t help but admit that probably if not for Eleanor Roosevelt, FDR might not have held office for three terms.  As The First Ladies shows, hers was a very powerful influence on public opinion of her husband.  She definitely didn’t stand behind FDR.  She stood beside him in every sense of the word. 

Just as Eleanor Roosevelt stood by and worked right by her husband, so did Nancy Reagan.  Nancy developed a reputation outside the White House as being little more than another version of a certain other former first lady.  But behind the scenes, she was quite the hard working and serious individuals.  And according to Mrs. Reagan herself, she was right there at the late President’s side because she was interested in the people that surrounded him.  She played a direct role in the people in her husband’s cabinet, as well as other factors.  As one person interviewed for this segment noted, she was almost sort of a Mary Todd Lincoln figure in that she seemed to want to make the White House itself a reflection of the power of the position of President.  Just one example of that was how Mrs. Reagan raised private funding to purchase new china for hosting state dinners, and for re-decorating certain rooms of the White House.  As much as she worked behind the scenes, The First Ladies is much like The Presidents in that it shows no bias.  It shows everything that made her an influential First Lady.  In the same breath, it also shows the view that the public had of her because of her personality in front of the cameras.  That reputation was not exactly a good one.  She and her husband developed the reputation as socializing only with the super rich, which was contradictory to the job of the President.  The job of the President and First Lady is to work for Americans.  So spending so much time with the people who helped to get him elected made both Mr. and Mrs. Reagan look very bad.  But again, this feature pulls no punches.  It even shows Nancy’s reaction to those views.  It offers archived footage showing her poking fun at herself as a result of those personal media opinions.  That archived footage helps to paint a much broader picture of Nancy Reagan as First Lady.

The archived footage and interviews culled for each segment in The First Ladies go a long way toward making all seven hours of this special all the more informative and interesting.  The First Ladies may only be comprised of two discs.  But being that it has seven hours worth of material, and focuses on five of the most influential First Ladies in our nation’s history, there is enough material here for an entire semester’s worth of classes both in public schools and college level courses.  It’s an interesting piece of American history both inside and outside the classroom.  And it can be ordered online now via PBS’ online store, http://www.shoppbs.org.

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

The Presidents Re-Issue Adds Even More For Audiences

Courtesy: PBS

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frontline Special Offers In Depth Unbiased Look At America’s Recent Economic Crisis On New DVD Set

Courtesy: PBS

PBS’ news program, Frontline, has always been a leader in delivering true hard hitting investigative journalism.  Its most recent program, “Money, Power, and Wall Street” is no exception.  It follows the course of events beginning in the early 2000’s that would eventually lead to what would be known as the “Great Recession” at the beginning of Barack Obama’s presidency.  This special is especially recommended for anyone who has any interest in economics or politics.  While it will be interesting to those who have an affinity for politics, the irony is that it strives to not let itself get muddled in political finger pointing.  It manages to stay relatively balanced, making sure to state without stating that the blame for the country’s economic mess goes all the way around, from the banks to the politicians.  It’s an in-depth and scathing look at everything that led to what is one of this nation’s worst economic crises ever. 

The entire program starts with a group of young JP Morgan Chase employees who came up with an idea as to how to reduce risk in the banking business in the early portion of the 2000’s.  It follows the crisis as it gets progressively worse, from issues with predatory lending to the impact of the crisis on the then brand new Obama administration.  The crisis forced the new President to make very difficult choices that he perhaps might not have entirely agreed on.  To others, those choices might be rather eye opening.  But that is the point of this special.  It is meant to offer audiences the facts and nothing but.  It is an unbiased special that gives every side of the crisis, thus allowing viewers to make their own conclusions and discussions about the direction of the crisis.  The discussions in question would be perfect for any college level poly-sci and/or accounting/economics course, or even for those who are in the professional realm.  PBS has made things even better with this set, dividing all four hour long segments of the special onto two discs.  So whether inside or outside the classroom or even in the halls of government and business, this special can be taken in and discussed at the viewer’s own pace.

“Money, Power, and Wall Street” is available now.  It can be ordered online at http://www.shoppbs.org.

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

Chasing Madoff a gripping real life crime drama

Bernie Madoff is one of the most hated individuals in the history of the United States.  He is so hated because of a crime that cost countless others their entire lives.  Now, in the new documentary, “Chasing Madoff” audiences see exactly the devastation that Madoff brought not only on single individuals and families, but also potentially on the entire economic system of the United States.  And all it took to reveal this was one single person.

Harry Markopolous tells his story in this stunning work, of how he came to discover the massive financial fraud being covered by Madoff.  It all began a decade before Madoff was eventually arrested at 8:30 in the morning on December 11, 2008.  In the course of his story, Markopolous tells viewers how scared he was to really delve into the case and bring it to light.  He explains that another whistleblower had been beaten and left for dead because of that person’s attempt to uncover wrongdoings.  That alone puts this real life story up there with some of the best legal thrillers by the likes of author John Grisham.  Viewers also see how Madoff actually covered up his crime for so long before finally being caught.  That too, made this such an enthralling work, as it makes one wonder how he got away with it for so long.  That leads to another eye opening aspect of the documentary. 

What’s really eye opening in this documentary isn’t so much the massive extent of Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.  But that as a result of its discovery, members of the SEC and the federal government started pointing fingers at each other, sniping at one another like a bunch of children.  Seeing this behavior in the context of the Madoff case serves to prove exactly why Americans are so fed up with Wall Street and the people charged with monitoring its behaviors.  While it is a documentary, it’s not exactly presented in the standard mold of a documentary.  Through interviews with those who lost their money thanks to Madoff, and the people sniffing out Madoff’s trail, those who are really interested in this massive financial fraud scheme will really find themselves enthralled by the whole presentation.  

“Chasing Madoff” is one of the most gripping real life dramas in modern history.  It’s the kind of stuff that simply cannot be made up, to use a phrase.  But it’s definitely the stuff that can be made into stories.  It’s also a perfect documentary for college level finance and business classes.  It serves as a reminder of everything that can happen as a result of one person’s misdeeds.  Most of all (bad joke here), it serves as a reminder that for criminals on any level, crime simply doesn’t pay.  Anyone who followed the madoff case remembers that as a result of his crimes, he will likely die in prison, having been sentenced to nearly two hundred years in prison for his crimes.  The sad reality of all of this is that while Madoff may never see the light of day again outside prisn walls, those who lost everything will likely never regain their sense of trust among so much more.  All of this in mind, Chasing Madoff is one of those documentaries that will alsways have a niche audience.  But it will most definitely never be forgotten.