Starz Acquires Rights To Hawkins Brothers’ Directorial Debut

Courtesy:  Starz Media

Courtesy: Starz Media

Kevin Kasha, Head of Acquisitions for Starz, announced this week that the company has acquired the award-winning movie We Gotta Get Out Of This Place.  The movie, which was the directorial debut of the Hawkins Brothers, premiered at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival and won the Audience Award at AFI Fest.  The deal, signed this week, gives Starz Digital Media exclusive rights to the movie in both Canada and the United States.

Kasha was upbeat in discussing acquiring the film from the up-and-coming directing duo.  “I love when our team discovers films by talented new filmmakers,” he said.  “Set in a dead-end Texas town, Zeke and Simon Hawkins offer audiences a gritty thriller that presents a fresh, sometimes surreal take that will appeal to film fans everywhere. We’re excited they’ve partnered with Starz to share their debut film.”

We Gotta Get Out Of This Place is a gritty crime drama that centers on a trio of teens in Texas that gets pulled into the world of organized crime after the young men go partying with some stolen money.  The movie stars Jeremy Allen White (Shameless), Mackenzie Davis (That Awkward Moment, AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire), Mark Pellegrino (Being Human), and William Devane (The Dark Knight).  The story was written by Dutch Southern and produced by Rough & Tumble Films.

More information on new releases from Starz and Starz Digital Media is available online at http://www.starz.com, http://www.facebook.com/Starz, and http://twitter.com/starz_channel.  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.

Warner Brothers’ Superman Reboot Anything But Invincible

Courtesy:  Warner Brothers Home Video

Courtesy: Warner Brothers Home Video

Man of Steel was one of the most highly anticipated movies of 2013.  However, in the days following its premiere, neither the critics nor the fan boys and girls were overly kind to the movie.  Each had their own reason for disliking the movie.  Superman is without a doubt the single most iconic name in both the world of comic books and of movies based on comics.  The major problem with this new take on Superman’s origin story is its writing.  There is much to be said there.  Just as problematic with this movie is its new home release.  A simple change could have been made with the packaging to make it better.  But Warner Home Video didn’t even take that simple step, serving only to shoot itself in the foot so to speak.  Man of Steel had its share of problems, obviously.  In its defense, it did have at least some positives. One of those positives was the acting on the part of Henry Cavill and Michael Shannon.  Also to the movie’s benefit is the collective bonus features included in its home release.  The bonus features included in the movie’s home release are extensive to say the least.  But there are two that stand out among the others. They will be noted at a later time.  That bonus material along with the acting of Cavill and Shannon are the movie’s saving graces.  They balance out the whole presentation and make it worth at least one watch by any fan boy or girl of the original boy in blue.

Man of Steel wasn’t a terribly awful movie.  It isn’t even one of the worst of the year.  But thanks to its writing, it is also not one of the year’s best, either.  The writing behind Man of Steel is plagued with problems.  The most obvious of those problems lies the unbalanced character development and action elements.  Goyer and Snyder spend too much time both developing the movie’s backstory and on the conflict between Superman and General Zod.  Viewers didn’t really need as much of an in-depth look at Krypton as they got.  Given, it was good ot have a story of how Krypton met is untimely end.  But the constant transitions between Clark’s boyhood and his adult life were messy and unnecessary.   Rather than setting specific transition points, the story—written by David S. Goyer (The Dark Knight Trilogy, The Blade Trilogy, DaVinci’s Demons) and Zach Snyder (300), jumps back and forth between the present and Clark’s past at will.  The obvious attempt here was to fill in the gaps of Clark’s childhood without bogging down the overall story.  Goyer and Snyder are to be commended for making the effort.  But the end result was in fact that it caused the story to do just what they were attempting to avoid.  It’s just one part of what makes the movie’s writing problematic.  The movie’s dialogue is another problem with the writing.  It gets pretty campy at some points.  One of the worst of those moments comes when General Swanwick (Harry Lennix—Ray, The Matrix Revolutions, State of Play) states of Zod and his ship in its first sighting, “Whoever is piloting that ship plans on making a dramatic entrance.”  If ever there was a cheesy line, that line is it.  It’s a—pardon the term here—John Madden “no duh” type of statement.  And it’s just one of many really cheesy lines thrown in throughout a movie that otherwise tries pretty hard to be taken seriously.

The end result of Goyer and Snyder’s writing definitely caused its own share of problems for Man of Steel.  Now that the movie has been released to DVD, Blu-ray, and combo packs, it suffers from one more problem.  That problem is the movie’s packaging.  The discs included in the Blu-ray/DVD/VUDU combo pack were stacked on two spindles.  The primary disc containing the movie and primary bonus features was stacked on top of the set’s second disc containing the remaining bonus material.  There is nothing between the discs to protect them from one another.  The set’s third disc however, is set on its own spindle on the right inside side of the set’s case.  Why the people at Warner Home Video did not just include an extra plastic insert on which it could have placed either of the first two discs is questionable to say the least.  But it definitely takes away even more from the movie’s overall presentation and hurts the overall product in the long run.

Man of Steel had its share of problems, as one should be able to tell by now.  But it wasn’t without its positives, either.  The acting on the part of Henry Cavill and Michael Shannon was the most praiseworthy of the movie’s positives.  Shannon might not have exactly had the look of Terence Stamp’s Zod.  But he more than made up for that with his acting.  He is brutal, cold, and calculating.  Yet in his own eyes, he doesn’t see himself as a villain.  And Shannon (Take Shelter) expertly translated that personality style, too.  He made Zod’s character fully believable with his portrayal.  In the same vein, Cavill’s brooding nature as he attempts to come to terms with his powers and how he fits in with his world is just as believable.  He presents Kal-El as not so much the “god” type of figure but as being just as flawed as a human.  Much has been said of how he handles Zod at the end of their final battle.  What many people don’t seem to remember is that he shows real emotion at what unfolds.  It’s another example of what makes this Superman just as much a sympathetic character as any others previously portrayed on the big screen.

The acting on the part of Cavill and Shannon are collectively Man of Steel’s saving grace.  Both men are entirely believable in their roles.  Their acting is just one of so many aspects of the movie discussed in depth in the bonus features included in its home release.  Just as interesting to note in the bonus features is the fact that the crew went to every measure to make sure the cast was able to do its own stunts.  Audiences will see the rigorous workout regimen through which the primary cast members were put in order to be fit enough for that task.  To see actors and actresses doing their own stunts in the place of stunt doubles is something very rare in today’s movie industry.  For that reason alone, the movie gained a new respect at least by this critic.  Of course, it is only one of the extras that makes the movie even more worthy of a watch now that it has been released to DVD and combo pack.  The bonus “commentary” included in the second set of special features is the highlight of the movie’s bonus features.  It too is something that especially today, viewers don’t see much of, if at all.

The second disc included in the Man of Steel Blu-ray/DVD/VUDU combo pack includes a special second screen commentary that is a bonus feature in every sense of the term.  This second screen feature is something that today is typically reserved only for those with tablets, iPhones, etc.  Yet here, anyone with a Blu-ray player can watch this bonus hybrid commentary. It includes not just audio commentary, but visual, too.  Audiences get to hear and see from the cast and crew while watching the movie.  They can even watch the making of the movie all at the same time.  It brings everything full circle for viewers whether viewers are seeing the movie for the first time, the fifth or more.  It still doesn’t make Man of Steel one of the best movies of the year.  But with the movie’s other positives, it makes the movie one of the best home video releases of the year.  It is available now in stores and online at http://www.wbshop.com/search.do?query=Man+of+Steel.  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.

Thor 2 Is Fun, But Falls Short

Courtesy:  Marvel Studios

Courtesy: Marvel Studios

Sequels are very rarely as good as the movies that they follow.  This has been proven so many times in recent years by so many studios.  DC and Marvel have both proven this time and again with their big name franchises.  DC and Legendary proved that with its recent Batman franchise.  Marvel Studios’ first Spiderman trilogy was just one victim of that curse.  Now Marvel Studios has once again fallen victim to the “curse of the sequel” with its latest big screen offering, Thor: The Dark World.  This action packed late year blockbuster has plenty going for it.  Its special effects and its ability to balance its science fiction and fantasy elements are both positives.  The acting on the part of both Chris Hemsworth and Tim Hiddleston makes the movie even more fun.  However, it is hardly perfect.  It has one major issue that will be its downfall in the long run.  That one glaring negative is the story’s overall writing.  The movie itself clocks in at just under two hours.  However, because of the writing, it feels quite a bit longer.  As much positive as this movie has going for it, this one issue alone is going to ultimately be what keeps this movie from being one of Marvel’s most memorable offerings.

Thor: The Dark World is hardly the year’s best movie or even one of the year’s best.  To its defense, it isn’t the year’s worst movie, either.  One can openly admit about this sequel to Marvel Studios’ 2011 hit Thor, that it has some extremely impressive special effects.  From the backdrops to the fight scenes and one chase scene in particular, those charged with making the movie’s special effects work are deserving of applause.  It goes without saying that much of the movie was crafted using green screen effects.  That aside, those backdrops that were crafted by computer look just as impressive as those that were actually shot live.  Adding to that was the ability of those behind the cameras to blend the CG backgrounds with actual sets and shooting locales.  The computer generated effects in both cases never once felt overblown.  The same can be said of the effects used in the movie’s many fight scenes and the chase scene that follows Jane’s breakout from the palace early in the story.  Even the finest of details were tuned to make the special effects in each case collectively an effective part of the overall presentation.

The work done by those behind the cameras to keep Thor: The Dark World from being little more than another special effects extravaganza is very much an applause worthy aspect of this movie.  Their ability to balance its live action and CG elements is one of the most important aspects of the movie’s success, limited as that success proves to be in the grand scheme of things.  The ability of all involved to balance the movie’s fantasy and science fiction elements is just as important to the overall product.  Those that are less familiar with Marvel’s take on the God of Thunder and the first movie in his franchise might go into the movie thinking it will be just another fantasy epic a la The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings.  Those same individuals are sure to be pleasantly surprised to see both elements smoothly combined.  On a bigger level, it shows once again how easy it is to blur genre lines on both the big screen and small screen, and how to do it right for that matter.

The balance of live action and CG elements and that of sci-fi and fantasy elements make Thor: The Dark World one more release that comic book fans of any age should see at least once.  They aren’t all that make the movie worth at least a single watch.  The acting on the part of lead stars Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston also plays into the movie’s overall success, as limited as that success proves to be.  The duo’s chemistry has visibly grown over the course of the two movies in which it has already starred—Thor and The Avengers.  Their chemistry has developed so much and so well that it makes suspension of disbelief that much easier in watching the pair interact.  Whether on the verge of taking one another down, Thor having to endure Loki’s wisecracking, or other situations, Hiddleston and Hemsworth make for one of the movie industry’s better modern day odd couples for lack of better wording.  There has been much talk as to whether or not Loki will be back in the already anticipated third movie in the Thor franchise.  If he should be back once more, it goes without saying that his pairing with Hemsworth will be one more welcome addition to the movie’s cast.

As one can tell by now, there is plenty to applaud in Marvel Studios’ Thor: The Dark World.  For all of its positives, this movie is anything but perfect.  The one area in which this movie fails is also its most important.  That area is the story’s script/writing.  The movie’s script is one more prime example of what happens when there are too many hands in the proverbial pot.  No fewer than four individuals worked together to develop the script for this work.  The end result is a near two hour movie that feels a lot longer and schmaltzier than it should have been.  The script’s first problem is the tired and overly used issue of a character trying to find his place in his world and in the universe.  The character in question is Thor.  Audiences see him emotionally struggling to figure out where he belongs in Asgard and trying to balance that with his feelings for his love interest, Jane, who is once again played by Natalie Portman.  This is hardly the first time that audiences have ever seen this used.  The whole brooding character bit has already been done just this year alone in Man of Steel.  The end result of that was a movie that was met with mixed results.  Audiences will be just as mixed with this movie as a result of having Thor brooding in much the same style.

Thor’s brooding nature this time out is just one of the problems with Thor 2’s script.  Just as much a problem with this script is the fact that it feels more like one extended fight sequence than an actual movie with a story.  There are some story elements tossed in for good measure.  But it seems like action sequences dominate the script.  This is evident right from the moment that Jane is “saved” from her room at the palace.  From that moment on, the movie’s pace goes near full speed.  There are few breaks in that action, too.  The problem with this is that it forces audiences to struggle to even hope to keep up with what’s going on.  The story’s pace is that rapid fire.  The even bigger problem is that it goes on at that pace straight through to the final moments of the movie’s epic final battle between Thor and Malekith.  That final battle is the final nail in the coffin for the movie.  It simply runs too long.  It is the final nail in the movie’s coffin.  This and Thor’s brooding sub-story take away enough from all of the movie’s positives to ultimately make it one more of Marvel Studios’ largely forgettable films.  One can only hope that when it finally hits theaters, the franchise’s third film will make up for this movie and its predecessor.  Simply put, this movie is worth at least one watch.  But it’s more worth one watch on Netflix or Redbox than in theaters.

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.

Da Vinci’s Demons A Surprise Hit In Its Debut Season

Courtesy:  Starz/Anchor Bay Entertainment

Courtesy: Starz/Anchor Bay Entertainment

Da Vinci’s Demons is not the first historically based drama on television today.  It is however, one of the best.  And now thanks to Starz and Anchor Bay, those that aren’t lucky enough to have Starz network can experience the first season of this hit series for themselves on DVD and Blu-ray.  The first season of Da Vinci’s Demons is so entertaining first and foremost because of its clever writing. Unlike so many other historical dramas, this one is more centered on action and adventure than drama.  It’s one part Indiana Jones and one part…well…Da Vinci’s Code tied into one.  Audiences will also appreciate the work on the part of the show’s cast throughout all eight of Season One’s episodes.  And of course what box set would be complete without at least some bonus features?  The bonus features included in Da Vinci’s Demons Season One are relatively brief.  But they play their own part in making the overall presentation of Season One enjoyable.  These aspects taken into consideration, they work in tandem to make this debut season one that is a must see for any fan of historical dramas.

The most important element of Da Vinci’s Demons Season One is its writing.  Credit where credit is due.  Series creator and writer David S. Goyer (Man of Steel, The Dark Knight Trilogy, The Blade Trilogy) has crafted in the series’ first season that is a more akin to Indiana Jones than say Game of Thrones.  It just used setting in question as the backdrop for all of the action.  Goyer and his staff of writers are more than deserving of respect for balancing the story of his search for the “Book of Leaves” with his being wrapped up in the political and religious turmoil of the time.  It would have been so easy for the two separate story lines to step on one another, especially considering the depth of each story line.  Keeping in mind the depth of the story arcs throughout Season One, viewers will have to be fully invested in each episode in order to fully appreciate them.  One cannot simply have any of Season One’s episodes playing while one does housework, etc. and expect to have a full appreciation for the writing.  This is a good thing, too.  It is good because in being fully invested in each episode, audiences will see the value of and originality in each episode and the first season overall.

The writing behind any TV show and movie is the backbone of each.  It can make or break the given TV show or movie.  By direct correlation, the work of the show’s cast makes the show even more of a joy to watch.  Actor Tom Riley aptly fills the role of a young Leonardo Da Vinci opposite his equally talented cast mates.  He shows his acting chops quite well with this subtle wit and control over his character’s deeper emotions.  There are those actors that tend to ham it up on both ends of that spectrum.  But Riley doesn’t do that.  It makes him all the more fun to watch.   He and his cast mates collectively make suspension of disbelief easy, too.  This should come as no surprise considering the resumes of some of the main cast.  The cast is comprised of rather well trained theater actors that are just as experienced in their craft as they are trained.  Elliot Cowan (Lorenzo Medici) is a graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.  He also holds a degree in Drama from Birmingham University.  He has starred in a number of major films including Alexander (2004) and The Golden Compass (2007).  Viewers will recognize Gregg Chillin (Zoroaster) from his roles in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.  And those that have seen Nanny McPhee Returns will likely recognize actor Eros Vlahos.  Vlahos played Cyril Gray in that movie.  He has also starred in none other than Game of Thrones as Lommy Greenhands.  The collective resume of the cast of Da Vinci’s Demons goes on for quite some time.  But one can tell from this microscopic look at that resume just why suspension of disbelief was so easy and why the cast gelled so well together.  It’s one more aspect of the show that makes it such a surprise hit.

The casting and writing behind Da Vinci’s Demons are integral to the show’s success.  Also noteworthy in this triple-disc box set is the bonus features.  The primary bonus features included in the set take viewers into the recording studio, where the show’s soundtrack was recorded.  Also included among the bonus features are the standard deleted scenes, and a look behind the scenes of the show.  Each feature is a short vignette.  But they do their own part to make the overall experience richer.  Even more important to Season One is the inclusion of bonus commentary as well as the option to play each episode with a recap of the previous episodes.  The recap is especially helpful regardless of whether or not one missed any of the episodes presented in this set.  Even if a person has seen each episode, a recap helps remind viewers of what has already happened.  Considering that each episode is just over an hour in length, it makes the recaps even more important an addition to each episode.  It is the proverbial cherry on the sundae that makes Season One of Da Vinci’s Demons such a surprise hit.  Along with the show’s writing and its acting, it makes this box set all the more worth picking up.  It is available now in stores and online and can be ordered direct from Anchor Bay Entertainment’s website at http://www.anchorbayentertainment.com/detail.aspx?projectID=fd093f1f-88ae-e211-b6d4-d4ae527c3b65.  More information on this and other releases from Anchor Bay Entertainment and Starz is available online at http://www.anchorbayentertainment.com and http://www.facebook.com/AnchorBay.  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 Muppets Bring More Joy And Heart To The Holidays With New Re-Issue

Courtesy:  Walt Disney Home Entertainment

Courtesy: Walt Disney Home Entertainment

Jim Henson was without a doubt, one of the most creative minds in both television and movies during his life.  So it goes without saying that in his death, the world lost both a great person and a great mind.  Considering the success of movies such as Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal and The Muppet Show, following up the success of those features while paying tribute to the Henson’s memory at the same time would not be easy.  However, Disney and Henson’s son made a valiant effort to accomplish both tasks with the release of The Muppet Christmas Carol in 1992.  Now twenty years after the original release of that story Disney has re-issued it onto a new Blu-ray/DVD combo pack for a whole new generation of audiences to enjoy. 

The Muppet Christmas Carol is just one of any number of renditions of Charles Dickens’ classic literary tale.  There are so many different takes on the classic tale that it would seem that one needs a program to tell them all apart.  This modern take on the classic tale is enjoyable first and foremost for its general structure.  Rather than trying to be just another take on Dickens’ story, it comes across as a stage play on screen instead of a movie.  The sets and musical numbers alone give it that feel.  And the cast’s acting adds to that feel, too.  Veteran actor Michael Caine (Secondhand Lions, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises) does an expert job leading the cast as the infamous Ebenezer Scrooge.  While Caine does an extraordinary job as Scrooge, it’s The Great Gonzo and Rizzo who take the story’s other light.  Unlike other versions of A Christmas Carol in which the narrator is only heard and not seen, Gonzo takes on the mantle of Dickens, helping to guide viewers through the story on screen.  In its own manner, this is actually a visual aid of sorts for viewers.  It’s a very valuable aid, too.  The comic turns between Gonzo and Rizzo add for even more entertainment for viewers, as well.  Audiences will enjoy the pair’s physical comedy throughout the movie.  At one point, Rizzo falls down a chimney with rather warm results.  And the pair gets knocked off more than one window sill as it attempts to help viewers follow the story.  These are just a handful of examples of how the cast’s acting makes The Muppet Christmas Carol enjoyable for the family.  The acting aside, there is at least another aspect that makes this two decade old story enjoyable even today.  That aspect is the movie’s general presentation.  

The acting of both Caine and the puppeteers does a lot to make The Muppet Christmas Carol a believable and enjoyable story.  But it’s not all that contributes to the movie’s success.  The on-screen stage presentation is what really puts The Muppet Christmas Carol over the top.  As noted already, there are so many renditions of A Christmas Carol out there that it’s tough to keep them all straight.  Among that mass of different takes are movies that are obviously take offs of that story, just with different titles.  The Muppet Christmas Carol does the exact opposite of those adaptations.  Rather, it opted to pay homage to the original in its own way.  Instead of trying to be another movie adaptation of the original story, it takes the avenue of being a stage play complete with enjoyable musical numbers and sets that make audiences feel as if they’re watching a play on screen.  Combined with the acting, the musical numbers and sets will pull audiences in with ease and keep their attention throughout the near hour and a half story.  And for those audiences who perhaps might have to get up during the movie for any reason, they are treated to something very special courtesy of the bonus “Intermission” feature.  The “Intermission” feature allows audiences to pause the movie and enjoy extra musical numbers courtesy of other members of the Muppets cast.

Speaking of bonus features, the bonus features presented in the previous DVD presentation of The Muppet Christmas Carol are carried over to this new Blu-ray/DVD combo pack along with a pair of new additions.  The “Intermission” feature is one of that pair of new features.  The other new feature is an interview with Jim Henson’s son Brian Henson, who helmed this new take on the holiday standard.  The manner in which the interview was conducted is worth its own share of laughs.  That’s because Henson shares the moment with Gonzo and Rizzo.  The three discuss different aspects of the film and behind-the scenes stories that will keep the entire family especially entertained.  It’s just one more part of the whole that makes the new 20th Anniversary Edition of The Muppet Christmas Carol fun for the whole family this and every holiday season. 

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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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