The Abolitionists PBS’ First Great Documentary Of The Year

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

Half documentary, half historical film and all educational and entertaining, PBS’ the Abolitionists is even more proof of the value of public broadcasting.  This three part/three hour documentary from PBS’ American experience series is a wonderful tool both inside the classroom and outside.  Its mix of documentary and re-enactment does something very rarely seen with PBS’ documentaries.  This is a piece that would typically be more closely akin to those programs produced for the History Channel.  So seeing such a presentation from PBS shows that the network is just as capable of producing such entertaining and educational content.

The presentation of the Abolitionists as part documentary and part re-enactment is the most notable of the positives from this outstanding story.  Within the three-hour course of this feature, audiences will appreciate not just the re-enactments themselves, but also the story’s organization.  What audiences have here is the historical equivalent to a movie with an ensemble cast as it focuses on not just one person, but five.  The documentary seamlessly weaves together the stories of Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Angelina Grimke, Harriet Beecher Stowe and John Brown without allowing each figure’s story to step on the other.  Rather each one nicely compliments the other throughout the documentary’s three segments.  This may seem minor.  But in the larger scale of things, it goes a long way towards keeping audiences of all ages engaged within the context of each hour-long segment.

Within the context of each of the documentary’s three segments audiences are given even more reason to enjoy this recently released DVD through the re-enactments and the actual words of Stowe, Brown and the others.  The actors portraying the famed figures do an outstanding job in their roles.  The addition of readings of each figure’s own words makes those portrayals and each individual’s role in ending slavery hit that much harder.  And actor Oliver Platt’s narration was a solid fit.  His delivery combined with the film’s editing and music come together to make each segment equally solid.  Kudos to all involved for such impressive work.

The general make-up of The Abolitionists plays the largest role in the overall success of this recently released DVD as has already been noted.  On a more specific level, the presentation’s construction so to speak itself plays its own role in viewers’ engagement.  Viewers will be quite impressed at the cinematography and the re-enactments.  The re-enactments within this release could easily go toe-to-toe with the documentaries released by the History Channel.  The combination of the historically accurate clothing, sets, and even dialects show that those involved with bringing this special from the American Experience series took its creation with the utmost seriousness.  The same can be said of those running the cameras during the re-enactments.  The historical re-enactment segments were beautifully shot.  They look and sound like anything that might be seen any day on the silver screen.  Coupled with the telling of each figure’s story, the Abolitionist’s cinematography will grab audiences and keep them right to the final minutes of the final segment.

Whether for re-enactments, the presentation’s overall structure–music, editing, narration, etc.–or for something smaller such as the inclusion of each figure’s own words, it’s obvious that a lot of work went into bringing The Abolitionists to life.  The end product is a feature from PBS that easily holds its own against releases from the History Channel and that has made its argument to be one of the best documentaries of the year.  It is available now and can be ordered online at the PBS online store at http://www.shoppbs.org

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FHE Celebrates Upcoming Re-Issue With New Promotions

Courtesy:  20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Courtesy: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

The 2013 MLB season is right around the corner.  And just in time for the start of a brand new season, 20th Century Fox is set to release its classic baseball-centered coming-of-age story, The Sandlot in a special 20th Anniversary Blu-ray/DVD combo package.  The new re-issue will be released Tuesday, March 26th.  The movie features an all-star cast including: James Earl Jones, Denis Leary, and Karen Allen just to name a few cast members. 

Along with the re-issue of this classic movie, Fox Home Entertainment will partner with Benny The Jet’s favorite shoe brand, PF Flyers for a very special one-of-a-kind promotion.  The companies will release a limited run of “The Secret Weapon” the same day the movie hits stores.  The shoes will be sold in a vintage 1960’s shoebox.  The shoes won’t be all that fans get when they purchase a pair of PF Flyers.  The box will also include a $3 Sandlot coupon with the shoes.  And anyone who picks up the new 20th Anniversary edition of The Sandlot on Blu-ray/DVD combo pack will get a coupon for 10% off a pair of PF Flyers inside the box.  More information on this special is available online at http://www.pfflyers.com

The special limited run of PF Flyers is just one promotion being put on by FHE along with the classic movie’s re-issue.  FHE is also partnering with Major League Baseball and the Fox Sports Networks for what is being dubbed the “Sandlot Baseball Field Program.”  The program’s aim is to renovate baseball fields across the country so that baseball lovers the nation over can have a “Sandlot” of their own in their own backyards.  And many of the nation’s Major and Minor league baseball parks will present screenings of The Sandlot with Director, Writer and Narrator, David Mickey Evans.  A full schedule of screenings is listed below.

The Sandlot

Screening Locations/Dates

(*Subject to Change)

ARM & HAMMER Park, home of the Trenton Thunder (Trenton, New Jersey) – 4/13/13

 

Fluor Field at the West End, home of the Greenville Drive (Greenville, South Carolina) – 4/19/13

 

Arvest Ballpark, home of the Northwest Arkansas Naturals (Springdale, Arkansas) – 4/21/13

 

Rangers Ballpark, home of the Texas Rangers (Arlington, Texas) – 5/11/13

 

Tucson Padres at Kino Stadium (Tucson, Arizona) – 5/18/13

 

Busch Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals (St. Louis, Missouri) – Date to be announced

 

Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins (Minneapolis, Minnesota) – Date to be announced

 

Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, home of the Oklahoma City RedHawks (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma) – 6/1/13

 

AutoZone Park, home of the Memphis Redbirds (Memphis, Tennessee) – 6/15/13

 

Steinbrenner Field, home of the Tampa Yankees (Tampa, Florida) – 6/22/13

 

Dell Diamond, home of the Round Rock Express (Round Rock, Texas) – 6/25/13

 

Whataburger Field, home of the Corpus Christi Hooks (Corpus Christi, Texas) – 6/29/13

 

Fifth Third Field, home of the Toledo Mud Hens (Toledo, Ohio) – 7/5/13

 

Classic Park, home of the Lake County Captains (Eastlake, Ohio) – 7/12/13

 

CommunityAmerica Ballpark, home of the Kansas City T-Bones (Kansas City, Kansas) – 7/26/13

 

Security Service Field, home of the Colorado Springs Sky Sox (Colorado Springs, Colorado) – 8/2/13

 

Fifth Third Field, home of the Dayton Dragons (Dayton, Ohio) – 8/10/13

 

Werner Park, home of the Omaha Storm Chasers (Omaha, Nebraska) – 8/17/13

 

The Epicenter, home of the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (Rancho Cucamonga, California) – 8/30/13

 

Coolray Field, home of the Gwinnett Braves (Lawrenceville, Georgia) – 9/21/13

 

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IBF Title Fight Headlines March 1st Edition of ESPN’s FNF

Courtesy:  ESPN

Courtesy: ESPN

This Friday night’s edition of ESPN’s Friday Night Fights has a big as its main feature.  Friday’s main event features a title fight between Featherweight titlist Billy “The Kid” Dib (35 – 1, 1 NC, 21 KOs) and undefeated challenger Evgeny “The Mexican Russian” Gradovich (15 – 0, 8 KOs) in a 12-round bout.  Dib is named by The Ring magazine as its number 4 Featherweight and by ESPN.com as its number 8 Featherweight).  The match will be broadcast live from the MGM Grand Theater at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, CT.  It will be broadcast live at 9pm EST on ESPN 2 HD and online via WatchESPN.com.  Audiences with tablets and smart phones can watch it on their mobile devices with the WatchESPN app.  Spanish speaking fans can also watch the fight on ESPN Deportes+.  ESPN Deportes+ is the new digital extension of ESPN Deportes.  It will air tape delayed on ESPN Deportes Saturday morning at 3am EST. 

Friday’s fight is co-promoted by DiBella Entertainment and SMS Promotions, which are owned by multiplatinum recording artist and entrepreneur 50 Cent.  50 will be in studio at ESPN’s headquarters today for an ESPN “Car Wash” to discuss tomorrow night’s main event on ESPN TV and radio shows.  He will also perform one of his songs tomorrow night at the Foxwoods before the main event and will serve as “sparring partner” to ESPN Friday Night Fights co-host Teddy Atlas for Friday’s edition of Fight Plan.

Dib comes into tomorrow night’s fight fresh off of a 10-round unanimous decision in a non-title fight against Juan Rodriguez.  That match was preceded by a successful title defense against Eduardo Escobedo.  Dib’s win over Escobedo—a sixth round TKO–was his second successful title defense.  When asked about the upcoming match, Dib was upbeat.  “I am really excited to be headlining against the “Mexican Russian,” he said.  “It’s going to be an all-out punch up.  The fans can definitely expect to see a great fight on March 1st.”

Gradovich, a Russian native, also comes into tomorrow night’s fight fresh off the heels of his own decisive victory.  He defeated William Villanueva with a TKO in the seventh round of the pair’s fight.  Gradovich is trained by 2012 Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) “Trainer of the Year” Robert Garcia.  When asked about Friday’s fight, Gradovich sounded especially focused.  “Becoming a world champion has been a life-long dream of mine, and on March 1st, I will finally have that chance,” he said.  “This is going to be a very special night for me, as not only am I fighting for my first world title, but the entire country will have the opportunity to watch it.  I am already in great shape and I am going to show the world what I am capable of come March 1st.”

All eyes will be on the matchup between these two athletes Friday night.  Before the bout though, audiences will be treated to a fight between Junior Middleweight titlist Willie “The Great” Nelson (19 – 1 – 1, 11KOs) and former Junior Middleweight titlist Michael Medina (26 -3 – 2, 19 KOs).  The pair will face off in a 10-round fight prior to the night’s main event.  Nelson comes into tomorrow’s fight on the heels of a 10-round unanimous decision win over previously undefeated 2008 Olympian Josh Jackson.  Medina also comes into tomorrow’s fight with some momentum.  He was also victorious in his previous match with an 8-round unanimous decision win over James Winchester.

Joe Tessitore and Teddy Atlas will be at ringside to call all of the action for ESPN 2 HD.  Studio host Todd Grisham will also be on site with all of the latest boxing news and highlights.  Alex Pombo and Delvin Rodriguez will call the fights for ESPN Deportes along with Leopoldo Gonzalez and Pablo Viruega in studio.  Bernardo Osuna will have interviews and reports for ESPN 2 HD and ESPN Deportes. 

ESPN’s Friday Night Fights is presented each week by Corona Extra.  Fans of ESPN’s Friday Night Fights can keep up with all of the latest news and more from the show online at http://www.facebook.com/espn.fnf and on Twitter at @ESPNFNF and @ESPNBoxeo.  Fans can also score the fights themselves from home thanks to the “Live Friday Night Fights” voting app on Facebook.  The app allows users to score the fight live round-by-round.   

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 get the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Official Record Store Day Poster Released

Courtesy:  Experience Hendrix, Inc./Merlis for Hire

Courtesy: Experience Hendrix, Inc./Merlis for Hire

The official poster for the 2013 Record Store Day—Saturday, April 20th–has been released.  The poster in question features legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix in record store.  The original photo was taken by photographer Ira Rosen just before the release of Hendrix’s famed album, Are You Experienced.  It just so happened that Hendrix was a fan of record stores and was spending the morning of that photo shopping around for some of the day’s latest releases. 

Hendrix’s sister Janie—the head of Experience Hendrix, Inc.—spoke on the use of the photograph.  Here is what she had to say regarding her brother being used to promote Record Store Day.  “It’s entirely appropriate that an image of Jimi Hendrix is on the official Record Store Day poster.  He was an avid music fan and record collector himself and, of course, his recordings are among the most enduring and cherished of all time.  Jimi’s musical legacy and influence grow with every passing year, so in a sense, he makes Record Store Day last much, much longer than 24 hours.”

The poster featuring Hendrix will be printed in very limited quantity.  Only 5,000 copies of the poster will be printed.  The 24” x 36” poster will be printed on heavy paper and gratis to fans who take part in Record Store Day at record stores across the country.  Fans interested in getting their hands on a poster should contact their local record store ahead of time to get details on whether their store will carry copies of the poster.

As an added bonus to the poster, Experience Hendrix, Inc. will also make available in celebration of Record Store Day a 7” vinyl single featuring the original mono mixes of ‘Hey Joe’ and ‘Stone Free.’  Neither of these mixes has been available since their original 1966 release. 

The upcoming celebration of Jimi Hendrix’s life and legacy comes fresh on the heels of the release of the new Hendrix album, People, Hell & Angels, which will be released Tuesday, March 5th.  Record Store Day is held on the third Saturday of April each year.  This year marks the sixth consecutive year that music fans will celebrate Record Store Day.

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Anne Hathaway Talks Oscars In New Issue Of Us Weekly

Courtesy:  Us Weekly Magazine

Courtesy: Us Weekly Magazine

Anne Hathaway has been all over the news ever since Oscar night.  It’s largely been for her much talked about awards night attire.  But Us Weekly has a new feature focusing not only on her dress, but also on her acceptance speech.  In a brand new interview with Us Weekly, Hathaway showed a more vulnerable side, admitting that comments about her previous acceptance speeches had upset her.  “It does get to me,” the 30 year-old actress noted.  “But you have to remember in life that there’s a positive to every negative and a negative to every positive.”  A source close to Hathaway added in the article that “She was very aware that she had been the butt of everyone’s jokes.”  The result was that Hathaway practiced her Oscar speech very hard so she would be more likeable. 

In discussing the now infamous Oscar dress, the same source close to Hathaway noted that she actually had four dresses in the running, including one by Valentino, who had also designed the dress for her 2012 wedding to Adam Shulman.  The entire article is available online now at http://www.usmagazine.com/celebrity-news/news/anne-hathaway-practiced-her-oscar-speech-a-lot-to-be-more-likable-2013262#ixzz2M18a9xrI.  To get even more celebrity news from Us Weekly, just go online to http://www.facebook.com/UsWeekly or http://www.UsMagazine.com

To get 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 https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Jennings’ New Album More “Solid Country Gold”

Courtesy:  Entertainment One Music

Courtesy: Entertainment One Music

The year is still young.  But this critic’s list of candidates for the year’s best albums is already beginning to fill up quickly.  The Slide Brothers and Experience Hendrix, Inc. have already made the case to be candidates with their new releases.  Now another album has made the case to be not just on the list of the year’s best albums, but also the year’s best Country Music albums.  It’s Shooter Jennings’ new album, The Other Life

The Other Life is proof that one should never judge a book (or a CD) by its cover.  At first glance, one glance at the artwork for Shooter’s new album might lead some to believe that this album is going to be much like that of Black Ribbons, which he recorded with the members of Hierophant.  The artwork used throughout the album’s packaging is quite similar to images used throughout albums released by Tool.  But one listen through this album reveals something quite different.  What listeners get in this latest release from one of Outlaw Country’s best is eleven radio ready and easily accessible country songs. Every listener will find something especially entertaining from this album’s song list.  Every song carries a familiar vibe from Shooter’s previous LPs.  But they don’t sound like the songs from his previous releases.  In simple terms, each song on this album is an original work similar to his previous songs in feeling only.  One of the album’s brightest shining moments comes halfway through the album in the song, ‘Outlaw You.’ 

‘Outlaw You’ is bound to become a fan favorite both on the record and at live shows.  It is a defiant stance against so much pop country that tries to call itself pure country.  Jennings sings loud and proud in this song, “Hey pretty boy/With the baseball hat/Couldn’t hit country with a baseball bat/Country ain’t just about where you’re at/It’s about being true/To what’s inside of you/You say you’re an outlaw/With the perfect boots/That you got from the record label’s image group/Sing another man’s song/With a big drum loop/Listen, son/You ain’t got a clue/You can’t buy true/I’ll tell you what they should do/They should outlaw you!”  This echoes the sentiment of Jennings’ fellow Outlaw Country artist, Hank III.  Hank III wrote a similar song some time ago about how so much pop country tries to masquerade as real country.  This song is one more that any country purist will surely appreciate and enjoy as it has the exact same true emotion.

While it may not seem like it at first listen, but another high point of this LP is its penultimate track, ’15 Million Light Years Away (featuring Jim Dandy).  Dandy’s vocals are so rich and vibrant here.  They make for an excellent counterpart to that of Jennings.  And the guitar solos thrown in will almost sure lead to thoughts of Lynyrd Skynyrd.  Lyrically, it comes across as a social commentary of sorts, with the duo singing about the legal system being perverted and of everything in the world being in a state contrary to what it should be.  The musical backing helps to set the song’s mood, too with its slower, minor sound.  It stands out unlike anything else on the record.

Perhaps the most intriguing song on The Other Life is its closer, ‘The Gunslinger.’  What makes it so intriguing is its musical side.  It starts out like any pure country song, with an acoustic guitar and soft, gentle vocals.  From there, it proceeds to crescendo to something totally different with its mix of electronics and sax part eventually ending the song.  Forget the lyrical side here.  This is a song that simply must be experienced solely for its musical side.  It’s an unlikely candidate to be one of the album’s high points.  But because it is also so different from anything else on the record, it is one of those songs that will lead to discussion for its ingenuity.  In turn, the discussions that it is sure to raise will prove why it is one of the so many high points of this album.  Put simply, every song on this album will appeal to country purists and country music fans in general.  There is not one bad moment throughout the course of this record.  Every song creates a wholly different feel within itself and its listeners with every listen.  And that is something rare at this point in the music industry.  The album will be available in stores, Tuesday, March 12th.  Before it drops though, Jennings will hit the road in support of the new album, beginning March 6th in Miami Florida on the Kid Rock Cruise.  From there, he will perform at the annual SXSW Festival in Austin, TX on March 12th and 13th.  Fans in North Carolina will also get their chance to see Shooter live.  He will be performing at Ziggy’s in Winston-Salem on Tuesday, April 16th and on Friday, May 24th at Gus’ Bar in Jacksonville, NC.  Audiences can get a full tour rundown and all the latest news and more from Jennings on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ShooterJennings and http://www.ShooterJennings.com

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 https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Die Hard 5 Better Than Many May Think

Courtesy:  20th Century Fox

Courtesy: 20th Century Fox

Action movies are meant to be an escape from the rigors of everyday life.  They are meant as a chance for audiences to turn off their brains if only for a couple of hours and be taken into the world of the fantastic.  Keeping this in mind, one has to wonder if the masses of audiences and critics who panned the latest installment in the Die Hard franchise went in with an open mind or with an agenda and a preconceived notion set in their minds.  While it can be agreed that A Good Day to Die Hard–or as it will henceforth be known, Die Hard 5 or DH5–is not the best of the Die Hard franchise, it also is not the series’ worst. None of the series’ movies is really the worst per se.  Die Hard 4 was a movie ahead of its time.  It came out at a time when cyber terrorism wasn’t necessarily a worldwide problem yet.  So considering this, had Die Hard 4 and 5 switched places, audiences might have been more receptive to both movies, even with the character of Jack McClane (Jai Courtney) still being an issue.

If one goes into Die Hard 5 with an open mind and the ability to suspend one’s disbelief, then one will see just how much it got right.  That’s not to say that it was perfect.  Again, there was the lingering issue of explaining away Jack.  But the script’s writers, Skip Woods and Roderick Thorp do make a valiant attempt to explain away that plot hole.  Anyone who has watched the bonus features in the recently released 25th anniversary Blu-ray set will recall that the previous Die Hard movies were each penned from completely separate literary sources.  More than likely this movie was, too.  So taking that into account, the issue of Jack’s noted absence throughout the previous films can be forgiven.  Now, having gotten past that issue, the only real issue that perhaps got in the way of Die hard 5’s success was its rapid fire pace (no pun intended).  The story starts rather abruptly, and never really slows down.  The constant action and the twists and turns peppered throughout the story might have been enough to leave some viewers dizzied and confused.  That in turn might have been enough to justifiably leave some audiences turned off.  While it is justified, it is the only factor that can be said to be a justified negative to Die Hard 5.

Having gotten the only justified negative out of the way from this movie, one will see just how much writers Skip Wood and Roderick Thorp got right.  As fast paced and dizzying as the story is, those who go into the movie with an open mind and a desire to escape will appreciate the twists and turns peppered throughout its near two hour run time.  There are just enough twists and turns to keep audiences think they know what’s going to happen, only to go in the exact opposite direction.  And while many prematurely called the very premise of John McClane going to Russia unbelievable, let alone him facing a terrorist from the Cold War era USSR.  But again Wood and Thorp did quite the job explaining this away.  Again, a big part of being able to believe this goes back to having seen Die Hard 4.  Had Die Hard 4 and 5 switched places, this plot element might have been easier for audiences to accept.  As soon as audiences understand and accept all of what has been noted, it makes enjoyment of the movie–explosions and all–that much easier.  In turn, it makes the movie as a whole that much greater of an escape.

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 https://philspicks.wordpress.com.