PBS To Release New Ken Burns Documentary This Spring

Courtesy:  PBS/PBS Distribution

Courtesy: PBS/PBS Distribution

This spring PBS and PBS Distribution will release a brand new documentary from acclaimed documentarian Ken Burns.

PBS and PBS Distribution will release Ken Burns’ new documentary Jackie Robinson this spring. The four-hour documentary will be released on April 15th. The timing of the double-disc set, which will be presented both on DVD and Blu-ray, is wholly intentional as it will coincide with Jackie Robinson Day. It follows the life and career of the famed baseball star and the impact that he had both on the diamond and off. That impact is highlighted through discussions from the likes of famed newsman Tom Brokaw, singers Carly Simon and Harry Belafonte, and even President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle Obama among others.

Jackie Robinson is not the first time that Burns has delved in to the baseball world having helmed his documentary Baseball in 1994. In discussing the film Burns explained that the film came from a desire to focus more closely on Robinson after having helmed that docu-series. “Jackie Robinson is the most important figure in our nation’s most important game,” he said. “He gave us our first lasting progress in civil rights since the Civil War and, ever since I finished my BASEBALL series in 1994, I’ve been eager to make a stand-alone film about the life of this courageous American. There was so much more to say not only about Robinson’s barrier-breaking moment in 1947, but about how his upbringing shaped his intolerance for any form of discrimination and how after his baseball career, he spoke out tirelessly against racial injustice, even after his star had begun to dim.”  Audiences can hear Burns discuss his new film at more length in an interview on CBS’ Face The Nation via YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUawlPAl5vA.

Jackie Robinson was co-directed by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon. It will be available on Tuesday, April 15th and will be released both on DVD and Blu-ray. The program’s double-disc DVD presentation will retail for MSRP of $24.99 and the double-disc Blu-ray presentation for $29.99. It will also be available in a number of combo packages, from which audiences can choose online and pre-order at http://www.shoppbs.org/search/index.jsp?kwCatId=&kw=ken%20burns%20jackie%20robinson&origkw=Ken+Burns%27+Jackie+Robinson&sr=1. More information on this and other titles from PBS is available online now at:

Website: http://www.pbs.org

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pbs

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Spies Of Mississippi Is One Of PBS’ Most Important DVDs Of 2014

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

Spies of Mississippi is one of the most important pieces that PBS will release this year.  The documentary, which is based on author Rick Bowers’ 2010 book by the same name, first aired on PBS in 2013.  It was just recently released on DVD last month.  The primary aspect of this story that makes it so important is that it lifts the veil on a piece of civil rights (and American) history that few people know about.  The second factor, in direct connection, is the story’s organization.  The real story doesn’t start until late in the near hour-long feature.  However, the setup toward that story is what makes it so important.  And last but definitely not least of the notable aspects of this documentary is the inclusion of first person interviews, vintage footage and newspaper articles to help illustrate the story and advance it.  All three aspects together make Spies of Mississippi an excellent starting point for what could lead to a much deeper investigation and documentary from PBS.

The primary aspect of Spies of Mississippi that makes it so important is that it lifts the veil on a piece of civil rights (and American) history that few people know about.  People know about cases such as Brown v. Board of Education and the famous Greensboro sit-in among many others.  But how many people can honestly say that they knew about the covert operations of the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission?  This “secret society” of sorts had one and only one goal.  That goal was to prevent any possibility of blacks and whites from becoming integrated in America.  This included keeping blacks from being able to even vote.  Audiences that might be learning this story for the first time (much like this critic) will be amazed at the levels to which the MSSC would go to in order to achieve its goals.  As they will learn, the MSSC even stooped to killing two white men that were helping members of the black community in their fight for equality.  It even allegedly had African-Americans infiltrate groups such as the NAACP to keep track of what was going on so as to achieve its goals.  These are just some of the revelations that will shock viewers seeing this story for the first time.  One could almost compare the actions of the MSSC to the likes of what happened under McCarthy and the Red Scare.  And in a time when the country is getting ready to go through state and local elections again, this documentary becomes all the more important.

The story contained in this DVD is the key aspect of the program’s success.  By direct connection, the organization of the presentation adds to the program’s success.  There are those that have noted just how short the “most important” part of the story received so little time.  The part of the story in question was the portion outlining how the MSSC went to such great lengths to keep African-Americans from being able to vote.  What said individuals perhaps don’t quite understand is that the first half of the presentation was a necessary evil.  It was necessary in that it helped to set up the story in question.  That being the case, both halves of the presentation become one whole that is easy to follow.  In turn, the whole becomes a piece that any history buff, poly-sci buff or otherwise will appreciate.

The organization of Spies of Mississippi and its overall story work in conjunction to make this presentation an excellent starting point for what could be an even deeper examination of part of America’s hidden past.  Both aspects show why this is one of PBS’ most important home releases of 2014.  As impressive as they are, there is still one more piece of the whole to consider in this documentary.  That final piece is the material that makes up the program.  From one-on-one interviews with those closest to the MSSC to vintage footage and newspaper articles, Director Dawn Porter and her staff have included a number of items that help illustrate the story.  Those items show just how important the scandal surrounding the MSSC was then and even how it relates to certain voting issues going on in America today.  Viewers will be interested to hear from the supposed “Agent X” that was sent to infiltrate the civil rights movement among others.  There is much more that audiences will take away from this presentation in watching it for themselves.  And they can do so when they order the DVD direct from PBS’ online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=29151026&cp=&kw=mississippi+spies&origkw=Mississippi+Spies&sr=1.  More information on this and other programs 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 https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Letters From Jackie Another Great Story Of One Of Baseball’s Greats

Courtesy:  A&E Home Video/MLB Productions

Courtesy: A&E Home Video/MLB Productions

Major League Baseball celebrated a very special anniversary early in 2013.  On April 15th, 2013, fans and players of America’s Past Time celebrated the sixty-sixth anniversary of Brooklyn Dodgers great and groundbreaking player Jackie Robinson’s very first ever major league game.  It was on April 15th, 1947 that Robinson broke the color barrier and became the first ever African-American to play major league baseball.  Every year since that day, Major League Baseball has celebrated Jackie Robinson day on the anniversary of his first game.  This year, the anniversary has been celebrated with more than just celebrations at baseball fields across the country.  It was also celebrated with a major motion picture focusing on Robinson’s life and a documentary from Shout! Factory that was even more enjoyable than the prior.  Now MLB Productions has joined in the celebration with its own documentary on Robinson.  Whereas the previous releases focused largely on Robinson’s life, this latest release, Letters From Jackie: The Private Thoughts of Jackie Robinson focuses exactly on its title; Robinson’s own thoughts put to paper.

Letters From Jackie: The Private Thoughts of Jackie Robinson is a good companion piece to the previously released pair of works from Warner Brothers and Shout! Factory.  The first thing that makes this documentary stand out is its run time.  It comes in at just forty-five minutes long.  This is not counting the end credits, either.  Within that short time-span, the story presented moves at a relatively fast pace.  It’s not too fast for viewers to keep up with the story, either.  And within the context of the production, viewers will be moved to both laughter and tears, hearing Robinson’s words read.

The letters written by Jackie Robinson are both moving and at times entertaining.  Most moving of all is the story of Robinson’s years-long communications with a young white fan, Ron Rabinovitz.  The pen pals’ ongoing letter writing led to a friendship that transcended skin color and even religious backgrounds.  It was a friendship based solely on two individuals’ love of the game of baseball.  Rabinovitz himself even gets to share his thoughts on the letters shared between himself and Robinson.  The fondness with which he remembers Robinson is both entertaining and moving.  Audiences will be brought to smiles hearing Rabinovitz discuss Robinson actually taking him into the Dodgers’ locker room to meet his team mates at the time.  He even presents the baseball signed by Robinson’s team mates.  The really funny moment of that story is when Rabinovitz reveals that Robinson was so caught up in introducing his team mates to Rabinovitz and getting them to sign the ball, that he forgot to sign the ball himself.  Rabinovitz adds, laughing that he didn’t mind because he had so many other items (noting the letters) signed by Robinson.  Viewers even get to see Rabinovitz sharing his memories with one of today’s greats at the 2013 Jackie Robinson Day pre-game.

Rabinovitz shares so many wonderful memories of one of baseball’s greatest names though his interviews.  Along with the stories are pictures of the pair posing together on the field.  They help to add even more interest to the story of Robinson’s own thoughts on how he was viewed during his career.  Those pictures aren’t the only ones shared throughout this near hour-long feature.  Those charged with bringing the program to life also incorporated footage from The Jackie Robinson Story as well as footage from games that he played during his career.  The footage shows both the good and bad of the people who came to the games to see Robinson play.  That footage set against Robinson’s own thoughts on fan support and the lack thereof makes these moments even more interesting for any real baseball history buff.

Whether for the stories shared of Robinson by his family and friends or for the footage of the baseball legend’s career, baseball fans have plenty for which to root in this companion piece to the year’s previously released Robinson tributes.  Audiences will of course find their own interesting and entertaining moments throughout the story.  Being that Major League Baseball is coming up to the annual celebration of the halfway point of its season, thoughts will go back to one of the original All-Stars.  And as thoughts go back to him, this latest story will make for another good look back at that legend in question.  It will be available next Tuesday, July 16th.  It can be ordered online at the MLB Productions store at http://shop.mlb.com/product/index.jsp?productId=21611606.

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New Shout! Factory DVD One Of The Best Takes On Robinson’s Life, Legacy

Courtesy:  Shout! Factory

Courtesy: Shout! Factory

Audiences are going to be treated to yet another new big screen biopic next week in the form of the new movie, 42.  The film centers on baseball legend Jackie Robinson.  42 won’t be the first release that centers on the famed baseball star.  The Jackie Robinson Story (1950) first told the player’s…well…story with Robinson himself telling his life story.  So needless to say, more than likely this latest biopic will likely over embellish Robinson’s life story at more than one point.  So before audiences go to see that movie, they would do well to check out Shout! Factory’s new DVD release, Jackie Robinson: My Story.

Jackie Robinson: My Story is just that.  It isn’t a documentary so to speak.  It is the story of Robinson’s life as told by actor Stephen Hill.  While the presentation is obviously aimed largely at younger audiences, it is just as entertaining for adults, too.  Hill plays the role of Robinson throughout the roughly ninety-five minute feature.  It’s a bare bones, no nonsense presentation that is easily accessible and just as easy to understand.  The presentation also includes footage of Robinson’s career both on the field and off.  That inclusion will help to both inform and entertain viewers.  The only real downside to the entire product is that it doesn’t offer the option of selecting individual chapters.  If a viewer stops at one point in the feature, one can only hope that the DVD starts back at that point.  Otherwise, said viewer will have to skip through the chapters and then fast forward or rewind to get to the point at which said individual stopped previously.  Luckily, it is the feature’s only negative.  Also included in this single disc story is a history lesson on both Robinson and his teammates and their role in societal changes from the ballpark.  When weighing all of these factors in with the fact that a new baseball season has just started and new biopic on Robinson is set to debut next week, Jackie Robinson: My Story becomes that much more of an enjoyable piece both for kids and adults alike.

The first thing that viewers will notice about Jackie Robinson: My Story is its simplicity.  It’s not some overblown drama or even overblown dramatic documentary.  It’s a simple story about a great man.  Presented here is actor Stephen Hill playing the role of Robinson in a simple setting.  The setting is meant to be the locker room of the then Brooklyn Dodgers.  Hanging behind Robinson…er…Hill are the uniforms of some of Robinson’s fellow legendary teammates.  Hill tells the entire story of Robinson’s life entirely from that simple setting.  Because of the set’s simplicity, there is nothing to distract viewers as they listen to Robinson’s incredible and at times painful life story.  And while there are loads of names and dates thrown out there, that lack of distraction help viewers to remember some of them, including: Pee Wee Reese, Satchel Paige, and Roy Campanella among others. 

The inclusion of Reese, Paige, and Campanella was important in that it was Reese that first took Robinson under his wing and helped make the push for Robinson to be able to play as a member of the Dodgers.  Hill proceeds from here to explain that despite the popular belief, Satchel Paige, Roy Campanella and other African-American players didn’t just start flowing into the major league ranks after he was allowed to play.  He explains how the process was actually more gradual and how African-American athletes still faced an uphill battle as the views of baseball fans still had yet to change at the time.  But that they had managed to break in and become the stars that they did shows that views were beginning to change.  Keeping this in mind, it serves as a reminder how pivotal this was not just in the history of baseball but in American history in general.  It’s just one of so many moments that viewers will find interesting throughout the course of this original bio.

The simple set used for Jackie Robinson: My Story and the acting (so to speak) of Stephen Hill help make this new release from Shout! Factory enjoyable for audiences of all ages.  There is one other factor that makes this a DVD worth checking out, whether in the classroom or the clubhouse.  That factor is the inclusion of actual footage and pictures from Robinson’s life.    Just as with the simple set, the inclusion of actual video footage and pictures from Robinson’s career and life serve as valuable visual aids.  Whereas the simple set helps to draw attention to Hill and his take on Robinson, the video and pictures help to illustrate the story being told.  They help to bring the entire thing full circle and that much more accessible for audiences. 

There is an irony in the inclusion of one piece of footage in particular.  That piece of footage is the Dodgers’ 1951 pennant matchup against the rival Giants.  This piece is also used in 20th Century Fox’s recent movie, Parental Guidance.  It’s ironic that this is included in both because of the timing of each one’s release.  Both pieces were released within roughly a week of one another.  Sure, the timing of the pair’s release to home viewers is purely coincidental.  But it makes for an interesting discussion bridge.

As one can note by now, Jackie Robinson: My Story offers plenty of positives.  For all the positives, there is just one negative.  Surprisingly enough, it’s not too bad of a negative.  It is the lack of a chapter selection option in the main menu.  If a person were to remove the DVD from a DVD player, and put it back in later, this means that one would have to skip through chapters and then fast forward and/or rewind the show to where it was last stopped, rather than simply being able to jump to a given spot.  While this is at least a slight detriment to the overall package, it isn’t too bad as the entire feature is interesting that a person won’t want to stop watching once getting into it.  So to that extent, while it is a negative, it’s a minor negative at worst.  It’s because of that this Jackie Robinson: My Story is an enjoyable piece both for sports fans and for those studying African-American history.  It is available in stores and online and can be ordered direct from the Shout! Factory store at

http://www.shoutfactory.com/?q=node/216808.

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Scholastic Set An Excellent Tool In The Classroom And The Home

Courtesy:  Scholastic/New video/Weston Woods/New Kideo

Courtesy: Scholastic/New video/Weston Woods/New Kideo

Scholastic’s African-American heritage based box set, Stories About African American Heritage featuring MARCH ON! The Day My Brother Martin Changed The World is a wonderful box set.  This triple-disc set is an excellent tool both inside the classroom and in the home, regardless of whether viewers are celebrating Black History month or simply to learn about an important part of African American history.  The stories culled for this collection celebrate some of the most respected and notable figures in the African American community such as musicians Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald.  Also featured in this set are stories of famed civil rights figures Rosa Parks and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Viewers are even introduced to some of the most well known African-American stories.  In all, this collection includes thirteen stories for audiences.  As an added bonus, interviews with the sister of Dr. King, Dr. Christine King Farris and with author of Henry’s Freedom Box, Ellen Levine.  There are even discussion questions included for students, children and parents both in the classroom and at home.  And what Scholastic set would be complete with the optional Read-Along feature?  That is here, too.  It all comes together to make a box set that any viewer will appreciate and enjoy.

Stories About African American Heritage (as it will henceforth be known) opens fittingly with a collection of stories centered on two of the most well known figures in the Civil Rights movement; Rev. Dr. martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks.  It opens with a story by Dr. King’s sister, Christine King Farris titled, March On! The Day My Brother Martin Changed The World.  In this story, Mrs. Farris describes not only how her brother prepared for his landmark speech at the nation’s capitol, but the reaction of the people who were in attendance.  The story is made even more interesting as it includes actual photos of Dr. King throughout the story as well as of those in attendance.  Audiences also learn that Dr. King wasn’t the first minister in his family.  His grandfather, A.D. Williams was also a minister.  Just as interesting to learn is that while most people remember this moment in history for Dr. King’s speech, many may not know that Dr. King had also come to meet with Congressional leaders about passing a new law that would make whites and blacks truly equal.  He hadn’t come just to give a speech.  This story is more than just a story.  It’s a trip back in time to a pivotal moment in history.  It’s a trip that everybody young and old, white, black and otherwise should take at least once.  While the story’s companion interview with Christine King Farris is dated (it mentions the monument built in his honor before it had been built), her interview helps to bring the story full circle and show just how significant his speech was and still is today to Americans as a whole.

The main feature on Dr. King is a very powerful and moving piece.  It’s just one of the interesting pieces included in this set of thirteen stories.  Also included as part of the set, is a feature on famed pianist/composer and band leader Edward Kennedy Ellington, A.K.A. Duke Ellington.  Right from the start, audiences get a little history lesson on Ellington that’s easily accessible for all audiences.  Whitaker reads to viewers that Ellington was born in 1899 in Washington, D.C. and that the name “Duke” was a name he brought on himself as he told people to call him by that name.  Viewers will be interested to learn that Ellington apparently originally did not lean towards music.  Rather, according to the story—narrated by veteran actor Forest Whitaker—Ellington originally was more interested in playing baseball than the piano.  The story of how Duke was drawn back to the piano is just as entertaining as his early lack of interest in the instrument.  The history lesson centering on Duke’s rise to stardom is equally easy to grasp for audiences.  Being that it’s being read out loud, both parents and kids alike will easily remember the majority, if not all, of what they are taught.  That’s really what makes this an especially nice addition to this set.  Just as with the feature on Dr. King, it doesn’t come across as a history lesson.  It comes across simply as a story about important historical figures since it’s coming across on the screen instead of in a book.  The visual images will stimulate the eyes and mind, while the history will stick with viewers.  As a result, it could help to foster an interest in music in younger viewers just as the piece on Dr. King could get young audiences interested in politics.  Again, it’s one more wonderful tool for viewers both in the classroom and in the home.

The last disc in this set celebrating African American heritage focuses on the literature of a people.  Just as religion, politics, and music are important parts of African American history, so is literature.  In the set’s final disc, viewers get a healthy dose of literature from the African culture as it includes five classic stories anchored by the story, Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears.  This tale tells the story of why mosquitoes buzz in people’s ears, just as the title notes.  According to the story, the mosquito buzzes in people’s ears because it has a guilty conscience after causing the death of a baby owl.  This concept might be a bit much for some younger audiences.  So parents should use their own discretion with this story.  That aside, it still is an interesting addition to this final disc’s collection of stories.  Added to the set’s other stories, the entire collection comes together to make a set that again is a wonderful tool that any parent or educator will want to use every year any time of year, not just for Black History Month.  It is available now and can be ordered online via New Kideo’s official website at http://www.newkideo.com/scholastic/the-heritage-collection/.

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.