PBS Documentary A Good Starting Point For Gun RIghts Discussions

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

Gun control has become a hot button issue in America ever since the tragedy of the shooting in Newtown Connecticut, and those that followed.  Supporters on both sides of the trigger have spoken up, protesting across the country.  It has become such a hot button issue that it has also become increasingly divisive among the American population.  Being such a hot button issue, PBS has joined in the discussion with its own documentary, After Newtown: Guns in America

After Newtown:  Guns in America is an interesting documentary from PBS.  It is anything but an argumentative piece.  Rather, it is a completely unbiased piece that instead of trying to take one side or the other in the ongoing discussion, takes itself squarely out of the crosshairs.  It opts to build up to current discussion by explaining the history of guns in America and the roles that they have played instead of looking mainly at recent events.  Along the course of the history lesson, it offers insight from academics and some of the bigger names involved in the fight for and against gun control.  Among those included are NRA President David Keene, Frank Serpico, and even a former head of the Black Panther Party, among many others.  The insight offered by these individuals paints an even broader picture than what audiences get on a daily basis from the nation’s news outlets. 

The interviews shared on both sides of the gun are enlightening.  They are just part of what audiences will enjoy throughout the program’s near hour-long run-time.  Also included in the program is actual footage from some of the most tragic shootings, including the recent, Colorado shooting at the July 2012 premiere of Warner Brothers’ The Dark Knight Rises.  There is also footage of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and even of the gun and bullets that killed former Beatle John Lennon.  The radio broadcast from that fateful day is there, too.  It does so much to help fully display the impact that guns have had on our nation through the ages.  It’s quite interesting to see how guns started out primarily as a means of defense from tyranny, to being used for crime.  That de-evolution in the use of the gun is a very bold statement.  And it is certain to expand on the discussion started in the short length of this program.    

The discussions that will be created through the material in After Newtown: Guns in America are sure to become rather intense at times.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  It means that PBS and those behind the presentation have done their collective jobs on this piece.  That makes it a work that yet again proves the importance of public broadcasting, especially today.  In an age when it is really the last vestige of true educational and informative programming, programming such as this would not exist without viewer support.  What better way to support programming such as this than to order the DVD online at the PBS online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=18967286&cp=2809871.19467756&sr=1&origkw=After+Newtown&parentPage=family

To keep up with all of the latest programming updates and more from PBS, audiences can follow PBS on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pbs.  And to keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Series 6 A Solid Send-Off For Inspector Lewis

Courtesy:  itv/PBS

Courtesy: itv/PBS

It looks like the end is here for Detective Inspector Robert “Robbie” Lewis and his partner Detective Sergeant James Hathaway….or is it?  If the final scenes of the third and final episode of Inspector Lewis: Series Six are any indication, it would seem that this show that debuted just over seven years ago has come to an end.  Though, the rumor mill is buzzing that this may not be the last that audiences see of Inspector Lewis after all.  If it is in fact the end for the fan favorite pair of detectives, Series Six is a fine send-off for this hit show.

Series Six is a fine send off for Inspector Lewis and his partner in these supposed final episodes.  The show’s writers have crafted a trio of stories that are some of the finest that audiences have seen over the course of its seven-year run.  This series takes Detective Inspector Lewis and his partner into the world of parapsychology in its opening episode, and then onto the very twisted trail of a drug smuggler before investigating the death of a man that was killed by someone with his own car shortly after being released from jail.  The murder victim had himself been jailed for accidentally killing another person in a wreck.  The three stories together offer just enough mystery to keep audiences fully engaged throughout this series’ four-plus hours.  The most deeply engaging of the episodes included in this new set is the series’ second episode, “The Ramblin’ Boy.”  This episode is a long, in-depth episode that starts with an unidentified body being found in a ditch.  Through all of its twists and turns, it eventually leads to a plot by an associate of Lewis who is running a complex drug smuggling scheme.  The story gets deeper and deeper as it progresses.  But it’s not so deep that audiences will get lost in everything.  Those audiences that allow themselves to be fully engaged in this episode will thrill in the way that the writers tie everything together.  Those audiences that do so will see that this is just one example of how rich the writing in this series is.

 The writing in “The Ramblin’ Boy” is just one example of what makes Inspector Lewis: Series Six so enjoyable.  Audiences will be just as impressed as Inspector Lewis and Detective Sergeant Hathaway investigate the death of a man who claimed himself a clairvoyant.  The pair is drawn into the world of the paranormal after two people are killed by a mysterious individual, and a third person’s life is at risk.  The writing in this episode is just as solid as the series’ second episode.  Again, it offers just enough twists and turns to keep viewers engaged through the entire ninety minutes.  It’s not all that will keep viewers watching whether in this episode or either of the other two.  Audiences also have expert acting on the part of Kevin Whatley and Laurence Fox.

The scripts of the episodes on Series Six are just as expert as any of those in previous installments of this hit itv/PBS crime drama.  Solid scripts do plenty for any show.  But they can only go so far without proper acting on the part of the cast.  Thankfully for audiences, the acting on the part of Kevin Whately and Laurence Fox far exceeds expectations.  Having played their roles as long as they have (Whately has played Lewis since the late 1980s in the former series, Inspector Morse) the pair has learned each other.  Because of this, they gel better than ever on screen.  One wonderful example of this is seeing Lewis’ slight insecurities at working with someone other than Hathaway. “The Ramblin’ Boy” shows a rare side of Lewis when his partner goes on vacation, and he is forced to work with someone else temporarily.  It shows just how comfortable Lewis had become having one partner and how truly vulnerable he is.  It’s little intricacies such as this that makes this allegedly final series so wonderful.  Audiences finally see Lewis’ romance with Dr. Hobson (Clare Holman) revealed once and for all.  The reaction on the part of Chief Superintendent Jean Innocent (Rebecca Front) is classic.  It will leave any viewer, new or not, laughing.  His embrace with Hobson is another one of those moments that shows a more human side of Lewis.  Those moments really make Lewis so much more believable.  And they exemplify once more Whatley’s skill in front of the camera.  It’s just one more factor that makes this allegedly final series so enjoyable.  Though, there is one more factor that makes this final series so much better than any American crime drama.  That factor is something most audiences don’t take into account.  It’s the show’s costume department. 

American crime dramas are a dime a dozen.  Just as common as the mass of crime procedurals on American television is their overt objectification of both male and female characters alike.  The exact opposite is the case with both Series Six of Inspector Lewis and its previous series.  The characters in this long-running series aren’t exactly “the beautiful people.”  That’s probably a big part of the reason that it isn’t largely popular among young American audiences.  The lack of overt sexuality in this latest series (and every series before) is one of the most subtle but important factors in the series’ success.  It forces the writers to write a compelling story, rather than rely on sexuality to drive it. It’s such a welcome change.  And along with everything else already noted, it makes this series one a wonderful jumping on point for new viewers, and equally wonderful for those who have seen this show through from its beginning.  Inspector Lewis: Series Six is available now on DVD and Blu-ray.  It can be ordered online direct from the PBS online store at http://www.shoppbs.org.

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From Dust To Dreams A Concert Dream Come True

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

Las Vegas is typically known by its nickname, “Sin City.”  The other “city that never sleeps” is dominated by gambling, girls, and much more.  Because of that reputation, few people would ever associate the famed city with a center for the performing arts.  But there is in fact a center for the performing and cultural arts in Las Vegas now in the Smith Center for the Performing Arts.  Thanks to PBS, audiences that weren’t able to be in attendance at the celebration of the center’s opening can now re-live the concert event any time that they want.

from Dust to Dreams: Opening Night at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts chronicles the celebration held in honor of the center’s opening.  What can be said of this performance but it was an impressive show from a who’s who of the music and entertainment community.  Performers the likes of Jennifer Hudson, Mavis Staples, John Fogerty, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and more than can be named here took part in the two-hour long celebration of the arts coming to Las Vegas at long last.  Host of the Tonys and star of CBS’ How I Met Your Mother served as emcee of this presentation.  What’s interesting to note about his presence in this performance is how much different it was in comparison to what audiences have become accustomed to from the actor.  This isn’t a bad thing, either.  If anything, it only serves to heighten the enjoyment of the overall presentation.  Add in expertly mixed audio and video, and audiences get what is in retrospect one of the best live recordings of 2012.

The very first thing that can be noted of from Dust to Dreams is that it opens and closes in fine fashion.  The opening number performed by trumpet player Arturo Sandoval.  Sandoval’s performance was an outstanding opener for the two-hour event.  His control over his instrument shows the result of his years of training.  This is especially the case when he hits the final high note of his opening number.  Far too often, some overzealous performers hit high notes in songs, thinking they sound good.  But in reality the performers in question are blasting out the notes, resulting in a very harsh sound.  That wasn’t the case with Sandoval’s performance.  His performance got the energy flowing and set the bar for what was to come through the rest of the show’s performances.

The performances that follow that of Sandoval hold the bar quite well.  Whether the medley of songs from Man of La Mancha and West Side Story, the classic country of veteran artist Willie Nelson, or even the more rocking sounds of John Fogerty, this show spans the musical spectrum and will entertain audiences of all ages and musical tastes.  Adding to the enjoyment of the concert is the presence of emcee Neil Patrick Harris.  Yes, Harris was more subdued in his hosting duties here than as host of the Tonys.  But this was an entirely different event.  Even the performers had their time on stage limited as there were so many performers.  What’s more, Harris did offer his share of pretty funny jokes when he was on stage.  Audiences need to keep this in mind in considering his performance as emcee of this event.  In doing so, those same individuals will enjoy the laughs that Harris shares when he is on stage.

The performance of host Neil Patrick Harris and that of the show’s performers make from Dust to Dreams quite the enjoyable live recording.  One would be remiss though, to ignore the importance of the show’s audio and video mix.  Going back to the show’s opening number by Arturo Sandoval straight through to the show’s closing number, the audio and video have been expertly mixed.  There are some songs that absolutely soar throughout the course of this program.  And then there are other, more subtle pieces that were captured so well.  Whether one has a home surround sound theater or not, one can still experience so much.  Those that do have home theater systems will appreciate the performances even more.  That’s because the picture will look crystal clear on an HDTV and the sound will sound just as clear.  This is especially true for those with surround sound.  It is these aspects that make the overall presentation on this DVD so enjoyable.  In retrospect, it makes this collection of performances one of the best live recordings of 2012.  From Dust to Dreams is available now.  It can be ordered online direct from the PBS online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=13233132&cp=&sr=1&kw=from+dust+to+dreams&origkw=from+Dust+to+Dreams&parentPage=search&searchId=1374600.

Fans of PBS and its programming can keep up with all of the latest news, releases and more from the network online at http://ww.facebook.com/pbs and at 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 https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Cold Warriors More About Wolves Than Buffalo

Courtesy:  PBS/Canon/CPB/WNET Thirteen

Courtesy: PBS/Canon/CPB/WNET Thirteen

PBS’ latest documentary from its Nature series is exactly what audiences would expect from the series.  Cold Warriors: Wolves and Buffalo is a beautifully shot work that takes audiences into the Canadian wilds that while it’s somewhat unbalanced in its content, is still worth viewing at least once.  The title of the latest entry in PBS’ Nature series is misleading, considering that the bulk of the feature is spent not so much on the relationship between buffalo and wolves, but on the wolves’ social and hunting habits.  In the feature’s defense, it can be said that what saves it is its stunning cinematography and equally beautiful backdrops as well as the subtle notes of the wolves’ habits.  The program was filmed in the Wood Buffalo National Park.  The aerial shots of the park are stunning to say the least.  Audiences get glimpses of the park both during its winter months, covered in snow, and in its warmer months.  Seeing the buffalo herds and the wolf pack moving along the terrain is especially interesting from the air in that audiences will note the tracks in the ground.  They may not be, but they come across as the same tracks that both followed in the snow.  Equally interesting to note is that while some of the wolves will help divide and conquer a herd, others stick close together, even travelling in a line both when hunting and simply travelling.

The backdrops and cinematography incorporated into Cold Warriors are both impressive.  They carry the roughly hour long feature on their backs.  Thanks to these aspects, the feature’s lesser aspects are made more bearable.  The program’s title leads one to believe that its focus is on the seeming relationship between the two groups.  But documentarian Jeff Turner openly spends more time on what he dubs the “Delta Pack” of wolves that he is tracking than on the buffalo, thus somewhat negating any concept of a relationship between the two groups of animals.  The manner in which the two groups are portrayed makes the buffalo come across as little more than prey for the wolves.  He doesn’t really spend any time focusing on the social habits of the buffalo.  And while Turner makes note of man’s potential impact on both groups early in the program, audiences don’t even get any of this discussion until late in the feature’s final minutes.   Given, the packaging for this feature does note that the focus would be on the wolves.  But that being the case, the feature’s title becomes rather misleading.  For all of this, it does still have its merits.

Cold Warriors is not the best of PBS’ Nature series.  Though, it is worth at least one watch.  As already noted, the cinematography and setting are both beautiful and stunning.  They do so much to move the special along.  They are just part of what makes this feature interesting.  Also interesting to note here is the wolves’ behavioral patterns. Their ability to communicate specific messages with very specific howls is an eye opener.  Most people would think with a casual glance that a howl is a howl.  But as Turner shows in his footage, that’s anything but true.  He shows that a single howl can bring together an entire group of wolves to help hunt for buffalo.  It’s proof of very intelligent behavior.  We as humans like to believe that we are the smartest beings on the planet.  But the “Delta Pack’s” ability to communicate in such fashion is yet more proof of the intelligence of other animals.  This along with Turner’s shooting style and the backdrops make Cold Warriors a presentation that any nature lover should see at least once.  

Cold Warriors is available now.  It can be ordered online now at http://www.shoppbs.org.  Audiences should note that being a nature program, some scenes may not be entirely suitable for some viewers.

To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks.wordpress.com.  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.