‘Finding Your Roots’ Proves Interesting But Once Again Imperfect In Its Seventh Season

Courtesy: PBS/PBS Distribution

PBS’ hit genealogy based series Finding Your Roots wrapped its seventh season late this past May.  With the season officially wrapped, PBS Distribution released the season to home audiences late last month on a three-disc DVD set.  The discussions that host Henry Louis Gates Jr. has with his guests this season make for the majority of the season’s interest.  For all of the interest that those discussions offer, the season’s presentation in its new home release proves problematic.  This will be discussed a little later.  Keeping all of this in mind, it makes the set’s average price point and separate listings worth noting in their own right.  Each item noted is important in its own right to the whole of the season’s presentation.  All things considered, they make this season worth watching at least once.

The seventh season of PBS’ Finding Your Roots is an intriguing presentation that audiences will find worth watching at least once.  Its interest comes largely through the discussions that host Henry Louis Gates, Jr. has with his guests.  Gates welcomes guests from across the entertainment world once more in this season.  Actors John Lithgow and Mandy Patinkin join journalist Nina Totenberg and Gretchen Carlson, as well as comedian Lewis Black and hip-hop star Pharrell Williams along so many others.  One of the most interesting interviews that Gates conducts is with filmmaker John Waters.  That is due to one point in particular in which the discussion turns (as Waters even notes that it so often does in Gates’ interviews) to the talk of a guest’s ancestors being slave owners.  Waters seemed irritated that the discussion turned to the matter, too.  As the discussion progresses, Waters says very briefly that “It’s always astounding when this kind of thing is found, but what can you do?”  That brief statement is so powerful.  Gates has made a habit of pointing out to certain interviewees that their ancestors were slave owners.  In the process, Gates seems to have a certain sense of schadenfreude as his guests react (normally in shock and disgust).  It is really discouraging to go back and see that happen time and again throughout the series, including in this season.  Waters’ comments are necessary because they speak to what so many people feel and think.  Yes, many people have ancestors who did bad things.  This critic’s own ancestors were on-board the Mayflower.  That means they were part of the group that persecuted the Native Americans in the region with that so-called treaty that essentially gave the Native Americans no rights against the Pilgrims.  This critic also has ancestors who fought on the side of the Confederacy during the Civil War.  That does not make this critic a bad person.  At the same time, this critic also has ancestors who fought for America’s freedom from British rule.  This is a discussion that we as Americans must have just as much as the discussion on the white washing of America’s history, yet Gates even in this season does not seem to want to have the discussion on people’s ancestry.

Staying on that topic, Williams’ reaction at the revelation that his ancestors were slaves is powerful, as is his statement following that revelation.  Justifiably, he is shocked and angry.  At the same time, he stresses in his comments that while he would like to have a conversation with the descendants of the man who owned his ancestors, that conversation would not be to try and make them feel ashamed of themselves, but just to have that discussion on the white washing of America’s history.  That is a mature reaction and statement from Williams, even though it certainly seemed at times that Gates was trying to egg him on, telling him “You should be angry.  We should allbe angry.”  Yes, we should be angry, but we should also not allow that anger to divide ourselves.  It seemed here that Gates did not care about that.  He just wanted to get a reaction out of Williams, it seemed, which is so discouraging.

Williams’ discussion with Gates is just one more example of what makes this season’s discussions so interesting.  His discussion with Mandy Patinkin is one of the season’s most powerful.  That is Patinkin is known on and off screen for being very stoic and strong.  Yet his reaction at finding out the fates of his Jewish ancestors at the hands of the Nazis shows a completely different profile from him.  It shows a real human side from him.  What’s more, learning about his upbringing might also explain his inability or unwillingness to stick to one project for but so long.  It is just one more notable interview conducted in this season of Finding Your Roots.  Between these interviews and all of the others featured in this season, the whole makes the interviews a solid starting point for the season.  While the featured interviews do plenty to make this season of Finding Your Roots worth watching, the season’s DVD packaging proves problematic.

Once again, the packaging lacks any episode listing anywhere on the case or even on the three discs that make up the season.  This means that audiences are left to have to play each DVD to figure out which interviews are on which disc.  This in itself is problematic, too.  Instead of listing the celebrities in the episodes, the episodes have semi-cryptic titles, leaving audiences again to spend that extra time to figure out which episodes are on which discs.  Having to take that unnecessary extra time is an aesthetic element, but do not be confused, the frustration at having to take that extra time can and will discourage audiences from even wanting to take the time to try.  That means that it will decrease odds of audiences even wanting to watch, having to take that extra time going from one disc to the next.  This sadly, nothing new from the series in terms of its home releases.  In only one season so far have audiences had an episode guide.  It is just too bad that that only happened that one time.

There is no denying that the lack of an episode guide once again detracts from Season 7’s home presentation.  In this case, that negative impact can and will be very notable.  Luckily for the same of those behind the show, there is at least one more positive.  That positive is the set’s average price point.  The set’s average price point is $32.70.  That price was obtained by averaging prices listed Amazon, Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Barnes & Noble Booksellers, Books-A-Million, and PBS’ store.  That price is about on part with most other DVD sets of the same size.  The least expensive listing, $26.99 is at Amazon, Walmart, and Target.  That is well below that average.  Again, considering the average price of most other box sets of the same size, that price of less than $30 is welcoming to say the least.  Even Best Buy’s price of $27.99 is below that average.  Yes, it is more expensive than the other three retailers, but is still relatively affordable.  By comparison, Barnes & Noble Booksellers, Books-A-Million, and PBS each list the set far above the average at $39.99.  So considering those prices against the average price point and those of the other retailers, this is actually encouraging in its own right.  That is because it reminds audiences that there are some affordable prices for this set.  Keeping that in mind along with the interviews featured in this season and even the problems posed by the set’s packaging, the whole proves still worth watching at least once.

The seventh season of PBS’ Finding Your Roots is a presentation that audiences will find interesting and worth watching at least once.  That is even despite the problems posed by its packaging.  The interviews featured in this season are the main reason audiences will want to watch.  They are with celebrities from across the entertainment world.  They also serve as starting points for bigger discussions on race relations this time around.  While the interviews form a strong foundation for this season, the lack of an episode guide in the packaging detracts from the season’s engagement and entertainment.  The extra time that audiences will once again have to spend going from disc to disc in order to find specific episodes will detract notably from audiences’ enjoyment. Audiences do not want to have to take that extra time, and in turn, may end up just not watching any of the episodes.  As much as the issue of the packaging detracts from the enjoyment of this season, the average and separate pricing for the set makes for its own positive.  The set’s average price point is in line with most other DVD sets of its size.  Many of the separate listings are even below that point, too.  That is more encouragement for audiences to purchase the set even despite the packaging problems.  Each item examined here is important in its own way to the whole of the season’s set.  All things considered, they make the album neither a full success nor a total failure.  Finding Your Roots Season 7 is available now.

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The Princess Bride Still Timeless After A Quarter Century

Courtesy: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment/MGM

Twenty-five years ago, audiences were introduced to a movie that has become one of the greatest and most beloved romantic comedies of all time in The Princess Bride.  This cinema classic has stood the test of time.  It’s still just as enjoyable today as it was when it originally debuted in theaters in 1987.  Whether one is a fan of the comedy drama or fantasy and romance, The Princess Bride is able to appease audiences of all three genres.  So what is it that makes it such a timeless work?  It all starts with the writing.  It’s a simple love story with more than enough romance, sword fighting, and satire to appease both male and female audiences.  Along with the writing, the acting of Cary Elwes and Robin Wright (and their supporting cast) and the directing of Hollywood legend Rob Reiner play their own role in the movie’s success.  And now in its twenty-fifth year as one of the movie industry’s greatest movies, the bonus features included in the latest re-issue make it that much better.The writing behind The Princess Bride is one of the biggest factors in the success of the movie.  This movie isn’t the first time that a movie has ever been adapted from a book.  That the story would actually be told from the book in the movie itself is in itself a funny joke.  [Rob] Reiner doesn’t mention anything about this in the additional commentary, but one can’t help but laugh at the thought that here is a story being told on screen within the context of a movie that has been adapted from the same book being read to the then very young Fred Savage.  Staying in that same vein, the movie does change a few things here and there.  But for the most part, it makes a valiant effort to stay true to author William Golding’s book by the same name.  Knowing this serves to make the movie that much more enjoyable.

The writing behind The Princess Bride is enjoyable as it tries to stay so close to the original book by William Golding.  Add in the acting of an all-star cast and the movie becomes even more enjoyable.  The chemistry and comedic timing of Cary Elwes and his castmates makes for so much laughter throughout the course of the movie’s near two hour run time.  Those laughs brought on by the cast’s acting are clean laughs.  As Reiner notes in the commentary, it’s clean enough for audiences of all ages to enjoy, which is part of the reason for the story’s longevity.  Audiences will also thrill at Rob Reiner’s comment in the bonus feature, “True Love: The Princess Bride Phenomenon” that no one but Cary Elwes and Robin Wright could play the roles of Wesley and Princess Buttercup.  And audiences will agree with that sentiment, too in watching the new interview included in this new edition.

Reiner’s commentary and his sit down with Elwes and Wright add so much more context to the acting and the writing that makes The Princess Bride such a wonderful adaptation.  His sit down with Elwes and Wright are new additions to this newest edition of the classic flick.  Along with it, this edition also culls the special features from the movie’s previous DVD releases for the first time.  There’s also a new feature title, “Love is Like a Storybook.”  It offers a more in depth look at specific elements of the story, making for that much more appreciation for the whole thing.  All combined, the bonus features and the commentary make this classic story that much better.  Add in great acting and equally impressive writing, and it goes without saying that The Princess Bride will continue to be a fan and family favorite for another quarter of a century.

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