D-Day 360 Is A Fitting Final Piece To PBS’ D-Day Trilogy

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

The world stopped this past June to note the seventieth anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy, France.  The battle on June 6th, 1945 is to this day the biggest naval operation of the 20th century if not in history.  While the battle is considered to be the beginning of the end of the war in Europe, it obviously wasn’t without its problems as has already been pointed out in PBS’ recently released programs Day of Days: June 6, 1944 and D­-Day’s Sunken Secrets.  Those programs, released just last month, both outline the work that was undertaken to make the Normandy invasion happen.  They also help audiences to see that the events of June 6th were only part of the story of D-Day.  Now in DDay 360, the last of PBS’ trio of programs centered on the D-Day operations, viewers get one of the most comprehensive looks at the initial operation that has been seen yet.

DDay 360 is a good finishing piece for PBS in its recently released trio of programs centered on the Normandy invasion.  The primary reason that it is such a good finale to the series of programs is its in-depth graphical examination of the events that unfolded on D-Day.  There are no re-enactments or anything of that nature.  What viewers get in this program is a visual presentation that fully immerses them in the events of that day.  It does so through the use of graphics that bring to life so to speak all the names and figures thrown out in so many documentaries before.  From graphic depictions of just how far German shells could fly from the beaches to depictions of how far Allied planes overshot Normandy on their bombing run to cover the ground forces and more, DDay 360 gives viewers a perspective like no other documentary before that has covered the Normandy invasion.  Rather than just churning out a bunch of names and numbers, those names and numbers get their own life of sorts, making the impact of this knowledge even harder hitting.  It really goes to show just how much PBS has surpassed the likes of History Channel now that that network has become little more than just another reality show network.

The graphic illustrations used through DDay 360 are central to the overall enjoyment and success of the program. Thankfully, those behind this program’s creation used more than just computer generated illustrations to advance the program and keep viewers engaged throughout its roughly hour-long runtime. Also incorporated into this program are stories told first-hand from a handful of veterans that fought at Normandy. These veterans don’t seem to be the same veterans interviewed for PBS’ previous pair of programs centered on D-Day (say that one five times fast). Every interview is important. That is because every day, there are fewer veterans left to tell the countless stories of that terrible conflict. Their addition to this program adds even more depth to the overall presentation. The end result is a program that is even more informative and entertaining for audiences whether they be in a military studies class or simply a history class. Audiences don’t even have to be in school to appreciate the interviews. They can simply be history buffs or military history buffs.

The use of computer generated graphics combined with actual stories from veterans that fought at Normandy are both key factors to the overall presentation that is DDay 360. By direct connection, the general lack of re-enactments in this program is subtle.   But it adds so much to the presentation in whole. It shows that those responsible for bringing the program to the masses understood quite well that less is more mentality. They knew where to draw that line between enough and too much. It’s just one more way that PBs continues to show that it is the leader in true educational content while networks that once led the way (E.g. History Channel, TLC, etc.) have fallen by the wayside. This subtle but oh-so-important factor is the final piece to a presentation that any and every military history buff, history buff and teacher alike will appreciate.

DDay 360 is available now on DVD. It can be ordered direct from PBS’ online store. More information on this and other programs from PBS is available online via PBS’ official website and Facebook page. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to the Phil’s Picks Facebook page and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog, too.

Cuban Missile Crisis Documentary Another Interesting Piece From PBS

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

Early in 2013, tensions between North and South Korea almost reached a head, with the United States’ almost becoming involved.  That moment left many wondering if the world was once again on the brink of war.  Thankfully that didn’t happen.  There is an irony to this as not long before the buildup in the Koreas happened, PBS released a documentary about another moment of human history in which the world also nearly reached all out war.  That moment was the now infamous Cuban Missile Crisis.  And now thanks to Cuban Missile Crisis: Three Men Go To War, a new generation can hopefully learn from the past and keep a moment such as this (or another situation such as with the Koreas) from happening again.

Cuban Missile Crisis: Three Men Go to War is more proof of the value of public broadcasting.  This near hour long documentary is an unbiased look at the political tensions of the time and how they almost led the “Doomsday Clock” to strike midnight.  The documentary presents the building tensions through interviews with those that were very closely connected to everything that happened.  Most interesting is that among those interviewed for the documentary is the son of Nikita Khrushchev, Sergei.  What makes his inclusion in the program important is that it offers a new perspective on this truly important moment in history.  His commentary shows that the feeling of the then U.S.S.R. being the bad guy went the other way.  The feeling in Russia was much the same about the U.S.  Interestingly enough, this came right around the time that the space race had started, too.  Tensions between the two nations were already high as is because of this.  So add in talks of military buildup, and tensions increase even more. 

The commentary on the part of Sergei Khrushchev is just one commentary that makes this documentary so interesting.  Other academics and high ranking military officials are also interviewed for the program, adding to the program’s interest.  The commentaries combine with the actual audio footage of then President Kennedy discussing with his advisors, a plan of action concerning how to react to actions by Cuba and the Soviets make the feature all the more hard hitting.  Also added in to the feature is footage of events directly tied to the crisis.  This footage will take viewers back to this pivotal moment in which two of the world’s went toe to toe.  The footage, the audio recordings, and the interviews all come together to make this documentary a piece that is a very good fit for any high school and even introductory level college history class.  It’s just as enjoyable for any history buff that wants a brief overview of this important period in history.  It is available now and can be ordered online from the PBS online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=15506546&cp=&kw=cuban+missile+crisis+three+men+go+to+war&origkw=Cuban+Missile+Crisis+Three+Men+go+To+War&sr=1.

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New Dinosaur Train DVD Offers Kids More Undersea Fun And Facts

Courtesy:  PBS/PBS Kids

Courtesy: PBS/PBS Kids

It’s time to get back on the Dinosaur Train again!  Tiny and the gang are back for more adventures in the latest release from Craig Bartlett’s hit PBS Kids show.  This time out, Tiny and the gang are headed back underwater for four more adventures in which they discover even more new species of dinosaurs.  They discover the hydro dynamically designed undersea dino, Otto Opthalmosaurus.  Because of his tear drop shaped body, Otto can swim really fast through the water.  He also has very good eyesight.  It helps him both in hunting and to get away from predators.  He’s just one of the prehistoric pals that the kids meet in this new collection.  In the set’s second episode, they meet another new friend named Shoshana Shonosaurus when they travel to the Triassic ocean.  Shoshana looks similar to Otto, except her body is more elongated instead of rounded.  And her long nose helps her when she tries to hunt smaller fish.  Even more interesting to learn is that Shoshana has to surface every now and then, much like today’s dolphins and whales.  She has to surface so that she can breathe.  Along the way, they learn how the undersea environment changes as they travel deeper.

Otto Opthalmosaurus and Shoshana Shonosaurus are just two of the new dinosaurs that the Pteranodon family gets to meet in the adventures included in this new DVD.  The kids also get to meet Maisie Mosasaurus and a group of baby sea turtles, too.  Kids will love the facts taught by all four episodes thanks to the easy to understand delivery of facts about each dinosaur.  Just as with previous Dinosaur Train DVD releases, those easy to understand facts and catchy tunes will have kids watching and singing along over and over again.  Adding to the enjoyment of this new release is an interactive DVD game that parents and kids can play together.  There are also downloadable coloring pages and other activities for kids and parents.  And what episode of Dinosaur Train would be complete without extra information from Dr. Scott the Paleontologist?  His segments are included, too as bonus features.

Dinosaur Train: Submarine Adventures offers so much enjoyment for both parents and kids in just four episodes.  It’s proof of the old adage that big things come in small packages.  From its easy to understand science lessons to its catchy songs to even the bright colors that will entertain and educate young viewers at the same time.  It’s one more fun DVD to add to any family’s Dinosaur Train library.  It will be available next Tuesday, February 19th and can be ordered online via the PBS online store at http://www.shoppbs.org.  And for more games and fun from Dinosaur Train, kids can log on to the Dinosaur Train website with their parents at http://pbskids.org/dinosaurtrain/.  Kids can learn about even more dinosaurs, play more games and lots more here.

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The Dust Bowl Is A Powerful History Lesson For All

Courtesy: PBS

Ken Burns’ newest documentary, The Dust Bowl is everything that audiences have come to expect from this expert film maker.  And as a companion piece to PBS’ previous release, Surviving The Dust Bowl, it’s an equally impressive piece both inside and outside the classroom.  Whether in a public school classroom, or that of a college history class, the four-hour, double disc Blu-ray set takes viewers on an in depth look at not just what led to the Dust Bowl, but also the impact across the nation of the event.  Coupled with first hand interviews from those who lived through the Dust Bowl and through recorded footage and images, a whole new generation of audiences is transported back to this tragic time, and see what makes it a time that should and never will be forgotten.The Dust Bowl wastes little time getting right to the heart of what caused this terrible event.  The stage is set with an explanation that the Dust Bowl was brought by a perfect storm of weather, over-farming, and economics.  The combined effect of these three factors would be long reaching.  As the documentary’s narrator, Peter Coyote, notes the farmers of “No Man’s Land” didn’t heed the warning bell of the Great Depression was a bad omen of what was to come.  The impact of what happened was so deep that it would lead to a change in the White House, ousting Hoover, and leading to the election of FDR.

The documentary’s second hour starts off by expanding on FDR’s time in office during the growing Dust Bowl.  Coyote tells viewers about Roosevelt’s New Deal program, and its effect on farmers.  On the surface, it would seem that FDR’s New Deal program would have been a good thing.  But as this portion of the presentation moves on, the reality is quite the opposite.  As noted by the survivors of the time, bringing cattle to the region was no help.  And even Easterners had no help or real idea of the Dust Bowl’s magnitude when the dust storms rolled to the East Coast.  Things would only continue to get worse as farms were foreclosed, businesses went bankrupt, and the strain led people of all ages to take drastic measures.  It should probably be noted here that this moment may not be suitable for younger viewers, as it might be a difficult topic to bring up.

While much of the “Dirty Thirties” was a tough time for the Southern Plains, The Dust Bowl does eventually have a happy ending.  It documents how the rains finally returned in the late 30’s, and the region finally began to experience prosperity once more.  Wheat production and prices finally rose again.  Even when the wet cycle led to another dry cycle in the 50’s, farmers in the region finally took heed to the message of conservation, helping them to get through that drought period.  Those methods, combined with irrigation methods and other procedures helped the region maintain itself.  But it’s not without another warning.  The aquifer below the southern plains is running out.  One individual notes that the Dust Bowl could easily happen again.  Even one of the survivors of the Dust Bowl comments, noting that after he’s gone, people are going to have trouble finding drinking water due to the over use of water in the region.

The material presented through this four-hour presentation is hardly the easiest to watch.  But in the grand scheme of things, it also serves as another warning that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.  Much of what happened over the course of the Dust Bowl was the result of weather patterns.  That’s given.  But just as much was the result of human intervention.  General lack of environmental understanding and greed played a massive role in what happened to the Southern Plains in the 1930’s.  That message is evident throughout this program.  But it isn’t preachy.  While it serves primarily as a documentation of the past, that documentation secondarily serves as a warning for this generation and the next.  That combination of purposes makes this another piece from PBS that any audience should see at least once.  It’s available now both on DVD and Blu-ray.  It can be ordered direct via PBS’ online store, http://www.shoppbs.org.

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Arthur’s Perfect Christmas Is A Perfect Family Feature

Courtesy: PBS

Halloween has officially come and gone for another year.  So with one of the holiday season’s biggest days in the rearview mirror, many families are going to begin looking forward to the next two big holidays.  Most may not realize it, but when it comes to holiday films, there are more Christmas themed features and films than there are for any other time of the year.  So the question is what is a family to watch as it gets into the Christmas spirit?  One suggestion is a feature from one of literature’s most beloved characters.  Who might that be?  Arthur Read.

PBS released Arthur’s Perfect Christmas to DVD early last month.  This near hour long animated feature is a perfect fit for any family during the holiday season.  The feature’s run time is one of the key factors to its success.  Its messages of religious diversity and the importance of family are just part of what makes it a fun and family friendly story for this time of year.  Being that it clocks in at just under an hour, this feature’s run time is perfect for younger viewers.  Had it been any longer, it might have begun to lose said viewers’ attention.  Tied in to that run time is the general storyline and animation.  The storyline follows not just Arthur’s hopes for a perfect Christmas but the holiday celebrations of his friends.  As she counts down to Hanukkah, Francine has to deal with her best friend Muffy’s lack of sensitivity towards her faith.  Muffy’s lack of understanding leads to an exchanging of words over the phone between the two.  George and his family celebrate Kwanzaa, and Binky struggles to get his holiday recipes just right.  Arthur’s best friend, Buster, also has his own issues with the holidays as his parents are divorced. So he has to decide if he wants to tell his mom how he really feels about her going over the top every year.

The interweaving storylines in Arthur’s Perfect Christmas will keep the attention of its viewers.  It does a very good job of mixing each story into the bigger picture.  The feature’s animation adds in to the feature’s ability to keep its audiences’ attention.  The bright colors and original hand drawn animation do their own part in making Arthur’s Perfect Christmas great for the entire family.  At a time when so many “animated” features are created via computers, it’s especially nice to see that hand drawn animation is still alive and well.      

The animation and stories come together to make Arthur’s Perfect Christmas an enjoyable holiday feature for the entire family every year.  But there is so much more to this feature that audiences might miss after just one watch.  For instance, the very fact that it promotes a variety of religions shows acceptance of each one.  There are those that would argue that this is little more than a not so hidden political agenda to some.  And maybe it is meant to teach tolerance.  Is that such a bad thing?  It’s especially interesting that the writers added the discussion on the mixing of Christian and Babylonian traditions to make today’s modern Christmas, instead of simply going with just one view of Christmas.  This is subtle, but very important to the overall story.

There is one more subtle moment that offers the chance for a very deep discussion between parents and children.  That moment comes when Arthur and his mom come home from the mall and his mom has to explain to D.W. about the potential of her not getting the doll that she wanted.  D.W. asks is it because she’s been bad?  And it has to be explained that that’s not the reason at all.  Far too often today, children are still taught that Santa keeps lists of naughty and nice kids.  So kids are taught that if they don’t get the toys they want, it’s because of their behavior.  It could easily be argued that this is an argument against that method.  To that point, one could argue that this is an argument against not only that method, but against our country’s culture of consumerism.  Especially considering the number of families that are financially struggling today, it’s a message that’s just as important today as when this special first aired. 

As one can see here, Arthur’s Perfect Christmas is far deeper than some audiences might offer it.  That depth, and the ability of the feature to send important messages without being preachy makes it a feature that audiences of all ages will enjoy watching every holiday season.  It can be ordered online now at PBS’ online store, http://www.shoppbs.org

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The Musical Brain Will Strike The Right Note With Many Audiences

Courtesy: PBS/National Geographic Channel/Bell Benefits Fund/Ontario Media Development Corporation/CTV/Rogers Documentary Fund

Music is one of the most powerful forces in the world.  It has the power to make a gray day blue.  It has the power to make people fall in love.  And it even has the power to unite a nation.  For the power that music has, one has to wonder how exactly it manages to do that.  That’s the subject of PBS and National Geographic’s “The Musical Brain.”  In this new special, former record producer turned behavioral scientist Dr. Daniel Levitin delves into the depths of the human mind to find out how the musical brain works.

In this near hour long special, Dr. Levitin teams up with music legend Sting to try and figure out how exactly music affects the human brain.  The results of this special are rather interesting.  One of the most intriguing findings from this special is that children can begin to at least hear certain musical patterns even while they are still in the womb.  And once they are born, those children can actually begin to comprehend at least at a basic level, certain semi-complex musical patterns and sounds.  On the other end of the spectrum, it presents an elderly woman suffering from Alzheimer’s who while her memory may be largely gone, her musical memory is as fresh as ever.  It explains that she remembers with near perfection how she can remember songs that she had heard in her youth.  To add to it, when someone tests her by singing some wrong notes in one of those songs, she cringes at the notes.  Not only does that show how strong her musical memory is, but also her comprehension of certain musical tones.  That in itself is truly interesting.  It goes a long way to show the brain’s capabilities, even when it has been damaged.

Audiences get to see in watching “The Musical Brain” the power of music on the brain, and the brain’s ability to maintain that comprehension of music.  Students, musicians, therapists, and psychologists will enjoy the discussions of the impact of music on the human brain.  Medical doctors and psychiatrists will find just as intriguing the actual processes that go on inside the brain in the course of listening to and even performing and writing music.  Dr. Levitin talks with Sting, showing him how his brain actually reacted to certain styles of music that were played for him.  What’s funniest to note about this is how little activity was occurring in the brain when Muzak was played for him.  Sting jokes about how Muzak is the single least appealing form of music there is to him.  Yet when other forms of music were played, his brain was highly active.  Findings from similar studies show that each person reacts differently to different styles of music.

Ultimately, through this special, one thing does stand out.  As it notes in its closing moments, while studies are still being done, there is still no way to pinpoint what draws certain people to certain music.  And it is also still not known how exactly the brain develops to lead some to be musicians and not others.  But as the musicians interviewed for the special note, that’s kind of like a world mystery.  It wouldn’t be intriguing if that were figured out.  What’s most important is that music is the powerful force that it is, and that should be enough for everyone. 

“The Musical Brain” is available now.  It can be ordered direct via PBS’ website at http://www.shoppbs.org.

To keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it or its companion page, http://www.facebook.com/pages/Reel-Reviews/381028148587141.  Fans can always keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

PBS’ Queen & Country Shows Queen Elizabeth II As “The People’s Queen”

Courtesy: PBS

Earlier this year, her majesty, Queen Elizabeth II celebrated a major milestone.  She celebrated six decades on the throne.  Sixty years is a long time.  While presidents and members of Parliament have come and gone throughout those six decades, she has remained the key figure of Britain’s Royal Family.  Media outlets across the globe had their cameras there as she celebrated the anniversary.  Citizens from around the world were there, too.  For all the pomp and circumstance, one wonders how many people know the history of one of the world’s longest ruling individuals.  Thanks to PBS, audiences can now see the life and times of a figure who has become more than just a monarch.  She is one of the people. 

“Queen & Country” is a fully in-depth four part series that explains how Queen Elizabeth was thrust into the limelight after the death of her father, King George VI in February 1952.  Narrator Sir Trevor McDonald takes viewers on a journey through time in this new double disc presentation that shows how Queen Elizabeth II became one of the world’s most beloved public figures.  It all starts with the segment, “London, Royal City.”  This segment sets the groundwork for the special.  It explains the royal family’s reputation thanks to her father, King George VI.  George led Britain through WWII, and became one of the nation’s most beloved leaders of all time.  Understanding this, it’s easy to see how the queen would be similar, personality-wise, to her father.  Perhaps the most interesting fact of the queen that echoes throughout all four segments of this special is that as much as people see her in pictures and in the public, Elizabeth II is a very private person.  She rarely does media interviews.  And as McDonald explains, even those who talk to her on a personal level are sworn to secrecy concerning their conversations. 

Courtesy: PBS

It should be noted that there are those out there who would rant and rave that the queen is little more than a political figurehead and ask why she is so beloved.  McDonald does admit that the queen really doesn’t have power, as Britain is run by what is known as a Constitutional Monarchy.  She may not have ultimate power, but she does have input on what goes on in Parliament.  Ergo, she is still a very important figure in her nation’s political happenings.  As noted in one interview, she meets with the Prime Minister at least once a week.  And thanks to her many years of experience, she can offer her own insight into matters discussed by members of Parliament. 

The relationship between the queen and the United Kingdom is discussed through the segments, “The Royal Visit” and “The Traveller.”  Both show just how much the queen is in the public view.  And it is because of her reputation in the public as being a very kind, simple person that the people of the United Kingdom love her so much.  Even one of Australia’s former heads noted that while the nation would love to be independent, it wouldn’t push for that until Elizabeth is no longer ruling.  He notes that that’s the level of respect Australia has for her.

Queen Elizabeth II is one of the most influential and respected individuals in the history of not only her own country, but of other nations, too.  “Queen & Country” is evidence of that.  And while it does present the impact she has had on the world and vice versa, it offers so much more that any history buff or student of history would enjoy.  This double disc blu-ray and DVD is available now.  It can be ordered online at http://www.shoppbs.org

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New PBS Special Is Great For Golfers Of All Ages

Courtesy: PBS

Golf is one of the world’s greatest games.  It is, for that matter, known as “the greatest game ever played.”  Next to football (or soccer as it’s known in the U.S.), golf’s fans number more than any other sport across the world.  Fans know their favorite golfer.  They know their favorite course.  But how many golfers and fans know the history behind the game’s most legendary courses, or of those individuals that built them?  Now thanks to PBS, fans and players of all ages can learn that history in the new special, “Golf’s Grand Design.” 

North Carolina’s PBS affiliate, UNC-TV, will air this special tomorrow night, August 3rd at 10pm.  Those who miss it can still order it online next Tuesday, August 7th at http://www.shoppbs.org.

 “Golf’s Grand Design” is an excellent starting point for fans and golfers of all ages and experience levels.  It clocks in at just under an hour.  That’s not counting the closing credits.  It starts in the sport’s earliest recorded history in Scotland.  The narrator notes that before Scotland, golf’s roots are unknown.

The very first course featured in this special is, of course, St. Andrews.  The program’s narrator notes that this was the very first modern golf course.  From here, the special does something very smart.  Rather than merely jump from course to course and from architect to architect, each architect and course’s segment is preceded by a quote from the architect to be featured.  This lets viewers know which architect is going to be featured.  Kudos to PBS and all involved with bringing the special to life for assembling the program in this manner.  Viewers will learn about the history not only of each architect, but of how each one built his course(s), including his motivation behind building each one in its given form.  Among the many architects featured in the show are:  Charles Blair McDonald, David Ross, and Robert Trent Jones among many others.

In learning how each architect came to build his course(s), viewers will see a rather interesting process.  They will see how golf courses have come full circle from the simple to the grandiose and back to simple again.  The best explanation of this movement comes from a pair of sound bites run early on in the show.  One of the individuals interviewed exclaims of golf, “Half the experience is sharing the time with friends.”  Another noted that “It’s about the exploration of a piece of land.”  Both statements echo a similar mindset.  That mindset is that what makes golf great isn’t how grandiloquent a course is.  What it great is the simple experience of being on the links.  It’s about being with friends and being one with the game and with the course.  This is the mindset that makes the game great.  It’s the mindset that will always make gold the greatest game ever played, and that will always make its many courses just as great.

As a reminder, “Golf’s Grand Design” will air on North Carolina’s PBS affiliate, UNC-TV, tomorrow, Friday August 3rd at 10pm.  The DVD will be available next Tuesday, August 7th.  It can be ordered online at http://www.shoppbs.org.

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