‘Civil War 360’ Is A Widely Appealing Civil War Doc

Courtesy: Smithsonian Channel/Public Media Distribution

This coming Saturday – April 12, 2018 – might not seem like an important date to most people.  However, it is in fact far more important than most might think.  That is because it marks 157 years since the start of America’s bloodiest domestic conflict – The Civil War.  According to historians, the war, which set brothers against one another and nearly tore the union apart, started April 12, 1861 with the attack on Fort Sumter by Confederate forces under the command of General P.G.T. Beauregard.  In the nearly 160 years since its start and almost 153 years since its end, countless books have been written and so many movies and documentaries created about different aspects of the civil war.  Some have proven to be anything but memorable while others, such as Smithsonian Channel’s three-part doc Civil War 360 have proven to be somewhat more interesting and intriguing.  Released earlier this month – May 1 to be exact – the 184-minute (3 hours and four minutes) program proves to be an entertaining and memorable presentation for the most causal history fan.  That is due in no small part to the use of three well-known celebrities to help tell the story of the war from each side.  This will be discussed shortly.  The very separation of the program into three distinct segments is critical to making the presentation so appealing for audiences.  The information and re-enactments used to help tell each side’s story is also key to making this more mainstream Civil War doc appealing to audiences.  Each element is important in its own way to the whole of Civil War 360 as will be pointed out in this review.  All things considered, they make Civil War 360 a Civil War documentary that proves to be one of the more memorable docs on the war in recent memory.

Smithsonian Channel’s mainstreamed Civil War documentary Civil War 360 is an interesting new look at what is America’s bloodiest domestic conflict.  Considering that the 157th anniversary of its start is just around the corner, its release early this month was timely to say the least.  It is a presentation that is certain to appeal easily to the most casual Civil War and history lovers in general.  This is due in part to the use of three relatively well-known celebrities – Ashley Judd, Trace Adkins and Dennis Haysbert — to gain and maintain viewers’ engagement and entertainment.  On the surface, this might not seem to be all that important.  However, the draw here is simple:  If celebrities show an interest in something such as the Civil War through their own personal connections (Two of Judd’s 2-times great grandfathers fought for the Union while Adkins had his own familial connection to the Confederacy.  Haysbert’s connection is indirect, but still that doesn’t keep him from becoming emotional at discovering all that happened to the slaves), then that, by connection, should generate interest by everyday viewers.  PBS’ hit genealogy series Finding Your Roots takes a similar approach, and has proven successful using that approach, too, as has TLC’s answer to that series, Who Do You Think You Are?  Keeping this in mind, the use of a trio of celebrities as a starting point to gain viewers’ interest here was smart to say the least.  It is just one of the points that serves to make this program appealing to audiences.  The clear separation of the program into three distinct segments adds to its interest.

All three segments of Civil War 360 runs for roughly one hour, with only one running a little longer, for the three-hour, 4 minute run time.  What this means is that each side of the conflict gets its own share of time.  Again, on the surface, this might not seem overly critical.  However, a deeper evaluation reveals that the equal time for each segment ensures audiences cannot try to claim bias by Smithsonian Channel.  Rather, it ensures equal time on the side of the Union, the Confederacy and even the slaves.  What’s more, the pacing with each segment is relatively stable from one to the next with the result being just as much assurance of viewers’ engagement.  Once again, the program’s presentation offers viewers plenty to appreciate, regardless of whether one is a casual history lover or the biggest Civil War aficionado.  It still is not the last of the program’s most important elements.  The information provided throughout the course of the program rounds out its most important elements.

Some of the information presented throughout the program is familiar territory.  That includes matters such as the unsanitary conditions of the field hospitals and the related mortality rates of the soldiers as a result of those conditions.  Also familiar to audiences throughout the program is the matter of Lincoln’s assassination after the war’s end.  At the same time, audiences also learn that while John Wilkes Booth thought he would be a hero to southerners for his actions, the reality was the exact opposite.  This is something that is seemingly taught very rarely in schools at any level.  Also interesting to learn here is the revelation that despite popular belief, Lee did not go to Appomattox to surrender, but was trying to escape Union forces.  As if that isn’t enough, audiences also learn that Lincoln’s win was actually not a major victory, but that it was in fact a close win for the White House.  Considering this revelation, one can’t help but wonder what might have happened if Lincoln had lost the presidency.  America’s history and its present state might have and might be different.  There is also mention of Britain’s profiteering from the war, another aspect of the war that is rarely taught in public schools or even colleges.  Another little taught revelation shared here is that John Brown actually saw himself as a martyr, and basically thought even his rebellion’s failure would be a win.  Again, this is certain to create its own share of discussion.  That’s because such revelation paints Brown in something of a selfish light as it makes it seem that he didn’t really care what happened to his cohorts at the Harper’s Ferry raid.  Between these revelations and so many others shared throughout each of this program’s segments, the program offers plenty for viewers to appreciate just in terms of its content.  When this is considered along with the value of the program’s segmentation and the interest established through the use of celebrities, the whole of those elements ensures viewer’s engagement from every angle.  The end result is the realization that the program is certain to have wide appeal.

Smithsonian Channel’s Civil War documentary Civil War 360 is obviously not the first program to ever focus on what is America’s bloodiest domestic conflict.  It is however, one of the more memorable docs on the topic to be presented in recent history, though.  That is due in no small part to the use of three well-known celebrities to establish an interest, especially among the average viewer.  The segmentation of the program into three distinct and almost equally timed features – the north, the south and the slaves – builds on the interest established through the use of the celebrities and ensures even more, viewers’ maintained engagement and entertainment.  The use of familiar information and lesser taught revelations together strengthens the program’s presentation even more still.  It essentially creates the cornerstone of the presentation’s foundation, and when it is joined with the already noted elements, the whole of those elements makes the program a fully immersive presentation that will engage and entertain viewers across the board.  It is available now.  More information on this and other titles from Smithsonian Channel is available online now at:




Website: http://www.smithsonianchannel.com

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

Twitter: http://twitter.com/SmithsonianChan




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Cinematography, Acting Not Enough To Save Cinedigm’s ‘Hickok’

Courtesy: Cinedigm

This past Tuesday, independent movie studio Cinedigm released its new Western offering Hickok to audiences on 4KHD/BD combo pack.  While the movie is loaded with impressive cinematography and a cast composed of well-known actors, it still sadly falls short both within the Western genre and in the bigger picture of this year’s new cinematic offerings, both on the big and small screen.  That is due primarily to a story that is rife with problems.  This will be discussed later.  The work of lead stars Luke Hemsworth and Trace Adkins’ is one more saving grace for this otherwise forgettable entry in the Western world.  Keeping all of this in mind Hickok proves ultimately to be worth at least one watch, but sadly not much more.

Hickok, Cinedigm’s new addition to the lengthy list of movies telling Wild Bill Hickok’s story is a work that Western fans will agree is worth watching at least once, but sadly not much more than that.  That is due at least in part to the movie’s cinematography.  From the movie’s Civil War opening scene to the seemingly constant shootout scenes that fill the movie’s 88-minute run time (it seems like the movie relies on those scenes more than anything else on a side note, which will be discussed later) to the simplicity of the jail scenes and more, those behind the cameras are to be applauded for their work in making the movie bearable.  That is because they manage so well to capture the energy and the emotion of each scene, whether the scene be something light-hearted, something tense or outright energetic.  The movie’s opening scene, which presents Bill Hickok as a Union Commander during the Civil War, is a prime example of the talent of those abilities.  The movie’s camera crew expertly captured the tension and energy of what it must have been like to be combatant in the war.  The problem with that scene is that it really has almost no bearing on the rest of the movie.  Audiences are left to wonder about the scene’s role until much later in the movie’s run.  This, too will be discussed later.

The scenes inside the Bull’s Head Saloon, while not as action packed as other scenes, are more prime examples of the talents of the movie’s camera crew.  While the scenes are relatively simple, the camera crew’s work does a good job of capturing what is believed to have been everyday life in an old west saloon.  From the guys playing poker to the women working the building as the men drank and played cards to other mundane items, their work expertly captured those scenes, which are among some of the movie’s best moments.

The movie’s constant shoot-out scenes are just as notable as the other noted scenes in explaining the importance of Hickok’s cinematography.  That is because those scenes evoke a certain amount of tension without much effort.  From one scene to the next, the camera crew’s talents are on constant display, even when no shots are fired.  That is saying a lot, too.  It shows yet again just how much work was put into this movie’s cinematography.  When it is joined with the other noted examples and so many other moments, the whole of those moments makes fully clear why this movie’s cinematography carries it—at least in part—on its back.  Keeping this in mind, the movie is not without at least one major flaw.  That flaw is its writing.

From its start to its end, Hickok’s script, crafted by Michael Lanahan, presents so many problems including a complete lack of any back story to set the stage for this presentation.  Audiences know, thanks to the movie’s opening Civil War scene, that allegedly Bill Hickok served as a Union Commander during the conflict.  From there, the movie jumps randomly to a scene of Hickok being awoken, naked, in a tub by a pair of lawmen for apparently stealing a horse.  There’s no back story here, either.  If that is the past that he is trying to escape (the premise on the back of the movie’s box states he is trying to escape his past), then that is not much of a bad past.  That in itself becomes extremely problematic since it doesn’t give audiences much reason to sympathize with Hickok.  The only real hint of a bad past that audiences get comes late in the story as it is revealed that Hickok might have been a Union spy.  Even that though doesn’t play into who Hickok is in this movie.  As if all of this is not bad enough, Hickok’s meeting with evil saloon owner Phil Poe (Trace Adkins) seems to happen as randomly as Hickok becoming the Marshal of Abilene, Kansas as does the revelation of Hickok’s previous relationship with Mattie, who apparently is engaged to Poe.  The problems with the movie’s script don’t end with the items noted here.  From seemingly random scene and mood shifts to other plot holes that the story barely attempts to fill, this script leaves the movie’s nearly 90-minute run time feel like it is far longer.  Thankfully, the work of Hemsworth and Adkins works on its own to make those problems bearable if not forgivable.

Hemsworth, who is most well-known for his work on Westworld, The Anomaly and Infini slides into his role as the infamous old west gunslinger just as expertly as those who recorded his work.  His cool-natured approach to the famed figure echoes back to the days of Gary Cooper in ‘High Noon’ and even somewhat to Ed Harris’ take of Virgil Cole in Appaloosa.  It shows his ability to handle even this kind of role, even despite what little he had to work with in the movie’s script.  It’s just too bad that he had to show that ability while having to tackle his character’s presentation in that script.

On a similar note, Trace Adkins, who is himself no stranger to Westerns—he previously starred in Stagecoach: The Texas Jack Story, Traded and The Virginian—is spot on as the vile Phil Poe.  It would have been so easy for him to overact here, which he has done in his previous efforts.  In this case though, his portrayal of the suave yet villainous saloon owner leaves one easily hating Poe, which is a tribute to his talents.  It shows finally that maybe, just maybe, he does indeed have some potential as an actor.  Considering this, his work shows just as much as that of Hemsworth to be critical in making this movie bearable if only for one watch.  When the duo’s work is joined with the movie’s cinematography, the two elements do just enough to save Hickok.

Cinedigm’s latest jaunt into the Western world is a movie that is worth at least one watch by those who are fans of the genre.  Sadly though, it is not worth much more than that.  That is due in large part to a story that suffers from problems of plotholes, pacing and so much more.  Luckily, the movie’s cinematography and the work of its lead stars makes up for the shortcomings of that script.  One could even argue that the movie’s production crew, responsible for the movie’s sets, and those behind the costumes and makeup, deserve some credit, too.  While their contributions do serve to help the movie some more, the whole of those elements and the previously noted elements still are not enough to make up for a story that misses every one of its marks.  It is available now in stores and online.  More information on this and other titles from Cinedigm is available online now at:




Website: http://www.cinedigmentertainment.com

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

Twitter: http://twitter.com/cinedigm




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Adkins, Eagle Rock A Perfect Pairing On Live Country

Courtesy:  Eagle Rock Entertainment/Universal Music Group

Courtesy: Eagle Rock Entertainment/Universal Music Group

Eagle Rock Entertainment released country music star Trace Adkins’ new live recording Live Country this week. Being that Adkins is one of the leading names in the world of country music and that Eagle Rock Entertainment is the leading name in live recordings, it only made sense for the pair to partner for Adkins’ new live recording. Live Country is one more notch in Eagle Rock Entertainment’s proverbial belt, showing yet again why it maintains the mantle of the leading name in live recordings. It also exhibits why Adkins is one of the leading names in country music today. The main reason for this is the concert’s extensive set list. The twenty-song, ninety-minute concert covers a relatively large swath of Adkins’ career at least up to this point. The band’s stage presence adds even more enjoyment to the concert. There is a certain unassuming nature about Adkins and his band mates throughout the concert that actually makes the show all the more enjoyable. They let the music do the talking for them, thus adding more substance to the show interestingly enough. Last of note that makes Live Country so enjoyable for Adkins’ fans is Adkins’ interview added as a bonus. It goes without saying that this recording being an Eagle Rock release, the audio and video are of the best possible quality. So there is no reason to bring that up again and again. That is just an understood constant. Thus the focus on the bonus interview. The interview runs just under the half hour mark. Adkins discusses his rise to fame in his interview, hearing himself for the first time on the radio, his uneasiness at performing a certain song in his hometown in front of his mother, and much more during the course of that time. Long-time fans will find plenty of enlightening discussion and even some entertaining moments, too. Whether it be for those discussions or discussions on other topics, the collective body of Adkins’ interview fully lives up to its title of a bonus. And together with the noted elements of the concert recording itself, all three elements together make Live Country a recording that any of Trace Adkins’ fans will enjoy.

Typically when one thinks of Louisiana, one doesn’t normally associate the boot-shaped Gulf Coast state with country music. More often, it is associated with zydeco and the blues. It is associated with the NFL’s Saints. And most of all, it is associated with one of America’s biggest annual parties, Mardi Gras. So when Louisiana native Trace Adkins first broke out in 1996 with his debut album Dreamin’ Out Loud, it came as a bit of a surprise to a lot of people. Fast forward nearly two decades and more than a dozen albums later, and Trace Adkins has more than proven that his rise from the tiny town of Serepta was anything but a fluke. Audiences will see and hear that for themselves when they pick up Live Country for themselves thanks to the show’s set list. The show’s set list is in fact the center point of the recording’s enjoyment. Adkins takes audiences all the way back to his debut album in this recording as he included ‘I Left Something Turned on at Home,’ ‘There’s a Girl in Texas,’ and ‘This Ain’t No Love Song.’ He also included in the concert’s set list ‘This Ain’t Not Thinkin’ Thing’ as the concert’s opening number. His 1997 album Big Time is represented with its title track. All of his albums from the early 2000s are represented throughout the concert as is his 2010 album Cowboy’s Back in Town. Obviously Adkins wasn’t able to pull music from every one of his albums. Otherwise the concert would have been much longer. Maybe those albums not represented here will be saved for Adkins’ next live recording. Regardless, the fact that so much of Adkins’ body of work is represented here justifies the use of the term career-defining for the performance. Far too often that term is tossed around for performers’ concerts and far too little do said performances live up to said mantle. In this case, the concert’s set list definitely does live up to the term, proving without a shadow of a doubt why its set list sits solidly as the center of Live Country’s enjoyment.

The set list that makes up Live Country more than lives up to the mantle of being career-defining. That is because it covers nearly every one of the albums that comprise Adkins’ body of work. Those songs are collectively more than enough reason for Adkins’ fans to add Live Country to their personal collections regardles of whether or not they already have his previously released live recordings in their libraries. As important as the show’s set list proves to be to this recording’s enjoyment, the band’s stage presence proves to be just as important. There are no over the top antics, no big showy moves or anything else. Rather, Adkins and his band mates–John Coleman (keyboards, vocals), Brian Wooten (guitar), Mark Gillespie (guitar, vocals), Wayne Addleman (steel, dobro, guitar, vocals), Mike Brignardello (bass, vocals), and Johnny Richardson (drums)–maintain a certain almost unassuming demeanor throughout the concert. They make the music the star of the show instead of themselves. The same can be said of backing vocalists Kate Rapier and Jill Pickering. That unassuming demeanor and focus on the music actually adds a certain depth and substance to the concert. It shows that a concert can be enjoyable with little more than a bare bones approach. That simplistic yet so smart approach coupled with the show’s set list makes for even more reason for Adkins’ fans to add Live Country to their personal collection. What’s more it proves even more so both why Eagle Rock Entertainment remains the leader in live recordings and Trace Adkins one of the leading names in country music.

Both the songs that make up Live Country’s set list and the stage presence of Adkins and his band mates through the course of the concert play important roles in the enjoyment of this recording. They are in fact the most important aspects of the concert that make it so watchable and enjoyable. It goes without saying that being an Eagle Rock Entertainment release, the concert’s audio and video mix are of the highest quality. So making note of those high quality production values yet again would be redundant from this critic. That being the case, the reasons for Live Country’s enjoyment are rounded out by the bonus interview with Trace Adkins himself. Adkins sat down with a member of the media before the concert to discuss a number of topics for the interview. Those topics included hearing himself on the radio for the first time early in his career, performing in front of his mother, his rise to fame, and much more throughout the course of the interview. His rather matter-of-fact demeanor throughout the interview is interesting to say the least. When he talks about hearing himself on the radio for the first time, there is no feeling of shock. It’s obvious he is recalling the memory. But he is just as unassuming here as on stage. He maintains that approach throughout the rest of the interview, too. It shows someone that obviously hasn’t let celebrity go to his head, even being the first ever winner of NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice. It’s just one more reason that any Trace Adkins fan will want to add this recording to their personal collection now that it is available in stores and online. It is also another way in which both Eagle Rock Entertainment and Trace Adkins prove again to be leaders in their respective fields.

Live Country is not Trace Adkins’ first ever live recording. However, it is a fine example of why he is one of the leading names in country music. It is just as fine an example of why Eagle Rock Entertainment remains today the leader in live recordings. The show’s extensive set list and the band’s on-stage presence collectively make this concert just as enjoyable as any of Adkins’ previously released recordings. The companion interview with Adkins that is included with the concert adds even more enjoyment for fans. That is thanks both to the interview itself and his humble approach to the interview. All three aspects by themselves make for plenty of enjoyment in Live Country. Collectively, they make Live Country another big win both for Eagle Rock Entertainment and for Adkins himself. Together, they show why both parties remain today leaders in their respective fields. Live Country is available now in stores and online. More information on this and other releases from Eagle Rock Entertainment is available online at:

Website: http://www.eagle-rock.com

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

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Meat Loaf’s “Hell in a Handbasket” is a musical heaven

Veteran vocalist, Meat Loaf, has scored a hit once again with his new album,  “Hell in a Handbasket.”  The singer’s eleventh full length studio release features what is arguably some of his finest work to date.  Each song on the album follows the common theme of everything that’s gone wrong with the world, and how it’s led to the world going to “Hell in a Handbasket.”  But in a larger scheme, one could argue that this album is really a concept album of sorts.

“Hell in a Handbasket” could be argued to be a concept album in that it opens and closes in a near story-like fashion.  The album opens with the song, “All of Me.”  Meatloaf starts off singing to his audience, “This is my anger/this is my shame/These are my insecurities/This is my fortress crumbled ’round my feet/Take a good look baby/This is all of me.”  He sings of a person who is frustrated with what people had caused him to become.  That leads into songs full of social commentary in the likes of ‘The Giving Tree’, ’40 Days’, and a cover of Tom Cochran’s ‘Mad Mad World.’ 

For all the commentary in “Hell in a Handbasket”, the album does have some more positive moments.  It also includes songs of life and love.  They come in the form of the amazing southern rock styling of ‘Live or Die’, ‘Our Love and Our Souls’, and what is arguably one of the album’s best songs, ‘Stand in The Storm.’    Meatloaf brings along country superstar Trace Adkins, Sugar Ray frontman Mark McGrath and hit rapper, Lil’ Jon along for the ride in this arena anthem.  Meat Loaf sings, “Somebody’s gotta stand in the storm/In the lightning when it pours/be strong enough to lean on/show you what a backbone’s for.”  This one leaves absolutely no doubt as to what its about.  And being that it’s one of the album’s closing tracks, its placement on the list is no coincidence.  It leads straight into ‘Blue Sky.’  ‘Blue Sky’ is the exact antithesis of ‘Stand in The Storm.’  It’s much softer both musically and lyrically.  This is the point where the story’s character is beginning to come to a realization.  He sings, “Have you a heart that beats/Heave you a breath to breathe/and have you veins that bleed/have you a brainthat dreams/Is it so hard to see that/we’re all the same machine/Don’t we all live and die/under the same blue sky?”  That’s his character asking, don’t you realize we’re all just human?  We’re all the same.  It’s a perfect lead-in to the album’s closer, ‘Fall from Grace.’

‘Stand in The Storm’ and ‘Blue Sky’ lead ultimately to the story’s main character coming to the revelation that no one is perfect in ‘Fall From Grace.’  And although nobody’s perfect, that’s okay.  He sings his epiphany, “No one is safe/You can fall from grace/In so many ways/One step forward two back/You can’t run away/From that empty space/You will find your place/When you run away/We will all fall from grace.”  Again, this is self explanatory.  The more positive vibe brought from the piano directly contradict the more uneasy feeling of the album’s opener.  That song, too, was led by a piano, only in a more ominous tone.  So it’s a perfect closure to this musical adventure.

“Hell in a Handbasket” isn’t necessarily a concept record.  But considering how it opens and closes, and the material that fills the album, it could be argued to be something similar.  And while concept albums in general tend to get a bad reputation, Meat Loaf’s new album is one great record, concept album or not.  One could even go so far as to say that in the bigger picture of albums due out in 2012, “Hell in a Handbasket” is a sleeper hit.  And it’s also one of the year’s best.

“Hell in a Handbasket” is available in stores and online now.  Meat Loaf currently has no tour dates scheduled.  Though he did recently perform on Leno.  To get more information on Meat Loaf’s upcoming plans, fans can check him out online at http://www.meatloaf.net, on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/MeatLoaf, and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/RealMeatLoaf.