(Shunsuke Daito, Shu Watanabe, Mitsu Dan, et al / DVD / NR / (2017) 2020 / GVN Releasing)
Overview: In the year 2050, mankind is extinct. The last survivors travel back in time to stop the invader, Killgis, aided by roboticist Kenichiro Kurenai.
When they arrive at the past, they start to build a giant robot, Red Baron, and the pilot of the Red Baron races against time aided by reinforced humans to identify the alien in a fierce battle which starts in Tokyo for the survival of Earth.
DVD Verdict: From the off, you should know that 'BraveStorm' is actually a remake of the 1970's TV series 'Silver Mask' and 'Super Robot Red Baron,' which pits two families (one with an armored bionic superhero, and the other a red giant robot) against evil aliens to save Earth and prevent the extinction of mankind.
In what is a rather fun and enjoyable effort, by combining the two Tokusatsu shows from the '70s (again, the Kasuga family and bio-mechanical suits from the show ‘Silver Mask’ and the giant robots from ‘Super Robot Red Baron’), this crossover creates an appealing and familiar setup for their adventures.
The sight of the familiar machine, with an obviously updated sheen that makes it look realistic, signals quite a familiar story that prepares us for the main story.
Armed with familiar stories of redemption, courage and family strife that is usually apparent in such Japanese fantasy fare, the movie offers some rather fun times to witness the two sides coming together.
In what is obviously only the first chapter of this new adventure series, it perfectly details the backstory of how the time-traveling family comes back to the present to prepare for the initial stages of the war to come.
As this comes about during the very beginning with the aliens arriving at the boxing match to the struggle to get Ken on board with their mission, the film most certainly provides a lot of fine action; offering even more in the second half of the film.
With some laser gunfights, a smattering of Kung-Fu and swordplay dashed about, the pace is kept nicely upbeat for the main robot smackdown at the end; which is a nice, full-on fight between the two machines in downtown Tokyo.
While ending somewhat anticlimactically, remember, again, this is most definitely only the first chapter in this new series.
As for the actors, well, the main brother, Koji Kasuga, played by Shunsuke Daitô, is pretty much the prototypical courage-first hero found in these movies.
His basic point in this one is to offer encouraging speeches and perform as many heroic actions as he can, which is fine, if not heavily cliched, of course.
The other main male member, Kozo played by Soran Tamoto, doesn’t come off as well. Typically appearing as the electronics wiz that doesn’t really do much beyond that, you rarely see him without some form of technological device or machine that needs to be repaired.
The lone female member on the journey, Haruka played by Chihiro Yamamoto has even less to do. The quiet, demure Asian woman who doesn’t have a lot of dialog or important moments, we really don’t get much about her at all.
Her background in other Tokusatsu shows is obvious with the swordplay she exhibits but that’s all we get from her The other two members of the family, Koichi and Hitomi, stay behind and might have more to do in the second chapter.
In closing, and despite having some small issues in areas re: its reliance on CGI, there’s still some great stuff to be had with this film.
Sure, it feels too much like an opening salvo for a film series for the most part, throughout, leaving a few unanswered questions abounding, but I would still definitely recommend 'BraveStorm' to any fan of the original Tokusatsu shows, or the giant mech movement we are currently within. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
'BraveStorm' DVD Purchase Link
'The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille'
(Peter L. Brosnan, Cecil B. DeMille, Charlton Heston, Agnes DeMille, Jesse Lasky, et al / DVD / NR / 2020 / Random Media)
Overview: In 1923 Cecile B. DeMille made his first version of 'The Ten Commandments.' He built a huge City of the Pharos. When he was done, it vanished!
30 years ago Peter Brosnan heard this story in a bar and decided to hunt for it. After wandering in the California dunes, he found it and now he wants to dig it up!
DVD Verdict: When legendary director Cecil B. DeMille wanted to re-create ancient Egypt for his landmark 1923 silent film, 'The Ten Commandments,' (without the benefit of today’s modern CGI capabilities), he and his talented crew had no choice but to actually BUILD a City of the Pharaoh set on the sand dunes near Santa Barbara.
Almost 50 years later, two young filmmakers heard the story of this buried city and decided to mount an archaeological dig to find and excavate the set.
Their adventure, which they thought would be an amusing lark, the work of maybe a few weeks or months, became a thirty-year crusade. Buoyed by encounters with DeMille’s surviving colleagues and relatives, they realized their goal in 2012, when significant pieces from the set were finally unearthed.
'The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille' allows viewers to experience every step of their journey and, at the same time, explore the vision and determination of director DeMille, whose creativity and ingenuity paved the way for today’s blockbusters.
Well, we have all heard, and seen the mighty 'The Ten Commandments' film, but I personally never knew there had been a silent version by the same director!
'The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille' not only brings that film to light, but explores the build up to it, therein providing a birds eye view of what turned out to be a rather extraordinary effort to make the film.
This quite fascinating documentary also manages to provide an insider's perspective on the heyday of old-school Hollywood, and how things would came together back then to craft such a project, by such an esteemed director as DeMille.
Simply put, 'The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille' began as a filmmaking enterprise: "Let's dig up a 1923 film set and make a movie about it!"
It seemed like a good idea to a handful of young filmmakers - including director, writer and star Peter Brosnan - in 1983. They never could have guessed their dream would take nearly 30 years to be realized.
But in 2012, with funding from an independent "angel" (and their generous $300k donation) an archaeological excavation of the site finally took place. What that excavation found is at the exciting climax of 'The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille.'
But the filmmaker's, and just prior to their massive excavation dig, had the county pull their permits to dig on that land just 72 hours before mobilization, and so from the off things were not running smoothly for the guys.
But, and with a Captain Ahab-type obsession fueling his every footstep, Brosnan pushed on and, well, the rest, as they say, is now itself history.
Furthermore, 'The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille' actually plays out as a quite wondrous history lesson, and most assuredly showcases the large landscape of old-school Hollywood, cinematic, epic spectacles.
As we open the filmmaker begins to research the story in 1982 and over the following 30 years (!) he tries to uncover what happened to Cecil B. DeMille's 1923 set of 'The Ten Commandments' that was built in the Guadalupe sand dunes.
As you would expect, the filmmaker's very own quest ends up becoming a part of the wonderful narrative and so juxtaposed within the search we get some lovely old film footage, local history, and lots of Hollywood nostalgia.
We also learn that an astonishing 95% of silent films have been lost over time, so it seems justly important to now unearth something like 'The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille' and learn more about one of the most famous films ever made.
Using a combination of the story of Cecil B. DeMille and his career and the search for this lost city, Brosnan tells a fascinating story that offers not just the tale of his search, but a source of information about the way films were made when they first began.
For instance one might ask why, after constructing such a huge and costly set, would DeMille order it destroyed? The answer, provided in the film, is that had he left it standing many other studios would have rushed in and used it for their very own new projects.
Thus, by tearing them down and burying them he prevented that from happening!
And so with the Easter season upon us, and 'The Ten Commandments' available in both a new Blu-ray edition and on ABC in its annual airing, 'The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille' is a wildly fascinating behind-the-scenes documentary (which actually focuses on both versions of DeMille’s classic).
Chock full of historical aspects of the film, it very quickly becomes a fascinating cinematic effort to behold, trust me. Sadly, after all this time, not everyone who signed up to be a part of it is still with us, the financial people behind it have changed hands many times, and even voice over moments (from people who were in the film are lost as they pass away), but the town of Guadalupe learnt a long time ago to embrace their film heritage; and have done so magnificently. This is a Full Screen Presentation (1.33:1) and enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
'SpongeBob SquarePants: Bikini Bottom Bash'
(Tom Kenny, Bill Fagerbakke, et al / DVD / NR / 2020 / PBS)
Overview: You're all invited to the biggest Bikini Bottom celebration ever - SpongeBob's birthday!
But it's a surprise, so SpongeBob and Patrick are going on a tour of the surface world while everyone else plans the birthday blowout below.
DVD Verdict: 'Bikini Bottom Bash' is a brand new 'SpongeBob SquarePants' DVD that contains one episode from season 3, three episodes from season 6, and one episode from season 12.
Up first is 'SpongeBob's Big Birthday Blowout,' and it is just oh-so lovingly embraced (as an older episode) with old school humor that has always made us laugh.
There are lots of Easter eggs and cameos from characters from the beginning of the series to Season 11 included too and there are even a couple of celebrity cameos!
Personally, watching most of the main cast make live action appearances made it ever so special to me, and so I can honestly say that in this tribute to Steve Hillenburg, this special episode was just super funny and highly entertaining -- for me and my kids!
Next up is 'SpongeBob's House Party,' where whilst out grocery shopping, our hero discovers a "how to throw a party" kit and decides to throw a big party and invites everyone he's ever known!
This story of SpongeBob throwing the big House Party has its moments, especially with Patrick mistaking Mr. Krabs for Patrick (yes, it really is that dumb) and Larry looking at himself in the mirror (which turns out to be an image of a real lobster!).
Also, SpongeBob comes up with the utterly boring idea of reading a comic strip out loud and Patrick gives the phone to an ice sculpture of SpongeBob in a punch bowl!
That said, the song at the end was actually a lot of fun, with some interesting visual animation thrown in so this is rather a good episode, in truth.
Then we get 'Sun Bleached,' which is where SpongeBob accidentally gets too much of a tan! Everybody who's anybody is going to a big party in Bikini Bottom, but you have to be a certain shade of tan to get in.
SpongeBob and Patrick decide to get tan so they can go to the party, but SpongeBob accidentally goes too far and turns sun-bleached white!
Now, not only is he the wrong shade, but he can barely move without cracking and turning to dust! And so, as you can see, it also comes with a big warning to the kids thinking that sunbathing is something not to be done in moderation -- or without lotion!
Next up is 'The Slumber Party,' where Mr. Krabs interferes with Pearl's slumber party. Inclusive of a few jokes repeated from 'No Weenies Allowed' (about a disguised person that looks just like SpongeBob) and one from 'Can You Spare A Dime? (about being allergic to newsprint), this episode still is funny enough to stand on its own.
Actually, I thought most of the jokes really worked in this one, particularly with how SpongeBob absorbed all the root beer! It even has kind and sincere ending, of course.
The final episode is 'Truth or Square,' and which is to me one of the funniest, is all about the flashback! Like the one where SpongeBob and Mr. Krabs travel to find a safe space to tell SpongeBob the Krabby Patty formula -- and they go so far back they end up where they started!
Funnily enough, and given that this particular episode is now nearly ten years old, the kids who watched this my age when it ran are now in college or beyond! This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
'All The Pretty Horses' [Blu-ray]
(Matt Damon, Henry Thomas, Penélope Cruz, Lucas Black, Sam Shepard, Robert Patrick, et al / Blu-ray / PG-13 / (2000) 2020 / Mill Creek Entertainment)
Overview: Academy Award®-winner Matt Damon (1997, Best Original Screenplay, Good Will Hunting) stars in director Billy Bob Thornton's action-filled tale of love and loss based on Cormac McCarthy's best-selling novel.
John Grady Cole (Damon) and his best friend Lacey Rawlins (Henry Thomas) leave Texas and head south of the border in search of adventure and find work as horse wranglers.
But when Cole embarks on an illicit and passionate affair with the beautiful daughter (Penélope Cruz, Blow, Vanilla Sky) of the wealthy ranch owner who is his employer, events are set into motion which forever change the lives of all involved.
Blu-ray Verdict: Making its Blu-ray debut, here on the 20th Anniversary of the original theatrical release, 'All The Pretty Horses' is an excellent, epic western saga about two Texans who wind up in Mexico and all the trials and tribulations they go through, most of which are fascinating.
I've watched this film several times and it gets better and better with each viewing. The acting, storytelling and magnificent photography all made it a treasure of a film -- and a very underrated movie. It's easy to get very involved in this haunting tale.
Those two lead guys are played by Matt Damon ("John Grady Cole") and Henry Thomas ("Lacey Rawlins.") Along the way they are joined by the most interesting character of all of them: "Jimmy Blevins," played by Lucas Black. Jimmy is a nice kid but he's big-time trouble. His haunting face in his last scene is memorable.
Penelope Cruz is the attractive love interest, surrounded by a protective Mexican family. That family, mainly a father and aunt, were really enjoyable to watch, too, and I wish they had bigger roles in here.
Not only is the acting good and photography stunning, the soundtrack with Spanish music is outstanding. I've read they actually filmed this for a four-hour movie. Man, I'd love to see that.
The only things I didn't care for were Thomas' blasphemous mouth and a couple of unpleasant scenes where the innocent lead characters are accused of things they didn't do and suffer because of it.
In closing, 'All The Pretty Horses' really isn't an action movie, but much more of a drama and it's excellent storytelling at its finest. It also has narration from Damon, who is good at that sort of thing.
Overall, it's just such a powerful movie with a lot of good things to offer and so if you like good stories, don't pass this one up. This is a Widescreen Presentation (2.35:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
'All The Pretty Horses' [Blu-ray] is out April 7th, 2020 via Mill Creek Entertainment.
'Eddie Macon's Run' [Blu-ray]
(John Schneider, Kirk Douglas, Lee Purcell, et al / Blu-ray / PG / (1983) 2020 / Mill Creek Entertainment)
Overview: A young man, harshly sentenced for a few minor infractions, escapes from a prison in Huntsville Texas and flees to Laredo, Texas, where he hopes to cross into Mexico for a reunion with his wife and small son.
Blu-ray Verdict: For the most part, 'Eddie Macon's Run' has the look of a TV movie and as much as you yourselves may like it, trust me when I say that some producer made a monumental mistake when he decided to allow John Schneider to sing his own syrupy songs on the soundtrack!
But then, it has to be said that the music matches perfectly those early sickly scenes of domestic bliss between Macon (Schneider), his wife (Leah Ayres) and son Bobby (Matthew Meece).
Pretty soon, it's Bobby, not the scenes, that becomes sickly, which is where Eddie's plight begins. It's where Schneider's plight begins too because, every time the script asks him to emote, his TV credentials come right to the fore. The fact that the script is downright awful doesn't help either!
Macon's run takes him across a deep south populated by stereotypical rednecks, stereotypical small-town cops, stereotypical floozies, stereotypical bar-room drunks (including an impossibly young J. T. Walsh) and a stereotypical tart with a heart.
Despite this, the film manages to remain entertaining, and motors along when it's focusing on the darker aspects of the tale rather than trying to pull at your heartstrings.
Hot on Macon's heels is grizzly cop Marzack (Kirk Douglas). Douglas is too old for the part, and his judgment when it came to choosing roles was all shot to hell by the '80s, but he still shows Schneider up in their few scenes together.
For all the hardships Macon is forced to endure, you know there will be a happy ending. It turns out that Marzack, like Lee Purcell's tart-with-a-heart, simply envies Macon his picture-perfect family, something he managed to keep well-hidden from us all; for all but the last five minutes of the film.
In closing, there were parts where it kept you wondering what would happen next. It also gave me so many different feelings throughout the movie; anywhere from being scared, sad, and angered to happy and relieved. So, overall, 'Eddie Macon's Run' is a great Sunday afternoon movie to watch with your family, of not only for the well worn acting chops of the late, great Kirk Douglas. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
'Eddie Macon's Run' [Blu-ray] is out April 7th, 2020 via Mill Creek Entertainment.
(Henry Winkler, Sally Field, Harrison Ford, et al / Blu-ray / PG / (1977) 2020 / Mill Creek Entertainment)
Overview: A Vietnam veteran suffering from post traumatic stress disorder breaks out of a VA hospital and goes on a road trip with a sympathetic traveler to start a worm farm in California with his fellow veterans.
Blu-ray Verdict: To my mind, 'Heroes' is an overlooked, appealing little combination of drama and comedy that deserves to be better known.
It details the plight of one Vietnam vet, Jack Dunne (Henry Winkler) as he travels cross country to make his dream of starting a worm farm come true.
Among the assorted scrapes in which he finds himself, he end up hopelessly bound to a woman doing her own running, Carol Bell (Sally Field). Nicely written (by James Carabatsos) and directed (by Jeremy Paul Kagan), this is a movie that's just as much about its journey as its destination.
It has an episodic nature, but the episodes are so compelling and entertaining that they really pull you in. Among other things, Jack escapes from a V.A. hospital, greatly annoys a bus driver (Val Avery), tangles with thieving thugs in a remote bar / motel, meets up with a reckless, macho old Army buddy, Ken Boyd, played with easygoing charm by Harrison Ford, and races Ken's car when Ken won't do it.
Even at an hour and 53 minutes, this time almost flies by, with the actors all making the most out of the material. Wonderful music by Jack Nitzsche and Richard Hazard just adds to the enjoyment, as well as slick cinematography by Frank Stanley.
The stars couldn't be better: Winkler shows that there was always much more to him than just Arthur Fonzarelli, and Field is at her most adorable (and sexiest). There are also fine contributions from such players as Olivia Cole (in her first film), Hector Elias, Dennis Burkley, Tony Burton, Michael Cavanaugh, John P. Finnegan, and Betty McGuire.
There are even uncredited cameos for John Cassavetes and Stuart Margolin. By the time this has reached its finale, one can't help but feel sorry for the Jack character and be rooting for him to find the peace he desperately needs.
Incidentally, it's amusing to note how Field is playing a character running from marriage, when she was also doing something similar in 'Smokey and the Bandit' from the same year. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
'Heroes' [Blu-ray] is out April 7th, 2020 via Mill Creek Entertainment.
(Charlize Theron, Courtney Love, Stuart Townsend, Kevin Bacon, et al / Blu-ray / R / (2002) 2020 / Mill Creek Entertainment)
Overview: The Jennings' fight for their daughters life after she is kidnapped by an experienced gang of thieves.
Blu-ray Verdict: For me, the performance of Charlize Theron is amazing and incredibly believable here in 'Trapped,' for the terror on her face and the fear of what may happen to her daughter is truly brought to life.
Kevin Bacon is almost equally as good as the sleazy kidnapper with a hidden agenda. Dakota Fanning puts in a really decent performance as the kidnapped child as did Pruitt Taylor Vince as Bacon's mentally challenged accomplice.
Stuart Townsend performs decently too as Theron's husband and Courtney Love is rather good too in her role, considering she is not really an actress, of course.
Essentially though it is Theron and Bacon that dominate this film with towering performances that really cement their reputations as excellent actors.
I found the tension at times unbearable and it really keeps you on the edge of your seat. The ending is bit ludicrous and over the top, but overall on reflection the movie really was entertaining, well acted and tense.
In closing, 'Trapped' features an elaborate chase-ending that comes out of nowhere, with plot-points and character motivations increasingly unclear, but an efficient, well-produced suspense movie nevertheless.
With enough twists to hold interest, the colorful cast is more than fine and the direction is tight despite some queasy, wayward bits that intermingle sex and violence (FYI: too heavy for popcorn material such as this). This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
'Trapped' [Blu-ray] is out April 7th, 2020 via Mill Creek Entertainment.
Ultraman X The Movie: Here He Comes! Our Ultraman
(Kensuke Takahashi, Akane Sakanoue, Yoshihiko Hosoda, Ukyo Matsumoto, et al / Blu-ray / NR / (2016) 2020 / Mill Creek Entertainment)
Overview: When realty TV host Carlos Kurozaki breaks into a mysterious underground pyramid for a television event, he removes a special gem -- and unwittingly releases a diabolical monster called Zaigorg!
Blu-ray Verdict: Once TV host Carlos Kurozaki has broken into the mysterious underground pyramid, removed the special gem, and subsequently unleashed the diabolical monster named Zaigorg, the evil creature wants Kurozaki's gem back, of course!
So it spawns an army of giant kaijus to get it and then it's up to the famous superheroes Ultraman X, Ultraman Tiga, and the one and only original Ultraman to stop the worldwide monster war!
To set the scene a little more, following Daichi’s return from monster observation in Australia, he and Asuna are called to investigate a mysterious pyramid in the Baranji Ruins.
Meeting up with archaeologist Tsukasa Tamaki and her son Yuuto, the group discover the temple was built in honor of the legendary Ultraman Tiga.
However when fame-hungry celebrity Carlos Kurosaki removes a mysterious stone from the temple, it awakens the aforementioned powerful monster Zaigorg.
With even Ultraman X unable to stand up against Zaigorg, Xio faces its greatest challenge yet as the monster begins a worldwide rampage.<>
Only through joining the lights and fulfilling the temple’s ancient prophecy will they be able to succeed, uniting X not only with Tiga but also the legendary hero of light himself – Ultraman.
Although 'Here He Comes! Our Ultraman' serves as a “final” adventure for the Ultraman X crew and resolves the main plot thread left over from the series, in terms of story it can’t help but feel a little anticlimactic coming off the back of the series finale.
Regardless, and as could be expected, the film's plot serves as a flimsy excuse to have some dudes in monster suits stupidly fight some dudes in robot suits throughout a scaled-down city set!
What follows is, of course, a nonstop batch of battles powered by martial arts, magic trading cards and spark-flying set pieces!
The dialogue is ridiculously earnest, pairing goofball yucks with cheesy platitudes about loving one another. Factor in Alien Fanton — a wise-cracking, cheap-looking dude who looks like he's from Aaahh!!! Real Monsters — and you'll be convinced you're watching a lost after-school special from the mid '90s! This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
'Ultraman X The Movie: Here He Comes! Our Ultraman' [Blu-ray] is out April 21st, 2020 via Mill Creek Entertainment.
'Penance: Limited Edition'
(Tony Todd, Marieh Delfino, Graham McTavish, Michael Rooker, James Duval, et al / DVD / NR / (2009) 2020 / Mill Creek Entertainment)
Overview: A young mother decides to become a stripper to earn some fast cash only to find her worst nightmares are about to begin when she falls into the hands of a religious fanatic intent on changing her evil ways.
DVD Verdict: In truth, this film lures its viewers down into an extremely graphic abyss around the role of being a stripper, and attempts to terrify strippers and pre-strippers away from the lifestyle.
Shot in documentary style, we are taken into a dark world that crosses between stripper life, trickery, and dark religion.
A redeeming quality of the movie is how it gave the impression that certain risks aren't worth the reward and that desperation can bring us to threatful situations.
Certainly not an original plot, but the movie was decent enough for viewership with the acting mostly alright by a mostly anonymous cast.
For sure, this movie is also not for the weak at heart and gets very graphic, the film is loosely inspired by the notorious Graeme Stephen Reeves also known as "The Butcher of Bega".
He is a former gynecologist and obstetrician charged in relation to alleged sexual and indecent assaults and genital mutilation of all of his female patients.
The film stars Marieh Delfino (from 'Jeepers Creepers 2') as Amelia. Amelia is a single mother who is trying her best to care for her sick child by taking on a few side jobs of being a exotic dancer.
Thanks to her friend Eve played by Alice Amter (Big Bang Theory's Mrs. Koothrappali) she learns the ins and outs of being a stripper and reluctantly follows in her friend's footsteps.
We then follow our lead actress as she falls into a dancing gig. This gig leads her and us into a debauched and visceral hellhole, into the arms of a deranged madman (played effortlessly by Graham McTavish -- from The Hobbit trilogy).
Trust me when I say that Graham brings Graeme Reeves to life in a most disturbing way!
Most of the scenes in the film take place in a what is believed to be a asylum hospital of sorts. This is where the film gets to the meat of it.
The claustrophobia that is created alongside the brutality and gritty realism that is seen in the Hospital scenes are ones to make any man or woman cringe!
Delfino does an AMAZING job at making the viewer feel she truly is in danger of her life and fighting to survive. Indeed, it's quite unsettling in some places to watch.
Michael Rooker's character (as is Tony Todd's), a lot of times in the press for this film, is given the nod as the lead character, but shouldn't be, as his character isn't seen in most of the film.
That said, whenever he is on screen, his role of a psychological disturbed man who twists morality, righteousness, and penance to teach a lesson to the women that chose to sell their body is spot on!
In closing, it's a film that after watching it you definitely wanna see something else to cleanse your palate! It's a film that makes the audience feel uncomfortable and dirty so if you enjoy the grittiness of torture-inspired movies such as 'Hostel,' well, this is the film for you! This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
'Penance: Limited Edition' [DVD] is out March 17th, 2020 via Mill Creek Entertainment.
'Unlikely Angel' [DVD + Digital]
(Dolly Parton, Roddy McDowall, Brian Kerwin, et al / DVD / NR / (1996) 2020 / Mill Creek Entertainment)
Overview: Country music legend Dolly Parton lends her sunny charm to this heartwarming film. When hard living barroom singer Ruby Diamond (Parton) dies in a car accident and meets St. Peter (Roddy McDowall) at the gates of heaven, the angel informs her that she must return to earth to perform a selfless deed in order to gain admittance.
Disguising herself as a nanny, Ruby soon edges her way into the joyless family life of workaholic widower Ben Bartilson (Brian Kerwin) and his children Sarah and Matthew, hoping to both heal the grief stricken family and earn her heavenly wings in time for Christmas.
DVD Verdict: Ruby (Dolly Parton) is a two-bit country music performer, making the rounds at the local watering holes. On a day near Christmas, she goes to the parking lot after her act and gets a surprise.
Her boyfriend is cheating on her in a "pickup" romantic tryst. Most unhappy, Ruby breaks off their relationship and gets behind the wheel of her own car. As can be expected, the singer is so upset that she doesn't pay attention to the road and crashes, fatally.
At the pearly gates, Peter (Roddy McDowall) tells her she can't have her wings just yet. In her former earthly life, it seems Ruby had too many misspent days and nights.
Now, the songstress must go back to earth as a nanny and help a widower, Ben (Brian Kerwin) and his family rediscover the joys of the holidays, after their loss. When Ruby gets to the house, she finds they need her desperately.
Ben has thrown himself into his work and neglects his two children. The teenage daughter is picking inappropriate friends and actions, in search of attention, and the elementary aged son spends way too much time playing video games alone in his room.
Slowly, Ruby works her magic. But, since her deadline, no pun intended, is December 25th, will Ruby earn her wings?
This is likely to be a film that the whole extended family can enjoy around the holidays. Parton is lovely, talented and funny while the rest of the cast compliments her well.
How nice to see McDowall and in a comedic role. The look, sound, and pace of the movie is also pleasing. Be a lesser angel to your own loved ones and find this one for them. You will not regret, it. You have my word. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
'Unlikely Angel' [DVD + Digital] is out April 7th, 2020 via Mill Creek Entertainment.
'Fist of Fear, Touch of Death: 40th Anniversary'
(Fred Williamson, Ron Van Clief, Adolph Caesar, Aaron Banks, Bruce Lee, et al / Blu-ray / NR / (1980) 2020 / The Film Detective)
Overview: A reporter interviews fighters and promoters about Bruce Lee, intercut with footage from old Bruce Lee films and pseudo-documentary footage.
DVD Verdict: 'Fist of Fear, Touch of Death', from director Matthew Mallinson and producer Terry Levene, is celebrating its 40th anniversary like never before with a stunning 4K restoration and brand new special features!
The action-packed 'Fist of Fear, Touch of Death' (out now, and inside a "blood red" Blu-ray casing) stars Adolph Caesar as TV Anchorman to the 1979 World Karate Championship, where martial artists from all over the world are eagerly waiting to take down the competition and claim the title of “Successor to the Bruce Lee legacy.”
Filmed amongst the hype for a big karate championship bout between Louis Neglia and John "Cyclone" Flood at Madison Square Garden, the TV Anchorman Caesar tries to tie the match into the controversy stirred up with regards to the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of Bruce Lee and whether or not this karate match-up will crown his successor.
Featuring Fred Williamson, a man constantly being mistaken for Harry Belafonte, an always focused, and possessor of a killer smile, Ron Van Clief, the film opens with Caesar interviewing Aaron "Mr. Karate" Banks, who tells us he believes Bruce Lee was actually killed by the touch of death (or "vibrating palm") -- a technique in which you touch a particular part of the body to reverse or change the normal bodily functions, resulting in death in 3-4 weeks.
As we watch along, the film then proceeds to take on an eerie biographic quality to it, tracking Bruce Lee's youth and development as a fighter with doctored footage that has been overdubbed to make it seem legit.
The story then drifts between the flashback memories of Bruce, his family, the legacy of his grandfather, and the journalist (in the present day) narrating the climax to the fight to determine the new grand champion.
What we get is a film that tells of Lee's voyage to America with just the clothes on his back, his great grandfathers swordsmen ship, the many confrontations with the people that knew him the best, and his journey through the early stages of Karate.
That all said, I have to say, albeit on a personal note, that this film was one of the funniest, most randomly bizarre movies I think I have ever had the honor to watch!
Sure, I went in expecting a Bruce Lee biopic, but instead what unfolded before me was an hour and a half of late '70s disco-backed, hideously cheesy, and badly dubbed dialogue, wrongly entwinned martial arts terms (like calling Karate as Kung-Fu, and vice versa), and even some rather hilarious sight gags (decapitation, eye balls thrown around, et al).
In closing, as I'm sure you are all thinking it, yes, Bruce Lee is in the film, but not saturated, that's for sure. Indeed, he is supposedly being interviewed several times for its actual purpose, but it's very clear that his chats with Caesar were filmed at an entirely different time.
Also, Lee is badly dubbed from Chinese into English so unless you speak Chinese, you have no idea what Lee is actually saying (although, personally, I suspect his comments had nothing to do with this film!)
Immensely entertaining from start to finish, but only if you don't take it too seriously, 'Fist of Fear, Touch of Death: 40th Anniversary' is one of those films that you simply have to say you've seen! This is a Full Screen Presentation (1:66.1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
Power-Packing 4K Restoration From The Original 35mm Camera Negative
Interviews with Stars Ron Van Clief & Fred Williamson, Director Matthew Mallinson, Producer Terry Levene, and Script Writer Ron Harvey
Original Theatrical Trailer
Exclusive Pressing of 1,500 Blu-rays
Official Purchase Link
Official 'Fist of Fear, Touch of Death: 40th Anniversary' Trailer
'The Photograph' [Blu-ray Combo]
(Issa Rae, LaKeith Stanfield, Lil Rel Howery, Rob Morgan, Courtney B. Vance, et al / Blu-ray + DVD + Digital / PG-13 / 2020 / Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)
Overview: The discovery of a hidden family photograph sends Mae Morton (Issa Rae) on a quest for answers.
The journey into her estranged mother's past exposes many secrets and ignites a powerful, unexpected romance with rising-star journalist Michael Block (Lakeith Stanfield).
Award-winning writer-director Stella Meghie (The Weekend, Jean of the Joneses) tells a sweeping love story about forgiveness and finding the courage to seek the truth, no matter where it leads you.
Blu-ray Verdict: Now you must be warned, I am a hopeless romantic at heart. I normally wouldn't tell anyone but this movie is right up my alley, like 'Hitch.'
Unfortunately, this movie will never be 'Hitch,' but it can be itself. A modern day love story for the older millennials. While the storyline is very simple and transparent from the trailer, the viewer is treated to more than what they can see.
'The Photograph' is completely about the feel. We are meant to experience this movie by knowing exactly what is coming but still reminiscing on that awkward first date moment as if they are our own or that feeling of anxiety before a first phone call to the one with whom we are smitten.
We have all been there, and if you haven't, this movie definitely provides the experience for you.
And those who give us those moments are the solid cast. Issa Rae glows in this movie. As someone close to me said, "This movie just makes me want to get a weave." Yes, her weave was on point and flawless throughout but more importantly Issa was the personification of #BlackGirlMagic.
We are used to Issa being a love interest focal point from 'Insecure' but I must admit she's stepped her game up. On top of Issa's performance, LaKeith Stanfield in his awkward, swag style was perfect for this role.
The two had palpable on-screen chemistry. Speaking of chemistry and acting, Chante Adams and Y'lan Noel weren't too shabby themselves. I must admit Noel outshined Adams in their scenes but both worked well in their roles.
Nevertheless, I found myself checking my watch about two thirds of the way though for the movie did seem to be longer than it actually was (but is that a bad thing?). I actually also found myself wanting more to happen or something dramatic to really occur. I know it's because the storyline was so obvious but I still wanted more.
Nevertheless, 'The Photograph' delivers what it promises in a modern day love story. It provides all the feels. Dategoers, married folks, seriously dating, verge of breaking up, all couples and those looking for love, should buy this wonderful new Blu-ray Combo Pack.
That said, and in closing, for those "more single and just wanting to mingle" general public out there, well, you can pump the breaks a little bit. For you all, find yourself a friend who has already purchased it and chill with them, on their dime for the night! This is a Widescreen Presentation (2.39:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Feature of:
Shooting The Photograph
Culture in Film
The Film Through Photographs
Make. Love. Last. Issa Rae ('Insecure,' 'Little') and Lakeith Stanfield ('Straight Outta Compton,' 'Atlanta') star in the striking and beautiful love story about how quickly lives can change forever when 'The Photograph' arrives on Digital April 28th, 2020 and on Blu-Ray™️ and DVD May 12th, 2020 from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.
'The Photograph' Trailer
Official 'The Photograph' @ Facebook!
Official 'The Photograph' @ Twitter!
Official 'The Photograph' @ Instagram!
Official 'The Photograph' Website!
'World On Fire - Season One'
(Jonah Hauer-King, Julia Brown, Helen Hunt, Sean Bean, Arthur Darvill, et al / 2-Disc DVD / PG-13 / 2020 / PBS)
Overview: 'World On Fire' is an adrenalized, emotionally gripping and resonant World War II drama that follows the intertwining fates of ordinary people in Britain, Poland, France, Germany and the United States, as they grapple with the effects of the war on their everyday lives.
DVD Verdict: Summer 1939. Harry, a translator at the British Embassy in Warsaw, is falling in love with Polish waitress Kasia. When German tanks roll into Poland, and Britain declares war on Germany, Harry and Kasia face terrible choices.
With her life in grave danger, can Harry help her -- and if he can, how will he ever explain himself to Lois Bennett, the girl he left behind in Manchester?
As the Nazi threat spreads across Europe, Kasia must choose between love and fighting for her country, Harry must find his place in the world, and Lois must seize new opportunities the war presents.
The conflict overturns everything for Harry's snobbish mother Robina; for Douglas, Lois' pacifist father; and for her younger brother Tom, who joins the Navy and finds himself under fire in one of the first major battles of the war.
In Berlin, outspoken American journalist Nancy risks her life trying to help her neighbors; while in Paris, Nancy's nephew, medic Webster refuses to leave the city and the man he loves.
'World On Fire' traverses the first year of WWII, from ordinary life in England to the beaches of Dunkirk, diving deep into the hearts and minds of those living their lives during this extraordinary time as they grapple with the unthinkable: a world in flames.
For my money, 'World On Fire' is an outstanding attempt at recreating the utter fear and dread that World War II brought on so many lives, removing the glorified, glossy, romantic veneer that is often put on World War II depictions.
There are so many criticisms about that time in history and that here the fact that the speech is far too modern. I know my World War II history fairly well and this, broadly speaking, is what happened, sorry.
But at the same time, come on now people, it is a drama, after all, and not a documentary. If you want detailed facts and 'speeches" I suggest watching 'World at War.'
This new drama, 'World On Fire' is more about conveying the human experience, and that requires art, not precisely detailed facts. And yes, to convey this to the audience of today it does need to be vocally tailored so that a modern audience can understand, and even empathize with the characters.
Indeed, I think that this a well researched and well written drama that seamlessly interweaves several different character story lines - not an easy task.
The production is amazing and is at movie level, at times. Complete with some rather fantastic staging, scenery, action and effects, which allows the stand out actors, such as Jonah Hauer-King, Julia Brown, Helen Hunt and the always-brilliant Sean Bean to do what they do best.
In closing, this is one of the most gripping and heartfelt dramas I have seen on TV for a very long time. So, well done to all involved for 'World On Fire' is a quite magnificent achievement. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
'Ken Burns Presents East Lake Meadows'
(DVD / PG-13 / 2020 / PBS)
Overview: In 1970, a public housing community was opened in Atlanta called East Lake Meadows. But as public housing was abandoned and stigmatized, it became nearly uninhabitable.
In the mid-1990s, it was bulldozed to make way for mixed-income housing. Through the stories of former residents, this film raises questions about poverty and limited housing opportunity for African Americans.
DVD Verdict: In 1970, the Atlanta Housing Authority opened a public housing community on the edge of the city called East Lake Meadows.
Over the next 25 years, many thousands of low-income Atlantans, mostly African American, would call it home. Shoddy construction and a lack of funding left the project and surrounding landscape in disrepair and led to a rapid decline in the quality of life.
As public housing in America became increasingly stigmatized and abandoned, and a crack wave swept through the neighborhood, East Lake Meadows became nearly uninhabitable, but residents nonetheless found ways to overcome violence and neglect, raise kids, find work, and create moments of joy?
In the mid-1990s, Atlanta bulldozed East Lake Meadows to make way for new mixed-income housing, as government and philanthropic funds poured into the area in an effort to create a thriving community.
In a technical sense, the scope of the new PBS documentary 'East Lake Meadows: A Public Housing Story' is extremely specific.
Filmmaker-spouses Sarah Burns and David McMahon follow a 30-year period from 1970, when the Atlanta Housing Authority opened a public housing project called East Lake Meadows, until 2000, when, after decades of near-criminal negligence, the city destroyed and rebuilt it from scratch.
But the film also attempts to tell a larger story — about the fraught history of America’s relationship to public housing — and a timely one, as the coronavirus pandemic forces the country to confront how the government serves its most vulnerable citizens.
Executive produced by Ken Burns, the film traces the origins of East Lake Meadows back to 1934, when Atlanta officials began construction on the first public housing project in the nation: Techwood Homes. “We think of public housing as a place where low-income and mostly minority families live,” author Richard Rothstein says in the documentary.
Through the stories of the former residents, 'East Lake Meadows: A Public Housing Story' gives voice to some of the most marginalized people in our society and raises critical questions about how we have created concentrated poverty and limited housing opportunity for African Americans; and what responsibility we have as a people to ensure decent housing for our most vulnerable citizens. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
'Niall Ferguson's Networld'
(DVD / PG / 2020 / PBS)
Overview: In this groundbreaking new series hosted by Niall Ferguson and based on his bestselling book The Square and the Tower, Ferguson visits network theorists, social scientists and data analysts to explore the history of social networks.
Ferguson demonstrates how human behavior, disruptive technology and profit can energize ideas and communication, ultimately changing the world.
DVD Verdict: For those not in the know, Niall Campbell Ferguson is a Scottish-born historian. He is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.
Previously, he was a professor at Harvard University and New York University, visiting professor at New College of the Humanities and senior research fellow at Jesus College, Oxford.
For my money, 'Niall Ferguson's Networld' is an excellent introduction into modern thoughts on the effects of networks on society with excellent applied network theory concepts presented.
Personally, I was very interested in the fractal aspects of networks which is not addressed being out of scope here, but that's neither here nor there, of course.
Until recently, most casual conversations about current television would arrive at the same conclusion: “There’s just too much! You can’t watch it all!”
That diagnosis is now being put to the test. But not only are the sequestered multitudes going to consume more television, they’re likely to digest it differently.
And there are few better examples of that than 'Niall Ferguson’s Networld,' out now via PBS. Focusing on the geopolitics of our interconnected world, with lessons from terrorism and surveillance, Niall Ferguson shows how our democracies are under threat from forces that exploit and weaponize the social networks that we invented. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
'Amazon Empire: The Rise and Reign of Jeff Bezos'
(DVD / PG-13 / 2020 / PBS)
Overview: Examining Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' ascent to power and the global impact of the empire he built.
The film also investigates the darker side of the company's rapid growth, and the challenge of trying to rein in the power of the richest man in the world.
DVD Verdict: Amazon's Jeff Bezos built a business empire that is unprecedented in the history of American capitalism - delivering endless products, entertainment services and technology innovations to customers with just a click of a button. But what is the cost of Amazon's convenience?
FRONTLINE examines Amazon and Jeff Bezos' ascent to power - and his ability to shape everything from the future of work, to the future of commerce, to the future of technology.
From award-winning filmmakers James Jacoby and Anya Bourg (The Facebook Dilemma), the documentary draws on interviews with current top executives and former insiders, as well as regulators and critics, raising critical questions about Bezos and the empire he built.
Through these interviews, Jacoby and Bourg's investigation presents an inside look at who Bezos is, and how he transformed a tiny company run out of a garage into a staple of American consumerism that critics contend is willing to dominate the market at all costs.
'Amazon Empire' also reveals a darker side of the multi-billion-dollar machine: worker exploitation, product safety problems, and surveillance.
As politicians and regulators around the world start to consider the global impact and threat of Amazon - and how to rein in the power of the richest man on the planet - FRONTLINE investigates how he executed a plan to build one of the most influential economic and cultural forces in the world and the real-world disruption that it continues to cause.
The documentary brings a nuanced look, pointing out both the good and the not so good along the way. It interviews both former Amazon executives and employees (who not surprisingly are critical) and current Amazon executives.
It is in the second hour that the film makers address the most troubling aspects of Amazon's seemingly incessant expansion, including Bazos' pivot into Washington (and his purchase of the Washington Post), Amazon's rapid rise into an industry leader for cloud services, the intrusive Alexa, and also its acquisition of Ring.com and the ensuing face recognition services for police and other law enforcement forces.
As an early user of Amazon (I bought my first book in 1996 or 1997), I have been fascinated by this company for many years. I didn't realize that Ring.com is owned by Amazon (not that I use the Ring devices), nor have I purchased the Alexa "personal assistant" device.
Too much is too much! If you are interested in the rise (and rise and rise) of Bezos/Amazon, I'd readily suggest you check out these two hours of 'Amazon Empire (out now from PBS) and draw your own conclusions. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
'Earth's Sacred Wonders'
(DVD / PG-13 / 2020 / PBS)
Overview: Many of the world's best-known landmarks have been inspired by faith and today more worshippers than ever are flocking to these sacred places.
For some, they're sanctuaries for quiet contemplation. For others, they're sites for astonishing acts of worship, dangerous challenges and extraordinary deeds of devotion.
Discover what people do for faith in some of the most sacred places on Earth.
DVD Verdict: Filmed across 5 continents in 12 languages, featuring stunning photography and compelling stories, 'Earth's Sacred Wonders' shows our great places of worship to be sites of powerful spiritual significance and human drama.
Episode 1 - House of the Divine: Here we meet a Muslim paramedic who helps fasting worshippers during Ramadan in Jerusalem. A Cambodian man risks his live to save his ancestral spirits from the jungle. And a Buddhist warrior monk in China faces a test that will change his life forever.
Episode 2 - Closer to the Divine: Here we travel to Japan, where a Shinto devotee undertakes a grueling challenge at a sacred waterfall. A young Muslim helps re-plaster a mosque in Mali. And at a New York City cathedral, an Episcopal priest brings people and their pets closer to God.
Episode 3 - Visions of the Divine: In the final series, we follow a young Yazidi woman as she searches for salvation in Iraq. Meet an orthodox Christian who must deliver a holy flame into the hands of his bishop in Jerusalem. And in Nepal, a Buddhist painter battles the elements to honor Buddha’s birthday.
In what is simply an incredible series from the BBC via PBs, 'Earth's Sacred Wonders' profiles and showcases these glorious moments in history across the 5 continents, via 12 languages, and showcases via some magnificent photography all these compelling stories quite beautifully. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
'Nature: Wild Florida'
(DVD / PG / 2020 / PBS)
Overview: Florida is known for its beaches but also has a wild side. Here, manatees swim in crystal-clear rivers and baby alligators practice their hunting skills.
But every year, Florida faces the full forces of nature with hurricanes. Now, climate change, a growing human population and abandoned exotic pets also are threatening this wild paradise.
Can Florida's ecosystems continue to weather the storm?
DVD Verdict: Off the bat, we should all know that Florida have a high diversity of ecosystems. A unique combination of geological history, climate, geography, and environmental forces has made the South Florida Ecosystem an important reservoir of landscape, community, and species diversity.
For those not in the know, an ecosystem is a community of plants and animals that live together. South Florida is home to many different ecosystems including coral reefs, dunes, marshes, swamps, hardwood hammocks, mangroves, pinelands and scrubs.
Of course, Florida is well-known for its beaches, blue water and year-round sun, but it also has a surprising wild side. It is home to pine forests, coral reefs and the famous Everglades wetland, the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States.
Here, manatees swim in crystal-clear rivers, baby alligators practice their hunting skills and miniature deer roam free. Every year, this state faces the full forces of nature: from wildfires to flooding to powerful hurricanes.
Now, a growing human population, climate change and abandoned exotic pets – like the Burmese python which can eat alligators – are added threats to this wild paradise.
This new documentary from PBS tells the story about how Florida’s ecosystems continue to weather the storms with the help of pioneering scientists and ongoing conservation efforts.
One of the stand out parts of these hour long documentary is when they discuss Florida's Panhandle and, more precisely, What makes the Apalachicola River region so unique?
We're informed that The Apalachicola River region is one of five biodiversity hotspots in North America. What this means is not only are there large number of species here, but also that many of these plants and animals occur no where else on the planet.
For example, there are areas within the longleaf forest where you can find up to 50 different species of plants in one square meter!
The Nature Conservancy’s Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve protects and supports biodiversity and longleaf forest in this spectacular region.
Another section is when we learn about the wildlife in the longleaf pine forest and where the application of prescribed fire reduces dangerous forest fuel accumulations and recycles precious nutrients that are locked up within those downed branches and thick undergrowth.
Deer, turkey, quail as well as all of their rare species such as red-cockaded woodpecker, eastern indigo snake and frosted flatwoods salamander depend on fire to keep the forest open and to again, make the forest’s “vitamins” available to the next generation.
Learn more about these, and other fascinating facts about 'Wild Florida' that you perhaps didn't know, in this brand new documentary from PBS! This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
'Nature: The Mighty Weasel'
(DVD / PG / 2020 / PBS)
Overview: In Yorkshire, a unique English garden rigged with over 50 cameras gives a rare insight into the dramatic life of a mother weasel as she tries to raise her first family.
And new science uncovers the problem-solving abilities of the honey badger, the secrets behind the ferret's legendary flexibility and the wolverine's remarkable sense of smell.
Discover the world of the mighty weasel.
DVD Verdict: Narrated by Ana Gasteyer, 'The Mighty Weasel' is a rather wondrous, and eye opening discovery about the truth of the infamous weasel; often associated with unsavory behavior!
Do these critters deserve their bad reputation? Well, perhaps so naughty ones do, but for the most part we follow the adventures of a lovely first-time weasel mom, fearless honey badger and a tiny orphan weasel here in the brand new documentary from PBS.
For those not in the know, the weasel family, also known as mustelids, is one of the most varied animal groups in the world, with about 60 different species found from the Arctic to the tropics.
At only six inches long, the Least weasel is the smallest carnivore on earth. They also have the strongest bite, pound for pound, of any mammal.
Nearly a million stoats and weasels live in the British countryside. One stoat enthusiast, wildlife artist and photographer Robert Fuller, transformed his country garden into Stoat City, filled with tunnels, nests, secret chambers and around 50 hidden cameras!
One stoat mom named Bandita comes to live in Stoat City to raise her kits. Bandita utilizes the space to protect and play with her kits, gather food and fight against predators like owls over turf.
Oh, and we also learn more about the now infamous Honey badgers, who are known for their brawn, but they also have surprisingly large brains for their size.
On the Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre in South Africa, researchers use puzzles to test honey badgers’ problem-solving skills, including a challenge to determine if they possess the ability to use tools.
They pass each test with flying colors, proving that honey badgers are among the top innovators in the animal kingdom.
So take the weight off, sit down and watch along as first-time weasel mom Bandita raises her kits in a unique garden, whilst meeting tiny but mighty orphan weasel Twiz on her journey back to the wild. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
Birds of Prey: The Fantabulous Emancipation of ...
(Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett, Rosie Perez, Ella Jay Basco, Ewan McGregor, et al / Blu-ray + DVD + Digital / NR / 2020 / Warner Bros.)
Overview: After splitting with the Joker, Harley Quinn joins superheroes Black Canary, Huntress and Renee Montoya to save a young girl from an evil crime lord.
Blu-ray Verdict: Remember, one and all, that there was a time when DC Universe was bashed because most of their movies were directed by Zack Snyder; who decided that style-over-substance was more pivotal to making superhero films!
Then, came David Ayer with a set of the best movie trailers ever created but the outcome for the anti-hero film, 'Suicide Squad' was at best, a mediocre motion picture.
Now after 'Shazam!', 'Aquaman' and the definitive masterpiece 'Joker', DC presents us with 'Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn', the fourth entry movie.
And one that proves that their tables have pretty much turned around by finding suitable directors for their movies and that they are catching up to compete with the Marvel Universe.
As expected, the movie features slick action scenes which complete with very acrobatic-like choreography that constantly pleases the eyes of everyone who are looking forward for femme fatales kicking ass. For trust me when I say that there are plenty of them to keep you amazed and entertained, my friends!
In fact, 'Birds of Prey' also delivers a vigorous energy throughout so much so that you yourself will feel like you are either high on drugs or your endorphins are flying due to a monster two hour work out regime in your front room!
The close-ups feel very intimate yet feel very caricature in a positive way. The quality of cameras and the color palette capture a reality of life, giving a sense of how rough it actually is; very dark and gritty, but also sometimes sprinkles the dour tone with graciously boisterous and delicate tinted colors. (The occasional slo-mo amps up the already intense energy too!).
As for its overbearing, and highly publicized "feminist movement", sure, yeah 'Birds of Prey' has one, but it is most assuredly done right, believe me.
A key successful factor to driving a feminist film is to create an innate story on women without being pushy on the political agenda. 'Birds of Prey' does that in spades.
Now, let's talk about Margot Robbie and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. These two really go beyond the next level to dive into their characters as uniquely as possible.
Margot Robbie, as always, should be receiving a standing ovation as Harley Quinn again, especially after the meh Suicide Squad and here definitely stands loud and proud in front of anyone trying to steal that from her spotlight curtain call.
Winstead (as Huntress) is the runner-up here, but only just, as she gives out a hot breeze of an aura that it is hard to back away from! Her charismatic sexual energy captures the attention like a bullseye.
Bell as Black Canary is cool, but not as great as the other two. Bella as Cain shows she can be mischievous, but her character pretty much only follows where the other main characters take her.
'Birds Of Prey also offers some pretty decent moments of humor throughout, which (of course) Harley Quinn is consciously great delivering at all times.
Not giving too much away here, in the massive final battle, the best thing is the lack of unrealistic weaponry that they occupy which makes it all feels so damn real!
It is highly entertaining and lots of fun to watch and with the first third of the movie heavy on character developments (of the ladies), what it forgets to showcase in the form of action is all brought to the explosive fore here in the latter third!
That said, due to the true relationship between the members of the Birds of Prey having seemingly always been rather shadowy, it does leave a slightly unsatisfying taste in the mouth when all is said and done on the screen.
It's like somehow they had been exponentially forced to know and work with one another all along and come the end, well, with no action to bond them they are now all free to return back to their previously dwelled within lives.
Indeed, with so many developments, to my mind, they forgot Roman's character (played by Ewan McGregor), the main antagonist which feels quite underdeveloped, in truth.
For when a scene with him pops up over halfway through, it really wants to tell something meaningful about him, but the plot eventually moves on without having done so; providing us with a lack of character and prompted knowledge about him or his motives.
As for Hyena, well, with a severe lack of CGI-created screen time for the lil' fella, we don't really see Hyena attacking people at all, which some of you might have anticipated.
So, and of course, whilst this movies rightly centers on en masse of wondrous supervillains, 'Birds of Prey' actually, and sadly, fails on the costume design, in my humble opinion.
Not a single character clothes himself/herself as a "good superhero model," moreover they are lazily dressed. Harley is the only one with a "costume," of this we all know from the comic books, but the others, well, a little creative effort would have been nice, ladies.
In closing, imaginative and darkly flamboyant, 'Birds of Prey' proves that the comeback of DC is possible, adapting many characters onto the big screen as a beacon of light to stand tall alongside the colossal entity known as Marvel.
Taking a look at a couple of the special features, the stand out for me is the wondrous, and eye-opening, near 10 minute featurette Birds of Prey: Birds of a Feather.
Here we eagerly watch along as Margot reveals that after having already played the character of Harley Quinn, that her reckless, gung-ho spirit had not actually ever left her!
We here from Christina Hodson (the writer) who explains, along with intercuts from Margot, how they first met and hit it of instantly. The other actors all showcase their admiration for a "bat-shit crazy" script too, and how they all signed up without having to second guess their decisions.
We also here from Sue Kroll (the producer) who also gushes over the brain of Hodson and how she always only wanted everyone to have fun whilst making the film.
However, Cathy Yan (director) fully admits that going in she didn't even think she could do this movie, all due to the fact that she had just finished her first movie ('Dead Pigs', 2018) and was only then fresh back into "the system" of directing.
But, as she now admits, it was love at first sight for her and the movie script and so she dived straight in to get the tone and deliverance of the movie just right (and what a job she did!).
Another fun special feature is Romanesque which answers the question: Who is Black Mask? This five minute featurette showcases Ewan McGregor as Roman, and as Hodson admits, she had a lot of fun taking his character from the comics and fleshing him out, even adding to him, for the big screen.
We watch as he goes from completely charming one minute to absolutely terrifying the next and all that is down to having "... been booted out of his very, very rich family," as Ewan himself explains.
He's chock full of rage, but always trying to prove himself, but at the heart of it, as Kroll reveals, his character is "... still very complicated, very nuanced".
"He brings such charm, comedy and vulnerability to the roll", adds Hodson. "He wants to control his emotions, but he's a bit unhinged, which makes him this really interesting foil for Harley, because she steals his thunder a lot." This is a Widescreen Presentation (2.35:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs via 1080p and comes with the Special Features of:
• Birds Eye View Mode - This fresh take on the film is loaded with Harley-ized looks, fun facts and Easter eggs; all viewed in a Birds-centric style!
• Birds of Prey: Birds of a Feather - How the Birds came to life
• Grime and Crime - Get into the grit of production design
• Wild Nerds - Meet Bruce the Hyena
• Romanesque - Who is Black Mask?
• Sanity is Sooo Last Season - Diving into all things fashion
• A Love/Skate Relationship
• Gag Reel
The flock’s all here when 'Birds of Prey: And the Fabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn' arrives on Digital on March 24th, 2020 and on Blu-ray + DVD + Digital and 4K Ultra HD on May 12th, 2020.
Margot Robbie ('Bombshell,' 'Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood,' 'I, Tonya') reprises her role as the endearingly daring ne’er-do-well Harley Quinn in DC’s 'Birds of Prey: And the Fabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn.'
Official 'Birds Of Prey' Trailer
'Birds Of Prey' @ Facebook
'The Way Back' [Blu-ray + Digital]
(Ben Affleck, Al Madrigal, Janina Gavankar, Michaela Watkins, Brandon Wilson, et al / Blu-ray + Digital / R / 2020 / Warner Bros.)
Overview: Back in high school, Jack Cunningham (Ben Affleck) had everything going for him. A basketball
phenom, he could have punched his ticket to college or even the pros, but, instead, he chose to walk away from the game, forfeiting his future. Jack’s glory days are long gone - but, as it turns out, not forgotten.
Years later, he gets the chance to take back his life when he is asked to coach the struggling basketball team at his alma mater. Jack reluctantly accepts, surprising no one more than himself, and as the boys start to come together as a team and win, Jack may get his last shot at redemption.
Blu-ray Verdict: There are many films where we see the train-wreck coming: Most require nothing and just show the viewers the mind-numbing wreck-to-be.
Some mentally beckon the viewer to get closer to the tracks. Others create an urgency to rush toward the train tracks in order to see. Seldom, if any, coerce us to seek higher ground.
And then there's Gavin O'Connor's 'The Way Back' which asks: "Is the wreck imminent? (OR) Will there be a wreck to see?" Once answered the prevailing question is, will they survive.
Avoiding spoiling, just think about this, please. With feelgood inspirational types of movies, how often do you know the outcome to the climactic scene? And how often are you already mentally projecting the next scene to follow?
For me, 99/100 times. In the 'TWB' those presumptions are blurred at times. There is a predictable formula, hence the word formula, but it's akin to saying "I knew it when I saw it."
Veiled as a comeback feel good movie, 'TWB)' is more of an epic portrayal of a coach struggling with addiction and loss. The notion of a flawed, heathen drug-addicted coach responsible for molding students and shaping the futures of our tomorrow is in itself laughable, and should otherwise be mocked, lambasted and ridiculed.
However, the magic of this flic is the flaws within coach (Ben Affleck) resonate strongly. Rather than cast us away, they draw us closer due to one word: intention.
A spiritually bankrupt man devoid of any soon-to-be awakening hopelessly undertakes the coaching of a HS catholic basketball team. There's an unwritten job description that comes along with the title of "coach."
That is for he/she, along with winning, is responsible for shaping futures and instilling morals. This has been the standard of many movies past and present.
Well then, 'TWB' has managed to blur those film guidelines, yet subversively adheres to them at the very same time - if that makes sense.
In closing, 'TWB' embodies the struggles of life, and how we just forget our troubles when the clock starts, and players start to do their thing.
The rush of emotions that it provides, how unmatchable and undeniably amazing that is. Ultimately though it gives a realistic hope in both sports, and in our own personal battles.
With regard the special features, in their own ways they inform us in how Affleck likes to tell stories that are relatable, and that explore characters that people could have grown up with or been their for in real life.
Affleck goes on to say that he also "rediscovered my own purpose as an actor working with these guys", all due to seeing their levels of dedication, their commitment, their excellence, their selflessness, their vulnerability, and hear them talking about their own struggles.
This is a Widescreen Presentation (2.35:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs via 1080p and comes with the Special Features of:
• Every Loss Is Another Fight: The Road to Redemption
• The Way Back: This Sporting Life
Follow the road to redemption when 'The Way Back' arrives on Blu-ray and DVD on May 19th, 2020.
Official 'The Way Back' Trailer
'The Way Back' @ Facebook
'Gretel & Hansel' [Blu-ray + Digital]
(Sophia Lillis, Samuel Leakey, Alice Krige, et al / Blu-ray + Digital / PG-13 / 2020 / Warner Bros.)
Overview: A long time ago in a distant fairy tale countryside, a young girl leads her little brother into a dark wood in desperate search of food and work, only to stumble upon a nexus of terrifying evil.
Blu-ray Verdict: Once upon a time, in the kingdom of storytelling, lie the original auteurs of fairy tales, the Brothers Grimm.
They're known for their classical tales such as 'The Golden Goose', 'The Elves and the Shoemaker', 'Snow White', and of course, the original fable of 'Hansel and Gretel.
All of these stories have been retold as family friendly and cute several times, which is probably why they stick with us. What also stick with them is how dark a lot of them are.
It's obvious that their all meant to be cautionary stories to teach us about the harsh realities of the world.
Looking at this new version, retitled 'Gretel & Hansel: A Grim Fairy Tale', and we still have the classic story of two children that come across a house of sweets, get lured in by a witch that lives there, and defeat her using their cleaver wit.
This is a famous analogy on trusting random strangers, especially the ones that offer candy to go to them. It's also a great lesson in how images can be deceiving.
But unlike 'Snow White' or 'Sleeping Beauty', this story has not had a lot of adaptations, not even an animated movie from Disney. Now we have a GOTHIC NOIR retelling!
Teenager Gretel (played by Sophia Lillis) is struggling with her position in the old world as a person whose only told she's good for subservient work.
After she fails at acquiring a job, her stepmother accuses her of not paying her fair share and forces her and her brother Hansel (played by Sam Leakey) out.
Gretel remains optimistic that she and her brother will find something and even manage to spend a night at a kind hunter's home. They wonder around the woods, becoming more hungry as time goes by.
They eventually come across a home in the woods, that also has a lot of food on the table. They find an old woman who lives there, Holda (played by Alice Kringe) who offers food and shelter.
They eat and gorge as Hansel is swayed by the promise that he'll be trained as a woodsmen. Gretel knows something is off with the place, but Holda also promises her to teach her ways of magic.
Gretel also remembers about an old story her father told her about a young girl whose psychic abilities pushed her into the same woods. Could this old woman have a connection with it?
Like a lot of January releases, 'Gretel & Hansel' has a lot of problems that prevent it from being effective. A lot of it is on Gretel.
I know the actress Sophia Lillis can give a good performance (as she did in the 'It' movies), but along with keeping her American accent (which is awkward as everyone else has an English accent), she seems to be directed in a way that comes off more wooden then it should be.
I appreciate the movie trying to give her more character, but it's going to fail if the acting doesn't come off that natural.
Plus when it comes to the retelling of the story, it's trying to do a lot. When it's telling the fairy tale, it is effective. When it's trying to be a female empowerment story, it feels really forced.
I don't have anything against that, but it needs to be done in a story that portrays that positively. Indeed, for me, 'Gretel & Hansel' sends a mixed message where the witch and her powers are bad, yet Gretel (along with the movie) wants to take part in it - to be her own woman?
Personally, I don't get what message it's trying to send, but it's clear the movie isn't smart enough to find that balance either, sorry.
It's a shame because the movie does have a lot of good things. The movie's production and cinematography is really good. Its fog filled forests and candlelit caves and homes give you a great sense of gothic and creep.
Its something I myself would be terrified to enter on my own and would make a good maze for those Halloween haunts. The music, which has a synth sound, does enhance 'Gretel & Hansel's tone also, which is rather nice and well done.
In truth, I thought it would be out of place, but something about it does make it even scarier then it really is! Perhaps this movie is the equivalent of "looks can be deceiving". Watch it now and judge for yourselves as it is now out on Blu-ray + Digital via Warner Bros. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs via 1080p and comes with the Special Feature of:
Within Storybook we find an original collection of illustrations that captures the beautiful cinematography and reimagining of Gretel & Hansel.
Experience the nightmare behind the fairytale when 'Gretel & Hansel' arrives on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital on May 5th, 2020.
Directed by Osgood Perkins, the film is a terrifying reimagining of the beloved Brothers Grimm fairytale for a new generation.
Official 'Gretel & Hansel' Trailer
'Gretel & Hansel' @ Facebook
'The Invisible Man' (2020) [Blu-ray+DVD+Digital]
(Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Harriet Dyer, Michael Dorman, et al / Blu-ray + DVD + Digital / R / 2020 / Universal Studios)
Overview: What you can't see can hurt you. Trapped in a violent, controlling relationship with a wealthy scientist, Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) escapes in the dead of night and disappears into hiding.
But when her abusive ex suddenly dies, Cecilia suspects his death was a hoax. As a series of eerie coincidences turns lethal, threatening the lives of those she loves, Cecilia's sanity begins to unravel while she desperately tries to prove she is being hunted by someone nobody can see.
Blu-ray Verdict: Leigh Whannell is not a subtle filmmaker - at least, that's what I used to think. The Saw and Insidious movies are over-the-top and shocking, which is fine, and I enjoyed Upgrade quite a bit, but I was afraid the Invisible Man would fall into the same trap of shock-value over substance.
Thankfully, I was wrong.
From the opening scene, the movie sucks you in with tension and unease. Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) is trying to escape from her abusive boyfriend while he is asleep, and with practically no dialogue or exposition, we immediately understand the situation and feel for Moss' character.
She's trapped in an abusive relationship and fears for her life. It's a testament to Whannell's deliberate direction, using visual cues to give us the information we need while slowly ratcheting up the suspense. The movie is not reliant on jump scares.
There are a few, but they're 100% earned and actually effective because we care about the characters. The excellent score helps add to the atmosphere, alternating between pulsating ambience and melancholy orchestral bits.
From the concise writing, likable characters, clever directing, a powerhouse lead performance, and a genuinely scary villain, 'The Invisible Man' (2020) gets just about everything right.
I suppose you could nitpick some of the logic, but that's missing the point. It's a film about gaining freedom from a toxic relationship, and Whannell knows exactly how to pace the story so that we don't spend too much time dwelling on potential plot holes.
Watching with my family alongside me, we all jumped in unison many times over and were gasping in awe. It's a nail biting experience that does not let up.
The beauty of this film is that it is a very fresh take on one of Universal's jewels. And the premise is also very plausible in today's technology driven society.
Overall, and even though the lingering last shot is held way too long for me personally, 'The Invisible Man' (2020) is an absolutely gripping and expertly crafted psychological thriller.
As for the special features, the stand out for me was Director's Journey with Leigh Whannell where director/writer Leigh Whannell acts as tour guide through principal photography, from day 1 to day 40.
He not only discusses how he has been a major horror fan since his teenage years, but how it was always horror iconic villains that were his go-to for viewing pleasure.
We also get, as the step by step reveals itself self day after day, a look at how the "invisible" man was created re: a man in a green suit, of course, and how Elisabeth Moss unraveled (mentally and physically - for her character) down the shoot line.
Day One kicks off on a mighty sunny day in Gerringong, New South Wales, Australia and Whannell informs us that directing, to him, feels like being a Lion Tamer - a chair and a whip and the film is the lion!
He also explains the reason he took the remake on was that he felt like he could do something new with it.
Another insightful one is Moss Manifested where Elisabeth Moss describes the physical and emotional challenges she faced while portraying Cecilia, a woman whose truth is constantly questioned by those around her.
Along the way she explains that the overall theme of the film is domestic abuse and the gaslighting of women, with the story being about escaping an abusive relationship and trying to start a new life up again.
This is a Widescreen Presentation (2.39:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
Director's Journey with Leigh Whannell
Feature Commentary with Writer/Director Leigh Whannell
'The Invisible Man,' an intense, modern-day psychological thriller, becomes available to own for the first time on Digital May 12th, 2020 and on 4K UHD, Blu-ray™ and DVD on May 26th, 2020 from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.
'The Invisible Man' (2020) [Blu-ray+DVD+Digital] Purchase Link
Official 'The Invisible Man' Trailer
Official 'The Invisible Man' Website
Official 'The Invisible Man' @ Facebook
Official 'The Invisible Man' @ Twitter
Official 'The Invisible Man' @ Instagram
'Nova: Polar Extremes'
(DVD / PG / 2020 / PBS)
Overview: Renowned paleontologist Kirk Johnson takes us on an epic adventure through time at the polar extremes of our planet.
Following a trail of fossils found in all the wrong places - beech trees in Antarctica, redwoods and hippo-like mammals in the Arctic - NOVA uncovers the bizarre history of the poles, from miles-thick ice sheets to warm polar forests teeming with life.
DVD Verdict: Well, I have to fully admit that watching this new NOVA PBS experience was most definitely one of my own personal favorites of the past decade!
We follow along as a trail of strange fossils are found in all the wrong places - the aforementioned beech trees in Antarctica, hippo-like mammals in the Arctic and such - and our resident paleontologist Kirk Johnson not only uncovers the bizarre history of the poles, from miles-high ice sheets to warm polar forests teeming with life, but feeds us knowledge that, as best I can recall, I'd never actually known of before.
They investigate what caused such dramatic changes at the ends of the Earth and, perhaps more interestingly, what controls the dial on Earth's thermostat?
Of all the fresh water that exists on Earth today, 70% of it is frozen, held in glaciers and ice caps, most of it in the Arctic and Antarctic—but Earth wasn’t always like this.
Hidden in the rocks and trapped under the ice are clues that reveal a planet totally different from the one we know today.
Following along we quickly discover that there is evidence that the Arctic was once covered in a subtropical forest and dinosaurs once lived near the South Pole.
Indeed, a journey to the hot Death Valley desert uncovers rocks that could only get there by glacier, revealing another very different age, when ice sheets extended from pole to pole, turning the entire globe into a giant “snowball” Earth.
Today, the Arctic is warming faster than anywhere else in the world, and Antarctica has locked in its ice enough water to raise sea level by a terrifying 200 feet.
The way that the poles respond to a warming climate is one of the greatest wildcards in predicting our climate future and here in 'NOVA: Polar Extremes' Johnson uses Earth's history, written in stone, as a cipher to decode what is going on at our polar extremes today; and what the future may hold.
Furthermore, featuring stunning footage from some of the most remote locations on the planet, combined with rich, 3D graphics of long-lost landscapes, 'Nova: Polar Extremes' immerses viewers in a scientific quest to explore the unexpected secrets of our planet’s polar past.
In closing, the series shows that the Earth’s distant past is directly relevant to our collective future. “Humans are geology, and we are impacting this planet,” says Johnson. “This is the first time that a mammal has actually changed the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere and driven a dramatic change in the Earth’s climate."
"The question is, are we clever enough and forward-thinking enough to flip that switch back?” This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
'Nova: Cat and Dog Tales'
(DVD / PG / 2020 / PBS)
Overview: NOVA examines the science of our favorite animal companions. What can science tell us about the human relationships with cats and dogs?
DVD Verdict: That cats and dogs have the wherewithal to set aside their differences and join forces to thwart a rogue feline's attempt at world domination is, obviously, the stuff of a plotline for a Hollywood movie with blockbuster dreams. But Kitty and Fido do have an impressive real-world skill set, don't they?
As 'Nova: Cat and Dog Tales' comes to PBS DVD via NOVA, we watch and learn about what science has to say about the intelligence and abilities of our favorite household pets.
Cat Tales: They may have stolen many hearts - and the internet - but cats can be perplexing pets. As much cuddly and playful as they are aloof and uncaring, they've often raised the question: Did humans ever really domesticate felines? And what more can science tell us about a relationship that predates history?
Dog Tales: Dogs have been our companions for thousands of years. But why? Do they really love us, or are they just in it for the food? Scientists test wolf intelligence, decode canine DNA, and peer into dogs' brains to find out what domestication really means.
If you were to go by all the talk about “dog people” versus “cat people,” you’d think that everyone had to choose one and stick to it.
They don’t, of course; plenty of us have both cats and dogs and despite their differences, it seems to work out. If you want to ensure a good relationship, though, science says to focus on the cat’s needs.
A recent study surveyed owners mostly in the United Kingdom and the United States, asking detailed questions about how their cats and dogs got along.
The majority of the 748 owners thought their pets had pretty good relationships. On a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 was “can’t stand each other” and 10 was “close companions,” few ratings of 4 and below were found.
However, while there were some pets that sometimes played together or groomed one another – some even shared food, toys, or beds – those best-buddy scores of 9 and 10 were also rare.
This suggests that we need to be careful not to have overly romanticized expectations of cat-dog relationships. These tidbits and insightful exposes and more are all to be found here in this quite mesmerizing new NOVA PBS DVD, 'Cat And Dog Tales.' This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
'Nova: Mysteries of Sleep'
(DVD / PG / 2020 / PBS)
Overview: Virtually every animal sleeps. But why? Why do we need to spend nearly a third of our lives in such a defenseless state?
Scientists are peering more deeply into the sleeping brain than ever before, discovering just how powerful sleep can be, playing a role in everything from memory retention and emotional regulation to removing waste from our brains. So why are we getting so little of it?
DVD Verdict: Yet another fully satisfying, and totally enthralling new NOVA PBS DVDs, 'Mysteries of Sleep' reveals, of course, we all need it, but that we don't always do it well, or as much as we should, or on any sort of regular schedule; oh, and humans do it differently than some other creatures!
Not even all humans do it the same way, yet we still don't really understand its function, or why it's so critically important.
Despite the fact that it's been a universal of human experience for our entire existence as a species, it remains one of science's greatest mysteries.
What is its purpose? Why did it evolve to claim a third of each person's lifetime? What effect does its disruption or loss have on our health and well-being?
We tend of think of sleep as something done only by humans and other mammals: dogs, cats, humans. But although creatures with more primitive nervous systems don't sleep quite the same way as more complex animals, they do in fact display regular sleeping behaviors.
Those behaviors can provide important insights into the entire phenomenon of sleep in all animals.
One of the most exciting biological discoveries of recent years is the revelation of the many natural clocks that govern our lives.
Rather than just a single "master clock" in the brain that controls our circadian rhythms of sleeping and waking, there are many other molecular clocks in the body's organs and even in some individual cell types that govern metabolism and other bodily cycles.
It's revealed that the master sleep-wake cycle is intimately tied into these other rhythms, and when those rhythms fall out of sync the physiological dissonance created can have far-reaching consequences.
Amongst other seriously enthralling revelations, it turns out that losing sleep doesn't just make us feel sluggish, tired, and punchy, it also causes profound changes in the body that can lead to major health problems.
Indeed, it's been shown that sleep deprivation can result in the unfolding and misfolding of proteins in the brain and in the cells of the pancreas, particularly as we grow older and normal repair functions such as the UPR (unfolded protein response) begin to break down.
For more information and insight like this, I urge you to check out the brand new 'Nova: Mysteries of Sleep,' out now on DVD. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
'H20: The Molecule That Made Us'
(DVD / PG / 2020 / PBS)
Overview: Earth is alive because of liquid water and the human story is intimately connected to our relationship with it. But the growth of our civilizations has created a dangerous dependence on a precious resource that may be about to run out.
DVD Verdict: This three-part series explores just how critical water is to our survival and the challenges that are facing us.
Water seems the most renewable of all the Earth’s resources. It falls from the sky as rain, it surrounds us in the oceans that cover nearly three-quarters of the planet’s surface, and in the polar ice caps and mountain glaciers.
It is the source of life on Earth and quite possibly beyond – the discovery of traces of water on Mars aroused excitement because it was the first indication that life may have existed there.
The problem is that most of the Earth’s water resources are as inaccessible as if they were on Mars, and those that are accessible are unevenly distributed across the planet.
Water is hard to transport over long distances, and our needs are growing, both for food and industry. Everything we do requires water, for drinking, washing, growing food, and for industry, construction and manufacturing.
With more than 7.5 billion people on the planet, and the population projected to top 10 billion by 2050, the situation is set to grow more urgent.
Currently, 844 million people – about one in nine of the planet’s population – lack access to clean, affordable water within half an hour of their homes, and every year nearly 300,000 children under five die of diarrhea, linked to dirty water and poor sanitation.
Providing water to those who need it is not only vital to human safety and security, but has huge social and economic benefits too. Children lose out on education and adults on work when they are sick from easily preventable diseases.
Girls in developing countries are worst off, as they frequently stop going to school at puberty because of a lack of sanitation, and girls and women travelling miles to fetch water or forced to defecate in the open are vulnerable to violence.
Providing affordable water saves lives and reduces the burden on healthcare, as well as freeing up economic resources. Every $1 invested in clean water yields at least $4 in economic returns, according to the charity WaterAid.
It would cost just over $21bn a year to 2030, or 0.1% of global GDP, to provide water and hygiene to all those who need it, but the World Bank estimates that the economic benefits would be $60bn a year.
So, the big questions asked here in 'H20: The Molecule That Made Us' is Is climate change making things worse? Well, climate change is bringing droughts and heatwaves across the globe, as well as floods and sea level rises.
Pollution is growing, both of freshwater supplies and underground aquifers. The depletion of those aquifers can also make the remaining water more saline. Fertilizers leaching nitrates into the supplies can also make water unsuitable for drinking or irrigation.
To find out more about how water/H20 is as essential to our living as much as it is to the actual, physical planet we call home, I urge you to buy this wonderful, intriguing and eye opening new DVD from PBS. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
'Ken Burn Presents The Gene: An Intimate History'
(2-Disc DVD / PG-13 / 2020 / PBS)
Overview: 'The Gene: An Intimate History' is a four-hour documentary from Ken Burns and Barak Goodman, adapted from the award-winning book of the same name by Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee.
The series tells the story of the rapid evolution of genetic science from Gregor Mendel's groundbreaking experiment in the 19th century to CRISPR, and the hope that newfound powers to alter DNA with pinpoint precision will transform the treatment of some of the world's most complex and challenging diseases.
The series also tackles the daunting ethical challenges that these technologies pose for humankind.
DVD Verdict: Simply put, 'The Gene: An Intimate Story' is a tale of science, social history and personal stories weaved together to bring us a historical biography of the human genome; whilst also exploring the stunning breakthroughs in understanding the impact genes play on heredity, disease and behavior.
Here the Columbia oncologist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author reunites with the renowned filmmaker to illuminate the past, present and future of genomic science, due to the ability to modify genes and prevent disease has exploded in the last decade.
It is now possible to use gene therapy to cure inherited disorders, to correct genetic defects and to limit the severity of a disease. But this new era in genomic medicine offers both promise and peril.
“These revolutionary discoveries highlight the awesome responsibility that we have to make wise decisions, not just for the people alive today, but for generations to come,” said Siddhartha Mukherjee, an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, staff cancer physician and author of The Gene: An Intimate History.
'Ken Burn Presents The Gene: An Intimate History' airs at a critical moment for the science community, as geneticists around the world grapple with the ethical questions these technologies raise.
In November 2018, a Chinese researcher stunned and horrified the scientific community with the announcement that he had created the first genetically edited babies, twin girls born in China.
Interestingly enough, this documentary had been cut and finished just before the first cases of coronavirus were reported in China, so it was too late to include what would soon become the COVID-19 pandemic, “a global crisis inextricably tied to our genes,” Mukherjee has since said.
“A piece of genetic material—29,000-odd nucleotides of RNA—coated with protein has upended the world,” Mukherjee continued. “Virtually every technology we're using to track and treat COVID-19, even an oral or nasal swab to detect whether you are infected, relies on genetic techniques.”
Again, based on the book by Siddhartha Mukherjee, M.D. 'Ken Burn Presents The Gene: An Intimate History' tells the story of the rapid evolution of genetic science from Gregor Mendel's groundbreaking experiment in the 19th century to CRISPR, and the hope that newfound powers to alter DNA with pinpoint precision will transform the treatment of some of the world's most complex and challenging diseases.
The series also tackles the daunting ethical challenges that these technologies pose for humankind, and thus I implore you, especially in these darker times of ours now, to watch this riveting new Ken Burns PBS series; out now on DVD. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
'Relieving Stress with Yoga with Peggy Cappy'
(Peggy Cappy / 2-DiscDVD / G / 2020 / PBS)
Overview: Yoga instructor Peggy Cappy, a perennial favorite of public television viewers, is back with a special yoga program to ease stress and anxiety.
By stretching, strengthening and balancing the muscles with poses, yoga alleviates the physical symptoms of stress and anxiety which often lead to tension, tightness and pain.
With three out of four Americans regularly experiencing stress, there's never been a better time to begin your yoga practice!
DVD Verdict: In these newly stressful times of ours, a DVD like this is just what the doctor ordered, trust me!
For over forty years, Peggy Cappy has been teaching yoga to students of all ages and abilities. Peggy's other programs have addressed how yoga can be used to alleviate pain and cope with various physical challenges including Easy Yoga for Arthritis, Easy Yoga: The Secret to Strength and Balance, and Back Care Basics.
The Relieving Stress with Yoga workout includes: Body Warmups, Restorative Poses, Nutrition Breathing Exercises and even, and I kid you not, Laughter Yoga!
During all these simply divine, and easy to do segments, Peggy demonstrates how restorative yoga and breathwork can relax both the body and the brain, shares how laughter yoga can sometimes be the best medicine, and explores the profound impact food and mindful eating can have on our stress levels.
Working with both a weekly yoga class as well as a teenage group, we observe the dramatic impact yoga can have in relieving stress and anxiety for everyone in your family.
Using these other people in her class, Peggy shows us different examples of how to do each exercise. They take a lot of time with instruction before showing each movement which I like and, well, it's also a terrific program for beginners, much like myself.
In fact, even those with very severe pain, or simply the less flexible of us older ones, can get HUGE benefit out of these yoga movements, of that you have my word.
Sure, I would have liked to see a little less talking and more actual movement, but it does lay out the basics of stretching within the movements of yoga and done every day will most definitely have you repeating some of them without the DVD even playing!
According to Peggy, “By stretching, strengthening and balancing the muscles with poses, yoga can also alleviate the physical symptoms of stress and anxiety, which often include tension, tightness, and pain.” [Personally, I couldn't agree more!]
There is also a Bonus Documentary here 'Relieving Stress with Yoga with Peggy Cappy' and I simply cannot urge you enough to go and invest in this wondrous, informative new yoga DVD from the always lovely Peggy Cappy! This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
'Masterpiece Mystery! Baptiste: Season One'
(Tchéky Karyo, Jessica Raine, Tom Hollander, Anastasia Hille, et al / 2-Disc DVD / PG-13 / 2020 / PBS)
Overview: From the writers of The Missing comes Baptiste, a thrilling drama series starring Tchéky Karyo as the insightful but stubborn investigator Julien Baptiste.
Julien and his wife move to Amsterdam to help look after their grandchild, but the beautiful streets, canals and houses of Amsterdam hide dark, deadly secrets.
DVD Verdict: Looked at more philosophically, 'The Missing' (series 1 and 2) and now 'Baptiste' - from writers Harry and Jack Williams - seem to offer a multi-layered cross-cultural experience, given that they are in real life British-Belgian cooperative ventures giving actors from various countries roles as characters (not always from those same countries) interacting in positive and negative ways.
A surprisingly gritty (and far-from-positive) review of modern European realities is offered in the process.
While 'The Missing' series one harked back to a more traditional "something bad happens to Brits while on a continental holiday" theme, it homed in on a Northern Irish guy teaming up over the longer-term with a French detective (the titular Julien Baptiste).
It also featured British residents in Belgium-pretending-to-be-France doing horrible things with a measure of impunity.
In 'The Missing' series two, Frenchman Baptiste travelled to Germany to work in the environment of remnant British armed forces still stationed in that country, with again very dark and dirty things going on against the background of that very specific community and environment (also extending to the Middle East given many of the key characters' military service out there).
Now, with 'Baptiste' - a series ostensibly focusing still more closely on the wonderfully philosophical (and very authentically observed) detective played by Tchéky Karyo, what is really on display is freedom of movement and the roles it plays in a very mixed-up modern Europe.
More aware British viewers of 'Baptiste' will probably be more sensitive than most to the (unusual nature of the) idea - here writ large - of people shuttling between The Netherlands and the UK in a matter of hours, for various good and bad purposes up to and including contract killing.
So much for "the precious stone set in a silver sea which serves it in the office of a wall or as a moat defensive to a house, against the envy of less happier lands"!
Few films or series you can think of have ever offered such an "open" portrayal of our island or emphasized to this extent the mobility that is now possible, and the degree to which the integration process is achieved.
And as Karyo himself notes in the DVD's Special Features, a quick visit to "those streets" in Amsterdam (now more accessible than ever) represents an ethical and philosophical dilemma for many of us; all the more so in the face of the potential desire we might actually feel, given the fact that we cannot with hand on heart dismiss the women involved (rarely Dutch themselves) as unattractive and only of interest to the desperate (as might have been the case in other places at other times).
'Baptiste' the series pushes the official Dutch line that having things out in the open may help the prostitutes involved enjoy greater safety, better health and somewhat fuller freedom of choice.
But that freedom in 21st-century Europe is apparently accompanied in deeper, darker layers by trafficking activity from various quarters that is parasitic upon it; and the efforts of Europol to counteract that also take center stage in this series, as familiar actress Jessica Raine features as a British detective working for that supranational body in an all-consuming battle that for her is both professional and personal.
So French and British and Dutch detectives cooperate to combat ruthless Romanian gangs trafficking young Polish women. There is a high body count associated with all that (and a threat posed to Julien's (British) wife and family); and the picture painted of today's EU is somehow one of hypocrisy and unequal struggle, and most of the piece is sad and moody.
As in 'The Missing' series, as a whole, the web of connections between characters is incredibly complex, with many a sub-story thrown in to flesh out the main one, mostly very touchingly or interestingly, and with the emphasis on diversity and eccentricity of experience.
Indeed, whilst 'The Missing's first series featured a pretty "immaculate" Baptiste that hardly ever said a wrong thing or let us down, the Baptiste in 'Baptiste' is an older and far more flawed figure; though still one in many ways proving irresistible.
But, considering his being called in here as an "expert", one may question how often his sleuthing skills and experience really show, or make a difference?
Rather, this version of Baptiste is discovering layer after layer of disconcerting or downright horrible things in pretty much the same way as we in the audience are.
Ironically, then, the series ends - as did the first 'Missing' - with some kind of tribute to the resilience of the human spirit that is telling, touching, but also a bit desperate-looking, considering what has gone before.
Indeed, virtually all the main characters here go through a great deal, but none more so than Edward Stratton, as portrayed by Tom Hollander.
For my money, the character moves from being an unconvincing and ineffectual looking one at the beginning of the first episode to being an amazing, resilient (if still unassuming) hero by the time the final credits role.
Perhaps no such person could really exist, but it matters little as the acting credentials of Hollander are by this stage beyond doubt. It's a great part for him, to which he does full justice.
While 'Baptiste' is pretty low on laughs, Hollander's Stratton - surprisingly - offers a few of them, as does Karyo's Baptiste and even Raine's Genevieve Taylor.
I mean, a sub-story about a technology-obsessed 21st-century peeping tom is also salutary, as well as somehow quite amusing in a dark way.
Not funny in any way, but far more human and nuanced than you might expect, are the excellent portrayals of the Romanian gangsters by Alec Secareanu as Constantin and Zachary Baharov as Nicolae.
Overall, 'Baptiste' is (and should be seen as) more than just a detective series. It's really a kind of sociological project observing - darkly and I would say quite effectively - the Europe in which we live - and the EU which Brits ultimately decided they might want to escape from. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
Berenstain Bears: Tales From the Tree House, Vol 3
(2-Disc DVD / G / 2020 / PBS Kids)
Overview: It's time for Bear Country adventures with Brother and Sister Bear in their 'Tree House Tales, Volume 3' - which contains 28 more stories from the beloved animated series.
DVD Verdict: For those not in the know, 'The Berenstain Bears' began as a children's literature franchise created by Stan and Jan Berenstain and continued by their son, Mike Berenstain; who assumed partial authorship in 2002, and full authorship in 2012 following Jan's death.
The books feature a family of anthropomorphic grizzly bears who generally learn a moral or safety-related lesson in the course of each story.
Indeed, since the 1962 debut of the first Berenstain Bears book, The Big Honey Hunt, the series has grown to over 300 titles, which have sold approximately 260 million copies in 23 languages.
Of course, as we know, 'The Berenstain Bears' franchise has also expanded well beyond the books, encompassing two television series and a wide variety of other products and licenses.
While enjoying decades of popularity and receiving numerous awards, the series has been applauded for portraying many tales of bravery, caring for others, and learning responsibility well beyond The Bears' young years.
Furthermore, 'The Berenstain Bears' is sensibly written to appeal to younger children (preschool and kindergarten age) and teach them values at the same time.
In this age of redundant stupidity in entertainment, parents need a show like this one to help illustrate how fair life should be, and give a firm footing to children, not overwhelm them with glitz, glam and gloss.
By keeping plots simple and allowing children to follow along at their level, this show simply teaches children how to be fair, consider other's feelings and have good sportsmanship.
These are core values which are not being taught to children at daycare dumps or underfunded public schools, in my humble opinion.
Here in 'The Berenstain Bears: Tales From the Tree House, Volume 3' we get an incredible 5+ hours of more tales encompassing 28 singular episodes!
And because these fun-filled tales straight from the family tree house cover important topics including patience, making new friends, and being unique, they are good, honest and solid viewing for all your children.
When Sister must write about a bear she admires the most for a school project, she quickly learns just how many awards and trophies Grizzly Gran won in her younger years!
Then, the cubs are excited about going on a family trip – until they find out the destination isn't Grizzlyland, but instead a tour of Bear Country's national parks!
Finally, the cubs are sad when they hear that their friends down the street are moving away. Brother and Sister learn about the positive side of moving - new adventures and new friends!
This value-packed DVD collection covers important topics including compromising, helping those in need, and much more! This is a Full Screen Presentation (1.33:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
'15 Pet-Tastic Tails!'
(DVD / TV-Y / 2020 / PBS Kids)
Overview: From dogs and cats to hamsters and turtles, new friends come in all shapes and sizes! Join your favorite PBS KIDS characters as they learn all about responsibility and caring for others.
Watch these 15 exciting, pet-filled episodes from Arthur, Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, Molly of Denali, Wild Kratts and many others!
DVD Verdict: Chock full of fifteen stories from ten of PBS Kids!' best TV shows for the little ones, '15 Pet-Tasti Tails' will keep your wee ones locked in and locked on the small screen for hours on end (which might now be very beneficial for all you now-stay-at-home re: lockdown, mom's and dad's!)
Watch Daniel and his classmates release their classroom pet named Ducky after he's grown too big, and join Chris and Martin as they unpack from a creature adventure, only to discover a wolf pup in their bag!
Plus, enjoy Winter Champions, a special bonus episode from Molly of Denali!
Molly and the gang organize an outhouse race to determine who will become Winter Champions and Molly also creates a tutorial video to help Merna train her dog to find her keys!
Trust me when I say that the visual interaction is non-stop on this wondrously-created collection of fun adventures from some of your children's favorite animated PBS characters.
Here on this new DVD we get fifteen (15) fun and adventurous stories from ten (10) rather delightful PBS Kids! favorites: Arthur, Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, Molly of Denali, Nature Cat, Peg + Cat, Wild Kratts, Caillou, Let's Go Luna!, Super WHY! and even Pinkalicious and Peterrific!
This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
Official PBS DVD Purchase Link