Two ‘Nature’ Programs Coming to DVD and Digital in January From PBS

Two new “Nature” programs are coming in January on DVD and digital from PBS Distribution: A Squirrel’s Guide to Success, due Jan. 22, and Dogs in the Land of Lions, coming Jan. 29.

The squirrel family is one of the most widespread on Earth. There are almost 300 species of squirrel, those that can glide through the air, outwit rattlesnakes, and survive the coldest temperatures of any mammal. In A Squirrel’s Guide to Success, viewers learn about the extraordinary abilities and secrets to success of these nut lovers. Some of the species featured include the fox squirrel, which can remember the location of 9,000 nuts; the gray squirrel, whose jumps are the basis for new designs in robotics, and the Arctic ground squirrel, who, to survive the frigid winters of Alaska, hibernates by dropping its heart rate, breathing and body temperature.

Filmed over two-years, Dogs in the Land of Lions takes viewers into the heart of an African wild dog family, led by a mother called Puzzles. When her mate Jigsaw is suddenly killed by lions, she is suddenly left to raise two generations of pups on her own and without the help of a pack. Wild dogs have a willingness to sacrifice almost anything for their pack, a behavior wired into their DNA.

Roy Rogers Westerns, Faith-Based Documentaries and Dramas Among Titles on the March Disc Slate From Mill Creek

There’s something for every taste — Westerns, documentaries, and drama, family and action films — on the March disc release slate from Mill Creek Entertainment.

Coming on DVD March 5 is the drama If You’re Gone. When high school senior Brad Lee disappears the night of his graduation ceremony, his girlfriend is forced to question everything she thought she knew about him and their relationship, as well as her own faith, in hopes of finding him. The film stars Brittany Goodwin, Masey McLain, Desiree Ross and Ben Davies.

The Last Appeal, due on DVD March 5, is a faith-based drama set in the world of death row, where prisoners face legal battles, family struggles and mortality. Titus Freeman enters this daunting world determined to work the legal system to escape his sentence but discovers a new life beyond the grave. Meanwhile, his victim’s wife Trisha works the legal system to enforce his execution.

In the action film To Be a Soldier, also on DVD March 5, the sister of a mild-mannered British salesman goes missing in the Middle East, and he recruits an ex-Army ranger to help him rescue her. As they trek through the war-torn wilderness, they battle terrorists, the elements and their own dark human natures.

For the family audience March 5 is the DVD Guard Dog. Chance Watson is a lying, cheating, stealing 9-year-old who is flunking out of school. Then, one night, a magical sheepdog appears and promises to make his dreams come true, if he can follow “The Rules.” Soon, with the help of his talking, sometimes invisible dog, Chance has changed his life and the lives of many of the students at his school.

On tap March 12 are three Western collections on disc and digital.

Roy Rogers — The Happy Trails Collection, on DVD and digital, features 20 movies and is authorized by the Roy Rogers Estate. Each movie is introduced by Roy and Dale Evans in a special feature, “Happy Trails Theater.” They are joined by a host Western stars, including Gene Autry, Iron Eyes Cody, Pat Brady, Ruth Terry, Roy “Dusty” Rogers Jr. and Pat Butram.

The four-film Outlaws and Con Men collection, in DVD and digital, features Django Shoots First, starring Glenn Saxson, Fernando Sancho and Evelyn Stewart; Django’s Cut Price Corpses, with Jeff Cameron, John Desmont and Esmeralda Barros; Bad Man’s River, starring Lee Van Cleef, James Mason and Gina Lollobrigidal; and Sting of the West, with Jack Palance and Giancarlo Prete

On Blu-ray and digital March 12 is the Westerm double feature Fort Yuma Gold/Damned Hot Day of Fire. In Fort Yuma Gold, after the end of the Civil War, the fanatic Southern Major Sanders continues to fight and plans to attack Fort Yuma, home to a gold reserve. A captured Confederate soldier agrees to lead Union solders to stop Sanders, but their real mission and the charms of the beautiful Connie Breastfull complicate the situation. In Damned Hot Day of Fire, the creator of the Gatling gun, which his famous invention, has been kidnapped and is being held from the Union for a million dollar ransom. Captain Chris Tanner must find and stop the villainous Tarpas before he falls into the hands of the Confederates.

Also due March 12 is the drama Unbridled on DVD and digital. Sarah thinks she is beyond redemption and unworthy of love and is sent away from the house that defined her horrors to a place where she is not the only victim, or the only one fighting to get her life back, a ranch called Unbridled. At Unbridled, Sarah meets Dreamer, a horse who has also suffered abuse, a horse who no longer trusts humans — until he meets Sarah.

The drama double feature Footprints/Friends for Live is coming March 12 on Blu-ray, DVD and digital (combo). Footprints is based on the true story of a man who finds the healing power of love only after he loses everything, a dog who learns to trust and serve after being abused and discarded, and a journey the two of them take. In Friends for Life, big city attorney Jim Crawford had won most of the battles in his life, but he couldn’t win the battle against his wife’s illness. An unexpected twist of fate leads Jim to discover four orphaned wolf pups who face certain death unless he takes them in.

Finally, March 12 come two faith documentaries.

Ancient Secrets of the Bible — The Complete Series is coming on DVD and digital. The 39-episode series, shot on location in five countries and in more than 80 U.S. cities, features re-creations, expert testimony, biblical evidence and scientific experiments to explore biblical questions such as, “Did Adam and Eve really exist and where was the Garden of Eden?”.

Also coming on DVD and digital March 12 is Miracles — The Power of Faith, a four-part documentary series that explores and investigates miracles through interviews with theologians, historians, experts, witnesses, and visits to the locations where it is believed some of the most beautiful and profound miracles occurred.

Four ‘Nova’ Programs Coming to DVD and Digital in January From PBS

Four “Nova” programs are coming to DVD and digital from PBS Distribution in January: Addiction, Volatile Earth: Volcano on the Brink, Flying Supersonic and World’s Fastest Animal.

Nova: Addiction, coming Jan. 8, follows three addicts as they deal with their opioid addictions. The program follows the family of two brothers from West Virginia devastated by the opioid crisis, a woman with a genetic vulnerability to addiction, and a man who used drugs to deal with the stress of prison. The program also explores how to best address the problem from advances in neuroscience to the development of evidence-based treatments to the rethinking of drug laws and policies.

Also due Jan. 8 is Nova: Volatile Earth: Volcano on the Brink, a two-part series on two of the worlds’ most active and mysterious volcanoes in Africa: Nyiragongo and Nyamuragira. Nyiragongo, located on the East African rift in the Virunga Mountains, looms over the city of Goma, home to nearly 1 million people. Nyiragongo’s cones conceal a mile-wide crater that encircles a lava lake bubbling at nearly 1,000° F. It has been a difficult volcano to study due to the long-running war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. NOVA joined an international team of volcanologists on a risky climb to Nyiragongo’s summit and down into its crater to deploy sensors and monitor the volcano’s activity. In part two of the series, a team of volcanologists explores another volcano in the Virunga Mountains in central Africa: Nyamuragira. During a brief pause in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s war, they fly by helicopter to the summit to investigate its secrets.

Nova: Flying Supersonic, coming Jan. 15, puts viewers in the middle of the historic international race to develop the world’s first supersonic airliner, the Concorde, 15 years after the final flight. Viewers go beyond the glamour of jet setting at Mach 2 (twice the speed of sound) and learn about the scientific innovations and political intrigue that helped create the plane. The program also looks to the future and how a new generation of innovators, NASA scientists and others are trying to launch a new era of supersonic passenger planes and travel.

Nova: World’s Fastest Animal, coming Jan. 29, follows the peregrine falcon, the fastest animal in the world, reaching diving speeds of 200 miles per hour — three times the speed of a sprinting cheetah. Though the species nearly went extinct in the 1970s due to the insecticide DDT, the peregrine falcon is now one the most widespread predators on Earth, living on every continent except Antarctica.

A Beautiful Planet

A Beautiful Planet presents not only a portrait of the planet Earth using the breathtaking photography typical of Imax large-format cameras, but is also a terrific glimpse at life aboard the International Space Station, which is not necessarily as glamorous as the simplified depictions of science-fiction.

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Mill Creek;
Documentary;
Box Office $15.38 million;
$34.99 UHD/BD combo;
Not rated.
Narrated by Jennifer Lawrence.

The breathtaking 2016 Imax documentary A Beautiful Planet was filmed over the course of 15 months by several crews on the International Space Station.

In 45 minutes, the movie presents a pretty good idea of what it’s like to move around the space station and gaze upon the ever-changing landscapes of the Earth as it passes below.

While the title speaks to the amazing photography of the Earth that’s on display, a significant portion of the movie is devoted to glimpses at life on the space station.

In contrast to the typical science-fiction vision of clean, roomy decks, labs and hallways, the International Space Station is a crammed maze of modules Frankensteined out of the technologies of the various participating nations for the past two decade. The corridors are so cluttered that equipment that isn’t stored in its assigned place could disappear for weeks.

The movie depicts the arrival of new crews and the departure of the crews they replace, plus the adjustment to the daily routines of life on board. This includes giving each other haircuts, hours of daily exercise to prevent muscle atrophy in microgravity, and celebrating Christmas by leaving milk and cookies for Santa in the airlock.

The crews feature astronauts from the United States, Russia, Italy, Japan and more, coming together in the spirit of international cooperation and forming a tight bond almost as if they’re away at summer camp.

Actress Jennifer Lawrence most of the general happenings with her narration, but much of the description of station life comes from voiceovers from the astronauts themselves.

One of the common themes is how remarkably different Earth can look depending on the ecosystem, weather and time of day, but all the views are generally stunning. The film covers drought conditions in California, the flashes of lightning in heavily clouded storms, and the glow of city lights at night, which the astronauts remark is often the only visual evidence of civilization when observing the planet from orbit.

The fidelity of the Imax large-format framing is well preserved in the crisp rendering of ultra high-definition, which really pops with the snow-covered whites of the arctic and the vibrant blues of the tropics.

The 4K Blu-ray combo pack includes three bonus featurettes covering the production of the film.

The two-and-a-half-minute “An Extraordinary Vision” is a general behind-the-scenes view with filmmaker interviews. “Imax: Meet the Filmmakers” is a three-minute clip that focuses on training the astronauts to use the special Imax cameras. And “ADP Computing” is a two-and-a-half-minute profile of the visual effects team that enhanced some of the transition shots by creating a VR layout of the universe using actual data of the locations of stars and other stellar phenomena.

A Beautiful Planet

 

Hollywood Doc ‘Becoming Iconic: Jonathan Baker’ Due on Digital and DVD Dec. 4 From Random Media

The Hollywood documentary Becoming Iconic: Jonathan Baker will come out on digital, DVD and VOD from Random Media Dec. 4.

Featuring some of the industry’s most iconic filmmakers, including Jodie Foster, Taylor Hackford, Adrian Lyne and John Badham, the film explores the process of directing a big-budget feature, from the ground up, through the eyes of top directors as they tell their own stories.  The documentary, directed by Neal Thibedeau, was created in tandem with Baker’s preparation for and production of his own directorial debut, Inconceivable, starring Nicolas Cage, Gina Gershon and Faye Dunaway. The documentary chronicles the “first time” stories of these celebrated directors, combined with the story of Baker’s dream of making it big in Hollywood, and it includes stories on topics ranging from the pressures of financing and working with top talent, to the ultimate challenge of making sure to stay true to the film’s vision.

See the trailer here.

‘Neaderthal,’ ‘Nova: Transplanting Hope’ Coming to DVD in December From PBS

The two-part series Neanderthal and Nova: Transplanting Hope will come out on DVD from PBS Distribution Dec. 18.

Neanderthal, available now for download on iTunes and Amazon Prime Video, raises new questions about our ancient ancestors and reveals misperceptions about who they really were. With host Ella Al-Shamahi, a Neanderthal researcher, and Hollywood actor Andy Serkis (“Lord of the Rings”, Black Panther), “Ned” the Neanderthal is brought back to life in the form of a 3-D computer generated avatar, showing that the forerunners to modern man were not knuckle dragging ape-men that were inferior to us.

In Part One, viewers get a glimpse into the physical appearance of the Neanderthal, and how they survived during the Ice Age. In Andy Serkis’s studio, a group of experts from all over the world on the cutting edge of Neanderthal research gather to help him translate the very latest Neanderthal science into digital design. Al-Shamahi also gathers evidence by pursuing leads across the globe, meeting leading experts in their labs and at significant sites of Neanderthal discovery, from Iraqi Kurdistan to Gibraltar. Her investigations reveal how Neanderthals were capable of speech, abstract thinking, technological innovation and social intelligence.

Part Two of the program delves deeper into the fate of the Neanderthal. After living and thriving across Europe for approximately 400,000 years, they disappeared. Al-Shamahi and Serkis explore the mystery of why they became extinct and how they live inside all of us today. The two examine a skeleton found in Iraq years ago known as Shanidar-3, which provides clues that may offer answers as to how the Neanderthal became extinct. The team works to discover whether the perpetrator was another Neanderthal — or a modern human.

Also due on DVD Dec. 18 from PBS is Nova: Transplanting Hope, which documents the hope and agony involved in organ donation — from the perspective of those who need, those who give, and those who assign. Every 10 minutes, another person in the United States is added to the waiting list for an organ transplant, joining more than 100,000 others, and a dire shortage of organs means every opportunity for a transplant has to count. With extraordinary access to patients and transplant teams, viewers witness the emotional, high-stakes process of transferring organs from donors to recipients.

The program also follows researchers pushing the boundaries of medicine in an effort to beat the odds, including their efforts to understand organ rejection, discover ways to keep organs alive outside the body, and even grow ‘bio-artificial’ organs with stem cells.

In addition, the program takes viewers into the operating room to get a first-hand look at how organs are transplanted.

‘Frontline: Trump’s Showdown’ Coming to DVD Dec. 11 From PBS Distribution

Frontline: Trump’s Showdown will come out on DVD ($24.99) Dec. 11 from PBS Distribution.

The program is currently available for download from iTunes.

The program begins with the president elect’s meeting with the leaders of the intelligence community just before his inauguration. In the meeting, senior officials warned Trump that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. At the end of the meeting, FBI Director James Comey privately shared with Trump details of a secret “dossier” of unverified and potentially compromising material — an encounter the president would come to see as a “shakedown” (according to J.D. Gordon, one of Trump’s closest campaign advisers).

The program draws on more than 60 interviews with former leaders of U.S. intelligence agencies, Trump advisors, attorneys, authors, and journalists. It includes thousands of photographs and hundreds of hours of archival footage.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Universal;
Documentary;
Box Office $22.53 million;
$29.98 DVD, $21.98 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for some thematic elements and language.

Two questions come to mind while watching Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, documentarian Morgan Neville’s captivating profile of children’s TV icon Fred Rogers.

The first is, how would Mister Rogers have been perceived had his show been developed during the Internet era?

And the second — how has Jim Parsons not yet been tapped to play him in a biopic?

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? delves deeply into Rogers’ upbringing, growing up to become an ordained minister with an interest in child development and turning that expertise into the popular “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” in the 1960s, eventually ending up as a staple of the nascent Public Broadcasting Company.

The film touches upon the inevitable questions about his sexuality (he wasn’t gay) and several urban legends (he didn’t serve in the military). It also delves a bit into questions that arose well after Rogers’ 2003 death from stomach cancer about whether his message that every kid is special in their own way may have given millennials an unrealistic sense of entitlement (mostly laughing off such suggestions).

In regards to the first question, then, there’s certainly enough to suggest that the sincerity of Mister Rogers’ message would be a calming salve in today’s raucous culture, even if the sincerity of his personality might not fly in the overly cautious attitudes of modern times. Thinking of how much times have certainly changed since the early days of PBS, I’m reminded of how the first episode of “Sesame Street” begins with a little girl who just moved in being invited by a strange man to come to his house for milk and cookies. Simpler times, indeed.

Mister Rogers, of course, was never afraid to introduce children to controversial ideas. He just had a more subtle way of going about it, such as striking up a friendship with a black police officer as a message of equality during a turbulent time for civil rights. Sometimes he was less subtle, as when he presented a special episode to help kids cope with the assassination of Bobby Kennedy.

A healthy dose of clips from the show turns the nostalgia factor up to 11, supplemented with fresh interviews with Rogers’ loved ones — including his widow, sister and sons — and some of the key performers on the show. Mister Rogers also gets a chance to speak for himself thanks to some expertly chosen archive footage.

Through emotionally charged reflections, several of the participants look back on the elements of Rogers’ life that influenced the show, particularly in regards to the puppets that populate the Land of Make-Believe.

Naturally, there’s also a segment devoted to Rogers’ famous testimony in support of funding for PBS in front of a Senate committee that was looking to slash the budget. Neville lets the scene play out, as the nervous Rogers spends just a few minutes explaining how programming that treats children with respect while demonstrating the key lessons of life can be beneficial to their upbringing, and using his soft-spoken sincerity to turn the hardened committee chairman into a supporter of the cause as he declares, “I think it’s wonderful. Looks like you just earned the $20 million.”

All in all, it’s a fascinating glimpse into a man who was much more complicated than who he appeared to be on screen.

As to that second question, well, Tom Hanks is slated to play Rogers in an upcoming film called You Are My Friend. Not a bad choice to go with the guy who played Walt Disney.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? serves as a good companion to PBS’s recent 50th anniversary Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood: It’s a Beautiful Day Collection DVD compilation of some of the show’s classic episodes. Otherwise, the Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Blu-ray and DVD include no bonus materials.