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September 2019

THE BLACK STRING: Speaking with Director Brian Hanson

Brian Hanson

Jeri Jacquin

Coming to the GI Film Festival San Diego this Friday and being released soon on DVD from Lionsgate and director Brian Hanson is the psychological thriller THE BLACK STRING.

Jonathan (Frankie Muniz) is a lonely young man who works in a convenience store. He is avoiding his parents and often takes advice from friend Eric (Blake Webb) on how to get out into the world. One night at home he sees a commercial for companionship and is drawn to call. The next night he has a blind date with Dena (Chelsea Edmundson) who rushes Jonathan into spending the night.

The next morning Dena is gone but leaves behind a mysterious rash and Jonathan is instantly freaked out. If that isn’t enough, he starts experiencing strange disturbances that turn into actions he knows are caused by whatever is eating at him. Looking for answers, Eric and his parents decide he is detached from reality and so the fight begins to prove what he knows is true with the forces that are pushing everyone away.

Turning to a woman named Melinda (Mary K. DeVault) for help, she tries to guide him before turning back is no longer an option. Explaining that she knows exactly what he is going through, the process is painful, terrorizing and one that begs the question of who is responsible and how can they be stopped!

THE BLACK STRING has nominations for Frankie Muniz for Best Actor and is showing as its San Diego Premier. In attendance is the director Brian Hanson. Director Hanson, currently in Los Angeles, has a connection to San Diego and now the GI Film Festival. The writer/director Brian Hanson served in the US Army with the 75th Ranger Regiment deployed several times to Afghanistan. He volunteers with Veterans in Media & Entertainment (VME) and grew up in Escondido studying film at Palomar College and SDSU.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Brian Hanson about how the film story came to be and what it took to get the right locations, cinematography and cast to bring THE BLACK STRING to fruition.

Jeri Jacquin: Thank you for taking the time to talk to me today Brian.

Brian Hanson: Of course, thank you as well.

JJ: I’m excited to see you at the film festival.

BH: I know, it’s going to be great.

JJ: I talked to Frankie and he had nothing but high praise for you.

BH: Thank you Frankie.

JJ: I will ask you what I asked him with how did you get involved with the project? This is a very unusual project.

BH: I got involved because about 10 years ago I was a film school grad bartending. I am originally from San Diego and came up to Cal State Northridge. Film is my thing and my buddy Andy (Warrener) was also a bartender. We conceived of this idea of a guy, we know we wanted it to be a horror movie and we love psychological thrillers first of all. We wanted it to be like a JACOBS LADDER (1990) where you never know if it’s in the guy’s head and we wanted to set it up in a San Diego suburb, a southern California suburb where this guy just never left town. This guy is full of potential but he was never able to leave. That’s the drama side of it. On the occult side of it we wanted this mysterious neighbor, going on a blind date and the woman disappears and he goes on a search for this girl. So half of it mental illness and is it all in his head or is the cult responsible. Andy and I wrote a forty page thing but we weren’t able to actually make it. He started a family in Florida and I joined the Army. Cut to four years later when I got out and I used the GI Bill to go to Mount Saint Mary and that program where I met Rich Handley (co-writer of THE BLACK STRING). I told him the story and he said instead of making a short graduate thesis, why don’t we make a feature film and I loved the idea of THE BLACK STRING. One other person jumping in on a project made me realize we might have something here. It started with Rich Handley writing with me and from there we were fully committed to starting an LLC and added forty more pages to the script and it just grew from there. It all happened pretty quickly from there believe it or not.

JJ: We were also talking about how making these films there is a budget and you have to make due with the funding you have. Frankie was saying, and I agree with him after seeing the film, it doesn’t look like a struggling budget.

BH: We were proud with what we were able to pull off. I worked at a production company while I was in school called Vega Baby and they did a small horror film and I got to see how they spent their money. I saw how a microbudget produced something like GURU so I really understood that when making a film on a lower budget you really have to use what is around you. An example is locations that you can’t pay for and it’s amazing because things like that are donated, friends’ houses, our university, Mount Saint Mary’s, played host to the mental institution scenes. There were a few locations where we got a student discount as part of our thesis project. The actors are all great actors that have that face, that presence on camera and then of course the cinematography – if we had to pay market value for everything, including Frankie and Oded Fehr (THE MUMMY and RESIDENT EVIL), it would never have happened. Everyone involved came in for a day rate or just contributed their gear or location, it was amazing. We had 10 to 20 years of favors and karma on this one, we cashed it all in.

JJ: You mentioned Frankie and Oded, first of all it freaked me out to see him on the screen. Getting Frankie is so fantastic, how did you make that happen?

BH: That is a great question because we never in a million years have dreamed when Andy and I were writing this as bartenders and Rich in film school would have thought Frankie Muniz would be part of this project. We went through a casting director, usually we do it ourselves but this time we knew we needed help. Jeremy Gordon, a casting director, gave us a lot of great people for all rolls. After two weeks of auditions we were about to cast the lead role of Jonathan and that day Jeremy called and said stop the presses and hear me out. He said he got a name that just came through and was interested in the script. Then he said the name Frankie Muniz and we had the same reaction you just did. We thought, ‘What? Where has that guy been?’. I mean I knew he had been racing cars and such.

JJ: I know, he’s been so busy with his music and the business with his partner as well.

BH: Yes, exactly. I mean way out of left field. We had really been searching for an actor to play Jonathan. We slammed on the brakes and brought Frankie in from Arizona to read and he auditioned and seeing him after only having the script for one day we had to see him again. He came in the second time and knocked it out of the park even more. We had to shift our thinking and Frankie brought a unique dynamic. I mean everyone grew up with him from Malcom in the Middle and what a difference. He is taken this really bizarre against type and it added so much to who Frankie is. This is like if Malcom didn’t go off to college and stayed in town and his dad became a meth dealer – it’s like Frankie’s Breaking Bad.

JJ: My daughter Jenise knew I was speaking to Frankie and she was so thrilled because she loved him in Malcom in the Middle, after seeing THE BLACK STRING she can’t believe how different this is for him. Of course I agree, it is disturbingly awesome.

BH: That’s so awesome.

JJ: I don’t know who else you could have chosen for Jonathan.

BH: Yes, it’s his movie now. I make this sports analogy that if you are a coach and you have this athlete, you have to let them shine with what they are good at. We thought Jonathan would be more quiet but Frankie has this charisma and energy and we had to let that shine. He made Jonathan a much more dynamic character than we expected. Let’s not forget the raw talent as an actor.

JJ: Another character that just held my attention was Homeless Mike.

BH: Yes

JJ: The whole time I was watching, the first time I saw his face in the window. Frankie and Homeless Mike could be related. That expression of terror for Homeless Mike and as Frankie’s character develops gets that same look.

BH: I’m so glad you caught that. We really worked hard to match that and glad you noticed it.

JJ: It is an interesting arc because first of all who you cast as Homeless Mike was perfect. It wasn’t about anything he said but his reaction to things. As the film went on I saw Jonathan’s character mirror that. By the way, watching THE BLACK STRING in the dark? Yea. Where did the character of Homeless Mike come from?

BH: Again that the addiction and mental illness aspect of the film. There is this real sinister and evil occult force and Homeless Mike is a harbinger and a shadow of like Christmas Carol. This is where you might go and where you end up if you stay on the path. Jonathan is trying to be a better guy because he has these issues but Homeless Mike – is he really there or is he a figment of Jonathan’s mind.

JJ: He isn’t front and center and in your face, more subtle.

BH: In editing, we tried to cut out Homeless Mike but in the end we wanted to do what we wanted and went for it. It’s a simple movie but we wanted to fill it with things to really think about. Maybe in future movies we might not be able to do that. Sievers is Homeless Mike and he had two or three scenes but he could have been on a poster. He encapsulates much of the movie with his face in the window.

JJ: Who’s mind came up with the black string? Its horrifying!

BH: It’s the body horror element, we wondered what could be worse. It’s like ‘should I go to the hospital’? It’s like a nightmare and things we have experienced watching other films but it’s really disgusting, insidious and revolting when something like that is in your body.

JJ: Yes, you guys didn’t just stop at pulling it out – you went further and it freaked me out!

BH: I think there is something about being pierced that is very, very horrifying. When you brush up against a cactus you get those things stuck on your skin digging into you and its strange. If it was a cut its okay but something very sinister when things are sticking out of your body. We decided to take it to the max.

JJ: And you did because you get a sliver in your finger all you want to do is get it out. This makes a sliver look like nothing.

BH: Exactly, and with Jonathan there is addiction and mental illness and also this thing called Morgellons Syndrome. It’s about people that believe they have parasites in their skin and the doctors tell them it’s not there. People believe they have something implanted in them and they have to dig it out. It’s a condition that goes a lot with addicts or mental illness with the idea there is something in you and you have to get it out.

JJ: I watched the string scene and its one of the big fears is knowing that one minute it’s there and one minute it’s not but even worse feeling like something bigger is coming and what could be bigger than what Jonathan is doing pulling the string.

BH: Right.

JJ: The ending is so shocking as well. He is trying to tell everyone through the whole film what is happening. Even his parents treat him like a kid and want to send him to his room. He keeps fighting and fighting and then have the ending happen.

BH: Again, that’s a great observation and something we worked hard on. I won’t reveal any spoilers but it’s the H.P. Lovecraftian kind of horror. It is a simple man or woman trying to fight forces that are so super naturally beyond them so how can they possibly fight against something like that.

JJ: Especially when you already have labels attached like Jonathan of being dissociative or mental problems. When he’s arguing with his parent I just yelled at the screen, ‘shut up and listen to what he is telling you!’

BH: Right. That was kind of a hint of what is happening to him. Using the words occult, curse, entity – the fact that you are even saying those words, no one in their right mind is going to believe you. That’s the situation we wanted to explore like with the psychic, there is nobody that Jonathan can go to because it sounds so implausible that no one is going to believe anything he says. It’s very frightening because there are people who experience things like that. There is a lot of homelessness on the streets and they often are shouting and screaming at the sky. It makes you wonder what is going on in their minds. In the case of our movie you have to wonder what if something is actually happening?

JJ: I was telling Frankie that in the movie ALWAYS there is a scene where Richard Dreyfus who is a ‘ghost’ is trying to tell a young pilot something. There is this homeless guy in the desert who repeats what he says and the pilot is freaked out. Dreyfus says something to the effect of who knows about these guys, maybe they have an antenna to something the rest of us don’t hear or understand. I felt like that’s how it was for Jonathan.

BH: Exactly!

JJ: We could go on for hours so I’m going to ask you the final question. What do you hope people take away from seeing THE BLACK STRING?

BH: Number one, talking about it, debating it with friends and family after they see the movie. Two people can see the film and have a very different opinion about the outcome. We wanted to stir conversation. We pitted hard science and medicine if you were doctors this supernatural world and this interdimensional occult forces. We wanted to slam those two opposing worlds together. The movie starts inspired by sleep paralysis which is horrifying experience. It makes you think other things in this world are out there but then science explains it. We really just wanted a character that was stuck right in the middle of that. Maybe a couple will chat about it and talk about other possibilities. Science can explain a lot but are there other explanations. Whether there are or there aren’t it’s fun to talk about, especially late at night. When I was in the Army I really learned that my Ranger buddies in Afghanistan were entertained by 90 minutes of a film. It was escapism and I hope that people have 90 minutes of going to a place that is thought provoking and enjoy it.

JJ: As a Mom of servicemen I want to thank you for your service. I was reading your bio and you have set the standard high in a lot of ways and I appreciate that about you. I appreciate all the service members involved in bringing this movie together. I hope you get a chance at the GI Film Festival to talk with the audience one on one to hear your perspective. I want to thank you for that.

It is always a joy to talk to the director of a film and it is even more of a joy to speak with a military Veteran who has served his country and then followed his dream. Making a film is a difficult and sometimes a lengthy process but Brian and everyone involved in THE BLACK STRING should be very proud of what they accomplished.

THE BLACK STRING is a psychological thriller filled with twists and turns. It is also a film that constantly causes us to join the ride with the character of Jonathan in the quest to discover what is real and what is something – else!

This Friday at MOPA in Balboa Park is the GI Film Festival San Diego’s screening of THE BLACK STRING. Director Brian Hanson will be attending to answer all the questions that maybe I didn’t get to ask because, and trust me on this one, there are so many more to be asked.

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ABOMINABLE Brings Heart and Music

 

Abominable cover

Jeri Jacquin

Coming to theatres this Friday from writer/director Jill Culton, Todd Wilderman and DreamWorks Animation comes the story of loss, love and friendship with ABOMINABLE.

Yi (Chloe Bennet) is a young girl with big dreams. After the loss of her violinist father, all Yi wants to do is take a special trip on her own. Worried is Grandmother Nai Nai (Tsai Chin) and Mom (Michelle Wong) who notice that Yi is constantly disappearing all day. Also noticing is young Peng (Albert Tsai) but all he wants is to be a famous basketball player while brother Jin (Tenzing Trainor) is into shoes, perfect hair and social media. All Yi wants to do is work hard, save money and spend time up on the roof.

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What she doesn’t expect is to find an injured Yeti in her special place! Figuring out that the helicopters flying over the city are looking for the Yeti, Yi deciphers that he is only wanting to get home. Looking for him is Mr. Burnish (Eddie Izzard) who plans to showcase the Yeti and Dr. Zara (Sarah Paulson) who wants to save the species. Peng and Jin discover what Yi has been hiding and alert Burnishs’ henchmen starting a chase through the city.

Finding a way out of the city unnoticed, Yi names her new furry friend Everest and is joined by a thrilled Peng and a begrudging Jin. Their journey on foot is long as they make their way to Mt. Everest believed to be his home.

On their way Yi and Jin become reacquainted while Peng and Everest are having the time of their lives. Unfortunately they are being followed by Burnish and Dr. Zara which brings about a made chase.

That doesn’t stop Yi, Jin, and Peng from their goal – get to the bridge that leads Everest home!

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Bennet as Yi is a young girl trying to fill a space in her life by staying busy and trying to find what will bring her joy again. Playing the violin brings her closer to the father she misses dearly. Finding Everest, although frightening in the beginning, starts to understand and care deeply for his life. Wong as Yi’s Mother can feel the distancing and doesn’t know how to help her daughter. The winner here is Nai Nai, she is straight forward, has the most hilarious answers and makes awesome looking pork buns (which would make the Kung Fu Panda drool).

Trainor as Jin is a young man who is doing exactly what it seems all young people are doing. Making sure the shoes and hair are perfect and his social media likes are on point. He doesn’t have time for his brother and he pretends not to notice how Yi is behaving. Tsai as Peng is absolutely hilarious! He is forgiving of those who ignore him, he is fun and has big dreams and a perfect playmate for Everest.

Paulson as Dr. Zara is on the run trying to find Everest before he disappears back into the mountains. She has an agenda and won’t stop until she gets the Yeti back where she thinks he belongs. Izzard as Burnish was an explorer in his younger days and finding Everest is the highlight of his life. He isn’t about to back down and brings out every piece of technology he has to find the Yeti.

DreamWorks has done it again with ABOMINABLE with a storyline that is charming, characters that are relatable and a Yeti that has a big personality to make his size. Now that being said, I can tell that there is a little bit of HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON in here. Everest has Toothless’ eyes and charm which is why he is going to be a winner. I don’t mind that Everest looks like Toothless because I am a huge fan (check out my desk if you don’t believe me and you’ll find a few Toothless items).

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ABOMINABLE is filled with everyone we have come to love about animated films in the past few years. The story is endearing, the characters are embraceable and, in the case of Everest, huggable with a film full of ‘awwwwwww’s. The animation is brilliantly colorful and the music, especially the violin piece, is so lovely.

It is a beautiful film filled with themes of family, friendships, loyalty and remembering that doing the right thing means going all in to make that right thing happen. The friendship between Yi and Everest is so meaningful. The friendship between Everest and Peng had me laughing so much and shows everyone the power of fun in a life that seems so serious.

This is the film that deserves a family outing including popcorn, red vines and a bit of a cuddle during the film. It is a family film that reaches every age group and goes straight to the heart and tear ducts. What’s more, everyone is going to want an Everest of their own – I wouldn’t mind it!

In the end – find your way home!

TAKE ME HOME HUEY Tells the Story of Healing

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Jeri Jacquin

The opening film at MOPA in Balboa Park in San Diego this week at the GI Film Festival from directors Alicia Brauns, Christine Steele, PBS SoCal and Light Horse Legacy is the documentary TAKE ME HOME HUEY.

In 1969, a medivac helicopter known as Huey #174 was shot down in Binh Long province of Vietnam killing two crew members. In 2013, Dave Barron rescued the helicopter and artist Steve Maloney decides to make it a healing work of art. Beginning with restoring the weakened metal, people began coming in to be a part of the restoration. That led to the task of finding out about the crew that flew Huey #174 and what happened to them since the crash.

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Artist Steve Maloney literally came on board taking Huey #174 from damaged piece of metal to a way for those who survived the crash and the families of the two crew who died to help heal. Each of the crew came to see Huey #174 but it didn’t happen easily. They had to consider what they went through as young men and what they are still going through to this very day. Each man admitting that they were struggling with PTSD.

PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is defined as ‘a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident or sexual assault’. Veterans from every war has brought home soldiers that had a difficult time fitting back into the lives they left behind. Not speaking about their experiences brought about drug use, alcoholism, inability to handle family life and so much more.

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As each of the men came to see their helicopter, the sense of panic slowly faded away watching their craft come to life in a unique way. Maloney covered the craft with imagery that the men clearly understood, and paid homage to the two crew that did not come home. Inside the helicopter in the installation of art Maloney created from the original parts from wires to instruments. Also inside is a time capsule installed that offered an opportunity for each to put in something in that brought their experience with their reimagined helicopter back in a way that brought them something indescribable.

Karl Renz, Paul Battaglia, Jerry McNelly and Steve Maloney were on hand when the lights came on in the theater to a round of applause. Each person in the room was clearly moved by the story and thrilled to have the opportunity to hear directly from these men who have made a greater impact for veterans. To learn more about the film please visit www.takemehomehuey.org.

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The GI Film Festival San Diego opened with TAKE ME HOME HUEY laying the course for the rest of the films that will be showing until Sunday. Until Friday, the films will be at MOPA (Museum of Photographic Arts) in Balboa Park and for Saturday and Sunday the films will be at UltraStar Cinemas at Hazard Center.

For the schedule please visit www.gifilmfestivalsd.org.

SHOUT! Factory Kids Delights with PRINCESS EMMY

Princess Emmy DVD

 

Jeri Jacquin

Coming to DVD from SHOUT! FACTORY Kids and director Piet De Rycker is the animated tale of a girl and her horse also known as PRINCESS EMMY.

Once a Princess named Carlotta after an accident, awoke to find she had the ability to talk to horses. Writing it all down in a book, the Princess also gave a warning that what she has written in a book was not to ever leave the castle.

Princess Emmy (Ruby Barnhill) rides her friend Caesar (Joel Fry) and all her horse friends. Laughing and talking together, they play games and enjoy each other’s company. What Princess Emmy doesn’t know is that a parchment written by Princess Carlotta has been taken to the wind. It has found its way back into Emmy’s hands and strange things begin to happen.

A door opens leading her to a chamber where Princess Carlotta announces that she will be put to the test. Putting the parchment back in the book, a map reveals where she needs to go. Brother Moritz (Euan Mitchell) teases and parents are excited about the Princess Day Ball and Emmy loves the dress she will be wearing.

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Emmy is excited but also nervous that she must pass another test as if she isn’t busy enough. Running out of the castle, Princess Emmy gathers Caesar and the rest of the horses to follow the map. The path up the mountain brings them to a beautiful spot of waterfalls and a tower that asks her the question, ‘are you worthy of the gift?’.

Cesar reminds Emmy that she must return home and what’s waiting for her there is her cousin Princess Gizana (Bella Ramsey). Clearly the two don’t get along and Princess Emmy talks with friend David (Nathan Mack) that passing any test might be harder than she thought.

Princess Emmy must take care of the precious book without Gizana finding out what is happening, making time for princess training and discovering the secrets of the castle and all while spending time with her four footed friends.

It’s the life of a very special Princess!

Other cast include Vari Sylvester as Marie, James Pearson as Donny, Steven McNicholl as Vincenzo Massimo Cerimonata, Tim McInnerny as Gregorius the Ghost, Robert Jack as Sebastian April, Michael Daviot as Xaver, Al Hawkinson as Paul, Clare Waugh as Fionnuala Bloom, Gabriel Quigley as Frau Zwickelmeier, John Hannah as King Karl and Franka Potente as Queen Karla.

SHOUT! Factory has grown into a tremendous multi-platform media company. Releasing new animated features such as the exquisite Long Way North, and the epic fantasy Beauty And The Beast. Also their own original horror film, Fender Bender gives fans a good scare. For more of what SHOUT Factor has to offer please visit www.shoutfactory.com.

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PRINCESS EMMY is produced by Studio 100 Media (Germany) and co-produced with Talking Horse (UK) and Witebox (Belgium).

PRINCESS EMMY is a delightful story with themes of a young girl discovering what she is truly capable of. Yes, she might be a Princess but she is actually more of a young girl finding her place in her world of horses and family. Of course in the story is also family not getting along so much but they will find their way as family often does.

The film is colorful, fun, full of magic, a little chaos and secrets that waited a long time to find its way to the right person. Watching it with my granddaughter we laughed, were very surprised and loved the way the story was told. That’s what is important to me, being able to watch a film with my family and both of us enjoying it so very much.

In the end – it is all about her secret gift!

50 YEARS AND COUNTING Brings What We Love About Sesame Street

 

Fifty Years Cover

Jeri Jacquin

Coming to a 2-disc DVD set from the Sesame Street Workshop and SHOUT! Factory Kids is an amazing journey down the road of SESAME STREET 50 YEARS AND COUNTING.

Grover starts everything off with a song and dance of Fuzzy & Blue but that isn’t the only bit of fun because there is always Singing in the Weather! Ernie and Elmo spend fun time introducing us all to our faces.

Cookie Monster becomes the Cookie Rabbit and teaching us all about the letter C. Big Bird sings the iconic and memorable song Somebody Come and Play (and I still know the words!). Kermit the Frog joins the fun and gives clues as to what is in the mystery box. The Count is introduced with his own counting song!

We are introduced to the people in the Sesame Street neighborhood. There is the amazing story of pie and Upside Down Abbey. Biscotti Karate teaches Cookie Monster how to listen and his fun rendition of Hey Food with his mop top friends.

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On the second disc, Snuffleupagus and Big Bird get together as the big yellow feathered friend encourages his friend to put on his running shoes and do a marathon. While visiting the grown up table, Big Bird hands out pictures of all his adult friends including Mr. Hooper and it is a lesson in death. They openly talk of good memories and all while letting sadness be okay and ‘just because’. It is the most moving episode I’ve ever seen of Sesame Street.

Olivia and Gordon and the rest of Sesame Street don’t believe Big Bird when he tells them of his friend. They keep referring to Snuffy as his imaginary friend but Big Bird has a plan to get them all to meet. Bird Bird and Elmo do their best to try and bring everyone together.

The Amazing Mumford is getting ready for the wedding of Maria and Luis helping everyone dress up for the day along with flowers, decorations and excitement. Everyone is dressed in their finery to help their friends celebrate love and their big day.

Bob’s brother Minneapolis, Bob and Big Bird talk about archaeology looking for things that are old and the Golden Cabbage of Snuffertitti! After telling the story they are all on the hunt for the prize. It’s an adventure into history and back again.

There is a big street celebration as a new playground makes so many people very happy. The Commission of Fun & Games stops the party because there hasn’t been a dedication ceremony and she’s upset. Everyone wants to hear the speech and convinced the Commissioner to do a ribbon cutting and give her announcement! Oscar the Grouch has an opinion about it all as well.

Abby, the fairy god-child, is the newest addition to Sesame Street as her fairy family has just moved in. Missing her friends, all she wants is new friends to keep from being lonely. Enter Snuffy and Big Bird who are more than happy to play with Abby inviting her to the games at Mr. Hooper’s store.  Enticing her with the song Everybody Needs a Friend song and dance.

 

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The Count von Count is attending the event The Nobel Prize for Counting and has won an award for the World’s Greatest Counter. The problem is that the Count is isn’t anywhere to be found and the people giving him the award aren’t very patient.

Elmo and Abby introduce Big Bird to their new friend Julia and they are on a painting spree with awesome pictures. Julia has autism but Big Bird doesn’t understand what that means. Elmo and Abby teach him that she is a lot of fun, she just does things in a different way but it makes her no less a good friend.

The special guests include Ricky Gervais, Sara Bareilles, Janelle Monae, Amy Poehler, Josh Groban, R.E.M., Patti LeBelle, Phil Donahue, Jose Ferrier, Solang, the delightful Madeline Kahn and the icon Jeff Goldblum.

SHOUT! Factory has grown into a tremendous multi-platform media company. Releasing new animated features such as the exquisite Long Way North, and the epic fantasy Beauty And The Beast. Also their own original horror film, Fender Bender gives fans a good scare. For more of what SHOUT Factor has to offer please visit www.shoutfactory.com.

Sesame Workshop is the nonprofit media and educational organization behind Sesame Street, the pioneering television show that has been reaching and teaching children since 1969. Today, Sesame Workshop is an innovative force for change with a mission to help kids everywhere grow smarter, stronger and kinder. We’re present in more than 150 countries, serving vulnerable children through a wide range of media, formal education, and philanthropically-funded social impact programs, each grounded in rigorous research and tailored to the needs and cultures of the communities they serve.

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SESAME STREET 50 YEARS AND COUNTING is not only a wonderful journey down the street but shows the progression of teaching children around the world. I remember introducing my own kids to the show and now they are doing the same with their own children.

It isn’t just a series that teaches letters and numbers although that is an amazing part of the series. Sesame Street teaches friendship, family, love, fun, new games, weddings and promises, death, songs, dancing, and all out joy of getting to know one another and making differences not so different after all and every bit of it with celebration.

Sesame Street has given generations a place to go that is safe, fun and speaks to us in a way that is comforting. In a world that is sometimes confusing and a bit scary, this is the one place we know may not have all the answers but talking it out means understanding and compassion. For more fun and learning please visit www.sesamestreet.org.

With five and a half hours of goodness along with never-before-seen outtakes with Jim Henson means this DVD is amazing look at five decades of one of the most beloved children series ever – that continues on today.

In the end – they will always tell you how to get to Sesame Street.

Time Life Brings a Box Set of ROCK & ROLL HALL OF FAME Concerts

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Jeri Jacquin

Time Life has always been ahead of the game when it comes to bringing back the music we have come to love and pass on to our own kids and grandkids. Now, they continue with their musical tradition of excellence bringing the best and amazing people who still rock in our hearts with ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME IN CONCERT: Encore, ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME: In Concert and THE 25TH ANNIVERSARY ROCK & ROLL HALL OF FAME CONCERTS on Bluray.

ROCK & ROLL IN CONCERT brings every year the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame honors those that have brought something stellar and amazing to Rock and Roll and music in general. In thirty years, the Hall of Fame has inducted those who have brought classy to classic rock from the 60s, 70s and 80s. These are the years that will never be again but thanks to Time Life we can once again experience some of those most touching moments and rock out to music that will never die!

At the 25th Annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony held at the Waldorf Astoria on March 16, 2010 in New York, the opening is a performance by Phish with Watcher of the Skies in tribute to Genesis. Trey Anastasio has the honors of inducting the group for their long contribution to music with Tony Banks, Phil Collins, Steve Hackett and Mike Rutherford accepting.

Billie Joe Armstrong inducts The Stooges and the memorable performance of their songs Search and Destroy as well as I Wanna Be Your Dog. Steven Van Zandt inducts The Hollies with Bernie Calvert, Allan Clarke, Eric Haydock, Graham Nash and Terry Sylvester. The musical performance includes Adam Levine and Paul Shaffer with Bus Stop, Carrie-Anne and Long Cool Woman (In a Black Dress) and the audience clearly loved it so much they sang along.

Paul Shaffer receives the 25 Years of Great Music Appreciation Award and it isn’t surprising that he would only surprising that it took 25 years.

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Barry Gibb and brother Robin take to the stage to induct Abba into the Hall of Fame with Benny Anderson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad accepting. Faith Hill takes the stage for her heart felt rendition of the classic Abba song The Winner Takes It All.

At the 26th Annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, the list of attendees is even bigger. Beginning with John Legend’s induction speech for the incomparable Dr. John, it is amazing to experience someone else’s feelings towards the amazing performer.

Bette Midler has a chance to take the stage with her speech for the induction of the well-deserved Darlene Love. Her speech about the career she has experienced was informative and long time in coming.

Growing up in this next inductees era, there was one song that rocked for years, oh let’s face it EVERY year around June when it was time to leave our books behind and enjoy the sun and beach. Rob Zombie inducts Alice Cooper which also gave me a thrill to see him perform the songs that kept me riveted for years with Eighteen, Under My Heels and, of course, the iconic anthem that is still played to School’s Out. The groups acceptance speech included Michael Bruce, Dennis Dunaway, Neal Smith and an endearing ‘thanks to my wife’, the irreplaceable Alice Cooper.

Neil Young inducts Tom Waits into the Hall of Fame and Waits comes to the stage with his unique voice thanking all he could and giving us a bit more of his humor as well. I have to say that although I am thrilled to say that I couldn’t get enough of Tom Waits through the years, I do enjoy his film roles as well. He continues to be unique both in front of a music crowd but a theatre screen as well.

Elton John comes to the podium and gives a riveting speech to induct Leon Russell into the Hall of Fame. Sharing his memories of when he met Russell, Elton also recalls the time he listened to Russell and broke down in sobs. Knowing it needed to happen, Elton embarked on a journey to make music with Russell. The speech about the inductee almost had me in tears as well.

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That is when the concert of a lifetime begins as Tom Waits and Dr. John along with Paul Shaffer and the Hall of Fame Orchestra perform the songs Make It Rain, Rain Dogs, House Where Nobody Lives, and Right Place Wrong Time. It is followed by Leon Russell singing out Delta Lady, A Song For You with an amazing performance with John Legend. Darlene Love is joined by another legend onstage as Bruce Springsteen is introduced to join her in a musical set. Love and Bette Midler take on (Today I Met) The Boy I’m Gonna Marry and He’s A Rebel.

The 27th Annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony held at the Public Hall in Cleveland, Ohio begins with a performance by Green Day singing Letterbomb and Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill inducting Freddie King into the hall of fame with a speech by Wanda King followed by a performance of the songs Hide Away and Going Down. John Mellencamp inducts Donovan next with a performance by the inductee of his songs Catch the Wind, Sunshine Superman and Season of the Witch.

Steven Van Zandt inducts Small Faces/Faces attended by Kenney Jones, Mollie Marriott (on behalf of Steve Marriott), Ian McLagan and Ron Wood. The band performs Ooh La La and Stay With Me. Chuck D and LL Cool J inducts the Beastie Boys with an acceptance speech by Michael “Mike D” Diamond and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz. The audience is treated to their songs No Sleep Till Brooklyn, So What ‘Cha Want and Sabotage.

Chris Rock gets his time to induct the Red Hot Chili Peppers and there to accept is Flea, Jack Irons, Anthony Kiedis, Josh Klinghoffer, Cliff Martinez, James Slovak (on behalf of Hillel Slovak) and Chad Smith. A performance of their songs By The Way, The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie and Give It Away had me hopping around the house a little (don’t tell anyone!).

The finale caps off the event with the Red Hot Chili Peppers with the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Jam Band with Higher Ground.

ROCK & ROLL IN CONCERT ENCORE is the 28th Annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles begins with Randy Newman, the beloved Tom Petty, John Fogerty and Jackson Browne doing the song that makes people everywhere wish they were there in I Love LA. Don Henley gives us a look at Newman’s musical history and what he has accomplished. Newman and Henley take the stage to rock a little with I’m Dead (But I Don’t Know It).

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John Mayer arrives onstage to induct Albert King to the Hall of Fame as Gary Clark Jr. performs Oh, Pretty Woman and is joined by Booker T. Jones and John Mayer for Born Under a Bad Sign. If you don’t know Albert Kings work, it is worth everything in your musical world to experience. The performance is stirring and filled with all the soul intended by Albert King the first time he played them. Born Under A Bad Sign performance is the reason we go to musical church time after time!

Chris Cornell inducts the band called Heart. The speeches include Michael DeRosier, Roger Fisher, Steve Fossen and Howard Leese. It is Ann and Nancy Wilson who prove that sisters can rock it like there is no music in the world. Their range and talent cannot be matched and I dare anyone to try because you can’t break sisters. As Ann Wilson said, they came at a time when there were only four career choices for women and being part of a rock band wasn’t one of them. Performing Crazy On You and Barracuda, they are joined by Jerry Cantrell, Chris Cornell and Mike McCready.

Oprah Winfrey inducts Quincy Jones into the Hall of Fame along with receiving the Ahmet Ertegun Award for Lifetime Achievement. Spike Lee and Harry Belefonte induct Public Enemy and the acceptance speeches include Chuck D, Flavor Flav, Terminator X and Professor Griff.

Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins induct the band Rush into the Hall of Fame as Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart take the stage. Along with Grohl and Hawkins, Rush gears up to play the final set with 2112: Overture, Tom Sawyer and The Spirit of Radio. Watching Rush play gives the feeling of being transported back to being at one of their concerts in the early days. This group has made its mark and is the epitome of the era of music.

The Bluray includes 44 iconic performances from 2010 to 2013 at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies. Four years induction on two brilliantly mastered discs reminds us all why we love our rock and roll as well as other genres of music that has endured. It is over 481 minutes of extensive inductions and musical performances.

The next amazing and brilliant Bluray reminding me why I live for music with ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME: In Concert.

This collection begins with the 29th Annual Induction Ceremony in 2014 with one of my favorite musicians Peter Gabriel who has given audiences some beautiful music through different genres. Starting with a speech by Chris Martin from Coldplay with a very funny biblical speech, it is Gabriel who reminds us that music moves us in ways that are unexplainable. He encourages musicians to be different and doesn’t forget to thank those who have allowed him to live his musical life. His performance with Chris Martin is stirring, heartfelt and personally brought a smile to my face. His finish of ‘In Your Eyes’ gave me a moment to remember my wedding day when the song played as I readied to walk down the aisle to marry my own Lloyd Dobler. Perfection!

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Simon Garfunkle shows up to tell the story of Cat Stevens and how he has affected lives welcoming the seeker into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Stevens comes to the stage and is forthcoming about his music and his life to the point of reminding us all what his music truly brought to the world. His rendition of ‘Father and Sons’ is just as moving today as it was the very first time I heard it. ‘Baby It’s a Wild World’ and ‘Peace Train’ is so emotional and the audience is completely mesmerized by this once in a lifetime performance.

Glenn Fry inducts Linda Rondstadt into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with Carrie Underwood, Bonnie Raitt and Emmy Lou Harris giving a performance of ‘Blue Bayou’. Cheryl Crow is added to the musical mix for the beloved song ‘You’re No Good’ with the final addition of Stevie Nicks to add her vocals to ‘It’s So Easy’ and ‘When Will I Be Loved?’

There are so many more on the first disc alone! Bruce Springsteen and his E Street gang as well as Michael Stipes inducting Nirvana to the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame. Joan Jett comes to the stage with Dave Grohl to rock and smash on the song ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth to grunge ‘Aneurysm’ and Lorde finishes with ‘All Apologies’. I have to say I was thrilled to see Dave Grohl back on the drums for Nirvana.

The 30th Annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame happened on April 18th, 2015 and Joan Jett & The Blackhearts are now taking the stage themselves to bring us ‘Bad Reputation’, one of my favorite songs ‘Crimson and Clover’ as Joan is joined by Miley Cyrus, Gary Ryan, Dave Grohl and the one and only Tommy James. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band brought out Zac Brown, Tom Morello, Jason Ricci and Paul Shaffer for ‘Born in Chicago’.

Stevie Wonder inducts Bill Withers as the two also share the stage for ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ and ‘Lean on Me’ along with John Legend. Green Day is inducted by Fall Out Boy as fans once again get to hear such songs as ‘American Idiot’, ‘When I Come Around’ and a song many of us could relate to with ‘Basket Case’.

Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble are inducted by John Mayer and I couldn’t wait to hear the song ‘Texas Flood’ once again! Patti Smith inducts Lou Reed as Laurie Anderson accepts on his behalf. Beck leads the song ‘Satellite of Love’ which is a song that has endured.

Receiving the Award for Musical Excellence is Ringo Starr and who better to give him the award than his brother in music Sir Paul McCartney. Green Day joins Ringo Starr for ‘Boys’ and Joe Walsh joins him for ‘It Don’t Come Easy’. Of course the finale wouldn’t be a finale without Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney joined by Joe Walsh for ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’.

The 31st Annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony held on April 6, 2016 brings Lars Ulrich to tell the story of how the group Deep Purple into his life and they have an impact bringing the audience ‘Highway Star’ and ‘Smoke on the Water’ (Ulrich causes the beginning rift of that song the first thing guitar players learn and the rift that has been banned from music stores). Ulrich isn’t lying because it is the first thing I learned on my guitar because I too wanted to be cool even if for a moment.

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Bert Berns is inducted by Steven Van Zandt with the Ahmet Ertegun Award for Lifetime Achievement with a very touching acceptance speech by Cassandra and Brett Berns. Kendrick Lamar inducts N.W.A. as Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, DJ Yella and MC Ren take the stage with their own acceptance speeches.

Rob Thomas inducts the group Chicago as the group takes the stage for ‘Saturday in the Park’, ‘Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?’, and ’25 or 6 to 4′. These are amazing songs that had me toe tapping and Rob Thomas said it best, ‘these songs are the sound of a city, they are the sound of a melting pot, they are the sounds of unity and they are the sounds of Chicago’ and I couldn’t agree more. These are songs of my teen years and every time I hear them I remember the sights and sounds of my life. Nothing wrong with that!

Kid Rock is the perfect person to induct Cheap Trick into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with a speech that might have some parents either cheering him on (the younger version of ourselves at least) or jaw drop but mentally doing the right on hand gesture. He says, “You can’t not watch them. Their front man is a matinee idol that can croon with swagger and their guitarist looks like a Bowery Boy on acid. No studio could do them justice, they were so big, so loud and so fast that no one could capture their fury.” Cheap Trick rocks on the stage with ‘I Want You To Want Me’, ‘Dream Police’, ‘Surrender’ and the finale ‘Ain’t That A Shame’.

Finally, The 32nd Annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony starts with the induction of ELO (Electric Light Orchestra for those hatched from an egg yesterday) as Jeff Lynne brings to the stage ‘Roll Over Beethoven’, ‘Evil Woman’ and ‘Mr. Blue Sky’. They are inducted by Dhani Harrison (who looks beautifully like his father) which is an awesome way to start the ceremony!

Jackson Browne has the honor of inducting Joan Baez as she brings her recognizable voice to ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’, then joined by Mary Chapin Carpenter, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers for ‘Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos) and finally ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’. Baez’ voice still carries the glory of faith, hope and the hope for a better tomorrow.

Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson from the group Rush induct the band Yes as Geddy Lee joins in with ‘Roundabout’ and Yes performs one of my favorite songs ‘Owner of a Lonely Heart’. Lifeson says that his first experience with Yes was as a teenager letting the music wash over him and that this was his gateway band at the age of 17. It is as if he is speaking for all of us who first came across the band in our teen years.

Snoop Dogg inducts Tupac Shakur into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame to the cheer of the crowd. It has been 21 years since the death of Shakur and Snoop Dogg tells the brief story of his life. He says, “To be human is to be many things at once, strong and vulnerable, hard headed and intellectual, revolutionary and gangster so while we are here to celebrate a prolific artist – I am here to make sure Pac is remembered the way he wanted to be – a strong black man”.

Setting my brain on fire is Pat Monahan from Train who inducts my beloved band Journey into the Hall of Fame. I could hardly contain myself to see the band Jonathan Cain, Aynsley Dunbar, Gregg Rolie, Neal Schon, Steve Smith and Ross Valory on stage.

Feeling as if I was once again in a concert hall (as I did so many times when they were on tour), I had the chance to once again hear ‘Separate Ways (Worlds Apart), ‘Lights’ and ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ and my heart just swelled up knowing that these guys were on my record player so many times I warped the album (yes kids, albums, round discs that when you put a needle on it played glorious sounds with the occasional popping sound that I love to this very day).

Monahan said it best, “There music has transcended all things that separate us as humans”. My Journey collection remains in my safe keeping and anytime I need to go to an deep music place, the needle hits the vinyl and I hear the one and only voice of Steve Perry.

Finally, David Letterman inducts Pearl Jam into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The music of Pearl Jam includes ‘Alive’, ‘Given to Fly’ and ‘Better Man’. Letterman calls them cultural icons as well as friends and lists songs that bring the fans to screams. Telling their story along with the list, there doesn’t seem to be a song that doesn’t cause a reaction. Having the chance to experience Pearl Jam playing together again is just a ridiculous joy! Eddie Vedder still has the voice that stands out with its storytelling righteous anger as his band makes it all sound easy.

THE 25TH ANNIVERSARY ROCK & ROLL HALL OF FAME CONCERTS bring some of the most iconic musicians with Crosby, Still & Nash, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, Stevie Wonder, Sting, and Paul Simon. But that’s not all, the grand lady Aretha Franklin sings Baby I Love You and is later joined by Annie Lennox (a personal favorite of mine) to sing Chain of Fools.

Metallica has no problem belting out their hit Enter Sandman, U2 sings Beautiful Day, Sting sings his rendition of People Get Ready, John Fogerty croons the legendary Roy Orbison’s hit Oh, Pretty Woman and Billy Joel brings us to a New York State of Mind. Finally a tribute to Jackie Wilson with (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher. Think of Ghostbusters making the Statue of Liberty dance and you’ll know what song I’m referring to!

Time Life continues to bring never before released anywhere classic collections of television shows for fans to revisit and remember what has made television so special. Time Life has released Mama’s Family, CPO Sharkey and The Tonight Show and they now reminds of us of a time when sex and politics were up for grabs with ROWAN & MARTIN’S LAUGH-IN. For more of what Time Life has to offer fans of classic television visit www.timelife.com.

This collection has some of the most amazing collaboration of performances that has ever been seen and I personally am thrilled by them. It has been some time since I’ve seen many of these performers so having this Bluray makes sure that will never happen again. Memorable songs that have become iconic for so many reasons are only one of the added bonuses to this collection.

Adding this amazing three disc collection home entertainment library is like having a concert in your home anytime you like and embracing the music that we keep listening, dancing and occasionally dance around our house in. Music has an amazing ability to transport us back into emotions, both good and maybe not-so-good, memorable times and places that are welcoming.

Time Life once again takes us on a musical journey that is uplifting, soul searching, endearing, and empowering. That is what they do best with their CD’s that I love but now adding the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Ceremony’s so we can see the singers, bands and performers that have impacted our lives.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum’s mission is to engage, teach and inspire through the power of rock and roll. The institution carries out its mission by giving voice to the stories of the people, artifacts and events that shaped rock and roll. For more information on the Museum please visit www.rockhall.com.

In the end – because..long live rock and roll!!!!

ROBIN WILLIAMS COMIC GENIUS is Crowned on DVD

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Jeri Jacquin

From Time Life, the re-creator for generations who thought their favorite shows and music were gone, is the ultimate heart stealer for me with the DVD Collection ROBIN WILLIAMS COMIC GENIUS.

Born in Chicago (which should have early on given me some clue for my admiration – Go Cubs!), he would be transplanted in his teens to Marine  County, California. Choosing acting over anything else, he received a full scholarship to Juilliard in New York City.

Williams’s career began on the West Coast. Starting in San Francisco to Los  Angeles, he hit the club circuit. Taking on twists and turns, in 1977 HBO would came calling to air one of his stand-up performances.

But, it is in 1978 that a character known as Mork would invade an episode of the Garry Marshall television hit Happy Days. From that performance, the series Mork & Mindy starring Robin Williams and Pam Dawber was born. Set in Boulder, Colorado, Mork from Ork lands on our planet in an egg and what follows is a hatching of pure genius. Williams had the chance to be whatever he wanted to be and his face graced the cover of Time Magazine followed by Rolling Stones magazine.

HBO once again came calling which led to five comedy specials starting with 1978’s Off the Wall, in 1983 An Evening with Robin Williams and finally in 1986 Robin Williams: Live at the Met, Live on Broadway in 2002 and finally Weapons of Self Destruction in 2009. All five of these specials are still played in my home because nothing changes a mood quicker than when HBO allowed Williams to just be – well – Robin Williams.

His call to the screen was the next step and in 1982 he absolutely stunned me in the film THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP but it was in 1987 when GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM hit the screen that once again Williams sky rocketed. Using his wit and ability to create the voices of memorable characters, he cemented his career as a comedian.

But there was one character he excelled at with heart and soul and that is dramatic roles. Starting in 1997 with GOOD WILL HUNTING and 1990’s AWAKENINGS, it was the tragic and soul crushing role in the 1998 film WHAT DREAMS MAY COME that tore me apart.

Off the big screen and small, Williams teamed up with friends Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Crystal and brought Comic Relief USA to HBO raising $80 million dollars to help anyone in need. He also worked with the USO to bring laughs to over 100,000 troops and they, to this day, have not forgotten that.

Time Life is making sure that we don’t and in such a stunning and beautiful way! ROBIN WILLIAMS Comic Genius brings us all through the years and reasons Williams is a beloved and iconic genius.

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In the box are all five HBO stand up specials with Off the Wall (1978), An Evening with Robin Williams (1983), An Evening at the Met (1986), Live on Broadway (2002) and Weapons of Self Destruction (2009).

There is also exclusive additional features with Rare Archival Footage of Robin’s Early Stand-Up, Raw Footage from HBO’s Promo Shoots and Press Interviews, People’s Choice Awards Honoring Robin and E! Press Room footage, Newly Produce Featurettes and Exclusive New Interviews with Lewis Black and Robin’s Manager David Steinberg.

Also included are hours of bonus features including newly-produced featurettes The Early Years, San Francisco: Where It All Began, Comic Genius and TV’s Best Guest.

Time Life continues to bring never before released anywhere classic collections of television shows for fans to revisit and remember what has made television so special. Time Life has released Mama’s Family, CPO Sharkey and The Tonight Show and they now reminds of us of a time when sex and politics were up for grabs with ROWAN & MARTIN’S LAUGH-IN. For more of what Time Life has to offer fans of classic television visit www.timelife.com.

This collection brings every emotion possible and that isn’t an exaggeration. Calling this collection Comic Genius is perfection and well deserved by Robin Williams. On stage and screen he had the whole world laughing (and with Mork probably the whole universe!) His unique comedic timing was fueled by the laughter from the audience, the more outrageous the farther he would go.

This 5-DVD Collector’s Set of Williams will light us all up once again and let us experience the laughs again and again. That is why we have home entertainment libraries, so we can, at any time, pull off the shelf a beloved comedian that continues to be a laughing light. This family happens to be a Williams fan from the very beginning and his comedy specials have never stopped bringing us laughs and even catching ourselves repeating his lines a time or two in our lives.

That is what makes Williams iconic and beloved and those two words seem to be not enough. Passing in 2014, it did not bring his comedy to a stop but instead continues to allow us to remember who he was and all that he gave through stand-up, television, the big screen and all his personal endeavors to make the world a happier place.

The DVD cover shows us all Williams’ silly sides as if to tease about what is inside and to join him in the ride. I, personally, would never turn down the request of a Comic Genius! Billy Crystal says, “You know that cartoon, that Tasmanian devil that comes out and just spins – he was that, but eloquent and hilarious”. Jay Leno says, “Everybody else prepared, Robin was just a natural, and he worked on every level”. Finally, Steve Martin says of his friend, “he was like something waiting to happen, a very powerful anomaly.”

In the end – it’s all about the na-nu-na-nu!

The Thrill Returns Us to DOWNTON ABBEY

Downton Abbey Cover

Jeri Jacquin

Coming to theatre this Friday from director Michael Engler and Focus Features from the characters created by Julian Fellowes is the return to DOWNTON ABBEY.

The Crawley family continues normal life at Downton Abbey until Robert (Hugh Bonneville), the Earl of Grantham, receives word that the King George V (Simon Jones) and Queen Mary (Geraldine James) are about to make a visit. Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) is thrilled but Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) goes into immediate panic especially with husband Henry (Matthew Goode) off on business. Barrows (Robert James-Collier) is now the head of the staff but Lady Mary feels as if things aren’t getting done properly.

Bringing her concerns to Lord Grantham there is only one choice, ask a retired Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) to resume his duties as Downton Abbey until the visit is over and Barrows isn’t happy. Mr. Carson gets the staff in order with Andy (Michael Fox) and the return of Mr. Molesley (Kevin Doyle). Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) also has her hands full as every nook and cranny must be cleaned and there isn’t a lot of time. Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol) and Daisy (Sophie McShera) begin creating a menu fit for royalty.

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Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith) doesn’t seem as nervous about the King and Queen’s visit but is concerned about seeing relative Maud Bagshaw (Imedla Staunton). The Dowager believes that Maud is trying to cut Robert out of any inheritance since being seen about with her companion Lucy (Tuppence Middleton). Isobel (Penelope Wilton) agrees to help Violet discover the true story behind Maud’s decision as husband Lord Merton (Douglas Reith) stays out of it.

Tom Branson (Allen Leech) is happy to be back at Downton Abbey and with his car business. When he learns about the King and Queen’s visit, some think that perhaps he wouldn’t be pleased out it. So much so that Mary senses something is wrong and isn’t sure what to do. Up for the festivities is Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) and husband Bertie Hexham (Harry Hadden-Paton) as they make their way home.

With everything buzzing and plans being made, there is a damper on the happiness when the staff are told that they will not be handling the royal visit. Enter the very stuffy Kings manservant Mr. Wilson (David Haig), Queen’s dresser Mrs. Webb (Richenda Carey) and royal chef Monsieur Courbet (Philippe Spall). Hardly ready to relinquishing their pride in Downton Abbey, Mrs. Bates (Joanne Froggatt) and Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle) come up with a plan that is brilliant and wonderful. Barrows is also being watched by Captain Chetwode (Stephen Moore) as being upset with Mr. Carson leads him down a bad road.

When the King and Queen finally arrive, the household is in high gear as the royal family is treated to dinner with a party to follow the next evening. That is when secrets are revealed, loyalties are tested and everyone who lives and works at Downton Abbey once again remembers how they have all come together for so long and can’t imagine anything else.

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Bonneville as the Earl of Grantham returns to his role as the leader of a family who go their own way no matter what he might say about it. This character has grown to understand that things change and if he doesn’t then the Downton Abbey could fall at his feet. I adore Bonneville in this role because he has the facial expressions that say everything even if he says nothing. He clearly loves his family and what’s more is he respects those who keep his household running.  McGovern as Cora is the American who has embraced the world she married into. When she is stern, it comes with a smile most often and when she is giddy her face lights up. Her character is the opposite of Robert which is why these two actors make such an awesome pairing.

Dockery as Lady Mary is such an unusual character because she gives off an air of superiority but when she lets her humanity and frailty show it is a sight for the heart to see. Carmichael as Lady Edith has finally found her niche in the world along with daughter Marigold. Now she needs to find the order of it all. Staunton as Bagshaw is a relative full of secrets and some in the family are going to make sure they know every little juicy detail. Middleton as Lucy has her own secrets but a certain Irishman only sees a lovely young girl.

Leech as Branson has become a character that was once on the outside looking in and now on the inside looking out. Finding the middle ground has always been such a difficult process for this character but now he seems to have found it. Happy with his business and equally happy at Downton Abbey, he carries himself with such grace and still finds humor in his adopted family. Goode as Henry just goes along to get along and is happy in his marriage to Lady Mary, I wish there would have been more of him but I’m thinking it will happen. Hadden-Patton as Hexam is being pulled away by a King who has taken a liking to him and Edith finds herself being meek about it once again. I kept thinking ‘come on Edith, stand your ground!’. Reith as Lord Merton has found happiness in his life and plans to keep it that way by staying out of any family drama.

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Jones and James as the King and Queen are lovely and bring their own personal baggage to Downton Abbey. They prove that even royals have family issues and through it all a sense of humor as well. Moore as Chetwode protects the royal family but has a few secrets of his own. Haig as Mr. Wilson is a man I’d throw out on his ear if it wouldn’t get me put in the Tower! Carey as Mrs. Webb would be in the pig mud right night to Mr. Wilson and to complete the threesome would be Spall as the royal chef. Those three brought enough aggravation and did it extremely well – kudos!

The return of Carter as Mr. Carson brought joy to every moment he is on screen. His presence, even when he is a bit frazzled, lets you know that everything will be alright. Right by his side is Logan as Mrs. Hughes. Never let it be said that this very elegant lady doesn’t know how to take care of her position and life with Mr. Carson. Nicol as Mrs. Patmore is a character I see as the fire that is always keeping everyone warm. Food is one thing but the obvious caring she has for those around her comes through the screen. McShera as Daisy once again puts her foot in it and manages to not be concerned with how some people love traditions and pageantry.

James-Collier as Barrows has been in Mr. Carson’s shoes for some time and isn’t all that thrilled when he returns. So instead of dealing with it, which he never does very well, he once again finds destructive ways of handling things. Nothing he does surprises me! Doyle as Mr. Molesley is over excited and willing to put his teaching position on hold just to be in the same room as the King and Queen. Of course with this excitement comes the usual missteps that had me responding with a slap to my forehead. Fox returns as Andy who is in love with Daisy and discovers he might have a bit of a jealous streak in him.

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My favorite couple ever in the entire series is Froggartt as lovely Mrs. Bates and Coyle as Mr. Bates. If there was ever a couple that went through everything horribly imaginable and came out the other side the same honorable people it is the Bates’. Froggartt is beautiful, sweet, gentle yet has a sarcastic side I love. Being the dresser for Lady Mary for years, she still wants to be at Downton Abbey and in the film gets her chance to show a side that is epic. Coyle as Mr. Bates has gone through the gambit if I do say so myself. Through it all his life has changed dramatically and yet he never once looked for an excuse for anything. That being said, planning what is planned for the staff at Downton Abbey, this husband and wife duo show they will fight for what they believe in and do it as they always have done it – together.

Now let’s talk Maggie Smith as Violet – can it be said that she is the cherry on top of a very large and very ostentatious Downton Abbey cake? Well, she is on the one in my mind. Smith is sharp, witty, and doesn’t take anything lightly. One moment she is watching everything and the next jumping in the fray to mix it up. Of course she wouldn’t be able to do some of it with her partner-in-sort-of-crime Isobel. Wilton in her supporting friendship with Violet is the yin to her yang. When these two ladies get together you can be sure it will be hilarious and the repartee a feast for the mind.

Other cast include Raquel Cassidy as Miss Baxter, Kate Phillips as Princess Mary, Max Brown as Richard Ellis, Mark Addy as Mr. Bakewell, Michael Fox as Andy Parker, Susan Lynch as Miss Lawton, James Cartwright as Tony Sellick, Fifi Hart as Sybbie, Oliver & Zac Barker as George, Alice McCarthy as Nanny Harewood, Marina Balbara as Baroness Valerenay, Andrew Havill as Henry Lascelles, Eva & Karina Samms as Marigold, Diane Halling as Countess of Harrowby, and Perry Fitzpatrick as Chris Webster.

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I discovered the series DOWNTON ABBEY completely by accident as it was on KPBS the same night as my other favorite  The Great British Baking Show. It didn’t take long before I became completely engrossed in the story of the families both upstairs and downstairs. I hated when the seasons ended and I broke out the tea set when the next season came around. Little did I know that the series was exploding all over the United States.

Created by writer Julian Fellowes, it aired in 2011 telling the story of Downton Abbey in the mid-1900s of a Yorkshire estate and the Crawley family but it also told the story of the servants. There was everything imaginable happening and the cast made every bit of it magical to watch for those of us who watched week after week. Downton Abbey is actually Highclere Castle in north Hampshire and although there was filming in Ealing Studios, most of it is Highclere Castle both inside and out.

Fellowes himself has had an amazing career as an actor, to launching his own series on BBC and writing a miniseries about the Titanic. He won an Oscar for Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen in 2002 for the script GOSFORD PARK and won Best Directorial Debut from the National Board of Review for SEPARATE LIES. His credit also include VANITY FAIR, THE TOURIST, FROM TIME TO TIME and one of my absolute favorite Emily Blunt films THE YOUNG VICTORIA.

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DOWNTON ABBEY has become and I believe will continue to be an iconic series and now film for years to come. There is nothing that can hold a candle to it. In the four years since fans cried their eyes out at the television show finale, the film will not only make us forgive everything but thrill us once again. The story, the character, opulence, splendor, feistiness, heart, gumption, and so much more wrapped in a castle most of us know from a mere glance.

How does one thank Julian Fellowes for giving us just a little more of what we crave and an even bigger thank you to every original cast member that came back and made us feel like they didn’t miss a beat. DOWNTON ABBEY is such a beautiful film in every way and I love period pieces of all kinds but this film has a special place in my heart because the characters.

This is not just a reunion of characters, but a reunion of us along with the characters we embraced back in 2011. We want to know they are all fine in the world of Downton Abbey and that it is possible (please let it be possible) that there might be another film to continue their story.

In the end – they’ve been expecting us!

 

AD ASTRA Takes to the Stars

Ad Astra cover

Jeri Jacquin

Coming to theatres this Friday from directors James Gray, Dan Bradley and 20th Century Fox comes a story of a man who needs to save the planet with AD ASTRA.

Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) is an astronaut who has the uncanny knack for keeping his emotions under control. Constantly being monitored for flight readiness, it has come at the expense of his relationship with Eve (Liv Tyler). During an accident at work, his superiors notice that he kept a level head. What Roy learns is that the accident is caused by the Lima Project that was run by his father Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones).

The senior McBride left years earlier in search of other life in the universe. Hailed as a hero for his work in space, that is what Roy remembers or more so what he has been told.

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He is given the mission to go to Mars and send a transmission to his father. Mars is the only planet that hasn’t been affected by the violent pulses sent through the galaxy. Going along with McBride is Col. Pruitt (Donald Sutherland), a one-time friend to Clifford and someone to keep an eye on Roy. Stopping on the moon, Roy learns more about what is expected of him once he reaches Mars.

Once landed, Roy is met by Helen Lantos (Ruth Negga) who seems mysterious but actually has information that he has never been privy to. Reaching out to his father through transmissions, all of a sudden things change and those in charge want him back on earth. He is not about to turn back now and with the help of Helen he once again gets aboard a ship that will take him on the most solitary and long voyage he could have imagined.

He has time to make the decision about how to stop the effects of the Lima Project and come face to face with a father he thought he knew.

Pitt as Roy is a man who tries to keep focus on his emotions by keeping himself apart from everyone else. Believing that his father was dead, he is still calm when told it is a possibility that the elder McBride might still be alive. Every step he takes is calculated and once realizing his purpose is served isn’t about to stop until he has all the answers. There is something so very cool when Pitt takes a role that isn’t full of talk but instead straight forward action. Although there is a full cast here, it is Pitt’s character that commands the film.

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Sutherland as Col. Pruitt is sent by the higher ups to keep an eye on Roy but there is also a history. Pruitt knew the elder McBride and seems to be hoping to see him once again but his reasons are a bit different that Roy’s. I have always enjoyed Sutherland on any screen because he is an actor that may be large in stature but never pulls on the screen. Even when he yells it’s brief, important and then back to center with such roles in M*A*S*H, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, ORDINARY PEOPLE and even his role in THE HUNGER GAMES, I am always all in to watch him.

Tyler as Eve has a smaller role but one that is important in understanding the repercussions of Roy’s inability to let loose once in a while. She wanted more and he couldn’t provide it. Negga as Helen has her own story to tell and she is absolutely ready to tell Roy, whether he is ready to hear it or not.

Jones as Clifford McBride is a hero to everyone who knows about the Lima Project. Roy has lived in the shadow of Clifford even though he didn’t truly understand why he chose space over his family. When Jones is on screen there is a sincere insanity that exists in that he believes in what he says to the point of not being able to tell right from wrong.

On an interesting side note – Sutherland and Jones appeared in another movie together in 2000 called SPACE COWBOYS so it seems fitting they would come full circle in suits once again. In that film they were both space geniuses as well so kudos for bringing it back 19 years later!

Other cast include Anne McDaniels as Shunga Hologram, John Ortiz as General Rivas, Kimberly Elise as Lorraine Deavers, Greg Bryk as Chip Garnes, Loren Dean as Donald Stanford, John Finn as Stroud, Kimmy Shields as Sgt. Romano, and LisaGay Hamilton as Adjutent General Amelia Vogel.

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AD ASTRA is a film about many different things – from a man who is about to discover that his emotional world is larger than the universe he is about to fly into, to learning that history doesn’t always paint a real picture. Clearly the visual are stunning but then again most space films are. In recent years there have been several and since I am a fan of space films, AD ASTRA works.

That being said I also want to say that it seems that this is a man-version of GRAVITY. Don’t get me wrong, that isn’t a bad thing, it’s just how I see it. Throw in 2014’s INTERSTELLAR and Matthew McConaughey’s character Cooper along with Sandra Bullock’s character Ryan Stone from GRAVITY and Roy McBride of AD ASTRA – all have emotional issues that they hide with their space work. When life and death kick in they all trust in what they know intellectually but also experience a sense of acceptance and letting go.

Now that I have that out of my system I truly did enjoy Pitt’s performance because of in depth. A role doesn’t have to have tons of talking in order for me to totally understand the plight of a character. Pitt seems to be the calm in the middle of a galactic storm as others swirl around the outer vortex of this character.

There is absolutely no doubt that the cinematography is also a character in the film. From the stunning landing on the moon to shooting off to Mars and then Jupiter and beyond, the colors are stunning, the space is cold yet inviting and it is eye candy for anyone who just adores the idea of space and space travel.

 

In the end – the answers we seek are just outside our reach!

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