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Life on Mars

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Sam Tyler (John Simm) is a police officer in a coma. He can hear what's going on around his hospital bed in the present but he's physically in Manchester in 1973 working cases as a policeman--a time when he would have been a young boy. While doing detective work, he runs across his parents and very nearly encounters himself.

Looking back on the technological and social changes of the past few decades, you might reflect on 1973 as though it was another planet--if you didn't answer the phone, the call was lost, and remember the thick, scratchy polyester? These are the pre-Lycra days when your bathing suit took days to dry. It seems Mars-like to Sam who encounters out of date social mores and unsystematic to unethical police procedures as well as widelegs and lambchops on a lot of his co-workers.

You have to admire everyman Sam's determination as he works as a detective sergeant while being interrupted by hallucinations, memories, and phone calls from the present. Is it all a dream? Is he delusional? Life on Mars reminded me a bit of Dr. Who but without the zaniness and gadgetry and it's no wonder, John Simm appeared in The End of Time episodes according to IMDB and you may also remember him from State of Play and an episode of Cracker. I haven't checked out the U.S. or Spanish remakes of the original BBC series which runs for two seasons (4 dvds each). So far we've only caught one anachronism in the show: Sam's wristwatch has a digital display --these didn't show up until the late 1970s. If you enjoy David Bowie and Nina Simone, you'll like the music.

by Mel


George Gently

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I almost called this post "Swinging Durham" because this newer mystery series from the UK is set in 1960s Northern England. That would have been too grim altogether since the death sentence by hanging was still in practice at the time. It realistically takes on still serious topics such as racism in the context of the time and place. We haven't spotted any anachronisms yet.

I was a skeptical before starting on this series because we've seen a lot of these co-detective shows coming from Britain (Morse, Midsomer Murders) but don't be put off. Gently and Bacchus' relationship is fresh and new enough with a little humour, and a bit of debate. Martin Shaw is perfect as the principled Chief Inspector George Gently. His young "mop topped" assistant is John Bacchus struggling with ambition and his marriage breakdown.

We have George Gently both in dvd and blu-ray. Season One is available from the library in individual episodes while two and three come as full seasons. Season four was broadcast in 2011 so look for more episodes in future.

Did he or didn't he?

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How does a country kid from Stratford, England, with little verifiable education, go on to become one of the greatest literary geniuses of all times? How does a man who lived in the 16th century become one of the most recognizable faces in the world today -- right up there with Jesus, Ghandi and Bob Marley? How does a person from 500 years ago become one of the most oft-quoted people in history?

We are of course talking about Shakespeare, and depending on your school of thought, he either was all of these things, or none. If you are an Oxfordian, you believe all these kudos belong to the Earl of Oxford; if you are a Stratfordian, then you are firmly in the Shakespeare camp.

The new movie "Anonymous" (currently playing in theatres) has once again stirred up this debate, positing some fun and racey alternatives to who can claim the title "The Bard".

But irrespective of who wrote the 38 plays, hundreds of sonnets and other various literature, there is no denying the genius. And CPL is loaded with everything Shakespeare. A quick search of just the name brings up some 1600 offerings! There are 114 titles just for dvd's -- far too many to name, so use Shakespeare DVD as your search term to see some of the greatest names in acting take on some of the greatest words ever put down on paper.

Finally, we have one of the coolest E-Library resources at CPL... "Theatre in Video".

Just go to "E Library" ---> "Art & Music" and scroll down to the bottom of the list to watch FREE streaming vids of some of the best live performances of Shakespeare. Great for theatre buffs (it's got WAY more than just Shakespeare) and students who just can't quite grasp that Elizabethan rhetoric until they hear it out loud.

by Anonymous

Redux-Jane Eyre---and also William Hurt

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Charlotte Bronte's gothic classic of love, madness and ultimate redemption. We have no less than 6 copies available at CPL. IMDB lists no less then 23 versions, so if brooding tortured souls are your thing you might want to see if you can get your hands on some of those more obscure offerings for comparison. Or just stick with our six as several of them are mini series and offer more than a watered down 90 minute retelling of the book. Coincidentially Mel did an ealier Redux post on Wuthering Heights, by sister Emily. CPL also has a non-fiction A&E dvd on The Bronte Sisters.

Our first movie goes all the way back to 1944 and features Orson Wells as the dark and enigmatic Edward Rochester and Joan Fontaine as his timid but loyal Jane.

An A&E Home Video from 1997 with Samantha Morton and Ciaran Hinds (you'll know him when you see him- he played Julius Caesar in the excellent series Rome, Season 1 and 2---give this one a look while you're at---it's quite addictive); BBC from 1973 with Sorcha Cusack and Michael Jayston; from BBC in 1983 we have Timothy Dalton and company; and because BBC really seems to like remaking this we have a 2006 offerring with Toby Stephens, Ruth Wilson, and Francesca Annis; there is also a studio release from 1996 with William Hurt, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Joan Plowright, Anna Paquin---along with Orson, this is a personal fave.

I have always thought William Hurt an excellent dramatic actor and although this started out as a Jane Eyre post, I think I'll wander over into some of Hurt's best and kill two birds with one stone. In the 80's he was well entrenched on the A-list, being one of those movie stars who could also act. A string of hits, an Oscar nod and win on his first nomination for Kiss of the Spider woman, two consequetive best actor nominations followed---for Children of a Lesser God and Broadcast News, and then --well,not so much. Although he has managed to stay busy,he never maintained or regained his earlier status and is typically just in supporting roles these days, never headlining. And that is too bad, because this guy knew how to command the screen. Along with the aforementioned, also check out the excellent Body Heat (featured in my earlier Gotcha post); stylish Russian thriller Gorky Park; perennial favourite The Big Chill; and popular writer Anne Tyler's The Accidental Tourist. We are missing one of his best- Altered States- the 1980 movie that put him on the map- try to find this one, it's worth it. Any of these movies show you how good this guy is and why I still go out of my way to see him.

So here you are- Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, William Hurt, Rome, the Brontes and Gotcha! Hours and hours and hours of viewing.


Two by Trollope

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It's fall, so my fancy turns to thoughts of costume drama. Don't overlook these two BBC adaptations of novels by Anthony Trollope:

He Knew He Was Right (2004)

Louis Trevelyan, who marries lovely Emily from the colonies, finds her visited once too often by her father's friend, played by Bill Nighy. The Colonel with dubious intentions drives a wedge between the newlyweds, driving Louis to extremes. So convinced of his wife's infidelity, he banishes her and her sister to the countryside and himself to Italy. Sympathy turns to Emily when Louis' madness leads him to seize their child. Victorian social conventions conflict with personal desire throughout the 2-part film.

The Way We Live Now (2001)

Trollope's insights into how mercantile classes conduct themselves is as relevant today as it was in 1875. Compulsive gambling, fraudulent investment schemes, financial dependence, and old and new money swirl about as we watch dictatorial and Continental Augustus Melmotte encourage speculation in a new North American railroad and win a place in London society while his petulant daughter looks for love and independence. Watching these great character actors in action, I wonder why we need Hollywood celebrities.

Posted: Sep 09 2009


Sensational Series at CPL

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Many fans of CPL who were using the dvd collection are familiar with the variety of television, film and mini- series that were available early on when dvds were a new technology. Many of these were PBS or BBC productions that continue to be popular: mysteries such as Poirot, sitcoms such as As Time Goes By, and costume dramas and dramatizations such as I, Claudius, Anne of Green Gables and Little House on the Prairie. We still have these, but CPL has really expanded its collection of dvds. If you don't have cable or can't stand commercials, CPL's dvd series are for you.

If you don't already know, CPL has added more British, Canadian and American popular television series to the collection. We have tv "classics" like Columbo, Magnum P.I., Hill Street Blues, The Waltons, Rockford Files, and Get Smart...

We also have newer HBO, Bravo, History Channel and Showcase mini-series such as Deadwood, Six Feet Under, and Rome. These are great if you are a season or two behind, like me, but still want to discuss the shows with friends. You could catch up on season one of The Tudors, for instance.

We are currently watching The Wire. Just when I thought I couldn't watch another crime show, I come across this series set in Baltimore. The Wire follows several detectives infiltrating a narcotics syndicate in the hopes of prosecuting their previously unknown leader. We see the officers human flaws and the systemic problems and limited technology that inhibit their investigation. The Wire also follows the workings and struggles of the drug dealers and addicts. So far, Season One has been free of many of the cliches one would expect in a police show. Because it focuses on the challenges of the individuals on both sides of the law, it is less graphically violent than many current crime series.

Foyle's Waris another great crime series that recently aired on tv. Anglophiles and Michael Kitchen fans will enjoy him as mild-mannered but determined DCS Foyle who solves crimes during World War II in and around Hastings, England. All of the crimes are connected with war-time life, and the series deals with some of the moral ambiguities that arose at the time. This series is divided into sets and series of discs, so for a useful chronology of the episodes, see the fan website:

Don't forget our non-fiction (numbered) series, featuring a range of topics. This is where you'll find National Film Board animation classics such as "Blackfly" and Rodney Yee's yoga series for Gaiam. You will also find many travel series highlighting countries or cities for airmchair or actual travel. Opera buffs will find many choices also. How about Hockey: A People's History? or The Red Green Show?

I really enjoyed Terry Jones' The Crusades. In spite of Jones' Monty Python affiliation, this is not a spoof. The two-part series outlines the political and material motivations behind the crusaders and profiles the recruits. It contrasts the crusaders' ideals versus the actual effects of the crusades. The dvds present great cinematographic views of Accra and other areas and a good biography of Saladin. This series really stands out from other "knights and armour" focussed accounts, not that the somewhat portly Jones doesn't try some armour on for size.

If you did already know about our great series...tell someone who doesn't!

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