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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.

Northern Skies

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While Moe's away in the warmer Antipodes, I'm stuck here in the frozen North!

However, her old Kenneth Branagh post reminded me of a consolation, and it is a prize: I get to watch Wallander, based on Henning Mankell's mystery novels while she's away, and write about it, too!

Wallander features an all-British cast, but is set and filmed in Sweden. The cinematography almost takes centre-stage. There's incredible shots of modern interiors, canola and wheat fields, the seaside and sweeping views of the countryside. Emily Barker's "Nostalgia" is the haunting themesong to this series of longer featurettes.

As for Branagh...I really enjoyed his Henry V, but I wondered if he was all energy in later roles. As Wallander, he's completely different and is really impressing me. Branagh plays the growth of beard-ed, sleep-deprived, haunted, sad, and morally driven character to perfection. Wallander's struggle with his personal relations while working on unusual murder cases plays out in a subtle, atypical way that points to Mankell's great plots.

So far we have 2 dvds with 3 novel-based features from 2008 and 2010 (click on the dates to go to the catalogue), and there's more in production. Hooray!

I'm thoroughly enjoying this brooding, cool northern series. So there!

by Mel

Pillars of the Earth

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If history is written by the victors, then the victors apparently are screenwriters with a passion for costume drama, and bring it on, I say!

I recently viewed the adaptation of Ken Follet's Pillars of the Earth. Like most library dvd fans, I waited to watch it ad-free from the library. Who could resist such an all-star cast, including Canadian favorites Donald Sutherland and Gordon Pinsent and Ian McShane as the eyebrow lifting corrupt cardinal and Matthew McFayden (from the MI-5 series) as the compromised priest? As blogger Moe pointed out, this one has all the elements: romance, battle scenes, and a little mystery.

The series follows cathedral architect Tom Builder in his quest to build the first gothic cathedral with abundant light within. Swirling around him are real historical figures battling for the crown during the 12th century: Queen Maud versus King Stephen. Troops plough the priory and villagers while the higher- ups cut off or reinstate funding for the cathedral willy nilly.

This series took me back to the excellent Cadfael mystery series, set near the Welsh-English border during the same time period. See our earlier review of Derek Jakobi roles under "Spotlight" in the link menu to your left.

For these historically based series, I enjoy brushing up on history by going to our e-library on this website and searching the Encyclopedia Britannica for more information on Wales, cathedrals, or Queen Maud (also named Mathilda), for instance.

Non-Fiction Films

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Although I enjoy watching non-fiction (and CPL has a great selection from which to choose), I always seem to get side tracked by all the feature films I want to recommend. So let me correct this right now and point you at four titles definitely worth a look.

The Crusades---they began as a holy mission to liberate Jerusalem and became the largest mass migration in European history. When they ended 200 years later, the Crusades had created a mythology of knights and chivalry, and left a legacy of distrust between East and West that continues to shape our world today. Filmed on location throughout Europe and the Middle East. By Terry Jones of Monty Pythons fame with none of the silliness of The search for the Holy Grail.

Babies---this is a real charmer which the whole family can watch and enjoy. A look at one year in the life of four babies from around the world--- Mongolia, Namibia, San Francisco and Tokyo and the culture and nurturing that informs their lives.

How many people can live on planet earth- the always highly informative Sir David Attenborough presents this look at the growth of the world's population and the future of the earth with a population that is projected to grow to 9 billion within the next 40 years. Researchers study densely populated regions to try to understand the problems of overpopulation.

The Medici, godfathers of the renaissance---(not to be confused with The Borgias which is currently running on tv), this is an excellent look at this powerful family and the influence they had over the course of western civilization.

by Moe

Big Bang Theory

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I only just started watching this over Christmas and I devoured the first three seasons in record time. It is such fun---populated with highly quirky characters and sophisticated writing, and enough Star Trek, Star Wars and Marvel comic book references to satisfy everyone. We have all three (123 ) of the seasons.

Leonard and Sheldon are both brilliant physicists---colleagues, best friends and roommates. They are also friends with their Cal Tech colleagues, mechanical engineer Howard and astrophysicist Raj. They can explain the workings of the universe, but these 4 self-professed nerds know little about the real world. This is not a typical 'let's make fun of the nerd' show---the characters and the audience are treated with a great deal of respect.

While you're at it check out the non-fiction series 'Through the Wormhole'. Hosted by Morgan Freeman, this excellent 8 part series explores the deepest mysteries of existence and the questions that have puzzled mankind for eternity. Who or what are we? Are we alone? How did life begin? What happened before? Are we real or a computer simulation and how would we know? The series brings together the brightest minds and best ideas from the very edges of science to reveal the extraordinary truth of our universe. I am not through it yet- I find I have to stop and digest each episode for a few days after I watch it, but I have sure enjoyed the five I have seen so far.

by Moe

The Shield

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I had some reservations about this 7-season police drama at the beginning. Even with the same people working on it, how could it be as good as The Wire, still my #1 police series, set in 90s Baltimore?

The action in the Shield all takes place in L.A. in an urban neighbourhood where familes live alongside addicts and rival gangs. The show focuses on the local police's strike team, led by Vic Mackie. You may recognize actor Michael Chiklis from The Commish or currently, No Ordinary Family, but now he's playing bad cop.

Mackie's team skims from drug dealers and assaults criminals but have a successful arrest rate. It almost seems justifiable, until he commits an unspeakable act. The rest of the series focuses on the tangled web that results as he tries to manage all the repercussions of his terrible decision. Excellent side plots focus on the work of Wagenbach and Wiems, two detectives who work in his station, and the political strategies of the different police chiefs. The Shield is voyeuristic at times and sometimes the show asks us to sympathize with the strike team and that just makes it even more jarring when its members break the law. As I near the end of the series, I wonder what their fate will be. Stick with it, it opens a lot of discussion

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Midsomer Murders

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We are working our way through the 1990s British TV series Midsomer Murders. According to some, this is proof we were born old. Regardless of one's age, this series a good choice if you want to watch a one-hour whodunnit rather than a feature-length show. The bonus is the beautiful scenery around the fictional Midsomer villages.

Like Inspector Morse, Detective Barnaby solves an improbable number of small town murders with his assistant's help. Midsomer Murders is a bit lighter, with humour provided by Detective Barnaby's family dynamic. Because there's over 80 episodes to sign out and titles are similar, here's a list of episodes. Cross off and enjoy!

Killings at Badger's Drift, Written in Blood, Death of a Hollow Man, Faithful until Death, Death in Disguise, Death's Shadow, Strangler's Wood, Dead Man's Eleven, Blood will Out, Death of a Stranger, Blue Herrings, Judgement Day, Beyond the Grave, Garden of Death, Destroying Angel, Electric Vendetta, Who Killed Cock Robin?, Dark Autumn, Tainted Fruit, Market for Murder, A Worm in the Bud, Ring Out your Dead, Murder on St. Malley's Day, A Talent for Life, Death and Dreams, Painted in Blood, A Tale of Two Hamlets, Birds of Prey, The Green Man, Bad Tidings, The Fisher King, Sins of Commission, The Maid in Splendour, The Straw Woman, Ghosts of Christmas Past, Things that go bump in the Night, Dead in the Water, Orchis Fatalis, Bantling Boy, Second Sight, Hidden Depths, Sauce for the Goose, Midsomer Rhapsody, The House in the Woods, Dead Letters, Vixen's Run, Down among the Dead Men, Death in Chorus, Country Matters, Last Year's Model, Four Funeral's and a Wedding, Dance with the Dead, The Animal Within, King's Crystal, The Axeman Cometh, Death and Dust, Picture of Innocence, They Seek Him Here, Death in a Chocolate Box, Shot at Dawn, Blood Wedding, Midsomer Life, Left for Dead, The Magician's Nephew, Talking to the Dead, Days of Misrule, The Dogleg Murders, Secrets and Spies, The Black Book, The Glitch, Small Mercies, The Creeper, The Great and The Good, The Sword of Guillame, the Made -to-measure Murders, Blood on the Saddle, The Silent Land, Master Class The Noble Art, Not in my Backyard, Mourning has Broken, and The Echoing Green.

Sorry for not linking all of these titles, folks! For a hilarious parody of murder-ridden English village life, don't miss Hot Fuzz.

Foyle'd Again

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Michael Kitchen is back as DCS Christopher Foyle of the Hastings police department just after the war in the Pacific. Three dvds are available (part of set 6): The Russian House, Killing Time, and The Hide. Fans of the series will be glad to see the quiet, slightly melancholic detective back in action. Foyle's trademark raised eyebrow speaks volumes as he confronts members of the intelligence service and prejudice while seeking to expose murderers. Disillusioned Foyle is determined to leave the police force, but his resignation is refused as there is no staff to replace him, so he reluctantly continues.

The first dvds in the series exposed viewers to daily life and moral quandaries in war-time England. In post-war Hastings, new challenges appear such as lack of food, housing, and employment, and displaced persons. Women find themselves alone with children born to visiting soldiers, conscientious objectors and traitors return home, and developers are keen to build on the wreckage of the recent past.

These three dvds were as compelling as the previous ones in the series. If you're not yet a fan, catch up on the earlier episodes, listed in order on www.foyleswar.com. I'm hoping for at least one more episode as Foyle has gone stateside.

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Redux-Sherlock Holmes

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Has there ever been a more redoubtable character than Holmes? According to the Holmes Museum website he has been played on screen more times than any other fictional character. Created just before the birth of cinema, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous detective has drawn moviegoers across the world and for nearly 100 years. . At CPL he turns up across all formats---dvd, bookcd, book, graphix novels, e-books---for every age (adult, YA and J)---and in several different languages. There are over 300 listings in all! Lets take a look at some of the best that CPL has to offer on dvd.

For me there is no one who personifies Holmes better than Jeremy Brett in the wonderful Granada Television productions. Brett played Holmes fourty times between 1984 and 1994. He is supported by Edward Hardwicke as an equally engaging Watson. Brett's performances show a great respect for the character he is playing, as well as for his audience. When he learned that his Sherlock Holmes was very popular with children he was troubled with the fact that Holmes was a cocaine user. Brett then sought and obtained permission from Arthur Conan Doyle's daughter to have Holmes overcome his addiction, signified with Holmes burying his syringe in the episode The Devil's Foot.

The new Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Junior, Jude Law (who appeared in a small role in one of the Granada productions) and Rachel McAdams is definitely worth a look, although you will have to wait awhile due to the high number of holds. This has a younger much more physical Holmes than we are used to but Downey plays it well. Strong plot, excellent CGI's for a dark and moody London and enough to likely bring you back for the planned sequel. Rumours abound that Brad Pitt will play arch nemesis Moriarity.

Now for the most original interpretation of Holmes---Without a Clue. In this retelling Watson is really the mastermind and Holmes is merely an actor hired to play the famous detective. This has some great laughs, played to perfection by one of our favourite Movie Maniacs regulars- Michael Caine---with Ben Kingsley as the long suffering Watson.

From funny to terrifying---this is a repeat of a recommendation by Mat from Oct 2008 (only the third thing we ever posted). It is the excellent Murder by Decree. Sherlock Holmes (Christopher Plummer), aided by his loyal Dr Watson (James Mason) investigates London's most infamous case, Jack the Ripper. Holmes and Watson uncover a rich conspiracy involving Freemason lore, corrupt officials and anti-monarchists. This multiple Genie Award winning film features fantastic camera work, strong performances and a wonderfully suspenseful atmosphere.

A few of the many other actors who have donned the deerstocker cap include John Barrymore (silent), Peter Cushing, Rupert Everett, Sir Ian Richardson, Johnathan Pryce, Charlton Heston, Basil Rathbone and Edward Woodward. And if anybody remembers Max Headroom from the 80's tv series, even Matt Frewer.

Before He was House

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Familiarize yourself with Hugh Laurie! You may know him from his role on tv as House, the cantankerous, misfit doctor who diagnoses rare disorders. This series is now available at CPL. Click here to place a hold on season one. Before he was House...

He was a comedian:

My personal favorite is the adaptation of P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster series. Hugh plays the fool (Wooster) to his wise "gentleman's gentleman" (aka butler) Jeeves who gets his master out of all kinds of self-inflicted scrapes brought on by an excess of leisure-class free time. Jeeves is played by another great British Comedian,Stephen Fry. You will also enjoy Laurie's singing and piano in this series. He's and old fashioned, multi-talented actor and, if he dances (does anyone know?), a "triple threat."

Can't get enough of the Wodehouse duo? Check out A Bit of Fry and Laurie. If you reeally like him as a misfit, watch made for tv movie All or Nothing at all where he plays a con-man.

Fans of Blackadder will remember him in this popular historical comedy series starring Mr. Bean's Rowan Atkinson.

Before he was House, he was for kids!:

If you think Hugh's just for older folks, check out Stuart Little, where he plays the charming adopted father of a white mouse, along with Geena Davis. How about Discovering the Real world of Harry Potter with Hugh in the documentary of the same name?

He was in Costume Drama:

See him as Mr Palmer in Ang Lee's (1995) adaptation of Austen's Sense and Sensibility with Emma Thompson and Hugh Grant.

He was in Adventure: Flight of the Pheonix

Now that he's House, He's a writer, too!:

Check out his novel, The Gunseller

and, sadly, for some of you, he is also married.

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