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Even More Midsomer Murders!

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This series, based on Caroline Graham's novels, is ongoing, and we have new episodes in (on blue-ray, too). Get your holds on now for set 19 of Midsomer Murders which will be in the collection soon. Place a hold on set 18, which has 3 mysteries on 3 dvds-one with a sleepwalker...See our earlier reviews and episode lists. These newer sets will be one of your last chances to watch Tom Barnaby solve crimes and tease his wife Joyce, since actor John Nettles is retiring this year, according to The Daily Mail online. Will the show go on after Nettles retires? I suspect not. The show has been criticized for its limited view of village life and lack of cultural diversity--it's a bit like that parodied in the comedy Hot Fuzz. Stay tuned to see in what direction the show goes.

by Mel

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 It seems Mars-like to Sam who encounters out of date social mores and unsystematic to unethical police procedures as well as widelegs and lambchops on a lot of his co-workers.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

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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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