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Thursday, Dec 16, 2010
Life on Mars: The Complete UK Collection - Acorn Media [$79.99]

The UK series Life on Mars, recently remade into an American version, offers an original premise by taking elements from different genres and melding them into one. Life on Mars is as much a cop show as it is an existential drama as it is a comedic period piece. By blending these varied components and playing with the conventions of all three, the series achieves a unique balance that elevates it above just one kind of story. Life on Mars successfully turns many of the standard storytelling techniques viewers are accustomed to ‘on its ear’, so to speak, and in doing so, it achieves an originality that makes for a very strong series. The cast is engaging, the writing is smart, and in the end, there is a real satisfaction to its conclusion.


Life on Mars: The Complete Collection contains quite a bit of bonus material including, audio commentaries for all the episodes in series one; several behind-the-scenes featurettes on individual episodes, the music of Life on Mars, production design, and a set tour; two documentaries on the show; and an outtakes reel. The extras add to a better understanding of the show and the thinking behind its eventual resolution.


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Wednesday, Dec 15, 2010
Great Detectives Anthology [$149.95]

If you like your mysteries served-up British-style (and really, who doesn’t), then look no further than the Great Detectives Anthology. Featuring the likes of Hercule Poirot, Miss Jane Marple, and Sherlock Holmes (portrayed by the inimitable Peter Cushing), this collection of 18 classic capers produced for BBC television—including Death on the Nile, Murder at the Vicarage, and the Hound of the Baskervilles— is sure to be a treat for any Agatha Christie/Arthur Conan Doyle enthusiast.


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Monday, Dec 13, 2010
The Pacific (HBO Miniseries) [Blu-ray]

Granted, World War II’s Pacific theater of combat was horrible enough in every way to make even certain parts of WWI trench warfare look bucolic by comparison. Also granted, this HBO miniseries about a bunch of jarheads fighting their bloody, gory way from one fetid, muddy, jungle island to the next doesn’t provide as much ultimate satisfaction as Band of Brothers could – they never even make it to Japan. But like that earlier series, The Pacific succeeds as a masterful, grueling account of what it was like for these men (all based on real Marines) to undertake some of the most vicious and unremorseful combat the world had ever seen while trying to emerge on the other side as something resembling humans. Anybody with even a passing interest in stories of men and women at war deserves this set.


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Monday, Dec 13, 2010
The Best of Soul Train (3 DVD) [$39.99]

Tune in for the hippest trip in America with Don Cornelius and the rest of the gang on this three-disc set commemorating the landmark television series. For over 35 years, Soul Train was the place to get your fix on the soulful sounds of black music. Featuring 50 classic performances by artists including the Jackson 5, Curtis Mayfield, Aretha Franklin and James Brown, this collection will be treasured.


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Friday, Dec 10, 2010
Prime Suspect: The Complete Collection [$124.99]

Conceived by formidable UK dramatist Lynda La Plante and positioned to play both with and against the archetypes within the standard dramatic police procedural, Prime Suspect succeeds for numerous reasons. It’s well scripted, expertly acted, plotted with one eye on the engaging elements of the mystery thriller and the other on a classy concurrent character study, and never once employs the false formulas of the typical TV cop show to win over the viewer. Instead, this is a show that settles in for the long haul, that has no problem taking one particular crime through several sensational episodes.


In fact, the best thing about Prime Suspect is the density of it all, how we get beneath Jane Tennison’s (Helen Mirren) skin to experience her desperation, her despair, and her desires. There is never a moment where the character goes unexplored, where the scribes or directors put her on autopilot to cruise through another whodunit. Mirren is exceptional, constantly finding ways to broaden the woman’s walking wounded view between various levels of malaise. Some cause her to be curt and abrupt. At other times, she’s as fragile as a pressed flower. Because of her own natural beauty and fetching physical attributes, Mirren can make Tennison into anything she wants: stern authority figure, bitter victim, stalwart survivor. Even better, the show know how to bring out the best in the actress. Even when cast in a wholly unflattering light, we never lose her innate strength.


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