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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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Tuesday, Dec 14, 2010
ESPN Films 30 for 30 Gift Set Collection, Volume 1 [$74.95]

Unless it’s tickets to a game, decent gifts for sports fans are few and far between – we’re all familiar with those horrid blooper reel and World Series highlights memorabilia DVDs sold at rock-bottom prices in the holidays as last-minute dad presents. ESPN’s epochal celebration of its first 30 years, however, is something different. The 15 films included here – many of which have already made the festival rounds – are a grab-bag of quality, punchy documentaries that range from the hilarious (Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. the New York Knicks) to the surprisingly heartrending (Barry Levinson’s The Band That Wouldn’t Die, about the Baltimore Colts’ marching band).


Not only is this a smart present for just about any serious sports polymath, it doesn’t insult their intelligence like a John Madden beer koozie. And it’s only the first set, so if they like it, that’s next year’s gift nearly wrapped up and ready to go, too.


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Monday, Dec 13, 2010
The Quintessential Guy Maddin! 5 Films from the Heart of Winnipeg (Four-Disc Set) [$49.99]

Guy Maddin, the premier indie auteur of Winnipeg, has spent the last two decades spinning cracked, hallucinatory tales of obsessed love and grand guignol, and has gained a sizable cult along the way. Now Zeitgest Films is releasing a four-disc collection of the director’s work, including the “remastered and repressed edition” of Careful, as well as Twilight of the Ice Nymphs, Archangel, Dracula, and Cowards Bend the Knee.


Special features: Five audio commentaries with Maddin and crew members; a 60-minute documentary on Maddin’s early career, narrated by Tom Waits; six shorts, including Odilon Redon (1995) and The Heart of the World (2000); three behind-the-scenes featurettes; imagined audition reels; radio interviews; production design collages and storyboards and; vintage photos from Maddin’s personal collection.


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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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