Law of the Lawless

AUGUST IS ACORN/RJL ENTERTAINMENT MONTH

Imagine if Aubrey Plaza was head writer on Midsomer Murders, and you have a good idea what to expect from the wonderful 2019 Australian crime series MY LIFE IS MURDER, now on Blu-Ray from Acorn Media/RJL Entertainment/Screen Australia/Network 10/Film Victoria.

Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an over-exaggeration, but some real careful sarcastic planning went into this irreverent detective series starring Lucy Lawless, in what is likely to become her mature signature role.  Lawless (who also functions as co-Executive Producer) plays Alexa Crowe, a former top sleuth on the force (and a widower of her apparent male counterpart), now happily eking out a living as a gourmet pastry chef/supplier for a chic Melbourne cafe.

But Alexa, who also majored in verbal smackdowns, was sooooo good at her job that old boss, D.I. Kieran Hussey, occasionally drops by with unsolvable homicide case files that Crowe manages to dash off as expertly as one of her brioches.  So, unofficially, she’s back in (infrequent) action, and even has been given an equally cynical tech-savvy sidekick, Madison Feliciano (The Heart Guy‘s terrific Ebony Vagulans).

Granted, the cases are high-profile and upper class situated – and, frankly, probably will be solved by experienced armchair gumshoes scrutinizing the narratives.  But, as I often like to say, getting there is half the fun; well, in MY LIFE IS MURDER, it’s ALL the fun.

The shows are superbly scripted (Matt Ford, Peter Gawler, Ainslie Clouston, Chris Hankshaw, Claire Tonkin, Tim Pye, Monica Zanetti, Paul Bennett, Chris Corbett), directed (Leah Purcell, Mat King, Jovita O’Shaughnessy. Ben C. Lucas) and, most importantly photographed (Matthew Temple).  In regard to the latter, I can’t recall recently seeing any series so beautifully rendered in urban and suburban imagery; damn, Melbourne is one gorgeous place.

Blowing the lids off such corrupt-friendly targets as cooking schools, the music business, psychics, health clubs, posh private learning institutions, the cosmetic industry, funerals, P.R. firms and more, MURDER, as indicated, benefits from the sharp dialog and, seamless chemistry between Lawless and Vagulans.  Their can-you-top-this byplay mercifully transcends the Spielbergian antagonistic cuteness that has infantilized the American motion picture and television factions; it is genuine and, oft-inspired gotcha snarkasm (again, it would be negligible if it weren’t for the fact that Alexa and Madison’s quips thinly mask an under-the-surface mutual affection).

While the other regulars (Alex Andreas, Todd River, Dilruk Jayasinha, Kate McCartney) do excellent work, Lawless is flawless in her depiction of a don’t-fuck-with-me shamus.  The guest casts additionally ratchet up the fun element of the show, and include such stellar Oz punims as Don Hany, Magda Szubanski, Adrienne Pickering, Nadine Garner.  One ep (The Locked Room), features former Xena inhabitant Danielle Cormack, and you can practically see the two formidable actresses lip-biting to not break up during some of their confrontational moments.

The Acorn Blu-Ray of MY LIFE IS MURDER is (what else?) stunning.  The High-Def visuals matched by the 2.0 stereo-surround will rock your home theater (a perky music score by Burkhard von Dallwitz and Brett Alpin is another plus.  The ten episode set (spread over three platters) is appended by over a half-hour of behind-the-scenes footage and even some animated gag shorts.

Soooooo looking forward to Alexa’s further adventures.  Hey, if you can’t laugh at killing, why bother living?

MY LIFE IS MURDER. Color. Widescreen [1.78:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA. Acorn Media/RLJ Entertainment/Screen Austrailia/Film Victoria/CJZ Productions/Network 10. CAT# AMP-2733. SRP: $59.95.

MyLifeMurder_COVER

 

That’s a (Partial) Wrap! Loose Ends, Part Two

AUGUST IS ACORN MEDIA/RLJ ENTERTAINMENT MONTH

DETECTORISTS and DELICIOUS, two of the quirkiest comedies ever to grace the international airways, chose 2017 and 2019, respectively, to wind down after a riotous and acclaimed run in the UK (three series for each).  I will truly miss both these whimsical, surreal forays into the bizarre traits of unusual humans (and, in DELICIOUS‘ case, the talking dead); thankfully, I’ll have many of the episodes available at my beck-and-call, due to their availability here on DVD from the eclectic folks at Acorn Media/RJL Entertainment.

I know I’m beginning to sound like a broken record when discussing final seasons (or, in the matter of DELICIOUS, the middle installment) of beloved shows; I guess that also applies to my liberally dropping “Ealing” comparisons.  Well, I do that for one good reason.  These Acorn DVDs and Blu-Rays deserve it.  I AM sorry that a number of wonderful series are ending; and, being a big fan of the classic Ealing comedies, my praise for these Brit shows isn’t as liberal as, shall we say, justified.

 

Case in point:  DETECTORISTS, SERIES 3.  This show has an abundance of eccentrics, charm, serenity, beauty (those locations and the music) and frequent laugh-out-loud humor.

The final six episodes (on two DVDs) from Acorn Media/RLJ Entertainment keep the lovely flow moving along as we track (likely for the last time) the adventures and misadventures of the inhabitants of Danebury, the small, fictional suburb in Northern Essex (actually Wantisden Farms in Suffolk), mostly personified by Andy Stone and Lance Slater, two members of a detectorist club.  For those new to this show, detectorists are hunters of ancient historical artifacts buried beneath the sod of rural England.

In SERIES 3, Andy (Mackenzie Crook) and his loving, but snarky wife Becky (Racheal Stirling) have returned home from abroad – a super dream job not being what it promised.  With nowhere to live, they move in with Beck’s even-more snarky mater Veronica (played by Stirling’s real-life mum, Diana Rigg, who, not surprisingly, is terrific).  Meanwhile, Lance is having his own share of domestic turmoil – living with two women: his new girlfriend Toni and his grown daughter Kate; it redefines oil and water, plus a dash of nitro.

But there’s trouble afoot throughout the land.  A solar farm company has purchased the land the detectorists vigorously explore.  While solar seems, on the surface, a modern solution to pollution, the powers-that-be behind this particular organization aren’t necessarily types you would deem synonymous with the word “ecology.”  This becomes so crucial, that the long-festering animosity between the vicinity’s two detectorist factions (yes, there are two) is temporarily salved when they team up.  Yep, Philip and Paul (aka Simon and Garfunkel) appear to now be working with Andy and Lance; can this actually be, or is there more chicanery on the horizon?  Furthermore, Andy’s acquiring a new gig as a local excavator (and, therefore, giving him reign/access to his archeological jones while simultaneously opening up a desperate house-hunting/mother-in-law-less search) likewise is not all it’s cracked up to be.

It’s all an addictive, ephemeral comedic bon-bon that fully lives up to the previous two series.  Enough kudos cannot be accorded to writer/director/star Crook, Toby Jones (as Lance), and Stirling; ditto, the rest of the sensational cast for mining their rich characterizations: Lucy Benjamin, Adam Riches, Gerard Horan, Sophie Thompson, Orion Ben, Pierce Quigley, Divian Ladwa, Laura Checkley, Aimee-Ffion Edwards and David Sterne.  Nods must also be given the gorgeous camerawork of Jamie Cairney (lushly rendered in the Acorn widescreen DVD), and the lilting folksy music of Johnny Flynn (in stereo-surround).  With nearly an hour of extras, DETECTORISTS, SERIES 3, is a satisfying conclusion to a brilliant, original comedy, although bittersweet for me, as I’m sorry to see it end.

 

In 2016, the fantasy-comedy-drama DELICIOUS sent me into a euphoric spin that I still haven’t fully recovered from.  So, natch, I was pumped for the second season, and wasn’t disappointed.  For those out of the loop, who have yet to hear of this show, it philosophically and physically lays out the arguably two greatest pleasures afforded to the human condition:  sex and food.  Both are, as the title states, delicious.  And both are on view in the verdant Cornwall resort where the narrative plays out.  Gourmet chef and successful hotelier Leo Vincent lives with his stunning second wife, Sam, their grown son, Michael, and gran Mimi while overseeing the sumptuous resort/restaurant that his first wife, Gina, and their daughter, Teresa, reside in and operate (she’s the real foodie maestro).  All this frenemy antagonism and inwardly-outwardly attraction takes a jolt when Leo drops dead of a heart attack.  Nevertheless this doesn’t stop him from commenting on ongoing events, which include mentoring fragile but spectacularly witty Teresa.  Of course, financially, this results in some difficulties – possibly smoothed over when the two wives join an uneasy alliance to keep the business afloat.  Not so easily explained is the sexual liaison between Teresa and her half-brother Michael.

In SERIES 2, Sam and Gina face new hazards in addition to their own confrontational relationship, including the still off-and-on romance of their children with each other, Adam, a new handsome brilliantly “endowed” chef, James, a former guest from a long time ago, and, perhaps most alarmingly, the arrival of the latter’s charming con-artist Italian papa, Joe.  But, again, key to all the twists and turns in the scenario is the ever-present intertwining of lust and rapture encompassing the borderline libertine and the epicurean.  This time even outspoken gran gets into the act, enjoying some “afternoon delight” with the devious, rapacious Joe.  But there are secrets revealed along with the new characters, some quite shocking – and for this series, that’s quite a feat.

As usual, the performances are extraordinary, with top honors going to Dawn French (Gina), Emilia Fox (Sam) and Iain Glen (as dead Leo).  Special note must be accorded to Sheila Hancock as the passion-released octogenarian Mimi, and to Tanya Reynolds as Teresa, a truly a gifted, remarkable actress.  On a personal level, the gobsmack factor is in the casting of Franco Nero as Joe.  FRANCO FRIGGIN’ NERO!  The guy from Django, The Mercenary, Companeros, and Hitch-Hike.  Believably playing Dawn French’s parent.  Damn, I’m old!

The behind-the-scene/tech credits rival the on-camera thesps.  The beautiful production, lavishly filmed at Pentillie Castle in Cornwall (by Rasmus Arrildt and Toby Moore) is one of the most sumptuous looking television shows you’re apt to ever feast your eyes on.  The direction (Claire Kilner, John Hardwick) is inventive, the writing (by creator Dan Sefton, with assist from Lee Coan and Ursula Rani Sarma) sardonically offbeat as ever and the music (Rob Lane) quite diverting.  Extras abound, and we hope to be able to sample the already-produced Series 3 in the future.

An addictive albeit spicy recipe, possibly not for everyone’s taste?  Sure.  Wonderful and satisfying –DEFINETLY.

DETECTORISTS, SERIES 3. Color. Widescreen [1.78:1; 16 x 9 anamorphic]; 2.0 stereo-surround.  Acorn Media/RJL Entertainment/DRG/BBC/Channel X/Lola Entertainment. CAT # AMP-2630.  SRP: $39.95.

DELICIOUS, SERIES 2. Color. Widescreen [1.78:1; 16 x 9 anamorphic]; 2.0 stereo-surround.  Acorn Media/RJL Entertainment/EndemolShine Group/Sky 1/Bandit Television. CAT # AMP-2597. SRP: $34.95.

 

iClunes

AUGUST IS ACORN MEDIA/RLJ ENTERTAINMENT MONTH

Since 2004, it’s been a hoot to anxiously await and ravenously enjoy the antics of the populace of Portwenn, DOC MARTIN’s fictional Cornwall district (in actuality, the seaside community of Port Issac).  Aside from being about the closest thing contemporary audiences can relate to the eccentrics that once resided within the gates of Ealing, DOC MARTIN is ruled by its title character, the irascible fish-out-of-water transplanted physician Martin Ellingham (brilliantly played by Martin Clunes).  For the past several seasons, avid TV viewers from both sides of the pond were wondering if the newest series would be the last – a decree issued by the show’s producers.  But the popularity of the show and its wonderful characters kept the ratings and praise so high, that the suits (happily) had to keep it going.  Well, SERIES 8 was to be the last installment, but…Well, then, SERIES 9the positively final word on the matter.  Well, we’ll see.  Meantime, we can bask in the pleasures both these collections offer via the recent Acorn Media/RLJ Entertainment/DRG DVD and Blu-Ray renditions.  In a nutshell, the high bar MARTIN is renowned for has been fastidiously maintained, exploring new avenues for the familiar cast – some quite poignant.

While each SERIES has a number of interesting sidebar scenarios: an upcoming wedding, Ruth considering selling her farm, the Larges’ continuing attempts to become solvent, various diseases and ailments, the further adventures of now-widowed Mrs. Tishell (although hubby, aka Malcolm Storry, is briefly on view in his SERIES 8 swansong appearances), child-rearing for Martin and Louisa, and even a hefty chunk devoted to Buddy, the lovable pooch that has attached himself to pet-hating GP, the key narratives can be whittled down to a pair of crucial scenarios surrounding the lead and his beloved.

Indeed, the major plotlines of the two series’ total of 16 episodes (each spread over three discs) are quite serious on the surface albeit handled in a snarky fashion:  The Ellighams’ having to deal with James Henry’s (played by twins Noah and Luca Frucella-Tildesley in 8, and Elliott Blake in 9) upbringing once their nanny splits, and, Martin’s being offered a high-end position at a revered London hospital.  Each collection is beset by drama:  the former causing Louisa to rethink her career guideline, and ultimately choosing to leave the school she loves to pursue a career in psychology, and, Martin being investigated by the staunch Medical Review Board after a complaint is issued against him concerning his blood phobia.  The latter is quite damning, as it may cost him not only the desired position, but his license to practice medicine.  But even a “disabled” Martin is far more qualified to handle the Portwenn maladies than the array of inept temp replacements and investigators – one who ends up owing Martin his life!

Personally, I found the “final” SERIES most illuminating, as it completely punched me smack dab in my superiority complex.  Early in the productions, local PC Mark Mylow left to go the Barney Fife route in the big city.  His replacement, the fumbling, bumbling Joe Penhale instantly annoyed me from frame one.  Throughout the years, I begrudgingly accepted his presence (due largely to the wonderful portrayal by John Marquez).  Well, in SERIES 9, Mylow returns to the village a failure (Paint it Black) – ready to pick up where he left off.  I had forgotten what a pompous ass the character was, and, more importantly (for all his foibles), how much I’ve grown to really like Penhale.  Another Neuhaus mistake exposed!  Good riddance, Mylow! Other recurring folks and guest stars in the SERIES include Lucy Briggs-Owen, Robyn Addison, Rosie Ede, Rory Wilson, John Hollingworth, Hermione Guilliford, Angela Curran, Conleth Hill, Lucy Russell, and extra special appearances by Sigourney Weaver (All my Trials in 8), Art Malik (Sons and Lovers, also 8), Danny Huston (Wild West Country, in 9) and Tom Conti (Licence to Practice also 9), all obviously fans of the show.  And, aside from those already listed, we’re tickled pink to welcome back Jessica Ransom, Selina Cadell (Mrs. Tishell), the wonderful Eileen Atkins and, as the Larges, Ian McNeice and Joe Absolom.

I won’t share the climactic results of SERIES 9; that said, I WILL tell you that they’re not absolutely resolved to any cut-and-dried conclusion.  This gives us hope that somewhere down the road there may be a SERIES 10 looming in the wings.  I pray this so, as, now more than ever, we NEED Martin’s blunt, searing and oft angry advice.  It would almost qualify as a mandatory PSA to have a DOC MARTIN in the time of COVID, with the short-tempered physician dealing with the a-holes refusing to wear masks.  The possibilities of situations are limitless.  LSS, if anyone can sway idiots, its Martin Ellingham!  But, again, that’s my pipedream.

As mentioned above, the Acorn Media DVD and Blu-Rays of SERIES 8 and 9 are, not surprisingly, up to the company’s lofty standards.  Acorn probably has the best looking DVDs on the market (SERIES 8 is no exception, in excellent anamorphic widescreen), and the Blu-Rays of SERIES 9 display outstanding 1080p resolution.  The stereo-surround tracks are equally impressive, allowing us to savor the background oceanic effects that append the frequently hilarious dialog and charming music scores of Colin Towns. The direction (Nigel Cole, Stuart Orme, Charlie Palmer), writing (Jack Lothian, Richard Stoneman, Colin Bateman, Aschlin Ditta, Julian Unthank, Andrew Rattenbury, Alastair Galbraith, Chris Reddy), and camerawork (Simon Archer), likewise, couldn’t be better.  As usual, each SERIES contains supplemental behind-the-scenes extras, including a segment hosted by the show’s unofficial masters of ceremonies, McNiece and Absolom.  In case I haven’t praised them enough, the cast of regulars remains as terrific as ever.  And Martin Clunes is a comic god!

DOC MARTIN, SERIES 8.  Color. Widescreen [1.78:1; 16 x 9 anamorphic]; 5.1 stereo-surround. CAT# AMP-2593.

DOC MARTIN, SERIES 9. Color. Widescreen [1.78:1; 1080p High Definition]; 5.1 DTS-HD MA. CAT # AMP-2599. 

Acorn Media/RLJ Entertainment/DRG/Buffalo Pictures Production.  SRP: $39.99@

 

That’s a Wrap! Loose Ends, Part One

AUGUST IS ACORN MEDIA/RLJ ENTERTAINMENT MONTH

My absolute acceptance of the cliché, “all good things must come to an end” doesn’t necessarily mean that I like it.  And, true enough, there are so few good things, especially now.  What I have trouble wrapping my need-to-escape brain around is when all GREAT things come to an end.  Thus, I mournfully report on the Blu-Ray Acorn Media/RLJ Entertainment/EndemolShine Group releases of the final third seasons of THE FALL and HUMANS.

 

2013’s THE FALL quickly became one of the most fascinating, thrilling and creepy shows ever to emerge from either end of the pond.  The story followed two obsessed individuals:  serial killer Paul Spector, who chalks up victim after victim, while perfectly playing the role of dedicated husband and family man (plus being a highly thought of social worker!), and Stella Gibson, a likewise sexually fucked up but brilliant detective sent from the England to Ireland to investigate the case.

The work both put into their “quests” are superbly paralleled via the magnificent writing and directing, but mostly from two standout performances, Jamie Dornan (that Dornan is essentially identifiable here because of the Fifty Shades franchise is unfair, but, I imagine financially suitable) and Gillian Anderson (already an icon for a quarter of a century, internationally known as “Scully” from The X-Files; although this role alone should be her beacon performance).  Dornan and Anderson, the latter who also co-produced, share the final third portion of this chilling story with ace direction from creator and writer Allan Cubitt, David Grennan’s photography (lushly and eerily capturing the pros and cons of the Northern Ireland locations) and a score (by Keefus Ciancia and David Holmes) that audibly works in tandem with the visuals to raise the goosebumps.  The double-disc Acorn Blu-Ray is (as with the previous two sets) technically top-notch, rendering crystal-clear 1080p clarity and excellent stereo-surround sound (there are also nearly a half hour of extras, comprising a behind-the-scenes featurette, deleted scenes, plus a photo gallery).

In the 2017 finale, Spector, wounded and recovering after surgery in a closely guarded hospital ward, reflects on what he’s done, while grooming the doctor who operated on him (and the entire female staff) with his patented sympathy technique – the prerequisite to victimization.

Gibson, meantime, is conflicted about contact, as she knows only too well what the killer laid out:  that they’re closer to one another than she thinks.  While in denial verbally, psychologically, she realizes that his smirky accusation is likely a cold, hard fact.

Unraveling Spector’s horrible childhood, as a victim himself of a sexual predator, Gibson and her crew do everything to guarantee his recovery for trial and, probable execution.  As indicated, Spector has other plans.  So does his support group:  a wife, now teetering on suicide, and his last uncompleted score:  Katie, a lovesick teen, hopelessly devoted to the psychopath, to paraphrase the Grease lyric.  Terrific supporting acting turns from Aisling Franciosi (as Katie), Denise Gough, John Lynch, Bronagh Taggart, and Sarah Beattie really deliver the goods, and help to ratchet up the breathless tension.

While I really enjoyed the various locations from the first two installments, the endgame, largely set in the hospital was, for me, a bit too claustrophobic.  At least, at first.  As the walls close in on Spector, another twist occurs – taking the narrative to a shocking climax.

Leaving Belfast at the conclusion, we are, like Stella Gibson, wasted, empty, relieved.  We’re additionally disappointed that the engrossing story and characters are to be no more, but we come out ahead of the ace lady sleuth.  She’s stuck with a lulu of a “what if.”  The show may haunt us for a while – in fact, I suspect, quite a while, but the dark twisted thoughts they unleashed will haunt Stella forever.

 

The last third of 2018’s HUMANS (or, to be specific, HUMANS 3.0) is riveting, heart-wrenching and exciting.  The series, as it always has, combines the best sci-fic has to offer with allegorical allusions to contemporary politics…and horror.

While the underlying theme of THE FALL was that the heroine and villain were more alike than each (or, at least, one) would choose to admit, the narrative in HUMANS is that the synths are more human than the flesh-and-blood counterparts.  And so it continues.

The unsettling punch that the scenario too easily fits into the current fascist state of America is thoroughly frightening.  Or maybe I’m reading too much into it.  I mean, taking “people” who are different and putting them in border camps, lying to the public, instigating racism by inciting riots for violence that doesn’t exist…Yeah, who’d do that?

I was crushed to see the fates of some of my favorite characters (won’t go into details, check it out for yourself), but hopeful at the revolution and evolution of Niska.  She takes no shit, has been softened to an extent, and has a new goal.  Again, that’s all you’ll get out of me.

If HUMANS has taught me anything, it is never to trust humans (either the right wing or the do-the-right-thing wing).

Don’t get me wrong, HUMANS doesn’t exist to cram and ram messages down your gullet and in your face, its terrific entertainment from the get-go (the deep dish stuff is insidious and occasionally subliminal).  So, come on, folks, a spoonful of artificial substitute helps the medicine go down!

As usual, the writing (Jonathan Brackley, Sam Vincent and Debbie O’Malley, Namsi Khan, Jonathan Harbottle, Daisy Coulam, Melissa Igbal, based on the Swedish TV series by Lars Lunstrom), performances (prominently Gemma Chan, Colin Morgan, Emily Berrington, Ivanno Jeremiah, Katherine Parkinson, Lucy Carless, Tom Gordon-Hill, Theo Stevenson, and Pixie Davies), direction (Jill Robertson, Al Mackay, Ben A. Williams, Richard Senior), photography (Kieran McGuigan), and music (Sarah Warne) is/are exemplary, particularly the on-screen work of Mia (Chan), Leo (Morgan), Niska (Berrington) and Max (Jeremiah).

And, as usual, Acorn’s Blu-Ray presentation of HUMANS 3.0 (the uncut international version, not the oft syndicated abridged nonsense) is first-rate.

HUMANS comes with a 24-minute behind-the-scenes featurette, and (like THE FALL) is housed in a slipcover.  Both shows are also available in complete series boxed sets (Google the Acorn Media website).  That said, I kinda wish a HUMANS 4.0 eventually sees the light of day.  It’s Niska’s time.

THE FALL (CAT # AMP-2574) and HUMANS 3.0 (AMP-2677):  Color.  Widescreen [1.78:1; 1080p High Definition]; 5.1 DTS-HD MA. Acorn Media/RLJ Entertainment/EndemolShine Group. SRP: $39.95@.