DVD Review: Detectorists Series 2

Starring: Toby Jones, Mackenzie Crook

detectorists s2 1There’s a soothing familiarity to the second season of this Bafta-winning comedy. Yes, as we pick up where we left off with Lance, Andy and co, it’s the next best thing to slipping into a hot bath. Which isn’t to say that there aren’t a few storm clouds gathering. Never in very rude health, Lance’s love life is in the doldrums, while Andy is stuck with being a house husband since he’s unable to find a job as a newly qualified archaeologist.

The story arc Mackenzie Crook has written for his own character this time round is perhaps the least interesting strand of Series 2, and this reflects a slight change of emphasis, away from the two leads onto the other members of their local metal detecting club. It’s these colourful misfits who get the funniest scenes in this second outing, especially bluff ex-copper Terry (Gerard Horan) and the hilarious duo of Russell (Pearce Quigley) and Young Hugh (Divian Ladwa).

Compared to the first season, the scripts feel a little under-written, with some recycling of old jokes (the return of Simon and Garfunkel), and the main story strand, to do with a young German looking for a downed German bomber, seems somewhat undernourished. But Series 2 still delivers the goods when it comes to its feeling for the English countryside and eccentricity and the relaxed chemistry between its cast. 7/10

EXTRAS
Very nice 32-min featurette with the cast and crew on location during the filming of the club rally sequence. The show’s producer talks about the genesis of the show and its appeal to Britain’s hobbyists, and we also hear from the likes of Quigley and Ladwa, who seem eerily like the characters they’re playing. 8/10

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DVD Review: Coppelion – Complete Series Collection

COPPELION 1In this heartfelt 13-parter, a trio of schoolgirls head into a post-nuclear-meltdown Tokyo looking for pockets of survivors. Only they’re not ordinary schoolgirls, they’re clones genetically engineered to be resistant to contaminated environments (even in really short skirts). And with escaped convicts, mysterious military types, evil mutants, super-powerful rogue clones and toxic fly-tippers on the loose, it quickly turns out that their visit to the no-go zone is going to be busier than a night in Vegas.

Initially, there’s something slightly lacklustre about the depiction of the three girls and the early stages of their mission, but as the plot thickens the series becomes much more involving. Interesting new characters emerge, such as a community of hardy survivors who live in a high-tech bunker called The Shelter, and Haruto, the girls’ male counterpart, a languidly cynical schoolboy who works as a one-man clean-up crew. There are some outstandingly fast-moving, dynamic fight sequences, and in the quieter, more reflective moments weighty themes come into play to do with the way these COPPELION 2youthful clones, designed to be perfect, are having to sacrifice themselves to fix the mistakes of humanity – the sins of the fathers visited on the children.

Because it’s a self-contained story, the whole thing has a concentrated power which some more open-ended anime lack, and it steadily builds momentum towards a genuinely moving and nail-biting conclusion. Visually, Coppelion stands out from the crowd too. The use of extra-thick outlines for some of the character designs won’t be to everyone’s taste, but there’s no denying the beauty of the show’s panoramic urban backdrops, done in a scratchy pen-and-ink and watercolour style full of movement and subtle detail. The imagery of the city returning to nature is haunting, making Coppelion one of those rare anime that really lingers in the mind. 8/10

DVD Review: A Traveller in Time

Starring: Sophie Thompson, Gerald James

This BBC TV series from 1978 (based on the classic children’s novel by Alison Uttley) is an engaging mixture of history lesson and timeslip story. Recovering from pneumonia, city girl Penelope (Sophie Thomspon) is sent to stay with her countrified uncle and aunt on their Derbyshire farm, an historic pile that once belonged to a Catholic family involved in a plot to free Mary Queen of Scots from prison. Before she knows it, she’s stepping back into Elizabethan times where she is befriended by various locals who are very handy at providing ye olde exposition …

It’s a show that now has a double timeslip factor, in that one of its main attractions for contemporary viewers is the opportunity it offers to wind back the clock to the rural England of the ’70s. And with some nice location photography and a pleasantly cuddly performance from Gerald James (perhaps best remembered for appearing in the “Railway Station” episode of Sapphire and Steel) as the uncle, the “present day” scenes are very well handled, strongly evocative of log fires, cream teas and long country walks.

Despite humming with plans to tunnel Queen Mary to freedom, the historic scenes haven’t dated quite so well, partly because there’s too much theeing164438 - A Traveller in Time - Sleve.indd and thouing and lute-playing, but mainly because Penelope’s reactions don’t seem to have been thought through very clearly – she seems placidly ready to hang out with her new Elizabethan besties but keeps on mentioning things that only a denizen of the 20th century would know, although luckily they’re too busy doing picturesque but time-consuming chores to notice.

The series is spliced together from a combination of film and video – a common practice back in the ’70s, but in this case, the transition in particularly abrupt because the downstairs of the farmhouse is shot in film and the upstairs on video, with Penelop forever trotting from one to the other. Still, despite these niggles, this is an enjoyable version of a much-loved story, with a clean, attractive transfer on this welcome DVD re-release. 6/10

DVD Review: Manglehorn

Starring: Al Pacino, Holly Hunter
Director: David Gordon Green

manglehorn 1There’s a faint air of an over-sixties version of Pacino’s 1991 hit Frankie and Johnny to David Gordon Green’s Manglehorn, except that this is how it would play out in real life, warts, senior citizen discounts and all. Al Pacino plays the titular character, an ageing locksmith who seems to be a picture of loneliness and yearning. He spends his evenings pouring his heart out in letters to a long-lost sweetheart, while the one bright spot in his week is chatting up the local bank teller (Holly Hunter). Seems like it wouldn’t take much for romance to blossom…

Except that this isn’t a rom-com, and it turns out that Manglehorn is a contradictory so-and-so. As much as he’s drawn to people, he’s also inclined to become cranky and defensive, and when the two meet up for a disastrous lunch, we quickly see why his city slicker son (Chris Messina) has learnt to be extremely wary of him. As for this long-lost love he’s cherishing, perhaps he’s just using that as an excuse to push other people away? Perhaps Manglehorn has simply given up on life?

The film is at heart a character study, a slow, patient examination of a man and the forces that lead him to isolate himself. Needless to say, it’s dominated by Pacino, who resists the temptation (if it even was one for him) to give his role even the slightest suggestion of twinkly cuteness or a sentimental soft centre. He’s prepared to make Manglehorn hard to like and tough to be around. At the same time, by dialling down his performance and making it seem, at times, as if he’s simply being himself in front of the camera, he seems to imply that he identifies with the locksmith’s locked in, walled up, battened-down mindset.

Perhaps because the director’s main focus was on coaxing this performance from his star, other aspects of the film feel a little undernourished and lacking in dramatic urgency. For a movie that’s supposed to be about dipping your toe back into life, there’s not that much sense of a world going on around Manglehorn, and poor Holly Hunter isn’t given a whole lot to do except eat pancakes and have the occasional sniffle. For this reason, Manglehorn isn’t quite on a par with David Gordon Green’s excellent previous effort, Joe, but it’s well worth seeing for its gritty central performance. 7/10

DVD Review: Nisekoi – False Love Season 1, Part 2

nisekoi 1To recap, Ichijo and Chitoge, children of the bosses of rival yakuza gangs, are forced to become boyfriend and girlfriend as a way of bringing peace to their warring families, despite the fact that they heartily detest one another. Not to mention that Ichijo is already secretly in love with his classmate Onodera, who is as ladylike and feminine as Chitoge is loud and brash.

What fuels his passion for Onodera is his belief that she is a long-lost childhood sweetheart whom he promised to marry many years before. But his recollection is a bit fuzzy, and by the time we’re a few episodes into this second half-season, there are at least two other likely candidates for the role.

And if it wasn’t bad enough being embroiled with two girls while in love with a third, as the series progresses Ichijo starts to wonder if he might not have feelings for Chitoge after all …

Nisokei: False Love isn’t the easiest of anime to get into thanks to its rather contrived plot devices, but its on stronger ground when it sticks to the more traditional elements of romantic comedy – crossed wires, embarrassing misunderstandings, fleeting moments of intimacy rudely interrupted. Despite the harem format, the mood is innocent and there is little of the blatant sexualising of teens which can be a problem for western audiences. Our old friends the resort episode and the end of term Culture Festival crop up, but on the whole the show ekes out its thin material cleverly, and there’s a kind of fascination to the way in which it milks maximum comedy and drama from every situation.

A lot of this is achieved through the animation aesthetic adopted by Shaft – bright and breezy if a little basic at first sight, but piling on the FX, with every gag hammered home with a chibi-styled double-take and a comedic music cue. Nothing we haven’t seen before (apart from some “zombie face” reaction shots from Ichijo which are extremely funny and look new), but Nisekoi pushes the envelope with the sheer quantity of such devices.

Add to this reams of chattering, fast-paced crosstalk and Ichijo’s frenzied interior monologues, and you have a show which might just be a bit of froth, but it’s froth that has been whipped up with some impressive skill. 6/10

DVD Review: An Englishman’s Castle

Starring: Kenneth More, Isla Blair, Anthony Bate

Picture Shows:

Picture Shows: Isla Blair, Kenneth More

Kenneth More is usually remembered as a stodgy, theatrical kind of an actor, but he brings a weary, broken-down dignity to this BBC mini-series which imagines an alternative 1970s (the show was aired in 1978) in which Britain lost WWII and has become a satellite of a “German Europe”, nominally under self-rule but cravenly kowtowing to its Berlin overlords.

More plays Peter Ingram, an ageing TV writer (“a terrible crap merchant,” as one colleague dismisses him) who’s has a big hit with a semi-autobiographical show about Germany’s invasion of Britain in 1940. Himself a veteran of the war, Ingram believes he’s honouring the fallen, but Jill (Isla Blair), a bright young member of the cast, is quick to mock the show’s simplistic morals and point out how it has the effect of making the British public feel good about themselves while also reconciling them to defeat. And as he and Jill embark on a romantic fling, she proceeds to shake him out of his state of complacency in a way that threatens to put him at odds with his Nazi paymasters.

Scripted by Philip Mackie (who also penned the much maligned The Cleopatras), An Englishman’s Castle starts out as a talk piece – enjoyably so, with some sharply written exchanges between Ingram and Harmer (Anthony Bate), the urbane Programme Controller who gently encourages him to remove the name of a Jewish character from his latest script. But as Ingram becomes deeply involved with Jill, the tension deepens and there are some surprisingly bold, hard-hitting plot beats, all leading towards a perfectly formed and darkly thoughtful conclusion.

163499 - An Englishman's Castle - Sleve.inddIt’s the sort of original, spikily intelligent drama that used to be the BBC’s stock in trade back back in the ’60s and ’70s, and one of the delights of the show for 21st century audiences is the privileged, insider’s glimpse it gives into the how TV programmes were made at that time, with vivid, authentic-feeling scenes of rehearsals and blocking, hectic shooting days in the studio and drinks in the bar afterwards (there’s an acidly funny scene where an actors reacts badly at a read-through when he finds out that his character is due to die at the hands of machine gun-wielding stormtroopers).

An Englishman’s Castle is also noticeable for offering, in the shape of the pert, witty, secretive Jill, a complex and intriguing supporting role for Isla Blair, a wonderfully feline actress who all too often tended to be relegated to sexy cameo parts. The series was shot on video, which comes up slightly blurry but very bright on this DVD transfer. 9/10

DVD Review: Chandler and Co Series 1 and 2

Starring: Barbara Flynn, Catherine Russell, Peter Capaldi

chandler-and-co 3Girl power is very much the watchword in this enjoyable detective show, created by Paul Milne, which ran for two seasons in the mid-’90s. Two women decide to set up a private eye agency, each for her own reasons – the younger, Elly (Catherine Russell), is smarting from a recent divorce and wants some payback on the male gender, while the other, Dee, is seeking an escape from the toils of family life. With cynical ex-PI Larry (Peter Capaldi) showing them the ropes and renting them high-end tech, they’re soon tailing marks and planting bugs like old pros.

Although a few of their clients are male, most of their cases involve getting the goods on erring husbands, leaving them plenty of time for their own personal issues, which are substantial. Dee is battling hard to convert her own, old fashioned stick in the mud of a hubby into a new man, while Larry has feelings for Elly but finds himself stuck in the friendship zone because she’s unable to get over her slimy, two-timing ex.

It’s this awareness of the messiness of human emotions which is the show’s saving163502 - Chandler and Co - Sleve.indd grace, stopping it from becoming too soft-centred and lightweight. That, and some witty, sharply observant scripts, plus good efforts from all the leads. Cast against type in the maternal role (she usually played strutting, man-eating types up till that point), Barbara Flynn pairs up well with the fresh-faced Russell, while Capaldi has fun acting seedy and embittered.

Chandler & Co returned for a second season, but the series was beset was personnel changes. With Larry having apparently buggered off to Bogota and Dee presumably back to being a housewife, Susan Fleetwood steps in as a scatty single mum who becomes first Elly’s client, then her partner. This new line-up resulted in some entertaining episodes, without quite recapturing the brio of Season 1. 7/10