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The DVD Report #258

Mary Norton’s 1952 novel, The Borrowers was previously filmed three times, twice for TV in 1973 and 199,2 and once for the big screen in 1997. Now Japan’s master animator, Hayao Miyazaki, has adapted it as an animated feature under the title of The Secret World of Arrietty. Although the direction was given to Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who was the chief animator on Howl’s Moving Castle and Ponyo, the look and feel of the film bear Miyazaki’s unmistakable touch.

Released in Japan in 2010, the delightful film was first shown in an English language version in the U.K. in 2011. The U.S. release version, now out on Blu-ray and standard DVD from Disney, was re-recorded with domestic voiceovers led by Bridget Mendler, David Henrie, Amy Poehler, Will Arnett and Carol Burnett as the token villain.

This appealing and tastefully made film is a wonderful exception to all the loud, noisy explosion filled films that pass for kids’ movies nowadays. It’s worth seeing, with or without kids in attendance.

In an era when most actors under thirty are playing overgrown adolescents, Daniel Radcliffe at 22 is a refreshing exception as a young widower with a four year-old son in the second film version of Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black, directed by James Watkins.

Produced by Hammer Films in the style of their classic horror films of the 1950s and 1960s, the provocative film is also reminiscent of such children in jeopardy classics as 1960s’ The Innocents and 1972’s The Other.

Radcliffe is excellent throughout, and he’s matched by veterans Ciaran Hinds and Janet McTeer as a wealthy couple who befriends him. McTeer is especially compelling as a woman driven to the the brink of madness by the title character.

The Woman in Black is available on Blu-ray and standard DVD.

Based on a short story called “The Ghost Walker”, The Grey, directed by Joe Carnahan, is an unbearably long, drawn out exercise in facing certain death.

Liam Neeson has a few good moments as the star of the film about a group of six or seven Alaskan oil workers whose plane is downed in the wilderness, but not enough to recommend it. The men are relentlessly stalked by a pack of wolves and are mercilessly killed and eaten by them, one by one. The premise of this exercise in tedium is preposterous, the ending ridiculous.

The Grey is available on both Blu-ray and standard DVD.

The modern murder mystery began with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, and while there have been some equally compelling detectives and detective teams since Holmes and Dr. Watson first appeared in 1886’s A Study in Scarlet, the originals are still so intriguing that they keep coming back to life.

Their latest incarnation is in the British TV series, Sherlock, of which only three 90 minute films appear per year beginning in 2010. Joining the first series, which was released on DVD in December, 2010, is the newly released Sherlock: Season Two which continues the pattern set by the first series.

Each film is based on an originally published Conan Doyle novel or short story which has been updated to fit the modern world. With four novels and sixty-one short stories to choose from, the series could run for twenty-three years at the current pace.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman star as Holmes and Watson, who no longer call each other “Holmes” and “Watson”, but “Sherlock” and “John”. The also rely heavily on cell phones and the internet in searching for clues. Watson now writes a blog about Holmes’ exploits. The names of the original stories have been changed as well. A Study in Scarlet is now A Study in Pink and A Scandal in Bohemia is now A Scandal in Belgravia, and oh, yes, Irene Adler is now a dominatrix.

Holmes’ Scotland Yard inspector friend, Lestrade is played by Rupert Graves; Holmes’ brother Mycroft is played by series co-creator Mark Gatiss and Holmes’ nemesis, “Professor” Moriarty now called “Jim” Moriarty is played by Andrew Scott. The added touch of modernity makes it absolutely delightful. The witty dialogue is as much a part of the goings-on as is the central mystery in each film.

Of course, this is not the first time Holmes has been updated to suit the times. The Basil Rathbone-Nigel Bruce series of the 1940s famously updated the stories to World War II.

Both seasons of Sherlock and The Complete Sherlock Holmes Collection starring Rathbone and Bruce, as well as most other filmed versions of Holmes’ escapades, are available in both Blu-ray and standard DVD.

One of best of the more recent TV detectives is George Gently, played by veteran actor Martin Shaw. Gently is an upstanding police inspector from London working the in Northeast England in the 1960s. George Gently Series 4, which takes the series through 2011 will be in general release on Blu-ray and standard DVD on July 3rd, but is available now exclusively from Acorn..

The series, which in addition to presenting great performances and superb characterizations, examines the mores of the 1960s from a 21st Century perspective in which Gently seems more enlightened than someone in his place might have been at the time. In that regard it compares favorably to Foyle’s War, which took a look at World War II England through the eyes of its detective inspector hero whose approach was as often as night what one might expect from an enlightened 21st Century detective.

The granddaddy of the modern British detective is DCI Tom Barnaby, played by John Nettles in Midsomer Murders since 1997. The newly released Midsomer Murders, Set 20 features the last four films in which Nettles stars and introduces Neil Dudgeon as his cousin John Barnaby, who took over his duties.

What sets these clever mysteries apart is the bucolic background of the most unsavory murders taking place in the cozy villages of fictitious Midsomer County. One of the shocking mysteries in Nettles’ final set revolves around incest, which reared its ugly head in the very first film fifteen years ago. The more things change, it seems, the more they stay the same. Nettles’ last line: “I’m going to have my cake and eat it.”

Midsomer Murders, Set 20 is available on Blu-ray and standard DVD.

This week’s new DVDs include Man on a Ledge and True Blood: The Complete Fourth Season.

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