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Still Life: A Three Pines Mystery

There appears to be a market for mysteries in every culture that produces literature and filmed entertainment. Throughout the world, both supply and demand are high for stories of crime-solving that engage the reader or viewer to try to pick up on clues and figure out the truth. It is an old genre that shows no sign of disappearing anytime soon.Still Life: A Three Pines Mystery is a Canadian contribution to the genre. Adapted from the first of ten and counting novels (and one novella) in Louise Penny's nine-year-old Armand Gamache series, this 88-minute movie was first aired in 2013 by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, where Penny once worked on radio. It appears to be a pilot, though one with no plans for any further activity.The movie opens on the eve of Canada's mid-October Thanksgiving. In the small village of Three Pines well outside of Montreal, 76-year-old Jane Neal releases a couple of mice out on a leafy trail before meeting a sudden, violent end. Called in to investigate the old woman's murder are three police detectives from Quebec. Most significant among them is our protagonist: Chief Inspector Armand Gamache (Nathaniel Parker).Chalking up his out-of-place British accent (Parker's native one) to a Cambridge education, the French Canadian Gamache is all business. He takes his job seriously, is evidently afraid of heights, and has a wife. But that is the extent of what we come to know about our hero. We know much less about his trusty second in command, Jean-Guy Beauvoir (Anthony Lemke). Better defined, albeit ludicrously so, is Inspector Yvette Nichol (Susanna Fournier), a headstrong, tactless rookie who needs a talking to on more than one occasion.As a pure procedural, Still Life is far less interested in the lives and personalities of those on the case than in the specifics of the murder they are investigating. Neal has been killed by a broadhead arrow, which pushes our suspicions to a family of hunters, one of whom confesses to the crime. Not buying the confession or making an arrest as ordered earns Gamache a suspension. But we know he's right because 88-minute mysteries aren't solved 45 minutes in.Anyone could be a suspect in this small town, whose scenic fall foliage is admired in countless establishing shots. Jane belonged to a pot luck circle which included everything from homosexual innkeepers to a respected poet to a couple with a strained marriage. Jane kept her living room off-limits to all these friends, valuing her privacy and keeping her artwork hidden from them. The title refers to the victim's decision to finally subject her painting to public exhibition in a local competition. Still Life is poorly acted, with its lightly-seasoned cast of Canadian unknowns not displaying much belief in subtlety. Director Peter Moss, a thirty-year veteran of minor Canadian television, doesn't seem to mind. Relying heavily on commercial fadeouts, he keeps things moving with little flair and minimal suspense. This cheap mystery wants nothing more than to have you keep guessing who killed Jane Neal, but it doesn't really care who did it or construct itself in a way to make its revelation anything other than bizarre. One or two scenes are all you'd need to change to answer "whodunit" in a completely different fashion.A year after its CBC broadcast, Still Life came to DVD this week from worldly mystery-heavy Acorn Media.VIDEO and AUDIOEven by the lower standards of DVD, Still Life doesn't look great. The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation exhibits some ringing, most glaringly on wide shots. Even with nearly 20 minutes of bonus features, the scant runtime should not have posed compression hurdles, although this is only a single-layered disc, rather than the more commonplace dual-layered.As usual for Acorn, the soundtrack is a plain Dolby 2.0 stereo track. It's fine, though probably not significantly better than what you'd hear in a twenty-five year-old "Murder, She Wrote" episode. White English SDH subtitles are kindly included on both the movie and the bonus features. BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGNStill Life is joined by four short making-of featurettes."Behind the Scenes" (5:33) gathers remarks from author Louise Penny (who marvels at the filmmaking process), director Peter Moss ("this has Canadian television written all over it"), and other crew members, along with a little bit of B-roll footage."The Book" (2:35) lets Penny and cast members speak highly about the first book in her series."The Characters" (5:27) allows author and cast to talk about these characters as if there is weight to them onscreen.Finally, "Welcome to Three Pines" (3:17) speaks on finding a suitable location to house the fictional community, which two actors compare to Twin Peaks.The disc opens with Acorn's standard two-minute catalog-sampling promo, followed by individual trailers for "Murdoch Mysteries": Season One and "Vera."The static main menu loops the end credits' song (The Express and Company's "Out by the Trees") on a wide rendering of the cover art. Submenus, including two pages of scene selections, are nicely illustrated.An insert promoting Acorn's streaming subscription service and a new Hercule Poirot novel accompany the disc in the unslipcovered, uncut Eco-Box keepcase.CLOSING THOUGHTSStill Life: A Three Pines Mystery disproves my theory that all television mysteries wind up being pretty good, but not great. This Canadian movie is decidedly less than good. While enthusiasts of the genre and fans of Penny Louise's books might still find this watchable, it disappoints with unsubtle acting, an easily manipulated plot, and a lack of intrigue and atmosphere.Acorn's DVD offers a lackluster feature presentation but an okay handful of short featurettes. I can't imagine many people liking this movie enough to watch it multiple times, making it better suited to a stream or rental than a purchase.Buy Still Life: A Three Pines Mystery on DVD from

Still Life: A Three Pines Mystery



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