absolutely fabulous: season 4 (WB), w/ Jennifer Saunders, Joanna Lumley. Rating: NNNNN
There's a five-year gap between the third and fourth seasons of Absolutely Fabulous, and while stars Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley barely seem to have aged, Julia Sawalha has gone from being a 27-year-old playing 19 to 32 looking like 45. Saffron's always been the most emotionally mature character on the show; now she almost looks too old to be Saunders's daughter.
Absolutely Fabulous still hits sidesplitting comic highs: Lumley has sunk deeper into Patsy's utterly monstrous self-absorption, and there's Jane Horrocks in a double role, not to mention great guests. Only AbFab could cast Marianne Faithfull and Anita Pallenberg as God and the Devil in a dream sequence. A keeper, with terrific extras.
EXTRAS: Commentaries by Saunders and producer John Plowman; the Saunders-Lumley one-off, Mirrorball; two Saunders-French sketches, including their Silence Of The Lambs parody; outtakes; a black-and-white interview with Lumley, a model, from about 1968; Absolutely Confused, a guide to the English pop culture figures referred to in the show.
Big-screen rating: N/A
life with judy garland: me and my shadows (2001, Alliance Atlantis), dir. Robert Allan Ackerman w/ Judy Davis, Tammy Blanchard. Rating: NNN
It's perhaps ungracious to complain that this Judy Garland biopic is a welter of show-business clichés, since Garland's life itself was exactly that -- the drug habits, the four marriages, the failure and triumph, the tears and the laughter. Garland's daughter Lorna Luft shows precious little insight into her mother's life, at least little that carries over to the small screen from her book. Anyone familiar with the Garland biography will find little new here.
Rent this for Judy Davis's Emmy-winning turn as Garland. Her appropriation of Garland's flamboyantly physical style is uncanny, but her grasp of the star's omnivorous inner demons gives the performance a breathtaking emotional edge. This is the mini-series minus commercial breaks and double credits, so it comes in at just under three hours.
EXTRAS: Commentary from director Ackerman, Luft and costume designer Dona Granta, deleted scenes, making-of featurette, English and French dubbed version, English subtitles.
Big-screen rating: N/A
don't say a word (2001, Fox), dir. Gary Fleder w/ Michael Douglas, Brittany Murphy. Rating: NNN
Listening to Gary Fleder's commentary track, it's clear that a huge amount of care, hard work and obsessive attention to detail went into the creation of what is basically superior product.
Don't Say A Word stars Douglas as a psychiatrist who must pry a secret from an apparently psychotic teenager (Murphy) before the bad guys (Sean Bean and company) kill his daughter, whom they've kidnapped. It's certainly Fleder's best work (Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead, Kiss The Girls), and he has a first-rate cast, but this is a renter, not a keeper.
EXTRAS: Brittany Murphy's screen test is astonishing, as is the production note that she was shooting this picture simultaneously with Riding In Cars With Boys; and the little production featurettes are quite interesting. But the actors' scene-specific commentaries don't say much, except for Oliver Platt's.
Big-screen rating: NN (JH)
demetrius and the gladiators (1954, Fox), dir. Delmer Daves w/ Victor Mature, Susan Hayward. Rating: NN
Gladiator lifted a lot from this 1954 picture and from The Decline Of The Roman Empire. As one of the earliest CinemaScope movies (indeed, it's the sequel to The Robe, the first 'Scope film), it shows a Hollywood style archaeologically remote from contemporary tastes.
Delmer Daves confronts the peculiar 5:2 ratio by shooting everything in long and medium shots. Camera movements are slow and stately, and the pacing is glacial. Within a year, directors figured out how to use wide-screen -- George Cukor in the spectacularly intimate A Star Is Born, Elia Kazan with tilted compositions in East Of Eden, Nicholas Ray with the startling cutting patterns of Bigger Than Life.
Daves, whose most distinguished credit was the minor Bogart-Bacall vehicle Dark Passage, isn't much of a stylist.
Mature plays Demetrius, the former slave who possesses Christ's robe. He's sent to train for the arena and becomes the plaything of Messalina (Hayward) and the obsession of the emperor Caligula (Jay Robinson).
Ernest Borgnine, a year before his Oscar for Marty, runs the gladiator school. Good transfer, though there's a bit of digital blur in the background of some of the longer shots.
EXTRAS: French mono version, English and Spanish subtitles, four theatrical trailers in English, French, Spanish and German.
Big-screen rating: N/A
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