Absolutely Fabulous: Absolutely Everything (1992 – 2004/BBC DVD White Book Set)/Dr. Willoughby (1999/Acorn Media DVD)/The Future (2011/Lionsgate DVD)/The Hollywood Knights (1980/Image
Blu-ray)/Portlandia: Season One (2011/IFC/VSC/MVD
& C Sound: C+ (Knights: B-) Extras: B/D/C/C-/C+ Main Programs: B/B-/C/B-/B-
nice to see comedy done well and here are examples that usually succeed.
hit, Absolutely Fabulous: Absolutely
Everything (1992 – 2004) is the ever bold, hilarious, gutsy BritCom about
two women (co-creator Jennifer Saunders and ever-successful Joanna Lumley) in
the fashion industry who are just a bit older than the young up and comers, but
surviving no matter how drunk or irresponsible they tend to be. Edina
(Saunders) lives with her nerdy daughter Saffron (Julia Sawalha) who lands up
being the adult and blames Patsy (Lumley) as much for her mothers
cannot-grow-up escapades as her own mother.
writing is top notch and among the usually strong work by Saunders and comedy
partner Dawn French, making fun of pop culture, sexuality, fashion, excess,
glitz, gaudiness, wealth, snobs, class division, Britishisms, aging and
womanhood among its targets and the show never holds back. This is so much so that all U.S. attempts
to remake it have fallen through for being too racy. Saunders is brilliant, but I want to take a
moment to focus on what Lumley does here that people miss.
as one of the last of the sexy Brit models of the 1960s, she was a Bond girl in
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
(1969), became entertainment royalty by her involvement with a top male comedy
writer in the early 1970s, was a choice pick for supporting roles, then broke
through internationally as Purdey in the mid-1970s spy revival The New Avengers which had her against
high odds continuing the legacy of her predecessors (Honor Blackman, Diana
Rigg, Linda Thorson) that the original classic established. She even took risks with challenging series
like the short-lived Sapphire &
Steel with David McCallum. After all
that, she could have just taken on small roles, done more of the same or even retired,
but by playing the ever-drunk and sarcastic Patsy, she boldly played against
her entire legacy trashing it for humor to some extent in a role that could
have backfired. Instead, she proved
again her comic credentials and what a great actress she really is. Along with Saunders, the resulting chemistry
was stunning and that is why this became a big hit worldwide and a cult hit in
going places post-feminism and British comedy had not found since Monty Python or The Young Ones.
also even inside jokes on entertainment royalty in the U.K. down to appearances
by the likes of Lulu, Kate O’Mara, Twiggy and Miranda Richardson, but this is
far from a series with nothing but in-jokes.
It breaks the sitcom rule (especially prominent in the U.S.) that you
cannot have negative or outrageous characters as the star(s) of your
sitcom. All 38 episodes (amounting to
six seasons) are here on 9 DVDs in a plush pearl white book case with many
extras including the pilot episode Mirror Ball, Photo Galleries, the modern
mother & daughter sketch that started the show off, four featurettes: Joanna Lumley on Modeling, How To Be Absolutely Fabulous, Absolutely Fabulous – A Life & Before Ab Fab (two sketches) and audio
commentary by Saunders and Executive Producer Jon Plowman on select
episodes. This is a great set and the
definitive one to get for fans, plus it makes a great gift.
became part of the French/Saunders comedy troop, but all have continued to do
edgy comedy since their hit ended. While
Saunders appeared in the underrated Life
& Times Of Vivienne Vyle (2007, reviewed elsewhere on this site)
lampooning the culture of talk shows, Lumley played the title character and the
actress who is a star because of it in Dr.
Willoughby (1999), an equally cynical look at TV stardom and the banality
of soap operas, which is ironically now in decline. As star Donna Sinclair, she is nice in your
face, but mean, bitter, vengeful and bitchy off-screen unknown to her
fans. Brian Protheroe is the aging male
lead who fears he’ll get kicked off the show and Isobel Middleton plays Emma, a
rising star playing a “wonderful, sympathetic” nun annoying Donna to no
end. The show also has an upset
producer, a pair of bad writers and other staff acting wacky.
episodes, this is often amusing and Lumley’s timing is great, but the shows are
not as consistent in keeping the characters on the same track (some only show
up for one show, leaving them undeveloped) and this can come up short, yet now
it is also a time capsule since daytime soaps are in decline on both sides of
the Atlantic. Also, classics like Soap and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman (both reviewed elsewhere on this site)
took apart the form decades ago. Still,
I think there are enough laughs here to catch it and anyone interested will
enjoy it. There are sadly no extras.
July directs, writes and stars in The
Future (2011) a mumblecore comedy with some potential, but it quickly gets
distracted by performance art (read the kind of dancing Spike Jonze made fun of
in his great video for Fatboy Slims’ Praise
You) and a talking cat who occasionally breaks the narrative that is
here. She plays Sophie and is dating
Jason (Hamish Linklater perfectly cast as her mate) when they decide to take in
a cat who is ill, but they have to wait another month for the animal to get
well before bringing it home. Then they
realize it will end their freedom as a couple, so they intend to do what they
can do to live it up until then.
scenario definitely has potential and both are naturals for comedy, but all get
distracted very quickly and what could have been a howler of a surprise quietly
and slowly falls off with self-indulgence and then everything we have seen in
tired indie mumblecore releases to date.
You may smile sometimes, but the 91 minutes just become longer and
longer until you are glad to see it end.
Extras include a Trailer, Deleted Scene, Making The Future behind-the-scenes featurette and feature length
audio commentary by July.
Mutrux’s The Hollywood Knights (1980)
is one of those films that has not been remembered as it should be, but is a
surprisingly funny teen comedy that wants to be part American Graffiti, part Animal
House and part counterculture comedy taking place in 1965 with some gross
comedy moments, some outright funny moments and is yet another one of those
films that helped launch several careers as we see Michelle Pfeiffer (with an
almost Farrah Fawcett haircut), Robert Wuhl, Fran Drescher and Tony Danza among
the familiar faces in this tale of the title gang having one last romp on
Halloween before a favorite food hangout closes and they start to go their
script is stronger and more naturalistic (you believe the events and their
flow) than so many films that followed like it, especially in the use of
licensed music when it was much less common.
When the songs show up, they are part of the story, never seems forced
and totally make sense in every single case, making it one of the best films to
use hit songs still to this day. That
has become a major, tired spoof of itself these days, but here, the music
enhances the narrative and its period authenticity. Though not a classic, it is a remarkable film
in its low budget and that it has more energy than even I remembered. Definitely worth revisiting, its arrival on
Blu-ray is more pleasant than expected.
There are no extras, but this film ought to have a few.
we have Portlandia: Season One (2011),
the first thing Lorne Michaels has been part of that was even amusing for the
first time in many years. This sometimes
surreal show has Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein playing multiple characters
in a Portland, Oregon that is still somehow stuck in the
progressive side of the 1990s. There are
some chuckles, a few laughs and more than a few clichés that wear thin (along
with their characters) quickly, reminding me of Tracey Ullman doing multiple
characters, but withy a little less success.
season offers six episodes and it is the kind of show that might at least
become a cult item. Some skits set-ups
work nicely and they have the feel of the area, though no witty jokes on past
uses of the city in pop culture like referencing the McLean Stevenson bomb Hello Larry, the ill-fated Diff’rent Strokes spin-off. You’ll remember grunge though and expect some
clever surprises. Extras include audio
commentary on all episodes, Deleted Scenes, Blooper Reel, Thunderant Videos, Season Two Preview, Armisen speaking to
OES Graduates and Extended Scenes.
X 1 image on the first three season of Absolutely
is shot on PAL analog videotape (the last big international BBC hit to be produced
as such) with 16mm outdoor footage and may have some flaws and aliasing errors,
but color and definition are otherwise as about as consistent as can be
expected. The remaining shows that
followed are anamorphically enhanced at 1.78 X 1 and have some slight
improvements, but not by much. Still,
this looks just fine and is enjoyable down to the amusingly keyed-up color.
enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on Willoughby
is on par with that shot on early HD video and having some good, consistent
color, but still on the soft side in more than a few shots. The anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on
Future is softer than either of
them, which is odd considering it was meant for theatrical release including
weak Video Black and a general softness throughout.
1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Knights may be the oldest entry on the list, but is a newer HD
master and is surprisingly clean, clear and colorful, even with some of its
stylized approach (they did not overdo these things then) and the fact it was
shot on 16mm film. Fans of the film will
be surprised and it is at least as good as the Blu-ray Universal just issued on
American Graffiti, which in fairness
was shot in grainier Techniscope (despite some prints being produced in
dye-transfer, three-strip Technicolor).
1.78 1 digital High Definition image on the Blu-ray for Portlandia is the second best looking performer on the list, though
it also has its share of softness and even slight motion blur. Colors are usually on the subtle side. An anamorphically enhanced DVD version is
also included, but ties Future as the poorest performer on the list.
MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix on Knights
is easily the best-sounding of the releases here, clean and clear for its age
and the best upgrade you could expect from an older low-budget film. The music never sounds phony or like some
brand-new transfer of the hits from master tapes or discs, which is nice. The rest of the entries offer lossy Dolby
Digital 2.0 Stereo, though Future
has Dolby 5.1, but that offers it no sonic boost from a quiet dialogue-based
- Nicholas Sheffo