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In Mira Nair's (Monsoon Wedding) adaptation 19th-century Europe meets the cultural vibrancy of India. Reese Witherspoon stars as the ambitious heroine, Becky Sharp, one of literature's most intriguing and complex female characters. With nothing but wit, beauty, and sensuality at her disposal, Sharp travels on her scheme-filled journey to the height of society, only to find that the destination is as morally low as the gutter from which she came. Gabriel Bryne joins the cast as the devious Marquess of Steyne, along with James Purefoy as Rawdon Crawley. Witherspoon's performance is short of convincing, lacking a smooth transition from coyish girl to brazen coquette.
The 2.35:1 anamorphic picture is impeccable, free of noticeable artifacts or graininess. While the lighting is a bit drab and dark to reflect the mood of the time period, the vivid colors of the costumes and makeup make a nice contrast and emerge beautifully. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is also impressive. Dialogue comes through with great clarity, although the mix didn't make much use of my sub.
The special features are few but definitely worth watching. Vanity Fair comes with the typical run-of-the-mill extras, including deleted scenes and director commentary, in which Nair shares the film's inspiration from her colorful Indian heritage. Two featurettes—"The Women Behind Vanity Fair" and "Welcome to Vanity Fair"—complete the list and are in some ways more interesting than the film itself. Overall, Vanity Fair is not a bad DVD release, but it's hardly worth your $30 if you're not a big fan of the Victorian era.—Aimee C. Giron
DVD: King of the Hill: The Complete Third Season—20th Century Fox
What's funny about a group of staid suburban Texans who take life much too seriously? Pretty much everything, as their Emmy Award–winning third season proves, from the all-time-great "And They Call It Bobby Love," with guest voice Sarah Michelle Gellar (the episode culminates in a cheer-out-loud eating contest), to the darkly comic skydiving mishap in the season finale.
The 25 episodes from Season Three are spread across three double-sided discs and are presented in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The image is inconsistent but typically soft, with colors that are often oversaturated despite some subtle distinctions between the cartoon skintones. Keep in mind that this is not sophisticated animation; it's maybe one big step above creator Mike Judge's previous Texan confection, Beavis and Butt-Head. The Dolby 2.0 audio offers occasional rear-channel activity and delivers the Refreshments' toe-tapping theme song with ample bass. The show is almost entirely dialogue driven, though, and displays limited dynamic range.
The progression of the animated menus from side-to-side, disc-to-disc, and the scenes of life in the common alley of the neighborhood are amusing, but they hardly constitute bonus features. This set provides absolutely nothing in the way of extras, in stark contrast to the wonderful King seasons that have come before. This is surely a show that can stand on its own, especially the third season's batch of yarns. Still, I can't help but wonder why the bounty has ended so abruptly.—Chris Chiarella