The Incredible Hulk Blu-ray Review

Starring: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, William Hurt, Tim Roth, Ty Burrell, Tim Blake Nelson
Directed by: Louis Leterrier
Film length: 2hr 15mins
Theatrical Release: June 13th, 2008
Blu-ray release: 2008

I was a kid during The Incredible Hulk TV series first run from 1978 to 1982, and of course I loved it.  The adventures of the tormented scientist Dr. “David” Banner (Bill Bixby) who after a failed experiment with some gamma radiation turns into a 7 foot tall, muscle-bound, green monster known as The Hulk (Lou Ferrigno) when agitated was a treat.  Every week Dr. Banner would enter into someone’s life and help them with a problem with science.  When that didn’t work he would get angry, turn into The Hulk, and like a one man A-Team would smash things until they did.

The Hulk was a misunderstood hero and considered dangerous by some (mostly one reporter with an axe to grind) so, he was always on the run as he could never stay in one place for too long.  It was a fun show for the most part but there was always a sad tone. Especially towards the end when the melancholy theme would begin as Dr. Banner would say his goodbyes before moving on to the next town.  There was some who complained how the show didn’t closely match the fantastical comic book (which would have been too expensive for a network show to pull off back then), but it nailed that Hulk vibe. The core of the book would be Dr. Banner’s struggle to deal with this angry beast in him and the show delivered.

Since I was disappointed in Universal Studios’ first attempt to bring the Hulk to the big screen (Ang Lee’s melodramatic Hulk from 2003 was a steaming pile), I was all on board for Edward Norton taking on the role of Bruce Banner.  Hopefully he and director Louis Leterrier would steer the ship in the right direction.  I don’t remember much from my first viewing of the film from almost a decade ago other than a large part of it was shot in Toronto.  Well, lets see if this one nails that Hulk vibe.

The film (3/5)

“Is that all you got?”
US military General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt) enlists colleague Dr. Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) to revive the top-secret “super soldier” program (the same one that gave Captain America his abilities) from World War II.  When an experiment fails and exposes Banner to high levels of gamma radiation, he is left with the curse of turning into a large green monster known as the Hulk for an uncontrollable period of time whenever his heart beat rises above 200 BPM.

Banner begins looking for a cure but Ross wants the Hulk to be made into a  weapon.  The two clash heads and it escalates into the Hulk trashing a military lab and injuring many people.  Banner avoids capture and he successfully remains in exile for five years in the slums of Brazil while working on a cure.

An accident at a bottling plant Banner is working at tips the military to his whereabouts.  He barely escapes before circling back to the US to enlist help from his former girlfriend Betty Ross (also the General’s daughter) and another scientist, Mr. Blue (Tim Blake Nelson) who he only knows through a long distance relationship.  After missing Banner in Brazil, General Ross decides to kick it up a notch and enlists the Russian-born British Royal Marine Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) to capture him.  Blonsky allows the General to inject him with super soldier serum, but the mission of capture turns into revenge for him after failing to ensnare the Hulk during their first encounter. Blonsky tracks down Mr. Blue who adds some of Banner’s blood into his own, and he becomes The Abomination; a beast just as strong as the Hulk who is hell-bent on killing Bruce Banner.

Although The Incredible Hulk doesn’t always nail it in the execution department, there is a lot to like about this one.  The entire back/origin story of the Hulk is told in the opening credits and they are done with a big salute to the TV series.  With “how Banner becomes the Hulk” out of the way, the film is able to then focus on him trying to find a cure.

Banner is just beginning to learn how far he can push himself before he changes into the Hulk, and constantly checks a heart rate monitor while learning breathing techniques to control his temper.  There are moments that someone like myself, who at times struggles to control my own temper, can relate to.  Banner even helps out the bottling plant he is working at with some equipment failure and finds the time to help out a pretty co-worker who needs saving from a creepy co-worker.  This was, by far, my favorite parts of the movie as it felt like an extension of the TV show.

The rest of the film is well paced, seeing Banner and Betty seek out Mr. Blue for a possible cure, and try to stay one step ahead of General Ross.  Blonsky makes for an interesting match against the Hulk until he becomes the Abomination.  After that, the last 20-30 minutes of the film becomes bogged down with obvious CG-heavy battles between the Hulk, the Abomination, and a helicopter.  It’s fine for what it is, but it is just not as interesting as what led up to it.

Memorable Moments / What Stood Out to Me

There is A ton of “Hey Look” moments in this film, like:

Bill Bixby

Hey look, it’s Bill Bixby.  Bruce is flipping through the channels on his TV and watches a few seconds of The Courtship of Eddie’s Father starring a young pre-Hulk Bixby.

Stanley’s Pizza

Hey look, it’s Stanley’s (Stan Lee’s) Pizza… Get it?… This was a lot funnier in my head….

Norton 360 Antivius

Hey, it’s Ed Norton using an Antivirus program called Norton 360….  This was a lot funnier in my head….

Hey look, it’s the guy from Modern Family pre-Modern Family

I never could get into that show but I do like this guy when I see him.

Cap incognito alert!

I’ve noticed characters in the MCU pull out the ol’ ball cap whenever they go on the DL and wish to be unseen.  I’ll be keeping an eye our for this for all future entries in the series because it is important.

Bonus: Stan Lee cameo review! (3/5)

This time, Stan accidentally ingests some Hulk blood when having a drink from the bottling plant Dr. Banner is hiding out in.  The reporting of his unusual illness tips off General Ross that Bruce is hiding in Brazil.  I give credit for making the “Stan the Man” cameo into a part, but he is really just filling in for a d-list actor.  Clever-ish but not clever.  But, in fairness, they did have to work in a Lou Ferrigno cameo too…

Video (5/5)

Like Iron Man, this is another perfect-looking Blu-ray. Crisp, deep colours with just a hint of film grain.  I expect nothing less from a 2008 Blu-ray.

Audio (5/5)

The audio for this film was spot on.  Every speaker was working hard during that action sequences.  A great DTS-HD audio track.  No complaints.

Special Features (3/5)

There is a solid bit of extras here but nothing you really need to see unless you REALLY liked the film.  Let me bullet point what we got:

  • A 30 minute “Making of” documentary.  Since this is a first run Blu-ray it is all shot on set, so everyone is in full on promo mode and expecting nothing but greatness from the “upcoming” film.  I prefer these to be retrospective made years down the road when you have people reflecting on the good and bad.
  • There is a bunch of extra scenes that are in SD.  All stuff that was cut all in in the name of pacing.  I agree with the director’s choices after watching them.
  • A couple of short documentaries about the CG Hulk and Abomination.  A lot of thought went into the look of the beasts, but there wasn’t much for me to appreciate since I didn’t find the CG to be all that great.
  • There is an alternate opening which at the time gained a lot of internet buzz for showing a sneak peek of Captain America.  It is really just a “don’t blink or you’ll miss it” kind of cameo though.  It is mostly about Banner heading to the Arctic where he attempts to commit suicide… yeah, I can see why it was cut.  It is apparently referenced in The Avengers, so there is that.
  • The audio commentary with director Louis Leterrier and Tim Roth is standard stuff but I did listen all the way through.  Locations, special effects, Stan Lee’s cameo, etc are all discussed.  The conversation moves well and is constantly about what is currently being shown.  Nothing ground breaking, but entertaining.
  • Finally there is a scene from Hulk Grey #5 done with an animated comic book that the film took inspiration from for the scene with Betty and Hulk hiding out in the park.

Final Verdict

What I remember about Hulk in The Avengers is how he was the stand out character and Mark Ruffalo’s take on Bruce Banner was better than Ed Norton’s.  So, even though I hardly regret how this film wasn’t greatly received and we didn’t get a continuation of this version, there are a couple of things I think we miss out on because of it.

For one, it is highly likely that a direct sequel would have had Tim Blake Nelson coming back as The Hulk’s main foe, the Leader.  The Leader is featured in some of my favorite Hulk comics and TBN would have been fantastic at portraying him.

The other is the unlikely chance of another stand alone Hulk film.  This was the second time Universal Studios put the dough up for a Hulk film and didn’t get the return they were expecting.  So a third kick at the can right now is very unlikely.  Coincidentally enough (notice I didn’t say IRONically?) Mark Ruffalo just publicly gave Universal a big knock for leaving a ton of dough on the table by not using his more popular version of the Hulk in his own film.  Don Cheadle was with him and was busting his chops by telling him it was too late since he is so old now.  He was joking, but he isn’t wrong when he says he is getting up there.

Perhaps there is a chance for another Hulk film to receive a green light if his appearance in the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok is well-received.  For now, its fit into the MCU is awkward, but lettuce celebrate the only non-made for TV live action Hulk film that is worth relishing.

Iron Man Blu-ray Review

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges, Shaun Toub, Gwyneth Paltrow
Directed by: Jon Favreau
Film length: 2hrs 6 mins
Theatrical Release: April, 2008
Blu-ray release: September, 2008

I remember my disappointment after hearing the lead role of Tony Stark for the new upcoming live action Iron Man film would be going to Robert Downey Jr.  I had watched what at the time would be three recent films he was in (A Scanner Darkly, Tropic Thunder and Zodiac).  I thought he was weak sauce in all as I found he mumbled his lines and I couldn’t understand a word he was saying.

So, I was surprised when I finally did see Iron Man.  Not only was the film good but RDJ did a solid job, too.  I can’t say for sure how much of his real life played into it (which closely mirrors Tony Stark’s; they both came to outgrow their father’s accomplishments and have had struggles with drugs/alcohol), but I did get a genuine vibe from the character.  Most importantly to me, however, was how every word he spoke was enunciated clearly.

But, that was waaaaay back in 2008 and here I am in 2017 and can only remember Tony building the “Mark 1” suit in a cave and Terrence Howard playing “Rhoady” instead of Don Cheadle.  Well, time to see if the film that kicked off an entire cinematic universe still holds up!

The film (4/5)

“Give me a scotch. I’m starving.”
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) lives many roles.  He is a multi-billionaire, an engineering genius, the head of the world’s largest weapons manufacturer that bares his family name (Stark Industries), and a womanizer.

During a visit to Afghanistan for a demonstration of his latest creation, the state of the art Jericho missile, the Humvee Tony is being transported in is ambushed by a terrorist group known as the Ten Rings.  They imprison Tony, who barely survives an injury to his chest where shrapnel shards are embedded close to his heart.  Tony is operated on by a fellow captive Dr. Yelsin (Shaun Toub) who implants an electromagnet into Tony’s chest.  The device is designed to keep the shards away from his heart and allows Tony to live.  Ten Rings demands Tony build them a Jericho missile in exchange for his freedom, which Tony pretends to do, as he secretly builds an iron suit powered by his new electromagnet.  The suit is crude, but it is good enough to allow Tony to escape.

Tony has a new lease on life when he returns to America, and no longer wishes for Stark Industries to be a weapons manufacturer.  He improves on his iron suit idea and builds one designed to fight crime and terrorism, but not everyone is so thrilled with the company’s new profit-losing direction.

Well, 2017 me thoroughly enjoyed Iron Man.  The build-up to Tony getting his suit in the first 3rd of the film is grounded in reality and resembles something that could happen in real life.  It must have been tempting to start the film off by showing Iron Man take down baddies in some over-the-top fashion, but this direction lends to a better pay-off when we finally do get to see Tony in his suit.

The Yelsin character helps with the tension in the opening too.  You know in the back of your head that Tony will make it out of the cave alive (it would be a short cinematic universe if he didn’t), so much of the suspense relies on if Yelsin will follow Tony out of the cave alive.

The rest of the film is your standard comic book affair.  It’s a “greed makes what seems to be a good guy, a bad guy” kind of story but it is a solid script with plenty of action and humor.  Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) makes for a great villain as he slowly reveals his true nature and he represents Tony letting go of the old way of doing things.  The rest of the cast (Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Terance Howard), and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau)) round out Tony’s team and they allow him to shine as the central figure.  It was nice to see Tony get some room to breath instead of being in a “Joss Whedon-y” ensemble cast where everyone is in a constant competition to be one upped.

Memorable Moments / What Stood Out to Me

Tony’s robots steal the show

Tony’s super computer, Jarvis, takes a bit of a back seat in this one to these helper machines that assist Tony with building his suit.  So much expression from a robot arm holding a fire extinguisher that make for a few cute/funny moments.  It is good times.

I want the Stark 4 

The Stark 4 is a 2008 Audi R8.  My desire for wanting one of these is from how well they handle and sound in the Forza Motorsport series of video games.  Tony treats this thing like an everyday car for fetching groceries.  Give it to me.  It is old now and you don’t want it anymore.  I will treat it nicely.

Bonus: Stan Lee cameo review!

Stan-the-Man cameos began as a regular feature in X-Men and Iron Man carried on the tradition.  Here we see Stan at one of Tony’s parties playing Hugh Hefner and the likeness is… Uncanny… One of the all-time best uses of Stan. (5/5)

Video (5/5)

Yeah, Iron Man was made for the Blu-ray format and it shows.  The film has the crisp look, with deep colours and just a hint of grain.  I don’t expect anything less from a 2008 film and on.

Audio (5/5)

Iron Man is a great example of a perfect True HD 5.1 mix.  The bass was deep and rumbly from the early scenes in Afghanistan and on.  The dialogue was clear during the action and the surround speakers got a nice work out throughout.  Good times.

Special Features (2/5)

My copy is used and missing the 2nd disc which contains most of the bonus material… sniff.  So I will revise this review and probably boost the score if I ever do find the 2nd disc somewhere.  For now, I can only review what I have on disc one which is a bit underwhelming.

First up is some 3D renderings of the different Iron Man suits featured in the film that you can look at in “360 view”.  It is a clunky experience and what you’d expect from when publishers were still experimenting with Blu rays a decade ago.  Meh.

Next is a 45-ish minute documentary about the Iron Man comic books. It starts off gang busters with Stan Lee talking about his original concept and it is interesting to see what the film makers chose to adapt into the film.  It starts to drag after a while though as it begins to focus on the current adaptation of the character (with “current” being 2008).  It is understandable to want to give the books a plug but I didn’t find it all that interesting.

Finally we have about 20 or so minutes of deleted/extra scenes.  They are interesting enough but not a must watch.  These were deleted for a reason, after all.  Plus, Rhody wrecks that Audi R8 in one of them.  Screw that!

Final Verdict

Iron Man got the Marvel cinematic universe started on the right foot and it has aged gracefully.  The special effects can look a little CG-ish at times (when Iron Man’s suit comes on or off specifically) but it is only a…. small wrinkle for a script this good.  Nothing else to… iron out with this one… Think I’ll go to the gym now and…

 

State of the Blog Address, July 2017

Some of you might have noticed how there was no new Blu Ray review from me this morning, but it is cool if you didn’t.  Part of the reason why is I played 55 to 60 hours of Horizon Zero Dawn this week on my PlayStation 4.  (For you gamers out there who care, I beat the game and got the platinum trophy.  It was good times.)  This left me with only time to take in one film which unfortunately was Rising Sun starring Wesley Snipes and Sean Connery.  I found the movie to be kind of blah and began working on a review but I wasn’t feeling it.  If I was getting paid, I would push on and force myself to get ‘er dun but I’m not.  So, I decided to drop it for now.

To be honest though, the biggest roadblock for me is not being able to write what I want to.  Part of the reason why I started this blog is because I have trouble remembering movies.  Writing about them helps me and allows me to go back to read what I wrote if I don’t.

The movies I wish to revisit the most right now are the ones in the Marvel universe.  I watched most in the series only once and can hardly remember what happened in them.  I have been watching the new ones as they come out and try to piece together the back story with my Swiss cheese memory.

What I want to do is watch them in the proper order and hammer out a review for each with the previous movie(s) fresh in my mind.  I haven’t been able to do so yet since my collection is missing a couple in the “Phase One: Avengers Assembled” series.  “Phase One” are the five films that led up to the Avengers and Avengers.  I didn’t want to commit to reviewing all of them without the proper pieces.  I’d then be under pressure to find the ones I was missing, but now…. I got them ALLLLLL!

Marvel Phase One

Yep, I was able to find Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger so my journey to review these bad boys can begin!

I have enjoyed all of them for the most part and don’t care about how they change things from the comic books they are based on.  I have read my fair share of Spider-Man, The Hulk, and Daredevil through the years, but when it came to the extended universe, my brain checked out.  I thought it was stupid to have to buy a bunch of books, including ones from characters I didn’t like, to get one complete story.  I was more into the Frank Miller, Brian Michael Bendis, Kevin Smith, and Mark Millar one offs or graphic novels that contained a story with a beginning, middle, and end.

At the pace of one review a week it will take six of them to get through these, so I’ll see about continuing Phase Two right away when I get there.  I am still missing Guardians of The Galaxy from that series and don’t want to be pressured to get it. With the sequel just wrapping up a successful run in the theaters, the first film is red hot right now and hard to come by if I want to pick up for a deal.  So I’ll need to bide my time for now.  Maybe Amazon Prime day will be good to me.

So that’s what you have to look forward to for the rest of July and most of August.  I hope you like super hero movies!  If not, I hope you like reading reviews about them!

 

 

Jaws Blu-ray Review

Starring: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gary
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Film length: 2hrs 10mins
Theatrical Release: June 20th, 1975
Blu-ray release: 2012

I was terrified of sharks when I was a kid.  My fear wasn’t a direct result of the film, Jaws, but an indirect one.  I hadn’t first watched it until I was in my twenties but the shark hype it spawned into pop culture during the late ’70s and early ’80s definitely fed into it.  I wouldn’t even swim in the lake at my Nono and Nona’s camp no matter how much my parents insisted sharks did not live in fresh water.  I wasn’t having any of it.

When I finally did watch Jaws, I thought it was pretty good but it didn’t hook me.  The hype seemed to be about how scary the shark is and he looked like a big piece of floating rubber.  I hadn’t watched it fully since then and I was curious to revisit it.  So, I was happy to give it another watch when my wife, Sarah, fished it out of the collection for movie night.

The film (4/5)

“That’s some bad hat, Harry.”
Jaws takes place on the fictional New England island called Amity.  The quaint town that bares the same name on it, thrives with activity during the summer season as it swells with tourists until it peaks during the 4th of July weekend.  The rest of the time it is obsessed with its small town problems, like a group of kids ruining a white picket fence during karate practice.

In mid-June, a young woman’s body is found washed up on shore after an apparent shark attack.  Amity’s Chief of Police, Martin Brody (Roy Scheider), reluctantly goes along with the town’s Mayor, Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton), with the more unlikely explanation of the woman’s death being the result of a boating accident.  Officially putting a shark attack as the cause of death would not only create hysteria among the locals and tourists, but would also require the town to close down its beaches.  This would place Amity’s economy at risk since it relies on the beach during the summer as its main source of income.

The story doesn’t last long, however, after a second attack from Jaws claims the life of a young boy in front of many witnesses. The island is then flooded with activity with both tourists leaving en masse and would-be shark hunters coming in for a chance at killing the great white shark. 

The town is pacified for a short while when a tiger shark is captured, killed, and believed by many (including the Mayor) to be Jaws; but Ichthyologist Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) who came to the island among the chaos knows better.  He informs Chief Brody the tiger shark’s mouth is too small to match the bite marks on the victim. Brody and Hooper then enlist the help of a grizzled local ship captain, Quint (Robert Shaw), who has experience with capturing sharks.  They then set off to sea for a battle of cat and mouse with the great beast.  It isn’t long, however, before Jaws proves to be a formidable opponent and the lines between who is the cat and who is the mouse becomes a lot less clear.

Noted for being Hollywood’s first summer blockbuster, and the film to put director Steven Spielberg on the map, Jaws blurs the line between thriller and horror film. It’s gory enough at times to fit in with the ’80s slasher films that followed it, but the characters and storytelling is more grounded in reality like Hitchcock’s Psycho.  For me, no matter how you slice it, Jaws is a straight-up monster flick.  And that is NOT a bad thing.

The three main characters (Brody, Hooper, and Quint) mesh together nicely with Quint being the standout.  He does go off the deep end a wee bit too conveniently towards the latter half of the film, but he is quite entertaining otherwise.  The scenes that make up a majority of the latter part of the film are of Jaws and Quint matching wits; and as Jaws slowly begins to take Quint’s boat apart, Quint’s mind seems to go along with it.  This is some of the most well-paced and suspenseful moments in cinema.  It’s good times.

Memorable Moments / What Stood Out to Me

Quint’s USS Indianapolis speech breaks a rule and works
Show, don’t tell.  It is one of the first things that is taught to students in both television and film school.  As they are both visual mediums, having a character on-screen in exposition or telling a long winded story is not ideal when you can show it instead.  Seeing things is what the audience is paying for, after all.   Thus, flashbacks and cut-aways were born.

Having Quint tell his story of his experiences with sharks as a young man in the navy to Brody and Hooper was a bit of a ballsy move since it was long and intricate.  I imagine budget considerations factored into the decision to have Quint tell the story instead, but it was an example of how this direction can be more effective.  Not only does the scene benefit Shaw’s ability to keep the audience captivated, the reactions from Scheider and Dreyfuss are effective too.  It turns out a big rule breaker is one of the film’s most memorable moments.  I wish more films took these kinds of risks today.

I think Quint’s story also sets up the fake-looking shark
Quint’s story takes place just before we get a good look at Jaws, and he explains how a shark’s eyes look when close up:  “Y’know, the thing about a shark, he’s got lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eyes. When he comes after ya, he doesn’t seem to be livin’ until he bites ya,”  That line of dialogue stood out to me and I wonder if it was put there intentionally to set up how odd (or fake) Jaws can look at times.

The film has a Stephen King vibe
At least I think so.  Amity is located in New England but feels like one of King’s fictional Maine towns like Castle Rock or Derry.  Jaws is a big, murderous beast similar to King’s more deadly creations like Cujo or Christine; and lead protagonist Brody has some of the same struggles that King’s protagonists do.  Brody is new to the setting of Amity (Pet Sematary), his family is there with him reluctantly (The Shining), and he has a phobia (drowning) which is directly related to the threat at hand.  This helps elicit a bit of sympathy for the character from the audience/readers (pick a Stephen King book).  Maybe Stephen King has just been re-writing Jaws since the ’70s!

Video 5/5

The back cover boasts how this print is both “digitally remastered” AND “fully restored”.  Yeah, I’m not sure why it needed TWO tags of techno babble enchantments, but I can’t argue with the results.  Spielberg himself had a hand in the film’s restoration and it is an excellent-looking Blu-ray.  The colours are rich and deep with just a hint of film grain.  Just the way I like it.

Audio 5/5

The back of the package boasts all of the improvements made to the film’s video quality, but the audio is greatly enhanced as well.  My sub woofer bounced along with John Williams’ famous “two note” bass violin main theme and the screams from the water cut through my speakers.  And just in case you were wondering about the 7.1 sound but, I’m only hooked up with 5.1.  Deal with it.

Special Features (5/5)

I thought about knocking off a point for having too little of any new material, but I’m handing it perfection considering this Blu-ray compiles nearly 5 hours of material from several different releases into one inexpensive package.  First, we have a 2 hour documentary from the 2005 30th Anniversary DVD about the making of the film which includes Spielberg and Peter Benchley, the author of the book Jaws is based on.  Second, from the 2007 Blu-ray release, a 1 hour 41 minute documentary about the technical challenges of making Jaws and its impact on modern film making.  Both are in SD, but are compelling despite their length.

There is a mini-feature from 1975 with Spielberg on the set, a trailer, and a number of other bits and pieces.  The only real new (and HD) item is a nine minute in-depth look at restoring the film for this release with some Universal techies and Spielberg himself.  You think everything is done with computers these days (and most of it is) but there is some physical science involving the original negative!

Final Verdict

Jaws is a reminder of what the summer blockbuster once was.  It’s not like today, which is a result of a hive mind with a sole desire to make money; but the result of a desire to tell a big-scale story.  Spielberg was great at it.  He didn’t become a famous director for being a hack the way Michael Bay did.  He made summer blockbusters that were deep with interesting characters, and long exposition that still packs in enough thrills to keep the audience entertained.  Jaws shows Spielberg is a reel expert who can tackle anything.

Ghostbusters II Pop Art Steelcase Blu-Ray Review

Starring: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Harold Ramis, Rick Moranis, Annie Potts, Ernie Hudson, Peter MacNicol
Directed by: Ivan Reitman
Film length: 1hr 50 mins
Theatrical Release: 1989
Blu-ray release: 2016

Although I was only 12 at the time, I knew prior to my first viewing of Ghostbusters II how it was not going to be as good as the original.  I over-prepared by reading every article I could get my hands on and watching all the segments on Entertainment Tonight about this upcoming film.  I already knew the legit funny gag of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man was being replaced with this kind of lame walking Statue of Liberty, the “no ghost” logo (which was soooo cool) was changed to a weird “2 ghost” that didn’t make sense for an extermination company to wear, and how were those silly “slime blowers” supposed to catch a ghost?

Despite the changes I didn’t approve of, there was a lot more that did look good to me and I begged my parents to let me see it. I could still count the number of lifetime visits I had to the movie theater on my hands by 1989: The Muppet Movie, Star Wars, The Never Ending Story, Back to The Future, The Great Mouse Detective, and Masters of the Universe.  Going to the show was just something we didn’t do often but there was no way I was going to miss Ghostbusters II.   Thankfully, the grown-ups caved even though, “it’s cheaper to rent the movie next year” and I got to see my boys in grey on the big screen for the first time.  My foreboding feelings did hold true as it is not as good as the first, but I still loved it anyway.

The film (3/5)

Iggy! She’s twitching!
Five years following the events in Ghostbusters, Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd), Egon Spangler (Harold Ramis), and Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson) are still feeling the after-effects from their battle with Gozer.  Destroying Gozer’s gateway into New York City caused a dramatic drop in paranormal events, and a successful lawsuit filed by the City for inadvertently conjuring the god of destruction forbid them from conducting any paranormal investigating or eliminating.  This caused the Ghostbusters to disband and find employment elsewhere.

When their friend, Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver), has a paranormal experience involving her baby, Oscar, they decide to help her out on the DL.  They discover a river of pink slime flowing under the city, which is a physical manifestation of negative emotions from the people living above ground.  Unfortunately, the Ghostbusters are caught red-handed  by the NYPD for disobeying their judicial restraining order and are arrested.  Their trial is cut short, however, after it is interrupted by a couple of ghosts.  The judge is then forced to remove the order so the Ghostbusters can do their thang, and they are quickly back in business.

The party doesn’t last long, however, when Dana’s colleague at the Museum of Modern Art, Janosz Poha (Peter MacNicol), kidnaps baby Oscar!  Janosz is possessed by Viggo the Carpathian, a powerful 16th century expert in dark magic whose essence is trapped inside a painting of his likeness.   Viggo wants to transfer himself from the painting into Oscar’s body where he could be free to continue his tyranny.  It is now up to the Ghostbusters to rescue Oscar and free New York from the negative energy that is holding it back!

If the goal was to recapture the lightning in the bottle that the first film was, Ghostbusters II was a clumsy effort.  I can follow the logic of putting the Ghostbusters back into a position where they are unsuccessful again.  This would again place them as the underdogs and the audience could have a good time rooting for them a second time, but it feels like déjà vu all over again as they stick too close to the same direction as the first film.  Overall, the story feels flat as it is simplified as “the Ghostbusters do it all over again”.

Also, in a “real” way, ABC’s successful Saturday morning cartoon, The Real Ghostbusters tamed Ghostbusters II.  With two Saturday Night Live and two SCTV alumni in the main cast, the original film was aimed for an audience who would be willing to stay up late to hear some sharp humor with a shade of blue.  By the time they got together for the sequel, the cartoon show and the Kenner toy line was what the Ghostbusters where mostly known for.  So, I can see the desire to stick to a more light-hearted, family-friendly script, but it was at the cost of the edgy wit that was so strong in Ghostbusters.

With that said, Murray, Ramis, and Aykoryd are still in fine form and this film is pretty darn delightful for its first two acts.  Yes, the scenes with the baby do have a Three Men and a Baby vibe, but the trio pull them off well.   The chemistry between Murray and Weaver is as good as it was in the first film and it is nice to see the hint of the old SNL raunch during the “walking toaster” scene.

What stood out to me/Memorable moments

“World of the Psychic” should  have been its own show
When we first see Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters II, he is still riding the local celebrity status he gained as a Ghostbuster and is hosting a cable show that interviews people who claim to have psychic abilities.  The scene is short, but oh so memorable.  Murray’s deadpan humor plays so well with the “sensitive guests” and allows his sarcasm to rage just as hard as it did in the first film.  My personal favourite moment is when one of the guests checks the backdrop with Peter’s name on it before saying his name; she has no idea who he is.  Love it!

Murray made the same mistake in the mediocre Larger Than Life where the film opens with a short scene of him as a motivational speaker selling a self-help book.  The film then jumps off of a cliff from that point on by never attempting to approach another moment like that.  Bill is at his best during those kind of scenes and I’m puzzled why he usually attempts to stay away from them.  Thankfully Ramis got it right when directing Murray in Groundhog Day and made sure to work in enough scenes with him as a corny local weather man.

The walking Statue of Liberty is plain awful, and what did they do to Ecto-1?
I hate walking Liberty.  The close up shots of the Ghostbusters in Liberty’s crown were obviously shot on a sound stage and special effects of the statue walking were never good.  I’m lumping this in with the Ecto-1 remix, Ecto-1A, because they both exemplify how closely they stuck to the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it rule.”  They had a giant walking thing in part one, and we need to wedge one into part two.  We had an outrageous looking car in the first one, let’s make it even MORE outrageous in part two.  Doesn’t matter how much or how little it makes sense to do so.

Louis Tully had no business being here
Rick Moranis is uber-talented and it’s a shame they didn’t find a fit for Louis Tully.  Like William Baldwin’s character in Backdraft, Louis Tully goes wherever it’s convent for the script.  He is the Ghostbusters’ lawyer in his first scene, their accountant during the montage, their secretary, and then Janine Meltez’s (Annie Potts) love interest later on, before finally finishing up as a wannabe Ghostbuster whose attempt to help them is inconsequential.

Video (4/5)

Ghostbusters II is a clean-looking film with very little grain.  The colours are dark and rich especially when compared to the original.  No need to upgrade from here.

Audio (5/5)

Another solid DTS-HD audio track.  The subwoofer thumped along nicely to the walking Liberty and the proton packs charging up sounded beefy.   Randy Edelman’s score is not as standout as Elmer Bernstein’s original but it is a competent one.

Special Features (1/5)

All of the special features are found on previous DVD and Blu-ray releases.  The interview with Dan Aykoryd and Ivan Reitman are from the 2014 Blu-ray; and the deleted scenes and Bobby Brown go as far back as the DVD.   None of it is worth hunting down.

Final Verdict

The critic in me can recognize how unimaginative Ghostbusters II is, but I will defend its first two acts as not perfect, but still enjoyable.  I get goosebumps seeing Venkman putting on a proton pack for the first time in five years, Egon is very well written and expanded on a bit as Ramis gives himself a few more zingers, and the court room scene does have its moments.  It’s like Rick Moranis’ role in this film.  There isn’t much point to it, but it functions and the talent can make it funny at times.

Ghostbusters (1984) Pop Art Steelbook Blu-ray Review

Starring: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Harold Ramis, Rick Moranis, Annie Potts, and Ernie Hudson
Directed by: Ivan Reitman
Film length: 1hr 47 mins
Theatrical Release: 1984
Blu-ray release: 2016

Extremely bias review alert!  Ghostbusters is like comfort food to me as I have watched this film more than any other.  It was there for me when I was sick, needed inspiration, or had a couple of hours to kill.  And that was only yesterday.

This is my 4th time buying it and 5th time owning it.  The film has been released several times on Blu-ray and this “Pop Art Steelbook” edition came out to coincide with the 2016 “Answer the Call” film.  Since this version contained the 4K remaster, all the extra content, a unique case, and was under $20 when bundled with Ghostbusters II… I figured, why not?  It’s Ghostbusters.

The film (5/5)

“I wanna go with them in the car.”
When three parapsychologists, Peter Venkman (Murray), Ray Stantz (Aykroyd), and Egon Spengler (Ramis), are kicked out of Columbia University in New York City for their unorthodox paranormal research, they decide to go into business for themselves… catching ghosts.  They develop some high tech equipment and set up shop in an old fire hall.

Business is slow to start with Dana Barrett (Weaver) as their sole client who claims her apartment is haunted.  They quickly reach local celebrity status, however, as the amount of ghost encounters mysteriously begin to rise in New York City.

When Dana becomes possessed by a demonic spirit named Zuul, the Ghostbusters discover her apartment is in a building designed to open a doorway to another dimension for Gozer, a god of destruction.  It is then up to the Ghostbusters to stop Gozer from bringing on the end of the world.

I’m not sorry to sound like an old man here, but they don’t make movies like this anymore.  Hollywood was doing something special in the 80s, which is not seen today.  I think, outside of the Pixar films (and even they are starting to turn to sequels) there aren’t many new universes to dive into and explore in film today.  We have many old or adapted ones for sure, but in the 80s it was all about taking inspiration from previous work and creating something new.  Ghostbusters definitely did that.

Aykroyd’s original script had the main characters and the concept of Ghostbusting, but also had some major expensive ideas like visiting other dimensions.  Director Ivan Reitman thought a New York setting and making the story about starting a business would ground the film in reality.  Harold Ramis was then brought in to flesh out those ideas and add his special brand of humor, and it all works.

Ghostbusters is still as funny and fantastical as it was in 1984.  New York kind of plays this extra character that really gives the film its edge and heart.  The special effects were state of the art at the time and are a wee bit dated now, but that’s okay because it doesn’t need them to be entertaining.  Its witty dialogue, spot-on pacing, and rich characters will keep you locked in until the credits roll.

What stood out to me/Memorable moments

Ghostbusters is a raunchy comedy
I still laugh out loud at the jokes.  Not only was Bill Murray on a whole other level at this moment in time, but Harold Ramis’ writing needs a huge shout-out too.  His National Lampoon’s brand of raunchiness plays a part in what makes this film timeless, since sex in 1984 is still sex in 2017 (Thankfully!).  Getting Mr. Stay Puft laid, the Key Master/Gate Keeper, and Ray gets a BJ from a ghost!  Stuff that went over my head as a kid, but I can appreciate now.

My favourite scene as a kid was probably either the Marshmallow man or the boys in grey capturing Slimer in the Sedgewick Hotel.  Today, however, adult me most enjoys when Peter first visits Dana’s apartment.   A scene that was prepared by both Murray and Weaver ahead of shooting which contains enough sexual innuendo to make Anthony Wiener blush.  I mean, Bill Murray is practically masturbating with “one of his little toys” for a good part it.  I doubt it would have worked as well or had been as memorable if they couldn’t go there.

Every Ghostbuster is there to connect with the audience
Ghostbusters is a good example of a film where every character has their place, but the Ghostbusters themselves are designed to be characters we can relate to.  Venkman is the leader and the one we want to be.  He always has a right or funny thing to say and it is how we perceive (or desire) our own sense of humor to be.  Ray is the excitement we feel when we see the Ghostbusters experience paranormal encounters.  Egon answers our questions and grounds the fantastical moments in science, and Winston (Ernie Hudson) brings the high-tech jargon down to a level we can understand.  These strong characters are a good part of why they were able to spin the film off into a successful cartoon series.

Rick Moranis is the unsung hero of this movie
He is not a Ghostbuster and he is not in the film all that much, but damn, does he steal every scene he is in.  Louis Tully might have been a dweeb, but instead of playing him as socially awkward or shy, Moranis plays him as fast talking and confident.  (Of course Dana wants to show up to his accountant party.)  This makes for way more comedic opportunities and allows us to not feel so bad when the evil stuff starts happening to him.  Brilliant.

Walter Peck was misguided, but right
Set up as a foe for the Ghostbusters, Walter Peck from the Environmental Protection Agency was dick-less for shutting down their containment unit while believing they are con-artists.  He would have been justified, however, if his motivation was to ensure heath and safety regulations are in place, because they are not.  He may represent the Government coming in to take their jawbs, but if there was a private company running around your home town with mini nuclear accelerators, and had a giant energy-consuming device in their basement, wouldn’t you want someone to ensure guidelines are followed?

Video (3/5)
This was by far the best version I have seen yet.  The lettuce in Dana’s grocery bag looked crispy and green; good enough to eat.  I could count the scan lines on Dana’s TV during the Ghostbusters TV spot, and could see flies buzzing around Janine’s desk when Dana first pays the Ghostbusters a visit.  I am pleased overall, but parts of the film did have way more film grain than I would have liked.

Audio (5/5)
Solid DTS-HD audio track.  The growl of proton packs when firing and Mr. Stay Puft’s foot stomps shook the room.  Elmer Bernstein’s brilliant score, Dana’s theme particularly, surrounds you and never sounded better.  Dialogue was clear throughout, even while characters where shooting quick one-liners off screen.

Special Features (3/5)

The content itself is 5/5 but I have to dock it a few points since it is rehashed from the 20th anniversary DVD and the 2014 Blu-ray.  It’s as old as the DVD, but if you are a Ghostbusters fan and you haven’t listened to the commentary track by Harold Ramis, Ivan Reitman, and associate producer Joe Medjuck, you’ll want to do so.  These guys all had a ton to do behind the scenes and Ramis has a great memory for what parts of the script were written and what was ad-libbed.

The 2014 additions are a 30 minute interview with Ivan Reitman and Dan Aykroyd.  There is some interesting insight but it is nothing to write home about.

Final Verdict

I have tried many times throughout the years to pinpoint what exactly it is about Ghostbusters that I like most above any other film.   Is it nostalgia? The familiarity with the characters and re-watching the film is like revisiting old friends.  Nah, forget that noise.  I love it because it’s a great movie.  Ramis and Aykroyd’s solid writing, the direction of Reitman to refine their ideas,  talented/comedic actors delivering some amazing performances, and a final layer of some wonderful special effects.  It all came together in 1983/84 to make Ghostbusters a truly special film.

The Fugitive Blu-ray Review

Starring:  Harrison Ford, Tommy Lee Jones, Sela Ward, Julianne Moore, Joe “Joey Pants” Pantoliano
Directed by: Andrew Davis
Film length: 2hrs 10mins
Theatrical Release: 1993
Blu-ray release: 2006

It had been a long time since I previously watched The Fugitive.  It was in heavy rotation for me back in the VHS days and I never did own another copy until Sarah and I picked it up on Blu-ray a few years ago.  It stayed filed away in our collection, sealed and not played until this past Sunday.  It was time to revisit to see if The Fugitive still holds up.

The film (4/5)

“Our fugitive’s name is Dr. Richard Kimble. Go get him.”
Following an evening dinner party, Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) arrives home to find his wife fatally wounded by a one-armed man.  After a brief altercation the man escapes and Kimble returns to his wife who dies in his arms.  The police find Kimble’s story of the one-armed man hard to believe since he is the only one to have seen him.  When they begin finding circumstantial, but convincing, evidence that points to Kimble as the killer, he is arrested, found guilty of murder in the first degree, and sentenced to death by lethal injection.

Kimble later escapes a prison bus after it collides with a train during a freak accident.  He is now free to track down this one-armed man and find justice for his dead wife; but he has to do so while staying one step ahead of Deputy U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones), who will go to great lengths to get his man with ferocious determination.

The Fugitive is a great movie with a contrived premise.  I’m not blind to the problems with the American Justice system, but it is a bit of a stretch to buy into how Kimble received a guilty verdict, let alone the death penalty.  There are too many ways to interpret his wife’s statement on the 911 call (“Richard…. He’s trying to kill me”), which was the prosecution’s most damaging evidence.  It was hard to believe Kimble’s lawyer wouldn’t be able to show reasonable doubt; but if you can roll with some of the Fugitive’s imperfections, you are in for a treat.

The film is a well-paced, character-driven action/thriller that Hitchcock, who himself used similar premises in films like The Wrong Man and North By Northwest,  would have applauded all the way through.  A good part of the story is about Kimble’s attempt to prove his innocence and find the one-armed man, but the cat and mouse game he is forced into playing with Gerard is really what makes it.

Within the early moments, there is an improvised scene with Ford and two real-life Chicago Police detectives.  Kimble is explaining what happened to his wife (and we witness it during flashbacks) during an interrogation.  It is to be the only time Ford presses the melodrama button, but it is enough to load up the audience with some solid empathy for the remainder of the film.  You want him to win.

Then Gerard enters the story.  A real leader who is surrounded by a solid team of US Marshals that he elevates to be great.  He is smart, quick-witted, likable, and no-nonsense.  He won’t be won over with a sob story.  Kimble actually attempts to explain how he did not kill his wife when the two first meet.  Gerard responds with, “I don’t care!”  It is the moment when you realize that you might be caught up in Kimble’s plight but Gerard isn’t.

Kimble is on the run, but at the same time is putting together the plot behind why his wife was killed.  While Gerard is attempting to anticipate where Kimble will be next, he ends up coming to the same conclusions as Kimble.  The relationship between the two grows as Gerard goes from “not caring” to beginning to accept that Kimble might be innocent.  All of this is delivered with a dose of fast-paced action that director Andrew Davis mixes in well.

What stood out to me/Memorable moments

Fantastic moments are grounded in reality by the characters
Both Ford and Jones play their roles even-keeled.  They never get too excited when the action is ramped up or too low when the film takes a breather.  This allows the film to bend and stretch around their centered characters and you end up buying into the more fantastical moments.  Kimble survives a high fall from the top of a dam that should have killed him, but you are willing to accept it.  By that point, not only are you rooting for Kimble to make it, but the insistence from level-headed Gerard to carry out a thorough search on the chance that he is still alive sells it too.

A real train crash
Like Backdraft, The Fugitive was made in the day when all special effects were practical ones.  The filmmakers rammed a real train into a real bus to pull off the scene where Kimble escapes.  Still good times!

Hey, look.  It is Joan and John Cusack’s Dad
Just pointing it out.

Video (2/5)

Alright, so this copy is an early Blu-ray from 2006.  It was not remastered in any way and it shows.  The overall image is soft and washed out with prevalent film grain and noticeable video compression throughout.  Not the best the format has to offer – by far.

Audio (3/5)

Audio is okay but lacks the range of other Blu-rays.

Special Features (2/5)

The extras here are all from the 2001 DVD.  There is a 22 minute short on the film in general with material from 2001 spliced in with behind the scenes crew interviews while on set in 1993.  There is a 7-minute short on the train scene and a commentary with the director and Tommy Lee Jones.  The commentary is fair with a lot of dead air.  Andrew Davis does most of the talking and TLJ pipes in once in a while, but he definitely didn’t do much to earn his paycheck.

There is a 20th Anniversary edition that was released in 2013 with a DTS-HD audio track and more extra features.  I’ll be on the hunt for that.

Final Verdict

Tommy Lee Jones went on to win an Academy Award for his role of Gerard, and then played a similar variation of this character in numerous films, but that wasn’t the only part of The Fugitive that lived on.  Its snappy dialogue, strong characters, and production values laid down the ground work for how to do a thriller right.  So much so, I believe it is very likely that every thriller since 1993 owes it a bit of gratitude.  If you have yet to watch The Fugitive you are going to… hunt it down… and… catch it soon… before it… escapes you… all together.