6/23/09 Edition
GHOSTBUSTERS Anniversary Edition
The Summer of '84 Classic Hits Blu-Ray
Plus: Shout! Factory's Latest Releases & More

Remember a time when most summer movies weren’t sequels, prequels or remakes? (Aren’t you as sick of the terms “reboot” and “reimagining” as I am? They’ve outlived their usefulness this summer in particular!).

Sure, there were some sequels that were big hits in the Summer of 1984 (“Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” fitting the bill on that end), but the season was populated with blockbusters that today would be called “original intellectual properties”: “Gremlins,” “The Karate Kid,” “The Last Starfighter,” “Red Dawn,” “Revenge of the Nerds,” and even films that have gone on to achieve some degree of a cult following like “Buckaroo Banzai,” “Dreamscape,” and the Henry Thomas-Dabney Coleman thriller “Cloak and Dagger.”

The biggest of them all was GHOSTBUSTERS (***½, 105 mins., 1984, PG), Columbia’s expensive scare comedy with Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis starring as a trio of New York City’s finest paranormal investigators. Ivan Reitman’s film was certainly cutting edge for its day thanks to Richard Edlund’s superb F/X as well as a script that married a healthy dose of humor with supernatural horror, the latter in the form of a demon named Gozer seeking to cross over into our world via the apartment building of unknowing classical musician Sigourney Weaver. Unlike many prior attempts at mixing genres up to that point, the movie took its fantasy elements seriously enough so that its technology wasn’t laughed off the screen (indeed, the technical wizardry earned the film a well-deserved Oscar nomination for visual effects), while allowing the laughs to flow naturally through character interaction and Murray’s wisecracks, all perfectly punctuated in the script by Aykroyd and Ramis (which, as legend has it, was once supposed to star Aykroyd’s late “Blues Brothers” cohort John Belushi as well as John Candy).

A bit of the freshness of “Ghostbusters” has worn off in the 25 years since the movie’s original release, no surprise seeing that countless imitators and other “genre-blenders” followed in the film’s wake. What stands out in the film especially today are the bouncy soundtrack, offering one of Elmer Bernstein’s most memorable ‘80s scores as well as Ray Parker, Jr.’s classic theme song; Edlund’s effects and Laszlo Kovacs’ superb Panavision cinematography; and, of course, the performances, particularly the smaller character bits filled out by Rick Moranis as Weaver’s yuppie accountant neighbor (Moranis is absolutely hysterical once he’s possessed, to the degree where one wishes there had been more of him on-screen); Annie Potts as Janine, the boys’ sarcastic secretary; and William Atherton as an obnoxious EPA rep who ultimately closes the Ghostbusters down, unleashing a swarm of supernatural activity in the process. Together with the chemistry between Murray, Weaver, Aykroyd and Ramis, “Ghostbusters” still functions as an extremely entertaining and uproarious ‘80s comic fantasy, and one which is slated to receive another sequel with Ramis possibly directing, should the script turn out properly (if “Year One,” Ramis’ collaboration with the new sequels’ writers -- “Office” scribes Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg -- is any indication, I wouldn’t hold your breath on that front). A sign of the times, no doubt, even if a “Ghostbusters III” has been in the planning stages to one degree or another for years.

To commemorate the 25th Anniversary of “Ghostbusters,” Sony has rolled out a terrific video game sequel to the original movies as well as a spiffy new Blu-Ray edition, complete with a few exclusive special features.

The AVC encoded 1080p transfer certainly offers an upgrade on the prior DVD editions we’ve seen of “Ghostbusters,” with added resolution and stronger colors, and yet it’s still something of a disappointment. The good news is that, unlike other labels, Sony opted to preserve the film’s original appearance and natural grain by refusing to incorporate digital noise reduction (which, as we’ve seen with many Blu-Ray catalog titles, smooths the image over, making it glossier and less textured in the process). On the flip side, there are times when the transfer is also excessively soft, giving it a fuzzy appearance that seems to be the product of something other than just natural film grain. Adding insult to injury is that the contrast levels also appear artificially pumped up -- something that Ivan Reitman lamented being a problem years ago with the movie’s laserdisc transfer, where matte lines could clearly be seen at times around some of the visual F/X. Regrettably, that’s once again the case with the Blu-Ray transfer.

The sound is also a bit problematic. The Blu-Ray’s Dolby TrueHD mix has a noticeable disparity between spoken dialogue and its louder sections, so you’ll want to have your remote handy because the music and sound effects are mixed at a much higher volume than sequences where characters are simply talking to one another.

The BD also boasts a few new extras, including a “Slimer Mode” picture-in-picture/pop-up trivia track, plus a segment on “Resurrecting the Ecto-1" car and two behind-the-scenes segments (interviews and a preview) of the new Xbox 360/Wii/Playstation 3 video game. The disc also includes all of the extras from its prior DVD (deleted scenes, featurettes, vintage interviews, commentary), with the exception of the theatrical trailers, which are lamentably absent here.

Also New on Blu-Ray & DVD

CONFESSIONS OF A SHOPAHOLIC: DVD and Blu-Ray (**, 105 mins., 2009, PG; Touchstone/Buena Vista): Producer Jerry Bruckheimer isn’t necessarily known for his female-friendly efforts, with his last “chick flick” coming in the form of the forgettable 2000 ensemble drama “Coyote Ugly.”

While the latter did scare up some returns at the box-office, the same level of success eluded “Confessions of a Shopaholic,” a lame farce from Aussie director P.J. Hogan (“Muriel’s Wedding,” “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” “Peter Pan”) with Isla Fisher as a cosmopolitan girl who gets a job writing a personal finance column at a NYC magazine -- the better to further her interest in all things consumer. Of course, she falls for her boss (Hugh Dancy) while trying to conceal her inner-most shopping diva in this adaptation of Sophie Kinsella’s books, packaged by writers Tracey Jackson, Tim Firth and Kayla Alpert into a formulaic romantic comedy framework without much in the way of laughs or heart. Not even a terrific supporting cast (Joan Cusack, John Goodman, John Lithgow, Kristin Scott Thomas) can overcome the unappealing nature of Fisher’s ditzy heroine, while the story plays itself out with little energy. While the timing of the film’s release couldn’t have come at a worse time with the current state of the economy, it’s safe to say this “Shopaholic” would’ve had difficulty attracting a wide audience at any point in time.

Like most Bruckheimer productions, “Shopaholic” makes for a great looking film, at least, with a better-than-the-material-deserves, classy technical crew on-hand, from production designer Kristi Zea to James Newton Howard providing the score. The DVD’s 16:9 (2.35) transfer is superb, but the Blu-Ray’s AVC encoded 1080p presentation is predictably spiffier, boasting gorgeous colors and detail. The 5.1 Dolby Digital (DVD) and DTS HD (Blu Ray) soundtracks are quite similar on the audio front, while extras on both platforms include deleted scenes, bloopers, a music video, and a digital copy for portable media players. The Blu-Ray also boasts additional, exclusive extras including a behind-the-scenes featurette and two additional music videos.

JACK LEMMON FILM COLLECTION (Sony; Aisle Seat Pick of the Week): Six-disc DVD set from Sony offers five vintage Jack Lemmon comedies making their debut on disc, along with a bonus platter of extras. 

Making their digital bows here are the 1954 Mark Robson-directed “Phfft!,” with Lemmon pared with Judy Holliday in a George Axelrod comedy; Richard Quine’s “Operation Mad Ball,” a 1957 military spoof co-written by Blake Edwards with Lemmon top-lining a terrific supporting cast (Ernie Kovacs, Mickey Rooney, Dick York, James Darren, Arthur O’Connell, Kathryn Grant); another Quine comedy, “The Notorious Landlady,” from 1962, with Lemmon playing off Kim Novak and Fred Astaire, with a script credited to Blake Edwards and Larry Gelbart; David Swift’s amusing 1963 “sex” farce “Under the Yum Yum Tree,” with Lemmon starring alongside Dean Jones, Carol Lynley, Edie Adams, Imogene Coca and Paul Lynde; and the terrific 1964 advertising comedy “Good Neighbor Sam,” another David Swift comedy likewise marking its first DVD release here.

The 16:9 (1.85) transfers and mono soundtracks are just fine across the board, while extras on the sixth, bonus disc include a documentary, “The Man Behind the Magic,” hosted by Chris Lemmon (Jack’s son); a vintage photo gallery; trailers; and a “Marriageable Male” episode of “Ford All-Star Theater” starring the late, beloved star.

FAMILY GUY Volume 7 DVD (2008-09, 305 mins.; Fox): 13 more episodes of Seth MacFarlane’s animated series hit DVD this month from Fox. This three-disc “Volume 7" set offers the final section of episodes from Season 6 and a group of shows from Season 7, including “Back to the Woods” (one of the funnier recent episodes, with James Woods stealing Peter’s wallet at a Barry Manilow concert); “Play it Again, Brian”; “The Former Life of Brian”; “Long John Peter”; “Love, Blactually”; “I Dream of Jesus” (aka the “Surfin’ Bird” episode); “Road to Germany” (Stewie and Brian go back in time); “Baby Not on Board”; “The Man With Two Brians”; “Tales of a Third Grade Nothing”; and “Ocean’s Three-a Half.”

The full-screen transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks are all top-notch while a full slate of extras include commentaries, three animatic episodes with optional commentaries, deleted scenes, and four featurettes.

BURN NOTICE Season 2 DVD (684 mins., 2008-09; Fox): Jeffrey Donovan is back as ex-CIA op Michael Westen in this top-rated cable series, which just began its third season on USA to strong ratings. Fox’s Season 2 DVD edition of “Burn Notice” offers 16 episodes all in fine 16:9 (1.78) transfers with 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks, commentaries, deleted scenes, a featurette with series creator Matt Nix, a gag reel and other goodies. A Blu-Ray HD version is also slated to be available shortly.

TYLER PERRY’S MADEA GOES TO JAIL DVD (103 mins., 2008, PG-13; Lionsgate): I don’t quite understand the appeal of Tyler Perry’s Madea character, but other viewers obviously do as this latest installment in Perry’s one-man-show (the star also wrote, produced and directed this outing) garnered another strong performance at the box-office last winter. Lionsgate’s DVD includes a 16:9 (1.78) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound and several behind-the-scenes featurettes.

SECRET DIARY OF A CALL GIRL, Season 2 DVD (176 mins., 2008; Lionsgate): The effervescent Billie Piper is back in this second (and possibly final) season of the Showtime dramatic series. Lionsgate’s DVD includes 16:9 (1.78) transfers, 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks, interviews and webisodes.

WHAT GOES UP DVD (*½, 115 mins., 2009, R; Sony): British star Steve Coogan’s tenure here on this side of the Atlantic hasn’t exactly stirred up a comedic phenomenon so far. Yes, Coogan mustered a few yucks in Ben Stiller’s “Tropic Thunder,” but struck out in the box-office disappointment “Hamlet 2" and saw “What Goes Up” -- an indie oddity with Coogan playing a journalist who befriends a group of New Hampshire misfits while covering the launch of the ill-fated space shuttle Challenger -- go straight to video. This effort from director/co-writer Jonathon Glatzer is a mess on most every level, from its uneasy mix of laughs and sentiment, to its offbeat and sometimes unsavory characters. Hilary Duff, Josh Peck and Molly Shannon co-star in this morbid “dramaedy,” which Sony has brought to DVD in a good-looking 16:9 (1.85) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. 

ANCIENT ALIENS DVD (94 mins., 2009; History/NewVideo): Ever since Erich von Daniken profiled extraterrestrials having visited earth in his late ‘60s bestseller “Chariots of the Gods,” scientists have spent years examining cave drawings, Peru landing strips, ancient Indian texts and other unexplained phenomena that von Daniken provided as evidence to “alien astronaut” visitations on Earth in centuries past. This new History Channel documentary does an excellent job updating and expanding upon the author’s theories, produced in cooperation with the author himself in this 94-minute, 2009 documentary. NewVideo’s widescreen transfer and stereo soundtrack are both top-notch.

THE MAFIA DVD (11 hrs., History/NewVideo): Terrific four-disc box-set from the History Channel offers a general overview of the Mob in America. The ten-plus hours of documentaries covers “The Prohibition Years,” “Birth of the American Mafia,” “The Kennedys and the Mob,” “Unions and the Mob,” “Empire of Crime,” “Lucky Luciano: Chairman of the Mob,” “Meyer Lansky: Mob Tycoon,” “Genovese: Portrait of a Crime Family,” “Bugsy Siegel,” “Al Capone and the Machine Gun Massacre,” “America and the Mob: Wartime Friends,” and “The Gambinos: First Family of Crime.” “Mob Hitmen” is included as a bonus feature in a release obviously timed to coincide with the debut of Michael Mann’s promising new feature “Public Enemies.”

THE UNIVERSE: Season 2 Blu-Ray (14 hours., 2007-08; History/NewVideo): The popular History Channel series hits Blu-Ray for the second time in a four-disc, high-definition set. Season 2 of “The Universe” once again blends science, speculation and special effects as it chronicles a number of topics, from “Exoplanets” to the cataclysmic possibilities of “Cosmic Collisions,” plus “The Milky Way, “Dark Matter, “Supernovas” and “White Holes” as well. The HD transfers on NewVideo’s release are all top-notch, while uncompressed (PCM) 2.0 stereo tracks round out the package, along with one “Backyard Astronomers” featurette.

EASTBOUND AND DOWN: Season 1 DVD (180 mins., 2009; HBO): While Danny ("Pineapple Express," "Land of the Lost") McBride’s humor can be pretty hit or miss (see “Foot-Fist Way”), this HBO series is fairly amusing, with McBride playing a former pitcher who comes home to North Carolina after bottoming out and opting to teach gym at a middle school he once attended. Co-producer Will Ferrell makes a guest appearance in this fitfully funny, off-the-wall series, which ran on HBO for six episodes to decent ratings and positive acclaim (a second season was announced back in April). For those who might’ve missed it, this is a ridiculous and occasionally uproarious show which makes for a fine DVD box-set, with 16:9 (1.78) transfers, 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks, commentaries, deleted scenes, outtakes, and numerous featurettes comprising HBO’s release.

JONAS BROTHERS: 3-D CONCERT EXPERIENCE Extended Edition Blu-Ray (89 mins., 2009, G; Disney)
PRINCESS PROTECTION PROGRAM DVD (89 mins., 2009; Disney): If you have young preteens in your household you're likely to hear about these two upcoming Disney releases.

Fresh off the success of the "Hannah Montana" concert movie Disney released the "Jonas Brothers: 3-D Concert Experience" to theaters earlier this year, featuring popular siblings Kevin, Joe and Nick crooning their latest pop hits -- and in 3-D, no less! While the Miley Cyrus concert raked in a healthy dose of cash (over $60 million domestic), the Jonases didn't quite match her efforts at the box-office, taking in just shy of $20 million -- still perfectly respectable for a concert film in this day and age.

Disney's Blu-Ray edition of the Jonas Brothers concert offers an exclusive 3-D version of the feature with four pairs of glasses, along with a 2-D version and four songs that weren't included in the theatrical release; a standard DVD edition; and a digital copy for portable media players. There are also two more, additional songs and one behind-the-scenes featurette, plus a perfect AVC-encoded HD transfer and DTS Master Audio sound.

One of the Jonases' guest stars, resident Disney teen actress/singer Demi Lovato, co-stars in a brand-new Disney Channel movie PRINCESS PROTECTION PROGRAM, which debuts on the Disney Channel on June 26th, with a DVD release to follow on the 30th.

This wacky comedy offers Lovato and fellow Disney staple Selena Gomez in a tale of a pampered princess (Lovato) who has to pass for a regular teen with the help of her cousin (Gomez) that ought to delight its intended teen audience, as it mixes up aspects of "The Princess Diaries" with a bit of "The Parent Tap." Older viewers aren't likely to be entertained as much as younger viewers, who won't notice the similarities between this project and its superior predecessors. Disney's DVD includes a 16:9 (1.78) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, an extended version of the movie itself, plus a music video with Gomez and Lovato, a behind-the-scenes segment with the two stars, and a look at a real-life princess whose royal responsibilities are just a bit different those portrayed in the film.

New From Shout! Factory

A trio of terrific releases comprise Shout!’s DVD slate for the month of June.

With “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” due out in theaters this week, it’s a perfect time to revisit the original ‘80s animated series which served as a springboard for Michael Bay’s big-budget sci-fi blockbusters.

While Rhino previously issued DVD editions of “Transformers”’ first cartoon series some time ago, those discs have been long out-of-print and Shout!’s DVD edition is an improvement in terms of its supplements and overall presentation.

TRANSFORMERS: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (1984-85, 6 hours; Shout!) offers the inaugural season of the Hasbro-produced animated cartoon from Marvel Enterprises, the 16 episodes being presented in good-looking full-screen transfers with newly remastered stereo soundtracks. Extras are in abundance as well, including a rare PSA, archival Hasbro commercials, a printable script, and a featurette on the Transformers march from toy line and TV to comic book and silver screen.

Another quintessential ‘80s series, PARKER LEWIS CAN’T LOSE (1990-91, 598 mins; Shout!) also hits DVD for the first time this month.

“Parker Lewis” debuted on the then-fledgling Fox network around the same time that NBC offered their own, small-screen version of the Matthew Broderick-John Hughes classic “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” Both series were clearly influenced by that 1986 box-office smash, but while the “official” Ferris series struck out with both critics and audiences, it was “Parker Lewis” that became a cult favorite and bigger success, much in the same way that the officially-sanctioned “Blue Thunder” TV series was eclipsed by imitator “Airwolf” several years prior.

Corin Nemec stars as the irrepressible Parker, who hangs out with pals William Jayne and Troy Slaten while trying to avoid villainous principal Melanie Chartoff. Big, bright colors, ‘90s rock music, and a hip sense of humor made “Parker Lewis” a hit among young viewers, all of whom should love this long-awaited, overdue DVD box-set from Shout! Offering the series’ complete first season in full-screen transfers and stereo soundtracks, the DVD set also includes a retrospective featurette and episode commentaries. Recommended!

Finally, on July 7th Shout! brings “Mysties” of all ages the 15th compilation of shows from MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000.

Voume XV offers four new-to-DVD features with Joel, Mike, Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot: “The Robot Vs. The Aztec Mummy,” “The Girl in Lovers Lane,” “Zombie Nightmare,” and “Racket Girls.”

A solid array of extras include two different “MST3K Scrapbook Scraps,” including behind-the-scenes footage and a look at KTMA, the Minneapolis station where the series began; a closer look at “Zombie Nightmare”; promos; and stars Kevin Murphy and Trace Beaulieu in a preview of their upcoming “Hamlet A.D.D.”

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