Ghostbusters: Afterlife

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 2/1/22;
Sony Pictures;
Comedy;
Box Office $128.06 million;
$30.99 DVD, $38.99 Blu-ray, $45.99 UHD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for supernatural action and some suggestive references.
Stars Carrie Coon, Paul Rudd, Finn Wolfhard, Mckenna Grace, Logan Kim, Celeste O’Connor, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts, Sigourney Weaver, Bob Gunton, J.K. Simmons, Bokeem Woodbine.

Somewhere out there, lost to the annals of time and space, is the ideal third “Ghostbusters” movie. While Ghostbusters: Afterlife might not achieve that lofty goal, the circumstances that led to its creation make it a valiant effort.

Following the 1984 original film and its 1989 sequel, plans for a third film eventually stalled out when the creative team couldn’t agree to a satisfactory story to tell. The 2014 death of Harold Ramis, who was one of the creative forces behind the franchise in addition to playing a key character, seemed to signal the end of attempts to continue the original storyline. The consolation prize for fans was the 2009 Ghostbusters video game, which franchise co-creator and co-star Dan Aykroyd referred to as essentially being a third movie.

In 2016 a third movie did come along, with director Paul Feig’s reboot of the original that severed ties with the continuity of the first two films, presenting a cast of talented female comedians whose characters invented the concept of and equipment for ghostbusting on their own, only to come across a villain who used similar equipment to summon ghosts. The remake, eventually dubbed Ghostbusters: Answer the Call, was largely rejected by franchise fans because it wasn’t rooted in a continuation of the lore, instead sticking original cast members into mostly awkward and bizarre cameos.

Then, director Jason Reitman, son of Ivan Reitman, who directed the 1980s movies, had a vision of a girl discovering ghostbusting equipment, leading her to discover her family’s legacy. This idea eventually germinated into Ghostbusters: Afterlife, a true continuation of the storyline from the original films.

The girl is Phoebe (Mckenna Grace), who along with her brother, Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), move to Oklahoma after their mother, Callie (Carrie Coon), inherits a derelict farm from her father, Phoebe and Trevor’s grandfather. While Callie tries to make sense of her father’s finances, Phoebe and Trevor discover their grandfather was one of the original Ghostbusters, who had settled in Oklahoma to combat supernatural forces that threatened to bring an end to the world. Along with some new friends and a teacher played by Paul Rudd, they take up his mission to avert the return of the evil forces.

Afterlife is far from a perfect movie and is at times almost too reverential to the 1980s films, with a third act that is essentially a re-creation of the end of the first film, relying more on nostalgia than originality. But it respects the lore, and that’s probably enough to earn the appreciation of longtime fans.

The “new generation” plot gives the younger characters an entry point into the mythology by making it a mystery for them to solve, which is a clever way to reintroduce the concept while also providing a touching way to address the absence of Ramis (though how it’s addressed in the film does raise a lot of questions that are left unanswered). However, longtime fans will see what’s coming from a mile away, as the retread elements of Afterlife really start to wear thin by the end.

In a way, this actually makes the existence of Answer the Call more infuriating, since its story arc of ghostbusting-like equipment being used to call forth the forces of darkness rather than stop them would have been a nice fit for a next-generation Ghostbusters movie and better served Afterlife. (In Answer the Call, the equipment isn’t ghostbusters gear per se, but similar hardware developed by a bad guy — the concept could have been adapted for a story about modifying ghostbuster tech).

So, what we are left with is a movie that is a bit of a double-edged sword. Up until some fan service in the third act, Afterlife works well as a standalone movie about a struggling family uncovering a lost legacy and learning who they are, playing more along Jason Reitman’s sensibilities as an indie filmmaker. But as a “Ghostbusters” movie, it’s more like a tribute band paying homage to the original, which might make it less appealing to viewers who don’t have the nostalgia for the 1980s films.

The Afterlife Blu-ray includes some thorough behind-the-scenes materials and a few featurettes aimed at the fandom.

The central making-of video is the 10-minute “Summoning the Spirit,” which starts with Jason Reitman’s concept for creating the film as previously mentioned, and picks up from there. Supplementary to this are a six-and-a-half-minute featurette about the visual effects.

For the fans, the eight-minute “We Got One!” looks at the many references to the earlier films layered into Afterlife. There’s also a six-minute guide to ghostbusting equipment, and a five-minute look at the return of the Ghostbusters’ car, the Ecto-1. The 10-minute “A Look Back” featurette offers a reminiscence with the surviving original cast members, while the four-minute “A Look Ahead” teases what might be yet to come.

Also included is a single deleted scene, running a minute-and-a-half, that offers a fun extension of a scene between Callie, Phoebe and one of the original cast members.

Toy Story 4

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street 10/8/19;
Disney;
Animated;
Box Office $433.06 million;
$39.99 Blu-ray/DVD, $44.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘G.’
Voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, Keanu Reeves, Ally Maki, Joan Cusack, Bonnie Hunt, Kristen Schaal, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Blake Clark, June Squibb, Carl Weathers, Jeff Garlin.

While the prospect of a fourth “Toy Story” movie was exciting news for fans of the franchise, there were some questions about whether the adventures of Woody, Buzz and the gang might have run their course. After all, the third movie from 2010 was an emotional rollercoaster that seemed to provide a decent, if bittersweet, sense of closure for the characters.

Of course, the question about what stories were left to tell had already been answered long before the fourth movie was announced, not only through three short films, but also two half-hour television specials. So, yeah, there’s more than enough material to mine.

There would still be the challenge of making any new film feel like an event worthy of the franchise. The movies should at least be somewhat transformational, redefining the status quo of the characters beyond what can be accomplished in a short film.

Well, the team at Pixar Animation Studios certainly achieved that goal, and then some. Toy Story 4 isn’t the best film in the franchise, but it might be the most cathartic. Where the previous film was a bit of a gut punch, this one offers more of a natural progression for the characters.

After a flashback that shows how Woody’s love interest, Bo Peep (Annie Potts) was given away (mentioned in Toy Story 3), we check in to see how the toys are doing with their new owner, Bonnie. While she exhibits a rich imagination, she tends to leave Woody (Tom Hanks) sidelined, leaving him to wonder what his place in her life is.

Bonnie then creates a new toy, named Forky (Tony Hale), out of trash at school, and when he would rather return to the garbage than play with Bonnie, Woody assigns himself the task of educating the new toy and making sure he’s available for her. Woody’s task gets more complicated when Forky manages to jump out of the RV on a family road trip. In retrieving him, Woody comes across an antique shop and reunites with Bo. But Forky is captured by a doll at the shop who wants to trade him for Woody’s pull-string voice box to replace her own defective one, hoping the fix will help entice a kid to want to play with her.

Bo, on the other hand, presents another option for life as a toy: roaming free, with no owner, never worrying about being played with or not and determining her own fate. Meanwhile, Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) sets out on a mission to find Woody, bolstered by a hilarious running gag of him activating his own voice feature so he can get advice from his “inner voice.”

So, yes, the movie does return to the “recover a lost character” motif that has been a staple of the franchise (and, indeed, most Pixar films), putting a few new spins on the formula along the way. The antique shop and a nearby carnival are wonderful settings for toy-level adventures with inventive new characters, such as Canadian motorcycle-jumping daredevil Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves), and a pair of game-prize plushes voiced by Key & Peele.

The only area of concern, really, is that each passing movie runs the risk of potentially piercing the suspension of disbelief about the toys being alive, which some of the characters actually joke about in this one. One need to simply look no further to the living vehicles of the world of “Cars” to see how much such questions can distract, and detract, from the narrative.

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The “Toy Story” movies have all been visual marvels, and the fourth one is no exception, advancing the state of CGI to render fantastic textures and details on the toys and their environments. The carnival offers a great excuse for bright colors and warm lights, while the antique shop provides a trove of subtle references.

The Blu-ray is loaded with a lot of great behind-the-scenes material, including an insightful feature-length commentary track by director Josh Cooley and producer Mark Nielsen in which they discuss all sorts of challenges to crafting a fourth “Toy Story” film.

Some of the more pivotal sequences get their own callout in the form of “Anatomy of a Scene” videos in which the filmmakers discuss and joke about making them. The disc includes a nine-and-a-half-minute look at the playground scene, while a seven-minute deconstruction of the prologue serves as a digital exclusive.

The disc also includes 28 minutes of deleted scenes, still in storyboard form, that show some of the unused concepts for the film, including an unused ending that would have pretty much negated the film’s message of finding your own place in the world.

The digital version of the film includes an additional seven-minute alternate opening sequence depicting Bonnie’s playtime fantasy using the toys.

The various featurettes included offer interesting glimpses of the production with the usual interviews with cast members and filmmakers, but often show them interacting in ways not typically presented in such videos.

There is a six-minute “Bo Rebooted” video about how Bo’s character was expanded into a major role for the film. Another, three-and-a-half-minute piece, spotlights the relationship between Woody and Buzz.

The new characters are shown off in a series of “Toy Box” videos that run 13 minutes, while an additional six-minute featurette focuses on new castmember Ally Maki and her pint-sized character.

One of the more nostalgia-infused featurettes is a five-and-a-half-minute “Toy Stories” piece in which several of the cast and crew recall the toys they played with as children.

Among some of the more random video bits are a few minutes of animation showing off the carnival and the antique shop roof from the toys’ perspectives, plus a series of promotional videos including character vignettes and trailers from around the world.

Some digital retailers, such as Vudu, also offer a two-and-a-half-minute “Toy Story Rewind” video in which the cast and crew reflect on the previous movies.