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Paramount Blu-ray Wrap-Up 3

Beverly Hills Cop


I don’t pretend to understand the 1980s, even thought I grew up in them and should have a general understanding of how they work. Somehow, in the year 1984 a formulaic, reasonably funny, sort of action packed cop comedy made more money than Ghostbusters, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Gremlins and The Karate Kid. That film was Beverly Hills Cop. Having not seen it in probably a decade I remembered very little about the Beverly Hills Cop outside of the theme song, which I recall being the number one hit when I was at Jewish Community Center summer camp, but it certainly works as a time capsule for the era, and effectively reminds us of a time when Eddie Murphy could carry a mediocre production with his R-rated tongue in tact (minus his more objectionably misogynistic and homophobic stand-up material) . Many of the most easily spoofed ‘80s movie clichés were already cemented in place upon Beverly Hills Cop’s release, but I’m pretty sure the overwhelming overuse of tie-in soundtracks started to peak here (following Flash Dance). It’s also a great sampling of the kind of blockbusters coke-fiend producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer used to crank out before Simpson died and Bruckheimer joined up with Disney to make some of the most overpriced films in history. I’m not surprised that I didn’t really enjoy revisiting this one, but can certainly understand why the Axel Foley character caught on and led to two more sequels (I’m just curious enough that I’m kind of hoping Paramount has the first sequel on their release schedule so I can revisit that one too). What does surprise me is the casual brutality, the definitively R-rated footage, and director Martin Brest’s overall direction. Brest’s films have never been among my favourites, but this one and Midnight Run prove he had chops before Gigli destroyed his career.

Beverly Hills Cop isn’t going to win any awards for its 1080p transfer, but there are some nice things to be said. Overall detail levels are decent, if not a little inconsistent from scene to scene. At its best, this transfer reveals the glimmer of product on the edges of Murphy’s hair and a vast array of background elements in wide shots. At its worst, grain overtakes the transfer and darker elements bleed into each other. Black levels are nice, and overall contrast is effective, but there are definitely some muddy bits, and an excess of edge enhancement for an HD master. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack, is equally blah, getting the job done without stepping above or beyond anything. The vast majority of the sound comes squarely from the center channel, with the stereo channels and the LFE getting a decent bump when the ridiculously ‘80s-tastic music takes hold. The dialogue and effects are clean and scrubbed, but they’re just a little thin. Extras include a too often silent, but relatively informative, Martin Brest commentary track, ‘Beverly Hills Cop: The Phenomenon Begins’ retrospective featurette (29:10, SD), ‘A Glimpse Inside the Casting Process’ (9:40, SD), ‘The Music of Beverly Hills Cop’ (7:50, SD), a location map, and the original theatrical trailer. Coolest thing I learned: Sylvester Stallone was once attached to the film, and his original script was later adjusted and turned into Cobra.


Paramount Blu-ray Wrap-Up 3

48 Hours


48 Hours, an even earlier ‘80s artefact, and Eddie Murphy’s big Hollywood break, is more like it. The roots of the white guy/black guy crime flick dynamic goes back to the ‘70s, which featured quite a few politically incorrect pairings, but this likely marks mainstream Hollywood’s first successful team-up of this type. It’s also another source of oft-mimicked tropes. Unlike Beverly Hills Cop, 48 Hours has the advantage of being a thriller/actioneer first, and a comedy second. Mixed genre flicks tend to age better than straight ‘80s comedies, since so many jokes either relate to pop culture, and all the best jokes are usually ripped-off by lesser films, and retold until the joke is no longer funny. The best thrillers and cop flicks are ripped off just as often, but for whatever reason thrills and chills still work time after time. The main reason 48 Hours holds up as well as it does is the work of its director Walter Hill. Hill, as you likely (should) know, is one of the best analogue action director of the 1980s (like John McTeirnan, he took a huge slide down in the 1990s). Hill’s rough, raw style, and penchant for goopy squibs keep the film feeling dangerous, and carries over a bit of William Friedkin and Don Siegel’s ‘70s cop thriller edge. He also balances the action with the witty banter more effectively than most directors in the era. Murphy doesn’t carry this film like he does Beverly Hills Cop, but he emphatically rules a few scenes, specifically the one where he pretends to be a cop and takes a whole redneck bar hostage. 48 Hours isn’t my favourite Eddie Murphy movie (that would be Coming to America), but it might be the best movie with Eddie Murphy in it (save maybe Dreamgirls). Nolte’s performance trips a bit too far into hammy (I will always wonder what would’ve happened if Clint Eastwood would’ve taken on the role), but the supporting cast percolates with fantastic character actors, including Sonny Landham, Brion James, and James Remar (who was coming directly off Hill’s The Warriors and The Long Riders).

This transfer pretty much matches the Beverly Hills Cop transfer in terms of inconsistency, but sits just this side of disappointing. At times details are crisp and sharp, contrast levels are hard-edged, and overall dirt and grain is relatively minimal. Other times the whole frame flattens with backgrounds and foregrounds mixing into a big, lightly contrasted, heavily-grained mess (establishing wide shots, some of which may be stock footage, are the biggest offenders). Most of the time everything sits in the middlingest middle that ever middled. My major issue concerns the overall colour quality, which is yellowed and/or browned. Blacks suffer quite a bit from bleeding hues, and tend to blob into each other. I guess my best single word review would be ‘dull’, and things definitely get worse as the film progresses. If this was a low budget B-film I’d be more forgiving, but 48 Hours is a pretty big motion picture, and it’s not that old yet. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track is equally hit and miss. The overall effect is more impressive than many 2.0 catalogue remixes, including effective stereo effects, a decent rear channel presence, and clearly centered dialogue. The track shines the most during the musical sequences, which I’d put up favourably against some of the better concert films on Blu-ray. Shoot outs benefit from the LFE, and are among the few directional effects. Extras include nothing but a trailer.


Paramount Blu-ray Wrap-Up 3

Airplane!


I generally don’t like spoof movies (you’re probably sensing a theme in these reviews by now aren’t you? I guarantee this was a coincidence). I can’t think of a single film that runs mostly on referential gags that I’ve really enjoyed. I enjoy self contained spoofs, and spoofy shorts, along with satires and well placed references, but in feature form I prefer comedy that depends more on character and narrative, and by its very nature spoof comedy depends on the audience’s knowledge of pre-existing material, and doesn’t build very much on either character or narrative. But even a guy that doesn’t like spoof movies can respect the insane, anarchic genius of Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker’s Airplane! – the alpha and omega of spoof movies. Even if the Zucker/Abrahams/ Zucker brand of tossing jokes against the wall until one sticks has led to a legion of the most god-awful films of the past three decades, including a never ending string of Not Another ____ Movies, and a series of embarrassing post- Young Frankenstein Mel Brooks movies, I’ll still respect it. I’m continuously surprised that the film remains so popular with modern audiences, since modern audiences tend to forget the past, and so much of Airplane! is dependant on the era it was released. The whole film is based around a run of celebrity-heavy, late ‘70s disaster movies, specifically George Seaton’s Airport, and includes needlessly extended references to then recent releases like Saturday Night Fever (restaging sequences from popular films is the absolute laziest thing a spoof movie can do). I’m guessing no one under the age of 30 gets the Ronald Regan joke. It’s just Zucker/Abrahams/ Zucker’s dumb luck that most of the films they’re teasing have remained in the public consciousness over the years (in their defense, they also spoof less contemporary films like From Here to Eternity). My funny bone tends to be tickled the most by the background jokes (the ‘Mayo clinic’), repeating gags (people killing themselves when they are forced to hear Ted’s story), and the original absurdist gags (the jive talk). The more obvious stuff just tends to be too…um…obvious? Easy? Whatever, it just doesn’t make me laugh very much.

This 1080p, 1.78:1 transfer is not going to win any awards, but is a decent representation of a 30-year-old 35mm film. The box art claims that the film has been digitally remastered, and though I’m not really one to argue based on the fact that I haven’t ever seen the film on any digital format, I’m relatively impressed, and pretty sure fans will be happy with the HD upgrade. There’s a lot of grain on the print, some of it relatively inconsistent in both size and intensity, and some of sharper highlights blow-out a bit, but there’s little in the way of print or compression artefacts. More importantly there’s no major sign of DNR shenanigans. Details are natural and quite sharp, from front to back. The directors don’t use a lot of colour outside of some pretty plain browns and blues, so colour quality isn’t a huge concern, but largely hues appear natural, and are cleanly separated enough. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack mostly sticks to the center channel, and is pretty flat in terms of dynamic sound. The dialogue and simple effects are consistent, but also tend to be tinny, and feature some minor distortion during sharp volume levels. Occasional effects, like the plane’s engine, fill out the stereo channels, but the surround channels are mostly silent outside of musical echoes. Speaking of music, I forgot Elmer Bernstein did the score for Airplane!. The disc’s producers have done very well by Bernstein’s bombastic score, which is presented with plenty of warmth and dynamic range. The extras on this one-time Best Buy exclusive release include a commentary track with producer Jon Davison and writer/directors Jim Abrahams, and David and Jerry Zucker, the ‘Long Haul Version’, which links to interviews with the cast and crew, along with deleted footage and other goodies I’d much rather just have access to through the menu system (or perhaps picture in picture, anything would be easier to watch than this), a trivia track, and the original trailer.


Paramount Blu-ray Wrap-Up 3

Planes, Trains and Automobiles


Generally speaking I’m not much of a fan of John Hughes films. It’s not that I think they’re bad films, they’re just films that haven’t connect with me in many years. As a lad, however, I did own a copy of Planes, Trains and Automobiles, and watched it often enough to memorize several hunks of dialogue. Specifically, Steve Martin’s f-bomb heavy tirade. Like many childhood favourites I ended up outgrowing this particular film, and can’t really enjoy it on that same breezy level I did all those years ago. It may be a change in sensibilities, but it could also be my own fault for watching the damn thing so many times. I have also developed difficulty enjoying this style of satire anymore. I’m just generally not a fan of the ‘pile the shit on your lead’ brand of comedy, though I do like the kind of disguised Alice in Wonderland motif that Hughes employs. Martin Scorsese did something similar with his vastly more R-rated ‘pile shit on your lead’ comedy After Hours. Hughes excels with the wacky bits, and the bizarre little touches are quite memorable, but he blows his load way too early on the sappy stuff when he gives John Candy a big guilt trip speech about 30 minutes into the film. I really want to be touched by the twist ending, but it always comes off as mawkish to me, despite Candy and Martin’s best efforts (this may be Candy’s best performance). Of all the directors making fluffy, innocuous comedies throughout the ‘80s, Hughes was certainly one of the more technically talented and effortless visualists. He has a real gift for telling a story through images without being too showy about it. In this case he makes particularly good use of Steve Martin’s point of view, which makes sense for the character, who keeps his thoughts bottled up until they blow. I also now recognize the clever way Hughes uses Candy’s travel trunk as a metaphor for his weakness, and Martin’s good nature getting the better of him. This isn’t one of my favourites anymore, but it’s still a well made, well acted, very late-‘80s comedy.

This was another 1080p remaster I was expecting very little from based on the film’s plain, natural look, but I’m pleasantly surprised by the clarity of this transfer. Detail levels are sharp and natural, blends are smooth, and colours consistent (sometimes eerily so, specifically flesh tones). The richer hues, like Dell’s blue jacket, are quite vibrant without noticeable bleeding. There’s plenty of grain on the print, and it tends to ebb and flow depending on the darkness of the frame, but there isn’t so much grain that it becomes a problem. There’s noticeable wobble on some of the particularly still shots, the wide shots feature minor moiré effects, and the harshest edges do feature some haloes. The opening title is more or less your best source for surround sound movement, as it features a cavalcade of mobile sound effects over a relatively black screen, and exists to create wacky directional movement. Outside of this I’m actually generally surprised with how busy the three front channels are, considering that this is a low-key comedy outside of a few reasonably violent driving scenes. Important stuff like dialogue is clear without any major hiss, or volume inconsistencies. Ira Newborn’s somewhat insipid electronic score (which to his credit is coated with some enjoyable blues bits) features quite a bit in the stereo channels, and is given a nice LFE bounce. Extras include ‘Getting There is Half the Fun: The Story of Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ vintage featurette (16:40, SD), ‘John Hughes: The Voice of a Generation’ (27:40, HD), ‘Heartbreak and Triumph: The Legacy of John Hughes’ (25:50, HD),


Paramount Blu-ray Wrap-Up 3

Breakfast at Tiffany’s


The only non-‘80s flick in this collection of reviews, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is often considered by fans as Audrey Hepburn’s finest hour (I’m more of a Charade and Wait Until Dark fan myself, with a more low-key affection for Love in the Afternoon and Sabrina), and one of the stylistically defining films of the early 1960s, but the truth is that we tend to remember more about Hepburn’s dress, hair, diamonds, sunglasses, and that incredibly long cigarette holder than we do about the film itself. I’m including myself in this equation, as this viewing mostly felt like a first time experience, apart from a few specific sequences that have become a part of greater film dialogue over the years (Hepburn singing moon river, the politically incorrect portrayal of Mr. Yunioshi). A great deal of the Breakfast at Tiffany’s success is a case of image over content, after all, it’s a film about writer’s block, but director Blake Edward (who would go on to make eight The Pink Panther films, and Victor Victoria) captures the essence of an idealistic early ‘60s. Even without the omnipresence of AMC’s Mad Men, the look of this era seems even more modern than ever, even though the themes are largely out of fashion in the post-recession era. Breakfast at Tiffany’s has a floaty, buoyant feeling, even at its most dramatic, and the tone is inescapable. The characters are also quite well defined and engaging, despite the fact that they aren’t exactly relatable people (it’s hard to like Holly, let alone love her for much of the film, largely because the film never implicitly recognizes the fact that she’s a hooker). Truman Capote’s witty dialogue, and Hepburn and George Peppard’s sly performances certainly help keep things in check, and the meandering narration is well served by some absurd slap-stick sequences (no, these don’t include Rooney’s hyper-racist performance).
 
This new HD transfer (the box art assures us that its been meticulously restored) is about a good as a 50 year old release can look. There are a few slightly ‘off’ shots, mostly among exterior shots, which are either darker and sizably grainier than the rest of the picture, or over-sharpened and haloed, but for the most part this is a digital restoration done right. Detail levels are sharp, contrast levels are even, and the acrylic Technicolor hues are solid and quite vibrant (the reds will burn your retinas out if you stand too close to the set), all with nary a sign of DNR enhancement. The exteriors and skin tones are a bit on the unnatural side, but this is the way of Technicolor, and what film fans tend to love about the process. Edwards tends to shoot Hepburn is soft focus, which definitely sticks out on a transfer this sharp, in an era where such practice is usually CG augmented to avoid drawing attention to it, but this is clearly part of the source’s quality, and not a problem for the transfer itself. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is surprisingly effective in incredibly natural terms. The bulk of the film is centered and dialogue heavy, and sound effects are largely of the incidental variety, but this mix is teaming with subtle additions. The music Holly plays from her room floats nicely through the scene as if the record player is sitting in the room with the viewer, her parties are pretty intense with crowd noise, and the general sound of the city streets glows softly whenever she finds her way outside. It’s not a dynamic mix, and mostly creates movement out of layers rather than movement or surround influence, but it works quite well based on the original mono (which is also included).

The rather substantial extras include a commentary with producer Richard Shephard, ‘A Golightly Gathering’ (20:30, HD), a gathering of actors from the cocktail scene, ‘Henry Mancini: More Than Music’ (21:00, HD), a look at the career of composer Henry Mancini, ‘Mr. Yunioshi: An Asian Perspective’ (17:30, HD), a look at Hollywood’s treatment of Asians, ‘ Breakfast at Tiffany’s: The Making of a Classic’ (16:10, SD), a generally retrospective featurette, ‘It’s So Audrey! A Style Icon’ (8:20, SD), ‘Behind the Gates: The Tour’ (4:30, SD), a look at Paramount Studios circa 2005, ‘Brilliance in a Blue Box’ (6:00, SD), a look at the history of Tiffany’s jewelry, a discussion of Audrey Hepburn’s preface to a book about Tiffany and Co. (2:30, SD), three image galleries, and a theatrical trailer.


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