Reviews

Review: Last Night in Soho

Last Night in Soho (2021)

Anyone interested in better understanding the art of sound mixing should study the Dolby Atmos soundtrack for Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho as if it were the Rosetta Stone. And, yes, I know I’m doing things right backwards here, talking about the sound before discussing the merits of the film itself. But the simple fact is that the shape of sound is so integral to the experience of Soho that leading with anything else would feel wrong. Wright and his sound department employ the expanded soundfield of Atmos in much the way The Wizard of Oz employs Technicolor—although in this case there’s a lot more back-and-forth and the transitions are at times so subtle as to be easily missed. 

 

And to explain what I’m on about here, I need to tell you a bit about the narrative of the film. Last Night in Soho is the story of Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie), a young country girl who’s noteworthy for two reasons: Firstly, she’s a talented designer who’s 

been accepted into the London College of Fashion; secondly, she is gifted—or afflicted, depending on your perspective—with psychic abilities very much akin to those of Danny from The Shining. She sees the past as vividly as she sees the present.

 

Both of those facts come into play when the introverted Ellie finds herself overwhelmed by dormitory life and rents a room in a quaint but creepy old home, then nearly immediately becomes transported via her dreams into the 1960s, where she alternatively observes and embodies a striking young woman named Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), who gets mixed up with all the wrong sorts of men in her attempt to make it as a singer.

 

And it’s during those transitions between the modern, waking world and Ellie’s dreams/visions that the Atmos mix really springs to life. Until that point, the audio is a largely 

SOHO AT A GLANCE

Subtle, inventive use of the Atmos mix really makes this flashing-back-to-the-’60s thriller come to life. 

 

PICTURE

The Kaleidescape download delivers the movie’s sumptuous cinematography with all the detail and texture you could hope for.

 

SOUND 

The Atmos soundscape positively explodes into its full potential during the flashback scenes, packed with immersive overhead audio effects and aggressive use of the surround channels.

front-focused affair, with surrounds used mostly for subtle ambience and spaciousness. It honestly wouldn’t make much difference if it were straight stereo. And that subdued mixing really works well with the overall aesthetic of the film, which was shot largely on 35mm with a mix of flat and anamorphic lenses, and really evokes the feel of supernatural thrillers from the late ’60—so much so that elements of the modern world (wireless headphones, current cars) feel like an anachronistic intrusion. 

 

But when we’re yanked back to the ’60s, the film takes on a much more modern feel, and the Atmos soundscape positively explodes into its full potential, packed with immersive overhead audio effects (mostly musical in nature) and aggressive use of

the surround channels. And from here on out, that shift between the flat, enhanced-stereo approach and the full-blown Atmos experience serves as the audience’s primary indicator of whether we’re experiencing the world as Ellie experiences it or the mundane modern world in which she is quickly losing her grasp on reality.

 

As I’m writing all of this, I know it sounds like a gimmick. But this trick is so artfully—and at times subtly—orchestrated that it doesn’t feel at all gimmicky in the moment. So if you’re planning on venturing out into a commercial cinema to see Last Night in Soho while it’s still being publicly exhibited, make sure you do so in a one equipped with Atmos. But I imagine most Cineluxe readers will be better served by a good home cinema setup and access to a PVOD rental of the sort Kaleidescape is offering right now.

 

Kaleidescape’s download delivers the movie’s sumptuous cinematography with all the detail and texture you could hope for, preserving the subtle film grain, and wonderfully capturing cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung’s nuanced color palette. As with the audio, the imagery is a study in contrasts, with a predominantly earthy look that’s punctuated by splashes of primary hues and neon lighting. A handful of scenes might have been better served by the 

Last Night in Soho (2021)

enhanced peak brightness and dynamic metadata of Dolby Vision, but Kaleidescape’s HDR10 presentation nonetheless gives the picture a lot of breathing room at the lower end of the value scale, opening up the shadows and giving the image a lot of depth where appropriate.

 

And for a film whose substance is tied largely to its style, that’s important. Last Night in Soho won’t be to everyone’s taste, and even if you love it as much as I do, I think you’ll find some flaws with it. Wright attempts to load it with a bit more meaning than its narrative framework will support. And in paying homage to the whole of the 1960s—from its fashions to its music to the diversity of its cinema, ranging from Polanski to EON Productions—he’s bitten off a bit more than he can chew. All of which makes Last Night in Soho less than perfect by any objective measure. But it’s one of the most fascinatingly flawed films I’ve seen in ages, which makes it a shoo-in for Day One purchase the instant it’s available on home video proper. 

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

Review: King Richard

King Richard (2021)

I’m a sucker for movies “based on a true story.” Usually these capture super-human achievements (like First Man or Midwayor unlikely events (like Ford v. Ferrari or The Social Network) or give us a glimpse into events we only knew a little about and want to learn more (like Richard Jewell or Just Mercy).

 

Of course, the downside of these kinds of films is that Hollywood likes to tell a good story above all else, and these movies often become the definitive truth for the public, even when that truth has been manipulated, compressed, or let’s say “enhanced” for the sake of the story. For example, as I dug into the real stories behind movies like Bohemian Rhapsody or 

American Sniper, I learned that—as attorney Lionel Hutz famously said on The Simpson’s—“There’s the truth and ‘the truth’,” and just because it happens up on screen doesn’t mean it necessarily happened that way.

 

All of which is to say, I’m not sure exactly how accurate Warner Bros. new film King Richard is when it comes to telling the “true” story about the origins of tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams growing up, or the antics of their father Richard, but I will say it was an entertaining feel-good film with great performances all around that really gives you a sense of the obstacles these girls/women overcame and just how much raw talent they had. I also walked away thinking that if their father was even half the character as portrayed by Will Smith, then these girls’ talent was truly off-the-charts for any of the people to actually take a chance on them and be forced to put up with him.

 

The film focuses on a fairly narrow slice of the girls’ lives, covering just a few years from when they start their serious training up until Venus (Saniyya Sidney) turns pro and 

KING RICHARD AT A GLANCE

Will Smith’s performance and actors who actually seem to know how to play tennis keep things interesting & believable in this story of the early years Venus and Serena Williams. 

 

PICTURE

The Dolby Vision grade is fairly restrained but is used to create natural-looking images with lots of depth and shadow detail throughout.

 

SOUND 

Since the movie relies on dialogue to move the story forward, there’s not a lot going on in the Dolby Atmos mix, but it definitely keeps the voices in the center channel, where they are always clear and intelligible.

competes in her first tournament in 1994 at age 14. Similar to Rocky, for a movie based on two of the greatest female tennis players of all time, there actually isn’t a lot of tennis. We get some scenes with them practicing, trying out for coaches, training, and some moments from Venus’s junior tournaments, but it’s really not until the big final matches when Venus turns pro that we see a lot of court action. The movie concentrates more on Richard’s all-focused drive on getting them to the top and making them the best, and showing us the hardships they had to overcome–Serena (Demi Singleton) and Venus shared a room and even a bed with three other half-sisters in a small house in Compton, California. 

 

I also don’t know if Sidney or Singleton have any actual tennis talent, but both sure look convincing on screen, which is what matters here. I was a golf professional in my previous career, and it is always a huge distraction in most golf films when it’s clear the actor couldn’t break 100 to save his life. Here, the girls’ mechanics are definitely believable, with strong, aggressive ground strokes and serves that look like the real deal. Even more impressive, Sidney is left-handed, but actually learned to play right for the film—though I do think they are physically smaller than the actual Williams sisters, who were imposing even at a young age. 

 

Having read the Tiger Woods biography by Jeff Benedict, I saw quite a few parallels between the two stories. In both cases, you had less-privileged kids pushed to greatness by the drive and willpower of fathers who recognized their potential and wouldn’t take no for an answer. In this case, Richard had come up with his “plan” even before the girls were born, and he was laser-focused on sticking to it, and making them the best, regardless of obstacles or setbacks. 

 

We get a sense that young Venus and Serena enjoyed playing and practicing, but was that because it was just living up to the plan constantly being drilled into them, they were trying to please overbearing Richard, they recognized tennis as their way to a better life, or they actually loved playing? Another common thread between King Richard and Tiger’s story was that of dropping supporters/coaches once they had reached the end of their usefulness, with people used just as stepping-stones to get to the next level.

 

While the film is struggling at the box office, having brought in a worldwide gross of just $8.4 million to date against its $50 million budget, it’s available day & date on HBO Max in 4K HDR with Dolby Vision from a 4K digital intermediate and a Dolby Atmos soundtrack. 

 

The opening images are a bit soft and have a desaturated color palette that feels like we are stepping back in time, but with the clarity and cleanness that is the signature of digital over film. Closeups certainly deliver loads of detail, and when we come in tight on Smith’s face you can see all the fine lines, pores, and individual hairs in his beard, or see the texture in fabrics like tennis shirts and sweaters. You also get nice sharp, tight lines, such as when shooting through chain-link fences surrounding tennis courts or the brick-and-mortar at country club buildings. Some longer shots, such as the pans of crowds at the Bank of the West tournament, also deliver sharp focus and detail. 

 

The Dolby Vision grade is fairly restrained but is used to create natural-looking images with lots of depth and shadow detail throughout, with some added highlights when called for. Some of the best-looking images are the outdoor, sunlit scenes on the courts, where the lens just soaks up all the natural light, and where we get some gleaming white tennis shirts and shorts. We also get some night scenes with neon lights, sirens, tennis court lights, and headlights that pop against the black. 

 

With the vast majority of the movie being dialogue that moves the story forward, don’t expect too much from this Dolby Atmos mix, but it definitely keeps the voices in the center channel, where they are always clear and intelligible. The surrounds and height speakers are used to expand the music and score—this might be the first and only time you can hear Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler” in Atmos—and we also get some nice atmospheric audio when appropriate, like the sounds of street traffic or the sounds of birds, bugs, and insects. Occasionally, we get some overhead channel activity from rain storms or the echo of PA announcements. We also get a nice, authoritative pop! when Venus is whacking the ball.

 

King Richard is an entertaining, well-made, and well-acted film, and with Rotten Tomatoes critics’ and audience scores of 91 and 98% respectively, it would not be a surprise to see Will Smith up for his third Best Actor nomination. Other than a few uses of the n-word, it is definitely family friendly, and kept my 15-year-old—who has no interest in tennis—engaged. Streaming now on HBO Max, it is certainly worth giving a watch. 

John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing for such publications as Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at @SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Review: Red Notice

Red Notice (2021)

While Netflix has dumped Hollywood-level boatloads of cash into previous productions à la Martin Scorsese’s mega The Irishman ($159 million), and Michael Bay’s Underground ($150 million), Red Notice boasts the streaming giant’s biggest budget to date, along with its highest level of A-list talent, in the form of Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds, and Gal Gadot. With an estimated budget of $200 million, and a limited theatrical release to be eligible for awards consideration, any thoughts Netflix isn’t treating its original tentpole productions with the same focus as traditional Hollywood studios is totally out the window, further eroding any arguments against streaming services as legitimate forms of entertainment.

Of course, we’ve learned time and again that big budgets and casts don’t guarantee a good movie, so the obvious questions are, “Does Red Notice work? And is it worth your time?”

 

With a current Rotten Tomatoes critics’ score of 35%, you might say, “No,” but when you counter that with the 91% audience score, it’s probably apparent Red Notice is designed to entertain viewers less than cater to critics.

 

While it doesn’t break any new ground, and relies heavily on elements from heist movies like the Ocean’s films starring George Clooney and Brad Pitt, the Mission: Impossible franchise, and Indiana Jones—at one point, Reynolds even whistles the Indy theme—the chemistry between Reynolds and Johnson and their anti-buddy frenemy relationship makes for an entertaining two hours. Watching Reynolds needle Johnson for almost the entire film was great, and

RED NOTICE AT A GLANCE

Netflix spent $200 million to come up with this action-driven heist film that critics hate but viewers seem to love. 

 

PICTURE

The transfer is taken from a true 4K digital intermediate with Dolby Vision HDR grading, resulting in images that are sharp, clean, and highly detailed throughout.

 

SOUND 

The Dolby Atmos track definitely enhances the fun with a pretty dynamic mix with surprisingly deep bass performance.

you have to wonder if the genesis of this bond was formed during Reynold’s cameo in Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw. We watched Red Notice right after Shang Chi and everyone in our group preferred Red.

 

We’re informed during the opening credits that a Red Notice is, “The highest level of arrest warrant issued by The International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL), reserved for the world’s most wanted criminals.”

 

We’re then told that 2,000 years ago, Marcus Antonius gave Cleopatra three bejeweled eggs. While the whereabouts of one egg is known, the second is rumored to be in the possession of a notorious arms dealer and the third remains lost. An Egyptian billionaire wants to give all three of the eggs to his daughter, Cleopatra (Brenna Marie Narayan), as a wedding present, and he has offered a massive reward to whoever can deliver. This attracts the attention of international art thief Nolan Booth (Reynolds), but also puts FBI profiler Special Agent John Hartley (Johnson) and Interpol agent Urvashi Das (Ritu Arya) on high alert when one of the eggs is put on display at a museum in Rome. 

 

After thinking he has made off with the first egg, Booth is apprehended by Hartley and Das at his home in Bali, but the egg is then stolen by Booth’s main competitor for title of “World’s Best Thief,” The Bishop (Gadot). The Bishop also plants disinformation that makes it appear Hartley was in on the heist, which leads to he and Booth winding up in the same Russian prison cell, forcing them to work together.

 

Throw in a bad guy named Sotto Voce (Chris Diamantopoulos), who looks eerily like a cross between Paul Rudd and Dos Equis’ “World’s Most Interesting Man,” a bull fight, elaborate escapes and thefts, chases, and Nazis, and you’ll have a pretty good idea what Red Notice is about. 

 

What the film lacks in originality, it more than makes up for in fun, packing in almost non-stop action with plenty of big scenes and a ton of locations—Rome, Bali, Russia, London, Valencia, Argentina, Cairo, Sardinia, Paris—that keep the visuals fresh and interesting. There are also plenty of plot twists along the way to keep you entertained. 

 

And humor. Reynolds brings his signature snark to almost every scene, similar to the PG-13 patter he brought to Free Guy. In fact, I daresay the only reason I can think of to not see this is if you aren’t a fan of Reynolds’ humor. Also, since all three of the leads have experience playing superheroes—Black Adam for Johnson, Wonder Woman for Gadot, and both Green Lantern and Deadpool for Reynolds—they know their way around action and choreographing exciting fight scenes. 

 

Netflix has been a real advocate for 4K HDR in its productions, so it’s no surprise that Red Notice was shot in a combination of 6K and 8K resolution, and that the transfer is taken from a true 4K digital intermediate with Dolby Vision HDR grading, resulting in images that are sharp, clean, and highly detailed throughout.

 

A scene in the opening shows a line drawing of Cleopatra, and its lines are crisp, sharp, and defined. Closeups reveal tons of detail in the actors’ faces, making it easy to see the creases, crags, and lines in Johnson’s head and face versus Reynolds’ whiskers and stubble and the smooth near-perfection of Gadot’s skin. You can also really appreciate the texture in surfaces like the stone and brick walls outside the museum in Rome or the pebbled surface of the doors and sides of an armored car, or the detail and sharpness of individual leaves in a jungle forest. Even lengthy shots like one of London in golden early morning light have lots of sharpness. 

 

There is also a ton of pop courtesy of the DolbyVision HDR grading. Right from the very beginning, I noticed how saturated the color red is in the titles. There are also beautiful, bright highlights off golden objects such as one of the eggs, or from bright sunlight streaming in through windows, or interiors lit by warm lighting that almost give the images a glow. Other scenes, like one showing video screens inside a security station, really pop with bright highlights. Black levels were deep and solid and clean throughout as well. The only bit of streaming nastiness I noticed was a moment when characters were dunked underwater, and there was a bit of posterization in the murky lighting.

 

Sonically, the Dolby Atmos track definitely enhanced the fun with a pretty dynamic mix. We get nice atmospheric effects like voices echoing off the hard museum walls, the flat sound inside an old bunker, the swirls of winds and snow, the background yells, commotion, and buzzers in a prison, or the huge crowd roars and cheers during the bullfight. 

 

The mix also really expands when called on via active height channels used effectively to add another sonic layer when appropriate. We get the almost requisite Atmos helicopter flyover that clearly races overhead, or the sounds of water bubbling up all around, and moments like The Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” blaring from all channels prior to the start of a big chase. 

 

There is plenty of action here, and I was surprised by the depth of the bass performance. Besides the report of gunfire, you can really feel the weight of heavy doors as they slam shut or the concussion of grenades as they go off.

 

Thanks to its generous budget, the visual effects and production values are first-rate, and the leads play their roles exactly as you would expect. Honestly, this feels like a big-budget Hollywood production that would have been successful at the box office. For Netflix subscribers, I can’t think of any reason why you wouldn’t add it to your list.

John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing for such publications as Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at @SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Review: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

November 12th was the second annual Disney+ Day, a time when Disney unleashes a torrent of new content to subscribers to help promote the streaming service. This year, beyond new titles, Disney also added IMAX Enhanced content to many existing Marvel titles. 

 

As per Disney’s site:

 

IMAX Enhanced content on Disney+ features an expanded aspect ratio of 1.90:1. This differs from most films where the picture appears wide but does not take up the full height of your screen.

 

IMAX’s expanded aspect ratio allows you to see up to 26% more of the original image and experience the full scale and scope of the picture from the comfort of your home or on the go. Some movies only have select sequences filmed in IMAX’s expanded aspect ratio.

 

For owners of 16:9 displays—direct-view sets or projection screens—which is a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, this means more of the screen is filled with picture instead of black bars (leaving roughly an inch of black above and below the image on my 65-inch 

Sony). Smartly, Disney also includes the film in its original 2.39:1 widescreen aspect ratio, which will be the preferred method for viewers with widescreen front-projection systems.

 

One of the biggest Disney Day releases was the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) entry, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. This film is somewhat notable as Disney/Marvel’s first return to a post-pandemic exclusive cinematic release, without being simultaneously offered as a Disney+ Premier Access option. In addition to being available for streaming on Disney+, it is also offered via digital retailers like Kaleidescape. For the best experience, specifically with the enhanced, lossless Dolby TrueHD Atmos audio track, I downloaded and watched the Kaleidescape version.

 

I imagine there are two types of people who saw or are considering seeing Shang-Chi: Those who were avid comic readers familiar with the history of the character and then the other 99% of the population that just wanted to see how 

SHANG-CHI AT A GLANCE

The latest MCU entry is fun to watch, looks great, the fight scenes are dynamic and visually interesting, and the actors do a fine job, but it ultimately doesn’t feel much like a Marvel movie. 

 

PICTURE

The film is visually vibrant and engaging, and the HDR grade gives the images plenty of shadow detail and a lifelike quality, with plenty of pop and highlights when needed.

 

SOUND 

While it does have some immersive elements, this a fairly front-centric Dolby Atmos mix, without the kind of height-channel activity you’d expect from a big action movie.

this was going to fit into the fourth phase of the MCU—initially kicked off by the Disney+ series WandaVision and followed-up with Black Widowand wanted to see another big spectacle superhero film.

 

I was firmly in the second camp and went into this knowing absolutely nothing about Shang-Chi. I was at least interested in the casting of Simu Liu in the lead, as my wife and I are big fans of the Netflix series Kim’s Convenience, where he plays Jung. (Seems that Liu can’t break free from his ties to the auto industry, as he works at a rental car agency in Kim’s and works as a valet here in Shang-Chi . . .)

 

After the massive success of Black Panther, you can certainly argue that Disney is trying to be more inclusive with its films, breaking away from the traditional white male superhero. This is the first Marvel film to feature an Asian director (Destin Daniel Cretton) and a predominantly Asian cast, and following on the live-action Mulan remake, and then the animated Raya and the Last Dragon, Shang-Chi completes the outreach cycle. 

 

Having said that, it didn’t feel like it is pandering or trying to shove culturally-appropriate images or messages down your throat, at least not to this outsider. The film feels organic in the way it presents things, whether it is the family having breakfast, talking about the Asian culture’s emphasis on education or respect for family, or if the action is taking place in San Francisco—which has a large Asian population—or Macau. 

 

The film also does what it can to tie into the larger MCU, even though it really takes place outside any of the action we’re familiar with, and doesn’t feel too connected to the larger universe. The “blip”—where Thanos wiped out half the population in a finger snap before Iron Man brought everyone back—is referenced, Dr. Strange’s companion/assistant Wong (Benedict Wong) has a small role, and we see the return of Trevor Slattery (Ben Kingsley), who was last seen as the faux baddie Mandarin in Iron Man 3, who also references his time in prison (covered in the Marvel short All Hail the King). 

 

And, of course, we have the now obligatory Marvel mid- and end-credits scenes that really try to flesh out the franchise, as well as set up additional installments in the MCU. 

 

As an outsider to the story, the film’s opening few minutes are a bit of an information dump, attempting to bring you up to speed on the legend, history, and power of the Ten Rings and how they grant the wearer the strength of a god and endless life. After centuries of living, toppling governments, and changing the course of history, Xu Wenwu (Tony Chiu-Wai Leung) learns of Ta Lo, a hidden village with mythical creatures and ancient magic. While trying to gain access to Ta Lo through a magical forest, he falls in love with one of the city’s guardians, Ying Li (Fala Chen). They ultimately have a child, Shang-Chi (Liu), who has changed his name to Shaun and is now living in San Francisco where he works as a hotel valet with his friend Katy (Awkwafina).

 

One day while riding a city bus, Shaun is attacked by an unusual gang, and despite putting up a heroic fight, the jade pendant given to him by his mother is ripped from his neck. He believes his sister Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) is also in danger, so he heads to Macau with Katy to find and protect her.

 

Throughout this, we learn of Shang-Chi’s background, his training, the fate of his mother, and his and Xialing’s relationship with their father. Ultimately Shang-Chi, Xialing, and Katy are all reunited with Wenwu, who is still searching for Ta Lo, but feels he has finally learned the secret to discovering the hidden city’s location.

 

There is a lot of hand-to-hand martial arts-style fighting, but the varied locations and participants help to keep it interesting and from seeming too repetitive. The choreography is also hyper-fast, kinetic, and pretty inventive. While there is some Wuxia-style fighting, it doesn’t lean too heavily on this or ever feel Crouching Tiger-esque, though it certainly leans heavily into its mythical-creatures bent at the end. 

 

I’m an Awkwafina fan, but her wise-cracking sidekick role here, where she’s used to bring some comedic relief to almost all of her scenes, ran a little thin. In some ways she felt a bit like her Sisu water dragon character brought-to-life in human form from Raya. 

 

Shot in Arri at 4.5K, this transfer is taken from a 2K digital intermediate and it certainly looks clean, clear, sharp, and detailed throughout. There are some shots showing Wenwu and his Ten Rings army and the Tan Lo army wearing different uniforms, and the fine detail and texture in their armor is evident. Closeups also show loads of detail in other fabrics and garments throughout, as well as extreme facial detail, letting you see the difference in skin texture and smoothness. While the most detail is in the tight shots, longer shots can hold their own as well. Notice the tight line structure in the tile, stone, and thatch building roofs, or the clarity of leaves in bamboo forest. 

 

The HDR grade gives the images plenty of shadow detail and a lifelike quality, but with plenty of pop and highlights when needed. Car headlights at night are appropriately bright as they pierce dark roadways, or the electric glow surrounding the rings and other weapons, or some fiery, golden lanterns set out to float. Notice early on the white-on-white detail in an outfit worn by Wenwu. Even though it is made up of very similar shades of the same color, we still get plenty of detail, texture, and pop instead of it just being a white smush. 

 

We also get plenty of color pop, whether it is the bright, vibrant greens in the forest, the hot reds of the valet vest uniforms, or the gorgeous, varied colors of neon lights in nighttime Macau. There are also several scenes lit with beautiful warm golden

lighting. Throughout, the film really just looks great, and is visually vibrant and engaging.

 

One of the real benefits of watching on Kaleidescape is the lossless Dolby TrueHD Atmos soundtrack compared with the lossy version supplied to streaming providers. Disney has been slagged for many of its recent home soundtracks, and I found it a little lacking at first, especially on the low-end dynamics. However, bumping the volume by 5 dB over my typical listening level returned a lot of the impact, particularly with the bass, which developed some tactile moments with the increased levels.

 

There are certainly some immersive elements but I found this to be a fairly front-centric mix, especially compared to a lot of modern titles. We do get some atmospheric moments like the sounds of swirling winds and leaves, or noises inside clubs or traffic sounds. The sound mix kicks into higher gear during the many combat scenes, such as a spear-weapon that Xialing throws Scorpion-from-Mortal Kombat-style that whistles through the air and chunks into the side walls, Wenwu battling men around the room, the shouts and melee during training and combat, or a bus careening all over the room.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

I didn’t notice nearly as much height-activity as expected from such a big action film. Music definitely utilizes the height speakers for a big, expansive, room-filling mix, and there are other moments, like soul-eaters flying overhead, or a booming voice beyond an armored wall, or the creaking and groaning of bamboo moving in the forest, but this certainly wasn’t as dynamic as Black Widow. 

 

I’ll be honest; I thought Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was just OK. It was fun to watch, looked great, the fight scenes were dynamic and visually interesting, and the actors—particularly Leung who brings some real depth to the villain character—did a fine job, but the story itself just felt a little thin. And, ultimately, it just didn’t feel like a Marvel movie to me. But with a Rotten Tomatoes critics score of 92% and audience score of 98%—the highest combined score of any film in the MCU—it seems like I’m in the minority here, and perhaps my opinion will change on future viewings. 

John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing for such publications as Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at @SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Review: No Time to Die

No Time to Die (2021)

In a way, the mere fact that we can finally actually watch No Time to Die feels a bit like a victory in and of itself. And, perhaps, even points to a sign of the return of post-COVID cinematic normalcy. 

 

This 25th film in the James Bond franchise began development in 2016 and was originally scheduled for a November 2019 release but had to be postponed to February and then April 2020 after the original director, Danny Boyle, left over script disputes. Then prior to its planned release, a global pandemic worthy of any Bond super-villain occurred, and the film was pushed to November 2020—the first major film to be postponed due to COVID. It then continued being delayed as it was apparent the global cinema market was not poised for reopening. In fact, the repeated delays of No Time to Die’s release 

was one of the reasons the world’s second-largest cinema chain, Cineworld, cited for closing its doors indefinitely.

 

However, as with any villain’s plans for global domination, Bond ultimately prevailed, and the film was released in the UK on September 30, 2021, followed by its release here in the States on October 8. And then just 31-days later—on November 9—it is now available as a premium video-on-demand rental from all digital retailers, including Kaleidescape.

 

As I mentioned in my reviews of Goldfinger, The Living Daylights, and Casino Royale (2006), I’m a big James Bond fan. I’ve not only seen all the films, I’ve read all the books—and I mean all of them, and that includes the original Ian Fleming novels, the John Gardner followups, then the Raymond Benson series, and now into the Sebastian Faulks era.

NO TIME AT A GLANCE

Daniel Craig’s COVID-delayed final Bond outing adds up to a beautifully shot $250-million two-hour-and-43-minute action epic. 

 

PICTURE

Sourced from a true 4K digital intermediate that reveals layers of sharpness and detail, No Time looks gorgeous throughout.

 

SOUND 

The 5.1-channel DTS HD-Master soundtrack on the Kaleidescape release delivers the goods, with the kind of big, loud, and dynamic mix Bond is known for.

One thing Bond does—or at least has tried to do—is to evolve and adapt with the times so he can stay current and relevant to modern viewers. Locations change, women change, villains change, plans for world domination change. But through it all Bond is still always essentially Bond.

 

And that includes even when the man playing Bond changes. With the physical demands required of the role, there are only a certain number of years our favorite Double-0 can be played believably by the same face. And just as there was uproar when Sean Connery was replaced by George Lazenby, then Roger Moore, then Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and now Daniel Craig here in his final Bond performance—which began 15 years ago with his role in Casino Royale—there will always be controversy over who will be the next Bond.

 

So I understand the franchise will have to change. And, oh boy, does No Time to Die serve up a heaping portion of it.

 

As mentioned, the film’s original director was replaced early in the process, and the choice of going with Cary J. Fukunaga seems as interesting one, as he was best known for directing TV series like Maniac and True Detective along with films with significantly smaller budgets like Beasts of No Nation and Sin Nombre. (Another fun trivia fact—Funkunaga helped pen the screenplay for It.) Nothing to doubt his abilities but on the surface he just seems an interesting choice to helm a pivotal final installment in the Craig era with an estimated $250 million budget.

 

Whereas all previous films in the Bond franchise were essentially one-offs that stood on their own—with some occasional winks and nods to refer to others that had come before them—one of the big changes in the Craig era was to create a series

of films that are connected with a strong continuity running throughout. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Quantum of Solace, Craig’s second Bond film, which begins just moments after Casino Royale’s conclusion.

 

To prepare for No Time to Die, my wife and I went back and watched the two films that preceded it, Skyfall and Spectre, which was certainly helpful, especially since it has been six years since Spectre was released, and the events in No Time certainly come right on the heels of the previous film.

 

Bond films are known for their massive opening sequences, and right from the start it’s clear that No Time will be . . . different. In fact, Bond isn’t even in the opening several minutes, which are instead a flashback to Madeleine’s (Lea Seydoux) childhood, an event she mentioned in Spectre and that establishes her relationship with this film’s villian, Safin (Rami Malek).

 

As much as No Time feels different, it also feels very much the same, and they are careful to include all the classic beats—the “Bond, James Bond” intro, the shaken-not-stirred vodka martini, the big car chase, the Q-Branch gadgets, the world hopping, and a certain old friend from the CIA. There are also some nice nods to the franchise’s history, and in a way, the film has a sense of farewell.

 

One clever touch is a rotating tour of the Aston Martins Bond has driven throughout his history. And if you ever 

wanted to see what that glorious DB5 from Goldfinger can do when it is fully unleashed, you are in for a treat! There is also a nice moment where the M’s from the past—both Dame Judi Dench and Bernard Lee—are given a subtle nod. The framing of one scene feels very reminiscent of the iconic looking-down-a-rifle-barrel from the films’ famous opening sequences. And those familiar with Fleming’s work might notice some strong parallels between the “Garden of Death” featured in the novel You Only Live Twice and the poison garden here.

 

There is also a line spoken early in the film that really jumped out at me. While Bond and Madeleine are driving, she tells him to speed up and he says, “We have all the time in the world.” You might recall this as the Louis Armstrong title song—and a line Bond himself says twice—in the film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

 

Also, I was initially really disappointed by Billie Eilish’s opening “No Time To Die” song when I heard it on its release many months before the film’s debut. I felt it was far too slow and somber to be a Bond opener; but in the context of where the song is placed in the opening, I was surprised to find myself enjoying it and that in the moment of the film, it actually works.

 

I’m not going to go too deep trying to summarize the plot here. Frankly, you’ll want to see No Time to Die or you won’t, so I doubt my 1,000-yard view will change your mind. Also, I certainly don’t want to spoil any of the fun or surprises. With a franchise-long run time of 2 hours and 43 minutes, it certainly feels epic, and even though it’s packed with a near steady stream of action, it often feels like it has all the time in the world to unfold.

 

The movie opens with Bond retired from active service and finally able to take some time away to go on holiday with Madeleine. Of course, the world needs James Bond, and events from his past come up to draw him back in, to try and track 

down a scientist behind a new super weapon that could be used to kill off large sections of the population.

 

The film was shot on a host of formats, including some scenes filmed in IMAX. Unfortunately, we don’t get any of the expanded IMAX scenes in this digital presentation—perhaps on an eventual IMAX Enhanced physical disc release. But what we do get is sourced from a true 4K digital intermediate that looks gorgeous throughout. I mentioned we had watched Spectre just the night before, and that was on Blu-ray. The image quality in 4K HDR here absolutely trounces that, revealing layers of sharpness and detail throughout.

 

Bond films have always had a massive scope and scale, and we can see and appreciate that here. Fukunaga frequently pulls back—way back—to reveal these gorgeous wide, panoramic vistas that really show the expanse of the location, whether in Italy, Cuba, or the UK. The movie is beautifully framed and shot and looks fantastic up on a big home theater screen.

 

Closeups reveal tons of detail, whether it’s the contrast of Madeleine’s smooth skin versus Bond’s weathered, creased, and lined face, or the fine lines and detail in his Glen Plaid suits, or the micro-dots in a tie, or the texture and ribs in the cloth

No Time to Die (2021)

of Madeleine’s shirt. Modern digital productions have a cleanness to the image that just feels like everything between you and the camera lens has been removed, and that is evident here.

 

There are lots of moments to highlight the HDR grading, whether they are white-hot fluorescent lights, neon signs, the gleaming white of outdoor snow scenes, shafts of light penetrating dark interiors, or the eye-reactive moments of exploding fireballs, or the soft, glowing warm light as characters talk in candlelight. I never felt things were pushed too far, but we certainly enjoy a full range of deep, inky blacks and vibrant whites. 

 

While some digital retailers—iTunes, Vudu, etc.—received a lossy Dolby Digital+ Atmos audio mix, MGM has continued its maddening habit of only supplying Kaleidescape with a 5.1-channel DTS HD-Master mix. I’m not going to lie and say this isn’t a tad disappointing but it certainly isn’t a deal breaker, and you’ll be happy to read that this soundtrack delivers the goods, with a classic big, loud, and dynamic mix Bond is known for.

 

[We learned at press time that Kaleidescape had received the Atmos mix from MGM and that it would be available in the movie download by the time this review went live.  —ed.]

 

Things like gunshots have a ton of dynamics, with loud, sharp reports, and solid weight and slam to their impact. Explosions will give your subwoofers plenty of chance to flex, delivering tactile bass you can feel in your chest. 

 

And even though the Kaleidescape 5.1 audio is not a true immersive mix, modern upmixers (such as DTS:Neural X processing on my Marantz) do an admirable job of placing sounds all around and overhead. Whether it’s the sounds of ice cracking that spread out from the center and front of the room into every corner, or the loud clang of bells ringing throughout the room, or the sounds of a water platform creaking, groaning, and breaking apart, or a moment when a gun man is clearly standing directly behind you repeatedly blasting away, the mix places you right in the action. Even subtle moments such as Bond standing out in an open forest have lots of ambience and spaciousness to expand your listening environment. 

 

There were a couple of moments where the upmixing might have made dialogue a bit trickier to understand. In one scene, Bond and Paloma (Ana de Armas) are communicating via in-ear mics, and another where there are announcements over a PA system, and voices are placed up into the height channels. The effect was actually quite good—and you got a real sense of them moving around and overhead and traveling into different speakers—but it did make the dialogue a bit harder to understand. This is certainly an instance where the truly discrete Dolby TrueHD Atmos mix could offer a bit of refinement.

 

The film’s ending is a bit polarizing, with some saying “perfect” and “best ever,” and others claiming it ruined the franchise. For me, I felt a bit like I did at the end of The Rise of SkywalkerI enjoyed the ride, but it came with a heavy dose of bittersweet to know that it was over . . . at least for now. 

 

As the end credits declare, “James Bond will return.” How and in what fashion remains to be seen, but I am certainly excited to see what Bond’s next chapter looks like. 

 

For now, No Time to Die is a fantastic experience at home, visually and sonically, and with its lengthy run-time, you’re able to pause if need be for a bathroom or snack break to ensure you don’t miss a moment of action. 

John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing for such publications as Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at @SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Review: Finch

Finch (2021)

It’s old news that the COVID pandemic has wreaked havoc on Hollywood release schedules, but as things appear to be returning to some semblance of normal—the Bond No Time to Die and Denis Villeneuve’s Dune remake have both shown signs of life returning to the box office—I can’t think of another high-profile actor who had as many films disrupted during that period as Tom Hanks.

 

First, he had his World War II film Greyhound, about a Navy commander leading a convoy through dangerous waters hunted by the German submarine wolf pack, optioned out of theaters for an exclusive release on Apple TV+. Then his western News of the World, about a traveling entertainer who ends up taking on the responsibility of returning a young girl to her family, was released theatrically for just two weeks prior to moving to PVOD. And now, after numerous delays—and a change of title from

its intended BIOS—his latest film, Finch, has once again been purchased by Apple TV+ as an exclusive to that service, with a November 5 release.

 

Finch is the fourth pairing of Hanks and executive producer Robert Zemeckis, dating back to Forest Gump and including Cast Away and Polar Express (along with an upcoming live-action Pinocchio remake for Disney), and shows just how fluid and competitive the distribution landscape is with major players like Amazon, Netflix, Disney, and Apple ready to snap up titles to help shore up their exclusive offerings.

 

As I mentioned in my News of the World review, Hanks’ track record of choosing excellent roles in major films has placed him on the short list of movies I’m interested in watching just because he’s attached. And being able to watch it for free in the comfort of my home on my 7.1.6 system made it a no-brainer.

FINCH AT A GLANCE

This one-man-traversing-a-post-apocalyptic-landscape Tom Hanks vehicle is oddly similar to George Clooney’s Midnight Sky

 

PICTURE

The images in the Apple TV+ stream, encoded in Dolby Vision, have tons of pop.

 

SOUND 

The Dolby Digital+ Atmos mix is quite entertaining, subtly establishing the acoustic space of a room one minute then transforming your space into a swirling, immersive cacophony of sound from every speaker the next.

It’s easy to draw a lot of comparisons between Finch and other films. There are definitely the heavy robot-becoming-self-aware elements of iRobot and Chappie, as well as some parts—and even a bot—that felt very Wall-E. Hanks holding his own on screen and surviving essentially alone, basically carrying the entirety of the two-hour runtime feels a bit like his own Cast Away. And the apocalyptic road trip gives off vibes of George Clooney’s role in the Netflix original The Midnight Sky. (Of course, Finch completely flips the environment, with Sky’s danger coming from freezing arctic conditions and Finch’s coming from scorching hot temps due to a mostly non-existent ozone layer.)

 

It’s a real turnoff when I feel a movie is dumbing itself down to force explanations on me. Sure, some exposition is OK, and often necessary, but I don’t like it when filmmakers virtually grab me by the hand and feel the need to connect all the dots. Finch certainly doesn’t waste any time on backstory, and what we learn about the population-decimating event is through notes on maps, books scattered around Finch Weinberg’s (Hanks) lab/shelter, and some bits of conversation with his custom-built helper-bot, Jeff (Caleb Landry Jones). During one bit of dialogue, Jeff asks, “Where is everybody?” to which Finch replies, “That’s a long story.” 

 

What we manage to glean is that some 15 years ago, a massive solar flare essentially fried the ozone layer and turned it into Swiss cheese, and then an EMP came and wiped out the rest, turning most of the earth into a largely uninhabitable wasteland with scorching UV radiation, blistering temps, and frequent extreme and violent weather events. 

 

Through luck and happenstance, robotics engineer Finch was protected in his underground lab in St. Louis when the flare hit and now he lives with a dog, Goodyear, he rescued. He survives by scavenging for food and supplies while wearing a protective suit with the help of a robot he built. 

 

We learn pretty early on that Finch is sick, and he builds a humanoid robot—Jeff—that can take care of Goodyear when he’s gone. Due to a massive approaching storm, Finch packs up a heavily modified RV and leaves for San Francisco before he can fully transfer all the programming data to Jeff, so Jeff is a bit childlike while he attempts to fit in with the group, while learning and figuring out what he is supposed to do. 

 

Other than a brief flashback, Finch is the only human character shown on screen—the end cast credits are likely among the sparsest in history—and a lot of Finch is essentially a travelogue with man, dog, and robot. The film throws in some drama in the form of some massive storms, as well as one chase from unseen people who may or may not be hostile, but it is really a movie held mostly together by Hanks’ charisma and Jeff’s developing personality. (Fortunately, his voice and diction changes as he “matures,” as his Borat-like cadence ad intonation is a little distracting at first.)

 

There isn’t a lot of information about the technical specs of how Finch was shot or the home transfer, but it certainly has all the razor-sharp detail and ultra-clean look of a true 4K transfer. Edges are always crisp and defined, there’s no noise or grain, and this “modern” digital look certainly benefits the film’s future, post-apocalyptic vibe.

 

Closeups are always the most revealing with a good transfer, and we get tons of detail to appreciate here, whether it is the dirt-smeared lines and pores on Hanks’ face and hands, or the fine pebbled texture visible in a Panama Jack hat he wears, or the little bumps and imperfections in Jeff’s painted head. There are also lots of little things, like being able to see the fine, individual cables in some twisted-pair Category-rated wiring Finch connects to Jeff, or the crispness of lines and edges defining objects. 

 

Of course, your quality will vary with streaming performance, and I noticed on a second viewing that if I had any bandwidth drops that resulted in resolution changes, the fine grid/mesh detail in the center of Jeff’s face would turn to mush and lose its sharp, defined edges. Also, in one scene when Finch went out to repair a piece of machinery, there was a bit of banding in the murky silver/grey/black sky. 

 

The Apple TV+ stream is encoded in Dolby Vision, and images had tons of pop on my Sony OLED display. There are lots of bright fluorescent lights in the otherwise darkened interior of Finch’s lab, along with searing-bright outdoor scenes, and piercing lances of sunlight that stream into darkly lit interiors. Another scene, during a firelight chat with the green/blue/purple colors of the Northern lights, has some wonderful low-light shadow detail along with lots of bright highlights. 

 

I’m usually not impressed with the audio from streaming titles, but the Dolby Digital+ Atmos mix here is quite entertaining. It can subtly establish the acoustic space of a room one minute and then transform your space into a swirling, immersive cacophony of sound from every speaker the next.  

 

For the subtle, pay attention to the little sounds that make up the lab where Finch lives. You’ll start to notice a low-frequency hum from motors running, then little clicks of sounds happening in the space, along with the buzzes of machinery. While in a market, we hear Hanks’ voice echoing off walls to help define the space, or we get the gentle rustle of wind blowing around while Finch, Jeff, and Goodyear sit around outside. It all helps to just put you into the space and shows how a good mix can subtly enhance the experience.

 

For viewers looking to show off their audio system, Finch offers plenty of demo-worthy moments. Literally before the film’s opening images hit the screen, the room is filled with the roaring sounds of wind rustling all around as well as the heavy engine of Finch’s vehicle. There are a couple of big storm scenes, which fill your room with swirling winds and debris whipping, crashing, and hitting all around, or the clanging of metal. Another scene has a car passing overhead, with the speakers clearly placing the action above you.

 

The soundtrack also has a surprising amount of deep bass for a streaming track, with some downright tactile bass you’ll feel deep in your chest. (Take note of the subsonic note when Hanks gets the shelter door open early in the film.)

 

While Finch doesn’t tread a lot of new ground and can be a bit slow to develop, it is still an entertaining, mostly family-friendly, journey with a lot of heart primarily carried on the back of Hanks’ charm. For Apple TV+ subscribers, Finch provides some fresh content that makes for a fun, great-sounding night at the movies.  

John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing for such publications as Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at @SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Review: The Alpinist

The Alpinist (2021)

There is a well-known phenomenon in physics called the observer effect, a recognition of the fact that observing a thing fundamentally changes that thing—that by merely attempting to know more about something, you’re disturbing that something to the point where it’s no longer the thing you wished to know more about. And for the first half-hour or so of The Alpinist—a new documentary about mountain-climber Marc-André Leclerc—that’s all I could really think about. 

 

It’s easy to see right from the giddy-up why directors Peter Mortimer and Nick Rosen wanted to make a film about this young man, who appeared out of nowhere in the alpinist community and started breaking records he didn’t care about and solo-

climbing cliffs he had no business tackling alone.

 

It’s just as easy to see, though, that Leclerc has absolutely no interest in being the subject of a documentary film. Not that he’s hostile to the filmmakers in any way. He’s a kind and gentle young man with an infectiously awkward charm. You just can’t help but get the sense that this intrinsically motivated iconoclast can’t understand why anyone would want to make a film about him.

 

Right around that 30-minute mark, though, you forget about all that. It’s here that the filmmakers document Leclerc free-climbing the Stanley Headwall, a treacherous ascent that results in some of the most vertigo-inducing footage in the entire film. It’s a slow and, at first, frustrating scene. I could feel my pulse rising as Leclerc methodically tested the ice and rock in search of handholds and footholds as he hung precariously by his heels and fingertips over certain death.

 

The odd thing, though, is that you’d expect the tension to 

THE ALPINIST AT A GLANCE

What begins as a documentary on a particularly daring mountain climber eventually becomes a meditation on what it means to try to capture a truly unique individual on film. 

 

PICTURE

Kaleidescape’s presentation does the film justice, delivering it without any artifacts that weren’t present in the source footage.

 

SOUND 

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack has good atmospheric effects in the surround channels but way more emphasis on a solid front soundstage and exceptional dialogue intelligibility.

ramp up as the scene goes on but exactly the opposite is true. Leclerc’s Zen mentality becomes infectious. The inner peace he attains during his mindful climb practically radiates from the screen. And in this moment, with no real commentary from the filmmakers, no voiceovers, no monologuing of any sort, you finally understand this introverted soul. It is, without question, the best example of “Show, don’t tell” I’ve seen in a documentary in quite some time.

 

And then shortly thereafter, Leclerc disappears. The mobile phone the filmmakers gave him (he’s never owned his own) starts rolling over to voicemail. And it isn’t long before they discover that the alpinist decided to solo Mount Robson’s Emperor Face

—making him the first in history to do so—without them. “It wouldn’t be a solo if someone is there,” he says, as he calls to kindly but unapologetically explain why he ghosted them.

 

He then allows them to film a second “solo” ascent of Emperor Face, and here we get right to the point of what makes The Alpinist such a captivating and interesting documentary. Most filmmakers would have used that footage with no mention of the fact that it was a staged do-over. For Mortimer and Rosen, though, all of this becomes 

part of the honest account of their time with Marc-André. And it’s somewhere around this point when The Alpinist stops trying to be a film about Leclerc and transforms into a film about trying to make a film about him.

 

From that point on, the filmmakers have to make do with whatever footage they can get, which includes what appears to be some cellphone footage self-shot by Leclerc of his dangerous winter ascent of Torre Egger, a peak in the Southern Patagonian Ice Field in South America that’s dangerous even in the summer months. As a result, The Alpinist doesn’t always

look like a slick Hollywood production, and it makes sense that it was only released in HD. Watching Kaleidescape’s 1080p download, I might have seen one or two shots early on that could have benefited from high dynamic range and perhaps a bit of extra resolution. But such shots are by far the exception. 

 

Kaleidescape’s presentation does the film justice, though, delivering it without any artifacts that weren’t present in the source footage. It’s honestly somewhat surprising that the professionally shot imagery made it through the production and compression pipeline without any banding, especially in some of the shots of open, impossibly blue skies, but such is the case. The Alpinist may be a hodgepodge of disparate sources but it’s a visually captivating film nonetheless, and one that deserves to be seen on the best screen in your home.

 

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack, meanwhile, won’t stress the dynamic capabilities of your audio system, but it always works in service of the film, with good atmospheric effects in the surround channels but with way more emphasis on a solid front soundstage and exceptional dialogue intelligibility, even in conditions you wouldn’t think would be conducive to such.

 

Frankly, though, I don’t think many viewers will be focused on the audiovisual 

The Alpinist (2021)

presentation, lest they go in expecting a documentary about mountain climbing, because The Alpinist isn’t that film. It starts off as a documentary about a baffling young man, then becomes a documentary about trying to document the life of that young man, and in the process, it becomes a film with a strong philosophical bent. I started it wondering why and how anyone could live like Leclerc—in a tent in the woods, an upgrade from his former residence in a stairwell, disconnected from modern conveniences—but by the end, I found myself envying his freedom and his mindful approach to lived experiences. The Alpinist may not be a neat and tidy film, and it breaks most of the rules of documentary filmmaking. But it is nevertheless—or perhaps as a result—one of the most moving and fascinating documentaries I’ve seen in ages.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

Review: The Addams Family (1991)

The Addams Family (1991)

You probably don’t need me to tell you that Barry Sonnenfeld’s 1991 riff on The Addams Family is far from a perfect film. But allow me a few minutes to convince you that it’s still worth your time, especially now that it’s been restored in 4K. 

 

Yes, yes, I know it’s uneven and choppy. I know that you can feel the absence of essential connective tissue and the presence of scenes tacked on at the last minute. There’s also the tonal inconsistency, given that the film never quite knows 

how far it wants to distance itself from the ’60s TV adaptation of the same comic. Sometimes it strays so close that comparisons between the two versions are inevitable (especially in its use of music from the David Levy/Donald Saltzman production), while at other times it asks for the freedom to introduce more of the macabre elements Chas Addams saw as essential to his original comics. In the latter respect, the film often goes too far.

 

There’s also the fact that Anjelica Huston—who certainly looks the part of Addams Family matriarch Morticia—plays her rolwith inconsistent levels of sincerity, but never quite enough. And seriously, what’s up with all the MC Hammer songs? Those have aged even worse than I could have imagined.

 

Those things, I think, most of us can agree on. But it’s been 30 years now since The Addams Family debuted on big screens (to put things in perspective here, only 27 years had passed between the debut of the sitcom on ABC and 

ADDAMS FAMILY AT A GLANCE

Barry Sonnenfeld’s first Addams Family entry remains something of a mess but a highly enjoyable one, especially in a new 4K restoration. 

 

PICTURE

For the first time on home video, it genuinely looks like photochemical film, and all that implies, with an organic chaos to the imagery that’s been missing until now.

 

SOUND 

A surprisingly robust surround mix that delivers exactly the right level of immersion, with great panning and soundstaging and just the right amount of oomph.

the premiere of the film), and I’m pleasantly surprised to find that many other aspects of this adaptation have aged much better than I remembered.

 

The production design, for one thing, is phenomenal. The cinematography is often fantastic (even if it’s a bit inconsistent, since the film burned through two DPs before Sonnenfeld stepped behind the camera himself to finish the film). Young Christina Ricci was so fantastic as Wednesday that her portrayal has become iconic. And Raul Julia will always be the platonic ideal of everything Gomez Addams should be for me, despite my overwhelming preference for the ’60s sitcom otherwise, defanged as it may have been. 

 

The Addams Family is also a lot more fun than I remember, and although one could accuse me of damning the film with faint praise here, it’s infinitely better than the 2019 animated film and its 2021 sequel. What’s more, it sets up what I consider to be a vastly superior sequel: 1993’s Addams Family Values. 

 

At any rate, the film has recently been restored and remastered in 4K under the supervision of Sonnenfeld, and if you—like I—appreciate The Addams Family despite the flaws resulting from its troubled production, you’re in for a treat. For the first time on home video, it genuinely looks like photochemical film, and all that implies. There’s an organic chaos to the imagery that’s been missing until now, and although detail and sharpness are variable from shot to shot, the image is rife with interesting and inviting textures I’ve never before seen at home. True, the enhanced resolution does no favors to the compositing work involved with most shots involving Thing, but practically every other aspect of the picture benefits from the

restoration. Even the opening credits—which can often look quite dodgy on films of this vintage and budget level—positively pop off the screen. To call Kaleidescape’s presentation of this transfer an upgrade over the old Blu-ray release would be an understatement.

 

The audio, meanwhile, comes in the form of a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack that I believe is the same as the Blu-ray release. No matter—it’s a surprisingly robust surround mix that delivers exactly the right level of immersion, with great panning and soundstaging, and just the right amount of oomph.

 

Unfortunately, though, Paramount has seen fit to release this 4K restoration in such a scattershot way that you have some decisions to make about how and where to purchase it. The new UHD Blu-ray, which won’t be released until November 9, comes with two cuts of the film—the original theatrical edit, and a new restoration that extends the “Mamushka” dance between Gomez and Fester, which was trimmed as a result of test screenings. Despite supplying Kaleidescape with artwork pointing toward the extended “Mamushka” scene, the studio only gave the provider the theatrical cut.

 

They’ve also withheld the bonus features scheduled to be included on the disc 

The Addams Family (1991)

(and, incidentally, included with most other digital releases of the film), which comprise a new introduction to the “More Mamushka!” version by Sonnenfeld, a retrospective documentary on the making of the film, and an archival featurette.

 

A far bigger problem, though, is that Paramount has only given Kaleidescape an SDR transfer of the new 4K remaster to work with, whereas the disc will feature an HDR10 grade and most other digital services present the film in Dolby Vision. I can’t speak to how much of a difference HDR makes in this case, as I’ve only seen the UHD/SDR transfer. But it’s still disappointing. 

 

None of this is surprising, of course. Paramount has a history of treating this film (and especially its sequel) quite poorly. Still, at a price of $14.99 for the new restoration, it’s hard to complain too much—especially if you’re an old fan like me. And I do emphasize the “old” part there. The Addams Family isn’t the most kid-friendly adaptation of its source material. And much like its characters, it’s erratic, occasionally incomprehensible, and a touch too mean-spirited . . . but nonetheless lovable, all things considered. 

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

Review: Scream

Scream (1996)

The teen-slasher genre had been stagnating in the ‘90s, with many sub-par titles and recycled sequels being fed into the direct-to-video churn. Then along came Wes Craven, he of Freddy Krueger and A Nightmare on Elm Street fame, to totally upend and breathe new life into the genre with Scream, which went on to spawn three sequels. 

 

It’s hard to believe Scream is celebrating its 25-year anniversary, but the good news is that Paramount has given the film a new 4K HDR transfer, making this a perfect time to revisit a horror classic. (I think the last time I watched it was back in 1997 on LaserDisc!) Beyond a physical 4k Blu-ray release, the film is also available in full quality via a 61.4 GB download from Kaleidescape, which is how I watched.

As I’ve written here before, the horror genre has evolved recently into something that typically doesn’t appeal to me. Where in the past, movies went for actual scares by building suspense and tension with what they didn’t show as much as what they did (remember the nightmare conclusion of Brian DePalma’s Dressed to Kill where you think you see the killer’s shoes under the curtains . . ?), modern filmmakers typically take scary to mean gross and shocking, or with a heavy-handed dose of the occult and spiritism.

 

No thanks.

 

While Scream certainly has its share of gore—enough that a few scenes needed to be trimmed to get an MPAA R-rating—it never feels like the focus of the story.

SCREAM AT A GLANCE

Wes Craven’s slasher-genre reboot gets the 25th-anniversary 4K HDR treatment. 

 

PICTURE

Don’t expect a lot of eye-popping HDR but the grade definitely benefits the natural look of the film, with nice deep blacks and shadow detail.

 

SOUND 

The 5.1-channel DTS-HD Master Audio mix is certainly adequate to tell the story, and the most important element—the dialogue—is always presented nice and clear in the center channel..

Right from the get-go, Scream let you know this was going to be a different horror-movie experience, and in the opening 12-minutes, Scream unsettled the audience by killing off its biggest star, Drew Barrymore. This was a shock to filmgoers as Barrymore had been featured prominently in all of the commercials and posters for the film, with everyone assuming she was going to be the heroine. Of course, Craven just aped what Alfred Hitchcock famously did with Janet Leigh in Psycho, but it had been years since audiences had seen that trick, and it worked just as well for Craven as it had 36 years prior, and set the tone for the film.

 

The script was also unique in just how self-aware the characters were. They not only love horror movies, especially Randy (Jamie Kennedy), who works in a video store, the cast frequently name-checks other horror films, and literally talks about how good Craven’s Nightmare is—especially compared with the sequels—and mash-up the name “Wes Carpenter” (Wes Craven and John Carpenter). Randy also lays out—and then the film plays with–the classic slasher-film “rules” and clichés about who survives: Never have sex, don’t drink or do drugs, never say, “I’ll be right back,” “Hello?” or “Who’s there?” And as the ultimate wink-nod to horror fans, Craven himself has a cameo as a striped-sweater-wearing school janitor who happens to be named Fred.

 

At one point, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) mocks horror movies and its heroines saying, “They’re all the same. Some stupid killer stalking some big-breasted girl who can’t act who is always running up the stairs when she should be running out the front door. It’s insulting.” Of course, literally moments later, she finds herself running up stairs away from the killer instead of going out the front door. 

 

Randy also informs the other characters they just need to follow Prom Night’s very simple formula: “EVERYBODY’S A SUSPECT!” Red herrings and misdirection abound throughout, and after the shock of Barrymore’s death in the opening minutes, viewers knew anyone could be killed. All of which told moviegoers they were in for a new and different ride, and the traditional rules of the genre were out the window.

 

After two high schoolers are brutally murdered, the town of Woodsboro, California is once again on high alert almost exactly a year after Sidney Prescott’s (Neve Campbell) mother was raped and killed. This new killer is coming for Sidney, and he taunts his victims on the phone before killing them, asking them questions, such as “What is your favorite scary movie?” Beyond Sidney’s best friend, Tatum (Rose McGowan), and her boyfriend, Billy (Skeet Ulrich), fame-hungry news-woman Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) is back in town to cover the new events, along with Tatum’s older brother Deputy Dewey (David Arquette), who is tasked with keeping everyone safe.

 

It was actually interesting to re-watch Scream knowing the outcome, much like people will go back through The Sixth Sense to see if M. Night Shyamalan made any continuity mistakes. Here, when you know what—and who—to look for, there are some subtle clues that tell you who the killer is that give the film another layer of enjoyment on a rewatch.

 

Originally shot on 35mm film, this transfer is from a true 4K digital intermediate, and the clarity and detail show. Of course, as with many film-to-4K transfers, there are some occasional moments of softness or uneven focus, but these are likely in the original, and the movie still has that organic film look unlike modern digital productions. What I really appreciate with a well-done film transfer is just how clean images look. When done well—as Scream was—it looks like layers have been removed between you and the lens, making it so much easier to appreciate the image quality. Also, the improved clarity, sharpness, and detail are mostly realized in closeups instead of longer shots. 

 

Fortunately, much of Scream—particularly the opening with Barrymore—is filmed fairly tight and up-close, letting you really see the texture and detail in the actors’ facesthe smooth skin and fine whiskers of the actors, Sidney’s freckles, the detail in Barrymore’s sweater and fine strands of her hair.  

 

Don’t expect a lot of eye-popping HDR here, but the grade definitely benefits the natural look of the film, with nice deep blacks and shadow detail. Also, much of the second half is shot at night, and things like bright car headlights, police lights,

fluorescent lighting, lightning strikes, and bright white T-shirts get some added pop. Subtle things like the glints of highlights from droplets of sweat or tears on actors’ cheeks also have more pop. I also noticed the subtle sparkle and flecks of silver in the killer’s black outfit. Nothing really pushes the bounds of HDR’s wider color gamut, but we get some really nice and vibrant yellows, oranges, and reds in a sunset, along with the rich blue of Sidney’s denim, and of course the intense reds of blood.

 

Both the 4K Blu-ray and the Kaleidescape download feature a 5.1-channel DTS-HD Master Audio mix. While I always love when they go back and revive the audio mix to go with the picture, this is certainly adequate to tell the story, and the most important element—the dialogue—is always presented nice and clear in the center channel. Sounds like ringing phones, ticking clocks, and creaking floors can happen way off screen, expanding the width of your listening area. Using my processor’s DTS: Neural X upmixer, there was also some nice ambience extracted from the mix. Frequently small sounds like clock and wind chimes, echoes, wind whistling through an HVAC register, or PA announcements fill the room and immerse you in what is happening on screen. Parts of the score are also “lifted” up to the ceiling speakers to add a nice height layer to the mix.

 

Scream’s mix is not super dynamic, but it can deliver some strong, even tactile, 

Scream (1996)

bass when called for, such as during a big lightning storm in the opening. And while there isn’t a lot of gunfire, the few instances are recorded loud and sharp and are definitely standout moments.

 

While some of the dialogue between the “teenagers” (Campbell and McGowen were 23, and Ulrich and Matthew Lillard were both 26) is a little cringey, most of Scream holds up surprisingly well and it is still a lot of fun to watch. The timing is also a bit serendipitous as rewatching this new transfer of the 1996 original will help set the mood for the Scream 2022 reboot coming in January, which brings back the big surviving three—Sidney, Gale Weathers, and Deputy Dewey—from the original film.

John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing for such publications as Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at @SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Review: Dune (2021)

Dune (2021)

Let’s set aside for a moment the question of whether Denis Villeneuve’s Dune works as a partial adaptation of Frank Herbert’s classic science-fiction novel. With something in the neighborhood of 20 million copies sold, the book is inarguably one of the best selling of its genre. But divide those sales figures by the world population and chances are good most people who view the film will have never cracked the cover of this gargantuan doorstop of a tome. (But if you’re one of those devotees who’s curious about whether this adaptation does justice to the novel, meet me over in the “True to the Source?” sidebar and we’ll geek out for a bit.) A much more relevant question is whether Dune works as cinema on its own terms. 

 

And thankfully, that ends up being the much easier question to answer. Yes. A thousand times, yes. As if he hadn’t proven it already with films like Arrival, Prisoners, and Blade Runner 2049, Villeneuve demonstrates with Dune that he understands 

cinema as an art form in a way few modern directors do.

 

As with most of his work, Villeneuve straddles two worlds with Dune, keeping one foot firmly planted in the traditions of the past and one foot precariously placed in an uncharted future. By that I mean that despite looking very much like a 21st-century film, it doesn’t feel like one. There’s something quite old-fashioned about it, or perhaps “timeless” is the word I’m looking for. The allusions to Lawrence of Arabia are blatant—and fitting, given how much that film influenced Frank Herbert in the writing of Dune. But Villeneuve manages to draw inspiration without aping. He evokes the spirit, scope, and energy of David Lean’s classic without being beholden to its style. The style is entirely Villeneuve’s.

 

Well, cinematographer Greig Fraser (Zero Dark Thirty, The Mandalorian) also deserves a lot of credit for the style. While I said that Dune looks like a 21st-century film, that’s not quite accurate. It simply looks like a film that couldn’t have been captured before the modern era of filmmaking.

DUNE AT A GLANCE

This adaptation of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic succeeds spectacularly where earlier attempts have failed.

 

PICTURE

The HBO Max presentation is the very definition of reference-quality, with images free of anything that could be construed as artifacts of the high-efficiency encoding.

 

SOUND 

The Dolby Atmos soundtrack is so dynamic you can only pity the unfortunate souls who attempt to experience it through a soundbar or basic home theater speaker setup.

Ultimately, it looks unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and that may have something to do with the unusual postproduction process. The movie was shot on a mix of IMAX film and ArriRaw digital (the latter at 4.5K resolution), but before the footage was finished in a 4K DI, all of the digital imagery was printed to film stock then scanned back into the computer.

 

That gives the imagery a unique character, to say the least. It doesn’t look entirely analog, but neither does it look wholly digital. It’s the best of both methods—which, again, reinforces the notion of Dune as the perfect marriage of tried-and-true 

TRUTO THSOURCE?

 

As a work of cinema, Dune is narratively engaging, nearly perfectly structured, and wholly satisfying. But what about its effectiveness as an adaptation of the supposedly unfilmable novel? Well, it’s not perfect in that respect but it’s infinitely better than I could ever hoped for. Denis Villeneuve—unlike David Lynch and John Harrison (who directed the 2000 mini-series)—has boiled the narrative down to its essence rather than haphazardly and erratically chopping the story into bit-sized pieces. He was able to distill that essence because he understands that essence. 

 

Dune works as a novel because of its complexity. In writing it, Herbert explored the many ways in which ecology influences and drives every aspect of the human experience, from the personal to the familial to the societal, political, and religions institutions that shape our lives. It’s also a novel that takes place largely between the ears of its characters, something no film could successfully replicate (although, bless his heart, David Lynch tried and failed spectacularly to do so). 

 

With his film adaptation of the first two-thirds or thereabouts of the novel, Villeneuve had no choice but to tidy up some of the book’s tangled narrative threads, and he made the wise choice to focus on the personal and familial above all else. The Dune geek in me laments the de-emphasis on the ecological and environmental. But the cinephile in me can’t imagine how he could have possibly explored that aspect of the novel entirely without turning his film into a never-ending barrage of exposition dumps. 

 

Then again, there’s a lot about this adaptation I never could have imagined before seeing it. There are aspects of the novel I never expected to see translated to the screen, much less this effectively or artfully. 

 

And the fact that Villeneuve managed to capture so much of the book’s essential fiber without creating a big pile of confusion for the uninitiated is a bit of a miracle. After the credits rolled, my wife—who has never read the novel, and before now had no interest in doing so—turned to me and said, “I expected to be lost, but I never was. There’s so much more I want to know, so many questions I want answered. But in the moment, watching the film, I didn’t feel like I was missing anything. Well, except for the fact that I feel like there’s a reason why Duke Leto never married Lady Jessica and I wish the film had explored that.”

 

And in that respect, she’s absolutely correct. Armed with my deep knowledge of the book, I also feel like there are a couple other things the film could have conveyed better, such as the ritualistic obsession with moisture inherent to the culture of the Fremen—the nomadic natives of the planet Arrakis, aka “Dune.” But when I quizzed my wife about it, her response was, “No, I definitely picked up on that.” So, perhaps I’m wrong. 

 

At any rate, now that I’ve experienced the first part of Villeneuve’s intended two-part adaptation, I still have no clue how he’s going to successfully translate the rest of the book to the screen. The rest of the story takes a turn for the weird, to put it lightly. But even if Dune: Part Two ends up being a major flop (assuming it even gets made, although that seems quite likely), that won’t diminish my appreciation of this first part.

D.B.

past and untested, experimental future.

 

That captivating aesthetic, combined with the sheer scale of the film and its reliance on capturing as much as possible in camera (to the point that, in promotional interviews, actor Timothée Chalamet claims to recall only seeing a green screen twice during production) adds up to a film that demands to be seen at scale, on the best screen you can reasonably access. In my case, that meant watching HBO Max’s stream in my own home cinema system since the nearest commercial cinema that can legitimately claim to deliver a better audiovisual experience is a three-hour drive away in Alpharetta, GA.

 

Thankfully, shockingly, the HBO Max presentation is the very definition of reference quality. I started my stream the minute the film was available, which struck me as a foolhardy choice the instant I hit Play, given how many millions of other people must have been sitting with their fingers on their remotes, waiting for it to be unlocked. But I never experienced any glitches due to server overload, and I never spotted anything in the image that could be construed as an artifact of the high-efficiency encoding of the film.

 

Far from it. I would go so far as to say that I’ve never experienced imagery this captivating, engaging, or dynamic in my media room. Part of that is due to the sumptuous detail, the gorgeous textures, the unparalleled set design, costumes, etc. But a lot of it has to be chalked up to the fact that Dune represents the most effective application of high dynamic range grading I’ve seen to date.

 

HBO Max’s Dolby Vision presentation pushed my display to extremes I didn’t know it was capable of, extremes I can’t imagine being bested by anything other than perhaps a perfectly calibrated IMAX Laser setup. And I have my doubts about even that. Simply put, if displays had rights, Dune would be a violation of the Geneva Convention.

 

But none of its visual extremes—scenes bathed in near-infinite shadows followed quickly by such dazzling brightness that your pupils will constrict to pinpoints—feels gratuitous. All are absolutely in service of the story and the environments in which it unfolds.

 

Equally compelling is the Dolby Atmos soundtrack, which is likewise so dynamic that I pity the unfortunate souls who attempt to experience it through a soundbar or basic home theater speaker setup. If you’re an Atmos junkie who keeps a mental running tally of how frequently your surround and overhead speakers—and subwoofers—are pushed to their limits, you’re going to be in absolute aural heaven here.

 

As I’ve stated many times within the pages of Cineluxe, I’m not one of those people. I find most Atmos sound mixes masochistic and overbearing, not to mention distracting. But for Dune, this approach simply works. That may be because the imagery is so captivating that no amount of offscreen audio could pull my attention away from the screen, but I also think it’s due to thoughtful mixing and a deep understanding of the relationship between picture and sound. Whatever the reason, it all simply works, and there’s not much else to say about the sound.

 

Well, there is one more thing, although I do run the risk of angering some readers here, especially fans of composer Hans Zimmer. I’ve rarely if ever understood the appeal of most of Zimmer’s work. I often find his compositions fatiguing, uninteresting, and so utterly and needlessly aggressive that I need to wipe the testosterone residue from my speakers after watching a film he’s scored. And make no mistake here: His score for Dune is bombastic at times, what with its heavy reliance on percussion and synths.

 

But this is unquestionably his best score since 1994’s The Lion King, and it succeeds for most of the same reasons. Zimmer understood the assignment here, and his music works in conjunction with the visuals and the narrative in such a way that they’re inseparable. I’ve had the score on repeat throughout the writing of this review, simply because I cannot shake it. It haunts me. Its leitmotifs—both melodic and percussive —resonate with me in a way that few 

Zimmer scores ever have. And most tellingly, as I’m listening to it, I can close my eyes and see the accompanying moments from the film—and this is a film I’ve only seen once, mind you. That’s the mark of a great score.

 

Put it all together, and I have next to nothing critical to say about Dune as a work of cinema in and of itself. There are a few edits in the first act that feel a bit choppy. By that I mean that, even if you’re completely unfamiliar with the story, you’ll sense that much of what was excised from the assembly cut to get the film down to a tight 2 hours and 38 minutes was removed from the first third.

 

There’s also the fact that, while the bulk of the performances are truly world-class, Dave Bautista feels out of place here. I’m a fan of Bautista’s, but his portrayal of Rabban Harkonnen—the nephew of the baron who previously ruled the desert planet that gives Dune its name—feels one-note and over-the-top, at least when compared with the nuanced performances turned in by literally everyone else. Other than those quibbles, Dune is a monumental work of art in its own right.

 

It should be obvious to anyone watching the film that it isn’t a self-contained statement. As Chani (Zendaya) cheekily teases just before the credits roll, “This is only the beginning.” But Dune nonetheless manages to feel like a complete story, with an ending that is both emotionally and thematically satisfying while also pointing toward a much bigger and tantalizing future. 

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.