Kaleidescape Tag

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.

News: Trinnov & Kaleidescape Team Up to Offer Compelling Demo Content

News: Trinnov & Kaleidescape Team Up to Offer Compelling Demo Content

Everybody loves a deal. Thats why we see insane promotions every year surrounding Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Amazons Prime Day. Of course, most of these deals are designed around commodity items with pricing designed to drive impulse buys; rarely do we see any real premium or luxury goods offered in the mix. 

 

Of course, the ultimate deal is when something you were already considering buying is suddenly improved by either a sale or other special promotion. In this case we have two industry leading companies—Kaleidescape and Trinnov—joining for a bundle promotion. With Kaleidescape delivering the largest selection of 4K HDR video content along with true lossless Dolby TrueHD Atmos soundtracks and Trinnov providing industry-leading audio processing, including the full 24.1.10 implementation of Dolby Atmos (along with DTS:X and Auro 3D), components from each company are already frequently paired in many best-of-class systems.

 

The promotion is straightforward: Buy a system consisting of a Kaleidescape Terra server and Strato player and any Trinnov Altitude audio processor, and your server will arrive already loaded with a film and music collection, curated by Trinnov, valued at nearly $1,000. Trinnov’s managing directors, Jon Herron and Chuck Back, selected the titles in the collection, choosing from a broad variety of action, adventure, concerts, and animation to deliver dynamic content in a luxury home system while also ensuring it appealed to a wide range of viewers.

 

Kaleidescape offers users the unique ability to bookmark favorite scenes or iconic moments from movies or concerts and create scripts” that string these together into a compelling Wow!” demo. Trinnov took advantage of this feature to craft four different scripts that give users instant access to a sizzle reel of demo-worthy content to highlight the performance of their systems, providing guests with a quick taste of the magic. Two scripts are designed to show off action scenes, another highlights music content and performances, and the fourth is family-friendly animated fare.

 

These scenes were picked the same way I have built [tradeshow] playlists over the years, though they are a bit longer since the tradeshow time pressure is not a factor,” Herron said.  When choosing demo material, Herron says he looks for the typical things including deep/impactful bass, high spatial resolution, and good detail, and that he includes great music where applicable.

 

I also look for two additional things,” Herron added. Each clip should tell a short, self-contained story with a beginning, a middle, and an end, and the order of the clips should generally start small and finish big, both sonically and emotionally. Some of the clips really take advantage of [Atmos] object-oriented audio mixing like Godzilla vs. Kong and Gravity, while others are just great scenes and soundtracks. The idea was to make it easy for someone to show off their cool, new system to their friends.”

 

The Kaleidescape/Trinnov promotion is scheduled to run through December 31, 2022.

—John Sciacca

TITLES INCLUDED IN THE PROMOTION

3:10 to Yuma

A Star Is Born

Across the Universe

Adele: Live at Royal Albert Hall

Alita: Battle Angel

Angel Has Fallen

Aquaman

Baby Driver

Black Widow

Bohemian Rhapsody

Brave

Captain Marvel

Enders Game

Eric Clapton: Slowhand at 70

F9: The Fast Saga

Ford v Ferrari

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

Godzilla vs. Kong

Gravity

Hans Zimmer: Live in Prague

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Hitmans Wifes Bodyguard

In the Heights

John Wick 3

Midway

Minions

Muse: Live at Olympic Stadium

Ratatouille

Ready Player One

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Soul

Super 8

The Greatest Showman

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The Incredibles

The Man from UNCLE

Unbroken

Up

WALL-E

Wonder Woman

Trinnov Experience Trailer

Trinnov Music Machine One Music Video

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: 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: The Card Counter

The Card Counter (2021)

Somewhere within the labyrinthine twists and turns of Paul Schrader’s The Card Counter, you can find the makings of a good film—perhaps even a great film, I don’t know. The only real question is whether or not it’s worth the effort to go digging for them. Mind you, not all the seeds of greatness here require that much tilling to unearth. The first and most obvious thing that makes the film worth watching is Oscar Isaac’s world-class performance as William Tell, a low-stakes gambler who plays cards to occupy his time and mind after his release from Leavenworth, where he served an eight-and-a-half-year sentence for his involvement in the atrocities at Abu Ghraib.

Once again, Isaac demonstrates why he’s one of today’s most sought-after actors, delivering a performance that makes you forget every other character he’s ever played in his career. There’s so much going on beneath the surface of his performance, so many little tics and expressions and changes in posture that combine to create a character with the sort of complexity and nuance we rarely see on the big screen these days.

 

The film is beautifully composed and presented. Shot in ArriRaw at 4.5K and finished in a 4K digital intermediate, The Card Counter has not gone through the sort of film-look processing most digital films receive, and the result is a level of purity and clarity that’s very welcomed. Cinematographer Alexander Dynan also has a good eye, framing each shot to accentuate the storytelling without ever resorting to any manner of flashy tricks.

CARD COUNTER AT A GLANCE

Oscar Issac shines but everything else feels off in this inept Paul Schrader effort about an ex-con card shark.

 

PICTURE

The UHD presentation looks fantastic, rich in detail, crispness, and true-to-life colors that sell the illusion of reality woven by the film.

 

SOUND 

The sound mix is dialogue-heavy, although there’s a good amount of subtle but effective employment of the surround channels to build and reinforce the onscreen environments.

So, it’s unsurprising that Kaleidescape’s Premium VOD presentation looks utterly fantastic. Presented in UHD resolution with HDR10 high dynamic range grading, the download is rich in detail, crispness, and true-to-life colors that sell the illusion of reality woven by the film. It’s the sort of audiovisual experience you can simply get lost in, and although there’s very little by way of action, the high dynamic range allows the image to pop when called for—especially in showing the obnoxious slot machines that litter the floors of the casinos where the story takes place. I might have liked a bit more shadow depth in darker scenes, and there is a bit of banding in the climactic moments, but other than those minor nits, it’s simply a fantastic home cinema experience from beginning to end. 

 

The visual experience is supported by a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix that works perfectly for the tone and thrust of the film. Fittingly, given the talky nature of The Card Counter, the sound mix is dialogue-heavy, although there’s a good amount of subtle but effective employment of the surround channels to build and reinforce the onscreen environments.

Much like the cinematography, the sound mix rarely draws attention to itself, but if you disengage from the narrative and keep your ears open, you’ll notice the care and creativity that went into crafting the audio experience.

 

And that’s pretty much the end of everything good I have to say about The Card Counter. As engaging as it is to the senses, and as good as Oscar Isaac is, everything else about it is an unfocused and undisciplined trash heap of unrealized potential. It’s a house of cards built on the foundation of some really compelling and thought-provoking ideas, many of which will linger in my mind long after I’ve forgotten the film itself. And I don’t expect that to take too long.

 

The biggest problem is that Schrader loads the mantle of the film’s first act so full of Chekhov’s guns that the whole thing nearly collapses under the weight, but almost none of them go off, and the two that do end up misfiring. A better director could probably get away with flagrantly violating so many of the fundamental rules of storytelling, but Schrader—despite his talents as a screenwriter—is not a good enough director to pull it off.

 

Furthermore, as good as Isaac’s performance may be—and it’s truly one of the best I’ve seen this year—everyone else around him delivers their dialogue with 

The Card Counter (2021)

all the verisimilitude of a theater kid auditioning for a reboot of Saved by the Bell. Somewhere around the end of the first act, I decided to grab a piece of scrap paper sitting beside my home theater recliner and make a little hashmark every time an actor delivered a line with the emphasis on the wrong word or syllable—an obvious indication of no real thought given to the meaning of the words coming out of their mouths. I filled that little scrap of paper somewhere around the end of the second act and gave up.

 

So, yeah, The Card Counter is, to say the least, more than a bit of a mess. And that’s a shame, because it has some interesting things to say about the cost of war, the persistent relevance of the Milgram experiment, and the inequities baked into our criminal justice system. The problem is, it doesn’t say any of those things very well. 

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: Old

Old (2021)

Oh, M. Night Shyamalan . . . Where do I start?

 

Over the past 22 years, Shyamalan has become a pretty polarizing filmmaker, and at this point in his career, it feels like many have settled into a “love him” or “hate him” category. And I think even a percentage of those in the “hate him” group like to keep tabs on his latest projects just so they can hate-watch them and then tell the world a big, fat, “See! I told you so!”

 

It’s important to remember that before the duds, Shyamalan’s career started off like a rocket with tense and well-crafted films between 1999 and 2002, like The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs. The guy was on a roll, writing, producing, and directing one hit after another. But then, like a ballplayer headed into a real slump, he started getting singles instead of 

home runs, and then, well, he started just striking out. 

 

But then something truly unexpected happened in 2016. He delivered Split, an out-of-nowhere sequel-of-sorts to Unbreakable, which he then followed up with a true sequel/conclusion with Glass. These felt like a real return to form and both had the critical and box-office success of the Shyamalan of old.

 

Did this mean he was back?

 

For me, those two films at least bought Shyamalan enough cred to put him back on my radar, and when I saw the ad for Old during Super Bowl LV, it certainly piqued my interest. Old was released theatrically in the States on July 23, and made available to digital retailers like Kaleidescape on October 5, with a physical media release scheduled for October 19.

OLD AT A GLANCE

M. Night Shyamalan almost pulls off this tale of strange goings-on at a secluded resort.

 

PICTURE

There is a lot of beautiful cinematography, with closeups offering tons of sharp, vivid detail, where you can literally make out single grains of sand.

 

SOUND 

The Dolby Atmos sound mix is a highlight, with Shyamalan really leaning into the possibilities of immersing the listener in sound and utilizing all of the speakers.

The film is based on the 2010 French-language graphic novel Sandcastle, which I had never heard of. Of course, Shyamalan added his own tweaks to the source material, and with Sandcastle only being 112-pages—and those all filled with illustrated panels—he had some fleshing out to do to get a complete story. 

 

Old reminded me a bit of Season Four of The Twilight Zone, where Rod Serling and team broke away from their tried-and-true formula of taut, 30-minute episodes and went to stories that ran an hour long. The result was some things felt padded and stretched a bit thin, and they learned—when they returned to the 30-minute form for Season Five—that an idea that worked for 30 minutes didn’t necessarily work better when stretched out to 60. (The reverse is true for long material that filmmakers try to excise down to a theatrical run time, as evidenced by so many of Stephen King’s failed adaptations . . .) 

 

While the film certainly has an interesting premise, which is how Shyamalan manages to hook you, at 108 minutes, it feels a bit long and like it is treading water in the middle, with some of the beats repeating themselves, and like something that would have worked better in a shorter form. 

 

A family goes on a vacation at a luxury tropical resort and we discover pretty quickly that Guy (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps) are headed towards a divorce. The holiday is kind of a last family hurrah before they break the news to the kids, Trent (Nolan River) and Maddox (Alexa Swinton). While at the resort, the manager (Gustaf Hammarsten) approaches them and says he likes the family, and wants to send them to a beautiful and secluded part of the resort he doesn’t just share with everyone. The family piles into a van along with married couple Dr. Charles (Rufus Sewell) and Chrystal (Abbey Lee), their young daughter, Kara (Mikaya Fisher), and Charles’ mother, Agnes (Kathleen Chalfant), and are driven to a secluded area by a resort employee played by Shyamalan himself in one of his many not-so-cameo roles. When they arrive, Shyamalan loads them up with baskets of food and drinks, and the group walks down a path and through a cave to emerge out onto a beautiful beach. 

 

At the beach, they see another person sitting alone whom Maddox recognizes as famous rapper Mid-Sized Sedan (Aaron Pierre), who seems to be nursing an almost constant nosebleed. While swimming, the naked body of a dead woman washes into Trent, and when it is revealed this woman came to the beach with Mid-Sized Sedan, it sets the group into a bit of paranoia. With no cell signal, they try and go back through the cave and find they can’t (anyone trying is hit with a massive headache that knocks them unconscious), and then everyone starts aging at a rapidly accelerated rate to the tune of about one year every 30 minutes. 

 

With the rapid aging, any negative traits like vanity, paranoia, racial tension quickly come out, and infirmities like blindness, deafness, schizophrenia, and tumors can develop in literally moments. The kids grow in what feels like the blink of an eye, with new actors taking on the roles in nearly every scene. (For example, four different actors play Trent.)

 

Why is this happening? Is there any way to stop it? What is the deal with the name Mid-Sized Sedan? (Not germane to the movie, but, I mean, come on?! Is that a commentary on something?) And why does it appear that someone is observing them from far away? Like most of Shyamalan’s films, Old is pretty slow to develop and get going, but part of the allure of his movies is seeing where the winding path leads you and what interesting things will happen along the way to see how things play out. 

 

One issue I had is that a lot of the characters really just aren’t that likable. It’s hard to be vested in what happens to people you don’t care about. Plus, they often act in ways that just seem completely obtuse to what is happening, almost acting in an odd, robotic manner that makes them unrelatable. (And, no, they aren’t all robots—that isn’t the twist.) And while they are aging rapidly, there seems to be no lingering emotion, thought, or feeling to things that have happened. “Well, so-and-so is dead. Guess we just move on . . .” Further, some of the dialogue is just bad. There were a couple of parts where I literally groaned. Guy is an insurance actuary and he wastes no opportunity to remind of us of that and to cite some actuarial-table percentage of the likelihood of something happening. 

 

Also, calling this a “horror” movie seems a stretch. If you’re a fan of that genre, I think you’ll be in for a real disappointment. I mean, it’s as much a horror movie as an episode of The Twilight Zone or a Shyamalan film like, say, The Village. Yes, there are a couple of violent moments, multiple people die, and there are some intense images, but horror? I don’t think so. More like supernatural, but not in an occult-ish way. 

 

Filmed in 35mm and taken from a 4K digital intermediate, Old has a lot of beautiful cinematography that is great to look at, especially up on a big screen, with plenty of wonderful vistas of the beach and ocean against the rocky cliffs and lush jungle backdrop. I never noticed any grain issues, certainly nothing that was distracting, and found images to be clean and sharp throughout, though not having that tack-sharp look of a movie shot digitally.

 

Closeups have tons of sharp, vivid detail, where you can literally make out single grains of sand or see the fibers in characters’ garments. The detail also makes it easier to appreciate the aging the characters go through as they develop wrinkles and the like. Longer shots—specifically when they are looking back up at the mysterious person watching on the hill—are noticeably softer and devoid of detail, with the trees just lacking the sharpness, almost like they are slightly out of focus.

 

With most of the film taking place on the beach during the day, the HDR grading certainly helps with the look, giving brilliant highlights and nice shadow detail. You can really appreciate the texture of the rocks and cave walls, and when the sun goes down, there are some nice highlights and added contrast from a fire the characters sit by.

The Dolby Atmos sound mix was actually a highlight for me, as Shyamalan really leans into the possibilities of immersing the listener in sound and utilizing all of the speakers. Jungle sounds frequently fill the room, with birds and wind creating a nice canopy of sound overhead and all around. You also get nice audio moments like the sounds of the hotel’s lobby Muzak pumping out of the ceiling speakers like you are walking through the hotel, or the sounds of water dripping down from overhead in the cave complex, or the noise of crashing waves and surf all around.

 

One thing the sound mix really plays with is the location of voices. Most films anchor about 90% (or more) to the center speaker, but here we have dialogue that literally swirls 360 degrees around the room, as a character is turning and listening to people talking. This is almost a video-game-like effect, but it really puts you in the moment. It will also lay bare if your speakers have any timbre-matching issues, as you’ll really notice a change in the tone and quality of the dialogue.

 

Bass is mostly restrained—dialogue is a big driver of the movie—but it can be deep when called for, such as when characters enter the cave of when there are powerful waves crashing.

Old (2021)

My wife and I did have a bit of a problem understanding some of the dialogue. Some of it is a bit forward-sounding, some of the characters have a bit of an accent, and occasionally it can be masked by some of the other sounds going on.

 

While Old isn’t the best of Shyamalan’s catalog, it certainly isn’t the worst, and it kept me involved enough to see how it was going to wrap. And, I didn’t see the particular “twist” coming, but it certainly wasn’t on parity with the big “I see dead people!” moment of The Sixth Sense. It was more like, “Yeah, OK, I guess that makes sense.” Also, I felt like he tried to over-explain and over-resolve the ending, and it would have been better had he, ummm (keeping this spoiler-free . . .) stopped about five minutes before he did and let it be more open-ended. Old makes a perfect candidate for a premium rental, as it is something you’ll likely be entertained enough to sit through but probably won’t feel the need to return to for a second 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: A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

It’s traditional to save comments about video quality until the two-thirds or three-quarter point of a review, but I have to cut right to the chase: This is a stunningly gorgeous transfer of a deliberately ugly film—the best I’ve seen Kubrick’s picaresque stroll through depravity look since I watched an archival print on a Moviola.

 

From its opening image on, Kubrick meant Clockwork Orange to be the anti-2001. After doing a big-budget Cinerama epic full of elaborate sets and effects for MGM, he decided to go lean and mean with his first project for Warner Bros., opting for a 

minimal crew and existing locations, except for one simple small set. And he completely rethought his approach to cinematography, using Orange as a kind of laboratory to experiment with, and essentially reinvent, the whole aesthetic of commercial film.

 

Kubrick had been trying to recreate the look of practical lighting since his first efforts in the early ‘50s, and various directors—most notably Godard—had made great strides with that approach throughout the ’60s; but with Orange, Kubrick finally nailed it, coming up with a way of presenting and perceiving “natural” lighting that not only defined all of his films from then on but has been the go-to look of Hollywood filmmaking ever since—for better and, often, worse.

 

Clockwork Orange is deceptive—so much so that, even though I know it well, it misled me when I watched it in HD a few months ago on Netflix, where it looked like hell. All of

CLOCKWORK ORANGAT A GLANCE

The future turned out to be even bleaker than Kubrick imagined it—but societal decay has never looked more appealing than in this gorgeous 4K HDR transfer.

 

PICTURE

The transfer restores the essential puckishness that’s missing from all previous home releases, making the grim imagery not only palatable but exhilarating.

 

SOUND 

Everything sounds fine—but even the stereo mix is a distortion of what Kubrick originally intended.

that dimness and grime just made the subject matter that much more unpleasant, and I regretted I’d taken the time to check it out.

 

Seeing it in 4K HDR took me back to my early experiences with, and excitement for, the film. And that changed perception all hinged on seeing the cinematography done absolutely right. Kubrick was indisputably aiming for grunge—a goal he achieved 

in spades. But he did it with a subtle, and puckish, elegance and elan that makes the images not dispiriting but thrilling. Watch this film in anything other than 4K HDR and you’ll miss the twist the whole experience pivots on.

 

A couple of examples among an abundance: In earlier releases, the lettering could look painted onto the milk-bar walls; here, the letters stand out in distinct relief, enhancing the tactile sense of the environment. There are closeups and medium shots throughout that are literally breathtaking, but the closeup of Malcolm McDowell as he dresses down his gang in the lobby of his sub-human apartment building is jawdropping in its clarity and immediacy. Yes, there are some soft frames here and there, but they existed in the original film.

 

See this movie as just about the subject matter and you can be in for a miserable time. Just as important is getting on the wavelength of the astonishing creative energy Kubrick poured into the project. You can actually both sense and see him throwing out the remaining rules of the studio system and discovering filmmaking anew, and clearly enjoying every second of it. Orange is not his best film but it’s probably his most inventive, and seeing that unbridled virtuosity on display can make it a very heady ride.

 

Sure it’s dated as hell—any time you riff on the future, you’re going to date your film. But Kubrick showed he was aware of that by not really imagining a future, like he did in 2001, but by imagining an even more grotesque present—which is why Orange’s future has aged better than 2001’s. No point in presenting a lot of examples to back up my point—just look at the old women in the film walking around in purple wigs and then the old women in the present doing the same, and I’ll rest my case.

 

Probably the most ironic thing abut Clockwork Orange seen today is how wrong Kubrick got its crux, violence. For someone so deeply cynical, he assumed that people in the future would still maintain some kind of essential repugnance toward violent acts. In other words, he saw 

some residual, positive value in a shared sense of decency. He couldn’t have been more blind to that vast act of social re-education and desensitization called the ‘80s, which replaced the deeper and more skeptical cynicism of the ‘60s with a far more facile “everything sucks” version that would just roll violence into the overarching oppressive apathy and see it deliberately deployed as yet another cultural wedge. This would all eventually mutate into the even more facile, and

juvenile, current fascination with “dark.” Kubrick was often accused of presenting his characters as dehumanized—even he didn’t see how quickly we’d get to that point, let alone how enthusiastically we’d embrace it.

 

Orange can no longer shock—the pornographic, in all its forms, has since become commonplace, accepted, and encouraged—but it can still entertain. Malcolm McDowell doesn’t have complete control over his performance but his sometimes reckless careening leads to some giddy highs. And Patrick Magee’s turn as the “writer of subversive literature” who becomes grotesquely unhinged from watching McDowell’s rape of his wife is masterful—the kind of thing Sellers pulled off over and over in Strangelove but done here with a kind of dada collage feel that’s astonishing to watch.

 

And it’s a thrill just to savor Kubrick’s mise en scene—how he found unsettling ways to convey essential moments of the film without once stumbling into the arbitrary wackiness and poor-man’s surrealism that marred—and sank—so many late ‘60s/early ‘70s movies. In none of his films was he ever more of a punk than he is here, and it’s a cause for celebration because it shows how deeply expressive and subversive commercial film can be—and has rarely been since.

 

As for the extras—sorry, but I’d prefer to refrain from any comment, since they’re 

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

by the same inept team of ne’er-do-wells that’s plagued the other Kubrick releases, and the best word for their efforts—if I may call them such—is inexcusable. Criminally so.

 

From Strangelove in 1964 to The Shining in 1980, Kubrick produced a sui generis string of genius films, all clearly cut from the same cloth but all, in very fundamental ways, radically different. And along the way, he completely changed how movies are conceptualized, made, and perceived. No one has ever equalled that accomplishment, and I think I can safely say no one ever will. The whole history of the movies pivoted on Clockwork Orange. But forget all that—just cue it up in 4K and savor it as the dangerous act of pure film it very much is.    

Michael Gaughn

Michael GaughnThe Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review, Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.