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A Different World

A Different World

The steady drip of announcements and events that could very well signal the demise of chain movie theaters continues unabated. On the heels of Mulan going straight to Disney+, the Tenet fiasco, and the latest Bond film being held until next April, we’ve now learned that Pixar’s Soul is going to follow the same path as Mulan, earning a Christmas release on Disney+; Dune is being pushed from Christmas to October 2021; and The Batman is being banished to the incredibly distant date of March 2022. And there’s speculation Wonder Woman 1984 could be going straight to HBO Max, which would be a huge change of strategy for Warner Bros., shifting from pretty much forcing theaters to reopen so they could lose their shirts on Tenet to dumping this once-prized ode to gym memberships onto a struggling streaming service’s anemic subscriber base.

 

In another major sign of just how much things have changed, there are reports MGM tried to shop the Bond film around to Netflix et al. in lieu of a theatrical release only to find there were no takers. Is it really conceivable the latest 007 could end up 

so tarnished it could find itself in the streaming equivalent of the bargain bin?

 

It’s time for the studios to relent and take everything else they were going to hang onto until, when, Doomsday? and send it straight to the home market—something they should have done six months ago. It’s not just about the economics. In a world that bears little resemblance to the one that existed at the beginning of this year, do they really expect these movies to resonate with audiences today—let alone half a year, a year, or a year and a half down a very uncertain road? We now live in an in many ways worse and in some ways better world, but undeniably one with only a few tenuous connections to its previous incarnation.

 

The whole sad and in some ways silly tale of Tenet and the movie theaters is just another example of the kind of bass ackwards thinking that’s pretty much determined how everything has played out during the pandemic. To state what ought to be obvious (but there’s little evidence to suggest that’s so): We need to rethink our priorities. The economy isn’t some independent organism that must be fed at all costs, but a man-made and -controlled (when we want to be responsible for it) mechanism meant to serve the needs of people. In other words, it’s nothing but an artificial construct, a tool, a means to an end. Hell, at this point, I’d be happy to see us go back to the barter system—even potlatch—if it would spare us the spectacle of more human sacrifice on the mass scale.

 

Tenet has, rightly, become the poster child for everything that’s hopelessly balled up about the present moment. Something never felt right about that whole exercise in denial—even beyond the manifest irresponsibility of urging theaters to reopen in the middle of a pandemic, and Nolan’s Olympian hubris of thinking his ridiculously expensive little trifle was worth risking even a single person’s life.

 

Tenet tanked not just because releasing it was a brain-dead business decision but because it had been built up so much by Nolan, Warner Bros., and IMAX as something that had to be seen in a movie theater, that, viewed in the context of a global crisis, it ultimately felt trivial.

 

We’ve come—I believe, stupidly—to make huge emotional investments in movies, and especially franchises, when they’re almost inevitably the products of children of privilege indulging their extremely stunted emotional development.

 

Movies, honoring the hipster mantra, have become little more than diversions, distractions, one-note confections able to induce enough of a sugar high to get you to crave the next one but never able to supply enough nourishment to be in any meaningful way satisfying, elaborate yet ultimately crude devices that qualify as entertainment only in the most primitive way, and never as art.

 

I might really be dreaming here, but I’m hoping the current 

upheaval proves to be the ultimate Kryptonite or Death Star or whatever and finally frees us from the tyranny of the superhero movie. No matter how pretentious directors want to get about them, at the end of the day, they’re inherently adolescent, silly, and, worst of all, fascist (Goebbels would have loved Gal Gadot), exhibiting all the overheated excess of a form of entertainment on the verge of collapse. (Which helps to explain why they tend to lean so heavily on kitschy Late Romantic retreads for their soundtracks. Mahler, R. Strauss, and Wagner were harbingers of the imminent demise of tonality.)

 

The studios are willing to commit so much money to producing superhero movies and push them so ferociously not because they’re more entertaining than other genres, let alone because they’re more edifying and profound, but because they more readily lend themselves to merchandising and video games and they help keep the populace in an uncritical state of arrested development. At the end of the day, it’s an economic and marketing decision and never a creative one—not even close.

 

Now, I realize that decades of indoctrination have led to a culture of fantasy über alles, but I’d like to hang onto a slim hope that recent events will shake us from our stupor and get us to realize that almost every mainstream genre we’ve succumbed to since the Reagan era—and this would include action films and other heedless celebrations of war—are ultimately forms of oppression.

 

Just to be clear: The last thing I’d want to see is a world awash in earnest little dramas without flair, socially-conscious efforts that ultimately just reinforce rampant intolerance, and ambitious epics that show no understanding of the rudiments of cinema—in other words, Oscar fodder. If we’re going to reinvent the movies, let’s really strip them down and rebuild them from the ground up. And just to show that this isn’t just some vague and abstract wish, let alone an exercise in nostalgia, I’m hoping to toss out a few suggestions for reimagining in a future column.

Michael Gaughn

 

Disclaimer: My views are my own. They represent neither the general position of this website nor the opinions of any of its other contributors, who I’m pretty sure don’t much agree with me about any of this.

Michael Gaughn—The 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.

Review: 2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

1968 (as I mentioned in my review of Rosemary’s Baby) was the year Hollywood, no longer able to lure people into theaters, blew everything up and started all over again. 2001: A Space Odyssey was the most radical product of that very radical year—not only because it flouted all the conventions of mainstream storytelling but because it went full-court Brecht to subvert the audience’s addiction to identifying with the protagonist, refused to use dialogue to Mickey Mouse viewers through the action, openly pissed on the convention of the traditional Hollywood music score, and stubbornly refused to be wedged it into any identifiable genre.

2001 is utterly sui generis—no film had looked anything like it before; no film has looked anything like it since. It exists in its own, somewhat rarefied, universe.

 

Kubrick would never do anything that overtly adventurous again. Sure, Clockwork Orange was more outrageous, but kind of in the same way as Dr. Strangelove; and “outrageous” isn’t the same thing as “adventurous.”

 

But neither adventurousness nor outrageousness on their own, or even together, are enough to make a film great. (The path from 1968 to the present is littered with the corpses of films that managed to do both, but little else.) 2001 is great because it sets an impossibly high bar and almost achieves it. Adventurousness and outrageousness are symptomatic of that ambition, but neither is essential to realizing it.

 

Which is why—to again return to an earlier review—I have to give The Shining the edge as Kubrick’s most 

2001 AT A GLANCE

Stanley Kubrick’s utterly unique and still radical big-budget experimental film is almost as compelling as its original Cinerama presentation in this 4K HDR release.

 

PICTURE     

So well done that the film is on par with The Shining as a reference-quality download. HDR in particular helps enhance the impact of space travel, celestial bodies, and Bowman’s hallucinatory hotel room.

 

SOUND     

A faithful reproduction of a deliberately pared-down soundtrack that was always meant to complement and comment on the action, not mimic it.

accomplished work. Almost everything he does big and bold in 2001 he achieves quietly and more deftly in that later film. 2001 is the product of an artist so giddy he can’t help but show off; The Shining is the work of a master so confident in his abilities that he can just quietly drop clues and then wait as the rest of us scurry to catch up.

 

But why even go into all this? Because both 2001 and The Shining hinge on the experience of pulling you deep inside the film—not in a superficial, escapist way but so you begin to have the sensation of actually occupying the same physical space as the characters.

 

That the 4K HDR presentations of both films are reference-quality seriously ups the “you are there” ante—but with a crucial difference. And there’s the rub. The Shining is almost one-to-one true to the movie Kubrick created. When you watch it at home on a high-quality system, you’re seeing what he wanted you to see. 2001 in 4K HDR is just as extraordinary—but as a title card in the closing credits reminds you, this was originally a Cinerama presentation. And, unlike most of the other filmmakers who dabbled in Cinerama, Kubrick didn’t deploy it as a gimmick (Grand Prix, anyone?) but made it absolutely central to creating that sensation of taking an epic voyage into space.

 

So, is 2001, viewed in 4K HDR, in any meaningful way inferior to The Shining? On the technical level of the transfer, no, they’re both excellent—almost flawless. But since you can’t do Cinerama at home (at least not without a hell of a jerry-rigged

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setup that would have to verge on absurd), The Shining is truer to the original film.

 

All of the above is really just an exercise in praise by faint damning. The Kaleidescape download of 2001 is one of a handful of films so well served by the 4K HDR treatment that it has to be part of the foundation of any serious film collection. If there’s a single significant hiccup in this presentation, I didn’t see it.

 

Cinerama quibbles aside, to get lost in 2001 today, you have to get beyond ticking off what has and hasn’t come to pass and look past all that Swinging ‘60s clothing and furniture and get on the wavelength of the film Kubrick actually created, which exists in an elaborate and self-consistent world that merely uses the trappings of reality to achieve escape velocity.

 

The 4K resolution can’t reveal every detail of the original 70mm print, but it shows so much more than any previous home video incarnation that it’s shocking to realize to what 

extent Kubrick created outside his era, how unencumbered he was by the stylistic ticks of that time (or even of the future). On the level of film technique and film grammar, 2001 still holds.

 

What really takes the experience to a new, truer level is the HDR. Yes, many of the special effects now even more obviously look like still photos traveling across painted backgrounds. But shots of actual physical objects in motion, like the space station, The Discovery, and most of the extravehicular footage of the pod, are stunning. The brightness of objects in space is one of the things 2001 got basically right and the HDR makes them look so crisp and cold they’re almost tactile.

 

Three scenes in particular will give you a good idea of what I’m talking about, beginning with the shot of the scientists walking down the ramp into the lunar excavation, where Kubrick shoots directly into a large worklight, with the light so intense you almost have to look away. Next, the beginning of the final act, where the floating monolith guides Bowman into the Stargate, is especially compelling because of the convincing luminosity of Jupiter and its moons. And, finally, the virtual hotel room where Bowman goes through his transformation, which Kubrick created to mimic the look of early video, is more convincing with the white and other light tones pumped just enough to glow without becoming bloated or diffused.

 

As for the audio, talking about the soundtrack of 2001 has always been kind of a ticklish business because this is essentially a silent movie. Kubrick rediscovered and then reinvented the core grammar of silent film, much of which had been glossed over and obliterated by the tyranny of the microphone during the Studio Era, and used it to not just drive this film but all of his subsequent efforts. It’s not that the audio is superfluous; it’s just not redundant with the visuals, the way it had been since the introduction of sound—and continues to be.

(Curiously, another product of 1968—Blake Edwards’ The Party, which, like 2001, was much maligned at the time and is now revered—is also basically a silent film. Edwards, on a parallel track with Kubrick, dipped back into silent comedy to bring a sense of grace and redemption that had been missing from movie comedies since the Chaplin era.)

 

So, things like The Blue Danube, the heavy breathing, and the various warning sounds all sound perfectly fine. But this is a film of stripped-down and barren environments, without warfare or roaring engines, so there’s, thankfully, little audio-demo fodder to be found.

 

As for the extras—all I can say is “beware.” I’ve already sufficiently dumped on the team that created (although that seems far too kind a word) the promotional videos disguised as mini-docs included with Full Metal Jacket and The Shining. Their efforts here are equally awful. Unfortunately, the other videos are just as irritating and, for the most part, pointless. 

 

The trailer included here isn’t the one from the film’s initial release or even its 

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

legendary initial re-release but a decidedly contemporary stab that feels like a cliché film-school exercise (people are going to look back 20 years from now at our addiction to dips to black and laugh their asses off) and indulges in exactly the kind of manipulative melodrama Kubrick despised.

 

The only extra worth going out of your way for is a 76-minute audio-only interview Jeremy Bernstein did with Kubrick in 1966. You get to hear the director walk through his whole career to that point, beginning as a failed high school student who became the youngest photographer ever at Look magazine and then went on to learn filmmaking, in a world without film schools, by making his own features. Not only is it better than anything any writer has ever done on Kubrick, it confirms, beyond a doubt, that Peter Sellers’ Quilty in Lolita is basically an extended Kubrick impression—which puts that deeply flawed film in a whole new light.

Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The 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.

Review: V for Vendetta

V for Vendetta (2005)

It’s been a few years since I sat down with James McTeigue’s 2005 adaptation of Alan Moore’s seminal anti-fascist comic book from the early-to-mid ‘80s—so long, in fact, that I worried, as I prepared to digest the new 4K HDR release of V for Vendetta via Kaleidescape, that it would feel a bit outdated. McTeigue’s film was, after all, made in response to the second Bush administration, and by that point the comic book, although a nearly unparalleled work of sequential art, was starting to feel like a bit of an artifact, rooted as it was in the Thatcher era.

 

That concern couldn’t have been more off-base, and I’m honestly not quite sure how I feel about that. On the one hand, I know that as an unabashed Moore devotee, I’m supposed to dismiss the film, and its script by the Wachowskis, as a 

toothless dilution of the anarchistic themes of the original. On the other hand, the years have been kinder to the movie than the comic, to the point where the adaptation is shockingly more poignant, relevant, ominous, prophetic, and indeed instructive than its inspiration. And I say that as someone who still holds the comic in the highest regard.

 

Whence the ambivalence on my part? It comes mostly from the fact that when V for Vendetta was released in 2005, it seemed a little cartoonish, over-the-top, and heavy-handed in its allegory. Fast-forward to 2020—roughly the year in which the film is set—and it almost feels as if it didn’t go far enough in envisioning the dystopian near-future. In a way, it’s as if it’s plotted a course for itself that’s exactly the opposite of Marx’s observation about the repetition of historical entities: What first appeared as farce now reads like tragedy.

 

Long story short, I’ve always liked the film, but I’ve never quite taken it as seriously as I now think it deserves to be

VENDETTA AT A GLANCE

This overtly political tale of resistance set in a dystopian 2020 was derided at the time of its release for not honoring its comic-book roots but feels uncomfortably relevant today.

 

PICTURE     

The visually dark movie doesn’t provide a lot of room for HDR to blossom, but the 4K presentation is satisfyingly faithful to its filmic look.

 

SOUND     

A demo-worthy Dolby Atmos soundtrack that helps address the clarity problems with the film’s dialogue while powerfully delivering its diverse soundtrack.

taken. And watching it now shines an uncomfortable spotlight on the rate of societal collapse over the 15 years since it was first released.

 

If you’re not familiar with V for Vendetta, it centers on a mysterious revolutionary known merely as V—”a humble vaudevillian veteran, cast vicariously as both victim and villain by the vicissitudes of Fate”—and his attempt to inspire the oppressed subjects of a fascist regime to rise up and demand their liberty.

 

The Shakespeare-quoting, Count of Monte Cristo-loving V isn’t what you would call a hero by any measure, and his bone to pick with this regime is as much personal as philosophical. But that actually underscore’s the film’s central thesis: That while 

humans are flawed and individually weak, ideas have the power to change the world.

 

I could pick nits about the unnecessary changes the Wachowskis made in adapting the book to film, but one thing that can’t be denied is that McTeigue absolutely made the right call when he chose to embrace the cinematic form in his adaptation. Just as writer Alan Moore and artist David Lloyd built their comic

on a foundation of classic literature and illustration, then pushed it toward the cinematic, McTeigue builds his film on a foundation of classic cinema, then pushes it toward the comic-book form—and remember, this film came out a time before the Marvel Cinematic Universe made comic books cool in the eyes of the general public.

 

It isn’t just the reliance on classic Hollywood clips and stylistic references to earlier films that firmly root this adaptation in the cinematic tradition, though. McTeigue also made the brilliant choice of casting John Hurt—whom audiences will instantly associate with his turn as Winston Smith in Michael Radford’s adaptation of 1984—as the Big Brother-like autocrat in this imagined future. This not only highlights the differences between the dystopian futures forecast by Orwell and Moore, but also serves as a subtle-but-effective warning about the oppressed becoming the oppressors.

 

Overall, V for Vendetta is an aesthetically dark film, which doesn’t leave much room for a high dynamic range grading that pushes contrasts to the extreme. But Kaleidescape’s 4K/HDR download does add a lot of richness and detail to the shadows, and allows the occasional specular highlight more room to breathe without blowing out. As such, this ends up being one of the rare remasters where the increased resolution is just as impactful as the enhanced dynamic range.

 

Details and textures look simply spectacular in this new transfer, and although it’s unlikely V for Vendetta will make any videophile’s Top 10 list for best HDR releases of the year, cinephiles will go nuts over just how much more filmic this presentation is. The differences are subtle, but they add up to a much more faithful representation of the original camera

negative from which this new transfer was sourced. This may not be the title you pull out to push your projector to its limits, but it’s the most faithful home video transfer I could imagine for V for Vendetta.

 

The new Dolby TrueHD Atmos remix, though? It’s definitely demo-worthy. V for Vendetta has always suffered somewhat in the intelligibility department by virtue of the fact that its main protagonist wears a rigid and resonant Guy Fawkes mask over the remains of his face, and anything less than flawless fidelity makes some of his vocalizations less than distinct.

 

V’s alliterative and magniloquent lines have simply never been delivered as clearly as they are in this remix, and the film’s soundtrack—which runs the gamut from Tchaikovsky to Stan Getz and João Gilberto—has never sounded this powerful, this beautifully resolved. I do think the overhead speakers are a bit overused at times, but that probably means most people will find the height effects perfectly appropriate. At any rate, given the choice between a slightly distracting at times Atmos mix and the muddled fidelity of the old, compressed 5.1 track, I’ll take the former any day.

 

I do wish the Kaleidescape download included the new bonus features added to 

V for Vendetta (2005)

the UHD Blu-ray release. All we get by way of extras are carry-overs from the original DVD release. But no matter. V for Vendetta stands on its own, without the need for supplementation.

 

At least, I think it does. Watching the film now, though, I can’t help but think that audiences still haven’t completely gotten the film. Yes, its iconography has been appropriated by hacker groups and the hashtag-resistance. But the moral of this story—that if you have principles and the courage of your convictions, you can win the support of the people—still struggles to break through the noise. If we don’t learn that lesson, our future will be even darker than the one portrayed herein.

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.

Ep. 10: What the Hell’s Going On with the Movies?

The Cineluxe Hour logo

After a longish hiatus, The Cineluxe Hour returns with a wide-ranging, freewheeling discussion of what’s been happening with new movie releases over the past year, and what that means for the movie theaters and for people watching films at home.

 

The episode opens with Cineluxe’s Dennis Burger, Michael Gaughn, and John Sciacca laying out the chronology from how the movie studios initially reacted to the pandemic through the decision to pull movies like Bloodshot, The Invisible Man, and Onward from theaters and offer them for home viewing.

 

At 9:35, John, Dennis, and Mike recount the events that led to the disastrous release of Christopher Nolan’s Tenet in theaters, and the impact that decision has had on other movie releases.

 

At 14:45, Dennis and John discuss their recent columns about Christie’s patent to allow theaters to send first-run movies to people’s homes.

 

18:37: How the pandemic has accelerated the decline of movie theaters and the flourishing of streaming, and how the theaters might not be able to recover.

 

20:25: How the proliferation of inexpensive high-quality big-screen video displays is allowing a much larger number of people to have a better-than-movie-theater experience at home. But John raises concerns that this could signal the end of the “event” movie.

 

27:15: Dennis discusses Disney’s decision to send Pixar’s Soul straight to Disney+ and to reorganize its company to focus on streaming.

 

31:30: Michael speculates that the world has changed so much over the past eight months that movies the studios have been hanging onto, like No Time to Die, The Batman, and Wonder Woman 1984, might seem out of touch and out of date by the time the studios finally release them.

 

And, lastly, at 34:07, everyone nominates their favorite older films that look exceptional after receiving a 4K HDR upgrade.

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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.

Michael Gaughn—The 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.

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.

The Strange & Maddening Tale of Warner Bros. & HBO Max

The Strange & Maddening Tale of Warner Bros. & HBO Max

My daughter called me last week with what should have been a simple question: “Hey, do we have HBO?”

 

Insert a deep sigh here.

 

I explained to her that, yes, we do indeed have access to HBO Max, and that she would need to sign in with her login for our AT&T Mobile account. But before I could start to dig into all of the problems she might potentially have logging into the app, 

she thanked me, told me she loved me, and hung up. I knew she would be calling back.

 

Five minutes later, the phone rang again. “I can’t get it to work!” she said, obviously exasperated.

 

“Try using your email login rather than your mobile number,” I said. She quickly thanked me, told me she loved me, and hung up. But, again, I knew she would be calling back.

 

Two minutes later, the phone rang once more. “That doesn’t work, either!” So I asked her if she was trying to log into the

app directly or if she was using the “Sign In with TV or Mobile Provider” button. She confirmed that she was using the latter.

 

“I don’t know what to tell you, Punkin. HBO Max has just been a straight-up disaster since the day it launched. Maybe try again later?” And I could hear the frustration building in her voice.

 

“Why do you keep saying HBO Max? What is HBO Max? I just want to watch HBO!”

 

Mind you, my daughter is a tech-savvy Millennial currently attending graduate school. But when I explained to her that there were currently two HBO streaming apps—HBO and HBO Max—and that with the launch of the latter, the company discontinued HBO Go and rebranded HBO Now as simply HBO, but that we only had access to HBO Max and not HBO (at least I think that’s how it works), I may as well have been explaining integral calculus to our American Staffordshire Terrier.

 

And then I remembered something I probably should have thought to ask her from the giddy-up. “Baby, what device are you trying to log into this app on?”

 

“My Roku TV.”

 

“Ah, yeah, HBO Max isn’t on Roku. You’ll have to use your Xbox.”

 

I’ll elide the profanity that followed. I probably don’t need to, though. I can only imagine that if simply accessing this stupid app is so frustrating for a technology writer and his very tech-savvy daughter, it must be an outright nightmare for the casual consumer.

 

It doesn’t have to be this way, though. Any number of studio-centric streaming services are straightforward and easy to understand—easy enough that my 78-year-old father (a recent cord-cutter) has no trouble signing into Disney+ or CBS All Access or even Peacock, for goodness’ sake, much less other rivals like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

 

But given how horribly Warner Bros. (a subsidiary of WarnerMedia, owned by AT&T, which also owns HBO) has bungled pretty much every decision it has made this year, is it really any surprise that HBO Max sucks so spectacularly?

 

Just look at the way Warner has handled its theatrical releases in the midst of our current pandemic, constantly shuffling release dates incrementally while other studios have made bold moves, and how it insisted on releasing Tenet to theaters at a time when cinemas in New York and California weren’t even open, much to the detriment of those cinemas that were open and ended up operating at a loss just to exhibit that box-office flop.

 

It gets worse. In the chaotic shuffling that accompanied the launch of HBO Max, there has also been a lot of uncertainty about what would happen to the content streamed on DC Universe, a Warner-owned superhero-centric streaming service that was home to such popular shows as Doom Patrol and Harley Quinn. At first, it seemed that only Doom Patrol would be moving over to HBO Max. Now it seems that Warner is transitioning DC Universe into a digital-comic-book-only platform and folding all of DC Universe’s animated and live-action content into HBO Max. But sadly, DC Universe was the only Warner streaming platform with 4K HDR support. So fans who’ve become accustomed to watching their favorite shows in high quality will now have to suffer an HD downgrade (not to mention pay a heftier monthly subscription, unless they get HBO Max for free as part of their mobile subscriptions, and ugh! I’m getting a headache just typing all of this).

 

I don’t want to gloss over one of the main points of that last paragraph. Here in late 2020, verging on 2021, HBO Max—the premier streaming home for most WarnerMedia movies and TV shows—doesn’t offer any of its content in 4K HDR, and there’s no clear timeline for when it will.

 

Which means all of the big exclusives coming next year—including the long-awaited director’s cut of the butchered Justice League theatrical film—will probably stream in HD quality at best, without the benefit of Dolby Atmos audio. It also means that if you want to watch Game of Thrones in 4K, the only way to do so for now is via a chunky 33-disc boxed set.

 

So, just to summarize for those of you who haven’t been taking notes: Not only has Warner Bros. responded to a global pandemic with stubborn devotion to a dying distribution model, its parent company also seems incapable of putting together a streaming platform that makes a lick of sense, nor one that competes with other similar services in terms of AV quality. If WarnerMedia or AT&T or whoever is making these seemingly never-ending disastrous decisions doesn’t shape up and start cheating off of Disney’s paper, I have a sneaking suspicion one of the biggest casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic may well be Warner.

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.

Sean Connery: Bond and Beyond

Sean Connery: Bond and Beyond

Sean Connery may be gone, but thanks to the magic of cinema his star will always burn bright. And quite a star he was. Connery was a classic leading man, akin to those from another era like Clark Gable or John Wayne. This, of course, is due in large part to the seven times he starred as James Bond. But he also sustained a long and successful film career beyond the Bond films. He remained a leading man for 10 or 15 years following Diamonds Are Forever and after that he became the go-to character man for another 15 years.

 

Whether he liked being associated as Bond or not, the perennial popularity of his 007 films kept his name well known to several generations of filmgoers. Featuring Sean Connery in your cast always indicated to the public that the film was an “A”

production. Just think of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

 

Although he always had a trace of his Scottish accent, the public easily accepted him in international roles. In The Hunt for Red October, he was Russian; in The Wind and the Lion, Muslim; in The Untouchables, he played Irish-American. This is no small trick, if you think about it. The reason audiences were willing to accept him in multi-faceted roles all through his career was that he simply possessed the charisma of a true movie star. Like Gable or even Charlton Heston and Gregory Peck, everyone accepted 

Connery as an archetypal hero. In the era of the anti-hero, more modern audiences could also find him believable as a well-meaning protagonist because he possessed a dark side that kept him from appearing too righteous or goody-goody.

 

In most of his best roles (including the Bond films), you were never quite sure if he was on the verge of violent action. This probably had more to do with his tough and rough upbringing in Scotland than acting chops. But the combination of great

looks, hyper masculinity, and innate intelligence made him the perfect leading man for the mid and later half of the 20th century.

 

Even though his films were mostly mainstream and action-driven fare, you felt a suggestion of classical stage training. It seems a shame he never made a film that was Shakespearean or more literally epic. In that way, he never came up to the likes of Sir Lawrence Olivier or Richard Burton. Perhaps he never found faith in the right director to venture into more challenging territory. Or perhaps the era of the sophisticated epic or truly literate cinema had passed. If he had made A Man for All Seasons-type film or even his own film version of Macbeth, he might have won a Best Actor Academy Award. It seems he never found the definitive power role that would surpass his James Bond image. But as it is, he did manage to land a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for The Untouchables. It was certainly a well-deserved Oscar considering his lifetime of fine and varied performances.

Sean Connery: Bond and Beyond

He did work steadily with director Sidney Lumet and their five film collaborations produced some fine features and performances, most notably The Hill, The Anderson Tapes, and Murder on the Orient Express.

 

It must be noted that in 1964, during his James Bond era, Connery also starred for Alfred Hitchcock in Marnie. It’s a good fit, and it’s a shame they didn’t try another project together. It’s easy to see why Hitchcock cast him, especially after viewing From Russia with Love. Released in 1963, a year before the Bond formula was firmly cemented with Goldfinger. From Russia with Love is the most Hitchcock-like of all the Bond films. It’s a bit short on action, but it’s layered deep with suspense, romance, and mystery.

 

Another film from that era that shows a unique side to Connery is the nearly forgotten A Fine Madness. It’s a gorgeous Technicolor black comedy. The cinematography is by Ted McCord just off his The Sound of Music job and Greenwich Village 1966 looks fabulous! In it, Connery portrays Samson Sillitoe, a nearly insane poet genius. The role enables him to cut loose in a very non-Bond way.  His co-stars are Joanne Woodward, Jean Seberg, and Colleen Dewhurst, and there is no Pussy

Sean Connery: Bond and Beyond

The Man Who Would Be King (with Michael Caine)

Galore in sight here! Today, it’s great fun to watch because of its zany mixture of genres, but in 1966 it was just a little too anti-Bond to be accepted by the critics and public. But it’s a superb example of Connery’s untapped acting range.

 

Speaking of comedy, Connery’s wry sense of humor, which comes through in most every one 

of his films, is one of the characteristics that made him unique as a leading man. Seldom does someone so masculine and sure of himself let his sense of humor shine through so effectively. That rare mixture of physical threat, sexuality, and humor is what has made him, for many, the cinema’s first and only true James Bond. Even though for years Connery resented the super-spy image he created, it did allow him to play many varied roles including Robin and Marian opposite Audrey Hepburn.  Some of his most successful films like The Man Who Would Be King and The Name of the Rose prove that he had as amazing a film career as any great star from Hollywood’s Golden Era. In fact, you could say he was a “Platinum Era” star. Darker, sexier, more knowing than his predecessors but nonetheless made up of a sturdy and rare precious metal.

Gerard Alessandrini

Gerard Alessandrini is a Tony Award-winning writer/director of musicals, best known for the long-running musical satire Forbidden Broadway and the Hamilton spoof Spamilton, both of which have been performed in theaters around the world. He has been the lyricist (and sometimes composer) for over a dozen musicals, including Madame X, The Nutcracker & I, Scaramouche, and the Paul Mazursky musical of Moon Over Parador, and has won numerous accolades, including two Lucille Lortel awards and seven Drama Desk awards. His voice can be heard in Disney’s Aladdin (1992) and Pocahontas. He’s also written special-material songs for many stars, including Angela Lansbury, Carol Burnett, Bob Hope, and Barbra Streisand.

Reviews: The Masque of the Red Death (1964) & The Raven (1963)

The Masque of the Red Death (1964)

For special Halloween viewing, you can always depend on a Vincent Price/Roger Corman movie such as The Fall of the House of Usher, Tales of Terror, and The Pit and the Pendulum. They are dusted off every year for cable streaming and home video viewing. But this year, one Roger Corman film takes on an added dimension of horror.

 

The Masque of the Red Death, loosely based on the short story by—who else—Edgar Allan Poe, has a special modern application in 2020. The film itself is a heightened and slightly campy tale of a pandemic plague that sweeps medieval Italy. The city-state is cruelly ruled by an egotistical Satan-worshipping prince. The bombastic and obnoxious ruler is played with 

wild abandon by Vincent Price. He is loud and vicious and will listen to nothing or no one.

 

Recklessly deciding he knows best how to handle the “Red Death” plague, Vincent simply locks up his castle door and throws a big masked ball for his recklessly hedonistic upper-class friends. All must come in masked costume, but The Prince is convinced he needs no mask since the Devil himself will protect him and him alone from the gruesome pandemic. But (spoiler alert!) neither his power position or evil protector can keep him from catching The Red Death, 

RED DEATH & RAVEN AT
A GLANCE

It’s hard to beat a Roger Corman/Edgar Allan Poe/Vincent Price mashup for Halloween thrills, both schlocky and legit, and Corman’s over-the-top take on Poe’s year-of-the-plague Red Death has 2020 written all over it.

and by the end of the movie not only does Vincent have blood poring out of his pores as he shrivels up and dies but so do all his upper-crust guests. Only three people are left alive in the entire Kingdom by the time the credits roll: An innocent young lover, a baby, and an old man.

 

Any other year, this over-the-top horror story might seem broadly campy, but in 2020, it is indeed as horrifying as Roger Corman may have intended it to be back in 1964. It may seem even more disturbing!

 

Many now consider this the best of the Corman/Price/Poe movies. It’s more literate than most of its predecessors and with its devious “Little People,” animalistic partygoers, and deviant sexual innuendos, it is genuinely macabre. Add to that the committed performances from Price and his fabulous leading lady Hazel Court, who always adds a good measure of superb British articulation and Hollywood glamour, and you have a horror movie that’s a cut above. The verbiage even has a touch of the tragic tone of a Shakespearean play.

 

The production quality is also a cut above other Corman creations. It’s filmed in vivid Pathécolor with an intensely multi-colored production design (perhaps to make up for the fact it’s not in the lush and more subtle Technicolor.) The movie is also quite authentic-looking—supposedly because Red Death was filmed on left-over sets from the historical epic film Becket, also released in 1964. Corman must be given an “A” for effort and “A+” for inventiveness for bringing a good-looking production in under budget. However, it is still a budget horror film from the 1960s, and its pacing and lack of a great music score (Bernard Herrmann was not in the budget) make it hard to take as an authentic film classic.

 

Yet, all entertainment changes from year to year, and right now this spooky tale might just put you in a real Halloween mood. And, beware—when you watch it with friends, don’t be a fool like Vincent Price—wear your mask to the Masque.

The Raven (1963)

While we are on the subject of Roger Corman and Vincent Price, let me recommend their 1963 entry, The Raven. This film had no intention to be authentically scary in any way. Peter Lorre plays the Raven in bird and human form in a highly comedic performance. And it has a fabulous supporting cast: Boris Karloff, a very sexy 

Hazel Court, and a very young JackNicholson—in tights, no less. It’s all tongue-in-cheek and wryly funny. Again, the garish Pathécolor livens up the dreary plaster-of-Paris castle walls. There’s also a good amount of animated sorcerer’s magic rays to add to the fun. Unlike The Masque of the Red Death, this film survives solely as camp. But Halloween is also a time for kitschy fun and macabre frolic.

 

As a nine-year-old boy, I loved the silly satirical suspense, and it had just enough scary moments to amuse but not disturb me. It even made me a fan of Edgar Allan Poe. Inspired by the film, I tried making a couple of Corman/Poe type “Grand Guignol” horror movies of my own with my Super 8 movie camera. But years later, I realized I must have loved Poe even more that I thought. When I grew up and moved to New York, my apartment on West 84th Street was built on the site where he wrote “The Raven.” In the 19th century, the address had been his family’s farmhouse! Now it’s “The Raven Court Apartments.” It still has a big black stone raven right outside. My apartment looked right over the statue. But just as Edgar Allan Poe wrote, “Quoth the Granite Raven ‘Nevermore.’”

Gerard Alessandrini

Gerard Alessandrini is a Tony Award-winning writer/director of musicals, best known for the long-running musical satire Forbidden Broadway and the Hamilton spoof Spamilton, both of which have been performed in theaters around the world. He has been the lyricist (and sometimes composer) for over a dozen musicals, including Madame X, The Nutcracker & I, Scaramouche, and the Paul Mazursky musical of Moon Over Parador, and has won numerous accolades, including two Lucille Lortel awards and seven Drama Desk awards. His voice can be heard in Disney’s Aladdin (1992) and Pocahontas. He’s also written special-material songs for many stars, including Angela Lansbury, Carol Burnett, Bob Hope, and Barbra Streisand.

Review: Vertigo

Vertigo (1958)

Lazy commentators on Hitchcock will tell you Vertigo is his best film like that’s the beginning and end of the discussion. I’ll allow that it’s one of his best—it’s definitely his most psychologically probing and, in its strange way, intimate—but I would also argue that both Strangers on a Train and Shadow of a Doubt deserve to be placed on that same top tier.

 

What is inarguable is that this is by far the best of the first round of Hitchcock films to receive the 4K HDR treatment. Whereas the releases of Rear Window and The Birds are merciless in exposing the flaws in both the original productions and the current state of the film elements, Vertigo is practically seamless in its presentation, gliding from image to image without any 

jarring technical distractions (with one exception, which I’ll discuss below). If you’re a Hitchcock fan, this is the 4K title to start with.

 

But it’s not necessarily the best place to start if you’re new to Hitchcock. Vertigo lacks most of the puckish little gimmicks he used to lure in the masses and, if you take it on its own terms, it’s a pretty disturbing tale of a damaged and fundamentally weak man completely gutted by his belief in the cultural tropes of the saint and the whore. And it can get especially unnerving when you realize that that man isn’t really Jimmy Stewart—who delivers an amazingly fearless portrayal of a pathologically vulnerable ex-detective—but Hitchcock himself.

 

Also, Hitchcock takes his time with the pacing, which won’t sit well with the jolt-a-minute immediate gratification crowd. It’s a cliché to say Vertigo feels like a dream, but that doesn’t make the cliché any less true. And there’s

VERTIGO AT A GLANCE

An essential, impeccably presented and with the impact of the original film completely restored, putting it on a whole other level from the 4K HDR releases of Rear Window and The Birds.

 

PICTURE     

Almost flawless, with the HDR staying true to the film’s dreamlike imagery and sumptuous colors.

 

SOUND     

A fitting showcase for Bernard Herrmann’s legendary score, giving the timbres of the various orchestral instruments a vivid presence rare on a movie soundtrack.

something about the tactile crispness of the images and the sumptuousness of the colors in this release that just enhances that effect. (But, ironically, given how nightmarish Hitchcock’s imagery can be—Norman Lloyd falling from the Statue of Liberty, anyone?—Vertigo notoriously contains one of the worst dream sequences ever.)

 

Seriously aiding that sense of being seduced into and then trapped within a dreamworld is Bernard Herrmann’s masterful score, probably his best. It’s something to be savored, and is especially well presented here, sounding both epic and intimate in its Wagnerian longing, with the orchestra not just some indiscriminate wash of sound but an assembly of individuals where you can feel the bows being drawn across the strings, the metallic resonance of the French horns, and the reedy, wooden resonance of the clarinets. For just one example among too many to name, watch the scenes of Stewart’s car drifting up and down the hills of San Francisco where the muted strings, like a siren’s call, subtly limn his character’s failing grip on the objective world.

 

This is undoubtedly Robert Burks’ most accomplished work for Hitchcock, with one subtly, and sometimes strikingly, stunning image after another. Given that this is Hitchcock, there is some occasional overreaching, but you can’t really fault Burks for not being able to rise to an impossible challenge.

 

There’s one borderline moment where 4K HDR really comes through. The pivotal scene where Madeleine reborn emerges from the green mist in Judy’s shabby hotel room had always looked corny on previous home video releases, like she was stepping out of a time transporter in a ‘50s sci-fi film. But here, by hitting just the right note with the green tone—not just in this shot but in the ones leading up to it—and by now being able to just see through the haze, you can experience for the first time outside of a movie theater exactly what Hitchcock was aiming for—and it works. It’s not just a clever effects shot but a deeply 

subjective portrayal of a man, using another person to purge his demons, ecstatic as he senses himself on the verge of redemption.

 

Of course, a lot of the credit for the sublime beauty of this 4K release goes to the 1996 restoration by Robert Harris and James Katz, who refurbished the film on 70mm to mimic its original VistaVision presentation. (I’m usually wary of extras, but it would have been useful if the Kaleidescape download had included something that put this somewhat controversial restoration in perspective since it’s so crucial to the film’s impact here.)

 

There is one glaring flaw, which I feel obliged to point out because I can see it’s going to be an issue with 4K releases of catalog films until someone finds a fix. The photo-backdrop cityscapes out Barbara Bel Geddes’ and, to a lesser degree, Stewart’s apartment windows are unconvincing, and look so flat and static that they run the risk of pulling you out of the film. But that’s just not how they looked when Vertigo was shown in theaters.

 

This is the subject of an ongoing conversation between Gerard Alessandrini and me, and something he broached in his “When Restorations Go Wrong, Pt. 1.” These backdrops don’t look fake today because people were more gullible back 

Vertigo (1958)

in the ’50s. (In some ways, Studio Era audiences were far more sophisticated than today’s adrenalin junkies.) The cinematographers and production designers knew what they were doing and factored in the impact of images projected on a screen when they created their sets. But they couldn’t have anticipated what modern technology would do to their efforts. It’s kind of like seeing La Gioconda for the first time and only noticing the cracks in the paint.

 

Vertigo ranks up with The Shining as the best 4K HDR release of a catalog title I’ve seen to date. You not only get the benefit of enjoying Hitchcock at his peak—you get to experience what greater resolution and a wider color gamut can do to restore the impact of an older film.

 

And, O yeah—Vertigo has a nice little Easter egg for Cineluxe readers and John Sciacca fans in particular. Jump to the 1:49:00 mark and you’ll get to see John’s grandfather selling Jimmy Stewart a pair of women’s shoes.

Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The 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.

Good Grief—The Peanuts Moving to Apple TV+ Isn’t the End of the World

Good Grief--The Peanuts Moving to Apple TV+ Isn't the End of the World

If Disney’s restructuring of its media and entertainment divisions to prepare for the streaming future of cinema wasn’t enough to convince you that the media landscape has forever changed, perhaps this will: It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is now an Apple TV+ exclusive.

 

The move has been described as an “indignity” and “a disservice to American traditions and the common good” by commentators who probably haven’t watched the special in years. To be frank, I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, the Peanuts special—which has aired on ABC for the past 20 years and was broadcast by CBS before that every year since its 1966 debut—is such a cultural touchstone that removing it from the airwaves and putting it entirely in the streaming domain 

does seem almost sacrilegious. (Note that I said “almost.”) On the other hand, would we even be talking about The Great Pumpkin right now if not for this development? I honestly can’t remember the last time I watched it on broadcast TV, and I wouldn’t be able to now if I wanted to, since I’m a full-fledged cord-cutter.

 

Before you get up in arms about this (or, depending on your perspective, before you start cheering), there are a few relevant details about the development worth considering. Firstly, The Great Pumpkin will seemingly now be a permanent part of the Apple TV+ lineup, viewable any time of the year for those who subscribe to the service. 

Interestingly, though, Apple is also making the special free-to-stream for non-subscribers during a three-day window from October 30 through November 1. So, if the Peanuts gang is part of your annual Halloween tradition, you’ll still be able to tune in without shelling out $4.99 a month, assuming you own a smart TV or a streaming device such as a Roku or, of course, an Apple TV.

 

The same is true of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving—which will hit Apple TV+ on November 18 and stream free from November 25 to November 27—and A Charlie Brown Christmas, which joins the permanent Apple TV+ lineup on December 4, with a free-to-view period running December 11 through December 13. Will these three-day free windows become an annual tradition? One can assume so. And Apple has also announced the development of a glut of new Peanuts holiday specials, including ones for Mother’s Day, New Year’s, and Earth Day.

 

It’s a big win for the streaming service, which hasn’t enjoyed the same success as competitors like Netflix and Disney+. But will it be a similar win for viewers? That’s a tougher question to answer. It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown has been available on home video for years now, and I’m pretty sure I recently saw the special-edition DVD in the $5 bin at Walmart, so it’s not as if this is some sacred artifact that loses its luster if audiences can view it more than once a year in this specific release window.

 

And as I said, as someone who doesn’t own the DVD, and who no longer subscribes to cable or satellite (and who also, not incidentally, lives in a neighborhood full of 100- and 200-foot-tall trees, making antenna reception all but impossible), this free Apple TV+ release means I’ll be able to watch The Great Pumpkin for the first time in years. And I plan to do so.

 

But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that something about all of this just feels a little wrong. Not an affront to the soul of America, as some would have you believe, but still . . . just a little wrong.

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.

Demo Scenes: It (2017)

Demo Scenes: It
The S.S. Georgie & the Sewer
(Chapter 1, 5:09–9:11)

 

A great home theater demo scene should accomplish a handful of things, aside from merely looking and sounding great. It should be compelling in its own right, even if you’re not familiar with the movie from which it’s pulled. It shouldn’t spoil anything major about the story. And in terms of imagery and sound, it should engage the viewers in a way that wouldn’t be nearly as effective on a lesser AV system.

 

The opening chapter of It—the first of two movies to adapt Stephen King’s beloved 1,138-page horror opus—does all of that and more, especially the 4K/HDR release with Dolby Atmos sound. If you own the film on Kaleidescape, you can access the best parts of this opening sequence by navigating to the Scenes collection and picking the first option: “The S.S. Georgie & 

RELATED REVIEW

Demo Scenes: It

the Sewer.” If you own the film on disc or via another digital retailer like Vudu or iTunes, just press play and let the opening of the film run. You’ll have to sit through the opening credits and a few establishing shots, but it doesn’t add a lot of unnecessary length to the demo.

 

The real show starts at around the 5-minute mark, as little Georgie Denbrough—the younger brother of one of the movie’s main protagonists—ventures out into a storm to test his new and freshly waxed paper boat in the suburban streets of Derry, Maine.

Though the weather may be frightful, the imagery here is absolutely delightful, thanks largely to the blend of inky shadows and striking highlights caused by projectiles of rain bombarding the slick neighborhood blacktop. The visuals are matched by an equally engrossing Dolby Atmos sound mix, which fills the room not only with the sound of falling rain and splashing puddles but also with the fantastical score by Benjamin Wallfisch (whose work you may also remember from Shazam! and Blade Runner 2049). The music starts playfully, perhaps even innocently, but takes a turn for the sinister as little Georgie’s waxed paper boat slips away from him and rockets down the gutters toward the open maw of a storm sewer nearby.

 

The shadows in this storm drain are so stygian that it’s honestly a shock when the visage of Pennywise the Dancing Clown appears therein, first as a pair of creepy eyes floating in utter darkness, then as a murderous grin hovering in a stray beam of almost-but-not-quite-complete blackness. From here on out, the scene would strain the confines of creepiness even if it were just Pennywise and Georgie talking across the lip of the storm sewer. But the movie cranks the tension to even higher levels by filling the overhead channels with a haunting mix of thunder, wind chimes, and strings that sound more like they’re being tortured than played.

 

You don’t have to be a spooky-movie expert to know that things aren’t building toward a happy ending for little Georgie here. Heck, you don’t even have to look at the screen to know that Pennywise is up to no good. But the audiovisual experience here is just so enthralling that you won’t be able to cover your eyes (or your ears) even if you want to.

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.