Knives Out

Knives Out

For any mystery-film fan, Rian Johnson’s star-studded whodunnit, Knives Out, is a must-see. It stands up against the best of the genre, like the superb Agatha Christie films of the 1970s and ‘80s—Death on the Nile, Evil Under the Sun, and Murder on the Orient Express. And it far surpasses the recent inferior remake of the last named. Hang up your oversized mustache, Kenneth Branagh, there’s a new Poirot in town—Benoit Blanc—sans mustache and perfectly played by Daniel Craig.


Knives Out has all the usual tropes for a good murder mystery—big house, wealthy victim, slew of suspects with strong motives for murder, reading of the victim’s will, and an eccentric detective. The film begins with a pair of barking dogs running in slow-motion through the fog, an imposing mansion in the background. The shot fairly screams “The Hound of the

Baskervilles” and is the first of several Sherlock Holmes homages throughout the film. Next we see a maid bringing breakfast to her employer, the famous mystery author Harlan Thrombey, only to find him in his study with throat slit in a pool of blood.


This opening scene tells the viewer exactly what they are in for. Your typical murder mystery . . . well, almost. Instead of screaming and dropping the breakfast tray upon discovering the body (like many an episode of the British TV series Midsomer Murders), the maid fumbles with the tray awkwardly and exclaims, “Shit!” This is not your grandmother’s Agatha Christie.

Cut to several days later when the police have come to interview the family, despite what appears to be an open-and-shut case of suicide. What follows is a series of interrogation scenes where the family members of the late Harlan Thrombey tell the police one story and we the audience get to see what really happened, through a series of revealing flashbacks. We soon learn that each of them had good reason to kill Harlan. And what about Harlan’s faithful nurse, Marta? 


Johnson’s Oscar-nominated original screenplay twists and turns, keeping us guessing. Was it a suicide? Was it an accident? Or was it pre-meditated murder? The film feels like it’s from another decade yet at the same time plucked from today’s headlines.


The issue of immigration is front and center, and the film gets political on more than one occasion, notably in a heated discussion during Harlan’s 85th birthday party. The script is packed with humor as well, from Marta’s inability to tell a lie

without vomiting, to references to TV shows like Murder, She Wrote and Hallmark Mysteries to Daniel Craig doing car karaoke to Sondheim’s torch song “Losing My Mind.”


And speaking of Craig, his detective Benoit Blanc is relaxed, fallible, and funny, a far cry from his brooding and intense James Bond. With a knowing smile belying his cool blue eyes,

Knives Out

Craig seems to be having a ball in this film. Whether pounding a single piano key during the interrogation sequences (much to the annoyance of the suspects) or playfully spouting vintage dialogue like “The game is afoot, eh, Watson?” in a Colonel Sanders southern drawl, Benoit is a modern, American Sherlock Holmes. And while the character of Benoit plays head games with the murder suspects, it feels as if Craig is simultaneously toying with us (the audience) and shaking off any pre-conceived 007 baggage.


The supporting cast is excellent, playing their quirky characters to the utmost without ever crossing into cliche. Christopher Plummer is pitch-perfect as Harlan Thrombey, and deftly manages to be cruel and hateful in one scene and lovable and 

Knives Out

noble in the next. Jamie Lee Curtis as Linda, Harlan’s eldest daughter, is at her tight-lipped, controlled best in the first quarter of the film then smoothly transitions into a simmering pot before boiling over later in the story. Don Johnson is understated but completely believable as Richard, Linda’s riding-on-her coattails husband. Chris Evans plays (to the hilt) 

Harlan’s grandson, a spoiled, obnoxious bad boy. Michael Shannon as Walt, the youngest son and CEO of his father’s publishing empire, steals each moment the camera is on him. Twitchy, sweaty and desperate, his work in the confrontation scene at Marta’s apartment building is particularly chilling. Toni Collette as Joni, a skincare and lifestyle influencer, provides comedic balance to her more serious daughter Megan, played by Katherine Langford. They are joined by Jaeden Martell, K Callan, Lakeith Stanfield, Riki Lindhome, Frank Oz, Edi Patterson, and Noah Segan (hilarious as a goofy cop and die-hard fan of Harlan Thrombey’s books).


If Manhattan is the fifth lady in Sex and the City, then Thrombey Mansion is the last family member in Knives Out. The myriad of unusual objects filling the meticulously macabre house was conceivably inspired by (or inspiration for) Harlan’s novels, including the imposing wheel of knives that is the metaphorical “donut” Benoit keeps referring to.


The great surprise of the film (no spoilers here) is Ana de Armas as Marta Cabrera. I had never seen her before, so watching her in Knives Out felt like the debut of a new star. She is the emotional center of the film but never relies on overacting. Her Marta is believably sensitive, smart, caring, and cunning. We are with her every step (and misstep) of the mystery. Even when we are convinced of our heroine’s guilt and she is covering her tracks, destroying evidence along the way, we are on her side and in her shoes.

Glenn Bassett

Glenn Bassett lives in Manhattan with husband Gerard and their two cats. Most recently, he
was set designer for a production of
On Golden Pond at The Katherine Hepburn Cultural Arts
Center in Connecticut and for the Salt Marsh Opera’s 
production of Pagliacci. He was production
designer on the upcoming independent shorts 
Dollars and Sense and Marble-eyed Tanner and
designed and illustrated the poster and album 
cover for Forbidden Broadway: The Next Generation.
Current writing projects include a mystery novel set in Provincetown, MA and an original musical
Dig a Little Deeper.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Turn on the TV, scroll through the radio dial, or browse a few Internet pages and it doesnt take long to see that the world is a pretty angry and divisive place right now. People are often mean and spiteful for no good reason, and there is little good news to be heard. Look no further than the partisan pettiness of Tuesday nights State of the Union Address. And I think thats one of the reasons why A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is just so refreshing.


It’s hard to imagine anyone besides Tom Hanks portraying Fred Rogers and recreating his landmark television show. With little more than a wig, some larger eyebrows, a change of wardrobe, and a slower speaking manner, Hanks perfectly channels the essence and spirit of Mister Rogers. Deservedly, Hanks is up for another Academy Award, this time in the Actor in a

Supporting Role category.


Like Rogers, Hanks is genuinely likable and trustworthy, and he has chosen a slate of roles throughout his career that have made him beloved. I also have to think the wheels to cast Tom Hanks as Rogers might have started turning a few years ago when Hanks removed his blazer and donned a sweater during his opening monologue on his ninth hosting gig on Saturday Night Live and launched into his America’s Dad” skit.


However, this is not really a movie about Mr. Rogers per se, but rather the relationship that builds between Rogers and 

cynical Esquire journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) after Vogel is tasked with writing a 400-word puff piece on Rogers. Vogel has a penchant for being ruthless with his subjects, to the point where his wife, Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson, whom many will recognize as Beth Pearson from This Is Us) says, Lloyd, please dont ruin my childhood” when he tells her about his assignment.


Interestingly, although much of this movie is based on actual events, central character Lloyd Vogel doesnt exist. The actual writer is Tom Junod who did write a piece for Esquire titled Can You Say . . . Hero?” back in 1998. While Junod has praised the film, he asked the writers to change his name and those of his family due to the way some of the family relationships are portrayed.


Fortunately for us—and Andrea—Lloyd discovers that Mister Rogers is exactly as he seems. There are no hidden demons, no buried secrets, and no ulterior motives. Rogers is just a genuinely kind, nice, and decent human being who spent every day striving to make himself and the world a better place, but especially for children. In an era where other childrens programming was entertaining kids by having people smash pies into their faces, Rogers treated children as real people, taking on real subjects like death, prejudice, and divorce, and helping kids to navigate through the complex world they were growing up in.


His message to parents was to love your children for who they are, not for what they will be, and not to forget your own childhood.


The movie tracks Vogels emotional journey as he struggles with a damaged relationship with his father, Jerry (Chris Cooper). We watch as the closer Vogel gets to Mister Rogers, he grows and learns the value of letting go of anger and truly offering forgiveness.


If you know nothing about Fred Rogers, I invite you to watch this video of him testifying before a Senate subcommittee back in 1969. Rogers was there to defend the federal funding for Public Broadcasting, and in the course of his six minutes of 

talking, he completely disarms and wins over the subcommittee chairman, Senator John Pastore. You will learn everything you need to know about Rogerscalm, soothing nature and passion for his work in this short exchange.


The film has an interesting visual style, being presented almost as an episode of Mister Rogers’ 

Neighborhood. It opens with Rogers’ classic walk into the playhouse, removing his blazer and loafers and donning the famous red sweater and blue sneakers. He then introduces his new friend, Lloyd, and the story begins.


Scenes in the neighborhood” were filmed in Pittsburgh at WQED, home of the original set, and director Marielle Heller went to lengths to get those visuals to appear authentic, even using the same model cameras as the original production. There are many cut shots styled as the neighborhood of Make-Believe” with small-scale models as used in the original series, and even an educational video as was common from the original series showing how a magazine gets made. These scenes are all presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio, with greatly reduced resolution making them look soft and dated and accurate to the original.


Spending time with Mister Rogers must have been an intense, emotionally draining experience, with him giving laser focus to whoever he was speaking with. You get a sense of this when Hanks breaks the third-wall, turning to the camera and staring for long seconds as he invites us to remember those people who loved us into being who we are.


While the films master format is listed as being taken from a 4K digital, it also shows that it is from a 1080p/24 source format. Watching the movie, I was never struck by the sharpness or detail of the visuals. Images often looked a bit soft even in closeups, never attaining that ultra pore-revealing detail many current films exhibit. If not for the fact that both my projector

and processor were indicating they were receiving a 4K HDR image, I would have thought I was watching a Blu-ray.


While blacks arent truly deep, they are clean and noise-free, with images free of any banding. And while there isnt much here that truly benefits from the higher dynamic range, it does help with low-lit interior scenes and adds depth and dimension.


Sonically, the Dolby Atmos track certainly isnt going to push the dynamics of your theater system. There are some nice atmospheric effects in some of the exterior scenes in New York as well as aboard the subway, and some reverb in large spaces such as a speech at a wedding early on, or the spaciousness of the soundstage of Rogersset.


Music is given plenty of room to breathe across the front channels and up into the front height speakers, giving it a better sense of space and width.


Neighborhood is a predominately dialogue-driven film, and fortunately the Atmos track does a wonderful job of keeping dialogue clear and understandable. 

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

There are a lot of movies that will look and sound better in your theater than A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, but there aren’t many that will leave you feeling better. The film released digitally this past Tuesday at the Kaleidescape Store, and will be available on 4K Blu-ray February 18. As a terrific companion to this film, I also suggest the fantastic documentary Wont You Be My Neighbor?, also available from the Kaleidescape Store.

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


Judy (movie)

Making a movie or any document of the life of Judy Garland must be a very tricky project. First of all, Garland—the great film, recording, and concert star from the mid 20th century—is still well known through her some 36 major films and hundreds of recordings. So, any motion picture about her is up against her actual legacy. Secondly, her 46 years of life were so loaded with events, legend, and stylistic eras, it would be impossible to present a truthful assessment of her life in the running length of a theatrical motion picture. Add to that the millions of people who have their own vision of who Judy Garland was and how

she came across, and any filmmaker is up against a wall of objective opinion before they even start production.


Fortunately, in the new film Judy, the creative artists have made some wise decisions. They focus only on one part of Garland’s life. This is, of course, the most heart-wrenching segment: Her final year while she was performing live at the London cabaret Talk of The Town.


Judy is based on a recent West End and Broadway play, The End of the Rainbow, but this film is very different from that three-character melodrama. Unlike the play (which starred the brilliant, but very broad, British actress Tracy

Bennett), Judy tries to explore the inner workings of Garland’s mind. This is also no small task. Her emotional state must have been quite frayed at that point in her life, and no doubt complex.


But this is where Judy is at its best. The film has a quiet and steady intensity, and avoids anything camp or two-dimensional. Whether this was the idea of the screenwriter Tom Edge or the director Rupert Goold, the approach is totally in tune with Renee Zellweger’s performance. All three are totally aligned, and the tone of the motion picture is consistent and even.


Right from the top, we are privy to Garland’s love and concern for her children. As suggested here, she simply wanted to be a good mother and find a home where she and her children could live. This clear and admirable “I want” is believable and gives the movie a through-line of intent most bio-pics do not have. It also gives the viewer great empathy for the central character, who was one of the most colorful yet difficult entertainers of all time.

Judy (movie)

Judy also takes the time to give us glimpses into her Hollywood MGM past and provides some excellent insight into why and how Judy Garland might have become what and who she was by 1968-69. All of this care in the storytelling allows Ms. Zellweger to give a touching and very truthful performance.


Renee Zellweger and Judy Garland may not seem like a perfect match at first thought, but when Zellweger takes on the challenge, the results are surprising and satisfying. She gives a much more in-depth character portrayal than she has henceforth delivered in her film career. In order to rise to the occasion, Zellweger exhibits that she did her homework and has honed her craft over the years. And, indeed, there must have been a lot of homework for her to do.


Your first thought might be, “Well, can she sing as well as Judy Garland?” But that isn’t the point of the film as defined by the director and writer. Ms. Zellweger doesn’t really try to imitate Garland’s voice. She simply uses her own musicality and lets Garland’s emotional inner-workings take over.


In this way, Judy makes a very different bio-pic from other incarnations (most notably the 2001 mini-series Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows, in which Judi Davis used actual Garland vocal tracks}. In this telling of the Garland legend, the filmmakers’ decision to look into what might have been going on inside her mind (and heart) the last year of her life is what makes this a compelling drama more than a musical bio-pic. On the whole, they and Ms. Zellweger are wonderfully successful.


The film also addresses the fact that this very talented and intelligent woman was taken advantage of by many of the men in her life. Early flashbacks dramatize how Louis B. Mayer, the head of MGM in the 1930s and ‘40s, manipulated and overtly threatened Garland to “behave” and subordinate herself to the business at hand (namely, making dozens of spectacular and high-grossing film musicals for MGM). By all accounts, Mayer subjected Garland {and many of his other stars} to cruel manipulation.


Going forward, we see how one of Garland’s ex-husbands took unfair advantage of her dire financial situation. Right to the end, Garland is subjected to psychological abuse from men, from her sweet but advantage-seeking fifth husband and finally from her London promoter.


All of this adds a very real and tragic element to the film. How could the “Greatest Entertainer of the 20th Century” be so abused by the people and the business for which she made many millions of dollars? Where was their appreciation for her enormous talents? By underlining these insidious acts, the film acquires a profundity of Shakespearean proportions.


Unlike other, broader depictions of Garland’s life, though, Judy has a subtle and luxurious graciousness, which in itself gives us a glimpse into the nobility and determination of Judy Garland. The film also captures her sardonic wit, and some of her zinger one-liners are tremendous fun. In fact, the film achieves a wonderful balance between entertainment and tragedy. The invention of two gay fans who befriend Judy, bring her home for a midnight snack, and later help her sing “Over the Rainbow” in concert is quite funny, charming, and ultimately touching. (For the record, in one of her last concerts, fans did actually help her finish “Over the Rainbow” when her voice faltered from exhaustion.)


Beyond the actual story, it must be noted that what Ms. Zellweger lacks in vocal identity with Judy Garland she more than makes up for in a near-perfect visualization. And this is beyond the excellent hair and makeup. Her movements throughout exactly mirror Garland’s—not just when singing but more impressively in conversational gestures, posture, and simply walking. This might have been even harder to achieve than the vocal impersonations.


It’s likely that any film about Judy Garland can’t please all of the people all the time, but this effort deserves attention, repeat viewing, and praise for its exceptional effort. And for Zellweger, an Oscar is well deserved. In part, it’s the Academy Award that Garland should have won decades ago.

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: Honeyland


If you want to have any sort of overarching context for the events that unfold in Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov’s Oscar-nominated documentary Honeyland, prepare for some homework. Perhaps listen to some podcasts. Certainly read at least the Wikipedia entry. Dive into some interviews with the filmmakers, for sure.


But only do so after you’ve seen the film. You’ll be a little lost, mind you, wondering who all of these people are, how (or even whether) they know each other, how one event leads to the next in this sometimes-confusing narrative. But it’s worth it to go

in blind, I think, and explore Honeyland on its own terms.


Quite frankly, this is unlike any documentary I’ve ever seen. There’s zero narration. None of the participants looks at or speaks to the camera. There’s no indication of where the story unfolds, except for a handful of references to Skopje, the northern Macedonian city that apparently isn’t too far from the little stretch of mountainous land where the bulk of the action takes place. What you do manage to pick up from the film will mostly be gathered from hard-won context clues.


And in the end, I don’t think any of that really matters.

At its heart, Honeyland is a film about a middle-aged woman named Hatidze, a beekeeper who lives in harmony with nature and has a rule of always leaving the bees with exactly as much honey as she takes. “Half for me, half for you,” she says as she harvests her hives. Soon after we meet her, though, her peaceful existence is disrupted by the arrival of nomads who drag their trailer into the plot of land next to hers with a pack of farm animals and an unruly pack of loathsome children. Hatidze does her best to teach the patriarch of this traveling brood how to harvest honey sustainably, to no avail.


If it sounds like a simple story told simply, that’s because it is. But the way in which it’s told—without context, without explanation, without larger connective tissue—makes it as intriguing as it is inscrutable at times. When you get right down to it, the visuals are the star of the show. (Spoiler warning: In digging around for any info about the film after the closing credits rolled, I learned that the filmmakers edited purely visually, ignoring their audio recordings entirely until the final cut was locked down. And it shows.)


To get a sense of what I mean, simply watch the film’s trailer—perhaps the most honest and representative teaser I’ve ever watched. It’s a one-hundred-percent faithful condensation of everything this film is. Imagine another 87 minutes of exactly this, and you’ll have a pretty good indication of exactly what unfolds on the screen and how.

While limited to HD resolution even via Kaleidescape, Honeyland still exhibits more detail, crisper edges, and a richer overall look than you’ll find in most films shot and released in UHD. From the craggy terrain in and around Bekirlija to the dim and dingy interior of the hut Hatidze shares with her dying mother, every location is rendered stunningly, and every frame is a 

printable work of art.


And despite being of no concern to the filmmakers while editing, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack brings the environment to life almost holographically. Every gust of wind through every sparse patch of grass, every flicking flame, and every stirring swarm of bees is delivered as if they’re emanating from the air rather than speakers in a room.


I have to admit, though: As masterfully shot and edited as it is, I found much of Honeyland difficult to watch, and I’m not sure I’ll be returning to it again anytime soon—though part of me wants to, now that I have a better understanding of what’s going on. What keeps me from pressing Play again mostly boils down to several scenes involving child abuse (primarily verbal, but certainly with threats of the physical) and animal cruelty, which genuinely upset me to the point of near physical illness. So, if you’re squeamish about such things, perhaps it’s best that you take a pass.


If you can get past that, though, Honeyland is just such an unabashedly weird film that it’s worth at least one viewing. It’s a stark reminder of the importance of sustainability. But that message isn’t delivered preachily. In fact, the film is just as 


stark a reminder that sustainability is, at times, something of a luxury, especially to those for whom scorched-earth capitalism represents the ever-elusive but tantalizing promise of an escape from abject poverty.


If that gives you the impression that Honeyland is something of a Sisyphean tale, I can’t really argue with that. But it is a beautifully made documentary in the purest sense of the word, and its numerous critical accolades aren’t unwarranted.


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.

Ford v Ferrari

Ford v Ferrari

The old adage “fact is stranger than fiction” applies more to crime dramas like CSI and Dateline, but in the case of Ford v Ferrari fact can be more fascinating than fiction, and is certainly a heck of a lot more entertaining than much of what Hollywood has been delivering recently. While the physical 4K Blu-ray will arrive February 11, the 4K HDR version is available for download from the Kaleidescape Store now, which is how I watched.


The film’s plot is pretty simple: Ford is in the midst of one of its longest sales slumps in years and looking for a way to re-energize the brand and make its cars relevant to Baby Boomers, who are coming of age and looking for something more exciting to drive. Lee Iacocca’s (Jon Bernthal) solution is to tie the Ford name to winning, specifically at the grueling 24 Hours 

of Le Mans where Ferrari had long ruled the throne, including a string of six wins in a row. When Ford’s bid to purchase Ferrari (who “builds fewer cars in a year than Ford does in a day!”) is rudely rebuffed by “il Commendatore” Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone), Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) decides to go all-in on winning Le Mans, spending whatever it takes, and hiring the top race-car designer, Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) to put together a car and team helmed by veteran British driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale).


If you avoided FvF during its theatrical run because you’re not a car lover or a racing fan, rest assured this film still offers plenty to keep you engaged through its just over two-

and-a-half-hour runtime. Watching history unfold with a story not many outside the auto or race industry are familiar with is interesting enough, but the dynamic between Shelby and Miles is the engine that truly drives this film.


Of course, car and race fans will appreciate the movie on a different level (a higher gear?), reveling in the technical details of car design and race mechanics, the lore of Scuderia Ferrari S.p.A., and what it took for Shelby and Miles to fight Ford’s corporate culture to create a car many felt the company simply incapable of producing.


The film is up for four Academy Awards—Picture, Editing, Sound Mixing, and Sound Editing—and Bale received a Best Actor Golden Globes nomination. And, further speaking to its broad appeal, it received a Rotten Tomatoes “Certified Fresh” rating of 92, with an Audience Score of 98.


Shot in ArriRaw at 4.5K resolution, FvF is taken from a true 4K digital intermediate; and the movie looks terrific, with tons of detail and texture in every scene. The images aren’t overly enhanced with unnatural sharpness, but use every pixel for truly high-resolution visuals that bristle with detail. In an early scene where Bale is working on a car wearing a shirt with a tiny and tight check pattern, you can see every fine square. Closeups show every pore and line in actors’ faces, and the paint jobs on the cars have a glossy, liquid sheen. You can also appreciate the various textures in different suit and shirt fabrics and interiors.

Ford v Ferrari

Many of the scenes are shot outdoors, and the day scenes frequently have the sky in that certain shade of powder blue that reveals a bit of digital noise, but this just gives the images a more film-like quality. While HDR isn’t used aggressively, it does provide wonderful shadow detail, adding depth and dimension. Night race scenes benefit in the form of deep blacks while still showing bright headlights. And I’m not sure that the Ferrari’s rosso corsa color actually pushes the boundaries of the wider color gamut, but it does pop off the screen.


Beyond these visual qualities, it is the director James Mangold’s (Logan, 3:10 to Yuma, Walk the Line) dynamic filming style, angles, and editing of the racing scenes that make FvF so exhilarating. I frequently had to remind myself I was supposed to be reviewing the film instead of just enjoying it in order to pull myself back from the engaging images and story to take note. The race scenes pull you in with various perspectives, from driver view, to low follow, to over the shoulder, to tight on the drivers. You can feel the tension and stress both the racers and the cars are going through as they click through the eight-and-a-half miles of country roads for 24 hours at Le Mans.


The filmmakers painstakingly recreated the exact twists and turns of the 1960s Le Mans raceway as it existed during this famous race, a course that has been significantly modified over the past 50 years. And the realism of the lengthy race at the film’s climax never loses intensity or becomes monotonous as you watch cars and drivers increasingly wearing down under the stresses.


One scene where Shelby is trying to impress Ford II with the importance of having the right man behind the wheel of the new Ford GT nearly has you experiencing the G forces and stresses on the body as he muscles the car around a tight road  

course. It’s possibly the closest you can get to what racing actually feels like without ever actually getting into a car, with the images capturing the intensity, excitement, thrill, and absolute speed of the race. (If you do fancy yourself a racer—and wind up in England—I can’t recommend a day at Palmer Sport enough. I got to drive the Formula 3000 open-wheel racer, and it was absolutely brilliant!)


As good as the images are, race cars are the soul of this movie, and it’s the vehicles’ dialogue through their engine sounds that pull you into the action. From the opening shots—even before the production credits have finished—there is a swirl of cars racing all around you with race announcers in different languages filling the room. The crash and bang as they shift up through gears, the throaty room-filling bass of the naturally aspirated engines revving up to red line, the cars braking late and hard into a corner—the audio puts you right in the car and sounds fantastic.


Frustratingly, 21st Century Fox still refuses to provide Kaleidescape with the Dolby Atmos soundtracks for its releases, so the download was limited to the 5.1-channel DTS-HD, but that still does an admirable job of putting you square in the action, and the Atmos upmixer provides a nice sense of immersion.

Ford v Ferrari

Even non-race scenes are filled with ambience, from the sounds of mechanics working, to the echoey expanse of the Ford factory, to the spaciousness of the outside world. My only quibble with the audio is that dialogue—especially Bale’s—was occasionally difficult to understand. I don’t know whether this was due to the noise of the races drowning out the voices, or just the heavy accent Bale used for Miles.


Ford v Ferrari is an entertaining and dynamic film that looks and sounds fantastic in a luxury home cinema, and one that should be on the very shortlist for your next movie night.

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

The Two Popes

The Two Popes

Despite its occasionally lavish cinematography and stellar supporting cast, The Two Popes is first and foremost a dialogue-driven drama that is not overly dramatic.


It’s an impressive feat, considering how the scandals that ultimately drove Pope Benedict XVI to even consider becoming the first pontiff in 598 years to resign continue to make national news. His explanation of “lack of strength of mind and body” combined with the continuing stream of allegations of pedophilia committed by clergy and hidden by the church were widely

seen as contributing to his decision.


As portrayed by Anthony Hopkins, Pope Benedict is a frail old man dead-set in his belief that followers must adhere to a strictly conservative doctrine, whereas Pope Francis, his ultimate successor, who is brilliantly played by Jonathan Pryce, is a reformer open to changes in both practice and perception of a pontiff’s day-to-day responsibilities and role on the international stage.


Without giving away the crux of the content, it’s widely known that as he eventually moved closer to retirement, Pope Benedict XVI summoned Cardinal Jorge Mario 

Bergoglio (the future Pope Francis) to meet with him at his summer home in the Lazio region of Italy. Bergoglio, who himself was considering a move away from his position as cardinal of Buenos Aires, spent many hours with the pope discussing their respective pasts and paths, views on a changing world, and of course modern-day news stories about indiscretions in the church.


These conversations are at the heart of The Two Popes. More riveting than any action sequence I’ve seen over the past year, their meetings slowly build in intensity as the two men come to terms with their beliefs, differences, histories, and plans to move on from their individual roles. 


The Two Popes is a singularly focused film where, as in My Dinner with Andre and Killing Them Softly, backgrounds and supporting actors play a (very) distant second to the two leads’ conversations.

As a test to see if my first impressions held firm, I listened to the soundtrack while riding the subway on route to a meeting. Sure enough, the dialogue kept a grip on my interest, even as I travelled with a sea of commuters during the Brooklyn-to-Manhattan morning rush.


That said, The Two Popes is no slouch as a visual 

The Two Popes

treat. From breathtaking scenes of the pontiff’s summer retreat in Lazio to modern-day footage of the Vatican and city of Rome, viewers with reasonably substantial 4K displays will be drawn in by the intense beauty of the region. The visuals alone would serve as an effective promotion that could easily have been sponsored by The Italian National Tourist Board.


Written by Anthony McCarten and directed by Fernando Meirelles, The Two Popes is more than anything an enduring vehicle for its two stars—in particular, Jonathan Pryce, who instills a believable vulnerability into his portrayal of Pope Francis. Sensitive, modest, and filled with self-doubt that teeters on self-loathing, Pryce’s pontiff is as human as his most humble followers, especially when recounting disturbing episodes from his past. Meirelles deftly switches to flashbacks that convey an old-movie sensibility in terms of both noirish presentation and the overall sense of morality in the scene.


Sonically, The Two Popes lets the story do the talking, with a subtle mix that made me feel as if I was sitting with the two men. Effects are sparingly placed in the surround channels, but, as I learned from my experience simply listening to the film while otherwise in motion, The Two Popes doesn’t require a modern-day surround system. On the contrary, the direct, emotionally honest simplicity of the story would likely be just as enjoyable if viewed only with the aid a budget soundbar. The noise of the crowd, calming sounds of nature, and raucous crowds are all aided by a high-end home theater, but they aren’t reliant upon it. The dialogue is the true star of this film, and it is what pulled me back for multiple viewings over several weeks.


Adam Sohmer

Longtime consumer and professional technology specialist Adam Sohmer is president
owner of
Sohmer Associates, LLC, a Brooklyn, NY-based public relations & marketing
communications boutique agency catering to leading audio, video, and wireless brands.
Even longer than his career is his obsession with music and movies, and the gear used to
bring them to life. 
Find him on
Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Review: The Edge of Democracy

The Edge of Democracy

The Edge of Democracy is one of the most infuriating, frustrating, and foreboding films I’ve seen in ages, but also one of the most compelling, and without a doubt the most haunting. Had it been your typical faux-objective political documentary, I’m not sure that would have been the case. But in telling the story of Brazil’s relatively recent political struggles, filmmaker Petra Costa makes no pretenses about objectivity. What she’s really telling here is her own story—a story about watching her civilization collapse around her.


Right from the giddy-up, Costa lays all of her cards on the table. Her parents were revolutionaries who fought against the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil between 1964 and 1985. She was only five when the country officially returned to

democracy in 1988. Her first vote in a national election was cast for Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. The ideology of Partido dos Trabalhadores, the Worker’s Party, runs through her veins.


As such, when she began documenting the crumbling of Brazil’s fragile democracy, starting with the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff in 2015, she didn’t do so dispassionately, with the eye of a historian. More than anything, The Edge of Democracy centers on her own frustrations, her own sense of foreboding, her own fury as she watches her country being torn apart by partisanship, fueled by the corruption of oligarchs and the malfeasance of the media.


You wouldn’t think this would be fodder for twists and turns, but it is. Rather than plot twists, though, the film dwells in personal, emotional twists. There’s the revelation, for example, that Costa has just as many familial ties to the oligarchs at the center of the corruption scandal that rocked the country as she does to revolutionaries.


That adds another shade of gray to a very personal story that’s all shades of gray, really. It’s a story told with nuance, 

but also with passion. More than anything, though, what impresses me is Costa’s ability to deftly and clearly straddle the line between the specific and the general. She never fails to articulate the unique failures of the Brazilian political and judicial system that make all of this a distinctly Brazilian problem. On the other hand, she clearly illuminates some universal truths about the ways in which any representative government can devolve into plutocracy and then autocracy through demagoguery and manufactured consent.


The rhythm with which she oscillates between these two perspectives is frighteningly effective. Just as I started to settle into a “Phew, that couldn’t happen here” sense of security, Costa blindsided me with a stark reminder that, yeah, it totally could. The

tempo and pacing of the film are also aided by deft editing and a non-linear unfolding of the story that emphasizes both the personal, emotional trauma this film represents, as well as its effectiveness as a warning to the rest of the world.


Much of the film’s imagery is taken from archival film footage and television broadcasts, some of it

from source tapes and some of it from cell phones pointed at TV screens, mixed with handheld video that looks to be prosumer level and drone shots interspersed throughout for flavor. It definitely makes for a visually interesting film, though not one you’ll watch as demo material. Netflix’s HD transfer does the imagery justice, and is almost never the weak link in the delivery chain, except in those cases where a few seconds here and there of original footage might have benefited from high dynamic range and an expanded color gamut.


The film’s Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 soundtrack unsurprisingly leans heavily on the center channel, with the mix focusing primarily on Costa’s narration (provided in your choice of English or Portuguese, although even if you opt for the former, the bulk of the audio is still in Portuguese with subtitles).


The sound design does occasionally get a little big for its britches, especially in its overuse of the surround channels to convey the chaos of celebratory crowds or demonstrations. I can’t help but suspect that what we’re getting here is a theatrical sound mix, not a nearfield mix made for home theaters, but the good news is that such overemphasis on surround sound is generally limited to scenes without narration or even dialogue, so it’s hard to grump about it. It never interferes with the telling of the story, although it does intrude on moments that could have served as a prompt for quiet reflection.


No matter. I haven’t stopped thinking about The Edge of Democracy since I saw it, so I’ve had plenty of opportunities to reflect on my own time. It’s a rare political documentary I think I’ll revisit on occasion, not due to the revelation or illumination contained within its 121-minute runtime—although there is plenty of that—but more due to the fact that it’s simply one of the most engrossing and intimate human dramas I’ve seen in ages, genre be damned.

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.

Dracula (2020)

Dracula (2020)

The myth of Dracula isn’t one I think needs retelling. It, and vampires in general, have been done to death over the past couple decades. But whenever Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss write a project together, I’m intrigued.


For the uninitiated, Moffat and Gatiss worked together on the sci-fi favorite Doctor Who before continuing their working relationship with the series Sherlockan intricate and deeply satisfying retelling of the Arthur Conan Doyle character in modern day with fantastic performances. Even before watching Dracula, I noticed that there were already a few similarities between the two series (both being based on existing material with the season being only three 90-ish-minute episodes). If they could do for Dracula what they did for Sherlock Holmes, it would be an excellent, smash-hit TV show.


It certainly is a TV show. Excellent smash hit? That would be a bit of a stretch. There are aspects of the series that stay true to the source material—such as character names, Dracula’s trip to England, and his typical phobias—but the structure of the retelling is different and the purposes of the different characters are often skewed in some way. That said, it doesn’t go far enough in its reinvention to feel distinct and new.


The three episodes are incredibly uneven and, while there’s some great writing peppered throughout, there’s an odd mixture of modern vernacular and attitudes that doesn’t fit with the 1800s time period of the first two episodes. (The third episode 

time jumps 123 years to our present day.) The series can be a bit schlocky, and relies too much on trying to reinvent the myth without truly accomplishing the feat. There’s also rarely any subtlety to the acting or directing. It’s very in-your-face throughout.


Of the three episodes, I enjoyed the second the most by far. It takes place almost exclusively on the ship Demeter that brings 

Dracula (2020)

Dracula to England. There are some interesting glimpses into Dracula’s past and the relationships between the characters on the ship, and a mystery of who is traveling in one of the cabins that stays locked. It could almost be treated as a standalone story, save for some references to the first episode.


Where the show does consistently succeed is in it practical effects and accompanying sound design. There are moments that made my body contort and my brain not want to see what was about to be revealed (although I always did, deep down, want the reveal). The sound mix felt very much intended for someone watching it on TV without a surround setup, as it was almost entirely present in the front channels with only obligatory reverb and music sent to the surrounds.


The HDR presentation is used mostly in the visually dark moments, such as Dracula’s castle in Episode One or the corners of the Demeter in Episode Two. Not unexpectedly for a creature of the night, most of the scenes are dark. One moment of blaring sunlight at the (somewhat disappointing) end shows off the bright end of the HDR spectrum.


The Dracula delivered to us by Moffat and Gatiss feels like it isn’t sure what it wants to be. It doesn’t go far enough to be full-on camp, but there’s too much campiness to feel truly terrifying. Unless you’re aching for more Dracula, it might be best to limit your intake to just the second episode.

John Higgins

John Higgins lives a life surrounded by audio. When he’s not writing for Cineluxe, IGN,
Wirecutter, he’s a professional musician and sound editor for TV/film. During his down
time, he’s watching Star Wars or learning from his toddler son, Neil.

How to Get Audiophile-Quality Streaming

How to Get Audiophile-Quality Streaming

There are many ways to listen to high-quality, great-sounding music but not everyone knows about the multitude of wonderful options that are readily available these days. Some of you well might be enjoying the resurgence of vinyl and turntables. I am certainly into those (always have been!), and yet I am also a fan of high-resolution surround sound music from Blu-ray, SACD, and DVD Audio discs!


Curiously, in these 21st Century times, downloads are fast becoming retro technology, especially as high-quality dedicated, computer-driven streaming audio services have become a strongly viable option for many listeners.


And I’m not talking about just pulling up some random advertising-riddled audio-videos on YouTube, which often are quite awful sounding with no information as to what you are hearing. A lot of people do this. In fact, YouTube has grown so popular

for music listening that Billboard is now counting it in their tracking of the album charts.


It’s a thing, as they say . . . But, you know, tinny sounding monaural AM radio was also once a thing.


We can do better than that, fidelity-wise!   


I’ve tried several of the popular modern internet streaming services. While Spotify gets points for its sheer volume of titles, to my ear it has never sounded particularly good nor especially high fidelity. Fortunately, there are some real fine genuinely “HiFi” alternatives. For the past couple of years, 

I’ve had access to two of the premier high-resolution, subscription-based streaming-media services, which deliver fidelity at a minimum of CD quality and often much much higher: Tidal and Qobuz.


These are especially good when you stream music in their respective high-resolution formats: MQA (aka Master Quality Audio) and Hi-Res. Both services offer thousands of albums new and old to stream. Any albums in Tidal’s catalog marked with an “M” have the potential to play back in higher 24-bit depth, many at 96 kHz and higher resolution. I reviewed one title

streaming at 352.8 kHz that sounded fantastic!


The upsides to Tidal and Qobuz are many, but there are some crucial connections you’ll need to make to get the most out of these services. While your installer can likely help you integrate streaming into your current sound system, here are some of the basics you’ll want to understand.


First and foremost, you will probably need a digital-to-analog converter (DAC) to 

help integrate music streaming into your home entertainment system from a computer or mobile device. The DAC essentially handles the quite significant processing muscle your computer would otherwise be required to do in order to deliver high-resolution audio to your system. In a loose sense, MQA is to high-resolution internet streaming as DTS and Dolby are to surround sound, compacting large audio files for delivery to you that get unpacked when decoded locally in your home. 


If you want to stream in MQA format, make sure your DAC is compatible. Alternately, if you don’t want to bother with a DAC and a computer, there are very cool new stand-alone products on the market that may be more appealing. Last year at a preview event here in San Francisco, I heard (and reported on) NAD’s M10 systema beautiful-looking piece of modern hardware designed purely for streaming.

How to Get Audiophile-Quality Streaming

NAD’s M10 BluOS streaming amplifier

How to Get Audiophile-Quality Streaming

Mytek’s Brooklyn Bridge streamer/DAC/preamp

When using these systems on a day-to-day basis, it is important to understand that Tidal requires a bit more finesse to use, settings-wise, so you might want to ask your installer to help you dial that in. If you don’t want to mess around with the settings, Qobuz is probably the easiest one-click solution. Just hit Play, and the DAC recognizes the “Hi-Res” album you have chosen and plays the music. 


There are trade-offs. When comparing identical albums on each platform, there are some sonic differences you might notice. To my ear, most times the MQA versions on Tidal tend to sound best—something to do with how it handles the music and presents it to you sounds more appealing to my ear. Again, this also depends largely on a variety of variables, including the quality of your DAC, the pedigree of the recordings the streaming services received from the music labels, how the music was transferred to digital for streaming purposes, and what resolution files were provided to the service for streaming. That is another discussion for the future and a reason to look for my reviews here and on Audiophile Review.


Streaming services can be a rabbit-hole adventure as you compare the sonic differences between titles—many times, you’ll find an album in both CD and high-resolution versions on these services, so it can be fun to compare and contrast.


Basic use of each service is easy: Just search for titles you want to play and then mark them as “favorites” if you want to add them to “your” collections. You can also build playlists, which are fun and handy.


So, what recordings should you stream? In the weeks and months ahead, I’ll try to make recommendations of cool albums to check out. Most everything you might want to hear is up there, from Abba to Zappa, quite literally! 


Happy streaming!

Mark Smotroff

Mark Smotroff breathes music 24/7. His collection includes some 10,000 LPs, thousands of
CDs & downloads, and many hundreds of Blu-ray and DVD Audio discs. Professionally, Mark has
provided Marketing Communications services to the likes of DTS, Sony, Sega, Sharp, and AT&T.
He is also a musician, songwriter & producer, and has written about music professionally for
publications including Mix, Sound+Vision, and AudiophileReview. When does he sleep?

Review: American Factory

American Factory

It’s impossible to walk away from American Factory without feeling some type of emotion, whether it’s sympathy for a work force that was robbed of its livelihood only to be given the illusion of fresh, if limited opportunities, or disbelief at how anybody could believe that a Chinese company would somehow adapt to U.S. worker protections—efforts that are often an illusion or downright lie.


For me, having come from a pro-union, blue-collar family that had a positive experience with the American labor market in the mid/late 20th century, my first viewing left me a tad angry at the outcome and the workers’ shortsightedness when deciding

upon whether to throw their support behind a union.


Note that, as a review of a fly-on-the-wall documentary that covers an important chapter in the lives of rust-belt Americans, my comments may contain a spoiler or two, but nothing that wasn’t covered in the news during and after the Fuyao Glass Industry Group Co. Ltd of the People’s Republic of China bought and renovated a shuttered General Motors plant in Dayton, Ohio. As the company’s website explains: “General Motors, Ford, BMW, Honda, Bentley and more all use Fuyao glass in their newly manufactured automobiles.”


All true, and when the company first started the process of buying and renovating the plant and hiring approximately 2,000 staff for a facility that had been shuttered for six years, local residents were ecstatic over a chance to return the region to its glory as a haven for U.S.-based manufacturing.


Filmmakers Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert were given near-unbelievable access to film the scenario as it unfolded, from the earliest days of site inspections to staffing, 

training, and the inevitable and, at least in the beginning, almost humorous culture clashes that one would expect when blue-collar middle Americans are brought into a corporate culture that is known for formality and respect for authority. According to an article that appeared in the Dayton Daily News last August, Bognar said he and Reichert, “stand by the translations subtitled in the work.”


An important note, since it isn’t long before the almost idyllic melding of the cultures gives way to real-life concerns about skimping on safety standards, and the company’s firm stance against unionization. The directors, who also shot the 2009 Academy Award-nominated short The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant, illustrate throughout the film their talent for letting 

American Factory

the events happen without editorialization, giving it a narrative approach that tells the story as well as any well-made piece of fiction.


But this is real life, with both American and Chinese staff providing relatively few off-camera commentaries as the story is allowed to simply play out on screen, with the help of small, handheld 

cameras and lavalier microphones that follow one and all for months and years as the dream of a resuscitated manufacturing environment slowly unravels. The guerilla-style shoot foregoes polemics, leaving the viewer to decide where they stand on a matter that affected thousands of people in the recent past.


The Oscar-nominated American Factory is as good a documentary as I’ve seen in recent years, thanks in no small part to the high production values, including a surround mix that is unspectacular in the best possible way. Subtle effects such as factory noises, the crunching of gravel, and kids playing in a backyard remain in the rear, quietly supporting the voices and underlying tension on the screen. Maybe it’s a Netflix thing, but knowing that it would mostly be seen on a small screen supported by soundbars or other low-tech solutions most likely led the filmmakers to go light on the audio mix, though anybody with a 5.1 system will feel as if they are on the factory floor and in the boardrooms.


Likewise, video is impeccable, without the excessive grain often associated with this type of documentary. No doubt those anomalies were cleaned up in post-production, a critical element in making this so watchable on a big screen in a small-ish living room. (Apartment dwellers in NY and other big cities know what I mean.) The visual quality ranks with the most polished documentaries of the past 10 years.


As the first release by Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground Productions, American Factory is remarkably unbiased, simply telling the story as it happens without nudging the viewer to fall into any specific camp. The Obamas stated that their production company is designed to “harness the power of storytelling.” Judging by this debut release, they’re poised to become an important contributor to American cinema. From its presentation to its attention to cinematic detail, Higher Ground is well on its way to meeting and ultimately exceeding its goals.

Adam Sohmer

Longtime consumer and professional technology specialist Adam Sohmer is president
owner of
Sohmer Associates, LLC, a Brooklyn, NY-based public relations & marketing
communications boutique agency catering to leading audio, video, and wireless brands.
Even longer than his career is his obsession with music and movies, and the gear used to
bring them to life. 
Find him on
Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.