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Incredibles 2

Incredibles 2 review

Incredibles 2 shouldn’t work. At least not as well as it does. It’s been 14 years since the original film, after all, and the world—our world, the real one without superheroes—has changed. A lot. Socially. Politically. Cinematically. So, to pick up this sequel right after the end of the original film seems a myopic decision. One can’t help but wonder—as the film opens on the familiar closing scenes of its forebear—if Incredibles 2 will ever rise above the level of nostalgic romp.

 

Thankfully those apprehensions are unfounded. Perhaps it’s due to the retro-futuristic tone, style, and aesthetic of the Incredibles universe, but somehow the film manages to catch up with a decade-and-a-half worth of sociopolitical progress and regression while also managing to feel like a fluid and organic extension of the original. And it does so while somehow managing to be less preachy and more nuanced.

 

Another reason Incredibles 2 feels like something of a risky move is the fact that it has the courage to be a lot of films at once. It’s an unabashed superhero flick, sure. It’s also a girl-power anthem and a slapstick masterpiece rolled up into one, with a side-helping of commentary on all forms of media (new, social, and mainstream). There’s teenage romance. There’s thrilling action. There are poop jokes and technological warnings that are about as subtle as a 1958 Pontiac Parisienne. There’s also an epic (and epically hilarious) battle between a trash panda and an infant, for goodness’ sake. But somehow this mélange of themes and tones and styles coalesces into something that works wonderfully and cohesively.

 

If there’s one criticism to be leveled at the film, it’s that from 30,000 feet its main plot is sort of just a gender-inversion of the original film’s main storyline. In many ways that works to its advantage, though. It gives the longtime fan something to latch onto—a sense of comforting familiarity that in many ways makes this film’s narrative and thematic departures hit home with a little more oomph.

 

More than anything, though, the themes of Incredibles 2 build on those of the original in a seemingly seamless way. Whereas the first film dealt largely with issues of individuality, the sequel in many ways wraps its arms around the internal struggle between defining ourselves as individuals and accepting that who we are as people is often a function of who we are to the other people in our lives, especially when viewed through the lens of the family.

 

That isn’t really any sort of insightful observation on my part, mind you. It mainly comes from the film’s exceptional collection of bonus features. If you saw Incredibles 2 in cinemas and thought you were done with it, you owe it to yourself to explore the shockingly revelatory and honest supplemental material included with the film. If you’re on Kaleidescape, that means downloading the Blu-ray-quality version of the film as well as the 4K HDR, since the extras are limited to the former.

 

It’s well worth downloading both, though. The Kaleidescape HDR version of the film sets itself apart from the other home video releases thanks to unique color grading that focuses less on the absolute blacks and eye-reactive highlights and more on subtlety and richness of shadows that simply look more cinematic to my eyes. Kaleidescape’s TrueHD Atmos soundtrack (otherwise found only on the film’s UHD Blu-ray release) also has a leg up on the Dolby Digital+ soundtrack found on streaming versions of the film. Not necessarily in the booming bass of big action sequences (of which there are many, with oodles of sonic impact, something Disney hasn’t always gotten right as of late), but more in the subtle details that deliver ambience and atmospherics. And above all else, Incredibles 2 is nothing if not atmospheric.

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.

Ant-Man and the Wasp

Ant-Man and the Wasp review

The Disney/Marvel team really has the formula dialed in when it comes to creating successful and enjoyable superhero movies. Through a deft mix of writing, casting, humor, big action pieces, and a 10-year storyline that both lives on its own and weaves between all films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Marvel films are entertaining and re-watchable, making them fantastic for viewing at home. And while many carry a PG-13 rating, as does Ant-Man and the Wasp, they are very family friendly in nature.

 

While technically a sequel to 2015’s Ant-Man, don’t worry that you’ll be lost if you are diving in here. The opening scene lays the groundwork for the primary plot of this film: Years ago, the original Wasp (Michelle Pfeiffer) went sub-atomic to disable a missile, and she was thought to be lost forever to the Quantum Realm. Now her husband, Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), and daughter, Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) think there is a way to bring her back. Of course, doing so requires dealing with some shady characters to obtain illegal, black-market tech, causing mayhem to ensue.

 

The film’s big hook is that Dr. Pym’s tech can shrink—and grow—a variety of objects, adding another layer to fight and chase scenes. These Honey, I Shrunk the Kids moments work very well, both visually and for moving the story forward, as well as providing some comedic moments.

 

Paul Rudd—the titular Ant-Man/Scott Lang—carries most of the film, balancing his roles as superhero and father while under house arrest for events that happened in Captain America: Civil War. (This is all explained early on by FBI agent Jimmy Woo, played with great comedic effect by Randall Park.) Rudd is just incredibly likable and easy to watch, similar—but far less foul-mouthed—to Ryan Reynold’s Deadpool, with an ability to organically inject humor into scenes without making it feel forced. Lilly is also fantastic as the Wasp, demonstrating she’s picked up some fierce fighting skills since leaving the island. (That’s a Lost reference, for those who missed it.)

 

The movie was filmed on a variety of Red and Arri cameras at resolutions ranging from 3.4K to 8K, while the home release comes from a 2K Digital Intermediate. This means that it doesn’t mine every bit of resolution possible, but still looks pretty terrific. A great example is the early scene where Jimmy Woo explains why Lang is under house arrest. He’s wearing a shirt with incredibly fine pinstripes that are almost a 1:1 4K resolution test. Other scenes reveal the pebbled texture and detail in Ant-Man and Wasp’s uniforms. The film’s color palette is mostly muted and natural, with a more restrained HDR pass. But the image still pops when it needs to—for example when heading into the Quantum Realm, or the computer screens in Dr. Pym’s lab. Black levels are also deep and noise free, with lots of shadow detail.

 

There has been quite a bit of angst over recent Disney/Marvel home releases with their sub-standard, heavily compressed audio mixes. In fact, a petition was started to get Disney to change the audio quality in future releases, currently with over 1,000 supporters. I’m happy to say that the Dolby Atmos audio quality on Ant-Man and the Wasp is far improved over recent D/M fare. Dialogue is clear and understandable throughout, but more importantly to luxury home cinema owners, the sound mix is far more dynamic, with the overhead speakers used wisely and frequently throughout. This height layer is used for creating ambience and space in the scene, as well as creating directional cues—for example, The Wasp and other insects zipping around the room. If I had one complaint about the audio mix, it would be that they were a little light-handed in the deep bass department, with moments—such as during a big chase and fight scene near the end—that would have benefitted from some extra dBs in the LFE channel.

 

Two scenes that really show off the strength of the audio mix are “Lost in the Quantum Realm” at just over 11 minutes in, as well as Lang’s first visit to Dr. Pym’s lab at the 16 minute mark. “Lost” has audio that swirls and shifts all around the room, simulating Lang’s travel through the realm, with voices mixed in all channels to simulate a dream state. The lab scene wonderfully uses subtle cues like buzzing fluorescent lights, flying and crawling insects, and cavernous echoes to place you smack in the middle of the screen environment.

 

Oh, and without spoiling anything, definitely watch through the credits, as the team does a fantastic job of tying this film into the Infinity War timeline.

 

The film also includes a host of extra features including a director’s commentary, a variety of making-of featurettes, outtakes, and deleted scenes

John Sciacca

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

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Luxury Defined

If you asked 10 people for their definition of luxury, you’d probably get 10 similar but also wildly varying answers. For some, it might mean a five-star vacation; for others, it might be a chauffeured ride in a Bentley; for others, flying First Class in a plane; while others would describe luxury as popping open a cult Cabernet.

 

But what differentiates something that is luxurious from something that isn’t?

 

Consider a Rolex timepiece.

 

By nearly any metric, a Rolex is a luxury product. But what actually makes it luxury?

 

Is it simply because the least expensive model—the “humble” Oyster Perpetual 34—sells for just north of $5,000? Does the high price define it as a luxury product?

Rolex OP 34 Watch

In part, maybe. By commanding such a price, it means fewer people can own one, thus creating more brand cachet and demand.

 

Does the $5,000 Rolex do more than other watches? Hardly. In fact, the OP 34 has but one function: It tells the time. As those in horology would say, it offers nary a single additional complication. No date, no alarm. It won’t take your pulse. It won’t display text messages. It just displays the time—via old-school analog hands.

 

But surely, as far as timekeeping goes, a $5,000 Rolex is unequaled, offering accuracy rivaled only by laboratory-grade atomic clocks. Umm, again, no. In fact, Rolexes are notoriously inaccurate, frequently running several seconds fast or slow—per day. A $10 quartz watch would trounce any Rolex in timekeeping accuracy. 

 

So, why would anyone possibly choose to spend 100 times more on a Rolex than another watch, making it the Number Four top-selling watch brand in the world?

 

Because frequently a large part of luxury goes beyond performance and into things more tangential, like pride of ownership. The Rolex owner is proud knowing they own something that was crafted by hand, in limited numbers, with higher-caliber components, and with superior craftsmanship. They feel good about owning it, wearing it, checking the time on it, and showing it off.

 

The superior craftsmanship does offer some actual performance benefits, such as being truly waterproof, with a sapphire crystal that’s virtually impervious to scratches, and a 28,800 beats-per-hour movement that produces a lovely sound and that—if well cared for—will provide decades of service so the watch can be handed down to the next generation. (Also, since 

Meridian DSP80002 Speaker

Rolex’s Oyster Perpetual movement never requires a battery change, the watch will practically pay for itself after like 500 years!)

 

These same analogies can certainly be applied to luxury home-entertainment components.

 

Do the iconic glowing blue lights and dancing VU meters make a McIntosh component perform better? Does a Meridian speaker sound better for its meticulously finished cabinet? Does a movie collection navigated via Kaleidescape’s gorgeous interface look and sound better? Do these products costing hundreds of times more than entry-level models in the same category deliver an experience that is 100 times better?

 

Sadly, no.

 

But these luxury products have a very necessary place in the world of home entertainment.

 

Luxury is often a feeling that comes from purchasing something superior to the norm, when striving to attain an elevated experience. It is part of a commitment to having far more than just a passing interest in your entertainment experience. And in the home entertainment world, luxury components often come with improvements—sometimes incremental, sometimes considerable. But it is often many little things that add up to a better whole.

John Sciacca

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

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

The Cineluxe Hour

The Cineluxe Hour logo

Everything luxury home entertainment—including the best movies, TV series, video games, and music, great ideas for entertainment spaces, and more—presented by our contributors, the biggest experts in the industry, famous interior designers, celebrity directors & entertainers, and more. No hard-sell or jargon or tech—just straight talk about what to enjoy, and where best to enjoy it.

 

 

EPISODE 9: New Frontiers in Content & Compression

 

EPISODE 8: Who Needs 8K?

 

EPISODE 7: Theo on Theaters

 

EPISODE 6: Home Theaters are Better than Movie Theaters

 

EPISODE 5: How to Find the Perfect Integrator

 

EPISODE 4: Luxury TVs 2019

 

EPISODE 3: Dolby Atmos—Yay or Nay?

 

EPISODE 2: Let There Be Light—And Shades

 

EPISODE 1: Is Home Theater Dead?

 

You can also find The Cineluxe Hour on both iTunes & Spotify.

What is Luxury Home Entertainment?

The home theater is dying.

 

That’s not to say that no one will ever again build a secluded, enclosed, darkened space within their home purely for the purpose of watching movies. Of course they will.

 

But these days, beautiful multi-use spaces are where it’s at. Rooms where you feel just as comfortable gathering the family for a game of DropMix or Settlers of Catan as watching a film. Rooms where a stray beam of sunlight isn’t the enemy. Rooms in which the décor says, “Read a book, Facetime with Grandma, host a dinner party,” not just, “Ticket, please.”

 

There are any number of reasons for this trend—from lifestyle changes to the fact that you can now achieve a level of cinematic performance with a few thousand dollars’ worth of gear that would have been unimaginable at any price just a few years ago. But we’ll leave those discussions for another day.

 

First, we have to figure out what to call these spaces. Because “media room” just doesn’t cut it. And nothing quite matches the evocative simplicity of “home theater.” (Gah, what a perfect turn of phrase that is.) Until we come up with something better, we at Cineluxe are rallying behind the term “luxury home entertainment.”

Tribeca media room

photo by John Frattasi

What does that mean, though? I think the “home entertainment” part of the equation speaks for itself. But what about the “luxury” part? Unsurprisingly, there’s little agreement around these parts about what that means. For me, it’s probably best summed up by Merriam-Webster’s second stab at defining the term: “something adding to pleasure or comfort but not absolutely necessary.”

 

Let’s face it—none of this is really necessary. Watching movies isn’t necessary. Streaming music and playing video games aren’t essential to life. But any time you seek to elevate the space in which you enjoy these pastimes beyond the barebones minimum, I think you’re engaging in this thing that we’re calling luxury home entertainment. That means selecting gear that delivers an elevated level of performance, sure. But it also means integrating that gear into your room in a way that doesn’t impinge upon its livability, its comfort, its aesthetics.

 

By the same token, it also means designing or decorating a room in such a way that all of its accoutrements disappear when your entertainment system turns on. It means finding that balance without compromising either aspect.

 

This philosophy is probably best summed up by designer Ilse Crawford in the final episode of the amazing documentary series Abstract: The Art of Design. “Luxury is attention,” she says. “It’s care. . . . Caring about the details. Thinking about how people will experience the place.”

 

True, a room designed as a luxury home entertainment space adds another level of complexity, because the very experience of the room changes from day to day, hour to hour. But as we move toward a time in which interior designers and technology integrators are viewed as collaborators and co-conspirators—not antagonists whose goals conflict—we’ll see these spaces become more and more common. And as they do, perhaps someone will come up with a pithier name for them.

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.

Three Essential Vinyl Demos

I’ve been a vinylphile since I was a child, when 78 RPM records like Debbie Reynolds’ “Abba Dabba Honeymoon” and Spike Jones’ “Hawaiian War Chant” captivated my young ears on my grandmother’s Victrola.

 

Here are three of my favorite demo discs for audio system and component evaluation and listening pleasure. In fact, I’d say you could tell everything you need to know about what your system is doing or where it’s falling short with these three records.

 

 

Bill Berry and His Ellington All Stars, For Duke

M&K Realtime RT-101

 

This LP attained audiophile-pantheon status shortly after it came out in 1978, and for good reason. It remains one of the most astonishingly well-recorded vinyl LPs ever. Unlike many “audiophile” discs with exceptional sonics and forgettable music, the playing is wonderful, with a jazz combo having a ball playing Ellington’s greatest hits, including “Take the A Train,” “Satin Doll,” and “Mood Indigo.”

 

For Duke was recorded direct-to-disc—the performance was cut live directly to the master disc, a process that eliminates the sonic degradation and generation loss that comes with recording to analog tape and then cutting the disc from tape.

 

It shows. In particular, the dynamics are remarkable. A couple of minutes into “Take the A Train,” Berry takes a cornet solo that is literally startling—when he comes in, it’s all you can do not to flinch in surprise (as I did the first time I heard it). The drums are powerfully lifelike, as are all the instruments—Ray Brown’s bass is jaw dropping in its richness and presence. The recording is astoundingly pure and detailed. The tonal balance is near perfect.

 

We’ve all heard the cliché “It sounds like the musicians are in the room” to describe the sound of a good recording, but in this case, it really does sound like that. This record is hard to find and usually expensive, but hey, that’s part of the agony and the ecstasy of record collecting.

Fritz Reiner, The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Scheherazade

Analogue Productions LSC-2446 re-issue of RCA “Living Stereo” original

 

While For Duke is renowned for its up-front perspective, Scheherazade puts the listener in an entirely different acoustic environment, with its realistic rendering of an orchestra in the concert hall. Recorded in 1960 by producer Richard Mohr and engineer Lewis Layton and brilliantly performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by maestro Fritz Reiner, this Analogue Productions re-issue is nothing less than sensational.

vinyl demos

The tonal palette of the orchestra is beautifully conveyed, with sumptuous lows, a natural midrange, and the sweet, airy upper midrange and highs that let you know you’re hearing analog at its best. On a good system, you can clearly hear the character of the hall. The quiet parts are exquisite (Sidney Hart’s violin playing could not be more nuanced and expressive) and the fortes are thrilling.  My feeble words don’t begin to do this masterpiece justice.

 

For decades, the legendary original RCA Living Stereo recording was nearly impossible to find, with various vinyl re-issues ranging from mediocre to very good. No longer—this 2013 Analogue Productions re-issue is magnificent. In fact, while I don’t have an original pressing on hand for comparison (though I’ve heard it many times), no less an authority than Analog Planet’s Michael Fremer thinks this re-issue actually betters the storied original. I won’t argue.

New Order, “Blue Monday”

Factory Records Factus 10 (1983 US 12-inch single)

 

But want to know if your system can rock? All you need do is listen to the first Oberheim DMX drum-machine beats of New Order’s “Blue Monday,” the best-selling 12-inch single of all time (according to Wikipedia), and one of the most groundbreaking, genre-defining, walloping bowl-you-over dance-music singles ever. But don’t turn it up too loud or you might blow out your woofers.

 

“Blue Monday” is insanely powerful and dynamic, irresistibly catchy and moving. Back in the day, this would propel people to the dance floor with its mesmerizing mix of synth and Peter Hook’s unmistakable electric bass, its layered synthesizer washes and melodies, its pull-no-punches electronic drums, and Bernard Sumner’s dryly-delivered vocals. On a good audio system, it sounds massive.

 

My copy is an original 1983 US version with the die-cut cover (designed to resemble a floppy disc!) and silver inner sleeve, though not one of the first UK pressings with the “FAC 73” catalog number. There are literally more than 50 1983 vinyl US, UK, and international issues listed on Discogs (and there were also 1998 and 1995 remixes and numerous CD and digital versions), so I certainly can’t vouch for the sound quality of every one of them! But since the record sold so well, you shouldn’t have to do a Where’s Waldo to find a copy like mine. Put it on the turntable and stand back!

Frank Doris

Frank Doris is the chief cook & bottle washer for Frank Doris/Public Relations and works with a
number of audio & music industry clients. He’s a professional guitarist and a vinyl enthusiast with
multiple turntables and thousands of records.

How to Cram for Infinity War in as Few Films as Possible

Like many of you, I’m sure, I already have my tickets to see Avengers: Infinity War this weekend. Unlike most of you, I hope, I won’t be using those tickets. A nasty abscess and a brief flirtation with sepsis have nipped those plans right in the bud. But oddly enough, this unintentional timeout has given me a chance to do something I probably wouldn’t have had time for otherwise: Actually prepare myself for the movie.

 

Mind you, I don’t have time, nor the desire, to watch every Marvel Cinematic Universe film leading up to Infinity War. But it is the 19th in the series and the culmination of every one of the films before it, so the assumption is that you’ve seen most if not all of them at some point since their release. And I have. I simply need a refresher to get me in the right mental and emotional space heading into this monumental event film.

 

So, while my buddy Dave was sitting by my side in the hospital last night, patting my head and asking if he could have all my Hot Toys figures if this whole thing goes south, we brainstormed the lazy nerd’s essential viewing guide for heading into Infinity War. Good nerds that we are, we had rules, of course. 

 

First rule: Six films, max. Reason: So people can actually get this marathon done before this weekend. 

Rule B: We’re not worried about the location and particular powers of every Infinity Stone (the powerful gems, remnants of six singularities that pre-exist our universe, which have served as MacGuffins for many Marvel films to date and which give Infinity War its name). Reason: You’d literally have to watch nearly every Marvel movie to get that, which violates Rule One. Plus, you can just look up any number of YouTube videos about the Infinity Stones and catch up that way.

Rule the Third: Try to include as many relevant characters as possible in as few films as possible without having to watch Avengers: Age of Ultron. Reason: Age of Ultron was just terrible. No, seriously, y’all—that was a bad movie.

 

Rule 4: This list has to work equally well for people who’ve seen all the films and people who haven’t. Reason: Because some people haven’t. 

 

So, with those rules in mind (and with a morphine drip in my arm, so take it for what you will), here’s my list of films that should serve as a quick refresher course in the overall state of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) leading up to the events of Infinity War

 

Captain America: Winter Soldier. Nope, don’t you dare blame the morphine for this one. Look, I realize that Winter Solider is a fully terrestrial film, with no hint of the cosmic or mystic sides of the MCU that are obviously going to be so important in the new film. But Winter Soldier is essential viewing because it sets the stage for everything that happens to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in the years that follow it. On top of that, it’s simply one of the best action movies ever made (and a pretty solid espionage flick at that), completely irrespective of its status as a Marvel movie. 

Infinity War

Winter Soldier is also an essential re-watch because Captain America: Civil War doesn’t make much sense without it, and Civil War is really the film that leaves the Avengers in the personal, emotional, and legal states they’re in heading into Infinity War. If you can’t quite figure out why Captain America looks like The Walking Dead’s Rick Grimes in the Infinity War trailer, this one has your essential reminders. Civil War also serves as Spider-Man’s introduction to the MCU, and he looks to play an incredibly important part in the new film. (For what it’s worth, you can watch Spider-Man: Homecoming on its own if you want. It’s a hoot and a half. But it’s not essential viewing for the purposes of Infinity War prep.)

 

Next up: Guardians of the Galaxy, a film high in the running for best pop-music soundtrack of all time, and also our best glimpse at who this big, bad villain named Thanos really is, what he wants, and what he’s willing to do to get it. What’s perhaps most interesting is that we learn less about Thanos from his actual screen time than we do by watching his favorite “daughters,” Nebula and Gamora, who play central roles in this one.

 

And you just have to follow that up with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Dave reached over to check my temperature when I threw this one out, because it’s not an obvious pick. It has less to do with Thanos and the Infinity Stones than its predecessor. But again, it goes back to learning about Thanos by proxy. The interactions between Nebula and Gamora in this film tell you a lot about who the Mad Titan is. Vol. 2 also sneaks in a lot of history about the cosmic side of the MCU that I have a sneaking suspicion will become way more relevant in this upcoming film. 

Infinity War

Of course, you also need a heaping helping of immersion in the mystic side of this universe, and for that we turn to Doctor Strange. I’ve seen more than a few headlines recently along the lines of “WHY DOCTOR STRANGE IS SO IMPORTANT TO INFINITY WAR,” and I haven’t clicked on them. Any of them. Because spoilers, duh. But I can tell you this: It’s a pretty safe bet that the Time Stone featured so prominently in this film is at least one of the reasons Thanos’ sights are set on Earth in the new film. So, if nothing else, consider this (along with Guardians of the Galaxy) your essential primer on the power of Infinity Stones individually. It also has Rachel McAdams in it. Rawr. 

 

Last up, Thor: Ragnarok, the film that, as best I can tell, leads right into Infinity War. It also answers the important questions: Where the heck were Thor and Hulk during Civil War? And how are they gonna get back to Earth? Also, make doubly sure you stick around for the mid-credits scene in this one. But seriously, you should already know that by now.

 

So, lemme have it. What essential movies did I leave out? But more importantly, which of my movies would you drop from my six-film crash course to make room for your pick, and why? 

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.

ER

Like millions of Americans in the ‘90s, Thursday nights meant one thing to me: It was time for NBC’s “Must See TV” lineup. NBC had dominated Thursday prime-time programming from the moment Bill Cosby donned his first sweater in 1984, and classic shows like Cheers, L.A. Law, and Seinfeld only tightened the network’s hold on Thursday viewership over the next decade.

 

But even the execs at NBC had to be surprised by the immediate breakout success of two shows added to that already powerful Thursday night lineup in September of 1994: Friends and ER.

 

My mother fell in love with ER (and George Clooney, of course) from the very start, so we quickly settled into a family ritual. Every Thursday night after work, I’d drive the 20 miles to Mom’s house. We’d settle in, flip on NBC, order some pizza, switch to something else when Madman of the People came on, and then switch back in time for our weekly appointment with the doctors and nurses at Chicago’s County General hospital.

We clearly were not the only ones captivated by this new drama—ER became a mainstay in the Nielsen Top 10 for the next decade, and at the height of its popularity averaged more than 35 million viewers.

 

ER finally signed off in 2009 after 15 seasons, a remarkable 331 episodes, and 124 Emmy nominations (a record for a drama). The final episode gave the series its largest rating in years, but the show seemed to disappear from the public consciousness very quickly after it left the air.

 

We live in an era of countless cable TV channels and multiple streaming platforms, yet for 10 years the only way to watch ER was on DVD. That finally changed last year, when the POP network started airing three episodes every afternoon. I soon found myself entrenched in a full show re-watch—a task that took up a Dr. Benton’s ego-sized chunk of my spare time (and about 75% of my DVR) over a six-month period.

 

Thankfully, anyone who now wants to revisit ER can do so in much simpler fashion. Earlier this year, Hulu announced it had added all 15 seasons to its streaming service. You no longer have to force yourself to watch three episodes a day just to keep pace, like I did. But that does bring up a big question: Is an ER binge really worth 331 hours of your precious screen time?

 

At the very least, I’d recommend watching the first seven or eight seasons—especially if you’re a first-time viewer. Medical dramas have always been a staple on TV, but ER was the first to expose viewers to the real blood and guts of a big-city hospital. The fast-paced, in-your-face cinematography was always a standout aspect of the show, and these early episodes look even better now that they can now be seen in their original 1.78:1 aspect ratio. (Note: ER episodes began airing in widescreen during Season Seven, but they were filmed in widescreen format from Day One.)

 

As impressive as ER was from a technical standpoint, it was always the characters that were the heart of the show. George Clooney may have become the breakout superstar, but every member of that stellar original cast created a character to remember. Even the smaller roles of the nurses and desk clerks seemed like people you wanted to have a beer with, and that only added to ER’s mass appeal.

 

Of course, with great success came great cast turnover. One by one, George Clooney and Juliana Margulies and Eric La Salle eventually left the show. Maura Tierney and Goran Ivanisevic came on board and helped to keep the quality (and ratings) at a high level, but the glory days of ER officially came to an end with the departure of Noah Wyle’s John Carter in 2005.

 

With no ties left to the original cast, ER lost much of what made it appealing in the first place. The storylines became more and more over-the-top (so many explosions!), but there were always just enough quality moments to keep me watching for all 15 seasons.

 

And as my re-watch reminded me, ER was never lacking in star power. Almost every episode seemed to feature someone who would go on to do bigger and better things—Lucy Liu, Kirsten Dunst, Christina Hendricks. Zac Efron, Chris Pine, and Jessica Chastain are just a small sampling of the many then-unknowns who made visits to County General over the years.

 

While I truly enjoyed my recent re-watch, it wasn’t always easy viewing. ER will forever remind me of my mother, even though we stopped watching together on a regular basis after she moved away in the late ‘90s. Mom is older now and going through some tough medical issues, and more than a few episodes hit just a little too close to home—but that was always the power of ER at its very best.

 

I’m sure that over the course of 331 episodes, you’ll shed some tears as well. And if you do manage to make it through to the very end, you’ll be rewarded with a final season that features return engagements from almost all of the show’s original stars. Even Anthony Edwards makes an appearance, despite the fact that Dr. Greene passed away way back in Season Eight.

 

ER may have been on life support over its last few seasons, but the final episodes provide a fitting end to one of TV’s longest-running—and best—dramas.

Gary Maxwell

 

All 15 seasons of ER are available on Hulu. It is also available for streaming from Amazon,
Vudu, Google Play, and iTunes.

Gary Maxwell lives in Dallas with his wife, three cats, 6,000 LPs, and a vintage Atari 2600.
He once attended 218 consecutive Texas Longhorn football games over a span of 17 years,
yet he seems unable to commit to a particular brand of shampoo. His all-time favorite TV
show is Star Trek, except when it’s dark on Tuesday. When someone asks Gary if he prefers
the Beatles or the Stones, his answer is “The Who.”

REVIEWS

Wonder Woman review
Blade Runner: The Final Cut review
Lawrence of Arabia review

‘Flower’ and the Power of Games as Art

Flower

Tucked away in the hidden recesses of the PlayStation Network Store, amongst the shooter games and fighting games and puzzle games and what have you, there resides a little work of art named Flower that everyone should experience at least once. It doesn’t matter if you’re a jaded gamer with forty years of pwning n00bs under your belt or a complete neophyte who has never picked up a controller, this delightful little download—originally developed nine years ago for the PlayStation 3, but lovingly revamped in 1080p with 7.1-channel sound for PS4—has a message for you.

 

What that message may be, I’m not quite sure. Because your relationship with Flower will almost certainly be different from mine. I’ve had hours-long conversations with fellow gaming friends, trying our best to come to some consensus on its themes and central messages. But I won’t rehash any of those discussions here, because if you’ve never played Flower, the last thing in the world I want is to color your own interpretation.

 

But I will say this: It’s pretty clear that Flower was made as a reaction to the rather limited range of emotions normally evoked by video games. Much like the recently released Celeste, Flower grapples with notions of achievement and pursuit and their effects on the psyche. Whereas Celeste dealt with such issues by immersing you in a quest and them commenting upon it slyly, Flower takes an alternative approach. It drops you into a gaming world in which achievement isn’t the point at all. Where it’s downright discouraged, in point of fact.

 

In the game, you live out the dreams of a handful of potted plants, perched upon a windowsill overlooking a gray and dreary city. In these dreams, you don’t control a character or any other sort of visible avatar. What you control is the unseen wind. And you control it not with some sophisticated series of button presses, but rather the gentle motion of the video game controller itself. Lean your hands to the right and the wind blows to the right. Lift them up, and you send a gust skyward. And as the wind blows around these beautiful dreamscapes, you collect the petals of flowers strewn throughout their many hills and valleys and ridges and plateaus.

It’s as simple as that, really. But to understand the appeal of Flower, you really have to immerse yourself in it. Because it isn’t until you’re consumed in this experience that you understand something quite profound: Yes, there are hidden secrets in this game. Yes, there are achievements of a sort. But everything about the game forces you into a mental state in which these things aren’t actively sought, but simply appreciated all the more when you do come across them. The goal here isn’t necessarily pleasure, nor fun, nor excitement, but rather peaceful contentment.

 

More so than anything else, what Flower forces you to do is to be present in this moment, right here and right now, with no regard for what comes next. What it pushes you toward is an intrinsic appreciation of the beauty of every interaction, whether it leads to something extrinsically fruitful or not. What it evokes—at least in me—is some approximation of anattā or self-transcendence, the likes of which normally require years of practice in vipassanā meditation to achieve on one’s own.

 

Will it evoke the same in you? I can’t say, of course. But you owe it to yourself to spend seven bucks to find out.

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.

Great ‘Last Jedi’ Demo Scenes

The Last Jedi

Following up on Dennis Burger’s lengthy examination of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I thought I would detail some of my favorite scenes from the movie. While Jedi has been a bit divisive amongst Star Wars fans—read the almost 100 comments on Dennis’s post on the Rayva Home Theaters Facebook page—now that I’ve had the chance to view it a couple more times at home, and after viewing the fantastic included two-hour documentary titled “The Director and the Jedi,” which examines many aspects of Rian Johnson’s filmmaking decisions, I’ve come to appreciate this movie in ways I couldn’t or didn’t during my initial theatrical viewing.

Regardless of your feelings about this latest installment in our favorite space opera, this is the best the franchise has ever looked or sounded and makes for reference demo material at home.

 

Much of Star Wars: The Last Jedi takes place in space, and you’ll marvel at the clean, deep, dark black-level detail of this terrific 4K HDR transfer. During the film’s first moments aboard General Hux’s ship, the floor, work stations, officers’ uniforms, and General Hux’s top and trench coat are all black. But a properly calibrated video display will reveal that these are all slightly different shades of black with clearly visible texture and detail.

During the scene where Rey trains on Ahch-To, note the texture in her staff, along with the detail in the stones around her. When she lights Luke’s saber, the blade glows hot blue-white against the sunny background, the HDR image retaining the dark and deep shadow detail of the craggy rocks while the light of the saber blade exceeds that of the sun!

 

HDR is used to great effect throughout the film, but especially during the bright outdoor scenes on Ahch-To and anytime a lightsaber blade is activated. The images from the 4K DI are reference in every regard, and virtually every frame will push your video system to its limits.

 

One of my favorite scenes is when Rey visits the dark place on Ahch-To. It just looks so cool, and the Dolby Atmos sound is terrific, swirling around the room as she snaps her fingers. Just following this is a conversation between Rey and Kylo by firelight with a closeup of their hands with fingerprint detail so amazing you could submit it to the FBI for evidence.

 

Check out the detail of Kylo’s wounds when he is communicating with Rey. You can clearly see the effects Rey’s lightsaber attack had on his face and chest from the end of The Force Awakens, as well as the scar in his side from Chewbacca’s Bowcaster. These are the subtle details that really come through in full 4K resolution.

 

The lightsaber dual between Rey and Kylo and Snoke’s guards and the finale battle on Crait look and sound even more awesome at home than you remember from the theater. Kylo’s poorly constructed saber crackles and sizzles erratically, barely containing the blade’s energy, and the ultra-sharp detail makes this more visible than ever before. (Jedi’s audio levels are a bit lower than some other titles, so be sure to turn the volume up to near reference level to truly experience the full impact of the immersive Dolby Atmos soundtrack!) The reds explode off the screen in HDR, producing rich, vibrant detail along with brilliant whites and deep, dark blacks. The orange-red of the Rebel pilots’ flight suits has never looked richer, and even old C3PO gets a visual upgrade from this 4K transfer, with his gold outfit shining brighter than ever before.

 

This is the demo candy you’ve been waiting for!

John Sciacca

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

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.