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The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

I had offered to review the Amazon original series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel even before the show took home two Golden Globes earlier this week. I just wanted to spread the word about how fantastic this show is. I’m guessing those two awards—for Best Show and Best Actress in the “Television Series, Musical or Comedy” category—will do that far better than I can, but, hey, I’m going to make my case anyhow.

 

Set in 1950s Manhattan, the show tells the story of Miriam “Midge” Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan), a devoted wife and mother who tends to the every need of her husband Joel, a salesman who aspires to be a stand-up comedian. When she’s not measuring her thighs (can’t gain too much weight, after all) or getting up before dawn to apply her makeup (can’t let the man see your real face, after all), she’s using her quick wit, effortless charm, and great cooking skills to get Joel a better time slot at the Gaslight comedy club or to convince the rabbi to join the family for Yom Kippur dinner.

 

Midge’s world suddenly turns upside down when, after a particularly bad set at the Gaslight, Joel announces that he’s leaving her. After a bit too much wine and a late-night subway ride, Midge finds herself at the club, on the stage, doing her own set. Surprise, surprise—she’s actually the funny one, and aspiring manager Susie Meyerson (Alex Borstein) is determined to make her a star.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

As one would hope, this show about stand-up comedy has plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. Created by Amy Sherman-Palladino of Gilmore Girls fame, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel has a similar penchant for snappy, fast-paced dialogue and delightfully quirky characters. But this show also has a sharper edge to it, both in its humor and tone, as it explores what it means to be a woman in the ’50s. Midge is finally free to figure out who she is, but are the people in her life ready to accept the real her? Is society?

 

Brosnahan shines as Midge from the get-go, but what I enjoyed the most was watching the supporting players—who are drawn with broad, almost stereotypical strokes in the pilot—gain form and substance in their own right. Tony Shalhoub is especially good (when isn’t he?) as Midge’s father, Abe. At the end of Season One, the one-woman show has evolved into a strong ensemble piece with only one real flaweight episodes just ain’t enough.

—Adrienne Maxwell

Adrienne Maxwell has been writing about the home theater industry for longer than she’s
willing to admit. She is currently the 
AV editor at WirecutterAdrienne lives in Colorado,
where  she spends far too much time looking at the Rockies and not nearly enough time
being in them.

A Visit to the Leon Loft

I had heard a lot about Leon Speakers and the artistic culture that permeates the company. Noah Kaplan, its CEO, is the driving force behind Leon in more than one way. He runs a well-oiled machine that is producing top-performance speakers with an emphasis on customization. But he also understands that technology without design is half as powerful. An artist himself, Noah knows instinctively that design makes technology more “relatable” to the end-user.

 

That understanding defines Leon Speakers. It also defines Rayva’s mission, which is why my trip to Ann Arbor, Michigan was so invigorating.

 

Noah has surrounded himself with a team of artistic-minded engineers. The energy that comes out of the Leon Loft (as they call their facility) is palpable. When I took a tour of their offices and factory, two things drew my attention: One, every wall is filled with eclectic artwork, an extension of Noah’s artistic personality.

And, two, everybody I was introduced to seems to have an artistic backgroundthey all paint or sculpt or play music. This has an obvious impact of the work they do for Leonthey don’t see themselves as laborers who work 9 to 5 producing impersonal widgets. They are artists who take ownership of what they do, and they are proud of their factory’s culture.

The main purpose of my trip to Ann Arbor was to find out more about Leon’s speakers and how they could be incorporated into a media-room wall unit I am in the process of designing for Rayva. But my extensive tour of their factory gave me additional ideas about working with Leon besides just using their speakers for the media-room unit.

The design principle behind Rayva is to commission artwork from painters, photographers, and sculptors that I then help incorporate into dedicated theaters as limited-edition designs. During the Leon tour, I saw an exciting sculptural piece Leon produces that is meant to hide an array of speakers. I recognized it right away as something that can be developed into an additional design for Rayva. Leon’s Senior Industrial Designer Rob Waissi and I are working together to make this happen. We also plan to develop a media-room unit inspired by the various pieces of industrial artwork that hang on the walls of the Leon Loft.

I spent the evening of my visit to Ann Arbor having dinner with Noah Kaplan and his Senior Account Manager Camila Ballario. Camila lives and breathes the Leon Speakers culture and seems to be an extension of Noah’s energetic personality. During dinner, Noah started drawing something on his plate using his finger as brush and wine from his glass as paint. The drawing, an impression of me, was done with the same focus and commitment that define Noah’s personality. I was impressed and surprised at the same timeexactly how I felt throughout my brief visit to the Leon Loft.

 

—Theo Kalomirakis

Theo Kalomirakis is widely considered the father of home theater, with scores of luxury theater
designs to his credit. He is an avid movie fan, with a collection of over 15,000 discs. Theo is the
Executive Director of Rayva.

The Toys That Made Us

In the ongoing conversation about how streaming video is changing our media consumption habits, I think one thing is getting overlooked—the ways in which streaming video is changing the very nature of our media.

 

I bring that up because one of my favorite recent showsa documentary series on Netflix called The Toys That Made Us—strikes me as the sort of thing that wouldn’t have existed a decade ago. Sure, we’ve seen documentaries about toys before, almost all of which focused on one particular slice of nostalgia. But a multi-episode series that isn’t aimed at any particular fandom? One with a decidedly adult bent and a propensity for F-bombs? One that takes off the gloves and uncovers the oftentimes dirty politics that went into creating some of our favorite little pieces of plastic?

 

If I were an executive for any cable network, I would look at the pitch for The Toys That Made Us and insist its creators either narrow their focus or broaden their appeal, or at the very least avoid some of the controversy. Thank goodness I’m not a network executive, then, because having seen the first four episodes of this incredible series, I wouldn’t change a thing.

 

The series kicks off with the granddaddy of all toy lines: Star Wars. Aside from a bit of predictable and unnecessary Episode I bashing that comes off as seriously hipstery, it’s an amazing exploration of the legal deals, design decisions, bickering, and fun that went into creating the toy line that changed everything.

The Toys That Made Us

Here’s the problem, though: Make a show about Star Wars toys and you’re automatically pushing all my buttons. Does that necessarily mean it’s objectively good? Ehhh, I had my doubtsespecially given that the next episode is about Barbie, a franchise I couldn’t have less interest in if I tried. The missus was vaguely interested, though (given that one of her favorite childhood pastimes was staging elaborate Barbie-vs-He-Man battles). So, we gave it a try. What followed was one of the most engrossing 44 minutes’ worth of television I’ve seen in ages. It’s bawdy. It’s tantalizing. There’s forgery and perjury and mail fraud, oh my!

 

Lest you think the entire series comes off as an E! True Hollywood Story, it doesn’t. The tales told here reflect the real history of each toy line explored, with no real agenda beyond getting to the truth. The entire Masters of the Universe toy line, for example, is portrayed as a tail-wagging-the-dog example of pure desperation and marketing hubris. G.I. Joe? While there is some history of the original 12-inch toy line (and the very origins of the phrase “action figure”), the real meat here is on the toys of the ‘80s, which were introduced mostly to capitalize on the new wave of patriotic fervor sweeping the nation.

 

Hopefully the next four episodes, which are due to drop sometime in the early part of 2018, can maintain this level of intrigue and brutal (often profane) honesty. There is the question, of course, about how much more material there is to mine going forward. We know an episode about Transformers is coming in the next batch. There are, no doubt, stories to be told at some point about Cabbage Patch dolls and LEGO.

 

I think what these first four episodes have proven, though, is that nostalgia for certain brands is just the hook. The real appeal of The Toys That Made Us is the very human stories about the people behind the scenes who made the toys that made us.

—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.

REVIEWS

Judd Apatow: The Return

Judd Apatow

Reviewing this is almost too easy. It’s like being lobbed the biggest, slowest softball ever. Apatow’s a genius. With so much comedy devoted to dragging you nose first through freshly plowed fields of shit, he always tries to bring at least a dollop of humanity to his work. He doesn’t always succeed, but that effort alone still makes him leagues better than all the schmucks who don’t even try.

 

But you have to allow for a lot before you can even start to be objective about his Netflix comedy special. Both the audience at the venue and the one at home are giving him a pretty generous free pass because they love his movies. And let’s be honest—while he’s pretty good here, he’s not polished. No other comedian could be given this big a platform and get away with so many missed beats, or lean on so much cutting to cover up that this was cobbled together from more than one show.

 

That said, it’s more than worth a viewing because, even though he fumbles his way toward most of what he wants to say, almost all of it is worth saying. It’s hard enough just being funny. Trying to add depth to it is almost impossible. Just witness all the comics—from Chaplin to Allen—who’ve been dashed against the rocks of meaning.

Apatow’s career almost foundered after Funny People, and This is 40 was a hard-won victory. This special steers well clear of the former while hugging the shores of the latter—which is both its virtue and its vice.

 

Apatow is, at the end of the day, a crowd-pleaser. But he’s not entirely comfortable in that role, so he sometimes veers toward edgy. But he’s too skittish to actually peer over the edge, so the best you’ll get is a convincing simulation. And, at a time when there are way too many people willing to tell us what we already know, and when “edgy” almost always boils down to the equivalent of somebody hitting themselves in the face with a hammer, it would be good to hear from somebody who’s got a pretty good bead on what we don’t know.

 

So, this is a pretty nice diversion, and probably a better use of your time than almost anything else recent that you could stream. But it would have been nice if it had a little more meat on its bones.

 

Big kudos, by the way, for closing with Randy Newman’s “I’m Different.” Falling on the heels of M. Ward’s close to Patton Oswalt’s Annihilation, it at least shows that comedians—or anonymous others at the production company or back at Netflix headquarters—have pretty good taste in music.

—Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, marketing, product design, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and
now this.

REVIEWS

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

Wolfenstein II

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is either the 9th or the 11th game in the popular anti-Nazi video game series, depending on how much of a purist you are in your counting. And if that statement strikes you as somewhat confusing, well—welcome to the world of video game series reboots. The New Colossus is a direct sequel to 2014’s Wolfenstein: The New Order, a soft relaunch of the franchise that was followed up by the 2015 release of Wolfenstein: The Old Blood, which was equal parts expansion pack and standalone prequel.

 

If that seems like too convoluted a history for you to even bother with at this point, rest easy. All you really need to know about the Wolfenstein series is that the Nazis won World War II, they’re taking over the world, and it’s your job to shoot them. Imagine The Man in the High Castle if it had been written by Paul Verhoeven instead of Philip K. Dick. There’s a lot more to it than that, of course. This new game draws on characters and themes from much earlier entries and manages to tell a quite personal tale about identity, parental relationships, and indeed the very nature of freedom.

 

But at its heart, the real draw of Wolfenstein II is in shooting Nazis. Tons and tons and more tons of Nazis. Sometimes you shoot them with big guns. Sometime with pistols. Sometimes you have to sneak up on them and whack ‘em with an ax. But in the end, dead Nazis is the first, second, and only meaningful objective in the game.

 

The biggest thing setting The New Colossus apart from its forebears is that this time around the action takes place in the United States—one overrun by the Reich, whose citizens have, for the most part, acquiesced to or outright embraced their goose-stepping overlords.

Wolfenstein II

That has led to criticism from those who see the game as a critique of our current political environment. It’s not intended as such, mind you. Games like this take years to develop and its developers aren’t prognosticators. But the fact that a game about killing Nazis is seen as a commentary on American politics at all, accidentally or not, is certainly worth mentioning. As much as this is a silly, brutal, over-the-top violence-fest, the central message here is that racism is bad. Fascism is bad. But also key to the narrative is the fact that most people aren’t badthey simply play along with their own tribe.

 

One thing I can say about Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus that isn’t even remotely controversial is that it’s an audiovisual tour de force. It’s a game that positively begs to be experienced on as large a screen as possible, with as many channels of sound as you can throw at it. Developer MachineGames has managed to shake up the series with entirely new environments while also hanging onto the same art design and overall aesthetic flair that made the last two games such stunners. And the Hollywood-caliber sound mix is, without question, the most dynamic and raucous I’ve heard in quite some time. Attempt to play this game on your tinny TV speakers and you’re just betting to blow a driver or two.

 

Truth be told, there are times when I wish I could just pop a big bowl of popcorn and watch someone else play the game. It truly can be that compelling. Whether you experience it from the firsthand perspective or as a passive bystander, though, you owe it to yourself to experience this game.

—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.

REVIEWS

Not My First Media-Room Rodeo, Pt. 2

In my last post, I described a string of failures I became involved in while trying to come up with a collection of media room furniture that incorporated technology into design. Besides the fact that I never give up when I believe in something, what continues to compel me to keep trying to tackle the media room space? Lots of things.

 

The selfish reason: As a designer of custom home theaters, I don’t enjoy as much anymore trying to please one client at a time. Isn’t it better if I can make a living from designing things that can please multiple clients at the same time? I see designing media rooms as akin to directing a movie. You do get paid an initial fee to direct, but the real compensation comes from sharing the financial success of the movie at the box office.

 

The un-selfish reason: Media room design has remained the ultimate challenge for me through the years. Why? Because it’s hard to conquer the challenges of a space you don’t have ultimate control over. In a dedicated room, I can do whatever I, or the client, wants. I don’t have to deal with the inherent handicaps of making the best of existing rooms—walls of windows, more than one door, furniture that has more to do with décor than with watching a movie—not to mention barking dogs, ringing phones, or hyperactive children. I’m a control freak, and a dedicated room is a space where I can be, well . . . in control!

 

But times have changed. As entertainment lifestyles have relaxed and the bragging rights of having a dedicated theater have lost most of their early cachet, my real motivation for wanting to deal with media room design is that I have changed. After years of enjoying movies in my theater, I now find that I want to see some movies more casually in my living room or bedroom. I don’t want to be locked in the theater to watch a few episodes of my favorite series. I would rather watch it on the sofa, stopping to check the news on my phone or taking a break to check what there is to munch on in the fridge.

 

That’s what most people do when they don’t have a theater in their home, so how can I use my experience to help elevate their experience? In the collection of media room furniture I’m designing for Rayva, I’m focusing on the two most essential things: the seating area and the area that contains the screen.

 

The seats must be comfortable and have space around them to rest a drink or a plate of snacks. And the screen must be the focal point of the room—just like an object on a stage set that is “hit” by a single beam of light. This can’t be done by just hanging a TV on the wall—it needs to rest on some kind of backdrop that acts like the proscenium in a traditional theater, where it focuses our attention on the performing space.

 

I won’t share visuals of this concept until it’s more fleshed out, but the images below will show you what I’m not going to do:

media rooms designs

            The tiny TV is overwhelmed by the décor around it.                 If you like vegetation so much, go enjoy it in

                                                                                                    the garden.

media room designs

               The TV looks like an incidental accessory instead               Again, what should have been the star of the
                            of the focal point of the bookcase.                         media wall is reduced to being a supporting player.

To be continued . . .

—Theo Kalomirakis

Theo Kalomirakis is widely considered the father of home theater, with scores of luxury theater
designs to his credit. He is an avid movie fan, with a collection of over 15,000 discs. Theo is the
Executive Director of Rayva.

This is Not My First Media-Room Rodeo

I have almost lost count of how many times over the years I’ve tried to break free from designing only full-blown home theaters. The challenge of trying to figure out what to do when there is no extra room in a house for a dedicated theater room has haunted me since the early 1990s. The question has always been the same: How do you hide the technology so it doesn’t distract from the enjoyment of the movie (or concert or sports event)?

 

Since people think of me as the designer of lavish home theaters and a staunch supporter of watching movies in a dedicated room, my name doesn’t immediately bring “media rooms” to mind. Even I forget that.

 

But this morning, I was reminded of how untrue that is as I searched through my computer trying to piece together my various—and mostly failed—attempts to come up with a media room concept that other designers haven’t already tackled successfully. I guess the common theme through all my previous attempts has been my effort to hide the technology. That may not have amounted to much, but it does show how determined I’ve been to come up with a more casual way to enjoy home entertainment when there isn’t the space—or lavish budget—for a theater.

 

Looking through the TK Theaters archives, I was reminded of not one, not two, but at least nine attempts to create a relevant media room design. I’ve arranged those efforts chronologically below. Each entry in this catalog of failures is followed by a brief explanation of why I think the effort didn’t work.

 

1992: Hammacher Schlemmer

The company that specializes in curio items asked me to design an armoire that would fit a huge Sony tube TV. No space was needed to hide speakers because, in those days, the sound came from the TV itself. What killed the idea was that I didn’t know how to produce the piece for less than $5,000 cost when the list price couldn’t be more than $2,500!

 

1995: Henredon

I designed a line of traditional-style media room armoires, meant to include electronics, for this manufacturer of luxury furniture. The collection was never produced because of a change in management and maybe because, as I soon learned, furniture retailers have a natural aversion to anything that incorporates technology.

 

1999: Connoisseur FX

Supported by Owens Corning, and with electronics by JBL, this collection of predesigned home theaters included furniture meant for sports bars. Lots of money, energy, and good ideas were waisted on that enterprise. Besides bad management, September 11th and the blow that tragedy dealt to the economy helped bring Connoisseur FX to an end.

 

2007: Prestige

I was asked to design a full-blown media room collection. The furniture was developed in China and included some very innovative accessories that incorporated technology. Prestige made a valiant effort to persuade retailers the time had come for furniture with electronics but it wasn’t able to raise enough money to get the venture off the ground.

media room designs

2010: Disney Signature Collection

Here I was again designing media room furniture that included technology, this time for Disney. Once again, lots of time, effort, money, and marketing support was lavished to produce and introduce the collection to furniture retailers. And, once more, it didn’t work. Thanks to an inexperienced distributor, a still skeptical retail industry, and diminishing support from Disney, the plug was pulled from the collection two years later.

 

2012: TK Living

A group of industry friends and I created a sort-lived company that sold home theater accessories and templates directly to the AV industry. What didn’t work this time? In hindsight, the idea seems half-baked—selling home theater design accessories and leaving out the electronics is a recipe with half the ingredients missing.

 

2013: ESPN

After the cancellation of the Disney Collection, Disney-owned ESPN asked me to work with them to develop a sports-themed collection of media room furniture. The idea excited me, but before I got a chance to design the collection, ESPN had a change in management and terminated the effort.

 

This long trip down memory lane brings me to Rayva. After such a string of misses, what has changed that I again feel compelled to come up with a media room solution that incorporates technology? Besides the fact that I never give up when I believe in something, a lot has changed over the past few years—which I will talk about in my next post.

Theo Kalomirakis

Theo Kalomirakis is widely considered the father of home theater, with scores of luxury theater
designs to his credit. He is an avid movie fan, with a collection of over 15,ooo discs. Theo is the
Executive Director of Rayva.

How to Tame a Media Room Pt. 3

When you lack the space or budget for a dedicated home theater, many turn to a media room as the next best solution. A media room can be the perfect gathering place for the family to enjoy a variety of content, including films, TV, streaming, gaming, and music. But they can have several distracting drawbacks a dedicated room usually doesn’t. In Part One of this series, I tackled the biggest distraction media-room owners face: Light. In Part Two, I wrote about the second biggest distraction: Visible electronics.

 

Here I’m tackling another major design hurdle: The video display.

 

When you’re watching something, you want the screen to be large and in charge, the prominent focus of the experience. But when it’s not in use, most people don’t want a giant screen on the wall dominating the room design. So, how do you hide something that’s supposed to be the main thing people look at? You get creative, that’s how!

 

First up is deciding whether to go with a large flat-panel LED TV or a projector and screen.

media room solutions
Option 1: LED

While concealing a massive LED screen can prove a challenge, it’s possible. And, once again, technological improvements have come to our aid.

 

The first option is to hide the display in plain sight by displaying high-resolution artwork on the screen when it isn’t in use. This is the concept behind the new Samsung Frame (shown above), which even incorporates an art frame around the TV and uses different digital matte colors, layouts, and artwork choices. With a USB drive and some Internet clicking (try this link), you can download hundreds of thousands of free images so you can create your own art display on any TV!

 

Another option is to literally put a piece of artwork in front of the screen that covers it when not in use. When the TV powers on, the art rolls up inside its frame, and voila! Your TV is revealed with zero impact on image quality. VisionArt Galleries and Stealth Acoustics, for instance, offer multiple frame and artwork selections to work with any décor or TV model.

 

Finally, the display can be concealed behind panels in a wall, in the floor, or in the ceiling, dramatically—and damn near magically—revealing when called on. For examples, check out some of the truly custom offerings from Future Automation.

 

Option 2: Projector & Screen

Even though a projection system can have a much larger screen than a TV, these two-piece systems are actually easier to conceal in a room. Every screen manufacturer makes motorized screen models that roll up into a case when not in use. Regardless of screen size, the case can be concealed in a housing that disappears behind crown molding, in a soffit, or stores up in the attic. Some screens can even roll up vertically from the floor, letting you hide the housing behind furniture.

media room solutions

I installed this projector so it’s concealed in a soffit

In the past, placing a projector was an exact science, with the lens needing to be positioned an exact distance from the screen. But today’s modern digital projectors offer so much image adjustment for throw distance and vertical and horizontal lens shift that they provide an incredible amount of flexibility with positioning. In fact, industry icon Sam Runco famously designed a projector for use in his home that could be installed in a back corner of the room!

 

Projectors have also gotten much smaller, making them easier to conceal. They can be hidden in a soffit or sit inside a cabinet at the back of the room with just a hole for the lens to fire through. They can also be installed in the attic, lowered into position from a motorized mount when it’s movie time. There are even mirror systems designed to bounce the image onto a screen, keeping the projector completely out of sight.

One of the latest crazes in the projector market is ultra-short-throw lenses. These projectors can sit on the floor or ceiling just inches away from a wall while still projecting images of 100 inches or more. Many of these designs can be tucked out of sight into furniture. In fact, A/V furniture manufacturer Salamander Designs has even created a special credenza (above) designed to house Sony’s ultra-short-throw 4K laser projector. This simple solution creates an incredibly finished and invisible look in a variety of styles while still delivering a cinematic experience.

 

The great thing about a media room is that everyone can have one. And with a little design creativity, the design distractions can be reduced or eliminated and you’ll have a terrific place for your family to gather!

—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.

Stranger Things 2

It’s pretty safe to say that on the list of the most talked-about shows of the past two years, the Netflix-original Stranger Things ranks pretty near the top. On the off chance you haven’t seen it yet, this delightful supernatural mystery is a veritable love letter to 1970s and ‘80s pop culture. It’s a pastiche of Alien and E.T., Firestarter and The Goonies, Poltergeist and Stand By Me, with a heaping helping of Dungeons & Dragons and A Nightmare on Elm Street thrown in the mix for good measure. And it makes no apologies for any of the above. It has all the makings of a cheap rip-off, but avoids being such by wearing its influences proudly on its sleeve and using them as a hook rather than a crutch.

 

Indeed, during the course of Stranger Things 2the latest run of nine episodes, which dropped just in time for Halloween this year—a new character being brought up on the events of the previous year flirts with the fourth wall just long enough to wink at the audience and let us know that, yes, we’re aware the story is derivative. But that’s kind of the point. In its music, its cinematography, its writing, its acting—every element of Stranger Things is an unabashed throwback to the childhood of Gen Xers, who, let’s face it, had the greatest childhood of all.

 

If that’s all it was, Stranger Things and Stranger Things 2 (seriously, don’t call it a second seasonit’s a sequel) would be an absolute treat. Thankfully, it’s so much more. This brilliant series doesn’t just evoke those classic films listed above. And it doesn’t merely measure up to them. It somehow manages to live up to the nostalgia that my generation has for the genre films of our youth, which is a much taller order. In other words, it’s not merely as good as they areit’s as good as we’ve built them up to be.

Netflix Stranger Things 2

And Stranger Things 2 ups the ante with a bigger budget, better effects, and a beastlier baddie. But at the same time, it also manages to tell a more human story. It’s the rarest of all sequels, one that progresses the plot organically, raises the stakes intriguingly, and captures the spirit of what made the original so popular without rehashing it.

 

I won’t get any more specific than that, because every element of Stranger Things and its sequel deserves to be discovered in real time. But I do want to point out one thing some fans may have missed: Stranger Things 2 is one of the very few original streaming series to be accompanied by bonus features.

 

This, for me, is particularly huge because I’m a bonus-features junkie. It’s one of the main reasons I cling to my collection of five-inch discs, in outright defiance of our obvious streaming future. For me, a good making-of documentary is as essential to the home theater experience as popcorn and comfy seating. And while Beyond Stranger Things doesn’t quite count as a behind-the-scenes doc, it does adopt the sort of after-show format popularized by fan favorites like Talking Dead, and it does so quite well.

 

In its seven episodes, which range from 15 to 25 minutes in length, we get some pretty good insights into the making of the series and the thoughts that went into shaping it, and also get a peek at the bonds between its adorable adolescent cast members. Does it live up to the running audio commentary the series deserves? No. Would I still punch a baby for a full-length documentary about the making of Stranger Things 2? Indeed, I would.

 

But I’m really just thrilled to be getting any sort of bonus features at all for a series made exclusively for streaming. Aside from a 25-minute featurette for Sense8, I’m struggling to think of any other similar features. And that’s a shame. Because I’ve accepted the fact that discs are dying, but I just can’t come to terms with the fact that enriching behind-the-scenes materials could possibly die with 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.

Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman

There’s no question that DC has had serious issues competing in the superhero film genre against Disney-owned Marvel. While Marvel scores hit after hit with every attempt—Iron Man, Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor, Deadpool—DC films have struggled with both critics and fans, flopping across the board, with none of its recent offerings (following the glorious Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy) scoring “fresh” on the Rotten Tomatoes meter.

 

DC looked to 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice as a way of kickstarting a new franchise of hero films, introducing the characters that would make up the recent Justice League film. But while B v S was generally panned, we can thank it for at least one thing: it gave us Wonder Woman.

 

I’ll be honest, while I grew up reading DC comics, and was especially a fan of the Justice League series, my knowledge of Wonder Woman was pretty much limited to occasionally watching the Linda Carter TV series. I knew she was an Amazonian that wore bullet-blocking bracelets, had a magic truth-telling lasso, and used an invisible jet (not featured in the film, btw), but that’s basically it.

 

Thus, I went into Wonder Woman with fairly modest expectations. And boy, were they blown away!

 

Beyond being a good superhero movie, WW is just a good movie, period. First, the casting is terrific throughout, with every role handled perfectly. This, of course, starts at the top with Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman/Diana Prince. Gadot is not only very easy on the eyes, but her background serving in the Israeli army gave her a leg up in handling the fight scenes with incredible believability.

 

Beyond that, she nails the wide-eyed, girl-exploring-a-new-world innocence required to portray her character venturing for the first time beyond the Amazon island of Themyscira. In fact, Gadot is so perfect as Wonder Woman it’s impossible to imagine anyone else tackling the role. (She is also one of the best parts of Justice League, proving her character is more than a one-hit wonder!) Further, the chemistry between Gadot and Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor is believable and far deeper than pretty-girl-swept-off-her-feet-by-handsome-stranger.

Wonder Woman

Instead of trying to cram multiple superheroes into a single film, which weighed down and confused B v S, director Patty Jenkins wisely focused solely on Wonder Woman (with a brief cameo from another hero that ties in perfectly with both B v S and JL), fleshing out her backstory and developing her character as she grows and discovers her powers.

 

Since the transfer was taken from a 2K Digital Intermediate, it doesn’t feature the incredible micro-detail and pristine quality of some modern transfers; nevertheless, Wonder Woman in 4K HDR still looks mostly terrific. The image suffers from occasional noise in some of the night scenes, but it still has plenty to get your 4K TV’s 8 million pixels excited about. You can see the metal texture in Diana’s bracelets and crown, the detail in her armor, and the nicks in her sword.

 

While the color palette is mostly muted throughout in a slightly-faded World War I-era style, early scenes on Themyscira look gorgeous, with the wide color gamut revealing beautiful blue-green waters. Also, as there are a lot of night scenes, the high dynamic range does a great job of keeping shadows black while maintaining the piercing brightness of fires, searchlights, and Diana’s glowing lasso.

 

The Dolby TrueHD Atmos soundtrack will give your speakers a workout as well, with the numerous fight scenes bringing mayhem from every corner of the room as well as overhead. You hear Diana’s lasso whip around the room, vehicles being hurled, and bullets ricocheting and whizzing past. And if your subwoofer(s) are up to the task, Diana clapping her bracelets together produces a sonic concussion that will punch you in the chest!

 

Wonder Woman scored a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes and has a 2 hour 21 minute runtime. It’s rated PG-13 for some violence and innuendo. Download it from the Kaleidescape Store today and enjoy in your theater tonight!

—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.