Author:admin

Review: ‘The Last Jedi’ UHD Blu-ray

I’m often accused of spending too much time thinking about Star Wars. It’s a valid observation, but I think the thing that would surprise most of my friends is that the only times in which Star Wars isn’t fully consuming some part of my waking consciousness is when I’m actually watching one of the films.

 

That may seem like a contradictory statement, but when I’m watching a Star Wars film, I’m likely taking it at face value. I’m not deconstructing it as a work of cinema, or pop-philosophy, or fable. There are 22 other hours in the day for that sort of thing. When I’m watching a Star Wars film, I’m in it. Wholly consumed. I’m that five-year-old kid again, taking yet another step into a larger world that will forever guide my destiny.

 

Episode VIII: The Last Jedi is, for now at least, the exception to that rule. For a self-styled Star Wars scholar, the latest film in the saga simply doesn’t allow for that sort of detached viewing experience. At least not yet. For now, after 10 viewings, I still find it nearly impossible to watch this film without deconstructing it.

 

If I had to boil it down to just one reason why, I’d say that The Last Jedi represents a daring attempt by a single visionary to dig down to the heart of what makes Star Wars tick—mythologically, narratively, and cinematically. It’s a film that has the courage to take all six of George Lucas’s original Star Wars films as gospel, to explore every implication of every line committed to the silver screen between 1977 and 2005 completely and honestly—including the most obscure elements and seemingly throwaway lines—while also managing to work beautifully as a film on its own terms. If anything, The Last Jedi is almost as much a work of theological apologetics as it is a work of cinematic art.

 

Despite all of that, though, the film does work as art. In fact, I’d say that more so than any Star Wars film since The Empire Strikes Back, this one is more art than product. And that largely has to do with the way writer/director Rian Johnson distills the cinematic and thematic inspiration for the original Star Wars, then finds his own unique way to recombine those ingredients in a personal way.

 

It’s no secret that the original 1977 film was a pastiche of Kurosawa and John Ford, with a heaping helping of The Dam Busters and old Flash Gordon serials thrown in for good measure. Rather than go back to those original influences—or, as was the case with 2015’s The Force Awakens, mine the original Star Wars trilogy nearly exclusively for inspiration—Johnson goes to his own well here, trading The Hidden Fortress for Rashomon, and The Dam Busters for Twelve O’Clock High, while also sprinkling in a dash of Three Outlaw Samurai and To Catch A Thief and Brazil for a little extra spice.

 

The result is that, as with Empire, we end up with a film that’s true to the spirit of Star Wars, and that expands the horizons of Star Wars, but still manages to be the unique artistic vision of a single auteur who isn’t George Lucas, despite the fact that the Maker’s fingerprints are all over it.

The Last Jedi also serves as an unintended farewell to Carrie Fisher, not only as the actor who brought our beloved Leia to life, but also as an uncredited writer and script editor. Her work in the film is some of her best—both onscreen and on the page—but it’s a little difficult to watch the film and not get angry at the universe and Carrie’s own personal demons for taking her from us far too soon.

 

At any rate, the result of all of the above is that The Last Jedi is, for now, a film to be grappled with—a challenging composition that isn’t as easily consumed or processed as most tentpole pictures tend to be. It is, in ways, a cinematic analogue of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, still fresh from its Théâtre des Champs-Élysées debut, with a good bit of extra whimsy and a few adorable critters thrown in.

 

In other ways, though, The Last Jedi is an unapologetic throwback to a less cynical time, and that does make it a bit of an oddball in our current media landscape. For all the talk of this film as a subversive and at times shocking work in the context of the Star Wars canon, it’s hard not to notice how sincere it is. Even characters whose messages run completely counter to the film’s central themes are treated with a level of earnestness that’s both welcome and a little jarring. In fact, one of my few complaints with the film is the rare instance in which this isn’t the case—in which one of the film’s secondary villains is somewhat mocked in a winking way that’s contrary to the film’s overarching but subtle sentimentality.

The Last Jedi

But one aspect of The Last Jedi really hits home for me in such a deeply personal way that it manages to tear down those walls and draw me into its tragic magic completely: The journey of Luke Skywalker. Much has been made of Luke’s portrayal in this film, and I won’t dig into the thoughts of others here. Partly because I don’t care, but mostly because my own connection with Luke overshadows all other discussions for me.

 

The Luke Skywalker we meet in The Last Jedi is a broken man—a once-optimistic do-gooder who has convinced himself that the world is better off without him and the dogma he represents. He’s seen some shit, in the parlance of our times. And without delving too deeply into my own story, it’s a Luke I relate to in a visceral way, because I’ve been there. I’ve struggled with deep, personal losses for which I blamed myself, no matter how far out of my own control they may have been. I’ve been driven to the same level of despair and isolation we see on Luke’s face throughout much of this film.

 

It’s disturbing to watch at times, true. But it also makes Luke’s triumphant return at the end—in which he does the single most Jedi-like thing ever committed to celluloid or CCD—all the more triumphant. Luke Skywalker was my childhood hero. In The Last Jedi, he’s my adult inspiration, in a way I never would have dreamt possible. He’s a reminder that legends are only human, yes. But just as importantly, he’s a reminder that they’re legends for a reason.

 

In my 2018 Wishlist published on the Rayva Roundtable, I rather naïvely hoped this beautiful, moving, deeply thoughtful, and paradoxically fun film would receive the home video release it deserved, right out of the gate. Much to my shock and amazement, it has. The Ultra HD disc is a new high bar in terms of audiovisual presentation. This is the disc you’ll want to pull out when some naysayer opines that Blu-ray or streaming is perfectly sufficient. The High Dynamic Range imagery reveals depths of detail in the shadows I struggled to see even in IMAX.

The Last Jedi

In terms of supplemental material, it seems as if nothing was held back for a more ultimate release down the road. Deleted scenes abound, and in stark contrast with the Blu-ray release of The Force Awakens, the behind-the-scenes features aren’t all back-patting, neck-hugging, Kumbaya marketing fluff. Hell, even the marketing fluff that has leaked out to accompany The Last Jedi’s home video release has been a step up from most everything on the Episode VII disc.

 

The real star of this collection, though, is the feature-length documentary The Director and the Jedi, in which we get some serious insight into just how much Rian Johnson loves, appreciates, and more importantly understands Star Wars. We also see, through the course of the documentary, Mark Hamill angrily struggle to come to terms with the Luke Skywalker he’s tasked with playing in this film, then slowly come around to fully embrace Johnson’s vision. It’s raw, It’s emotional, it’s genuine in a way we don’t normally see in making-of docs. Simply put, The Director and the Jedi is a film that all cinema fans—even those who aren’t Star Wars obsessives—need to watch.

 

Johnson’s audio commentary for the film is also a delight, and it’s fortunate it was recorded before the film’s release, since we end up with the filmmaker’s genuine thoughts and reflections, rather than his reactions to the discussion of his work post-release.

 

But if there’s one bonus feature I’m more excited about than any other, it’s the isolated score track, a feature I’ve been begging for since the DVD days. It’s worth noting that the isolated score (in which you watch the film without dialogue, without sound effects, only John Williams’ brilliant symphonic narrative accompaniment) isn’t actually found anywhere on the discs. To access it, you have to redeem the Movies Anywhere code found in the UHD Blu-ray case and watch the film via your web browser or media streamer.

 

As with the film itself, though, it’s absolutely worth the effort. 

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.

Bringing Order to Movie-Collecting Chaos

movie collecting

I have been spoiled by how easy it is to customize my movie collection on Kaleidescape. I can organize it by director, actor, year of production, decade, genre, music composer, set designer, and on and on. Kaleidescape allows me to create organization out of chaos.

 

But not every movie I own is downloaded on Kaleidescape. I would need to spend tens of thousands of dollars to digitize close to 17,000 movies. Most of my movies are catalogued via DVD Profiler. This handy software by Invelos has allowed me to enter my entire collection in an app that exists on my desktop, iPhone, and iPad. Over the years, DVD Profiler has saved me a lot of money for another reason—it has stopped me from buying titles I already own but had forgotten were in my collection!

 

Two years ago, I started buying digital copies of certain independent, classic, and foreign movies that are only available only in HD via download. For example, there are many ‘30s and ’40s musicals available on regular DVD, but if you want them on HD, you have to buy them on iTunes.

Recently, for convenience sake, I started buying digital copies of some movies I already own on DVD. Watching them with the click of a button is so much easier than pulling out a ladder and trying to reach a DVD on the upper shelves of my movie library. Of course, I would never do that with Blu-ray discs—the loss of quality would be unacceptable.

 

As my collection of digital movies—mostly purchased from Amazon Prime—grows every week, I’m having a new problem: How do I find a movie that I know I bought without having to do a cumbersome search for it? Amazon allows you to alphabetize the movies you own from A to Z, Z to A, or by most recent addition—but that’s it. If you want to go straight to the title you want, you must search for it letter by letter, which kills the impulse of watching something on the spur of the moment.

 

There are apps that do a great job organizing our photos so we can easily find what we want. Why aren’t there any apps that can do the same for a digital movie collection?

movie collecting

How difficult would it be to create such an app that could be used with Amazon Prime, Netflix, or Vudu to allow us to access just the movies we own and organize them any way we want? If any of our readers has any idea how to do develop such an app, please leave a comment here. Not only would I be happy to help them with my thoughts; I can also work with them to figure out how to market the app.

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 Day & Date Service Could Change Everything (Pt. 2)

In Pt. 1, I talked about how Silicon Valley startup XCINEX plans to offer movies in people’s homes the same day they open in movie theaters by charging per viewer and by providing inexpensive hardware that monitors how many people are watching the film. 

 

The third box XCINEX checks is not pissing off local exhibitors by drawing down their attendance numbers. XCINEX will pay back 95% of the ticket price to the studio supplying the content, and the studio in turn will pay a percentage of this to the local exhibitor showing the film. Specifics, such as whether the viewer gets to select a specific theater he normally frequents or if XCINEX or the studio just finds the closest theater and assumes they would get the cash, still need to be worked out.

 

In fact, XCINEX will have no control over ticket pricing. Instead, the content provider will determine the price. Atkins explained this model could be geographical—say, more expensive in New York than Iowa—or even priced more expensively during certain times.

 

In practice, renting a movie from XCINEX looks pretty straight-forward. You open the XCINEX app on your smart phone and purchase the required number of tickets for the movie you want to see. Once the purchase transaction is completed, you’re issued a unique session ID. You then open an app on a device like a smart TV, Apple TV, Roku, or Chromecast and enter the ID. The Venue then authenticates the number of viewers and your movie starts. The Venue hardware will continue monitoring the room throughout the showing, looking for new sets of eyes or a potentially nefarious recording device. If one is detected, the film will pause and then you’ll either be instructed to purchase an additional ticket or put the camera down.

XCINEX

Once rented, the movie is good for a single viewing—but you can pause, rewind some short amount of time (30 seconds to a minute), and fast forward. Should somebody have to leave during the middle, they could even “check out” of the movie, and then check back in at a different location to continue viewing the film where they left off.

 

XCINEX says content delivery will be handled by Deluxe, with security will be handled by Verimatrix. There was no mention of the quality level of each film, whether the service will support 4K, HDR, Dolby Atmos, etc. or what kind of Internet download speeds would be required for service.

 

Atkin told me that while he can’t go on record saying any studios have agreed to provide content, he did say XCINEX has strong relationships with all major studios, that he expects participation from major studios as well as independent partners, and he anticipates providing a strong lineup of content.

 

XCINEX plans to launch in 2019. The company is currently securing funding, which will be followed by 8 to 12 months of development prior to launch. Atkins speculates that the service will initially roll out in rural markets where there will be less exhibitor friction and there isn’t generally a lot of cinema attendance.

 

Stay tuned as this could prove to be one of the most exciting movie developments of next year!

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.

This Day & Date Service Could Change Everything (Pt. 1)

day & date movies

“Day & date”—the ability to watch a movie at home at the same time it’s released in commercial movie theaters—is the Holy Grail of home video. But it has faced numerous obstacles in becoming a reality, specifically from theater owners who view it as a direct assault on their business model, and who have pushed back—aggressively—at any signs of shortening release windows.

 

The only company to successfully pull off day & date so far is Prima Cinema, a company whose hardware carried an exorbitant—$35,000—upfront cost, as well as a wallet-choking $500 per viewing charge. (The current state of Prima is unknown. The company’s website is just a single page with an address and info@ email. Email and phone calls to the company went unanswered.)

 

A couple of years ago, Sean Parker of Napster and Facebook fame announced a movie service called The Screening Room that created a phenomenal amount of buzz for about two months. Parker’s idea was to create a relatively inexpensive yet secure set-top box that could be used to stream movies at around $50 per 48-hour rental. While the service had support of some pretty big Hollywood folks like J. J. Abrams, Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, and Ron Howard, it seems to have completely disappeared into the ether—there have apparently been no new stories or updates on the system since June 2016.

 

One product that seems to potentially check all the right boxes for making this happen is a Silicon Valley startup you’ve likely never heard of named XCINEX (pronounced See-nex). Intrigued, I reached out to the company and had a really interesting conversation with Founder and CEO Cihan Fuat Atkin.

day & date movies

First off, XCINEX wants to sell you the company’s Venue hardware for a shockingly reasonable price. Not $1,000. Not even $100. XCINEX expects to bring its Venue to market at $29.95. At this price, even if you only used it once a year—heck, even if you only used it once!—it would be affordable for anyone who owns a TV. Venue is designed to sit atop a flat-panel TV or below a screen and features an adjustable hinge to work with a multitude of TV makes and models.

 

Second, Atkins said XCINEX eschews the one-price-viewing model employed by Prima and suggested by The Screening Room and instead employs a per-viewer ticketing model similar to what currently happens when you go to a theater. Instead of renting the new Star Wars movie and filling your living room with as many bodies as possible for a single rental fee, XCINEX will charge a ticket price for every viewer in the room.

 

XCINEX does this by using advanced image-processing algorithms like motion detection and pattern, gesture, object, and shape recognition to accurately count each person in the viewing area. Venue detects external recording devices so people can’t point a cellphone or a camera at the TV to illegally record the content being shown.

day & date movies

Skeeved out by the potential massive privacy invasion of Venue constantly monitoring your living room and checking how many people are watching? XCINEX say not to worry. Atkins assures that the system is designed with consumer privacy “as a top priority.”

 

And to ensure your naked movie-watching sessions stay private, Venue doesn’t store images in memory. In fact, when it’s monitoring and processing images for viewer count, it automatically disconnects itself from the Internet. After image analysis is complete, all images are deleted and then the device reconnects to the internet server to authenticate the viewer count and session viewing ID. Because all analysis is done offline and images are immediately deleted post analysis, the Venue should be immune from contributing to the next Fappening.

 

To further counter any piracy attempts, each showing also uses robust watermarking “on top of other traceable features,” so should something get into the wild, it will be traceable back to a specific user and viewing.

 

In Part 2, I’ll talk about how XCINEX plans to keep movie-theater owners happy and will walk you through how you would order day & date movies in your home.

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.

PS4: Celeste

As is the case with any form of media, nostalgia is a strong selling point with video games these days. Interestingly, the nostalgic push that has permeated the gaming market for the past few years has taken a few radically different forms. One example is the recreations of classic consoles with HDMI ports slapped on and built-in collections of classics pretty much in their original forms. Then you have popular games of the ‘80s and ‘90s being re-released for modern platforms, complete with remastered high-definition graphics, re-recorded audio, and modern conveniences like game-save options.

 

The most curious way nostalgia has crept into the video game market, though, is by way of brand-new offerings that look like they could have been released a quarter-century ago, including all of the pixelated graphics and controller-throwing difficulty that defined games of the 8-bit era.

 

At first blush, Celeste looks like one of the latter. Despite debuting on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and Steam, the game looks as if it could have just as easily been ported to the original Sega Master System. And that blocky, pixelated look complements its gameplay quite well.

 

At its heart, Celeste is what’s known in gamer’s parlance as a “platformer”—and if you don’t speak the lingo, just imagine the dominant genre from that era of gaming, in which you spend most of your time jumping from platform to platform as you work your way from one end of a flat 2D world to another. Think Sonic or Super Mario or Super Metroid or some other game with “Super” in the title, and you’re at least on the right track in terms of the gameplay.

Celeste

In this case, though, Celeste’s hook is more of a lure. And I’ll admit, even I was drawn in by the premise of recreating the gaming memories of my youth without actually having to actually suffer through one of the unforgiving actual games of that bygone era.

 

Spend a few hours getting sucked into this delightful little slice of neo-nostalgia, though, and it becomes apparent—not quickly, but undeniably—that Celeste isn’t merely trying to feed you a dose of the feel-goods. There’s a point to all of this: The look, the feel, the simple three-button controls. Even the luscious piano and synth score, which isn’t exactly held to the same retro standards as the rest of the game’s aesthetic, is true to the spirit of music from ‘80s and ‘90s games, thanks to its deceptive simplicity and undeniably hooky melodies.

 

All of these retro trappings combine, in a weird way, to keep you focused on the task at hand, which is jumping, dashing, and grabbing onto platforms, with a level of precision that my teenaged self never would have dreamt possible. And the thing is, due to that intense concentration on running and jumping and not dying, you sort of end up missing the point of Celeste until you’re a few hours in.

 

Masterfully woven into all this platformer action is a rich and nuanced, slow-burn story about depression and ennui and the consequences of constant aspiration. It’s not heavy handed at all, and if you’re the type of person to skip dialogue sequences, you can easily nope right past it all. But you’d be missing out on one of the most heartfelt and gripping stories I’ve encountered in any form of media in quite some time.

 

Oddly enough, it’s a narrative that’s so tightly interwoven with the presentation of the game that I can’t imagine it being quite as impactful if Celeste had been a beautifully rendered, fully modern game with 3D graphics and 14-button control schemes. In other words, all of this isn’t merely nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake, no matter how much it may look like such. The real brilliance of Celeste is that with its form, it sets up expectations of a silly narrative about saving princesses or whatever, then sucker-punches you with the sort of substance that would have been nearly unimaginable back when games had no choice but to look like this.

 

If you have access to a modern gaming console or computer, you owe it to yourself to check this one out. At $19.99, it’s practically a steal, and although you’ll probably burn through it in seven or eight hours the first time through, Celeste is a game with a heck of a lot of replay value. I can’t imagine putting it down anytime soon.

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

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

Morrissey: Low in High School

Low in High School

Confession: I love Steven Patrick Morrissey. I own (and revere as scripture) every Smiths album. Type the name “Morrissey” into my iTunes search box, and it returns 1,158 songs. Back in my early-‘90s college days, I once wore a different Morrissey t-shirt every day for two straight weeks.

 

Another confession: I also sometimes hate Steven Patrick Morrissey. In 1992, I attended a mediocre concert in Dallas that lasted a whopping 52 minutes including the encore. That night opened my eyes to the fact that my musical hero wasn’t perfect, and over the years Morrissey himself has hammered that point home with frustrating regularity.

 

His anti-establishment political leanings have always made for controversial headlines, but his loud stance against immigration in his native U.K. left a sour taste in the mouths of many longtime supporters. How could Morrissey, the artist so many of us saw as the ultimate champion of the outsider, continually make so many racially insensitive comments?

 

The truth is that it has been very difficult to be a Morrissey fan over the past decade. Fans have been exposed to a string of mediocre albums, cancelled tours, and increasingly confounding takes. Just last year, Morrissey essentially victim-blamed the accusers in the Harvey Weinstein/Kevin Spacey scandals. (He later claimed he was misquoted.) He did this while promoting the release of Low in High School, his eleventh solo album—and the first one I didn’t rush out and buy on the day of release.

 

But then I started to hear things.

 

“Best record in years.”

 

“As good as Vauxhall.”

 

I finally gave in and bought Low in High School. I was immediately taken by “My Love, I’d Do Anything for You,” the crackling first cut. Full of swagger and sounding like a great lost outtake from 1992’s Your Arsenal, Morrissey makes a bold declaration:

 

You know me well, my love
I’d do anything for you
Society’s hell
You need me just like I need you.

And over the course of 12 songs, Morrissey proves to me that I do need him. The playfulness that seemed to disappear years ago returns in force with “Spent the Day in Bed,” a ridiculously catchy song in which Moz decides to turn off the news and stay in bed by himself all day “even though I’m not my type.” “I Wish You Lonely” is both a great title and a great song, while “Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s Up on the Stage” somehow works both as a metaphor for Brexit and Morrissey’s own contentious public persona.

 

There’s a strong anti-war current running through the middle of the album, although the bombastic “I Bury the Living” takes things a bit too far. “In Your Lap” serves the same subject matter in much stronger fashion, and continues a running theme on the record involving Morrissey’s face and contact with various laps and crotches. Obsessions with genitalia aside, Low in High School is easily the most complete album Morrissey has released since the ‘90s.

 

Most of those t-shirts I had in college have long since vanished, but I do still own one featuring the artwork from The Queen is Dead. That seems appropriate, as the cover of Low in High School depicts a child outside Buckingham Palace with a hatchet in one hand and an “Axe the Monarchy” sign in the other.

 

“Has the world changed, or have I changed?”

 

Of course, we have all changed—after all, it has been thirty-two years since the release of The Queen is Dead. I may no longer view Morrissey through the same melancholy-tinted glasses he wore in my youth, but Low in High School proves that he can still make powerful and thought-provoking music. Now if he could just stop cancelling concerts at the last minute . . .

Gary Maxwell

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

Internet TV: Not Quite Ready for Primetime

Internet TV

Last week, I talked about my cord-cutting experience and how, after trying to go on-demand-only with Netflix and Amazon Prime Video for a couple months, I realized I still valued the live-TV experience. So I turned my attention to the new crop of Internet TV services: Sling TV, PlayStation Vue, DirecTV NOW, and YouTube TV. I’ve auditioned all four, and I’ve found that none of them hits the nail squarely on the head.

 

Sure, all four services have benefits that make them more desirable (at least to me) than a cable/satellite subscription. The starting price of most packages is under $40 per month, and there’s no equipment rental fee. If you’re already a cord-cutter, then you already own a streaming media device through which to use these services, so no equipment investment is required. Plus, the services are easy to access through mobile devices and Web browsers, so you can watch your content (most of it, anyhow) anywhere you wish.

 

Probably the biggest selling point, though, is that none of these services requires a long-term commitment. DirecTV, Dish Network, and (in my area) Comcast all want me to enter into a one- or two-year agreement to get any kind of a deal on their TV service. I’ve enjoyed long-term relationships with both DirecTV and Dish Network in the past, but I’m just not in a commitment kind of place at the moment. I want the freedom to play the field.

 

Despite all the benefits, something is missing. For me, a “complete” TV package consists of four things: The channels I want, the DVR functionality I need, a user interface I like, and the picture quality I demand. In some way, each service falls short.

 

Sling TV has the lowest starting price and the most flexibility to tailor a package to my wants, but it doesn’t offer any local channels in my area and charges an extra $5/month for DVR functionality—which, by the way, doesn’t work on a number of channels. Can you imagine your cable/satellite DVR just not working on ESPN?

 

YouTube TV offers all the local channels in a simple, one-size-fits-all package, plus a cloud DVR with unlimited storage. But I can’t manage recordings the way I like, and YouTube TV’s picture quality is the poorest of the group.

 

DirecTV NOW offers a whole lot of channel options and on-demand content, and the four major networks are now available in my area (but not all areas), yet the service’s cloud DVR function can’t seem to get out of the beta-testing phase.

 

Lastly, there’s PlayStation Vue, which also has a lot of channel options as you move up the price chain. ABC, CBS, and NBC are offered in my area, but not Fox. PS Vue has a lot of sports options and unlimited cloud DVR functionality, and it offers the best picture quality. But I’m not a big fan of the interface. In typical Sony fashion, the channel guide is laid out differently than every program guide on the planet, and it’s kind of laborious to move through the design.

 

The good news is, these services seem to be updated regularly—new channels get added, and the user experience gets tweaked. I’m confident we’ll eventually get to the point where Internet TV is indistinguishable from the current cable/satellite norm.

 

In the meantime, I’ve settled down with Sling TV, mated with a Tablo over-the-air network DVR to tune and record my local channels. We’ve got a pretty good thing going—but, I confess, there’s a new guy that’s caught my eye: Hulu with Live TV.

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 Wirecutter. Adrienne lives in Colorado,
where she spends far too much time looking at the Rockies and not nearly enough time
being in them.

REVIEWS

Incredibles 2 review
Ant-Man review
Blade Runner: The Final Cut review
Lawrence of Arabia review

ALSO ON CINELUXE

Blade Runner: Appreciation vs. Love

Blade Runner 2049

It all started with a casual work-related phone call.

 

Mike Gaughn and I were having one of our semi-regular chats in which we try to solve all of the problems of the universe, from the nature of political discourse to the state of entertainment-related journalism. And somewhere in the midst of all that, he mentioned Radiohead: “A band that I appreciate, sure,” he said. “A band I know I’m supposed to enjoy as an educated critic. But I just don’t like Radiohead.”

 

And it was in that moment that I finally came to terms with how I feel about Blade Runner 2049.

 

The original Blade Runner from 1982 is, without question, one of the most beloved science-fiction films of its generation. It was and is a nearly unparalleled achievement in terms of art direction, design, and cinematography, and it deserves every ounce of critical and academic analysis to which it’s been subjected over the years, through no less than seven different iterations, five of which you can find on the fantastic five-disc Blu-ray release from a few years back.

 

Roughly once a year, I pull that fantastic collection down from my shelf and dig deeply into one of its various cuts, as any good geek is required to do by Geek Law. I’m fascinated by its narrative and thematic evolution. I’m blown away by its ambiguity and the discussions it inspires.

Blade Runner 2049

There’s just one problem. I don’t actually like Blade Runner. I give it all the credit it deserves and absolutely agree with every laudatory treatise on the film that has ever been penned. But for all that, Blade Runner just doesn’t move me. It doesn’t engage my heart in the same way it engages my brain. For all its brilliant reflection on the nature of the soul . . . it just doesn’t strike me as having one itself.

 

Which brings us to Blade Runner 2049, a film I would have told you this time last year should have never been made. From its very conception, the mere existence of Blade Runner 2049 offended me, despite my respect for the work of director Denis Villeneuve.

 

I’m ashamed now to admit that I completely skipped 2049 in its commercial-cinema run. I didn’t bother to read reviews. I existed in a weird little bubble where I managed to convince myself this unnecessary sequel didn’t exist.

 

Until, that is, my daughter wanted to discuss it. And even then, I only begrudgingly watched so I could objectively defend the hatred for the film that I knew I would feel.

 

I didn’t, though. Hate it, that is. In fact, from the opening scene, I found myself absolutely engrossed in what felt like an impossibly perfect continuation of Ridley’s Scott’s 35-year-old masterpiece. In its tone, its look, its feel, its sound—in every tangible respect, Blade Runner 2049 feels true to the original in a way I never would have dreamt possible. It doesn’t merely capture and explore its predecessor’s themes—it expands on them in a way that’s shockingly relevant. As a work of science-fiction and social commentary, I’d daresay it’s actually more poignant than the original.

Blade Runner 2049

If there’s one major difference between Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049, though, it is this: Villeneuve’s sequel—while every ounce as aloof and at times as ambiguous as Scott’s original, while every bit as dense and worthy of intellectual discussion—has something the first film doesn’t. It has visceral, unbridled, unapologetic humanity. It has a heart, guarded as it may be.

 

It’s a film I’m absolutely glad I bought on UHD Blu-ray, partly because it utterly deserves to be seen in a pixel-perfect presentation, with Atmos audio and razor-sharp 4K. But more than that, it’s a film I absolutely need to own in a physical format, because it’s one I’ll be returning to again and again, not out of a sense of obligation but out of desire, and I can’t bear the thought of access to it being blocked by access to the internet or the whims of some corporate streaming contract.

 

I appreciate the original Blade Runner. I have the utmost respect for the original Blade Runner. I will defend it as a work of art until the day I die. I just don’t love Blade Runner.

 

Blade Runner 2049, though? I absolutely, positively adore it. 

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.

The End of Appointment TV?

appointment TV

I cut the cord about a year and half ago. I bid adieu to Dish Network and tried to embrace a purely on-demand TV experience—via Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, specifically. It worked for a couple months. I watched a lot of movies and stand-up comedy specials. I binge-watched shows like Stranger Things, 13 Reasons Why, Grace and Frankie, and Mozart in the Jungle.

 

But something just didn’t feel right. The honeymoon quickly wore off, and I really missed the live-TV experience. I missed channel surfing. I missed primetime TV. And I especially missed sports. As a football fan, Saturdays and Sundays (and Mondays, Thursdays, and sometimes Fridays) just weren’t the same without live TV in the house. I mean, sports bars can be fun, but I don’t want to have to take up residence in one just to see all the games I’d like to see.

 

Eventually, I subscribed to an Internet TV service (Sling TV) and added an over-the-air DVR (Tablo) to get the local channels in my area. That combination has worked great for me—my TV viewing feels whole again. Yet I can’t help but wonder how much life this TV-viewing model has left.

 

Baby Boomers and Gen Xers like me were raised on the model of “appointment television.” Shows air at a certain time each week, during certain seasons of the year, and you either watch the new episodes live or record them. The rise of the VCR and especially the DVR, with its easy programming and robust storage capabilities, certainly altered appointment television—but didn’t kill it. Instead of adhering to specific appointment times, we became more like the cable guy: “I’ll watch The Big Bang Theory some time between the hours of 8:00 and 11:30 p.m.”

 

And that still holds true for me today. With the exception of sports and special events like the Oscars, I seldom watch anything live. It’s all recorded . . . but it’s also a safe bet that I’m gonna watch my favorite shows (This Is Us, Speechless, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) within a few hours of recording them. The cord may be cut, but the appointment mindset remains.

 

But what about those people who haven’t had “primetime” ingrained in their psyche since birth? We’re seeing the rise of an entire generation of cord-nevers—people who have never subscribed to a traditional pay-TV service. They watch what they want, when they want, how they want. They expect you to release the entire season of Stranger Things 2 at once so they can binge on it as they desire. They don’t watch reruns. They simply rewatch the really good stuff. I don’t think my nine-year-old has ever uttered the words, “Mom, what time does [insert favorite show of the moment] come on?”

 

For now, the rise of Internet TV services like Sling TV, PlayStation Vue, and YouTube TV shows there is still an audience for appointment TV, even amongst the cord-cutters. I just read a story from FierceCable.com that Internet TV providers gained 2.6 million customers in 2017, totaling about 4.6 million subscribers in all. But the story goes on to say that those numbers only represent about one-third of the people who have walked away from traditional pay-TV service since 2010. The other two-thirds have presumably gone on-demand only (or tuned out entirely).

 

It seems almost inevitable that on-demand will become the new normal, and live TV will become the bonus content. If you’re wondering how that might play out, look no further than Amazon’s deal with the NFL to stream Thursday Night Football to Prime customers this past season. It’s on-demand, with a hint of appointment TV thrown in for good measure.

 

—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 Wirecutter (but her opinions here do not
represent those of Wirecutter or its parent company, The New York Times). Adrienne lives in
Colorado, where she spends far too much time looking at the Rockies and not nearly enough
time being in them.

Ugly Delicious

Ugly Delicious is not food porn. I don’t say that to diminish the appeal of food porn, mind you. If I flip past the Food Network and catch a glimpse of The Taste, or At My Table—or really just anything with Nigella Lawson in it—I’m so totally onboard. I’m in. And with Chef’s Table, Netflix has proven itself more than capable of producing some of the best food porn known to man.

 

So, when the first episode of Ugly Delicious popped up in my recommended watchlist, I nearly dislocated my thumb scrambling for the select button. And five minutes into the first episode, I thought I had the show pretty well figured out. It comes off, at least at first, as something like a more erudite Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, with a much more likable host (chef, author, and restaurateur Dave Chang, who you may remember from PBS’ The Mind of a Chef) and much less emphasis on unabashed gluttony.

 

By the end of its first 54-minute episode, I found myself drifting away from that comparison, because if anything, the tone and spirit of Ugly Delicious reminds me less of any food show I’ve ever seen, and more of some of my favorite food podcasts. A dash of The Sporkful. A sprinkling of Gastropod. A heaping helping of The Splendid Table. But even those comparisons fall short, because the truly delightful thing about Ugly Delicious is that it manages to carve out its own unique space in the landscape of culinary media.

 

And that might be because it’s really less about food and more about our relationship with food. The first episode, which focuses on pizza, really establishes the thematic undercurrent of the series brilliantly, especially in the way it grapples with the notion of authenticity versus honesty. We meet quite a few people during the course of the episode who have strong opinions on the right or wrong way to make a pizza. (In fact, after taking us to a pizzeria in Connecticut that makes a delicious-looking clam pizza, we immediately meet another pizza chef who scoffs, “You want clams? Have spaghetti and clams! That’s where clams belong—on spaghetti!”) But if there’s one message that comes through loud and clear, it’s that nothing is sacred. And yet, in a weird way, when it comes to food, everything is sacred. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such irreverential reverence.

Ugly Delicious

Ugly Delicious manages to get away with such contradictions because, as I said above, it’s really about humanity—and humans are nothing if not contradictory. The show also manages to work in conversations about food as culture. Food as politics. Food as identity. Food as rebellion. It grapples with issues of race and ethnicity, of geographic bigotry, of tradition, and it does it all while fueling one’s desire to eat in so many of the deliciously delightful locales spotlighted in its eight criminally brief episodes.

 

Honestly, if Ugly Delicious had even a whiff of pretention about it, it might be a little too heavy-handed to enjoy. But if anything, it’s a backlash against the pretentiousness that permeates shows of its sort. True, the delightful cast rips hard into Taco Bell in the episode on tacos (while trying to come to some consensus on what even is a taco). But Dominos and KFC aren’t anywhere near as reviled in the episodes on pizza and fried chicken.

 

Perhaps the most curious thing about Ugly Delicious is that despite its use of food as a lens through which to view ourselves, it probably captures the essence of eating better than any food show I’ve ever watched. Each episode truly feels like a meal, and I don’t mean just the eating part. I mean the conversations. The camaraderie. Indeed, the arguments.

 

So, if you’re looking for some truly delicious food erotica, give it a try. And even if you’re not into watching people eat and travel and talk about food, give it a try anyway. Because Ugly Delicious isn’t merely the best slice of gastronomic programming since 2011’s Jiro Dreams of Sushi. It’s probably one of the best new shows of any genre to drop in the past year. 

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.