Movies

Patton Oswalt: Annihilation

Patton Oswalt Annihilation

Patton Oswalt is obviously a really smart guy. He has a jaw-dropping ability to react to, dissect, build on, and recontextualize situations on the fly. And anything that brings together him, Bob Goldthwait, and M. Ward can’t be all bad.

 

But . . .

 

You always get the feeling he could do better but he’s decided to take the easier path. (Witness his decision to play second banana on the MST3K reboot.)

 

He’s obviously trying to push his personal envelope with the Netflix Annihilation special, and the result is a comedy routine that’s frequently funny even when it ventures into what, even by the current, low standards, is uncomfortable territory. But it all ultimately feels safe—nerd safe.

 

There’s vast creative potential in exploring what happens when nerds are confronted by brutal reality in ways they can’t shrug off by retreating into a womb-like fantasy world. And Oswalt comes really close to going there—but he never crosses the line into the truly risky, and that’s where the special falls short. And that failure underlines an even greater flaw.

 

Oswalt has always been a guy in a bubble talking to other people inside the same bubble. He talks a lot in Annihilation about empathizing, but it’s not really empathizing if you’re just telling people who believe exactly what you do exactly what they want to hear.

 

He spends about the first third of the special venting, with good cause, over the current sad state of things. But he ultimately just reinforces his audience’s prejudices—the same smug, judgmental, knee-jerk behavior that helped create the crisis in the first place.

 

Simply put, if he can’t acknowledge the weaknesses in his positions, and by extension the positions of his audience, he’s not really empathizing. This epidemic of people within every imaginable political and cultural subgroup preaching only to the converted, and by doing so only reinforcing the oppressive divide & conquer worldview they claim to abhor, might be the single most malignant cultural disease.

 

That doesn’t mean every comedian should stop what they’re doing and submit their philosophies and dogma to merciless scrutiny—most of them aren’t up to the task so it would only lead to another empty exercise in narcissism. But the ones who claim to be deeply disturbed by the broken social landscape should, and they should do it publicly. Otherwise, nothing’s going to change.

 

Put another way, people have gotten so desperate for constant, unqualified praise that they’re scared crapless to challenge anybody or anything directly, and instead blame all their woes on some bogeyman Other.

 

But let me make the point again: Oswalt is really funny here. And he’s obviously really smart. So Annihilation is a good use of your time. I’m just not comfortable with anyone who decries the state of the world while turning a blind eye to what they’re doing to contribute to the fiasco.

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

Blade Runner: The Final Cut

Kaleidescape Blade Runner

Blade Runner is one of those movies people seem to either love or hate. On the one hand, Ridley Scott created a richly detailed and developed world that feels dark, gritty, real, and fleshed out in nearly every sense. On the other, the movie is a bit slow and plodding, light on action, and weighted down with its own mythology.

 

Beyond incredible set design, what Blade Runner really has going is a terrific performance by Harrison Ford. Remember that BR was released in 1982 at the height of Ford’s stardom, when he was coming off two massive Star Wars films and the first Raiders movie. Here, his portrayal of rogue-replicant hunter Rick Deckard has none of the cocksure swagger or wry humor of Solo or Indy, but rather is a man living a dark, solitary existence, taking no joy in his job, and frequently finding solace in alcohol. He’s a much deeper, darker, more real hero than what is normally portrayed.

 

The film also has one of the most tortured pasts when it comes to versions, with alternate cuts, and approvedand non-approveddirector’s cuts. In fact, there’s a fair bit of debate over which version one should actually watch, or if the full Blade Runner immersion requires viewing all and taking bits and pieces from each. I myself have journeyed with BR for years, having watched the LaserDisc and owned the DVD and Blu-ray. And while you can read about all of the various versions here, I can tell you the definitive one is the new 4K HDR version available for download now at the Kaleidescape store.

 

While only Ridley Scott’s 2007 The Final Cut (or 25th Anniversary Edition) receives the full Ultra HD makeover, the download gives you access to the US Theatrical Cut, International Theatrical Cut, Director’s Cut, and Work Print, along with hours of supplemental material to complete your Blade Runner journey. And let me assure you, no matter how many times you’ve seen the movie, or how you felt about it on prior viewings, this is an entirely new Blade Runner experience. The film looks and sounds better than ever, and it’s especially timely given the recent release of the sequel, Blade Runner 2049.

 

The movie underwent an extensive restoration for the Ultra HD conversion, with much of the original footage scanned at 4K resolution and some of the 65mm effects footage scanned at 8K. There was also a frame-by-frame digital cleanup, the film has been re-color-timed to Scott’s specifications, and the remixed audio received the full Dolby Atmos treatment.

Kaleidescape Blade Runner

The result is a stunningly clean and magnificent-looking movie with virtually no grain or noise, with fine details apparent in nearly every shot. The HDR has been used to great effect, with solid, stable, and noise-free blacks and with neon lights and bright colors popping from the screen.

 

I’d forgotten how much of the movie was really a video torture test, with many scenes shot in darkly lit, often smoky interiors with bright lights piercing in from windows. This would normally reveal tons of banding and other video nasties, or have details totally lost in the dynamic-range contrast crush, but UHD’s higher bit rate keeps everything solid and pristine. Going back and comparing the look of this film to the original DVD version reveals the shocking level of care and restoration that has been taken, with the DVD marred by a sea of noise, grain, and age.

 

The Atmos audio mix is also used to greatly enhance the film, with many environmental sounds and Vangelis’ score mixed to the overhead speakers to great effect. I’d forgotten how it almost constantly rains in Los Angeles in 2019, but this plays right into Atmos’ overhead channel strengths. The bass mix is also quite dynamic, with deep, powerful explosions that will give your subs a workout.

 

While this transfer might not make Blade Runner your favorite film, it will definitely command your attention for its 117-minute run time. Download and enjoy it today!

—John Sciacca

 

Minor spoiler . . .

It has long been a “was he, wasn’t he?” argument regarding Deckard, with even Ridley Scott and Harrison Ford differing on their take. One thing I really noticed in the 4K version of the film was how Deckard’s eyes glowed in a specific scene when talking to Rachelsomething that happens to all replicants in the film and which would seem to clearly indicate Deckard is one. Was this an intentional color change by Scott, or perhaps a subtle detail just brought out by the better transfer?

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.

Dangal

Netflix Dangal

I have been a fan of Bollywood movies since I was still living in Greece. They’re usually melodramatic but always sincerely heartfelt, with family relationships providing the core of most plots.

 

Bollywood reminds me of the Greek movies of the ‘60s, which is considered the golden era of Greek commercial cinema. In both Greek and Indian movies, the drama usually revolves around a disciplinarian patriarch and a sonor a daughterwho want to escape the father’s rule and pursue their own destiny (usually by marrying the one they love). It’s a well-honed formula that works most of the time because nobody is trying to shove some political message down people’s throats. That family life complies to societal rules is the accepted reality in India, and the audience never gets tired of seeing their experience magnified on the big screen.

 

Dangal is no exception to this formula. Against the accepted tradition that wrestling is a man’s sport, a father (superstar Aamir Kahn in one of his most disciplined performances) trains his two reluctant daughters to become word-famous wrestling champions. The girls try to rebel at first but eventually succumb to their father’s wishes because they realize that his heart is in the right placehe wants to see his kids to bring glory to their country and family

 

In an American movie, the girls would have become independent and left their father behind, with his ambitions for them crushed. But this is an Indian movie that’s a true mirror image of Indian culture. Whether, as westerners, we accept itor even like itthe message is that, in India, family is king and “father knows best.”

 

I was surprised to read in the NY Times recently that Dangal broke attendance records not just in India but also in China. In just two months, it took in more than $194 milliona number that, until then, had been only achieved by Hollywood blockbusters like Transformers, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Star Trek.

 

I’m not usually a social commentator, but this highly unusual performance of a non-Hollywood film has me thinking: Are audiences around the world getting tired of movies built around special effects? Could it be that people are identifying with something more substantial and satisfying than a premise put together by a committee after “market research? In the case of Dangal, that “something” is a beating heart and a culture that audiences can identify with

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.

REVIEWS

The Big Short

Netflix The Big Short

The Big Short is episodic, top heavy with stars, blatantly political, shamelessly didactic, feels a lot like an economics lesson, doesn’t have any romance or sex, doesn’t have any violence, doesn’t have any role-model female leads, and is sometimes just plain ineptin other words, it’s everything a big Hollywood film’s not supposed to be. But it worksand it works so well that you wish Adam McKay would swear off Will Ferrell comedies for a while and make more serious, flawed, I’ll-try-anything-as-long-as-it-works films like this one instead.

 

I guess it’s a good thing mainstream audiences will now accept heavily fragmented movies about process. (There’s a steep downside to that that I won’t go into right now.) But there’s nothing radical about The Big Shortit’s basically an old-fashioned men-at-work tale filled with lovable losers that reaffirms some traditional values that probably haven’t had a meaningful presence in American society in over 30 years. But it does get you to consider the country’s financial and moral bankruptcy, how pervasive they are, and how deeply they’re intertwinedsomething well beyond the means of almost any American filmmaker.

 

Ryan Gosling does his Ryan Gosling thing, Christian Bale does his “No, I’m an actorreally” thing, Brad Pitt turns in another solid performance that makes you wish he’d take more chances, and Steve Carell, as usual, steals the show. McKay seems to be good at handling actors, but it’s hard to tell because the action’s so disjointed and, for the most part, superficial, and Carell is the only one who goes anywhere new.

 

It’s almost impossible to put your finger on why this film works. It’s like somebody put on a shaggy dog costume to tell a deeply serious tale, and you can’t ignore it because it won’t stop slobbering all over you. (That’s not a criticism, by the way, but said instead with a kind of awe.)

 

The cinematography is nothing spectacular, varying between undistinguished and standard-issue contemporary pretentious, so streaming doesn’t do it a lot of harm. That doesn’t mean The Big Short isn’t cinematic, but it’s one of those films you could watch on your cellphone and maybe lose only 5% of the impact. Maybe.

 

And that, in this case, is a good thing.

—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

Husbands and Wives

Amazon Husbands and Wives

I know, I know—I just wrote about Cafe Society. And there’s a contemporary cinema worth acknowledging too. (Right?) But I’m working on something that’s got me scrambling to refamiliarize myself with the Allen canon, and streaming isn’t making it easy. There’s not a lot of his work available online at the moment, and most of it’s not what I want to plumb. Husbands and Wives is.

 

It’s almost impossible to believe the best Allen films ever got made—let alone gained a following—they go so strongly, and sometimes aggressively, against the grain of mainstream movies. But his core instincts as an entertainer, and his need to ingratiate (remember Zelig—and Zelig?), help ensure his best films are pleasurable and engaging no matter where they decide to go.

 

Husbands and Wives is a known quantity, so there’s no point in rehashing the plot or talking about its groundbreaking technique. So let’s talk instead about this persistent bullshit about Allen not knowing how to direct actors. (It’s like the old—and completely wrong—saw about Billy Wilder being a writer who happened to direct.) And yet there are more exquisite performances in his films than in the films of any other American director. Explain that.

 

The scene where Sydney Pollack tries to get his flakey girlfriend to get into his car before she embarrasses him is one of the rawest and truest things ever shot. And it didn’t happen by having an incompetent director set two actors loose and tell them to figure it out for themselves.

 

Pollack was at best a mediocre director—a mainstream hack. He looked humiliated in Tootsie and completely lost in Eyes Wide Shut. So why is he so good here, and so well integrated into the fabric of the film? It’s long past time to give Allen his due.

 

Di Palma’s cinematography is so subtle that the demons of streaming come close to shredding it. That doesn’t mean it can only be enjoyed on the largest possible screen in the grandest possible setting—there’s something intimate about it that makes that kind of setting almost antithetical. But it deserves respect, and streaming almost feels like a dis.

 

As brilliant, and almost perfect, as Husbands and Wives is, it can’t be Allen’s best film—it’s about 15 minutes too long and lacks the startling sprightliness of his best work. But it’s substantial, and true, which puts it so far outside the mainstream that it feels, deliciously, like sacrilege. It’s more mature, nuanced, and, in general, accomplished than Annie Hall or Manhattan, but it’s not better. Sometimes, vitality aces all.

 

Movies are almost impossible to make, and are harder to make the more mainstream they are. So it’s not a matter of taste but simple statistics: When you look at the number of innovative, provocative, engaging films Allen has made, and how consistent but also responsive his aesthetic has been across the decades, he’s probably had the most successful career of any American director ever.

 

I know that’s hard to believe, but think about it. Then try to dispute it.

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

Full Metal Jacket

Netflix Full Metal Jacket

Received wisdom thinks dark, gritty movies are a recent phenomena, but they really began working their way into the mainstream right around the time the studio system began to unravel, beginning with Aldrich’s 1955 Kiss Me Deadly. They hit their peak—along with a lot of other styles and genres—in 1968, the year of Night of the Living Dead, and have had an insidious influence on just above every kind of film ever since.

 

Lynch, seeing the culture take the reactionary turn he wanted but sensing it couldn’t hold, took them someplace new in 1986 with Blue Velvet. But the film that’s probably had the biggest influence on contemporary grim is Kubrick’s 1987 Full Metal Jacket.

 

It’s a troubling film in more than one way—partly because you can sense the master starting to lose his grip. But it’s also fearless—something you can’t say about practically any of the noisy and abusive but heavily risk-averse stuff that’s come in its wake.

 

Don’t expect to see a pristine image when you watch Jacket on Netflix—but this isn’t a pristine movie, so that’s not the end of the world. Kubrick wanted it to have a washed-out, documentary feel, and I suspect even a print as distressed as the Vietnam combat footage he was aping would be really compelling to watch. But streamed, the darker the film gets, the more the various artifacts come to the fore until by the infamous sniper scene there are whole mosaics of tiling to distract you.

 

But even Kubrick on the wane is a better investment than just about any film made by anyone ever, so this is worth watching under just about any circumstances. And Netflix’ streamed version isn’t awful—it’s just not as good as it should be.

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

Cafe Society

Woody Allen Cafe Society

I’ve never understood—and never will—what anybody saw in Midnight in Paris, except maybe a vision of Allen as a dealer in contrivance and platitudes instead of the serious filmmaker he can sometimes be. It was a not very convincing concatenation of gestures he’d delivered with far more depth and flair in earlier films—The Purple Rose of Cairo in particular.

 

Meanwhile, Café Society was greeted with a general ho-hum—which is scandalous, given that it’s a far, far better film. No, it’s not perfect—but why would anybody want a Woody Allen film to be perfect? What it is—and what it has in common with Blue Jasmine—is that it’s both astute and felt. And when was the last time you saw a film like that?

 

It’s a literary film—a dirty word in Hollywood, worthy of death—which is to say it has the pacing and careful observations of a novella. I can understand why that wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste, but it ought to be worthy of everyone’s consideration.

 

The digital cinematography is jarring at first, and never quite feels true, feeling too sharp and sterile. But the material and performances are better than the way they’re captured, and add up to something superior, by leagues, to the too contrived, relentlessly smartass confections that currently pass for serious film.

 

Anybody who passes on Café Society is missing the chance to experience a film that, for all its flaws, gets far more right than it ever gets wrong—which makes it something of a miracle in a contemporary cinema that, lost in its own sound and fury, almost always comes up short.

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

“Warrior” and “Southpaw”

Kaleidescape Warrior

If you watched or visited a sports or news website in August 2017, you undoubtedly heard about the Floyd Mayweather Jr./Conor McGregor super fight in Las Vegas. While the fight seemed to go mostly accordingly to everyone’s plan, it went a solid ten rounds, and seems to have lived up to the hype and given the fans a good show.

 

Inspired by that massive spectacle, I came up with a couple of boxing-themed recommendations: Warrior and Southpaw.

 

Released in 2011, Warrior features a terrific cast that includes Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy, and Nick Nolte, and follows estranged brothers Brendan (Edgerton) and Tommy Conlon (Hardy) as they train for a massive, winner-take-all MMA tournament. The fights in the octagon are hard, fast, and real, yet the action is all PG-13, so they aren’t too bloody and brutal. The acting and pacing keep you involved and invested over the film’s 2 hours and 20 minute run time, and the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1-channel track puts you right in the ring with crowd noise and solid connection of blows, as the movie builds to the inevitable brother-on-brother climax.

 

Southpaw (2015) follows practically every cliché formula in the book yet manages to be incredibly entertaining, dramatic, and enjoyable nonetheless. Directed by Antoine Fuqua, an avid boxer himself, the movie is filled with heart and has a terrific script with believable dialogue that keeps it from seeming like another retread. The supporting cast of Forest Whitaker, who throws himself into the role of trainer, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, who ably handles the role of sleazy agent/promoter, and Rachel McAdams as the concerned wife, helps to create a fully rounded story. But it’s Jake Gyllenhaal in the leading role of Billy Hope that truly shines. Gyllenhaal got his body ripped and shredded for this role, put in a ton of training to move and fight like a fighter, and terrifically conveys Hope’s troubled I’ll-do-anything-to-get-back quest for redemption. And while “only” 1080p, the film has some terrific video detail. Check out the pool scene where Jordan Mains (Jackson) is talking to Mo’ (McAdams), and look at the fine pattern detail and texture in Mains’ jacket and hat. Stunning!

 

Both films are available in Blu-ray-quality download from the Kaleidescape Movie Store, and will be sure to entertain both boxing/fighting fans and non- alike!

—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 Guns of Navarone

Kaleidescape Guns of Navarone

I logged in at the Kaleidescape Store last night to look for a movie I might not already have in my collection. I wasn’t looking for a new title but for a catalog title that had been upgraded to 4K. Two movies attracted my attention: The Bridge on the River Kwai and The Guns of Navarone.

 

I had seen Kwai on regular HD recently, so I settled for Navarone, which had a special emotional appeal for me. Along with a few other American productions of the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s (like The Boy on a Dolphin, The Island of Love, It Happened in Athens, and Forty Carats), it had been shot entirely in Greece.

 

Regardless of my biases for liking this movie, The Guns of Navarone is still a very engrossing war epic. It tells the story of a team of British commandos sent to Greece during the German occupation to destroy a huge German canon that commanded a key sea channel. The movie is a solid adventure that focuses on action but not at the expense of characters. It’s as rousing today as it was when I first saw it as a kid at the Orpheum Theater in Athens.

 

I remember the movie always being grainy and dark on video. The Blu-ray release was a substantial improvement, especially in sharpness. But you can’t improve a movie much unless you go back to the original negative, and it seems that Navarone’s negative has been lost either out of neglect or overprinting.

 

The Kaleidescape 4K edition further improves the picture’s sharpness and the contrast ratio, but the grain from duping is still there. Nothing can be done about itI’m afraid this is as good as The Guns of Navarone will ever look.

—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.

REVIEWS

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

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

Kaleidescape Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

Since the dawn of cinema, the established film frame rate has been 24 frames per second (fps). However, Thomas Edison said the visual cortex needed at least 46 fps to avoid eye strain. To achieve this, and eliminate any eye strain or strobing, many modern 35 mm film projectors use two- and even three-bladed shutters—flashing each frame on the screen two or three times—to achieve 48 and 72 images per second to satisfy Mr. Edison’s recommendation.

 

Yet, despite all the technological advances over the past century, all those movies you’re watching in your fancy home theater—whether via DVD, Blu-ray, and even Ultra HD Blu-ray player—are being shown at that same 24 fps.

 

Except one.

 

My latest pick for Movie of the Week is Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, not because it’s a great film—in fact, it’s kind of a mess of a story—but because it looks so frickin’ amazing that it’s the brain and eye candy your visual cortex has been craving!

 

Billy Lynn is so impressive because director Ang Lee used an extraordinary shooting style, filming at 4K resolution in stereoscopic 3-D at 120 fps—five times the traditional rate. This is the highest frame rate ever used on a film, eclipsing the 48 fps Peter Jackson employed for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. This approach resulted in more than 540 terabytes of dailies with a final delivery file that was 84 TB.

 

But since only six theaters in the world—including just two in the US—could actually show the film in its full glory, you probably never saw it. And since 4K/120 exceeds the Ultra HD and HDMI 2.0 spec, Billy Lynn has been released to the home market in 4K at 60 fps, the highest resolution the format can support. This high frame rate requires the full 18 Gbps bandwidth, and will lay bare any shortcomings in your system’s signal chain. But for those lucky enough to experience it in its full 4K/60 glory, Billy Lynn looks absolutely stunning and unlike any movie you’ve seen before.

 

There’s hyper clarity and focus in every shot. Tight shots on actors’ faces reveal every thought, detail, and expression down to the thinnest individual strand of hair. Fabric in actors’ uniforms reveals texture and micro stitching detail, letting you see every nuance of the patches and medals, and even analyze the diamond pattern on rifle grips. Wide shots capture every actor, building, and set piece in razor-sharp focus. One of my favorite shots happens at 6 minutes 34 seconds, where you can read details on the gravestones many rows back in the cemetery, and when the camera pans over to the service, the image remains solid and focused. 

 

From an audio standpoint, Billy Lynn includes an immersive Dolby Atmos mix that helps establish the ambience in different scenes. While the first half of the film is a bit restrained, the second half starting with the actual halftime show kicks into high gear, with the big battle scene in Chapter 11 being reference quality all the way.

 

Kaleidescape Strato owners need to be sure to download the HDR version of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, since that’s the 60 fps version. While you might not love the movie, it’s sure to become your go-to video demo material when you want to impress your guests and demonstrate what the fuss about 4K HDR is all about!

—John Sciacca

 

—> Check out John’s post on “How Kaleidescape Delivers Real HD”

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.