Reviews

Uncut Gems

Uncut Gems

I can’t remember the last time any film left me feeling so conflicted as Benny and Josh Safdie’s Uncut Gems. Conflicted because, on the one hand, it’s as distinctive an artistic expression as I’ve seen on film in who knows how long—meticulously scripted, inventively shot, masterfully edited, with performances that are award-worthy down to the level of the most minor secondary roles.

 

On the other hand, I can’t remember any film in recent memory that filled me with such anxiety as this one did, from the opening scene straight through to the closing credits. The film stars Adam Sandler, who turns in a pitch-perfect performance as Howard Ratner, a jewelry store proprietor and compulsive gambler who’s always one side-hustle away from either striking it rich or getting fitted for cement shoes. His fortunes seem to change when he comes into possession of a rare black opal that quickly becomes the obsession of basketball player Kevin Garnett (played equally effectively by basketball player 

Kevin Garnett). Rather than selling the stone to Garnett for a ridiculous sum of money, Ratner decides to scam him by way of an auction, and, well . . . so it goes for the rest of the film.

 

In some ways, I suppose you could call Uncut Gems a morality play, but the morality espoused seems to be pure nihilism. There isn’t a sympathetic character in the film. No 

one to root for. No opportunity for a satisfying resolution that isn’t morally bankrupt. And I’m not saying that makes it a bad film; I’m merely saying it was one that I couldn’t enjoy.

 

Which is a shame, because the Safdies draw inspiration from some of my guilty pleasures, especially the late-80s/early-90s output of Michael Mann, whose style they manage to evoke without aping, both visually and aurally. Shot on the same Kodak Vision3 500T 35mm film stock that gave Marriage Story its distinctively cinematic look, Uncut Gems is the perfect marriage of photochemical chaos and cutting-edge digital precision. It’s all unapologetically crushed blacks and cranked primary hues, and in one scene in particular—at a glitzy nightclub performance by The Weeknd—the 4K HDR presentation (sourced from a 4K digital intermediate) uses its enhanced dynamic range to effectively recreate the blacklight illumination and the DayGlo neon colors that result.

 

Even the soundtrack is a captivating mix of retro and bleeding edge, thanks in part to a score by Daniel Lopatin that breaks all the rules of both composition and mixing. The music at times evokes the Michael Mann aesthetic, with 80s-tastic droning synths and a pulse-pounding tempo that pushes the visuals forward. At other times, it veers into Blade Runner territory,

and at other times still ventures into what can only be described as artistic porn-music territory.

 

The one consistent aspect of the soundtrack—and indeed the sound mix as a whole—is that supervising sound editor Warren Shaw acts as if he’s the first person to ever work in surround sound, much less Dolby Atmos. The mix exhibits a level of aggression I would normally find irritating and distracting, but here it simply works. Dialogue is forced into the left or right channels at times when it would traditionally be locked into the center. Score music often uses the surrounds as the primary channels instead of the fronts. If it weren’t all so skillfully mixed, it would come across as pure chaos, and to be frank I find myself loving it all in spite of myself.

 

In the end, though, I have to put Uncut Gems into that growing pile of films that I appreciate but just can’t enjoy. For all the visual and auditory allusions to Michael Mann, the film ends up playing as more of a horror movie in which the lumbering antagonist isn’t a machete-wielding psychopath, but rather karma itself. It could have just as easily been titled A Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Person Has a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week.

 

And here’s the thing: I’m not quite sure if the Safdies have created a window

Uncut Gems

or a mirror. Am I supposed to feel any sympathy or empathy for Sandler’s awful character? If so, Uncut Gems fails in that respect, because I can’t. Am I supposed to root for his comeuppance? I hope not, because that feels just as gross.

 

And yet, for all the anxiety, for all the conflicted feelings, for all the desire to bleach my eyeballs after the credits rolled, I have to admit I was absolutely captivated by the sheer talent on the screen and behind the scenes here. And I don’t really like the way that realization makes me feel about myself.   

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.

Charlie’s Angels (2019)

Charlie's Angels (2019)

I was born in 1970, so that made me just a bit too young to be the target demographic for Aaron Spelling’s original Charlie’s Angels TV series, which ran from 1976-1981. (As a young boy, I was far more interested in the exploits of Lee Majors as USAF Colonel Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man.) So, I didn’t come into this latest Angels movie with any real baggage of the original TV show, or any real expectations short of hoping it would be an entertaining way to pass a couple of hours in my home theater.

 

And I think that is the right level of expectation to set going into the film.

 

Unlike the 2000 and 2003 Angels films directed by McG, which relied heavily on star power in the form of Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu, and Cameron Diaz as the titular Angels, this movie tapped two far less known actresses to make up two-thirds of the Angel trio, with Elena Houghlin (Jasmine from Disney’s live-action Aladdin remake) as Elena Houghlin and TV actress Ella Balinska as Jane Kano. To bring some name recognition to the cast, we have Kristen Stewart as third Angel, Sabina Wilson, and Elizabeth Banks who also wrote the screenplay and directed the film, as Rebekah Bosley.

 

The film also managed to grab Sir Patrick Stewart as John Bosley and Djimon Hounsou as Edgar Bosley. (The movie explains that “Bosley” is more akin to a rank in the Townsend Agency akin to Lieutenant, rather than an actual name. So, I learned that.)

 

Almost from the first frame, this movie establishes its agenda and might as well throw up on the screen in huge neon pink letters, “WOMEN GOOD! MEN BAD!” When in doubt, assume that any male character is going to be bad, and that any female character will be a martial arts and weapon-master badass.

 

The film opens with Sabina on a penthouse date in Rio De Janeiro, with the very first lines of dialogue being her telling her date, “I think women can do anything,” with the man condescendingly replying, “Just because they can, doesn’t mean they should.”

 

Imagine the writers room erupting with an indignant, “Oh, no! He didn’t just say that!” and you’ve got a sense of this film’s message.

 

We learn scarcely little enough about Sabina (her name is Italian, but she’s not; she grew up rich and troubled, or did she?), Jane (former MI6 operative), or Rebekah (first Angel promoted to Bosley) to really know anything or care about them. All we really need to know is that they know how to fight, shoot, infiltrate, and get the upper-hand on any man they run across, all while looking beautiful, with perfect hair and clothing.

 

Originally this was intended as a reboot of the franchise, but instead it was decided it would be a continuation of the original TV series and McG-directed films. There is a brief scene near the beginning when John is retiring that we get a walk-down-memory-lane montage that briefly shows us the original Angels cast as well as Liu, Barrymore, and Diaz in an attempt to tie everything together. This is also where we learn that the Townsend Agency is worldwide, with branches—and Angels and Bosleys—arrayed around the globe to protect us from the shadows. Or something.

 

The film’s plot revolves around Calisto, the latest development of tech entrepreneur Alexander Brock’s (Sam Claflin) company that can bring cheap, limitless power to the planet. However, Calisto engineer and programmer Elena has discovered an exploit that can weaponize Calisto, turning it into an untraceable localized human-killing EMP device. After she brings this to the attention of her boss, Peter Fleming (Nat Faxon) and is rebuffed, she decides to tell an outsider, bringing in the Angels. The rest of the film is a global chase trying to recover all of the Calisto devices and keep them from being sold to a mysterious buyer.

 

The film’s soundtrack is driven by some major pop stars, including Ariana Grande (who co-produced the film’s soundtrack), Normani, Nicki Minaj, Miley Cyrus, and Lana Del Rey and the movie doesn’t miss any opportunities to cue up these tracks. In fact, sometimes the film seems like it’s just looking for the opportunity to jump to the next scene where it can set up another room-filling bass-driven pop song in some new exotic location such as Rio, London, LA, Berlin, Hamburg, Istanbul, or Chamonix. 

 

As I said at the outset, going in with expectations low, and knowing this isn’t a movie you should over-analyze (like they just bring in Elena, this totally untrained civilian scientist, giving her access to an armory and top-secret gear, and effectively adopt her as a full-fledged member of their secret and highly trained team, immediately throwing her into harm’s way? But, she’s a woman, and—surprise!—also a master hacker, so of course she comes equipped with all these skills, so that makes total sense.)

 

Definitely watch through the first part of the end credits, which have some of the film’s most fun moments. Here we see Angels in a variety of training situations getting instruction from some cool cameos. We also get a reveal of who Charlie is.

 

While shot in a combination of 3.4 and 8K resolutions, this transfer is taken from a 2K digital intermediate, however don’t let that deter you. Sony definitely knows how to make an excellent-looking home video transfer, and this doesn’t disappoint. 

Closeups reveal incredible levels of detail, showing the heavy application of makeup on some actress’ faces. We also get lots of textural detail in clothing and buildings, with images looking tack-sharp.

 

Images are incredibly clean and detailed throughout, regardless the lighting condition. There is one underwater scene with shades of blue that would give bandwidth-limited streaming services a fit, but here there is no hint of banding or anything else untoward. Blacks are also deep and noise-free.

 

HDR is used effectively throughout, giving images plenty of depth and punch. There are several dark interior scenes where stray lights deliver lots of pop, to nighttime exteriors like the opening nighttime scenes showing streetlights right off the ocean in Rio. Explosions also have a lot of punch and glowing reds and oranges that benefit from the wider color gamut. The scenes in the Chamonix castle look especially good, with bright glowing tube lights and the Angels’ sequin dresses shimmering iridescently.

 

Sonically, the film is a bit reserved for a big action movie. Explosions and gunshots have the appropriate weight and impact, but most of the audio seems to be spread across the front channels. The surrounds are called into play during the big action and chase scenes, with things being thrown around the room and 

Charlie's Angels (2019)

debris flying overhead, and music is mixed dynamically up into the front height channels to expand the soundstage. But I didn’t notice the usual sorts of ambient room and city sounds that normally breathe life into more developed soundtracks.

 

If you’ve read my review up to this point, you’re probably sensing a lot of negativity, and might assume that I hated Charlie’s Angels, but that isn’t the case. While I didn’t think Angels was necessarily a good movie—Ocean’s Eight was a far better and smarter female-buddy caper film—it isn’t a total stinker either.

 

And while I’m not generally a fan of Kristin Stewart and her typically one-note emotional range, she is actually quirky and funny here, and the most interesting Angel in my opinion. Plus, at 52% on the Rotten Tomatoes meter and with a 78% audience score it definitely won’t be the worst thing you’ll see this year, and it has its big action and chase moments that certainly play well in a home theater.

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 Man Who Killed Don Quixote

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

I’ll be honest with you: This was not an easy review to write. As a devotee of all things Terry Gilliam, I burned through multiple drafts that had me sounding like a drooling fanboy rather than a calm, introspective observer and commentator presenting a review of one of the most anticipated films of this or any century.

 

See? That’s what I’m talking about. I went into my initial screening of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote with way too many expectations and background baggage to simply sit back and enjoy the film. Instead, it took no fewer than three viewings—and four drafts of this review—for me to appreciate and process Gilliam’s latest film without adding footnotes based on the long and harrowing story of a movie that materialized nearly 30 years after the director first went to work on a project that would become a textbook example of industry limbo.

 

Based on Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Gilliam’s vision of the classic story is updated and twisted around without losing the plot . . . most of the time. In 1998, Gilliam secured the funding to make the film as he saw fit, with Johnny Depp starring as marketing executive (later film director) Toby Grummett and Jean Rochefort as Quixote. Though production commenced full swing in 2000, the series of early challenges that are laid bare in the documentary Lost in La Mancha were matched only by an equally disastrous series of setbacks that continued through early 2017, when production on the final version was announced.

 

Along the way, Gilliam directed no fewer than four full-length features (The Brothers Grimm, Tideland, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, and The Zero Theorem) and two shorts (The Legend of Hallowdega and The Wholly Family). Not too shabby for an artist who still had his sights and heart set on bringing Quixote to completion.

 

It’s no wonder, then, that he begins the film with a title card that proudly states: “And now, after more than 25 years in the making . . . and unmaking . . . a Terry Gilliam film.”

 

And it is indeed a Terry Gilliam film, with all the spectacle that comes with such a description, not to mention the darkness, humor, and general sense of foreboding that are his trademarks, ever since he showed in Time Bandits how easily fairly tales

can take unexpected and troubling turns without the promise of a happy ending.

 

Featuring Adam Driver and Jonathan Pryce taking over for Depp and Rochefort— let alone assorted other come-and-goers including Robert Duvall and Michael Palin—the film was ultimately, sort of let loose in May 2018 despite financier-producer Paulo Branco’s best efforts to

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

prevent its release. That was also the month Amazon Studios backed out of a deal to distribute Quixote in the U.S.

 

Jumping to the present, Quixote made few appearances in U.S. theaters but is now resting comfortably on Blu-ray and Amazon Prime Video. Not exactly the big-screen experience the typical Gilliam film deserves, but unlike his earliest solo efforts, especially Brazil, Quixote translates well to smaller screens. There is visual payback when viewing it on a big screen, yet the story and images are compelling on any reasonably-sized display.

 

Despite the well-publicized departures of the film’s former stars, Driver and Pryce are custom-tailored to their respective roles. Pryce’s depiction of Javier, a Spanish cobbler enlisted to appear in Grummett’s student production of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, is nothing short of sublime. We watch Javier move from being a shy hermit to a hero, at least in his own mind, as he gets to portray Quixote.

 

While in Spain years later to direct a TV commercial, Grummett discovers a copy of his old student flick, and sets out to the village where it was filmed. And, surprise, that’s where he encounters Javier, who not only still believes he is the real Quixote but that Grummett is Sancho Panza. Out of a sense of guilt for the man’s current state of mind combined with equal parts boredom with his current project and a sense of adventure, Grummett joins Javier on a journey that takes the two of them through encounters with the authorities, and a confrontation with a local who believes Grummett is responsible for his daughter leaving home to become an actress, only to find herself years later working as an escort.

 

As in many of Gilliam’s signature films, fantastical plot lines and troubling twists are held together with a sense of empathy for lead characters who are at once imperfect and wholly agreeable, in that order. Driver appears to revel in playing an over-the-top narcissist whose conscience drives him along on an adventure that is antithetical to anything Grummett, now a successful, lascivious director, ever had on his bucket list. He yells, he laughs, he even belts out the Eddie Cantor classic, “If You Knew Susie (Like I Know Susie),” complete with a dance routine.

 

Similar to some of Gilliam’s other 21st-century productions, especially The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Quixote revels in engrossing characters as the plot occasionally derails and characters lose some of their charm over the course of the film. Yet the life-or-death battles in the third act will reward viewers who stick with the flick until the end.

 

Gilliam is known for creating large, lavish sets with extensive use of otherworldly special effects to build upon otherwise familiar settings. (Think of his Vegas-on-LSD sequences in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.) Though set in the modern era, many of Quixote’s more harrowing scenes convey a sense of imminent danger, even though there are no outward signs of its arrival until well into the denouement.

 

Considering the director’s talents as a visual storyteller who first gained worldwide fame as Monty Python’s resident animator, the settings are presented as boldly and as colorfully as the terrain allows, with imagery that pops off the screen. The soundtrack is more subdued, with a subtle mix that serves the purpose without calling attention to itself. 

 

In retrospect, it makes sense that Quixote received high praise at the Cannes Film Festival only to drizzle into limited availability in the streaming world, with barely a beep’s worth of promotion by Amazon. However, I disagree with Gilliam’s reference to “unmaking” in the title card. The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is a cinematic triumph by any standard, and a worthwhile investment of two hours for fans of adventure and comedy that will leave the viewer on edge. It’s what Terry Gilliam does best.

Adam Sohmer

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

Midway (2019)

Midway (movie)

Maybe one of the most important things about a film concerning itself with historical events is that it do so truthfully and accurately. Sure, we’ll forgive some minor inconsistencies at the expense of storytelling, dramatic license, and time constriction, but you need to get the majority of things right. And in this respect director Roland Emmerich’s (Independence Day, Day After Tomorrow, White House Down) retelling of Midway gets them right. (You can see a factcheck here at History vs Hollywood.)

 

Of course, the next thing a film needs to do to be successful is to be both engaging and entertaining, and I’d say Midway succeeds on these merits as well, an opinion echoed by its Rotten Tomatoes Audience score of 92%. This is not to say Midway isn’t without its flaws, attested by the critics’ less-than-enamored RT score of 42%.

 

The film opens four years before the events of Pearl Harbor with Japanese Admiral Yamamoto (Etsushi Toyokawa) ominously telling US intelligence officer Edwin Layton (Patrick Wilson) that Japan will attack if its oil supplies are threatened. Cut to December 7, 1941 and the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, which delivers the US Navy its biggest defeat in history.

 

Midway concerns itself with the events following that attack, and how the US regroups and looks to not only save itself but deliver a counterpunch to the Japanese navy, leading up to the attack known as the Battle of Midway.

 

With the modern-day might of the US Navy, we don’t often think about just how close to utter defeat the naval forces were following Pearl Harbor. On that day, more than 2,300 sailors were killed along and 1,000-plus wounded, 18 ships were damaged or sunk, and 180 planes were destroyed. To restore naval operations, Admiral Nimitz (Woody Harrelson, wearing a white wig nearly as distracting as his big white Joe Biden teeth from SNL sketches) is brought in to take control of the Pacific Fleet, described as “the most difficult job in the world.”

Midway (2019)

Following Pearl, the US had just three functional carriers, compared to Japan’s ten and zero functional battleships compared to Japan’s nine, with the Japanese also having more cruisers, bombers, and fighters; and much of their equipment was more modern. If the gamble at Midway didn’t pay off, the United States would have likely been sidelined for much of the war.

 

The movie does a good job of presenting these stakes, as well as compressing the timeline into an easy-to-follow narrative. If it is guilty of anything, it’s of trying to cram so many stars into so many roles that none of the characters are really fleshed out. It’s hard for viewers to really care for anyone when they have just a bit of screen time before another new and famous face is trotted out in the next scene.

 

And, honestly, there is more than enough drama in the true events of the war that we don’t need to be distracted by cutaway stories about USO parties or brief shots of homelife.

 

A perfect example is Mandy Moore cast as Ann Best, wife of hotshot pilot Dick Best (Ed Skrein), who seems to be there just so they could have her name in the credits, and serves no real role in the film. Dennis Quaid is also underused as Admiral Halsey. Aaron Eckhart is given a small role as Jimmy Doolittle, a pilot awarded the Medal of Honor for leading a near-suicidal bombing mission on Tokyo who must bail out in China and evade capture from the Japanese army, which killed 250,000 Chinese civilians for aiding in the escape of Doolittle and the other American pilots who survived the raid (events covered in the 2017 film In Harm’s Way). Musician Nick Jonas is brought on to portray real-life hero Aviation Machinist Bruno Gaido, receiving enough dialogue and backstory to give his character a bit of depth.

 

It’s tough to build much suspense when retelling a story where most viewers already know the outcome, but Midway manages to give the action scenes enough tension that you can’t help but groan as bombs and torpedoes slide just past their targets, missing by scant feet. The film also blatantly telegraphs its heroes. We know early on that cocky pilot Dick Best is going to be playing a big role in the air campaign, and when we see him perform a ridiculous landing maneuver onto an aircraft carrier very early on, we know we are going to see this move again later in the film. When Nimitz instructs Layton to make sure the 

Midway (2019)

intelligence mistakes of Pearl aren’t repeated, you know the time will come when Layton will have to convince Nimitz to trust him. Or that the friction between Dick Best and Wade McClusky (Luke Evans) will turn into a grudging respect.

 

Shot on Panavision DXL cameras at 8K resolution, Midway is taken from a 2K digital intermediate, not unusual for a film so heavily laden with CGI effects. Closeups feature 

lots of detail, but don’t seem to have that Nth degree of resolution of films with a true 4K DI. There is still plenty of detail to appreciate n clothing, from a crocheted top worn by Moore in one scene, to the wooly texture of Japanese officers’ uniforms, to the collar stitching on Americans’ shirts, to the leathery texture of the pilots’ seats.

 

Since none of the ships portrayed in the film still exist (at least not in their WWII-era state), they all had to be created, and the resolution does lay bare several instances of pretty blatant CGI, where things just look a bit video-gamey. The opening shot of an aircraft carrier with sailors doing PT on the deck just doesn’t ring true, especially if you focus on individual characters long enough. Nor does a scene at a graveyard in Pearl, which just looks . . .off. Any time there are so many computer-generated ships and planes on screen—which is often—there are bound to be a few instances where some shots aren’t perfect, but it is often the long shots that seem to suffer most.

 

HDR is used to good effect throughout, not just to enhance the brilliant red-orange fireballs that erupt from exploding ships and planes, burning with a vibrant fury and intensity, but also to bring an extra layer of depth and punch to interior shots aboard ships where sunlight in pouring in through port holes or walkways. The ocean gleams in shades of blue, with bright highlights as the sun glints off its surface, and exterior scenes are bright enough to make you squint into the sunny skies. Blacks remain deep and dark, and I didn’t notice any banding, which is a challenge with the varying shades of blue and grey

in the skies as planes fly in and out of different lighting and cloud cover.

 

Beyond the visuals, Midway offers a fun ride that sounds fantastic in a home theater. In fact, you might call it a 2-hour 18-minute Dolby Atmos spectacle masquerading as a war movie. The sound mix plays a dynamic role in nearly every scene, and if anyone has every wondered if their height speakers are working or if Atmos can add to the immersion of a movie, just show them any of the aerial attack scenes where the audio lends a wonderful third dimension to plane flyovers.

 

Planes rip along the side walls and into the back of the room, or roar past overhead, diving down on unsuspecting pilots, bullets shredding things around you. Flak shells explode left, right, above, and behind you, with bullets ricocheting all around the room.

 

Midway will also test your subwoofer’s mettle, with deep bass present throughout. Beyond the bombs and explosions, ships crash through waves with appropriate weight, and AAA guns thump you in your seat with repeated blasts. There is also the constant low, steady, bassy rumble as a background reminder that you’re aboard a warship, along with other ambient mechanical sounds to place you on

Midway (movie)

board, or the deep, throaty roar of the planes’ engines. There is also the carnage of the USS Arizona breaking up after explosions and then ripping itself apart with groans, creaks, and the rumble of crumpling steel.

 

Available for download now at the Kaleidescape Store ahead of its 4K disc release on February 18, Midway hits enough high points to overlook its flaws, and makes for a rollicking night in your home theater, with one of the most dynamic and immersive Dolby Atmos audio tracks I’ve heard in a while.

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.

Jojo Rabbit

Jojo Rabbit

In any other year, Jojo Rabbit would be fighting for the top spot amongst my favorite recent films. This absurdist lark from Taika Waititi (Flight of the Conchords, What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople) is exactly what you would expect upon learning that the crazy bastard who actually made a great Thor movie against all odds then turned his weird attention toward the Holocaust and the Hitler Youth.

 

On the surface, Jojo Rabbit is the tale of a young lad so infatuated with der Führer that he conjures Hitler out of thin air, Calvin & Hobbes-style, not only as a best imaginary friend but also as a fellow agent of unwitting chaos and something of a conscience. Things take a turn for the weirder when little Jojo discovers a Jewish girl hiding within the walls of his home and

is forced to choose between the safety of his family and his commitment to an ideology he doesn’t understand in the slightest.

 

And if that’s as far as you decide to dig, there are loads of laughs to be had, assuming you’re not horribly offended by the premise. So many, in fact, that by the time the closing credits rolled, my cheeks legitimately hurt and I swear I felt abs forming under my tubby middle-aged tummy. 

 

But just as Waititi used the laugh-a-minute Thor: Ragnarok as a vehicle for some very real ruminations about colonialism and the lasting impacts thereof, he uses Jojo 

Rabbit to not only take the piss out of fascism, but also to explore its appeal. Seriously, what causes a precocious little boy to Sieg Heil! and buy into all manner of horrible conspiracies about the Jewish people? Furthermore, why is it that bumbling idiots seem to hold such sway over massive swaths of the general population? Waititi seems to be saying that if we can’t understand that, we’re ill-equipped to combat it. 

 

Unlike so many other filmmakers who have recently grappled with notions about why inherently good people do bad things, Waititi actually has answers. Pretty simple ones, when you get right down to it. But answers nonetheless.

 

His primary conclusion: “We’re asking the wrong questions.” Right from the opening scene of the film, Waititi uses a German dub of the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” cut together with screaming crowds of Nazis that are almost indistinguishable from fawning crowds of Beatlemaniacs, to slyly point to the fact that cults of personality—any personality—are at least part of the problem.

 

Along the way from that cheeky beginning to the inglorious end of World War II, Waititi takes shots at groupthink, cognitive dissonance, nationalism, and identity politics in equal measure, but when you get right down to it, what he seems to be saying is that the root of all our problems is a lack of genuine human connection. And he uses the anachronistic disconnect between 

his setting and his choice of soundtrack music, language, and mannerisms to point out that, for all our pontification about social media and modern life, this isn’t a new phenomenon.

 

None of this should come as a surprise if you’re already familiar with Waititi’s work. What does come as a surprise is how often he plays it safe with this one. I guess he 

figured he had to tug on the reins from time to time to keep from offending literally everyone, and maybe he has a point. I wouldn’t know, since I’m not offended by much of anything. But sometimes the tonal shifts toward the conventional seem a little forced and insincere. Thankfully, the expected turn toward the sentimental at the end of the film is pulled off with such heartfelt authenticity that it’s difficult not to wooed by it all.

 

My only remaining niggle—and this is entirely subjective—is that Scarlett Johansson is somewhat miscast as Jojo’s mother. And I say this as someone who thinks Johansson is actually underrated as an actor. She positively transforms her body language and her entire demeanor for the part, but something about it all doesn’t feel quite right. Especially when the rest of the casting—especially the two adolescent leads—is so spot on.

 

Another unexpected thing is how gorgeous the film is from beginning to end. Mihai Malaimare, Jr., in his first collaboration with Waititi as far as I can tell, proves himself with this film to be an absolute master of color theory, bathing nearly every scene with a deft mix of rich warm hues and crisp, cool punctuation that’s delivered beautifully by Kaleidescape’s 4K/HDR presentation. Jojo Rabbit was shot at 3.4K and finished in a 2K digital intermediate, so it might not satisfy the 

dermatologically obsessed or those who chase razor-sharp edges. But the expanded color gamut of HDR10 does wonders for the mix of subtle pastels and retina-shocking primary hues.

 

Whatever concerns you may have about resolution, this is one you’ll want to watch on as large a screen as possible, by the way. Malaimare goes for some unexpected long shots at times to capture the beauty and scope of the scenery during some dialogue-heavy scenes, where other cinematographers might have opted for tight closeups instead. In a world where streaming video is squeezing commercial cinemas out of the equation more and more every year, he defiantly composes for a massive canvas, assuming (hoping?) that the images will take up as much of the viewer’s field of view as possible.

 

The film’s sound mix isn’t quite as expansive, but Kaleidescape’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is a faultless presentation of it. The sound design here is far more interested in servicing the needs of the film than exercising your speakers, and as such it’s largely a three-channel mix, spread across the front, with surround channels only used to add ambience and a sense of space until late in the film when the action gets a little Looney Tunes. But that’s exactly the approach this film needs.

Jojo Rabbit

As I said in the beginning, in any other year, Jojo Rabbit would be hovering right near the top of my annual favorites. If there’s anything truly working against it, it’s not the instances in which Waititi plays it safe, or in which Johansson’s knack for emotional complexity works against her in a role that should be more one-note until it isn’t. No, the only thing really holding the film back is that it’s forced to share oxygen with a comedy like Parasite, which is more unapologetically unflinching and which navigates its tonal shifts more effectively.

 

But don’t let that keep you from watching this one. Any film that can make me guffaw as hard and as frequently as this one did without insulting my intelligence has a spot in my film library. It may not be perfect, but it’s a necessary film right now.

 

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.

Knives Out

Knives Out

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

Knives Out

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

 

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

Knives Out

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

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

 

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

 

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

Glenn Bassett

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

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

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

 

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

Supporting Role category.

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

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

John Sciacca

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

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Judy

Judy (movie)

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

Judy (movie)

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Gerard Alessandrini

Gerard Alessandrini is a Tony Award-winning writer/director of musicals, best known for the long-
running musical satire Forbidden Broadway and the Hamilton spoof Spamilton, both of which
have been performed in theaters around the world. He has been the lyricist (and sometimes
composer) for over a dozen musicals, including Madame X,The Nutcracker & I, Scaramouche,
and the Paul Mazursky musical of Moon Over Parador, and has won numerous accolades,
including two Lucille Lortel awards and seven Drama Desk awards. His voice can be heard in
Disney’s Aladdin (1992) and Pocahontas. He’s also written special-material songs for many
stars, including Angela Lansbury, Carol Burnett, Bob Hope, and Barbra Streisand.

Review: Honeyland

Honeyland

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

printable work of art.

 

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

 

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

 

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

Honeyland

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

 

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

 

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

Ford v Ferrari

Ford v Ferrari

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Ford v Ferrari

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

Ford v Ferrari

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

 

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

John Sciacca

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

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.