Reviews

The Two Popes

The Two Popes

Despite its occasionally lavish cinematography and stellar supporting cast, The Two Popes is first and foremost a dialogue-driven drama that is not overly dramatic.

 

It’s an impressive feat, considering how the scandals that ultimately drove Pope Benedict XVI to even consider becoming the first pontiff in 598 years to resign continue to make national news. His explanation of “lack of strength of mind and body” combined with the continuing stream of allegations of pedophilia committed by clergy and hidden by the church were widely

seen as contributing to his decision.

 

As portrayed by Anthony Hopkins, Pope Benedict is a frail old man dead-set in his belief that followers must adhere to a strictly conservative doctrine, whereas Pope Francis, his ultimate successor, who is brilliantly played by Jonathan Pryce, is a reformer open to changes in both practice and perception of a pontiff’s day-to-day responsibilities and role on the international stage.

 

Without giving away the crux of the content, it’s widely known that as he eventually moved closer to retirement, Pope Benedict XVI summoned Cardinal Jorge Mario 

Bergoglio (the future Pope Francis) to meet with him at his summer home in the Lazio region of Italy. Bergoglio, who himself was considering a move away from his position as cardinal of Buenos Aires, spent many hours with the pope discussing their respective pasts and paths, views on a changing world, and of course modern-day news stories about indiscretions in the church.

 

These conversations are at the heart of The Two Popes. More riveting than any action sequence I’ve seen over the past year, their meetings slowly build in intensity as the two men come to terms with their beliefs, differences, histories, and plans to move on from their individual roles. 

 

The Two Popes is a singularly focused film where, as in My Dinner with Andre and Killing Them Softly, backgrounds and supporting actors play a (very) distant second to the two leads’ conversations.

As a test to see if my first impressions held firm, I listened to the soundtrack while riding the subway on route to a meeting. Sure enough, the dialogue kept a grip on my interest, even as I travelled with a sea of commuters during the Brooklyn-to-Manhattan morning rush.

 

That said, The Two Popes is no slouch as a visual 

The Two Popes

treat. From breathtaking scenes of the pontiff’s summer retreat in Lazio to modern-day footage of the Vatican and city of Rome, viewers with reasonably substantial 4K displays will be drawn in by the intense beauty of the region. The visuals alone would serve as an effective promotion that could easily have been sponsored by The Italian National Tourist Board.

 

Written by Anthony McCarten and directed by Fernando Meirelles, The Two Popes is more than anything an enduring vehicle for its two stars—in particular, Jonathan Pryce, who instills a believable vulnerability into his portrayal of Pope Francis. Sensitive, modest, and filled with self-doubt that teeters on self-loathing, Pryce’s pontiff is as human as his most humble followers, especially when recounting disturbing episodes from his past. Meirelles deftly switches to flashbacks that convey an old-movie sensibility in terms of both noirish presentation and the overall sense of morality in the scene.

 

Sonically, The Two Popes lets the story do the talking, with a subtle mix that made me feel as if I was sitting with the two men. Effects are sparingly placed in the surround channels, but, as I learned from my experience simply listening to the film while otherwise in motion, The Two Popes doesn’t require a modern-day surround system. On the contrary, the direct, emotionally honest simplicity of the story would likely be just as enjoyable if viewed only with the aid a budget soundbar. The noise of the crowd, calming sounds of nature, and raucous crowds are all aided by a high-end home theater, but they aren’t reliant upon it. The dialogue is the true star of this film, and it is what pulled me back for multiple viewings over several weeks.

 

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.

Review: The Edge of Democracy

The Edge of Democracy

The Edge of Democracy is one of the most infuriating, frustrating, and foreboding films I’ve seen in ages, but also one of the most compelling, and without a doubt the most haunting. Had it been your typical faux-objective political documentary, I’m not sure that would have been the case. But in telling the story of Brazil’s relatively recent political struggles, filmmaker Petra Costa makes no pretenses about objectivity. What she’s really telling here is her own story—a story about watching her civilization collapse around her.

 

Right from the giddy-up, Costa lays all of her cards on the table. Her parents were revolutionaries who fought against the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil between 1964 and 1985. She was only five when the country officially returned to

democracy in 1988. Her first vote in a national election was cast for Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. The ideology of Partido dos Trabalhadores, the Worker’s Party, runs through her veins.

 

As such, when she began documenting the crumbling of Brazil’s fragile democracy, starting with the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff in 2015, she didn’t do so dispassionately, with the eye of a historian. More than anything, The Edge of Democracy centers on her own frustrations, her own sense of foreboding, her own fury as she watches her country being torn apart by partisanship, fueled by the corruption of oligarchs and the malfeasance of the media.

 

You wouldn’t think this would be fodder for twists and turns, but it is. Rather than plot twists, though, the film dwells in personal, emotional twists. There’s the revelation, for example, that Costa has just as many familial ties to the oligarchs at the center of the corruption scandal that rocked the country as she does to revolutionaries.

 

That adds another shade of gray to a very personal story that’s all shades of gray, really. It’s a story told with nuance, 

but also with passion. More than anything, though, what impresses me is Costa’s ability to deftly and clearly straddle the line between the specific and the general. She never fails to articulate the unique failures of the Brazilian political and judicial system that make all of this a distinctly Brazilian problem. On the other hand, she clearly illuminates some universal truths about the ways in which any representative government can devolve into plutocracy and then autocracy through demagoguery and manufactured consent.

 

The rhythm with which she oscillates between these two perspectives is frighteningly effective. Just as I started to settle into a “Phew, that couldn’t happen here” sense of security, Costa blindsided me with a stark reminder that, yeah, it totally could. The

tempo and pacing of the film are also aided by deft editing and a non-linear unfolding of the story that emphasizes both the personal, emotional trauma this film represents, as well as its effectiveness as a warning to the rest of the world.

 

Much of the film’s imagery is taken from archival film footage and television broadcasts, some of it

from source tapes and some of it from cell phones pointed at TV screens, mixed with handheld video that looks to be prosumer level and drone shots interspersed throughout for flavor. It definitely makes for a visually interesting film, though not one you’ll watch as demo material. Netflix’s HD transfer does the imagery justice, and is almost never the weak link in the delivery chain, except in those cases where a few seconds here and there of original footage might have benefited from high dynamic range and an expanded color gamut.

 

The film’s Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 soundtrack unsurprisingly leans heavily on the center channel, with the mix focusing primarily on Costa’s narration (provided in your choice of English or Portuguese, although even if you opt for the former, the bulk of the audio is still in Portuguese with subtitles).

 

The sound design does occasionally get a little big for its britches, especially in its overuse of the surround channels to convey the chaos of celebratory crowds or demonstrations. I can’t help but suspect that what we’re getting here is a theatrical sound mix, not a nearfield mix made for home theaters, but the good news is that such overemphasis on surround sound is generally limited to scenes without narration or even dialogue, so it’s hard to grump about it. It never interferes with the telling of the story, although it does intrude on moments that could have served as a prompt for quiet reflection.

 

No matter. I haven’t stopped thinking about The Edge of Democracy since I saw it, so I’ve had plenty of opportunities to reflect on my own time. It’s a rare political documentary I think I’ll revisit on occasion, not due to the revelation or illumination contained within its 121-minute runtime—although there is plenty of that—but more due to the fact that it’s simply one of the most engrossing and intimate human dramas I’ve seen in ages, genre be damned.

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.

Dracula (2020)

Dracula (2020)

The myth of Dracula isn’t one I think needs retelling. It, and vampires in general, have been done to death over the past couple decades. But whenever Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss write a project together, I’m intrigued.

 

For the uninitiated, Moffat and Gatiss worked together on the sci-fi favorite Doctor Who before continuing their working relationship with the series Sherlockan intricate and deeply satisfying retelling of the Arthur Conan Doyle character in modern day with fantastic performances. Even before watching Dracula, I noticed that there were already a few similarities between the two series (both being based on existing material with the season being only three 90-ish-minute episodes). If they could do for Dracula what they did for Sherlock Holmes, it would be an excellent, smash-hit TV show.

 

It certainly is a TV show. Excellent smash hit? That would be a bit of a stretch. There are aspects of the series that stay true to the source material—such as character names, Dracula’s trip to England, and his typical phobias—but the structure of the retelling is different and the purposes of the different characters are often skewed in some way. That said, it doesn’t go far enough in its reinvention to feel distinct and new.

 

The three episodes are incredibly uneven and, while there’s some great writing peppered throughout, there’s an odd mixture of modern vernacular and attitudes that doesn’t fit with the 1800s time period of the first two episodes. (The third episode 

time jumps 123 years to our present day.) The series can be a bit schlocky, and relies too much on trying to reinvent the myth without truly accomplishing the feat. There’s also rarely any subtlety to the acting or directing. It’s very in-your-face throughout.

 

Of the three episodes, I enjoyed the second the most by far. It takes place almost exclusively on the ship Demeter that brings 

Dracula (2020)

Dracula to England. There are some interesting glimpses into Dracula’s past and the relationships between the characters on the ship, and a mystery of who is traveling in one of the cabins that stays locked. It could almost be treated as a standalone story, save for some references to the first episode.

 

Where the show does consistently succeed is in it practical effects and accompanying sound design. There are moments that made my body contort and my brain not want to see what was about to be revealed (although I always did, deep down, want the reveal). The sound mix felt very much intended for someone watching it on TV without a surround setup, as it was almost entirely present in the front channels with only obligatory reverb and music sent to the surrounds.

 

The HDR presentation is used mostly in the visually dark moments, such as Dracula’s castle in Episode One or the corners of the Demeter in Episode Two. Not unexpectedly for a creature of the night, most of the scenes are dark. One moment of blaring sunlight at the (somewhat disappointing) end shows off the bright end of the HDR spectrum.

 

The Dracula delivered to us by Moffat and Gatiss feels like it isn’t sure what it wants to be. It doesn’t go far enough to be full-on camp, but there’s too much campiness to feel truly terrifying. Unless you’re aching for more Dracula, it might be best to limit your intake to just the second episode.

John Higgins

John Higgins lives a life surrounded by audio. When he’s not writing for Cineluxe, IGN,
or 
Wirecutter, he’s a professional musician and sound editor for TV/film. During his down
time, he’s watching Star Wars or learning from his toddler son, Neil.

Review: American Factory

American Factory

It’s impossible to walk away from American Factory without feeling some type of emotion, whether it’s sympathy for a work force that was robbed of its livelihood only to be given the illusion of fresh, if limited opportunities, or disbelief at how anybody could believe that a Chinese company would somehow adapt to U.S. worker protections—efforts that are often an illusion or downright lie.

 

For me, having come from a pro-union, blue-collar family that had a positive experience with the American labor market in the mid/late 20th century, my first viewing left me a tad angry at the outcome and the workers’ shortsightedness when deciding

upon whether to throw their support behind a union.

 

Note that, as a review of a fly-on-the-wall documentary that covers an important chapter in the lives of rust-belt Americans, my comments may contain a spoiler or two, but nothing that wasn’t covered in the news during and after the Fuyao Glass Industry Group Co. Ltd of the People’s Republic of China bought and renovated a shuttered General Motors plant in Dayton, Ohio. As the company’s Fuyaousa.com website explains: “General Motors, Ford, BMW, Honda, Bentley and more all use Fuyao glass in their newly manufactured automobiles.”

 

All true, and when the company first started the process of buying and renovating the plant and hiring approximately 2,000 staff for a facility that had been shuttered for six years, local residents were ecstatic over a chance to return the region to its glory as a haven for U.S.-based manufacturing.

 

Filmmakers Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert were given near-unbelievable access to film the scenario as it unfolded, from the earliest days of site inspections to staffing, 

training, and the inevitable and, at least in the beginning, almost humorous culture clashes that one would expect when blue-collar middle Americans are brought into a corporate culture that is known for formality and respect for authority. According to an article that appeared in the Dayton Daily News last August, Bognar said he and Reichert, “stand by the translations subtitled in the work.”

 

An important note, since it isn’t long before the almost idyllic melding of the cultures gives way to real-life concerns about skimping on safety standards, and the company’s firm stance against unionization. The directors, who also shot the 2009 Academy Award-nominated short The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant, illustrate throughout the film their talent for letting 

American Factory

the events happen without editorialization, giving it a narrative approach that tells the story as well as any well-made piece of fiction.

 

But this is real life, with both American and Chinese staff providing relatively few off-camera commentaries as the story is allowed to simply play out on screen, with the help of small, handheld 

cameras and lavalier microphones that follow one and all for months and years as the dream of a resuscitated manufacturing environment slowly unravels. The guerilla-style shoot foregoes polemics, leaving the viewer to decide where they stand on a matter that affected thousands of people in the recent past.

 

The Oscar-nominated American Factory is as good a documentary as I’ve seen in recent years, thanks in no small part to the high production values, including a surround mix that is unspectacular in the best possible way. Subtle effects such as factory noises, the crunching of gravel, and kids playing in a backyard remain in the rear, quietly supporting the voices and underlying tension on the screen. Maybe it’s a Netflix thing, but knowing that it would mostly be seen on a small screen supported by soundbars or other low-tech solutions most likely led the filmmakers to go light on the audio mix, though anybody with a 5.1 system will feel as if they are on the factory floor and in the boardrooms.

 

Likewise, video is impeccable, without the excessive grain often associated with this type of documentary. No doubt those anomalies were cleaned up in post-production, a critical element in making this so watchable on a big screen in a small-ish living room. (Apartment dwellers in NY and other big cities know what I mean.) The visual quality ranks with the most polished documentaries of the past 10 years.

 

As the first release by Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground Productions, American Factory is remarkably unbiased, simply telling the story as it happens without nudging the viewer to fall into any specific camp. The Obamas stated that their production company is designed to “harness the power of storytelling.” Judging by this debut release, they’re poised to become an important contributor to American cinema. From its presentation to its attention to cinematic detail, Higher Ground is well on its way to meeting and ultimately exceeding its goals.

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.

I Lost My Body

I Lost My Body

I hesitate to disparage Jérémy Clapin’s inventive animated film I Lost My Body, if only because I want animators to take more risks of exactly this sort, and I want Netflix to continue to embrace full-length animated features of its ilk. There’s so much to appreciate here, so much to root for, so much to celebrate. And yet, when I step back and reflect on the film as a whole, on its own terms, I Lost My Body just doesn’t quite work.

 

The story follows a severed hand that escapes from some sort of medical waste lab and embarks on a macabre quest to reunite with the rest of its body. Through flashbacks or time shifts or the magic of movie editing, we also learn the sweet-yet-

creepy story of the young man who lost his appendage and how he lost it.

 

The problem, ultimately, is that these two converging storylines differ so drastically in tone that it’s all a bit off-putting. It’s as if you took the screenplays for Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain (co-written by Guillaume Laurant, who also wrote the book on which this film is based) and David Cronenberg’s adaptation of Naked Lunch, shuffled them together like a deck of playing cards, and filmed the results. What’s more, the story’s themes about determinism and embracing the unknown are so blatantly telegraphed by exposition that there really isn’t anything to figure out for yourself.

 

With all that said, the storyline that focuses on Naoufel, the lost body at the heart of the narrative, is at times worth the ride, especially in his delightful first meeting with the object of his obsession, a young woman named Gabrielle, who exists at first only as a disembodied voice on the other side of an intercom (and yes, again, there are metaphors here, but none very deep).

If you’re a fan of animation, and longing for something out of the ordinary, I Lost My Body does give you a lot to chew on. Its style is simply stunning—an artful mix of hand-drawn 2D and rendered 3D that evokes in some ways the works of Jean Giraud (aka Moebius) and the Hernandez brothers (of Love and Rockets fame), but really deserves to be recognized as its own thing.

 

Unfortunately, though, Netflix does that style no favors by presenting the film in 1080p HD. Not only do the fine lines of the animation sometimes get a little aliased as a result of the lack of resolution, but the limited color gamut leads to some egregious banding that could have been smoothed over by simply delivering the film in an HDR container. Honestly, it looks fine enough on a 55-inch TV from across the room, but blow the image up to cinematic proportions and it doesn’t stand up to 

the scrutiny. So maybe skip this one in your home cinema or media room and check it out a more casual AV setup.

 

That might mean missing out on some of the nuances of the fantastic 5.1 mix, which Netflix presents both in the original French, as well as an English dub. I definitely recommend the former, by the way, even if you hate 

subtitles as a rule. Jarring as the film’s mash-up of gruesome horror and awkward love story may be, the cadence and musicality of the original French do spackle the cracks a bit. Viewing I Lost My Body a second time through in English, I found the disconnect between the bitter and the sweet to be even starker.

 

And ultimately, it’s that disconnect—that clash of styles and tones and moods and even genres—that keeps me from truly enjoying I Lost My Body. Every time we’re thrust back and forth between the gangly sacchariferousness of Naoufel’s unrequited love story to the grotesque obscenity of his hand’s journey—either of which would have worked well on its own—I found myself yanked right out of the experience. I still appreciate it, to be sure. I applaud the risks taken. But when you get right down to, the juvenile substance of the film never quite lives up to its innovative style. And what substance there is (in terms of themes and deeper meaning about free will and fate) was already handled with more maturity and less pretentiousness by the last six seasons or so of Adventure Time.

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.

Terminator: Dark Fate

Terminator: Dark Fate

Going back and undoing a canon is one of those things we find Hollywood doing more frequently when it wants to reboot a franchise whose mythology has grown so large and expansive—or troubled—that screenwriters or filmmakers feel they need to wipe the slate clean to have the creative freedom to move forward. The Star Wars universe saw a large number of extended-universe books removed from its canon after Disney bought the property from Lucasfilm, as did the latest X-Men Days of Future Past and Dark Phoenix, which saw characters previously killed off returned to life.

 

(I felt these were examples of “retconning”—or retroactive continuity—where plot holes are adjusted, corrected, or explained after the fact, such as Rogue One’s explanation that the Death Star’s fateful port hole was actually not just a design flaw on the Empire’s side, but rather a bit of purposeful subversive engineering. However, Cineluxe’s resident film reviewer and expert

on all things meta explained to me that removing things from a canon is not a retcon.)

 

Call it what you will, the latest Terminator film, Dark Fate, basically wipes the slate clean and says this movie is the only true sequel to 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day, removing Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), Terminator Salvation (2009), Terminator Genisys (2015), and the television series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008–2009) from the canon.

 

Admittedly, none of the works following Judgment Day lived up to the initial greatness of the franchise, but I found them 

all to have their moments, especially the extended director’s cut of Salvation, which featured solid performances by Christian Bale as John Connor, leader of the resistance, and Sam Worthington as part man/part cyborg Marcus Wright. Special effects continued to improve, and each story worked to flesh out the Terminator universe.

 

Terminator creator James Cameron lost the rights to his own story, and when he declined to do an original third film, Hollywood went on without him. However, creative control returned to Cameron in 2018, and he finally set about making the sequel on his terms.

 

According to Cameron, who has writing and producing credits and also had his hand in the film’s editing, “This new film has recaptured the tone of those first two films. It’s gritty, it’s fast, it’s intense, and it’s just a white-knuckle ride.”

 

Amen.

 

Dark Fate is packed with action almost from the first frame, and has very little downtime, with just a few expository scenes explaining who our new heroes are, what Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton reprising her role) and a T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger also reprising his role) have been up to these past years, and what the stakes are this time around.

 

The film opens three years following the events of Judgment Day, with digitally de-aged versions of three main characters setting the stage for the rest of the film. The de-aging (shown below) is so well done it made me wonder if this was footage restored from Terminator 2. Just two minutes in you get a very clear message that Cameron and team aren’t screwing around and will be taking this film in new directions when one character is brutally killed off.

Terminator: Dark Fate

From a storytelling standpoint, Dark Fate doesn’t really offer much we haven’t seen covered in previous Terminator films. We have a new and improved REV-9 Terminator (Gabriel Luna) sent back in time by Legion, the future AI ruling group built for cyber warfare, to kill Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes), who will become the new future leader of the resistance. Of course, the resistance counters by sending back a protector, Grace (Mackenzie Davis), who is a cybernetically augmented and enhanced human able to fight toe-to-toe with Terminators, though only for short, intense bouts.

 

What it offers is just a bigger, more over-the-top, and evolved version of what we’ve seen before. The Terminators have advanced, and the REV-9 is a combination cybernetic endoskeleton with a shapeshifting liquid metal exterior that can split into two parts, doubling its fighting and killing power. With Grace, we have a far more capable human; stronger, faster, smarter, and more lethal. The fights, chases, and explosions are all bigger, faster, better choreographed, and more devastating.

 

My wife and I both enjoyed the movie. It kept you engaged and entertained with non-stop action that kept ratcheting up in intensity. It was great to see Hamilton back in action as Connor, and Arnold offering a different take as a Terminator that has lived among humans for 22 years with no mission to carry out and trying to fit in. Mackenzie also does a great job as Grace, her near-6-foot height making her a believably imposing fighter. I felt they could have done a bit better with the casting or acting by Luna, as he doesn’t quite capture the relentless steel-eyed-killer persona mastered by Robert Patrick as the T-1000 in T2.

 

Filmed in ArriRaw at 4.5K, Terminator: Dark Fate is sourced from a true 4K digital intermediate. But it doesn’t have that razor-sharp detail of many modern 4K films, and I actually thought it had been sourced from a 2K DI.

 

I found image quality to be far more organic and film-like than typical digital capture, with long shots and interiors on the softer side than what we’re used to seeing. This isn’t meant as a knock, as images are clean and noise-free, and look great in closeup, revealing every mark, scar, and wound on Grace’s body and every detail of the REV-9’s endoskeleton construction; rather, stylistically, this movie looked more like film than video. Oddly, the very last scene appears to be very sharp, definitely 

visually different from what came before it. Whether this was done by design (the future looks bright!) or just happenstance I can’t say.

 

It also takes a very mild hand at the HDR pass, having blacks that are generally dark-dark-grey as opposed to inky-black. Many of the scenes also have a very muted, earth-tone color palette, not lending themselves to colors capable of taking advantage of HDR’s wider gamut. Even early explosions don’t have much visual intensity, though scenes later in the film appear more vibrant.

 

Sonically, however, this Dolby Atmos soundtrack is reference throughout, with the sound-mix team never missing a chance to squeeze every note of atmospheric sound from a scene. From the opening moments, there are organic, textural sounds of waves breaking, water running through sand, and a crackling fire that distinctly place you in the moment. Nearly every subtle moment fills the room with sounds of wind blowing, leaves rustling and trees rubbing together, to the more dynamic action sounds of machines and things flying along the sides of the room and overhead, or water flooding all around you.

 

Bass is also flat-out aggressive and powerful, having a ton of weight, crunch, and impact. Shotgun blasts are appropriately huge and brutal, punching you in the

Terminator: Dark Fate

chest with bass energy, with cars slamming into each other and explosions having real weight. The Dark Fate mix is active and exciting, and the stuff home theaters are made for.

 

This is not a cerebral film, and one that doesn’t add anything truly fresh to the Terminator story. Rather it’s a popcorn-munching, special-effects extravaganza with familiar lines echoed from new characters that will keep you entertained for its full runtime. It also features a truly immersive and intense sound mix that is sure to make you and your guests ooh and ahh.

 

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.

Reviews: Oscar-Nominated Films

Cineluxe has looked at most of the movies nominated for the major Oscar categories, so
we thought we’d make it easier to get up to speed on this year’s contenders by gathering
all the 
reviews in one place. You can click on the movie titles below to go to the original
post. We’ll be covering additional Oscar-nominated films as they become available for
digital release.

Joker

Picture, Director, Actor, Adapted Screenplay
Cinematography, Original Score, Film Editing
Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Costume Design
Makeup and Hairstyling

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actor
Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Sound Editing
Sound Mixing, Costume Design, Production Design

Jojo Rabbit

Picture, Supporting Actress, Adapted Screenplay
Film Editing, Production Design, Costume Design

Ford v Ferrari

Picture, Film Editing, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing

The Two Popes

Actor, Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay

Knives Out

Original Screenplay

Klaus

Animated Feature Film

Missing Link

Animated Feature Film

Avengers: Endgame

Visual Effects

Ad Astra

Sound Mixing

Honeyland

International Feature Film, Documentary Feature

The Irishman

Picture, Director, Supporting Actor
Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography
Film Editing, Costume Design, Production Design
Visual Effects

Parasite

Picture, International Feature Film, Director
Original Screenplay, Film Editing, Production Design

Marriage Story

Picture, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actress
Original Screenplay, Original Score

Judy

Actress, Makeup and Hairstyling

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Supporting Actor

Toy Story 4

Animated Feature Film, Original Song

I Lost My Body

Animated Feature Film

How to Train Your Dragon 3

Animated Feature Film

The Lion King (2019)

Visual Effects

The Edge of Democracy

Documentary Feature

American Factory

Documentary Feature

Missing Link

Missing Link

There are few storytelling art forms I find more fascinating than stop-motion animation. Perhaps it’s because of growing up watching the documentaries on Star Wars and how Industrial Light & Magic implemented stop-motion for the Rancor and the AT-ATs invading Hoth. Something about the meticulous nature that’s necessary to create a stop-motion sequence, and the stylized look, spoke to my imagination.

 

We’ve all seen it, even if we didn’t know the name—from the Rankin/Bass Christmas specials of the ‘60s and ‘70s to the Wallace & Gromit series, or even just moments in movies that were mostly live-action, like the Star Wars films or Clash of the

Titans. In the past 10 to 15 years, there’s been a slight uptick in the number of stop-motion releases, and some have received award consideration, such as Kubo and the Two Strings, Anomalisa, and Coraline.

 

This year, another stop-motion film got an Oscar nod. Missing Link was co-produced by Annapurna Pictures and Laika (who also produced Kubo and the Two Strings and Coraline). It takes place in 1886 and follows explorer Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) as he attempts to prove the existence of various mythical creatures in order to be accepted into the Society of Great Men. Fortune smiles on him when he receives a letter claiming to know the location 

of a Sasquatch (Zach Galifianakis—yes, it can talk) in the Pacific Northwest. Upon traveling there, Frost discovers he was tipped off to the location by the Sasquatch himself. Encroaching civilization has caused him to want to leave and find more of his kind in the Himalayas. But he needs Sir Lionel’s help in order to get there.

 

The story is a bit lacking. The characterizations can be clichéd (although there are a couple of twists and turns that are unexpected), and while there is a good amount of humor, much of it only elicits a few chuckles or falls flat.

Missing Link

But visually the movie is phenomenal. The 4K presentation (currently available for rent or purchase on Vudu) shows off the incredible detail put into the characters—from the fuzz of a wool jacket to the subtle freckles and coloration of skin. Colors have vibrancy and depth thanks to Dolby Vision. It’s a sizeable step up over the 1080p presentation that can be found free to stream on Hulu.

The sound mix is primarily focused to the front channels with surrounds handling reverb effects and music. There is an ocean storm that uses the surrounds a bit more for dramatic effect, and some low-frequency moments so the sub doesn’t feel left out. But it’s nothing that will stress a system like a Marvel film might.

 

Missing Link certainly isn’t a life-changing story that will stay with you for days, but the visuals are well worth the 93 minutes and seeking out in 4K.

John Higgins

John Higgins lives a life surrounded by audio. When he’s not writing for Cineluxe, IGN,
or 
Wirecutter, he’s a professional musician and sound editor for TV/film. During his down
time, he’s watching Star Wars or learning from his toddler son, Neil.

Parasite

Parasite

Three thoughts occurred to me pretty much simultaneously as I sat and reflected upon Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite as the closing credits scrolled by.

 

Thought the first: How on earth am I going to say anything meaningful about this film without spoiling the entire experience? I’ve never been one for rehashing plots, so it’s easy enough to shy away from giving away story beats or plot twists. What a

film means and how well it’s made are generally far more interesting to me than the what-had-happened of it all.

 

With Parasite, though, the themes are so nuanced and ever-evolving that to go down that road would be to rob you of half the experience of watching the film. Just as you think you’ve figured out what Parasite is really about, it 

becomes about something subtly different, in a way that seems shocking at first but utterly inevitable in retrospect.

 

Thought the second: What a fascinating counterpart to Todd Phillips’ Joker this film is. It isn’t, I think, a spoiler to say that on the surface Parasite is about wealth inequality and class struggles, territory Joker explored as well. But while Phillips uses this thematic kick-starter primarily as fuel for one of the most enthralling character studies of the past few years, Bong uses it as the bedrock of a tightly scripted narrative that doesn’t merely encourage rapt attention—it downright demands it.

 

While Joker lives or dies by Joaquin Phoenix’ improvisation, and indeed feels like it could have been cut together a hundred different ways resulting in a hundred different films, Parasite by contrast comes across as a meticulous orchestration that 

hinges upon every piece of punctuation in the screenplay. Shorten one lingering glance or snip one line of dialogue, and I can’t help but feel as if it would be akin to playing Rush’s “YYZ” in 4/4 time.

 

Of course, comparisons between the two films can only go so far, as one is a drama based on a comic book and the other is a wholly original black comedy that morphs into farce before shifting gears into thriller territory before evolving into . . . well, something else altogether. And yet, I can’t help but see the two films as opposite sides of the same coin. Perhaps due to the proximity of their release? Maybe. But it feels like there’s a deeper connection going on here. Something both zeitgeisty and timeless.

 

In addition to surface thematic similarities, the films do share one other thing in common: Stunning cinematography and absolutely unimpeachable home video presentations. Kaleidescape’s UHD/HDR release seems to be an absolutely faithful transfer of the 4K digital intermediate of the film, which was shot on Arri Alexa 65 cameras and captured at 6.5K resolution. The transfer doesn’t lean too heavily on intense highlights, but has a wonderfully high-

contrast look that makes most use of its expanded dynamic range at the lower end of the value scale.

 

Colors are simply sumptuous, but more than anything else, it’s cinematographer Hong Gyeong-pyo’s eye for framing and composition that makes Parasite such a visual feast. Kaleidescape presents the film with your choice of 5.1 or stereo sound, both in Korean despite being labeled as English. There are no caption options, as subtitles are baked into the transfer and positioned within the 2.39:1 frame.

 

There will be some controversy, I’m sure, over the fact that Universal decided to release the film here in the U.S. without its original Atmos soundtrack. This is true of both its digital release now as well as its disc release (Blu-ray only, no UHD) later in

the month. Interestingly, other local distributors (The Jokers Films in France, for example) are delivering Parasite with its object-based audio intact, and I’ll admit even I’m intrigued to hear what that sounds like, because the surround mix is as bold and cheeky as the film itself. Aggressive pans from the surround soundstage into the front channels are employed frequently, though not gratuitously, to redirect the viewer’s attention and extend the fabricated reality of the film out into the room.

 

If I had to speculate about why we’re not getting Atmos in the U.S. (and let’s be clear here, this is nothing more than speculation), I would guess that the 5.1 option we’ve received is a new nearfield mix intended for the relatively more intimate confines of home theaters or media rooms. Whatever the reality, it’s hard to complain about such a brilliantly crafted audio experience, and it does up-mix quite nicely into Atmos, if that’s your preference.

 

Thought the third: If Parasite wins a condescending Best International Feature Film Oscar and gets snubbed for Best Picture, I’m going to pitch a hissy. (And I say this as someone who normally puts as much stock in the Academy Awards as I do the serving-size suggestions on a box of Cheez-Its.) This isn’t the sort of token foreign film Hollywood trots out every year and then dislocates its collective 

Parasite

shoulders in an effort to pat its own back for patronizingly celebrating a film with subtitles. It’s a universally applicable work of art whose themes resonate across cultural boundaries.

 

It’s also one of those rare films that manages to be both poignant and approachable. It asks tough questions without offering pandering answers and it somehow manages to not be even slightly opaque in the process. Quite frankly, if it doesn’t win Best Picture, I can only assume it’s because the Academy jealously recognizes that few modern American directors would have had the courage to make this film, at least not in quite this way.

Dennis Burger

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

The Witcher

The Witcher

The sword & sorcery fantasy genre was mostly relegated to movie theaters until Game of Thrones came around and busted into popular culture. When it finished its run in May 2019, there was a hole left ready to be filled, and many prophesied that The Witcher would be that successor.

 

In truth, it isn’t, but not in a negative way. There are no question similarities between the two: Both have a rich collection of novels and short stories that were written around the same time, both have the aforementioned sword & sorcery components (although The Witcher has more outward sorcery than GoT), and both have fervent fan bases that were ecstatic to see the stories get adapted for the screen. But where Game of Thrones was a highly complex political intrigue show with an enormous cast of characters supporting that narrative, The Witcher focuses on three main characters: The Witcher, Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill), Cirilla (Freya Allan), and Yennefer of Vengerberg (Anya Chalotra).

 

Written by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, The Witcher Saga is a collection of five books beginning with Blood of Elves. But the two short-story collections—The Last Wish and Sword of Destiny—set up the relationships in The Witcher Saga, and it’s from those short stories that the eight episodes pull from, which can cause the storytelling to feel disjointed early on in the

The Witcher

series.

 

The episodes also follow multiple timelines that eventually converge. As viewers, we’re not made implicitly aware of the different timelines, and they only become apparent four episodes in. Add to that a slew of names that are just thrown about, and the potential for confusion is high.

 

But it all comes together and works. There are some wonderful stories that give 

a sense of how deep the mythology of this world is, and some interesting character study, particularly of Yennefer. There are frequent moments of levity and self-awareness that I found endearing, and multiple instances of a well-placed expletive from Cavill’s stoic portrayal that caused me to laugh out loud.

 

The Netflix presentation is in 4K HDR with a 5.1 surround mix. The HDR is used to great effect with a bunch of dark scenes that are aided by the depth available from the dynamic range. Moments of sunlight felt piercing as it supported the narrative of the scene. Detail is excellent and the magic visual effects look convincing and epic. The surround sound effects mix is subtle and lets the score, by Sonya Belousova and Giona Ostinelli, soar. The series has been renewed for a second season that is expected at the end of 2020 or beginning of 2021.

John Higgins

John Higgins lives a life surrounded by audio. When he’s not writing for Cineluxe, IGN,
or 
Wirecutter, he’s a professional musician and sound editor for TV/film. During his down
time, he’s watching Star Wars or learning from his toddler son, Neil.