Reviews

Kraftwerk: The Catalogue 3-D

Kraftwerk essentially invented electronic pop music in the 1970s. Their brilliantly original, distinctive musical and visual style has led to L.A. Weekly—among many otherscalling them “the most influential pop band of all time.”

 

The Catalogue 3-D Blu-ray set offers abundant evidence, featuring live concerts from various locales of all eight “official” Kraftwerk albums. (Remaining original member Ralf Hütter and co-founder Florian Schneider view the earlier Kraftwerk 1, Kraftwerk 2 and Ralf and Florian albums as “archaeology.”) Which means all the hits are heretheir international breakthrough “Autobahn,” “The Model,” “Computer Love,” “Tour de France,” and the hip-hop-germinating “Numbers” and “Trans Europe Express,” along with everything else plus “Planet of Visions.”

 

This four-disc set features 3D/2D-compatible video, Dolby Atmos/5.1/PCM stereo-compatible sound, and Headphone Surround 3D mixes (which can be listened to on standard headphones), and includes a 228-page book of images from the concerts.

 

The sound quality is astounding. Kraftwerk have always been sonic perfectionists, and The Catalogue 3-D is another technological step forward.

 

Since their electronic music doesn’t have to replicate any kind of sonic “reality,” Kraftwerk is free to place sounds anywhere, fixed in place and moving around the soundfield, morphing and shaping aural space to their will, from tightly focused to vastly expansive. Their use of echo and delay alone is masterful.

Kraftwerk The Catalogue 3-D

The dazzling variety of “synthetic, electronic sounds” (to quote “Techno Pop”) is reproduced with extraordinary clarity, dynamic range, and wide frequency response. The low-frequency synth sounds and bass drums are exceptionally powerful and articulate. You can hear the time Kraftwerk spent crafting these sounds. There is no crowd noise mixed in. This is simply state-of-the-art demonstration-quality sound.

 

I don’t have a Dolby Atmos system (I have 6.1 surround), but I heard previews of some tracks at an Atmos demo, and the added height dimension contributed to the sense of immersion. But those who don’t have Atmos won’t feel shortchanged. The Headphone Surround 3D mixes work well, sounding spacious without being exaggerated.

 

Kraftwerk’s retro-futuristic visuals and minimalist color palette are presented with stunning clarity, from the charming animations of Volkswagens and Mercedes whizzing down the autobahn to the stark abstractions of “The Man Machine” and Spacelab flying at you from Earth orbit (a particularly fantastic effect in 3D). The band is seen from time to time playing their keyboards, controllers, and computers, dressed in their future-man grid suits. (An included “Film” version presents the visuals only.)

 

Why would Kraftwerk bother doing another live album and why would they change (some would say tamper with) iconic versions of their songs? Well, they have always evolved and incorporated new sounds as new musical technologies become available, so the band’s performances now are different than even a few years ago. I suspect that Ralf Hütter and company wanted to capture the band using the latest audio and video technology to have an historic record of Kraftwerk live. (Sure, I’d love to hear an album of new materialbut if this is where Kraftwerk pushes the Stop button, I’m OK with that.)

 

Seeing Kraftwerk live sometimes seems less like a rock concert than witnessing some kind of alien transmission from another galaxy. This Blu-ray set goes a long way toward conveying that experience.

—Frank Doris

Frank Doris is the chief cook & bottle washer for Frank Doris/Public Relations and works with a
number of audio & music industry clients. He’s a professional guitarist and a vinyl enthusiast with
multiple turntables and thousands of records.

Kraftwerk The Catalogue 3-D

Kraftwerk: The Catalogue 3-D

Kling Klang/Parlophone 190295924959

 

4-disc Blu-ray 3D/2D set

Dolby Atmos, Headphone Surround 3D, and
PCM stereo audio formats

REVIEWS

The Office

It could be argued that nobody needs to sing the praises of The Office. But it depends on what you’re praising it for.

 

Mass perception says that more than a decade of “quality” series has led to a TV renaissance, with a lot of the shows being more sophisticated and satisfying than movies. There’s nothing to that.

 

Almost every “quality” series is a fetid gumbo of convoluted, smartass plots, affected stylistic ticks, and a giggly fascination with perversity and nastiness amplified by a masochistic eagerness to wallow in the muck, handled with all the tact and subtlety of Gilligan’s Island. The only reason these shows seem cinematic is because movie cliches have become so deeply embedded in our DNA that any film-school nerd can ape them, and the culture has become so fundamentally adolescent that the bar for sophistication is so low it barely exists.

 

The Office tends to get lumped in with that renaissance. But as its reputation continues to grow, it becomes even clearer it has practically nothing in common with its “quality” brethren.

 

I’m not saying it was perfect—the Dwight stuff sometimes got so cartoony it threatened to rend the fabric of the series, there was way too much fawning product placement in the early seasons, the attempts to “flesh out” Pam ultimately just made her seem like a bitch, there was an unfortunate predilection for “message” episodes (remember “Gay Witch Hunt” and “Secret Santa”?), the camerawork got so mannered over time it started to telegraph the jokes, and the writers sometimes succumbed to obvious sitcom “wackiness.”

Netflix The Office

And it was obvious to everyone on the planet that the series should have ended with Steve Carell’s departure, and yet they decided to slog on through two and a half more pointless and embarrassing seasons.

 

But when it worked—which it did almost all the time—it was better than just about anything that’s ever been on TV. There was a fundamental generosity to the show it’s virtually impossible to find elsewhere—in its characterizations, ensemble play, vast bounty of jokes and gags, adventurousness, and general tone, which rarely talked down but instead pulled you up to a level where TV’s hardly ever bothered to go.

 

Given how much of this drained away after Carell left, it would be easy to attribute most of the show’s virtues to him. And it would be hard to adequately assess and praise everything he brought to The Office. But it’s more like they’d created an organism that needed every one of its major parts to thrive, and taking Carell out of the equation threw it so far out of whack it eventually wound down and succumbed to entropy.

 

So, to “see” The Office, you need to consider it separate from any so-called renaissance, or even what’s supposed to work on TV, and judge it on its own terms, which were so bold yet, somehow, modest, that it really was exceptionalas in, one of a kind.

—Michael Gaughn

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

REVIEWS

Gran Turismo Sport PS4

Draw a Venn diagram of car enthusiasts and video gamers, and where the two circles intersect you’ll find a group of people who, without exception, have very strong opinions about the Gran Turismo series.

 

For most of us contained within that vesica piscis, the original “Real Driving Simulator” was far from merely a gameit was a religion. It taught us how to accelerate out of hairpin turns. It made us love mid-engine powertrains and AWD drivetrains. It turned us into oil-changing obsessives. Granted, many of us have graduated from Gran Turismo to more hardcore racing simulators over the years, especially since the disappointing sixth entry was released in 2013, but the nostalgia is still strong with this one.

 

In an attempt to win back the racers it lost to games like iRacing, Assetto Corsa, and Project CARS, GT developer Polyphony Digital is back with a wholly new and completely different effort dubbed Gran Turismo Sport. Don’t call it Gran Turismo 7. This is intended as the first entry in a newly revamped series whose emphasis isn’t on the single-player career mode that defined the franchise for the past 20 years but rather on eSports—ranked competitive multiplayer online gaming, that is to say. 

 

The results are a stunning mess, to put it mildly. Let’s focus on the stunning part first, because Gran Turismo Sport features without question the best use of High Dynamic Range video I’ve seen to date. And I’m not limiting the comparison to video games, either. Find me a movie with more lifelike use of shadows and piercing sunlight, and I’ll eat that UHD Blu-ray Disc. Without ketchup.

Pass alongside trees and other obstructions, and you can almost feel the shadows crossing your arms. Turn your car toward the west as sunset approaches and you’ll be scrambling for your sunglasses. This isn’t merely demo materialit’s the new gold standard for HDR that all content producers should be measuring themselves against.

 

Polyphony has also seriously upped the ante in terms of the game’s audio mix, likely in response to criticism of its previous games in this department. No longer does a supercharged V8 sound like a Singer sewing machine. The sound this time around is positively ferocious.

 

Sadly, in all other respects, Gran Turismo Sport is a rather hollow experience. At least for now. Long gone are the days when you could buy a cheap, beat-up four-cylinder car and scrape your pennies together to upgrade it as you slowly advanced through the ranks.

 

The single-player experience mostly consists of the game’s legendary driver’s-license challenges and a few driving-school scenarios. These are fun while they lastespecially with a good racing wheel like Logitech’s G29but they don’t last nearly long enough. And the online racing experience is sadly ruined by trolls who take pleasure from turning a good race into a demolition derby. What’s more, the punishment system set up to discourage such behavior punishes victims as harshly as instigators.

 

If Polyphony Digital can sort out such problems and add some more compelling single-player content down the road, it’ll have a successful game on its hands, if only on the strength of the audiovisual experience alone. For now, the lack of content and a middling online experience make Gran Turismo Sport feel more like an extended demo than a full-blown racing game.

—Dennis Burger

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

REVIEWS

GAMING

The Astral Factor

The funniest MST3K ever isn’t even an episode from the series. It’s not even an official video but bootleg audio from a live show MST veterans Hodgson, Beaulieu, Conniff, Pehl, and Weinstein-understudy Allen did in San Francisco during their final tour under the Cinematic Titanic banner, synced by a fan to a copy—a workprint, no less—of an unspeakably bad TV pilot some misguided soul pumped up into a feature film (mainly by showing off Stefanie Powers’ butt crack).

 

So the video really sucks, and the audio really sucks. But it doesn’t matter because the quips and jabs from these nonpareil virtuosos of movie riffing are really f***ing funny.

 

The film Hodgson & Co. mercilessly bludgeon like a recalcitrant piñata really is about as bad as it gets—bad script, bad production design, bad editing, bad makeup, bad clothes, bad music, lame stunts, bad fonts, and criminally bad acting and directing. To paraphrase a line from MST3K‘s legendary Manos, there’s a buffet of loathsomeness here.

But The Astral Factor achieves a level most MST episodes could only dream of because there’s a whole bevy of has-been stars on the premises, including Elke Sommer, the aforementioned Powers (“with Stefanie Powers come Stefanie responsibility”), and, in a stomach-churning cameo, Sue (Lolita) Lyon, whose production company was apparently responsible for this flaming sack of dog poopie.

 

The pacing of the jokes is relentless, with the crew landing solid blows at least every 20 seconds, and sometimes releasing whole barrages that left the audience in San Francisco’s Castro Theatre breathless.

 

Don’t come here looking for 4K HDR or the perfect aspect ratio or perfectly calibrated sound or even surround sound, let alone Atmos. (Atmos?! On a policeman’s salary!?) This is about laughing your ass off—pure, and simple, and all too rare.

Michael Gaughn

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

REVIEWS

Patton Oswalt: Annihilation

Patton Oswalt Annihilation

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

 

But . . .

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Michael Gaughn

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

REVIEWS

Blade Runner: The Final Cut

Kaleidescape Blade Runner

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Kaleidescape Blade Runner

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

—John Sciacca

 

Minor spoiler . . .

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

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

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Gentle Giant: Three Piece Suite

Gentle Giant fans are going to be thrilled by Three Piece Suite, the new Blu-ray/CD set of Steven Wilson 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio surround remixes, stereo remixes, and straight 96/24 stereo transfers of the band’s first three albums: Gentle Giant, Acquiring the Taste, and Three Friends. (There’s also a bonus demo track.)

 

Former Porcupine Tree member Wilson is renowned for his surround remixes of rock albums. It shows. And if you’ve never heard Gentle Giant, this is a wonderful place to start.

 

Gentle Giant was one of the most distinctive and individualistic 1970s progressive-rock bands. Brothers Derek, Phil, and Ray Shulman played a vast variety of instruments, with guitarist Gary Green, keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist Kerry Minnear, and drummer Martin Smith (replaced by Malcolm Mortimore on Three Friends and John Weathers on later albums) rounding out the lineup.

 

The band’s unique style encompasses almost unhumanly virtuosic ensemble playing, complex arrangements, circular, fugue-like passages, and vocals from the Shulman brothers and Minnear that range from sweetly plaintive (“Nothing at All”) to choral-like harmonies (“Three Friends”). A feeling of anything-goes adventurousness permeates the band’s work.

 

The original albums were well recorded and producednot surprising considering the involvement of people like Tony Visconti (David Bowie), Martin Rushent (Human League), and Roy Thomas Baker (Queen). The songs employ a dazzling range of keyboards, mallet percussion, woodwinds, violin, guitars, and more. (Ray Shulman gets a credit for “skulls” . . ?)

Gentle Giant Three Piece Suite

I compared Three Piece Suite with the BGO Records CD reissue of Gentle Giant/Three Friends (BGOCD1095) and the original Three Friends vinyl LP (Columbia PC 31649).

 

The 5.1 surround remixes (there are 10 on the Blu-raynot all the original multitrack masters could be located) are a resounding artistic success, enhancing the clarity and separation of instruments and vocals, and adding varying degrees of surround sound immersion. Dynamic contrasts are much better, and there’s none of the exaggerated, gratuitous placement of instruments off to the side and rear that plague other surround remixes I’ve heard.

 

Both the surround and stereo remixes have a warmer tonal balance, with a better defined low end, along with a richer midrange and detailed highsalthough the vinyl has that all-analog sweetness the digital formats don’t quite capture.

 

Wilson changed some of the vocal and instrumental balances. For instance, you can hear details like the “Oh! Yeah!” exclamations in the background during “Giant” that were almost inaudible before.

 

Whether the gorgeous acoustic guitar and vocals on “Nothing at All” or the synthesizer intro to “Pantagruel’s Nativity,” everything sounds more substantial and dimensional. (The vibraphone solo on the latter is simply stunning.)

 

The straight CD transfers of the three albums were done flat, making them quite faithful to the originals. I applaud Wilson’s decision not to hype them up with “improved” highs and lows or gratuitous compression and processing.

 

The Blu-ray Disc’s visuals complement the songs in a simple, deliberately unfolding manner without being overly garish or distracting, like the surreal floating images of office chairs, paper clips, and briefcases that complement the mood of “Mister Class and Quality” and its businessman protagonist. All in all, Three Piece Suite is a superb addition to Gentle Giant’s body of work.

—Frank Doris

Frank Doris is the chief cook & bottle washer for Frank Doris/Public Relations and works with a
number of audio & music industry clients. He’s a professional guitarist and a vinyl enthusiast with
multiple turntables and thousands of records.

Gentle Giant Three Piece Suite

Gentle Giant: Three Piece Suite

Alucard ALUGG057 Two-disc
Blu-ray/CD set

 

Blu-ray audio formats: DTS-HD
Master Audio 5.1 surround, 96/24 5.1
LPCM, 96/24 stereo LPCM. Includes
CD with stereo remixes.

REVIEWS

Dangal

Netflix Dangal

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Theo Kalomirakis

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

REVIEWS

The Big Short

Netflix The Big Short

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

—Michael Gaughn

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

REVIEWS

Husbands and Wives

Amazon Husbands and Wives

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Michael Gaughn

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

REVIEWS