John Sciacca Tag

Review: Jerry Maguire

Jerry Maguire

In the pantheon of directors who truly understand/understood how to use music in films, there are a few obvious names that immediately spring to mind: John Hughes, Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, the Coen brothers, and, of course, Cameron Crowe.

 

Crowe famously started his career as a journalist for Rolling Stone, and his love for music is evident in his films, which frequently feature iconic musical moments, such as John Cusack’s boombox serenade in Say Anything, the band singing 

“Tiny Dancer” in Almost Famous, and arguably helping launch Seattle’s grunge scene with Singles.

 

Another element that runs deep through Crowe’s films is heart, loyalty, and discovering what is truly important, which is the central theme of Jerry Maguire.

 

I took my wife to see Maguire when it came out theatrically in 1996, and we loved it. In fact, it was actually the first DVD I purchased. (Fun fact: According to Wikipedia, “It is the best-selling non-Disney VHS tape of all time, with over 3 million copies sold on the first day and another 1 million on the second day.”)

 

Sports agent Jerry Maguire (Cruise) grows a conscience at 2 a.m. while on a junket after meeting with a client suffering yet another concussion who only cares about getting back on the ice to meet his playing bonus. Maguire’s epiphany leads him to write a 25-page mission statement about the state of the industry and taking on fewer clients to develop

MAGUIRE AT A GLANCE

Cameron Crowe’s Tom Cruise-fueled sports-laced romcom dramedy still holds up in this 4K HDR release, famous catch phrases and all.

 

PICTURE     

Not exactly demo-worthy, with HDR sometimes making faces look overexposed and the transfer emphasizing the softness of some scenes, but overall looking great for a 25-year-old film.

 

SOUND     

The Dolby Atmos mix is surprisingly effective for such a dialogue-heavy movie, adding ambience that pulls you further into the film and mixing the songs big and full across the front channels.

more personal relationships, which he has printed with a Salinger-esque cover and puts in the In box of every member of his firm. This call for fewer clients/less money gets him sacked from his job, but after an impassioned plea, he convinces office assistant Dorothy Boyd (Renee Zellweger) to come join him in his new startup, where they’ll make a difference.

 

Maguire loses all of his clients—and income—save one athlete: Arizona Cardinals star receiver Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr.). Unfortunately, Tidwell’s me-first, get-what’s-mine attitude off the field wins him no friends, the big contract he wants, or the Kwan he desperately craves.

 

After Maguire loses star prospect Cushman (Jerry O’Connell) as a client the night before the NFL draft, the impending doom of his career leads to an argument between Maguire and his fiancée Avery (Kelly Preston), which, of course, opens the door for a relationship with Dorothy and her overly-cute son, Ray (Jonathan Lipnicki).

 

It’s pretty easy to sum up Jerry Maguire by saying that a great story with great actors makes a great film, and the film holds up terrifically well, still giving all the laughs and feels at all the right moments. Not only did it grab Academy Award nominations for Picture, Actor (Tom Cruise), Original Screenplay, and Editing, it also earned a Supporting Actor win for Cuba Gooding Jr. And its still-quotable lines such as, “Show me the money!” “You had me at ‘hello’,” “You complete me,” and “Help me, help you!” still ring true, as well as Bruce Springsteen’s perfectly chosen “Secret Garden.” (I also had no idea that The Simpsons legend James L. Brooks has a producing credit for Maguire.)

 

A 4K scan was made of the original 35mm negative for the film’s 20th anniversary, which was used for the Blu-ray re-release back in 2017, and a 4K Blu-ray taken from the new 4K digital intermediate was released as part of the Columbia Classics Collection: Vol. 1 (along with Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Dr. Strangelove, Lawrence of Arabia, Gandhi, and A League of Their Own) in June. For those wanting to enjoy Maguire in its full 4K HDR glory without having to purchase the box set, it is available for download from Kaleidescape as an individual film.

 

The image retains the look of film, with grain visible throughout but not objectionable. I did notice a few scenes where the bumped-brightness from HDR made some faces look a bit over-exposed and grainy, but these were not often. There are also a few scenes—notably in the hotel lobby post mission-statement delivery—that looked incredibly soft, or “that looks like a VHS tape” according to my wife. These defocused moments are more noticeable because the rest of the film has so much sharpness and detail.

 

Closeups feature tons of facial detail or patterns and texture in fabric such as the loops in the knit sweater Dorothy wears on the plane or a tight check pattern in a suit Maguire wears. The film doesn’t feature an excessive color palette, but the cardinal-

red of the Cardinals’ jerseys look deeply saturated and realistic, and skin tones and the grass in the football scenes look natural.

 

While not used aggressively, HDR does add some pop to the white shirts Maguire seems to always wear, and we get some nice specular highlights from sun glinting off car windshields or sunlight streaming in through windows. The film has nice and inky black levels when called for, with no hints of noise or banding, making the night scenes really pop. While Jerry Maguire won’t be in your “must-demo video” playlist, images look terrific for a nearly 25-year-old title, and this is certainly the definitive version of the film to own and enjoy.

 

Another bonus is a new Dolby TrueHD Atmos audio mix. For a primarily dialogue-driven film, I wasn’t expecting much from this mix, but it pleasantly surprised me. Mixers used the additional channels to add appropriate ambience to scenes, greatly expanding the soundstage and placing you in the environment. Interiors like the hotel lobby, airport baggage claim, restaurant, and Jerry’s office all come alive with the sounds of background chatter and scene-appropriate sounds. You will especially notice how the pandemonium in Jerry’s office—with sounds of phones ringing, keyboards clattering, and voices chattering—erupts after he concludes his “I’m leaving” speech. We also get some nice use of the height 

Jerry Maguire

channels from the voices that haunt Jerry prior to his mission-statement epiphany or in airport PA announcements.

 

Every important line of dialogue is clear and anchored to the center, but the Atmos mix gives room for the soundtrack to breathe, and songs are mixed big and full across the front channels and up into the height speakers.

 

Both the 4K Blu-ray and Kaleidescape download include a host of special features, including commentary tracks, some small featurettes, and a host of deleted scenes, many of which feature pretty abysmal picture quality, but are fun to see what was trimmed from the final cut.

 

Jerry Maguire is a great, genre-spanning film with elements of comedy, drama, romance, and sports that offers a bit of something for everyone. If you haven’t given it a watch for a few years, this new transfer provides the perfect opportunity to revisit a real gem.   

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.

Inception

Inception

After the mental calisthenics of watching and trying to unpack Tenet, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to return to another of my favorite Christopher Nolan time-bending films, Inception. This was especially the case after my 13-year-old daughter—whose introduction to Nolan was Tenet—asked if all of his films were “that confusing and hard to understand,” and after I saw that a 4K HDR transfer was available for download from Kaleidescape.

 

Scoring an impressive 87% Rotten Tomatoes critics’ score and 91% audience score, Inception made over $825 million at the box office, and was a critical success as well, winning four Academy Awards for Cinematography, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and Visual Effects, with additional nominations for Original Screenplay, Original Score, Art Direction, and Best Picture.

The core plot of Inception is actually fairly simple—getting someone to do something you want them to by planting a simple idea in their subconscious that they believe is their own. But it is the path of getting there that is so complex and visually stunning to watch, as Nolan creates dream worlds within worlds within worlds, with time expanding exponentially the further down you go. What takes seconds in “real life” might equate to hours or even decades multiple dream-levels deep.

 

Similar to lucid dreaming—a dream where the person is aware they are dreaming and can then exert control over the dream universe—Inception allows for group dreaming where an architect designs and builds the dream world, which is then populated by others who can control the dream, with the actual dreamer filling out the world with the characters of his subconscious mind. (If you’ve seen the film, you’ll understand; if you haven’t, trust me that it actually makes a lot of sense.)

INCEPTION AT A GLANCE

In the wake of his mindbending Tenet, Christopher Nolan’s dream-world thriller Inception gets the 4K HDR treatment, with a slew of bonus features to help you figure out what it all means.

 

PICTURE     

Tons of detail and resolution in nearly every frame, with plenty of opportunities for HDR to make things pop from the film’s muted palette.

 

SOUND     

The 5.1 mix features plenty of subtle ambient and aggressive surround effects to place you in the action, and massive low-frequency information that will take your subwoofer—and walls—to their limits.

Besides the striking visuals and stunt sequences, another element that really elevates Inception is the fantastic cast, with practically every role handled by A-list talent. This includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe, Tom Berenger, Cillian Murphy, Marion Cotillard, and Michael Caine. DiCaprio does an especially good job here, as do Gordon-Levitt and Watanabe.

 

The film revolves around Cobb (DiCaprio), an expert “extractor” who is able to steal valuable information from someone’s subconscious while they are dreaming, being hired by Saito (Watanabe) to infiltrate the dreams of Robert Fischer (Murphy)—the newly appointed CEO of a multi-billion-dollar energy concern—in order to plant the idea in his head to break up his company to avoid a future monopoly. In return, Saito promises he can arrange for Cobb—who has been on the run for years after having been wrongfully accused of killing his wife Mal (Cotillard)—to be able to come home to see his children.

 

Cobb’s subconscious is haunted by memories of Mal—with whom he spent a decade in the abyss of their shared subconscious and where she ultimately lost track of reality—and any dreamworlds he now creates are quickly corrupted and 

overrun by her. He hires one of his father’s (Caine) top students, Ariadne (Page), whom he teaches how to design and construct elaborate labyrinthian dream worlds that will give his team more time to move about before they are discovered and attacked by the dreamer’s subconscious. (Again, this all makes sense when you see the film.)

 

The dream worlds are often filled with fascinating Escher-like architecture—entire city blocks that twist upwards at 90 degrees to fold back onto the world, rooms filled with never-ending staircases, topsy-turvy gravity, and cities disintegrating as the dreamworld collapses.

 

You’ll likely find yourself asking, “How did they do that?” 

and fortunately there is a slew of featurettes included with the download that provide answers to many of your questions. It is especially impressive when you see that many of these are actually in-camera practical effects as opposed to CGI trickery. Especially interesting is a short animated graphic-novel-esque prequel film, The Cobol Job, which gives some interesting backstory on how Cobb ends up encountering Saito in Inception.

 

While I don’t think of Inception as an action film, it actually has a surprising amount of action, with the dreamworlds filled with car chases and numerous shootouts. One of the final dream levels—a heavily fortified hospital on top of a snow-covered mountain—always reminds me of a level of a Bond-like video game, using snipers, stealth, and force to overcome a large force on skis and in tracked vehicles to infiltrate a massive complex and achieve the objective.

 

Originally shot on 35mm and 65mm film, there is no information on the resolution of the digital intermediate used here, but there is tons of detail and resolution in nearly every frame. Closeups reveal loads of facial detail, and you can especially appreciate the detail, design, and fabric texture in the actors’ clothing. For example, in the opening moments, we see Cobb lying in the surf, and there is sharp line texture and detail in the fabric of his jacket. Later, in the snow-mountain scene, you can appreciate the slightly pebbled texture on the leather accents of Cobb’s teams’ uniforms, or a delicate white-on-white pattern on one of Saito’s shirts. Long shots of Paris and Mombasa are also sharp and full of detail, as are the busy city streets of the Paris dream world, where every building edge is sharp and defined. There are the occasional shots in soft focus, but this appears to be more a limit of the original material.

 

While the film has a generally muted greyish, overcast, or steely-blue color palette, there are still plenty of opportunities for the HDR grading to improve the viewing experience. One big difference I noticed over the Blu-ray transfer was the enhanced pop of the white shirts worn by many of the actors, and the brightness of the overhead lighting in rooms. The early scene in Saito’s castle especially benefits from this, with the lighting looking far more realistic and bathing the room in a rich, warm, golden glow. Interior scenes also benefit from rich shadow detail while still delivering bright highlights either from light streaming in through windows or internal lighting, and the added contrast also benefits the snowy scenes, providing more detail and depth to the white-covered landscape.

 

Nolan famously eschews next-generation audio formats like Dolby Atmos, and we are once again “limited” to a 5.1-channel DTS-HD Master mix here. Even so, it is pretty dynamic, with plenty of subtle ambient and aggressive surround effects to

place you in the action. From street sounds at a Paris café, to a freight train whizzing past in the side surrounds, to the creaking and groaning of an elevator shaft and cabling, to dynamic gun fire and bullet strikes discreetly placed around the room, to the distinct sounds of objects exploding in air, Inception’s sound mix is active and entertaining.

 

The film also features some truly massive and immense low-frequency information that will take your subwoofer—and walls—to their limits. From the opening scene, the sounds of waves crashing at the beach pound your room with bass. Even more aggressive are the deep—and lengthy—bass signals when a dreamworld is collapsing, or the crashing of an avalanche.

 

Another thing Nolan is becoming infamous for is difficult-to-understand dialogue. This was a real complaint of mine from his two most recent films—Tenet and Dunkirk—where dialogue was completely unintelligible for many key sequences, often drowned out by effects and music mixed significantly louder (and characters mumbling behind masks in the case of Tenet). While most of Inception isn’t plagued with this, there are still a few moments where dialogue is buried beneath other sounds.

 

Nolan re-teams with frequent collaborator Hans Zimmer for the score here, and it 

Inception

is often an aggressive, dynamic, stress-filled mix that comes at you from all corners of the room. The film’s finale is heightened by the score, which is like a constant assault on the senses and will get your heart pumping. One of the songs, “Mombasa,” reminded me of the frenetic electronica and bass assault of a Blue Man Group track.

 

Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, Inception remains incredibly entertaining, and as visually exciting and entertaining as any modern film. With a new 4K HDR transfer, the film looks better than ever, making it the perfect time to revisit this modern classic.

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.

I Rented an Entire Theater to See “Tenet”

I Rented an Entire Theater to See "Tenet"

I’ve been following the start-stop, herky-jerky release plans for Christopher Nolan’s Tenet from the get-go. Ordained as the film that was going to re-open commercial cinemas and save them from the ravages of COVID-19, Nolan and Warner Brothers were hellbent on giving Tenet a theatrical release—PVOD streaming be damned!—even when US theaters weren’t fully ready to reopen. So the film took the unusual approach of opening internationally prior to its official run here in the States

starting on September 3.

 

As a fan of Nolan’s creative time-twisting work (Memento, Inception, Dunkirk), I was eager to see if Tenet lived up to the hype, and seeing it in a commercial cinema was the natural consummation of my relationship with this film. Unfortunately, my wife just wasn’t comfortable with the idea of sitting in a movie theater for nearly three hours with a bunch of strangers, regardless of how much the theaters were touting new enhanced cleaning procedures.

 

The solution? Rent out the entire theater for my own private Tenet watch party!

 

Besides solving my dilemma of wanting to watch Tenet in the theater, the proposition of having the whole theater to myself for a tentpole film on opening weekend seemed like a baller-move just too big to pass up.

 

In actuality, it wasn’t that expensive. To entice people back to the cinema, Cinemark is offering special Private Watch Party pricing ranging from $99 to $175 based on location and movie selection. Renting out a theater to watch Tenet only cost me $163.24, including all taxes and fees. For that, you get the place to yourself and can have as many as 20 guests in your party. Seating starts 15 minutes prior to the show, and you even get special pricing on concessions. (A large popcorn is “only” $5, large fountain drinks are $3.50, and candy is $2.50.)

 

As you can imagine, after months in lockdown, getting 20 

friends together to see a movie in a commercial theater and have some sense of normality back in their lives took about as long as copying and pasting, “Hey, I rented out a movie theater to watch Tenet. You want to come see it?” into a text.

 

Once our party was all together, I showed the theater staff a QR code on my phone and they let us in. Our auditorium had about 45 loungers in it, and we were free to sit wherever we wanted.

 

Our showing started promptly at 5:15, beginning with trailers for Dune, Wonder Woman 1984, and Judas and the Black Messiah. Following that was a brief ad extolling the virtues of seeing big movies on big screens—a bit reminiscent of the 

ads on Blu-ray discs telling you how great Blu-ray discs are (I mean, I was in the theater to see this ad, so it felt a bit like preaching to the choir)—followed by a brief spot extolling all the enhanced measures Cinemark was taking to ensure that its theaters are clean, safe, and comfortable.

 

The messaging certainly suggested that Cinemark is doing what it can to make the moviegoing experience as safe as possible, but we weren’t there to see if they actually cleaned our auditorium before our seating and didn’t stick around to see whether they fully disinfected it after it was over. There were sanitizing stations around, and all employees—and moviegoers—are required to wear masks. They also really tout the new “3-point air-quality standard” with advanced circulation, filters, and ionization. But beyond the theater not having any odor—or ever
feeling stuffy—I really just have to take them at their word on this as well.

 

Honestly, besides literally having the auditorium to ourselves, the entire building felt empty. I don’t think we saw more than a half-dozen people who weren’t in our group. Another part of the safe opening is staggered showtimes, creating larger windows between people exiting and entering.

 

So, if you’re hesitant about being around crowds, that might not even be an issue right now. Another part of nearly every theater’s safe reopening includes limited seating in auditoriums, such as automatically blocking off the seats next to your

I Rented an Entire Theater to See "Tenet"

party. (Rows ahead and behind in our theaters are already separated by more than six feet, but I understand these are blocked as well when necessary.) And, of course, if you don’t want to be around others, the Private Watch Party is the perfect solution.

 

Then, trailers and messaging out of the way, it was time for Tenet!

I’m going to keep this totally spoiler-free for two reasons. One, Tenet is an experience you should be able to have unspoiled, and, two, the film is so complex and twisty and mentally fatiguing and confounding, I’m not actually sure I understood it well enough to spoil it! Just as no one could be told what The Matrix was, no one can easily explain and summarize exactly what Tenet is.

 

Apparently, Nolan has been crafting Tenet for years, saying he deliberated on the film’s central ideas for over a decade and then took more than five years to write the screenplay. With all of that time to weave the story, plot, and world of Tenet, expecting to unpack and process it all in one viewing is an overly ambitious goal, especially with sensory overload happening in many scenes and overlooking small details you aren’t aware are important. If Nolan’s desire was to get people to see his movie in a commercial cinema—preferably on an IMAX screen—he could truly be the savior of the commercial cinema, as it will take multiple viewings to fully take in and comprehend this film.

 

True to its palindromic title, Tenet plays with time, moving backwards and forwards, sometimes at the same time. I often found myself watching the action unfolding not totally sure what was happening but marveling at the time some of these scenes must have taken in editing and post-production to get just right.

 

After the film, our group stood in the lobby and parking lot for some time with lots of, “Why did this happen?” and “What was going on here?” and “What do you think this meant?” I don’t visit Reddit, but I can only imagine that Tenet is blowing up the boards there with deep fan-based discussion of what the film is all about.

 

It’s as if Tenet saw how deep and layered Inception was—with people still debating whether the top is spinning or not—and said, “Hey, Inception. You think you had a complex plot? Hold my beer.”

 

If you have that one friend who is always confused by film plots, asking what is happening, do not take them—their head will explode.

 

Ideally, Tenet would come with a detailed Wiki and walkthrough prepared by Nolan, to guide you through the layered world with tips on what to look for, key dialogue to pay attention to, and objects (or colors) in the background to be aware of. Having only seen it once, I can only speculate on what things would be noticed and understood on the second or third viewing.

 

Tenet is a cool, slick, fast-paced film that travels the globe to exotic locations. It features car chases, elaborate heists, massive gun battles, and huge set pieces. I’m not sure it is a fun film to watch, but it is definitely an interesting and deeply cerebral film. Nolan doesn’t dumb it down, spell things out for the masses, or try to offer any overly helpful exposition.

 

One thing that definitely didn’t help with understanding the film is the sound mix. Music and effects are often playing quite loud, even when characters are talking. Compounding that is the fact that characters are often wearing masks, making the dialogue exasperatingly difficult to understand. Removing the ability to understand lines of dialogue at key moments takes an already complex plot and puts it up on Legendary mode. I’m hoping they do some remixing for the home release, but if nothing else, you might get more out of Tenet by being able to watch it with subtitles turned on. 

 

Featuring a strong cast that includes John David Washington (Denzel’s son), Robert Pattinson (whose performance made me believe he can pull off Batman), Elizabeth Debicki, Kenneth Branagh, Himesh Patel, and a wonderful (but short) scene with Michael Caine, performances are solid throughout.

 

Now that it’s finally here and showing in commercial cinemas, I’m not sure Tenet fully lives up to all the hype and expectation that had been heaped upon it, or that we’ll ever fully understand all of its intricacies, subtleties, and meanings, but it is the first summer blockbuster to come to theaters, and if you have the means to safely see it, it certainly makes for an interesting two-and-a-half hours for sure. And remember, what’s happened’s happened.

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.

Mulan (2020)

Mulan (2020)

If any movie has had a more complex and rambling release timeline than Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, it would be Disney’s latest live-action remake, Mulan. After its initial Hollywood premiere on March 9, the film was slated for a wide theatrical release on March 27. But those plans were scrubbed after commercial cinemas around the world were forced to close because of the coronavirus. For months, Disney stood firm that Mulan would debut theatrically, and the release date continued to move back a week at a time in lockstep with Tenet, with many looking to these two tentpole films as the official relaunch of commercial cinema.

 

After months of “will it/won’t it?” release-date shuffling, Warner decided to seek an international release of Tenet before opening here in the States. Disney, however, made the radical decision to forego a commercial release of Mulan in the U.S.

entirely, instead trying a new strategy with its Disney+ streaming service, offering Mulan to all subscribers for a one-time $29.99 fee for “Premier Access.”

 

Shortly before Mulan’s September 4 release to Disney+, Disney clarified that the Premier Access offer would only be available until November 2, 2020. “Once you have Premier Access to Mulan, you can watch as many times as you want on any platform where Disney+ is available. Your access to Mulan will continue as long as you are an active Disney+ subscriber. Mulan will be available to all Disney+ subscribers on December 4, 2020 for no additional cost.”

 

So, with a major title costing an estimated $200 million to produce, and initially expected to bring in close to a billion worldwide, Disney is not only gambling heavily on Premium Access, but also seemingly stacking the deck against itself by telling subscribers that if they jut hold off a few months, they can get it for free.

MULAN AT A GLANCE

Another in Disney’s series of live-action remakes of animated titles, this straight-to-Disney+ effort sheds the musical numbers and most of the humor to tell the tale of Chinese girl who pretends to be a man in order to become a soldier.

 

PICTURE     

Streamed in 4K, the film looks gorgeous—especially when seen on a flagship video display—taking full advantage of HDR’s wider color gamut.

 

SOUND     

The Dolby Atmos mix is disappointing, but its restraint might be due in part to being streamed over AppleTV.

My family was planning on seeing Mulan in the theater, so I gladly ponied up the $29.99. (Still cheaper than buying three tickets, and with the added benefit of watching in my own home theater as many times as I want!) Disney sent subscribers an email with instructions for unlocking Premier Access, and a link took me to a page where I could enter payment details. Once submitted, a gold Premier Access banner appears by Mulan along with, “You have Premier Access to this movie.”

 

Unlike previous Disney live-action remakesBeauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Aladdin—Mulan doesn’t strictly adhere to the original animated material, and where the 1998 animated film was G-rated with a lot of musical numbers, this remake is a decidedly more adult PG-13 film. Also, there’s no singing or any musical numbers. There are some definite nods to the big 

musical numbers “Honor to Us All” and “Reflection,” with those instrumental themes clearly playing, and some of the lines from “A Girl Worth Fighting For” are used as lines of dialogue.

 

Also gone are the bickering ancestors and Mushu, the protector ancestral dragon voiced by Eddie Murphy, which is replaced by a CGI Phoenix, the family’s ancestral guardian, that appears when Mulan needs strength or guidance. Also, for historical accuracy, the Huns have been replaced by the Rouran army.

 

The film opens with Mulan as a young girl performing fighting moves with a staff in an open field, and we are told “Chi is the boundless energy of life itself speaking through her every motion.” But only a son can wield chi, and a daughter that doesn’t hide her chi risks shame, dishonor, and exile. We’re also informed “chi is for warriors, not daughters.”

 

Chi plays a prominent role in the film, and feels a lot like another mystical power from the Disney-owned universe, The Force. In fact, we’re told, “Chi obeys the universe and all living things; we are all born with it but only the most true will connect deeply with his chi and become a great warrior.” I was actually waiting to hear that chi surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds us together. In another strong echo of the Star Wars universe, another powerful chi-wielder tells Mulan to join them and they will take their place together. Sound familiar? Of course, instead of a lightsaber, Mulan wields her father’s sword.

Otherwise, the film hits all the major beats and plot points from the original, removing much of the humor and telling a serious tale of a young woman who disguises herself as a man to join the Emperor’s army to take her old and injured father’s place after an edict that one man per family must serve in the Imperial Army.

 

Director Niki Caro (Whale Rider; McFarland, USA) apparently auditioned over 1,000 actresses before selecting Yifei Lui to play Mulan, and Lui does a great job as both delicate Hua Mulan and soldier Hua Jun, handling most of her own stunts. Also on hand are two Chinese film legends, Donnie Yen as Commander Tung and Jet Li as the Emperor, as well as Jason Scott Lee playing Rouran leader, Bori Khan.

 

There is plenty of fighting throughout, and even though Mulan has a PG-13 rating, the killing is completely bloodless and gore-free. There were only a few scenes that were too intense for my 4 year old. Soldiers hit by arrows slump over, and we see empty helmets to represent the hundreds of slaughtered, or just see bodies lying still. While much of the fighting is grounded in real-world physics, there is the occasional use of the “Wuxia” flying/leaping/gravity-defying fighting style popularized in films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, especially after Mulan fully embraces—and unleashes—the true potential of her chi.

 

Besides the musical nods, there is a nice cameo by Ming-Na Wen, who voiced Mulan in the animated title, and Christina Aguilera—who sang “Reflection” as her debut single over the animated end-credits—returns with a new end-credits song, “Loyal Brave True.”

 

Mulan runs just shy of two hours and is presented in 2.39:1 aspect ratio, which benefits the wide vistas and grand scale of many shots, especially the wide-open countryside.

 

Shot in ArriRaw at 4.5 and 5.1K resolution, Mulan is sourced from a true 4K digital intermediate, and the film looks gorgeous, especially when viewed on a high-end Dolby Vision-capable display. The resolution makes it easy to appreciate the detail of the costuming, seeing the work of the armor, the stitching, threads, and fabric of the uniforms, or the detail of the sets and backgrounds. Closeups reveal pore-level detail and razor-sharp focus of the actors’ faces, and in one scene you can clearly see single beads of water dripping down a few strands of Mulan’s hair. Long shots also have tons of detail, letting you appreciate the vast scenic spaces, buildings, and gathered armies, with nice, sharp edges.

 

Mulan also benefits from HDR’s wider color gamut, with the colors of the outfits warn by occupants in Mulan’s village being vibrant and saturated. Reds are especially deep, as are the gleaming golds of the Emperor’s throne room. You also get beautifully lit faces in some interiors where characters talk by lantern light, their faces bathed in a rich warm glow with deep natural shadows, or the bright gleaming sunlit skies in exteriors, or the burning of fires and torches.

 

In total, Mulan looks fantastic, and should definitely be appreciated on a flagship video display.

 

Sonically, however, I found the Dolby Atmos mix to be really reserved and frankly a bit disappointing. Of course, this could be less an issue with the mix itself and more to do with AppleTV’s audio output, something I found disappointing when watching Taylor Swift’s Reunion concert on Netflix, or perhaps the difference between the lossy Dolby Digital+ used by streaming services and the TrueHD audio found on physical 4K discs and offered by Kaleidescape.

 

There were many cases when the height channels could have been used more aggressively to good effect, such as arrows raining overhead, swords slashing, birds flying overhead, people leaping, rain falling, etc. There were a couple of scenes where the height speakers are put to good use, such as Mulan hearing the voices of her ancestors or people are speaking off-camera from overhead.

 

While the surround channels are used for the sounds of swishing arrows, fighting, and atmospheric sounds like wind and echoes and to expand the musical score, I found the mix to be mainly focused across the front three speakers. In a way, it almost feels like Disney knew this was going to be primarily viewed at home, and so the mix choices were optimized for TV speakers and basic soundbar setups.

 

While not possessing a bass-heavy mix, your subwoofer definitely comes into play in key moments, such as the galloping horse army, a cascading avalanche, and the crashing of massive boulders launched by the Rouran army’s trebuchet.

 

Ultimately, how much you enjoy this retelling of Mulan might depend on how much you loved the original animated title. While it is the same story, it is told in a completely different manner, and if you are expecting another live-action rehash, you may be disappointed. Taken on its own merit, however, Mulan is a well-told, updated, and compelling story that features a solid cast, with massive scale, along with some terrific cinematography that all make for a great night at the movies.

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.

Bill & Ted Face the Music

Bill & Ted Face the Music

In another combination theatrical and home day-and-date release, the third film in the Bill & Ted franchise, Bill & Ted Face the Music, dropped this past Friday (August 28)—29 years after the second film, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, and 31 years after the original Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, making it one of the longest gaps between film sequels ever. Available for rental or purchase through a variety of streaming outlets, you can purchase Face the Music for download from Kaleidescape for $39.99, where it is available at Ultra HD resolution (not HDR) with a DTS-HD 5.1-channel audio mix.

 

I was 19 when Excellent Adventure came out and saw both it and the Bogus Journey sequel in the theater. It had been years since I’d watched either movie, so I prepped for Face the Music by watching Excellent Adventure again. Unquestionably a

cheesy, schlocky B movie, what really drives the film is the fun of watching these two likable idiots bumbling through time in an attempt to fulfill their musical destiny by first acing a high-school history presentation so they can graduate. While often described as a “stoner comedy,” there is never any evidence of the duo getting high; rather, they are just a wildly optimistic pair that look for the best in situations and get by on dumb luck and the help of a telephone-booth time machine.

 

My memories of the second film are far less fond, with the ridiculousness of evil doppelgängers sent from the future, trips to the afterworld to beat Death in a variety of games, and Bill and Ted building robot versions of themselves to win a “battle of the bands” competition playing along with Death and some aliens called Station. It just didn’t have the fun of the original, and the proclamations of, “Dude!” “Excellent!” and “Righteous!” wore thin.

 

So, the real question here is: After 29 years, did the world 

FACE THE MUSIC AT A GLANCE

Arriving a scant 31 years after Excellent Adventure, with Keanu Reeves displaying questionable judgment returning as Ted, this sequel will likely appeal mainly to GenXers but isn’t such a bad way to spend your time with so few other new releases out there.

 

PICTURE     

The 4K transfer is clean and sharp, with plenty of detail, but the absence of HDR results in the images looking flat, without pop or depth.

 

SOUND     

The DTS-HD 5.1 mix is room-filling when appropriate, with surprisingly potent bass.

really need or even want another episode in this franchise? And, perhaps even more curious, why would Keanu Reeves want to return to playing valley guy Ted while in the midst of a career high point with the insane success of polar-opposite character John Wick? And will another 90-minutes of his “Whoa! Dude!” surfer-Ted persona somehow diminish the Wick franchise?

 

I was skeptical going into viewing Face the Music, and likely would not have watched it if not for Cineluxe. And I wonder if the film will actually find more financial success because of the current theatrical shutdown, giving content-starved viewers something new to watch at home that they otherwise would have taken a pass on.

 

With Reeve’s current popularity, I was thinking Face the Music’s real hook would be some incredible cameos sprinkled throughout to add another element of fun to the adventure, but that was not the case. (Though we do get one scene with a rather famous musician who pops in to play himself.) Also, I hoped director Dean Parisot would bring some of the same fun and understanding of the genre that he did with Galaxy Quest. While the film has a surprisingly high Rotten Tomatoes critics rating of 81% and an 82% audience score (both franchise highs), I think it will mostly appeal to Gen-Xers who will give a lot of its shortcomings a pass by playing the nostalgia card and appreciating the fan service. (When I asked my 13-year-old daughter, who had never seen either of the other films, how many more times she’d watch Face the Music, she said, “Negative one. I wish I’d never seen it the first time.” Ouch!)

 

The movie begins with Bill S. Preston, Esquire (Alex Winter) and Ted Theodore Logan, the sole remaining members of their once super-band Wyld Stallyns, who have gone from playing concerts viewed all over the world to playing empty bars on Taco Tuesday, still struggling to write the one super-hit song destined to unite mankind around the world.

 

Besides the leads, Face the Music manages to get other members of the band back together, including Hal Landon Jr. returning as Ted’s dad, Chief Logan, Amy Stoch  as Missy-mom (now marrying Ted’s younger brother after divorcing both Bill and Ted’s dads), and William Sadler as bass-shredding Death. The wife-princesses, Joanna and Elizabeth, are still here but have been once again recast. (These two characters have now been played by six different actresses.)

 

New to the cast are Thea Preston (Samara Weaving) and Billie Logan (Brigette Lundy-Paine), Bill and Ted’s music-loving daughters, who play a major role in the plot and do their best to maintain the mouth-agape bewildered expression and mannerisms of their respective parents, as well as the always-delightful Kristen Schaal as Kelly, daughter of Rufus (George Carlin) from the first two films, and the time-traveling Terminator-esque self-aware robot, Dennis Caleb McCoy (Anthony Carrigan).

 

Without the benefit of a universe-uniting song, things are unraveling throughout time, with people and landmarks transporting to different times and places, and Bill and Ted are up against a deadline with which to create and perform the song or risk the irreversible collapse of reality.

 

With the clock ticking—and with a time-traveling phone booth once again at their disposal—the boys decide to visit themselves at different points in the future after they’ve already written the song so they can just steal it and bring it back. Billie and Thea decide to help out by gathering some of the greatest musicians throughout history—Jimi Hendrix, Louis Armstrong, Mozart—to help perform the song.

 

Watching the various incarnations of Bill and Ted—whose lives get progressively worse the further they go into the future—brought some of the film’s funnier moments, and the girls’ quest to get famous musicians was certainly reminiscent of Excellent Adventure (as well as the musical number from the talent show of Revenge of the Nerds). But my family and I all thought one of the film’s highlights was the song and video over the beginning of the closing credits, which feels like the 

cameo-filled moments (we spotted “Weird” Al Yankovic and Guillermo Rodriguez, but it seems like there were many others we just didn’t recognize) I hoped the film would have. Also, stick around for a final post-credits scene, which will likely be the last we see of Bill and Ted.

 

As mentioned, this is a non-HDR 4K transfer (at least for now) and the opening Orion logo offers a throwback to ‘80s-era VHS-level picture quality, but rest assured things quickly improve. Shot in ArriRaw at 2.8 and 3.4K resolutions, images are clean and sharp, with enough detail to reveal how much our leads have aged as well as the fabric detail in clothes and outfits throughout time. But the picture quality doesn’t have that razor-sharp look of many modern transfers, and backgrounds are often a bit soft.

 

Most noticeable—especially after watching so many modern films—is the lack of HDR grading. Without it, images just look a bit flat, and lack pop and depth, especially in scenes with bright images in the background such as in the therapist’s office or when talking to Death in his office. Also, you can see where images would benefit from the wider color gamut, such as the bright flashes of color as Bill and Ted are traveling through time.

Bill & Ted Face the Music

Even without an immersive audio mix, the sound is entertaining, and room-filling when appropriate, such as the time-unraveling scenes and the big musical performance. Bass is also surprisingly potent, with the time-traveling phone booth slamming into the ground with room-shaking authority. Scenes also have a nice bit of spaciousness, such as the background wails in Hell or the reverb of Jimi’s guitar. Dialogue is also clearly presented and easily understood throughout.

 

If this is the last we see of Bill and Ted, this was certainly a better sendoff than their Bogus Journey. And their message to “Be excellent to each other!” and “Party on, dudes!” isn’t such a bad thing for these crazy times.

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.

Zenimation

Zenimation

We are big fans of sound design here at Cineluxe, as a good audio mix reproduced on a well-designed home theater draws you into the fictional world and helps you appreciate films on a deeper level. But the work that goes into crafting the many layers of a rich, detailed, and organic sound mix—especially the often intricate and minute sounds created by the Foley artists (a term that is likely known by most readers, but definitely well worth exploring here if you aren’t familiar)—are often buried beneath the score, dialogue, or other effects in a scene.

 

We often focus on feature-length movies or series here, as well as programming that is almost exclusively in 4K HDR with a lossless Dolby Atmos surround mix, but the new short series Zenimation is such a master class in audio appreciation that it 

was worth highlighting.

 

Currently available only on Disney+, the show description says, “Unplug, relax, and refresh your senses for a moment of mindfulness with Walt Disney Animation Studio’s Zenimation—an animated soundscape experience. . . . These iconic scenes become an aural experience like no other with the sounds of ocean waves, an icy forest, and soaring flight. Zenimation pays tribute to both the visual and sound artists who have created Walt Disney Animation Studios’ legacy of films.”

 

And before you start in that you don’t have the time to watch another new series, relax! Zenimation requires an incredibly minimal time commitment, with the entire series taking less than an hour to watch.

 

Mindfulness is one of those terms that has become increasingly popular in the stress-filled times we currently

ZENIMATION AT A GLANCE

Sequences from Disney cartoons stripped of all audio save their sound effects and grouped by moods give you an opportunity to relax and appreciate the art of Foley at the same time.

 

PICTURE     

HD video presented at 2.35:1, but given that most of the content isn’t widescreen, it might have been better framed at 16:9.

 

SOUND     

These videos are really all about the sound, and they upmix nicely, but won’t exactly test the limits of your system.

live in. Wikipedia defines it as “the psychological process of purposely bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment without judgment, which one develops through the practice of meditation and through other training.”

 

Zenimation is presented in HD with a 5.1-channel Dolby Digital audio mix and is broken into 10 parts: Water, Cityscapes, Discovery, Flight, Explore, Night, Nature, Serenity, Water Realms, and Levity. The shortest episodes last just four minutes, and the longest only seven.

 

All episodes feature beloved Disney characters such as Moana, Ariel, Elsa, Aladdin, and Judy Hopps, focusing on scenes and moments germane to that episode’s subject. My only real complaint is that they chose to show everything with letterbox bars, retaining a 2.35:1 aspect ratio throughout. That would be fine if all the content were native 2.35:1, but a fair bit of it is 16:9 (or less) which means pillar-boxing (black bars on all four sides) the image. Perhaps keeping the constant vertical height is a better way of staying in the mindfulness zone, but I would have preferred the 16:9 content filled the screen. 

 

Also, since much of this content already exists on Disney+ in 4K HDR with Dolby Atmos audio (even older titles like Aladdin and The Little Mermaid), it would have been nice if they would have just pulled scenes from these titles for a better overall presentation. Instead, we are limited to the audio and video resolutions of The Rescuers Down Under, Tarzan, Lilo and Stitch, and some of the other older titles.

 

Those nits aside, these scenes stripped of music, other effects, and dialogue with the Foley effects amplified allow you to focus on the specific sound elements that help bring each scene alive, and the scenes flow nicely from one to the next. Remember, unlike a live-action movie, in animation, no sound is captured “on set,” and every bit of audio is created to bring the scene and the animated world to life.

 

Clearly hear the rippling sounds paddles make as they pull through in the water, the drips of splashing wave droplets, or bubbles drifting up past characters underwater. Some of my favorite audio moments are from Moana, such as the scene on her boat. Note the sounds of her stitching and pulling the thread through the sail, pulling ropes on the boat, and the wind billowing and creaking all around. 

 

Outdoor scenes let you appreciate sounds of birds chirping off in the distance well outside your main left/right speakers, the rustle of leaves as you pass through a forest, the sounds of birds flapping overhead, along with the sounds of rain and crashing thunder.

 

Not all of the sonic moments are about bombast, but many allow you to appreciate the subtleties and nuance of the mix. Notice the echoing of Anna’s footsteps inside Elsa’s immense ice castle, the delicate rustle of grass beneath Rapunzel’s feet, the tonal change of the fire crackling on Moana’s torch as she walks from a cramped cave into a large cavern, or the spark of fire and smoke trailing from an incense stick Mulan lights. Or discern the distinctly different sounds used for shooting stars, all of which convey the same sense of motion but with a different feeling.

 

While Zenimation doesn’t employ an immersive object-audio mix, the upmixer in a modern surround processor does a capable job of positioning appropriate sounds overhead. You’ll hear the screams of eagles, fireworks exploding, wind whistling and rushing past, birds chirping, the ringing of bells from Quasimodo’s tower, as well as rain droplets and water splashes. There is also a nice amount of deep bass courtesy of things like the deep cascade of waterfalls, the stampede of animals, or the crackling of stones and boulders.

 

Zenimation gives movie lovers a fun and creative way to understand the audio elements and sound-design work that goes into crafting a film’s sonic world, helping you appreciate the art of filmmaking. And with the whole series taking less than an hour to watch, there’s no excuse not to check it out. 

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.

Braveheart

Braveheart

With a scarcity of new releases on the horizon, it’s a great time to mine your collection for some classic content you might not have watched for some time—especially when that title has received a 4K HDR makeover with a Dolby Atmos soundtrack. Braveheart certainly qualifies as one of those films, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year and available for download from Kaleidescape in a whopping 102.4 GB file.

 

Released in 1995, Braveheart was the darling of the 1996 Academy Awards, grabbing a total of 10 nominations, and winning five statues, including Picture, Director, Cinematography, Sound Effects, and Makeup. (It was also nominated for Screenplay,

Costume Design, Sound, Editing, and Music.)

 

While Mel Gibson has gone on to direct several films since, it is hard to believe Braveheart was only his second time in the director’s chair, following up on 1993’s The Man Without a Face. When you see the massive scale of the film, it’s beyond impressive that Gibson was able to pull this off as such a relative neophyte director, not to mention while simultaneously handling producing chores and portraying William Wallace, the film’s leading role.

 

I’m not a history buff, but Braveheart apparently plays a bit fast-and-loose with historical accuracy for the sake of entertainment. So if you’re a student of 13th-century English and Scottish lore (the film opens in 1280 AD) and looking for a movie that ticks off all the factual boxes, it will likely raise your ire. Instead, maybe consider Braveheart as “historical fiction,” depicting people who actually existed—William Wallace, Princess Isabella (Sophie Marceau), Robert the 

BRAVEHEART AT A GLANCE

A love story and some history provide the springboard for a series of increasingly bigger and more brutal battle scenes in this Mel Gibson Oscars fest. 

 

PICTURE     

The 4K transfer brings out the intricate detail in the Oscar-winning cinematography while HDR helps deliver a better range of black & shadow detail.

 

SOUND     

The new Atmos mix isn’t particularly active, but it is atmospheric and does a great job of presenting the James Horner score.

Bruce (Angus Macfadyen), King Edward I (Patrick McGoohan), Prince Edward (Peter Hanly)—doing the kinds of things they more-or-less did.

 

Rated R for “brutal medieval warfare,” Common Sense Media says, “Expect torture, hackings, stabbings, throat-slitting, and arrows and spears dealing horrible death and injuries,” and it doesn’t lie. The battle scenes are brutal, with body counts that would likely be in the hundreds. However, in my mind, I recall it being much more graphic—especially the ending—so maybe 25 years of movie watching things like John Wick and shows like Game of Thrones has just desensitized me a bit. Also, whereas many films today prefer to linger on the blood, viscera, and gore of combat, Gibson instead chooses to quick-cut away from much of it. (Possibly to reverse the MPAA’s initial NC-17 rating.)

 

With its epic, just minutes shy of three hours running time, nothing about Braveheart feels rushed—except possibly the reunion and relationship of Wallace and Murron MacClannough (Catherine McCormack)—giving you plenty of time to know and care about the characters. The film opens with a bit of narration telling you all the backstory required, with “The king of Scotland had died without a son, and the king of England, a cruel pagan known as Edward the Longshanks, claimed the throne of Scotland for himself. Scotland’s nobles fought him, and fought each other, over the crown. So, Longshanks invited them to talks of truce—no weapons, one page only.”

 

Young William sees the hanged bodies of those Longshanks betrayed, and, shortly, after his father and brother are also killed by Longshanks’ soldiers. William is then raised by his uncle, who educates him and teaches him to use his wits before he uses a sword, and takes him on a tour of Europe. Years later, William returns to his village, wanting to have a simple life as a farmer, where he hopes to marry lifelong love Murron, and raise many sons.

 

In order to keep the Scottish population in check, Longshanks institutes an old tradition known as Primae noctis—First Night—giving nobles the right to take a maiden on her wedding night to have sex with her with the goal of getting her pregnant with English blood.

 

As you can imagine, this doesn’t go over well, and Wallace and Murron marry in secret, telling no one so the local lord won’t discover. Of course, a blossoming love can’t be kept hidden, and after Murron hits a soldier who attempts to rape her, she is killed, inciting Wallace to start a rebellion to just kill as many English as possible, but leading him to ultimately take up the cause of freeing Scotland.

 

Along the way, more and more clans hear of Wallace’s exploits and successes in battle, causing his legend to grow to mythic proportions and having many join his cause until he is leading an actual army, fighting larger and larger battles, including the battle of Stirling, Falkird, and attacking the English city of York, where they start inflicting actual damage against Longshanks.

 

At its heart, Braveheart can be boiled down to love—what starts wars, and what is ultimately worth fighting and dying for. Beyond the initial love—and later outrage—Wallace feels for Murron, you see the love he has for his men, and ultimately his love of the idea of a free Scotland. This is contrasted with the ruthlessness and heartlessness of Longshanks, who only cares about positioning things for future rule, along with the lack of love between Princess Isabella—daughter of the King of France, forced to marry for an alliance—and Prince Edward—who is played as overly effeminate and having no interest in women.

 

As I didn’t remember much of the film, I was curious how it would hold up after so long. Not only are the acting and dialogue solid throughout and the scenery and cinematography beautiful (shot entirely abroad in Scotland and Ireland)–what you really appreciate is the massive scope of the large battles, which were filmed with practical effects. There are no CGI armies or digital doubles, or computer-enhanced backdrops—these are literally hundreds, nay thousands, of actual people pitched in battle in real environs. In many ways, you can see how the large battle scenes here could have served as a blueprint for The Game of Thrones “Battle of the Bastards.”

 

Originally filmed in 35mm, this 4K transfer retains an incredible amount of sharpness and detail, but keeps its film-like look rather than having the tack-sharp razor detail of modern productions. There is a bit of grain in some of the grey-colored sky shots, but I never found it distracting or objectionable.

 

The best images are scenes shot in close and mid focus, with longer-range shots not having as much detail and being a bit soft. Closeups bristle with detail, showing every line, pore, and beard growth, as well as the dirt and grime that seems to cover every non-noble. Edges are sharp, detailed, and well-defined, letting you clearly see every rock that went into building a structure or wall. You can also appreciate the craftsmanship and attention to detail that went into the costuming, seeing threads and weaves and wear in the battle uniforms, as well as the set design. There were some shots—usually conversations between two people—that were slightly out of focus, which appears to be more a product of the original production.

 

This isn’t a film that pushes the bounds of UHD’s wider color gamut, with much of it having a muted, earthy, dirt and ground-colored palette. Even the tartans of the Scots are mainly muted mossy greens and browns. This contrasts with the vibrant 

reds and golds worn by Longshanks, or the colors of his soldiers. We are given many opportunities to appreciate the lush countryside, and you can definitely appreciate the rich greens and beauty of Scotland.

 

HDR is used less here to deliver eye-searing highlights—though there are a few fires that burn brightly—and more to deliver a better range of black and shadow detail throughout. Much of Braveheart’s action takes place outdoors in wide-open fields or in low-lit night or indoor scenes, and the enhanced contrast lets you better appreciate dark-level detail, resulting in a more lifelike image.

 

As mentioned, Braveheart also received a new Dolby TrueHD Atmos soundtrack, and what benefits most is James Horner’s Oscar-nominated score, which is given plenty space to open up across the front channels as well as being mixed up into the front height speakers for a truly large presentation.

 

I wouldn’t describe this as an overly active Atmos mix, and they definitely don’t look for every opportunity to push sounds up overhead unnecessarily. Instead, we get a much better sense of being in a large, open outdoor space, with swirling winds, birds chirping, leaves rustling, and other ambient sounds putting you outdoors. Other interior scenes have ropes swaying and rafters creaking 

Braveheart

overhead, with battles filling the room with the sounds of shouts, arrows whistling, swords clanging, fires raging, and smoke billowing up overhead.

 

Your subwoofer will have long moments of rest, but it is called into play when needed, either during big emotional moments of the score or from the pounding of horse hooves charging into battle that are powerful enough to rattle your seats.

 

Braveheart ranks high on many movie fans’ Best Movies’ list, though it sits at #78 on IMDB’s Top Rated Movies, and doesn’t manage to crack AFI’s Top 100. (It does place #62 on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Cheer: America’s Most Inspiring Movies list.) Prior to this viewing, I actually only saw the film once before, and that was on LaserDisc more than 20 years ago! (With a running time just minutes shy of three hours, I can only imagine how many side flips and disc changes it would have required back then!) The film definitely looks and sounds its best here, making it a perfect movie-night selection if you haven’t screened it recently.

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.

Mulan: The Other Shoe Drops

Mulan: The Other Shoe Drops

We’ve been tracking the reopening of theaters and the next batch of theatrical releases closely here at Cineluxe, and the movie-going world has been using Christopher Nolan’s Tenet as the benchmark for what other studios might do with their upcoming tentpole films.

 

Disney had been delaying the release of its live-action remake of Mulan in lockstep with Tenet, shifting back a week or so in response to Tenet’s fluid date, as if the studio wanted to use Nolan’s film to test the waters and gauge public sentiment about returning to the cinema. When Warner Bros. decided last week to release Tenet internationally first, followed by a limited roll-

out in the States as theaters reopen, all eyes turned to Disney wondering how it would respond.

 

I had speculated to Cineluxe editor-in-chief Mike Gaughn that Disney was in a unique position since they own their own movie theaters spread across theme parks and cruise ships where they could debut Mulan as part of the park/cruise experience. This would allow them to get the film out to a limited number of viewers, while keeping tight control on piracy.

 

Disney has shown itself nimble in adjusting to these unprecedented times, first making the decision to make Onward, the latest Disney/Pixar animated title, available for purchase via digital retailers within days of theaters closing back in March, and then moving the title to its Disney+ streaming service shortly after. The studio then decided to roll out Hamilton to Disney+ subscribers a full year ahead of its planned theatrical release; shortly after that, they canceled the theatrical release of Artemis Fowl and instead moved it to Disney+.

On Tuesday, Disney took its boldest and most unusual step so far by deciding to make Mulan available as a premium-viewing option on Disney+ starting September 4, while still opening it in theaters, beginning with the overseas market. The Disney+ rollout will be unique in that it will be a premium video title within a subscription service, meaning Disney+ subscribers wanting to watch Mulan will need to pay an additional one-time $29.99 fee for the privilege. Once paid, the title will “unlock” and be available for repeated viewings as long as the person continues their Disney+ subscription. There was no word as to how long the title would be a subscription-within-a-subscription model à la the dream world in Nolan’s Inception, but presumably at some point it will become available to all subscribers and likely even available at other digital retailers.

 

What this move shows is that studios—especially Disney—are remaining open, flexible, and proactive to different distribution strategies instead of just letting finished content molder away on a shelf—well, more likely a server—somewhere. With this summer movie season rapidly becoming a wash, studios will start looking to the next big film cycle—Christmas—which already has a full slate of planned releases.

 

You have to imagine other studios with streaming services—Warner’s HBO Max, NBCUniversal’s Peacock, Apple TV+, Amazon Prime, Netflix—are all eyeing how Disney’s premium pricing of Mulan plays out. If a large percentage of Disney+’s 100-million-plus subscribers decide to bite on the $29.99 fee, might we see Warner’s upcoming Wonder Woman 1984—one of the next major films set to release currently on October 2—give this a try? Or might high-profile Netflix titles like Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman or Chris Hemsworth’s Extraction start coming with a premium? And without having to share any of this revenue with cinemas or distribution partners, might it actually be more cost-effective to look at this avenue going forward?

 

If you are a theater owner, this has to be the nightmare scenario. How long will doors be able to remain closed and weather the storm of potentially billion-dollar films going straight to home?

 

One thing is for sure: It’s a good time to have a luxury home cinema to fall back on to enjoy movies in the safety and comfort of your own home, however they are delivered.

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 High Note

The High Note

New movie releases have been pretty slim pickings lately—and are likely to be that way for the foreseeable future—so when a new film from a major studio (NBCUniversal, in this case) becomes available, it’s worth giving it a watch to see if we can recommend it.

 

The High Note was scheduled for a wide theatrical release on May 8, and actually did have a limited run in about 60 select theaters and drive-ins across the country while simultaneously being released as a premium video-on-demand (PVOD) title. 

It is now available for purchase from Kaleidescape at the very reasonable price of $19.99.

 

The film is directed by Nisha Gantra, who specializes in directing episodes of comedic TV series such as The Last Man on Earth, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and Fresh Off the Boat, and is the first writing credit for Flora Greeson. The film’s big draw is its cast, with Dakota Johnson in the starring role as worked-to-death personal assistant Maggie Sherwoode and Tracee Ellis Ross—daughter of iconic singer Diana Ross and best known for her role as Rainbow Johnson on Black-ish—as R&B singing legend Grace Davis. Ice Cube plays Grace’s manager, Jack, with Bill Pullman in little more than a cameo as Maggie’s father, Max. There’s also another
brief cameo by the musician Diplo in his big-screen debut as producer Richie Williams.

 

After years of doing all of Grace’s grunt work, music-loving Maggie is looking for more, and wants to break into the 

HIGH NOTE AT A GLANCE

This teen-targeted tale of an aging R&B diva’s ambitious assistant might not move the rom-com needle forward, but it does feature some spectacular-sounding musical performances. 

 

PICTURE     

The 4K HDR transfer has natural-looking, lifelike images but often appears soft, perhaps to benefit the film’s aging stars. 

 

SOUND     

The Dolby Atmos soundtrack takes full advantage of the music-driven scenes, kicking up the SPLs and waking up your subwoofers.

music industry by producing Grace’s next record, a live greatest-hits album. Of course, she doesn’t tell Grace this, instead spending her free time in the studio working on putting a new spin on Grace’s classics. Jack thinks Grace’s career is winding down, and—along with the record label—is pushing her to take a residency in Las Vegas where they can capitalize on her history of 11 Grammy wins to cater to a large fan base, stop touring, and enjoy an easy life with guaranteed easy money rolling in.

 

Along the way, Grace has a classic meet-cute with David Cliff (Kevin Harrison Jr.) at a grocery store where they discuss music while shopping, and she walks outside to discover Cliff is an aspiring musician who has tons of talent, but needs a producer to get him to the next level. Maggie convinces him that she is a professional producer and offers to work with him to make an album, and they happen to fall in love along the way.

 

The movie spends much of its time with the “drama” of Maggie trying to serve two masters—being available for Grace’s every whim at all hours of the day while also making time to work with David in and out of the studio. Ultimately, things come to a head, with Maggie’s world falling apart in a single evening where she loses both her job with Grace and her relationship with David, and then runs home to her DJ dad. Everything then suddenly comes back together in classic Hollywood fashion for a nice happy ending.

 

Shot in ArriRaw at 6.5 K resolution, The High Note transfer is taken from a true 4K digital intermediate, but I never felt it was giving me that ultra-level of detail of many modern 4K transfers. In fact, many shots had a soft, film-like quality as if the

camera was slightly defocused to be a bit kinder to the older actors. There are some moments of sharp detail like the seat stitching in Grace’s McLaren or the texture and weave in clothing, but up until I read the technical specs I was convinced this had been sourced from a 2K DI.

 

Of course, high dynamic range often plays a bigger part in picture quality than resolution, and images here have a really natural, lifelike quality. Many interior shots are lit by rich, warm lighting that reminded me of the glow of analog tube amplifiers or natural, Southern California sunlight. Nighttime scenes are nice and dark, punctuated by bright highlights from car headlights, billboards, and glowing neon signs. The pre-sunset skies in Hollywood are also filled with color and detail with no banding or noise.

 

This movie is about the music industry, and the Dolby Atmos TrueHD soundtrack is really where it shines. Every time music kicks in, it does so with a lot of volume and impact, letting you really appreciate the energy of the live performance. From the opening moments when Maggie is in the studio working on Grace’s album, you get a huge soundstage that fills the room, with hard-hitting kick drums and a bass line you feel in your chest, with cheering crowd noise all around you. There are several scenes of live music, and they all sound great, kicking up the SPLs   

The High Note

and waking up your subwoofers, with the actors turning in believable performances. There is one nice audio moment where David is listening on a pair of headphones to a mix Maggie did of one his songs. You still get a full soundstage here but with a much different mix, letting you experience what the character is hearing. Dialogue was also clear and intelligible throughout.

 

While The High Note doesn’t tread any new rom-com ground or challenge you in any way, and you’ll likely see its “big” plot twist coming from miles away, it is an easy, entertaining film featuring solid performances and singing that is the cinematic equivalent of comfort food, with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 69 and Audience Score of 75. In a time when the news is filled with enough negative information, a nice, easy, upbeat film can be just the night at home you’re looking for.

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.

Another Giant Step Toward Day & Date

Another Giant Step Toward Day & Date

In perhaps one of the biggest moves in home entertainment history since Hollywood started releasing movies on VHS, Universal and the AMC theater chain came to an unprecedented agreement yesterday that will drastically shorten the time it takes movies to make it from the theater to your home. Where the traditional theatrical-to-home release window has been 72 to 90 days, this new agreement slashes the time to just 17 days. One proviso is that the film must play theatrically over three weekends, meaning that if a movie is released on Saturday the 1st, it could be available for home viewing on the 17th, but 

if it’s released on Monday the 1st, it can’t go into homes until the 22nd.

 

Also, the agreement makes these films available for early premium-video-on-demand (PVOD) rental viewing, not for purchase or for release to streaming services like Netflix. Previous Universal PVOD titles released during the pandemic, such as The Invisible Man, Emma, and The Hunt, carried a rental price of $19.99 for a 48-hour viewing window. (Information on when titles would be available for sale was unavailable.)

 

Since the vast majority of theatrical box-office receipts are typically brought in within the first few weeks of a film’s release, in theory this new arrangement shouldn’t have too much impact on the box office takeIn reality, however, it seems highly likely that many families and luxury home theater owners will opt to wait just a few extra days to enjoy the movie in the comfort of their own homes on their own schedule.

 

While this current agreement is just between Universal and AMC, it will be interesting to see how other theatrical 

chains such as Cinemark and Regal react, or how quickly other studios head to the bargaining table looking for similar terms. Of course, the other studios might wait to see how Universal does with this gamble before deciding to jump in, but now that the early-release genie is out of the bottle, it will likely be difficult to stuff him back in.

 

It’s also interesting that this deal comes between Universal and AMC, a duo that had a very public spat just three months ago over the early PVOD release of Trolls: World Tour. After NBCUniversal chief executive officer Jeff Shell announced he expected to release movies simultaneously in theaters and in direct-to-home formats, AMC chair/CEO Adam Aron responded quite publicly by declaring that they would no longer show any NBCU titles in any of their cinemas in the US, Europe, or the Middle East.

 

It’s certainly not news that cinema chains and studios alike are suffering financially in these unprecedented times and will likely continue to do so until a vaccine has become widely available, and this agreement offers some clear advantages to both sides. With their symbiotic relationship, theaters can’t exist without content to show, and studios need the revenue of massive blockbusters to fund other projects.

 

With a shortened release window as an option, studios might be more inclined to release films domestically on a smaller scale—perhaps in cities where the virus has been more contained or in drive-ins, which have been seeing a bit of a resurgence—unlike the international release strategy Warner is adopting for Tenet. It also might open the way for smaller-budget films to find a theatrical release instead of going straight to video or streaming. Being able to bring the film to PVOD after a shorter time could allow for a bump at the box office, while having a wider PVOD release follow shortly after that can benefit from the advertising and buzz generated from the commercial release.

 

But this is certainly a bigger gamble for the cinema chains than it is for the studios. That lengthy window was one of the biggest hooks theaters had to get people to come to the movies, with most people opting not to wait three months to see a buzzworthy flick. Having the theaters agree to such an early release window feels a bit like another nail being driven home.

 

Once a new consumer habit has been formed, it’s difficult to get people to change, and after being home for months and getting into the habit of watching movies there, the allure of waiting just a couple of weekends to enjoy something in the comfort—and safety—of your home might be too tempting for many to pass up.

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.