Kaleidescape Movie Store Tag

The Rise of Skywalker

The Rise of Skywalker

There hasn’t been a lot of good news swirling about lately, so it was a real treat to open my email on Saturday morning and see a message from Kaleidescape announcing that Disney and Lucasfilm had decided to give fans a little bit of weekend fun by releasing the latest Star Wars movie a few days early. (It as originally scheduled for March 17; the disc release is scheduled for March 31.)

 

While the Mouse House offered no official announcement (at least that I could find) about the reasoning behind this early release, the company did make an announcement that Frozen 2 “will be available three months ahead of schedule on Disney+ in the U.S. . . . surprising families with some fun and joy during this challenging period,” an allusion to the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

With more families staying at home, a bit of Star Wars could be just the thing to lift spirits.

 

Officially carrying the weighty title Star Wars: Episode IX—The Rise of Skywalker, this film brings to a conclusion the space opera created by George Lucas back in 1977, and wraps the final trilogy of films which began in 2015 with The Force

Awakens and continued in 2017 with The Last Jedi.

 

Following the mixed fan reception of director Rian Johnson’s Jedi, which received a favorable critics’ rating of 91% on Rotten Tomatoes, but a dismal, franchise-low audience score of just 43%, Star Wars looked to finish strong with Skywalker. But there was difficulty early on as initial writer and director Colin Trevorrow was quickly replaced due to “creative differences,” and J.J. Abrams was brought back in to helm the ship and finish the trilogy he began with Awakens.

 

To be fair, Abrams had an almost impossible task here—to conclude a saga that had taken on myth and meaning in people’s lives, with expectations far beyond what any movie could ever deliver. To its credit, Disney threw a ton of money at the film (an estimated $275 million), and J.J. tried to give fans the farewell they wanted, even bringing back a host of characters not seen in years, including Lando Calrissian (Billy De Williams), Wedge Antilles (Denis Lawson), and Wicket (Warwick Davis), along with even more that are only heard. And while he reversed the tide of Last Jedi’s ratings, scoring an audience score of 86%, he also managed a franchise-low critic’s rating of just 51%.

 

Abrams also faced the major obstacles of losing Carrie Fisher, whose Princess Leia was supposed to be a central character in this final episode, and having to follow some of the story choices Johnson took with Last Jedi. The result is a movie that feels a bit disjointed at times, shoehorning and repurposing previously shot footage and dialogue of Fisher where it could, and feeling like it was rewriting Johnson’s film at others. The result left some with more questions than answers.

 

Like many of you, I grew up with Star Wars. I saw the first film at a small theater in Carmel, California while my parents were out shopping when I was 7. I can remember that first Star Destroyer flying overhead and thinking this was like nothing I’d ever seen before. When the movie was over, I walked out and met my parents outside, told them how amazing it was, and then turned around and went back in and watched it again.

 

For the record, I enjoyed Skywalker, but left the theater on opening night a bit conflicted. When my wife asked me what I thought of it, I said, “I liked it, but I’m not sure it is the movie I wanted. But I’m not sure what I wanted.”

 

No matter how great this film was, it was always going to be somewhat of a bittersweet experience for fans. We all watched the final credits knowing this was the end of 

something that had become important in our lives, and now there is no more Star Wars to look forward to. (At least in the manner that we’ve grown accustomed to. Disney and Lucasfilm will most certainly continue to mine that galaxy far, far away for stories for years to come.) For me, this is now the third time I’ve “lost” Star Wars, the first being when Return of the Jedi finished in 1983, the second when Episode III—Revenge of the Sith finished in 2005.

 

Now, I’m not going to presume my review or analysis of Skywalker is going to sway your decision to watch it, nor am I going to bother wasting time and space trying to recap the plot—especially since this is an almost two-and-a-half-hour film that concludes 42 years’ worth of storytelling. If you’re a Star Wars fan, you’ve already seen the movie, and have already drawn your own conclusions, and have likely already pre-ordered the mega box set of all the films, scheduled for release at the end of the month. (Incidentally, the other eight films in the Star Wars saga were also released in 4K HDR with Dolby Atmos soundtracks at the same time as Skywalker.) But if you haven’t seen Skywalker by now, maybe you can be swayed to give this a viewing in your home theater. I assure you, it’s well worth the time, and I feel it improves on repeated viewings. (I far more enjoyed it on my second viewing this past January in Las Vegas on the only Sony Premium Digital Cinema in the country.)

 

OK, with that out of the way, lets get down to it: How does the 4K HDR release of Rise of Skywalker look and sound? Fortunately, this is a far less controversial question to answer, as the presentation is top-notch! The film even garnered three Academy Awards nominations, for John Williams’ original score, visual effects, and sound editing.

 

Shot on a combination of Kodak film stocks, Skywalker’s transfer is taken from a true 4K digital intermediate and uses HDR throughout to really pump colors and highlights, with a Dolby Atmos soundtrack that surrounds and immerses you in the action.

 

From the opening scenes, Kylo Ren’s (Adam Driver) unstable lightsaber sizzles on screen, glowing and seething with bright reds. The final battle on Exegol is like an HDR demo reel, with dark skies dotted with glowing engines of ships, and illuminating the room with frequent bright blue-white bursts of pupil-searing lightning strikes and laser bolts.

 

While space is never “pitch black” in Star Wars films, images remain clean and noise-free, and we get some true blacks in interiors. The scenes aboard Ren’s Star Destroyer (which reminded me of what an incredible job Disney did of transporting you into the Star Wars universe in its new Rise of the Resistance ride) look fantastic, with gleaming, glistening black decks, bright lighting illuminating hallways, and laser blasts and sparks.

 

The underground sand worm’s lair on Pasaana is another scene that could be a recipe for producing a video and compression nightmare, with dimly lit passageways illuminated by BB8’s glowing lights along with a couple of flashlights and the searing blue of Rey’s (Daisy Ridley) lightsaber. Blacks remain deep, with lots of shadow detail without any distracting banding or other artifacts.

 

Closeups reveal a terrific level of detail, showing every pore, strand of hair, stitch, texture, and bit of wear. Part of owning the film—and watching it repeatedly—is the you can revel in the attention to detail in nearly every shot, such as the creature design and the large interiors. The only scenes that appear “soft” are the ones with Leia. All of her shots are comprised of previously unused footage shot while filming Force Awakens. The previous background elements were removed digitally so she could be composited into the new shots.

 

Disney has received flack over the soundtracks on many of its top-level releases, but the Atmos audio included here is beyond reproach, with lots of dynamics and activity. Whether it is the snap and hum of lightsabers, the effects of Force energy, the waves crashing on the moon in the Endor system, the thrum of various engines, or explosions, bass is deep, powerful, and room-energizing when appropriate.

Surround and height speakers are used frequently to immerse you in the scenes and action. The speeder chase on Pasaana has laser blasts that shoot around the room and troopers launching and flying overhead. The scenes on Kijimi are filled with expansive street sounds to place you on location, with wind blowing, snow falling, and distant shouts and voices. The height speakers are also used to good effect during Rey and Ren’s Force chats, Emperor Palpatine’s (Ian McDiarmid) booming voice, and the voices of Jedi past that echo in Rey’s mind.

 

Sonically, my favorite scenes are aboard the remnants of the second Death Star. These scenes are among the most interesting from an audio standpoint, with loads of drips, creaks, and groans of wires twisting and metal straining as the giant ship constantly settles while Rey moves about in the cavernous interiors. The exterior shots are filled with the roar of wind and crash of waves and water splattering—all of it an ambient feast for the audio senses!

 

Beyond dialogue being clear and easily intelligible, the soundtrack also does a wonderful job presenting Williams’ score, what he says will be his final time working with Star Wars.

The Rise of Skywalker

Even if Rise of Skywalker isn’t your favorite film in the Star Wars saga, the movie is worth purchasing just for the extras, including the feature-length documentary The Skywalker Legacy, along with five other featurettes. Included with the Kaleidescape release as a digital exclusive is “The Maestro’s Finale,” which has John Williams looking back on his 40-plus-year career working with Star Wars.

 

While this might not be the conclusion to the Skywalker saga that some wanted, this is the one we’ve been given. And there is still a lot here to enjoy, especially in a home theater setting. Get a bowl of popcorn, turn down the lights, turn up the sound, sit back and enjoy, and I all but guarantee the Force will be with you.

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.

1917

1917 (2019)

Filmmakers don’t typically cover World War I with the frequency they do more recent wars. Perhaps it’s because with the age of the war there aren’t many first-hand accounts to draw from, or it doesn’t feature the cool tech of modern wars, or the political angle of Vietnam, or the clear-cut good-versus-evil themes of WWII. Whatever the reason, if director Sam Mendes’ 1917 is the last film we ever get covering the First Great War, the subject will have been well served.

 

This is a personal project for Mendes, who not only directed but also co-wrote and produced, being based in part on stories told to him by his grandfather, who fought in the war as a 17-year-old. And it clearly resonated with both fans and critics alike,

raking in over $360 million worldwide and nabbing ten Academy Awards nominations, including Director and Picture, along with wins for Visual Effects, Sound Mixing, and Cinematography.

 

To me, 1917 is less about the actual story—which is rather simple—and far more about the way it is told and how it visually unfolds.

 

The film opens on April 6, 1917, where we are introduced to two young British soldiers, Lance Corporals William Schofield (George MacKay) and Tom Blake (Den-Charles Chapman). Actually, “introduced” is really an 

overstatement; we just see them lying down and learn nothing of them before they’re called in to meet with General Erinmore (Colin Firth), who has some vital news that must be delivered by dawn to Colonel Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch).

 

Through aerial reconnaissance, the British army has discovered that instead of having the German army on the run, Mackenzie is about to lead his men into a massive German ambush, likely causing the massacre of two full battalions—upwards of 1,600 men. Making the message even more personal, Blake’s brother is among the men in the regiment scheduled to attack, so failure could mean a personal loss. The two soldiers are thus sent off with a message ordering Mackenzie to call off the attack, covering miles of hostile territory alone and in the full light of day.

 

Welcome to the opening minutes of 1917.

 

In the hands of a different director, this likely wouldn’t have been such a successful and powerful film, as Mendes does two things that combine to make it feel so much more real, immediate, and personal.

 

First, it’s shot in a manner that makes the movie feel like one (well, actually two) continuous takes. There are almost no interruptions to the two long scenes; no quick camera cuts or edits, no perspective changes, just a continued focus on our heroes. You get a sense of the planning needed for this as the cameras follow the two protagonists through what feels like miles of trenches, sliding around other soldiers and navigating twists and turns, or following them as they run through battle scenes.

 

Second, the shots are almost always framed tight—either head-on or from a close follow—rarely more than just a few feet from the two leads. You frequently see little in the distance or much off to the periphery as you are locked tight on them. This draws you naturally in to their situation, seeing their feelings and emotions, the wear of their uniforms, and the strain of the task at hand, making you care more about the mission. But it also serves to add to the tension and unease and fog of war of the journey, as you are given far less information about your surroundings, and end up reacting to events as they happen instead of being prepared for them.

 

As you’d expect, Roger Deakins’ Oscar-winning cinematography looks beautiful. When the camera does pull back, we see the immense scope, with huge landscapes and wide vistas looking epic in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio. The lighting is also beautifully done—and greatly benefits from HDR. Whether it is the dark interior of a tent warmly lit in rich red-orange glows from lamps, the dark insides of bunkers illuminated by flashlight, or a French village lit up at night by overhead flares and a conflagration, blacks are deep, with lots of shadow detail. Skies during the daylight scenes—the first of the two shots—are a bright, overcast grey, free of any noise or banding and still revealing clouds and other details thanks to HDR.

 

Equally impressive is the attention to detail in the set dressing and production design (also nominated). Filmed in ArriRaw at 4.5K, with this transfer taken from a true 4K digital intermediate, you appreciate all the little details on screen. In the opening scenes, you can see the layers of texture and materials on the soldiers’ uniforms and kit, with individual stitching, fray, and wear, and the aging on their leathers.

 

Going through the trenches, you can see all the work required to dig in a protected position and the nightmare of having to sleep in a constant state of mud and muck (later juxtaposed by the much more advanced German trenches). We follow right on the heels of the two soldiers as they slog through the muddy, gritty, terrifying textures of life as a WWI soldier, where the landscape is frequently littered with rotting, fly-covered carcasses, rats running in and out of decomposing bodies, various bits of limbs protruding from dust-covered landscapes, and rusted-out helmets pocked with bullet holes. You could nearly get a case of trench foot from the wet-muddy realism of it. And all of these shots without break in a single, long take!

 

The only video issue I noticed was a pretty severe bit of judder at around 42:40 (immediately preceding “The Dogfight” scene). The camera shoots through the gaps between some vertical wooden fence slats while slowly tracking to the right. Whether it is the shutter speed used, the speed of the camera panning, or just an inherent issue with the limitations of filming at 24 frames per second, on my two displays (a JVC 4K projector and Sony 4K TV), the wooden posts broke down into a ghosted mess during these few seconds. At first I thought there might be an issue with the Kaleidescape encode, but I had fellow reviewer Dennis Burger check the same scene on a 4K version of the movie streamed from Vudu, and he had the same experience. (Another Kaleidescape user at the Owner’s Forum commented that he didn’t notice any issues with that scene, so it is likely display dependent.)

 

Given the film’s Academy Award for sound mixing and nomination for sound editing, I was excited to hear the audio mix; and while the DTS-HD 5.1 soundtrack included with the Kaleidescape download is certainly dynamic, I’d be remiss if I didn’t (again!) call out NBC Universal for not providing Kaleidescape with the fully immersive Dolby Atmos track.

 

Even still, the upmixer in my Marantz processor did an admirable job of extracting ambient cues from scenes, adding the swirl of wind through leaves and trees in a forest canopy, the roar of plunging water, or the sounds of a bunker caving in around 

you, with its wooden supports splintering and dust and debris filling the room. Another scene has a biplane roaring overhead and disappear out through the front of the room, and in another you hear flares launched up overhead, where they sizzle and burn.

 

This is a war film, so there is a fair bit of shooting and explosions, and rifle shots have an appropriately loud and sharp crack, with the sounds of ejected and spent brass shell casings tinkling and bouncing on the floor. One explosion was so loud and sudden that it literally had me jump in my seat!

 

Further, the movie is well served by Thomas Newman’s Oscar-nominated original score, which seems to always add the right level of sweeping scale, tension, and urgency to the film. It reminded me in some ways of the frantic, haunting music Hans Zimmer created for The Dark Knight, always reminding you that our characters are in a race against the clock, and the clock is ticking.

 

Dialogue is mostly easy to understand throughout, and when it wasn’t, it was more due to the occasionally thick accents of the actors than to any poor quality of the mix.

1917 (2019)

If I have one last nit to pick, it is again with NBC Universal. As is another of their maddening policies, they don’t provide Kaleidescape with any of the film’s extras or supplemental features, and 1917 is a movie that demands a making-of documentary viewing to see how they pulled off the incredible cinematography and camera work. Hopefully this policy will change in the future.

 

For me, recommending 1917 is a total no-brainer. It is not only one of the most unique and engaging films I’ve seen in a while, it looks fantastic in a home theater—the bigger the screen the better. It’s an intense viewing experience, but one that is well worth it.

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.

Little Women (2019)

Little Women (2019)

I cannot tell you how faithful Greta Gerwig’s new big-screen adaptation of Little Women is to Louisa May Alcott’s coming-of-age classic. I’ve never read the book. Nor can I tell you how it compares with previous adaptations, including the beloved 1994 film starring Winona Ryder, Christian Bale, Claire Daines, et al. I’ve never seen any of them. What drew me to this film wasn’t the source material or any respect for its cultural significance. What lured me in was Gerwig herself, whose brilliant directorial debut—2017’s Lady Bird—earned her enough creative currency in my book that I’ll watch anything she helms going forward.

 

Still, my wife snickered when I told her we’d be watching the film.

 

“What’s so funny?” I asked.

 

“You’re way more of an Emily Brontë than a Louisa May Alcott, that’s all.”

 

I frankly have no clue what that means. But I do know this: If I honestly cared about organizing some personal ranking of the best films of 2019, Little Women would leave me scrambling to rearrange it yet again.

 

I think I can safely say that Gerwig’s film is structured very differently from Alcott’s book, if only because a novel written in such a temporally idiosyncratic way would read like James Joyce on a bad acid trip. The film follows seven years in the life of four sisters—Jo, Meg, Amy, and Beth March, played to perfection by Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, and Eliza Scanlen—but rather than following their maturation from adolescence into womanhood chronologically, Gerwig instead groups scenes thematically, jumping forward and backward in time with seemingly no rhyme or reason until you catch onto the fact that rhyme and reason are exactly what influenced the grouping of moments in time, rather than the straightforward passage thereof.

By taking this approach, Gerwig has constructed more of a tone poem than a traditional narrative, and it reminds me more of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (in its pace and momentum; definitely not in its tone or effect) than perhaps any other film I’ve seen in recent decades. Much like that film, Little Women assumes the intelligence of its audience, and trusts the viewer to locate themselves in time and space by way of context. Only one subtitle early in the film calls out the drastic time shifts, and from there on out Gerwig seems to assume you’ll either keep up or give up and enjoy the ride.

 

Far more than merely a cinematic conceit, these near-constant temporal shifts allow the viewer to do something I honestly wasn’t quite sure I would be able to do at the beginning of the film: Truly understand the unique personality of each of the story’s numerous characters. By clumping the tale’s visual, thematic, and narrative echoes together rather than sprinkling them throughout the film’s 135-minute runtime, Gerwig invites us to ruminate more on meaning than exposition, more on character than narrative.

 

Again, I’m at a loss to compare the themes of the film to the themes of the book, but the story as Gerwig tells it is really about the creative impulse. The drive to make art. The struggle to be taken seriously not just as a woman in Civil War-era America, but as an artist in an inartistic world. In many ways, the film ends up being as much a commentary on the story as an adaptation of it, best I can tell. And while it also grapples with issues of class, gender, and societal norms—all with surprising nuance and complexity—it’s really that artistic impulse that centers the film and gives distinct personality to each of its characters.

 

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Little Women is that it isn’t afraid to get a little weird at times. But it’s not a weirdness driven by affectation. Instead, it’s a weirdness driven by the needs of the story. As much as Gerwig’s film deviates from the structure of any comprehensible book to craft a uniquely cinematic work, it’s still in many ways a celebration of the written word. And in paying homage to the inimitable structure of written language, it relies on tropes that would normally drag a film down or cheapen it—like narration, for example. Rather than taking the safe approach or trying to bury that narration in the tried-and-true ways, Gerwig hangs a lantern on it at times and has her characters break the fourth wall and talk directly to the camera, even when they’re not speaking to the viewer.

 

Perhaps it shouldn’t work, but in Gerwig’s hands it does. And the cumulative effect is a film that’s as playful as it is heady, as sentimental as it is rebellious, as joyful as it is solemn in places. The one place where Gerwig doesn’t take bold risks is with the look of the film. I could have told you without looking that Little Women was shot on Kodak Vision3 500T stock, which gives the cinematography a decidedly warm cast, with a yellowish tint to whites

and a flush ruddiness to skin tones. But the overall look of the film is intentionally muted, and even the 4K/HDR presentation on Kaleidescape doesn’t make much obvious use of its expanded dynamic range and color gamut.

 

Don’t get me wrong—it’s a lovely film. Just not one that will be used as videophile demo material. The Dolby Atmos soundtrack, on the other hand, is unapologetically adventurous. Shockingly so for a period film of this sort. The height channels are used judiciously but effectively to provide a vertical boost in scenes that need it—large parlors, big theaters, the grimy city streets of 19th century New York—but they probably get used most to expand Alexandre Desplat’s score (his best since The Shape of Water, in my opinion) into the z-axis.

 

Sadly, Kaleidescape’s release of the film is delivered sans extras for now, which is unsurprising given that it’s a Sony release. Expect those bonus goodies to drop right around the time the film is released to disc (Blu-ray and DVD only, no UHD) in April. One supplement in particular I’m eager to see is an exploration of Orchard House, the real-life home of Louisa May Alcott and the inspiration for the March family home in Little Women.

Little Women (2019)

While I wait, I think I might actually give Alcott’s book a try based purely on the strength of this film alone, and despite my wife’s objections. As the credits rolled, I looked at her and playfully scolded her: “Why have you never pestered me to read that book?!”

 

She pondered for a few moments and replied: “Don’t get me wrong. I love the book. It’s one of my favorites. But the book wasn’t that good. It’s entertainment. That film was art.”

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.

Richard Jewell

Richard Jewell (2019)

Since 2006’s dual film release of Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima, Clint Eastwood has increasingly turned his directorial eye towards films covering actual events. Another theme common among his recent films is focusing on American heroes, where lone individuals make a major impact on their surroundings, such as decorated Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle in American Sniper, quick-thinking pilot “Sully” Sullenberger in Sully, or the group of Americans that averted a terrorist attack on a Paris train in The 15:17 to Paris. To that list we can add Eastwood’s most recent film, Richard Jewell.

 

I imagine that anyone reading this was alive during the events this film covers, namely the bombing in Atlanta’s Centennial Park during the 1996 Olympic Games. The film principally focuses on the events following the July 27 incident, when Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser) discovered a suspicious-looking backpack under a bench in the Park, which turned out to be filled with pipe bombs. The bombs exploded shortly thereafter, but only killing one person in the blast due to Jewell’s intervention. (A second person, a reporter, died of a heart attack running towards the explosion to cover the event.)

 

Initially hailed as a hero for finding the bomb and preventing further casualties, the tide of public opinion quickly turned against Jewell after an article by Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde) ran in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution saying that he was a person-of-interest in the FBI’s investigation, with the headline, “F.B.I. Suspect Hero Guard May Have Planted Bomb.” When other outlets like CNN and the AP ran with the story, followed by round-the-clock FBI surveillance and some other unseemly tactics, Jewell was all but convicted in the public’s eye. While he was eventually cleared of any involvement in the incident, the trial by media had a grave impact on his life.

 

Eastwood has become increasingly outspoken in his political views, going back to his infamous “empty chair speech” to then President Obama at the 2012 Republican National Convention, and Jewell isn’t completely devoid of any political messaging. He often seems to be using the film to express concerns about the media and big government conspiring to lead an agenda.

 

Eastwood also manages to throw in a few jabs about the rights of gun ownership. In one exchange between Jewell and his attorney, Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell), Bryant says, “You belong to any extremist groups, Richard? [The] NRA?” causing Jewell to reply, “Is the NRA a fringe group?”

 

During another scene when they are preparing for the FBI to come and search Jewell’s home, Bryant asks if Jewell has any weapons. After Jewell places a large stockpile of weapons on his bed, including several assault-style automatic rifles, Bryant says, “Oh, good Lord. What are you expecting? A zombie invasion or something?”

 

“No, I wasn’t expecting zombies,” Jewell replied. “I expect deer. I hunt.”

 

As a principally dialogue-driven piece, Eastwood keeps most conversations framed tight and close, allowing us to really see and connect with the actors, which works because he has such a stellar cast here. In addition to those already mentioned, Kathy Bates received a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nomination for her role as Jewell’s mom, Bobi.

 

The film begins in 1986, establishing the relationship between Jewell and Bryant, and also sowing the seeds of Jewell’s love and obsession with being involved in law enforcement. Repeatedly, we see Jewell as a mostly failed loner, living at home with his mother and desperately wanting to find some sort of a career in law enforcement. When given a security job at a university, he goes well beyond his authority and is ultimately forced to resign after repeated complaints, which leads to his taking a position as a security guard in connection with the Olympics, where he is shown regularly looking to befriend or ingratiate himself with actual law-enforcement officers.

 

Eastwood leaves overt politics aside for the most part and just goes about telling Jewell’s story in a mostly accurate and linear fashion. This makes it easy to follow and watch as the FBI and media go about ticking the boxes to investigate and criminalize Jewell, even going so far as to trick him into coming to the FBI offices and trying to get him to sign a waiver of his rights under the guise of filming a training video to help future officers. According to History vs Hollywood, the film is surprisingly accurate save for one major point between story-hungry journalist Scruggs and FBI agent Tom Shaw (John Hamm) in an offer to trade sex for information, which Scruggs’ associates say never would have happened. (The actual Scruggs died in 2001.)

 

The only scenes that felt staged were the recreations in Centennial Park, where the crowds just felt light and forced, and the shots were framed to minimize how few people were actually there. These scenes just seemed to be missing the excitement and energy that would have existed in these pre-Olympics gatherings.

Shot on ArriRaw at 3.4K, this transfer is taken from a true 4K digital intermediate, and this shows in the pristine detail in closeups of actors’ faces, which just snap into ultra-sharp focus and clarity. You can see every line, wrinkle, pore, and stray hair, adding to the feeling of being right there coupled with Eastwood’s tight framing. Near the end of the movie there is a brick building with sharp lines from the edges of the mortar and bricks that could have been pulled from a test pattern.

 

Night scenes are appropriately dark and noise-free, with lights getting some punch from HDR. Following the explosion, the smoke-filled skies are lit by different sources, which would be a bandwidth torture test nightmare for streaming services, but the image on the Kaleidescape download remained free of any noise or banding.

 

Audio is served up via a DTS-HD 5.1-channel mix that is serviceable but doesn’t do too much to immerse you in the action. There are a few dynamic scenes, such as Jewell at a gun range or the bombs exploding with nails spraying around the room, but for the most part surround info is limited to some minor ambience, such 

Richard Jewell (2019)

as arcade sounds in an early scene or shutter clicks of ever-present cameras. One scene in a club has some jazz playing in the background (possibly arranged by Eastwood, who is known to play for his films) that has nice texture, with detailed brush strokes on cymbals and a piano playing. Fortunately dialogue, the most important element here, is clear and intelligible.

 

The 131-minute film received mostly favorable reviews, garnering 75% from critics on Rotten Tomatoes and a 96% audience rating. However, due to its less than stellar performance at the box office, it doesn’t appear that Jewell will be getting a 4K UltraHD Blu-ray release, so if you are interested in seeing it in its highest-quality presentation, downloading from Kaleidescape is your best bet.

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.

Jumanji: The Next Level

Jumanji: The Next Level

After the emotional trauma Dennis Burger experienced from his review of Uncut Gems, we thought that it might be a nice palate cleanser to look at some lighter fare for the next review. Fortunately, Jumanji: The Next Level arrived on an early digital release at the Kaleidescape Store two weeks ahead of its physical media release on March 17.

 

For those interested in waiting for the disc release, Sony has confirmed it will be IMAX Enhanced, meaning it will contain an enhanced DTS-X IMAX soundtrack as well as feature a picture remastered using IMAX’s propriety post-production and Digital Media Restoration (DMR) techniques. (For more on IMAX Enhanced, you can read this post I wrote for another site.) While Kaleidescape is rumored to be in talks with IMAX about being an Enhanced partner —and would be the perfect and logical outlet for this premium content—the Kaleidescape version doesn’t include this feature.

 

It’s really no surprise that 2017’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle received the sequel greenlight. As star Jack Black, returning to portray game character Professor Shelly Oberon, quips in one of the special features, “After the first film made $900 million, I wasn’t really surprised when they called us back to do another.”

 

For those unfamiliar with Jumanji, these latest films are a reboot of the 1995 original, which starred Robin Williams. Jumanji is a game (of the board variety in the original, and modernized as a video game here) where players are magically and literally sucked into the game, forced to play as one of several avatars with different skill sets, and have to work together to solve problems and survive in order to complete a quest before they can exit the game back to the real world. Each character has three lives, allowing them to die repeatedly in a variety of usually humorous ways.

 

Along with Black, the rest of the Jungle quintet returns to reprise their roles, including Dwayne Johnson as Dr. Smolder Bravestone, Kevin Hart as Mouse Finbar, Nick Jonas as Seaplane McDonough, and Karen Gillan as Ruby Roundhouse. Jake Kasdan returns as director. Joining the crew is new character, thief extraordinaire Ming Fleetfoot, played by Awkwafina. We also get a new villain in the form of Jurgen the Brutal, played by Game of Thrones’ The Hound, Rory McCann.

 

Level picks up about three years after the events of Jungle with our four real-world cast members Spencer (Alex Wolff), Martha (Morgan Turner), Bethany (Madison Iseman), and Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) having moved on with their lives. Everyone except for Spencer is thriving, and when they plan a reunion, depressed Spencer decides he’d be happiest returning to Jumanji, picking up life again as hero Bravestone. Worried about their friend, the others decide to re-enter the game to help him survive, thus kicking off our adventure.

 

Instead of rehashing the first film with a different adventure, the writers really mix things up when the game glitches, causing the avatars to be inhabited by different players. This gives the adventurers completely different personalities and allows the actors to really have fun with their roles. This time around fearless leader Bravestone is inhabited by Spencer’s uncle, Eddie (Danny DeVito), and zoologist Finbar is controlled by Eddie’s ex-business partner Milo (Danny Glover). And football star Fridge is forced to play as the physically limited archaeologist Oberon, whose list of “weaknesses” now include Endurance, Heat, Sun, and Sand. We also have a new game feature that allows characters to switch avatars at certain points, once again mixing up the acting styles.

 

On top of the new adventure—to end a massive drought impacting Jumanji by recovering a magical necklace known as the Falcon Jewel, stolen by Jurgen —this new “casting” makes the film feel fresh, and provides lots of opportunities for hilarity. Kevin Hart does a fantastic job adopting Glover’s slow, measured speaking style; a huge contrast to his typically frantic manner. “Did I just kill Eddie . . . by talking too slow . . . like he always said I would?” Johnson also leans into the role of being inhabited by curmudgeonly old DeVito, thrust into an entirely foreign situation, and Black brings the laughs acting like Fridge, a black athlete furious that he’s forced to return to Jumanji in an even worse character this time around. “I’ve been training four hours a day for six months. How is this guy a character in an adventure game?!

 

At just over two hours, Level has enough time to develop a quest that feels of videogame epic length, with enough time to travel to a variety of new environments, such as a Lawrence of Arabia-esque desert, a Moroccan-type village, and a snow-topped castle. But it never felt too long or like it was wearing out its gags, keeping me interested throughout.

 

Sony Pictures consistently delivers terrific home video releases, and Level continues that high standard. Shot on ArriRaw at 3.4K, images consistently look terrific, with closeups that bristle with detail and razor-sharp focus. Black wears a tweed vest that has a fine plaid print with each check clearly visible. You can also see the cracks and texture in the backgrounds and costumes, and count individual strands of hair on actors’ heads.

Blacks are deep, clean, and noise-free, and there are many nighttime and indoor scenes that benefit from the film’s use of HDR. The night scenes in the Moroccan village of the Oasis look especially good, with brilliant neon lights along the streets, as well as warm interiors lit by candles and lamps, giving the film a natural and organic look. Interiors of the castle Fortress feature dark rooms lit by shafts of bright light or sun rays streaming through windows, and the snowy mountainside looks appropriately bright without crushing any detail.

 

Sonically, the Dolby Atmos track is dynamic and active, looking for nearly every opportunity to immerse you in sound. Beyond the big action scenes, there are lots of little environmental sounds like wind blowing, birds chirping, and insects buzzing. One of the film’s recurring sonic elements is the sound of deceased players re-entering the game, with a chime that sounds overhead and has them dropping back into the game from the ceiling. Bass is also solid and weighty, either from explosions or Bravestone’s superhuman punches or the jungle drums that resonate from all around to indicate danger.

 

As is typical of Dolby Atmos soundtracks, dialogue is centered and easily intelligible throughout.

Jumanji: The Next Level

While watching Welcome to the Jungle isn’t a pre-requisite to enjoying and understanding Next Level, it is certainly suggested as it is an entertaining film in its own right. Beyond a bit of swearing and some non-bloody videogame violence, Jumanji: Next Level makes a great family night at the movies, offering a plot that will keep everyone engaged and entertained, while looking and sounding great in a luxury home environment.

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.

Uncut Gems

Uncut Gems

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Uncut Gems

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

 

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

Dennis Burger

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

Charlie’s Angels (2019)

Charlie's Angels (2019)

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Charlie's Angels (2019)

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

 

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

 

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

John Sciacca

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

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Midway (2019)

Midway (movie)

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Midway (2019)

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Midway (2019)

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Midway (movie)

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

 

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

John Sciacca

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

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Jojo Rabbit

Jojo Rabbit

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

Jojo Rabbit

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

 

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

 

Dennis Burger

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

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

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

 

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

Supporting Role category.

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

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

John Sciacca

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

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.