Movies

Review: ‘The Last Jedi’ UHD Blu-ray

I’m often accused of spending too much time thinking about Star Wars. It’s a valid observation, but I think the thing that would surprise most of my friends is that the only times in which Star Wars isn’t fully consuming some part of my waking consciousness is when I’m actually watching one of the films.

 

That may seem like a contradictory statement, but when I’m watching a Star Wars film, I’m likely taking it at face value. I’m not deconstructing it as a work of cinema, or pop-philosophy, or fable. There are 22 other hours in the day for that sort of thing. When I’m watching a Star Wars film, I’m in it. Wholly consumed. I’m that five-year-old kid again, taking yet another step into a larger world that will forever guide my destiny.

 

Episode VIII: The Last Jedi is, for now at least, the exception to that rule. For a self-styled Star Wars scholar, the latest film in the saga simply doesn’t allow for that sort of detached viewing experience. At least not yet. For now, after 10 viewings, I still find it nearly impossible to watch this film without deconstructing it.

 

If I had to boil it down to just one reason why, I’d say that The Last Jedi represents a daring attempt by a single visionary to dig down to the heart of what makes Star Wars tick—mythologically, narratively, and cinematically. It’s a film that has the courage to take all six of George Lucas’s original Star Wars films as gospel, to explore every implication of every line committed to the silver screen between 1977 and 2005 completely and honestly—including the most obscure elements and seemingly throwaway lines—while also managing to work beautifully as a film on its own terms. If anything, The Last Jedi is almost as much a work of theological apologetics as it is a work of cinematic art.

 

Despite all of that, though, the film does work as art. In fact, I’d say that more so than any Star Wars film since The Empire Strikes Back, this one is more art than product. And that largely has to do with the way writer/director Rian Johnson distills the cinematic and thematic inspiration for the original Star Wars, then finds his own unique way to recombine those ingredients in a personal way.

 

It’s no secret that the original 1977 film was a pastiche of Kurosawa and John Ford, with a heaping helping of The Dam Busters and old Flash Gordon serials thrown in for good measure. Rather than go back to those original influences—or, as was the case with 2015’s The Force Awakens, mine the original Star Wars trilogy nearly exclusively for inspiration—Johnson goes to his own well here, trading The Hidden Fortress for Rashomon, and The Dam Busters for Twelve O’Clock High, while also sprinkling in a dash of Three Outlaw Samurai and To Catch A Thief and Brazil for a little extra spice.

 

The result is that, as with Empire, we end up with a film that’s true to the spirit of Star Wars, and that expands the horizons of Star Wars, but still manages to be the unique artistic vision of a single auteur who isn’t George Lucas, despite the fact that the Maker’s fingerprints are all over it.

The Last Jedi also serves as an unintended farewell to Carrie Fisher, not only as the actor who brought our beloved Leia to life, but also as an uncredited writer and script editor. Her work in the film is some of her best—both onscreen and on the page—but it’s a little difficult to watch the film and not get angry at the universe and Carrie’s own personal demons for taking her from us far too soon.

 

At any rate, the result of all of the above is that The Last Jedi is, for now, a film to be grappled with—a challenging composition that isn’t as easily consumed or processed as most tentpole pictures tend to be. It is, in ways, a cinematic analogue of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, still fresh from its Théâtre des Champs-Élysées debut, with a good bit of extra whimsy and a few adorable critters thrown in.

 

In other ways, though, The Last Jedi is an unapologetic throwback to a less cynical time, and that does make it a bit of an oddball in our current media landscape. For all the talk of this film as a subversive and at times shocking work in the context of the Star Wars canon, it’s hard not to notice how sincere it is. Even characters whose messages run completely counter to the film’s central themes are treated with a level of earnestness that’s both welcome and a little jarring. In fact, one of my few complaints with the film is the rare instance in which this isn’t the case—in which one of the film’s secondary villains is somewhat mocked in a winking way that’s contrary to the film’s overarching but subtle sentimentality.

The Last Jedi

But one aspect of The Last Jedi really hits home for me in such a deeply personal way that it manages to tear down those walls and draw me into its tragic magic completely: The journey of Luke Skywalker. Much has been made of Luke’s portrayal in this film, and I won’t dig into the thoughts of others here. Partly because I don’t care, but mostly because my own connection with Luke overshadows all other discussions for me.

 

The Luke Skywalker we meet in The Last Jedi is a broken man—a once-optimistic do-gooder who has convinced himself that the world is better off without him and the dogma he represents. He’s seen some shit, in the parlance of our times. And without delving too deeply into my own story, it’s a Luke I relate to in a visceral way, because I’ve been there. I’ve struggled with deep, personal losses for which I blamed myself, no matter how far out of my own control they may have been. I’ve been driven to the same level of despair and isolation we see on Luke’s face throughout much of this film.

 

It’s disturbing to watch at times, true. But it also makes Luke’s triumphant return at the end—in which he does the single most Jedi-like thing ever committed to celluloid or CCD—all the more triumphant. Luke Skywalker was my childhood hero. In The Last Jedi, he’s my adult inspiration, in a way I never would have dreamt possible. He’s a reminder that legends are only human, yes. But just as importantly, he’s a reminder that they’re legends for a reason.

 

In my 2018 Wishlist published here on the Roundtable, I rather naïvely hoped this beautiful, moving, deeply thoughtful, and paradoxically fun film would receive the home video release it deserved, right out of the gate. Much to my shock and amazement, it has. The Ultra HD disc is a new high bar in terms of audiovisual presentation. This is the disc you’ll want to pull out when some naysayer opines that Blu-ray or streaming is perfectly sufficient. The High Dynamic Range imagery reveals depths of detail in the shadows I struggled to see even in IMAX.

The Last Jedi

In terms of supplemental material, it seems as if nothing was held back for a more ultimate release down the road. Deleted scenes abound, and in stark contrast with the Blu-ray release of The Force Awakens, the behind-the-scenes features aren’t all back-patting, neck-hugging, Kumbaya marketing fluff. Hell, even the marketing fluff that has leaked out to accompany The Last Jedi’s home video release has been a step up from most everything on the Episode VII disc.

 

The real star of this collection, though, is the feature-length documentary The Director and the Jedi, in which we get some serious insight into just how much Rian Johnson loves, appreciates, and more importantly understands Star Wars. We also see, through the course of the documentary, Mark Hamill angrily struggle to come to terms with the Luke Skywalker he’s tasked with playing in this film, then slowly come around to fully embrace Johnson’s vision. It’s raw, It’s emotional, it’s genuine in a way we don’t normally see in making-of docs. Simply put, The Director and the Jedi is a film that all cinema fans—even those who aren’t Star Wars obsessives—need to watch.

 

Johnson’s audio commentary for the film is also a delight, and it’s fortunate it was recorded before the film’s release, since we end up with the filmmaker’s genuine thoughts and reflections, rather than his reactions to the discussion of his work post-release.

 

But if there’s one bonus feature I’m more excited about than any other, it’s the isolated score track, a feature I’ve been begging for since the DVD days. It’s worth noting that the isolated score (in which you watch the film without dialogue, without sound effects, only John Williams’ brilliant symphonic narrative accompaniment) isn’t actually found anywhere on the discs. To access it, you have to redeem the Movies Anywhere code found in the UHD Blu-ray case and watch the film via your web browser or media streamer.

 

As with the film itself, though, it’s absolutely worth the effort. 

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.

Our Favorite Underrated Stuff (Pt. 2)

underrated entertainment

A couple weeks ago, Dennis Burger kicked off this new section of The Rayva Roundtable, in which we talk about some of our favorite underrated stuff. That stuff could be movies, TV shows, bands, albums, games, gadgets—you name it.

 

I’m going to start by seconding one of Dennis’s picks. Sports Night is one of my all-time favorite TV shows, and I’m compelled to revisit it every few years. Yes, Aaron Sorkin’s writing is exceptional, but so is the acting. The show jumpstarted or reinvigorated the careers of great actors like Felicity Huffman, Peter Krause, Josh Charles, and Robert Guillaume. This one is so underrated, it never even made it to Blu-ray, but the complete series (OK, it was only two seasons) is available on DVD. Or you can watch it an episode at a time on iTunes or Amazon.

If you only think of BBC America as the channel that gave us the gorgeous Planet Earth series, you should take a closer look at some of the great content this network serves up. It’s hard to say if Orphan Black officially belongs in the underrated category—I mean, it received a lot of critical acclaim and earned lead actress Tatiana Maslany a much-deserved Emmy, yet I personally know few people who actually watched it. The show follows Sarah Manning, who discovers by a twist of fate that she is a clone and gets caught up in a suspenseful cat-and-mouse adventure that grows broader with each season. Orphan Black wrapped things up last year after five seasons, all of which are available on Blu-ray, or you can stream Seasons 1-4 through Prime Video.

This one may fall in the “too obscure” category, but I was heartbroken when AMC’s Rubicon was cancelled after just 13 episodes back in 2010. The premiere episode scored high ratings for AMC, but the audience quickly dwindled. The story—about an intelligence analyst who begins to suspect that major world events are being manipulated by some type of shadow agency—is definitely of the slow-burn suspense ilk. I guess the burn was too slow for most people, but I found it to be thoroughly addictive. The only place I can even find the show now is on Daily Motion.

underrated entertainment

Way back in 1995, I fell in love with a little independent film called Kicking & Screaming—not to be confused with the 2005 Will Ferrell soccer comedy of the same name. I was a couple years out of college and headed nowhere in particular, so this delightful comedy about a group of college graduates who are more than a bit reluctant to begin their journeys into the real world certainly spoke to me. I still quote this movie way more than I should. One of those indie talkies that were so popular in the 1990s, Kicking & Screaming was written and directed by Noah Baumbach, probably best known for his collaborations with Wes Anderson (like The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and Fantastic Mr. Fox). You can find it on Netflix, Amazon, and other streaming services.

 

A couple years ago, Baumbach wrote and directed another underrated film called While We’re Young, starring Naomi Watts, Ben Stiller, Adam Driver, and Amanda Seyfried. Roughly 20 years after his college tale, Baumbach now explores what it means to be middle aged, in the same quirky, funny, dialogue-driven manner that won my heart all those years ago.

    —Adrienne Maxwell

Adrienne Maxwell has been writing about the home theater industry for longer
than she’s willing to admit. She is currently the managing editor and video specialist
at HomeTheaterReview.com. Adrienne lives in Colorado, where she spends far too
much time looking at the Rockies and not nearly enough time being in them.

Our Favorite Underrated Stuff (Pt. 1)

underrated entertainment

I don’t care who you are, or what sorts of entertainment you consume on a regular basis, I guarantee you there’s a TV series or movie out there somewhere that broke your heart. And I don’t mean in a Fried Green Tomatoes or Steel Magnolias sort of way—I mean it spoke to your unique aesthetic so thoroughly that its cancellation or box-office failure hit you on a deep level. A personal affront, if you will.

 

For me, it’s The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. The cancellation of this sci-fi-action-comedy-western, which debuted in the nascent days of the Fox broadcast network, still stings in a way matched only by Firefly.

 

But I’m not here to talk about cult classics. I’m here instead to talk about under-appreciated works of art with near-universal appeal that, for whatever reason, just never caught on. Maybe they were before their time. Maybe they were marketed poorly. Maybe humans just have crappy taste, I don’t know. Whatever the reasons may be, the lack of recognition for these gems doesn’t just offend me personally—it speaks, I think, to a fundamental fragmentation of our media-consuming culture that these massively appealing works don’t have mass appeal.

Take My So-Called Life, for instance. I know it may seem like a cheat, since this Claire Danes classic is one of the most critically acclaimed series in the history of the Internet. But have you seen it? No, be honest. Have you really sat down and watched it? MSCL broke new ground in the mid-90s by having teens, played by teens, actually act like teens. Seriously, that was shocking at the time. Of course, My So-Called Life has been so thoroughly mimicked by now that if you’re just watching it for the first time, it might not seem so fresh. Give it a shot anyway. It’s one of the best TV series ever made, and It’s available in its all-too-brief entirety on Hulu.

Before there was The West Wing, before The Newsroom or Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (shut up—that show was amazing), there was Sports Night, a forgotten slice of brilliance that represents Aaron Sorkin at his Aarony Sorkinest, with all the impeccable timing, social commentary, and way-too-intelligent-for-humans-to-actually-utter dialogue that have made his followup efforts such critical darlings. I don’t care if you loathe the sports (because goodness knows, I do—GTLM motorsports being the rare exception), Sports Night is simply amazing television: Beautifully written, amazingly directed, perfectly performed, and infuriatingly unavailable for streaming on Netflix or Hulu. You can buy it an episode at a time on iTunes or Amazon, though.

I have two types of friends: Those who think Die Hard is the best Christmas movie of all time, and those who think Love Actually is the best Christmas movie of all time. For the record, I cast my lot with the latter camp, but I don’t think Love Actually is actually Richard Curtis’ best film. Sacrilege, I know, but that distinction actually belongs to About Time, perhaps one of the most misunderstood films I’ve ever seen. Misunderstood, because the handful of critics who saw it felt the need to pick nits with the rules governing this time-traveling rom-com’s temporal shenanigans, as if it were some sort of science-fiction flick. It’s not. Far from it. About Time is actually a modern-day fairy tale, whose violations of its own internal rules are actually kinda part of the point. I’m almost ashamed to admit it, but I silently judge people who’ve seen this film and didn’t love every frame of it.

Speaking of judgment—if you’re one of the millions of people who didn’t watch last summer’s Downward Dog when ABC snuck it onto the airwaves and left it hanging with no real support, I’m still angry with you. It wasn’t merely the best show of the summer—it was the best new comedy on TV in at least a decade. Think of it as a (sometimes) lighthearted, (often) cheeky, but nonetheless just-as-philosophically deep episodic riff on The Art of Racing in the Rain, but with a strong female lead (Fargo’s criminally under-appreciated Allison Tolman). Yes, it starred a talking dog with computer-animated lips, but this was one of the most human TV shows I think I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, it too is missing from all the major streaming services. Episodes are available for download from iTunes and Vudu, though.

So, yeah, you likely missed all of the above in their heyday, but there’s one under-the-radar series airing right now that you still have a chance to catch while the getting’s good. Drunk History began its life as a series of Funny or Die clips online, but has since moved to full-length episodes on Comedy Central, where most people seem to be completely ignoring it. Seriously, when I pester my friends about whether or not they’ve seen the most recent episode, most of them squint or give me a pug head-tilt. How on earth a series in which inebriated narrators do their best to slur through some of history’s most interesting stories while some of the best actors in the world reenact their sloshed narratives isn’t the most highly rated thing on the boob tube is just beyond me. Do yourself a favor and set your DVR (new and repeats!) posthaste. You can thank me later.

Dennis Burger

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

The Polka King

I’ve never known what to make of Jack Black. He’s been good enough in enough things to have a steady career, but he’s always got that smartass look in his eye that makes everything he does feels like a comedy sketch he’s not all in on.

 

He almost busts through that handicap in Netflix’ The Polka King, thanks partly to a heavy, mannered foreign accent that helps him create the semblance of a character. But he doesn’t completely make it—partly because the accent and his delivery have more than a touch of vaudeville, and partly because the movie’s uncertain tone doesn’t allow him—or any of the actors—to completely settle into their roles.

 

The Polka King is based on a documentary about the self-made and self-proclaimed polka legend Jan Lewan, but it’s not really a biopic or a docudrama. Actually, I don’t know what the hell it is, and that’s one of its biggest problems. The first hour feels like textbook Farrelly Brothers—which means there are some really big laughs along the way (which is at least half the reason why I’d recommend checking it out).

 

But then it radically shifts subject matter and tone for a while, and then shifts them again, feeling like three distinctly different scripts grafted onto each other, with the grafts refusing to take. Add to that some basic technical incompetence—some of the shots just don’t match, so you get the sense the setups were rushed—and you’re left wondering how firm the controlling hand was on the rudder.

Netflix The Polka King

Black is entertaining, even if he never manages to step completely beyond doing his standard Jack Black thing. Jenny Slate (Obvious Child) and Jackie Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook) are killer, pushing well past the limitations of the material. Even Jason Schwartzman is interesting.

 

Yes, I have very mixed feelings about this thing, but it’s worth your time, one, because it does have some big laughs (Black’s “No! I have America up the wazoo!” line is a classic); two, because, even though it’s set mainly in the 80s and 90s, it almost succeeds as an acid-dripping snapshot of the present moment. And, three, any movie with an electric ukulele in it can’t be all bad.

 

Probably its biggest problem is its patrician condescension. The nobility has a tough time portraying the working class without reducing it to caricaturesor, like here, cartoon characters. Also, the desperate need to convince viewers that we’re all the same on the level that counts (a bald-faced lie but essential to attracting a large audience) turns this into another one of those slobbering puppy dog movies that wants to have some grit but ultimately settles for a pat on the head.

 

But The Polka King is worth a look because it at least wants to mean something instead of nothing at all.

 

Michael Gaughn

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

Theo’s 10 Best Movie Releases of ’17

Best Movies of 2017--I, Daniel Blake

My list of the best foreign, independent, and classic releases on disc in 2017 include some titles that aren’t available in NTSC. Maybe it’s time for fans of rare movies to invest in an all-regions Blu-ray player.

 

1. Tony Erdmann (Sony Pictures Classics)

This Oscar-nominated study of a father-daughter relationship introduced to US audiences Maren Ade, a major female voice from Germany. Humor, compassion, and total lack of facile sentimentality are Ade’s trademarks. Can’t wait for her next movie.

 

2. I, Daniel Blake (Criterion Collection)

This devastating drama—an indictment of the bureaucracy and inhumanity of the British social system—won director Ken Loach last year’s Palme D’Or. I have seen it three times already.

 

3. The Aki Kaurismaki Collection (Curzon Artificial Eye)

This collection, which includes sixteen of Kaurismaki’s movies, is available only in Europe through Amazon.co.uk. Few can match the deadpan humor of this Finnish satirist of human nature and modern nihilistic society. Kaurismaki’s most recent film, The Other Side of Hope (included in this collection), just opened theatrically in NY and LA.

Best Movies of 2017--The Big Sick

4. The Big Sick (Amazon Studios)

A good-hearted comedy, written by and starring Kumail Nanjiani, based on his real-life relationship with his Pakistani family in the US. The movie doesn’t strike a single false note in its depiction of the differences between the two cultures.

 

5. The Sissi Collection (Film Movement Classics)

Hugely popular in Europe but practically unknown in the US, this emotionally satisfying trilogy about Empress Elizabeth of Austria, starring Romy Schneider, is finally making its debut on Blu-ray the US. Maybe not the best transfer in the world, but worth owning.

 

6. Ludwig (Arrow Academy)

Luchino Visconti’s 257-minute epic comes in a luminous restored version that includes both the original and the abbreviated TV versions. Great performances by Helmut Berger as King Ludwig II of Bavaria and Romy Schneider as Empress Elizabeth of Austria (reprising her role from the Sissi movies) are combined with Visconti’s sweeping vision to make this release a must for fans of classic European films.

 

7. Padre Padrone, Kaos, and The Night of the Shooting Stars (Cohen Media Group)

Three of the best films by the celebrated Italian directors the Taviani Brothers made it to Blu-ray in good transfers, but the discs aren’t particularly rich in extras.

 

8. Suspicion and I Confess (Warner Archive) and The Paradine Case (Kino Lorber)

Three more Alfred Hitchcock films made it to Blu-ray this year. This completes the master’s entire opus in HD.

Best Movies of 2017--The Boy Friend

9. The Boy Friend (Warner Archive)

“Excessive,” “exuberant,” “bombastic,” and “inventive” are adjectives we associate with the work of British director Ken Russell. This Blu-ray transfer of his ’60s musical, with Twiggy in the main role, epitomizes all the director’s qualities and combines them with a visual panache that makes the movie irresistible.

 

10. Doctor Doolittle (Twilight Time)

Granted, this late-‘60s musical with a delightful Rex Harrison in the title role, is not, by any long stretch of the imagination,, a masterpiece. I saw it as a kid in glowing Todd-AO, and I remember it for its spectacular cinematography. The film’s previous transfer on Blu-ray (a German import) left a lot to be desired, but this new transfer does absolute justice to the Robert L. Surtees’ spectacular 70mm cinematography.

—Theo Kalomirakis

Theo Kalomirakis is widely considered the father of home theater, with scores of luxury theater
designs to his credit. He is an avid movie fan, with a collection of over 15,000 discs. Theo is the
Executive Director of Rayva.

Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman

There’s no question that DC has had serious issues competing in the superhero film genre against Disney-owned Marvel. While Marvel scores hit after hit with every attempt—Iron Man, Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor, Deadpool—DC films have struggled with both critics and fans, flopping across the board, with none of its recent offerings (following the glorious Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy) scoring “fresh” on the Rotten Tomatoes meter.

 

DC looked to 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice as a way of kickstarting a new franchise of hero films, introducing the characters that would make up the recent Justice League film. But while B v S was generally panned, we can thank it for at least one thing: it gave us Wonder Woman.

 

I’ll be honest, while I grew up reading DC comics, and was especially a fan of the Justice League series, my knowledge of Wonder Woman was pretty much limited to occasionally watching the Linda Carter TV series. I knew she was an Amazonian that wore bullet-blocking bracelets, had a magic truth-telling lasso, and used an invisible jet (not featured in the film, btw), but that’s basically it.

 

Thus, I went into Wonder Woman with fairly modest expectations. And boy, were they blown away!

 

Beyond being a good superhero movie, WW is just a good movie, period. First, the casting is terrific throughout, with every role handled perfectly. This, of course, starts at the top with Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman/Diana Prince. Gadot is not only very easy on the eyes, but her background serving in the Israeli army gave her a leg up in handling the fight scenes with incredible believability.

 

Beyond that, she nails the wide-eyed, girl-exploring-a-new-world innocence required to portray her character venturing for the first time beyond the Amazon island of Themyscira. In fact, Gadot is so perfect as Wonder Woman it’s impossible to imagine anyone else tackling the role. (She is also one of the best parts of Justice League, proving her character is more than a one-hit wonder!) Further, the chemistry between Gadot and Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor is believable and far deeper than pretty-girl-swept-off-her-feet-by-handsome-stranger.

Wonder Woman

Instead of trying to cram multiple superheroes into a single film, which weighed down and confused B v S, director Patty Jenkins wisely focused solely on Wonder Woman (with a brief cameo from another hero that ties in perfectly with both B v S and JL), fleshing out her backstory and developing her character as she grows and discovers her powers.

 

Since the transfer was taken from a 2K Digital Intermediate, it doesn’t feature the incredible micro-detail and pristine quality of some modern transfers; nevertheless, Wonder Woman in 4K HDR still looks mostly terrific. The image suffers from occasional noise in some of the night scenes, but it still has plenty to get your 4K TV’s 8 million pixels excited about. You can see the metal texture in Diana’s bracelets and crown, the detail in her armor, and the nicks in her sword.

 

While the color palette is mostly muted throughout in a slightly-faded World War I-era style, early scenes on Themyscira look gorgeous, with the wide color gamut revealing beautiful blue-green waters. Also, as there are a lot of night scenes, the high dynamic range does a great job of keeping shadows black while maintaining the piercing brightness of fires, searchlights, and Diana’s glowing lasso.

 

The Dolby TrueHD Atmos soundtrack will give your speakers a workout as well, with the numerous fight scenes bringing mayhem from every corner of the room as well as overhead. You hear Diana’s lasso whip around the room, vehicles being hurled, and bullets ricocheting and whizzing past. And if your subwoofer(s) are up to the task, Diana clapping her bracelets together produces a sonic concussion that will punch you in the chest!

 

Wonder Woman scored a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes and has a 2 hour 21 minute runtime. It’s rated PG-13 for some violence and innuendo. Download it from the Kaleidescape Store today and enjoy in your theater tonight!

—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 Astral Factor

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

Michael Gaughn

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

Patton Oswalt: Annihilation

Patton Oswalt Annihilation

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

 

But . . .

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Michael Gaughn

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

Blade Runner: The Final Cut

Kaleidescape Blade Runner

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Kaleidescape Blade Runner

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

—John Sciacca

 

Minor spoiler . . .

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

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

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Dangal

Netflix Dangal

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Theo Kalomirakis

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