Monday, November 10, 2014

Veteran's Day Watchlist

The close of the year generally sees a concentration of holidays that translate into big family gatherings, sales events, and religious platitudes of piety and thankfulness.  Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hannukah, and Christmas take up the lion's share of attention, but almost lost in the shuffle is Veteran's Day.  This holiday was set up in appreciation of our men and women in uniform, and distinguishes itself from the earlier Memorial Day which honors those who have died in battle. It's not hard to figure out why Veteran's Day is often overlooked; there's nothing involved in the holiday which spurs consumers out to buy food, costumes, or gifts, and so stores usually ignore it, moving straight from Halloween candy sales to discounts on turkey and stuffing.

When one considers that the United States has been at war for 13 consecutive years, however, the importance of those soldiers who have risked (and sometimes lost) their lives to protect our nation cannot and should not be sidestepped.  You don't have to be a dogmatic flag-waving patriot, in order to appreciate the people in uniform whose stamina and courage is undoubted; or maybe you are a flag-waving patriot.  In either case, 4seating offers up this shortlist of soldier or military-themed films for your perusal on Veteran's Day.  In compiling this list, we avoided films with an anti-war theme (ie. Apocalpyse Now, Platoon), although many of those are classics worth considering as well.  

PATTON (1970)


George C. Scott's portrayal of General George S. Patton, a heroic commander who fought several key WWII battles, is considered one of the finest performances in film history.  The opening monologue, with Scott as Patton standing proudly behind the American flag, is iconic, but Patton is much more than that.  The battle sequences were state-of-the-art for their time and while film technique has moved on since then (see the films below), Scott's performance has not aged a day. Patton also just happened to be Richard Nixon's favorite film, but don't let that stop you from marveling at this gritty and epic tribute to the men who fought and won the greatest conflict the world has ever known.

SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (1998)



Steven Spielberg was still primarily known as a director of sci-fi/fantasy oriented summer blockbusters when he decided to take the reigns for this WWII drama.  Sure, there had been 1993's Schindler's List, for which he had won the Oscar, but it was Saving Private Ryan (which won him a second Oscar) that married Spielberg's penchant for gripping action fare with an equally compelling story.  The first 27 minutes of this film are often hailed as the most intense and realistic depiction of war ever shot, and Hanks' performance in the lead was similarly praised.  Spielberg would go on to make further critically-acclaimed films, but this one stands as perhaps his best, and is perfect Veteran's Day fare.

PRIVATE BENJAMIN (1980)



Goldie Hawn's career was in high gear when she decided to co-produce this starring vehicle for herself, which went on to earn several Academy Award nominations and be included in many "all-time greatest" comedy film lists.  The Private Benjamin of the title braves army boot camp, later romances a French doctor, and then ultimately leaves him when she finds out he's cheated.  Her stint as a soldier gives her the courage to strike out on her own; the film simultaneously works as tribute to the life of a soldier, as a feminist salvo, and as a deft mix of comedy and drama.  

THE HURT LOCKER (2009)



Known primarily as the film which garnered the first-ever Oscar for a female director (Kathryn Bigelow), The Hurt Locker is a tough, gripping character study that exposes the horrors of modern-day warfare.  Although its portrayal of a bomb disposal unit in Iraq met with claims of inaccuracy from those who were actually in the field, its main character Sgt.James is complex and multi-dimensional, torn between an obsession with his work and the needs of the outside world.  The film combines spine-tingling suspense with a look at the dangers faced on a minute-by-minute basis by combat soldiers in Iraq, without being preachy or taking sides.  

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009)



Quentin Tarantino was never going to make an ordinary war epic, and Inglourious Basterds was unique in that it posited an alternate history of WWII with a completely different ending than the one we learn from history books.  The film is loaded with Tarantino's trademark dialogue and quirky sense of humor, although it is perhaps Christoph Waltz's breakout performance as Hans Landa which truly set it apart.  Waltz's "Jew hunter" Landa was lauded as one of the most memorable film villains in years, and won him a supporting actor Oscar for the role.  Inglourious Basterds may not be the most reverent war movie ever made, but it is one of the most fun.


At 4seating.com, we have the largest selection of in-stock and ready-to-ship home theater seating and home theater furniture available! We offer theater seating and design solutions for both the casual and professional home theater enthusiast.  We also have a complete line of custom home theater decor available.  




Monday, November 3, 2014

Which TV--And Which Audio?

In the first segment of this series, we looked at the pros and cons of the various screen ratios that are available to those looking to build their home theater.  As we saw, the appropriate type of screen ratio depended on the individual needs of intended usage of the theater itself.  The same holds true when picking the kind of TV set and audio setup needed to enhance it.  In the second part of this article, we will look at both of these concerns, noting the distinct features and advantages to each model.  

TV SETS:



PLASMA: The advent of the plasma TV, with its flat monitor screen and high-definition picture, revolutionized the TV industry over a decade ago.  Although it took a while for prices to settle, plasma screens are a lot more affordable than they used to be.  They also still offer the best picture quality, including an extremely low variance in the all-important white and black "levels" that determine a screen's ability to pick up detail.  Basically, when a scene on the TV screen gets bright, having low "white levels" ensure that its brightness does not overwhelm small details; similarly, when a scene is dark, a good screen will have low "black levels" ensuring that the shadow does not obscure relevant detail.  While the most dazzling plasma screens are also the most expensive, anyone investing in a good home theater will find that the rewards of consistently outstanding picture quality will trump a momentary dip in the pocketbook.



LED: This term stands for "Light Emitting Diodes", which is how the television screen is backlit (by contrast, plasma TVs have phosphors which light up themselves).  LED screens offer several advantages that plasma screens do not: they are a bit less expensive, are lighter in weight, and consume far less power.  While the picture quality is of a slightly lesser standard, LED's have been catching up to plasma in recent years, with one model (the Sharp Elite Pro) now offering "black levels" equivalent to the best plasmas.  It is quite possible that LED screens may equal or overtake plasmas in picture quality within the next couple of years, which means that consumers may want to keep themselves updated on these advancements as they happen. At the moment however, while more expensive to purchase and more power-consuming, plasma is still--marginally--the way to go.  

AUDIO SYSTEMS



SOUND BARS: A sound bar is the cheap, no-hassle way to get a relatively good sound system for your home theater. These items do not require routing through an endless series of complex wire connections, and their portable size makes them easy to install and convenient for those looking for a clean, space-saving option. However, they do not offer authentic surround sound capabilities (don't be misled by ads telling you that they do), and come up a bit short when playing music (at least, compared to other options).  Those who want a good, inexpensive sound system, but aren't the kind of audiophiles looking for the absolute best possible sound, should seek out this option.  



STEREO SPEAKERS: This option is falling out of fashion, even though it used to be the standard audio setup in most homes.  Basically, we're talking two left-right tower speakers and a receiver, for excellent-sounding stereo.  While stereo does not offer the immersive benefits of surround sound, it can frequently be just as satisfying, as the tower speakers are bigger than those used in surround systems (generally speaking, it's still a golden rule that the bigger the speaker, the better the sound).  



AV RECEIVER AND SPEAKERS: The coveted surround sound option is provided by getting an AV receiver with multiple smaller speakers, which are then placed at various points around the theater. The advantages are obvious: full, glorious surround sound.  However, the many components involved are tricky; this is the option with all those connecting wires during installation, and you're going to have to spend some time in figuring out the right placement for each speaker, that will provide a good balance from each theater seat.  This is also the most expensive option, although as with plasma screens, the expense is often mitigated by the long-term investment one is making for their theater.  Besides, if you're all thumbs when it comes to installing complex sound systems like this model, you can always tap the services of that friend or family member who is an expert at it!  The option is less daunting than it appears, and for hi-tech surround sound, it's the way to go. 

At 4seating.com, we have the largest selection of in-stock and ready-to-ship home theater seating and home theater furniture available! We offer theater seating and design solutions for both the casual and professional home theater enthusiast.  We also have a complete line of custom home theater decor available.  



Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Which Screen?

The key to creating a great home theater, is realizing that there is no cookie-cutter model of excellence.  Your home theater should be designed to reflect your individual tastes and preferences. Not all home theaters are built for the same purpose--some are meant for families, some are meant for parties, some are meant for romantic evenings, and some are designed to combine these purposes. However, you will need to know just what you will be using your home theater for, when it comes to choosing the audiovisual equipment you install. In this article, 4seating will look at what is required when choosing the right screen size for your home theater--and as you will see, the task is not as simple as it may first appear.



The first thing to know for the novice, is that there are several screen size choices available.  The aspect ratio, which is essentially the ratio of the height to the width, will determine what kind of picture you see on the screen.  One of the most common aspect ratios is 16:9, also referred to as the sum of that division, 1.78.  Most flat-screen HDTV's are in 1.78.  Another of the most common aspect ratios is 2.4, which is used for projector screens.  It's wider than a 1.78 and fits the aspect ratio that many current movies are shot and projected in.  A third aspect ratio, just slightly wider than 1.78, is 1.85, which many other movies are shot in. 

The problem?  There is no one-size-fits-all screen, that will completely eliminate the dreaded 'black bars' appearing when you watch certain programs or films.  A 1.78 might be perfect for watching television broadcasts or certain kinds of films, but if you put in the DVD of a film shot in 2.4, you will see black bars appear on the top and bottom of the screen.  Similarly, other films and television shows shot in 1.78 or 1.85 ratios will have black bars appear on the sides of a 2.4 ratio screen. Therefore, you must choose carefully, depending on the types of programming you think will dominate the screen time in your theater.



2.4 ratio screens offer a wide, dramatic panorama that is popular with those looking to most authentically replicate the movie theater experience.  Since many current films are now shot in 2.4, this cinematic choice would make the most sense for those not planning on watching a lot of 1.78 ratio TV content.  However, the size of 2.4 screen you choose may be limited by the size of your home theater; a smaller theater will not accommodate a large screen (and the same can be said for 1.78 or 1.85 ratios).  Which leads us to the next consideration: once you have chosen a preferred aspect ratio, what will be the size of the actual screen, and how far should it sit from your seats?



The distance you sit from your screen should take into account the aspect ratio; generally speaking, 1.78 screens require a few feet further distance, as their height is more of a strain on the eyes. Beyond that, you will want to think about just how far you usually like to sit in a commercial movie theater--do you prefer to sit in the front, middle, or back?  It might actually be a good idea to gauge the ratio of your preferred seating relative to the size of the theater, and translate that to the size of your home theater.  Always keep the screen at eye level, as keeping it higher than that will result in neck and eye strain.  In this sense, the placement of your theater seats will be just as important as the placement of your screen.  

When you've done the calculations, actually sit in your seats to make sure you have the right distance, and then adjust accordingly if needed.  Finally, be sure to take into account room for outside speakers and theater curtains to flank your screen, if you plan on having them.  

Stay tuned for Part 2 in our series, which will go over choosing the right audio equipment setup for your theater.

At 4seating.com, we have the largest selection of in-stock and ready-to-ship home theater seating and home theater furniture available! We offer theater seating and design solutions for both the casual and professional home theater enthusiast.  We also have a complete line of custom home theater decor available.  



Monday, October 13, 2014

Our Halloween Horror Countdown, Part 2

In our last article, we looked at some of the greatest horror films ever made, counting down the second half (#s 6-12) of our top dozen.  In this entry, we will look at the films which made our final top six. In choosing, the staff looked at factors such as success, influence, importance, rankings on similar lists, and most importantly, sheer fright factor.  See if you agree with our picks--and if not, speak up and tell us what we should have picked!



6. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, 1968.  The first zombie flick to make a significant impact set the template for every one to follow, from the eerie look of the undead to the classic scenario of a group of misfits trapped in a house while the creatures fight to get in.  What makes the film so effective is its neo-realist tone: shot in gritty black and white with raw, impassioned performances, it feels like a home movie of the event...and there are very few of the usual theatrical cues to remind one that this is fiction.  Nearly a half-century later, the film feels like the beginning of modern horror, and can still craft a great sense of terrifying suspense.  



5. INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, 1955.  There's not a single scene of blood, guts, gruesome-looking monsters, or any of the usual horror staples here.  The 'monsters' here look exactly like the residents of any 1950s California town, and yet Invasion Of The Body Snatchers managed to tap into our very deepest, darkest paranoia, during a time when the McCarthy era was ramping up that paranoia on a national scale.  Many critics have seen the film as a veiled political commentary on McCarthyist conformity, but this is first and foremost a sci-fi chiller of the highest order.  By the close of the film, as two residents flee for their lives in the hills while fighting to ward off the sleep that they know will kill them, the sense of panicked, wild-eyed horror is as palpable as any ever evoked in cinema.  The 1978 remake of the film, starring Leonard Nimoy, gets props for being nearly as good.  This film was so important, in fact, that it also made our earlier list of the greatest science fiction films of all time.  



4. NOSFERATU, 1922.  That's right, we have the ultimate vampire film in this list twice: first, Werner Herzog's masterful 1979 remake in at #11, and now the hallowed original, which actually gains strength from the fact that it is a silent B&W film.  Director F.W. Murnau was a German expressionist filmmaker who was able to utilize light and shade in stunning ways, although it is the severe, haunted look of Murnau's vampire which remains the one undeniably iconic takeaway here. Nosferatu is recognized today as one of the greatest films ever made, but it didn't receive the same reception upon release--Bram Stoker's widow successfully sued for copyright infringement, and all prints of the film were ordered destroyed.  One copy survived, and it is this copy which made the film a cult legend. No history of horror is complete without this look at one of the very first, and greatest, of its kind. 



3. HALLOWEEN, 1978.  the top three films on this list were all strong contenders for the top slot, and we were almost tempted to put this one there.  What better film to watch on Halloween, than the legendary horror film that takes place on the holiday in question?  The film's look at a deranged, knife-wielding killer literally spawned thousands of imitators (as well as a large number of inferior sequels), made Jamie Lee Curtis a star, and made Mike Myers masks (modeled, oddly enough, on Star Trek star William Shatner's face) a trick-or-treat favorite.  Ultimately, however, the film makes this list because it is one of the very few that a majority of audiences find truly scary; the director's mastery of suspense rivaled that of Hitchcock, and when matched to its grisly subject matter, the results were electrifying.  



2. PSYCHO, 1960.  Alfred Hitchock had been a world-renowned director for several decades with a penchant for nail-biting suspense, but nothing prepared audiences for what he unleashed on them with Psycho.  When audiences first sat down, they were disappointed: the first half-hour passed by as a by-numbers story of a girl on the run, and its low-budget, black-and-white TV feel was in direct contrast to the sumptuous globe-trotting extravaganzas of earlier Hitch epics like To Catch A Thief or North By Northwest.  And then...one shower changed cinema history forever.  The film, and that particular scene, has been parodied so many times that most of us today do not realize just how shocking it was for the day: audiences screamed and fainted in their seats, with many running out of the theater.  Very few films have had the startling, visceral impact on audiences as Psycho, although our #1 pick actually had a bigger one...



1. THE EXORCIST, 1973.  Widely regarded by many as the scariest film of all time, The Exorcist--allegedly based on a real-life exorcism--was so powerful that church bishops declared that there was actual evil residing within the reels.  The first time this author saw the film, was when a local TV station was playing it one afternoon--and even in broad daylight, with the sun shining through the curtains and seen on a tiny 12" TV screen, it felt like a shadow of pure black darkness had enveloped the whole room.  Much of the effectiveness of the film was down to its groundbreaking use of makeup and audio effects; the scene where Regan turns her head 360 degrees was so shocking, that certain theaters even provided special "Exoricst barf bags" for sensitive audience members.  Even now, the film manages to frighten new generations, and will likely do so for quite some time.  

At 4seating.com, we have the largest selection of in-stock and ready-to-ship home theater seating and home theater furniture available! We offer theater seating and design solutions for both the casual and professional home theater enthusiast.  We also have a complete line of custom home theater decor available.  




Friday, October 10, 2014

Our Halloween Horror Countdown, Part 1

We all know the tradition: Halloween is the night when you gleefully stock up on lots of teeth-destroying candy, make an extra-huge batch of popcorn, and stick your favorite horror film into the video machine while listening for trick-or-treaters.  In fact, of all of the holidays, Halloween is the closest we come to an official celebration of cinema --and while frequently maligned, there is no more honorable genre to take center stage for that celebration than the horror film.  Horror films are not easy to make--it's actually kinda hard to scare people, and even harder to do it in a way that appeals to movie critics.  Many horror films have succeeded as cult classics over the decades, in spite of being trashed by reviewers when first released.  In preparation for this article, your heroic blogger has decided to re-watch many of the following films, and all of them have held up or even improved over time.  

What follows is an attempt to list a dozen or so of the most memorable and iconic horror films ever made; this was an arduous task, which involved scouring the many "best of" lists available on the internet, pouring over them and considering each entry in turn.  There are, of course, many films on these lists that we here at 4seating had never seen--we wish we could see them all, but fortunately, there were quite a few we have seen, and had a blast re-watching for this occasion.  It goes without saying that horror is an excellent genre for a prime home theater setup--especially when accessories like tray tables, wine glass caddies, and bass shakers are installed in the seats--so the idea is to sit back, get comfortable, and find the horror pick that is guaranteed to make your Halloween this year a memorable one.  What follows are the first six picks in our reverse countdown, with the final six to follow!



12. THE INVISIBLE MAN, 1933: there's something about the old monster films of the 1930s that contributes to their creepiness; perhaps it's because shadows look more menacing in black-and-white, and in The Invisible Man these shadows are aided by then-groundbreaking special effects that completely wowed theater audiences of the day.  In adapting the HG Wells novel, the filmmakers also wisely focused the plot on its main character's descent from respected scientist to amoral madman, which has an almost Godfather-like aura to it.  There are scenes in this film that are still quite chilling some eighty years later, and that's an impressive feat considering how far theater audiences have evolved.  This is definitely a film you'll want to see with the lights off and the sound on at full blast, so that Claude Rains' iconic maniacal laugh can be heard in its full glory.  



11. NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE, 1979: Arthouse horror reached its peak with fabled German director Werner Herzog's remake of the 1922 silent film, shot in color with a deliberately slow, methodical pace.  This is a vampire film unlike any other (even its original source), where long, meditative scenes build up an overall aura of dread that slowly envelops the viewer over the course of its length.  The masterful use of silence is abetted by incredibly lush cinematography and amazing performances by Klaus Kinski and Isabelle Adjani in the main roles.  This is not the kind of film you put in if you want a slice-em dice-em horror experience; this is a film whose effect is as hypnotically entrancing as that of the vampire Nosferatu himself. 



10. NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, 1955: This is one of those films that not only appears on lists of greatest horror movies, but the greatest films of all time, for any genre.  It's also probably the greatest horror film you've never seen, as it has remained a hidden cult classic all these years.  David Lynch and the Coen Brothers owe their entire careers to this unsettling, bizarre masterpiece, and Robert Mitchum's performance as your kindly-friendly oh-so-Christian serial killer made the likes of The Silence Of The Lambs possible.  Night Of The Hunter also hails from a time when censors wouldn't allow too much blood or gore on-screen, so all of its thrills and chills come entirely from the mastery of direction and acting on the screen.  More horror films need to be made like this, now.  Scary trivia: the events in this film are based on a true story.  



9. 28 DAYS LATER, 2002: By the new millennium it seemed like everything in horror had already been done, when along came 28 Days Later to re-write the rules yet again.  The direction, with its seizure-inducing style, enhanced what was then a novel idea for your standard zombie film: what if the zombies in question actually moved fast?  When matched with its post-apocalyptic tour of England, the resulting suspense had audiences at the edge of their seat, and paved the way for an avalanche of new zombie films, culminating in the current popularity of The Walking Dead.  The DVD came with three alternate endings, each one very different from the next, so if you're watching at home be sure and check 'em out.  



8. KING KONG, 2005: The 1933 original is a legendary film classic, and Peter Jackson knew his version had to blow minds, or there wouldn't be any point in a remake.  Fresh off of his gargantuan success with the Lord Of The Rings series, he was given an unlimited budget to let his imagination run wild...and what an imagination.  The jungle creatures that infest this particular nightmare were unlike anything previously seen in cinema, and will have you squirming at the edge of your seat.  In addition, an extended voodoo sequence with possessed children haunts one long after the film is over. Of course, King Kong is also much more than a fright-fest, and the relationship between the star ape and his love is handled with unusual grace and sensitivity even in the midst of the terror.  This is one of the best remakes of all-time.  



7. NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, 1984: The character of Freddy Krueger is perhaps the most iconic in horror movie history, one that scared the bejesus out of hundreds of thousands of teenage kids in the 80s.  Let's face it: anyone who saw this film at the time had trouble falling asleep for weeks afterward, and that is surely the mark of highly effective horror.  Shot on a very low budget and taking its cue from real-life "Asian Death Syndrome"--in which refugees from Cambodia suffering from war trauma literally died in their sleep--the film rewrote the rules between fantasy and reality, blurring the two so effectively that the film's premise ended up impressing critics who normally savaged slasher films of this nature.  Elm Street is an obvious must-see, but be forewarned...

Up next: our top six.  Stay tuned!

At 4seating.com, we have the largest selection of in-stock and ready-to-ship home theater seating and home theater furniture available! We offer theater seating and design solutions for both the casual and professional home theater enthusiast.  We also have a complete line of custom home theater decor available.