The What Hi-Fi? month in film - August 2017

At What Hi-Fi? we watch plenty of films when testing the latest in home cinema, but we're always keen to find new films or use old favourites we know inside-out.

So whether it's the latest Hollywood film, a series on a streaming service, or perhaps a demo disc that pushes your home cinema to the max, we've got you covered.

MORE: Watch trailers for the biggest new films coming out

MORE: The What Hi-Fi? month in music – July

The guilty pleasure

Yu-Gi-Oh! - Adam Smith, staff writer

Yu-Gi-Oh! is not a great show. It’s an anime with two main story threads: the development of ‘Duel Monsters’, a popular card game in this show’s fictional Japan, and Yugi Moto - a young duellist who solves the mysterious Millennium Puzzle, an artefact containing the trapped spirit of an Egyptian Pharaoh.

After that, he’s forced to face down thousand-year old enemies seeking the dark powers contained in the Puzzle, battle his way through numerous tournaments, and save the world from devastation. As you do.

To some, watching Yu-Gi-Oh! might be similar to watching a televised chess match (with Egyptian magic thrown in). Those that enjoy it are invested in the tactics of the game, but there’s only so much one can say about little pieces moving on a board, especially when the dialogue is both repetitive and unsophisticated, and motivations are generally superficial.

The first two series (of five) are available on Netflix, but the reason I’ve delved back in is because it’s soothing. The show strikes a rare balance between the solidarity of watching a card game play out, and the enjoyment of the stakes being turned up to 11 - to the point where losing the game means losing your very soul. Relatively one-dimensional characters being able to summon the spirits of omnipotent gods in this hyper-serious atmosphere is simply a lot of fun to watch.

It's not everyone’s cup of tea, but as a simple 20-minutes-an-episode blast of outdated, overhyped entertainment, you could do a lot worse.

The film we've rediscovered

YellowbeardSimon Lucas, digital editor

You don’t get a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 22% without there being some fairly strong (and fairly salty) opinions about the film in question.

And as much as I’ve a soft spot for Yellowbeard (rekindled after happening upon it on Netflix recently), I’m not going to fly in the face of that 22% rating by pretending it’s anything other than a comedy that isn’t funny enough.

I watched Yellowbeard quite a lot in the early 80s, and for a couple of reasons: i) its VHS release coincided with the family home getting a VHS recorder and ii) it features Graham Chapman, John Cleese and Eric Idle, and I was obsessed by Monty Python at the time. Even then, though, I knew it wasn’t as funny as it should be.

It’s a fairly unambitious rewriting of the It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World formula - dread pirate, imprisoned for 20 years, has his sentence extended by 140 years to provoke him into escaping and leading the authorities to his buried treasure. He escapes, and numerous interested parties set off on a ‘madcap’ journey to find said treasure. Hilarity is supposed to ensue, but never quite does.

On re-acquaintance, the cast of Yellowbeard is even more remarkable than I remembered. As well as the Pythons mentioned, there are roles for Peter Cook, Spike Milligan, Marty Feldman (who died before the film was finished and thus spared himself some embarrassment), Beryl Reid, James Mason, Madeline Khan (unleashing a cockney accent to rival that of Dick Van Dyke), Cheech and Chong, and David Bowie (in a brief and uncredited cameo as a shark).

It’s overloaded, in other words – no one has quite enough to do and no one (with the possible exception of Milligan, who was quite an old man even then and does whatever he damn well pleases) really manages to express their potential.

And yet it’s not without charm. There are sight gags, word-play, idiocy and smart-arsedness, and a lot of stunts and special effects all done without the benefit of CGI.

If you, like many of my colleagues, were born before Yellowbeard was released, have a look and find out what passed for entertainment in The Old Days.

The show we wished we'd seen earlier

The West Wing - Jonathan Evans, editor

I was very late to the party with The West Wing. I’m not quite sure why, as it’s right up my street – and I knew it would be when I first read about it. To be frank, though, when the quality of a drama is this stellar, it doesn’t matter really when you watch it, as long as, eventually, you do. (See also The Sopranos, The Wire, Breaking Bad etc.)

The story follows the two-term presidency of Democrat Josiah “Jed” Bartlet, his family and his senior staff team in their efforts to run a country – when quite often, of course, they are struggling to run their own lives.

The show ran over seven seasons, from 1999 to 2006 – mostly through the presidency of George W Bush. It was prescient on many events yet to come in US and world history – Bartlet appointed a Latino Supreme Court Justice nine years before Sonia Sotomayor was appointed in real life, for example – and often stood as a liberal (if sometimes impossibly idealistic) beacon in an increasingly bewildering world.

Impeccably cast (Martin Sheen, Rob Lowe, Richard Schiff, Allison Janney and many many more) and scripted (by Aaron Sorkin), The West Wing shows just why many say TV has taken the mantle of the major story-telling medium from film. If Dickens were alive today, surely he’d be scripting TV miniseries and box-sets.

Come to think of it, with US and global politics in the state they are presently in, perhaps now is the ideal time to watch The West Wing

The show we've watched

Riviera - Andy Madden, content editor

My attraction to Sky Atlantic’s Riviera was two-fold. It’s another 4K offering to try out on my shiny new 4K TV and all ten episodes landed on Sky on the same day, which meant no twiddling of thumbs was required until the next one arrived.

The 10-epsiode series centres around the murder of billionaire art enthusiast Constantine Clios (Anthony LaPaglia). In the aftermath, his wife Georgina (Julia Stiles) has to stop the dysfunctional Clios family from self-imploding while getting to the bottom of her husband’s sudden demise.

The Cote d’Azur backdrop provides Riviera with some stunning scenery. Monaco is the focal point of all the action, and the programme is littered with attractive, stylish shots, from gentle landscape pans from the surrounding hillside to aerial shots of the famous Monte Carlo Harbour.

In 4K, the city appears as just attractive and opulent as you’d expect. Soaring shots of the Clios estate leave a lasting impression. The main building glows in the yellow warmth of the sun but also looks stunning in a couple of standout night scenes.

It also left me wondering just how good the picture would be with an injection of HDR (High Dynamic Range). The sense of depth is impressive and the picture is packed with detail. Granted, Riviera doesn’t serve up the most dynamic and earth-shattering of soundtracks, but there’s no shortage of dialogue for your centre channel to feast on. There’s also the odd explosive interjection to keep your AV receiver happy.

After the first few episodes Riviera’s plot unravels, and the closing scene misses the mark by some distance, but it’s worth a flutter - even just to experience it in 4K.

The film we're looking forward to

Atomic Blonde – Kob Monney, buyer's guide editor

Late summer is the perfect time to catch up on films you haven't seen. There’s also room for smaller, but no less thrilling efforts, which brings us to Atomic Blonde.

Unfortunately it has nothing to do with the band Blondie, or classic 80s hit Atomic. It’s actually based on a graphic novel The Coldest City, by Anthony Johnson.

It stars Charlize Theron as Lorraine Broughton, a British MI6 agent dispatched to Cold War-era Berlin to investigate the murder of a fellow agent. Linked to this death is a missing list of double agents, which she and James McAvoy’s station chief David Percival have to recover.

There are three things that should spark the interest of any action fan. First is Theron, who memorably cemented her action chops in 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road. The second is David Leitch, co-director of John Wick and the upcoming Deadpool sequel. The third is the presence of the 87Eleven Action Design, the stunt company founded by Leitch and Chad Stahelski (John Wick: Chapter Two), who've delivered several excellent fight sequences in recent years.

The trailer for Atomic definitely invites comparisons to the Wick franchise with its emphasis on physical, practical efforts, selling the idea of actors like Theron being capable of swatting away several men without breaking a sweat.

The story may be duff, but this looks like the type of film where the plot is merely an excuse for extended, extravagantly staged fight sequences. If they’re as good as the John Wick series, Atomic Blonde could be a lot of fun.

Simon Lucas is a freelance technology journalist and consultant, with particular emphasis on the audio/video aspects of home entertainment. Before embracing the carefree life of the freelancer, he was editor of What Hi-Fi? – since then, he's written for titles such as GQ, Metro, The Guardian and Stuff, among many others.