Review Utopia

‘Utopia’ Review: Gillian Flynn’s Dystopian Thriller on Amazon Prime Video – The New York Times

Gillian Flynn’s dystopian comic-book thriller for Amazon Prime Video takes a band of nerds down a fortuitously timely rabbit hole.

Credit…Elizabeth Morris/Amazon Studios

Mike Hale

For a show that’s based on a 2013 British series, and has been in the works for years at different networks and with different writers attached, “Utopia” couldn’t feel — on the surface — much more timely.

A deadly flu is hopping from one American city to another and the word pandemic is in common use. A vaccine is being rushed into production. Angry mobs protest quarantine restrictions. It’s all a little too familiar. Add in a disinformation conspiracy fed through social-media boiler rooms and an overall end-of-days atmosphere, and you have 2020 in an eight-episode nutshell.

Except that the series, which premiered Friday on Amazon Prime Video, isn’t exactly about any of those things. “Utopia” is the latest example, and a fairly elaborate one, of the guessing game as an end in itself — pandemic, conspiracy and doomsday prepping are all fodder for a narrative puzzle that’s only beginning to come into focus as the season ends. (Seven episodes were available for review.) It’s a pale shadow of the genre’s exemplars — “Mr. Robot,” “The Prisoner,” certain Christopher Nolan movies — but if you like this sort of thing, here it is.

I like this sort of thing quite a bit, but “Utopia,” which was developed and written by Gillian Flynn (after passing through the hands of David Fincher and HBO), never got me on board. With a story that takes comic-book fetishism and the excesses of fan culture and embeds them in a high-body-count action-thriller, it’s a long way in subject matter from Flynn-related projects like “Gone Girl” and “Sharp Objects,” both adapted from her novels. But it has some important, and off-putting, things in common with them: a nasty chilliness and a lack of empathy for its characters, who are blunt instruments Flynn uses to deliver shocks to the strapped-in audience.

“Utopia” begins with the discovery of a lost comic book, called “Utopia,” thought to contain coded clues to viral outbreaks like Zika and SARS. (The world of the series is falling apart in its newscasts, which talk of crop failures and disease, but is fairly normal on the surface, a necessary combination for this kind of arch, picaresque dystopian fantasy.) The book draws the attention of comics nerds and of a pair of nondescript but lethal operatives who do a lot of damage at a convention where the “Utopia” manuscript is offered for sale.

It may be spoilerish, but it’s also justified, I think, to mention that “Utopia” dispenses an unusually high quantity of casual homicide, along with some torture. The quantity, in itself, won’t be a problem for a lot of viewers, but the nature of it — detached, antiseptic, as if an invisible counter were adding up the bodies — has the effect of disengaging you from the story. If someone has created a scale for the justification of violence in relation to theme and emotional effect, “Utopia” would rate very low.


Credit…Elizabeth Morris/Amazon Studios

The story, once it gets going, centers on a small band of fan girls and boys who are forced to go on the run because of their accidental connection to the comic book and are devoted, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, to decoding its mysteries. They’re accompanied by a grim young woman (Sasha Lane of “American Honey”) who’s a character in the comic and whose father may have written it; they’re pursued by a doughy killer in a windbreaker (Christopher Denham) with ties to a businessman (John Cusack) whose level of evil is a central part of the puzzle. Slight comic relief is provided by Rainn Wilson as a virologist-patsy whose research is commandeered for use in the big bad conspiracy.

(The details of that scheme, which is vast in its implications and whose outlines are hinted at beginning around the third or fourth episode, will eventually be what “Utopia” is remembered for, of course. Still to be seen is whether it corresponds to the plot in the original British series, a cult favorite that was canceled after 12 episodes despite winning an international Emmy for best drama.)

The show’s directors (Toby Haynes, Susanna Fogel and J.D. Dillard, so far) keep it moving right along; if it isn’t engaging, neither is it boring. And the cast is uniformly good, supplying more feeling, dimension and humor than the scripts indicate; Denham, Ashleigh LaThrop, Dan Byrd and Desmin Borges (the post-traumatically-stressed roommate in “You’re the Worst”) stand out.

Also distinctive, in a smaller role, is the 14-year-old Farrah Mackenzie, who plays an unexpectedly tough cookie named Alice. Her character is one of several, including a tall, menacing comic-book hare, that’s probably meant as an hommage to “Alice in Wonderland,” but that’s an altogether more magical rabbit hole.

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Lovers Review

‘Lovers Rock’ Review: Steve McQueen’s ‘Small Axe’ Film Has One of the Best Dance Parties Ever Filmed – IndieWire

NYFF: The first entry of Steve McQueen’s “Small Axe” series to reach audiences is a galvanizing party movie with one helluva dance floor.


After drilling into dreary subjects for five movies, Steve McQueen appears to have discovered joy. The dark personal and social struggles at the center of those earlier projects are right there in their titles (“Hunger,” “Shame,” “12 Years a Slave,” and “Widows”), which gives “Lovers Rock” an immediate juxtaposition, and it plays that way, too.

It remains to be seen exactly how this concise tale of West Indian Londoners at an all-night rager fits into the larger context of “Small Axe,” the BBC-produced anthology five feature-length stories about the Black West Indian struggles to which “Lovers Rock” belongs. These may add layers of subtext to “Lovers Rock” beyond its immediate resonance, positioning an intimate drama within the wider fabric of racial tensions. But this swift installment sings its own tune, too — or, rather, it marches to one helluva beat.

Set across a single night in 1980 and loaded with a soundtrack from the eponymous reggae music, “Lovers Rock” is a paean to an energized youth culture taking control of its surroundings, despite the social unrest around them. Experienced on its own terms, this delightful snapshot of boozy dance-floor seduction plays like an artist unleashing years of repressed good vibes by applying his lyrical style to pure, unbridled bliss for almost the entirety of its 68 minutes.

Yes, 68 minutes! That running time speaks to the curious identity of the “Small Axe” series, which McQueen has packaged as a set of films despite the episodic context of their release: Two of the five installments were selected for Cannes earlier this year; one of them, “Mangrove,” runs twice as long; and Amazon will release the entire anthology in the U.S. after the festival run. (The others involve true stories of racial injustice, including the notorious tale of the Mangrove Nine, and the experiences of former Black police officer Leroy Logan.)

Yet even if “Lovers Rock” hovers somewhere between episode and movie on paper, it’s undoubtedly cinematic art, working small wonders with a sophisticated blend of minor-key storytelling and vibrant choreography that transforms the entire experience into a free-form musical.

While it’s the only fictional entry in the series, the lightweight plot matters less than the jubilance surrounding it. “Lovers Rock” builds to a familiar kind of meet-cute scenario, with teenager Martha (Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn) and her pal Patty (Shaniqua Okwok) sneaking off to a house party in the Notting Hill neighborhood, where most of the action takes place. Inside, the beats are loud and constant, with ebullient deejay Samson (Kadeem Ramsay) unleashing one soulful tune after another as the dance floor responds on cue.

The cramped room becomes a remarkable centerpiece for the encounters that follow, as Martha’s abandoned by her friend, rebuffs the advances of pushy hustler Bammy (Daniel Francis-Swaby), and welcomes those of the more cordial Franklyn (Micheal Ward). McQueen drifts in and out of this minimalist narrative, returning again and again to the gyrations of the crowd. Movie, TV, whatever: It’s one of the best dance parties ever filmed, full stop.

Co-written by Courttia Newland, McQueen’s script is littered with details from its insular world: There’s the specter of the cross, hovering on the walls and carried ominously by a man across town, hinting at the rebellious nature of the party at hand. There are also a handful crude white characters who glare at Martha and her peers from the street corners, pointing to the racism simmering on the sidelines of her life.

But these factors rarely overshadow the tender drama at hand, as Martha navigates the undulating rhythms of a wild night. While the thick West Indian accents ingrains the story in cultural specificity, Martha has her own distinct, combustible means of engaging with the people around her. “You talk fiercely,” one potential suitor tells her. “Some may say,” she spits back, circling back to the dance.

And oh, what a dance. The appeal of “Lovers Rock” has less to do with how characters explain themselves in words than sheer physicality. Working with rising cinematographer Shabier Kirchner (whose previous credits “Bull” and “Skate Kitchen” were similar naturalistic snapshots of irascible youth), McQueen’s camera roves through one boisterous dance number after another, and while Coral Messam served as choreographer, there’s an organic quality to the movement that makes the sudden cohesion all the more remarkable.

As a salute to the potential for lovers rock music to capture the mood of the moment, these sequences careen through one small wonder after another, from the giddiness of “Kung Fu Fighting” that finds everyone gleefully chopping through the air to the unquestionable apex of the movie, an a cappella rendition of Janet Kay’s 1979 single “Silly Games.”

Here, as the music drops out and the crowd keeps singing — for five mesmerizing minutes — one woman’s high-pitch wail resolves on the same bluesy note, the feet stamping coalesces into a mighty beat, and the collective performance transforms into a dazzling, hypnotic representation of cultural solidarity coalescing in real time. (It’s also McQueen’s boldest maneuver since he held that disturbing closeup of Carey Mulligan singing “New York, New York” for the same duration in “Shame.”)

McQueen obsesses over the ritualistic nature of the dance floor, with ample booze and smoke surrounding a symphony of gyrating hips and flailing arms galore. The setting has been so vividly realized, in fact, that “Lovers Rock” can’t help but lose some of its pull whenever it drifts elsewhere. One tense outdoor encounter with some neighborhood thugs injects palpable suspense into the proceedings, but another melodramatic showdown between Martha and an abusive party guest borders on cheesiness at odds with the more sophisticated activities unfolding place indoors.

However, newcomer Aubyn provides an anchor throughout the proceedings, as Martha undergoes a remarkable set of confrontations. Yet after her first conflict of the night, she returns to the dance floor, lost and dazed, until the rhythms and romance overtake her once more. It’s no surprise that this main set provides a robust cinematic foundation for everything that happens in “Lovers Rock.” An apparent passion (McQueen would have been just a touch younger than these characters at the time), the project harkens back to the filmmaker’s breakthrough 1993 installation piece “Bear,” when he wrestled with another Black man in the nude. Nearly 30 years later, “Lovers Rock” again fixates on colliding Black bodies, unearthing complex emotions and desires that transcend linguistic boundaries.

In this case, though, McQueen adopts a celebratory tone, embodying the immersive joie de vivre of Martha’s carefree outing. That tone will likely not carry over to the rest of “Small Axe,” as much of the series reportedly tackles heavier historical events, and this entry is its lone fictional offering. Regardless of the big picture, however, “Lovers Rock” is a fast, loose statement of its own — a galvanizing salute to finding freedom from the system by living in the moment.

Grade: A-

“Lovers Rock” premiered as the opening night selection at the 2020 New York Film Festival. Amazon Studios will release it, along with the rest of the “Small Axe” entries, this fall.

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Bewildering Review

Review: Bewildering and dazzling, Christopher Nolan’s ‘Tenet’ is James Bond by way of a Rubik’s Cube – USA TODAY

Published 8:00 a.m. ET Sept. 3, 2020


Watch the trailer for director Christopher Nolan’s new movie, “Tenet.”


Remember the Rubik’s Cube in the 1980s? That puzzling toy was challenging enough. Then came Rubik’s Snake, then Rubik’s Magic, and meanwhile it’s like, “Whoa, I’m still trying to solve the cube thing!”

This is the experience of watching writer/director Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi action thriller “Tenet” (★★½ out of four; rated PG-13; nationwide Thursday where theaters are open), the latest from the auteur of the brilliant “Inception” that’s both utterly dazzling and increasingly bewildering.

Since we are in a pandemic and this is the biggest movie to date since our big-screen entertainment went kablooey, consider seeing it at a drive-in and take safety precautions at indoor theaters. If you’re not feeling up to it yet, that’s OK, too – you have plenty of time to do a ton of physics homework that might help navigate what is essentially a very complicated James Bond movie.

‘Inception’ turns 10: The five most mind-blowing scenes in Christopher Nolan’s innovative thriller

‘Tenet’ first reactions: Critics give Christopher Nolan’s film mixed reviews, from ‘beautiful’ to ‘humorless’

The globetrotting spy film covers some familiar bases – albeit with Nolan’s signature epic vision – starting with the far-flung locales, from the coast of Vietnam to an abandoned Russian town to an opera house in Kiev, where “Tenet” opens with a white-knuckle mission and a test for The Protagonist (a sensational John David Washington). A new recruit to a super-duper secret organization, our hero goes unnamed because he is the audience’s point of view as we all get a crash course on time inversion. (It’s not time “travel” per se in Nolan’s cinematic science, it’s more about the connection between how some things move forward and others – thanks, entropy! – move backward.)

There’s a megalomaniacal Russian oligarch, Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh), who’s got machinations leading to the proverbial end of the world (but existentially way worse). To stop him, The Protagonist worms his way into the supervillain’s circle by getting to know the bad guy’s abused wife, Kat (Elizabeth Debicki). And The Protagonist gets help learning the ins and outs of inversion from his mysterious new partner, Neil (Robert Pattinson).

No one does a wowing action extravaganza like Nolan, and he manages to up his game yet again. There’s a hallway brawl featuring foes moving in and out of time that’s just as insanely enjoyable as his “Inception” fight sequences, cars race and flip forward and backward in an extended chase, and a 747 is purposefully crashed into a building to steal a painting. Overkill? Nah, sublime.

When these eye-popping moments happen, however, you might be too busy trying to put the more confusing aspects of “Tenet” together to enjoy them fully. The mystifying stuff does tend to pile up. “Don’t try to understand it. Just feel it,” one character advises, which is easier said than done because part of what makes Nolan’s movies so enjoyable is there’s always something neat to chew on. However, with no tasty nougat, you’re chewing just to chew, and there’s not enough underlying story or explanatory exposition to fully satisfy.

The most exciting gift we do get is Washington in all his charismatic cool, continuing to impress and build on his strong work in Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman.” The Protagonist might be the closest we’ll ever get to an American 007: A sneering Sator asks him if he has slept with his wife, and Washington’s unfazed operative simply says: “No. Well, not yet.” It’s also fun to see him working beside Pattinson, who exudes a more Bondian suaveness. Sometimes one’s the sidekick, sometimes it’s the other, though they fit together naturally no matter what’s going on in the usually explosive proceedings.

With its innovative splendor and ambition, “Tenet” aims for mind-blowing. What results instead, however, is a little brain-breaking and quite head-scratching.


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reMarkable Review

reMarkable 2 review: an ambitious attempt at replacing paper – The Verge

The pen, as the saying goes, is mightier than the sword. And modern computers, apparently: despite the leaps and bounds of technology, with tablet styluses and Wacom digitizers, ordinary pen and paper has survived to this day. But the $399 reMarkable 2 — the company’s new second-generation E Ink tablet — looks to challenge that assumption, offering an updated design, improved specs, and a better pen to try and give the centuries-old technology of paper some new digital flair.

The original reMarkable was a unique device: a massive E Ink panel with a unique pen and the ambitious goal of killing traditional paper. It fell short in a few key respects, with the first-generation E Ink display unable to match the speed and reliability of paper.

The company has made some admirable progress in refining the design for the second-generation model. Almost every facet of the device has been improved on. The reMarkable 2 is 30 percent thinner than the original, with slimmer bezels — at 0.19 inches thick, it’s actually the thinnest tablet on the market.

It charges over a modernized for faster charging and file transfers USB-C port. There’s twice the RAM, a faster processor, and a battery that lasts nearly three times as long. And the design itself is just plain nicer, with the plastic frame replaced by aluminium and frosted glass — it’s much more befitting of the reMarkable’s premium price.

The new model is slightly heavier at 0.89 pounds (about twice as much as standard yellow legal pad), but it’s the good kind of weight, one that makes the new model feel sturdier in your hand and on your lap when you’re using it.

The reMarkable 2 also offers big improvements to the actual writing experience for the E Ink panel. While the second-generation 10.3-inch Canvas display is the same size and 226 DPI resolution as the original model, the panel itself is now layered with actual glass (instead of plexiglass), making it a stiffer writing surface that doesn’t flex as much under your pen.

Latency has also been reduced by nearly half: the reMarkable 2 offers a 21ms latency for writing — fixing the biggest issue on the original model. It’s a huge improvement, one that makes writing on the reMarkable feel nearly as fast as using a regular pen and paper. It’s not quite as low as Apple or Samsung reach with their stylus’ and tablets, but unless you compare them side by side, you won’t have an issue with the reMarkable’s latency.

The second-gen tablet also reduces the gap between the display and the E Ink layer underneath, which further helps support the illusion that you’re actually writing with real ink. There’s still no backlight, though, which feels like an odd miss.

The reMarkable 2 still maintains the best trick from its predecessor, though: a textured writing surface that works in combination with the custom-designed pens to replicate the tactile sensation of writing with an actual pen and paper. You can actually hear the pen scratching away as you write — a sort of dry, rasping sound that mimics using a Sharpie or fountain pen. (“Scratching away” is meant literally — as with the first-generation model, the pen tips will eventually wear down over time and have to be replaced.) The new pens are also twice as pressure sensitive as the original model, with 4096 levels of pressure sensitivity.

The software on the reMarkable 2 is virtually unchanged from the 2.0 software that the company released for the original tablet last year, although the improved specs help here, making loading ePubs and documents or sharing notes faster than on the original model. I still encountered several-second wait times when trying to load larger ebooks or convert handwriting heavy documents, though.

In addition to drawing and note-taking, reMarkable also supports reading and annotating both PDFs and ePub ebooks, which can be synced through a companion desktop or mobile application. Drawings (or annotated files) can then be shared from the tablet as a PDF, PNG, or SVG file through email. There’s also a Pocket-like Google Chrome extension that can send articles (either as purely text documents or “printed” PDFs) directly to your reMarkable for reading. Lastly, there’s a handwriting recognition service that can analyze your written notes and convert them to editable text, which managed to serviceably convert even my chicken-scratch handwriting.

But that short list of features encompasses the entirety of what the reMarkable can do: draw, write, read, and share.

According to reMarkable, that rather limited list of features is an intentional design choice. The company argues that the goal of the tablet is to offer a more advanced version of traditional paper — one that’s unbound by limits of physical space and more easily shared in a digital age — but without weighing down the experience with the distractions and temptations of a full-fledged tablet.

The reMarkable 2 wants to be for writing what a Kindle is for reading: a bespoke device that’s the master of its digitized domain, instead of a jack-of-all-trade device like an iPad or Android tablet.

Unfortunately, while the new model is $200 cheaper than the original, at $399 — plus $49 for the basic, eraser-less pen and $69 for a case — it’s still a hefty price to pay for a nicer writing surface and less distractions.

The reason that the Kindle works as a unitasking device is that it starts at about $80 (before factoring in Amazon’s frequent sales). It’s cheap enough to justify its more limited and focused featureset. The $399 reMarkable, on the other hand, is actually more expensive than a far more functional $329 iPad, which leaves it as a luxury device for the few who can justify spending more on a marginally nicer writing experience, rather than a true paper replacement for the digital age.

As a piece of hardware, the reMarkable 2 is a fantastic improvement over the original. The improvements to the pen and overall writing experience combined with the already excellent E Ink panel make writing with the reMarkable 2 the best digital replacement for paper yet. And fans of the first one — be it for the tactile writing, the distraction-free option, or the crisp E Ink display — will find a lot to like here.

But the high price tag and limited features still don’t make a case for why a digital version of paper should exist in a world where tablets have already long since surpassed their analogue counterparts. The reMarkable 2 is a convincing digital evolution of paper. But why be paper when you could be a whole computer instead?

Photography by Chaim Gartenberg / The Verge

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Netflix Review

Fear City review: How Netflix’s new mafia documentary failed –

Rudy Giuliani, wearing a navy suit with a flag pinned to its lapel, sits in a glassy conference room talking to a camera. “I was a tough kid. I was a boxer. I was taught not to be afraid of anything,” he says. “Could I have been a wise guy? Sure I could have. But in the ’70s, I became an assistant US attorney.”

Surprisingly, he’s not in a campaign ad. Giuliani is a major and exalted figure in Sam Hobkinson’s Fear City: New York vs. the Mafia, a new three-episode documentary series on Netflix. Of course he is. Giuliani, after all, had a large role in the legal strategy that helped law enforcement break the stranglehold that five major mafia families had on the economy and culture of New York City in the 1980s. It would be weird to make a documentary about the era without including him in it.

But Rudy Giuliani circa 2020 is not the same cultural figure he was back then. Nor is, for that matter, Donald Trump, whose connections to the mob in that era and apparent adoption of mob-like tactics are no secret. Fear City — a true crime tale for the “law and order” crowd, laced with nostalgia for the good ol’ days — pulls off some wild feats of lazy filmmaking in its storytelling. And the wildest of them all might be an almost complete absence of any acknowledgment that the past is barely in the past, when it comes to this topic.

Imagine making a documentary in 2020 about New York City, the mafia, and the 1970s and ’80s with only the thinnest possible reference to the current president of the United States — who, whatever you think of him, is a thoroughly relevant character. (The thin reference in this series comes at the beginning of the third episode, when someone says that if you were a real estate developer in New York in the 1980s, you had to deal with the mob. Fear City shows a few images of Trump while mentioning Trump Tower as a major development from a major developer, and plays a bit of a tape where a mobster mentions him. Okay, but: How did Trump deal with the mob? To what extent? Were his actions criminal? Don’t hold out for an answer. Fear City has already moved on.)

Or contemplate the decision-making that goes into including Giuliani — Trump’s future lawyer — as a pervasive presence and primary subject, alongside the New York attorneys and FBI agents he worked with, nearly all of whom are interviewed in similarly glossy settings, with everyone giving uninterrogated accounts as the film’s most reliable narrators. The more colorful former mobsters’ voices (mostly guys who did time or became states’ witnesses) become less significant once Giuliani and co. enter the picture — a working title for Fear City could well have been How Rudy Saved New York City from the Bad Guys: And That’s Why Law Enforcement Is Good. I had to scan the credits to confirm the series wasn’t funded by the Department of Justice.

Others can better speak than I to the historical veracity of Fear City. Was RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act), the congressional act that gave law enforcement the ammunition they needed to finally indict mob bosses, as unambiguously good as the film makes it seem? How well does the way that former mobsters and FBI agents characterize those years of cat-and-mousing each other hold up against history? I have no idea, but its lack of voices outside of those directly involved in the cases leaves me skeptical.

Michael Franzese, who was a member of the Columbo crime family.

I’m not here to quibble with Fear City on the level of facts, though, or even politics; what struck me was how bad it is as a documentary.

Fear City is shallow, toothless, and dull

It’s a boring choice to tell a story like this from the point of view of the FBI agents. Their perspective is well trodden in TV and movies. And New York’s relationship to the mob is not exactly hidden history.

It’s also crushingly dull to adopt the official narrative about what New York was like back then as the film’s de facto worldview, proposed in (unfortunately punctuated) on-screen text at the start of the first episode:

1970’s NEW YORK


That’s not entirely wrong, of course. New York was in rough shape in the 1970s, and nearly bankrupt.

But if there was anything else going on in New York at the time, you wouldn’t know it from Fear City, which provides little, if any, context. Nor would you know how ordinary New Yorkers were really affected by the state of things, except through the words of the mobsters and the FBI agents interviewed in the film.

There’s plenty of talk of the mafia’s control over unions, but no former union workers appear to talk about it. We hear stories about grocery store owners being exploited, but never hear from the actual grocery store owners. And women don’t seem to exist in this world at all. (Very few women speak throughout the entire series; the most interesting female voice is former FBI agent Charlotte Lang, who was the sole woman agent on the mob-busting team, and she only appears halfway through the third episode. Fear City would have been far more compelling if it had reoriented itself around her.)

What we get with Fear City isn’t “New York vs the mafia,” as the subtitle promises; it’s “the FBI and the District Attorney’s Office vs the mafia,” which boils down to a lot of talking about the specific ways bosses got bugged and doesn’t offer much of a sense of how New York was caught up in it all.

But the worst sin Fear City may commit is being … tedious? Something as pulpy and cinematic as cops chasing criminals should be loaded with juicy stories. Fear City somehow manages to both be far too simplistic and utterly lost in its own weeds. Watching it made me feel like an interloper in a conversation a bunch of guys were having as they relived their glory days to one another, only to realize 10 minutes in that none of them were particularly good storytellers. The film spends a lot of time talking about bugging the mafia, which is interesting enough at first, but then it goes on … and on … and on … and just when you think it’s finally moving on to a new topic, it goes back.

Former FBI special agent Joe Cantamessa in Fear City: New York vs. the Mafia.

Documentarians can only work with the facts they have available, of course. But they make choices, just like other filmmakers, about what goes into their film and what doesn’t. They pick the voices they believe are important and leave out the ones that don’t matter, and they adopt narratives and choose which facts to use to tell their story.

The story told in Fear City is ultimately about heroic law enforcement and attorneys pursuing the mafia. It’s also about how glamorous and fun it was to be in the mafia. (Drinking Champagne comes up frequently.) It is emphatically not about what factors led to organized criminals becoming so powerful in New York.

It’s not about what kind of men were attracted to the mob, and why. Nor is it interested in the ethics of spying on civilians suspected of criminal activity, or curious about why women were so consistently sidelined (a question mob-movie godfather Martin Scorsese explored just last year in his film The Irishman). It is only glancingly concerned with why someone — like, say, Rudy Giuliani — would decide not to be a “wise guy” and instead become an attorney. (In part, it seems he, and others, hated what the mafia had done to Italian American communities, which would have been another great thread to tug on.)

Fear City is also not about why this particular moment in history matters, other than its potential for entertainment value (if you are very interested in the mechanics of placing a bug or the construction of legal strategies). But you don’t tell a story like this for no reason. At the end of Fear City, the film halfheartedly notes where some of its interviewees landed: jail and state’s witness status for the mob guys, mayor of New York for Giuliani, no note of the other agents and lawyers.

Then it turns ominous. The last scene is archival footage of a newscaster wrapping up the story by saying, “Who will the next generation of bosses be, and what kind of shadowy crime games will they play?” The footage cuts to a shot of lower Manhattan, with the Twin Towers prominent. We go to credits.

You can take away any number of messages from that directorial choice, but Occam’s razor suggests it’s a link between what we all know happened to the Twin Towers and how Giuliani brought down the mafia. Giuliani has long made political use of his governance during 9/11 and its aftermath, particularly since becoming President Donald Trump’s attorney in 2018 — something Fear City does not mention at all (again, seems relevant!).

No matter: The link is established. Fear City plays best as an extended attempt to remind us that the good guys were the good guys and Giuliani was the smartest guy in the room, no matter what he’s up to these days. It is not interested in how the mafia’s presence in New York shaped the city’s future, or what the events of the past reveal about the twisted present; it’s not interested in New York. It’s a reinforcement of accepted ideas, not a probing of history.

Sure, there’s a place in the world for uncomplicated nostalgia for the old days. But it should never be as vapid, or dull, as Fear City.

Fear City is streaming on Netflix.

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OnePlus Review

OnePlus Buds review: cheap AirPods for OnePlus phones – The Verge

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OnePlus has been making excellent earbuds for years now, and today, the company is introducing its first true wireless pair. The aggressively priced $79 OnePlus Buds have an AirPod-like rigid design that’s all hard plastic — marking a shift away from the Bullets, Bullets Wireless 2, and other OnePlus earbuds that used silicone tips for a sealed-off, in-ear fit.

The OnePlus Buds require a OnePlus phone if you want to get the most from them, so these really won’t appeal to owners of other Android devices. You won’t get features like wireless charging or noise cancellation at a price this low, but if you’ve found yourself envious of Apple’s AirPods and don’t like how in-ear earbuds feel, it’s hard to beat the value factor here. The OnePlus Buds have strong battery life, decent sound, and a stable wireless connection. They’re available in white and gray in the US, with the divisive blue / green combo reserved for international markets. I think it looks very toy-like, but such a bold color option might be a breath of fresh air to some.

The reality is that a one-size-fits-most approach — OnePlus calls it a “half in-ear” design — is always going to leave some people out of luck. I’ve never enjoyed how regular AirPods feel in my ears; they’re not particularly stable, and for all the praise they receive for all-day comfort, my ears don’t seem well-suited for them.

The OnePlus Buds haven’t fared much better. When in my ears, I found that they held in place just fine while I was seated or walking around. But if I tried to run with them, they’d eventually get jostled loose. Other people I let try them on told me that they felt just as snug as AirPods and they’d have no hesitation working out while wearing them, so this comes down to your ear shape.

A person wearing the OnePlus Buds earbuds.

At a distance, the OnePlus Buds look a lot like Apple’s standard AirPods.

As for why OnePlus went this route, the company gave me this explanation:

Half in-ear buds are generally more comfortable for more people, so we wanted to make the OnePlus Buds more friendly for a wider range of users, especially users who are looking for their first truly wireless earphones. We do understand that different people have different preferences, so we will continue to listen to user feedback for future products. Our goal is always to provide a great balance between high-quality sound, fast charging, comfort, and a reasonable price.

Like with AirPods, the open-air design of the OnePlus Buds will limit their sound potential. You’re going to hear a whole lot of the world around you, and there’s no avoiding that without cranking the volume to a potentially uncomfortable and possibly unsafe level. OnePlus says it tuned the earbuds to boost bass, but without an in-ear seal, the result still falls short of the low-end oomph you’ll hear from the Bullets Wireless 2 neckband earbuds or our top true wireless picks.

If you can live with that, the sound they produce has a pleasantly wide soundstage; Phoebe Bridgers’ “Graceland Too” shines with ample separation for the acoustic instruments and harmonies. But other tracks like The Weeknd’s enduring “Blinding Lights” sound hollow without that full seal. The OnePlus Buds will do the job for casual, through-the-day listening but if you want more powerful bass and better noise isolation, you’ll have to spend a bit more money. OnePlus supports SBC and AAC codecs with the Buds; the company went with a non-Qualcomm chipset inside, so it couldn’t use higher-quality codecs like apt-X HD. (You’re not going to be able to tell any difference between codecs with this open style of earbud anyway.)

A close-up photo of the OnePlus earbuds in a person’s hand.

The OnePlus Buds feature a hard plastic, one-size-fits-most design.

The charging case looks like a squished, squatter version of the Pixel Buds case. OnePlus claims it worked for around 90 days to perfect the case’s matte texture. I like the end result, and matte always wins over glossy — especially in the dog days of summer. Take note, Samsung. (The earbuds themselves are glossy, however.) The Buds can reach up to seven hours of continuous battery life, and the case has enough juice to get you to around 30 hours of total listening time.

During my time testing the OnePlus Buds so far, I’ve been unable to do much with the tap controls on each side. There’s no way to pause music with the earbuds right now; all you can do is double-tap to skip to the next song or hold down for three seconds to switch between synced devices. More customization is on the way, thankfully: by the time these start shipping at the end of July, OnePlus will roll out a software update to its phones that will allow you to choose your preferred action for a double-tap so you can pause, activate Google Assistant, or go back to the last song instead of always skipping forward. It’s a bit strange that the controls are so limited out of the box — and this is why you should avoid the OnePlus Buds if you’ve got a different Android phone — but at least a fix is coming.

A side profile shot of the OnePlus Buds that shows the circular tap area for controls.

The “CD-like” outer circle is a design touch from previous OnePlus earbuds.

You can’t deny their AirPodish looks, but the OnePlus Buds benefit from those long stems. Each bud has three mics — at the top, middle, and bottom — and runs some noise-reduction algorithms to help people hear you more clearly on calls. Everyone I called while wearing the OnePlus Buds was able to hear me without any issue. The company is also touting extremely low latency between the earbuds and OnePlus phones when in game / fanatic mode, which should help them keep up with all of the action on-screen.

They lack wireless charging, but the OnePlus Buds do pack some frills despite the low price: they’re rated IPX4 water resistant, so they can withstand sweat and some splashes of water. They’ll automatically pause music when one earbud is removed, and they also support Android’s Fast Pair feature, which ties them to your Google account, shows battery levels for the buds and case, and lets you find a misplaced earbud by playing a sound. Unfortunately, you can’t use either of the earbuds standalone for audio or making calls, and they can only pair to one device at a time.

A photo of the white and blue/green OnePlus Buds.

The blue color option won’t be for everyone, but it most definitely stands out.

I think future OnePlus true wireless earbuds will put a bigger emphasis on sound and have a design more in line with the company’s Bullets series. But with the OnePlus Buds, the focus was clearly trying to come up with a cheaper version of AirPods for OnePlus customers. You’re getting a very solid set of earbuds for that $79 — if the fit is right.

Photography by Chris Welch / The Verge

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Review WIRED

LG’s CX OLED TV Review: Pretty and Expensive | WIRED – WIRED

Most new TVs are very good. So good I have a hard time telling friends, family, and readers to spend more than a thousand dollars on any of them.

That’s because you can easily get a fantastic TV capable of delivering the best picture quality that Amazon, Netflix, or Disney+ have to offer—like 4K resolution and Dolby Vision HDR—for so much less. That even includes top-tier “local” backlighting for deeper blacks and quantum dots for brighter colors. And yet, each year when the first LG OLED arrives, I’m forced to rethink this value-based position.

The LG CX (pronounced “C-10”) is that amazing. From class-leading picture quality to great features for gamers, this is the aspirational TV worth shelling money out for. But the needle hasn’t moved much from the company’s 2019 models—they might be better buys since you can catch them at a lower price.

In Your House

Photograph: LG

Instructions for unboxing and setup are easy to follow but be warned: when you put the CX on the stand the first time, you’ll likely think you’re ruining a multi-thousand dollar TV. You can feel the screen bending slightly when you move it face-down to screw in the base. It’s nothing to worry about though. In my few years dealing with LG’s paper-thin TVs, I’ve yet to have an issue. But if I was going to wall-mount one, I’d probably hire a professional.

Once it’s out, take a minute to marvel. “So thin you’ll be scared of it,” is how I’ve come to describe the CX to friends and family. A two-inch-thick base tapers to a few mere millimeters about a third of the way up from the included stand on the 65-inch model I tested.

Ports, connections, and power are all pretty standard for a modern flatscreen. You get four HDMI 2.1 ports, three USB ports, RF, Ethernet, and composite audio and video inputs (nice for older game systems). On the output side, it’s got optical and 3.5 mm audio outs.

Like all LG TVs, the CX features the company’s own smart operating system, webOS. I still prefer the slightly easier to navigate interface of Roku TVs, like on the TCL 6 Series (9/10, WIRED Recommends), but what’s here works just fine. It was easy to find and organize my favorite streaming apps, and each ran flawlessly.

The best thing about using the LG interface? The included smart remote, which acts like a Nintendo Wiimote for a cursor on screen. It makes typing in usernames and passwords—aka the bane of my existence—much faster.

Movie Madness

I’ve been binging a lot of old favorites recently, so the first thing I popped on was an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer on DVD. Even when optimizing 480p video, the CX showcased how much better dark scenes can look over a standard, LED-backlit model.

It’s all thanks to the OLED technology. OLED TVs aren’t “normal” LED-backlit TVs. Instead, each pixel is filled with an organic material that’s able to act as its own backlight when prodded with electrical currents. So when an image is black on the screen, there is absolutely no light emitted by the pixels, as opposed to LED backlighting that’s always on, to some extent or another, with non-OLED TVs. Such “true” blacks create astonishing contrast, making for some of the most lifelike images possible.

The first time you’ll truly realize the power of LG’s awesome screen technology is when you watch something in 4K with High Dynamic Range (HDR). The CX supports both the HDR10 and Dolby Vision HDR standards, which means you’ll get the most from every house-made show on Netflix, Amazon, and elsewhere, and many new-release movies.

But regardless of what format you watch, the contrast on the CX is shockingly good, as are the colors. Super bright reds, greens, and blues juxtapose themselves alongside insanely realistic shadows, creating some of the most lifelike images you’re likely to get at home. I especially like the new filmmaker mode, which turns off motion smoothing automatically. There are a ton of other picture modes to mess with and try—each of them looks good, but I’d stick to cinema mode or filmmaker mode if you’re watching TV and movies more than gaming.

I don’t usually mention this on most TV reviews, given how good streaming quality currently is, but the CX is one model where it might be worthwhile to buy a 4K Blu-ray player and discs as 4K Blu-ray offers even higher bitrate video, which means better image quality.

Photograph: LG

Both this year’s CX and last year’s B9 support Nvidia G-sync, which makes games look super smooth for those with PCs powered by Nvidia graphics cards. The CX now also supports AMD FreeSync, for those with AMD cards. It’s nice to have both major standards included.

In terms of image, LG has upgraded the processor inside the CX for 2020, but I can’t really tell the difference between this and last year’s LG OLED models without them side by side. I’m sure they’ve made it slightly better, but the B9 looked so good, it’s just that hard to tell.

I always hesitate to even mention built-in TV speakers, because we here at WIRED are so convinced that you should buy a soundbar. I don’t think it’s worth criticizing LG for the entire industry’s problem, but I will say that the CX’s speakers—like 99 percent of TV speakers—sound pretty bad. Don’t use them.

That brings me to perhaps the best thing LG has done with the CX: made it in a smaller size. OLED TVs have extremely low latency, which makes them great for high-end PC gamers. That makes the newly minted 48-inch option for the CX OLED an awesome option for gamers who want a TV that also doubles as a computer screen. It’s also great for folks like my Dad, who have smaller TV cabinets designed for pre-flatscreen sizes.

Worth the Upgrade?

The crux of my problem with this year’s LG OLED line is that last year’s models are still amazing. It’s a tough problem to have: LG has done its best to make a better version of what came before, but what came before was so good that it doesn’t really matter. Once you get to TVs this nice, the visual burden falls on the sheer quality of the content, not the TV.

In fact, unless you’re after the new 48-inch model or have an AMD-powered video card on your PC, it makes much more sense to save money and buy an OLED from LG’s 2019 lineup. The CX starts at a cheaper price than last year’s C9 OLEDs did, but you can still snag a C9 or B9 OLED for cheaper, and you probably won’t be able to tell the difference.

But when those deals run out, when the CX’s price dips a little bit, I don’t consider it foolish to buy the CX if you’re a video nerd. It’s a truly remarkable TV, and the best high-end TV for most people. It’s one of the only models that definitely looks much better than what you can buy for less than $1,000.

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Awesome Review

LG CX OLED TV review: Awesome picture, high price – CNET

Side-by-side with last year’s cheaper model it’s tough to tell the difference.
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Bloods' Review

‘Da 5 Bloods’ review: Spike Lee’s gutsy Vietnam film has year’s best acting – New York Post

June 11, 2020 | 10:59am | Updated June 11, 2020 | 11:55am

Running time: 154 minutes. Rated R (strong violence, grisly images and pervasive language).

Spike Lee’s gutsy new Netflix drama, “Da 5 Bloods,” sets you up and knocks you down.

After kicking off with archival footage of a suffering world during the Vietnam War, the Oscar winner has four black men in their sixties meet up for a happy present-day reunion at a hotel in Ho Chi Minh City.

The buds — called the “Bloods” — are back to their former battlefield, we learn, to retrieve the remains of the fifth “Blood,” Stormin’ Norman (“Black Panther” star Chadwick Boseman, in flashback).

So, this must be Lee’s reckoning-with-’Nam film, you think. Movies about older men confronting the ghosts of that disastrous war is a popular club, with “The Last Full Measure” and Richard Linklater’s “Last Flag Flying” among the most recent members.

But “Da 5 Bloods” is not some misty-eyed heart-tugger with Bob Dylan crooning in the background. The Bloods have not only come to Vietnam to honor their pal; they’re there to recover a treasure of Vietnamese gold they buried decades earlier. What a juicy shift.

Getting to the red meat takes some time, though. The first hour bobs along casually, establishing the men’s personalities. Otis (Clarke Peters) is a pacifist with no hard feelings toward the locals, Eddie (Norm Lewis) is the group mediator, Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) is the funnyman and Paul (Delroy Lindo) is, well, a Trump voter who wears a MAGA cap.

Isiah Whitlock Jr, Norm Lewis, Clarke Peters, Delroy Lindo and Jonathan Majors in “Da 5 Bloods.”David Lee/Netflix

By now, anybody who’s ever purchased a movie ticket should know that Lee is a director who puts his politics in your face. For my money, he’s one of the few who can do so considerately and in the service of a good story.

The plan is for Otis’ old flame Tiên (Y. Lan) and her French associate Desroche (Jean Reno) to help the men smuggle the gold into an offshore account, to bask forever in riches.

When the digging begins, your breathing ends. Like Lee did with the superb Best Picture nominee “BlacKkKlansman,” the director douses even the most euphoric moments in tension and discomfort.

Danger lurks everywhere. As the guys search for gold, you’re haunted by the thought of them stumbling on other less-welcoming metallic objects. A quick shot of two different men wandering the woods seems so long ago, you start to wonder if your nervous mind made it up.

Director Spike Lee (far left) on set with his cast.
Director Spike Lee (far left) on set with the cast of “Da 5 Bloods.”DAVID LEE/NETFLIX

The group — now joined by Paul’s son and some white activist tagalongs — becomes subsumed by greed. Instead of fulfilling their promise to Norman, to use the money to benefit their community, they all agree to keep the gold for themselves. That’s when their dream crumbles.

The acting, which up till now had been nice, suddenly switches into the year’s best so far. British actor Lindo, a Lee mainstay, delivers a one-shot, three-minute soliloquy to camera as he hikes through the forest. It’s a towering moment out of Shakespeare’s “Richard III” or August Wilson’s “Fences” that you won’t soon forget.

Peters, too, is sweet as Otis decides to stop running from his past. And it’s a thrill to see 57-year-old Lewis, who I’ve admired on Broadway for years, in his biggest film role to date.

Lee ends the movie on a political note, which makes sense, but waters down the potency of the men’s journey in a way that showing the Charlottesville, Va., attack at the end of “BlacKkKlansman” did not. Still, good for Lee for being a director of many ideas in a heartless Hollywood of sequels and franchises.

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Apple's Review

Review: Apple’s entry-level 2020 13-inch MacBook Pro is yesterday’s tech for today’s prices – AppleInsider

Since the 2017 revision, the 13-inch MacBook Pro line has been a tale of two computers, and the 2020 refresh is no exception. But, there are some interesting “updates” in the new model, that puzzle us, and make us wonder why they were made.

For this review, we’re specifically looking at the entry-level 2020 13-inch MacBook Pro with an 8th Gen 1.4GHz Core i5 processor that can Turbo Boost up to 3.9GHz (the 2020 13-inch MacBook Pro can also be configured with an 8th Gen 1.7GHz quad-core Core i7 with a Turbo Boost speed of 4.5GHz). There is a giant difference between the MacBook Pro that has the eighth-generation Intel processor, versus the tenth generation. Enough of one, in fact, that they warrant a separate examination.

While we’ll be briefly discussing the higher-end models today, we’ll be reviewing the higher-end 10th generation model a bit later as there are sufficient differences.

Not the refresh that was expected

Many users had hoped to see Apple move to a 14-inch design for the smaller MacBook Pro, adopting a similar design aesthetic as Apple had for the 15.4-inch MacBook Pro that became the 16-inch. That hasn’t — yet — come to pass and instead we got another iteration on the existing MacBook Pro design.

The refresh still has the gorgeous P3 wide color gamut Retina display, two Thunderbolt three ports on the entry-level model we’re discussing here, a headphone jack, the contested Touch Bar, and the same 720p camera that has been maligned for years.

Many things, Apple chose not to update. Wi-Fi is still only 802.11ac and not Wi-Fi 6 that the iPhone first brought to Apple products. Most devices and routers don’t support Wi-Fi 6 at the moment but for a machine destined to last for at least six years, Wi-Fi 6 should be included. At least it has Bluetooth 5, though.

The exterior looks the same, though it did increase in weight from 3.02 pounds to 3.11 pounds and thickness from .59 inches to .61 inches. This has everything to do with the new keyboard.

The 13.3-inch refresh doesn’t belie a 14-inch redesign, it just isn’t here yet. Recent rumors point to early 2021 as the timeframe for the updated aesthetic.

Apple’s Magic Keyboard

Apple has updated the keyboard design. After several false starts, Apple’s kicked its butterfly switch mechanisms to the curb in favor of Apple’s latest version of a scissor-switch design.

The previous butterfly keyboard was divisive, to say the least, but it had few staunch advocates. Between it and the Touch Bar, we believe that Apple was trying to migrate users to a more iPad-like experience for typing on the Mac. It appears to have not gone that well.

We have spoken at some length on the updated Magic Keyboard again, and again. It still has a full millimeter of key travel. It still feels more responsive to type on and not all that different from the 16-inch MacBook Pro which also has Apple’s Magic Keyboard embedded into its aluminum body.

We truly do like the feel of the updated keyboard. While the extra key travel at times makes us feel like we are slightly slower than on the previous design that we’ve been hammering away on for nearly five years, it is an improvement. It isn’t enough to cause us to trip up while typing that often, and is enough to make the keys feel more responsive when depressed.

Aside from moving to the Magic Keyboard, other changes are also notable. Specifically, Apple has included a standalone physical escape key and also returned the inverted “T” design for the arrow keys. Depending on a user’s work, these may be more impactful than a shift from the previous-gen keyboard.

Upgraded internals

We’re just going to come out and say it — we’re not impressed with the lower-end of the 13-inch MacBook Pro. While the high-end 13-inch models were improved with the tenth-generation Intel processors, the entry-level units got stuck with the same eighth-generation chips as the 2019 models.

We see the impacts of this choice in performance. Our 1.4GHz quad-core 8th-generation Intel Core i5 processor model obviously scored the same as the 2019 model with the same chip. The entry 13-inch MacBook Pro (2019) scored 942 and 3913 on the Geekbench 5.1.1 single and multi-core tests while the 2020 model earned a 948 and a 4015.

In the Cinebench R20 benchmark, the fans barely spun up, not kicking in until two thirds through the test. They were audible, but not as loud as Apple’s laptop fans used to be. Monitoring with Intel Power Gadget, the 13-inch MacBook Pro was able to maintain its clock speed without unnecessarily throttling down. In the test it scored 1588 points.

There is a degree of variance in these tests. While the 2020 13-inch MacBook Pro scores mildly higher, on average, they are identical for all intents and purposes.

Apple increased the storage capacities, thankfully. Doubling the capacities across the line. It now starts at 256GB and the low-end options can be upgraded to 2TB. Twice what they previously started at and were capped at. In terms of speed, we were averaging around 1250 megabytes per second for write speeds and 1600 megabytes per second for read speeds using the Blackmagic Disk Speed Test.

For comparison, the 16-inch MacBook Pro at just about any capacity will peak at 3150 megabytes per second read speeds, and about 2900 megabytes per second write speeds. The 2020 MacBook Air delivers about 1250 megabytes per second read, and 1000 megabytes per second write.

Memory too is the same as last year, starting at 8GB of 2133MHz LPDDR3. Graphics as well sticking around, relying on the Intel Iris Plus Graphics 645.

Entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro versus high-end

This year, more than ever, there is a distinction between the entry-level units and the upper-level units. They are physically differentiated by the number of Thunderbolt 3 ports. The entry-level has two while the upper-end has four. As we’ve mentioned, we will review the higher-end machine soon, but to give you an idea of the differences, we wanted to touch on them quickly.

The high-end units have the aforementioned tenth generation Intel chips rather than the older eighth generation. They use faster 3733MHz LPDDR4X memory, start at 16GB, and can be updated to 32GB. Internal storage can be maxed out at 4TB.

Because of those tenth generation chips, the 2020 high-end model has better graphics than the 2019 refresh, and this 2020 low-end MacBook Pro. On the high end, a 6K display such as the Pro Display XDR can be driven, with this model only able to connect to a 5K external display.

Should you buy the entry-level 13-inch 2020 MacBook Pro?

This new 13-inch MacBook Pro for 2020 is… fine. It is, in a vacuum, a solid machine. But in the ladder that is Apple’s portable Mac lineup, it is an extra rung.

The newest MacBook Air is a more enticing option versus the 13-inch MacBook Pro at the low-end. It is cheaper, slimmer, and more portable. Not to mention, the MacBook Air has those updated tenth generation Intel processors that the entry-level MacBook Pro lacks.

Users who are dead-set on picking up an entry-level MacBook Pro are buying it for a few reasons. Compared to the Air, it is very slightly more capable and does come with the Touch Bar — but if the latter is a bonus varies very much user to user. Compared to the previous-gen MacBook Pro it also has beam-forming microphones, Dolby Atmos support on tiny speakers, as well as better value with the doubled internal storage capacities.

Those aren’t inherently bad reasons to buy the machine, but the MacBook Air is a better value overall, and the high-end 13-inch MacBook Pro has more to offer.

If we weren’t comparing this to the MacBook Air, if it existed in an ideal vacuum, we’d give this machine a four out of five for its design, feature set, and performance. But with the MacBook Air in such close proximity, occupying the same market segment, the entry-level Pro doesn’t warrant more than a 3.5.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

New 2020 13″ MacBook Pro deals

Apple’s brand-new 2020 13-inch MacBook Pro is already on sale, with exclusive coupon discounts of up to $200 off, plus bonus savings on AppleCare.

If, after reading this 2020 13-inch MacBook Pro review, you want to pick up a system for yourself, check out the deals in the AppleInsider 2020 13-inch MacBook Pro Price Guide.

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