Directed by Russell Mulcahy
Distributed by The Shout! Factory
If you were a film geek growing up in the ‘90s, you probably know the marketing for The Shadow (1994) very well. And if you do, you likely have a hard time resisting the urge to say “The Shadow knows” anytime someone utters the phrase “Who knows?” I’ve been guilty of doing that for years; yet, I had never seen the film responsible for the catch phrase until just now. It’s telling that the marketing was so effective that all these years later it can still be referenced and understood by a reasonably large segment of filmgoers.
Unfortunately, that’s about all The Shadow is known for these days. The film, based on a 1930’s serial radio drama of the same name, was intended to be the launching pad for an entire franchise. When Tim Burton hit it big with Batman (1989), studios spent the next few years trying to launch any other bankable properties they owned or could buy up. Writer David Koepp, who had just done the previous year’s Jurassic Park (1993), had been hired some years earlier to pen a screenplay, finally submitting something to the studio’s liking a couple years later. The resulting film was gritty and dark before that became a go-to descriptor for nearly every superhero film made over a decade later. Koepp’s screenplay was light on levity and heavy on evil and potential world destruction. Audiences stayed away for the most part, leaving the fate of The Shadow to be a single film with no franchise to come. Sometimes time can be kind to these forgotten relics of ‘90s cinema, allowing viewers to become fans when a reassessment yields a better experience. And while that wasn’t the case for me, thanks to Shout! Factory this is the best presentation for finding out if twenty years has done anything to age it like a fine wine.
The film opens in Tibet, after WWI, and Lamont Cranston (Alec Baldwin), a former U.S. soldier, has become an evil warlord named Ying-Ko who has men murdered and rules with a thirst for blood. One day he is kidnapped by a holy man who challenges Ying-Ko to change his ways and work as a champion of retribution. Ying-Ko refuses, but when the holy man produces a flying dagger with teeth that stabs him, he has a change of heart and decides to go along with whatever the guy says. Cut to some time later and we’re introduced to The Shadow, a…well, shadowy figure who thwarts the efforts of bad guys across town and saves the innocent from the criminals. In return, all he asks is that they become his informants, aiding his fight for justice. By day, Cranston presents himself as an ostentatious socialite with only material interests. Bruce Wayne, more or less. He’s able to cloud people’s minds using a telepathic ability, which is a large part of how his secret has remained hidden.
One day Cranston meets Margot (Penelope Ann Miller), a fellow socialite who has her own mental abilities, making her able to see right through Cranston’s firewall. Concerned she might deduce his identity, he cuts things off. Meanwhile, Shiwan Khan (John Lone), a descendant of Genghis Khan, arrives in the U.S. to form an alliance with Cranston, hoping his bloodlust will return and they can destroy the world together. Cranston refuses, so Khan uses all of his resources to fight against The Shadow. He sends Margot to assassinate him, but The Shadow is able to break her mind free, in the process revealing his true identity. With that out of the way, The Shadow uses his psychic powers to locate Khan’s hidden building in downtown. Margot and her father, Dr. Reinhardt (Ian McKellen), go with him so they can neutralize the bomb Khan forced Reinhardt to help build, while The Shadow looks for Khan to finish him off.
A big problem The Shadow suffers from is a clunky script at the onset. The bulk of Koepp’s writing is good, even though the story seems even more hackneyed now than ever. The opening scene, however, sets a bizarre tone that never convincingly carried the rest of the film. It’s a little confusing how an American man somehow managed to become a warlord of Tibet, but, then, I don’t know The Shadow’s history so maybe it’s all part of the show. But then, once he’s kidnapped he decides to switch over to being good all because some holy man threatens him with a talking knife? A talking knife voiced by Frank Welker, which is admittedly pretty cool. But still, it’s very hard to buy is my point. If Ying-Ko is this ultra-evil guy with zero remorse or compassion, then his complete 180-degree turn to the good side of things is perplexing. The story would have been better served had they just established The Shadow knew evil so intimately in some other way. It’s like if Star Wars (1977) decided to show Vader turn in the first seven minutes of the movie. There would be no emotional impact. Cranston’s origin seems to be needing a film of its own, so cramming it into the film’s opening seems hurried.
Alec Baldwin is one of those actors who you think would be an obvious choice for a superhero – chiseled jaw, hirsute barrel chest, dark hair, debonair, dashing good looks, witty – but his performance here seems a little… off. It’s either his trademark brand of deadpan, acerbic wit doesn’t translate well to Cranston as a character, or he’s simply not inside his comfort zone playing such a role. Maybe Mulcahy just used all first takes? Whatever the case may be, Baldwin does a fine enough job getting by using his standard arsenal of acting weapons, though there seems to be a clear reason why he’s never gotten a superhero role since.
Also not helping matters: The Shadow himself. What is up with his ridiculous getup? Baldwin obscures his face using a latex/rubber face that appears stoic and non-expressive, making it even more apparent this guy isn’t all that into doing good and being the hero. It really is a weird choice of costume. I mean, the rest of it is perfectly fine; your standard pulpy superhero kind of stuff. But that face! It’s laughably bad.
It’s not all bad. The story is fun, with a madcap 1930’s sensibility that isn’t hokey or rote given the period. Penelope Ann Miller made for a sultry leading lady. There are some commendable FX considering this was coming on the heels of Jurassic Park and the computer-generated boom in cinema. The Shadow makes use of his namesake by showing off some neat powers, like his frequently used ability to dip back into the shadows and cloud the mind of anyone he’s with at the time. And he can do all the usual kung-fu combat that’s expected of a superhero. The fault mainly lies in the story, which starts off somewhat confusingly, then becomes superhero boilerplate until the unsatisfying conclusion. But it’s also got Jonathan Winters in it, and he rules. Ultimately, The Shadow presents concepts that could have been better utilized if this was to have franchise potential.
The Shadow was released on Blu-ray by parent studio Universal in mid-2013, less than a year before this disc was to arrive. Their picture used a VC-1 codec and was soundly considered utter crap by most who had viewed it. Edge enhancement, DNR, poor contrast, weak coloration… not much good was said. Despite the fact I’ve never seen the disc, this new release is no doubt superior in all aspects and it makes you wonder why Universal even bothered to put it out themselves. Shout! Factory has provided what is certainly an upgrade over that disc, with a 1.85:1 1080p picture that, while still unimpressive by most standards, is likely far more faithful to the source than any prior release. The image lacks in fine detail in both background and foreground elements, though facial close-ups do yield a much better level of detail than any other shots. Colors look to be well reproduced; just don’t expect much of a pop in their representation. Black levels are consistent throughout, even set against the constant steely blue hues that permeate nearly every frame of the picture. A healthy layer of grain covers the image, providing a cinematic look. The only instance of noise I noticed was the bridge rescue when we first arrive in New York. Matte work is used often for backgrounds, looking very obvious thanks to a clean image sourced from a well-preserved print. The disc includes English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 and 5.1 surround sound options. Jerry Goldsmith’s score is a sweeping, Old World-style track that sets the perfect tone for events to come. The sound of gunfire pans effortlessly between all four speakers, as does The Shadow’s disconnected voice. This track certainly makes use of the rear assembly, creating an immersive environment with good separation and fidelity. Dialogue is a bit thin, however, with some voices lacking presence in the mix. The LFE track never provides any rumbling, bombastic moments but there is a supportive low-end to give weight to the track.
This release from Shout! Factory might not be packed to the gills, but they do have one ace in the hole – participation from Alec Baldwin. The disc includes a retrospective featurette, theatrical trailer, and a still gallery.
“Looking Back at The Shadow” is a featurette that runs for 23 minutes and 44 seconds. This piece features interviews with director Russell Mulcahy, actor Alec Baldwin, writer David Koepp, actress Penelope Anne Miller, and production designer Joseph C. Nemec III. Everyone has a tale about their respective position on the film. Baldwin discusses his attraction to the material, especially since Koepp had written it. Nemec makes some interesting revelations, like the desire to shoot the film scope and in black & white, a notion quickly shot down by the studio. Everyone agrees the film was made right on the cusp of CGI breaking through, and as a result they aren’t as exciting as some other films of the era. The film’s theatrical trailer is included, as well as a photo gallery of production, behind-the-scenes, and artwork runs for 8 minutes and 16 seconds, featuring nearly 100 different images.
The Shadow knows a great many things, but one of them isn’t how to kick off a franchise. The film plays nicely as a relic of a cinematic era gone past, though it could have done better with a tighter story and a better costume. Shout!’s release is the best the film is going to enjoy for a long while, so fans would do good to snatch it up.
2 1/2 out of 5
2 out of 5
AHS: Cult Review – Clowns, Cults, Politics, and Peters
Starring Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Billie Lourd, Cheyenne Jackson, Frances Conroy, Mare Winningham, and Allison Pill
Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk
** NO SPOILERS **
It’s here. We’ve reached the end. The newest season of “American Horror Story” has ended and now we are here to provide you guys with our season review of AHS: Cult.
To start things off let me say I’m not the world’s biggest fan of “American Horror Story”. It breaks down like this: I enjoyed the absolute hell out of the first season of the series (“Murder House”), couldn’t get through “Asylum” (I know, I know, I’ve tried), dug “Coven” for what it was, really enjoyed “Freak Show”, and again I couldn’t get into “Hotel” or “Roanoke”.
That’s the story of me and “American Horror Story”. Plain And simple. But what did I think of the new seventh season of the notorious horror anthology series? Let’s find out.
Back when the seventh season of AHS was first announced (then going by the title “AHS: Election”) I was immediately intrigued by the new season because I heard it would not include any supernatural elements. Like the fourth season, “Freak Show”.
Now I’m a fan of ghosts and weird creature-men with drills for d*cks, don’t get me wrong. But the series has thus far relied almost exclusively on horrors of the supernatural variety (other than “Freak Show”) so this major change of pace was again welcomed by this guy.
Instead of vampires, aliens, and witches this season relied on terrors of the mind. Psychological fears and anxieties. The horrors man does to man. Deep issues.
Oh, and clowns. Like a lot of clowns.
But just because this new season didn’t include anything supernatural, that doesn’t mean the 11-episode season wasn’t filled with twisted visuals and horrifically disturbing acts. No, sir. This season boasted some showstoppers including S&M, gimps, and a house of horrors that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rob Zombie flick. It was all good.
But let’s backtrack a bit here.
Allow me to rundown the season’s plot for those who may be unaware. “AHS: Cult” tells the tale of a world post-election night. The literal dawn of Trump’s America. In one corner we have Sarah Paulson’s soccer mom, trying to fight through life with a series of crippling phobias (including clowns, holes, blood, and being a good person).
And in the other corner, we have Evan Peter’s angry, white (blue-haired) male, looking to seize Trump’s new position of power to bring about the end of… Actually, I want this to be a spoiler-free season review, so I’m just going to say the dude’s got big plans.
Like Manson-size plans. Let’s leave it at that.
With these two characters established, the new season then proceeds to send them spiraling into a collision course of political sabotage, intrigue, and clown-based nope, nope, nope-ing that can only end with one – or both – of them dead as Dillinger.
Overall “AHS: Cult” belonged end-to-end to Mr. Evan Peters. The young actor has continued to show his striking range from season to season of Ryan Murphy’s horror show and this season was no different. Peters’ turn as not only Kai, the blue-haired leader of the titular cult, but as infamous leaders such as David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Charles Manson – to name a few – owed this season.
I can only hope he doesn’t pull a Jessica Lange and opt-out of more AHS next year.
Speaking of top performances, “AHS: Cult ” showcases some other chilling and memorable turns with Alison Pill’s strangely vulnerable, put-upon wife character being the best next to Peters in my eyes. This actress needs to be in more films/TV!
Along with Pill, actress Billie Lourd killed it time and time again. The “Scream Queens” breakout star and Carrie Fisher spawn was yet again a highlight in her second Ryan Murphy series. Bet she has the starring role in next season. Mark my words.
Add to that, the season also boasts a handful of fun cameos, including John Carroll Lynch’s return as Twisty the Clown, Emma Roberts as a bitchy reporter that will do anything to end up on top, and Lena Dunham as SCUM Manifesto writer Valerie Solanas. The cameo cast killed it and I wish they would have been present for more episodes. What are you gonna do?
On the sour side of the season, I didn’t dig Sarah Paulson’s character. At all. But I’m sure that was the point. Right? I’m still not sure. But, boy, I wouldn’t even want to be stuck in line behind her at a Starbucks for three minutes, let alone spend the better part of this season’s 11-hours with her and her whiny bullshite. Urgh.
That said, she pulled it out by the finale. That’s all I’ll say.
In the end, I enjoyed this season as much as – if not more – than any other of the series. “Murder House” will still no doubt go on as my favorite season of the series, but “AHS: Cult” will rank third after season one and “Freak Show”.
While I was on the fence about the season after three episodes, the show ended up ditching Paulson’s character (and/or shifting her arch) after a lull so the episodes picked up quickly. Whenever the season turned its focus back towards Peters (in whichever incarnation he was playing at the time) the show got better and better. Every time.
Not a bad way to spend my Tuesday night for the past 11 weeks.
Bring on season 12.
The seventh season of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story was Evan Peters’ show all the way through. The young actor pulled out all the stops time and time again to make what may have been a lackluster supernatural-free season a winner.
The Axiom Review – A Stylish and Clever Slice of Independent Horror
Starring Hattie Smith, Zac Titus, Nicole Dambro
Directed by Nicholas Woods
The Axiom is an ambitious, well directed, impressively acted and stunningly shot independent horror film that has just a few, teensy little flaws holding it back from greatness (and therefore will have to settle for just being really, really good, instead).
The first thing you realize when watching The Axiom is that this is a beautiful film. Everything is framed and shot in a lush and stylish manner, but one which is always tonally appropriate for the scene.
The second thing you’ll notice, and keep noticing as the film plays out, is that the movie really struck gold with this cast. Not only is there a total lack of the sort of stilted and unnatural acting seen in countless other microbudget horror affairs, but the performances are genuinely fantastic across the board. The main characters are believably chill and relatably normal in the early scenes, and the acting remains just as impressive once things start getting a bit more… intense. It’s not often that an independent horror film has so many good performances that it makes it hard to pick the movie’s acting VIP, but that is undeniably the case here. Taylor Flowers delivers what is probably the showiest performance (and does it very well, indeed), but the entire cast really is quite good.
The central premise of the film is both interesting and original, and touches upon the real life fact (given some recent attention in the ‘Missing 411’ books and documentary) that a lot more people sure seem to go missing out in the woods than seems reasonable, while simultaneously weaving all sorts of folklore, fairy tales and urban legends into the mix. It’s also clever in the way that it very naturally reveals aspects to the relationships between characters that serve to later – or sometimes retroactively – explain some of the more questionable decisions they make or attitudes they display. While that may sound like screenwriting 101, it’s surprising how many films fail to do this. The Axiom rewards the viewer’s attention in other ways as well, with many aspects of the movie that initially feel odd or unnatural receiving reasonable explanations (within the context of the movie) by the end. It’s not quite as challenging (or as rewarding) in this regard as, say, something like Session 9, but it does add a nice layer of complexity to the storytelling.
The film’s score, by Leo Kaliski, is also quite good. There may be a moment here or there where the music hits an overly familiar beat, but overall it not only fits the movie’s tone, but does quite a bit to help set that tone as well.
The only thing that I don’t feel the movie quite pulls off – and I’m trying to be vague here, because I feel like the less you know going into this film, the better – is some of the makeup effects work. The gore stuff is very well executed, but some of the other stuff feels like it was crafted with the intention of shooting it in a more… stylized manner. Instead, filmed as it is here, the result is sometimes less than impressive and can fail to make the impact that the movie seems to be implying that it should. And while some of what the makeup effects lack in execution is made up for with the ingenuity and creativity of their design, it’s still a bit of a shame when they don’t quite pull them off because, aside from a few niggles that I have with the writing, the effects are the only aspect of the film that occasionally fails to live up to the high level of technical proficiency that The Axiom otherwise demonstrates.
- Man, the acting in this movie is really good. The dialogue may stumble once or twice, but these actors always sell it anyway.
- Give back Mia Sara’s DNA, Hattie Smith!
- If you’re going to put your female lead in shorts this small, I hope you’re not sensitive to viewers unleashing a nonstop parade of “Has anyone seen my pants / OH GOD WHERE ARE MY PANTS!” jokes.
- “You just pop this here ‘Blair Witch Stick Person / Anarchy sign’ sticker up on that there windshield of yours, and them park rangers? Well – heh heh – they won’t bother you none, no sir.” Hmmmmm…
- The film really is shot amazingly well – better than a lot of mainstream releases. Cinematographer Sten Olson has a real future ahead of him.
- As does writer / director Nicholas Woods, for that matter. Any director who can get this level of quality out of their cast and crew on their first ever film is someone to keep an eye on.
- “I’ll make a run for it and get help,” says the female lead, and I’m like “Yeah, let her go – she has no pants to weigh her down.”
- The gore effects in the movie are both realized and utilized very well.
- Welcome back to horror movies, “I’ll be right back” dialogue spoken unironically by and/or to ill-fated characters.
In the end, The Axiom is a solid and entertaining flick that manages to wring a level of quality and originality out of the somewhat tired “Don’t Go in the Woods” horror subgenre not seen since 2012’s Cabin in the Woods. The cinematography and acting are hugely impressive, it features a nice, unnerving score, the premise is original and captivating, and the whole thing moves at a nice pace that helps keep the film’s flaws from dragging it down.
The Dollmaker Short Film Review – Welcome to Heebie Jeebie City!
Starring Perri Lauren, Sean Meehan, Dan Berkey
Directed by Alan Lougher
The loss of a young child drives a mother to take a set of unusual measures to preserve his memory, and all it takes is one call to The Dollmaker.
When the short film by Alan Lougher opens up, we see a rather disturbing image of a little boy inside a casket, and the sound of a grieving mom speaking with an unidentified man in the background – he’s requesting something personal of the child to help “finish” his product, and it’s not before long that mom has her little boy back…well, kind of. What remains of the child is the representation of his former self, although it’s contained within the frame of a not-so-attractive doll, and the boy’s father isn’t a believer in this type of hocus-pocus (or the price to have this constructed, either). The doll comes with a specific set of instructions, but most importantly, you cannot spend more than one hour a day with the doll, or else you’ll go mad thinking that the soul inside of it is actually the person that you lost – sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?
Well this is just too good to be true for Mommy, and as the short film progresses, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens to her mind – it’s ultimately a depressing scenario, but Lougher gives it that creepy feel, almost like visiting a relative’s home and seeing their dearly departed pet stuffed and staring at you over the fireplace – HEEBIE-JEEBIE CITY, if you ask me. All in all, the quickie is gloomy, but ultimately chilling in nature, and is most definitely worth a watch, and if I might use a quote from one of my favorite films to apply to this subject matter: “Sometimes…dead is better.”
Ultimately chilling in nature!
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