Current Mini Reviews

Hi friends! I have a very busy couple of weeks before me with D23 coming up but I thought before I leave you with another round of my mini reviews for new films out at the theaters or to stream. Here goes!

47 meters down uncaged

47 Meters Down Uncaged-

As someone who considered myself a bit of a champion for the original 47 Meters Down, this sequel in name only was a disappointment. The girls in the first were a little stupid but the shark action and the deep under water tension made for a fun ride. In this one the girls are still dumb but the cage has been replaced with tunnels and the sharks with ridiculous looking blind zombie sharks. The kills are on a Sharknado level making it all feel silly rather than tense. I was honestly bored watching it and its only 85 minutes.

2 out of 10

Frown Worthy

angel has fallen movie

Angel Has Fallen

I must admit I went to see Angel Has Fallen having not seen either of the previous films in the franchise. It seemed like I’d heard mostly bad things so I hadn’t gotten around to seeing them. That said, I had no problem understanding the plot of Angel Has Fallen. It reminded me a lot of a moderately entertaining episode of 24. Just like Jack Bauer, Gerard Butler is framed in a conspiracy to kill the president (Morgan Freeman). On the run he has to put all the pieces together, fight the bad guys and discover who the mole is feeding secrets to the bad guys. If that sounds like fun to you than you’ll probably enjoy it. If not than I would skip it. I like this kind of 90s-style action movie so I had fun watching it.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Murder Mystery

Murder Mystery

Anyone who knows me knows I am not a fan of most Adam Sandler movies. My friends like to joke that he is my movie nemesis and as bad as his feature films often were, his Netflix offerings have been even worse. The Do-Over and The Ridiculous 6 are 2 of the worst movies I’ve ever seen in my life. His new film Murder Mystery is nowhere near that level of awfulness. That said I certainly can’t recommend it.  Sandler and Jennifer Aniston star as a couple who while visiting Europe end up mixed in with a real life murder mystery situation. The problem with this movie is it’s just not funny. I don’t know if I even laughed one time. It wasn’t outright offensive like some of Sandler’s movies but instead it was bland and dull. Like many of his movies it seemed like another opportunity for him and his friends to take a fancy vacation under the disguise of making a movie with no creativity, wit or charm. It’s not the worst but definitely not worthy of your time.

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

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Otherhood-

Another recent entry from Netflix is the ’empty-nester Mom’ comedy Otherhood, which despite its terrific cast may be just as bad as Murder Mystery. In this slog of a comedy Angela Bassett, Felicity Huffman and Patricia Arquette play Moms who can’t let their grown sons lead their own lives. They are upset they are forgotten on Mother’s Day so they barge into their children’s lives. I feel like you always see middle-aged women portrayed like this in the movies, but I don’t know any Mothers who hover over their grown children like this. Sure they might press them to get married or something like that but this does not feel authentic or emotional. Sometimes the actresses can elevate the material but most of the time they all feel like caricatures not characters. Also the costume designer must hate Patricia Arquette. She looked so frumpy! It was bad, very bad.

2 out of 10

Frown Worthy

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Where’d You Go Bernadette

I’m a huge fan of writer/director Richard Linklater. I’ve loved most of his movies including Boyhood, Dazed and Confused, the Before Trilogy etc. When he’s at his best his natural way of writing and filming dialogue in long uninterrupted cuts is magical. His characters feel real and earnest which helps bond me to their journey even if it is different than anything I have experienced. I’m not sure why Linklater ended up adapting the novel Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple but the results are not great.

I must own I have read the novel, and I hated it. I found every character to be selfish and insufferable. It took me many months to finish reading it because I could only stand the characters for short stretches. The movie is a little better than the book because of Linklater’s snappy dialogue and Cate Blanchett’s  performance, but I still hated ALL the characters. The little girl is ok I guess but I didn’t even root for her. I know we are supposed to care for Bernadette and her stifled artistry but I just didn’t. She was simply too irrational and self-centered to win any sympathy from me, which made the movie tough to get through.

However, if you liked the book, you’ll probably enjoy this movie as it is very accurate. It’s just not for me!

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Who would have thought out of these movies the one I’d recommend is Angel Has Fallen? LOL. Just shows how the movies can surprise us all! If you saw any of these I’d love your thoughts in the comments.

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Current Mini Reviews

Hi friends! I hope you are doing well and enjoying the end of your summer. I have been writing a lot of reviews lately but, I still have a few films that I need to catch up on. This means it is time for one of my ‘Current Movie Reviews’ posts. If you got to see any of these films let me know what you thought of them.

Sure love ya!

apollo 11

APOLLO 11-

I was very disappointed I didn’t get to see the documentary Apollo 11 at Sundance this year but I missed it. Now catching up to it I think I prefer it more as an interesting experiment than an actual movie but it still has lots to recommend. What they do is they use archival footage, interviews, sound/video recordings merged together, to recreate the events of the Apollo 11 mission to land on the moon. They do it in a way that feels like real time including each step along the way from politicians, to training, to the accounts of the astronauts themselves. While I missed having a narrator to guide me through some of the moments it still is a fascinating documentary with a very unique approach.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

once upon a time

ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD

I honestly wasn’t going to see Quentin Tarantino’s new film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood because it didn’t interest me. It is only the 2nd Tarantino film I have seen; the first being Pulp Fiction, which I did not enjoy. I understand why other people love it but it was not for me. However, enough people wanted to know my take on Once that I decided to give it a watch. My thoughts? It was fine. It has a lot of problems but overall I think the good outweighed the bad. I loved Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio in their roles. I love the sense of time and place Tarantino evokes and much of the dialogue and recreated media from the 60s made me smile. Julia Butters from American Housewife practically steals the film as a young actress who inspires DiCaprio’s character Rick Dalton to give his best performance. What I didn’t like was the exorbitant running time, the meandering story and the long sequences of driving and walking for no purpose at all. That said, it was a fun lark but mostly forgettable if you ask me.

As for the violence, particularly at the end, it is so over the top and ridiculous it didnt bother me much but I know others will find it alarming so you’ve been warned.

6.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

scary stories

SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK

When I was in middle school I remember my friends reading the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books. Being a scary movie/book wimp they didn’t interest me, but I definitely was aware of them especially their creepy illustrations. Now director André Øvredal has made a movie version of these stories with a pg13 rating designed for teens. I am no horror pro, but I found this film to be quite entertaining. I liked the 1960s throwback. I enjoyed the teen performances and found all the horror set pieces to be quite well done and scary. It’s the kind of scary you get going through a haunted house. You know it is silly and not realistic at all but it’s done with enough style to get you and make you smile. That’s how I felt watching it. Sure there are flaws but the overall experience was fun.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE 2

I had mixed feelings about the original Angry Birds Movie. I liked the animation and some of the characters but I felt the messaging was off and the story wasn’t my favorite. Now in the sequel they have improved upon the original in most ways. The story is equally as bland but the characters are better, messaging more nuanced and the humor is way funnier. I particularly liked any of the jokes involving music. Overall, I had a good time with The Angry Birds Movie 2 because it kept me laughing throughout.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

So there you have it! I am quite the positive person on this week’s mini-review post. Smile Worthy for all of the films! Let me know what you thought about any of these films.

‘The Kitchen’ REVIEW

Since I became a critic on rottentomatoes I have been trying to diversify the films I review. I know if I want to work full-time at this someday I need to be a well-rounded critic that covers more than just family films. In general, pushing myself outside my comfort zone has been a good thing and produced many great experiences. However, occasionally I hit a dud I know was not made for me and then I have to wonder ‘was it made for anyone?’ Such is the case with the new crime drama The Kitchen.

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There are positive aspects to The Kitchen but unfortunately they are not put together in an effective way.  It honestly felt like a more brutally violent version of a Lifetime mafia movie (like the recent profile they did of Victoria Gotti called Victoria Gotti: My Father’s Daughter) rather than a gritty organized crime profile. I know I am supposed to champion this film because it stars and is made by women but it is way too problematic for me to do so.

First of all, the film cannot decide on a tone. Of course, 2 of the leads, Tiffany Haddish and Melissa McCarthy are known for their comedy, which they try to work into these more serious roles but to no avail. They and Elizabeth Moss play 3 women in the 1970’s running the Irish mafia in Hell’s Kitchen, NYC. Oddly, Moss’ character tries to be the funniest, which completely misses the mark coming across as bizarre instead of the intended dark humor. For example, a scene where we are instructed how to dispose of a dead body in the Hudson River is played for laughs while we see her severing limbs and her hands covered in blood. What on earth?

Domhnall Gleeson plays Moss’ boyfriend and is the only thing that seems remotely Irish about this supposed Irish mafia syndicate. Not a single character has an accent and our 3 leading ladies sometimes talk like they are from New York and sometimes use their normal voices, which made the whole thing feel very cheap. The Italian characters are equally lame. Cops in the 70s New York sure wished the mafia was like it was portrayed in this ridiculous movie. So instead of being immersed in a time and place we are waiting for the next brutal murder while the ladies do power walks down the street collecting money. This isn’t good storytelling! (If Don Corleone hit as many people as these women there’d be nobody left to collect the money! Give me a break).

Also the portrayal of Haddish’s character felt like something out of a blaxploitation picture like Shaft instead of a real character. Perhaps that’s what they were going for (which could be fine) but then the movie tries to be real and gritty; thereby, creating a muddled mess. For example, there’s almost no attempt to show any kind of racism against Haddish’s character, outside of her husband, which is the same domestic violence the other 2 women face with their husbands. The same is true for Common as a detective (is he always a cop these days in movies?). The Jewish characters are equally shallow and stupid. The longer the picture went on the more it felt like it had to be violent in order for it to feel relevant and edgy instead of actually having a story that is relevant and edgy.

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The sad part is the production design is nice and all 3 of the women are trying to give good performances. Unfortunately, it is in a failing enterprise with a mess of a tone and an uncompelling story. They all feel miscast, and they don’t have chemistry together, so I wasn’t rooting for any of them. I didn’t care if they got revenge or were kick-butt women in the mafia because they weren’t interesting, funny or compelling in any way. Instead, I was left sitting waiting for the next brutal murder to be over, so that I could be done with it and go home.

I guess you can confidently say this one was not for me, and I do not recommend it to anyone!

3 out of 10

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‘The Art of Racing in the Rain’ REVIEW

The Art of Racing in the Rain finishes off the trilogy of dog movies we’ve gotten this year (4 if you consider The Secret Life of Pets 2 as an entry). What a funny little trend! I wonder why man’s best friend was particularly on Hollywood’s mind in 2019? Fortunately, they are ending well as Racing is the best of the lot and a sweet little movie about family and never giving up on your dreams.

racing1Based on the novel by Garth Stein, The Art of Racing in the Rain tells the story of Denny (Milo Ventimiglia), a race car driver who adopts a little golden retriever puppy named Enzo at the beginning of the film. Enzo becomes our narrator through the film and is voiced by Kevin Costner. Some of the observations may seem a little simplistic but we have to remember they are coming from a dog, and an adorable dog to boot.

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We then get to see Denny’s life play out as he meets a teacher named Eve (Amanda Seyfriend), and they have a daughter named Zoe (Ryan Kiera Armstrong). As his family grows Denny’s dedication to racing is tested, forcing him to make choices between his career and family dreams. Seyfriend and Ventimiglia have nice chemistry and I bought their dynamic as a caring couple trying to make things work.

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A little bit harder to buy is a subplot involving Eve’s parents played by Kathy Baker (who I swear is always playing a stick in the mud in these types of movies) and Martin Donovan. It is funny that Enzo calls them ‘the twins’ but their actions seemed inconsistent with loving, caring parents and grandparents.

There’s also some interesting scenes involving fantasies Enzo has involving a toy zebra that were very strange and often came at inappropriate times. I have a feeling those segments work better in the book because in the movie it felt like Enzo was all of the sudden tripping on acid out of nowhere!

Other than that, The Art of Racing in the Rain is a sweet movie that pulls at the heartstrings with powerful messages of family, dreams and the importance of our canine friends.

7 out of 10

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‘The Peanut Butter Falcon’ REVIEW

I’ve mentioned before on this site but over the last 2 years an interesting trend in film has been the frequent portrayal of platonic male friendship, usually an unlikely friendship. We saw it with Green Book winning best picture and then films like To Dust, Papi Chulo, Missing Link and even Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Now we can add another entry to this list with the indie film The Peanut Butter Falcon.

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This film is directed and written by the team of Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz and tells the story of Zak (Zack Gottsagen) a young man with down syndrome who while stuck in a nursing home by the state dreams of becoming a professional wrestler. One day he escapes and meets a man named Tyler played by Shia LaBeouf who is on the run and a bit of a vagabond. His case worker Eleanor played by Dakota Johnson wants what’s best for him but doesn’t understand his need to be a free person outside the nursing home. We even get a fun cameo from Bruce Dern as a resident of the nursing home who helps Zak break free.

I don’t know how anyone walks away from this movie unmoved. It’s such a sweet story and the performances are from the heart. I particularly liked the chemistry between LaBeouf and Gottsagen. This is one of the first movies to hire someone with down syndrome in a lead and Gottsagen holds his own. It’s not a movie like I am Sam where the special needs characters are patronized to and treated like they have special magical powers. No, this treats Zak like anyone else to the point where he gets taken seriously as a competitor in the wrestling matches, and I got a little nervous for his safety.

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The only part that felt a little unrealistic is some of the choices Johnson’s character makes. I don’t know if she would go along with Tyler and Zak’s plan even with how it is presented to her in the narrative. I also didn’t feel much chemistry between her and LaBeouf or buy their romance. Still, the main thrust of the movie is the relationship between Tyler and Zak and that really worked.

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The Peanut Butter Falcon is also beautifully made with wonderful cinematography from Nigel Bluck. The coast between Georgia and Florida looks stunning and adds to the sense of freedom Zak must be feeling on the open sea. It’s one of those movies that captures a sense of time and place very well and we enjoy spending time with these characters.

The Peanut Butter Falcon is rated PG-13 for some wrestling action, fighting, language and Zak in his underwear for stretches but it feels like a family film. It has a lovely message with big-hearted performances from all involved. You will leave watching it wanting to be a better person and friend, which are the best kind of movies in my book. I definitely recommend hunting it down if you can.

8.5 out of 10

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‘Dora and the Lost City of Gold’ REVIEW

When I first heard about the idea of a live action film adaptation of the animated series Dora the Explorer I was skeptical. This is partly due to the poor history of live action adaptations like Smurfs and Yogi Bear (Paddington being the exception to the rule) but also because it was announced originally as a Michael Bay produced project. I am not a fan of Bay’s Transformers or TMNT produced films so that was more than enough to make me nervous. Then I heard they were aging Dora up to be teenager, and I was even more skeptical. However, I always try to keep an open mind when I see a film and to my surprise I found Dora and the Lost City of Gold to be a delightful adventure for the whole family.

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I will say I still think it was a mistake to age up Dora. Actress Isabela Moner is good in the role but it adds a layer of awkwardness that isn’t necessary or helpful to the film. There’s an innocence to her character that works with a little girl but feels uncomfortable for a teenager and it looses some of the whimsy the story would otherwise have. That said, the rest of the film works so well, I was able to accept the choice and still enjoy all the good it had to offer.

In retrospect, I should have had more confidence in the project because director James Bobin has done a great job in the past blending live action and fictional characters in subversive ways with The Muppets in 2011 (less said about Alice Through the Looking Glass the better). Also writer Nicholas Stoller has proven himself in witty, creative family films like Storks, Captain Underpants: the First Epic Movie, and The Muppets.

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Going into Dora and the Lost City of Gold I felt a good adaptation of the show would include its creative, 4th wall breaking aspect. In the television show Dora will ask the audience where the map is or what Swiper is doing and kids watching will yell back at the screen. To my delight Bobin and team actually integrate these elements into the feature film making something really unique and engaging. Dora talks to the audience and explains her worldview to us and to the other characters she’s with (this is why it would have been better if she had been a little girl)and it’s charming.

The movie takes other risks like incorporating animation in a very creative scene and little jingles Dora sings to accompany the smallest of tasks. It makes for a funny, positive, engaging script that continually surprised me. These subversive elements should entertain older teens and adults while still being sweet and charming enough for small kids.

DORA THE EXPLORER

The adventure Dora and her friends (Nicholas Coombe, Madeleine Madden, and Jeff Wahlberg) go on is also a lot of fun with booby traps that test their heart and intellect and shenanigans escaping bad guys and finding treasure. The supporting cast of adults is a bit underused but still charming with Eugenio Derbez, Michael Pena, Eva Longoria and Adrianna Barraza all giving good performances.

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The marketing for Dora and the Lost City of Gold hasn’t done a good job portraying how weird and nutty it is. They are making it look generic and bland but my party, including my friend’s 9 year old niece, all thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s a funny, odd, sweet adventure the whole family will like. It felt like a throwback to adventure movies we got in the 80s and 90s like Goonies, The Wild Thornberrys, Flight of the Navigator, Time Bandits, Adventures in Babysitting or Honey I Shrunk the Kids.  The hardest part will probably be getting audiences to give it a chance but once they do I bet they will be entertained.

What do you think about Dora and the Lost City of Gold? Did you watch the show growing up? Will you give this movie a chance?

7.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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BLIND SPOT 44: ‘TAKE SHELTER’

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This month for my blind spot pick I watched the film Take Shelter by the great indie director Jeff Nichols. I have loved to liked all of the movies from Nichols I’ve seen including Midnight Special and Mud, but I had never gotten around to seeing this unique entry from 2011.

Take Shelter tells the story of a man named Curtis played by Michael Shannon. He lives in Oklahoma, and one day he starts seeing visions of an apocalyptic storm that is attacking his family. As these dreams and visions become more alarming Curtis becomes more unglued. He becomes fixated on building a tornado shelter for his family and can’t understand why everyone in the town isn’t as concerned about the upcoming storm as he is.

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His wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) and deaf daughter Hannah (Tova Stewart) try to be supportive but struggle to understand Curtis and deal with each step of the mania. It was so nice to see Chastain as the almost ethereal mother again. She is so good at that role and we haven’t seen it in a long time (of course she will be forever remembered as the mother in The Tree of Life, which was also released in 2011).

Take Shelter definitely has a languid pacing I struggled with particularly when we weren’t in the dream sequences and it can feel repetitive (it’s pretty much just dream, mania, dream mania etc) but it also builds tension well and the performances and film-making are so good it’s hard to not recommend it. Adam Stone does a wonderful job with the cinematography leaving the viewer confused if the storms are really happening or if it is another dream.

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The movie is also a bit confused with what it is trying to say. Is it talking about mental health care? Is it talking about religion? Is it talking about family? Mania? I’m not sure to be honest, which I guess you could see as a good or bad thing depending on your taste in movies. On one hand I like the ambiguity but other moments I wanted more clarity.

All that said, I would definitely recommend watching Take Shelter for the incredible dream sequences and the great performances. It will definitely leave you thinking and there’s something to be said for that experience.

Have you seen Take Shelter? What did you think of it?

6.5 out of 10

smile worthy

 

‘Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw’ [REVIEW]

The Fast & Furious franchise has always been hit and miss for me. They seem to vacillate between an overly serious police drama to insane stunts with people leap-frogging from one building to another in a car. I much prefer the latter.

The most recent entry Fate of the Furious was a disappointment with far too little fun and too many boring scenes of people staring at screens (my greatest action movie gripe!). Now we are getting the franchise’s first spin-off film with the unwieldy title Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw. This is no doubt meant to perpetuate the franchise into new avenues but also allow feuding cast-members to make their movies in peace. So what’s the result of this new Jason Statham/The Rock vehicle? I’d say it is as unwieldy as its title but mostly a good silly time at the theater.

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I’ll spare you much of a plot summary. Basically there’s a convoluted reason that Luke Hobbs (The Rock) and Deckard Shaw (Statham) have to work together to fight a mutanized Idris Elba and help Shaw’s sister Hattie (Vanessa Kirby) clear her name and save her life. Along the way we go to London, Moscow, and Samoa with over-the-top action and lots of witty banter between the charming cast. I was particularly impressed with Kirby who holds her own in both departments.

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The film does a great job surprising the audience in ways that really paid off and had me smiling (no spoilers from me!). I also liked there wasn’t much standing around staring at screens, which is very boring. For the most part it moved effortlessly from one action set piece to the next and that kept it fun.

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Unfortunately on the downside the movie is way too long at 136 minutes and especially the extended portion in Samoa wares out its welcome. There are some major exposition dumps and the attempts to become sentimental didn’t work. Even though I know appeals to family are part of this franchise the Samoan warrior scenes came off as patronizing rather than heart-warming.

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There’s some impressive sequences in Hobbs & Shaw but also some I have seen before in other movies and the special effects were hit and miss. Sometimes within the same action scene there would be edits that looked like a tv budget and then the next edit would be really impressive. For example, there were definite moments within a fighting sequence I could tell The Rock wasn’t in Samoa but in front of a green screen. It’s harder to have fun when these type of distractions take me out of the movie.

However, I still walked away from Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw with a smile on my face, having had a good time. It’s not going to change your life but if you are looking for a silly, over-the-top entertainment with very likable leads than there is more than enough to enjoy here.

6.5 out of 10

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‘SHADOW’ REVIEW

One fact about me that might surprise people is I actually enjoy a good martial arts movie. While I wouldn’t claim to be an expert in the genre, I enjoy Jackie Chan movies like The Drunken Master, or other films like The Grandmaster or IP Man. I know these movies can be very violent but it’s so stylized and part of the choreography that it doesn’t bother me as much as other violence. The skill and craft that comes into making your body a weapon is beautiful and fascinating.

Naturally when I heard that director Zhang Yimou had a new film called Shadow, I knew I needed to see it as soon as I got the chance. Fortunately, it premiered today at the Tower Theater in Salt Lake City so I had to see it! It’s not the biggest screen in the world but it’s better than nothing! So I went to see Shadow today and to my relief the film lived up to the hype.

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Shadow tells the story of an ancient land with 2 feuding kingdoms. One is ruled by a man named Pei (Zheng Kai) and the other by a man named Yang Cang (Hu Jun). They both have generals, sisters, wives and followers to muddy the waters and bring their kingdoms into conflict. Pei, in particular, has a general named Ziyu (Deng Chao) who we learn is actually a look alike named Jingzhou (also Deng Chao), with the actual Ziyu being hidden away in a cave. Jingzhou has been trained to be Ziyu’s shadow hence the name of the movie.

I won’t give any more spoilers but there’s magnificent training sequences that take place on a giant yin/yang symbol. The cinematography of the film is incredible with a monochromatic aesthetic where sometimes the only color you see is the bright red of the blood.

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There is also a surprisingly effective love triangle between Jingzhou, Ziyu and his wife Xiao Ai (Sun Li). Most of this is done through looks and dialogue-free scenes that the actors pull off very well. In fact, it makes Shadow approachable for Western audiences because it’s all about the emotion more than the words spoken with each other. So if you are turned off by subtitles you might still want to give Shadow a try.

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The martial arts fighting is like none I’ve ever seen before (except maybe in Kungfu Panda 2 oddly enough). They use a metal umbrella made of spears in their fighting and all of these circles help reinforce the theme of yin/yang and combined with the monochromatic cinematography are quite mesmerizing. Honestly Shadow is the closest to watching a modern Kurosawa film that I’ve recently seen. It’s quiet and contemplative like his films. It’s striking like his films, and it has Shakespearean themes like his films. If you are a fan of visually dazzling films with heart than you will leave the theater awestruck by it.

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The only downside to Shadow is it can be uneven in its pacing. Particularly the first 30 minutes are a bit laborious. It gets too caught up in the diplomacy between Pei, Yang and Ziyu for its own good. Also it will take me a couple rounds to understand everything going on with the plot. Sometimes I decided to just enjoy the visuals because I wasn’t entirely clear on what was happening.

All that said, Shadow is a tremendous achievement for Zhang Yimou and a film I heartily recommend to film lovers and anyone who can tolerate a rather bloody martial arts action film. You won’t regret hunting this one down

8.5 out of 10

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