Film Review: “Shadow”

  • Starring: Chao Deng, Li Sun
  • Directed by: Zhang Yimou
  • Rated: Not Rated
  • Running Time: 1 hr 55 mins
  • Well Go USA 

The Chinese action/drama “Shadow” is one the most unique-looking films you will ever see, yet underneath its beautiful veneer is a fairly unremarkable story with a “surprising” climax that is not all that surprising. Directed by Yimou Zhang (“House of Flying Daggers,” “Hero”), “Shadow” contains almost nothing but black-and-white imagery as all of its costumes and set designs are colorless. The only exceptions are skin pigment, blood (a lot of it) and muted greens. While there is a plethora of wonderfully choreographed fight sequences, albeit nothing we haven’t seen before, it is the story that proves to be what is truly colorless.

 We are told in the beginning that for decades, the fortified city of Jingzhou was at the center of a back-and-forth conflict between the kingdoms of Yang and Pei. The latter lost Jingzhou after its Commander Ziyu (Chao Deng) lost a three-round duel to the former’s commander. A peace has settled it, but it is now threatening to unravel because the stoic Commander Ziyu, who longs for Jingzhou to be under Pei control, has agreed to a rematch. This is much to the consternation of Pei’s juvenile-acting and cowardly king, Pei Liang (Ryan Zheng, “The Great Wall”) who wails like a baby when Ziyu calmly tells him that his odds of winning are three out of ten. 

What no one realizes, except for Ziyu’s wife, Xiao Ai (Li Sun, “Fearless”) is that Ziyu has been forced to live in a cave for many years because a wound he received during his duel has taken its toll on his health. To keep up appearances, he has been using his body double named Jing (Deng) to be his proxy or shadow in the king’s court. Through the self-doubting Jing, Ziyu plans to win back Jingzhou and even claim the Pei throne for himself. However, King Pei Laing is so desperate to avoid war that he agrees to a proposal that would make his own sister a concubine for the son of Yang’s commander and thus insure peace. It ends up becoming a well-choreographed game of chess as members of the court try to maneuver themselves into a winning strategy. 

Again, visually there isn’t anything not to like about “Shadow” as it is nothing short of being a beautiful work of art worthy of hanging in a museum. The dialogue, though, is less than remarkable and the acting in its entirety is at times campy and others is just as gray as the background. Chao has the difficult task of playing two parts at the same time, but he only pulls it off a little better than Jean Claude van Damme once did. Many critics have praised the fight sequences in “Shadow,” yet there isn’t anything here that hasn’t been done a million times before since “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” which remains a far superior film, both visually and content-wise.

 “Shadow” could have redeemed itself with some sort of jaw dropping ending with an explosive climax. Unfortunately, it fails with this also as the supposed twist can be seen coming from a mile away, therefore causing it to explode with a thud rather than a bang.

Blu-ray Review “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit”

Actors: Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Branagh, Lenn Kudrjawizki
Directors: Kenneth Branagh
Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: Paramount
Release Date: June 10, 2014
Run Time: 105 minutes

Film: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Extras: 3 out of 5 stars

The character of Jack Ryan from Tom Clancy’s novels has been played by many very talented actors over the last roughly 25 years from Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck. They have all done great with the character…yes even Affleck. Chris Pine, who just revived life into the character of Captain Kirk in the reboot of the “Star Trek” franchise, is hoping to do the same with this character but fails due to an extremely bland and unoriginal story. The film is so generic that you know where every scene it going with little to no surprise around each corner. I guess we will have to wait until they decide to reboot this series yet again or finally put it to sleep.

Official Premise: The thrills are non-stop as CIA recruit Jack Ryan (Chris Pine, “Star Trek” series) is caught in a dangerous web of intrigue and espionage spun between a shadowy government agent (Kevin Costner, “Field of Dreams”), his unsuspecting fiancee (Keira Knightly, “Pirates of the Caribbean” series) and a fearless Russian power broker (Kenneth Branagh, “Thor”). Jack must quickly evolve from soldier to analyst to full-fledged operative to stop a devastating terrorist plot against the United States.

Despite, the painfulness of the film itself, Paramount delivers an phenomonal release. “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” comes as a combo pack with a Blu-ray + DVD + UltraViolet digital copy. It boasts an outstanding 1080p transfer. The film just looks stunning and very details. The real winner though for this release is easily the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track. It works perfect building the film’s tension and shakes the walls in the action scenes. The score is also highlighted so well and sounds absolutely amazing. Overall, this was very effective and quite unexpected from this film, so I give major kudos.

The special features are quite decent as well. There is a solid and quite engaging audio commentary track from director Kenneth Branagh and producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura. “Jack Ryan: The Smartest Guy in the Room” is an all-around behind-the-scenes look into the film. “Sir Kenneth Branagh: The Tsar of Shadow Recruit” focuses on the director/actor role in the film. “Jack Ryan: A Thinking Man of Action”
looks into several key action sequences. “Old Enemies Return” is a look into the film’s villains in depth. Lastly, there are a five deleted & extended scenes, as well an alternate ending all with optional commentary by Director Kenneth Branagh and Producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura.


Related Content

CD Review: “Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 – Original Game Soundtrack”

Composer: Oscar Araujo
Release Date: February 25, 2014
Number of Discs: 1
Format: Soundtrack
Label: Sumthing Else Music Works/Konami

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

“Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2” is the latest game in nearly 30 year history of “Castlevania”. It is the last game in the new trilogy from Mercury Stream, following “Lords of Shadow” and Lord of Shadows: Mirror of Fate”. Oscar Araujo has been behind the series as the composer for each of these three video games. Having listened to each of the three scores, I found this one really standing out to me personally. Now it is dark, scary, action packed and at times also very beautiful, including tracks like “The Throne Room”. Having played the game myself, I really enjoyed listening to the score after the fact and I felt that it added a lot to the game. I look forward to Araujo’s next project! A must listen for any “Castlevania” fan.

One of my main concerns with the score is that they left out one of the best tracks from the game, which was the beginning first big fight. That track was SO epic and I literally was thinking (while getting my ass kicked in the game) how amazing this it was. That wasn’t the only track missing either some of the electronic sound tracks were MIA as well. Looking back that though, this score is just a thrill to listen to and most importantly it passed by most important loop test. I also say that if I can leave an album on loop for hours at a time and do not get bored listening to it or find it repetitive then it is a winner. I literally had this album on loop for eight hours and I literally loved every single track.

Playstation 3 Game Review “Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2”

Platform: Playstation 3
Players: 1
Developer: MercurySteam
Publisher: Konami
ESRB: Mature
Release Date: February 25, 2014

Our Score: 3 out of 5 stars

Ever since 1986, I have been a huge fan of the “Castlevania” series. I probably got introduced to it too young but it has always been a favorite. It probably also influenced my love for anything horror related. Fast forward nearly 30 years and this franchise still has some steam. In fact speaking of steam, this game is from Developer MercurySteam, who has been behind this entire “Lords of Shadow” trilogy. Don’t let the “2” in the title through you off, the trilogy also includes Nintendo 3DS title “Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate”. It is also crazy to think that this release is actually the 35th Castlevania game. Well as much as I would like to say it is the best I really can’t. It has it’s moments but overall leaves you wanting more from the closing game in the trilogy. Though if you have been following this trilogy it is worth checking out but I see this gathering dust on my shelf in a very short time and then probably ending up on eBay.

“Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2” does some stocked with some really beautiful and very detailed areas and landscapes. I also received “The Art of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2” and it really made me appreciate the work that was done for this game much more. MercurySteam did a great job I might add with the visuals since this game was definitely quite a looker. The character design and development are really sharp and very in depth. In terms of game play though, I can see this game getting old after a while. The control system is interesting since you have the life stealer with the L1 button, which has a certain use and then the shield breaker with R2, so you are constantly changing and it does make things interesting. But I just felt like I was slash, slash, slashing throughout the game throughout my venture.

Official Premise: At the end of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, the origin of Dracula and his legendary connection with the Belmonts was revealed. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is the sequel to that 2010 reboot of the Castlevania series for play on Next-Gen game consoles. In it fans can expect thrilling new twists, action, adventure and challenges, as Dracula returns, this time to battle ultimate evil. Yet the dilemma is that he himself is greatly weakened and yearning for release from his immortal bonds. To succeed against the powerful threat he stands against, the vampire lord must reacquire his old powers – and only his castle holds the key. However, the famed Belmont clan also seeks his ultimate destruction in this shocking conclusion to the Lords of Shadow series.

Since this is the last game in this new reboot of the classic Castlevania game series, I am not sure where this series will go now but MercurySteam has said that this was their last go-round with this franchise. I would say that “Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2” is definitely worth playing, it is not terribly long but it is quite challenging in terms of difficulty. But if you are a hardcore “Castlevania” fan, this should come as no surprise. In terms of story, it is a little confusing or just short on details. But I caught on with what I could and just enjoyed the ride. Speaking of story, just a quick note, if you haven’t played the Nintendo 3DS title “Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate” and don’t want it to get spoiled, I would wait on “Lords of Shadow 2” since there’s a 10-minute cut scene that sums up the whole plot. I thought it was a nice tie-in personally of the series. I am sure that this will not be the end of “Castlevania” as like Dracula himself the series is forever. May not be my favorite game of the year but I still stand before this series.

Film Review “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit”

Starring: Chris Pine, Keira Knightley and Kevin Costner
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Rated: PG 13
Running time: 1 hour 45 mins

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars

When I lived in Baltimore I had season tickets to the Orioles at Memorial Stadium (and, later, Camden Yards). The seats behind me were owned by a very nice guy who sold insurance. We would talk between innings about all kinds of things. From football (he HATED the Washington Redskins) to where to get the best burnt ends (off Route 40 near the Golden Ring mall). The man also wrote a little. His name was Tom Clancy and one of the characters he created is the subject of the new film “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.”

When we meet Jack Ryan (Pine), he’s a college student in England. Then the events of September 11, 2001 take place and we meet him again on a military mission in Afghanistan as a member of the U.S. Marines. After his helicopter is attacked and crashes, his injured body is sent to Walter Reed Medical Center where he learns to walk again thanks to his beautiful doctor, Cathy (Knightley). Now working as a bank examiner, Jack hides from Cathy the fact that his job is a cover for his work as an analyst for the C.IA, where he was secretly recruited while in the hospital by Thomas Harper (Costner). Jacks latest assignment will take him to Moscow, where his dealings with crooked businessman Viktor Cherevin (Branagh) may make this lesson his last.

First things first, this film is not based on any of Tom Clancy’s books. The filmmakers have basically taken his most popular character and given him a new backstory. And, if you’re not a fan of the books, it works. While Ryan is much more of an action hero here (“you’re not just an analyst,” Harper tells him) Pine still manages to keep the character grounded in reality. Knightley gets a little more to do than in previous stories and Costner is an excellent choice to play Ryan’s mentor.

The action comes non-stop and credit director/co-star Branagh with making the film interesting, both with his performance and his guidance. The film moves quickly to a rather satisfying climax. This is not your father’s Jack Ryan and, when everything is taken into consideration, that’s really not a bad thing.

Win Passes to the Advance Kansas City IMAX Screening of “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” [ENDED]

Media Mikes has teamed up with Paramount Pictures to offer our Kansas City area readers a chance to attend the upcoming advance screening of the new film “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit,” starring Chris Pine. The screening will be on Wednesday, January 15, 2014 at 7:00 p.m. and will be held at the AMC Studio 30 Theatre in Olathe, Kansas.

For a chance to win two passes go to and register. Winners will be notified by GOFOBO on Sunday, January 12, 2014.

Official Website:
Twitter: @JackRyanMovie #ShadowRecruit

Opening Date: Friday, January 17, 2014

Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and intense action, and brief strong language.

Based on the CIA analyst created by espionage master Tom Clancy, “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” is a blistering action thriller that follows Ryan (Chris Pine, “Star Trek”) from his quiet double-life as a veteran-turned-Wall Street executive to his all-out initiation as a hunted American agent on the trail of a massive terrorist plot in Moscow.

Ryan appears to be just another New York executive to his friends and loved ones, but his enlistment into the CIA secretly goes back years. He was brought in as a brainy Ph.D. who crunches global data – but when Ryan ferrets out a meticulously planned scheme to collapse the U.S. economy and spark global chaos, he becomes the only man with the skills to stop it. Now, he’s gone fully operational, thrust into a world of mounting suspicion, deception and deadly force. Caught between his tight-lipped handler Harper (Academy Award-winner Kevin Costner), his in-the-dark fiancée Cathy (Keira Knightley) and a brilliant Russian oligarch (Kenneth Branagh), Jack must confront a new reality where no one can seem to be trusted, yet the fate of millions rests on his finding the truth. With the urgency of a lit fuse, he’s in a race to stay one step ahead of everyone around him.

Dallas Roberts talks about role in "Shadow People" and "The Walking Dead"

Dallas Roberts is known best for playing the scientist Milton Mamet in season three of “The Walking Dead”. He is also the star of the new supernatural thriller “Shadow People”. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Dallas about his new film and his favorite part of working on “The Walking Dead”.

Mike Gencarelli: What drew you to work on the film “Shadow People”?
Dallas Roberts: I was really drawn to the suspense aspect of the film. It is a thriller with out having to be gory. It felt grounded in the mythology of the story behind it. Once you start to read about it and you find yourself getting sucked in. It will get inside of your head real quick.

MG: Did you do research into SUNDS and the true story behind the film?
DR: Yes, I did my actor’s research. I didn’t pay much attention to the radio story. I wanted to play the part rather than reflect it. Those figures have been involved in mythology in many different cultures for a long long time. That is what I really found very fascinating. I also did a lot of reading about it. The belief that your brain does manifest your reality, I found that to be a really interesting exploration of that idea.

MG: Tell us about your character Charlie Crowe?
DR: He is a local radio personality, back when that was possible before the corporatization of radio like satellite radio. I run this late night paranormal discussion talk show. I tried not to follow the events and really stick with the character in the script.

MG: With “Shadow People” and “The Walking Dead”, what attracts you to the horror genre?
DR: Everybody loves to get those jolts in their seats. I have kids and there is nothing more fun than when we are watching a movie and something shocking happens and it sends them for a jolt. That immediate response to something is addictive. What you are looking for there is that sort of icy chill and sudden intake of breath.

MG: What has been the highlight for you working on “The Walking Dead” this season?
DR: I would have to say David Morrissey. He is an incredible actor and very fun to work with. We have a barrel of laughs the whole time. It is funny, when I signed up to be on “The Walking Dead” up to that point it had been people in the woods fighting for survival. I was sort of set down in a place where it took a long time for Milton to get some dirt on him…let alone blood. Hanging out with David has been very fun.

MG: What else do you have in the cards?
DR: I am around in “The Good Wife” every now and then. I got a film called “The Dallas Buyer’s Club”, which should be coming out soon. Then we are just putting together the pieces on whatever is going to happen next on “The Walking Dead”. One foot in front of the other, as they say.

Blu-ray Review "Shadow People"

Actors: Dallas Roberts, Alison Eastwood and Anne Dudek
Director: Matthew Arnold
Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: Starz / Anchor Bay
DVD Release Date: March 19, 2013
Run Time: 88 minutes

Film: 3 out of 5 stars
Extras: N/A

Anything that boasts that it is from the producer of “The Devil’s Rejects” and “Capote” draws my interest. What a combination! This supernatural thriller is based on true events and that makes it much more interesting. The focus of the film is on SUNDS, which is the belief behind that your mind can actually kill the body through false belief. Is that crazy or what? Right off the bat, count me in! Dallas Roberts really delivers a great performance. You might know him recently from his role of Milton in season three of “The Walking Dead”. My main issue with the film was the blend of archival footage and actual interview, which takes away from the thrill. Get over that and genre fans should enjoy this quite a bit!

Official Premise: “Shadow People” is based on a true story about small town radio personality Charlie Crowe (Roberts) who unravels a conspiracy about encounters with mysterious beings. These “Shadow People” were the cause of hundreds of unexplained deaths. He encounters CDC Epidemic Intelligence Agent Sophie Lancombe (Eastwood), whose investigations entwine her with Charlie’s own discoveries leading them both into a dark world and a decades old cover-up.

What I liked about this film is that it actually used real historical evidence about SUNDS and the phenomenon of an inverse placebo effect. It is really an interesting topic and is blending with archival footage and actual interviews from people involved with the story that the film is based on. The Blu-ray looks very nice with its 1080p transfer and the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track works well to create the suspense and a few good jumps. Unfortunately the Blu-ray does not have any special features included, which is a shame. I would have loved to seen more focus on the behind-the-scenes and many a special or two on the actual events and on SUNDS itself.  Oh well, at least we have Google for those looking for more.


Related Content