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Woody Allen
Michael Kirby, Woody Allen, David Ogden Stiers, James Rebhorn, Victor Argo, Daniel von Bargen
Woody Allen

Rated PG-13.

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Digital Mono
French Digital Mono
Spanish Digital Mono
English, Spanish

Runtime: 85 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 6/5/2001

• Theatrical Trailer
• Collectible Booklet

Woody Allen Set 2

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Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Shadows and Fog (1992)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

While 1992ís Shadows and Fog shows that Woody Allen still aspired to make ďseriousĒ films, at least heíd lightened up a bit. In prior flicks like 1987ís September and 1988ís Another Woman, he took a deathly serious approach, and the results didnít seem pretty. As was also the case with his first dramatic effort, 1978ís Interiors, these offerings were turgid and pretentious, and their simple-minded explorations lacked insight or anything compelling.

The Woodman rebounded with 1989ís Crimes and Misdemeanors. That film remained a drama at heart, but it was a better-developed piece, and Allen had the good sense to inject some humor into the affair. Though 1990ís Alice was a more light-hearted affair, it didnít succeed terribly well, mainly because it was a misguided fable that seemed to be excessively gimmicky and superficial.

On the surface, Fog looks like the darkest and most somber of the bunch. Allen stars as Kleinman, a petty clerk who gets recruited to be part of a vigilante band to hunt for a crazed killer. However, no one ever bothers to instruct Kleinman in regard to his duties, and all his attempts to learn his goals become thwarted. Kleinman stumbles through the story in search of this meaning, and he inadvertently gets caught up in the controversy as many start to believe that he caused the murders.

Within this ensemble piece, a slew of additional characters appear, but probably the next most significant one is Irmy (Mia Farrow), the sword swallower who works for a circus group currently in town. Her clown boyfriend (John Malkovich) fears commitment, and after Irmy catches him getting it on with high wire artist Marie (Madonna) she leaves him. As she wanders through the city, she meets a prostitute (Lily Tomlin) who gives her refuge in a brothel. There Irmy meets a wealthy student named Jack (John Cusack). He becomes smitten with her and pays her $700 for sex.

Eventually Irmy and Kleinman meet and share some adventures. Of course, Kleinman becomes even more ensnared in the drama, and many complications ensue, especially after Irmy assists a homeless woman with a baby. To avoid any spoilers, Iíll skip additional plot points.

As publicly stated by Allen, Shadows is supposed to be a metaphor for humanity, as we all muddle through the murk and attempt to find meaning. For one of Allenís more serious films, I thought it worked better than most. Kleinman adds a comic bumbler to the situation, and the inherent stupidity of the fascist elements that purport to chase the killer - but really only worry about each other - is also played for mild laughs.

That said, Shadows was a somewhat muddled film, as it mixed various elements without much rhyme or reason. It seemed like an odd combination of romance, drama, horror and comedy. To be certain, itís very possible for a movie to merge these elements successfully; unfortunately, Shadows wasnít that flick, as the different pieces sat uneasily next to each other. The film often seemed unsure of where it wanted to go and what it tried to say.

Shadows also suffered from an excessive number of cameos. In this DVDís production notes, Allen claims that he didnít purposefully attempt to recruit so many big names; he states that he went with the best person for the job. That doesnít explain the presence of Madonna; while I adore her music and respect her tremendously, the fact remains that she really canít act, and to place her alongside Malkovich felt cruel. In addition, who in the world thought Tomlin and Kathy Bates would make plausible prostitutes? Iíd pay both of them big bucks not to have sex with me!

Even if I agreed that all the actors were right for their roles, the problem remains because they become distracting. In this odd way, Shadows reminded me of The Muppet Movie. The latter stuffed scads of cameos into its brief running time, and these actively detracted from the movie because they made it tough to stay in the story. The same problem occurs during Shadows; I was too busy recognizing performers to remain involved in the tale.

Oddly, Shadows provides a minor reunion of actors from a personal favorite, 1990ís neglected Bill Murray gem Quick Change. Among that flickís cast, we find Kurtwood Smith, Philip Bosco, Victor Argo and Ira Wheeler. No, thatís not a slew of performers, but it felt like too many to be a coincidence; could the Woodman be a closet Change-head?

Probably not, though I suppose anythingís possible. Overall, I canít say that I disliked Shadows and Fog, though it didnít do much for me. Despite a muddled story and an awkward combination of elements, the movie was generally watchable and interesting. A number of factors made it less than successful as a whole, but it could have been much worse.

The DVD Grades: Picture B / Audio C / Bonus D-

Shadows and Fog appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The black and white picture betrayed a few concerns, but overall I thought it seemed to provide a reasonably satisfying visual experience.

Often it was difficult to judge the merits of the filmís transfer due to the original source material. Yes, this movie lived up to its name, as it featured many shots of shadows and/or fog. Most of the flick stayed in dimly-lit situations, and the fog effects really played havoc with clarity at times. However, within those parameters I felt the DVD provided a rather crisp and detailed image. Sharpness looked good through most of the movie, as only a few instances of softness cropped up along the way. Moirť effects and jagged edges showed no concerns, but I did notice some minor edge enhancement at times.

Print flaws also seemed to be fairly modest. Some parts of the film showed mild grain, and occasional examples of speckles and a scratch or two came along for the ride. Otherwise, the picture stayed fairly clean.

Black levels looked rather deep and dense, and shadow detail usually came across as acceptably visible. The ubiquitous fog caused some concerns in that domain, as the smoky effects occasionally made some scenes appear murkier than Iíd like, but these concerns never became extreme. Ultimately, the source material limited the impressiveness of the image, but Shadows and Fog looked fairly good as a whole.

As with virtually all other Woody Allen films, Shadows and Fog offered only a monaural soundtrack. Despite the limitations of that format, the audio seemed to be fairly clear and robust. Not surprisingly, dialogue was by far the most significant aspect of the mix, and the speech appeared appropriately warm and natural. All lines were distinct and crisp, and they lacked any edginess or problems related to intelligibility.

Effects remained quite minor throughout the film, as they were restricted to quiet ambience for the most part. No particularly loud periods occurred during the movie. I felt effects appeared to be acceptably realistic and distinct, with no signs of distortion. Much of the music remained in the background, something that seems to be fairly typical of many Allen flicks. Actually, the score was more prominent than in some of these efforts, but it wasnít especially active. Quality appeared to be decent, as the music sounded a little thin but was generally clear and bright. Shadows and Fog lost some points by default; I simply canít give high marks to a monaural soundtrack that accompanied such a recent film. Nonetheless, the mix seemed to be acceptably solid for the material.

Apparently Woody Allen doesnít care for DVD extras, which is why none of the DVDs for his films include many. That is also the case for Shadows and Fog. All we find are some moderately interesting production notes within the four-page booklet and also the movieís theatrical trailer.

No one will ever mention Shadows and Fog in the same breath with Woody Allenís better films from the Seventies, other than to say ďShadows and Fog sucks compared to Annie HallĒ. Despite a number of flaws, however, Shadows proved to be one of Allenís more interesting recent films. I canít say that it was particularly good, but it seemed to be more compelling than most of his efforts from the last 15 years or so. The DVD offered reasonably solid picture plus clear sound that lost credit simply due to its one-channel nature. If youíre in the mood for an unusual Allen flick, Shadows and Fog might do it for you, but it canít match up to his superior works.

Note: Shadows and Fog can be purchased on its own or as part of the Woody Allen Collection 1987-1992. The latter also includes Another Woman, September, Alice and Crimes and Misdemeanors. Unlike packages such as The Oliver Stone Collection or The New Stanley Kubrick Collection, 1987-1992 tosses in no exclusive extras, but its list price of $83.96 is about 16 percent off of the separate cost of all five movies. As such, it would be a nice bargain for anyone who wants all of the different films.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2.6792 Stars Number of Votes: 53
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