The genesis of Universal's 47 Ronin is almost as tragic as the actual history that the movie is culling from. As the story goes, Universal saw the sprigs of talent sprouting from fresh faced director Carl Rinsch, whose previous experience was limited to just a couple of commercials and a nifty short film. The studio decided to ease the new director into feature filmmaking by cutting him what amounts to virtually a blank check, and giving him charge over a multi-national samurai fantasy epic. Almost impossibly, the film isn't a complete disaster. It's just a minor one.
47 Ronin follows the classic story of the titular team of warriors, a group of disgraced samurai who band together to seek revenge against a merciless warlord that betrayed and killed their master. But this isn't your grandfather's version of the story. 47 Ronin is an international affair, and it's covered with a veneer of Japanese mysticism and a thick coating of Hollywood lacquer, but east meets west rather uncomfortably, and it's mostly due to Keanu Reeves. Reeves' character is clearly crowbarred into the story that has no room for him, and it's plainly obvious where the seams of the story were stretched in order to patch him into the narrative. Reeves plays Kai, a half Japanese, half English orphan who is adopted by the samurai clan. His character serves no real purpose beyond being white, slicing things until they die, and playing the male lead of the most superfluous love story of the year. Rinsch simply can't make the inclusion of the character feel organic in any way, and "Kai" ends up feeling like a calculated studio move. It's a shame that the film spends so much time on Reeves when the real star is clearly Hiroyuki Sanada, who plays off the stoic samurai most believably among the rest of the cast.
It's also shame that with all the mysticism pumped into the story, there's no magic in the actual center of the film, the ronin themselves. The only personality trait a samurai is allowed to possess seems to be unerring stoicism, and between all 47 ronin, there are probably only three distinct samurai with any discernible character traits beyond an intense need to brood, and you'll probably only remember those three by the time the credits roll, only to promptly forget about them only a few hours later. Thankfully, Rinko Kikuchi's slinky and treacherous witch adds some much needed camp and personality to the mostly forgettable human characters.
And that's the issue with 47 Ronin. It's largely forgettable. When your film takes on a historical legend like the tale of the 47 ronin, a story that has been told and told again ad nauseum over the years, you really need to justify your own version. There are reels and reels of film dedicated to this story, and 47 Ronin doesn't manage to add anything significant to the canon. It promises to weld myth and history together, but does so clumsily, and while some of the action scenes are exciting, especially a particularly inspired set piece that involves the ronin noiselessly breaking into a heavily guarded fortress, the film is a bore when it's not clanking swords together.
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47 Ronin is a film with many stories. As much as it is a tale about the revenge of four dozen masterless samurai, it's also the tale of an inexperienced filmmaker swallowed up by the enormity of blockbuster filmmaking. Most of all though, It's proof that you shouldn't cram Keanu Reeves into a movie that doesn't really need Keanu Reeves. What you're left with is a dull and bloated samurai epic that has its moments, but feels largely unnecessary.
Remember when Payless Shoe stores try to make BOGO a thing. It stood for "Buy One Get One." Well, that was stupid. But know what's awesome? The double elimination episode of Survivor. It was like we showed up for one and we got a bonus one just for being there. Always a rad feeling. They should make this a staple of the game, especially when we enter this especially boring section of the show's life cycle where there is one dominant alliance and you are sure that they're just going to send the stragglers from the defeated alliance home. Yawnsville. Who wants to spend a whole hour watching that? So this was smart we got see Reynold lose an immunity challenge and get booted out in 30 minutes and then we got another 30 minutes to watch Andrea get blindsided. Not only did the action never stop moving, neither did the surprises. Great job, Team Survivor. Great job.
Basically this whole thing boiled down to what happened during the first immunity challenge, where they all had to stand on the top of Snoopy's dog house which was partially submerged in water (let's hope Woodstock is okay) and whoever stayed on the longest won. Of course it was also the classic "food temptation" challenge, where Jeff offers people treats so they'll jump down. Here's how what happened in that challenged affected the rest of the game.
Reynold lost which, of course, means that he's going home. But he held on strong until the very end and almost beat Zombie Brenda and Andrea. Eddie, on the other hand, jumped off first to eat some donuts. Which I would normally call a boneheaded move but it was genius. I think it was unintended genius, because Eddie seems about as smart as Tara Reid on the sixth day of a two week bender in Cabo, but it showed that Eddie is not a threat. He is not a fighter and he'd risk going home for some sugary treats. (Man, the things I would do for donuts and I get three square meals a day). He looks like he's not playing the game. That's why they're willing to use him and keep him around while blindsiding each other. Reynold, on the other hand, is good at challenges and a schemer. That's why no one could get a blindside together when he was still in the game, because if he stayed everyone thought he would find a way to sneak into the finals. Eddie is about as threatening as a sleeping three legged chihuahua that has lost all its teeth. He's an easy toy to keep around.
Brenda and Andrea made the opposite mistake. They decided that, even though they were in an alliance, they were going to compete with each other and see who is the badder assed bitch. They're asses are so incredibly bad that they even made the challenge harder so that one of them would win. Ladies, there is no honor in being victorious over your friends. Just ask the cast of Mean Girls. This showed everyone that they're both threats physically and they're both such stern competitors that they don't trust each other to be safe when the other says they're safe. This was the beginning of the ending for them.
The other great thing about this episode was that it showed how that challenge had an affect not just on who went home that round (it was Reynold, duh) but how it affected the following vote as well. Because we see them edited down into episodes, each cycle seems like it's own unit divorced from all the rest, but for the people out there it is continuous and the events of things that happened two rounds ago definitely have an impact on the outcome. Sometimes you get dumped before the third date for something you did on the first date, not something you did on the second, know what I mean?
That's why both Andrea and Brenda were gunning for each other after their Mexican standoff. (Can I say that? Is that racist? Can I call it a Philippines standoff? That's where they are!) When neither of them had the immunity necklace and Reynold was gone, that's when it was time for the blindside. Cochran was right, it's all about timing, and he orchestrated Andrea's ouster perfectly. And it was easy to do because Andrea was running around talking to everyone about her big plans again. That coupled with her performance in the dog house challenge made her a giant target. Cochran just has to pick her off and make sure she felt safe enough that she wouldn't play her idol. Still, they split the vote just to be safe.
Andrea's problem was that she was all talk and no action. We saw this before when she wanted to get rid of Malcolm early and then backed off when she found out that they might vote for her. She was always hatching plans and thinking big, which is great, but she was far too vocal about it. Everyone knew she was playing hard and couldn't be trusted, especially because she could never make her plans come to fruition.
How this will effect the rest of the game, I don't know. I think if Eddie pulls it together at the challenges and works himself as a swing vote he could make it to the end. Cochran is in a heap of trouble because he seems to have no clear alliance other than Dawn, who is a certifiable crazy person. Zombies Eric and Sheri are totally out of the game even though they think they're in the middle of it, but Eric stands a chance if he can keep pulling out challenge wins. I'm going to go with the wacko final three of Dawn, Brenda, and Eddie. Let's see how right I am.
As for Andrea, she's going to be talking all about her blindside back at camp while running her fingers through Malcolm's silken mane and staring at Special Agent Philip Shepard's silly round spectacles, and trying not to giggle at Reynold's Snidely Whiplash mustache. Let's hope she doesn't have some sort of insane physical transformation herself.
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In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.
For five nights and four days, the San Diego Convention Center will play host to the geekiest and nerdiest and scruffiest looking nerd herders at the 2011 San Diego Comic-Con. Fanboys and fangirls, your annual 96 hours of Zen have arrived.
Hollywood.com will be on hand at this year's Con to report on all the big events, but you're friendly neighborhood Couch Potato/fanboy is here to give you the skinny on what to expect over the next few days.
You're welcome. Just bring me back some swag!
Wednesday Night, July 20 - Previews Galore!
No, not free handouts of the Diamond Distributors catalog, but for those getting to the Con early, you can entrench yourself in Ballroom 20 for a three-hour marathon of some of the fall season's hotly anticipated TV shows. And if their not hotly anticipated, they sure will be by the time this night's over.
From 6-9PM, you can catch a plethora of pilots.CW's The Secret Circle - from Kevin Williamson and L.J. Smith (The Vampire Diaries), Fox's Alcatraz, which stars Jurassic Park's Sam Neill, Lost's Jorge Garcia and is produced by J.J. Abrams, and CBS' Person of Interest, which will star another Lost alum, Michael Emerson. Person gets the the extra uber-geeky award, for being both executive produced by Abrams, and being created by Jonathan Nolan (Christopher "Dark Knight" Nolan's brother). Preview night also includes the pilot premiere of the animated Supernatural series, which will debut on DVD and Blu-Ray.
After the pilot marathon, head back to your room, get some rest and put the finishing touches on your costume. You've got four epic feature-length days ahead of you.
Thursday, July 21 - Comic-Con Day 1: They Live!
The main event is here!
For lovers of spies and chins...
If you happened to have camped outside of Ballroom 20 after last night's screenings, then you must really love Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe, because the DVD premiere party will be happening here from 10-11AM. You'll get to hear from the series' creator, Matt Nix, star Jeffrey Donovan, and of course, the man, the myth, the chin himself, Bruce Campbell.
For seekers of the precious...
I know what you're thinking: "I'm not at Comic-Con for a Q&A of the hottest show on USA, I dressed like Gimli for cryin' out loud!" That's why from 10-11AM, you and your battle axe should swing on over to Room 7AB for a Q&A with "Quickbeam," Clifford Broadway and "MrCere," Larry D. Curtis, staff veterans of theOneRing.net for Hobbit Talk to get an unauthorized look at the upcoming Hobbit movies.
For anyone that's ever swung a stick making while making an electric humming noise...
If the story of Bilbo Baggins isn't geeky enough for you, then surely you must want to know about what's going on in a galaxy far, far away. One of the most anticipated XBox 360 Kinect video games in development, is St the Con, so grab your Padawan braids and force push your way to room 32AB for a sneak peek at Star Wars: Kinect where the wizards of LucasArts will be showing off the title's sure-to-be wild, addicting gameplay. Any Star Wars fan worth their weight in Jawas has dreamt of wielding a lightsaber, and now here's your chance. Later in the day at 4:45, in 6BCF will be the a preview of Star Wars: Clone Wars Season 4. If the prequel films have jaded you to the Star Wars Saga and have missed this incredible series, then you should check this preview out and then catch up on what is actually one of the best animated shows on TV.
For Twi-hards, there's really no word to describe your level of fandom...
The books and films that have captivated legions of teenagers the world over (and plenty of adults as well) are heading to the Hallowed Hall H at 11:15AM for a sneak peek at The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1, and for what's sure to be a shriek-inducing Q&A with the filmmakers and members of the cast.
For fans that came actually came for Comic Books...
Did you know that the San Diego Comic-Con is actually a Comic Book Convention?! It's true by golly, and DC is bringing it's big summer event to the Con. Room 6DE at 11:30AM will play host to "DC: Flashpoint," a discussion with the DC Universe's executive editor, Eddie Berganza and some of the talent behind the all but confirmed rumored reboot of the entire DCU. Then help the lovely staff at the Con clean the room up and get an even better seat for a discussion with acclaimed comic book writer, Grant Morrison at 12:45PM. At 3:15PM in 6DE will be a Batman Panel featuring a discussion about the caped crusader's new books and global appeal. 24 hours later in the same room, DC will preview their upcoming Superman books to see how the Man of Tomorrow will fit into the new DCU.
For Scoobies who long for Sarah Michelle Gellar...
When Bridget Martin witnesses a murder, she goes on the run posing as her wealthy twin sister, Siobhan and Comic-Con's Ballroom 20 gets to have a sneak peek at the new CW show called, Ringer, at 1:45PM. Panel to follow with Buffy herself, Sarah Michelle Gellar and costars, Ioan Gufford and Nestor Carbonell.
FOX fans need not apply...
The hallowed halls of Hall H have served as jump off points for films like Independence Day, X2, Avatar, and Wolverine. 20th Century Fox returns to Comic-Con to preview their upcoming sure to be hits for 2011 and 2012 at 3:15PM.
For the Targaryens in attendance...
I have to admit, I had never heard of George R.R. Martin's "Song of Fire and Ice" fantasy series before Game of Thrones debuted on HBO, and after a triumphant first season, I am waiting with baited dragon's breath for the second. Martin himself will be moderating the "Game of Thrones Q&A" starring Emilia Clarke (Daenrys Targaryan), Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Ser Jamie Lannister), Kit Harrington (Jon Snow), and the Khal himself, Jason Momoa (Drogo). Ballroom 20 at 3PM.
For every member of Batman, Incorporated...
While Warner Bros. is saving some advertising dollars by not bringing The Dark Knight Rises to the Con (and while fans are depressed over this, let's face it, TDKR doesn't need the hype— the film is already hyping itself), the company along with video game developer, Rocksteady is bringing the most anticipated game of 2011 to ComiCon - "Arkham City." Voice actors Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy will be on the panel that is showing off some secrets and gameplay of what is sure to one of the top three games of the year. (5-6PM, no room yet). Then get yourself some dinner and head to Room 8, because at 7:30, "Detecting Deviants in the Dark Knight: Profiling Gotham City's Serial Killers" will be looking at the expansive, intriguing and exciting Batman Rogues Gallery, featuring Forensic Psychiatrists of Broadcast Thought - MDs H. Eric Bender, Praveen R. Kambam, and Vasilis K. Pozios; teaming up with Mark E. Safarik, FBI retired supervisory special agent, Behavioral Analysis Unit. The quartet will be taking a very real look at some of Batman's most dangerous foes and their real world counterparts.
For the Dark Passenger in us all...
If you're a fan of Showtime's Dexter, then you know that the series is one of the best on TV, and the stars of the show, CS Lee, David Zayas, and Dexter himself, Michael C. Hall are headed to Ballroom 20 at 5:30 to partake in "Showtime's Tired of Ordinary Television?" panel to preview the upcoming sixth season of the acclaimed show. Also coming to ComiCon for this event are the stars of Shameless, William H. Macy and Emmy Rossum; and a preview of the networks's newest series, Homeland, from Howard Gordon and Alex Dansa (24), and starring Claire Danes.
Friday, July 22 Day 2 - They Wish to Cure Us, But I Say We Are the Cure....
I knew there'd be some Star Trekkin' going on...
A whole day has gone by at Comic-Con and no hide nor hair of Gene Roddenberry's epic franchise. That's all about to change at 10:15 in 6BCF, where Captain Sisko (Avery Brooks) and Captain James Tiberius Kirk himself, William Shatner will be on hand to present the Shat's new EPIX documentary series, in which he traverses the world interviewing he actors that have played Starfleet Captains in a panel moderated by the always geeked out voice of generation X, Kevin Smith!
For everyone siting in Sheldon's spot...
The world of TV invaded Comic-Con again, and this time it's by a bunch of actors playing the very geeks and nerds we happen to be, only way smarter. As "The Big Bang Theory," gears up for it's fifth season, the stars of the show (Johnny Galecki, Jim Parsons, Kaley Cuoco, Simon Helberg, Kunal Nayyar, Mayim Bialik, and Melissa Rauch; along with creators Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady converge on Ballroom 20 at 12:30 to talk up the new season and the upcoming Fourth Season DVD.
In brightest day, in darkest night...
Bruce Timm has been responsible for bringing the worlds of Superman, Batman, and the Justice League to life in some of the most memorable cartoons ever and now he's bringing his golden touch the emerald knight, The Green Lantern! Timm is bringing footage put together especially for the Con, previewing the upcoming animated series, which centers on Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps' trainer, the lovable Kilowog as they try to fight off a Red Lantern invasion. Most of us will have to wait until 2012 to raise our rings, but you can speak the oath at Comic-Con and get this sneak peek early in room 6BCF.
"Kate, we have to go baaaaaaack!"...
One year later, and uber-Losties, Jeff Jensen and Dan Snierson are still going on about islands, time travel, hatches, and Sawyer insults. At 3:30 in 5AB, the duo behind Entertainment Weekly's "Totally Lost" will tie up loose ends on their whacked out Lost theories and discuss promising new TV obsessions.
Not enough Bats in your belfry yet...
Batman is such a global media franchise, there's more than a few panels dedicated to the Caped Crusader, seemingly one for every angle the character can take! While many of us grew up loving the Dark Knight, there can be only one "Boy Who Loved Batman." Producer Michael Uslan will be in Room 4 at 4PM discussing his lifelong obsession with the World's Greatest Detective and his journey to bring fans the truest representations of the character on film. Maybe even get a taste of The Dark Knight Rises.
Now swinging into Hall H...
Some of us have been waiting impatiently for footage The Amazing Spider-Man movie and at 4PM, Sony Pictures is bringing Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, and director Marc Webb to talk about and maybe show some of the July 3, 2012 release. Sadly though, we're gonna have to endure Nicolas Cage as well, as the worlds biggest comic fan and coincidentally, one of its least improved actors, will be at ComiCon as well, pimping his second adventure as the flaming skull of vengeance in Ghost Rider - The Spirit of Vengeance. Also previewing at the Con will be the 30 Minutes or Less, panel starring Aziz Ansari, Nick Swardson, and Michael Pena. Lastly, it's time to start the reactor and stop starting at three-breasted Martian mutants, because the remake of Total Recall and stars Colin Farrell, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston, and John Cho will all be at ComiCon too.
Because Twilight is just too clothed for you...
The fourth season of True Blood is underway and Sookie's got to deal with fairies, vampires, and werewolves (oh my!). And many of the series' stars are going to have deal with the insatiable appetites of fans at ComiCon in Ballroom 20 at 5:30PM for a q and A with stars Ryan Kwanten (Jason), Sam Trammell (Sam), Rutina Wesley (Tara), Nelson Ellis (LaFayette), along with some others join show creator, Alan Ball and moderator, EW's Tim Stack.
The world premiere DVD you've been waiting for...
Yeah I know we've mentioned Bruce Wayne quite a bit in this ComiCon preview, but the big black bat does have that kind of media dominance. Friday night will culminate the world premiere of Batman: Year One, adapted for the acclaimed best selling Frank Miller mini-series. Ballroom 20 will play host to the movie, as well as then panel featuring voice stars, Ben McKenzie, Eliza Dushku, Katee Sackhoff, executive producer, Bruce Timm.
Check back soon for Part 2!