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.
The new fall pilots haven't even premiered yet, but already the networks are looking forward to their next big task: finding the right pilots and scripts to order for the 2013-2014 season. Development season is well underway and has been for the past few weeks — although this season is marked by a declaration from some networks (namely ABC and NBC) that the typically order-happy suits would not be as quick to bulk up their pilot orders this year. In other words, less is more.
Most of the majors have already made their first-round choices for specific projects, and the trends that have emerged seem to be all about big-name attachments (e.g. Vince Vaughn, Jodie Foster, Ryan Reynolds), period dramas (e.g. Aztec empire, Cold War America, 1890s Europe), international transplants (from Israel, England and Scandinavia) and — in an interestingly-revived yet well-worn trend — book adaptations (including Dracula and two Sleepy Hollow reboots).
Here's what ABC, CBS, The CW, FOX, NBC and more have coming down the '13-'14 pipeline so far:
— Dumb F*ck: Single-camera comedy about an average Joe and his brilliant wife who move in with her intelligent yet emotionally stunted family of geniuses; written by Hank Nelken (Saving Silverman), executive produced by Vin Di Bona, Bruce Gersh, Susan Levison and Shaleen Desai.
— Burns & Cooley: Medical procedural about two New York neurosurgeons who compete as they strive to be the top in all aspects of their lives; written by Meredith Philpott (Awkward), exec produced by Matt Gross (Body Of Proof).
— Founding Fathers: Drama about a war veteran whose Texas hometown is in the hands of a militia group led by his older brother; written by Rich D'Ovidio (Thir13en Ghosts), produced by Lorenzo Di Bonaventura and Dan McDermott.
— Untitled McG Project: Retelling of Romeo and Juliet, revolving around two rival families fighting for control over Venice, California; written by Byron Balasco (Detroit 1-8-7), produced by McG (The OC, Supernatural, Nikita).
— Untitled Kurtzman/Orci Project: Drama about a mysterious game; written by Noah Hawley (The Unusuals), produced by Heather Kadin, Alex Kurtzman and Bob Orci.
— Dracula: 1890s-set period piece about the iconic vampire; written by Cole Haddon, produced by Tony Krantz and Colin Callender; starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers (The Tudors).
— The Blacklist: Drama about an international criminal who surrenders himself and helps the government hunt down his former cohorts; written by Jon Bokenkamp, exec produced by John Davis, John Fox and John Eisendrath.
— Hench: Based on the comic about a man who becomes a temp for super villains; written by Alexandra Cunningham (Desperate Housewives), exec produced by Peter Berg and Sarah Aubrey (Prime Suspect).
— Cleopatra: Period drama about the Egyptian queen Cleopatra; written by Michael Seitzman (Americana), exec produced by Lorenzo Di Bonaventura and Dan McDermott.
— Pariah: Drama inspired by Freakonomics about a rogue academic who uses economic theory to police San Diego; written by Kevin Fox (The Negotiator), exec produced by Kelsey Grammer, Stella Stolper and Brian Sher.
— After Hours/The Last Stand: Medical drama about Army doctors who work the night shift at a San Antonio hospital; revisited from last season; written by Gabe Sachs and Jeff Judah.
— Untitled Parkes/MacDonald Project: Drama about an interpreter at the United Nations who works with diplomats and politicians from around the world; written by Tom Brady (Hell on Wheels), produced by Walter Parkes, Laurie MacDonald and Ted Gold.
— Untitled Charmelo/Snyder Project: New Orleans-set drama, described as a "sexy Southern Gothic thriller"; created by Eric Charmelo and Nicole Snyder (Ringer), exec produced by Peter Traugott and Rachel Kaplan.
— Untitled Rand Ravich Project: Drama-thriller following a secret service agent at the center of an international crisis in Washington, DC; created by Rand Ravich (Life), produced by Far Shariat.
— Island Practice: Based on the book Island Practice: Cobblestone Rash, Underground Tom, and Other Adventures Of A Nantucket Doctor, about an eccentric doctor with a controversial medical practice on an island off the coast of Washington; written by Amy Holden Jones (Mystic Pizza, Beethoven), produced by Brian Grazer, Francie Calfo and Oly Obst.
— The Brady Bunch: Reboot of the series, about a divorced Bobby Brady who re-marries a woman with children of her own; written by Mike Mariano (Raising Hope), co-developed and exec produced by Vince Vaughn (Sullivan & Son).
— A Welcome Grave: Based on the book series about a private investigator who comes under suspicion when a rival turns up dead.
— Backstrom: Based on the book series about a House-like detective who tries to change his self-destructive nature; written by Hart Hanson (Bones), produced by Leif G.W. Persson (novel) and Niclas Salomonsson.
— Ex-Men: Single-camera comedy about a young guy who moves into a short-term rental complex and befriends the other men who live there after being kicked out by their wives; written and directed by Rob Greenberg; starring Chris Smith and Kal Penn.
— Sleepy Hollow: Contemporary reinterpretation of the Sleepy Hollow short story; written by Patrick Macmanus and Grant Scharbo, produced by Scharbo and Gina Matthews.
— Gun Machine: Based on an upcoming novel (of the same name) about a New York detective whose chance discovery of a stash of guns leads back to a variety of unsolved murders; written by Dario Scardapane (Trauma), produced by Warren Ellis (book author), Scardapane, Peter Chernin and Katherine Pope.
— Sleepy Hollow: Modern-day thriller based on the Sleepy Hollow short story, following Ichabod Crane and a female sheriff who solve supernatural mysteries; written by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (Fringe, Hawaii Five-0) and Phillip Iscove, produced by Heather Kadin and Len Wiseman.
— The Beach: Based on the 1996 novel and 2000 movie about a group of youths who try to start society over on a remote paradise; written by Andrew Miller (The Secret Circle).
— Hard Up: Single-camera comedy based on Israeli series about four twentysomething guys who are strapped for cash; written by Etan Frankel (Shameless), produced by John Wells.
— Lowe Rollers: Animated comedy about a struggling Titanic-themed casino in Las Vegas; written by Mark Torgove and Paul Kaplan (Outsourced) and Ash Brannon, produced by Ryan Reynolds, Jonathon Komack Martin, Steven Pearl and Allan Loeb.
— Untitled Chris Levinson Project: Cop drama about a detective who puts his life under surveillance when he begins to lose his memory; written by Chris Levinson (Touch), produced by Peter Chernin and Katherine Pope.
— Untitled Friend/Lerner Project: Drama set on an aircraft carrier following young naval officers and a female fighter pilot who tries to solve an onboard murder; written and produced by Russel Friend and Garrett Lerner (House).
— Untitled Ryan Reynolds Project: Half-hour comedy about a disgraced hotelier forced to manage a rundown airport hotel; written by Matt Manfredi and Phil Hay (Clash of the Titans), produced by Ryan Reynolds, Allan Loeb, Jonathon Komack Martin and Steven Pearl.
— Untitled Jason Katims Project: Romantic comedy about a single female attorney; written by Jason Katims (Parenthood, Friday Night Lights) and Sarah Watson.
— Getting On: U.S. adaptation of a British comedy about a group of nurses and doctors working in a women's geriatric wing of a run-down hospital; Big Love creators Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer to exec produce with Jane Tranter, Julie Gardner and Geoff Atkinson.
— Buda Bridge: Belgian-set crime drama about a woman who is found dead on a famous bridge in Brussels; written and directed by Michael R. Roskam (Bullhead), produced by Michael Mann (Luck) and Mark Johnson (Breaking Bad).
— Hello Ladies: Comedy about an oddball Englishman who chases women in Los Angeles; written, directed by and starring Stephen Merchant (The Office), produced by Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky (The Office).
— Angie's Body: Drama about a powerful woman at the head of a crime family; written by Rob Fresco (Heroes, Jericho), directed and executive produced by Jodie Foster, Fresco and Russ Krasnoff.
— Conquest: Period drama about Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes, who clashes with the Aztec ruler Moctezuma II; written by Jose Rivera (The Motorcycle Diaries), produced by Ron Howard, Brian Grazer and Francie Calfo.
— Low Winter Sun: Based on 2006 British miniseries about the aftermath that follows the murder of a cop by a fellow detective; written by Chris Mundy; James Ransone, Ruben Santiago Hudson and Athena Karkanis to star.
— Those Who Kill: Based on Danish series about a detective and forensics scientist who track down serial killers; written by Glen Morgan, produced by Brian Grazer, Francie Calfo, Peter Bose and Jonas Allen, directed by Joe Carnahan.
— Untitled LaGravenese/Goldwyn Project: Legal thriller about an attorney who discovers new evidence that re-opens a sensational murder case; written by Richard LaGravenese, directed by Tony Goldwyn, exec produced by David Manson; Marin Ireland to star as female lead.
— The Americans: Period drama about two KGB spies posing as Americans in Washington, DC; created by Joe Weisberg, exec produced by Weisberg, Graham Yost, Darryl Frank and Justin Falvey; directed by Gavin O'Connor; Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys and Noah Emmerich to star.
— The Bridge: Based on the Scandinavian series, about a murder investigation opened up after a dead body is discovered on a bridge connecting the United States and Mexico; written by Meredith Stiehm and Elwood Reid (Cold Case), produced by Carolyn Bernstein, Lars Blomgren and Jane Featherstone.
— Untitled Dr. Dre Project: One-hour drama about music and crime in Los Angeles; written by Sidney Quashie, exec produced by Dr. Dre.
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Every ten years since 1952, the British Film Institute's Sight & Sound magazine has published a list titled the Critics' Top Ten Poll: the organization's ranking of the ten best movies ever made. And every ten years since 1962, there has been one standing consistency: Citizen Kane has always been BFI's number one pick. Until now.
The 2012 incarnation of the list has been published, and Citizen Kane has fallen to the number two spot. Taking its place: Alfred Hitchcock's classic Vertigo. Check out the full list below: 1) Vertigo (1958), directed by Alfred Hitchcock
2) Citizen Kane (1941), directed by Orson Welles
3) Tokyo Story (1953), directed by Yasujiro Ozu
4) La Règle du jeu (The Rules of the Game) (1939), directed by Jean Renoir
5) Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927), directed by F. W. Murnau
6) 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), directed by Stanley Kubrick
7) The Searchers (1956), directed by John Ford
8) Man with a Movie Camera (1929), directed by Dziga Vertov
9) The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer
10) 8½ (1963), directed by Federico FelliniVertigo is a great film, no doubt. Better than Kane? Maybe. But why has this movie, which came out in 1958 (before Citizen Kane's first turn as number one, even) suddenly been recognized as the superior picture?
The 1952 Top Ten list didn't include Citizen Kane at all, even though it had come out eleven years prior. But over time, it grew on people. Quite effectively. Now, over half a century after Vertigo's release, it has inched to the top of the list (the movie first graced the list in '82 at the number seven spot, inching up to number four in '92, and reaching number two in '02).
It took twenty-one years for Citizen Kane to earn the top spot, and fifty-four for Vertigo. Maybe a film's persistence of quality is considered by the critics brought on to devise their choices. As such, Vertigo maintaining its appeal so long after its creation would afford it a few extra points in the minds of contributors to the list. Or maybe there's just a stigma against pictures that have come out too recently. Is a critic deterred from recognizing the power of a movie that came out in his or her lifetime?
Four out of the ten recognized films came out prior to 1940. Even the most recent release on the list, 2001: A Space Odyssey, is forty-four years old. The critical community cherishes the old; and while this can be chalked up to the pioneering of new ideas and artistic methods, there are plenty of movies from 1970 onward that deserve credit for their achievement and influence.
This is reflected in the Directors' Top Ten Poll — a list that Sight & Sound began publishing in 1992. This year's incarnation of the list includes a handful of more recent, and probably more widely familiar, pieces of cinematic art:1) Tokyo Story (1953), directed by Yasujiro Ozu
2) 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), directed by Stanley Kubrick
3) Citizen Kane (1941), directed by Orson Welles
4) 8½ (1963), directed by Federico Fellini
5) Taxi Driver (1976), directed by Martin Scorsese
6) Apocalypse Now (1979), directed by Francis Ford Coppola
7) The Godfather (1972), directed by Francis Ford Coppola
8) Vertigo (1968), directed by Alfred Hitchcock
9) Mirror (1975), directed by Andrei Tarkovsky
10) Bicycle Thieves (1948), directed by Vittorio De SicaVertigo, Citizen Kane, and 2001 again find recognition, as do the films Tokyo Story and 8½. But beyond those are a slew of '70s pictures: The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, Taxi Driver, and the Russian film Mirror. But is there any chance that either of BFI's lists can recognize films from the '80s, '90s, even the 2000s, in the near future? And if so, what films would most likely earn highlighted spots? Some other contemporary lists could provide insight:
The American Film Institute recognizes the 1993 film Schindler's List as number nine on its Top 100 Movies list.
The rating results on Rotten Tomatoes event in a Best Movies of All Time list that is largely recent films. Here is the site's top five:1) Man on Wire (2008), directed by James Marsh
2) Toy Story 2 (1999), directed by Josh Lassiter (co-directed by Ash Brannon and Lee Unkrich)
3) Taxi to the Dark Side (2007), directed by Alex Gibney
4) The Interrupters (2011), directed by Steve James
5) Toy Story (1995), directed by John Lassiter(It warrants mention that this was not created as a comprehensive list, but resulted automatically from the ratings applied to these movies by the site's active critics. Nevertheless, it's proof that people are still making terrific, important, resonant movies.)
Various outlets will cite some newer pictures as superior products. 1993's Shawshank Redemption is consistently the highest rated film on IMDb. The Google search for "Top Movies of All Time" results in thumbnails including 1982's E.T., 1994's Pulp Fiction, 2008's The Dark Knight, and 1994's Forrest Gump. And if you ask anyone from my high school, the absolute best thing to come out of the realm of cinema is invariably 2003's 2 Fast 2 Furious. Seriously, we watched that movie all the time.
So if newer pictures are so prevalent in other venues' recognition of great cinematic art, why does the BFI tread so differently? Why does it feel more "respectable" to love older movies when plenty of newer ones are just as good? Why does it take fifty years to admit, "Okay, we can finally shift this film up to the number one spot"?
We won't know what turns the perspectives of Sight & Sound will take for ten years now. And of course, there's nothing substantially wrong with one organization that seems to religiously prefer old to new — just as long as film continues to be appreciated, and contemporary artists are afforded due credit for pioneering new ideas and new means of storytelling. Because as many ideas there are that have been captured on screen, and as many devices for committing those ideas there are that have been utilized, there are still an endless supply being explored and invented today.
[Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures/Warner Bros., Universal Pictures]
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Ratatouille and Surf's Up look set to dominate the 2008 Annie Awards for film and television animation after landing 13 and 10 nominations, respectively.
Rodent movie Ratatouille is up for awards including Best Animated Feature, while its vocal stars Janeane Garofalo, Ian Holm and Patton Oswalt have all been nominated for Best Voice Acting in an Animated Feature Production.
Among Surf's Up's nominations are nods for Best Animated Feature, Best Animated Effects and Best Directing for Ash Brannon and Chris Buck.
Elsewhere, Bee Movie has five nominations, while The Simpsons Movie and Persepolis both received four apiece.
The nominees for Best Animated Television Production are Jane and the Dragon, Creative Comforts America, Moral Orel, Robot Chicken: Star Wars and Kim Possible.
The 35th annual Annie Awards ceremony will take place at Royce Hall in Westwood, California, on Feb. 8.
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