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.
Awards season is in full swing, and with tonight's Screen Actors Guild Awards (SAG for short) — the 19th time the ceremony has taken place. Airing live on TBS and TNT on Sunday, January 27 (at 5PM PST/8PM EST), some of the biggest movies of the year are making tracks towards the Big Night (aka the Academy Awards), while television shows like Homeland and Modern Family will see if they can continue to dominate.
Will 30 Rock go out with big wins? Will Maggie Smith continue to not show up (yes, of course)? Check out the winners (in bold), which will be updated live, below!
THEATRICAL MOTION PICTURES
Outstanding Performance By A Male Actor In A Leading Role
Bradley Cooper / Pat - "Silver Linings Playbook" (The Weinstein Company)
Daniel Day-Lewis / Abraham Lincoln - "Lincoln" (Touchstone Pictures)
John Hawkes / Mark - "The Sessions" (FOX Searchlight)
Hugh Jackman / Jean Valjean - "Les Misérables" (Universal Pictures)
Denzel Washington / Whip Whitaker - "Flight" (Paramount Pictures)
Outstanding Performance By A Female Actor In A Leading Role
Jessica Chastain / Maya - "Zero Dark Thirty" (Columbia Pictures)
Marion Cotillard / Stephanie - "Rust And Bone" (sony Pictures Classics)
Jennifer Lawrence / Tiffany - "Silver Linings Playbook" (The Weinstein Company)
Helen Mirren / Alma Reville - "Hitchcock" (FOX Searchlight)
Naomi Watts / Maria - "The Impossible" (Summit Entertainment)
Outstanding Performance By A Male Actor In A Supporting Role
Alan Arkin / Lester Siegel - "Argo" (Warner Bros. Pictures)
Javier Bardem / Silva - "Skyfall" (Columbia Pictures)
Robert De Niro / Pat, Sr. - "Silver Linings Playbook" (The Weinstein Company)
Philip Seymour Hoffman / Lancaster Dodd - "The Master" (The Weinstein Company)
Tommy Lee Jones / Thaddeus Stevens - "Lincoln" (Touchstone Pictures)
Outstanding Performance By A Female Actor In A Supporting Role
Sally Field / Mary Todd Lincoln - "Lincoln" (Touchstone Pictures)
Anne Hathaway / Fantine - "Les Misérables" (Universal Pictures)
Helen Hunt / Cheryl - "The Sessions" (FOX Searchlight)
Nicole Kidman / Charlotte Bless - "The Paperboy" (Millennium Entertainment)
Maggie Smith / Muriel Donnelly - "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" (FOX Searchlight)
Outstanding Performance By A Cast In A Motion Picture
Argo (Warner Bros. Pictures)
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (FOX Searchlight)
Les Misérables (Universal Pictures)
Lincoln (Touchstone Pictures)
Silver Linings Playbook (The Weinstein Company)
Outstanding Performance By A Male Actor In A Television Movie Or Miniseries
Kevin Costner / "Devil Anse" Hatfield - "Hatfields & Mccoys" (History)
Woody Harrelson / Steve Schmidt - "Game Change" (HBO)
Ed Harris / John Mccain - "Game Change" (HBO)
Clive Owen / Ernest Hemingway & "Hemingway & Gellhorn" (HBO)
Bill Paxton / Randall Mccoy - "Hatfields & Mccoys" (History)
Outstanding Performance By A Female Actor In A Television Movie Or Miniseries
Nicole Kidman / Martha Gellhorn - "Hemingway & Gellhorn" (HBO)
Julianne Moore / Sarah Palin - "Game Change" (HBO)
Charlotte Rampling / Eva Delectorskaya - "Restless" (Sundance Channel)
Sigourney Weaver / Elaine Barrish Hammond - "Political Animals" (USA)
Alfre Woodard / Ouiser - "Steel Magnolias" (Lifetime)
Outstanding Performance By A Male Actor In A Drama Series
Steve Buscemi / Enoch "Nucky" Thompson - "Boardwalk Empire" (HBO)
Bryan Cranston / Walter White - "Breaking Bad" (AMC)
Jeff Daniels / Will McAvoy - "The Newsroom" (HBO)
Jon Hamm / Don Draper - "Mad Men" (AMC)
Damian Lewis / Nicholas Brody - "Homeland" (Showtime)
Outstanding Performance By A Female Actor In A Drama Series
Claire Danes / Carrie Mathison - "Homeland" (Showtime)
Michelle Dockery / Lady Mary Crawley - "Downton Abbey" (PBS)
Jessica Lange / Sister Jude - "American Horror Story: Asylum" (FX)
Julianna Margulies / Alicia Florrick - "The Good Wife" (CBS)
Maggie Smith / Violet, Dowager Countess Of Grantham - "Downton Abbey" (PBS)
Outstanding Performance By A Male Actor In A Comedy Series
Alec Baldwin / Jack Donaghy - "30 Rock" (NBC)
Ty Burrell / Phil Dunphy - "Modern Family" (ABC)
Louis C.K. / Louie - "Louie" (FX)
Jim Parsons / Sheldon Cooper - "The Big Bang Theory" (CBS)
Eric Stonestreet / Cameron Tucker - "Modern Family" (ABC)
Outstanding Performance By A Female Actor In A Comedy Series
Edie Falco / Jackie Peyton - "Nurse Jackie" (Showtime)
Tina Fey / Liz Lemon - "30 Rock" (NBC)
Amy Poehler / Leslie Knope - "Parks and Recreation" (NBC)
Sofia Vergara / Gloria Delgado-Pritchett - "Modern Family" (ABC)
Betty White / Elka Ostrovsky - "Hot In Cleveland" (TV Land)
Outstanding Performance By An Ensemble In A Drama Series
Boardwalk Empire (HBO)
Breaking Bad (AMC)
Downton Abbey (PBS)
Mad Men (AMC)
Outstanding Performance By An Ensemble In A Comedy Series
30 Rock (NBC)
Modern Family (ABC)
Nurse Jackie (Showtime)
The Office (NBC)
SAG AWARDS HONORS FOR STUNT ENSEMBLES
Outstanding Action Performance By A Stunt Ensemble In A Motion Picture
The Amazing Spider-Man (Columbia Pictures)
The Bourne Legacy (Universal Pictures)
The Dark Knight Rises (Warner Bros. Pictures)
Les Misérables (Universal Pictures)
Skyfall (Columbia Pictures)
Outstanding Action Performance By A Stunt Ensemble In A Television Series
Boardwalk Empire (HBO)
Breaking Bad (AMC)
Game Of Thrones (HBO)
Sons Of Anarchy (FX)
The Walking Dead (AMC)
Screen Actors Guild 49th Annual Life Achievement Award
Dick Van Dyke
What do you think of this year's winners and losers? Shocked? Happy? Sad? Let us know, in the comments below!
[Photo Credit: Mark Davis/Getty Images]
Follow Alicia on Twitter @alicialutes
Screen Actors Guild Awards: Why the SAGs Are My Favorite Awards Show — VIDEO
Producers Guild Awards 2013: 'Argo,' 'Homeland' Continue Award Season Domination
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WHAT IT'S ABOUT?
Essentially about the offbeat relationship between two very distinct people with anything but normal families Gigantic centers around the search for meaning by Brian Weathersby a 29-year-old high-end mattress salesman who is looking for something to anchor his life to. He becomes determined to adopt a baby from China but soon gets involved in an unexpected and wholly different kind of romance when the quirky and pretty Harriet aka Happy wanders into his showroom and falls asleep on one of the beds. Along the way he must deal not only with her loudmouth father Al but also his own dippy parents and two older more successful brothers.
WHO'S IN IT?
When describing the charms of Gigantic all roads lead to Paul Dano who underplays Brian in a wonderfully droll deadpan-style reminiscent of the great Peter Sellers in Being There. Dano who has done this low-key kind of act before in Little Miss Sunshine is truly winning without expressing visible emotion and letting others play off his blank canvas. As Harriet Zooey Deschanel also takes what could be a one-note character and invests her with complexity and quirky humanity. You can't take your eyes off of her when she's on-screen. Veteran actors Edward Asner and John Goodman play the pair's fathers and both adapt their oversized personas beautifully to the precise rhythms established by the stars. Goodman gets great mileage out of his character's bad back problems and is better than he's been on screen in years. Jane Alexander as Brian's mother also has a couple of wonderful moments. Hot comedian Zach Galifianakis takes on the film's oddest role as a mysterious homeless man who keeps showing up to attack Brian.
Co-writer and first-time feature film director Matt Aselton takes a cue from directors like Hal Ashby (Harold and Maude Being There) and Spanish surrealist Luis Bunuel in creating a tone and distinct minimalist sandbox for his actors to play in and it works beautifully for those in the audience who don't need every little detail explained. By dialing it way down he gets an aura of originality not attempted in many comedies these days.
By crossing the line between fantasy and reality and intentionally blurring his main character's emotional well-being a unique device is used throughout that will require patience and suspension of belief before its ultimate payoff toward the end. The less adventurous viewers may not want to make the investment.
A restaurant double-date between Dano Deschanel plus Goodman and his date is brilliantly written and acted as Brian is grilled in vivid detail by Harriet's take-no-prisoners dad.
BEST GREETING BY A STONER:
A slacker friend who has probably already smoked his lifetime supply of weed asks and answers his own question with every hello: "Hey dude What's up? Not much."
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX?
If you can find this indie gem in theaters go! But it should be hitting the video shelves before you can say "Hey dude. What's up? Not much."