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.
When you see the same characters week-in and week-out, they tend to become not only ingrained in our memories but also carved into a special place in a hearts and minds. Often times, we watch, wishing and hoping that our families are as awesome and cultured as the Huxtables; our parents are as kind and funny as the aforementioned Cliff and Claire, or the Seavers, the Taylors, Keatons, heck, maybe even the Bundys, if your family is full of cynics. Perhaps some of us long to be a part of the cool groups of kids on 90210 or at Bayside High, drink coffee with our six favorite Friends or do absolutely nothing except wax eloquently about the mundane whilst getting into sitcom style situations ala Seinfeld. Whatever your tastes may be, there is no doubt that all of us aboard couch force one have enjoyed the company of these characters at one point or another.
Even though we still can hang out with our favorite characters of television’s past in re-runs, Netflix and DVDs, television is still giving us great characters and families to wish we were a part of.
The Pritchett / Delgado / Dunphy / Tucker Clan (Modern Family)
Certainly one of the best and brightest shows to have come out of the pipeline in recent memory is Modern Family. Now in its third season, the mockumentry series about three inter-related families works on many levels simply because of how realistic it is; maybe not in its situations, but definitely in its characters and how they interact with one another. As an MF’er (that’s Modern Family fan), it’s easy to envision yourself as part of this family. You have weird uncles; a dad who tries the best he can to be super dad and super friend all in one; and some great mischievous kids (and adults) to have zany adventures with. The MF family will go down in history as one the most endearing families on television thanks to the perfect mix of out-of-control wackiness and realistic emotions that everyone can relate to.
Sheldon Cooper (The Big Bang Theory)
Like so many wacky next door neighbors before him, Dr. Sheldon Cooper has all kinds of quirks to make you hit pause on the DVR so you can continue dying from laughter. However, on The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon (Jim Parsons) is one of the show’s main stars, which makes Parsons’ job even harder – he’s got to be as odd as he can be, while still being relatable. For the comic book nerds out there, Sheldon is our hero, saying what needs to be said when it needs to be said without (intentionally) hurting feelings; constantly aspiring to win that Nobel Prize; and being the biggest comic book nerd in the galaxy.
Abed Nadir (Community)
We were bound to find one sooner or later: a television character as real as all of us couch potatoes. Abed is a walking encyclopedia of television and movie knowledge. You know the type – heck if you’re like me, then you are the type— only Abed is funny, and like Kramer before him, he has no qualms about pointing out other characters’ foibles. NBC might have cruelly benched Community and Joel McHale might have originally been the series’ main star, but Danny Pudi (and Donald Glover’s Troy Barnes) are the show’s true breakout stars. If anyone at NBC has any brain cells left, they’ll put Greendale Community College classes back in session real soon.
Gregory House, MD (House)
He’s irascible, incorrigible, unstable, and irreverent. Ask any House fan and they’ll tell you if they were ever (knock on wood) in a situation that landed them in the hospital, they’d want Dr. House to solve the medical mystery. House is envisioned as Sherlock Holmes type of character (Holmes loved his opium, as House does his Vicodin) and Hugh Laurie has brought so much more to the character, creating a new American icon the process. Not bad at all for a British comedic actor previously known best for his role on the U.K. series, Black Adder. House may be a drama, but it’s Laurie’s antics and wit that can make any bad diagnosis laughable.
Charlie Harper (Two and a Half Men)
There’s a reason that Charlie Sheen is seemingly indestructible –and it’s not because he’s a Vatican Assassin Warlock with Tiger Blood. It’s because the guy is actually made of Teflon and rubber. Everyone in Hollywood and America love a great comeback story and Sheen has had a slew of them. While his latest and most publicized tirades got him fired from the top-rated series that made him the highest paid actor on television, the guy has an army of fans waiting with bated breath to see what’s next. It’s one of the reasons Charlie Harper worked so well. Never mind that the role was written with him in mind, Sheen infused Harper with that sort of loveable reckless abandon and a dangerous side that we all wish we could have – maybe then we could get away with nearly half the crap that Charlie Harper got away with for eight years on Two and a Half Men. I’m still holding out against hope that ratings will get so bad that Charlie pulls a Kenny McCormick and simply walks back onto the show at the end of an episode. Alan would stare agape in shock and disbelief and ask how it happened and Charlie will look at his brother, give him a hug and deadpan “Alan, I’ve got tiger blood and I’m a warlock from Mars. Rose can’t kill me and I still plan on marrying her.” For now though, we still have re-runs of the lothario gone wild.
Marshall Eriksen (How I Met Your Mother)
Ted Mosby might be the lead character of How I Met Your Mother and Barney might be the show’s wacky breakout star, but Marshall Eriksen (and his relationship with Lilly) is the series’ heart and soul. When Marshall is having the time of his life, it’s infectious and we viewers are enjoying his happiness too. When he is heartbroken, HIMYM is at its most tear-jerking. While the show has had its emotional montages and crazy goat-laden birthday parties, Marshall’s journey from big goofball to loving husband and soon–to–be father has been the real plot thread that has kept How I Met Your Mother ticking while we await the show’s big reveal to occur.
Jess Day (New Girl)
I’m going out on a ginormous limb here, but though it’s not even ten episodes in, the pretty adorkable New Girl has created a new girl who girls want to hang with and guys want to be with. Zooey Deschanel may not be perfect – and neither is her character, Jess -- but that’s part of why she’s awesome. She warms your heart with how oddball and weird she can be. We can all related to the girl who tries way too hard to be liked by everyone and who is nice to everyone. I should also make special mention of New Girl’s Schmidt (Max Greenfield). Greenfield’s comedic timing and fearlessness in making his character a complete D-Bag steal every scene; he’s clearly the standout male of the show.
There are all kinds of great characters we could put on this list that many of us love more than our own friends and family. If I left any of them out leave some comment love below or catch me on Twitter @CouchForceOne.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
The God of Legion secular Hollywood’s latest Biblically-inspired action flick is old-school an angry spiteful Almighty with a penchant for Old Testament theatrics. Fed up with humanity’s decadent warmongering ways He’s decided to pull the plug on the whole crazy experiment and start over from scratch.
Fortunately for us the God of Legion is also a rather lazy fellow. Instead of doing the apocalyptic work himself and wiping us out with a giant flood which worked perfectly well last time He opts to delegate the task to His army of angels — a questionable strategy that starts to fall apart when the archangel charged with leading the planned extermination Michael (Paul Bettany) refuses to comply.
Michael who unlike his boss still harbors affection for our sorry species abandons his post and descends to earth where inside the swollen belly of Charlie (Adrianne Palicki) an unwed mother-to-be working as a waitress in an out-of-the-way diner sits humanity’s lone hope for survival. Why is this particular baby so important? Is it the one destined to lead us to victory over Skynet? Heaven knows — Legion reveals little details its script devoid of actual scripture. What is clear is that God’s celestial hitmen want the kid whacked before it’s born.
But Michael won’t let humanity fall without a fight. Armed with a Waco-sized arsenal of assault weapons he hunkers down with the diner’s patrons a largely superfluous collection of thinly-sketched caricatures from various demographic groups led by Dennis Quaid as the diner’s grizzled owner Tyrese Gibson as a hip-hop hustler and Lucas Black as a simple-minded country boy.
Together they mount a heroic final stand against hordes of angels who’ve taken possession of “weak-willed” humans turning kindly old grandmas and mild-mannered ice cream vendors into snarling ravenous foul-mouthed beasts. They descend upon the ramshackle diner in a series of full-frontal assaults commanded by the archangel Gabriel (Kevin Durand) the George Pickett of End of Days generals.
Beneath its superficial religious facade Legion is really just a run-of-the-mill zombie flick a Biblical I Am Legend. Bettany an actor accustomed to smaller dramatic roles in films like A Beautiful Mind and The Da Vinci Code looks perfectly at ease in his first major action role wielding machine guns and bowie knives with equal aplomb. Conversely first-time director Scott Stewart a former visual effects artist does little to prove himself worthy of such a promotion serving up some impressive CGI work but not much else worthy of note.