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.
UPDATE: Samuel L. Jackson denied dropping an f-bomb (but does admit to cursing) on Twitter:
I only said FUH not FUCK!K was sposed to cut off da BULLSHIT, blew it!! twitter.com/SamuelLJackson…
— Samuel L. Jackson (@SamuelLJackson) December 16, 2012
EARLIER: We're used to cheering like a Spartan whenever Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Jimmy Fallon or another recently departed Saturday Night Live alum returns to Studio 8H. But SNL fans found themselves disappointed when a former SNL legend returned to glory on the sketch comedy show's stage. Dana Carvey — also known as one of the main reasons (save Chris Farley) the early 1990s is still held up on an SNL pedestal — seemed a promising host for fans in 2011, but, sadly, the actor's revival of popular characters like Wayne's World's Wayne, Ross Perot, and Church Lady seemed more unoriginal than nostalgic.
So, considering Carvey's stint, Martin Short's hosting gig Saturday seemed worrisome — would we be forced to sit through Ed Grimley and Jerry Lewis sketches years after we already grew sick of them watching best of SNL VHS tapes?
As it turned out, absolutely not. Short proved to be a delightful host who was just as hilarious as he was current. We were subjected to a split second of Ed Grimley, but only during Short's jolly monologue, which brought us even more exciting SNL characters of seasons past. Well, rather, cast members — Fey, Fallon, Kristen Wiig (complete with Junice baby hand), and honorary cast member Tom Hanks (making his second SNL cameo this year) all joined in Short's Christmas-centric musical number, which marked the seventh this season. This week, however, the musical monologue was worth it — it's hard to say what sight was better: Abe Lincoln with a llama or Short planting a smooch on the predictably stoic Lorne Michaels. Still, each paled in comparison to Short's astute ad lib, "How does a man sit on a piano, I wonder?"
The SNL cameos continued with "A Tony Bennett Christmas," headed up by Alec Baldwin's fan-favorite impression of the crooner. The sketch veered into ESPN Classic territory with its ad-shilling bathroom humor ("It's sure easy to get down in the dumps when you can't take one"), but, then again, anything that reminds us of Will Forte's Greg Stink picks us out of the dumps.
But, following the sketch, we hardly said "Cheerio!" to bathroom humor. The next sketch — about a royal OBGYN being trained to treat the Duchess of Cambridge — mainly centered on euphemisms for female genitalia: "The King-Maker," "Thomas' English Muffin," and, of course, "Her Downton Abbey" among them. Anyone else in the role of the consultant tasked with prepping Bill Hader's OBGYN would have been groan-worthy, but Short even managed to make a dated Camilla Parker-Bowles funnier than the prospect of her Downton Abbey being guarded by a troll that asks you a riddle. Just ask Hader, who couldn't keep a straight face while Short revealed euphemisms for the anal cavity. (In case you were wondering, "The Church of Taint Andrews" is one.)
More impressive, though, was Short's impeccable impression of Larry David as Linus in an adult-themed, star-studded Charlie Brown special, You're a Rat Bastard, Charlie Brown. Typically, Hader's impersonations steal SNL sketches, but his Al Pacino paled in comparison to Short's David. The actor even looked like the Curb Your Enthusiasm star. Other highlights included Taran Killam's Michael Keaton and Jason Sudeikis' Philip Seymour Hoffman — though I can't be the only one wishing Nasim Pedrad's celebrity impressions all didn't sound like Nasim Pedrad. Kristin Chenoweth deserves better — and no, this time around, I'm not talking about Jake Pavelka.
Speaking of zingers, Seth Meyers' one-liners were the highlight of Weekend Update, attracting more laughs than Vanessa Bayer's adorably funny roasting Bar Mitzvah boy and Cecily Strong's ho-hum revival of Girl You Wish You Hadn't Started a Conversation With at a Party. Jokes about Jersey Shore's finale and criticism of Barbara Walters for asking Hillary Clinton about her hair over her policies were astute enough, but the funniest one-liner of the night was also the bluest: “An Ohio woman who gave birth to her daughter at 12:12 p.m. on 12-12-12 has named her 'Forever.' Which I suspect is how long she’ll be a stripper.”
Samuel L. Jackson, who made a cameo alongside SNL's stars in Short's monologue, returned to appear in Kenan Thompson's recurring — but long dormant — "What's Up With That?" sketch. The premise remains the same, and so does Sudeikis' jaunty tracksuit dancing — but this week, the sketch came with a NSFW twist. Pulling a Jenny Slate, Jackson dropped an f-bomb at the end of "What's Up With That?" and followed it up with a "bulls--t." "Come on now, that costs money," Thompson ad-libbed. Your move, FCC.
SNL rounded out its episode with a sketch about two old friends (Fred Armisen and Short) with bizarre hobbies (acting for EMT training) and habits (eating 25 bagels a day) that was sorely lacking a Stefon, and a Christmas pageant audition sketch with Short and musical guest Paul McCartney that quickly turned into a Christmas-themed performance from the former Beatle. But while McCartney turned in two other lovely performances — including a reprise of his "Valentine" single — the rock legend was overshadowed by SNL's touching cold open, which featured the New York Childrens Chorus singing "Silent Night" as a quiet tribute to the Sandy Hook tragedy. The moment echoed Paul Simon's post-9/11 performance of "The Boxer" on the sketch comedy series, and proved, once again, SNL can be as heartfelt as it is funny. We might not be able to sleep in heavenly peace for some time, but dammit if SNL didn't help us try.
[Image Credit: NBC]
Saturday Night Live: Should Series Address Sandy Hook Tragedy?
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Saturday Night Live Promo: Martin Short Keeps A Comedy Tradition Going
Batman vs. Superman. The Hulk vs. Professor Xavier. Spider-Man vs. Iron Man. Any superhero super fan has wondered what would happen if their favorite comic protagonists faced off against one another. But debating those battles is almost too easy. Instead, what if each superhero in battle was to suffer a significant mental disadvantage? How would Superman fare against Thor if he were distracted by Daily Planet layoffs? How would Spider-Man fare against Batman after eating bad Chinese food? Today, to continue Hollywood.com's Superhero Week, we wonder what would happen if The Hulk was rocked having just listened to Radiohead's "Creep" and had to face off against Magneto, who's needing extra tissues after viewing The Notebook.
Battle: The Hulk vs. Magneto
In the Right Corner: The Hulk, who just listened to "Creep" by Radiohead.
In the Left Corner: Magneto, who finished watching The Notebook.
Inside The Hulk's Day: At this point in his genetically altered life, Bruce Banner is more than used to experiencing his fair share of terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days. But this morning was shaping up to be a pretty good one. Not only did he hit every green light on the way into work (when does that ever happen?), but he also started making some serious progress with his latest bionuclear research project (the likes of which we won't bore you with right now). The point is, things were finally starting to look up for our Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde friend. He hadn't felt the urge to shift into his Hulk form in weeks and was even thinking of giving Betty Ross a call to see if she'd be interested in meeting up for a drink (wink, wink). In fact, Bruce even decided to turn on the radio during his drive home from work — something he rarely does.
After jamming out to the likes of Katy Perry and Justin Bieber (yes, even The Hulk has his guilty pleasures), the song "Creep" by Radiohead started to play. As the song progressed, Bruce found himself growing more and more depressed with every beat. "I'm a creep. I'm a weirdo. What the hell am I doing here? I don't belong here... " He had no idea a song could ring so true to his own personal demons. Why did he ever think he could try to live a normal life when he's an absolute freak of nature? No wonder Betty Ross wants nothing to do with him — what woman would? He's the biggest, greenest creep of them all, and it's entirely his own fault. (Well, him and the gamma rays.) The pain is all-consuming, and suddenly his body begins to shake... uh oh....
Inside Magneto's Day: Magneto's feeling a bit under-appreciated these days. In fact, if he has to look at one more promo for The Avengers this week he may just decide to use his magnetic powers to throw the infuriating television out his fifth floor window (which would be a shame considering what he paid for the 47" scrap of metal). Seriously though, he could have totally been in that movie. But instead the comic book universe chose some pretty boy who could swing a hammer and a girl with a little gun? Lame! But whatever, he's over it.
So to help take his mind off such ridiculous superhero politics, he started channel-flipping and came across a movie called The Notebook that was just about to start on TBS. And having been familiar with Ryan Gosling's past work, he decided to tune in and see what it was about. Bad idea! To witness the journey of such an epic love story is something Magneto was just not prepared to deal with and ends up leaving him emotionally drained. Hey — we've all been there. The water gates open and they just won't stop. Damn you, Ryan Gosling! And, of course, he's completely out of tissues (can this day get any worse?), so he heads out to the store for a box of Kleenex and some much needed comfort food. That's when he hears a car speeding out of control...
The Battle: With a bag of groceries in hand, Magneto looks up just in time to see a car crash right in front of his very own apartment complex... right where his brand-new (uninsured) Mercedes was parked. Before he can even register what just happened, the other car erupts into an explosion of green, which The Hulk emerges from. Having already suffered through an emotional rollercoaster today, Magneto is in no mood to get confrontational, especially with a mutant of that size. It's then he thinks: What Would Ryan Gosling Do? So he decides it would be best to just walk away and cool off. But The Hulk is ready and waiting for a fight. Like that song says: He's nothing more than a creep — and he's ready to show his true colors (both figuratively and literally). He instantly stomps toward Magneto and gives him a powerful blow to the skull, launching him into a nearby building.
"That's it!" Magneto bellows. There are some things not even The Notebook can save, and he sends three telephone poles hurtling toward this Not-So-Jolly Green Giant (and hey, is that "Creep" by Radiohead blasting in the background?). But for such a big guy, he can move pretty fast and The Hulk manages to jump out of the way just in time. It's then that Magneto realizes the severity of the situation. He's read the stories about The Hulk and his rage — the angrier he gets, the stronger he becomes. There's only one logical thing he can do to save himself and this incredibly powerful hulk of a mutant: RUN!
The Winner: The Hulk because deep down Magneto's primitive instinct is always to protect the mutant race. Plus, it's THE HULK — who, unfortunately for Magneto, doesn't have a metal bone in his body.
Superhero Battles Gone Mental!: Rogue vs. Catwoman
Superhero Battles Gone Mental!: Superman vs. Thor
Superhero Battles Gone Mental: The Human Torch vs. Captain America
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 majesty of the Emerald Isle is on full display in Leap Year an opposites attract romantic comedy starring Amy Adams (Julie & Julia Enchanted) and Matthew Goode (A Single Man Watchmen). Director Anand Tucker (Shopgirl Hilary and Jackie) shooting entirely on location in Ireland takes us on a whirlwind tour of the country’s breathtaking landscape reveling in its fabled fairy-tale charm.
Pity then that such a magnificent setting is so mercilessly defaced by Leap Year’s unrelenting mediocrity. The film’s dubious premise testing the already loose limits of rom-com believability casts Adams as Anna a type-A career girl who flies to Ireland intending to pop the question to her feet-dragging boyfriend on February 29th aka Leap Day. Why Leap Day? Because according to some idiotic old Irish tradition that’s when women are allowed to do such things. (Click here to watch Adams herself try to explain the plot.)
Unfortunately for Anna weather problems force her plane to land far away from Dublin and her would-be fiance. Trapped in a tiny coastal town with no reliable transportation at her disposal she enlists the help of a scruffy abrasive barkeep named Declan (Goode) to drive her cross-country so she can reach her destination by the 29th. And thus begins the traditional rom-com mating ritual of sexually-charged bickering followed by moments of abrupt awkward intimacy.
While watching Leap Year I swear I could hear the Irish countryside quietly weeping as it witnessed Goode and Adams slog through the film's succession of trite misadventures the talented actors straining in vain to manufacture some semblance of romantic chemistry as an assortment of jolly Waking Ned Devine types futilely spurred them on. Oh if only Greenpeace could have intervened and put a halt to such wanton environmental desecration. It's the worst thing to come out of Ireland since The Cranberries.