Boxing legend Mickey Duff has died, aged 84. The revered trainer, who was born in Poland in 1929, emigrated to England in the late 1930s and changed his name from Monek Prager.
He started boxing as a teenager but retired in his early 20s and became a young promoter.
He was involved with a stable of top British fighters, including Frank Bruno, Joe Calzaghe, John Conteh, Lloyd Honeyghan and Alan Minter.
Duff was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1999.
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 asked why he chose the path of boxing, Rocky Balboa offered a simple, though rather elegant, explanation: "Because I can't sing or dance." Now imagine if he could, and you'll get a pretty good idea of what's in store: a Rocky musical, the latest film adaptation to be mounted for Broadway. The Hollywood Reporter shares that a team of Alex Timbers (director), Thomas Meehan (writer), Stephen Flaherty (composer), and Lynn Ahrens (lyricist) will be transforming Sylvester Stallone's Oscar winning picture into a song-laden stage production; Stallone himself weighed in on the forthcoming project:
"I couldn’t be more proud or more excited about this production and how my original story of Rocky Balboa has been brought to spectacular life onstage," Stallone told THR. "Alex Timbers and the entire creative team ... have made [the character's] story as exciting, heart-breaking, and inspiring as it was when Rocky first went the distance onscreen."
It was 1976 when Stallone brought his now iconic character to Hollywood for the first of six (so far) times. The Best Picture victor, among the most beloved of sports films, is so full of memorable lines, scenes, and emotional instances, that it'll be quite the endeavor to turn the lot of them into musical numbers. So which Rocky's thick-tongued slurs, Adrian's squawking admonitions, Paulie's crass cackles, or Mickey's endearing insults will earn their own showstoppers? Here's one example already:
"The Italian Stallion"An upbeat overture, introducing the audience to its lovable hero: Rocky Balboa.
"Be a Thinker, Not a Stinker"Apollo Creed's Gilbert & Sullivan style romp about the merits in education trumping the glory in athletic stardom.
"Eat Lightning, Crap Thunder"The first powerhouse number of the play: a fired up Mickey puts Rocky through the wringer with this operatic call to arms.
"Ya Don't Have to Kiss Me Back"To follow, a softer entry: Rocky professing his affection for leading lady Adrian, offering the chance to refuse his courtship in this duet.
"Eat the Bird"Perhaps the emotional crux of the film, Paulie's vigilant ballad, directed toward his sister Adrian in a moment so wrathful, it'll warrant a therapeutic intermission immediately afterward.
"I Ain't No Bum"The tenderness hits a peak when Rocky channels all of the pain he has felt over his modest intellect and poor choices, declaring to the audience that he has more to him than everyone thinks.
"A Damn Monster Movie"At last, the real showstopper! The showdown between Rocky and Apollo Creed, an orchestrated song pitting the two against one another in the ring. Whole lotta dancin'.
"A Couple of Coconuts"Finally, following the big match, we reunite Rocky with Adrian, allowing him the happy ending of his true love's embrace.
Fill in the gaps with your own suggestions!
Follow Michael Arbeiter on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter
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In case you haven't heard, Jurassic Park is being re-released in 3D this weekend to celebrate its 20 year anniversary (and make money). I know I'm aging myself here, but when I walked into a screening of the film last Tuesday, my thoughts were as follows: "just get through it." Because at age six, I ran out of the film before its conclusion, in what would be my first of many panic attacks. Why? Well A, because my parents shouldn't have been taking their six-year-old to Jurassic Park, but B, because of the terrifying raptor mess that ruined kitchens for me forever. It's why I tell my imaginary boyfriend I don't like to cook. Need a refresher? See below:
Now, 20 years later, that is still f**king terrifying. Thanks, Spielberg. I don't know how the man managed to convince a nation that T-Rex's aren't really that scary because as long as you don't move they can't see you (which, I'm pretty sure, is at least SOMEWHAT factually incorrect), but ever since JP came out it's been known that raptors are the dinos you don't want to mess with. Thanks, Lex and Tim, for learning that lesson for us. To feel better about being a grown woman who is afraid of a species that died out eons ago, I asked my colleagues to list movie scenes that terrified them both now, and way back when. Now, I feel much better about myself. Here's why:
Lindsey DiMattina is afraid of Bambi: "Watching Bambi run from the fire with his father was one of the most terrifying experiences I had as a 3-year-old. Since watching Bambi I have been horrified that a fire may one day destroy my surroundings and everything I love — and subconsciously, I think it has caused me to have OCD and neurotically check to see that my stove is off and that my curling iron is unplugged before I leave my apartment every day."
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Matt Patches is afraid of Doc Brown: "Caught up in the cartoonish nature of a live-action movie (Roger Rabbit) blew my mind as a kid, with the flurry of cameos only adding to the glee. Then Christopher Lloyd showed up and killed a anthropomorphic shoe. I handled that fine, both now and as a kid. What I couldn't handle is Lloyd's "Judge Doom" pulling off his face to reveal he was actually the maniacal toon that killed Eddie Valient's brother. The voice, the eyes, the hair... horrifying. Still horrifying."
Aly Semigran is afraid of pink elephants: "Hey kids, wanna know what a PCP-fueled fever dream might look like? Sure you do! The menacing, nightmare-inducing "Pink Elephants" sequence in Dumbo is unnerving on so many levels: from that chilling, vaguely threatening song, the terrifying imagery, and the fact that these terrible spawns came from the young, sweet mind of Dumbo who wanted to do nothing more than blow a bubble. Hold me."
Abbey Stone is afraid of an owl with a monocle: "Nothing gave me more nightmares as a child than the horror that is Rock a Doodle. Don't let the chipper trailer voiceover fool you with its talk of "newfound friends," rock star roosters, and "magical, mythical, musical adventure for the whole family," this movie is f**king terrifying. A grotesque owl with a monocle and a maniacal laugh turns a real life boy into an animated kitten and then tries to eat him? No thank you very much. The transformation scene at the beginning is the stuff that therapy thrives on."
Alicia Lutes is afraid of brooms: "Cleaning. Non-stop cleaning. Always cleaning, always throwing away, no matter what. The thought brings fear, anxiety, and terror to the mind of many a child the world over. It's so BORING and takes forever and is totally not fun. Mops and brooms?! Those are parents' tools — not kids. Being that I was of the really-can't-be-bothered-to-pick-up-after-myself brigade as a youth, the thought of an army of mops and brooms come to life was a nightterror of the highest order. Looking back on Fantasia now as an adult still makes me uncomfortable, but mostly because it confuses me why Mickey — king of all things wholesome and child-like — would dabble in the seemingly-dark arts. And with such a menacing, ploddingly uptempo soundtrack? No thanks, my dudes. Plus who wants to be chased by a bunch of cleaning supplies you thought you could control but actually can't? It sounds like a story for a therapist's couch. Or an overworked housekeeper. Or, you know, the fever daydreams that ensure I keep a tidy home as an adult. Instill the fear young enough and you're guaranteed an anxiety-ridden but highly-tidy adult existence."
Kelsea Stahler is afraid of unicorns: Truth: The Last Unicorn still scares me. Other truth: This may or may not mean I'm a wimp. Living trees? Flaming red bulls chasing beautiful unicorns? Old hags? The "great unknown"? Christopher Lee playing the same character he plays in everything? And why are all these creatures trying to destroy that beautiful Mia Farrow unicorn? Admittedly, this movie is too much of a cartoon to be truly scary, but the memory of my childhood nightmares inspired by this movie (see: me as unicorn fleeing various barnyard animals engulfed in flames) are enough to deliver a spooky feeling at the mere mention of the movie.
Michael Arbeiter is afraid of Fred... No, not that one: "In the early 1990s, before I developed a taste for slapstick humor, I’d often find myself at odds with Drop Dead Fred. A family friend would play the video on repeat, delighting in the dark humor, while I amounted nothing but tremendous horror over the scene in which Rik Mayall’s head is squashed in a refrigerator. The clip isn’t quite as terrifying as I remember, but it does trigger vivid memories of intense anxiety…"
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Christian Blauvelt is afraid of a cartoon pirate: "Everything about Captain Hook in Disney’s Peter Pan is terrifying. Everything. His protruding, Leno-esque chin. His Dalí mustache. His impossibly broad Captain Morgan hat. The fact that he imprisons fairies in glass jars. That one of his hands was severed and replaced by a hook! Peter Pan was the first movie I ever saw in a theater—back in the day when Disney actually used to re-release their classics for big-screen distribution. Hook scared the living daylights out of me. You can only imagine the sheer terror that overcame me when I first saw Hook “for real” at Disney World, shortly after seeing the movie. Just the memory of seeing this character seemingly leap off the movie screen and into real life is something I will never get over."
And, Finally, Kate Ward is afraid of David Bowie: "Labyrinth's sexual assaulting, ahem, "helping" hands were bad enough. But nothing quite burned into my brain like the movie's Firey characters, whose gangly limbs were only less terrifying than ability to decapitate one another… for fun. I still lose my head every time I watch it."
Follow Shaunna on Twitter @HWShaunna
[PHOTO CREDIT: Universal Pictures]
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There's an allure to imperfection. With his latest drama Lawless director John Hillcoat taps directly into the side of human nature that draws us to it. Hillcoat finds it in Prohibition history a time when the regulations of alcohol consumption were subverted by most of the population; He finds it in the rural landscapes of Virginia: dingy raw and mesmerizing. And most importantly he finds it in his main character Jack Bondurant (Shia LaBeouf) the scrappy third brother of a moonshining family who is desperate to prove his worth. Jack forcefully injects himself into the family business only to discover there's an underbelly to the underbelly. Lawless is a beautiful film that's violent as hell striking in a way only unfiltered Americana could be.
Acting as the driver for his two outlaw brothers Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Howard (Jason Clarke) isn't enough for Jack. He's enticed by the power of the gangster figure and entranced by what moonshine money can buy. So like any fledgling entrepreneur Jack takes matters into his own hands. Recruiting crippled family friend/distillery mastermind Cricket (Dane DeHaan) the young whippersnapper sets out to brew his own batch sell it to top dog Floyd Banner and make the family rich. The plan works — but it puts the Bondurant boys in over their heads with a new threat: the corrupt law enforcers of Chicago.
Unlike many stories of crime life Lawless isn't about escalation. The movie drifts back and forth leisurely popping in moments like the beats of a great TV episode. One second the Bondurants could be talking shop with their female shopkeep Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain). The next Forrest is beating the bloody pulp out of a cop blackmailing their operation. The plot isn't thick; Hillcoat and screenwriter Nick Cave preferring to bask in the landscapes the quiet moments the haunting terror that comes with a life on the other side of the tracks. A feature film doesn't offer enough time for Lawless to build — it recalls cinema-level TV currently playing on outlets like HBO and AMC that have truly spoiled us — but what the duo accomplish is engrossing.
Accompanying the glowing visuals and Cave's knockout workout on the music side (a toe-tapping mix of spirituals bluegrass and the writer/musician's spine-tingling violin) are muted performances from some of Hollywood's rising stars. Despite LaBeouf's off-screen antics he lights up Lawless and nails the in-deep whippersnapper. His playful relationship with a local religious girl (Mia Wasikowska) solidifies him as a leading man but like everything in the movie you want more. Tom Hardy is one of the few performers who can "uurrr" and "mmmnerm" his way through a scene and come out on top. His greatest sparring partner isn't a hulking thug but Chastain who brings out the heart of the impenetrable beast. The real gem of Lawless is Guy Pearce as the Bondurant trio's biggest threat. Shaved eyebrows pristine city clothes and a temper like a rabid wolverine Pearce's Charlie Rakes is the most frightening villain of 2012. He viciously chews up every moment he's on screen. That's even before he starts drawing blood.
Lawless is the perfect movie for the late August haze — not quite the Oscary prestige picture or the summertime shoot-'em-up. It's drama that has its moonshine and swigs it too. Just don't drink too much.
Stewart picked up the Best Fantasy Actress honour at the event, held to applaud all things sci-fi, and The Twilight Saga: Eclipse was named Best Fantasy Movie. It was also a big night for True Blood, which picked up Best TV Show from number one fan Marilyn Manson.
The drama also claimed the Holy Sh--! Scene of the Year accolade for its much-publicised head-twisting sex encounter, while True Blood stars Alexander Skarsgard and Anna Paquin were named Best Horror Actor and Actress.
Other prizes went to Zombieland (Best Horror Movie), Ryan Reynolds (Top Anticipated Movie for Green Lantern), Mickey Rourke (Best Villain for Iron Man 2) and moviemaker Christopher Nolan (Most Mind-Bending Film for Inception).
Halle Berry and Megan Fox were among the early presenters but even they failed to steal the highlight of the night - as tributes to Back to The Future and Ghostbusters hit the stage.
Funnyman David Spade stepped out of Back to The Future's time-travelling DeLorean, which was driven onstage at the Greek to a standing ovation and then he introduced the film's stars Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd, who were given another rapturous welcome.
Later, Bill Murray took to the stage in his Ghostbusters costume to accept Zombieland's Best Horror Movie prize.
Other highlights included a guest appearance from Sir Anthony Hopkins, who gave the audience a preview of his upcoming exorcism movie The Rite.
Horror icon Wes Craven then joined Scream 4 castmates Emma Roberts, David Arquette and Neve Campbell to present a world-premiere teaser for the latest film in the Scream franchise.
There was even a special moment for Sigourney Weaver, who was handed a lifetime achievement award and rolled onto the stage in an egg-like structure similar to the pods in Avatar.
The very special awards show was rounded off by a performance from M.I.A.
Let's hear it for the old guy who in this movie comes off sexier than his buff young accomplice (Dermot Mulroney). OK the old guy happens to be the gracefully aging icon Paul Newman -- as a feisty heistmeister who dodges a long prison sentence and then teams up with his equally conniving rest-home nurse (Linda Fiorentino) on a bank job gone wrong. "Where the Money Is" is breezy suspenseful and as much a love story as anything else -- if you call mentoring a new life in crime a kind of love. The mission-improbable caper is no more or less entertaining than a "Rockford Files" rerun but the film's swerving joyride takes its real thrills from the great escape that Fiorentino's Bonnie Parker makes from a dead-end life in the married lane.
Newman still hasn't lost it and as Henry Manning he doesn't miss any nuances in the edgy balance between streetwise wariness and amiable rapport with his sultry new colleague. The steam-powered Fiorentino has forged her career by making danger look casual and this is her most alluring work since "The Last Seduction" added another zero to her salary. Her chemistry with Newman a flirty twist on the idea of honor among thieves is really what makes this movie worth seeing. Mulroney is serviceable as the dim but lovable hubby a supporting role that's more foil than fully etched character.
We can all thank director Marek Kanievska for deciding not to have the May-December duo end up in the sack and leaving them simply professional cohorts. The director's admirable sense of comic timing works all the better by not letting the laughs get in the way of his leads' exploration of their characters -- although there's no denying the limits of this frothy genre. Perhaps Kanievska's greatest feat here is allowing Newman to retain his dignity in close-up.