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.
Yes, we all know that Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson know how to kick some serious ass in the Panem arena, but that's just child's play. The toughest arena out there is the infamous Saturday Night Live stage in Studio 8H. Many go in, but only few come out with their heads held high.
Competitors come from far and wide to wield their comedy swords against the fierce beast that is Lorne Michaels, eager to prove that they have what it takes to be both an esteemed performer and a relatable human being. Hunger Games stars such as Lawrence, Woody Harrelson, Julianne Moore, and Lenny Kravitz have taken to the stage before, and soon their fellow dystopia resident Hutcherson is set to master comedy on a chilly Saturday night. While all of our Hunger Games actors might claim to have a funny bone or two, only one can come out victorious. So who will it be?
Jennifer LawrenceSome might jump the gun and announce J-Law the victor without a second thought, but unfortunately, her natural good humor might just be tricking us into believing that she is the funniest of them all. Lawrence has what it takes to tackle the media and film, but her performance on SNL in January 2013 proved that nerves can get the best of all of us. After handling her monologue with questionable capability, Lawrence exhibited a handful of sketches that were surprisingly awkward. However, she delivered her sketch dressed up as dog quite well. Lawrence is one of those actors who doesn't care if she looks silly (or so we're lead to believe), so her confidence adds 10 points to whatever she's doing.
Woody HarrelsonDon't let the resident Hunger Games sourpuss fool you — Harrelson knows how to make a crowd laugh. Not only did he host in 1989 before either Lawrence or Hutcherson were born, but he took the stage by storm once again in 1992. During his first stint, his monologue consisted of a song mostly inspired from reading a thesaurus, and in 1992 he showed that he wasn't afraid to show some skin when he whipped off his shirt in a sketch aptly titled, "Take off Your Shirt." Not to mention that he was aided by the comedy gold that is Phil Hartman, Jon Lovitz, Kevin Nealon, and Nora Dunn.
Lenny KravitzKravitz is definitely the wildcard in the pack. The singer and actor has never hosted the late-night variety show, but he has been the musical guest twice and has cameoed in sketches. Additionally, he showed his comedy skills when he played a considerable part in Jimmy Kimmel's "Handsome Men's Club" sketch on his talk show. However, until we're able to see Kravitz take on the role of host, we're not sure that he would be able to beat out the other tributes.
Julianne MooreMoore entered the battlefield in 1998 and proved that she can hold her own up against the likes of Tim Meadows, Ana Gasteyer, Molly Shannon, Cheri Oteri, and Darrell Hammond. Moore made her mark in "The Ladies' Man" sketch where she appeared in a sultry red dress in a bed alongside Meadows, and in the famous Gasteyer and Shannon sketch "The Delicious Dish" where she skillfully bantered on the radio as a brainwashed cult member. (Not to mention that she was paired up with musical guest Backstreet Boys, who were at their prime in the late '90s. Anyone that's deemed good enough for Backstreet Boys in 1998 must be doing something right.)
Josh HutchersonThis tribute is certainly the newest to the battle (and the youngest), but we have high hopes in his comedy skills. In his promos for SNL, he seemed like a complete natural next seasoned Bobby Moynihan. Moynihan puts him through the "SNL Initiation" to see if he's up for the challenge, and the good news is that he passes all of the tests with flying colors, which makes us think that he'll be quite the competitor.
Winner: Julianne Moore (mostly because we think she has the experience to handle anything), although we can't count out Hutcherson until this weekend when he hosts SNL alongside musical guest HAIM on Nov. 23 on NBC.
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When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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The Impossible star Tom Holland and Scottish actor Paul Brannigan have landed on the British Academy of Film and Television Arts' inaugural list of Breakthrough Brits. The pair join actors James Floyd and Ade Oyefeso, comedienne Sharon Rooney, and writer/director Rowan Athale among the 17 newcomers selected for the BAFTA recognition, which is presented in partnership with fashion house Burberry.
Teenager Holland, who portrayed Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor's eldest son in the tsunami drama, says, "I'm honoured to have been recognised for my work by two very prestigious organisations such as BAFTA and Burberry. It's fantastic to be among this brand new talent and to meet some really inspirational people."
The talent was handpicked by a jury which included director Shane Meadows, Les Miserables' Eddie Redmayne and The Invisible Woman star Felicity Jones, the winners will be celebrated at a special ceremony in London on 21 October (13).
Boardwalk Empire star Stephen Graham considering quitting acting and retraining as a youth worker after he spent eight months unemployed. The British actor was convinced he had landed his big break with his role in 2006 drama This Is England, but work subsequently dried up and he went nearly a year before landing another job.
Graham admits he considered giving up and finding a new profession, telling the Big Issue magazine, "I learned so much from (director) Shane Meadows on This Is England. He makes you feel like you're a champion, or a kite that could just fly off into the wind - and he guides you from place to place. That film (This Is England) was when it all came together for me as an actor. Though afterwards I couldn't get an acting job for eight months. I was about to pack it in and become a youth worker."
Graham is convinced his hardman persona may have put casting directors off, adding, "Maybe people were scared of me - but I'm a very nice, happily married man with two lovely kids. I like playing dark characters but in real life I'm respectful and polite. Manners cost nothing."
After hearing that a movie titled Mean Moms was slated for production, I was filled to the brim with glee at the thought of a second round of Mean Girls, just as any other female of my generation would be. Because, come on, who didn't love watching Cady Heron — Lindsay Lohan in her prime — and the rest of The Plastics scribble in their infamous pink lipstick-coated Burn Book: "Amber D'Alessio. She made out with a hot dog."
Unfortunately, the title for Mean Moms is misleading — it is in fact not a sequel to the Tina Fey-scripted cult classic. Lindsay Lohan, Rachel McAdams, Amanda Seyfreid, nor Lacey Chabert are set to pop up this time around it seems... yeah, I teared up a bit too.
Mean Moms, which Beth McCarthy-Miller (Saturday Night Live) is set to adapt for the big screen, is based on the novel Queen Bee Moms and King Ping Dads: Dealing With The Parents, Teachers, Coaches, and Counselors Who Can Make – or Break – Your Child's Future from Rosalind Wiseman, the same author as the book Mean Girls is derived from. According to Deadline, Mean Moms focuses on a mother who confronts malicious suburban moms, a far cry from the high school halls of North Shore.You may not know this since it seriously tanked, but a sequel to the hit comedy, Mean Girls 2 already happened, airing on ABC Family as opposed to in theaters... because let's be real here: it's quite a trek to follow the footsteps of the legacy left behind by the original classic.
I know your cheeks must be bright red from all the crying, but there is a silver lining, believe it or not! While McCarthy-Miller was a director for SNL, she worked alongside Mean Girls mastermind Tina Fey and supporting player Tim Meadows. So maybe they'll lend McCarthy-Miller a few pointers?
All we hope is for Amy Poehler to reprise her role as Mrs. George and bust into Mean Moms insisting, "I'm not a regular mom, I'm a cool mom".
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The Stone Roses' drummer Alan 'Reni' Wren missed the premiere of the band's tell-all documentary on Thursday night (30May13) after falling ill. Director Shane Meadows' The Stone Roses: Made of Stone film, which documents the road to the band's big comeback gigs last year (12), was launched in Manchester, England, but Wren skipped the screening in a bid to improve his health before the group's concert in London's Finsbury Park next week (begs03Jun13).
Singer Rowetta attended the premiere and told her Twitter.com fans, "The boys are here... Reni not here as not well but 3 Roses and director."
Tickets for the film's launch event sold out in just one minute when they went onsale in April (13), and the rest of the band and the moviemaker hit the red carpet outside Manchester's Victoria Warehouse venue.
Meadows, who idolised the band growing up, hopes his movie broadens the rockers' fan base, and admits he was thrilled to see the broad range of the audience at their 2012 concerts.
He is quoted by Britain's The Sun as saying, "You only have to look at the film and see the kids that were at the gigs. There were plenty of people who weren't even born when they made that first album - so it's already happening."
Moviemaker Shane Meadows was left mortified when he met up with reformed rockers Stone Roses to shoot a documentary after he crammed into a lift with the band and set off a warning alarm. The This Is England director was asked by the British group to shoot behind the scenes as they rehearsed for their hotly-anticipated comeback concerts last year (12).
He admits he was a "nervous wreck" at the prospect of getting up close and personal with his heroes, but he was left cringeing with embarrassment within minutes of meeting the band when he had to take a staircase as he was too heavy to join them in an elevator.
Meadows tells BBC Breakfast, "(I'm a) massive fan. I supposed in some ways it made it harder because you have these people saying 'Never work with your idols, it can only go wrong', and obviously I was a bit of a nervous wreck.
"Normally as a director you are kind of in control - you have written a script and you are getting people to do something that maybe you have written - whereas on this I was following their lead and trying to look cool, which never went well, never worked.
"First day I met them they asked me to go in the lift with them. I got in and the alarm went off because it was too heavy having me in the lift so I had to go out and walk up the stairs. So that was the beginning of a beautiful relationship, I think."
Fans of rock legends the Grateful Dead have united in a bid to stop plans to change the name of a California theatre dedicated to late frontman Jerry Garcia. The Jerry Garcia Amphitheater in San Francisco was named in honour of the musician, who grew up in the area, in 2005 but local officials are now considering proposals to change the title and bring in a sponsor to give the venue an economic boost.
However, plans to call the theatre the Levitt Pavilion San Francisco at Jerry Garcia Meadows have been met with resistance from Grateful Dead fans, who have launched a campaign to keep the singer's memorial intact.
An online petition has garnered more than 1,100 signatures, and Garcia's daughter Trixie has branded the name change "kind of lame," but insists her father wouldn't have been concerned with the details.
She adds, "He didn't want a lot of attention for himself, he was a very generous soul. It wouldn't have bothered him either way."
Phil Ginsburg, of the local government's Parks and Recreation Department, insists the plans are nowhere near finalised, telling the San Francisco Chronicle, "Any concern is still very premature. If the requirements of this (idea) work for the community, great. If not, then we'll have to figure out something else."
Garcia died of a heart attack in 1995.
Reunited British rockers The Stone Roses are still proving popular in their native Manchester, England - tickets for the premiere of a new tell-all documentary about the band sold out in just one minute on Thursday (18Apr13). Director Shane Meadows' The Stone Roses: Made of Stone film, which documents the road to their big comeback gig last May (12), is due to be unveiled at a special screening at the Victoria Warehouse on 30 May (13), with frontman Ian Brown and his bandmates in attendance - and fans have snapped up the chance to join them for the premiere.
Eight other cinemas across the U.K., where simultaneous broadcasts of the event are due to be held, also sold out moments after stubs were made available to the public.
Responding to the overwhelming reception, Meadows says, "I'd love to think the tickets selling out so quick was down to the fan base I've built up over the last 15 to 20 years, but I know it's them lot (sic) that everyone's really coming to see."
The news will give the Stone Roses a big boost as they prepare to hit the main stage for the second weekend of the Coachella festival in California on Friday (19Apr13) - the cult band's set at the annual event last week (12Apr13) failed to keep attendees entertained as the huge crowd that had gathered for fellow headliners Blur noticeably began to drift away as Brown kicked off their performance.