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.
“Crime comedy” may seem like a broad, tired, oversaturated quasi-genre, and there are indeed tons of movies that loosely include both themes together – but not many movies feature genuine elements of crime and comedy; even fewer blend them together successfully. With the crime-com-leaning Tower Heist hitting theaters this week, we took a look back at the ones that got it right.
The masterpiece. Quentin Tarantino seamlessly mixed shocking violence and crime with his absurdist sense of humor. The result was a stunning mash-up that ushered in a necessarily new, mercifully fresh style of storytelling to the medium.
The Big Lebowski
Arguably the most beloved Coen brothers film, Lebowski is often remembered for The Dude and its overall stoner-friendliness, but let’s not forget that the story actually revolves around crime. The Coens wouldn’t make just a stoner comedy, or anything one-dimensional.
Also arguably the most beloved Coen brothers film, Fargo offered mainstream moviegoers their first glimpse at the duo’s trademark non-replicable “formula”: violence laced with pitch-black comedy.
Beverly Hills Cop
As we all know, Eddie Murphy – co-lead of the aforementioned Tower Heist – was once associated with edgy, R-rated comedy, never more so than with the first Beverly Hills Cop, a borderline perfect marriage of crime and comedy. Don’t hold its ‘80s-ness against it.
More or less the one that started it all, The Sting clicked on every single cylinder, racking up awards and gigantic (at the time) box office returns. In his original 1973 review, Roger Ebert explains it best: “It’s good to get a crime movie more concerned with humor and character than with blood and gore; here’s one, as we say, for the whole family.”
Wes Anderson’s feature directorial debut is an underappreciated gem of offbeat cinema (though not by Martin Scorsese, who named it one of his favorite films of the ‘90s). With virtually no budget, Bottle Rocket relied on Anderson’s formidable knack for quirky, offbeat humor—and in this case, quirky, offbeat crime.
Swept Away notwithstanding, Guy Ritchie has made a living out of crime comedy, with 2000’s Snatch possibly being his greatest contribution. Moviegoers have debated its greatness, but no one can debate the fact that it's the most energetic movie of its kind.
The subgenre lives on! Martin McDonagh’s somewhat ignored crime-com is the latest addition to this list – and proof that the mash-up can still be executed amazingly well. The director’s next movie, the superbly titled Seven Psychopaths (also starring Colin Farrell) seems destined to be even better.
Looks like Whoopi Goldberg's single again.
The Oscar-winning thespian turned "Hollywood Square" queen has split with her boyfriend of five years, actor Frank Langella, today's Daily Variety says.
The two have been an item since the mid-1990s when they met on the set of one of Goldberg's cinematic opuses: "Eddie" (the one where she plays the limo driver who -- oh, my! -- gets hired to coach basketball's New York Knicks! Hee, hee.)
Goldberg's last high-profile romance was with "Cheers" star turned "Becker" guy Ted Danson. That one hit the skids shortly after Danson's black-faced tribute to Goldberg at a Friar's Club Roast in 1993.
Though Goldberg, 50, and Langella, 60, never wed, Variety says the ex-couple intends to stay "close friends" just like real-live Hollywood husbands and wives who haul each other into divorce court.
CODA: Dennis Danell, a guitarist for the Southern California-bred punk band Social Distortion ("Ball and Chain"), died Tuesday of natural causes, the group's Time Bomb Recordings says. Some reports peg the cause of death as an aneurysm. Danell was 38. In a statement, Social Distortion frontman Mike Ness said: "I am saddened beyond any possible form of expression." The band's roots date back to 1979.
STERN TALK? Can't anybody just quit anymore? Does everybody have to talk about how they're thinking of quitting, and then talk and talk and talk about it for months, making their eventual act of quitting an anti-climax? In short: Does everybody have to be like Kathie Lee Gifford?
On the very same day the Hamlet-esque Kathie Lee finally dropped anchor on her morning talk-show gig, the equally Hamlet-esque Howard Stern told reporters that he was -- ugh -- undecided about his future on the radio.
"I have a couple months left on my contract," Stern said a press conference hyping his new FX sitcom "Son of a Beach" premiering March 14, "and I don't know what I want to do."
We hereby terminate this item until Stern decides what he wants to do.
OFF THE ROAD: It's the bus (or limo) for Eric Clapton in Britain, where the 54-year-old guitar god has been banned from driving for six months per a speeding conviction.
According to reports, Clapton was dinged by authorities for driving his Jeep at 45 mph in a 30 mph zone in October. In addition to the no-driving thing, the rocker also was ordered to pay a $569 fine.
OSCAR WATCH: "Austin Powers" star Heather Graham has been tapped to join the presenters lineup for the 72nd Annual Academy Awards on March 26 at the Los Angeles Shrine Auditorium.