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.
Lions Gate via Everett Collection
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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Iron Man 3 star Rebecca Hall is to make her Broadway debut in a new play that last hit the New York stage 85 years ago. The actress, who is the daughter of British theatre impresario Sir Peter Hall, will lead the cast of Machinal.
Sophie Treadwell's play, which was inspired by Ruth Snyder's 1927 murder trial, featured Clark Gable in his Broadway debut when it last appeared in the Big Apple.
The new production will begin previews on 20 December (13) and open a month later (16Jan14) at the American Airlines Theatre.
Machinal hasn't played in New York for over eight decades but it has been staged a number of times across the world, winning a Best Revival Olivier Award in London in 1994.
Before Armie Hammer remakes one classic television show with a movie star (The Social Network actor will play opposite Tom Cruise in a big screen adaptation of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) he's first got to debut his other remake of a classic television show with a movie star: this summer's The Lone Ranger with Johnny Depp.
On Wednesday, Hammer helped introduce the 20 minutes of footage from the Disney flick (he was not lone, however, as he was accompanied by his co-star Ruth Wilson and producer Jerry Bruckheimer) that were seen by a lucky few at last week's CinemaCon in Las Vegas.
The footage, which — SPOILERS AHEAD, Kemosabe — takes place about 15 minutes into the action caper's running time, finds Hammer's clean cut lawyer John Reid attempting to arrest Depp's Tonto under some pretty rough and tumble circumstances: the two are on a train that is not only in the middle of a takeover by a gang of outlaws, but the train just happens to be speeding down unfinished railroad tracks.
With John and Tonto (with Depp the full-on Native American garb, the overall look including his bird headdress, and makeup he came up with for his take on the character) quite literally attached to one another by a chain, the two must thwart off the evil Butch Cavendish's (William Fichtner) goons while on top of the speeding locomotive. In one instance, Depp's Tonto kicks a baddie through one of the train's windows, only to have him fall out of the other side of the train completely. (Yes, if you were wondering, the action and dialogue looks and sounds exactly like what you'd expect out of a blockbuster set for July 4th weekend).
After the train inevitably crashes and Tonto and John miraculously survive — despite the locomotive stopping within an inch of their lives — the bumbling John takes the cool and collected Tonto into custody. Along the way, we also meet John's heroic Texas Ranger brother Dan (James Badge Dale), who gives his little sib a hard time for his courtroom demeanor and his nearly-botched arrest attempt on the runaway train.
Back in town, Dan — who seems to have all the luck (as well as the hand of John's former love Rebecca, played by Wilson, despite the fact that the two still have eyes for each other) — enlists his brother to ride along with him and his group of rangers to find and stop Cavendish. Dan gives his brother their late father's badge, making him an honorary deputy. Meanwhile, Dan and Rebecca's young son sees Tonto in his jail cell, where he is chanting and making motions that create a bird-like shadow, scaring the boy off.
When Dan and John ride off into the desert on their justice mission, in the midst of their brotherly ribbing (Dan makes fun of the size of John's crisp white cowboy hat) they come across a lone white horse standing on a mountain, which Dan explains is a spirit horse that can take you to the other side.
Cut to: John... presumably on the other side. Well, next we see him he's high above a shaky looking wooden structure on an even taller mountain. John, dressed in entirely new clothes (though, his shoes are missing) and with paint on his face, almost steps off the tall structure. He somehow makes his way down (though in the footage we watched, it's uncertain exactly how he gets there) and comes across Tonto talking to the same white horse he saw before.
John soon learns that he is the only survivor of an ambush that killed his brothers and the fellow rangers. Tonto explains to John that he went to the "other side." Tonto was sent a sign that he was to join John on his journey. Later that night, as the two sit by campfire (joined by some ravenous, terrifying CGI jack rabbits), Tonto explains that he is on his own mission to thwart the ploys of Cavendish, a mission that John ruined by arresting Tonto on the train.
When John discovers that one of the rangers betrayed the group, ultimately causing the death of his brother, he vows revenge. But Tonto explains that John was supposed to die, so he must ride with him on his mission in disguise (donning his famous black mask which covers his eyes). He tells his new friend "Kemosabe" that together, they can find justice.
In these 20 minutes alone, it's fairly apparent that when it comes to Disney's take on The Lone Ranger, what you see is what you get: a big, rollicking adventure peppered in with humor (Depp delivers zingy one-liners like "Bird angry" and "Horse is stupid" in the Native American voice inflection as we've heard it for years on the big screen), eye candy (Depp and Hammer, who both look and feel their parts), a predictable romance (with Dan out of the picture, it's a safe bet John and Rebecca will reunite) and more action, loud noises, and sweeping shots of the vast landscape than you can shake a stick at.
Think Cowboys and Aliens, but with Indians instead of aliens... or the Pirates of the Caribbean getting shipwrecked in the middle of the wild west.
Bruckheimer, who has seen the first four Pirates films take in over $1.2 billion at the U.S. box office alone, has no problem drawing the comparison to the two. The producer told Hollywood.com at the footage screening, "Everybody says, 'Oh, it's a Western, nobody's gonna go see it', but Pirates was a good story and it transcended pirate movies. [The Lone Ranger] transcends Westerns."
We'll see the rest of what Gore Verbinski's The Lone Ranger has to offer when it rides into theaters on July 3.
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More: 'The Lone Ranger' Super Bowl Spot Has Thrills With Fire Balls and Train Chases New 'Lone Ranger' Trailer Has Our Heroes Workin' On the Railroad Is Tonto in 'The Lone Ranger' the Next Captain Jack, Kimosabe?
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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.
This film is based on Elegy for Iris literary critic John Bayley's biography of his late wife the brilliant writer and philosopher Iris Murdoch. Iris is unconventional in the sense that it does not adhere to a structured plot or story line but instead focuses on their relationship by flashing back and forth between the present and 40 years ago when the two first met. In the sequences taking place in the past Kate Winslet plays a young confident Murdoch in her formative years a woman revered by men and openly bisexual. Hugh Bonneville plays the young and apprehensive Bayley hopelessly pursuing her. The present however reveals a drastic role reversal for the couple: We see Murdoch in her 70s as played by Judi Dench and witness her descent into Alzheimer's disease and the toll it takes on her husband played by Jim Broadbent. The once-subservient husband has been thrust into a caretaker position and painfully tries to cope with his beloved wife's illness and loss of sanity.
Dench deservedly received a best actress Oscar nomination for the fabulous job she does as the older Murdoch. She is convincing as a brilliant thinker and even more believable as her condition worsens--check out the heartbreaking scene when Bayley locks himself in the study to get away from her irrational behavior and she scratches the windowpane on the glass door like a cat while looking at her husband with utter helplessness. Dench conveys her character's vulnerability in a single glance. As an older Bayley Broadbent is as impressive as Dench especially as he struggles to be assertive yet avoid being too harsh. Bonneville as a young Bayley could almost be Broadbent's clone. At first glance he looks like the same actor made to look older through some sort of makeup or special effects wizardry. Bonneville skillfully hatches the young Bayley's traits and tics later perfected by Broadbent. Winslet also Oscar-nominated for Iris (in the supporting actress category) well plays Murdoch's early audacity and boldness.
Director Richard Eyre does a beautiful and seamless job flowing from the past to the present throughout the film. Although the film barely delves into Murdoch's work the importance of her writing is established with scenes from a BBC interview or a luncheon given in her honor. Eyre also does an exceptional job conveying Bayley's hopeless predicament: he fusses over Murdoch like an overprotective parent intermittently lashing out at her only to apologize sobbing afterward for having done so. It's sweet and pitiful especially since Bayley believes that the Iris he fell in love with is still in there somewhere. But while the film is visually exquisite and convincing the subject matter is not necessarily entertaining. We know Murdoch will eventually succumb to her illness but it's even more dreadful to have to watch every agonizing step. By the time Murdoch was reduced to playing in the dirt and watching Teletubbies I found myself wondering When is she going to die already?
Bobby Garfield (David Morse) returns to his small hometown to attend the funeral of his childhood friend and remembers the fateful summer in 1960 when his whole world changed. The story flashes back to when 11-year-old Bobby (Anton Yelchin) and his best friends Carol (Mika Boorem) and Sully-John (Will Rothhaar) capture the pure joy of youthfulness. When a mysterious stranger named Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins) moves upstairs and starts to pay attention to Bobby the boy suddenly realizes what's truly missing from his life--the love of a parent. Bobby's mother Liz (Hope Davis) is embittered by the death of Bobby's father and shows little compassion for her son's growing needs. Ted fills a void with the boy opening his eyes to the world around him and helps Bobby come to terms with his real feelings for Carol--and his mother. But Ted also has some deep dark secrets of his own and Bobby tries hard to stop danger from reaching the old man.
The performances make the film especially in the genuine camaraderie of the kids. Yelchin Boorem and Rothhaar never deliver a false move with an easiness that makes us believe we are simply watching three 11-year-old children grow up together. Yelchin in particular is able to get right to the heart of this young boy who misses his father and clings to the only adult who will listen. And his scenes with Boorem simply break your heart. (Davis) does an admirable job playing a part none too sympathetic. She manages to show a woman whose been beaten down but who does truly love her son in her own way. Morse too is one of those character actors you can plug in any movie and get a performance worth noting. In Hearts you want to see more of him. Of course the film shines brightest when Hopkins is on the screen. It may not be an Oscar-caliber performance but the actor is unparalleled in bringing a character to life--showing the subtleties of an old man looking for some peace in his life.
If you are expecting the Stephen King novel you may be disappointed. Screenwriter William Goldman and director Scott Hicks (Shine) deftly extracted the King formula of telling a story through a child's eye and explaining how the relationships formed as a child shaped the adult later. Hicks did an amazing job with his young actors especially Yelchin and Boorem. But where the novel continued into a supernatural theme explaining Brautigan's fear of being captured by "low men in yellow coats" (a reference to King's The Dark Tower series) the movie downplayed the mystical elements instead giving real explanations for Brautigan's man-on-the-run. That was the one problem with Hearts--we needed more danger. Introducing men from another dimension may not have been the way to go but had there been more tension the film would have resonated more especially when Bobby risked his own safety to save Ted.
I won't give away the film's clever opening except to say that it's
playfully inventive and if you buy into it it ties together nicely
with the rest of the film. Essentially it's a film about the American
dream Hollywood style: Two young kids growing up in Smalltown USA who
go to Tinseltown with delusions of grandeur hoping to escape their
insulated world for fame and fortune. Oh yeah and one of the guys sells
his virginity to get funding for their film.
Jeremy Jordan and Mark Ballou as CFDS (Chronic Filmmaking Dream
Syndrome) sufferers Dave and Ethan are believably earnest in a 1990
"Dawson's Creek" sort of way. Ruth De Sosa is the Beverly Hills
housewife exploiting the sexually repressed boys for cheap thrills and
Courtney Gains plays the dim-witted producer. No stars here but no
Probably the most amazing thing about the film is Lu's fascination with
and affinity for Americana. It's hard to believe the director has only
been in the United States for five years; her feeling for the small-town
characters and their situations is dead-on. And Lu has a great sense of
visual style particularly for such a low-budget affair.