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.
Oscar-nominated actress Eileen Brennan has died in a Burbank hospice after a long battle with bladder cancer. She was 80.
Brennan played a string of world-weary characters in the 1970s and '80s in movies like Scarecrow, Murder by Death, and Clue, in which she played the dotty boardgame character Mrs. Peacock. Peter Bogdanovich was so taken with her work as Genevieve in 1971's The Last Picture Show that he cast her again in his Henry James adaptation Daisy Miller three years later. Her best-known role, though, may be as the tough-talking drill sargent Capt. Doreen Lewis in the comedy Private Benjamin, the only performance that ever netted her an Oscar nomination. Opposite Goldie Hawn as the title character, Brennan became the female equivalent of R. Lee Ermey, imposing and fierce... but absolutely hilarious.
It was Brennan's knack for comedy that will be her last legacy. She discovered subtle notes of irony playing the whorehouse madame Billie in The Sting, the perfect burnt-out companion to Paul Newman's weary cardsharp Henry Gondorff. Just look how she milks every note of her near-wordless rendition of "La Vie en Rose" in Neil Simon's The Cheap Detective. It's total absurdity yet somehow sincere to the last frame. Brennan's work shows just how hilarious an actor can be when treating comedy as a very serious matter.
Brennan is survived by her two sons, Patrick and Sam.
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Troubled by unfortunate event after unfortunate event The Watch sidesteps faux pas to come out on top as a consistently funny sci-fi comedy that doesn't let its high concept tangle up a bevy of one-liners. The script penned by Jared Stern Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg assumes you've seen a few movies before entering the theater (mainly any sci-fi movie made in the 1980s). "Summer movie logic" is the foundation for The Watch's ridiculous plot which finds four adult nincompoops teaming up to form a Neighborhood Watch trying to solve the murder of a local Costco employee and eventually pursuing a killer extraterrestrial. Instead of making sense of it all The Watch wisely focuses on its four leads: Ben Stiller Vince Vaughn Jonah Hill and The IT Crowd's Richard Ayoade — a quartet whose bro banter goes a long way in spicing up the dust-covered material. There's nothing revelatory to be found in The Watch but the cast's knack for improv a poetry of the profane makes the adventure worth…viewing.
Director Akiva Schaffer (Hot Rod) establishes his two-dimensional characters quickly and bluntly smashing together broad personality types like a Hadron Collider of cinematic comedy. Stiller's Evan is a micromanaging do-gooder who can't find time for his wife; Hill's Franklin is a mildly disturbed weapons enthusiast yearning to join the police; Ayoade is the quaint weirdo who joins the Watch to fill the void left by his divorce; Vince Vaughn is Vince Vaughn: a loud crass gent looking for a bit of male bonding. The ragtag team assembles to fight crime but they spend most of their time drinking beers in a minivan — an affair they dub "stakeouts." A perfect opportunity for banter.
For a movie about enforcing the law and alien invasions there's a surprising lack of action in The Watch. Long stretches of the film see the central players yapping back and forth about everything: Russian nesting dolls peeing in cans or the similar viscosities of alien goo and human excrement. Charisma goes a long way and Vaughn does much of the heavy lifting making up for lost time out of the spotlight (he's been virtually nonexistent since 2005's Wedding Crashers). The man spits out jokes like no other — the rest of the cast barely keeps up. Ayoade balances out Vaughn's bombardment with a tempered timed delivery that's uniquely British and rarely found on the American big screen. Even when nothing's happening in The Watch it's rarely boring.
The Watch is at its best when it goes a step further mixing the group in with outsiders and throwing them off their rhythm. Billy Crudup cuts loose as a creepy neighbor and its delightfully weird while the always-impressive Rosemarie DeWitt as Evan's wife Abby brings unexpected warmth to the couple's relationship. Sadly The Watch mishandles its greatest asset: the aliens. The film never finds a pitch perfect blend of comedy and science fiction (Ghostbusters or Galaxy Quest this is not); a few scenes where the two come together hint at the best possible scenario but more often than not The Watch avoids its sci-fi roots. A moment in which the guys haul a dead alien back to their man cave plays like an E.T.-inspired version of The Hangover credits. It's lewd and ridiculous but the rest of the film struggles to maintain that energy.
Stiller Vaughn Hill and Ayoade have all proved themselves able funnymen capable of taking weak and tired material up a notch which they're forced to do in every moment of The Watch. Schaffer can handle his talent but his direction isn't adding anything to the mix. By the third slow-motion-set-to-gangster-rap scene The Lonely Island member's obsession with non-cool-coolness is officially just an attempt at being cool (which is not all that funny). The Watch has a greater opportunity than most comedy blockbusters to go absolutely bonkers: it's rated R. But instead of taking its twist and running with it the movie plays it safe. In this case safe is non-stop jokes about the many facets of human reproduction.
Edward and Connie Sumner (Richard Gere and Diane Lane) live a fairly idyllic life in the suburbs with their 8-year-old son Charlie (Erik Per Sullivan). Even though they have a seemingly happy if somewhat mundane marriage Connie is drawn to a gorgeous French rare book dealer Paul (Oliver Martinez) who she literally crashes into one day on the streets of Manhattan. Their passionate affair opens up a whole world of sexual possibilities for her. Yet it quickly spirals into an obsession for Connie a cycle she knows she has to break before it destroys her family--and her sanity. Unfortunately she makes this decision too late; Edward has already discovered her infidelity. Rather than going straight to Connie a tormented Edward confronts Paul and the meeting unleashes a fury in Edward he didn't know he was capable of. Now Connie and Edward must face the consequences of their actions but can they do it together?
A three-character piece is always a tough framework for a movie because you have to rely heavily on the acting rather than on the action. Luckily for Unfaithful everyone shines. Gere veers off his usual path as Edward a man trying desperately to hold onto his wife. He sheds that cocky attitude he likes to infuse in his other characters and digs deep to find other emotions. Gere doesn't quite match up to Lane though. An underrated actress Lane comes alive in this film her performance is unlike anything we've seen from her before. Even as she is breaking the vows of her marriage she does it with such an elegant mixture of pleasure and guilt--and we don't hate her for it. She's too real. Connie's first love scene with Paul is incredibly powerful and it's framed by Lane's reaction to it--she sits on the train remembering every detail of the encounter. It's a brilliant scene. This may be jumping the gun but Lane could quite possibly snag an Oscar nomination for her performance--and you heard it here first. As the third piece in the puzzle Martinez (Before Night Falls) does a nice job as Paul full of youth and bravado--just like a good lover should be. Too bad things don't end well for him.
Plain and simple director Adrian Lyne knows how to make a great movie about sex. No make that steamy sex. But the sex he tends to outline in painstaking details usually comes at great costs as in his films 9 ½ Weeks Fatal Attraction and now Unfaithful. The film is definitely one of his best allowing more of a maturity--a reality--to shine through than in any of his other films. Lyne loosely bases it on a 1968 French film La Femme Infidèle exploring how a relationship can be affected by deception and guilt. The story written by Alvin Sargent (Ordinary People) expertly shifts from Connie's perspective to Edward's and never falls into pat Hollywood scenarios. This isn't about sex and murder; it's about two people who are faced with what they have done and how they find redemption in each other. Lyne never veers from that idea. Most importantly Unfaithful will hit a chord with many people because it can happen to anyone of us at any time.