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.
Prepare yourselves, sensitive talented fame-seekers: Shock Jock Howard Stern is officially returning to America’s Got Talent. NBC has confirmed that Season 8 will be Stern’s second year as a judge.
“Howard Stern’s towering presence and opinions on last season’s show as a new judge made a dramatic impact and added a sharper edge to the fascinating developments on stage,” Paul Telegdy, President of Alternative and Late Night Programming for NBC Entertainment, said in a release. “We know that Howard believes in America’s Got Talent — which remains America’s top-rated summer series — and that dedication comes across in a genuine way to our viewers who share his passion about our amazing talent competition.”
“Dramatic impact” and “sharper edge,” indeed. Stern has brought his own style of judging to the reality show, and in one episode last May, he caused a 7-year-old rapper to cry when he hit the dreaded X button to eliminate him. He later walked onstage to console the crying contestant.
Auditions are ongoing for AGT in Birmingham, AL (Dec. 10), Memphis (Dec. 11), Nashville (Dec. 13), Savannah, GA (Dec. 14), Raleigh (Dec. 15), Norfolk, VA (Dec. 16), San Antonio (Jan. 12 and 13) and Chicago (Jan. 26 and 27).
Stern remains to be the only judge signed on for Season 8 so far. Howie Mandel has yet to announce a decision and Sharon Osbourne has said she will not return, despite being under contract. AGT returns summer of 2013.
Follow Sydney on Twitter @SydneyBucksbaum
[Photo Credit: Virginia Sherwood/NBC]
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When I saw the headline in The Hollywood Reporter that Bravo was going to remake '80s cult classic movie Heathers, I involuntarily made the same choking, wretching, gasping sound that Heather Chandler made when Veronica gave her a Drain-O Smoothie. Why does Hollywood have to mess with everything that is sacred and amazing? And why do they keep calling it "original" programming when everything is based on an old movie, a canceled show, a long-forgotten novel, or a repurposed reality program? That doesn't sound very original.
But, yes, this Heathers remake is going to happen. Andy Cohen and his tree full of magical cookie-baking elves over there at Bravo are trying to get into the scripted TV business and have greenlit (greenlighted?) this show by The Big C and Sex and the City scribe Jenny Bicks. It also has four other dramedies in the works. That's a lot of cookies in that there tree! As for Heathers, it takes place 20 years after Christian Slater tried to blow up the school and Veronica returns to Sherwood with a daughter of her own. Now Veronica's daughter has to deal with The Ashleys, a power clique in their own right who are the daughters of the Heathers who didn't die at Veronica's hand.
I'm sorry, but I am naturally skeptical, especially when TV execs are messing around with one of the beloved gems from my formative years. (And also, how are they going to have so many fake suicides for seasons of this show?) I'm also skeptical because this sounds pretty much like every other ABC Family show that is already on the air. It's not that there's anything necessarily wrong with ABC Family, it's just that the Real Housewives and Top Chef fans out there, like myself, don't necessarily want to watch ABC Family.
Here are some things that Bravo can do to keep their brand identity and create a show that I'll actually want to watch:
Creative Casting: OK, Winona Ryder has to be in this. What else is she doing? It's not like she's turning down scrips left and right or anything. She doesn't even have a reality show. (OH! A reality TV tie in just like a real life Comeback. Yes, please.) The only way that Veronica will be the same Veronica is if we get the same Veronica. Also, I think Bravo owes it to Real Housewife of Beverly Hills and former Disney star Kim Richards to cast her as one of the old Heathers. Sure, she's a little dodgy these days and definitely seen better days like back in the '80s when she was gorgeous and popular. If that doesn't sound like an arc for TV, then what is?
Add a Gay: I know a boy named Ashley. A mean gay boy named Ashley, nonetheless. It wouldn't be Bravo without at least one homosexual.
Catfights Galore: In the movie there was some shade throwing and a few murders, but there weren't really any good fights. A war of words is what defines the different episodes of each Real Housewives franchise. Without them, we'd be lost. Think more Dynasty.
The Wardrobe Department: These girls better be wearing some clothes! Sherwood is out in the middle of the suburbs, but these girls have Net-A-Porter, they can order some cutting-edge fashion. They better be dressed better than the girls who gossip, or I am going to be seriously pissed.
Sex Appeal: There is going to have to be a hot, shirtless guy in every episode. Maybe Veronica has a gorgeous nudist neighbor who is always popping by to give sage advice and flex his muscles. Maybe there is a comely gym teacher who doesn't like to wear a tank top. Who knows, make it happen.
Forget It: Sure, there is nothing new under the sun, but do we really have to mess with Heathers, something that was already perfect? Why not just make up a new high school drama? Maybe Bravo should just can the Heathers name and go with something else. Maybe that's just best.
Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan
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A kids’ movie without the cheeky jokes for adults is like a big juicy BLT without the B… or the T. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted may have a title that sounds like it was made up in a cartoon sequel laboratory but when it comes to serving up laughs just think of the film as a BLT with enough extra bacon to satisfy even the wildest of animals — or even a parent with a gaggle of tots in tow. Yes even with that whole "Afro Circus" nonsense.
It’s not often that we find exhaustively franchised films like the Madagascar set that still work after almost seven years. Despite being spun off into TV shows and Christmas specials in addition to its big screen adventures the series has not only maintained its momentum it has maintained the part we were pleasantly surprised by the first time around: great jokes.
In this third installment of the series – the trilogy-maker if you will – directing duo Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath add Conrad Vernon (director Monsters Vs. Aliens) to the helm as our trusty gang swings back into action. Alex the lion (Ben Stiller) Marty the zebra (Chris Rock) Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) are stuck in Africa after the hullaballoo of Madagascar 2 and they’ll do anything to get back to their beloved New York. Just a hop skip and a jump away in Monte Carlo the penguins are doing their usual greedy schtick but the zoo animals catch up with them just in time to catch the eye of the sinister animal control stickler Captain Dubois (Frances McDormand). And just like that the practically super human captain is chasing them through Monte Carlo and the rest of Europe in hopes of planting Alex’s perfectly coifed lion head on her wall of prized animals.
Luckily for pint-sized viewers Dubois’ terrifying presence is balanced out by her sheer inhuman strength uncanny guiles and Stretch Armstrong flexibility (ah the wonder of cartoons) as well as Alex’s escape plan: the New Yorkers run away with the European circus. While Dubois’ terrifying Doberman-like presence looms over the entire film a sense of levity (which is a word the kiddies might learn from Stiller’s eloquent lion) comes from the plan for salvation in which the circus animals and the zoo animals band together to revamp the circus and catch the eye of a big-time American agent. Sure the pacing throughout the first act is practically nonexistent running like a stampede through the jungle but by the time we're palling around under the big top the film finds its footing.
The visual splendor of the film (and man is there a champion size serving of it) the magnificent danger and suspense is enhanced to great effect by the addition of 3D technology – and not once is there a gratuitous beverage or desperate Crocodile Dundee knife waved in our faces to prove its worth. The caveat is that the soundtrack employs a certain infectious Katy Perry ditty at the height of the 3D spectacular so parents get ready to hear that on repeat until the leaves turn yellow.
But visual delights and adventurous zoo animals aside Madagascar 3’s real strength is in its script. With the addition of Noah Baumbach (Greenberg The Squid and the Whale) to the screenwriting team the script is infused with a heightened level of almost sarcastic gravitas – a welcome addition to the characteristically adult-friendly reference-heavy humor of the other Madagascar films. To bring the script to life Paramount enlisted three more than able actors: Vitaly the Siberian tiger (Bryan Cranston) Gia the Leopard (Jessica Chastain) and Stefano the Italian Sealion (Martin Short). With all three actors draped in European accents it might take viewers a minute to realize that the cantankerous tiger is one and the same as the man who plays an Albuquerque drug lord on Breaking Bad but that makes it that much sweeter to hear him utter slant-curse words like “Bolshevik” with his usual gusto.
Between the laughs the terror of McDormand’s Captain Dubois and the breathtaking virtual European tour the Zoosters’ accidental vacation is one worth taking. Madagascar 3 is by no means an insta-classic but it’s a perfectly suited for your Summer-at-the-movies oasis.
A decade-long gap between sequels could leave a franchise stale but in the case of Men in Black 3 it's the launch pad for an unexpectedly great blockbuster. The kooky antics of Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) don't stray far from their 1997 and 2002 adventures but without a bombardment of follow-ups to keep the series in mind the wonderfully weird sensibilities of Men in Black feel fresh Smith's natural charisma once again on full display. Barry Sonnenfeld returns for the threequel another space alien romp with a time travel twist — which turns out to be Pandora's Box for the director's deranged imagination.
As time passed in the real world so did it for the timeline in the world of Men in Black. Picking up ten years after MIB 2 J and K are continuing to protect the Earth from alien threats and enforce the law on those who live incognito. While dealing with their own personal issues — K is at his all-time crabbiest for seemingly no reason — the suited duo encounter an old enemy Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) a prickly assassin seeking revenge on K who blew his arm off back in the '60s. Their street fight is more of a warning; Boris' real plan is to head back in time to save his arm and kill off K. He's successful prompting J to take his own leap through the time-space continuum — and team up with a younger K (Josh Brolin) to put an end to Boris plans for world domination.
Men in Black 3 is the Will Smith show. Splitting his time between the brick personalities of Jones and Brolin's K Smith struts his stuff with all the fast-talking comedic style that made him a star in yesteryears. In present day he's still the laid back normal guy in a world of oddities — J raises an eyebrow as new head honcho O (Emma Thompson) delivers a eulogy in a screeching alien tongue but coming up with real world explanations for flying saucer crashes comes a little easier. But back in 1969 he's an even bigger fish out water. Surprisingly director Barry Sonnenfeld and writer Etan Cohen dabble in the inherent issues that would spring up if a black gentlemen decked out in a slick suit paraded around New York in the late '60s. A star of Smith's caliber may stray away from that type of racy humor but the hook of Men in Black 3 is the actor's readiness for anything. He turns J's jokey anachronisms into genuine laughs and doesn't mind letting the special effect artists stretch him into an unrecognizable Twizzler for the movie's epic time jump sequence.
Unlike other summer blockbusters Men in Black 3 is light on the action Sonnenfeld utilizing his effects budget and dazzling creature work (by the legendary Rick Baker) to push the comedy forward. J's fight with an oversized extraterrestrial fish won't keep you on the edge of your seat but his slapstick escape and the marine animal's eventual demise are genuinely amusing. Sonnenfeld carries over the twisted sensibilities he displayed in small screen work like Pushing Daisies favoring bizarre banter and elaborating on the kookiness of the alien underworld than battle scenes. MIB3's chase scene is passable but the movie in its prime when Smith is sparring with Brolin and newcomer Michael Stuhlbarg who steals the show as a being capable of seeing the future. His twitchy character keeps Smith and the audience on their toes.
Men in Black 3 digs up nostalgia I wasn't aware I had. Smith's the golden boy of summer and even with modern ingenuity keeping it fresh — Sonnenfeld uses the mandatory 3D to full and fun effect — there's an element to the film that feels plucked from another era. The movie is economical and slight with plenty of lapses in logic that will provoke head scratching on the walk out of the theater but it's also perfectly executed. After ten years of cinematic neutralizing the folks behind Men in Black haven't forgotten what made the first movie work so well. After al these years Smith continues to make the goofy plot wild spectacle and crazed alien antics look good.
Mary-Kate's not dropping out of NYU, she says
Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen's freshman year at New York University is being so vigilantly dissected by the media that the diminutive millionaires can't buy a $2.50 cup of Tasty D-Lite soft-serve in the city without it making front page news. So it comes as no surprise that Mary-Kate's recent hiatus in Los Angeles is sparking rumors the brunette has not only dropped out of college, but also relapsed into an eating disorder. "She just got out of recovery when she came to New York," US Weekly editor-in-chief Janice Min said on NBC's Today show. "For anyone who has been to college, the freshman year is stressful, and when you are Mary-Kate Olsen and having the whole world watch your behavior and what you eat was too much." Mary-Kate's publicist, Michael Pagnotta, said in a statement Tuesday that Mary-Kate is in L.A. on personal business and is expected to return to New York and to school shortly, but denied reports the 18-year-old actress had suffered a setback. "Somehow there's a suggestion that she has relapsed into an eating disorder. That's just silly. She's in ongoing treatment for an eating disorder with an experienced team of professionals who are available to her on both coasts," he said. "She is working very hard at being well."
New charges filed against O'Reilly
A Fox News Channel producer filed new accusations Tuesday against O'Reilly Factor host Bill O'Reilly, claiming she has lost her job because she complained to the network about her alleged mistreatment, The Associated Press reports. According to court papers, Andrea Mackris, 33, told top executives about the alleged harassment by Sept. 29 and was told to call in sick while they investigated her complaint. But Mackris claims Fox officials have not discussed her job status since she met with Fox lawyers Oct. 5. A lawyer for O'Reilly and Fox denied Mackris has been fired or retaliated against in any way. Last week, O'Reilly filed a lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court against Mackris and her lawyer, alleging they threatened him with a high profile sexual harassment case unless he and the network shelled out $60 million in "hush money." But Benedict Morelli, the lawyer named as a defendant in O'Reilly's case, turned around and filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Fox News and O'Reilly on behalf of Mackris.
Growing Pains star pleads not guilty to drunk driving charges
Former Growing Pains star Tracey Gold pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges she was driving drunk when her sport utility vehicle overturned in Ventura, Calif., on September 3. Tracey Gold Marshall, 35, did not speak as her attorney entered the pleas on her behalf to three felony counts, the AP reports. She is charged with driving under the influence of alcohol causing bodily injury, driving with a blood-alcohol level above 0.08 causing injury and felony child endangerment. Although Marshall wasn't hurt when the SUV flipped on a highway in Moorpark just before midnight and rolled down an embankment, her 39-year-old husband, Roby Marshall, injured his neck and their 7-year-old son suffered a broken collarbone and a cut above his eye. The couple's two other sons, a 5-year-old and 4-month-old, who were also in the SUV but were not hurt. Her lawyer declined to discuss details of the incident.
Private service for Reeve to be held at Julliard
Christopher Reeve's family will hold a private memorial service for the actor Oct. 29 at the Juilliard School in New York, where the Superman star studied drama, according to a statement posted Tuesday on his paralysis foundation's Web site. About 900 guests are expected at the event. Reeve, who was left a quadriplegic after a May 1995 horse riding accident, died Oct. 10 after complications from an infection caused by a bed sore. He was 52. Reeve's wife, Dana, posted a letter on the Web site expressing gratitude for the support the family has received. "We are moved by and sincerely grateful for all these gestures--large and small--for they do make a difference," she said in the letter.
Trump's moving ahead with Apprentice 3
As the wannabe moguls continue to duke it out on season two of NBC's hit realty show The Apprentice, host Donald Trump has confirmed the third installment of his hit reality series has already starting filming. "It's going very well," Trump told the AP yesterday. "It's a great group."
Godzilla will get Walk of Fame star
And why shouldn't he? It's been 50 years since the genetically altered dinosaur rose out of the sea to wreak havoc on the hapless Japanese, and the fire-breathing movie monster has certainly put in his dues as part of Hollywood monster royalty. The ceremony to honor the giant lizard will be held Nov. 29 to coincide with the world premiere of Godzilla Final Wars, the 28th Godzilla movie at Hollywood Boulevard's famed Grauman's Chinese Theatre, the AP reports.
Broadcaster will air only part of anti-Kerry docu
The Sinclair Broadcast Group said Tuesday it will only air part of a documentary critical of John Kerry because of pressure from critics demanding the broadcast be canceled altogether--or face legal action, Reuters reports. Sinclair said last week it planned to show the entire 42-minute documentary Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal, made by Vietnam veteran and former journalist Carlton Sherwood, which chronicles Kerry's 1971 testimony before Congress and accuses the senator of betraying fellow Vietnam vets. But the Democratic Party filed a complaint against Sinclair with the Federal Election Commission, claiming the broadcasting company was acting as a mouthpiece for the Republican Party rather than a legitimate news outlet. Sinclair operates in 39 markets that include Florida and Ohio.
Kit Bowen contributed to this report.