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.
In 2010’s Get Him to the Greek wiry British funnyman Russell Brand played a spoiled lush whose immature antics threatened his rock-star comeback. In the 2011’s Arthur Brand plays a spoiled lush whose immature antics threaten his billion-dollar inheritance. Greek turned out to be one of last year’s underrated comic gems; Arthur not so much. Why? The two films are wildly different to be sure but I submit that the biggest reason for the disparity in quality can be traced to one crucial distinction: Arthur is a remake and as such carries with it the acknowledged lack of creativity inherent in just about every remake not directed by the Coen Brothers.
And Arthur does what most bad remakes seem to do dropping what’s essential about the original film keeping what isn’t and wrapping it all up in a glossy generic heavily-promoted package. The storyline is essentially unchanged – to retain access to his family’s vast fortune perpetually inebriated playboy Arthur Bach (Brand) is arranged to marry a respectable woman he disdains (Jennifer Garner) but he jeopardizes his inheritance by falling for a girl of humble means (Greta Gerwig). Much of the soul and charm of the original film are gone however sacrificed for a succession of canned comic scenarios that probably seemed funny in brainstorming sessions (Russell Brand in a Batman costume? Hilarious!) but are considerably less so when rendered on-screen.
But hey – all the characters’ names are the same! And they’ve all been updated with contrived tweaks that these days passes for invention! Arthur’s acerbic English butler Hobson is now an acerbic English nanny (Helen Mirren); his African-American chauffer Bitterman is now a Puerto Rican-American (Luis Guzman); his betrothed Susan Johnson (Garner) formerly a dainty debutante is now a pugnacious high-powered executive; etc. Brand for his part has little hope of measuring up to Dudley Moore who scored an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of the title character in the original. He does get a few choice lines and he manages to conjure a respectable romantic spark with the luminous Gerwig (trying her best with a character conceived as little more than an assortment of manufactured quirks) but his talents appear severely constrained by a script that can do little more than dress him up in zany outfits and hope for the best.
Iron Man 2 Jon Favreau’s much-anticipated follow-up to his breakthrough 2008 blockbuster is less a comic book flick than it is a superhero version of Arthur the Oscar-nominated 1981 comedy that starred Dudley Moore as a drunken wise-cracking dilettante. In his second turn as Tony Stark Robert Downey Jr. recasts the billionaire inventor as the Dean Martin of industrialists strutting from one star-studded event to another on a bacchanalian victory tour dishing out choice one-liners and stirring up minor controversies for his exasperated babysitters Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and James "Rhodey" Rhodes (Don Cheadle) to quell. Whether gloating about his achievements at a defense industry expo upbraiding Senators during a congressional hearing or getting wasted and donning his armored powersuit to play DJ at his birthday party there's no telling what kind of madcap mischief Tony Stark will get himself into next!
The Tony Stark Comedy Tour for what it’s worth is a supremely entertaining ride (credit screenwriter Justin Theroux at the very least with crafting the genre’s most quotable film of all time) but I’m fairly certain Iron Man 2 is supposed to be an action film not the Marvel Follies Variety Show. Surely there must be a supervillain lurking in the shadows a frighteningly powerful menace preparing to unleash its destructive might upon the world?
There is — well kind of. The primary antagonist of Iron Man 2 Mickey Rourke's hulking Ivan Vanko (aka Whiplash) is certainly a fearsome beast baring his blinged-out grill and electrified tentacles but he gets all of five minutes of meaningful screen time in the sequel — hardly enough to establish him as a worthy foe for the great Iron Man. Perhaps producers found Rourke’s chosen dialect learned from John Malkovich's Rounders School of Exaggerated Russian Accents (“I vant my bort!” he furiously declares when separated from his pet parrot) to be less compelling in post-production.
More likely they became enamored with Sam Rockwell in the role of Justin Hammer Stark’s resentful business rival and Whiplash’s principal financial backer. It’s certainly understandable. Exuding the hubris and insecurity of a sardonic Mark Cuban (but capable of amusing us with more than just an underachieving basketball team) his performance is easily the best of the film surpassing even that of the great Downey. (Which makes perfect fodder for conspiracy theorists who wonder why Rockwell was the only member of the main cast not to get his own poster.)
The only problem is Rockwell’s Hammer is a venture capitalist not a comic book supervillain and every second he spends on the screen — as enjoyable as it is — is a second that could have been devoted to dimensionalizing Rourke’s character or crafting a badly-needed action sequence to enliven the talky second act.
It’s little wonder then that Stark continues with his feckless self-destructive ways unconcerned with the threat posed by the Hammer/Whiplash collaboration. He's got bigger problems to worry about — namely his inability to find a suitable replacement for palladium the substance inside the Arc Reactor that powers both his suit and his heart and which also happens to be slowly killing him.
Thankfully Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. arrive at his compound to stage a kind of intervention bearing a powerful dual-pronged Deus Ex Machina device that instantly wrests our hero from his para-suicidal stupor — just in time to build the upgraded powersuit he’ll need to thwart the army of powerful robot drones that Whiplash is about to let loose upon on the unsuspecting citizens of Queens New York. Whew! Favreau steps up the action and delivers a suitably big finish but don't blink when Iron Man and Whiplash meet on the battlefield because you might just miss it.
Given that Iron Man 2’s director and writer have both spent the bulk of their movie careers employed as actors it comes as little surprise that they chose to focus the action on Downey and Rockwell as the two rank head and shoulders above the rest of the cast. I just wish they found room in between the one-liners for a few more explosions.
Pierce Brosnan was named the sexiest man alive by People magazine in its issue released Thursday, Reuters reports. Previous recipients of the title include Brad Pitt, Richard Gere, Harrison Ford and George Clooney. Benjamin Bratt took honors for the sexiest single guy alive and Mexican president Vicente Fox was named sexiest world leader. Brosnan, who starts working on his fourth Bond movie in January, married his long-term girlfriend Keely Shaye Smith in Ireland in August.
Geena Davis is expecting a child in April with husband Reza Jarrahy, Reuters reports. Davis, 45, and Jarrahy, 30, were married in September. This is the actress's fourth marriage. She was previously married to restaurant manager Richard Emmolo, actor Jeff Goldblum and director Renny Harlin.
Dudley Moore received his Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) award from the Prince of Wales at London's Buckingham Palace on Friday, BBC News reports. Moore, who currently lives in New Jersey, flew to London this week to receive his award. The actor suffers from a rare brain condition called progressive supranuclear palsy and attended the ceremony in a wheelchair.
Actor Albert Hague died Monday in a hospital near Los Angeles after suffering from cancer, BBC News reports. The 81-year-old actor played the bad-tempered music teacher Mr. Shorofsky in the 1980 film Fame and for five years on the television series.
Robert Downey Jr. appeared in court for a progress report on Thursday and thanked a judge for allowing him to continue treatment in a live-in drug rehabilitation program, Reuters reports. Downey, who was sentenced to a year in a drug treatment center after pleading no contest to drug charges in July, tested negative to all drug tests.
Former Baywatch babe Yasmine Bleeth
was charged on Friday with two counts of possession of cocaine (a four-year felony) and one count of operating a vehicle under the influence of narcotics (a misdemeanor) in Romulus, Mich., AP reports. The 33-year-old actress was arrested Sept. 12 after police investigating an accident involving her car found cocaine in her purse. Charges also stem from a subsequent search of Bleeth's hotel room. Bleeth pleaded innocent and posted a $10,000 bond. A hearing is set for Nov. 30. The actress had no comment.
A stunt double for Robert De Niro was charged Wednesday with two counts of criminal impersonation and released on $100 bail. According to The Associated Press, Joseph Manuella told Vietnam veterans in Port Jervis, N.Y., that he was filming a documentary about the war so they would lend him props. He also received discounts on lodging and filmmaking materials and even acquired a credit card in De Niro's name. The former New York City firefighter worked with De Niro in The Fan and Great Expectations.
The plot thickened in the Screen Actors Guild election debacle Thursday after polling administrator Sequoia Voting Systems revealed that there were 260 more ballots counted in New York than deposited at the official post office box by union voters. Sequoia executive Robbin Johnson blamed this new discrepancy on the U.S. Postal Service and denied any stuffing of the ballot box. Johnson already admitted to removing signature lines from 24,800 New York ballots, Variety reports.
Howard Stern's production company is developing a first-run syndicated comedy for CBS, Variety reports. Kane will center on a woman who returns to her husband and kids in the Deep South after a long absence. The deal comes as the syndicated Howard Stern Radio Show, which has been in repeats on CBS since August, goes off the air this weekend.
Mick Jagger, whose new album Goddess in the Doorway hits stores next week, performed at the El Rey Theater in Los Angeles on Thursday to promote the release, Reuters reports. Concertgoers consisted mostly of young models, who were paid $100 each to surround the small stage and shriek and claw at Jagger's legs. Celebrities in attendance included Meg Ryan, Billy Crudup, David Spade and Heath Ledger.
Catherine Zeta-Jones and George Clooney will team up for Joel and Ethan Coen's next project for Universal Pictures, Variety reports. Intolerable Cruelty is described as a Howard Hawks-style old-Hollywood glamour picture in which Clooney and Zeta-Jones will play bitter rivals who fall in love.
Barbie maker Mattel, Inc. challenged 20 Hong Kong students to come up with the creative outfits for the 42-year-old doll, Reuters reports. The most eye-catching design unveiled for the media Friday was an off-the-shoulder, backless dinner gown which showcased a stunning dragon tattoo running down Barbie's back. Mattel has no plans to mass-produce the "Tattoo Barbie" designed by Hong Kong Polytechnic University student Wingo Wong.
Adam Sandler will develop a pilot for NBC starring Jon Lovitz and Norm Macdonald, targeted for fall 2002. According to Variety, Lovitz and Macdonald will play mismatched roommates. The comedy will be written by Tim Herlihy (Big Daddy
Russell Crowe is a somber fellow, isn't he? I would think coming from fun-loving Australia, the guy would learn how to lighten up a bit, but alas, drama is his thing. Now he and Brian Grazer of Imagine Entertainment are teaming up to develop a dramatic big-screen version of the '60s TV sitcom "Hogan's Heroes" for Crowe to star in. That's right. Hogan and his wacky cohorts, who continually sabotaged German war efforts while in a Nazi POW camp on TV, are getting serious for the movies. Don't look to bumbling Sergeant Schultz and pansy Colonel Klink for comic relief in this one.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't Hogan's Heroes a TV spin-off of the 1953 Oscar-winning film Stalag 17, which was a serious drama about a German POW camp? Wouldn't it make more sense to simply to remake Stalag 17? Sure--but that's not how those Hollywood types think. They'd rather take a silly sitcom and turn it into a "quality" movie--especially if they get Oscar-winning (and decidedly un-silly) Crowe in the lead role.
Fiennes may be a bad guy again
When thinking of British actor Ralph Fiennes, most of us picture him as the tortured lover in the Oscar-winning The English Patient. That's probably what he wants us to remember--but I will never forget his chilling, Oscar-nominated performance as the sadistic Nazi concentration camp officer in Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List. My lord, was he ever despicable. Now he's looking to play the villain again in Brett Ratner's Red Dragon, the retooling of Thomas Harris' novel with Anthony Hopkins reprising his role as Hannibal Lecter. Fiennes is in negotiations to play the serial killer Francis Dollarhyde, whom FBI agent Will Graham wants desperately to catch even if it takes soliciting the help of original psycho Lecter, who is locked up in a hospital for the criminally insane.
Even though the Michael Mann movie Manhunter was a great adaptation of Harris' novel, I'm really looking forward to this new adaptation for the cast alone. If Fiennes comes on board, he'll be joining not only Hopkins but also Emily Watson, Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel and Philip Seymour Hoffman, working from a script by Ted Tally, who won the Oscar for writing The Silence of the Lambs. We could be looking at another Lambs landslide.
Scott and Chow "Monk"-eyin' around
Did you ever think you'd see Seann William Scott, the ultimate dumb guy who just wants to get laid in American Pie, star in the same movie with the Crouching Tiger himself, Chow Yun-Fat? Neither would I, but it's happening nonetheless. Scott is set to star opposite Chow in the MGM film Bulletproof Monk as a street kid who gets mentored by a Tibetan martial arts master. The story comes from a cult comic of the same name. This is somehow supposed to make it sound better? It seems like a skewed version of The Karate Kid to me.
Continuing on the same theme...
Adam Sandler and Zhang Ziyi are making a movie together. I don't know, maybe this is some kind of new trend in movie casting--geeky white guy and Asian martial arts expert (or anyone from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). But wait, there's more. Listen to the premise: called Good Cook, Likes Music, Sandler plays a likeable but jobless loser (big stretch) who lives with his mother. In a drunken stupor, he sends away for a mail-order bride (Zhang), who turns out to be a music prodigy. Of course, they end up changing each other's lives. Yikes. Double yikes.
You know what I think is the strangest thing about this stuff? The fact that Variety or The Hollywood Reporter reports these stories in all seriousness. I know, they have to. I'm just hoping the journalist writing the story turns to his buddy and says, "Who the hell thinks of this crap?" He wants to write how horrible it sounds but can't...so I'll do it for him.
Lawrence is da-"Bomb"!
After making 2000's comedy hit Big Momma's House and the recently released Black Knight, funnyman Martin Lawrence and screenwriter Darryl Quarles may join forces again for a third film, Warner Bros.' The Bomb. Third time's a charm? The film is being described as a black remake of the 1979 Blake Edwards' comedy 10, starring Dudley Moore and Bo Derek. OK, you've got me so far. The story revolves around a married record executive whose smack in the middle of a midlife crisis. He ends up chasing a model to the Caribbean and in the process he loses his wife, the respect of his peers and the one client who could save his ailing record company. This may work just so long as Lawrence plays it like Moore did--a hapless guy who really has no idea why he's doing what he's doing. No shtick, Martin.