When I was in high school and college back in the 1980s and '90s, my favorite TV father wasn't Cliff Huxtable (Bill Cosby) on The Cosby Show. He was too cloying and the show just reeked of saccharine sweetness. It wasn't Steven Keaton (Michael Gross) on Family Ties. Nor was it Jim Walsh (James Eckhouse) on Beverly Hills 90210. No - it was Philip Banks (James Avery) in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. That's why hearing of Avery's death from complications from open-heart surgery hit me harder than I expected.
Avery was able to convey a tough as nails man who was more than capable of being a great father. He could go from silencing his nephew, Will Smith (Will Smith) with a glare to dispensing fatherly advice to his son, Carlton (Alfonso Ribeiro) or one of his two daughters, Hilary (Karyn Parsons) and Ashley (Tatyana Ali). He was also a devoted husband to his wife, Vivian (Both Janet Hubert and Daphne Reid). Despite his angry looks, he clearly didn't mind being the butt of the fat jokes that Smith often tosses his way. It wasn't just his facial expressions that made him so memorable, though his angry bulging eyes and glower could be equally hilarious and terrifying. His deep voice was capable of conveying so much and he could modulate it quite well. He was gifted in physical comedy too - his scenes throwing Jazz out of his home were always funny.
Despite the jokes, Avery always seemed to use his size to command a scene, not crowd it. He was able to combine all three things: his face, voice and size to create such a unique, compelling persona in all of his roles. Anytime I saw him appear on a show, it always made me smile.
Of course, Avery was on other shows,appearing for short stints on shows like The Closer, He also did a ton of voiceover work, including shows like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, where he was the villainous Shredder (many people had their memories of him through that). The main thing was that he never was not working. In fact, he had just finished a movie with Zach Braff, Jim Parsons, Mandy Patinkin, Donald Faison and Kate Hudson before he passed away.
His death was such that it was even front-page news on CNN.com. Rest well, Uncle Phil. You'll always live on in syndication.
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.
As if we needed any more proof that America was mad for the CIA in 2012, Saturday night's Producers Guid Awards gave further credibility to the mania by handing out some of its highest honors to Ben Affleck's fake-CIA-movie film, Argo and Showtime's jazzy runaway hit, Homeland.
The guild's 24th annual awards for excellence in film, television, and digital media were announced during a ceremony at the Beverly Hilton. Argo's snapping up of top film honors (the Darryl F. Zanuck Award) puts it at the forefront of the Oscar race for Best Picture. The PGAs have a fairly decent track record when it comes to selecting the film that takes home Academy Award gold — 73% accuracy, to be exact, which includes the 5-year streak the Guild has been on since 2008.
Homeland secured itself yet another gold for Best Drama Series during the night as well, reminding us all (yet again) that we love a jazzy biopolar super-CIA-genius more than anything else. (Especially if it involves Mandy Patinkin!) For an agency so shrouded in secrecy and mystery, it sure is popping up in our entertainment a heck of a lot.
But there was more than just covert operations and genius secret agents winning awards: both Brothers Weinstein (Bob and Harvey) accepted the Milestone Award in a teary-eyed speech from presenters Quentin Tarantino, Robert De Niro, and Robert Rodriguez. Future Star Wars helmer J.J. Abrams also accepted an award of his own: the Norman Lear Achievement Award. Not too shabby for a man with undoubtedly much of his already-impressive career still ahead of him
Check out the full list of winners, below!
Darryl F. Zanuck Award for Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures
Argo (Warner Bros.)
Producers: Ben Affleck, George Clooney, Grant Heslov
Outstanding Producer of Animated Theatrical Motion Pictures
Wreck-It Ralph (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
Producer: Clark Spencer
Outstanding Producer of Documentary Theatrical Motion Pictures
Searching For Sugar Man (Sony Pictures Classics)
Producers: Malik Bendjelloul, Simon Chinn
Norman Felton Award for Outstanding Producer of Episodic Television, Drama
Producers: Henry Bromell, Alexander Cary, Michael Cuesta, Alex Gansa, Howard Gordon, Chip Johannessen, Michael Klick, Meredith Stiehm
David L. Wolper Award for Outstanding Producer of Long-Form Television
Game Change (HBO)
Producers: Gary Goetzman, Tom Hanks, Jay Roach, Amy Sayres, Steven Shareshian, Danny Strong
Danny Thomas Award for Outstanding Producer of Episodic Television, Comedy
Modern Family (ABC)
Producers: Cindy Chupack, Paul Corrigan, Abraham Higginbotham, Ben Karlin, Steven Levitan, Christopher Lloyd, Jeff Morton, Dan O’Shannon, Jeffrey Richman, Chris Smirnoff, Brad Walsh, Bill Wrubel, Danny Zuker
Outstanding Producer of Non-Fiction Television
American Masters (PBS)
Producers: Prudence Glass, Susan Lacy, Julie Sacks
Outstanding Producer of Competition Television
The Amazing Race (CBS)
Producers: Jerry Bruckheimer, Elise Doganieri, Jonathan Littman, Bertram van Munster, Mark Vertullo
Outstanding Producer of Live Entertainment & Talk Television
The Colbert Report (Comedy Central)
Producers: Meredith Bennett, Stephen Colbert, Richard Dahm, Paul Dinello, Barry Julien, Matt Lappin, Emily Lazar, Tanya Michnevich Bracco, Tom Purcell, Jon Stewart
Outstanding Sports Program
Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel (HBO)
Outstanding Children’s Program
Sesame Street (PBS)
Outstanding Digital Series
30 Rock: The Webisodes
[Photo Credit: Gregg DeGuire/WireImage]
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Nolan Walsh (Bruce Greenwood) once a champion thoroughbred trainer and now a mild-mannered Kentucky farmer rescues an abandoned baby zebra and takes him home to his young daughter Channing (Hayden Panettiere). Stripes (voiced by Frankie Muniz) as the adoring Channing calls him grows up on the farm with its misfit troupe of barnyard residents. They include the cantankerous but wise Tucker (voiced by Dustin Hoffman) a Shetland pony; Franny (voiced by Whoopi Goldberg) a motherly old goat who keeps the farm in line; Goose (voiced by Joe Pantoliano) a skittish hit pelican who's hiding out from Jersey thugs after taking out the wrong bird; and Buzz (voiced by Steve Harvey) and Scuzz (voiced by David Spade) two horseflies with attitude--and an affinity for poop. But Stripes isn't cut out for farm life. Instead he has his sights set on the neighboring racetrack with hopes of running in the race himself--even if he isn't exactly a horse. With a little help from his human and farm animal friends he finally gets his chance. And loses! Oh I'm just kidding.
Although the human actors do an adequate job maintaining the core emotional element of the film especially the sweet-cheeked Panettiere (Raising Helen) it's the animal characters that keep Racing Stripes entertaining. Muniz is earnest enough as the enthusiastic Stripes while the sugary Mandy Moore voices his love interest Sandy a local show jumper horse. Veterans Hoffman who finds his inner horse as the crabby Tucker and Goldberg who does the maternal goat thing very well both handle their animal chores with aplomb. The ever-country hick Jeff Foxworthy and the lackadaisical Snoop Dogg also make vocal appearances as a none-too-bright rooster (are there any other kind?) and lazy bloodhound respectively. But it's Joey Pants as Goose the incompetent gangster pelican on the lam and Spade and Harvey as the quippy espresso-lovin' dung-wallowing horseflies who steal the show.
They always say its hardest to work with animals and children so director Frederik Du Chau (Quest for Camelot) really had his work cut out for him working with real zebras something which has never really been attempted before because of the animal's flighty temperament. Apparently a zebra's nature is rooted in a fight-or-flight response stemming from the fact they are chased by predators in the wild. Makes sense but training them to race around a track? Sounds like a nightmare shoot. Plus Stripes was played by no less than eight different "adolescent" zebras. Yikes. Du Chau pulls it off however. You're sitting there with the best of them cheering our hero on as he runs his big race oblivious to how they made it all happen. Overall it's just too bad that unlike its cousin Babe Racing Stripes has to go for the same tired and cheesy formula of an underdog proving himself rather than creating a tender story of a zebra making his way on a Kentucky horse farm.