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.
After last week’s separate family plotlines, it was a nice treat last night to see the whole gang back together. Bonus: It was a family trip to Disneyland that had everyone (except for Manny) completely thrilled. Funny — I thought everyone was too old for Disney besides Lily, but apparently I’m just a party pooper (old soul?) because even high school senior Haley found something to smile about.
Of course, her grin probably had less to do with Dumbo the elephant and more to do with her very own Dumbo — ex-boyfriend Dylan was back! Viewers will remember that last she saw her cute and dim boyfriend was over the family dude ranch vacay that opened the season. He proposed to Haley, she turned him down, and he decided to stay at the ranch working to experience life. She had no idea he was back in town. Claire was preemptively pimping out her daughter to a cute college-bound friend of the family, Ethan. Mitchell makes a Downton Abbey reference at Disney, so I feel totally justified in bringing up that Haley and Alex competing for Ethan’s attention was soooooo Lady Mary and Lady Edith fighting over Matthew. (And about a zillion other shows. But I digress.)
While with her mom, Haley discovered Dylan didn’t just arrive in town — he’d been there for a while, working as part of a barbershop quartet, singing a cappella on a bike. As teenagers do. Dylan should be proud — he showed a marked improvement since the last time he tried to serenade Haley. Dylan tried to explain to her (while in costume) that he was trying to make something of himself. It didn’t hurt that Ethan turned out to be a bit of a jerk, shoving Dylan to the ground and leading Haley to happily announce, “We’re back together!” Modern Family fans, I’m guessing you don’t have to worry about the series without a college-bound Haley next season — her relationship with Dylan is bound to keep her in the, no? Glad to have you back, Dylan.
Jay was especially excited for Disney, explaining that he and his ex-wife had planned to take Mitch and Claire when they were kids. Instead, they got into a big, pointless fight before they were about to go and Jay took them by himself. Throughout the episode, he talked in bits and pieces about going to the Robot Lincoln “ride” with them, and at the end of the episode, he explained that he had planned on leaving his wife that day, but hearing Lincoln talk about “being a man” and “responsibility” changed his mind. He decided to stick with a not-so-great marriage for his kids; to be around for them. He then made a joke about the universe rewarding him with Gloria, which was kind of crass, but I think the show does a good job of showing that he does love her for reasons beyond her trophy-wife-ness, so I’ll let a crude comment or two slide. Point is, we got more backstory into Jay’s life before Manny and Gloria. I’ll take it.
NEXT: The night's best lines!
In other news, Phil “King of the Roller Coasters” Dunphy and a just-made-the-height-limit Luke planned on hitting all the major rides. But Phil was getting winded pretty quickly, and came face-to-face with his own mortality. But nothing could get Phil down for long. He’s a cool dad who knows all the dances to High School Musical, after all. Thank goodness he learned he wasn’t getting old, he just had the flu. (Sharing an orange juice jug with a bunch of sick guys at your office will do that.) Never fear! You can’t stop that enthusiasm level.
How did I not mention? Lily is a runner! Which means she was on a leash for most of the episode, until Mitch couldn’t handle the judgment from sock-and-sandal parents anymore. Jay had the perfect solution: He bought her a pair of heels so she couldn’t run. Between this and getting Gloria fun slippers so she could run, Jay was the regular Prince Charming of Disney, providing appropriate, if not life-changing, shoes for every occasion. Approve!
“Claire’s biggest fear was running into the evil queen. Mine was that I married her.” —Jay
“It’s Toontown, not Toonton. You’ve been watching too much PBS.” — Mitchell
“We have a runner.” — Cameron
“It’s a child safety tether.” “It’s a leash.” — Cameron and Mitchell
“I know I can’t run Haley’s life for her, but if she would let me, I would be so good at it!” — Claire
“You date her, that’s the club you’re joining.” — Alex to Ethan about Haley
“So I stuck it out until they were grown [Gloria announces she’s going into the hot tub] — and the universe rewarded me.” — Jay
Did Modern Family’s Disney episode contribute to your Wednesday happily ever after?
[Image Credit: ABC]
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