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.
Chris Lilley is bringing our favorite Summer Heights High character back with Ja'mie: Private School Girl. This time, she's left public school and back on her old stomping grounds, Hillford Girls Grammar School, where the lawns are more manicured and the trash bins are less random. We love Ja'mie for her brutal honesty, her words of wisdom, and her tireless goal of helping others. She's such a strong character that sometimes we forget that she's played by Australian actor Chris Lilley, who makes playing a schoolgirl look so natural and believable. We tip our hats to Mr. Lilley for creating one of the best female characters played by a man in comedy history. To celebrate Ja'mie's triumphant return, we're taking a look back at the best cross-dressing moments in comedy. (And of course, a feathered hat must be tipped to Eddie Izzard, one of the few real-life out transvestites in comedy.)
Dustin Hoffman's gender-bending role as Miss Dorothy Michaels is one of his most memorable. Out-of-work actor Michael Dorsey (Hoffman) dresses up as Dorothy and auditions for a female part on a popular soap opera. He lands the part and becomes a famous actress, but soon faces complications with his new identity, as he falls in love with his costar Julie and is courted by Julie's father. Tootsie earned 10 Oscar nominations, one of which was won by Jessica Lange as Julie, and the American Film Institute ranked it as the second funniest film of all time.
The Kids in the Hall (1988-1994)
The boys of The Kids in the Hall made playing girls a regular thing on TV. In fact, playing women was one of their trademarks, but they weren't in drag, they were just playing regular women. They made cross-dressing and playing the opposite sex seem normal, natural, and comfortable, paving the way for characters like Ja'mie. Two of our favorite characters are secretaries Cathy and Kathie, whose sketches often feature all five of the members playing women.
Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)
Robin Williams was born to play Mrs. Doubtfire. After his character, Daniel, loses custody of his kids in his divorce, he finds a way to stay in their lives by applying to be their housekeeper. With the help of his makeup artist brother, he transforms into hefty Scottish matriarch Mrs. Doubtfire. His family has no idea that Mrs. Doubtfire is actually Daniel, and he is able to fully take on the role of their housekeeper, learning to be a better parent to his kids along the way.
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)
Terence Stamp, known for playing villains and intimidating types, steps out of his comfort zone and into gorgeous gowns as Bernadette in this critically acclaimed Australian comedy. His stage partners are played by equally unlikely actors, Hugo Weaving and Guy Pearce. The trio travel in a purple school bus named Priscilla through the Australian outback to reach their gig in Alice Springs. They encounter many interesting characters along the way, and Bernadette questions her path in life.
To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar (1995)
Coming off the success of Priscilla, To Wong Foo is a similar twist on the buddy-movie genre. Three professional drag queens, Vida Boheme (Patrick Swayze), Noxeema Jackson (Wesley Snipes), and Chi Chi Rodriguez (John Leguizamo) take a road trip from New York to LA and get into several mini adventures in the small towns along the way. In their encounters, the three ladies teach the townspeople valuable life lessons on self-confidence, chivalry, and love.
The Birdcage (1996)
This remake of the Franco-Italian classic La Cage aux Folles stars Robin Williams as Armand, the owner of a South Beach drag club, and Nathan Lane as Armand's domestic partner and star drag queen. When Armand's son, Val, gets engaged to Barbara, whose father is an ultraconservative Republican senator, Armand must create the illusion that he is a straight man when he invites Barbara's parents over for dinner. The ruse gets complicated — but hilarious — when Albert (Lane) uses his talents for cross-dressing and pretends to be Albert's wife.
Sorority Boys (2002)
It's definitely not the most eloquent example of cross-dressing in cinema, but Sorority Boys is proof that the tactic can been used in any genre, even teen sex comedies. Three mysgonistic playboys are accused of embezzlement and get kicked out of their frat, and their only option to stay on campus rent-free is by dressing up like women and joining the sorority Delta Omicron Gamma (D.O.G.). Not the best message, but their past mistreatment of women does come back to bite them in the ass, and they learn a few lessons in the process.
White Chicks (2004)
In this movie, not only do Shawn and Marlon Wayans have to become a different sex, but also a different race. The premise is ridiculous, but that's part of the film's appeal. Brothers and FBI agents Marcus (Marlon) and Kevin (Shawn) Copeland must pretend to be socialite sisters Brittany and Tiffany Wilson (this was when the Hilton sisters were still relevant) in order to catch a serial kidnapper. The movie might not go down in film history, but pop culturalists will forever be haunted by those faces.
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David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas consists of six stories set in various periods between 1850 and a time far into Earth's post-apocalyptic future. Each segment lives on its own the previous first person account picked up and read by a character in its successor creating connective tissue between each moment in time. The various stories remain intact for Tom Tykwer's (Run Lola Run) Lana Wachowski's and Andy Wachowski's (The Matrix) film adaptation which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. The massive change comes from the interweaving of the book's parts into one three-hour saga — a move that elevates the material and transforms Cloud Atlas in to a work of epic proportions.
Don't be turned off by the runtime — Cloud Atlas moves at lightning pace as it cuts back and forth between its various threads: an American notary sailing the Pacific; a budding musician tasked with transcribing the hummings of an accomplished 1930's composer; a '70s-era investigatory journalist who uncovers a nefarious plot tied to the local nuclear power plant; a book publisher in 2012 who goes on the run from gangsters only to be incarcerated in a nursing home; Sonmi~451 a clone in Neo Seoul who takes on the oppressive government that enslaves her; and a primitive human from the future who teams with one of the few remaining technologically-advanced Earthlings in order to survive. Dense but so was the unfamiliar world of The Matrix. Cloud Atlas has more moving parts than the Wachowskis' seminal sci-fi flick but with additional ambition to boot. Every second is a sight to behold.
The members of the directing trio are known for their visual prowess but Cloud Atlas is a movie about juxtaposition. The art of editing is normally a seamless one — unless someone is really into the craft the cutting of a film is rarely a post-viewing talking point — but Cloud Atlas turns the editor into one of the cast members an obvious player who ties the film together with brilliant cross-cutting and overlapping dialogue. Timothy Cavendish the elderly publisher could be musing on his need to escape and the film will wander to the events of Sonmi~451 or the tortured music apprentice Robert Frobisher also feeling the impulse to run. The details of each world seep into one another but the real joy comes from watching each carefully selected scene fall into place. You never feel lost in Cloud Atlas even when Tykwer and the Wachowskis have infused three action sequences — a gritty car chase in the '70s a kinetic chase through Neo Seoul and a foot race through the forests of future millennia — into one extended set piece. This is a unified film with distinct parts echoing the themes of human interconnectivity.
The biggest treat is watching Cloud Atlas' ensemble tackle the diverse array of characters sprinkled into the stories. No film in recent memory has afforded a cast this type of opportunity yet another form of juxtaposition that wows. Within a few seconds Tom Hanks will go from near-neanderthal to British gangster to wily 19th century doctor. Halle Berry Hugh Grant Jim Sturgess Jim Broadbent Ben Whishaw Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon play the same game taking on roles of different sexes races and the like. (Weaving as an evil nurse returning to his Priscilla Queen of the Desert cross-dressing roots is mind-blowing.) The cast's dedication to inhabiting their roles on every level helps us quickly understand the worlds. We know it's Halle Berry behind the fair skinned wife of the lunatic composer but she's never playing Halle Berry. Even when the actors are playing variations on themselves they're glowing with the film's overall epic feel. Jim Broadbent's wickedly funny modern segment a Tykwer creation that packs a particularly German sense of humor is on a smaller scale than the rest of the film but the actor never dials it down. Every story character and scene in Cloud Atlas commits to a style. That diversity keeps the swirling maelstrom of a movie in check.
Cloud Atlas poses big questions without losing track of its human element the characters at the heart of each story. A slower moment or two may have helped the Wachowskis' and Tykwer's film to hit a powerful emotional chord but the finished product still proves mainstream movies can ask questions while laying over explosive action scenes. This year there won't be a bigger movie in terms of scope in terms of ideas and in terms of heart than Cloud Atlas.
Salt the propulsive new thriller from Phillip Noyce (Clear and Present Danger Patriot Games) has been dubbed “Bourne with boobs ” but that label isn’t entirely accurate. In the role of Evelyn Salt a CIA staffer hunted by her own agency after a Russian defector fingers her in a plot to murder Russia’s president Angelina Jolie keeps her two most potent weapons holstered hidden under pantsuits and trenchcoats and the various other components of a super-spy wardrobe that proudly emphasizes function over flash.
But flash is one thing Salt never lacks for. Its breathless cat-and-mouse game hits full-throttle almost from the outset when a former KGB officer named Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) stumbles into a CIA interrogation room and begins spilling details of a vast conspiracy. Back in the ‘70s hardline elements of the Soviet regime launched an ambitious new front in the Cold War flooding the western world with orphans trained to infiltrate the security complexes of their adopted homelands and wait patiently — decades if necessary — for the order to initiate a series of assassinations intended to trigger a devastating nuclear clash between the superpowers from which the treacherous Reds would emerge triumphant.
The Soviet Union may have long ago collapsed (or did it? Hmmm...) but its army of brainwashed killer orphan spies remains in place and if this crazy Orlov fellow is to be believed they stand poised to reignite the Cold War. It’s a preposterous — even idiotic — scheme but no more so than any of our government’s various harebrained proposals to kill Castro back in the ‘60s. As such the CIA treats it with grave seriousness even the part that that pegs Salt who just happens to be a Russian-born orphan herself as a key player in the conspiracy.
Salt bristles at the accusation but suspecting a set-up she opts to flee rather than face interrogation from her bosses Winter (Liev Schreiber) and Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor). A former field agent she’s been confined to a desk job since a clandestine operation in North Korea went south leaving her with a nasty shiner and a rather unremarkable German boyfriend (now her unremarkable German husband). She’s clearly kept up her training during while cubicle-bound however and in a blaze of resourceful thinking and devastating Parkour Fu she fends off a dozen or so agents of questionable competence and takes to the streets where she sets about to clear her name and unravel the Commie orphan conspiracy before the authorities can catch up with her. That is if she isn’t a part of the conspiracy.
The premise which aims to resurrect Cold War tensions and graft them onto a modern-day spy thriller is absurdly clever — and cleverly absurd. But Kurt Wimmer’s screenplay isn’t satisfied with the merely clever and absurd — it must be mind-blowing. Salt is one of those thrillers that ladles out its backstory slowly and in tiny portions every once in a while dropping a revelatory bombshell that effectively blows the lid off everything that happened beforehand. No one is who they seem and every action every gesture no matter how seemingly trivial is imbued with some kind of grand significance. The effect of piling on one insane twist after another has the effect of gradually diluting the narrative. When anything is possible nothing really matters.
But spy thrillers by definition trade in the preposterous and the principal function of the summer blockbuster is to entertain. In that regard Salt more than fulfills its charge. Noyce wisely keeps the story moving at pace that allows little time for asking uncomfortable questions or poking holes in the film’s frail plot. And he has an able partner in the infinitely versatile Jolie who having already exhibited formidable action-hero chops in Wanted and the Tomb Raider films proves remarkably adept at the spy game as well.
It’s well-known that Jolie wasn’t the first choice to star in Salt joining the project only after Tom Cruise dropped out citing the story’s growing similarities to the Mission: Impossible films. But she’s more than just a capable replacement; she’s a welcome upgrade over Cruise not least because she’s over a decade younger (and a few inches taller) than her predecessor. Should Brad Bird require a pinch-hitter for Ethan Hunt he knows where to look.
Angelina Jolie has left Vietnam today with her newly adopted son, Pax Thien.
Jolie arrived in the country last Wednesday to adopt the child from a Ho Chi Minh City orphanage, with the process finalized yesterday by U.S. Embassy officials in Vietnam's capital, Hanoi.
The pair left the country in a U.S.-bound private jet from Noi Bai airport.
The three-year-old joins Jolie's other children: Cambodian Maddox, 5; Ethiopian Zahara Marley, 2; and Shiloh Nouvel, 10 months.
Pictures of Jolie and Pax posing for the Canadian edition of Hello! magazine are due to be released tomorrow.
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Smitten by a young woman (Ryder) celebrating her 22nd birthday in his chi-chi restaurant relentless womanizer Will Keane (Gere) sets his sights on this cherubic vision 27 years his junior. Against his better judgment the chiding of his friends and the fact that she's the daughter of a former flame Will invites Charlotte to a reception and sparks fly. The morning after Will recites his "Let's be friends" speech but Charlotte counters with an emotional challenge and a situation that will change his life -- and hers -- forever.
Why these A list stars chose this script might always remain a mystery but to their credit they make this unlikely romance border on the believable. Gere oozing his patented "Pretty Woman" and "Runaway Bride" romantic charm hits every trademark brood squint and exhale in his repertoire. Ryder continues to mine her kewpie doll blank expression punctuating her performance with intermittent anger and puppy dog eyes.
A lot of beautiful fall foliage can make any film watchable and director Joan Chen ("Xiu Xiu: The Sent-Down Girl") struggles admirably to construct a silk purse from a sow's ear script. Despite sappy set pieces and some painfully awkward lines Chen manages to exploit the beautiful seasonal locations and cuisine scenes to their fullest proving she can direct a sturdy picture.