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.
If I can’t have either Jonathan Groff, Taylor Kitsch, or both Groff and Kitsch all to myself, at least they can have each other. The gorgeous Glee and Friday Night Lights heartthrobs, respectively, have just signed on to star as lovers in Ryan Murphy’s upcoming dramatic HBO film The Normal Heart.
The TV movie is based on a largely autobiographical 1985 play by Larry Kramer and focuses on the rise of the HIV-AIDS crisis in New York City in the early 1980s. Groff will take on the role of Craig, one of the early victims of the disease. Kitsch will play Bruce Niles, an investment banker who becomes an AIDS activist after falling in love with Craig.
Groff and Kitsch join Broadway actor/director Joe Mantello, who was just cast as Mickey Marcus, a man who was an instrumental member of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis. Previously announced cast members include Julia Roberts as Dr. Emma Brookner (a disabled physician who treats the very first AIDS patients), Avengers star Mark Ruffalo as Ned Weeks (a gay activist witnessing the early outbreak of the disease), Matt Bomer as Felix Turner (Ned's lover), and Jim Parsons as Tommy Boatwright.
The Normal Heart will premiere in 2014 on HBO.
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In a clever marketing campaign for Disney’s upcoming animated movie Wreck-It Ralph, the video game behind the titular character gets a make-under of sorts. The studio has just released a vintage-looking commercial for "Fix It Felix, Jr.," the arcade game from which Wreck It Ralph (John C. Reilly) escapes to end his reign as a bad guy.
This retro ad has all the components to take us back to the days before you could log onto the web and play any game you want. Back to the days when you actually went to the arcade to play. It even has the realistic feel of spotty antenna television.
Check out the commercial below:
Disney’s use of nostalgia to promote an upcoming movie is nothing new. When Toy Story 3 was making its PR rounds, Pixar released this awesome vintage ad for Ned Beatty’s Lots’-o-Huggin’ Bear:
Another clever marketing campaign that hit the web recently comes care of Pixar’s upcoming Monsters University, the prequel to Monsters Inc. Since the movie focuses on Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sully’s (John Goodman) collegiate years, Pixar has launched an extremely authentic college website for Monsters University. Check it out here.
Monsters University doesn’t hit theaters until June 21, 2013, but Wreck It Ralph debuts November 2.
Follow Sydney on Twitter @SydneyBucksbaum
[Photo Credit: Walt Disney Pictures]
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