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.
Guard your orifices!
The Host may be a CW-style variation of it, but Stephenie Meyer's story of alien Souls invading the Earth follows a long and rich sci-fi tradition: that of militant extraterrestrials violently taking over human bodies. The mechanics of these body intrusions may vary — some implant themselves in the ears, others in the GI tract, others in the womb — but one thing is clear. These aliens really, really want to get up and close and personal with humans, with varying degrees of discomfort for the host.
Stephenie Meyer’s ‘The Host’ Vs. Bong Joon-ho’s ‘The Host’: A Soul/Seoul Connection?
So to help you avoid implantation yourself, we've given you an anatomical breakdown of where exactly you can find each type of invader in a typical human body. Sharpen your scalpels and check out this infographic:
Click on the image above for to get a larger view. And start taking notes from our handy key. Knowledge is your best defense!
1. Brain: Compared to some of these others, the way the Souls take over human bodies in The Host is pretty gentle. Via a surgical slit in the back of the neck, a Soul — a little light-up creature that looks like the plasma balls at a science museum you liked to touch when you were a kid — enters your nervous system and moves toward the neocortex, assuming all cognitive functions and erasing the personality of its host.
2. Nose: Technically, the tiny aliens in Meet Dave have built a spaceship that looks and sounds exactly like a human being (or at least a really awkward Eddie Murphy). They use its eyes as viewports, its mouth as a gangplank, and when they need to make a really rapid exit they get themselves snorted out of its nose. The scary thing, is that they're small enough to invade the noses of actual humans as well. Yeah, you might want to get that lingering sinus infection checked out...
‘The Host’: Let’s Talk About That Ending — SPOILERS
3. Ears: Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban) used a Ceti Eel to extract information from Commander Chekov (Walter Koenig) and Captain Tyrell (Paul Winfield) in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The eel, a native of barren wasteland Ceti Alpha V, burrows into a human's ear and all the way into his or her brain. Once there, it renders the host completely vulnerable to suggestion. Meaning that Khan could tell Chekov and Tyrell exactly what he'd want them to do, and they would do it no matter what.
4. Mouth: Time-traveling Romulan freighter captain Nero (Eric Bana) in 2009's Star Trek was a kindred spirit of Khan in terms of using alien parasites to bend human prisoners to his will. His Centaurian slug, however, enters its host through the mouth, then tunnels in toward the brain stem. Nero was able to use one to get Capt. Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) to reveal all of Starfleet's defense codes.
5. Chest: The parasitic aliens of LV-423 in Alien begin their takeover of the human body by wrapping their tentacles around a person's head and hugging the face. When it suddenly departs, you think you're free. But actually it's deposited an egg inside you that will incubate in your chest cavity, until suddenly it bursts out when you're chillin' with your space-trucker friends.
6. Womb: Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) had unprotected sex with her lover Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) while exploring a mysterious alien world. So the possibility of getting pregnant was already very real. But what she didn't realize was that Charlie had been infected with an extraterrestrial virus that was rewriting his genetic code. And so he didn't impregnate her with a human child but with a rapidly growing alien parasite that lodged in her womb. Not many would have the fortitude to perform a C-section on herself to abort this unwanted pregnancy like Dr. Shaw did.
7. Hand: Okay, this isn't really an extraterrestrial parasite, but it is a condition known as "Alien Hand Syndrome," in which a person can't control the actions of their limbs. In the case of Dr. Strangelove that meant his hand kept spontaneously giving the fascist salute, which we suspect may have been a Freudian slip in mime form for the ex-Nazi scientist. Laughs aside, it is a real condition. Think of it like a much more embarrassing version of "restless leg syndrome," if anything can be more embarassing than "restless leg syndrome."
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
[Photo Credit: Hollywood.com Illustration]
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Last year director Garry Marshall hit upon a devilishly canny approach to the romantic comedy. A more polished refinement of Hal Needham’s experimental Cannonball Run method it called for assembling a gaggle of famous faces from across the demographic spectrum and pairing them with a shallow day-in-the-life narrative packed with gobs of gooey sentiment. A cynical strategy to be sure but one that paid handsome dividends: Valentine’s Day earned over $56 million in its opening weekend surpassing even the rosiest of forecasts. Buoyed by the success Marshall and his screenwriter Katherine Fugate hastily retreated to the bowels of Hades to apply their lucrative formula to another holiday historically steeped in romantic significance and New Year’s Eve was born.
Set in Manhattan on the last day of the year New Year’s Eve crams together a dozen or so canned scenarios into one bloated barely coherent mass of cliches. As before Marshall’s recruited an impressive ensemble of minions to do his unholy bidding including Oscar winners Hilary Swank Halle Berry and Robert De Niro the latter luxuriating in a role that didn’t require him to get out of bed. High School Musical’s Zac Efron is paired up with ‘80s icon Michelle Pfeiffer – giving teenage girls and their fathers something to bond over – while Glee’s Lea Michele meets cute with a pajama-clad Ashton Kutcher. There’s Katherine Heigl in a familiar jilted-fiance role Sarah Jessica Parker as a fretful single mom and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges as the most laid-back cop in New York. Sofia Vergara and Hector Elizondo mine for cheap laughs with thick accents – his fake and hers real – and Jessica Biel and Josh Duhamel deftly mix beauty with blandness. Fans of awful music will delight in the sounds of Jon Bon Jovi straining against type to play a relevant pop musician.
The task of interweaving the various storylines is too great for Marshall and New Year’s Eve bears the distinct scent and stain of an editing-room bloodbath with plot holes so gaping that not even the brightest of celebrity smiles can obscure them. But that’s not the point – it never was. You should know better than to expect logic from a film that portrays 24-year-old Efron and 46-year-old Parker as brother-and-sister without bothering to explain how such an apparent scientific miracle might have come to pass. Marshall wagers that by the time the ball drops and the film’s last melodramatic sequence has ended prior transgressions will be absolved and moviegoers will be content to bask in New Year's Eve's artificial glow. The gambit worked for Valentine's Day; this time he may not be so fortunate.
Think Mean Girls meets High School Musical meets whatever other high school teen scenario you can think of. Here four teenage girls make up the Bratz contingency each come from different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds—just like the dolls they are based on. There’s Yasmin (Nathalia Ramos) a quiet Latina beauty with a great voice; Sasha (Logan Browning) the outgoing black cheerleader who loves to dance; Jade (Janel Parrish) a lovely Asian fashionista who also a wiz in chemistry; and Cloe (Skyler Shayne) the tall Caucasian blonde who despite being a klutz is a star on the soccer field. They’ve been best friends forever (or BFF as they lovingly refer to it) but once they hit high school they drift apart and into respective cliques organized by the narcissistic class president Meredith (Cheslea Staub). Still these BFF’s—who live for clothes make-up and hair products—won’t be pushed down. They’re gonna shake things up and prove it’s always best to just be yourself and stick together. You can’t really blame the unknown girls—each very cute in their own way—for wanting to bring the Bratz dolls to life. It’s a big deal! They get to sing and dance and wear all these cool clothes! They get to throw food in a cafeteria lunch fight! They get to serve sweets at Meredith’s Sweet 16 party dressed as clowns and still look fabulous! All the young girls in the audience will idolize them and wish they were a Brat too (perhaps to their parents’ chagrin). No it’s the adults in the movie you have to scratch your head about and ask “Do they really need the money that bad?” Character actors such as Lainie Kazan who plays Yasmin’s wise grandmother and Jon Voight as the inept high school principal and Meredith’s father just embarrass themselves over and over again—especially Voight who along with his mediocre appearance in Transformers has become the go-to guy to star in movies based on toys. And what’s with this latest trend to make live-action flicks based on toys? You can understand Transformers because they already had their own cartoon show and you know the movie would at least be action-packed full of cool visual effects. But a Bratz movie is a little too much. Even though it tries really hard to send positive messages there’s really nothing redeeming about turning little dolls—who frankly dress a little on the trashy side—into flesh-and-blood teenagers obsessed with how they look and dealing with high school politics. Bratz really only distinguishes itself from other Mean Girls-type movies because of the toy franchise. It would have been easier to take had it aired on the Disney Channel.