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.
Greasy acting wunderkind and future Tom Cruise replacement Shia LaBeouf, who once tortured the world with shouting at metallic blurs through three Transformers films, says that he is "done" making major studio movies. What, did an exec ask him to actually shave? Well, his exit is well timed, because relegating himself to a much smaller audience is probably what a lot of Americans were hoping he would do anyway. But with what he had to say about the movie-making establishment, he's probably not going to be able to find a job even as Third Sidekick with Mustache in any future franchise film.
"There's no room for being a visionary in the studio system. It literally cannot exist," the star of cinematic masterpiece Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps tells the Hollywood Reporter. "You give Terrence Malick a movie like Transformers, and he's f--ed. There's no way for him to exist in that world... [the studios] give you the money, then get on a plane and come to the set and stick a finger up your ass and chase you around for five months."
He also had some harsh words for his former mentor Steven Spielberg. Their friendship ended after LaBeouf criticized the final Indiana Jones movie. "He told me there's a time to be a human being and have an opinion, and there's a time to sell cars," LaBeouf, the least ludicrous thing about Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Scull (next to Karen Allen's hair) says. "It brought me freedom, but it also killed my spirits."
So, how is DUI, public drunkenness, and street fight survivor LaBeouf going to pay his rent? Indies! Of course! Look how that has been going for Parker Posey, and she's actually talented. He stars in the little movie Lawless (formerly known as The Wettest County in the World and The Worst Little Whorehouse in Texas) which opens this Labor Day and has already been delayed, which is always what happens to a sure-fire hit (that was sarcasm). Next he'll be seen in the Robert Redford picture The Company You Keep. Later this year he starts filming Nymphomaniac with Lars von Trier, which is said to be so sexually explicit it will make someone who reads 50 Shades of Grey on the subway blush.
Well, it looks like since the movie biz hasn't really worked out, Shia has a big career of showing off his penis to fall back on. Wonder how he feels about the porn studio system?
Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan
[Photo Credit: Wenn.com]
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Each new year produces a handful of it-girls and men of the moment, and we here at Hollywood.com like to get ahead of the game by letting you, our loyal readers, know who’s going to be a big deal. 2012 sees a gaggle of films big and small hit theaters, and with them an army of actors working hard to make the most of their packed schedules. Some are big-screen veterans, others are relatively new to showbiz, but all of them are must-know names.
*This list was compiled based on the amount of films/projects each actor is a part of that will release in 2012, factoring in the size of the film(s) and their overall celebrity status.
Cooper had a hell of a 2011, with The Hangover Part II and Limitless proving him a major box office draw and those dreamy eyes helping him join the ranks of People Magazine's Sexiest Man Alive. So what does the New Year have in store for him? No less than four films: David O. Russell’s new comedy The Silver Linings Playbook, in which he works with an eclectic ensemble including Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Chris Tucker, Julia Stiles and more, the action-comedy Outrun, the dramatic thriller The Words (which co-stars Olivia Wilde and his new girlfriend Zoe Saldana) and The Place Beyond the Pines, the new film from Blue Valentine director Derek Cianfrance. All the while he’ll be shooting Paradise Lost, an epic FX-driven actioner from I, Robot director Alex Proyas.
This Aussie became the superhero-du-jour thanks to his breakout role as the God of Thunder in Marvel’s Thor earlier in 2011, and he’s capitalizing on his newfound fame in a big way. He’ll reprise the part in May’s The Avengers, and has one-of-two titular roles in one-of-two anticipated Snow White adaptations (Snow White and the Huntsman) in June. Additionally, a pair of pictures he shot long ago will finally hit theaters – first the horror-thriller Cabin in the Woods, followed by the remake of cult favorite Red Dawn. Add in Ron Howard’s Rush, which he’ll begin shooting this January for an early 2013/late 2012 awards run and you’re looking at one of the most exciting careers to follow!
Tatum made our list last year thanks to a packed schedule including The Dilemma, The Eagle, The Son of No One and more, and 2012 is just as busy for the young A-lister. In January, Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire will finally hit multiplexes (in which he has a bit part) and we could see his ensemble drama Ten Year go wide at some point, but even if it doesn’t he’s got plenty of major motion pictures to promote. First will be the romantic drama The Vow opposite Rachel McAdams, followed soon after by Sony’s 21 Jump Street reboot. On June 29th, he’ll release a pair of very different movies – Paramount’s G.I. Joe: Retaliation and his second collaboration with Soderbergh, the male strip flick Magic Mike. But the best is yet to come, as he’ll star in Moneyball director Bennett Miller’s new drama Foxcatcher opposite Steve Carell, due in 2013.
As stated in the introduction, this list is about both seasoned cinematic figures and rising stars, and was there anyone who had a more impressive year than newcomer Ms. Chastain? I think not. With films as wide ranging as Texas Killing Fields, The Debt, The Help and The Tree of Life (among others) she solidified herself as a dramatic force to be reckoned with in 2011, and the future is bright for the 30-year-old starlet. She’ll reunite with director Terrence Malick for his new, untitled romantic drama and also has a role in John Hillcoat’s anticipated prohibition thriller Wettest County opposite Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy and Gary Oldman. Additionally, she’ll star in a horror flick called Mama and a star-studded drama titled Tar with James Franco, Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams and more.
Here’s an example of a longtime film hero hitting it hard in 2012. While this isn’t the first fiscal year in which Willis has released multiple movies, it’s without question the busiest frame in his career. He’s slated to appear or star in no less than seven films, including big-budget blockbusters like G.I. Joe Retaliation and The Expendables 2, smaller action-thrillers Looper and The Cold Light of Day and more artful projects like Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom and Stephen Frears' Lay the Favorite. He’ll also turn up in the 50 Cent-produced thriller Fire with Fire and will shoot the highly-anticipated A Good Day to Die Hard and videogame adaptation Kane & Lynch throughout 2012. Not bad for an elder statesmen.
Though he’s best known as a modern TV icon thanks to his Emmy-winning role in AMC’s Breaking Bad, Cranston has been incredibly prolific on the big-screen in recent years. He appeared in six films in 2011, including Drive, The Lincoln Lawyer, Contagion and Larry Crowne, and has five major productions on the horizon in 2012. In January he’ll play an authoritative figure in Lucasfilm’s long-gestating wartime action flick Red Tails, followed by a turn in Disney’s mega-budgeted John Carter. He’s also got a part in Adam Shankman’s Rock of Ages adaptation and a villainous role in Sony’s Total Recall remake, and is currently filming Ben Affleck’s CIA drama Argo, set to hit theaters in September.
The former High School Musical star has been trying to establish himself as more than just a pretty face for some time, and 2012 could be a pivotal year in his career. He dabbles in commercial and independent fare next year, with starring roles in Universal’s Dr. Seuss adaptation The Lorax and Warner Bros.’ Nicholas Sparks adaptation The Lucky One as well as parts in Lee Daniels’ The Paperboy and Josh Radnor’s Liberal Arts. He’s also going to appear in an untitled ensemble drama alongside Dennis Quaid, Heather Graham and Clancy Brown.
We've had to wait until 2012 to finally see Baldwin's return to TV, and, lucky us - we'll also be treated to about five film roles from the beloved entertainer. He’s got parts in all kinds of movies, from indie comedy AmeriQua to indie drama Lucky Them, and even big studio flicks like Rock of Ages and DreamWorks Animation’s CGI spectacle Rise of the Guardians. But his most interesting project in unquestionably Nero Fiddled, Woody Allen’s new Rome-set romp, which will likely premiere at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival.
Biel is best known as a maker of mainstream movies (I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, The A-Team, Valentine’s Day), but 2012 will see her release a diverse slate of films. She’s got one of two female lead roles in summer actioner Total Recall, and will play a pivotal part in Gabriele Muccino’s new dramedy Playing the Field. In addition, she’s got a horror thriller titled The Tall Man in the can, and is preparing to film a pair of pictures that could screen next year – The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea and Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes. With any luck, we could also see the long-delayed David O. Russell political rom-com Nailed (in which she plays the female lead) release, but I’m sadly not holding my breath. And if she ends up wedding Justin Timberlake (as engagement rumors started swirling around the web earlier this month), it’s going to be a landmark year for the former 7th Heaven star.
This young talent has been on the rise for awhile, and with a resume that includes work with Robert Zemeckis, Jon Favreau, Paul Weitz and Lisa Cholodenko it’s a wonder he hasn’t been propelled to the spotlight sooner. In 2012 he has five films to release, and by the time the year is over he’ll likely be a household name. First he reprises his role from 2008’s Journey to the Center of the Earth in Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, then appears in an anthology film that sports a directing roster including Benicio del Toro and Gaspar Noe. March sees him starring in one of the most eagerly awaited films of the year – The Hunger Games – while he’ll then appear in the art-house drama Carmel opposite Alfred Molina and Hayden Panettiere. Finally, he’ll star in MGM’s Red Dawn remake in November, and by that point he’ll probably have already cornered several major films for his future.
When is Franco NOT one of the busiest entertainers in showbiz? The Oscar-nominated actor and noted workaholic has been laboring at ludicrous speeds as of late, and his 2012 schedule is packed with somewhere between five and seven films that you'll probably never see including drama Maladies (with Catherine Keener and David Strathairn), thriller The Stare (opposite Winona Ryder), the fore mentioned ensemble drama Tar, the Linda Lovelace biopic Lovelace and another porn-centric drama called Cherry. All the while he’ll be shooting a documentary and filming projects for release in 2013. The man is a machine.
Finally, here’s yet another example of career resurgence. Goodman’s been working incredibly hard over the past few years and has been a part of some of the most acclaimed pictures of 2011 – Kevin Smith’s Red State and awards’ hopefuls The Artist and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Next year, however, is a whole other animal, as he appears in five movies including indie dramedy Thicker, dark comedy Spring Break ’83, Focus Features animated fantasy ParaNorman, and a pair of important dramas from Ben Affleck (Argo) and Robert Zemeckis (Flight). In between pushing those pics, he'll be shooting the Coen Bros. new flick Inside Llewyn Davis and Pixar's anticipated prequel Monsters University. Walter Sobchak is back in the building people.