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.
Showtime's 2013 “will be about momentum and growth,” announced the network’s president of entertainment, David Nevins, at the Television Critics Association winter press tour. Thanks to watercooler shows like Homeland and Dexter, the premium cable network ended 2012 with an all-time high of more than 22 million subscribers. Nevins revealed that Showtime is the only pay-for-programming cable network to show consistent growth, mainly due to its “cutting edge, topical, and entertaining programming.” That shouldn't change as we head into 2013: Here's what Nevins had to say about the return dates and details of all your favorite shows.
The Big C: hereafter: The final chapter will conclude with a four-part limited event season beginning Monday, April 29 (10 p.m.). Golden Globe award-winning and Emmy-nominated actress Laura Linney will reprise her role as cancer-battler Cathy Jamison. Showrunner Jenny Bicks says that the series’ end will be a rewarding one. “I would say that the final scenes of the series will be nostalgic for viewers of the show,” she said.
The Borgias: Showtime’s Jeremy Irons-starring period piece about Pope Alexander will return for its third season on Sunday, April 14 (10 p.m.).
Californication: Season six premieres Sunday, Jan. 13 (10:30 p.m.).
Dexter: America’s favorite serial killer returns for his eighth and final season a bit earlier in the schedule this year: Dexter will premiere in the summer — Sunday, June 30 (9 PM) to be exact — and promises to have a “clear end-game.” But when pressed for more details, Nevins wouldn’t reveal any more teasers.
Episodes: The 30-minute comedy will return “fairly early in 2014.” Nevins said if if could he would air the show as soon as possible, but Showtime agreed to produce the show on the creators’ availability and as a result location has been split between London and Los Angeles.
Homeland: Season Three of the Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning drama series will premiere this fall on Sunday, Sept. 29 (9 p.m.).
House of Lies: Marty, Jeannie, and the rest of the gang are back to lie their way to the top on Sunday, Jan. 13 (10 p.m.). Fun fact: Don Cheadle's Oceans 11 costar Matt Damon will guest star as himself later this season when he asks the team to help him appear more charitable than George Clooney.
Inside Comedy: The second season of the critically acclaimed documentary series premieres Monday, Feb. 11 (11 p.m.). The ten half-hour episodes will feature David Steinberg and a line-up of comedy A-listers including Louis C.K., Steve Martin, Tina Fey, and Will Ferrell.
Masters of Sex: Audiences will be introduced to Showtime’s newest drama series starring Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan following Homeland on Sept. 29 (10 p.m.). Nevins said Masters of Sex is already earning “tremendous early buzz.”
Nurse Jackie: Fans of Edie Falco will see the Emmy award winner return to her drug addicted ways on Sunday April 14 (9 p.m.).
Penny Dreadful: With “incredibly exciting and original scripts,” Penny Dreadful is a psychosexual horror series created, written, and executive produced by three-time Oscar nominee John Logan (Hugo, The Aviator, Gladiator). The pre-production series will center on some of literature’s most famously terrifying characters – including Dr. Frankenstein and his creature, Dorian Gray, and iconic figures from the novel Dracula – together in Victorian London. Production will begin in London later this year.
Ray Donovan: Dexter’s final season will serve as the springboard for Ray Donovan, the highly anticipated new drama series. Nevins said that the show boasts “phenomenal” writing and an incredible cast, and debuts on June 30 (10 p.m.).
Shameless: Showtime’s third-highest-rated show will return to TV screens Sunday, Jan 13 (9 p.m.).
Web Therapy: Although no specific date has been set, Lisa Kudrow’s quirky comedy will return “this summer, roughly the same time it was on this last year,” Nevins says. He promises the new season will exceed its predecessors and there are “enormous guest stars” who are always eager to take part.
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[Photo Credit: Showtime]