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.
After Dark Films
It seems a bit odd to take on a movie review of Courtney Solomon's Getaway, as only in the loosest terms is Getaway actually a movie. We begin without questions — other than a vague and frustrating "What the hell is going on?" — and end without answers, watching Ethan Hawke drive his car into things (and people) for the hour and a half in between. We learn very little along the way, probed to engage in the mystery of the journey. But we don't, because there's no reason to.
There's not a single reason to wonder about any of the things that happen to Hawke's former racecar driver/reformed criminal — forced to carry out a series of felonious commands by a mysterious stranger who is holding his wife hostage — because there doesn't seem to be a single ounce of thought poured into him beyond what he see. We learn, via exposition delivered by him to gun-toting computer whiz Selena Gomez, that he "did some bad things" before meeting the love of his life and deciding to put that all behind him. Then, we stop learning. We stop thinking. We start crashing into police cars and Christmas trees and power plants.
Why is Selena Gomez along for the ride? Well, the beginnings of her involvement are defensible: Hawke is carrying out his slew of vehicular crimes in a stolen car. It's her car. And she's on a rampage to get it back. But unaware of what she's getting herself into, Gomez confronts an idling Hawke with a gun, is yanked into the automobile, and forced to sit shotgun while the rest of the driver's "assignments" are carried out. But her willingness to stick by Hawke after hearing his story is ludicrous. Their immediate bickering falls closer to catty sexual tension than it does to genuine derision and fear (you know, the sort of feelings you'd have for someone who held you up or forced you into accessorizing a buffet of life-threatening crimes).
After Dark Films
The "gradual" reversal of their relationship is treated like something we should root for. But with so little meat packed into either character, the interwoven scenes of Hawke and Gomez warming up to each other and becoming a team in the quest to save the former's wife serve more than anything else as a breather from all the grotesque, impatient, deliberately unappealing scenes of city wreckage.
And as far as consolidating the mystery, the film isn't interested in that either, as evidenced by its final moments. Instead of pressing focus on the answers to whatever questions we may have, the movie's ultimate reveal is so weak, unsubstantial, and entirely disconnected to the story entirely, that it seems almost offensive to whatever semblance of a film might exist here to go out on this note. Offensive to the idea of film and story in general, as a matter of fact. But Getaway isn't concerned with these notions. Not with story, character, logic, or humanity. It just wants to show us a bunch of car crashes and explosions. So you'd think it might have at least made those look a little better.
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Salvador Dalí is often quoted as saying "I don't do drugs I am drugs." Whether or not this is a case of attribution decay it's certainly an appropriate statement for the surreal artist. Although it would be silly to suggest that John Dies at the End is on par with such an influential artist (and the movie will certainly never take over Dalí's monopoly of dorm room posters and assorted ephemera) it definitely feels like taking a trip down the rabbit hole.
Chase Williamson and Rob Mayes star as Dave and John respectively best buds and regular dudes who find themselves face to face with grotesque monsters from alternate dimensions and a panoply of other mind-bending horrors all thanks to a drug nicknamed Soy Sauce. The Sauce is an icky sentient black goop that destroys most of the people who inject it (and those who live will never be the same). When we meet Dave and John they're problem-solvers of a sort; if something weird is happening to you — say you're being harassed by your dead boyfriend — they're the ones to call.
The Sauce didn't kill them; it has given them a certain insight into the twisted nature of the universe. Much to Dave's dismay it chose them to save us from certain doom on a regular basis starting with a gross creature from another dimension called Korrok. It's kind of a bubbly vat of sentient goo with one terrible eyeball and it gains knowledge through osmosis. Naturally Korrok would like to nibble on Dave and John to learn their ways so it and a whole legion of freaky followers can hop into our dimension and take over the world we live in. Before they can do that they have a whole host of other problems to deal with like John's untimely demise for starters.
John Dies at the End is a logic puzzle that the viewer has to tease out the meaning of. It benefits from subsequent viewings especially since writer/director Don Coscarelli and author David Wong throw so much at you from the very beginning. (Coscarelli adapted the book for the screen.) It's a hallucinatory midnight movie that is so damn fun it's easy to forgive just how hazy it seems in hindsight. There's also a certain sense of disappointment when Dave and John's mission comes to an end possibly because the two characters and all the weird things they encounter are so entertaining that we hate to leave them.
Coscarelli fans will especially appreciate a small cameo by Angus Scrimm who played the terrifying Tall Man in Coscarelli's Phantasm series as a priest. And any genre lover worth their Sauce will love seeing Doug Jones out of prosthetics (but no less disarming) as a creepy interstellar traveler. Paul Giamatti plays a skeptical journalist who's writing a story about Dave and his misadventures; this narrative is the framing device and ultimately is a bit of a disappointment.
The practical effects have a nice goopy look to them and Coscarelli makes the smart decision to use an animated sequence for some scenes that would have been extraordinarily difficult to create on such a small budget. John Dies at the End is alternately trippy gross and droll and it has a cool B-movie vibe without looking too cheap. Although it's available on demand this would be a fun night out at the movies.
Holdover hits prevailed this weekend as moviegoers showed little enthusiasm for new arrivals.
Universal's PG-13-rated comedy "Meet the Parents" held on to first place in its second weekend with a still engaging estimated $21.35 million (-25%) at 2,615 theaters (+1 theater; $8,165 per theater). Its cume is approximately $59.4 million.
"Parents'" international release is through DreamWorks Pictures, which co-financed the film and will share equally in its success.
"Parents" had the highest per-theater average for any film playing in wide release last weekend.
"It's fabulous," Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco said Sunday morning. "This is a bonafide hit, a bonafide blockbuster. Because of the mid-week numbers, we knew that the word of mouth was out already. The question just is, 'How big is big?' It will be well over $100 million. We're at $59 million in 10 days."
Rocco pointed out that "Parents," which opened in first place the previous weekend, is the fourth consecutive film opening via Universal in the number one position this year. It follows "Nutty Professor II: The Klumps," "Bring It On" and "The Watcher." Universal is the first studio to achieve such a first place box office roll since Paramount scored in 1989 with "Major League," "Pet Sematary," "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" and "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier."
Besides its four-in-a-row streak, Universal has two other first place openings for 2000, to make a total of six - "Erin Brockovich" and "U-571" round out the list.
Directed by Jay Roach (director of both "Austin Powers" hits), "Parents" stars Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller.
Rocco was also delighted with Universal's platform release launch of its critically-acclaimed, R-rated drama "Billy Elliot," the first title from the studio's new Universal Focus banner. "Billy" placed 20th with an estimated $0.22 million at 10 theaters ($22,015 per theater).
"$22,000 per screen is fabulous. When you're only going out with 10 playdates, you have to analyze other films that were of limited release and specialty films. It's certainly better than when 'Il Postino' opened and much better than when 'Ned Devine' opened. 'Ned Devine' was nine playdates and it was much less than this. Quite frankly, 'The Full Monty' opened in six playdates in September of 1997, and their per screen was $29,000. So we're right there. It's extremely encouraging."
"Monty" opened via Fox Searchlight Pictures to $176,585 at 6 theaters ($29,431 per theater) the weekend of Aug. 15-17, 1997. Having opened on Wed., Aug. 13, its five-day cume was $244,375. It went on to gross about $46 million in domestic theaters.
"Devine" opened via Fox Searchlight Pictures to $148,971 at 9 theaters ($16,552 per theater) the weekend of Nov. 20-22, 1998. It went on to gross about $25 million in domestic theaters.
"Postino" opened via Miramax Films to $95,310 at 10 theaters ($9,531 per theater) the weekend of June 16-18, 1995. It went on to gross about $22 million in domestic theaters.
"Billy's" exit polls, Rocco said, were very encouraging: "70% were over 30 (years old). 58% female. 96% in the Top Two boxes (excellent and very good) and 83% definite recommend. This is wonderful. We knew that this picture would play. It's a wonderful film."
The next step in rolling it out, she added, would be, "to bring in a few more markets and maybe expand a little in New York and L.A. for next week. And then the following week, a few more markets, a little more expansion in those that we're opened in, and then by the first or second week of November to be in 400 or 500 playdates. We're being cautious. It's a typical roll-out plan."
Buena Vista/Disney's PG-rated football drama "Remember the Titans" from producer Jerry Bruckheimer retained runner-up honors in its third weekend, still showing good legs with an estimated $13.5 million (-29%) at 2,726 theaters (+25 theaters; $4,958 per theater). Its cume is approximately $64.7 million.
Directed by Boaz Yakin and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and Chad Oman, "Titans" stars Denzel Washington.
New Line's R-rated horror thriller "Lost Souls" found the best reception of the weekend's four wide openings, placing third with a spirited estimated $8.4 million at 1,970 theaters ($4,263 per theater).
"We feel pretty good about it," New Line distribution president David Tuckerman said Sunday morning. "I think the ad campaign (done by New Line marketing president Joe Nimziki and his team) was great."
Focusing on the marketplace, which continues to be soft despite the success of "Parents" and "Titans," Tuckerman pointed out, "We're in a malaise. There's no question about it. And I don't think we're going to get out of it until we have a huge opening to jolt the public back into wanting to go to the movies.
"Frankly, I don't think that opening is going to be until 'Little Nicky' (the PG-13-rated Adam Sandler comedy opening very wide via New Line Nov. 10). I think 'Charlie's Angels' is going to open terrific (very wide via Columbia Nov. 3), but I think 'Little Nicky' is going to jolt 'em. Every week in November, there are good films opening that are going to gross."
Directed by Janusz Kaminski, "Souls" stars Winona Ryder and Ben Chaplin.
Paramount's R-rated urban appeal comedy "The Ladies Man" opened in fourth place with a quiet estimated $5.7 million at 2,022 theaters ($2,819 per theater).
Directed by Reginald Hudlin, "Ladies" stars Tim Meadows, Karyn Parsons and Billy Dee Wiliams.
With very good reviews, DreamWorks' R-rated political thriller "The Contender" opened in fifth place to a hopeful estimated $5.53 million at 1,516 theaters ($3,646 per theater).
Written and directed by Rod Lurie, "Contender" stars Gary Goldman, Joan Allen, Jeff Bridges and Christian Slater.
"We're pretty pleased with the fact that the movie grossed more in its opening weekend than it cost," DreamWorks distribution executive Don Harris said Sunday morning.
"The movie seemed to play across the board. It played in the South and the Mid-West, which we were pretty happy about. We'll probably add some runs this week. That will get determined tomorrow when we see some more information. The plan all along was to open it at about this level and then add as we go through into the fall."
Warner Bros.' reissue of its R-rated 1973 horror classic "The Exorcist" expanded in its fourth week, sliding two pegs to sixth place with a still-solid $5.4 million at 1,655 theaters (+505 theaters; $3,263 per theater). Its cume is approximately $30.7 million, heading for $40 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by William Friedkin, "Exorcist" stars Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair and Max von Sydow.
Artisan Entertainment's R-rated romantic comedy "Dr. T and the Women" arrived in seventh place to an uneventful estimated $5.2 million at 1,489 theaters ($3,492 per theater).
Directed by Robert Altman, "Dr. T" stars Richard Gere, Helen Hunt, Farrah Fawcett, Laura Dern, Shelley Long, Tara Reid, Kate Hudson and Liv Tyler.
Warner Bros. and Franchise Pictures' R-rated Sylvester Stallone action adventure "Get Carter" plunged five rungs in its second week to eighth place with a slow estimated $2.72 million (-59%) at 2,315 theaters (theater count unchanged; $1,173 per theater). Its cume is approximately $11.5 million.
Directed by Stephen Kay, "Carter" stars Sylvester Stallone, Miranda Richardson, Rachael Leigh Cook, Alan Cumming, Mickey Rourke and Michael Caine.
Warner Bros.' PG-13-rated comedy "Best in Show," which went wider in its third week, placed ninth with a very promising estimated $2.35 million at 291 theaters (+238 theaters; $8,060 per theater). Its cume is approximately $4.1 million.
"That's huge," Warner Bros. Distribution president Dan Fellm n said Sunday morning. "The picture has (very good legs). It only dropped 8% in the existing theaters."
Directed by Christopher Guest, "Best" stars Jennifer Coolidge, Christopher Guest and John Michael Higgins.
Rounding out the Top Ten was DreamWorks' R-rated dramatic comedy "Almost Famous," down four notches in its fifth week with a less lively estimated $2.27 million (-39%) at 2,262 theaters (+177 theaters; $1,001 per theater. Its cume is approximately $26.7 million.
Written and directed by Cameron Crowe, "Almost" stars Billy Crudup, Frances McDormand, Kate Hudson, Jason Lee, Patrick Fugit, Anna Paquin, Fairuza Balk, Noah Taylor and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
"Famous" is being released internationally by Sony's Columbia Pictures, which co-financed the production and will share equally with DreamWorks in its success.
OTHER OPENINGS This weekend also saw the arrival of Universal's critically-acclaimed, R-rated drama "Billy Elliot," the first title from the studio's new Universal Focus banner.
"Billy" went into limited release, placing 20th and giving Universal something to dance about with a very promising estimated $0.22 million at 10 theaters ($22,015 per theater).
Now playing in six top markets (New York, L.A., Boston, Toronto, Chicago and San Francisco), "Billy" will roll out slowly in the coming weeks as word of mouth builds and its favorable reviews circulate.
(Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco's comments about "Billy" are included in today's Top Ten grosses report.)
Directed by Stephen Daldry, "Billy" stars Julie Walters, Gary Lewis, Jamie Bell, Jamie Draven and Adam Cooper.
SNEAK PREVIEWS Warner Bros. held sneak previews this weekend at about 750 theaters of its PG-13-rated drama "Pay It Forward."
No details were available Sunday morning. Warners' sneaks the previous Saturday night at 350 theaters had been well attended. Those on hand scored it 81% in the Top Two Boxes (excellent and very good). "Pay" opens Friday (Oct. 20) at between 1,500 and 1,800 theaters.
Directed by Mimi Leder, "Pay" stars Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt and Haley Joel Osment.
EXPANSIONS On the expansion front, Fine Line's R-rated drama "Dancer in the Dark" went wider in its fourth week, placing 17th with a calm estimated $0.41 million at 123 theaters (+12 theaters; $3,330 per theater). Its cume is approximately $1.6 million.
Written and directed by Lars Von Trier, "Dancer" stars Bjork and Catherine Deneuve.
WEEKEND COMPARISONS Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 for the weekend -- took in approximately $78.99 million, up about 6.79% from the comparable weekend last year when key films grossed $73.97 million.
This weekend's key film gross was down a marginal 0.20% from this year's previous weekend when key films grossed $79.15 million.
Last year, 20th Century Fox's opening week of "Fight Club" was first with $11.04 million at 1,963 theaters ($5,622 per theater); and Paramount's fourth week of "Double Jeopardy" was second with $10.23 million at 2,936 theaters ($3,485 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $21.2 million. This year, the top two films grossed an estimated $34.9 million.
STUDIO MARKET SHARES Based on business by key films (those grossing $500,000 or more), last weekend's top six distributors were:
Universal was first with two films ("Meet the Parents" and "Bring It On"), grossing an estimated $22.99 million or 29.1% of the market.
Buena Vista (Disney and Touchstone) was second with one film ("Remember the Titans"), grossing an estimated $13.5 million or 17.1% of the market.
Warner Bros. was third with four films ("Get Carter," "The Exorcist," "Space Cowboys" and "Best in Show"), grossing an estimated $11.05 million or 14.0% of the market.
DreamWorks was fourth with three films ("The Contender," "Almost Famous" and "What Lies Beneath"), grossing an estimated $8.51 million or 10.8% of the market.
New Line was fifth with one film ("Lost Souls"), grossing an estimated $8.4 million or 10.6% of the market.
Paramount was sixth with one film ("The Ladies Man"), grossing an estimated $5.7 million or 7.2% of the market.
ADDITIONAL ESTIMATES (11)Digimon: The Movie/Fox: Theaters: 1,825 (+2) Gross: $1.82 million (-57%) Average per theater: $998 Cume: $7.2 million
(12)Bring It On/Universal: Theaters: 2,167 (-195) Gross: $1.64 million (-28%) Average per theater: $750 Cume: $64.8 million
(13)Urban Legends: Final Cut/Columbia: Theaters: 2,221 (-318) Gross: $1.32 million (-49%) Average per theater: $595 Cume: $20.3 million
(14)What Lies Beneath/DreamWorks: Theaters: 1,027 (-348) Gross: $0.72 million (-36%) Average per theater: $697 Cume: $153.2 million
(15)Space Cowboys/Warner Bros.: Theaters: 1,002 (-501) Gross: $0.59 million (-34%) Average per theater: $585 Cume: $89.1 million
(16)Nurse Betty/USA Films: Theaters: 1,018 (-455) Gross: $0.5 million (-55%) Average per theater: $495 Cume: $23.7 million
(17)Dancer in the Dark/Fine Line: (see EXPANSIONS above)
(18)The Watcher/Universal: Theaters: 879 (-870) Gross: $0.37 million (-68%) Average per theater: $415 Cume: $28.6 million
(19) Nutty Professor II: The Klumps/Universal: Theaters: 540 (-252) Gross: $0.25 million (-43%) Average per theater: $460 Cume: $121.8 million
(20)BILLY ELLIOT/Universal Focus: (see OTHER OPENINGS above)
(21)Scary Movie/Dimension Films: Theaters: 493 (-268) Gross: $0.21 million (-49%) Average per theater: $435 Cume: $156.0 million
(22)Girlfight/Screen Gems/Sony: Theaters: 253 (0) Gross: $0.19 million (-61%) Average per theater: $765 Cume: $1.2 million
(23)Gladiator/DreamWorks: Theaters: 173 (-76) Gross: $0.11 million (-40%) Average per theater: $645 Cume: $186.6 million
(24)Bamboozled/New Line: Theaters: 17 (0) Gross: $0.1 million (-45%) Average per theater: $6,140 Cume: $0.4 million
(25)Requiem For A Dream/Artisan: Theaters: 2 (0) Gross: $0.047 million (-27%) Average per theater: $23,704 Cume: $0.2 million
(26)Two Family House/Lions Gate: Theaters: 4 (-5) Gross: $0.021 million (-31%) Average per theater: $5,201 Cume: $0.064 million
(27)Tigerland/Fox: Theaters: 5 (0) Gross: $0.016 million (-42%) Average per theater: $3,152 Cume: $0.060 million