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.
Downton Abbey fans rejoyce! It looks like the Dowagager Contess (Maggie Smith) will finally have her verbal sparring partner back because Shirley Maclaine is coming back into our lives.
After a two-episode part in season three of Downton Abbey, MacLaine will return for the new season. The longtime actress will reprise her role as Martha Levinson — mother of Lady Cora — in the season four finale.
According to Deadline, six new chracters will also be joining MacLaine in the highly-anticipated fourth season. Let's take a look at the royal new characters:
RELATED: Downton Abbey' Loses Another Character, Evil Maid O'brien
-An old family friend of the Crawleys, Lord Gillingham (played by Tom Cullen)-The Duchess of Yeovil (played by Joanna David)-An aristocrat, Charles Blake (played by Julian Ovenden)-A valet, Green (played by Nigel Harman)-A friend of the Dowager Countess, Lady Shackleton (played by Dame Harriett Walter)-And an unnamed singing guest at the house (to be played by Dame Kiri Te Kanawa)
Executive producer Rebecca Eaton told the Today show, “The addition of these characters can only mean more delicious drama — which is what Downton Abbey is all about.” Fingers crossed these fresh faces can help fill the void from losing the character we love to hate, Maid O'Brien (Siobhan Finneran)
Are you excited for the return of Martha Levinson? Tell us in the comments section below.
[Photo Credit: PBS]
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Each week, Hollywood gives us something to whine about, and the week ending Dec. 8 was no different. We could make a drinking game out of this week, but that would be too dangerous. Instead, we'll stick to the usual formula: varying levels of alcoholic respite depending on how bothersome the week's issues are. Is your biggest complaint this week a flismy one? How about a light cocktail to take the edge off? Got a real bone to pick with a celeb or entertainment entity this week? Go ahead, grab a drink that'll put hair on your chest. Here are the week's entertainment stories that are forcing us to seek a bubbly or boozy refuge. And maybe an idea or two about how you should wash them down. Take the Edge Off With a Glass of Pinot Noir A Royal Baby is Suri’s Worst Nightmare What if it’s a girl? She’ll be an actual princess. Suri (or Suri’s Burn Book’s parody version of Suri) is not having that. Her Burn Book is going to fill up fast. There’s Way Too Much Line-Dancing in the New Christmas Music Video From Olivia-Newton John and John Travolta Also, there’s too much reunioning these days, do we need to make it worse with line dancing? We Didn’t Know There Was a Totally Hilarious Version of The Night Before Christmas Thankfully, we do now. Jazz Hands Are About to Get Scaaaaary Pan’s Labyrinth: The Musical is coming. Get a little Loose With a Few Glasses of Pinot Honey Boo-Boo Child is In the Same Category as Hillary Clinton, Chris Christie, and Gabby Douglas They’re all some of Barbara Walters’ most fascinating peopleof 2012. Johnny Depp May Reprise the Futterwacken. And if you saw the first Alice in Wonderland, you’d know that the Futterwacken, is well, wack. Lamp Had Better Watch Her Back in Anchorman 2 Because Kristen Wiig is coming afterher man. Let's Forget This Ever Happened With Long Island Iced Tea Randy Jackson Thinks American Idol is like Picasso But maybe he should visit a museum, read a book, or at least check Wikipedia before he says something like that. We Had to Try to Understand and Take a Stance on the Politics of Psy And it’s all a bit murky, but does it mean we can we stop caring about “Gangnam Style” now? Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler [Photo Credit: Wenn] More Unhappy Hour: Nov. 30: 'Girl Meets World,' Angus T Jones, etc. Dec. 1: Twinkies, Guy Fieri, and More Nov. 10: Donald Trump, No Doubt, and Modern Family
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The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.