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.
Lions Gate via Everett Collection
When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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Matthew McConaughey became the first new celebrity dad of 2010 when he and Camila Alves welcomed baby Vida into the world, but they weren't the only couple celebrating births. Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell experienced the joys of fatherhood all over again, while supermodel Claudia Schiffer and actress Monica Bellucci were bursting with excitement after announcing their pregnancies.
Love was certainly in the air - actor Josh Duhamel renewed his vows with Fergie, and British model Sophie Dahl became Mrs. Jamie Cullum. Russell Brand confirmed plans to wed Katy Perry, and Michael Buble got down on bended knee to propose to model Luisana Lopilato.
The same couldn't be said for Charlize Theron and Stuart Townsend - they called it quits after nine years together. A cancer-stricken Dennis Hopper filed for divorce from his wife, and sporting pair Chris Evert and Greg Norman finalised the dissolution of their 18-month marriage.
There were new troubles for embattled celebrity offspring - Farrah Fawcett and Ryan O'Neal's boy Redmond was jailed after another drugs bust, and the future was bleak for Michael Douglas' actor son Cameron, who prepared for a lengthy prison sentence after pleading guilty to drug trafficking charges.
Meanwhile, illusionist David Copperfield was cleared of rape allegations, and actor Rip Torn was arrested after he was found passed out on the floor of a Connecticut bank, clutching a gun. Diff'rent Strokes star Gary Coleman was arrested on allegations of domestic assault and then hospitalised following a number of seizures.
Bad health also struck Dexter's Michael C. Hall, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, just as Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber revealed he had overcome prostate cancer.
The music industry mourned the death of R&B legend Teddy Pendergrass when he lost his battle with colon cancer, while the literary world was hit hard with the passing of beloved author J.D. Salinger.
Awards season was in full swing and Beyonce, Kings of Leon and Taylor Swift ruled the 2010 Grammy Awards, while director James Cameron's Avatar collected top honours at the Golden Globes and the Critics' Choice Movie Awards.
In the TV world, Simon Cowell confirmed he was stepping down as an American Idol judge, Miley Cyrus announced she was turning her back on Hannah Montana, and Ugly Betty got the axe from network executives.
Elsewhere, George Clooney led the Hope For Haiti Now telethon to raise funds for the Haitian victims of the 12 January earthquake, enlisting pals Jack Nicholson, Ben Affleck and Mel Gibson to man the phones as Madonna, Bono and Beyonce performed for charity. Clooney, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Sandra Bullock and Gisele Bundchen all led by example and donated huge sums to the relief efforts, and the telethon raised more than $57 million (£35.6 million).
Jessica Biel and Emile Hirsch fronted another big charity drive when they joined a team of stars to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, drawing attention to Africa's chronic water shortage. They reached the Tanzanian peak for the Summit on the Summit: Kilimanjaro campaign on 12 January, six days after embarking on the challenge.
February was marked by tragedy when celebrated fashion designer Alexander Mcqueen was found dead after hanging himself at his London home. Meanwhile, investigations into Michael Jackson’s death in June, 2009 loomed as coroner’s officials determined acute intoxication of powerful anaesthetic Propofol was the cause. The ruling prompted prosecutors to file involuntary manslaughter charges against his former doctor Conrad Murray. Officials also ruled Brittany Murphy’s death in December, 2009 was accidental and caused by pneumonia, aided by anaemia and drug intoxication. Andrew Koenig’s family continued to mourn after his body was found in Vancouver following an apparent suicide. Marie Osmond also grieved the apparent suicide death of her 18-year-old son.
Nancy Kerrigan’s family was rocked by controversy after her brother, Mark, became the target of an investigation of their father’s homicide. Meanwhile, Etta James’ son revealed the singer had been secretly battling Alzheimer's disease for more than a year.
But there were still celebrations in Hollywood. James Cameron’s sci-fi film Avatar became the highest grossing movie in the U.S. and the U.K. His ex-wife, Kathryn Bigelow, had something to boast about too when her war drama, The Hurt Locker, scored nine Oscar nods, the same amount as Cameron’s cinematic sensation. She also won top awards at the BAFTAs.
The world watched as Canada's brightest stars including Bryan Adams, Nelly Furtado, K.D. lang and Joni Mitchell teamed up to help launch the Winter Olympics in the country. And in London, Lady Gaga walked away with the BRIT Awards’ top honours. Beatles drummer Ringo Starr unveiled his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and The Beatles' favourite recording studio Abbey Road was awarded historic status by the British government. Celine Dion, Kanye West, and Jennifer Hudson were among singers who recorded vocals for Quincy Jones and Lionel Richie's revamped We Are The World track to raise money for earthquake-ravaged Haiti. The country's biggest celebrity activist Sean Penn was caught in controversy and charged with criminal battery and vandalism following a violent run-in with a paparazzo, while Lil Wayne celebrated winning a postponement on his prison sentence for weapons possession.
It was a romantic month for several stars who announced plans to wed, including Nicole Richie and Joel Madden, Hilary Duff and ice hockey ace Mike Comrie, and Dave Annabelle and Odette Yustman. Kristen Bell revealed boyfriend Dax Shepard had proposed back in December, 2009. Meanwhile, Sienna Miller, who called off her engagement to Jude Law in 2006, rekindled her romance with the actor. Several stars welcomed bundles of joy, including Padma Lakshmi, Boris Becker, Sarah Jane Morris and Gary Busey. February wasn’t such a loved-up month for Ryan Phillippe and Abbie Cornish, or Cheryl Cole and her soccer star husband Ashley - both couples split. John Mayer risked the wrath of ex Jessica Simpson after referring to her as “sexual napalm”.
Public scandal took over headlines when Tiger Woods finally addressed reports he cheated on ex-wife Elin Nordegren with several mistresses and announced plans to return to rehab for sex therapy. Exes waged war in court, including Dennis Hopper, who won a restraining order against his estranged wife. Charlie Sheen was charged with felony menacing, third degree assault and misdemeanour criminal mischief stemming from an alleged altercation with his now-estranged wife, Brooke Mueller. Both parties checked in to rehab.
It was a shocking way to start the spring as March saw two of Hollywood's biggest star couples announce break-ups - Kate Winslet parted ways with her second husband Sam Mendes after seven years and Sandra Bullock's Oscar win was overshadowed after she found out partner Jesse James had cheated on her.
March wasn't any better for Take That's Mark Owen, who was also accused of cheating on his longtime girlfriend Emma Ferguson with 10 women - and he later revealed he's a struggling alcoholic and checked himself into rehab.
More scandals came as the month progressed, with fiery supermodel Naomi Campbell accused of attacking her driver by striking him on the head, and Michael Jackson's mum Katherine visited by welfare officials in Los Angeles over allegations one of her grandkids had purchased a stun gun.
Rapper J-Kwon was reported as a missing person after he failed to get in contact with his loved ones for more than a month, and reclusive R&B star D'Angelo was arrested in New York for offering an undercover cop cash for oral sex.
Other stars facing a tough time included Lil Wayne, who began an eight-month stretch behind bars stemming from a 2007 weapon possession arrest, and Lindsay Lohan, who had a fashion flop on her hands after being axed as the artistic advisor of style house Emanuel Ungaro following a slated catwalk collection.
But it wasn't all doom and gloom - Kathryn Bigelow made Oscars history when she became the first female to land the top director Academy Award for her war movie The Hurt Locker, beating ex-husband James Cameron in the process. Music mogul Simon Cowell confirmed his engagement to make-up artist Mezhgan Hussainy while others to put a ring on it included Friends star David Schwimmer, who proposed to his photographer girlfriend Zoe Buckman, and Sacha Baron Cohen and Isla Fisher, who enjoyed a small private wedding ceremony in Paris, France.
There was also a string of spring babies - Shakespeare In Love star Joseph Fiennes became a first-time father after welcoming a daughter, while Kevin Costner announced he was set to become a dad for a seventh time. Hollywood stars Eric Dane and Rebecca Gayheart also became parents for the first time after the actress gave birth to a baby girl.
While March saw ups and downs for some of Tinseltown's finest, others were looking on the bright side - Ricky Martin confirmed the worst kept secret in pop by announcing he's homosexual, while Will & Grace star Sean Hayes also decided to come out of the closet and spoke for the first time about his sexuality.
Every fan of 1980s movies was left devastated after hearing Corey Haim had died from a drug overdose - the Lost Boys star was aged 38. The month also saw the passings of Little Women star Richard Stapley, veteran British actor Martin Benson and beloved U.S. TV star Fess Parker.
The eruption of a volcano in Iceland at the end of March meant the following month was dogged by stories of stranded stars as a giant ash cloud swept over northern Europe and closed airports across the continent.
California's Coachella festival was under threat as a number of acts cancelled their slots when they were unable to fly out to the U.S.
Several movie premieres were also affected in the chaos - the Iron Man 2 red carpet event in London was moved to Los Angeles when stars including Robert Downey, Jr. were unable to jet to Britain. Miley Cyrus also scrapped plans to unveil her film The Last Song in the British capital due to the cancelled flights.
TV stars Chace Crawford and Kiefer Sutherland were both stranded in London after the ash cloud hit, and the 24 actor made the most of his extended stay by taking trips to some of Britain's best-known landmarks, including a day out to visit Stonehenge.
But many celebrities refused to let a little bit of volcano ash get in the way of their work - Metallica continued their tour by swapping planes for roads and railways, while Status Quo drove back to Britain after finding themselves stuck in Russia. John Cleese was stranded in Norway, so he paid $4,950 (£3,300) for a taxi to take him to Belgium, where he caught a train back to London.
In non-volcano-related news, Sandra Bullock sent shockwaves through the showbiz world when she came out fighting after her husband Jesse James' cheating scandal in March. The Oscar winner announced she had filed for divorce and stunned the world by revealing she had also adopted a baby son, Louis. Bullock admitted the couple had taken charge of their new son back in January, but kept the news quiet and after splitting from James she resolved to raise the baby on her own.
Another high profile celebrity split hit headlines when Mel Gibson ended his year-long romance with Russian musician Oksana Grigorieva, the mother of his baby daughter, Lucia. The couple didn't give a reason for the break-up, but Grigorieva subsequently hinted "you will find out everything quite soon". Jim Carrey and Jenny Mccarthy also ended their five-year romance.
The music world was rocked when Brett Michaels suffered two serious health scares in April. The Poison rocker was admitted to hospital for an emergency appendectomy at the beginning of the month and just weeks later he collapsed after suffering a brain haemorrhage. The rocker was in a critical condition, but slowly began his recovery. Another shock for music fans came with the death of former Sex Pistols manager and punk icon Malcolm Mclaren, who lost his battle with cancer.
April was a sad month for Dynasty fans after two of the show's former stars died within days of each other. John Forsythe passed away from complications relating to pneumonia and his death was followed by the passing of his onscreen brother Christopher Cazenove, who lost a battle with blood poisoning just six days later.
The scandal of the month came when Desperate Housewives actress Nicollette Sheridan filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the show's creator, Marc Cherry. The actress claimed he slapped her during an argument over the script and then fired her when she complained to producers.
Sheridan's co-stars, Teri Hatcher, Eva Longoria Parker, Felicity Huffman and Marcia CrosS, all took Cherry's side.
There were wedding bells this month for Scissor Sisters singer Ana Matronic and her boyfriend Seth Kirby, and actors Seth Green and Clare Grant. Meanwhile, Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon sealed their love by renewing their wedding vows for the third time.
May was not such a happy month for Boyzone singer Ronan Keating, who split from his wife Yvonne, and he wasn't the only one facing heartache - former Bond girl Halle Berry split from Gabriel Aubry after more than four years together, and Buffy The Vampire Slayer star David Boreanaz's marriage was plunged into crisis when he admitted cheating on his wife.
Several stars heard the pitter-patter of tiny feet this month - Monica Bellucci gave birth to her second daughter, Leonie, supermodel Claudia Schiffer delivered her third child, daughter Cosima, and Amy Adams became a first-time mum after giving birth to daughter Aviana.
John Travolta and his wife Kelly Preston had something to smile about after the death of son Jett in 2009, when they confirmed the actress was expecting another child, and it was double joy for singer Alicia Keys - she became engaged to producer Swizz Beatz and announced her pregnancy.
Meanwhile, Hollywood paid tribute to legendary actor Dennis Hopper when he died at the age of 74 after a battle against prostate cancer, and Diff'rent Strokes star Gary Coleman passed away at the age of 42 after suffering a brain haemorrhage in a fall at his home.
There was further tragedy for the Redgrave dynasty when Lynn Redgrave died aged 67 after a long battle with breast cancer, and Brittany Murphy's grieving widower Simon Monjack was found dead at his home.
The rock world was plunged into mourning when Ronnie James Dio lost his battle with stomach cancer at the age of 67, swiftly followed by the sudden death of Slipknot bassist Paul Gray, 38, who was found dead in a hotel room in Iowa after an accidental drug overdose.
Former The Temptations star Ali-Ollie Woodson died from leukaemia, aged 58, and veteran actress/singer Lena Horne succumbed to heart failure at 92.
On the scandal front, Charlie Sheen's troubles mounted when he surrendered legal custody of his two children with ex-wife Denise Richards, and Miley Cyrus showed she's growing up fast when she was caught on camera dirty dancing with a 44-year-old movie producer in a nightclub. Lindsay Lohan was ordered by a court to wear an alcohol-monitoring ankle tag in a bid to help beat her drink and drug demons, and troubled actor Michael Madsen was hospitalised following a nine-day booze binge in Britain.
Bono was rushed to hospital for emergency surgery on his back, leading to the cancellation of U2's hotly-anticipated Glastonbury headline slot the following month.
June was a bumper wedding month with Megan Fox and Brian Austin Green marrying on a beach in Hawaii, while Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart wed after seven years together. Gemma Arterton married Stefano Catelli, and Alanis Morissette married MC Souleye. British newsman Piers Morgan wed Celia Walden and Mena Suvari married music producer Simone Sestitos. Glee star Jane Lynch married Lara Embry in a civil partnership ceremony – and love was also in the air for Orlando Bloom, who announced his engagement to longterm girlfriend Miranda Kerr.
Ugly Betty star America Ferrera became engaged to Ryan Piers Williams, while Kate Hudson hit headlines when she started dating MUSE frontman Matt Bellamy.
It was a baby boom month - Kevin Costner became a dad for the seventh time, Sheryl Crow adopted her second son, director Sofia Coppola welcomed another daughter, and R&B star Ne-Yo announced he is to be a father for the first time.
June was not such a good month love wise for actor Mark-Paul Gosselaar, who filed for divorce from his wife of 13 years. Meanwhile British singer Leona Lewis split from her childhood sweetheart and Twilight's Nikki Reed broke up with Paris Latsis. Brandy's romance with rapper Flo Rida came to an end, Welsh singer Charlotte Church split from fiance Gavin Henson, and former U.S. vice president Al Gore split from his wife of 40 years.
Rock stars were in mourning when former Stereophonics star Stuart Cable passed away, former The Kinks bassist Pete Quaife also died, and country music legend Jimmy Dean passed away at the age of 81. Hollywood was saddened when Golden Girls star Rue McClanahan died aged 76 after suffering a major stroke and actor/director Corey Allen passed away. Zorro star Eugenia Paul also died at the age of 75.
June also caused havoc for the music industry with numerous gigs being axed - Drake, Jay-Z, Ke$ha and Grace Jones all had to cancel shows, while illness caused cancellations for John Mayer, Cher and Wolfmother, and SUM 41 brought the curtain down on their European tour after Steve Jocz was involved in a car crash.
Gossip Girl star Chace Crawford was in the news following his arrest for pot possession, while Motley Crue frontman Vince Neil and The Sopranos star Joseph Gannascoli were arrested separately on suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI). Meanwhile it was also another DUI arrest for actor Chris Klein - he then checked himself into a rehabilitation facility to deal with alcohol addiction later in the month.
Incarcerated rapper Lil Wayne's troubles worsened - he was sentenced to three years probation after striking a plea deal with U.S. prosecutors in relation to a 2008 drugs charge.
Other notable events in June included the launch of the soccer World Cup tournament, which saw stars including the Black Eyed Peas, Shakira, Alicia Keys and John Legend perform at the opening ceremony in South Africa. There was also a flurry of tributes on the one-year anniversary of Michael Jackson's death, and Larry King announced plans to retire from his 25-year run as the host of CNN talk show Larry King Live.
A number of awards were also handed out - The Twilight Saga: New Moon was the big winner at the MTV Movie Awards in Los Angeles, picking up four honours, while Sandra Bullock and Scarlett Johansson caused a stir by locking lips onstage at the ceremony. Chris Brown stole the show at the 2010 BET Awards when he performed a dance tribute to Michael Jackson, while Alicia Keys and Drake were crowned the big winners.