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.
While recent animated blockbusters have aimed to viewers of all ages starting with fantastical concepts and breathtaking visuals but tackling complex emotional issues along the way Ice Age: Continental Drift is crafted especially for the wee ones — and it works. Venturing back to prehistoric times once again the fourth Ice Age film paints broad strokes on the theme of familial relationships throwing in plenty of physical comedy along the way. The movie isn't that far off from one of the many Land Before Time direct-to-video sequels: not particularly innovative or necessary but harmless thrilling fun for anyone with a sense of humor. Unless they have a particular distaste for wooly mammoths the kids will love it.
Ice Age: Continental Drift continues to snowball its cartoon roster bringing back the original film's trio (Ray Romano as Manny the Mammoth Denis Leary as Diego the Sabertooth Tiger and John Leguizamo as Sid the Sloth) new faces acquired over the course of the franchise (Queen Latifah as Manny's wife Ellie) and a handful of new characters to spice things up everyone from Nicki Minaj as Manny's daughter Steffie to Wanda Sykes as Sid's wily grandma. The whole gang is living a pleasant existence as a herd with Manny's biggest problem being playing overbearing dad to the rebellious daughter. Teen mammoths they always want to go out and play by the waterfall! Whippersnappers.
The main thrust of the film comes when Scratch the Rat (whose silent comedy routines in the vein of Tex Avery/WB cartoons continue to be the series highlight) accidentally cracks the singular continent Pangea into the world we know today. Manny Diego and Sid find themselves stranded on an iceberg once again forced on a road trip journey of survival. The rest of the herd embarks to meet them giving Steffie time to realize the true meaning of friendship with help from her mole pal Louis (Josh Gad).
The ham-handed lessons may drag for those who've passed Kindergarten but Ice Age: Continental Drift is a lot of fun when the main gang crosses paths with a group of villainous pirates. (Back then monkeys rabbits and seals were hitting the high seas together pillaging via boat-shaped icebergs. Obviously.) Quickly Ice Age becomes an old school pirate adventure complete with maritime navigation buried treasure and sword fights. Gut (Peter Dinklage) an evil ape with a deadly... fingernail leads the evil-doers who pose an entertaining threat for the familiar bunch. Jennifer Lopez pops by as Gut's second-in-command Shira the White Tiger and the film's two cats have a chase scene that should rouse even the most apathetic adults. Hearing Dinklage (of Game of Thrones fame) belt out a pirate shanty may be worth the price of admission alone.
With solid action (that doesn't need the 3D addition) cartoony animation and gags out the wazoo Ice Age: Continental Drift is entertainment to enjoy with the whole family. Revelatory? Not quite. Until we get a feature length silent film of Scratch's acorn pursuit we may never see a "classic" Ice Age film but Continental Drift keeps it together long enough to tell a simple story with delightful flare that should hold attention spans of any length. Massive amounts of sugar not even required.
[Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox]
Seven days, seven chances to attain sweet, sweet television nirvana. In this week's Best of Seven, we give you every excuse to sit on the couch and veg out while you patiently await the Friday opening of director Christopher Nolan's much-anticipated (and already critically-praised) Inception - this summer's Twilight: Eclipse for adults and other people with brains.
7PM-9PM: Tosh.0, Comedy Central. Comedian Daniel Tosh's sarcasm-laden celebration of viral videos, YouTube celebrities, and other pop-culture ephemera has become one of the highest-rated shows in its time slot, reportedly nabbing almost 2.5 million viewers last week, surpassing both Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's ratings. It's America's Funniest Home Videos for the Twitter generation, and it's not too late to jump on the bandwagon: you can catch four Tosh.0 episodes in a row Monday night, right before another 2-hour block (9PM-11PM) of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (including the hilarious two-part 'The Gang Gets Whacked' episode and 'Dennis Looks Like a Registered Sex Offender').
8PM: Ratatouille, Disney Channel. If gross-out humor (Tosh.0 and It's Always Sunny) isn't your thing, enjoy Disney/Pixar's charming 2007 computer-animated story of a rat who dreams of cooking in a Parisian restaurant. Won an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.
8:30PM: R. Kelly's Trapped in the Closet, IFC. Did you know that singer-songwriter R. Kelly wrote a heartbreaking, 22-part rock-opera in 2005 and 2007, about the perils of one-night stands and the difficulties of keeping it real? Well, he did, and it's sort of kind of brilliant in it's own bizarre way. Start watching this and I guarantee you'll find yourself weirdly mesmerized by R. Kelly's operatic tale, much of which takes place in a closet, natch.
10PM: Curb Your Enthusiasm, TV Guide Channel. In 'The Shrimp Incident,' Larry David (Seinfeld creator Larry David) suspects that HBO executive Allan Wasserman has stolen some shrimp out of his Chinese food.
6PM - Midnight: This is not an endorsement, but if you're interested, apparently the Discovery Health channel has all baby-related programming for a whole six-hour block. Seriously. Hour after hour of Big Babies, and I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant, and so on. A bit of research revealed that this is not, in fact, a singular phenomenon, but a relatively frequent occurrence on Discovery Health and TLC (this Wednesday). Who on Earth is watching this much baby-based programming? Possibly the same people who are watching Say Yes to the Dress in four hour blocks.
8PM: Chappelle's Show, Comedy Central. 2 episodes chock-full of Dave Chappelle's signature combination of wit, gross-out humor, and biting social commentary back-to-back.
8PM: The Departed, FX. Director Martin Scorsese directs the hell out of this South-Boston set tale of one cop's questionable loyalties (Matt Damon) and another's blurring identity (Leonardo DiCaprio), centered around an organized crime gang led by Jack Nicholson. Inspired by the popular 2002 Hong Kong crime film Infernal Affairs. Won four Academy Awards, including Best Director and Best Picture.
6:25: Annie Hall, IFC. By far one of Woody Allen's best films, this 1977 comedy-drama stars the writer-director and Diane Keaton. The Best Picture winner follows the ups and downs of a long-term relationship between two mismatched New York neurotics.
9PM: Futurama, Comedy Central. A 3-hour Futurama comedy block!
11PM: Weird Science, VH1. The former music - now 80s nostalgia channel is airing the thoroughly odd (seriously, watch this movie while actually thinking about what is going on - notice the subtle racism and perverse sexual themes) 1985 John Hughes flick. Two high-school nerds computer-generate a hot babe to teach them how to meet girls, as well as have uncomfortable three-person showers. With Anthony Michael Hall.
6PM: Law and Order, TNT. Law and Order may be over, but it will be in syndication forever. Remember the halcyon days with a classic episode from 2004. In 'Fixed,' Fontana and Green reluctantly investigate after a motorist strikes a child-murderer and leaves him for dead, and the evidence they uncover leads McCoy to a startling discovery.
11PM: The Glades, A&E. The pilot episode of A&E's new Florida-based crime drama The Glades re-airs at 11, if you missed the original premiere. The LA Times calls it "an accomplished if occasionally vexing affair," so take that as you will.
Other: Inception comes out tonight!
6PM: Avoid watching the HBO special 'Inception: HBO First Look.' Don't watch it! You won't want any spoilers when you enjoy Inception yourself, for the first or second time, on Saturday night. There is nothing else on TV tonight. Don't even look. Just go watch this movie.
Sunday nights are the reason to buy HBO, plain and simple.
9PM: True Blood, HBO. Alcide and Sookie (Anna Paquin) turn to a packmaster for advice on wow to deal with Russell's minions; Tara considers a proposal from Ranklin; Joe Lee breaks his promise to Sam and Tommy; Jason meets a mysterious girl; an heirloom reminds Eric of his past.
10PM: Hung, HBO. Ray tries to prove to Darby and Damon that he is not an insensitive ex-jock; Tanya turns to Charlie for advice; Jessica feels the pinch of the economic downturn.
10:30PM: Entourage, HBO. Eric and Phil try to convince Drama that he has talent on the sitcom front; Ari (Jeremy Piven) resists Barbara's urgings to have Lizzie promoted; Turtle is intrigued by a business proposal from Alex; Scott Lavin continues to ingratiate himself with Vince.
The God of Legion secular Hollywood’s latest Biblically-inspired action flick is old-school an angry spiteful Almighty with a penchant for Old Testament theatrics. Fed up with humanity’s decadent warmongering ways He’s decided to pull the plug on the whole crazy experiment and start over from scratch.
Fortunately for us the God of Legion is also a rather lazy fellow. Instead of doing the apocalyptic work himself and wiping us out with a giant flood which worked perfectly well last time He opts to delegate the task to His army of angels — a questionable strategy that starts to fall apart when the archangel charged with leading the planned extermination Michael (Paul Bettany) refuses to comply.
Michael who unlike his boss still harbors affection for our sorry species abandons his post and descends to earth where inside the swollen belly of Charlie (Adrianne Palicki) an unwed mother-to-be working as a waitress in an out-of-the-way diner sits humanity’s lone hope for survival. Why is this particular baby so important? Is it the one destined to lead us to victory over Skynet? Heaven knows — Legion reveals little details its script devoid of actual scripture. What is clear is that God’s celestial hitmen want the kid whacked before it’s born.
But Michael won’t let humanity fall without a fight. Armed with a Waco-sized arsenal of assault weapons he hunkers down with the diner’s patrons a largely superfluous collection of thinly-sketched caricatures from various demographic groups led by Dennis Quaid as the diner’s grizzled owner Tyrese Gibson as a hip-hop hustler and Lucas Black as a simple-minded country boy.
Together they mount a heroic final stand against hordes of angels who’ve taken possession of “weak-willed” humans turning kindly old grandmas and mild-mannered ice cream vendors into snarling ravenous foul-mouthed beasts. They descend upon the ramshackle diner in a series of full-frontal assaults commanded by the archangel Gabriel (Kevin Durand) the George Pickett of End of Days generals.
Beneath its superficial religious facade Legion is really just a run-of-the-mill zombie flick a Biblical I Am Legend. Bettany an actor accustomed to smaller dramatic roles in films like A Beautiful Mind and The Da Vinci Code looks perfectly at ease in his first major action role wielding machine guns and bowie knives with equal aplomb. Conversely first-time director Scott Stewart a former visual effects artist does little to prove himself worthy of such a promotion serving up some impressive CGI work but not much else worthy of note.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
George Simmons is a comedian-turned-Hollywood superstar whose comfortable Malibu existence is threatened when he is diagnosed with a rare blood disorder. Placed on a regimen of experimental meds that offer a mere 8% chance of success he’s forced to confront the very real prospect of his own mortality which not surprisingly triggers a drastic realignment of his priorities. Looking for a companion to assist him in his final days he hires Ira Wright an earnest young comedian in desperate need of a break to work as his assistant. Ira naturally jumps at the chance to be mentored by one of his idols but quickly finds himself in over his head as he accompanies George on his perilous chaotic journey of self-discovery and redemption.
WHO’S IN IT?
A newly trim Seth Rogen (Pineapple Express Observe & Report) injects an endearing blend of sensitivity and self-doubt into his normal “lovable schlub” routine as Ira the struggling performer tasked with such a strange assignment. In the role of George Adam Sandler deserves kudos for taking on a character clearly based on himself. It’s not hard to see the similarities between Sandler’s resume of high-concept critically-maligned blockbusters and George’s fictional portfolio of hits like Merman a male-centric version of Splash Re-Do the story of a grown man turned into a baby by a wizard and My Best Friend is a Robot a buddy comedy co-starring Owen Wilson. (For a more complete list check out george-simmons.com.) But in contrast to Sandler’s genial everyman persona George is an acerbic self-absorbed privileged vision of the Hollywood success run amok.
Supporting players include Leslie Mann (Drillbit Taylor Knocked Up) who plays George’s ex-girlfriend and soulmate Laura a one-time actress now married with two children in Marin County. Eric Bana (Munich The Time Traveler’s Wife) makes an inspired turn as Laura’s husband Clarke a boisterous Aussie businessman whose temperament amusingly alternates between violent aggression and teary-eyed affection. Relative newcomer Aubrey Plaza (TV’s Parks and Recreation) is a delight as Ira’s shy witty love interest Daisy while veteran Apatow players Jonah Hill (Superbad Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and Jason Schwartzman (The Darjeeling Limited Walk Hard) provide much of the film’s laughs as his oddball roommates. Rounding out the supporting cast are RZA Aziz Ansari and Apatow and Mann’s real-life daughters Maude and Iris Apatow.
Cameos abound with appearances by such varied names as musician Jon Brion comedians Ray Romano and Andy Dick and rapper Eminem.
After tugging the heartstrings and tickling the funnybone with equal skill in his previous directorial efforts The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up Judd Apatow heads into darker more ambitious territory with Funny People while still trying to deliver the same raucous comedy that we’ve come to expect from him. The result is a movie that is at times heartbreakingly poignant and laugh-out-loud funny.
At almost two and a half hours in length Funny People is neither poignant nor funny enough to justify such a bloated running time. Apatow let his ambition get the best of him this time attempting to deliver — to paraphrase his own words — his funniest and most serious film to date. Methinks a shorter cut of the film might have yielded either a great comedy or a great drama depending on which path its director chose. Instead we wind up with a merely good dramedy that meanders for a while before falling off a cliff in the third act.
While offering some sobering advice to Sandler’s character at a high-class restaurant rapper Eminem catches Ray Romano staring at him and unleashes a barrage of expletives at the mortified former sitcom star much to the shock of the surrounding customers. It’s ironic that one of the film’s funniest scenes comes courtesy of one of the few non-comedians in the cast.
The film features solid performances all around but I was most impressed by Bana who displays some terrific range and comedic timing as Laura’s charismatic unstable Aussie husband. Perhaps the man who scowled and brooded his way through Munich and The Hulk might want to consider sprinkling more comedy into the mix.
Film lobbyist Jack Valenti has died. He was 85.
The former presidential advisor passed away at his home in Washington, D.C., yesterday after suffering complications from a stroke last month.
Valenti, who has his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, is widely credited for introducing the modern-day film ratings system to the industry and guiding Hollywood into the digital age.
His close friend director Steven Spielberg paid tribute to the star for his contribution to the film industry, praising him as a "giant voice of reason" and hailing him as "the greatest ambassador Hollywood has ever known."
Valenti served as an aide to former President Lyndon Johnson for three years from 1963, before beginning a career as a film industry chief with the help of movie moguls Lew Wasserman and Arthur Krim.
He is survived by his wife Mary, and their three children, Courtenay, John and Alexandra.
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