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.
Rushed into production last spring in order to make an October release date right in the heart of a presidential election director Oliver Stone’s W hits the bullseye with this fairly well-balanced portrait of George W. Bush (Josh Brolin) a man who grows up in the shadow of a larger-than-life father and goes on to serve in the White House four years longer than his “Poppy” did. Stone’s biographical study of the brash cowboy from Texas chronicles his early years as an oilman and baseball team owner through his run for Congress his work on his father’s presidential campaign his election as Governor of Texas and finally his ascent into the White House where he still sits today. We also see his courtship of Laura (Elizabeth Banks) and particularly his awkward dealings with his dad (James Cromwell) a complex relationship that ultimately forces W to rise up and compete with the legacy of his father and mentor. It’s that difficult dynamic between Bush Sr. and Jr. that forms the heart of the film and reveals the enigma that remains George W. Much of the story centers on the buildup to the decision to go into Iraq. Those sequences set in the White House situation room are at times hilarious in a Dr. Strangelove way and also a somewhat sobering if speculative window into how the Bush Administration does things. This film could not succeed if it was played as simply a Saturday Night Live sketch favoring impersonation over interpretation. Stone asked his actors to get the “spirit” of their respective characters and the results are impressive indeed. Brolin hits a career high and leaps into the Oscar race with his portrayal of George W. Bush. He’s close enough physically although more movie star in looks but he neatly captures the bravado and masked insecurities at the heart of the 43rd President particularly when dealing with his father brilliantly played by Cromwell. Ellen Burstyn as Barbara Bush doesn’t have a whole lot of screen time but certainly captures what we think we know about the former First Lady. Elizabeth Banks as Laura Bush is charming and winning. As for the Bush Administration figures who play a pivotal part in the proceedings Richard Dreyfuss stands out playing VP Dick Cheney as a Machiavellian figure out to create an empire in the Middle East. He loses himself in the skin of Cheney with almost effortless ease. Equally impressive is Toby Young who not only resembles political mastermind and Bush operative Karl Rove but turns this polarizing figure into a three-dimensional human being. Stacy Keach as a religious influence and Scott Glenn as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld also shine in their few scenes. Less successful are Jeffrey Wright lacking authority as the imposing Colin Powell and Thandie Newton trying too hard to become Condoleeza Rice. There is no question Oliver Stone knows his way around this kind of controversial subject matter but what may shock many is the measured and thoughtful way he approaches the material. Screenwriter Stanley Weiser’s take on Bush is to present a man haunted by the legacy of his father with a need to prove he is tougher and stronger. Stone approaches it as straight biography while also treating it as part comedy. Despite its dramatic structure W. is often subtly played for laughs. Clearly the cast of characters in this almost Shakespearean tragedy gives the filmmaker lots of fodder but they are presented in a surprisingly respectful manner. Even W comes off as an empathetic and sometimes likeable figure a cowboy in the White House. As always Stone’s command of the medium is impressive and this is one of his finest films in many years. There’s something about a president that sparks him creatively whether it’s J.F.K. Nixon and now W.. Ultimately he holds back his own views and presents the man warts and all; he lets the viewer decide what place in history there will be for George W. Bush and by extension the film Stone has made about him.
Sarah Kozer, one of the three women finalists on Fox's reality series Joe Millionaire, has starred in about a dozen bondage and fetish films under the stage name "Cindy Schubert," the Web site The Smoking Gun reported Wednesday. Often bound and gagged--but usually clothed--Kozer appeared in films such as Hogtied and Helpless Heroine. The pictures on the Web site depict Kozer dressed as a cheerleader or a nurse, and in some instances she is seen tying up men. A spokesman for Fox, which describes her occupation as "sales and design" on the show's Web site, told Reuters they do not comment on the personal lives of our reality show contestants. The show, a surprise hit for the network, has 20 women competing for the affections of a man they believe to be worth $50 million.
Sadie Frost, the wife of actor Jude Law, is suffering from severe postnatal depression and was admitted to Cromwell Hospital in London over the weekend, The Associated Press reports. "This depression can be a serious thing and it has left Sadie feeling very sad and run down and she is just trying to get a handle on it," Law said in a statement. "She has had so much on her plate recently and realizes she needs help and to catch her breath." The couple's third child, Rudy, was born prematurely in September.
Actor Colin Farrell's latest role appears to be playing boyfriend to pop princess Britney Spears. According to People.com, Farrell and Spears have been gallivanting around Tinseltown and were seen hand-in-hand at the Hollywood premiere of The Recruit Tuesday. Farrell, however, told TV's Entertainment Tonight that the two were just friends. "Seriously, we just met a week ago, (we're) having a laugh." The pair met when Spears visited the set of Farrell's movie S.W.A.T..
Russell Crowe has reluctantly backed out of this year's Orange British Academy Film Awards ceremony, People.com reports. Traditionally, last year's winners act as this year's presenters, but Crowe said he needs to help his girlfriend, Danielle Spencer, with their upcoming nuptials. Last year Crowe, who won best actor for his performance in A Beautiful Mind, manhandled a producer who edited his acceptance speech for TV."I am flattered to hear of the invitation to attend BAFTA through the press," Crowe told Australia's Associated Press. "Unfortunately I have a prior engagement, so to speak."
Supermodel Claudia Schiffer gave birth to her first child, a boy, on Thursday after being admitted to hospital for a Caesarian section, her spokeswoman told Reuters. Schiffer, 32, was admitted to the exclusive Portland Hospital in central London for a planned delivery with her husband, British film producer Matthew Vaughn, at her side. "Claudia crushed one of her feet in an accident in November and has been on crutches ever since so doctors advised her against a natural delivery," her spokeswoman said.
Frances McDormand, who won on Oscar for her role in Fargo, is set to join Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton and Keanu Reeves in an untitled Columbia Pictures comedy written and directed by Nancy Meyers (What Women Want). According to Variety, McDormand will play the sister of Keaton, who takes up with the mature boyfriend (Nicholson) of her daughter after he has a heart attack and convalesces at her Hampton house. McDormand's character helps her choose between Nicholson's character and a young dashing doctor, played by Reeves.
TV veteran Ken Kwapis is set to direct the coming-of-age feature The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants for Warner Bros., Variety reports. The project, based on Ann Brashares' best-selling novel, revolves around four best friends who share a magical pair of jeans that unites them when for the first time they are forced to separate. Production is expected to start early this summer, though cast and locations have not yet been chosen.
TV producer David E. Kelley is furious at ABC for moving his hit legal drama The Practice to Monday nights. "They've killed it in one fell swoop," Kelley told Variety. "I would hope (ABC) would act in their own self-interest and put it back where it was doing well." The Practice consistently ranked No. 1 in its Sunday night time slot, but finished fourth in its first airing Monday opposite Joe Millionaire on Fox, NBC's drama Third Watch and the CBS comedies Everybody Loves Raymond and Still Standing.
Friends star Courteney Cox will create and executive produce a new home improvement program set to debut this fall on the cable channel WE: Women's Entertainment. Mix It Up is described by the network as "an unscripted, Trading Spaces-like show" that will track people with diverse tastes who move in together, People.com reports. Production of the first 13 episodes is due to start in the spring or summer.
Earvin 'Magic' Johnson will co-executive produce and appear in a new reality series pitting the country's best "street" basketball players against each other. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Who's Got Game will yield 12 athletes who will compete once production begins this spring in New York. The winner will receive $100,000 in cash and have his hometown court revamped and named after him. The focus of the series, which will premiere on MTV, will alternate between the elimination tournament and off-court looks into their personal lives.