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.
Two And A Half Men creator/producer Chuck Lorre is set to receive the 2014 Norman Lear Award in Television. Bosses at the Producers Guild of America will present Lorre with the accolade during the 25th annual PGA Awards on 19 January (13).
Lorre, who is also the brains behind current hit shows The Big Bang Theory and Mike & Molly, adds, "Norman Lear is a legend in this business and one of comedy's true kings. I have to admit that I've been tongue-tied and starstruck just standing in the same room with him.
"Needless to say, being associated with his artistry, much less to be honoured in his name, is both humbling and inspiring - and more than a little embarrassing. I'm deeply grateful to the Producers Guild for acknowledging my work in this extraordinary fashion."
Previous recipients include Tom Hanks, Jerry Bruckheimer and Aaron Spelling.
The multi-talented producer/writer, who has worked on a number of popular American shows, including Lost, Alias, Fringe, and Person of Interest, will be celebrated for his career accomplishments on the small screen.
Awards Chair Michael DeLuca says, "J.J. Abrams has produced some of the most iconic and highest-rated television shows of the past decade and longer, series that have changed the landscape of television. His talent is astonishing, and through his commitment to ingenious storytelling, compelling characters and television programming of the highest quality, he truly lives up to this award's namesake."
Past recipients of the prize include Tom Hanks, Aaron Spelling, and Dick Wolf.
He could walk through a room like nobody’s business: Sherman Hemsley, the iconic television actor who created George Jefferson for Norman Lear’s series All in the Family and The Jeffersons, has reportedly died at age 74.
The first time fans saw Hemsley embody what would eventually become a character that stayed with him for the rest of his career was on the 1793 All in the Family episode, “Henry’s Farewell.” Up until then, the hermitic George Jefferson character had gone entirely unseen, only mentioned in passing by his son Lionel (Mike Evans) and wife Louise (Isabel Sanford).
It is notoriously difficult for TV actors live up to the reputation of characters like this — one that have been built up dramatically prior to their first appearance. But from his first hot-headed bigoted exclamation from the Archie Bunker’s (Carroll O’Connor) porch, Hemsley owned that character. He matched Archie in shortness of temper and penchant for hilarious outbursts. And Hemsley would continue to rival O’Connor in laughs for the next year and a half, until he ultimately got his very own series: The Jeffersons.
At the time, television’s depiction of black families had remained largely within the limits of working and middle class characters. Notable examples include Sanford and Son and Good Times. But The Jefferson broke these bounds, illustrating a black husband and wife living in financial luxury thanks to years of hard work and entrepreneurship on the part of Hemsley’s character George.
The series went on to run for eleven seasons, tackling controversial issues like discrimination, interracial marriage, transsexuality with a progressive attitude, back when these weren't topics you'd often find on television. The show treated audiences to fan favorite farcical episodes like “Piano Man,” wherein George attempts to host a fancy dinner party to prove himself a big shot, as well as more serious and significant episodes like “Sorry, Wrong Meeting,” wherein George has a run-in with the Ku Klux Klan.
In light of his unbounded success with The Jeffersons, Hemsley carried his unforgettable character into other series, including the 1980s sitcom E/R, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, and Tyler Perry’s sitcom House of Payne, which was Hemsley’s last role.
The actor also made regular appearances on the popular family show Dinosaurs and comedy series such as Amen and Family Matters.
But as many characters as Hemsley might have on his extensive résumé — including an appearance in the music video for Nelly’s “Batter Up” — nothing can compare to the influence created by his bigmouthed dry cleaner, devoted husband, and horrible neighbor: George Jefferson. Whether he was trading racist remarks with Archie, putting down the well-intentioned Harry Bentley (Paul Benedict), or coming through in the end for his friends and family, George Jefferson, thanks to Sherman Hemsley, will remain an unforgettable piece of American pop culture history forever.
Report: Sherman Hemsley Dies at 74
Marla Gibbs Talks a The Jeffersons Movie
The pair will be handed the coveted Norman Lear Achievement Award in Television at the 22nd annual prizegiving on 22 January.
Hanks and Goetzman are the founders of Playtone Productions - the company behind TV hits Big Love, Band of Brothers and The Pacific.
Past recipients of the Norman Lear prize include Jerry Bruckheimer, Aaron Spelling and David E. Kelley.