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.
The best player in the World for movie trailers, Hollywood interviews and movie clips.
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.
Mad Men star January Jones is the latest addition to Fox's X-Men: First Class, Deadline reported Tuesday. She will play the role of Emma Frost, the beautiful mutant with telepathic powers. Director Matthew Vaughn has also set Zoe Kravitz to play Angel. Further casting was also announced yesterday.
Jason Flemyng will play Azazel, the father of Nightcrawler; Bill Milner will play the young version of Magneto (who is being played in adult form by Michael Fassbender) and Morgan Lily will play the Young Raven.
The new additions join James McAvoy as Xavier, Nicholas Hoult as Beast, Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique, Caleb Landry Jones as Banshee, Lucas Till as Havoc, Edi Gathegi as Darwin, Rose Byrne as Xavier's love interest and Oliver Platt as The Man in Black.
Production is to begin next week in London.
Source: Deadline, Hollywood WireTap
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Set in a seaside English town in the '80s this small heartfelt tale centers on the relationship between Edward a 10-year-old boy whose parents run a retirement home and Clarence an aging magician and recent widower who is one of the new residents. Lonely and curious Edward has a habit of befriending the old folks only to search for their ghosts after they die. When Clarence comes in both learn new life lessons as the older one comes to terms with his past while the younger boy finds reason for optimism as he faces the future.
WHO’S IN IT?
Michael Caine is wonderful in a startling character role in which the 76-year-old movie icon allows himself to look older drawn and beaten in parts of the film. Although the career of the two-time Oscar winner has been full of memorable performances ranging from Alfie in 1966 to The Dark Knight last year it’s this kind of realistic and moving portrayal that has marked the best of his work. and he’s never been better than in this memorable portrait of a forgotten magician who still manages to discover a couple of new tricks late in life. Matching him every step of the way is the engaging Bill Milner (Son of Rambow) who manages to go toe-to-toe with a screen legend without coming off as a too precocious of a child actor. He’s haunting and extremely natural in a pivotal three-dimensional role that never seems forced. Helping matters immensely is a great ensemble of splendid British stars who play the other residents including the great Rosemary Harris Leslie Phillips Sylvia Syms and Peter Vaughan.
Director John Crowley (Boy A Intermission) wisely lets his actors off the leash to create a chemistry that makes the modest story work its own kind of movie magic. Reminiscent in certain ways of the kind of British kitchen-sink dramas popular in the '60s Crowley resists any opportunity to let directorial flash overwhelm this poignant character-driven tale thereby letting it thrive on its own terms.
With such a superlative cast of British-acting royalty in the supporting roles you almost wish there were a few more scenes showcasing these characters in the film’s trim 91-minute running time.
Clarence rallies his talents to put on a magic show for the home’s residents. Caine pulls this off seamlessly and the sequence is pure delight.
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX?
This quaint film won’t lose anything on TV screens and may be hard to find in wide release so take the opportunity to see it any way you can.
Set in the early 1980s the film follows young Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner) as he tentatively deals with the early pangs of adolescent rebellion. It only takes one viewing of Sylvester Stallone in the original First Blood combined with an unlikely friendship with cocky classmate Lee Carter (Will Poulter) to inspire Will to become more assertive and question authority. This doesn’t sit too well with Will’s widowed devoutly religious mother (Jessica Stevenson) but it ultimately makes her re-evaluate her relationship with her son. While most of their classmates are preoccupied with a group of French foreign-exchange students Will and Lee team up to produce their own makeshift sequel to First Blood (even if they somehow misspell Rambo’s name). In doing so they cement their friendship--perhaps the first genuine friendship of either boy’s life--but there are also circumstances that threaten to bring their youthful camaraderie crashing down. The engaging unforced performances of Milner and Poulter--both making their big-screen bows--go a long long way toward any success that Son of Rambow can claim for itself. There’s also a memorably quirky turn by Jules Sitruk as Didier the “coolest” of the French exchange students and a riotous appearance by long-time British favorite Eric Sykes playing what amounts to a geriatric bed-ridden Rambo (arguably the film’s funniest scene). Writer/director Garth Jennings (of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy fame) has a good feel for the way kids act and talk and he brings an exuberant irreverence to much of the proceedings but it’s in the characterization of the film’s adult characters where the effort falls a little short. When Son of Rambow turns serious the transition from humor to pathos is sometimes awkward--and whenever the focus of the film drifts away from Will and Lee the momentum flags. Nevertheless the film has a strong capacity to connect with audiences of all ages and may well find one this summer.