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.
You know what needs more excuses? Racism and bigotry, which are obviously the first two things that came to your mind when asked that question. And you wouldn't be alone in your thought process: just ask Brad Paisley and LL Cool J. Their new song, "Accidental Racist" (yes, you read that right), is currently causing a maelstrom of hatred across most media outlets. But with every scathing blog post about the misguided song comes a completley earnest tweet of support from one of Paisley's proud fans.
"Accidental Racist" is an ode to the intentional ignorance that many of this country's compatriots hold dear: just because someone is proud of the South and also the Confederate Flag doesn't make them racist. (Sure, and the people most commonly associated with the swastika are merely Sanskrit enthusiasts.) Appreciating something — like, say, where you come from, your history, etc. — doesn't make you a bad person. But considering Paisley's song disregards empathy, is totally insensitive to history, and shirks responsibility for the serious harm our own country caused an entire race of people, in this case it sure as s**t makes you one ignorant, priviledged, insensitive motherf**ker.
Call it tough love — whether you're a Black Yankee or a white man living in the Southland (even though, Paisley, being from West Virginia means you would've been a part of the Union, not the Confederate), misguided isn't a good look on anyone. Which is why it's so infuriating to still see these sort of ideas being bandied about as acceptable in 2013.
So if you're feeling like a nice long afternoon of hair-pulling and general hatred of society is just what the doctor ordered, then saddle right up to this here post and check out this sampling of just some of the people who are totally unaware that Paisley and LL's "accidental" racism is actually just regular racism disguised as cultural misunderstanding. Hashtag equality, y'all. Oh yeah, some of the language may be NSFW.
The Accidental Racist Who Believes Hate Should Be Universal:
Everyone is pissed at Brad Paisley for #AccidentalRacist, but not one word about LL Cool J's part in it. It should work both ways, right?
— Matt Douty (@mdouty) April 8, 2013
The Actual Racists Who Are Totally Mad You Stole Their Thunder, Brad:
@bradpaisley How About You Sing This Song..WHITEY AINT DOWN IN THE HOODYOU ARE ALONE BLACK & RACIST & YOUR LIFE IS YOUR FAULT #CMA #OPRY
— HockeyGuy (@HockeyGuy) April 8, 2013
I absolutely love Accidental Racist by Brad Paisley feat. LL Cool J. It's been a song that has needed to be done for a while. #speakstruth
— Hannah Thacker (@thack3) April 8, 2013
OMYGOSH I LOVE BRAD PAISLEY SO MUCH! I SAID IT! Everyone freaking out about #AccidentalRacist but he's just telling like it is! #notracist ❤
— Kenzi McConnell (@KenziLouise) April 8, 2013
I love Brad Paisley's new song Accidental Racist #SueMeForIt
— DanielMacak (@HoosierDaddy233) April 8, 2013
Love @bradpaisley. Always have, always will. This is country music, and we do... talk about REAL issues! #Pride
— Valerie Wire (@Valerie_Wire) April 8, 2013
Love @bradpaisley & @llcoolj new single 'Accidental Racist' well done!#southernpride #wheelhouse
— Keith Stubbs (@thekeithstubbs) April 8, 2013
The Accidental Racists Who Like it In Spite of Themselves:
I don't know what you guys are talking about. I hate Brad Paisley's music but I LOVE THAT SONG. It has an incredible message to it.
— Sassy Ms. Bravesluvr (@ebravesluvr) April 8, 2013
The Somebody Finally Gets It! Accidental Racists:
@llcoolj @bradpaisley I love the new song. I think it's about time someone got the conversation started. My faith in music has been restored
— Crystal Clement (@crysisafangirl) April 8, 2013
Love Brad Paisley's new song. Somebody finally understands.
— James Rhodes (@JamesRhodes50) April 8, 2013
@llcoolj Mad respect, love you and @bradpaisley's new single.
— Raaid Bacchus (@roy_id) April 8, 2013
Couldn't love @bradpaisley anymore right now ... Being proud of who you are doesn't make you racist
— Drew Vernon (@DrewVernon) April 8, 2013
I honestly love @bradpaisley and LL cool J's song!It's exactly 100% how I feel! Idk why so many people no matter their race don't like it!
— Kasey Anderson (@kaserslynn) April 8, 2013
The Accidental Racists with Refined Tastes:
i really like Brad Paisley's new song but i dont love LL Cool J's part it's not bad it just doesnt fit the song
— Dylan (@magnoliafan82) April 8, 2013
@bradpaisley new song with @llcoolj "Accidental Racist" is getting some terrible reviews, but i love it. Glad someone's finally #honest.
— Angela Lyvers (@ang518) April 8, 2013
So I listened to "accidental racist" um I LOVE the message but the song sucks. As a Brad Paisley fan, I'm disappointed.
— K. Marquez (@KirstieAmberM) April 8, 2013
@bradpaisley please tell me you're not on twitter and reading these horrible tweets. WE LOVE YOU AND THAT SONG BRAD.
— Kelli McShane (@kellimcshane) April 8, 2013
@bradpaisley Hi Brad. just saw your accidental racist vid and loved it! :) I don't see it as racial at all! The opposite!! :) Love you!
— glittergirl(@glittergirlD43) April 8, 2013
Ignorance may be bliss, but it can't be an excuse for everything. Especially not s**tty music.
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More:Brad Paisley New Song 'Accidental Racist' is (Whoops!) Completely Racist The 2013 Academy of Country Music Award WinnersRating the Grammy Awards: From Best to LL Cool J
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The actress was invited to sample top chef Keith Rhodes' culinary delights at his Catch restaurant in North Carolina, and chose to watch him prepare and cook the meals too.
Posting photos from her cookery session and Rhodes' favourite recipes on her Goop.com blog, Paltrow writes, "The other day I had the great fortune of getting a kick-a** cooking lesson from James Beard (award) nominee Keith Rhodes (one of if not the best chef in Wilmington, N.C.).
"He and his lovely wife Angela are the owners of Catch, a casual and delicious seafood spot serving local, seasonal food with a lot of thought behind it. Careful to stick with what is in abundance in his community, Keith feeds his customers food that is fresh, inventive and delicious. It was a really great afternoon."
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Pixar makes it ten gems in a row with this enchanting animated story of 78-year-old Carl Fredricksen a recent widower who decides to fulfill his (plus his late wife’s) lifelong dream of tying thousands of balloons to their house and floating off to a mountaintop in South America. But he soon discovers a stowaway in the form of Russell a precocious eight-year-old “Wilderness Explorer” who he reluctantly allows to accompany him on his journey. Together the unlikely pair embark on the adventure of a lifetime encountering Kevin a rare 13-foot tall-flightless bird; Dug an overly-friendly talking pooch; and Charles Muntz a once-famous adventurer who now lives alone in a massive airship surrounded by a pack of attack dogs.
WHO’S IN IT?
Sticking to their general custom of casting actors not big stars in key voice roles Pixar assembled a superb cast for Up led by veteran TV star Ed Asner (The Mary Tyler Moore Show) as the aged Carl who takes flight in his house and finds there is a lot to learn about life even as you near death. Asner’s grumpy delivery provides the perfect counterpoint to nine-year-old Jordan Nagai’s Russell a bright and optimistic kid who proves an invaluable assistant to Carl throughout their journey. Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music) is authoritative and intriguing as the obsessed Muntz and John Ratzenberger (Cheers) extends his streak of Pixar films to 10 as a construction engineer who tries to convince Carl to sell his house. Bob Peterson does delightful double duty as two of the key dog voices lovable Dug and the menacing Alpha head of the pack.
Like Pixar’s previous Oscar-winning masterpiece Wall-E Up is a ‘toon that is not content to explore the same places we’ve seen in previous animated blockbusters. Centering an action comedy around a 78-year-old man isn’t a strategy you’ll find in the youth-obsessed Hollywood recipe book but it pays great dividends here with a moral that life’s greatest adventure is the one you share with someone you love. The non-humans — particularly Kevin and Dug — are hilarious and unique and a silent sequence detailing the courtship and marriage of the Fredricksens is a sweet touch that could have come straight out of a Charlie Chaplin movie.
With a string of critically-acclaimed hits that includes Toy Story Finding Nemo The Incredibles Ratatouille Wall-E and now Up Pixar is ruining it for everyone else. There is simply no way they can be topped when it comes to pushing the boundaries of animated movies. Bad for other studios. Good for us.
Could Up which just became the first animated film to open the Cannes Film Festival also become the first to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar since Beauty and the Beast in 1991 (before the Animation category was even established)? At this point in the year it’s actually a good bet. Whatever the case expect Up to earn several nominations come Oscar time.
A swashbuckling swordfight across the skies between two near-octogenarians? It’s the best action scene in a summer full of ‘em.
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX?
Oh pleeeeeease! Get to a theater fast. Up is also available in 3-D at select locations. Either way it’s a must-see.
Based on the award-winning book by Bernhard Schlink The Reader is an extraordinary provocative and controversial story set in post-World War II Germany. It starts when 15-year-old Michael (David Kross) becomes ill with scarlet fever and is helped home by sympathetic woman named Hanna (Kate Winslet). After his recovery he returns to thank her and is drawn into a clandestine affair with this intriguing woman more than twice his age. Their relationship grows stronger especially when he starts reading to her. But then she suddenly disappears leaving a devastated Michael who now must move on with his life. Little does he know that eight years later while he is in law school he would see Hanna again -- as one of the defendants in a court case against Nazi war criminals. Shocked at revelations about her secret past he also discovers something that will change both their lives forever. Granted Kate Winslet is one of the finest young screen actresses but her range in The Reader will astonish you. It’s an extremely tricky part that could easily lose the audience’s sympathy if done incorrectly but Winslet handles it with aplomb. She runs through the whole gamut of emotions -- aging from her 30s to 60s -- all at once sexy mysterious conflicted contrite as well as many other colors. As Michael newcomer Kross is devastatingly good the most impressive acting discovery in a long time. Although he plays 15 he was 17 at the start of filming and production had to shut down until he turned 18 for the graphic sex scenes. As the story flashes forward Ralph Fiennes takes over the role as the older Michael and does so with a touching sincerity. Lena Olin also has a strong cameo as a Holocaust survivor with definite opinions of Hanna. Although this is only acclaimed stage director Stephen Daldry’s third film he once again shows a mastery of the medium far beyond his limited cinematic resume. Like The Hours and his debut film Billy Elliot he has crafted another film to savor. The Reader isn’t necessarily the most comfortable film to watch but Daldry guides the subject matter with a delicate and steady hand giving us a complex and touching love story between the most unlikely couple. It also delves into how one generation of Germans can come to terms with the horrors of another. Daldry’s directorial restraint and power perfectly serves David Hare’s impressive screenplay and delivers a memorable movie-going experience.