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.
In 1930s New York Chronicle investigative reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) gets a lead on a story she's been covering about prominent scientists from around the world who are mysteriously disappearing. When Manhattan is attacked by giant robots Polly reluctantly seeks the help of an old flame ace aviator Captain Joseph Sullivan aka Sky Captain (Jude Law) to get the scoop and find out who's behind these strange events and discovers an Oppenheimer-type science man named Dr. Totenkopf has abducted the scientists in a mad bid to build a doomsday device to annihilate what he believes to be an already damned human race. Assisted by Captain Franky Cook (Angelina Jolie) who runs a secret mobile airstrip thousands of feet in the air Sky Captain and Polly head out to stop Totenkopf and save mankind. How could such a visually dazzling film where the fate of the world rests on the shoulders of three dashing Hollywood stars be so ... unexciting? Much stronger storylines could have evolved from supporting players Dex Sky's right-hand man (Giovanni Ribisi) and especially daredevil Franky and her amphibious squadron all of which are used too sparingly throughout the film.
Paltrow in the lead role of Polly completely captures the witty rapid-fire dialogue of the era immortalized by Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday. But while her performance is nearly flawless Polly's self-centeredness turns the would-be heroine into an antagonist; it's hard to like a character who can't put humanity's needs before her own career ambitions. Polly's rabble-rouser persona should bring some exciting tension between her character and Sky Captain's Boy Scout guise but it doesn't--in fact there's a complete lack of chemistry between the two leads. But Law's performance as Sky Captain brilliantly matches Paltrow's as the actor encompasses the new-yet-old type of movie hero one more suave than macho. Less platonic however is the on-screen relationship between Law's Sky and Jolie's Franky. The script's purposefully ambiguous take on the characters' history adds spice to the film's otherwise bland relationships. It's too bad Jolie's performance probably the highlight of the film isn't brought more to the forefront. Ribisi injects some light comedy to the heavy story and Omid Djalili impresses as Kaji a friend of Sky Captain's who helps them during a leg of their journey to find Totenkopf. To their tremendous credit all the cast members delivered seamless performances especially considering all their scenes were shot in one room using a blue screen.
The production behind Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is what this film is really all about. Based on a six-minute test reel created on his home Mac writer/director Kerry Conran was able to nab studio backing and secure major names--not shabby for one's feature debut. The final product delivers too--a retro sci-fi picture where nearly everything onscreen except for the actors was painstakingly computer generated in post-production. It's amazing how the actors blend flawlessly into the film's animatic backdrops. Every shot makes the most of its visual effects and the film has a dark and dramatic comic book feel a sort of Gotham meets War of the Worlds. Conrad pays homage to literary masters such as H.G. Wells New York's 1939 World's Fair and films including The Wizard of Oz: Sky Captain tracks down Totenkopf like Dorothy searched for her sorcerer and although they are not in Kansas and there is no yellow brick road there is a mysterious genius hiding behind the curtain. But unlike Wizard of Oz Sky Captain doesn't hold its momentum. There's a chase scene for example that goes on way longer than it should have and an overly weighted storyline about Polly and Sky Captain's defunct love affair. Did he cheat on her when they were together years ago? Did she sabotage his airplane? Who cares! Luckily the ending somewhat redeems the story thanks to a couple of surprising little twists.
There have been more than a few Oscar-worthy performances never given their due by the Academy, and Entertainment Weekly is giving us their take on which ones were overlooked in its list of the top 100 performances that should have received Oscar nominations--but didn't. Crowning the list is James Stewart, who failed to get recognized by the Academy for his excellent portrayal of a man on the edge--literally--in Vertigo. Others on the list include Cary Grant in The Philadelphia Story, Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca, Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz and Anthony Perkins in Psycho. The issue hits newsstands Friday.
Actor Jeffrey Jones, arrested last week on charges of possessing child pornography, told reporters outside a Los Angeles courthouse he wants "the truth to come out and for this matter to be resolved as quickly as possible," Reuters reports. Jones, 55, who was in court Thursday for his arraignment, has remained free on $20,000 bail. If convicted, he could face up to three years in jail and be registered a sex offender for life.
AP reports two men were arrested Thursday in connection with the shooting death of actor Merlin Santana Nov. 9. This follows the arrest of a 15-year-old girl last week, who was charged with the murder. The police told AP Damien Gates, 20, and Brandon Bynes, 23, apparently got into an verbal exchange with Santana and his friend on the night of the shooting, which created a "grudge," and may have escalated to violence.
Get set for more scary laughs. David Zucker (Airplane!, Top Secret!) will direct Scary Movie 3: Episode I for Dimension Films. This time film series such as Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and Star Wars will be spoofed. Shawn and Marlon Wayans, who were involved in the first two Scary Movies, will not be part of the third installment.
Ethan Hawke and Angelina Jolie have signed on to star in Taking Lives, directed by D.J. Caruso (The Salton Sea). Based on the book by Michael Pye, the story revolves around a female FBI profiler searching for a serial killer, who for the past 20 years has taken on the identities of the people he has killed.
AP reports Liza Minnelli and David Gest have hired high-profile attorney Michael Sherman, who recently represented Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel in the Martha Moxley murder case, to help them in their fight against VH1, which pulled the plug on the couple's planned reality series. Minnelli and Gest have not filed a lawsuit as yet, but are looking at all their legal recourses.
HBO's documentary series American Undercover will be soon venturing into a brothel in Nevada. The one-hour docu-show Cathouse takes a peek at the patrons and prostitutes of the Moonlite Bunny Ranch in Carson City, Nevada, where prostitution is legal. It airs Dec. 8, after the season finale of The Sopranos.
Despite all the controversy surrounding his recent bizarre behavior, Michael Jackson still managed to show up at the Bambi Awards Thursday in Berlin to receive his "Pop Artist of the Millenium" award. AP reports he told the black-tied German audience he loved them and added, "We do not need to have war." Earlier in the week, he shocked fans and press alike when he dangled his infant son over the railing of his hotel room balcony. Berlin police told AP no crime had been committed.
Singer Tom Jones will be honored with a lifetime achievement award at next year's Brits, the British music industry's equivalent of the Grammys. Reuters reports the Welsh singer said, "This is great news. I am really chuffed. See you on the night."