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.
Lions Gate via Everett Collection
When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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The owners of a private plane carrying Mexican-American singer Jenni Rivera when she died last year (12) have lost their bid to have a wrongful death lawsuit filed against them dismissed. Two pilots and five passengers, including the star, perished on 9 December, 2012 after the Learjet crashed in Mexico.
The families of Rivera's publicist, Arturo Rivera, make-up artist, Jacobo Yebale, hairstylist, Jorge Armando Sanchez Vasquez, and attorney, Mario Macias Pacheco, joined forces in January (13) to sue operators at Starwood Management Inc. for damages in a Los Angeles court.
The defendants argued they were not subject to jurisdiction in California as the crash occurred in Mexico, and they requested the case be thrown out.
But a judge ruled in the plaintiffs' favour on Thursday (14Nov13) and gave them the green light to go ahead with the legal battle, because the plane was registered in the U.S., where officials from the National Transportation Safety Board are having the wreckage examined as they aid an investigation by Mexican authorities.
The owners of a Learjet private plane that crashed in December (12) killing Mexican singer Jenni Rivera are challenging a wrongful death lawsuit filed by four families who lost their loved ones in the tragedy. The Dejame Volver Contigo hitmaker passed away on 9 December (12) after the plane went down in Mexico, killing two pilots and five passengers.
In January (13), the families of Rivera's publicist Arturo Rivera, make up artist Jacobo Yebale, hairstylist Jorge Armando Sanchez Vasquez and attorney Mario Macias Pacheco filed a lawsuit against Starwood, Rodatz Financial Group McOCO, Inc. asking a Los Angeles court to determine damages. Jenni Rivera Enterprises, which booked the plane is also listed as a defendant.
Representatives from McOCO, Inc. claim they are not subject to jurisdiction in California, because the crash was in Mexico and they have requested the lawsuit is thrown out or set aside.
Attorney Paul Kiesel tells Billboard.com, "Defendants are challenging the lawsuit on procedural grounds rather than dealing with the tragic loss of life that resulted from the crash of their poorly maintained and improperly operated 43-year old Learjet."
A separate lawsuit filed in March (13), on behalf of Isabel Carrero Gomez, the widow of the plane's pilot is also being challenged. The lawsuits have been consolidated and will be considered by the same judge.
A court date has been set for 6 September (13).
At some point in the early years of the 21st century a bunch of Hollywood executives must have gotten together and decided that animated films should be made for all audiences. The goal was perhaps to make movies that are simultaneously accessible to the older and younger sets with colorful imagery that one expects from children’s films and two levels of humor: one that’s quite literal and harmless and another that’s somewhat subversive. The criteria has resulted in cross-generational hits like Wall-E and Madagascar and though it’s nice to be able to take my nephew to the movies and be as entertained by cartoon characters as he is I can’t help but wonder what happened to unabashedly innocent animated classics like A Goofy Movie and The Land Before Time?
Disney’s Winnie The Pooh is the answer to the Shrek’s and Hoodwinked!’s of the world: a short sweet simple and lighthearted tale of friendship that doesn’t need pop-culture references or snarky dialogue to put a smile on your face. Directors Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall found some fresh ways to deliver adorable animation while keeping the carefree spirit of A.A. Milne’s source material in tact. Their story isn’t the most original; the first part of the film finds Pooh Piglet Tigger and Owl searching for Eeyore’s tail (a common plot point in the books and past Pooh films) and hits all the predictable notes but the second half mixes things up a bit as the crew searches for a missing Christopher Robin whom they believe has been kidnapped by a forest creature known as the “Backson” (it’s really just the result of the illiterate Owl or is it?).
The beauty of hand-drawn animation all but forgotten until recently is what makes Winnie the Pooh so incredibly magnetic. There’s an inexplicable crispness to the colors and characters that CG just can’t duplicate. It’s a more personal practice for the filmmakers and should provide a refreshing experience for audiences who have become jaded with the pristine presentation of computerized imagery. The film is bookended by brief live-action shots from inside Robin’s room an interesting dynamic that plays up the simplicity of youth ties it to these beloved characters and brings you right back to memories of your own childhood.
With a just-over-an-hour run time Winnie the Pooh is short enough to hold the attention of children but won’t bore the parents who will love the film mainly for nostalgic musings. Still it’s the young’uns who will most enjoy this breezy bright and enchanting film that proves old-school characters can appeal to new moviegoers.
Colombian folk singer Carlos Vives topped the Latin Grammy nominations with six nods Wednesday, including album, record and song of the year.
Vives, who also won a Grammy this year for best traditional tropical Latin album, performs in the style of Vallenato, the traditional music of Colombia's northern plains, which is known for its simple lyrics about village life, The Associated Press reports.
"Me and my people are very happy," Vives told AP through a translator. "This shows that traditional music and rhythms that come from the heart can have appeal no matter the language."
The third annual Latin Grammys ceremony will take place Sept. 18 at the new Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, airing live on CBS.
Here is a list of nominations in some of the top categories:
Record of the Year
La Negra Tiene Tumbao, Celia Cruz; Sergio George, producer; Jon Fausty, engineer/mixer
Mentira, La Ley; Humberto Gatica and Kenny O'Brien, producers; Humberto Gatica, Cristian Robles and Eric Schilling, engineers/mixers
Se Me Olvido, Gian Marco; Emilio Estefan Jr. and Archie Pena, producers; Javier Garza, engineer/mixer
Y Solo Se Me Ocurre Amarte, Alejandro Sanz; Humberto Gatica and Kenny O'Brien, producers; Chris Brooke, Humberto Gatica and Eric Schilling, engineers/mixers
Dejame Entrar, Carlos Vives; Andres Castro, Emilio Estefan Jr., Sebastian Krys and Carlos Vives, producers; Javier Garza, engineer/mixer
Album of the Year
Sereno, Miguel Bose; Peter Walsh, producer; Alessandro Benedetti and Peter Walsh, engineers/mixers
La Negra Tiene Tumbao, Celia Cruz; Sergio George, Isidro Infante and Johnny Pacheco, producers; Mario deJesus and Jon Fausty, engineers/mixers
Jobiniando, Ivan Lins; Roberto Menescal, producer; Guilherme Reis, engineer/mixer
MTV Unplugged, Alejandro Sanz; Humberto Gatica and Kenny O'Brien, producers; Humberto Gatica, engineer/mixer
Dejame Entrar, Carlos Vives; Andres Castro, Emilio Estefan Jr., Sebastian Krys and Carlos Vives, producers; Javier Garza and Sebastian Krys, engineers/mixers
Song of the Year
A Dios Le Pido, Juanes; Juanes, songwriter
Dejame Entrar, Carlos Vives; Andres Castro, Martin Madera and Carlos Vives, songwriters
La Negra Tiene Tumbao, Celia Cruz; Sergio George and Fernando Osorio, songwriters
Morenamia, Miguel Bose; Miguel Bose, Lanfranco Ferrario and Massimo Grilli, songwriters
Y Solo Se Me Ocurre Amarte, Alejandro Sanz; Alejandro Sanz, songwriter
Best New Artist
Best Female Pop Vocal Album
Peces De Ciudad, Ana Belen
Secreta Intimidad, Cecilia Echenique
Vuela, Monica Molina
Viaje Infinito, Nicole
Muchas Flores, Rosario
Best Male Pop Vocal Album
Sereno, Miguel Bose
Sea, Jorge Drexler
Lerner Vivo, Alejandro Lerner
A Tiempo, Gian Marco
Mas De Mi Alma, Marco Antonio Solis
Producer Of The Year
Geronimo Labrada Jr., X Alfonso
Ana Lourdes Martinez Nodarse