Keanu Reeves might know kung-fu, but does he know his way around a katana? The film star fights his way through a fantastical version of 18th century Japan in 47 Ronin.
In the film, a robe-garbed Keanu plays Kai, a half-Japanese warrior that is freed from slavery and must accompany an outnumbered group of 47 samurai in their plot for revenge. The trailer features sword slashing a-plenty but this isn’t your standard martial-arts action movie. There is a large thread of mysticism running though the film's samurai tale, with endless monsters and beasts, along with regular samurai-foot soldiers, looking to end Keanu's quest for vengeance.
It's been a complicated road for the 47 Ronin both on screen and off, with the drama spilling out from the Japanese pseudo-history and into the production side of the project. The film has been plagued with reshoots, and the budget has been said to exceed 200 million, an unfathomable number for a martial arts film. The film will also be released on Christmas day, a time of year filled with competition just waiting to slice chunks out of Ronin's film gross. There is also the worthwhile discussion on the ethics of creating a half-white character for a story steeped in Japanese history and myth, just so Keanu can play the lead while a largely Asian cast is sidelined to mostly supporting roles. Questions of race in cinema and film budgeting aside, 47 Ronin looks like a fun bit of counter-programming for the holiday season.
David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas consists of six stories set in various periods between 1850 and a time far into Earth's post-apocalyptic future. Each segment lives on its own the previous first person account picked up and read by a character in its successor creating connective tissue between each moment in time. The various stories remain intact for Tom Tykwer's (Run Lola Run) Lana Wachowski's and Andy Wachowski's (The Matrix) film adaptation which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. The massive change comes from the interweaving of the book's parts into one three-hour saga — a move that elevates the material and transforms Cloud Atlas in to a work of epic proportions.
Don't be turned off by the runtime — Cloud Atlas moves at lightning pace as it cuts back and forth between its various threads: an American notary sailing the Pacific; a budding musician tasked with transcribing the hummings of an accomplished 1930's composer; a '70s-era investigatory journalist who uncovers a nefarious plot tied to the local nuclear power plant; a book publisher in 2012 who goes on the run from gangsters only to be incarcerated in a nursing home; Sonmi~451 a clone in Neo Seoul who takes on the oppressive government that enslaves her; and a primitive human from the future who teams with one of the few remaining technologically-advanced Earthlings in order to survive. Dense but so was the unfamiliar world of The Matrix. Cloud Atlas has more moving parts than the Wachowskis' seminal sci-fi flick but with additional ambition to boot. Every second is a sight to behold.
The members of the directing trio are known for their visual prowess but Cloud Atlas is a movie about juxtaposition. The art of editing is normally a seamless one — unless someone is really into the craft the cutting of a film is rarely a post-viewing talking point — but Cloud Atlas turns the editor into one of the cast members an obvious player who ties the film together with brilliant cross-cutting and overlapping dialogue. Timothy Cavendish the elderly publisher could be musing on his need to escape and the film will wander to the events of Sonmi~451 or the tortured music apprentice Robert Frobisher also feeling the impulse to run. The details of each world seep into one another but the real joy comes from watching each carefully selected scene fall into place. You never feel lost in Cloud Atlas even when Tykwer and the Wachowskis have infused three action sequences — a gritty car chase in the '70s a kinetic chase through Neo Seoul and a foot race through the forests of future millennia — into one extended set piece. This is a unified film with distinct parts echoing the themes of human interconnectivity.
The biggest treat is watching Cloud Atlas' ensemble tackle the diverse array of characters sprinkled into the stories. No film in recent memory has afforded a cast this type of opportunity yet another form of juxtaposition that wows. Within a few seconds Tom Hanks will go from near-neanderthal to British gangster to wily 19th century doctor. Halle Berry Hugh Grant Jim Sturgess Jim Broadbent Ben Whishaw Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon play the same game taking on roles of different sexes races and the like. (Weaving as an evil nurse returning to his Priscilla Queen of the Desert cross-dressing roots is mind-blowing.) The cast's dedication to inhabiting their roles on every level helps us quickly understand the worlds. We know it's Halle Berry behind the fair skinned wife of the lunatic composer but she's never playing Halle Berry. Even when the actors are playing variations on themselves they're glowing with the film's overall epic feel. Jim Broadbent's wickedly funny modern segment a Tykwer creation that packs a particularly German sense of humor is on a smaller scale than the rest of the film but the actor never dials it down. Every story character and scene in Cloud Atlas commits to a style. That diversity keeps the swirling maelstrom of a movie in check.
Cloud Atlas poses big questions without losing track of its human element the characters at the heart of each story. A slower moment or two may have helped the Wachowskis' and Tykwer's film to hit a powerful emotional chord but the finished product still proves mainstream movies can ask questions while laying over explosive action scenes. This year there won't be a bigger movie in terms of scope in terms of ideas and in terms of heart than Cloud Atlas.
While Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan helped define the style of a modern day war film it was his HBO mini-series Band of Brothers that truly captured the World War II experience. The multi-part saga dealt with every nook and cranny of the US military's involvement in the war from large scale battles to intimate character details. The new movie Red Tails developed and produced by Spielberg's Indiana Jones collaborator and Star Wars mastermind George Lucas attempts to cover the same ground for the sprawling tale of the Tuskegee Airmen—albeit in a two hour compressed form. The result is a messy handling of a powerful story of heroism. The good intentions make it on to the screen...but the drama never gets off the runway.
Red Tails assembles a talented cast of young actors to portray the brave men of the 332nd Fighter Group a faction of the Tuskegee Airmen. The ensemble is reduced to a jumble of simplistic one-note characterizations: Easy (Nate Parker) the do-gooder with a dark past; Lightning (David Oyelowo) the suave rebel who never listens to orders; Junior (Tristan Wilds) the fresh-faced newbie ready for a good fight; and the rest a nameless group of underwritten yes men all with just enough backstory to make you interested but never satisfied. Thankfully with the little material they have to work with the gentlemen excel. Rapper-turned-actor Ne-Yo is a standout as the quick-witted Smokey overshadowing vets Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr. (who spends most of the movie chomping on a corn cob pipe and grinning).
With the plethora of characters comes too many plot threads and Red Tails stuffs its runtime with everything from epic flyboy dog fights romantic interludes (Lightning finds himself infatuated with a local Italian woman) office politics alcoholism and even a POW camp escape. If there was a true lead character the movie may have succeeded in stringing the events together in a coherent narrative but instead Red Tails is choppy and uneven. The aerial battles for all their CG special effects nastiness are incredibly exhilarating but when the movie's not tackling the intensity of a battle (which it does often) it comes to a near halt. That mostly comes down to history standing in the way—the crux of the story focuses on how segregation caused the military's higher ups to avoid utilizing the Red Tails in true battle. Meaning there's a lot of talk on how the team should be fighting as opposed to actually doing it.Director Anthony Hemingway tries to do this important historical milestone justice but the execution flies too low even under made-for-TV movie standards. Red Tails is a dull history lesson occasionally spruced up with Lucas' eye for action. The charisma of the the main set of actors goes a long way in keeping the film tolerable but they can't fill the gaping hole where the emotional hook belongs. This is a movie about heroes yet not once are the filmmakers able to pull off a moment that feels remotely brave. Which is unfortunate—as it's a story of the utmost importance.
WHAT IT'S ABOUT?
Two childhood buddies are forever changed by their first encounter with Playboy magazine. The story picks up 10 years later focusing on Tucker Cleigh a sex-obsessed moron who beds every girl he meets plus his conservative friend Eugene Bell who practices abstinence with his uptight girlfriend Cindi and joins her in teaching its virtues to younger students. But when Cindi decides she's ready to "do it" on prom night Eugene nervously complies but gets drunk falls down a flight of stairs and lands in a four-year coma. When he awakens he discovers Cindi has become a nude Playboy centerfold and joins Tucker on a chaotic cross-country trip to get to the Playboy mansion where he hopes to find Cindi — and Tucker gets to live out his wildest playmate fantasies.
WHO'S IN IT?
Miss March exists as a comic vehicle for its "stars " Zach Cregger and Trevor Moore members of a Brooklyn comedy group whose TV show The Whitest Kids U Know ran for several seasons on IFC. The team also co-directs and writes this witless hodgepodge of gross-out gags attempting to find humor in tasteless — not to mention sexist — setups. It makes last summer's The House Bunny look like Citizen Kane by comparison. Moore seems to be channeling early Jim Carrey as he plays a sex-crazed idiot who spends most of the movie trying to help his best friend (played by Cregger) lose his virginity despite an endless array of inanely conceived psychological and medical obstacles. With no one to rein them in these writer/director/stars overplay to the extreme and go for the cheapest laughs imaginable. Trying to mine physical humor out of situations dealing from epileptic sex to uncontrolled bowels this team throws it all at the wall but not much sticks. The rest of the cast including Raquel Alessi Molly Stanton 2007 Playmate of the Year Sara Jean Underwood and Craig Robinson — as an expletive-hurtling rapper named Horsedick.MPEG (in a gag repeated at least ten times) — are left twisting in the wind. Robinson however does get mileage out of a triple-X hardcore rap parody.
A scene where Eugene and Cindi try to teach sexual abstinence to a sparse audience of inattentive undergrads is amusing and well played. Unfortunately it occurs in the first 10 minutes. After that you're on your own.
Just about everything else including a dopey subplot involving a group of revenge-seeking firemen desperate stunt-laden gags egregiously over-the-top product placement for Playboy and one embarrassing scene after another designed to get the hardest R-rating possible.
MOST MEMORABLE LINE
Eighty-two-year-old Playboy founder Hugh Hefner gets to offer this bon mot in his one-scene cameo: "There's a bunny deep down inside every woman and if you see that bunny you're on to something."
GO OUT AND GET POPCORN WHEN …
The opening credits start. Then sneak into a better movie instead.
August 07, 2003 11:41am EST
Top Story: Jen Supposedly Knew of Ben's Strip Bar Visit
Sources told Reuters Wednesday that Jennifer Lopez was aware that Ben Affleck had patronized a Vancouver, British Columbia strip club last month but shrugged off the entire incident. One source denied reports in British newspapers that Lopez had dumped Affleck over the episode, adding, "She knew he went to the strip club ... and her attitude is: 'What's the big deal?' Moving on." Adding fodder to the story is Ryan Haddon, the wife of actor Christian Slater, who was quoted in the current issue of Us Weekly magazine saying they and actress Tara Reid had joined Affleck at the club on July 17, the same night Dateline NBC aired a telecast of the duo talking about their relationship and new movie, Gigli. Haddon told the magazine their entourage, including several strippers, returned to Slater's rented home for a private after-hours party, but dismissed tabloid reports that Affleck had been unfaithful to Lopez.
DGA Sets New Date for Awards
The Directors Guild of America will hold its fourth annual DGA Awards Nov. 16 at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City, Variety reports. The event celebrates individuals, institutions and organizations that have made distinguished contributions to filmmaking and television. Nominees for this year's event will be announced after Labor Day. The DGA honors, which in the past have served as a near-perfect barometer for the Best Director Oscar, were traditionally handed out in March just weeks prior to the Academy Awards. Reasons for the date change were not given.
Is Wes Craven's Cursed Cursed?
Dimension Films, the horror genre arm of Miramax Films, shut down production on Wes Craven's Cursed last month--just four weeks before the film was set to wrap--because top executives at the studio weren't happy with the film's ending or how the special effects were progressing. According to Variety, production on Cursed, described as a contemporary werewolf tale, is now set to restart in September but it is unclear whether this will cause problems with the cast and crew's availability. Cursed stars Christina Ricci, Skeet Ulrich, Shannon Elizabeth, Omar Epps and Scott Foley.
Jennifer Connelly Has Baby Boy
Hulk star Jennifer Connelly and her husband, Paul Bettany, became proud parents of a baby boy Tuesday, The Associated Press reports. Connelly won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 2002 for her role as the wife of schizophrenic math genius John Forbes Nash, played by Russell Crowe, in A Beautiful Mind. Bettany, also 32, played Nash's mysterious classmate but Connelly has said they didn't start dating until about a year after filming ended. They were married last December during a private ceremony in Scotland. Connelly, 32, has a 5-year-old son, Kai, from a previous relationship.
Marilyn Manson Banned From N.Y. Ozzfest Stop
Marilyn Manson has been banned from the Six Flags Darien Lake stop on the 2003 Ozzfest tour in Darien Center, N.Y., the AP reports. Manson is one of the headliners of the tour, which also includes artists Korn, Disturbed, Chevelle and Ozzy Osbourne. But the amusement park says the shock rocker's act is not appropriate for the venue. "Contractual agreement gives us the right to restrict artists from performing in our concert venue," Six Flags in a statement. "We decided to pass on the Marilyn Manson performance." Darien Lake, which is about 24 miles east of Buffalo,
is the only venue on the 30-city tour so far to refuse a performance by Manson, whose provocative stage show has made him the target of religious and conservative groups.
Dixie Chicks Draw $60 Million in Ticket Sales
The Dixie Chicks, now on the final leg of their North American Top of the World tour, are closing in on $60 million in gross revenues--enough to make them the top touring country act of 2003, Reuters reports. "The bottom line is, for all the so-called controversy, the Dixie Chicks' fans remained totally loyal throughout the tour," Chicks manager Simon Renshaw told Billboard. Renshaw said that after 56 shows, the trio has been averaging 15,878 in paid attendance, with an average gross of $980,337. The North America dates wrap Aug. 13 in Calgary. The Chicks begin a 10-day European run Sept. 6 in Stockholm, then play six Australian dates ending Oct. 5 in Sydney.
Madonna Publishes Children's Book
Madonna is planning a global assault on bookstores September 15 with the release of her first children's book, The English Roses, which will be published simultaneously in 30 languages and 100 countries, Reuters reports. Madonna will be in Paris to unveil the first of five volumes, the first published novel she has written. Details of the highly anticipated first book remain under wraps until the release date but media reports said the fables would contain elements from kabbalah, an esoteric, mystic offshoot of Judaism.
Lane, Broderick in Talks for Producers Run
Actors Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick are in talks to return for a three-month stint of the Broadway production The Producers starting in January, Reuters reports. The news sent some 200 fans prematurely flocking to the St. James Theater before it opened at 10 a.m. Lane and Broderick played the roles of Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom for a one-year run of Mel Brooks' The Producers, which won a record 12 Tony Awards in 2001. Tickets for The Producers are put on sale in three-month blocks, with the next batch slate