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.
According to one of the great cultural artifacts of our time, The Princess Bride, there are two great blunders in life. The first is don't get into a land war in Asian and the second is never go against a Sicilian when death is on the line. Hahahahaha. Slumps over dead. Well, I would like to add a third great blunder of the universe: fighting with a Real Housewife. It's true. It is completely useless. They don't listen, they mire you down in needless points of order, they fixate on semantics, and no matter what is said or what is done, they will never understand your point. They will also never apologize. Actually, they will, but they will never mean it.
Heather Thompson pointed this out last night while the group was all having their leave-a-seat-for-Elijah lunch. She just can't handle the fighting anymore and just points her eyes down at her Bloody Mary and tries to ignore it and hopes it goes away. Heather should know this better than anyone. She's been on the wrong side of a contretemps with Ramona Singer for the better part of a season and is frustrated because she knows she is not crazy, she knows she is a smart capable woman with a lot of insight and professional success, but no matter how many rational points she raises, she is sucked into the swamp of insanity that is a Real Housewives argument. That's what this show does to you. It's like quicksand. You feel yourself falling into it and you think that if you go down just a little bit, you will eventually find your way out, so you struggle and struggle, but you are trapped, the whole thing suffocating you and weighing in on all of your limbs. The only way out is to just float. To let your body go loose and rise to the top. Be zen, baby, and just let it wash over you.
This is a lesson that ¡Que Viva! has yet to learn. Yes, we're still learning about our telenovela in a blonde wig, and we discovered some new things last night: she is tenacious, she is sarcastic, she has deceptively large tits, and she is forever trapped in the Housewives muck. RIP ¡Que Viva!
Last week she called Somonja "white trash," which, well, if the rhinestone pump from DSW fits. The funny thing is that the two of them don't even know what white trash is. Yes, Ramona Singer and Sonja Tremont Morgan of the Noblesse Oblige Mobile Home Estates Morgans had to Google what "white trash" is. If that is not white trashier than tater tots, scratch off lottery tickets, wood paneling, and plastic lawn chairs from "the Wal-Mart," I don't know what is. Sonja says (and this is an actual quote), "We might be white trash, but don't call me that...We do act trashy." Yes, Sonja, you do. You and Ramona, especially together, act really trashy, something that the pair will go on to prove, continuously for the rest of the program. For all of eternity, perhaps.
They did find the definition of "white trash" on UrbanDictionary.com, where Sonja poked around a little bit and decided she wants to try the "angry pirate," the "Alabama Hot Pocket," and the classic "Hot Carl." She waddles over into the kitchen to see Jean-Claude, the butler. "Hey, Jean-Claude. I've been reading this site on the internet, and I found some new games I want to play. What are you doing after work? I know you're the butler. Would you like to buttle? Would you like to try an 'angry pirate?'" She asks. He smiles a coy smile that says, "I don't really want to have sex with you, but if you're throwing your vagina at me, I'm not going to leave it lying limp on the kitchen floor," Jean-Claude says, "Qu'est ce sais un angry pirate?" She whispers into his ear and then puts her hand over the whole side of his face, as if to let the information marinate inside his brain for a little bit. He nods his head furiously and says, "Meet me at 9."
Somonja go to their room and Carole comes to join them and they confront her about the couple's dinner she is going to have with her boyfriend Russ and ¡Que Viva! and her husband Taco. "No no no," Carole says. "That's not tomorrow. That's tonight." OK, Carole, you're not really helping things right now. Then Sonja and Ramona launch into their mistaken tirade about how this is a "girl's trip" and that there should be no boys allowed. I'm sorry, but from the get go, Carole was like, "Come with me to see my boyfriend play at a blues festival." That was always the intention. How is that a girls trip? Anyway, they're bagging on Russ and Taco when ¡Que Viva! saunters into the room with her jugs juggling and her diaphanous wrap dragging on the floor. She lobs it over her shoulder and says, "Well, well, well. If this isn't another warm welcome." And there we go, back down the whirlpool. Back into the black hole that is the Real Housewives fight, which isn't a fight about any specific thing, it is a fight about every specific thing.
"You know what, Ramona," ¡Que Viva! says. "You should have had a banner for me when I arrived. There should have been a party and you should have been sipping champagne ready to toast the fact that I was here. You should have had the St. Barts navy on hand to do a 21 gun salute and the entire cast of Man of La Mancha at the local community theater should have been singing 'Dream the Impossible Dream,' and then a red carpet should have rolled out and 12 Polynesian girls wearing white dresses with garlands on their heads should have showered that carpet with rose petals and when I walked up that red carpet and got to the top of the stairs, you all should have applauded. Miss Georgia should have thrown a baton in the air, and not just any baton, that baton should have been on fire and it should have flown higher, faster, and father than any baton has every flown. That is how you should have greeted me." Ramana finished taking a pull of her Natural Light can, tilted her camouflage trucker hat back a little bit, and scratched her crotch while belching at ¡Que Viva! She is white trash.
Seriously, I can't take anyone's side in this fight. I hate the way Ramona has been treating people this season (and to a lesser extent my favorite Sonja T. Morgan too) but that doesn't mean the enemy of my enemy is my friend. No, the enemy of my enemy is some uptight bitch who doesn't want to have fun or get drunk or pick up boys and only wants to talk about herself and her fears. God, I hate them all. I actually just want to go sit in a corner with Heather Thompson and shake my head with her and we can be friends. Well, at least until she says something like, "WTF. Do you know what that means?" Yes, Heather. I know what the F WTF means. I'm not a F-ing idiot. God, I'm leaving. "Fine. I'm just going to do me." What are you talking about Heather? Are you The Situation? Just stop it!
After Samonja and ¡Que Viva!'s ridiculous fight, Carole puts it on hold and they all go to lunch. Lunch was an unmitigated disaster, where everyone was fighting and people kept getting up from the table in different configurations so that all six women weren't sitting at the table the whole time. There is nothing more uncomfortable than a dinner table (or lunch table) where some of the seats are empty. I can't even remember what the fights were about, but I think it was all the same stuff from before just warmed over and served up like stale leftovers in a Tupperware container.
I'd much rather just talk about how ¡Que Viva! only has one foot to put in the pedicure box that is full of fish eating off her dead skin. I don't know why I want to talk about it, but I do. I wonder if she only got charged half price. I wonder if the fish were like, "Why are we only getting one leg? Where is the other one? This is like only getting half a sandwich. We want the rest of our lunch! WTF!" except, unlike Heather, they probably don't know what WTF stands for. But that, at this point, is just conjecture.
A kids’ movie without the cheeky jokes for adults is like a big juicy BLT without the B… or the T. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted may have a title that sounds like it was made up in a cartoon sequel laboratory but when it comes to serving up laughs just think of the film as a BLT with enough extra bacon to satisfy even the wildest of animals — or even a parent with a gaggle of tots in tow. Yes even with that whole "Afro Circus" nonsense.
It’s not often that we find exhaustively franchised films like the Madagascar set that still work after almost seven years. Despite being spun off into TV shows and Christmas specials in addition to its big screen adventures the series has not only maintained its momentum it has maintained the part we were pleasantly surprised by the first time around: great jokes.
In this third installment of the series – the trilogy-maker if you will – directing duo Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath add Conrad Vernon (director Monsters Vs. Aliens) to the helm as our trusty gang swings back into action. Alex the lion (Ben Stiller) Marty the zebra (Chris Rock) Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) are stuck in Africa after the hullaballoo of Madagascar 2 and they’ll do anything to get back to their beloved New York. Just a hop skip and a jump away in Monte Carlo the penguins are doing their usual greedy schtick but the zoo animals catch up with them just in time to catch the eye of the sinister animal control stickler Captain Dubois (Frances McDormand). And just like that the practically super human captain is chasing them through Monte Carlo and the rest of Europe in hopes of planting Alex’s perfectly coifed lion head on her wall of prized animals.
Luckily for pint-sized viewers Dubois’ terrifying presence is balanced out by her sheer inhuman strength uncanny guiles and Stretch Armstrong flexibility (ah the wonder of cartoons) as well as Alex’s escape plan: the New Yorkers run away with the European circus. While Dubois’ terrifying Doberman-like presence looms over the entire film a sense of levity (which is a word the kiddies might learn from Stiller’s eloquent lion) comes from the plan for salvation in which the circus animals and the zoo animals band together to revamp the circus and catch the eye of a big-time American agent. Sure the pacing throughout the first act is practically nonexistent running like a stampede through the jungle but by the time we're palling around under the big top the film finds its footing.
The visual splendor of the film (and man is there a champion size serving of it) the magnificent danger and suspense is enhanced to great effect by the addition of 3D technology – and not once is there a gratuitous beverage or desperate Crocodile Dundee knife waved in our faces to prove its worth. The caveat is that the soundtrack employs a certain infectious Katy Perry ditty at the height of the 3D spectacular so parents get ready to hear that on repeat until the leaves turn yellow.
But visual delights and adventurous zoo animals aside Madagascar 3’s real strength is in its script. With the addition of Noah Baumbach (Greenberg The Squid and the Whale) to the screenwriting team the script is infused with a heightened level of almost sarcastic gravitas – a welcome addition to the characteristically adult-friendly reference-heavy humor of the other Madagascar films. To bring the script to life Paramount enlisted three more than able actors: Vitaly the Siberian tiger (Bryan Cranston) Gia the Leopard (Jessica Chastain) and Stefano the Italian Sealion (Martin Short). With all three actors draped in European accents it might take viewers a minute to realize that the cantankerous tiger is one and the same as the man who plays an Albuquerque drug lord on Breaking Bad but that makes it that much sweeter to hear him utter slant-curse words like “Bolshevik” with his usual gusto.
Between the laughs the terror of McDormand’s Captain Dubois and the breathtaking virtual European tour the Zoosters’ accidental vacation is one worth taking. Madagascar 3 is by no means an insta-classic but it’s a perfectly suited for your Summer-at-the-movies oasis.
Mendoza, who played villainess Arachne in Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark, was hit in the head with a weighted rope during the production's first preview performance last month (28Nov10).
She returned three days later but took another two weeks off after suffering nausea and a headache. Understudy America Olivo took over the role.
The actress recently hinted at her departure in posts on her Twitter.com blog, writing: "Can feel a trip to India coming on & visiting my magic little orphanage Ramana’s Garden in Rishikesh. Raising funds as we speak. Be the change."
The New York Times reports Mendoza's representatives and Spider-Man producers have been negotiating an exit agreement for days.
Mendoza is one of four actors who have suffered injuries during onstage mishaps in the $65 million (GBP43.3 million) production, and she is not the first star to leave the show. Earlier this year (10), both Alan Cumming, who was set to play the villainous Green Goblin, and Evan Rachel Wood, cast as Spider-Man's leading lady Mary Jane, quit, citing scheduling difficulties.
All parties involved in Mendoza's departure have refused to comment on the report.