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.
Enigmatic and deliberate Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy makes no reservations while unraveling its heady spy story for better or worse. The film based on the bestselling novel by John Le Carre is purposefully perplexing effectively mirroring the central character George Smiley's (Gary Oldman) own mind-bending investigation of the British MI6's mole problem. But the slow burn pacing clinical shooting style and air of intrigue only go so far—Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy sports an incredible cast that can't dramatically translate the movie's impenetrable narrative. Almost from the get go the movie collapses under its own weight.
After a botched mission in Hungary that saw his colleague Jim (Mark Strong) gunned down in the streets Smiley and his boss Control (John Hurt) are released from the "Circus" (codename for England's Secret Intelligence Service). But soon after Smiley is brought back on board as an impartial observer tasked to uncover the possible infiltration of the organization. The former agent already dealing with the crippling of his own marriage attempts to sift through the history and current goings on of the Circus narrowing his hunt down to four colleagues: Percy aka "Tinker" (Toby Jones) Bill aka "Tailor" (Colin Firth) Roy aka "Soldier" (Ciaran Hinds) and Toy aka "Poor Man" (David Dencik). Working with Peter (Benedict Cumberbatch) a conflicted younger member of the service and Ricki (Tom Hardy) a rogue agent who has information of his own Smiley slowly uncovers the muddled truth—occasionally breaking in to his own work place and crossing his own friends to do so.
Describing Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as dense doesn't seem complicated enough. The first hour of the monster mystery moves at a sloth's pace trickling out information like the tedious drips of a leaky faucet. The talent on display is undeniable but the characters Smiley included are so cold that a connection can never be made. TTSS sporadically jumps around from past to present timelines without any indication: a tactic that proves especially confusing when scenes play out in reoccurring locations. It's not until halfway through that the movie decides to kick into high gear Smiley's search for a culprit finally becoming clear enough to thrill. A film that takes its time is one thing but Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy does so without any edge or hook.
What the movie lacks in coherency it makes up for in style and thespian gravitas. Director Tomas Alfredson has assembled some of the finest British performers working today and they turn the script's inaccessible spy jargon into poetry. Firth stands out as the group's suave slimeball a departure from his usual nice guy roles. Hardy assures us he's the next big thing once again as the agency's resident moppet a lover who breaks down after a romantic fling uncovers horrifying truth. Oldman is given the most difficult task of the bunch turning the reserved contemplative Smiley into a real human. He half succeeds—his observational slant in the beginning feels like an extension of the movie's bigger problems but once gets going in the second half of the film he's quite a bit of fun.
Alfredson constructs Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy like a cinematic architect each frame dripping with perfectly kitschy '70s production design and camera angles that make the spine tingle. He creates paranoia through framing similar to the Coppola's terrifying The Conversation but unlike that film TTSS doesn't have the characters or story to match. The movie strives to withhold information and succeeds—too much so. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy wants us to solve a mystery with George Smiley but it never clues us in to exactly why we should want to.
Video of the tiger attack isn't being released
Despite two subpoenas from federal authorities, the company behind the Siegfried & Roy Las Vegas magic show has refused to turn over video of last year's tiger attack on illusionist Roy Horn, The Associated Press reports. In an investigation into the incident, where Horn was mauled by a 300-pound tiger during an Oct. 3 live performance at The Mirage hotel-casino, the U.S. Department of Agriculture attempted to obtain video of the show under the federal Animal Welfare Act to see if there were possible violations of the act. Feld Entertainment, however, would not hand over the footage, a USDA source familiar with the case told AP. USDA spokesman Jim Rogers said Tuesday from Washington D.C. that the probe into the tiger attack remains open and if violations did occur, the USDA can take action against violators, imposing fines and suspending or revoking licenses.
No ****! Dave Matthews Band sued for dumping poop
The state of Illinois sued the Dave Matthews Band on Tuesday for allegedly dumping up to 800 pounds of liquid human waste from a bus into the Chicago River and dousing a tour boat filled with passengers, the AP reports. According to the lawsuit, a bus leased by the band was heading to a Chicago hotel on Aug. 8 where members were staying. The driver allegedly emptied the contents of the septic tank through Kinzie Street Bridge's metal grating into the river below. More than 100 people on an architecture tour were showered with the waste. After the incident, the boat's captain turned the vessel around and took passengers back to the dock and given refunds. The boat was cleaned with disinfectant. The lawsuit seeks $70,000 in civil penalties. A spokesman for the band said the driver stated he was not involved in this incident, and added that the band "will continue to be cooperative in this investigation."
Rodney Dangerfield hospitalized for heart trouble
Comedian Rodney Dangerfield, best known for his trademark line "I don't get no respect!" was admitted on Tuesday to a Los Angeles hospital for heart valve replacement surgery, his publicist told Reuters. The surgery at UCLA Medical Center had been planned since last year when Dangerfield had brain bypass surgery to reduce the chances of stroke during the heart procedure. The surgery is scheduled for Wednesday morning and Dangerfield is expected to make a full recovery, his publicist, Kevin Sasaki, said. The 82-year-old comedian quipped that he planned on a brief hospital stay. "If things go right, I'll be there about a week, and if things don't go right, I'll be there about an hour and a half," he said.
Toronto Film Fest announces complete lineup
The Toronto International Film Festival unveiled its 328-film lineup, which includes 100 world premieres and 81 North American premieres, Reuters reports. The festival opens Sept. 9 with the world premiere of Istvan Szabo's Being Julia, starring Annette Bening, and closes Sept. 18 with the Martin Short starrer Jiminy Glick in Lalawood. Among the other 20 high-profile films to receive red-carpet treatment are Mike Barker's A Good Woman, a comedy about Americans in Italy that stars Helen Hunt and Scarlett Johansson; and Beyond the Sea, which Kevin Spacey directed and stars in as Bobby Darin.
Apprentice runner-up scores major deal
Kwame Jackson, last year's runner-up in the hit NBC reality show The Apprentice, is turning into his former boss, Donald Trump, after completing a multibillion dollar real-estate deal of his own, AP reports. With two other partners, Jackson has made a deal with officials in Prince George's County in Maryland to develop an 80-to-130-acre area into commercial and residential property. The deal is worth $3.8 billion and will provide over 32,000 jobs, Jackson explained. "For me, The Apprentice was the beginning," he told AP. "It's not a ceiling, it's a floor."
Whoopi returns to Broadway
Whoopi Goldberg is returning to Broadway in the show that jump-started her career 20 years ago, the AP reports. Goldberg's self-titled show opens Nov. 17 at the Lyceum Theatre in New York, the same house where her one-woman show premiered in October 1984 and ran for 156 performances. Since then, the comedian has appeared on Broadway in the revivals of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. Goldberg, who won a supporting actress Oscar in 1991 for her role in Ghost, will first try out her show in Philadelphia, playing a week's engagement at the Merriam Theatre starting Oct. 13. Preview performances will start in New York Nov. 6.
Spector hires former Gotti attorney
Music producer Phil Spector has hired an attorney who used to work for mob boss John Gotti to defend him on murder charges after his previous attorney resigned from the case, the AP reports. But Leslie Abramson said Tuesday she and her co-counsel were taken by surprise when Bruce Cutler filed a motion to take over the case. "We were put in an untenable position, and we were forced to resign," Abramson told the AP. Cutler, however, said he signed on as Spector's personal attorney before Abramson and Marcia Morrissey took over the criminal case. "Leslie and Marcia were brought on in February, and they quit in July. They just jumped ship, and I had to take control of the ship and bring it into port," Cutler said. Spector, 64, is charged in the fatal shooting of 40-year-old actress Lana Clarkson at his home in February 2003. He is free on $1 million bail.
Metallica to release vinyl box set
Heavy metal group Metallica will release a boxed set of albums on vinyl on Oct. 26, Billboard.com reports. Vinyl Box will include special editions of the group's first four studio albums along with the long-out-of-print Garage Days Re-Revisited EP and the Creeping Death picture disc, which was previously unavailable in the U.S. Metallica, currently in the middle of a North American tour, has been in perpetual spotlight this year: The band has already released a documentary feature, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, and published a coffee table book tiled So What! The Good, the Mad, and the Ugly. Vinyl Box, distributed by Elektra/Rhino Vinyl, will be limited to 5,000 numbered copies and will carry a suggested retail price of $99.98.
TV director Petrie dies
Emmy Award-winning television and film director Daniel Petrie Sr., who also made such motion pictures as A Raisin in the Sun and Fort Apache the Bronx, died of cancer Sunday at his home in Los Angeles, Reuters reports. He was 83. Petrie, who earned his Emmys for the TV miniseries Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years in 1976, also earned television's Peabody Award in 1977 for Sybil, starring Sally Field. Petrie is survived by his wife of 57 years, TV producer Dorothea Petrie, and their four children--screenwriter Dan Petrie Jr., director Donald Petrie, actress Mary Petrie, and producer June Petrie. The family has asked that memorial donations be sent to the American Film Institute or the Motion Picture and Television Fund.
Guylaine Cadorette contributed to this report.