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.
The Sopranos creator David Chase paid a heartwarming tribute to late star James Gandolfini by writing his eulogy in the form of a letter to the tragic actor at his funeral in New York on Thursday (27Jun13). The executive producer remembered his friend as a man who never lost touch with his inner child as he addressed mourners at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, but admitted it was the sadness behind his eyes which helped him to bring his most famous character, mob boss Tony Soprano, to life on the small screen.
He said, "You were a good boy... A sad boy, amazed and confused. You could see it in your eyes. That's why I think you were such a great actor, because of that boy inside.
"I think your talent is that you can take the immensity of humankind and the universe and shine it right back at us."
Gandolfini's widow, Deborah Lin, the mother of his nine-month-old daughter Lily, also spoke at the service, telling the congregation, "My husband was an honest, kind and loving man. He cared more about others than himself... Thank you for the memories of the beautiful life we spent together. I love you Jim, and I always will. Rest in peace."
A host of stars from the actor's TV family turned out for the memorial, such as his onscreen wife Edie Falco and daughter Jamie-Lynn Sigler, as well as Steve Buscemi, Steve Schirripa, Lorraine Bracco, Vincent Curatola, Joe Pantoliano, Tony Sirico, Dominic Chianese, Aida Turturro, Michael Imperioli and Vincent Pastore, while other guests included Alec Baldwin and his heavily pregnant wife Hilaria, and Chris Christie, governor of Gandolfini's native New Jersey.
Gandolfini's sisters, Leta and Johanna, his son Michael, 13, and his ex-wife Marcy Wudarski were also in attendance for the 90-minute ceremony, which was led by Reverend James A. Kowalski.
Speaking before the funeral, Sirico expressed his sympathies for Gandolfini's baby girl having to grow up without her father, saying, "He's a great actor and he was a great guy... He's got a new baby. She'll grow up and have to be told who he was by her mum. It's sad."
And actor David Rasche, who appeared alongside Gandolfini in 2009 film In the Loop, added: "He was such a terrific guy and a terrific actor... He was a huge presence, huge... He was kind and loving and generous, but he was a really big presence; he really filled a role."
Gandolfini died of a heart attack in Rome, Italy last Wednesday (19Jun13) at the age of 51.
When the premiere episode of NBC’s new drama Chicago Fire came to a close, I can’t say that I wasn’t disappointed — disappointed because I actually found myself not hating the show. Let me explain: it’s not that I was truly rooting against it, it’s just that I had already come up with a handful of negative review headlines too fantastic to pass up:“Chicago Fire Will Make You Stop, Drop, and Roll Your Eyes”
“Chicago Fire Is All Smoke and Mirrors”
“Chicago Fire — Give It the Axe, NBC”
“Chicago Fire — Hose It Down, NBC”
“Chicago Fire — The Cubs of Television Shows”Such a missed opportunity. Still, it’s not as though the series doesn’t have its kinks. Set in some major North American city (I wanna say Sheboygan?), the pilot introduces us to the beehive that is the focal firehouse, complete with a team that makes it highly evident that the setting has a pulse.
The atmosphere of the firehouse is palpably alive, thanks to the range of characters and relationships found within. At the center of the series are devoted, cares-too-much paramedic Gabriela (Monica Raymund), eager newbie Peter Mills (Charlie Barnett), and feuding colleagues Casey (Jesse Spencer) and Kelly (Taylor Kinney), both torn up over the recent loss of a fellow firefighter. Individually, Casey and Kelly deal with their own respective problems (marital separation and some undisclosed illness), but are driven to keep one another aware of the ever present animosity shared all throughout the episode.
Other major characters include a stoic Batallion Chief Wallace Boden (Eamonn Walker), grappling with a decision to play out the rest of his career in the quiet, apparently “fire-free” community of Deerfield, but seems unprepared to leave his cherished professional family behind — especially in light of at least two divorces weighing him down emotionally. Also in management, the compassionate District Chief Lynn Fitori (Merle Dandridge), enveloped in an ostensibly secret affair with one of her subordinates.
The rest of the team consists of acerbic paramedic Leslie (Laurie German), whose homosexuality is introduced via a prank at the expense of newcomer Mills, plus hard-on-his-luck griper Herrmann (David Eigenberg), firehouse shlamazel Otis (Yuri Sardarov), motor mouth Cruz (Joe Minoso), and losing-his-edge Mouch (Christian Stolte). And that’s the team.
It seems imperative to mention the lot of them — even those whose roles in the pilot are far from extensive — since it is the character of the firehouse community that keeps the episode afloat. The action sequences — fire rescues and attendance to injured parties — might have somewhat of an edge over a lot of what we see on police procedurals, but aren’t unique enough to sustain a program. The individual relationships — Casey’s and Kelly’s stubborn enmity or Casey’s strained marriage with wife Hallie (Teri Reeves) — might build over time, but also don’t offer a great deal of standout appeal. What makes Chicago Fire’s pilot work is the flavor of its bullpen.
The camaraderie, as evidenced by the low notes — the communal mourning of a recently deceased firefighter (whose widow also seems to be set up as a recurring character) and the entire team’s union in a hospital waiting room after another is injured on the job — as well as the high ones — the gang goofs on punching bag Otis, pranks newcomer Mills, dines on Casey’s home cooking, and travels together to watch Chief Boden take on the police officer who stole his ex-wife in a traditional firefighters versus cops boxing match — is vivid; enough to believe that these people work, play, and survive together.
Of course, the flaws of the pilot might only be for lack of opportunity to flesh them out adequately, as is the hazard of an introductory episode in nature. We might see more character imbued in the personal relationships, more impressive turns for the action sequences, and more remarkable depth drawn into the individual members of the squad overtime. But for now, the show does have one thing going for it, and it’s enough to encourage a return for at least the second episode.
And it’s such a shame, too. “Stop, Drop, and Roll Your Eyes” would have been hilarious.
[Photo Credit: Matt Dinerstein/NBC]
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It was the trickle of pee heard around the world. Cannes attendees were aghast and/or amused an infamous scene from The Paperboy that shows Nicole Kidman urinating on Zac Efron; this is apparently a great salve for jellyfish burns which were covering our Ken Doll-like protagonist. (In fact the term protagonist should be used very loosely for Efron's character Jack who is mostly acted upon than active throughout.)
Lurid! Sexy! Perverse! Trashy! Whether or not it's actually effective is overshadowed by all the hubbub that's attached itself to the movie for better or worse. In fact the movie is all of these things — but that's actually not a compliment. What could have become somethingmemorable is jaw-droppingly bad (when it's not hilarious). Director Lee Daniels uses a few different visual styles throughout from a stark black and white palette for a crime scene recreation at the beginning to a '70s porno aesthetic that oscillates between psychedelic and straight-up sweaty with an emphasis on Efron's tighty-whiteys. This only enhances the sloppiness of the script which uses lines like narrator/housekeeper/nanny Anita's (Macy Gray) "You ain't tired enough to be retired " to conjure up the down-home wisdom of the South. Despite Gray's musical talents she is not a good choice for a narrator or an actor for that matter. In a way — insofar as they're perhaps the only female characters given a chunk of screen time — her foil is Charlotte Bless Nicole Kidman's character. Anita is the mother figure who wears as we see in an early scene control-top pantyhose whereas Charlotte is all clam diggers and Barbie doll make-up. Or as Anita puts it "an oversexed Barbie doll."
The slapdash plot is that Jack's older brother Ward (Matthew McConaughey) comes back to town with his colleague Yardley (David Oyelowo) to investigate the case of a death row criminal named Hillary Van Wetter. Yardley is black and British which seems to confuse many of the people he meets in this backwoods town. Hillary (John Cusack) hidden under a mop of greasy black hair) is a slack-jawed yokel who could care less if he's going to be killed for a crime he might or might not have committed. He is way more interested in his bride-to-be Charlotte who has fallen in love with him through letters — this is her thing apparently writing letters and falling in love with inmates — and has rushed to help Ward and Yardley free her man. In the meantime we're subjected to at least one simulated sex scene that will haunt your dreams forever. Besides Hillary's shortcomings as a character that could rustle up any sort of empathy the case itself is so boring it begs the question why a respected journalist would be interested enough to pursue it.
The rest of the movie is filled with longing an attempt to place any the story in some sort of social context via class and race even more Zac Efron's underwear sexual violence alligator innards swamp people in comically ramshackle homes and a glimpse of one glistening McConaughey 'tock. Harmony Korine called and he wants his Gummo back.
It's probably tantalizing for this cast to take on "serious" "edgy" work by an Oscar-nominated director. Cusack ditched his boombox blasting "In Your Eyes" long ago and Efron's been trying to shed his squeaky clean image for so long that he finally dropped a condom on the red carpet for The Lorax so we'd know he's not smooth like a Ken doll despite how he was filmed by Daniels. On the other hand Nicole Kidman has been making interesting and varied career choices for years so it's confounding why she'd be interested in a one-dimensional character like Charlotte. McConaughey's on a roll and like the rest of the cast he's got plenty of interesting projects worth watching so this probably won't slow him down. Even Daniels is already shooting a new film The Butler as we can see from Oprah's dazzling Instagram feed. It's as if they all want to put The Paperboy behind them as soon as possible. It's hard to blame them.
In This Means War – a stylish action/rom-com hybrid from director McG – Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) and Chris Pine (Star Trek) star as CIA operatives whose close friendship is strained by the fires of romantic rivalry. Best pals FDR (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) are equally accomplished at the spy game but their fortunes diverge dramatically in the dating realm: FDR (so nicknamed for his obvious resemblance to our 32nd president) is a smooth-talking player with an endless string of conquests while Tuck is a straight-laced introvert whose love life has stalled since his divorce. Enter Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) a pretty plucky consumer-products evaluator who piques both their interests in separate unrelated encounters. Tuck meets her via an online-dating site FDR at a video-rental store. (That Lauren is tech-savvy enough to date online but still rents movies in video stores is either a testament to her fascinating mix of contradictions or more likely an example of lazy screenwriting.)
When Tuck and FDR realize they’re pursuing the same girl it sparks their respective competitive natures and they decide to make a friendly game of it. But what begins as a good-natured rivalry swiftly devolves into romantic bloodsport with both men using the vast array of espionage tools at their disposal – from digital surveillance to poison darts – to gain an edge in the battle for Lauren’s affections. If her constitutional rights happen to be violated repeatedly in the process then so be it.
Lauren for her part remains oblivious to the clandestine machinations of her dueling suitors and happily basks in the sudden attention from two gorgeous men. Herein we find the Reese Witherspoon Dilemma: While certainly desirable Lauren is far from the irresistible Helen of Troy type that would inspire the likes of Tuck and FDR to risk their friendship their careers and potential incarceration for. At several points in This Means War I found myself wondering if there were no other peppy blondes in Los Angeles (where the film is primarily set) for these men to pursue. Then again this is a film that wishes us to believe that Tom Hardy would have trouble finding a date so perhaps plausibility is not its strong point.
When Lauren needs advice she looks to her boozy foul-mouthed best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler). Essentially an extension of Handler’s talk-show persona – an acquired taste if there ever was one – Trish’s dialogue consists almost exclusively of filthy one-liners delivered in rapid-fire succession. Handler does have some choice lines – indeed they’re practically the centerpiece of This Means War’s ad campaign – but the film derives the bulk of its humor from the outrageous lengths Tuck and FDR go to sabotage each others’ efforts a raucous game of spy-versus-spy that carries the film long after Handler’s shtick has grown stale.
Business occasionally intrudes upon matters in the guise of Heinrich (Til Schweiger) a Teutonic arms dealer bent on revenge for the death of his brother. The subplot is largely an afterthought existing primarily as a means to provide third-act fireworks – and to allow McGenius an outlet for his ADD-inspired aesthetic proclivities. The film’s action scenes are edited in such a manic quick-cut fashion that they become almost laughably incoherent. In fairness to McG he does stage a rather marvelous sequence in the middle of the film in which Tuck and FDR surreptitiously skulk about Lauren's apartment unaware of each other's presence carefully avoiding detection by Lauren who grooves absentmindedly to Montel Jordan's "This Is How We Do It." The whole scene unfolds in one continuous take – or is at least craftily constructed to appear as such – captured by one very agile steadicam operator.
Whatever his flaws as a director McG is at least smart enough to know how much a witty script and appealing leads can compensate for a film’s structural and logical deficiencies. He proved as much with Charlie’s Angels a film that enjoys a permanent spot on many a critic’s Guilty Pleasures list and does so again with This Means War. The film coasts on the chemistry of its three co-stars and only runs into trouble when the time comes to resolve its romantic competition which by the end has driven its male protagonists to engage in all manner of underhanded and duplicitous activities. This Means War being a commercial film – and likely an expensive one at that – Witherspoon's heroine is mandated to make a choice and McG all but sidesteps the whole thorny matter of Tuck and FDR’s unwavering dishonesty not to mention their craven disregard for her privacy. (They regularly eavesdrop on her activities.) For all their obvious charms the truth is that neither deserves Lauren – or anything other than a lengthy jail sentence for that matter.
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The God of Legion secular Hollywood’s latest Biblically-inspired action flick is old-school an angry spiteful Almighty with a penchant for Old Testament theatrics. Fed up with humanity’s decadent warmongering ways He’s decided to pull the plug on the whole crazy experiment and start over from scratch.
Fortunately for us the God of Legion is also a rather lazy fellow. Instead of doing the apocalyptic work himself and wiping us out with a giant flood which worked perfectly well last time He opts to delegate the task to His army of angels — a questionable strategy that starts to fall apart when the archangel charged with leading the planned extermination Michael (Paul Bettany) refuses to comply.
Michael who unlike his boss still harbors affection for our sorry species abandons his post and descends to earth where inside the swollen belly of Charlie (Adrianne Palicki) an unwed mother-to-be working as a waitress in an out-of-the-way diner sits humanity’s lone hope for survival. Why is this particular baby so important? Is it the one destined to lead us to victory over Skynet? Heaven knows — Legion reveals little details its script devoid of actual scripture. What is clear is that God’s celestial hitmen want the kid whacked before it’s born.
But Michael won’t let humanity fall without a fight. Armed with a Waco-sized arsenal of assault weapons he hunkers down with the diner’s patrons a largely superfluous collection of thinly-sketched caricatures from various demographic groups led by Dennis Quaid as the diner’s grizzled owner Tyrese Gibson as a hip-hop hustler and Lucas Black as a simple-minded country boy.
Together they mount a heroic final stand against hordes of angels who’ve taken possession of “weak-willed” humans turning kindly old grandmas and mild-mannered ice cream vendors into snarling ravenous foul-mouthed beasts. They descend upon the ramshackle diner in a series of full-frontal assaults commanded by the archangel Gabriel (Kevin Durand) the George Pickett of End of Days generals.
Beneath its superficial religious facade Legion is really just a run-of-the-mill zombie flick a Biblical I Am Legend. Bettany an actor accustomed to smaller dramatic roles in films like A Beautiful Mind and The Da Vinci Code looks perfectly at ease in his first major action role wielding machine guns and bowie knives with equal aplomb. Conversely first-time director Scott Stewart a former visual effects artist does little to prove himself worthy of such a promotion serving up some impressive CGI work but not much else worthy of note.