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.
The best player in the World for movie trailers, Hollywood interviews and movie clips.
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.
Last night, the 21st Annual Gotham Independent Film Awards aired, celebrating 2011's greatest achievements in the world of indie cinema.
Tree of Life (dir. Terrence Malick) / Beginners (dir. Mike Mills)
Nominees: The Descendants (dir. Alexander Payne), Meek's Cutoff (dir. Kelly Reichardt), Take Shelter (dir. Jeff Nichols)
Winner: Felicity Jones (Like Crazy)
Nominees: Elizabeth Olson (Martha Marcy May Marlene), Harmony Santana (Gun Hill Road), Shailene Woodley (The Descendants), Jacob Wysocki (Terri)
Winner: Dee Rees (Pariah)
Nominees: Mike Cahill (Another Earth), Sean Durkin (Martha Marcy May Marlene), Vera Farmiga (Higher Ground), Evan Glodell (Bellflower)
BEST ENSEMBLE PERFORMANCE
Nominees: The Descendants, Margin Call, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Take Shelter
Girlfriend (dir. Justin Lerner)
Nominees: Being Elmo: A Puppeteers Journey (dir. Constance Marks), Buck (dir. Cindy Meehl), The First Grader (dir. Justin Chadwick), Wild Horse, Wild Ride (dir. Alex Dawson and Greg Gricus)
Better This World (dir. Katie Galloway and Kelly Duane de la Vega)
Nominees: Bill Cunningham New York (dir. Richard Press), Hell and Back Again (dir. Danfung Dennis), The Interrupters (dir. Steve James), The Woodmans (dir. C. Scott Willis)
BEST FILM NOT PLAYING AT A THEATER NEAR YOU
Scenes of a Crime (dir. Blue Hadaegh and Grover Babcock)
Nominees: Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same (dir. Madeleine Olnek), Green (dir. Sophia Takal), The Redemption of General Butt Naked (Eric Strauss and Daniele Anastasion), Without (dir. Mark Jackson)
Universal Studios is getting ready for a third helping of American Pie, which is set to begin filming in January. According to Variety, Pie 3 has been in the works for some time, but dealmaking with the actors--whose sequel options did not extend beyond American Pie 2--was complex. So far, Seann William Scott, Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan and Eugene Levy have all signed on to reprise their roles. Director Jesse Dylan (How High) is in negotiations to direct the film, written by Adam Herz. Pie 3 is slated for an August 2003 release.
'N Sync star Lance Bass may see his dreams of going to space squashed unless he comes up with a substantial chunk of change. The singer, who has been training in Star City just outside Moscow, is set to join an October mission to the International Space Station. But a spokesperson for Russia's space agency said Wednesday his contract could be dissolved because the first payment has been delayed, Reuters reports. The flight costs a reported $20 million.
Actor Jeremy Irons found a productive way to pass the time when he found himself in a messy airport lounge after his flight was diverted to Shannon Airport in southwestern Ireland, Reuters reports. Apparently upset by the sight of beer-drenched tables and overflowing ashtrays, Jeremy grabbed some cleaning supplies and started cleaning. The Oscar-winning actor was en route to his castle in Cork, southern Ireland.
The 2004 movie awards season is getting a makeover, sparked in part by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' decision to move its annual Oscar ceremony from its traditional late-March berth to Feb. 29. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the Screen Actors Guild is moving its own televised awards ceremony to Sunday, Feb. 8, 2004, at the Los Angeles Shrine Exposition Center--a month earlier than has been the norm. The 2003 SAG ceremonies will take place as scheduled Sunday, March 9, two weeks before the Oscars on March 23.
After a series of flops and an extended hiatus from studio films, Demi Moore has agreed to take on a small role in Charlie's Angels 2: Halo, which is slated for release next June. According to Variety, Moore will play a former, "fallen," angel working on the other side of the law. Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu and Cameron Diaz will reprise their roles in the sequel to the 2000 hit.
Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme may reunite with his Silence of the Lambs star Jodie Foster. Paramount Pictures and producer Scott Rudin have asked scribe Richard Price to pen an original idea specifically designed for the director and the actress, Variety reports. The yet-untitled project is loosely described by sources as a thriller set in a modern urban setting.
MGM has hired Don D. Scott to write a sequel to Ice Cube's upcoming urban comedy Barbershop, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Director Tim Story is in negotiations to helm the project. The film, which opens Sept. 13, is an ensemble story that takes place in the course of a day at a barbershop on Chicago's South Side. Positive test screenings prompted the studio to move forward with the project, but no deals have yet been made with the actors to return.
Kid Rock will star in DreamWorks Picture's urban motorcycle project titled Biker Boyz. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Kid Rock will join a cast that includes Lisa Bonet, Laurence Fishburne, Derek Luke, Orlando Jones, Brendan Fehr and Meagan Good. The film follows the real-life exploits of Manuel Galloway, a California motorcycle club president known as the King of Cali. Kid Rock will play Dog, the leader of a rival motorcycle club.