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.
This week was one that will go down in the history books. If you followed the news at all, then you know that California's Proposition 8 — the legislation that shot down the marriage equality law — went to the Supreme Court. While a decision has yet to be made on whether or not to uphold the amendment, the fact that the Supreme Court is now hearing arguments has the whole country talking, especially on Twitter.
Oh yeah, and before the Supreme Court hearings began, Tilda Swinton decided to take a nap in a glass box. It was a historic week, to say the least. In honor of that here are the...
RELATED: 10 Funniest Pop Culture Tweets from Last Week
10 Funniest Pop Culture Tweets of the Week:
1. Damien Fahey: "‘Gay marriage threatens the institution of marriage. Oh, don't forget to DVR The Bachelor.’ - 51% of America"
"Gay marriage threatens the institution of marriage. Oh, don't forget to DVR The Bachelor." - 51% of America
— Damien Fahey (@DamienFahey) March 27, 2013
2. Julie Klausner: "The lesson learned is that we have to think on our feet. At any moment, Tilda Swinton could just decide to nap in a box. We need to adapt."
The lesson learned is that we have to think on our feet. At any moment, Tilda Swinton could just decide to nap in a box. We need to adapt.
— Julie Klausner (@julieklausner) March 24, 2013
3. Mindy Kaling: "Lets not forget that before Helena Bonham Carter played a charismatic wretch in every movie she banged Brad Pitt & Ed Norton in Fight Club"
Lets not forget that before Helena Bonham Carter played a charismatic wretch in every movie she banged Brad Pitt & Ed Norton in Fight Club
— Mindy Kaling (@mindykaling) March 26, 2013
4. Sam Grittner: "If you see white smoke after the Supreme Court's ruling, it means equality has temporarily lost but I did set Scalia & Thomas' cars on fire."
If you see white smoke after the Supreme Court's ruling, it means equality has temporarily lost but I did set Scalia & Thomas' cars on fire.
— Sam Grittner (@SamGrittner) March 27, 2013
5. Paul Scheer: "God may have made Adam and Eve but Adam and Steve totally had better Dinner Parties."
God may have made Adam and Eve but Adam and Steve totally had better Dinner Parties.
— Paul Scheer (@paulscheer) March 27, 2013
6. Rob Delaney: "Whoa, Ted Nugent comes out in robust support of gay marriage: https://twitter.com/TedNugent/status/313461656913072128 …"
Whoa, Ted Nugent comes out in robust support of gay marriage: twitter.com/TedNugent/stat…
— rob delaney (@robdelaney) March 26, 2013
7. Seth Meyers: "Ocean's 14 pitch: The gang steals a sleeping Tilda Swinton. She wakes up and ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE!"
Ocean's 14 pitch:The gang steals a sleeping Tilda Swinton.She wakes up and ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE!
— Seth Meyers (@sethmeyers21) March 25, 2013
8. Michael Ian Black: "There should be a scene where Phil Spector accidentally drops a sheaf of illegible pages. A girl picks up those pages. Her name: Ke$ha
There should be a scene where Phil Spector accidentally drops a sheaf of illegible pages. A girl picks up those pages. Her name: Ke$ha
— Michael Ian Black (@michaelianblack) March 25, 2013
9. Eugene Mirman: "Just found out NBC is replacing Matt Lauer with falling autumn leaves because they have such a favorable Q rating."
Just found out NBC is replacing Matt Lauer with falling autumn leaves because they have such a favorable Q rating.
— Eugene Mirman (@EugeneMirman) March 25, 2013
10. Morgan Murphy: "I won't get married until my gay friends can get married, or until I can make a relationship last longer than 2 weeks."
I won't get married until my gay friends can get married, or until I can make a relationship last longer than 2 weeks.
— Morgan Murphy (@morgan_murphy) March 27, 2013
Follow Lindsey on Twitter @LDiMat.
[Photo Credit: Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images]
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From a beguiling love interest to a problematic professional fighter, some of TV's quirkiest favorites and most anticipated new shows are adding new roles. Check out who is joining the casts of Supernatural, Netflix's House of Cards, and more in our casting roundup below:
Weeds: Daniele Watts, whose previous credits include Cold Case and Criminal Minds and who has a small role in the upcoming Quentin Tarantino film Django Unchained, joins the cast as Angela Mullen, the first recurring love interest for Shane (Alexander Gould). Angela is a fellow police recruit whose quirky allure catches Shane's eye at the academy.
Supernatural: Ty Olsson has landed a recurring role on the eighth season of The CW's Supernatural as Benny, a tall, dark, and handsome stranger. While best known as Sam on Men in Trees, Olsson is no stranger to the fantasy/sci-fi mystery genre, having appeared on Once Upon a Time, Battlestar Gallactica and in The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn. The CW is keeping a tight lid on Olsson's Supernatural storyline, but we do know that he is a survivor with an ingrained sense of honor and a tell-it-like-it-is blunt manner.
Banshee: Relative newcomer Cedric Stewart (Tyler Perry's For Better or Worse) has been added to the cast of Alan Ball's new drama Banshee. Banshee's action revolves around Lucas Hood (played by Anthony Starr), a criminal who assumes the identity of the sheriff of small town Banshee, PA. Hood of course continues to be haunted by his law-breaking past as gangsters he has crossed hunt him down. Stewart is slated to play Damien Sanchez, a pro MMA fighter who gets into some trouble when he travels to Banshee for his big fight.
House of Cards: Sebastian Arcelus, who is best known for his work on Broadway in shows such as Wicked and Jersey Boys, joins the cast of the David Fincher-produced Netflix original series House of Cards, set to premiere next year. Kevin Spacey stars in this political drama based on Michael Dobbs' novel of the same name as Rep. Frank Underwood, the House or Representatives Majority Whip set on taking over the Presidency. Arceleus' role has not yet been released.
Follow Abbey Stone on Twitter @abbeystone
[Photo Credit: WENN.com]
More: ‘Weeds’ Season Premiere: Karma, Politics, and the Return of Little Boxes The CW Fall Schedule: 'Top Model', 'Supernatural' and 'Gossip Girl' Get New Slots Spacey & Fincher Re-team For TV Project ‘House Of Cards’
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.