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.
On May 31, Warner Home Video will release a 40th Anniversary Blu-ray Edition of Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange -- widely considered to be one of cinema's greatest and, let's be honest, creepiest films. And if that's not enough Kubrick for you (when is there ever enough Kubrick for anyone?), good news. On the same date, Warner plans to release a nine-movie, ten-disc Stanley Kubrick Limited Edition Collection, which will feature Blu-ray editions of Spartacus, Lolita (new to Blu-ray), Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon (new to Blu-ray), The Shining, Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut.
For those who haven't seen A Clockwork Orange (And why haven't you? Go watch it now.), it's a dark, satirical film that takes place in a dystopian, future Britain and follows Alex, a charismatic man who takes pleasure in rape, classical music, and "ultra-violence." The film features disturbing imagery, but is viewed as a commentary on psychiatric therapy, politics, and violence. It's based on the book by Anthony Burgess.
In other words? It's a pretty fucked-up film. But it's one of those pretty fucked-up films in a good way. Check out the special features below.
• Commentary by Malcolm McDowell and historian Nick Redman
• Malcolm McDowell Looks Back: Malcolm McDowell reflects on his experience working with legendary director Stanley Kubrick on one of the seminal films of the 1970s (new)
• Turning like Clockwork: the film's ultra-violence and its cultural impact (new)
• Still Tickin': The Return of Clockwork Orange
• Great Bolshy Yarblockos!: Making A Clockwork Orange
• Theatrical Trailer
• Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures: Kubrick's career comes into sharp focus in this compelling documentary narrated by Tom Cruise. Fascinating footage glimpses Kubrick in his early years, at work on film sets and at home, augmented by candid commentary from collaborators, colleagues and family (new to Blu-ray)
• O Lucky Malcolm!: Documentary about the life and career of actor Malcolm McDowell produced and directed by Jan Harlan
The 40th Anniversary Edition will be packaged in a 40-page Blu-ray Book with rare photos, production notes and more.
Top Story: Schwarzenegger Must Repay Campaign Loans
Superior Court Judge Loren McMaster ruled Monday that by borrowing more than $4.5 million to finance his run for governor in last October's recall election, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had broken a state law restricting candidates from accepting personal loans of more than $100,000 for their campaigns and would therefore have to repay the money. According to Reuters, an upbeat Schwarzenegger said Tuesday that he would pay $4.5 million on top of the $5 million he already spent to be elected. "The $4.5 million we got loaned from the bank, I always intended to pay that back myself, so it was a great decision," Schwarzenegger said. "We never wanted to raise the money to pay it back. I myself pay for that." When campaigning last fall, the Republican governor rallied against special-interest donations and attacked his opponents, including his Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, for taking donations from unions and Indian tribes with casino interests. At the time, Schwarzenegger argued he would not have to depend on outside money to finance his campaign because he was independently wealthy.
Halle Berry OK After Set Accident
Halle Berry, who broke her arm last year while shooting Gothika in Montreal and injured her eye on the set of the James Bond actioner Die Another Day, was injured once again on the set, this time while working shooting a scene for her the comic book adventure pic Catwoman. Production spokesman Joe Everett told The Associated Press Tuesday that Berry was taken to a hospital after colliding with a piece of set equipment while filming a running scene, but is now back at work. "She had to maneuver past a piece of equipment, a set piece and she didn't quite run past it, but she's just fine," he said. "She was taken to hospital Saturday night, treated and released and was at work again Monday morning."
Faith Evans and Husband Arrested
R&B singer Faith Evans and her husband, record executive Todd Russaw, were arrested and charged with possession of cocaine and marijuana and booked at the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta, the AP reports, but a spokeswoman at the Hapeville Police Department would give no details Wednesday morning. The 30-year-old singer received a Grammy nod for her duet "Can't Believe" with Carl Thomas from her 2001 album, Faithfully and has worked with Whitney Houston and Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, who signed Evans to his Bad Boy label and produced her first album. Evans was previously married to Christopher Wallace, aka Notorious B.I.G., who was killed in a drive-by shooting in March 1997.
Swept Away Lawsuit Surges Forward
A lawsuit in which self-described singer, songwriter, director and actor Vincent D'Onofrio (not the actor of the same name from NBC's Law & Order: Criminal Intent) accuses Madonna and her husband, director Guy Ritchie, of stealing the idea for 2002's Swept Away remake will go to court May 4, the AP reports. D'Onofrio sued Madonna, Ritchie and Sony Pictures in Superior Court in October 2002, claiming he pitched the idea for a remake of the 1975 Italian comedy to Madonna in April 1997 and had several meetings with her and Ritchie--who then cut him out of the credits and compensation. Attorneys for the couple have said D'Onofrio has no proof of a contract with Madonna or Sony. D'Onofrio is seeking$10 million in damages.
Kelly Osbourne Gets ABC Pilot
Kelly Osbourne is going from reality TV to scripted fare with ABC's drama pilot Doing It. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the series, based on British author Melvin Burgess' controversial young-adult novel of the same name, centers on the sexual antics of three 16-year-old Seattle boys: Dino (Sean Farris), Jonathan (Chris Lowell) and Ben (Jon Foster). Osbourne will play Jonathan's love interest. Osbourne and her father, Ozzy, recently topped the U.K. singles chart with a cover of Changes, a single Ozzy originally recorded with Black Sabbath. The third season of the MTV reality series The Osbournes premiered Tuesday night.
Mandy Moore Nixes Reality Show
While some in Hollywood embrace the concept of having their private lives broadcast on TV, others refuse to warm up to the idea, including singer/actress Mandy Moore. "I love watching reality shows, but I would never want to be in or on a reality show," Moore told AP Radio. Moore, who is dating tennis star Andy Roddick, says her life just isn't exciting enough for people to tune in. She also added that a behind-the-scenes show about Roddick would also never happen. "It was supposed to be like a documentary or something at first, and then someone kind of took that and ran with it and it kind of snowballed out of context," Moore said, adding that if someone close to her were in such a show, she wouldn't stick around long enough to be in it.
Nick Lachey Joins ABC
MTV's other reality series, Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica, seems to have also launched the careers of pop stars Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey into network territory. Lachey, formerly of boy band 98 Degrees, has sealed a six-figure deal with ABC, following in the footsteps of Simpson, who is already developing a sitcom with the network. Under the deal, Lachey will be placed in one of ABC's sitcom pilots as well as in a music or variety special, Variety reports. Network insiders said it's possible ABC may even pair the Simpson and Lachey projects back-to-back, perhaps as part of the "TGIF" franchise. ABC recently announced plans for the newlyweds to host a modern-day Sonny and Cher-style variety show sometime this spring.