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.
When a movie gets knocked around from one crummy release date to another one would assume that it is pretty awful. However even I a knowledgeable and open-minded film geek wasn’t prepared for the monstrosity that is Season of the Witch a medieval mess that has reportedly been in the works for a decade. You’d never be able to tell so many years of preparation went into this sad excuse for a B-movie based on its laughable CGI dialogue and contrived premise. How many flavors of bad is this supernatural stinker? Sample this…
A period horror action flick Season of the Witch is initially set in a cursed city suffering from the Black Plague that has deformed and decimated the majority of its population. The disease has been unleashed as a result of a literal witch-hunt gone wrong. Ancient evil forces are afoot and the blame is put on a young girl who the Church believes is a witch. Though imprisoned in the dungeons of a castle her power reigns supreme. Enter Behman (Nicolas Cage) and Felson (Ron Perlman) Knights of the Crusades who happen upon the city on their way back to civilization. Once recognized as deserters they are imprisoned and given the choice to remain captive or lead a suicide transport mission to a remote monastery where the girl’s innocence or guilt can be determined. If deemed evil she is to be destroyed.
The premise though far from original could have been cool if executed with some style but director Dominic Sena (Gone In Sixty Seconds) is incapable of making it enjoyable. Instead of creating suspense through eerie environments he settles for cheap thrills that fall short every time. His use of CGI is painfully bad conjuring effects that would’ve looked dated around the turn of the century. Most insulting is the film’s big “twist” - a lazy paradigm shift so easily foreseeable the movie should have just been called The Devil’s Advocate. Is that not bad enough for you? Just wait it gets better (read: worse).
Stars Cage and Perlman are Razzie bound with a pair of pathetic non-performances. The accomplished actors don’t even try to get into character. Rather they don period garb shield and sword and run around like cheap imitations of their former selves for two hours. You won’t hear any attempts at English accents because apparently 14th Century Knights are just like contemporary buddy cops. With this little effort being put forth by the two men who are essentially the reason folks will pay to see the movie Season of the Witch doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on. The supporting cast which includes Ulrich Thomsen Stephen Graham and Christopher Lee try to bear the burden but cannot undo the damage that Cage and Perlman inflict upon this film. The scariest thing about Season of the Witch is the movie itself an abomination of bad filmmaking and terrible acting.
Britney is getting hitched…again
This time it's for real. Although it's been just six months since her quickie Las Vegas marriage--and just as quick annulment--to a childhood friend, pop princess Britney Spears is willing to again try her hand at the whole marriage thing, announcing she is engaged to her new boyfriend, dancer Kevin Federline. Spears' personal publicist and label, Jive Records confirmed the engagement to Reuters Friday but gave no further details. Federline, 26, reportedly met Spears, 22, during her 2000 tour, when he was in the opening act, but the two began dating only a few months ago. The dancer recently moved in with Spears to help her recuperate from knee surgery. According to Reuters, Federline also has a 2-year-old daughter by his ex-girlfriend, actress Shar Jackson, who also is pregnant with their second child.
Broadway stays open, for now
Although contract talks between Broadway producers and the actors' union broke down over the weekend, the Actors' Equity Association said actors would keep performing on Monday, The Associated Press reports. "It's important for the city's economy and we're very, very aware that this is the tourist season and taking a strike is the last resort," Maria Somma, a spokeswoman for the Actors' Equity Association, told AP. She explained the producers abruptly left the table Sunday while an Equity representative was speaking, but Bob Chlopak, a spokesman for the League of American Theatres and Producers, said talks ended because progress had slowed to a near halt, AP reports. "There won't be a strike," Chlopak said. The two sides have been intensely negotiating since June 10, imposing a news blackout; the key points of contention include rising health care costs and non-union tours of Broadway shows.
Kutcher lends name to clothing company
Ashton Kutcher has signed on to endorse Zoo York, a skate-influenced collection of clothing and accessories, AP reports. "He engages everything with such sincerity that you can't help but know that you are seeing a true representation of who he is…no matter what his surroundings. This consistency is similar to the philosophy which drives Zoo York," Greg Lucci, the company's vice president, told AP. The actor will be featured in a new ad campaign premiering in magazines next month and in another set of ads for spring 2005.
Lange, Shepard put estate up for sale
Longtime couple Jessica Lange and Sam Shepard have decided to sell the estate where they've lived for nine years, AP reports. The 12-room Victorian mansion, which sits on a 2 1/2-acre site overlooking the St. Croix River in Stillwater, Minn., has been on the market since mid-May with an asking price of $3.3 million.
Unknown Soldier wins top prize at LA film fest
Writer/director Ferenc Toth won the top prize at the Los Angeles Film Festival Saturday for Unknown Soldier, about a Harlem youngster forced to live by his wits on the streets. Toth, a 35-year-old New Yorker who funded the project with help from an investment banker, will get the jury's $50,000 cash prize, the biggest bestowed by a major U.S. film festival, according to festival organizers. The $25,000 prize for documentary went to Jonathan Caouette's Tarnation, in which he revisits his family's troubled past. Joshua Marston's Maria Full of Grace, a Spanish-language drama about a Colombian teenager who becomes a drug mule, won the audience prize for narrative feature, while Mike Wranovics won the audience documentary prize for Up for Grabs, about the litigation over the ownership of the baseball hit by Barry Bonds when he made his record-breaking 73rd home run in 2001, Reuters reports.
Controversial documentary Celibacy to air on HBO
British filmmaker Antony Thomas' documentary Celibacy, which links the child sex abuse scandal that has rocked the U.S. Catholic Church to mandatory celibacy among its clergy, airs on tonight at 10 pm on HBO, as part of the cabler's America Undercover series. The film was shot in 10 countries and features disturbing images, including a roomful of skulls in a desert cave inhabited by early Christians and modern-day self-whippings and reenactments of crucifixion. It also includes interviews with current and former priests as well as historians, scientists and psychologists while examining the primal power of the sex drive and the social-sexual development of priests. A critic's review in the Catholic News Service accused the documentary of "trotting out the hoary chestnuts about the Church's thinking that sex is, at best, a necessary evil," Reuters reports.
Legendary host Bob Barker inducted into TV Hall of Fame
Bob Barker, who has hosted the TV game show The Price is Right since in first aired in 1972, has been inducted into the Academy of Television and Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame, the AP reports. Barker, 80, received the honor Saturday from action star Chuck Norris, his friend of 30 years. "They may in the future induct people who deserve it more than I, but they will never induct anyone who appreciates this honor more than I," Barker told KCAL-TV. Barker also hosted the TV game show Truth or Consequences from 1956 to 1974, first with NBC and later in syndication. Other inductees Saturday included Katie Couric and Dan Rather.
Jewel first artist to sign on to Instant Live roster
Clear Channel Entertainment's live CD recording division, Instant Live, has signed its first major-label artist--Jewel. Instant Live creates master stereo recordings of concert performances, burns them at the venue and delivers them on-site immediately following the show. Prices range from $10 for a recorded club performance to $20 to $25 for multi-CD "digipaks." Billboard.com reports the company also has pegged a series of dates to record and sell CDs on the summer tours of Kiss, Peter Frampton, the Allman Brothers Band and the Cowboy Junkies. Jewel, meanwhile, will sell live CDs at select dates on her summer tour.
Guylaine Cadorette contributed to this report.