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.
Man or woman cannot survive on DVD box sets and possible Netflix reboots alone when it comes to enjoying our favorite TV casts. What better way for television's most dynamic duos to live on than in podcast form? With that thinking in mind, former co-stars of the beloved '90s Nickelodeon show The Adventures of Pete & Pete, Michael Maronna (Big Pete) and Danny Tamberelli (Little Pete)are hosting their own podcast. "The Adventures of Danny and Mike," will send them out on the road to try their hand at different jobs such as guest-bartending in Montreal or managing an ice cream truck in Brooklyn. I guess that means Tamberelli will have to take a break from touring with his jam band. The recent announcement got us thinking of what other former duos should team up again to join the podcast-sphere.
Larry David & Leon Black
While some would argue that Larry and Jeff from Curb Your Enthusiasm would make the most compatible hosts, we think it would take Leon (played by J.B Smoove) to really push Larry's buttons and make for much more interesting airtime. The two already briefly reunited for David’s HBO Film, Clear History, but that gives us just a taste of what these two masters of improv could accomplish if given their own show. Let's call it "Tit for Tat" for now.
Daria Morgendorffer & Jane Lane
If you’re going to tease millennials with a Pete & Pete reunion, they why not give them what they really want – a Daria and Jane reunion. They've already mastered the art of voice-acting, so a podcast would be a natural transition for both Tracy Grandstaff (Daria) and Wendy Hoopes (Jane). They could talk about the "Plastic of the Week" and expose everyday hypocrisy in a very, very soothing voice. Granted, Grandstaff's schedule is tight being a vice-president at Comedy Central and all and Hoopes is still acting, but we think they could make it work for the sake of the greater good.
Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement
These comedic troubadours from New Zealand started off as a BBC radio show, so it makes sense for them to return to their roots. Flight of the Conchords made an early exit from HBO – leaving us with an emotional void that only the sweet falsetto of Bret McKenzie and smooth dulcet tones of Jermaine Clement can fill.
Dr. Frasier & Dr. Miles Crane
For the NPR-listening, tweed-clad set, a spin-off Frasier podcast would be just the thing to ease into your morning and fend off road rage with the some spirited discourse from our favorite buttoned-down WASP brothers. Kelsey Grammer would be a natural fit, having already played a radio host in the sitcom and David Hyde Pierce could diagnose people's problems with faux psychiatry. Having won a Tony, perhaps he could occasionally break out into song while Grammer dishes out dirt on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.
Rickie Vasquez & Rayanne Graff
Claire Danes may have received all the accolades, but for us, My So-Called Life revolved around Rickie & Rayanne played by Wilson Cruz and A.J. Langer. Their chemistry was unmistakable and their sartorial choices have probably inspired thousands of tumblr themes, so why not bring this fierce twosome back together? Cruz can fluctuate into talking about modern gay culture and basic b**tches while Langer or shall we call her "Lady Courtenay," can reveal what her day-to-day life is like being married to an English Earl.
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If you thought the Viking Age was uninteresting in that old history textbook Pathfinder does it one better by actually upping the boring ante. In fact even ye Old World buffs out there will be disoriented. It’s set “600 years before Columbus ” when “people had to guard America’s shores from marauders.” One of those most noble guardsmen was Ghost (Karl Urban). Native Americans happened upon him as a young orphan boy and decided to raise him as one of their own--even though he was never truly accepted due to his unknown ancestry. Fifteen years pass and Ghost once a frail child has blossomed into a beast-sized man capable of warding off almost anyone. His size and skill set come in handy when Norse invaders look to raise hell in his village. Armed with horses swords and thorny helmets they kill and maim everyone in sight and mostly get away with it. That is until they mess with the object of Ghost’s affection Starfire (Moon Bloodgood) thereby seriously messing with Ghost. You don’t put Ghost in a corner! Beefcake actors are apparently a dime a dozen these days and Pathfinder lead Urban does nothing to separate himself from the supporting actors of his own movie let alone from the aforementioned Hollywood stereotype. Looking like a runway model on steroids the Lord of the Rings and Bourne Ultimatum star only stands out aesthetically here and is in danger of being pigeonholed and typecast for a long time to come. Unless he can somehow show a different side Urban will wind up on a long list with the likes of wrestlers-turned-actors who can’t act. Thing is in Pathfinder he can’t even manage the uber-virility his character is meant to project. Bloodgood (Eight Below) meanwhile owner of the best non-porn name in showbiz holds her own and softens things up in a movie otherwise completely dominated by males. And finally there's veteran Native American actor Russell Means (Natural Born Killers) who as the Pathfinder himself at least lends some desperately needed credibility. Looking up a director’s name and past work isn’t a fair way to pre-judge his or her movie but it may sometimes hint at what you’re in for. Take Pathfinder for example: Director Marcus Nispel's past work includes Texas Chainsaw Massacre and music videos. Massacre was terrible and music videos are stylized; thus we arrive upon Pathfinder which is terrible and stylized. When parents complain about violence in the movies this should be their focal point. Nispel like other offenders is unable to ever refrain and beheadings and such in all their slow-motion glory resemble fun video games. Not that his lack of morality makes Pathfinder the crap it is however. That blame rests on his apparent decision that such violence is all moviegoers want to see. And it is perhaps the sheer lack of a story that accentuates how mediocre the violent scenes really are--scenes that are meant to leave us agape in amazement as if we’ve never seen a loose eyeball on the screen before. On a (lone) positive note though the set design seems up-to-snuff.