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.
There's just no accounting for taste, especially from a culture whose sole culinary invention is fish and chips.
The British, in a poll conducted by Heat magazine, named singers Robbie Williams and Kylie Minogue the world's sexiest man and woman, respectively.
Williams won for the second year in a row, besting footballer--their football, not ours--David Beckham and genuine sexy Hollywood star Brad Pitt.
The ubiquitous J.Lo (Jennifer Lopez, to you people not in the know) finished a disappointing second behind Minogue in the voting, with British TV soap star Jessie Wallace in the show position.
Russell Crowe may have A Beautiful Mind, but he sure doesn't have a beautiful body. According to The Daily Star, Hollywood bigwigs have told the 37-year old porker to get himself back into the gym and into shape. Crowe "bulked up" 40 pounds after his split with pixie actress Meg Ryan.
Bruce Willis is still Moonlighting after all these years--as a rocker. The Hollywood hunk and his band The Accelerators are speeding their way through the U.S. on a 13-city tour, which begins in Atlanta on Friday and will include appearances in New Orleans, Austin and Dallas, USAToday reports.
Despite his off-color jokes last week, boxing legend Muhammad Ali is being honored for "illuminating our shared values of freedom, tolerance and democracy" and will be awarded the Broadcast Film Critics Association's inaugural Freedom Award. Bill Maher will emcee the BFCA's Jan. 14 event.
Dave Thomas, founder of Wendy's and star of many, many Wendy's commercials, passed away Tuesday, Reuters reports. Details of his death were not immediately forthcoming.
In an exceptional move, the Screen Actors Guild has thrown out the election results from November's election, invalidating Melissa Gilbert's win over Valerie Harper, Eugene Boggs and Angel Tompkins. If only the Supreme Court would have shown the same integrity and resolve with the November 2000 presidential elections... The new voting period will run from March 15 to April 10.
What's in a name? The Cannes International Festival of Film has officially changed its name to the Festival de Cannes, or Cannes Film Festival, which is what everyone in the English-speaking world has been calling it anyway.
The mummy, she lives! Or, rather, the technology pioneered in the pair of recent Mummy movies will be reused to reanimate the Greek pantheon of gods and monsters in the upcoming movie The Argonauts. (We can't wait to see the Cyclops!)
It's court time for Michael Jordan, and we're not talking about NBA hardcourts. Jordan's wife Juanita filed for divorce last Friday, citing those ever-present "irreconcilable differences," after 12 years of marriage. Juanita is seeking permanent custody of the couple's three children, their mansion north of Chicago and--what else?--half of the family assets.
The bad boy of tennis is taking up television. John McEnroe, winner of 17 Grand Slam tennis titles, will host ABC's upcoming game show The Chair. We can only hope some of the contestants yell at McEnroe for being blind or missing a call.
CNN has pulled ads that called new anchor Paula Zahn "just a little sexy." (Of course, we think Paula is more than just a little sexy.) Walter Isaacson, CNN's chairman and CEO, said he was "outraged" by the piece and that Zahn has proved her credibility with her 20 years of experience. (We still think she's sexy.)
India.Arie says she "wasn't expecting [seven Grammy nominations] at all." Which is OK: we didn't expect her to spell her name with a period in the middle. India's nominations include album of the year, record of the year, song of the year and best new artist.
It's easy being green: Shrek has now pulled in $420 million in DVD and VHS sales after just two months on the shelves, DreamWorks reports. Add that to its global box office take of $472 million, and the green ogre (and DreamWorks) has to be feeling jolly about life.
Gagster Avery Schreiber (Robin Hood: Men in Tights, TV's The Ed Sullivan Show) died Monday of a heart attack. He was 66. Schreiber was a fixture on TV in the '60s and '70s, in a career that spanned four decades and covered TV, film and stage. His wife, Rochelle Isaacs Schreiber, survives him.
In the battle of 1970s TV stars vying for the SAG presidency, Melissa Gilbert (Little House on the Prairie) has fired the first shots against Valerie Harper (Rhoda).
Coming out with pitchforks in each hand, Melissa "Laura Ingalls" Gilbert said, "Now is when members most need their union to be out there fighting for them. But SAG is failing them. Too weakened by mismanagement, too preoccupied with internal power struggles, the leadership is neglecting issues that have a profound effect on the well-being of members," in her platform statement, Variety reports.
Valerie "Rhoda Morgenstern Gerard" Harper has received the endorsement of current SAG president William Daniels, and she would likely maintain the SAG policies in place. Harper has yet to release a platform statement, but given her titular character's persona in Rhoda, it's not likely she'll mince words in response to Gilbert's attack.
Gilbert has already bested Harper professionally. Both actresses starred in hit TV shows that debuted in 1974. But while Rhoda's stay on TV lasted a mere five years, Little House was beamed into American homes through 1983.
Gilbert repeatedly speared the current policies--and thus, by association, Harper--in her platform, saying that SAG should have entered into negotiations earlier with producers to avoid the current work slowdown, and that SAG should focus on three key issues: runaway productions to foreign locales, residual payments and respect.
Board members Eugene Boggs and Angel Tompkins are also running for SAG's top spot.
Screen Actors Guild president William Daniels will step down from his position at the end of his first and only term, Variety reports.
"I knew from the beginning that I would only be serving one term. I just never talked about it. I don't have political ambitions, and this is not a career for me," Daniels said.
Valerie Harper and Melissa Gilbert will run for the presidency.
Daniels said he purposely held off until after the SAG/ American Federation of Television & Radio Artists deal with the the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers was made to make his announcement, and never considered seeking a second term.
"It's been quite a two years," said the embattled union boss.
Daniels tenure as SAG head has been marked by an acrimonious six-month strike against advertisers; internal and external strife, with conflicts arising over agent operating procedures and SAG cost-cutting measures; the tense, lengthy negotiations with the AMPTP; and the surprise resignation of national executive director John Cooke this past week, after holding the position for just 10 days.
As Daniels announced his leaving, he joined former SAG president Charlton Heston and current SAG board member Dustin Hoffman in endorsing Harper as the next president of SAG. Harper was the star of the 1970s sitcom Rhoda.
Gilbert, formerly of The Little House on the Prairie, will oppose Harper in the quest for the presidency.
Harper is seen as a centrist in the mold of Daniels, and Gilbert is perceived to be more in ex-SAG president Richard Masur's camp. Masur lost the presidency to Daniels while seeking a third consecutive term.
Angel Tompkins and Eugene Boggs also will run for the union's top spot.
SAG ballots will be mailed on Oct. 12. They must be returned by Nov. 4, and the results for the presidency (and other posts) will be broadcast the next day.