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 year's convention season has boasted some time-tested big-screen performers on both ends of the spectrum: at the RNC, Clint Eastwood gave his rendition of The Invisible Man, while the DNC offered up Kal Penn taking on The Social Network (#sexyface). But the most moving performance of the lot didn't come from someone with a history on the screen or stage — it came from Michelle Obama. On Tuesday night, the first lady declared her love, support, and admiration for her husband and children in a speech that, politics aside, had to have left the heavy majority of viewers in a pool of tears.
The woman really knows how to move an audience. It wasn't just a well-written and earnest testament to hard work and family values, but a decidedly well-delivered one. Mrs. Obama handled the whole ordeal with impressive expertise; her enunciation, her perfectly timed pauses, her majestic command of vocal tempo... she knows her way around a speech. And if the first lady is this skilled just standing behind a podium, maybe she wouldn't do too shabby on the set of a movie?
We're all wondering where the future will take Michelle Obama, whether her husband wins a second term or not. Perhaps Michelle herself will get into the political game? Maybe she'll expand her work promoting healthy lifestyles for the American people? Those ideas are fine, but we're thinking bigger! Flashier! Something truly worthy of the first lady's camera-friendly skills. We're thinking showbiz!
Michelle has already taken her first steps into the pool of acting: in 2011, she made a guest appearance on the Nickelodeon series iCarly, playing herself. But that's small potatoes compared to what she's capable of — prime time! And she'd better get in on the action soon; Ann Romney has already been offered a spot on Modern Family. So what sort of role is best suited to launch the FLOTUS into the Hollywood world?
As Michelle proved with the anecdote about the early days of riding around in Barack's broken down jalopy, she can earn a laugh or two. Plenty of today's greatest dramatic film stars started out as comedic players on TV: Tom Hanks, Jamie Foxx, George Clooney, Bronson Pinchot. So why not try her hand at guest starring on a sitcom?On a fifth season episode of Parks and Recreation, Michelle Obama guest stars as park-hating Councilwoman Deborah Humphries, who challenges her new co-councilor Leslie Knope at every turn when it comes to issues of natural preservation. It doesn't take long for Leslie to find out that Deborah's aversion toward the maintenance of public grounds stems from her own father's obsession with keeping parks clean... an obsession that drove him to madness.After a few of these roles, perhaps as a nutrition teacher on Community or a mentally unbalanced new roommate for Dave and Max on Happy Endings when they realize they can't feasibly afford that apartment on their own (and maybe a spot on the How I Met Your Mother finale as the final answer to the show's perpetual riddle), she might be able to take a step toward genre expansion with a dramedy...On a second season episode of Girls, Michelle Obama guest stars as New York University literature professor Selma Winter who inspires Shoshanna to explore other sources of inspiration beyond Sex & the City, effectively turning the young girl's life upside down... much to the chagrin of her cousin Jessa and friends Hannah and Marnie. But when the gang approaches Prof. Winter about her influence on Shoshanna, they find themselves equally changed by her wisdom.Following a self-effacing cameo on Veep and an appearance on Louie as an element of star Louis C.K.'s fever dream, Michelle can find herself on the road to straight drama.On a sixth season episode of Mad Men, Michelle Obama guest stars as Don Draper's ultimate rival: in an era where African-Americans face tireless oppression, Obama's character Janine Phillips has earned a role at the head of a rival ad agency's creative department. She's better than Don will ever be — and perhaps just as tortured by a haunting past of poverty and abusive parents. Can Richard Whitman accept that a new Don Draper has blossomed in the industry?And all it'll take from here is a turn on Breaking Bad playing an FBI Agent on the hunt for Walter White, or a Game of Thrones sorceress more powerful than the dragons themselves, and she'll be able to make the transition... to movies.
Now that she's exhibited her versatility with television, Michelle can break right into big name blockbusters. Who knows what sort of characters the indexes of J. R. R. Tolkien will bring to Peter Jackson's third The Hobbit movie? Perhaps producers will find a certain Mockingjay role perfect for Michelle in time for the third and fourth The Hunger Games movies? And there's got to be a Marvel villain the first lady can tackle in The Avengers 2. But speaking of superhero flicks...Michelle Obama joins the cast of the developing Justice League movie as Wonder Woman, embodying the strength and insuperability of the D.C. heroine, with a humanity that audiences couldn't imagine coming from anyone but Lynda Carter.Of course, there's always room for an voiceover role when it comes to big stars...Michelle Obama takes a role in the sequel to Finding Nemo, playing a misunderstood octopus named Edna, whose foreboding presence has prevented her from making any of the friends she's always dreamed of... until she meets the warmhearted Dory and sprightly young Nemo.And yes... a zany, slapsticky comedy is unavoidable...Michelle Obama accepts a part in The Hangover Part III as the head of the insane asylum wherein Zach Galifianakis' character is held, and is hell bent on making sure his cronies don't help him escape.Finally, Michelle's tour-de-force. An original project, written and directed by Mrs. Obama herself, about the trials and tribulations of being the first lady... in the year 3015.Michelle Obama taps into the works of Ray Bradbury and George Orwell to set up a science-fiction dystopia in her original project First Lady, Last Hope, in which she stars as the title character — Rochelle Amabo — a first lady who discovers a dreadful government cover up, unbeknownst to her presidential husband (played by Will Smith) and must stop at nothing to ensure justice for her country's people.And there you have it. A career on the rise. As you can see, long after her stay in the White House, Michelle Obama will have plenty of career opportunities. Let's just hope Sasha doesn't follow suit... child actors never turn out quite right.
[Photo Credit: CBS]
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Every four years, Americans get to witness the pinnacle of human achievement and healthy competition as our nation's best and brightest fight their way to the top on national television. Then, mere weeks after the Olympics' closing ceremonies, we have to suffer through the Democratic and Republican National Conventions.
This year, the conventions are bound to be worse than ever as a hurting economy and a level of partisanship that defies all logic and reason will inevitably cloud intelligent discussion on the issues we should be caring about. So, to save ourselves from disappointment — and our televisions from things being hurdled at them — we've created a drinking game for each convention that should hopefully take the edge off.
This week, it's time for President Obama and his merry band of Democrats to take the stage. We bet they won't mention that whole bin Laden thing. Nope, they would never do that.
Take One Drink:
— Whenever someone says "forward"
— Every time you see a suggested Twitter hashtag
— Every time Sasha and/or Malia look bored
— Whenever "Romney economics" are mentioned
— Whenever Occupy is mentioned
— Whenever 2016: Obama's America is mentioned — Every time someone reminds us that things sucked in 2008— Oh, hey, remember Osama bin Laden? Remember that time Obama had him killed? Yeah, take a drink every time someone happens to mention that.— Obamacare. Drink up.— Is that Harold and Kumar star Kal Penn? We'd say hit a joint, but this isn't that kind of game. Drink! Take Two Drinks: — Every time Romney's tax return comes up — Every time you see a combover — If Obama brings up a sports team he likes— When Michelle Obama's attire is mentioned. Bonus drink if they mention her physique— Also, bonus drink again if she mentions her work with fat kids— Every time you see a random Hollywood celebrity— Same-sex marriage talk in North Carolina? Awkward. Drink up. Take Three Drinks: — If anyone mentions the White House beer. Bonus shot if Obama himself calls it "tasty" — Bill Clinton sighting!— Every time Obama sings— If you hear a Joe Biden train joke (or mention)— When you see a desperate housewife or a hot actress named "Jessica"— If Obama tears up during a speech Waterfall: During any mention of/allusion to Eastwooding. Follow Shaunna on Twitter @HWShaunna [PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images] MORE: The Official Republican National Convention Drinking Game Pop (Culture) a Squat: 11 Chairs Clint Eastwood Could Talk To Making Sense of Clint Eastwood's RNC Speech