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.
British model/actress Rosie Huntington-Whiteley was devastated when pop superstar Rihanna failed to show up at a scheduled meeting. The model was due to meet the Umbrella hitmaker backstage after a recent gig in Los Angeles, but the star failed to show.
Huntington-Whiteley tells BBC Radio 1 host Nick Grimshaw, "I was standing there going, 'Oh my God, I'm going to meet Rihanna'. I stood there and 20 minutes went by, and as more time went by the more nervous I got. Then, after about three hours of waiting, I was like, 'I've had enough!'"
However, the Transformers: Dark of the Moon beauty has not lost hope and is still determined to befriend the singer, adding, "I'm really nervous to meet her now, I'm going to get starstruck and say something I'll regret. She's so cool."
Each season of America's Next Top Model, model-turned-actress-turned-talk-show-host-turned-reality-competition-host Tyra Banks challenges her congregation of fierce-faced hopefuls to an acting exercise. Whether it's dressing up in embarrassing costumes and "creating a character" or rolling around in motion capture suits to bring video game characters to life, they're asked to show off skills that go beyond a pouty lipped still photograph. It's part of the job.
Which makes the jump from super model to Hollywood starlet natural, acceptable, and, over the past 100 years of cinema, routine. Making a career out of the leveraged attempt becomes the trickiest part of the segue.
At only 20 years old, Sports Illustrated breakout Kate Upton seems like a promising addition to the pack. Yes, the stunning swimsuit model has thus far only appeared as "hot nun" in last year's The Three Stooges and a rich guy's mistress in Tower Heist. But her future looks promising with the announcement of a new role: Upton will star opposite Cameron Diaz in the upcoming dark comedy The Other Woman. It's a significant step up from her previous roles, which required nothing more than for her to look beautiful — according to The Hollywood Reporter, she'd be playing along with Diaz and Leslie Mann as a trio of women plots against a cheating husband played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones). Comedic talent required.
We've seen a lot of Upton, but little of her acting prowess (unfortunately, Tyra Banks didn't publicly put her through the ringer before she exploded on to the scene), but that The Other Woman director Nick Cassavetes is pairing her with Diaz is a sign of confidence. Diaz is one of the few women in Hollywood who carved out a substantial modeling career before shifting gears and remaining in the fast lane. Starting at 16, the actress modeled around the world for big name accounts. Five years later, she appeared in The Mask opposite Jim Carrey. Now she's a box office draw and go-to female comedic performer. People barely remember that 1992 soft core bondage movie that bridged her two careers (that's She's No Angel, by the way).
Sure, for every Diaz there's a Kelly Brook. For every Oscar-winning model-turned-actress like Halle Berry, you have Stephanie Seymour. And while Transformers: Dark of the Moon leading lady Rosie Huntington-Whiteley might convince the skeptic that today's models are recruited purely for arm candy roles, it's important to remember that niches can be carved. Milla Jovovich became an action star. Olga Kurylenko is a science fiction darling. Rebecca Romijn continues to find success on the small screen.
The downfall for models-turned-actresses is when their looks become the focus of their roles. The transition involves dropping the glamour — nearly impossible because of Hollywood demands. Even in movies that aim for realism or real character work, models are, intentionally or not, presented as visual stimuli. Cindy Crawford wasn't taking home any awards for her work in 1995's Fair Game, but it didn't help that she still looked like Cindy Crawford. Same goes for Gisele Bundchen, who continues to pop up in movies and play variations of herself. In Taxi she's the villainess and still looks like a million bucks! How could she not?
Diaz did an amazing thing a mere five years after The Mask. She looked disheveled.
If Upton steers down the right course in her movie career, there's reason to think she could go on to Diaz-level success. It won't even require a BDSM movie to get there. In the image-conscious world of Hollywood, shattering expectations by not looking like a human crafted with the Golden Ratio is key. Teaming up with a model-turned-actress like Diaz for a new comedy is a step in the right direction. Taking looks seriously won't. As a viewer, I endorse Kate Upton continuing to look amazing in movies — I just don't want her to rely on it. The world doesn't need a sequel to Pamela Anderson's Barb Wire starring the new "it girl."
Unless Brooklyn Decker is free.
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
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