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.
Now if Revenge can settle in and consistently deliver episodes like “Illumination,” it might just have a chance to get back on track. There weren’t any major deaths or high seas adventures in the Hamptons sudser’s latest installment. Just good, old-fashioned character development and the smart introduction of potential new complications--and villains. There were no Ryan brothers, no Padma, no Jennifer Jason Leigh as Crazy Mommy, no Initiative goons. Mind you, “Illumination” seemed like it could have followed the Season 2 pattern of “resolve nothing, just add new characters” with the introduction of Collins Pennie’s Eli, Emily’s former foster brother, and “The Falcon,” the mysterious hacker who helped frame her father. But these introductions somehow felt more organic to the story.
Not that the episode began promisingly, though. At this point, Emily VanCamp’s opening narration is practically the equivalent of Ellen Pompeo’s at the start of any Grey’s Anatomy installment: it establishes the central theme around which all the hour’s storylines will revolve. I mean, how can we accept writing like this: “Carrying a secret is like carrying a flame. Hold onto it, and eventually you’ll get burned.” Yikes. And, see, the flame motif is relevant because Emily was accused of burning down her foster family’s house!
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“Illumination” quickly course-corrected by giving us a sight we’ve been craving for far too long: Charlotte in a schoolgirl uniform! It’s about damn time. She was all gaga for her parents, for once, because they were creating a charitable foundation in Amanda’s honor. Really, Charlotte? You think your parents have suddenly become all benevolent, charitable, and respectful of Amanda’s memory? Have you forgotten that your mother pushed her over a balcony? Of course, as soon as she left the room Conrad and Victoria began plotting how they could make Aidan the new David Clarke: they’d fabricate evidence to make it look like he was using Grayson Global to fund the Initiative’s next act of terrorism and funnel their own money into the Amanda Clarke Foundation to protect it in case the Feds freeze their assets following whatever investigation will inevitably follow.
Emily gave $250,000 to Victoria in a bid to be the fund’s co-chair. Yeah, that wasn’t going to happen. Before she could leave Grayson Manor, though, her foster brother Eli James (a name that sounds like what would happen if the author of Fifty Shades of Grey became the pastor of a Houston megachurch) showed up. He’s in the rare books trade and heard about Amanda’s death whilst in London. Odd that he would show up to pay his respects and not Amanda’s mother. Anyway, he threw Emily a knowing glance upon taking a good hard look at her, a glance that suggested he knew who she really was, even though he hadn’t seen her in 14 years. “Do you think we’re dealing with another Tyler?” Nolan asked. God, let’s hope so.
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Eli continued to sniff around all the Suffolk county hotspots, which meant he inevitably strolled into the Stowaway. Lucky for him, Emily was there too. Just the person Eli wanted to see. She continued her charade, but, pointing to Jack, Eli said, “He’s not the footloose guy you told me about.” Then he flipped over her wrist to see her double infinity tattoo. Yep, it was his foster sister after all. “Lookin’ pretty good for a dead girl.” It turns out, though, that he had known about her identity swap some time ago, because when he showed up at the Beaver Dam looking for her, the girl with the name Amanda Clarke was decidedly different…as in, a completely different person.
But what did Eli want with this information? He’s obviously not a rare books seller. In fact he had a pretty extensive criminal record, and if he quietly left the Hamptons quietly Emily would employ a more technologically savvy friend to wipe his record clean. Plus, she’d give him a little money to sweeten the deal and really start fresh.
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Meanwhile, Daniel’s on the verge of losing his mind. He’s the CEO of a company being used to fund major terrorism and he has to comply with the Initiative or he and his family will be killed. And yet he refuses to pin their crimes on Aidan. This can only end in terrible unhappiness. So he got into a scuffle with a guy at a bar, and who should be there to hold him back but Aidan himself. The 007-wannabe really wants that board seat. And who should also be there but Conrad Grayson, sitting behind a pillar. All schemers on this show hide behind curtains, outside windows, or behind pillars to overhear others conversations. Conrad, of course, really wants Aidan on that board, so as to pin their own crimes on him. Be careful what you wish for, Mr. Mathis.
NEXT: Let’s go Falcon hunting! Revenge just may have gotten the villains we’ve been looking for all season.
Jack’s been trying to figure out how he survived his high seas adventure. Who pulled him from the water and ferried him back to shore? So he asked the harbormaster and said the guy who rented the boat that brought him in paid cash to buy it outright afterward, so as to cover his tracks. He didn’t know his name but he was tall, had sandy hair, and blue eyes. It had to be Nolan, right?
You know when I knew that “Illumination” was really going to be good? When we had another big shindig at Grayson Manor. We’ve gone too long without a big party on this show. All were in attendance, and Eli indicated that he’d accept Emily’s offer of a one-way trip out of Dodge. Nolan wiped clean his record, Emily gave him a $100,000 check...and Eli didn’t leave. “I don’t think your faux bros intends to hold up his end of the bargain.” Cancel that check, Emily! So she decided that a better way to get rid of him would be to hint not so subtly to Ashley that the Graysons shouldn’t feel comfortable having this guy under their roof, especially with Conrad’s gubernatorial ambitions.
Eli decided to take the mic to talk about his relationship with Amanda. He said that the two of them were “invisibles” because their foster family didn’t really want them. So, to make certain there wouldn’t be other invisible children out there, he’d donate to the Amanda Clarke Foundation the sum of $100,000. Yeah, 100 Grand is a lot of money, but becoming a Grayson sycophant is worth even more. Then Jack showed up, took the mic, and obsequiously praised Conrad and Victoria himself. Nolan asked him what gives with all the Grayson love? Jack said he was “Practicing lying through my teeth like you and Emily. If you were my friends you would have told me the truth and wouldn’t be rubbing elbows with the people who destroyed her.”
The time came for Victoria to appoint her co-chair. And it was Mr. Eli James! When Ashley told her that Emily disapproved of Mr. James, that made her like him all the more. This guy is here to stay, folks. But it was a compelling debut. Having someone in the mix who knows Emily’s true identity but doesn’t necessarily have her best interests at heart could be just the wrinkle this show needs.
Oh, and after all of his hesitating, and a tearful meeting with Emily confessing everything that his parents had done to David Clarke and how they were planning on doing the same to Aidan, Daniel still decided to appoint Aidan to the board. When the chips are down Spaniel always doubles down on Grayson.
Conrad and Victoria were positively crowing over their success with the Foundation. I loved the smug little nursery rhyme banter they exchanged, with Victoria saying, “The King sat in his counting house counting all his money,” and Conrad’s reply, “The queen sat in the parlor eating bread and boozing.” Their overconfidence was their weakness, because just next door Nolan and Emily plotted to use the Carrion program—capable of breaking through any firewall and never leaving a trace—to break into the Foundation’s bank account and spirit away all of Conrad and Victoria’s money once they’d placed it in there. I mean, things were looking really good for Emily and Nolan right now. He’d just mocked up a fake deed showing that the boat that dropped Jack off at the dock belongs to Kenny Ryan, to deflect attention from him. And now they were about to hit the Graysons in their most sensitive area: their pocketbooks.
But as soon as Nolan executed the program to begin the cyberheist, a green firewall popped up, looking all like a Matrix-style code waterfall, blocking their access. Yep, there’s another program out there even more powerful than Carrion. And right in the middle of it was a bird of prey with wings unfurled: the mark of The Falcon. Consider him the “Anonymous” the Revenge-verse. The Falcon was the legendary, but forever unidentified, hacker who the Graysons hired to alter their digital footprint and incriminate David Clarke for their own crimes all those years ago. He’s still active, working for Conrad and Victoria again, and making it impossible for Nolan to steal their money. This is the man who, perhaps more than anyone, made it possible for her father to take the fall. And this season just found its White-Haired Man. Taking him down will be another way of avenging her father and sticking it to the Graysons, or as Emily said about The Falcon to close the episode, “Let’s go hunting.”
What did you guys think of “Illumination”? Did you think it was a step in the right direction? Are Eli and The Falcon the villains we’ve been waiting for throughout all of Season 2? And is anyone else as excited as me that Mason Treadwell is returning next week? Wouldn’t it be awesome if he were The Falcon?
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
[Photo Credit: Richard Foreman/ABC]
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I really can’t help but wonder what the audition process was like for this season’s contestants. Do you think they just blindfolded and spun the casting folks around, and sent them out into the wild? And from there, do you think they just picked the first dillweeds they found? Do you think finding this many terrible dudes requires some sort of skill set? I’m not wholly convinced I couldn’t do this job from a seat at a Starbucks in Hollywood on a Tuesday. I’m just saying that it’s really not hard to tell by looking at a guy that they have a very thick neck — which is clearly the only requirement to be on this show.
Jokes! I’m kidding. I’m sure it is really exhausting to listen to a bunch of dudes talk about how they don’t want to be famous and how hard their gym routines are; I really don’t envy those casting folks’ job.
Anyway! We’ve returned to the enchanted world of Emily the Bravest — dutifully searching for love on yet another a television show, because finding love is not something that you can do without a camera crew following your every move. Natch.
So who will have the first one-on-one date? The dudes are all atwitter, imagining boning telling Emily all about their busy days and rubbing her feet while she sings a lullaby to Ricki. Ryan nabs the first date, and has more words from his pastor to guide him. Does everyone else get the heebies from this guy, or is it just because I’m a total jerk?
Ryan and Emily are off to their date. Emily is worried about how attractive Ryan is, because that’s a normal concern most people are faced with on a daily basis. Man, my date is TOO attractive! Life is hard. Ryan is already picturing their wedding because that’s totally what dudes usually do during their first dates, right? Right!
And what will this date be? A ride on an octopus while it spews fireworks from its tentacles? A plane ride around the world in 47 seconds while being serenaded by En Vogue?
Nope! Ryan is playing sous chef to The Snack Mom for the soccer team! Time to bake some cookies and pretend you’re totally not disappointed by the lack of glitz and excitement, Ryan. They make cookies and Emily eats some cookie dough because she’s just like us, you guys!
Now it’s time to deliver the treats. But will Ryan meet Princess Ricki? No no, for Emily is a protective mama hen — so protective of her daughter that she won’t introduce her to a random dude, but will have her videotaped and exploited on TV to millions of people. My dad died and my mom made out with a bunch of dudes on a reality TV show. Start lining up now, therapists of America — welcome to your jackpot!
On the dinner portion of their date/world’s saddest tourist advertisement for Charlotte, N.C., Emily is not afraid to ask the tough questions over dinner. Ms. Maynard wants to know what Ryan expects to do after the chase is over, after he’s “won” the girl. Because Emily isn’t a prize, guys. Only she, like, is? Like, really? Because it’s a competition show to win her heart? Wait, Harrison, can you re-explain this show to her please?
In any event, Ryan gets the rose and then they started talking Southern and completely lost me. Can someone translate?
Oh yeah, some band whose label paid a lot of money for this appearance played and Emily pretended that she really loved them. Nothing is more romantic than standing on a pedestal dancing to a band with 1,000 other people taking pictures of you. This is how love is found and made to last, you guys.
NEXT: The Rainbow ConnectionA bunch of dudes, including arch nemesis/stock characters MC D-Bag and Kalon, all learn they will be on the group date. Kalon — SHOCKINGLY ENOUGH — is totally comfortable on stage. Gee willikers no one saw that one coming!
Full disclosure: I have Kindergartener-levels of excitement for anything involving The Muppets because I am truly eight years old. Also, Miss Piggy is my spirit animal, even though I think this is a terrible phrase used by terrible people, but it also feels apt. Piggy is fierce as hell and no one should try and step to her. When I grow up I will be a combination of Miss Piggy, Dolly Parton, and Liza Minnelli — all while looking like Christina Hendricks. I’m a simple girl with simple goals.
Some dudes have to sing, some have to dance, and the third group is performing a comedy act. Because dudes making jokes always works out really well on this show!
Charlie looks like he’s going to vomit all over the floor. Oh, Charlie! I am sort of rooting for him in spite of his sob story — which, I know, may read as counterintuitive to most viewers. But, see, I’m a jerk and usually a sob story just makes me roll my eyes because I am cruel and heartless. But Charlie seems like he means well (even though he rallies the mean girls later in the episode to make fun of MC D-Bag, which I also can’t totally fault them for). He has a speech problem from his accident and he doesn’t think he can do the comedy bit because he is like a damaged flower. I love damaged flowers.
So here we are at the weird performance that is making The Muppets sad to me, which should actually require some sort of hail time for the producers of this show. MC D-Bag is, of course, so into it. The skill level of these dudes (and Emily, if we’re being honest) isn’t even community theater-worthy. Though Chris Harrison standing in for Waldorf with Statler was oddly fantastic.
Oh, Emily also performs "The Rainbow Connection" with Ricki because she likes to shield her daughter, you know. Also, let’s just have a moment for how fabulous Miss Piggy is, okay? She was (deservedly) the highlight of this segment to the surprise of no one.
Next up is the cocktail party. Gerard Butler’s Stand-In (a.k.a. Chris) is flattered by Emily calling him hot. Their connection is ~so real~ you guys.
Emily is mad that Jef is playing hard to get or isn’t paying enough attention to her. That’s because he’s too busy enjoying the candle ambiance/fire hazard that’s going on around him. I’m honestly surprised that Emily is into our token hipster, Jef. They talked about being awkward and apparently Jef thought that was the best thing ever. Somehow he manages the rose on this date? I’m still sort of scratching my head here. I’m not saying Jef is a terrible person (even though his name is clearly the worst), but these two just do not seem like a match. Gerard Butler’s Stand-In has done some hardcore analyzing on everyone’s interactions with Emily and deduced that Jef definitely didn’t deserve the rose tonight.
Also, can we just have a moment for Stevie? Sorry, I meant MC D-Bag. I just really dislike him. It is like 90 percent misplaced hatred, but it’s also pretty warranted in its own right. He’s dancing with her and smiling like he has that Majoria Dushebagia Syndrome I’ve heard so much about. All the other dudes are making fun of him because he’s the worst, and go into weird tween mean girl mode. Kalon decides its GAME TIME (because the producers told him to, because they like to stoke the good fires) and cuts in, infuriating our fair MC. (Also, can we have a moment for the eye daggers Kalon throws at Aaron when Aaron takes over? So sleazy. Kalon gets all butthurt about it and complains to the other dudes, because they care. No they don’t.) They don’t like each other, and it’s just so shocking, you know?
NEXT: Rolling in the briar patchJoe is off to his one-on-one with Emily, and you know when Ryan hears there was a private jet involved, he’s going to be really TO’d. The downside, is, of course, that they have to use that private jet to go to West Virginia. But they’re heading to The Greenbriar, which is a fancypants resort Emily used to go to as a child.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the dudes talk about becoming a father to Ricki. It’s a big deal, bro. Kalon thinks Doug put being a dad on hold to be on a reality show and Doug bugs out. Whiiiiiich… I mean… I don’t want to side with Kalon on anything, ever, but he’s sort of right? Like, come on dude, being on a reality show to win a pretty girl’s heart for forever five minutes is not the same sort of commitment to your child that, say, staying at home with him and hopefully meeting a nice lady at the neighborhood bake sale is, ya dig?
Back to the briar patch — Joe wants to be happy. He’s ready to move wherever Emily wants to. Emily wants to know what that means and if it means more babies for her, because OMG BABIES! Chris Harrison’s words rattle within her brain, so she refrains from unleashing the full terror of her baby obsession.
Emily doesn’t feel butterflies and in a last-ditch effort, uses The Love Clock to see if her relationship with Joe will “stand the test of time.” This is actually an enchanted clock that Emily cast a spell over. It might also be a horcrux. By placing his dedication to love in the clock, Emily sees her future, and does not include Joe. BANISH YOURSELF, Joe!
Emily starts crying (contractually obligated) because she didn’t see herself in Joe’s life. I really have no idea what she means by that since Joe kept saying that he wanted his life to be whatever she wanted. I think he was just too nice and she didn’t want to bone him. And a bunch of fireworks go off as he is rolled away! Insult, meet injury.
Arie is first to grab her at the cocktail party and I don’t even recognize his face; is that just me? He seems super endearing and normal though. I dig him.
Tony is still bugging because the only thing he’s done for the past two hours is freak out and not spoken to Emily, so he is off to interrupt Ryan’s time with Ms. Maynard. However, Ryan had just given Emily a letter that she reads aloud. Forever. Tony just stands there, awkwardly. Oh so awkwardly.
It should be noted that Kalon is sad that being an a**hole has made him look like a a**hole on national television. Boo-hoo!
Emily wants to know why Kalon hates women. Whoops — does he hate women? He doesn’t hate women; he just thinks all 26-year-olds are basically giant balls of idiot powder, dipped in lip-gloss. He feels mentally refreshed by using all of his SAT vocab words.
Now we have to send two dudes home! So many decisions to be made! Sorry, teacher with the weird hipster glasses (Aaron) and Sad Ed Norton (Kyle). Long Beach has left Charlotte.
And that’s all there is, folks! Now the only questions we have left are: who do you think will win in a fight — MC D-Bag or Kalon? When will we see Ricki’s tell-all optioned? Can the necks on this show possibly get any bigger? Tune in next week!
Follow Alicia on Twitter @alicialutes
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Last year director Garry Marshall hit upon a devilishly canny approach to the romantic comedy. A more polished refinement of Hal Needham’s experimental Cannonball Run method it called for assembling a gaggle of famous faces from across the demographic spectrum and pairing them with a shallow day-in-the-life narrative packed with gobs of gooey sentiment. A cynical strategy to be sure but one that paid handsome dividends: Valentine’s Day earned over $56 million in its opening weekend surpassing even the rosiest of forecasts. Buoyed by the success Marshall and his screenwriter Katherine Fugate hastily retreated to the bowels of Hades to apply their lucrative formula to another holiday historically steeped in romantic significance and New Year’s Eve was born.
Set in Manhattan on the last day of the year New Year’s Eve crams together a dozen or so canned scenarios into one bloated barely coherent mass of cliches. As before Marshall’s recruited an impressive ensemble of minions to do his unholy bidding including Oscar winners Hilary Swank Halle Berry and Robert De Niro the latter luxuriating in a role that didn’t require him to get out of bed. High School Musical’s Zac Efron is paired up with ‘80s icon Michelle Pfeiffer – giving teenage girls and their fathers something to bond over – while Glee’s Lea Michele meets cute with a pajama-clad Ashton Kutcher. There’s Katherine Heigl in a familiar jilted-fiance role Sarah Jessica Parker as a fretful single mom and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges as the most laid-back cop in New York. Sofia Vergara and Hector Elizondo mine for cheap laughs with thick accents – his fake and hers real – and Jessica Biel and Josh Duhamel deftly mix beauty with blandness. Fans of awful music will delight in the sounds of Jon Bon Jovi straining against type to play a relevant pop musician.
The task of interweaving the various storylines is too great for Marshall and New Year’s Eve bears the distinct scent and stain of an editing-room bloodbath with plot holes so gaping that not even the brightest of celebrity smiles can obscure them. But that’s not the point – it never was. You should know better than to expect logic from a film that portrays 24-year-old Efron and 46-year-old Parker as brother-and-sister without bothering to explain how such an apparent scientific miracle might have come to pass. Marshall wagers that by the time the ball drops and the film’s last melodramatic sequence has ended prior transgressions will be absolved and moviegoers will be content to bask in New Year's Eve's artificial glow. The gambit worked for Valentine's Day; this time he may not be so fortunate.