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.
At some point in the early years of the 21st century a bunch of Hollywood executives must have gotten together and decided that animated films should be made for all audiences. The goal was perhaps to make movies that are simultaneously accessible to the older and younger sets with colorful imagery that one expects from children’s films and two levels of humor: one that’s quite literal and harmless and another that’s somewhat subversive. The criteria has resulted in cross-generational hits like Wall-E and Madagascar and though it’s nice to be able to take my nephew to the movies and be as entertained by cartoon characters as he is I can’t help but wonder what happened to unabashedly innocent animated classics like A Goofy Movie and The Land Before Time?
Disney’s Winnie The Pooh is the answer to the Shrek’s and Hoodwinked!’s of the world: a short sweet simple and lighthearted tale of friendship that doesn’t need pop-culture references or snarky dialogue to put a smile on your face. Directors Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall found some fresh ways to deliver adorable animation while keeping the carefree spirit of A.A. Milne’s source material in tact. Their story isn’t the most original; the first part of the film finds Pooh Piglet Tigger and Owl searching for Eeyore’s tail (a common plot point in the books and past Pooh films) and hits all the predictable notes but the second half mixes things up a bit as the crew searches for a missing Christopher Robin whom they believe has been kidnapped by a forest creature known as the “Backson” (it’s really just the result of the illiterate Owl or is it?).
The beauty of hand-drawn animation all but forgotten until recently is what makes Winnie the Pooh so incredibly magnetic. There’s an inexplicable crispness to the colors and characters that CG just can’t duplicate. It’s a more personal practice for the filmmakers and should provide a refreshing experience for audiences who have become jaded with the pristine presentation of computerized imagery. The film is bookended by brief live-action shots from inside Robin’s room an interesting dynamic that plays up the simplicity of youth ties it to these beloved characters and brings you right back to memories of your own childhood.
With a just-over-an-hour run time Winnie the Pooh is short enough to hold the attention of children but won’t bore the parents who will love the film mainly for nostalgic musings. Still it’s the young’uns who will most enjoy this breezy bright and enchanting film that proves old-school characters can appeal to new moviegoers.
Clint Eastwood and Oscar-winning writer Brian Helgeland will team up on an adaptation of the best-selling novel, Mystic River, for Warner Bros.
The novel, now in its ninth week on the top 10 New York Times bestseller list, follows three childhood friends whose relationship breaks apart after a tragic incident. They are brought back together 25 years later when they are all linked to a murder investigation.
Eastwood and Helgeland also are collaborating on another Warner Bros. project, the mystery/thriller Blood Work, an adaptation of a novel by Michael Connelly. Eastwood is set to produce, star and direct from Helgeland's screenplay.
Academy Award-winning scribe Helgeland (L.A. Confidential) wrote and directed the upcoming A Knight's Tale with Heath Ledger. Eastwood directed last year's hit Space Cowboys.
Tatum O'Neal is a "Scoundrel"
Making a comeback after more than a 10-year absence, Oscar-winning actress Tatum O'Neal (Paper Moon) will star opposite Tim Curry (Charlie's Angels), Julian Sands and Lacey Chabert (Party of Five) in The Scoundrel's Wife, an independent project.
Set in Louisiana in 1942, a young widow (O'Neal) is suspected of helping the Germans in a small bayou town, after the German U-boats have sunk American ships.
O'Neal, divorced from ex-husband John McEnroe, returns after spending the last decade raising their children.
Hoop dreams for Lil' Bow Wow
Fourteen-year-old double platinum rap singer Lil' Bow Wow will get his feature film debut in Like Mike for 20th Century Fox.
Lil' Bow Wow will play a kid who finds a pair of magical sneakers worn by basketball superstar Michael Jordan. Suddenly, the teen is transformed into a NBA hero.
Written by Michael Elliot, the story was inspired by Lil' Bow Wow, whom Elliot met on the set of MTV's seriesHip Hopera.
"He loves basketball, loves Michael Jordan, and he's an exceptional basketball player" Elliot told Variety.
"It's every kid's dream to play in the NBA, and it's not like Big, where he becomes a man. In this case, it's more fun if he stays a kid."
Lowe gets "Framed"
Rob Lowe, hot off his acclaimed role as deputy communications director in the hit NBC drama series The West Wing, will star in the TNT original movie Framed, based on a BBC miniseries of the same name.
Lowe will play a New York detective who takes a key member of a money-laundering scheme into custody and prepares him to testify in court. Things gets complicated as the detective's strong ethical code is placed in jeopardy when the witness offers him millions of dollars to help him escape.
The film will be directed by Daniel Petrie Jr. (Toy Soldiers) and executive produced by David Brown (Along Came a Spider) and Kit Golden (Chocolat).
Foley is a "Fuddy" Duddy
NewsRadio star Dave Foley has signed to star in Fox's comedy pilot, What's Up, Peter Fuddy?, with David Steinberg set to direct and co-written by Emmy winner Jay Kogen (Frasier).
The show's premise is Truman Show-esque: a Nightline-style news show follows the daily activities of an insurance adjuster Fuddy (Foley), who is forced to appear on the show to defend his actions.
Foley re-teams with Steinberg and Kogen after working together on the comedy The Wrong Guy. The feature was never released but it won the best screenplay award at the 1999 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival.
The pilot also stars Jamie Denbo (Lost Souls), as Fuddy's wife, and Craig Anton (The Army Show), as Fuddy's next-door neighbor.
"MiB2"'s villainous Janssen
The X-Men's heroine Famke Janssen is in negotiations to play the villainous vamp in Columbia Pictures' Men In Black 2 for director Barry Sonnenfeld.
Production is scheduled to start in June. Although the plot is under wraps, most of the original film's stars will be in the sequel, including Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones as agents J and K, respectively. Janssen will play bad bombshell Serleena and Johnny Knoxville (MTV's Jackass) will be featured as a two-headed alien. The cast also includes Rosario Dawson (Josie and the Pussycats) as Smith's love interest.
"Annie" and Reba: together again
Country superstar Reba McEntire will reprise her role as Annie Oakley in a CBS-TV movie version of Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun.
Currently starring in the Broadway smash hit, McEntire is a perfect choice to play Annie for the CBS movie, producer Howard Braunstein told Variety. She also will executive produce the film.
Currently in development, the movie could air by the February sweeps, depending on the potential strikes. McEntire will continue with the Broadway production through May 27. She's concurrently starring in an untitled comedy pilot for the WB Network.
"Crouching Tiger" creates Chinese boom
Hot off the tremendous success of Ang Lee's Oscar-winning film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, co-production partner Columbia Pictures Film Production (an offshoot of Sony Pictures Entertainment) has announced plans for four pictures to go into production in 2001.
First up is Big Shot's Funeral, a comical film about a world-famous director who comes to China to make an epic about the last emperor of the Qing Dynasty (can anyone say The Last Emperor?). It will star Donald Sutherland, Ge You and Rosamund Kwan and directed by Feng Xiaogang. It will be shot in English and Chinese.
Next is another Chinese/English film, a mystery, called Double Vision starring Tony Leung, Ka Fai and David Morse (The Green Mile). The film followed the hunt for a serial killer by a determined Taiwanese police detective and an American FBI expert.
Third is an untitled action flick directed by Corey Yuen, who choreographed The X-Men and Romeo Must Die. The film will kicked it up with technological wizardry while centering on family bonds. Finally, set for production later this year is Heroes of Heaven and Earth, a Chinese-language adventure epic to be directed by He Ping and starring Jiang Wen.
Miramax wants in the "Know"
Miramax Films is negotiating to handle the North American distributions rights for Al Pacino's next film, People I Know.
The film, already in production and co-starring Kim Basinger, Tea Leoni and Ryan O'Neal, is about a New York press agent who gets into the corrupt world of politics, celebrity and illegal drugs. O'Neal plays a client, a famous actor, who is embroiled in a scandal that hurts his plans to become a senator.
Pesci as The Bull
Mafia hitman Sammy "The Bull" Gravano, to be exact.
Oscar-winner Joe Pesci is in negotiations to play the mobster for New Regency Productions. Gravano left the federal witness protection plan to go into partnership with a band of wealthy suburban kids selling ecstasy.
The film, tentatively titled Sammy the Bull, will only have Pesci's involvement if it is released as a feature film. Originally, New Regency was developing the project as a television movie.
"Bridget Jones" part II
Working Title Films, producer of the recent box office hit Bridget Jones's Diary, is already considering a sequel.
Based on Helen Fielding popular novel series, Working Title has optioned her second book Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason and is negotiating with her for the screenplay.
The producers of other hits, such as Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill, have never previously made a sequel, "but when you get numbers like this, you've got to think about it," Working Title co-chairman Eric Fellner told Variety.
It is still undetermined whether Renee Zellweger will reprise her role, as well as Hugh Grant, whose smarmy character is not in the second novel.