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.
If you had to choose between Girls, Game of Thrones, and Homeland, which one would you say is your favorite show? We know, this is tough question. The shows are all equally entertaining, but in very different ways. These and other series have been pitted against each other in the 2013 Arqiva British Academy Television Awards (put out by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts) international category. Up against Danish/Swedish crime drama The Bridge, only one of these four shows can come out the winner. Which one will it be?
See the full list of 2013 BAFTA Television nominees below.
2013 BAFTA TV Nominees:
LEADING ACTOR:Ben Whishaw, Richard II (The Hollow Crown)Derek Jacobi, Last Tango In Halifax Sean Bean, Accused (Tracie’s Story)Toby Jones, The Girl
LEADING ACTRESS:Anne Reid, Last Tango In Halifax Rebecca Hall, Parade’s End Sheridan Smith, Mrs Biggs Sienna Miller, The Girl
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Peter Capaldi, The Hour Stephen Graham, Accused (Tracie’s Story) Harry Lloyd, The Fear Simon Russell Beale, Henry IV Part 2 (The Hollow Crown)
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Anastasia Hille, The Fear Imelda Staunton, The Girl Olivia Colman, Accused (Mo’s Story) Sarah Lancashire, Last Tango In Halifax
ENTERTAINMENT PERFORMANCE:Alan Carr, Alan Carr: Chatty Man Ant and Dec, I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!Graham Norton, The Graham Norton Show Sarah Millican, The Sarah Millican Show
FEMALE PERFORMANCE IN A COMEDY PROGRAM:Jessica Hynes, Twenty Twelve Julia Davis, HunderbyMiranda Hart, Miranda Olivia Colman, Twenty Twelve
MALE PERFORMANCE IN A COMEDY PROGRAM:Greg Davies, Cuckoo Hugh Bonneville, Twenty Twelve PeterCapaldi, The Thick Of It Steve Coogan, Welcome To The Places Of My Life
SINGLE DRAMA :Everyday, Revolution Films/Channel 4 The Girl, Wall to Wall/BBC Two Murder, Touchpaper TV/BBC Two Richard II(Hollow Crown), Neal Street Productions co-production with NBC Universal and WNET Thirteen/BBC Two
MINI-SERIES:Accused, RSJ Films/BBC One Mrs Biggs, ITV Studios/ITV Parade’s End, Mammoth Screen/BBC Two Room At The Top, Great Meadow Productions/BBC Four
DRAMA SERIES:Last Tango In Halifax, Red Production Company/BBC One Ripper Street, Tiger Aspect Productions/BBC One Scott And Bailey, Red Production Company/ITV Silk, BBC Productions/BBC One
SOAP & CONTINUING DRAMA: Coronation Street EastEnders Emmerdale Shameless
INTERNATIONAL:The BridgeGame of ThronesGirlsHomeland
FACTUAL SERIES:24 Hours In A&E, Garden Productions/Channel 4Great Ormond Street, Films of Record/BBC TwoMake Bradford British, Love Productions/Channel 4Our War, BBC Productions/BBC Three
SPECIALIST FACTUAL:All In The Best Possible Taste With Grayson Perry, Seneca Productions/Channel 4The Plane Crash, Dragonfly Productions, MAP TV/Channel 4The Plot To Bring Down Britain’s Planes, Raw TV/Channel 4The Secret History Of Our Streets, Century Films, Halcyons Heart Films/BBC Two
SINGLE DOCUMENTARY:7/7: One Day In London, Minnow Films/BBC TwoBaka: A Cry From The Rainforest, River Films/BBC TwoLucian Freud: Painted Life, Blakeway Productions/BBC TwoNina Conti – A Ventriloquist’s Story: Her Master’s Voice, Nina Conti in association with the BBC/BBC Four
FEATURESBank Of Dave, Finestripe Productions/Channel 4Grand Designs, Boundless/Channel 4The Great British Bake Off, Love Productions/BBC TwoPaul O’Grady: For The Love Of Dogs, Shiver/ITV
REALITY & CONSTRUCTED FACTUAL:The Audience, The Garden Productions/Channel 4I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!, ITV Studios/ITVMade In Chelsea, Monkey Kingdom/E4The Young Apprentice, Boundless Productions/BBC One
CURRENT AFFAIRS:Britain’s Hidden Housing Crisis(Panorama Special), Genie Pictures Ltd/BBC OneThe Other Side Of Jimmy Savile(Exposure), ITV Studios/ITVThe Shame Of The Catholic Church(This World), BBC Northern Ireland/BBC TwoWhat Killed Arafat?(Al Jazeera Investigates), Al Jazeera English/Al Jazeera English
NEWS COVERAGE:BBC News At Ten: Syria, BBC News/BBC One & BBC News ChannelChannel 4 News: Battle For Homs, ITN/Channel 4Hillsborough – The Truth At Last(Granada Reports), ITV Granada/ITV
SPORT & LIVE EVENT:The London 2012 Olympics: Super Saturday, BBC Sport/BBC OneThe London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony: Isle Of Wonder, Done & Dusted/BBC OneThe London 2012 Paralympic Games, Sunset & Vine, IMG/Channel 4Wimbledon 2012 – Men’s Final, BBC Sport/BBC One
ENTERTAINMENT PROGRAM:Dynamo Magician Impossible, Phil McIntyre Entertainment, Inner Circle Films/WatchThe Graham Norton Show, So Television/BBC OneHave I Got News For You, Hat Trick Productions/BBC OneA League Of Their Own, CPL Productions/Sky One
COMEDY PROGRAM:Cardinal Burns, Left Bank Pictures/E4Mr Stink, BBC Productions in association with Bert Productions/BBC OneThe Revolution Will Be Televised, Hat Trick Productions/BBC ThreeWelcome To The Places Of My Life, Baby Cow/Sky Atlantic
SITUATION COMEDY: Episodes, Hat Trick Productions/BBC TwoHunderby, Baby Cow/Sky Atlantic The Thick Of It, BBC Productions/BBC Two Twenty Twelve, BBC Productions/BBC Two
Follow Lindsey on Twitter @LDiMat.
MORE:BAFTA Nominations 2012 Homeland Teaser: 5 Questions We Need Answered Making A Case for Homeland
David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas consists of six stories set in various periods between 1850 and a time far into Earth's post-apocalyptic future. Each segment lives on its own the previous first person account picked up and read by a character in its successor creating connective tissue between each moment in time. The various stories remain intact for Tom Tykwer's (Run Lola Run) Lana Wachowski's and Andy Wachowski's (The Matrix) film adaptation which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. The massive change comes from the interweaving of the book's parts into one three-hour saga — a move that elevates the material and transforms Cloud Atlas in to a work of epic proportions.
Don't be turned off by the runtime — Cloud Atlas moves at lightning pace as it cuts back and forth between its various threads: an American notary sailing the Pacific; a budding musician tasked with transcribing the hummings of an accomplished 1930's composer; a '70s-era investigatory journalist who uncovers a nefarious plot tied to the local nuclear power plant; a book publisher in 2012 who goes on the run from gangsters only to be incarcerated in a nursing home; Sonmi~451 a clone in Neo Seoul who takes on the oppressive government that enslaves her; and a primitive human from the future who teams with one of the few remaining technologically-advanced Earthlings in order to survive. Dense but so was the unfamiliar world of The Matrix. Cloud Atlas has more moving parts than the Wachowskis' seminal sci-fi flick but with additional ambition to boot. Every second is a sight to behold.
The members of the directing trio are known for their visual prowess but Cloud Atlas is a movie about juxtaposition. The art of editing is normally a seamless one — unless someone is really into the craft the cutting of a film is rarely a post-viewing talking point — but Cloud Atlas turns the editor into one of the cast members an obvious player who ties the film together with brilliant cross-cutting and overlapping dialogue. Timothy Cavendish the elderly publisher could be musing on his need to escape and the film will wander to the events of Sonmi~451 or the tortured music apprentice Robert Frobisher also feeling the impulse to run. The details of each world seep into one another but the real joy comes from watching each carefully selected scene fall into place. You never feel lost in Cloud Atlas even when Tykwer and the Wachowskis have infused three action sequences — a gritty car chase in the '70s a kinetic chase through Neo Seoul and a foot race through the forests of future millennia — into one extended set piece. This is a unified film with distinct parts echoing the themes of human interconnectivity.
The biggest treat is watching Cloud Atlas' ensemble tackle the diverse array of characters sprinkled into the stories. No film in recent memory has afforded a cast this type of opportunity yet another form of juxtaposition that wows. Within a few seconds Tom Hanks will go from near-neanderthal to British gangster to wily 19th century doctor. Halle Berry Hugh Grant Jim Sturgess Jim Broadbent Ben Whishaw Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon play the same game taking on roles of different sexes races and the like. (Weaving as an evil nurse returning to his Priscilla Queen of the Desert cross-dressing roots is mind-blowing.) The cast's dedication to inhabiting their roles on every level helps us quickly understand the worlds. We know it's Halle Berry behind the fair skinned wife of the lunatic composer but she's never playing Halle Berry. Even when the actors are playing variations on themselves they're glowing with the film's overall epic feel. Jim Broadbent's wickedly funny modern segment a Tykwer creation that packs a particularly German sense of humor is on a smaller scale than the rest of the film but the actor never dials it down. Every story character and scene in Cloud Atlas commits to a style. That diversity keeps the swirling maelstrom of a movie in check.
Cloud Atlas poses big questions without losing track of its human element the characters at the heart of each story. A slower moment or two may have helped the Wachowskis' and Tykwer's film to hit a powerful emotional chord but the finished product still proves mainstream movies can ask questions while laying over explosive action scenes. This year there won't be a bigger movie in terms of scope in terms of ideas and in terms of heart than Cloud Atlas.
Widening the thematic scope without sacrificing too much of the claustrophobia that made the original 1979 Alien universally spooky Prometheus takes the trophy for this summer's most adult-oriented blockbuster entertainment. The movie will leave your mouth agape for its entire runtime first with its majestic exploration of an alien planet and conjectures on the origins of the human race second with its gross-out body horror that leaves no spilled gut to the imagination. Thin characters feel more like pawns in Scott's sci-fi prequel but stunning visuals shocking turns and grand questions more than make up for the shallow ensemble. "Epic" comes in many forms. Prometheus sports all of them.
Based on their discovery of a series of cave drawings all sharing a similar painted design Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) are recruited by Weyland to head a mission to another planet one they believe holds the answers to the creation of life on Earth. Along for the journey are Vickers (Charlize Theron) the ruthless Weyland proxy Janek (Idris Elba) a blue collar captain a slew of faceless scientists and David (Michael Fassbender) HAL 9000-esque resident android who awakens the crew of spaceship Prometheus when they arrive to their destination. Immediately upon descent there's a discovery: a giant mound that's anything but natural. The crew immediately prepares to scope out the scene zipping up high-tech spacesuits jumping in futuristic humvees and heading out to the site. What they discover are the awe-inspiring creations of another race. What they bring back to the ship is what they realize may kill their own.
The first half of Prometheus could be easily mistaken for Steven Spielberg's Alien a sense of wonder glowing from every frame not too unlike Close Encounters. Scott takes full advantage of his fictional settings and imbues them with a reality that makes them even more tantalizing. He shoots the vistas of space and the alien planet like National Geographic porn and savors the interior moments on board the Prometheus full of hologram maps sleeping pods and do-it-yourself surgery modules with the same attention. Prometheus is beautiful shot in immersive 3D that never dampers Dariusz Wolski's sharp photography. Scott's direction seems less interested in the run-or-die scenario set up in the latter half of the film but the film maintains tension and mood from beginning to end. It all just gets a bit…bloodier.
Jon Spaihts' and Damon Lindelof's script doesn't do the performers any favors shuffling them to and fro between the ship and the alien construction without much room for development. Reveals are shoehorned in without much setup (one involving Theron's Vickers that's shockingly mishandled) but for the most part the ensemble is ready to chomp into the script's bigger picture conceits. Rapace is a physical performer capable of pulling off a grisly scene involving an alien some sharp objects and a painful procedure (sure to be the scene of the blockbuster season. Among the rest of the crew Fassbender's David stands out as the film's revelatory performance delivering a digestible ambiguity to his mechanical man that playfully toys with expectations from his first entrance. The creature effects in Prometheus will wow you but even Fassbender's smallest gesture can send the mind spinning. The power of his smile packs more of a punch than any facehugger.
Much like Lindelof's Lost Prometheus aims to explore the idea of asking questions and seeking answers and on Scott's scale it's a tremendous unexpected ride. A few ideas introduced to spur action fall to the way side in the logic department but with a clear mission and end point Prometheus works as a sweeping sci-fi that doesn't require choppy editing or endless explosions to keep us on the edge of our seats. Prometheus isn't too far off from the Alien xenomorphs: born from existing DNA of another creature the movie breaks out as its own beast. And it's wilder than ever.
In This Means War – a stylish action/rom-com hybrid from director McG – Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) and Chris Pine (Star Trek) star as CIA operatives whose close friendship is strained by the fires of romantic rivalry. Best pals FDR (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) are equally accomplished at the spy game but their fortunes diverge dramatically in the dating realm: FDR (so nicknamed for his obvious resemblance to our 32nd president) is a smooth-talking player with an endless string of conquests while Tuck is a straight-laced introvert whose love life has stalled since his divorce. Enter Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) a pretty plucky consumer-products evaluator who piques both their interests in separate unrelated encounters. Tuck meets her via an online-dating site FDR at a video-rental store. (That Lauren is tech-savvy enough to date online but still rents movies in video stores is either a testament to her fascinating mix of contradictions or more likely an example of lazy screenwriting.)
When Tuck and FDR realize they’re pursuing the same girl it sparks their respective competitive natures and they decide to make a friendly game of it. But what begins as a good-natured rivalry swiftly devolves into romantic bloodsport with both men using the vast array of espionage tools at their disposal – from digital surveillance to poison darts – to gain an edge in the battle for Lauren’s affections. If her constitutional rights happen to be violated repeatedly in the process then so be it.
Lauren for her part remains oblivious to the clandestine machinations of her dueling suitors and happily basks in the sudden attention from two gorgeous men. Herein we find the Reese Witherspoon Dilemma: While certainly desirable Lauren is far from the irresistible Helen of Troy type that would inspire the likes of Tuck and FDR to risk their friendship their careers and potential incarceration for. At several points in This Means War I found myself wondering if there were no other peppy blondes in Los Angeles (where the film is primarily set) for these men to pursue. Then again this is a film that wishes us to believe that Tom Hardy would have trouble finding a date so perhaps plausibility is not its strong point.
When Lauren needs advice she looks to her boozy foul-mouthed best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler). Essentially an extension of Handler’s talk-show persona – an acquired taste if there ever was one – Trish’s dialogue consists almost exclusively of filthy one-liners delivered in rapid-fire succession. Handler does have some choice lines – indeed they’re practically the centerpiece of This Means War’s ad campaign – but the film derives the bulk of its humor from the outrageous lengths Tuck and FDR go to sabotage each others’ efforts a raucous game of spy-versus-spy that carries the film long after Handler’s shtick has grown stale.
Business occasionally intrudes upon matters in the guise of Heinrich (Til Schweiger) a Teutonic arms dealer bent on revenge for the death of his brother. The subplot is largely an afterthought existing primarily as a means to provide third-act fireworks – and to allow McGenius an outlet for his ADD-inspired aesthetic proclivities. The film’s action scenes are edited in such a manic quick-cut fashion that they become almost laughably incoherent. In fairness to McG he does stage a rather marvelous sequence in the middle of the film in which Tuck and FDR surreptitiously skulk about Lauren's apartment unaware of each other's presence carefully avoiding detection by Lauren who grooves absentmindedly to Montel Jordan's "This Is How We Do It." The whole scene unfolds in one continuous take – or is at least craftily constructed to appear as such – captured by one very agile steadicam operator.
Whatever his flaws as a director McG is at least smart enough to know how much a witty script and appealing leads can compensate for a film’s structural and logical deficiencies. He proved as much with Charlie’s Angels a film that enjoys a permanent spot on many a critic’s Guilty Pleasures list and does so again with This Means War. The film coasts on the chemistry of its three co-stars and only runs into trouble when the time comes to resolve its romantic competition which by the end has driven its male protagonists to engage in all manner of underhanded and duplicitous activities. This Means War being a commercial film – and likely an expensive one at that – Witherspoon's heroine is mandated to make a choice and McG all but sidesteps the whole thorny matter of Tuck and FDR’s unwavering dishonesty not to mention their craven disregard for her privacy. (They regularly eavesdrop on her activities.) For all their obvious charms the truth is that neither deserves Lauren – or anything other than a lengthy jail sentence for that matter.
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Love Never Dies looked set to dominate the prizegiving after landing the most nods, but it was overlooked in every category and beaten to the Best New Musical trophy by the stage adaptation of Legally Blonde.
The star of the West End show, Sheridan Smith, danced away with Best Musical Actress for her portrayal of sorority queen Elle Woods - the role played by Reese Witherspoon in the 2001 comedy - while her co-star Jill Halfpenny took Best Supporting Role in a Musical.
A production of Terence Rattigan satire After the Dance took home the most prizes with a tally of four, including Best Revival and acting nods for Nancy Carroll and supporting actor Adrian Scarborough.
Stephen Sondheim's Into The Woods was named Best Musical Revival, while Queen musical We Will Rock You landed the BBC Radio 2 audience award.
Other winners included David Thaxton (Best Actor in a Musical for Passion) and Howard Davies (Best Director for The White Guard), and race relations show Clybourne Park claimed Best New Play.
The Laurence Olivier Awards celebrate the best of the year's West End shows.