Warner Bros Pictures via Everett Collection
Even without having read Mark Helprin's novel Winter's Tale, I have the unshakable feeling that Akiva Goldsman's film adaptation does not do the story justice. Speckled throughout the moreover colorless movie are hints of an intriguing idea — a fantasy epic about an angel-demon bureaucracy coexisting with the human race throughout the span of 20th century New York City, operating within the parameters of a didactic miracle-granting system — an idea that doesn't come close to its full potential. In 118 minutes, we barely scratch the surface of the world in which an apparently immortal Colin Farrell finds himself. We see him cavort with Russell Crowe, a malicious gang-leader with netherworld origins, seek guidance from a mystical Pegasus, and carry out his destiny as the savior to a mysterious red-haired girl. But we never truly understand why any of this is happening. Not that it gets particularly confusing; on a plot level, it's all quite simple. But that's the problem — it shouldn't be.
The central conceit of the film is that everyone is put on this Earth with a divine "mission" to uphold. Farrell's gives us the narrative of Winter's Tale, introducing the various rules and officers of the supernatural regime along the way. Abandoned as a baby and brought up under the criminal regime of a Manhattanite from Hell (Crowe), Farrell ascends from orphan to petty thief to horse whispering renegade to whimsical lover of a dying Jessica Brown Findlay to ageless messiah... all without much clarity on the nature of the story (or stories) he's occupying, save for two ham-fisted scenes of exposition — one with Graham Greene (not the dead author) and one with Jennifer Connelly, who shows up halfway through the movie for some reason.
Warner Bros Pictures via Everett Collection
The world that Farrell is woven into has so many bright spots: we're on board for miracle quests, a magic-laden New York City, flying horses, and one of the biggest stars in Hollywood giving a cameo as the epitome of evil. Everything we see is fun, but it all flutters away as quickly as it arrives. We don't want quick bites of the way angels and demons do business with one another on the streets of Manhattan, we want the whole meal. A more thorough exploration of Helprin's world wouldn't just be doubly as interesting as the thin alternative we're offered in Goldsman's adaptation, it'd also fill in all the comprehensive gaps in Farrell's emotional throughline
We don't really understand so much of what happens to Farrell. Even when we're offered tangible explanations, we have no reason to understand why the Winter's Tale world works in such a way that Farrell might survive a 300-foot fall, develop amnesia, or sustain youth for a full century. What's more, we don't understand why Farrell's tale as a cog in this mystical machine is any more important than anyone else's. Or, if it's not, and we're simply asked to watch him carry out his quest as a glimpse into the vast, enigmatic system that Winter's Tale is ostensibly founded upon, we ... we don't understand enough of that world itself.
Warner Bros Pictures via Everett Collection
We're never invited close enough to any of the movie's attractive features for them to matter. So even when the movie does offer entertaining bits — in its fantastical elements, its detail of New Yorks old and new, or Farrell's admittedly charming romance with Findlay — we're not engaged enough to really connect with any of them.
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Still, the flying horse is pretty cool.
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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.
It's the biggest night in television. But will it be the most surprising one? Turns out, not quite. Though there were a few shockers during Sunday's 64th annual Emmy Awards — for instance, Homeland's Damian Lewis wins over Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston — ABC's Modern Family was, per usual, the belle of the ball with four Emmys, including Outstanding Comedy series. Other big winners of the evening? Showtime's Homeland — which also picked up four wins, including Outstanding Drama — HBO's Game Change — which won four awards, including Best Miniseries or Movie — and Louis C.K., who won Outstanding Writing for his FX darling Louie and Outstanding Writing in a Variety, Music, or Comedy Special for Louis C.K. Live at the Beacon Theater.
Who else walked home with a gold statue? See the complete winners list below and be sure to check out our Emmys hub for all breaking news, interviews, and features surrounding the 2012 Emmys!
Outstanding Drama Series
Game of Thrones
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series Ed O'Neill, Modern Family Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Modern Family Ty Burrell, Modern Family Winner: Eric Stonestreet, Modern Family Bill Hader, Saturday Night Live Max Greenfield, New Girl
Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series
Winner: Louis C.K., Louie
Lena Dunham, Girls
Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation
Michael Schur, Parks and Recreation
Chris McKenna, Community
Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series
Winner: Steve Levitan, Modern Family
Robert B. Weide, Curb Your Enthusiasm Lena Dunham, Girls Louis C.K., Duckling Jason Winer, Modern Family Jake Kasdan, New Girl
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series Mayim Bialik, The Big Bang Theory Merritt Wever, Nurse Jackie Winner: Julie Bowen, Modern Family Kristen Wiig, Saturday Night Live Sofia Vergara, Modern Family Kathryn Joosten, Desperate Housewives
Outstanding Comedy Series The Big Bang Theory Curb Your Enthusiasm Girls Winner: Modern Family 30 Rock Veep
Lead Actress in a Comedy Series Zooey Deschanel, New Girl Lena Dunham, Girls Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie Tina Fey, 30 Rock Winner: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep Melissa McCarthy, Mike & Molly Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation
Lead Actor in a Comedy Series Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock Don Cheadle, House of Lies Louis C.K., Louie Winner: Jon Cryer, Two and a Half Men Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory
Outstanding Made for TV Movie/Miniseries American Horror Story Winner: Game Change Hatfields & McCoys Hemingway and Gellhorn Luther Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia
Leading Actor in a Made for TV Movie/Miniseries Woody Harrelson, Game Change Clive Owen, Hemingway & Gellhorn Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia Idris Elba, Luther Winner: Kevin Costner, Hatfields & McCoys Bill Paxton, Hatfields & McCoys
Lead Actress in a Made for TV Movie/Miniseries Winner: Julianne Moore, Game Change Connie Britton, American Horror Story Nicole Kidman, Hemingway & Gellhorn Emma Thompson, The Song of Lunch Ashley Judd, Missing Outstanding Reality-Competition Program Winner: The Amazing Race Dancing With the Stars Project Runway So You Think You Can Dance Top Chef The Voice Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality-Competition Program Winner: Tom Bergeron, Dancing With The Stars Cat Deeley, So You Think You Can Dance Phil Keoghan, The Amazing Race Ryan Seacrest, American Idol Betty White, Betty White's Off Their Rockers Outstanding Reality Program Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution MythBusters Antiques Roadshow Shark Tank Winner: Undercover Boss Who Do You Think You Are? Outstanding Nonfiction Series American Masters Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations Inside The Actors Studio The Weight Of The Nation Winner: Frozen Planet
Outstanding Variety, Music, or Comedy Series The Colbert Report Winner: The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Jimmy Kimmel Live! Late Night with Jimmy Fallon Real Time with Bill Maher Saturday Night Live Outstanding Variety Special Betty White's 90th Birthday: A Tribute To America's Golden Girl Kathy Griffin: Tired Hooker
Winner: The Kennedy Center Honors Mel Brooks And Dick Cavett Together Again Tony Bennett: Duets II (Great Performances)
Supporting Actor in a Drama Series Winner: Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad Giancarlo Esposito, Breaking Bad Brendan Coyle, Downton Abbey Jim Carter, Downton Abbey Jared Harris, Mad Men Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones
Supporting Actress in a Drama Series Archie Panjabi, The Good Wife Anna Gunn, Breaking Bad Winner: Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey Joanna Froggatt, Downton Abbey Christina Hendricks, Mad Men Christine Baranski, The Good Wife
Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie Sarah Paulson, Game Change Frances Conroy, American Horror Story Winner: Jessica Lange, American Horror Story Judy Davis, Page Eight Mare Winningham, Hatfields & McCoys Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie Ed Harris, Game Change Denis O'Hare, American Horror Story David Strathairn, Hemingway & Gellhorn Martin Freeman, Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia Winner: Tom Berenger, Hatfields & McCoys Guest Actress in a Comedy Series Dot-Marie Jones, Glee Maya Rudolph, Saturday Night Live Melissa McCarthy, Saturday Night Live Elizabeth Banks, 30 Rock Margaret Cho, 30 Rock Winner: Kathy Bates, Two and a Half Men Guest Actor in a Comedy Series Michael J. Fox, Curb Your Enthusiasm Greg Kinnear, Modern Family Bobby Cannavale, Nurse Jackie Winner: Jimmy Fallon, Saturday Night Live Will Arnett, 30 Rock Jon Hamm, 30 Rock Guest Actress in a Drama Series Winner: Martha Plimpton, The Good Wife Loretta Devine, Grey's Anatomy Jean Smart, Harry's Law Julia Ormond, Mad Men Joan Cusack, Shameless Uma Thurman, Smash Guest Actor in a Drama Series Mark Margolis, Breaking Bad Dylan Baker, The Good Wife Michael J. Fox, The Good Wife Winner: Jeremy Davies, Justified Ben Feldman, Mad Men Jason Ritter, Parenthood Outstanding Animated Program American Dad Bob's Burgers Futurama Winner: The Penguins Of Madagascar: The Return Of The Revenge Of Dr. Blowhole The Simpsons Outstanding Children's Program Degrassi Good Luck Charlie iCarly Victorious Winner: Wizards Of Waverly Place
Writing for a Drama Series
Winner: Alex Gansa, Howard Gordon, Gideon Raff, Homeland
Directing for a Drama Series
Winner: Tim Van Patten, Boardwalk Empire
Vince Gilligan, Breaking Bad
Brian Percival, Downton Abbey
Phil Abraham, Mad Men
Michael Cuesta, Homeland
Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Winner: Damian Lewis, Homeland
Steve Buscemi, Boardwalk Empire
Michael C. Hall, Dexter
Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
Hugh Bonneville, Downton Abbey
Jon Hamm, Mad Men
Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Winner: Claire Danes, Homeland
Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife
Kathy Bates, Harry's Law
Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men
Michelle Dockery, Downton Abbey
Glenn Close, Damages
Writing for a Variety Special
Winner: Louis C.K., Louis C.K. Live At The Beacon Theatre
Dave Boone, Written by; Paul Greenberg, 65th Annual Tony Awards George Stevens, Jr., Written by; Michael M. Stevens, Written by; Sara Lukinson, Written by; Lewis Friedman, The Kennedy Center Honors
Jon Macks, Written by; Dave Boone, Written by; Carol Leifer, Written by; Tim Carvell, Special Material Written by; Jeff Cesario, Special Material Written by; Billy Crystal, Special Material Written by; Ed Driscoll, Special Material Written by; Billy Martin, Special Material Written by; Ben Schwartz, Special Material Written by; Marc Shaiman, Special Material Written by; Eric Stangel, Special Material Written by; Justin Stangel, Special Material Written by; David Steinberg, Special Material Written by; Mason Steinberg, Special Material Written by; Colleen Werthmann, 84th Annual Academy Awards
Jon Macks, Written by; Steve Ridgeway, Written by; Mason Steinberg, Written by; Brad Lachman, Betty White's 90th Birthday: A Tribute To America's Golden Girl
Directing for a Variety Special
Don Mischer, 84th Annual Academy Awards Louis J. Horvitz, The 54th Annual Grammy Awards Louis C.K, Louis C.K. Live at the Beacon Theatre Alan Skog, New York City Ballet George Balanchine's The Nutcracker (Live From Lincoln Center) Winner: Glenn Weiss, 65th Annual Tony Awards
Writing for a Miniseries, Movie, or a Dramatic Special
Winner: Danny Strong, Game Change
Ted Mann, Ronald Parker & Bill
Abi Morgan, The Hour
Neil Cross, Luther
Steven Moffat, Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia
Directing for a Miniseries, Movie, or a Dramatic Special
Winner: Jay Roach, Game Change
Philip Kaufman, Hemmingway & Gellhorn
Paul McGuigan, Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia
Kevin Reynolds, Hatfields & McCoys
Sam Miller, Luther
[Photo Credit: ABC]
Emmys Idle Threats: Give Steve Buscemi an Emmy or I'll Waste Away with Whiskey
Emmy Idle Threats: Give 'Game of Thrones' Emmy Gold or I'll Give (?) a Crown of Gold
Emmys Idle Threats: Give Lena Dunham an Emmy or Chris O'Dowd Will Yell at You
There's an allure to imperfection. With his latest drama Lawless director John Hillcoat taps directly into the side of human nature that draws us to it. Hillcoat finds it in Prohibition history a time when the regulations of alcohol consumption were subverted by most of the population; He finds it in the rural landscapes of Virginia: dingy raw and mesmerizing. And most importantly he finds it in his main character Jack Bondurant (Shia LaBeouf) the scrappy third brother of a moonshining family who is desperate to prove his worth. Jack forcefully injects himself into the family business only to discover there's an underbelly to the underbelly. Lawless is a beautiful film that's violent as hell striking in a way only unfiltered Americana could be.
Acting as the driver for his two outlaw brothers Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Howard (Jason Clarke) isn't enough for Jack. He's enticed by the power of the gangster figure and entranced by what moonshine money can buy. So like any fledgling entrepreneur Jack takes matters into his own hands. Recruiting crippled family friend/distillery mastermind Cricket (Dane DeHaan) the young whippersnapper sets out to brew his own batch sell it to top dog Floyd Banner and make the family rich. The plan works — but it puts the Bondurant boys in over their heads with a new threat: the corrupt law enforcers of Chicago.
Unlike many stories of crime life Lawless isn't about escalation. The movie drifts back and forth leisurely popping in moments like the beats of a great TV episode. One second the Bondurants could be talking shop with their female shopkeep Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain). The next Forrest is beating the bloody pulp out of a cop blackmailing their operation. The plot isn't thick; Hillcoat and screenwriter Nick Cave preferring to bask in the landscapes the quiet moments the haunting terror that comes with a life on the other side of the tracks. A feature film doesn't offer enough time for Lawless to build — it recalls cinema-level TV currently playing on outlets like HBO and AMC that have truly spoiled us — but what the duo accomplish is engrossing.
Accompanying the glowing visuals and Cave's knockout workout on the music side (a toe-tapping mix of spirituals bluegrass and the writer/musician's spine-tingling violin) are muted performances from some of Hollywood's rising stars. Despite LaBeouf's off-screen antics he lights up Lawless and nails the in-deep whippersnapper. His playful relationship with a local religious girl (Mia Wasikowska) solidifies him as a leading man but like everything in the movie you want more. Tom Hardy is one of the few performers who can "uurrr" and "mmmnerm" his way through a scene and come out on top. His greatest sparring partner isn't a hulking thug but Chastain who brings out the heart of the impenetrable beast. The real gem of Lawless is Guy Pearce as the Bondurant trio's biggest threat. Shaved eyebrows pristine city clothes and a temper like a rabid wolverine Pearce's Charlie Rakes is the most frightening villain of 2012. He viciously chews up every moment he's on screen. That's even before he starts drawing blood.
Lawless is the perfect movie for the late August haze — not quite the Oscary prestige picture or the summertime shoot-'em-up. It's drama that has its moonshine and swigs it too. Just don't drink too much.