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.
Last week, Stephen Colbert mysteriously disappeared from his nightly Comedy Central series, The Colbert Report, with little notice and without explanation. But now, he's back.
While the network released a statement at the time citing "unforseen circumstances" as a reason for the hiatus of indeterminate length, it was later reported that Colbert's 91-year-old mother, Lorna, was ill and that he'd left suddenly to tend to her. He tweeted his appreciation to concerned fans shortly after the news broke: "My family and I would like to thank everyone who has offered their thoughts and prayers. We are grateful and touched by your concern." But luckily, Lorna is doing well and Colbert was able to return to his staunch faux opinions and unrelentingly patriotic set to deliver an adorable nod to his "tough as nails" mama and an explanation for his short, sudden absence - with a little fun at the expense of those who offered outlandish theories for his absence. We're looking at you, Joan Rivers.
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UPDATE: Fans' curiosities have run wild ever since it was announced that The Colbert Report was going on an unexpected hiatus for an undetermined period of time. Unfortunately, the truth behind the development is the bad news we imagined: Stephen Colbert is taking time off from his series to tend to his mother, 91 year-old Lorna Colbert, who is in poor health.
The New York Post indicates that Stephen and his mother are very close, and that he is being particularly attentive to her in this time of need. The news was kept under wraps due to the private nature of the their family.
Our thoughts are with the entire Colbert family, and we wish Lorna Colbert a speedy and substantial recovery.
EARLIER: If you paid a visit to ColbertNation.com today, you may notice that there are no new clips from The Colbert Report. You may have thought, "I didn't know The Colbert Report was on vacation." And the truth is, the show is not. Instead, the Feb. 15 and 16 tapings were cancelled at the very last minute, for reasons yet to be explained.
Comedy Central spokesperson Steve Albani released a statement to Hollywood.com explaining the sudden blackout: "Due to unforeseen circumstances, the show will air repeat episodes on Wednesday, February 15 and Thursday, February 16."
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the cancellation of the Feb. 15 taping was so abrupt that there were audience members already sitting in their seats when Comedy Central sent the email notification that the episode had been cancelled. Fans took to Twitter to express worry and disappointment, and many are concerned that the sudden silence signals a corporate or financial struggle between the host and the comedy network. Is it possible that the faux pundit has but his network On Notice? Others, however worry that Colbert or a member of his staff may be in poor health. Stephen Colbert has not used his personal Twitter in two days, though the official Colbert Report feed managed to eke out a joke about President Obama's contraception debate.
And it would seem that health issues are a valid concern. Comedy publication The Third Beat makes the point that the only two times The Colbert Report's sister series, The Daily Show, has been cancelled were when Jon Stewart's daughter was born and when a member of the staff suddenly died. Hopefully, the reasoning behind the Colbert blackout isn't on the dire side of the spectrum.
There is no defined return date for the series.
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Although the film's title suggests there might be some deeply relevant British national allegory in the film post-colonialist comedy fans shouldn't get their hopes up. The plot of Johnny English such as it is goes something like this: The title character a bumbling junior-level spy (Rowan Atkinson) is suddenly thrust into active duty when every other agent in the British Secret Service is blown to smithereens during a bombing at a fellow agent's funeral. When the Crown Jewels are stolen it's up to English to discover the culprit and in the process he unearths a plot to replace the Queen of England with a French entrepreneur who has some pretty nasty real estate development plans for Merry Olde Blighty. It's a sorry excuse for a story sure but such paltry fare as plot character development and dialogue don't matter much when you connect the bits with U.K. fave Atkinson hamming it up in his trademark blundering way. And he really is funny in this movie--maybe not pee-your-pants funny but certainly hoot-out-loud funny. As with any spy spoof some of the shtick works and some doesn't but on the whole Atkinson and Co. do a good job in spite of the contrived script and pithy lines writers Neal Purvis Robert Wade and William Davies have pieced together for them.
If Cervantes' Don Quixote were a modern-day spy this would be his story. Atkinson tilts at Johnny English's windmills with the vigor and extravagance fans of the comedian's trademarked physical comedy have come to expect. Whether he's crashing a funeral pantomiming to ABBA in front of his bathroom mirror invading a hospital with guns blazing or getting his tie caught in a sushi bar conveyor belt Atkinson gives this movie's hackneyed scenes personality they probably wouldn't have had in any other actor's hands. Comedian and fellow Brit Ben Miller takes his first strokes across the pond as English's sidekick Bough playing Sancho Panza to Atkinson's Quixote to fairly good effect. The real "straight man" in this farce however is Natalie Imbruglia as love interest Lorna Campbell. The girl can't act her way out of a paper bag but when you look the way she does in leather pants and stilettos talent is beside the point. John Malkovich is underutilized as the villain Pascal Sauvage whose anti-English (that's the nation not the spy) sentiments have driven him to lay claim to the throne of England which he plans to use for nefarious purposes.
Based as it is on a character Atkinson created for a TV commercial for a major British credit card it's not surprising that the characters in Johnny English are far more entertaining when they're improvising 60-second physical comedy scenes than when they're attempting to further the so-called plot. What is surprising is that such pedigreed moviemakers as director Peter Howitt (Sliding Doors) production company Working Title Films (producers of Elizabeth Fargo and Billy Elliot) and producer Mark Huffam (The Hours) are attached to such a silly film. Then again everybody needs to let loose sometime; maybe this is their idea of a vacation.