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.
The best player in the World for movie trailers, Hollywood interviews and movie clips.
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 was the trickle of pee heard around the world. Cannes attendees were aghast and/or amused an infamous scene from The Paperboy that shows Nicole Kidman urinating on Zac Efron; this is apparently a great salve for jellyfish burns which were covering our Ken Doll-like protagonist. (In fact the term protagonist should be used very loosely for Efron's character Jack who is mostly acted upon than active throughout.)
Lurid! Sexy! Perverse! Trashy! Whether or not it's actually effective is overshadowed by all the hubbub that's attached itself to the movie for better or worse. In fact the movie is all of these things — but that's actually not a compliment. What could have become somethingmemorable is jaw-droppingly bad (when it's not hilarious). Director Lee Daniels uses a few different visual styles throughout from a stark black and white palette for a crime scene recreation at the beginning to a '70s porno aesthetic that oscillates between psychedelic and straight-up sweaty with an emphasis on Efron's tighty-whiteys. This only enhances the sloppiness of the script which uses lines like narrator/housekeeper/nanny Anita's (Macy Gray) "You ain't tired enough to be retired " to conjure up the down-home wisdom of the South. Despite Gray's musical talents she is not a good choice for a narrator or an actor for that matter. In a way — insofar as they're perhaps the only female characters given a chunk of screen time — her foil is Charlotte Bless Nicole Kidman's character. Anita is the mother figure who wears as we see in an early scene control-top pantyhose whereas Charlotte is all clam diggers and Barbie doll make-up. Or as Anita puts it "an oversexed Barbie doll."
The slapdash plot is that Jack's older brother Ward (Matthew McConaughey) comes back to town with his colleague Yardley (David Oyelowo) to investigate the case of a death row criminal named Hillary Van Wetter. Yardley is black and British which seems to confuse many of the people he meets in this backwoods town. Hillary (John Cusack) hidden under a mop of greasy black hair) is a slack-jawed yokel who could care less if he's going to be killed for a crime he might or might not have committed. He is way more interested in his bride-to-be Charlotte who has fallen in love with him through letters — this is her thing apparently writing letters and falling in love with inmates — and has rushed to help Ward and Yardley free her man. In the meantime we're subjected to at least one simulated sex scene that will haunt your dreams forever. Besides Hillary's shortcomings as a character that could rustle up any sort of empathy the case itself is so boring it begs the question why a respected journalist would be interested enough to pursue it.
The rest of the movie is filled with longing an attempt to place any the story in some sort of social context via class and race even more Zac Efron's underwear sexual violence alligator innards swamp people in comically ramshackle homes and a glimpse of one glistening McConaughey 'tock. Harmony Korine called and he wants his Gummo back.
It's probably tantalizing for this cast to take on "serious" "edgy" work by an Oscar-nominated director. Cusack ditched his boombox blasting "In Your Eyes" long ago and Efron's been trying to shed his squeaky clean image for so long that he finally dropped a condom on the red carpet for The Lorax so we'd know he's not smooth like a Ken doll despite how he was filmed by Daniels. On the other hand Nicole Kidman has been making interesting and varied career choices for years so it's confounding why she'd be interested in a one-dimensional character like Charlotte. McConaughey's on a roll and like the rest of the cast he's got plenty of interesting projects worth watching so this probably won't slow him down. Even Daniels is already shooting a new film The Butler as we can see from Oprah's dazzling Instagram feed. It's as if they all want to put The Paperboy behind them as soon as possible. It's hard to blame them.
Top Story: "Matrix" Sequel to Premiere at Cannes
The Matrix: Reloaded, the sequel to the 1999 blockbuster The Matrix, will be shown out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival on May 15, the second day of the festival, The Associated Press reports. The film, which stars Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne and Carrie-Anne Moss will be released worldwide the same day. The Cannes Film Festival, now in its 56th year, is the world's best-known film festival and serves as a launching pad for movies that are shown out of competition. The festival runs May 14-25. The original movie won four Academy Awards and grossed more than $460 million worldwide. The third and final film in the trilogy, The Matrix: Revolutions is scheduled for release this November.
Kidman Shared Oscar Glory With Cruise
Nicole Kidman, who won Best Actress for her performance in The Hours, shared her Oscar victory last month with ex-husband Tom Cruise. The actress told People magazine in an interview published Thursday that she called Cruise in New Zealand after she won. "It was so important for me to talk to Connor (her son) and yes, to Tom. We have very different lives now, but as I've said to Tom, I will be there for him for the rest of his life, always there," she said. Kidman and Cruise's 10-year marriage ended in 2001 in a bitter divorce.
O'Donnell Demands Retraction From "Enquirer"
Rosie O'Donnell demanded a retraction Thursday from the National Enquirer tabloid, which printed a story on April 15 claiming she and her live-in partner, Kelli Carpenter, were on the verge of splitting up, Reuters reports. O'Donnell's attorney Bert Fields said she may proceed with a lawsuit for defamation and other claims--even if the tabloid retracts the story.
Nazi-Era Fund Seeks Spielberg's Help
Germany's compensation fund for Nazi-era slave laborers said it will seek assistance from director Steven Spielberg to record the testimonies in an effort to keep alive the memory of surviving victims, the AP reports. Officials said Thursday they would seek Spielberg's help for a plan to interview up to 1,000 survivors. Spielberg's Shoah Foundation, which was set up after the filming of 1993's Oscar-winning Schindler's List, has already videotaped the testimonies of more than 50,000 Holocaust survivors.
John Wayne's Son Dies
Michael Wayne, the eldest son of late actor John Wayne, died of heart failure Wednesday at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center following complications from lupus, an immune system disease, the AP reports. He was 68. He headed Wayne Enterprises, which owns many of his father's films. Among the films Michael Wayne helped produce were The Green Berets (1968), Big Jake (1971), The Train Robbers (1973) and Brannigan (1975).
Did CBS Staffers Bet on "Survivor"?
Costa Rica-based online sportsbook BoDog.com has dropped betting on the CBS reality show Survivor after allegedly finding network employees were wagering on the program--and winning, the AP reports. The players in question opened accounts with BoDog before Survivor: Marquesas, the fourth show, and bet on no other events. BoDog's Lance Bradley said they wagered correctly on who would be the final two contestants in both the fourth and fifth editions of Survivor. At least two players have been identified as CBS employees and other names may be connected to the network or may be aliases.
Fans Walk Out of Pearl Jam Concert
Dozens of fans walked out of a Pearl Jam concert Tuesday in Denver, Colo., after lead singer Eddie Vedder took a mask of President Bush and impaled it on a microphone stand, the AP reports. Several concertgoers booed and shouted for Vedder to shut up as he told the crowd he was against the war and Bush. During the show, however, Vedder said: "Just to clarify ... we support the troops." Vedder used a Bush mask in Australia and Japan to perform the song "Bushleaguer."
Role Call: Tim Story Exits "Barbershop" Sequel, Jane Joins "Punisher"
Director Tim Story has dropped MGM's Barbershop sequel to helm the DreamWorks' comedy Date School, Variety reports. Story denies money was a factor in his decision and said he was worried about repeating himself too soon ... Dreamcatcher star Thomas Jane will play the lead role in Artisan Picture's big-screen adaptation of Marvel's The Punisher for writer-director Jonathan Hensleigh. The film, which revolves around FBI undercover agent and tough-as-nails vigilante Frank Castle, is aiming for a summer 2004 release.