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.
Let's face it the world of Hollywood pirating — with its peglegs eyepatches shoulder parrots and bounty of other swashbuckling tropes — is pretty silly. Even a high seas adventure like Pirates of the Caribbean has the ridiculous Jack Sparrow to help it hobble along. Pushing the comedy can only work in pirate movie's favor and Aardman Animation's Pirates! A Band of Misfits goes all out seizing the absurdity with a flare only British sensibilities could conjure. The film is a treasure trove of design and technical wizardry but for those less interested in the intricacies of stop motion animation Pirates!'s simple story packs plenty of low-key laughs that viewers all ages can pick up.
The Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) is at wit's end. While he's enjoyed his time leading a ragtag group of wannabe pirates including Albino Pirate (Anton Yelchin) Pirate with Gout (Brendan Gleeson) Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate (Ashley Jensen) and his number two Pirate with a Scarf (Martin Freeman) a lifestyle of eating ham and barely making ends meet is losing its luster. When Pirate Captain shows up to the annual Pirate of the Year submission day he's once again outdone by Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven) who rides in on a whale full of gold. Driven by competition Pirate Captain reassembles his crew hits the open waters and begins a new wave of pillaging. It's all for naught until the pirates cross paths with Charles Darwin (David Tennant) who identifies Pirate Captain's "parrot" as an extinct dodo bird. Suddenly the pirates have a new (and lucrative) calling: science.
There's an unexpected intelligence to Pirates!. The movie based on a children's book of the same name centers on Pirate Captain's mid-life crisis delves into the world of 18th century science and pegs Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton) as the mastermind bad guy behind the elimination of the pirate occupation. That gives the accompanying adults plenty to chew (and laugh) on but director Peter Lord doesn't stray away from an ol' fashioned slapstick routine. There's a marvelous stray bathtub sequence halfway through the film a wild ride through Charles Darwin's old tudor house that's a true spectacle. But even a simple gag involving baking soda and vinegar exploding sud bubbles is expertly crafted and executed by Lord.
The stop motion technique never feels limited in Pirates! even with a great deal of walking and talking scenes. Gideon Defoe's script is elevated by the vocal performances; Grant is perfectly cast as the faux-burly Pirate Captain while Martin Freeman's perfected "timid skeptic" routine from The Office and Sherlock is once again on full display. The Aardman team continues to have a knack for gesturing their puppets uniquely natural and human. Even with all the enormous pirate ships detailed cityscapes and dazzling action Pirates! is at its best when it focuses on the sillier calmer moments.
The tangibility of Pirates! A Band of Misfits comes through in its physical stop-motion animation techniques but also its genuine heart. There's a rare reality to the storytelling even at its most fantastical. While the film doesn't hit the same emotional chords as some of Pixar or Dreamworks' best you would need an X-marked map to find a Hollywood cartoon as sweet and heartfelt. So don't walk the plank on this one — board with kids in tow immediately.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Claire is an attractive CIA operative and Ray is an M16 agent who simultaneously leave their Governmental spy activities in the dust to try and profit from a battle between two rival multi-national corporations both trying to launch a new product that will transform the world and make billions. Their goal is to secure the top-secret formula and get a patent before they are outsmarted. While their respective egomaniacal CEOs engage in an unending battle of wills and one-upmanship Claire and Ray start out conning and playing one another in a clever game of industrial espionage that is even more complicated due to their own long-term romantic relationship.
WHO’S IN IT?
Reuniting Closer co-stars Julia Roberts (as Claire) and Clive Owen (as Ray) turns out to be an inspired idea. They turn out to be the perfect pair oozing movie-star charm and electricity in this elaborate con-game that might have been the kind of thing Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant might have made in the '60s (in fact they did in Charade). Roberts with that infamous hairstyle back the way we like it and Owen looking great in sunglasses prove they have what it takes to navigate us through this ultra-complex plot in which no one is sure who they can trust at any given moment. They play it all in high style and the wit just flows as the story skirts back and forth during the period of five years. The supporting cast is well-chosen with juicy roles for Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti (out of their John Adams duds) as the two CEOs going for each other’s throats. Giamatti who sometimes has a tendency to overdo it is especially slimy here and great fun to watch.
Big-star studio movies today rarely take risks and often talk down to the audience but in Duplicity writer/director Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton) has crafted a complicated con-comedy that requires complete attention at all times just to keep up with the dense plot’s twists and turns. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a New York Times crossword puzzle and Gilroy and his top-drawer production team deliver a glossy beautiful-looking film that’s easy on the eyes hitting locations from Dubai to Rome to New York City.
Like any good puzzle it sometimes can be frustrating putting it all together and Gilroy’s habit of taking us back in time and then inching forward gets a little confusing even with the on-screen chyron pointing out where we are at any given moment. Stick with it though and you will be well-rewarded.
A scene near the end where the formula must be found scanned and faxed in a matter of minutes is sweat-inducing edge-of-your-seat moviemaking and it provides the ultimate opportunity for Roberts and Owen to take the “con” to the next level. Another where Roberts uses a thong to try and trick Owen into admitting an affair he never had is also priceless and gets right to the heart of the game-playing.
GO OUT AND GET POPCORN WHEN ...
Never. Stock up during the coming attractions. If you miss a moment of this entertaining romp you might never figure it all out.
Michael Imperioli said it best-- there are "a lot of new faces."
That's the perfect way to describe the morning's 2005 Primetime Emmy Award nominations that turned out to be a great awakening for some of TVs newcomers, but a rude awakening for those first-timers who got snubbed.
The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Chairman of the Board Dick Askin, along with a very un-gangster-like Imperioli of The Sopranos and Still Standing's Jami Gertz, not looking so Square Pegs in a cleavage baring bustier top (and at 5:30 in the morning, no less), announced the 57th annual Emmy nominations live from the Leonard H. Goldenson Theatre in North Hollywood.
Askin told Hollywood.com there are about twice as many new faces compared to last year.
And here's a little bit of trivia: Did you know the Emmy nomination broadcast is the only press conference with a jib camera spanning the room (That's right, not even the Oscars has one-you know, that long poled camera arm that can practically reach across a room.) This morning the jib had the best gig in the house; to focus solely on the golden girl herself-Emmy-high atop a platform. With publicists, agents and camera crews filling the theatre, it's not surprising this morning is an event all its own.
The biggest news came for those housewives, who aren't looking so desperate-all but two, at least. Each first-time nominees-- Marcia Cross, Teri Hatcher and Felicity Huffman-- all got nods for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, leaving Nicolette Sheridan and Eva Longoria, well, desperate. That feat hasn't been done since Golden Girls 20 years ago.
The nominated housewives are also going up against Malcolm in the Middle's Jane Kaczmarek, who has now garnered six nominations for her role on the hit Fox series, but has never won; and Patricia Heaton, who everybody loves in Everybody Loves Raymond (even this morning's audience cheered for the actress, who's already taken home two statues for her portrayal as Ray Romano's wife.) Romano and the series also got nods for Outstanding Lead Actor and Comedy Series, with Ray also winning twice before. We'll see if the third time's the charm. Peter Boyle, Brad Garrett and Doris Roberts also made the list in the Supporting Actor categories.
And you might recognize other first-time nominees, most of whom hail from the big screen-- Patricia Arquette (Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, Medium), Hugh Laurie (Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, House), Ian McShane (Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, Deadwood), S. Epatha Merkerson (Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie, Lackawanna Blues), Debra Winger (Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie, Dawn Anna), Ed Harris (Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie, Empire Falls), Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie, Elvis), Geoffrey Rush (Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers), Jason Bateman (Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series, Arrested Development), Zach Braff (Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series, Scrubs), Charlize Theron (Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers) and Philip Seymour Hoffman (Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie, Empire Falls), to name a lot.
Other silver screen favorites include Halle Berry for her work in Their Eyes Are Watching God, Blythe Danner for Back When We Were Grownups, Kenneth Branagh for Warm Springs, William H. Macy for The Wool Cap and Tony Shalhoub for Monk.
Husband and wife nominated teams this year include Macy and Huffman and Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward (both for Empire Falls).
Gertz, who commented that she's "been around the block, as they say," has many favorites who are in the running to take home a statue, but she couldn't pick just one to win: "I just want all my friends to win," Jami said, who include Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series nominees Kiefer Sutherland (who's been nominated three times before for 24 and has never won), Hank Azaria (Huff) and James Spader (Boston Legal).
In other legal briefs, The Practice alum Camryn Manheim grabbed a spot in the Supporting Actress/Miniseries category for her portrayal of Elvis's mother in Elvis (to which Gertz did a perfect rendition of that famous Elvis accent), and Boston Legal's William Shatner for Supporting Actor in a Drama Series.
Lost could only be found in one of the acting categories for Naveen Andrews and Terry O'Quinn for Supporting Actor in a Drama Series, but it did nab a top nod for Outstanding Drama Series. And history repeats itself with The West Wing up for Outstanding Drama Series (which holds the titles for most Emmys won by a series in its first and single season with 9), but the Academy didn't salute the President (a.k.a. Martin Sheen) or Allison Janney, who always wins the Emmy. But Stockard Channing and Alan Alda won the Academy's recognition in the Supporting categories.
In a twist, those two high-tech mystery solving ensembles CSI and Law & Order also disappeared from this year's list in the acting categories, except for Mariska Hargitay for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, who's going head-to-head against fellow crime fighter Jennifer Garner (Alias), Frances Conroy (Six Feet Under), Glenn Close (The Shield) and Arquette (Medium). Nip/Tuck was also cut out of the running with the lead characters garnering zero nods.
Nominated shows coming in on top include Desperate Housewives with 15 nods, Will & Grace 15, Everybody Loves Raymond 13, Lost 12, Arrested Development 11, Deadwood 11, 24 11 and Empire Falls, 10.
HBO picked up the most nominations with 93, even without help from the ineligible Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Sopranos, but is down from last year because of the absence of Angels In America, which holds the record for most Emmy's won by a miniseries. CBS leads the networks with 59; NBC 54; ABC 51 and Fox 49-all of which have made a comeback this year.
"Another trend I think is the return of the broadcast networks. I mean, all of their nominations are significantly up from last year. ABC was up 65% in numbers and CBS was 75%,"said Askin.
And expect a few modern upgrades to this year's Emmy show.
"There's going to be a lot of things different. I can't tell you anything about the show yet 'cause it's kind of in the planning stages right now. We don't want to change it dramatically, but we want to kind of update it for today's audience," said Askin.
ATAS will hand out the Emmy trophies on Sunday, Sept. 22 at a black-tie ceremony at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.
A partial list of nominees as follows:
Outstanding Comedy Series
Arrested Development, Fox
Desperate Housewives, ABC
Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS
Will & Grace, NBC
Outstanding Drama Series
Six Feet Under, HBO
The West Wing, NBC
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
Jason Bateman, Arrested Development
Ray Romano, Everybody Loves Raymond
Tony Shalhoub, Monk
Zach Braff, Scrubs
Eric McCormack, Will & Grace
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
Marcia Cross, Desperate Housewives
Teri Hatcher, Desperate Housewives
Felicity Huffman, Desperate Housewives
Patricia Heaton, Everybody Loves Raymond
Jane Kaczmarek, Malcolm in the Middle
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
Jeffrey Tambor, Arrested Development
Jeremy Piven, Entourage
Peter Boyle, Everybody Loves Raymond
Brad Garrett, Everybody Loves Raymond
Sean Hayes, Will & Grace
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
Jessica Walter, Arrested Development
Doris Roberts, Everybody Loves Raymond
Holland Taylor, Two and a Half Men
Conchata Ferrell, Two and a Half Men
Megan Mullally, Will & Grace
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
James Spader, Boston Legal
Ian McShane, Deadwood
Hugh Laurie, House
Hank Azaria, Huff
Kiefer Sutherland, 24
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Jennifer Garner, Alias
Mariska Hargitay, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
Patricia Arquette, Medium
Glenn Close, The Shield
Frances Conroy, Six Feet Under
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
William Shatner, Boston Legal
Oliver Platt, Huff
Naveen Andrews, Lost
Terry O'Quinn, Lost
Alan Alda, The West Wing
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Sandra Oh, Grey's Anatomy
Blythe Danner, Huff
Tyne Daly, Judging Amy
CCH Pounder, The Shield
Stockard Channing, The West Wing
Empire Falls, HBO
The 4400, USA
The Lost Prince (Masterpiece Theatre), PBS
Outstanding Made for Television Movie
Lackawanna Blues, HBO
The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, HBO
The Office Special, BBC America
Warm Springs, HBO
The Wool Cap, TNT
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie
Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Elvis
Ed Harris, Empire Falls
Geoffrey Rush, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers
Kenneth Branagh, Warm Springs
William H. Macy, The Wool Cap
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie
Blythe Danner, Back When We Were Grownups (Hallmark Hall Of Fame
Debra Winger, Dawn Anna
S. Epatha Merkerson, Lackawanna Blues
Halle Berry, Their Eyes Were Watching God
Cynthia Nixon, Warm Springs
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie
Randy Quaid, Elvis
Paul Newman, Empire Falls
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Empire Falls
Christopher Plummer, Our Fathers
Brian Dennehy, Our Fathers
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie
Camryn Manheim, Elvis
Joanne Woodward, Empire Falls
Charlize Theron, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers
Jane Alexander, Warm Springs
Kathy Bates, Warm Springs
Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series
Da Ali G Show, HBO
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Comedy Central
Late Night with Conan O'Brien, NBC
Late Show with David Letterman, CBS
Real Time with Bill Maher, HBO
Outstanding Reality Program
Antiques Roadshow, PBS
Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, ABC
Penn & Teller: Bullshit!, Showtime
Project Greenlight, Bravo
Queer Eye For The Straight Guy, Bravo
Outstanding Reality-Competition Program
The Amazing Race, CBS
American Idol, Fox
The Apprentice, NBC
Project Runway, Bravo