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.
Lions Gate via Everett Collection
When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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Michael Nesmith rejoined The Monkees in Port Chester, New York on Monday night (15Jul13) for the first time since he walked out on the band at the beginning of a European tour in 1997. The guitarist has reunited with drummer Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork for a summer tour after reconnecting with his former bandmates following group frontman Davy Jones' death last year (12).
The trio appeared at the Capitol Theater in Port Chester for a hits set and screened video footage from The Monkees 1960s heyday.
The latest shows come two years after the group's 45th Anniversary Tour, which marked Jones' last dates with the band.
The late singer wasn't mentioned by name, but a video of him tap-dancing in the film Head was screened as the existing Monkees walked off at the beginning of an interlude, and the trio insisted on inviting a member of the audience to the stage to sing Jones' signature tune Daydream Believer, with Dolenz declaring, "None of us can really sing this song because it doesn't belong to us anymore. It belongs to you."
The Monkees have dug out unseen film footage and rare photos for an upcoming 24-date multi-media summer (13) tour. The existing members of the band - Michael Nesmith, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork - regrouped for the first time since 1970 last year (12) for a series of tribute concerts for late frontman Davy Jones, who died in February, 2012 - and it appears the feud that once existed between the bandmates has passed.
A Midsummer's Night With the Monkees tour will hit the road in Port Chester, New York on 15 July (13), and according to a press release announcing the dates, the shows will feature "rare films and one-of-a-kind photographs" as part of a nostalgic flashback for fans.
Chester Hanks, known by pals as Chet, is a theatre student at Northwestern University in Illinois and previously landed a small role in action adventure Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
But the 21 year old is moving away from Hollywood and has reinvented himself as Chet Haze - and is creating an internet buzz with his remix of rapper Wiz Khalifa's underground hit Black and Yellow.
Adapting the lyrics to pay tribute to his school and its distinctive colours, White and Purple (Northwestern Remix) sees the celebrity offspring rhyme about college life - but his lyrical content and his references to marijuana are unlikely to win the approval of his parents.
On the track, he raps: "White kicks, purple kush, this is college hitting blunts after hitting books..."
And the young star is clearly keen to establish himself in his own right, ditching his famous last name in favour of his new moniker.
Hanks and Wilson are also parents to a second son, Truman, while the Big star has two more adult children from his first marriage to Samantha Lewes, including actor Colin Hanks.
The Men in Black star will play General Chester Phillips in Captain America: First Avenger.
Stanley Tucci, Dominic Cooper and Hugo Weaving will also play supporting cast members in the film. Chris Evans will play Captain America.
Those interested in developing Marvel Entertainment projects will like today's updates on a pair of films. Deadline has confirmed that Tommy Lee Jones, who we knew would take part in Paramount's Captain America: The First Avenger in an undisclosed role, will in fact play the Super Solider program's chief architect Colonel Chester Phillips. Though it'll likely amount to just a small role, fans of the Oscar winning actor will love the fact that he'll be on screen again in two huge upcoming summer blockbusters - the other being 2012's Men In Black III.
On the other side of the superhero spectrum, Alice Eve is the latest name rumored for Matthew Vaughn's X-Men: First Class. Rosamund Pike had recently been tagged as a possible candidate for Emma Frost (who appeared as a youngster in X-Men Origins: Wolverine), but it appears that the younger Eve is quickly becoming a more realistic target for the role.
Eve is a firecracker on the big screen: she was the best part of this Spring's dismal She's Out Of My League and turned heads in Sex and the City 2. I knew it was only a matter of time before she nabbed something big and in today's movie marketplace, it doesn't get any bigger than playing a mutant. Expect studio confirmation soon...
The God of Legion secular Hollywood’s latest Biblically-inspired action flick is old-school an angry spiteful Almighty with a penchant for Old Testament theatrics. Fed up with humanity’s decadent warmongering ways He’s decided to pull the plug on the whole crazy experiment and start over from scratch.
Fortunately for us the God of Legion is also a rather lazy fellow. Instead of doing the apocalyptic work himself and wiping us out with a giant flood which worked perfectly well last time He opts to delegate the task to His army of angels — a questionable strategy that starts to fall apart when the archangel charged with leading the planned extermination Michael (Paul Bettany) refuses to comply.
Michael who unlike his boss still harbors affection for our sorry species abandons his post and descends to earth where inside the swollen belly of Charlie (Adrianne Palicki) an unwed mother-to-be working as a waitress in an out-of-the-way diner sits humanity’s lone hope for survival. Why is this particular baby so important? Is it the one destined to lead us to victory over Skynet? Heaven knows — Legion reveals little details its script devoid of actual scripture. What is clear is that God’s celestial hitmen want the kid whacked before it’s born.
But Michael won’t let humanity fall without a fight. Armed with a Waco-sized arsenal of assault weapons he hunkers down with the diner’s patrons a largely superfluous collection of thinly-sketched caricatures from various demographic groups led by Dennis Quaid as the diner’s grizzled owner Tyrese Gibson as a hip-hop hustler and Lucas Black as a simple-minded country boy.
Together they mount a heroic final stand against hordes of angels who’ve taken possession of “weak-willed” humans turning kindly old grandmas and mild-mannered ice cream vendors into snarling ravenous foul-mouthed beasts. They descend upon the ramshackle diner in a series of full-frontal assaults commanded by the archangel Gabriel (Kevin Durand) the George Pickett of End of Days generals.
Beneath its superficial religious facade Legion is really just a run-of-the-mill zombie flick a Biblical I Am Legend. Bettany an actor accustomed to smaller dramatic roles in films like A Beautiful Mind and The Da Vinci Code looks perfectly at ease in his first major action role wielding machine guns and bowie knives with equal aplomb. Conversely first-time director Scott Stewart a former visual effects artist does little to prove himself worthy of such a promotion serving up some impressive CGI work but not much else worthy of note.
Top Story: Marvel Shares Fall Following Hulk Bow
Shares of Marvel Enterprises fell sharply Monday because of what analysts called a disappointing opening weekend for The Hulk--the feature based on one of Marvel's comic-book characters. According to The Associated Press, Marvel shares fell $2.45 to close at $18.75 Monday on the New York Stock Exchange. Although The Hulk set a June record with its $62.6 million box-office take during its opening weekend, it fell short of expectations. The Marvel adaptation X2: X-Men United, for example, debuted last month with a hefty $85.6 million opening weekend take. But Marvel Chief Executive and President Allen Lipson told the AP that while X2 had a strong box office take on its opening weekend, sequels normally do better than the original when it comes to Marvel character movies. Lipson added that the company was "happy" with the The Hulk's box office numbers and said a sequel is already in the works.
TNN Files Spike Jones Affidavit
Lawyers for TNN filed court papers Monday by Spike Jones Jr., claiming filmmaker Spike Lee is trying to claim exclusive ownership of the name "Spike," the AP reports. On June 13, Lee won a court injunction stopping Viacom from changing TNN's name to Spike TV, alleging the rebranding was an attempt to hijack his name and reputation. According to court papers, Jones said he and his family own the rights to the name, likeness, recorded performances and television shows that belonged to his father, a 1940s and '50s bandleader. Jones sold an option for film and television rights for a biopic about his father, tentatively titled Spike, and is concerned the injunction against Viacom would hinder the pic's production.
Diana Ross in Court on DUI Charges
Diana Ross told a municipal court judge in Tucson, Ariz., Monday that she felt forced into taking a breath test during a traffic stop last year and is seeking to have the results thrown out, the AP reports. "I felt a threatening tone from him. You know, like a command, a demand," Ross said, referring to Tucson police Officer Scott Sullivan. Ross was arrested Dec. 30 on suspicion of drunk driving in southern Arizona. The former member of The Supremes had a blood alcohol level of 0.20--more than twice the legal limit. She pleaded innocent to three DUI-related charges. According to the police report, Ross, 58, was unable to walk a straight line and fell while trying to stand on one leg and count to 10.
Monk Debuts With Highest-Rated Episode Yet
The USA Network original series Monk returned for its second season Friday with its highest-rated episode yet. According to Reuters, the 10 p.m. premiere garnered a total of 5.4 million viewers and drew a 4.1 household rating--up 18 percent from the first-season premiere. Monk most likely benefited from exposure last season on ABC, which aired the show in primetime during the summer. Actor Tony Shalhoub won the 2002 Golden Globe Award for best actor in a TV series for his portrayal of the obsessive-compulsive detective Adrian Monk.
Stones To Play Toronto Show
The Rolling Stones are set to play a low-price concert in Toronto on July 30 to give the city an economic boost in the wake of the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak that plagued the city earlier this year. Artists such as Elton John, Billy Joel, Michelle Branch and Kelly Clarkson recently canceled or rescheduled appearances in Toronto because if SARS, which resulted in the deaths of 38 people in the greater Toronto area. For a mere $21.50, concertgoers can check out the Stones and an estimated 10 to 15 supporting acts still to be announced at the outdoor show, which will take place in the docklands area of the city.
Role Call: Damon Bourne Again, Foster in French Pic
Matt Damon will reprise his role as Jason Bourne in the sequel to The Bourne Identity, with British filmmaker Paul Greengrass (Bloody Sunday) in talks to helm. Universal's The Bourne Supremacy, which centers on a Chinese vice premier supposedly slain by Bourne, is expected to begin production at year's end ... Jodie Foster is in talks to take an uncredited role in director Jean-Pierre Jeunet's French-language A Very Long Engagement. Foster, who speaks French, has reportedly wanted to work with a French director for some time and is expected to work two weeks on the big-budget romantic drama that stars Amelie's Audrey Tautou ... Chris Kattan and Parker Posey will join the cast of the indie romantic comedy Adam & Steve for writer/director Craig Chester. The pic, about two New York couples, one straight and one gay, is slated to begin shooting this year.