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.
Holy. Crap. The penultimate episode of Arrow Season 1 had so many OMG moments and shocking reveals that I’m pretty sure that this could have functioned as a season finale for any other series. But since this is Arrow, this was just a normal, action-packed episode. Let’s get right to it, shall we?
The first scene of "Darkness On the Edge of Town" is the one we released early, where Malcolm decides to "pay" seismologist Dr. Brion Markov for his services… only, not with money, but with an arrow to the chest. The Dark Archer killed all the Unidac employees, destroyed the lab and all their notes, covering up his tracks. When he does use the Markov device, there will be nothing to tie Malcolm to the “natural” earthquake that destroyed The Glades. Basically, the lesson here is never do a favor for Malcolm.
Back at the Arrow lair, Diggle and Felicity update Oliver on their tracking of Moira now that they know she is in league with Malcolm for The Undertaking, but so far she hasn’t done anything out of the ordinary. Oliver, however, doesn’t know how to process the fact that his family and oldest friends (the Merlyns) are behind all the evil he’s been fighting ever since he returned from the island. He decides it’s time to ask Moira, face to face, as her son, for the truth.
Before he can leave Verdant, he’s ambushed by Laurel who wants to discuss that little matter of Oliver confessing that he still loves her. She realized that she was ready to admit that she has feelings for Oliver, too. She caught Oliver when he was embroiled in an Arrow mission that only reiterated his belief that he can’t be with anyone thanks to his life. So, he lied and said he hasn’t changed, leaving Laurel confused and heartbroken.
Back at the Queen’s mansion, Walter finally came home! It’s hugs all around and a delicious brunch to welcome him home, but he isn’t exactly in the brunch mood. Something tells me he isn’t going to want to dive back into to the family life with Moira after his 6-month captivity, as evidenced by the kiss brush-off he gave her.
Thea and Roy are getting their Veronica Mars on, with a bit more of a criminal side. They’re still hot in their pursuit of the vigilante, but they haven’t found any real clues to lead them to the Hood. They did find out via eavesdropping at the police department that the copycat archer is connected to Merlyn Global.
When Oliver confronted Moira about Walter’s kidnapping, he started to drop his façade, and you could tell that Moira saw something different in her son that shocked her. But before he could get any real answers, they were both knocked out by tranquilizer darts. I bet the hooded assailant is Diggle in Arrow’s hood!
And look at that, I was right! It’s Diggle in the Arrow suit, just absolutely going to town on beating up Oliver in order to scare the truth out of Moira. As much as Diggle and Oliver made up last week, you can tell he’s enjoying beating up Oliver just a little bit after their fight over Floyd Lawton. Just don’t hurt Ollie’s face too much!
Their plan worked: Moira spilled the truth on everything. Unidac Industries. The Markov device. Malcolm’s plans to level The Glades. Robert Queen’s involvement with the plans before he died. Once they were sure she told them all she knew, Diggle cut Moira and Oliver loose, and left. Oliver couldn’t even look Moira in the eyes knowing what she had done!
Now that Team Arrow has new information, it’s back to the Arrow lair! Felicity looks up Unidac Industries – noting that Queen Consolidated acquired them seven months ago, the same time Felicity and Oliver met! Anniversary! – and figure out that Malcolm plans to level The Glades with a device that creates man-made earthquakes. They also figure out that since the other archer was the one responsible for what the media is calling the Unidac Massacre, that means the other archer works for Malcolm. Little do they know it’s actually Malcolm, but that will come later.
Since Det. Lance found a connection between the copycat archer and Merlyn Global, he asked to speak with someone at the company… and of course they sent Tommy. That’s just adding so many levels of awkward to the conversation, especially when Laurel walks in on their meeting. After Tommy leaves, Lance puts a tech guy on the job of snooping around their network… hey, isn’t that exactly what Felicity is trying to do? Lance and Laurel also got in some father/daughter bonding when she told him the reason she and Tommy broke up was because of Oliver. Lance’s two least favorite guys in all of Starling City, and his daughter has to date both of them. Poor guy. Silver lining? Lance has noticed the difference in post-island Oliver and gave his kind-of approval to Laurel. That’s a huge win, and also made Laurel realize that Oliver lied earlier about not being any different now.
Felicity wasn’t getting anywhere hacking into the Merlyn Global network, so Oliver figures out a way to get her inside the actual building to download the files they need to find the Markov device. Shenanigans ensue when some random paper pusher guy tried to get on the same elevator as Felicity and Oliver, and even tried flirting with her! But Ollie shut that down and knocked him right out of the elevator car. Was that a hint of jealousy from Ollie? #Olicity shippers, discuss!
While Felicity works her tech magic, Oliver uses his time to confront Tommy about Laurel. While Tommy came off as misogynistic, referring to Laurel as a consolation prize, Oliver put him in his place. He reminded Tommy that Laurel isn’t property, and makes her own decisions. She chose Tommy, and that should be all that matters. Oliver isn’t to blame for their break-up.
On his way out, Oliver ran into his sister, and finally got the chance to meet Roy. That handshake is going down as one of the scariest encounters ever. Oliver warned Roy and Thea away from pursuing the vigilante since everyone who gets close to the vigilante ends up dead. Oliver plays the disapproving older brother part well! Too bad it didn’t work on Roy: he’s still set on finding the hood, so he can teach Roy to be like him. Apparently, Roy lost someone a while ago and doesn’t want it to ever happen again. Thea made him choose, though, the vigilante or her, and Roy chose the vigilante.
Walter’s chilly demeanor when he first got home is finally explained: he knows that Moira had something to do with his abduction, and served her with divorce papers.
Det. Lance’s tech guy struck out trying to hack into Merlyn Global – duh – but he did notice Felicity Smoak had tried to do the same thing. Looks like part of Team Arrow is being brought in for questioning... again!
Back in the Arrow lair, Oliver had an epiphany: his father’s mission to clean up the city meant to stop The Undertaking. Once he did that, he’ll have cured the disease, and his work will be done. He could be done with being the vigilante, live a normal life, and could actually have a life with Laurel. Is there truly a light at the end of the tunnel? Oliver seems more hopeful than we’ve seen him all season!
It truly does look like Oliver thinks there’s hope for him and Laurel, since he went straight to her place. With a real smile on his face, he told her he’s ready to admit she’s the one who means the most to him, and cue the passionate sexytime! Too bad Laurel didn’t shut the drapes first: Tommy got quite the eyeful. This is officially the beginning of Tommy going dark.
Oliver went to confront Malcolm as the Hood, because the Markov device wasn’t where they thought it would be. When Malcolm refused to give it up, Oliver shot an arrow, meant to kill him… but Malcolm CAUGHT IT WITH HIS BARE HAND. Ollie’s wide-eyed surprise meant he understood now that Malcolm was the Dark Archer. Cue one of the greatest fight scenes Arrow has yet to show. In the ensuing chaos, Malcolm broke Oliver’s bow, and knocked him out to dehood him. When he realized the vigilante was Oliver, he let out a horrifed, “Oh no…”
In this week’s island flashbacks, we finally learn the entirety of Fyers’ plans: he’s following orders to shoot down any incoming and outgoing aircrafts near China, thus grounding all air travel in and out of China indefinitely. That would cripple China’s economy, especially once Yao Fei, a rogue element from China’s own military, took the fall – which he will, since Fyers shot both Slade and Shado. He does manage to slip Oliver a knife before donning his old uniform and recording a video taking responsibility for the destruction of all the aircrafts. We also got the glimpse of the high heeled feet of Fyers’ boss… who could she be? And after Yao Fei finished his video, Fyers SHOT HIM IN THE HEAD.
Once again, I say: whoa. While this could certainly have been a season finale, we still have one more hour left to go of Season 1. I could try to predict what’s coming, but honestly, all bets are off at this point. Who will survive The Undertaking? Will The Undertaking happen? Will Tommy go dark? Will anyone else find out Oliver’s identity? What will Malcolm do with Oliver? We’ll find out next week in the season finale of Arrow, “Sacrifice.”
The best quotes from “Darkness On the Edge of Town:”
Felicity: Are you okay?Oliver: My mom and my best friend’s dad are involved in a conspiracy that may have dire consequences for the city and I’m pretty sure they murdered my father. I’m not planning on using the word okay anytime soon.
Felicity: The last time the vigilante paid your mom a visit you got shot and I got to play doctor with you. Ugh, my brain thinks of the worst way to say things.
Thea: I’m really sick of us all having to go through a lot, you know?
Det. Lance: The arrows are black, not green.Police Chief: The copycat archer again.Det. Lance: The psychopaths are color-coding themselves now. That’s helpful.
Felicity: Let me get you an icepack for… everything.
Oliver: Felicity, are you hacking into the Merlyn Global mainframe?Felicity: Hacking is such an ugly word, no… Yeah, totally hacking into the Merlyn Global mainframe!
Oliver: Anything?Felicity: Just for the record, I will pump my fists in the air and scream ‘Yes!’ if I get in.
Felicity, dressed as a Big Belly Burger delivery girl: I have a super deluxe big belly buster for a Mr. Andrews. I think he’s in security. He a good tipper?
Oliver: Don’t look down.Felicity: Too late! I should mention that I’m afraid of heights… which I just learned right now!Oliver: Hold on to me tight.Felicity: You know I imagined you saying that to me under different circumstances. Very platonic circumstances.
Felicity: This is my hack face. I always look like this when I’m about to hack.
Tommy: Why so serious?
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After Bradley Cooper debuted his crazy new perm on April 2, the Justin Timberlake (in his *NSYNC days) comparisons took off on the Internet. But the tightly wound ringlets, which are for Cooper's new David O. Russell movie with Jennifer Lawrence, looked an awful lot like some other famous (and not-so-famous) faces to us.
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In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.