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.
British actor Sir Tony Robinson is adamant the Blackadder cast will not be following the stars of Monty Python by staging a reunion because they "don't need the money". The veteran comedy troupe, including John Cleese, Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam, have got back together for a series of stage shows in London next summer (14), and Python member Eric Idle recently admitted they agreed to the reunion because of cash issues.
The comeback raised hopes about the revival of another beloved British comedy, Blackadder, but castmember Robinson is adamant it won't happen.
He tells the London Evening Standard, "We don’t need the money as much as they do... We don't have to pay for that amount of alimony or rehab so I'm not sure we have the same motivation. Good luck to them. It's high risk, but if it comes off it will be great. To my generation they were the gods."
Previous reports emerged over the summer suggesting Blackadder star Rowan Atkinson was in talks to bring the show back for a fifth season.
The TV comedy, which also starred Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, ended in 1989.
Debbie Harry, Paul Simon and Patti Smith were among the stars who turned out to honour late rocker Lou Reed at a tribute show in New York City on Monday night (16Dec13). Reed's family and friends were in the audience for the show at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem, which was organised by his widow Laurie Anderson and marked 50 days since his death from liver disease at the age of 71.
The emotional event included musical tributes from artists including Blondie star Harry, who sang Velvet Underground's White Light, White Heat, and Simon, who moved the crowd with a performance of Pale Blue Eyes.
Patti Smith performed Reed's anthem Perfect Day, and other performers at the show included singer/songwriter Emily Haines, The Persuasions, and Jenni Muldaur.
Spoken word pieces were delivered by a number of other attendees, including moviemaker Julian Schnabel and Reed's former Velvet Underground bandmate Maureen Tucker.
Anderson also spoke at the event and picked up her violin to play a song she had composed for her late husband.
Guests in the audience included music mogul Clive Davis, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit star Richard Belzer, and author Salman Rushdie.
British star Hugh Laurie has been honoured with the Best Actor prize at the New Zealand Film Awards for his role in Mr. Pip. The House star won the award for his portrayal of a teacher who remains on the Pacific island of Bougainville to distract schoolchildren from the island's civil war by reading them Charles Dickens' Great Expectations.
Laurie's young co-star Xzannjah won Best Actress for her role in the film as a schoolgirl who finds a connection with the fictional character Mr. Pip.
The film also scooped awards for Best Score and Best Costume design.
Mr. Pip, which was adapted from the awarding-winning book by New Zealand author Lloyd Jones, was released in New Zealand in October (13) but is yet to hit cinemas in other parts of the world.
Irish pop star Brian Mcfadden is turning Santa for a week to give unsuspecting Brits an early Christmas present. The former Westlife star will spend this week (ends13Dec13) as a guest presenter on U.K. TV show Daybreak, and he will be touring the country to dole out some festive cheer.
McFadden's first job in his role as 'Secret Santa' on Monday (09Dec13) was to travel to Slough, England to reunite Yvonne Laurie with her long-lost sister Elaine, 57 years after Laurie was adopted aged two.
He told her, "We have a little early Christmas present for you. All the way from Scotland - your sister Elaine!"
As the stunned pair hugged and wept outside Laurie's home, Daybreak presenter Lorraine Kelly told viewers McFadden will be springing surprises on the unsuspecting public all week.
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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AMC's planned The Walking Dead spinoff is now quite possibly going to be a prequel detailing just how the zombie plague was created, as reported by TVLine. So far, the reaction from fans has been a dispassionate, zombie-like "enh," but everyone at the cable network is still trying to drum up enthusiasum for the followup to their most popular show.
The series, set a few years before The Walking Dead, will finally answer exactly how the virus was made, and for what purpose. Series creator Robert Kirkman is developing the new show as well, but he'll no longer have his own source material to work with, as the comics remain focused on Rick & Co. Instead, we could be spending time with the geniuses who developed a zombie supervirus and then let it turn into a raging epidemic.
What's odd is that AMC is framing this idea as a novel, exciting concept — getting to see what happened before the apocolypse hit. But if anything, there's been a glut of films with that exact premise, and the thing that made Walking Dead stand out was how the characters had to deal with the huge change that wasn't their fault. But plenty of fans will likely take this new series as a chance to jump ship from the staid characters on the original show, which has struggled to find an emotional center or meaningful conflicts from the remaining cast. But, with the same people behind the camera on both shows, there's no reason to believe the same thing won't happen with a new group of people. Especially a group of people that develop a zombie supervirus. And then release it into the world. Which it ruins. It's creating a The Newsroom-like hindsight-is-20/20 timeline, but instead of enabling the characters to somehow be future-predicting supersavants, they'll constantly be messing up — because they can't fix their own mistakes or come up with a cure without contradicting The Walking Dead.
This series isn't even planned to air until 2015, so there's plenty of news to come, and potentially change. But with their only other new shows on the horizon another potential comic book adaptation and another prequel, AMC has their work cut out for them.
Lou Reed's widow Laurie Anderson attended a stirring memorial to her late husband in New York City on Thursday (14Nov13). Fans were invited to pay their respects to the rock legend, who lost his battle with liver disease on 27 October (13), at a sombre event near Lincoln Center's Paul Milstein Pool and Terrace on Tuesday (12Nov13) via a post on Reed's Facebook.com page.
New York: Lou Reed at Lincoln Center was advertised as "a gathering open to the public - no speeches, no live performances, just Lou's voice, guitar music & songs - playing the recordings selected by his family and friends".
Fans turned up in their droves as loudspeakers pumped out classic Reed tunes like Sally Can't Dance, Heroin, I'm Waiting for the Man and Sweet Jane, and they were treated to an appearance by Anderson, who briefly walked among them and stopped to chat with a few mourning devotees.
Lou Reed's widow Laurie Anderson and Bono have penned tribute essays about the late rocker for the new issue of Rolling Stone magazine. The former Velvet Underground frontman, who lost his battle with liver disease at the end of last month (Oct13), features on the cover of the publication, wearing his famous dark glasses, and the issue is filled with celebrity recollections, anecdotes about and tributes to him, culled from interviews conducted by senior writer David Fricke.
Anderson and U2 frontman Bono opted to give the magazine their thoughts after Reed's passing and agreed to write essays about the rock icon.
Bono writes, "He was thoughtful, meditative and extremely disciplined. Before the hepatitis that he caught as a drug user returned, Lou was in top physical condition. Tai chi was what he credited for his lithe physicality and clear complexion. This is how I will remember him, a still figure in the eye of a metallic hurricane, an artist pulling strange shapes out of the formless void that is pop culture, a songwriter pulling melodies out of the dissonance of what (poet) Yeats called 'this filthy modern tide' and, yes, pop's truly great poker face - with so much comedy dancing around those piercing eyes. The universe is not laughing today."
And the late star's widow adds, "Lou and I played music together, became best friends and then soul mates, traveled, listened to and criticized each other's work, studied things together (butterfly hunting, meditation, kayaking). We loved our life in the West Village (New York) and our friends; and in all, we did the best we could do."
She also reveals she met her late husband in Munich, Germany in 1992, when he asked her to "read something with his band" at the city's Kristallnacht festival.
She adds, "I liked him right away, but I was surprised he didn't have an English accent. For some reason I thought the Velvet Underground were British, and I had only a vague idea what they did... I was from a different world.
"As it turned out, Lou and I didn't live far from each other in New York, and after the festival Lou suggested getting together. I think he liked it when I said, 'Yes! Absolutely! I'm on tour, but when I get back - let's see, about four months from now - let's definitely get together.' This went on for a while, and finally he asked if I wanted to go to the Audio Engineering Society Convention. I said I was going anyway and would meet him in Microphones.
"We spent a happy afternoon looking at amps and cables and shop-talking electronics. I had no idea this was meant to be a date, but when we went for coffee after that, he said, 'Would you like to see a movie... and then after that, dinner? And then we can take a walk?' From then on we were never really apart."
Lou Reed's widow and his sister have been named the benefactors of his fortune after the late rocker's will was filed for probate in New York. The former Velvet Underground frontman lost his battle with liver disease at his home in New York state in October (13) and on Monday (04Nov13), the documents for his will were lodged in court.
According to the legal papers, Reed left his wife, performance artist Laurie Anderson, their $1.5 million (£1 million) New York home and all of his personal property, including jewellery, clothing, art, cars, boats, his touring company and 75 per cent of his estate.
The late rocker left his sister, Margaret Reed Weiner, the remaining portion of his fortune. When Anderson passes away the estate will be transferred to Weiner and her three children.
He also bequeathed $500,000 (£333,330) to his only sibling for the care of their 93-year-old mother.
Reed's attorney, James Purdy, tells the New York Post, "It all stays in the family."
Robert and David Gotterer, Reed's longtime business manager and accountant, have been named trustees of the estate and are in charge of collecting royalties, negotiating contracts and securing copyrights and licenses relating to Reed's songs and poetry.