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.
Officials confirmed Monday that the badly decomposed body of a woman found in her home last week was the estranged mother of conservative talk show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger, Reuters reports. According to a spokesman for the Los Angeles County coroner, the body of 77-year-old Yolanda Schlessinger was identified using an X-ray body comparison. An autopsy revealed she had been murdered, but the cause of death has not been established and could take a few weeks. Dr. Laura, who outraged the homesexual community two years ago by referring to gays and lesbians as "biological errors," issued a statement last week saying she was horrified by her mother's death. "My mother shut all her family out of her life over the years although we made several futile attempts to stay connected. May God rest her soul." Schlessinger has said that she and her mother had been estranged for 14 years.
Matt Damon is denying reports that he is marrying his longtime girlfriend Odessa Whitmire, People.com reports. "The rumor that he's getting engaged has been fabricated over the past couple of weeks, but it's not true," his publicist Jennifer Allen said. "He is dating Ms. Whitmire, but he is not engaged." Whitmire is Ben Affleck's former personal assistant.
The New York Daily News reports that Catherine Zeta-Jones and hubby Michael Douglas are planning to move to Bermuda to raise their children. According to the paper, Douglas preferred New York while Zeta-Jones wanted Wales, where the couple already owns a house. They reportedly settled on Bermuda because Douglas' mother, Dianna Darrid, is Bermudan.
Celebrity P.I. Anthony Pellicano pleaded not guilty Monday to federal weapons charges stemming from a police investigation into the alleged harassment of Los Angeles Times reporter Anita Busch, Reuters reports. At the time, Busch was researching an alleged Mafia extortion plot against actor Steven Seagal. When searching his West Hollywood office last month for evidence Pellicano had hired an ex-convict suspected of threatening Busch, police found two live grenades big enough to blow up an airliner in a safe.
The big-budget thriller The Big Bounce suspended its Oahu, Hawaii, shoot after director George Armitage suffered an intestinal ailment, Variety reports. The illness, however, does not require surgery and Armitage, who traveled to Los Angeles for treatment, is expected to resume his directorial duties. The film, which stars Owen Wilson and Morgan Freeman, has been filming since October.
The Venice Film Festival, which will run Aug. 27-Sept. 6, may be looking for a new home. Franco Bernabe, president of the Venice Biennale, the organization that puts on the festival, is considering moving the festival from the Lido to central Venice because of the rising costs associated with the remote island. Hotels have been known to double their prices during the event.
The feature-length animated version of Ben-Hur, narrated by Charlton Heston, will bow on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, Variety reports. Heston will also voice the title role in the picture, which will air across the Christian television network Tuesday night.
The Rolling Stones will play their first free concert since the 1969 Altamont fiasco when the Hells Angels turned a free "thank you" show into a bloodbath. Reuters reports the concert, scheduled for Feb. 6 at the Staples center in Los Angeles, is being held to promote awareness of global warming and is being organized with the environmental lobby group the Natural Resources Defense Council. Producer Steve Bing, a key Democrat fundraiser, will foot the bill.
Tim Russert, NBC's Meet the Press host, will pen a memoir about fathers and sons for Miramax Books, The Associated Press reports. "The book will share the lessons, anecdotes and advice given to Russert by his dad while growing up in Buffalo, N.Y.," a Miramax statement said Monday. The not-yet-titled memoir is scheduled to come out in time for Father's Day in 2004.