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.
Widening the thematic scope without sacrificing too much of the claustrophobia that made the original 1979 Alien universally spooky Prometheus takes the trophy for this summer's most adult-oriented blockbuster entertainment. The movie will leave your mouth agape for its entire runtime first with its majestic exploration of an alien planet and conjectures on the origins of the human race second with its gross-out body horror that leaves no spilled gut to the imagination. Thin characters feel more like pawns in Scott's sci-fi prequel but stunning visuals shocking turns and grand questions more than make up for the shallow ensemble. "Epic" comes in many forms. Prometheus sports all of them.
Based on their discovery of a series of cave drawings all sharing a similar painted design Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) are recruited by Weyland to head a mission to another planet one they believe holds the answers to the creation of life on Earth. Along for the journey are Vickers (Charlize Theron) the ruthless Weyland proxy Janek (Idris Elba) a blue collar captain a slew of faceless scientists and David (Michael Fassbender) HAL 9000-esque resident android who awakens the crew of spaceship Prometheus when they arrive to their destination. Immediately upon descent there's a discovery: a giant mound that's anything but natural. The crew immediately prepares to scope out the scene zipping up high-tech spacesuits jumping in futuristic humvees and heading out to the site. What they discover are the awe-inspiring creations of another race. What they bring back to the ship is what they realize may kill their own.
The first half of Prometheus could be easily mistaken for Steven Spielberg's Alien a sense of wonder glowing from every frame not too unlike Close Encounters. Scott takes full advantage of his fictional settings and imbues them with a reality that makes them even more tantalizing. He shoots the vistas of space and the alien planet like National Geographic porn and savors the interior moments on board the Prometheus full of hologram maps sleeping pods and do-it-yourself surgery modules with the same attention. Prometheus is beautiful shot in immersive 3D that never dampers Dariusz Wolski's sharp photography. Scott's direction seems less interested in the run-or-die scenario set up in the latter half of the film but the film maintains tension and mood from beginning to end. It all just gets a bit…bloodier.
Jon Spaihts' and Damon Lindelof's script doesn't do the performers any favors shuffling them to and fro between the ship and the alien construction without much room for development. Reveals are shoehorned in without much setup (one involving Theron's Vickers that's shockingly mishandled) but for the most part the ensemble is ready to chomp into the script's bigger picture conceits. Rapace is a physical performer capable of pulling off a grisly scene involving an alien some sharp objects and a painful procedure (sure to be the scene of the blockbuster season. Among the rest of the crew Fassbender's David stands out as the film's revelatory performance delivering a digestible ambiguity to his mechanical man that playfully toys with expectations from his first entrance. The creature effects in Prometheus will wow you but even Fassbender's smallest gesture can send the mind spinning. The power of his smile packs more of a punch than any facehugger.
Much like Lindelof's Lost Prometheus aims to explore the idea of asking questions and seeking answers and on Scott's scale it's a tremendous unexpected ride. A few ideas introduced to spur action fall to the way side in the logic department but with a clear mission and end point Prometheus works as a sweeping sci-fi that doesn't require choppy editing or endless explosions to keep us on the edge of our seats. Prometheus isn't too far off from the Alien xenomorphs: born from existing DNA of another creature the movie breaks out as its own beast. And it's wilder than ever.
Oh, American Idol. You know exactly how to get me every year. Around this time every season, I find myself reaching for the Kleenex, hoping to stop my tears from overflowing into my oversized Coke cup. And just when I think I can’t cry anymore, you give me something that makes me weep more than Ryan Seacrest peering at an out-of-business tanning salon. You force a stale performance of “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” on me.
Sure, the annual hometown visits are touching and all, but watching Wednesday night’s penultimate performance episode, I found myself shedding more tears hearing our Top 3’s disappointedly uncreative song choices. Really, Jessica? After already choosing overplayed Idol songs like “Turn the Beat Around” (Season 2’s Carmen Rasmusen, Season 3’s Diana DeGarmo, Season 6’s Haley Scarnato), “Fallin’” (Season 1’s Kristin Holt, Season 5’s Mandisa, Season 9’s Michelle Delamor, Season 10’s Haley Reinhart), “Try a Little Tenderness” (Season 4’s Nadia Turner, Season 5’s Taylor Hicks), “Bohemian Rhapsody” (Season 4’s Constantine Maroulis, Season 5’s Kellie Pickler, Season 7’s Michael Johns, Season 8’s Adam Lambert), “Proud Mary” (Season 2’s Trenyce, Season 4’s Fantasia, Season 7’s Syesha Mercado), “You Are So Beautiful” (Season 5’s Taylor Hicks, Season 8’s Danny Gokey), and “And I Am Telling You” (Season 1’s Tamyra Gray and Melanie Sanders, Season 6’s LaKisha Jones, Season 8’s Nick Mitchell, Season 10’s Ashthon Jones, and Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson), you decide to sing Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want To Miss a Thing,” already performed on Idol by Season 2’s Josh Gracin, Season 4’s Lindsey Cardinale, Season 6’s Antonella Barba, Season 7’s David Cook, Season 6’s Allison Iraheta, Season 9’s Aaron Kelly, and Season 10’s Lauren Alaina? (For those of you keeping count, Jessica’s version makes eight — none of whom have killed it like Steven Tyler.) And seriously, Joshua? Choosing John Lennon’s “Imagine,” a song so manipulative, even David Archuleta’s dad is micromanaging it? (Imagine there’s no “Imagine” on Idol!) And, Phillip? Picking a song you probably got high listening to in your friend’s den while eating cheesesteaks? Well, at least you probably had more of a connection to Matchbox 20’s “Disease” than Joshua did with “I heard it on the radio” tune “Imagine.”
It’s actually concerning — while, in years past, we were forced to suffer the judges’ faulty judgment (you can blame David Cook and Allison Iraheta’s aforementioned performances of the Aerosmith hit on the judges’ choice), this is the first season of Idol in which I found myself questioning the singers’ tastes. I’d love to give them the benefit of the doubt and simply blame fatigue (see: Joshua’s dreary-eyed, Ambien-fueled responses to Ryan’s questions), but you’d think the contestants would at least have a few magical beans in their back pockets. It’s like Top Chef contestants showing up to the competition without at least one dessert recipe in their arsenal — it’s hard to accept a delicious main course if it’s followed by an underwhelming chocolate soufflé. So why not cart with you some extra recipes for success?
NEXT: Phillip: Music’s Twin Sets and Butterfly Clips.
So as much as I want to eat up our singers’ post-Idol careers, I’m finding myself wondering if they’re even ready to dig in. Would we be satisfied with a Joshua Ledet album filled with tunes so saccharine, they could fill a candy store? A Jessica Sanchez album so predictable, you can call it Randy Jackson? A Phillip Phillips album so 1990s, you could slap a pair of Doc Martens on it?
Perhaps my 1990s nostalgic has hypnotized me with visions of Lisa Frank unicorns and gelly roll pens, but I’m totally buggin’ thinking of that last option, Tai. Because while Joshua and Jessica’s choices were roll-your-eyes predictable, Phillip has managed to carve out an audience for himself that enjoys his particular recipe. Take one tablespoon of growl and combine it with one cup quirk and 100,000 screaming 13-year-olds, and you have a combination as delectable as it is cannibalistic. So while “Disease” might have been just mildly infectious, it was easy to forgive the performance after antidote that was Madcon’s “Beggin’.” (Holy English class, so many metaphors!) I have to give Randy-esque mad props to Steven Tyler for his unconventional choice for Phillip — his foresight let the contestant to deliver his best performance of the season. The acoustic beginning, reminiscent of Kris Allen’s “Heartless,” his playfulness with the melody, the outdoor concert vibe — it’s no wonder Steven called Phillip the “New Age Boss” after whipping out his poetry: “When you’re facing the sun, the shadows stand behind you. My hands are small I know, but they’re not yours, they are my own.”
Though Phillip’s chest hair was screaming for it, the judges failed to give him a deserved standing ovation for “Beggin’” — but he did finally score recognition for Jimmy Iovine’s choice, Bob Seger’s “We’ve Got Tonight,” a lovely rendition that helped audiences remember that Phillip actually has a beautiful voice behind the guitar, growls, and dorm room move-in day wardrobe. (Even the insipid Swaybot clapping couldn’t bring him down.) Randy may be wrong calling it Phillip’s best performance yet — “Beggin’” and last week’s “Volcano” exploded on the Idol stage much more — but performing the song more than sealed a spot in the final two, especially after Steven’s praise: “Get used to it, because you never will. I still bleed and my lips still smile and my breasts won’t always be firm.”
But the pimp spot isn’t the only thing guaranteeing Phillip a Top 2 finish — his hometown footage in Georgia was far more touching than his other contestants’ visits. Watching Phillip go home, we laughed (the “Phillip, you still owe me $10” sign), we cried (the usually stoic Phillip breaking down, and subsequently breaking hearts, during the parade), and felt simultaneously touched, petrified, and eager to read up on gun laws seeing Phillip Phillips Sr., packing heat. Phillips spot in the final two is as sure as the future restraining order he will file against the rabid fan who pulled him out of his limo.
NEXT: Animal crackers in my Idol
Speaking of (pawn shop) turkeys, I have a feeling that Jessica will miss the final two, no matter how much she don’t want to. It’s too bad — the 16-year-old deserves a spot in the finals, if not a chance to soak in a confetti shower. And her approach Wednesday night was quite savvy for a girl from a generation that documents all their embarrassing teen crushes online. (The pen and paper won’t seem so lame in 10 years, kids!) Why not become the next Mariah Carey in a world all too devoid of ridiculous photoshopped albums full of ridiculously amazing vocals? So I wanted to love Jennifer’s choice, “My All,” as much as I did when I jotted down the lyrics in my eighth grade notebook. And I wanted to see the rainbow at the end of Jimmy’s “I’ll Be There,” a song Mariah herself covered dutifully and passionately. But it turns out Jessica and Mariah’s songs are as bad a fit as TRL and ice cream carts . The songs lacked Jessica’s patented pizzazz, her penchant for wowing audiences who underestimate her abilities because of her young age. Instead, her youth showed — as did the fact that she’s simply not Mariah, no matter how much Tommy Mottola is interested in her. Add to that yet another unsettlingly mature, midriff-baring outfit and a song of her choosing as plain as Liv Tyler and unfrosted animal crackers, and Jessica seems poised to settle for a Top 3 finish. That’s despite Steven’s assessment that Jessica might end up Season 11’s winner: Said Ryan, “Did you just predict a winner?” Said Steven, “Don’t I always?”
And isn’t that, ladies and gentlemen, the exact problem with our judges’ panel? Because while Steven might have supported Jessica following her performance of “My All,” he flip-flopped so quickly in Joshua’s corner, he might as well sit on an IHOP griddle. Because, once again, our panel of three cannot seem to jump off the Joshua train. Just see the trio’s standing ovation for Randy’s choice, “I’d Rather Go Blind,” a performance so tired, it just read a Nicholas Sparks chapter and turned in for the night. (I’ll spare you the “I’d Rather Be Deaf” jokes.) Not to mention their love for the uninspired “Imagine” and Jimmy’s choice, Mary J. Blige’s “No More Drama.” Look, I respect Joshua’s talent and feel for him knowing he’s been unable to score any constructive criticism, but an octave-spanning run at the end of Joshua’s songs is as expected as Strawberry Alarm Clock at one of Nigel Lythgoe’s parties. So as much as the lady who bedazzled Joshua and Jessica’s jackets might tell her cats that she hearts the contestant, Joshua’s performances are still anything but spontaneous, Jennifer. Still, the judges will continue to praise Joshua for schlocky stripping (“That’s what being a great artist is about,” says Jeff Timmons Randy?) until they’re riding with Twinkies, cockroaches, and John Cusack into the End of Times.
But with Idol’s end of Season 11 times fast approaching, can you imagine a final two with Jessica? Or do you agree that Phillip and Joshua are finals-bound? What made you cry more: Phillip’s hometown visit, or the fact that you felt jealous watching him caress his own leg during “We’ve Got Tonight”? Does Ryan deserve a raise of coping with two out of three contestants who are virtually not interview-able? Does Joshua have a future in politics, what with his skill for killing babies? And wouldn’t Stefon love West Lake, Louisiana? It. Has. Everything. Parades, crawfish, women who cry holding babies, women with pirate eye patches…
Follow Kate on Twitter @HWKateWard
[Image Credit: FOX]
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Enigmatic and deliberate Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy makes no reservations while unraveling its heady spy story for better or worse. The film based on the bestselling novel by John Le Carre is purposefully perplexing effectively mirroring the central character George Smiley's (Gary Oldman) own mind-bending investigation of the British MI6's mole problem. But the slow burn pacing clinical shooting style and air of intrigue only go so far—Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy sports an incredible cast that can't dramatically translate the movie's impenetrable narrative. Almost from the get go the movie collapses under its own weight.
After a botched mission in Hungary that saw his colleague Jim (Mark Strong) gunned down in the streets Smiley and his boss Control (John Hurt) are released from the "Circus" (codename for England's Secret Intelligence Service). But soon after Smiley is brought back on board as an impartial observer tasked to uncover the possible infiltration of the organization. The former agent already dealing with the crippling of his own marriage attempts to sift through the history and current goings on of the Circus narrowing his hunt down to four colleagues: Percy aka "Tinker" (Toby Jones) Bill aka "Tailor" (Colin Firth) Roy aka "Soldier" (Ciaran Hinds) and Toy aka "Poor Man" (David Dencik). Working with Peter (Benedict Cumberbatch) a conflicted younger member of the service and Ricki (Tom Hardy) a rogue agent who has information of his own Smiley slowly uncovers the muddled truth—occasionally breaking in to his own work place and crossing his own friends to do so.
Describing Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as dense doesn't seem complicated enough. The first hour of the monster mystery moves at a sloth's pace trickling out information like the tedious drips of a leaky faucet. The talent on display is undeniable but the characters Smiley included are so cold that a connection can never be made. TTSS sporadically jumps around from past to present timelines without any indication: a tactic that proves especially confusing when scenes play out in reoccurring locations. It's not until halfway through that the movie decides to kick into high gear Smiley's search for a culprit finally becoming clear enough to thrill. A film that takes its time is one thing but Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy does so without any edge or hook.
What the movie lacks in coherency it makes up for in style and thespian gravitas. Director Tomas Alfredson has assembled some of the finest British performers working today and they turn the script's inaccessible spy jargon into poetry. Firth stands out as the group's suave slimeball a departure from his usual nice guy roles. Hardy assures us he's the next big thing once again as the agency's resident moppet a lover who breaks down after a romantic fling uncovers horrifying truth. Oldman is given the most difficult task of the bunch turning the reserved contemplative Smiley into a real human. He half succeeds—his observational slant in the beginning feels like an extension of the movie's bigger problems but once gets going in the second half of the film he's quite a bit of fun.
Alfredson constructs Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy like a cinematic architect each frame dripping with perfectly kitschy '70s production design and camera angles that make the spine tingle. He creates paranoia through framing similar to the Coppola's terrifying The Conversation but unlike that film TTSS doesn't have the characters or story to match. The movie strives to withhold information and succeeds—too much so. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy wants us to solve a mystery with George Smiley but it never clues us in to exactly why we should want to.
It's cheerleaders vs. immortals this weekend, and insiders are betting the beauties will beat the beasts.
Universal's "Bring It On" could wind up topping the chart with a relatively modest four-day gross of $12-14 million. Last Labor Day weekend saw Buena Vista/Touchstone's blockbuster "The Sixth Sense" in first place with a hefty $29.3 million.
Typically, Hollywood doesn't expect the box office to sizzle over the four-day Labor Day weekend. The holiday marks the end of summer and a return to school for youngsters and hasn't been seen over the years by the industry as a great time to go after moviegoers with high-profile, big-budget openings.
"Even people who don't have kids are kind of in a frame of mind of getting back to work and buckling down," explains one executive.
After kicking off last weekend with a chart-topping $17.4 million, Universal and Beacon Pictures' PG-13-rated dark comedy "Bring It On" is positioned well to keep its first place cheerleading letter.
With its cume at about $21.5 million going into its second weekend, the good news for Universal is that "Bring" has already grossed more than twice the roughly $10 million investment the studio has in the production.
Directed by Peyton Reed, it stars Kirsten Dunst, Eliza Dusku, Jesse Bradford and Gabrielle Union.
Dimension Films' R-rated fantasy action adventure sequel "Highlander: Endgame," opening at about 1,500 theaters, should come in on the pom-pom girls' heels in second place with $8-10 million.
Directed by Douglas Aarniokoski, "Highlander" stars Adrian Paul and Christopher Lambert.
"It's going to be a crummy weekend," observes an insider looking at the low projected grosses.
Warner Bros.' "The Art of War" will battle New Line's "The Cell" for third place.
"The tradition has been to drop around 20 percent from four days to four days," a distributor explains, speculating about how holdovers in the marketplace will fare. "The four days (last weekend plus last Monday) for 'Art of War' were about $11.3 million, so 80 percent of that would be $9 million. 'The Cell' did about $10.7 million for four days. If it drops 25 percent, it will do about $8 million. 'Bring It On' did about $18.9 million for four days. Even if it drops 30 percent, it'll be $13 million. So there could be a tight race for the second, third and fourth position."
"You've got to figure 'The Art of War' and 'The Cell' are, maybe, $7-9 million for four days," another distribution executive notes. "Depending how 'The Art of War' holds up, it and 'The Cell' could be pretty close."
"War," an R-rated martial arts drama from Warner Bros., opened in second place last weekend to $10.4 million.
Directed by Christian Duguay, "War" stars Wesley Snipes, Anne Archer and Donald Sutherland.
"Cell," an R-rated serial killer thriller, was third last weekend with $9.7 million.
Directed by Tarsem, "Cell" stars Jennifer Lopez, Vince Vaughn and Vincent D'Onofrio.
Warner Bros. PG-13 sci-fi action adventure "Space Cowboys" should round out the top five in its fifth weekend. Last weekend it placed fourth with $6.5 million.
"It did about $7 million for four days last week and could be around $5-6 million this weekend," a source predicts.
Directed by Clint Eastwood, "Space" stars Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, James Garner and Donald Sutherland.
"Based on the way it's been holding, 'Space Cowboys' could do $6 million for four days, and that could be more than 'Whipped' does," says another executive.
"Whipped," an R-rated sex comedy opening at over 1,500 theaters via Destination Films, should finish sixth.
"'Whipped' is whipped," snaps one unimpressed observer who can't resist beating up on the inexpensive indie production.
Written, produced and directed by Peter M. Cohen, "Whipped" stars Amanda Peet and Brian Van Holt.
Filling out lower rungs this weekend: "The Original Kings of Comedy," "What Lies Beneath," "The Replacements" and "Nutty Professor II: The Klumps".
On this weekend's expansion front: Fine Line Features' R-rated comedy "Saving Grace" continues to widen in its fifth weekend.
Directed by Nigel Cole, it stars Brenda Blethyn and Craig Ferguson.
Looking ahead, one insider points out, "The Olympics are going to make for a very poor September (providing major televised competition from Sept. 15 through Oct. 1). We're going to be going through the doldrums here. And, of course, you've got all these exhibition companies going bankrupt or barely hanging on. That doesn't have a direct effect on box office. But the box office is soft, and they're down to the point where they need every buck they can get."