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.
The veteran actress, who has released more than 20 exercise videos since 1982, will be presented with the Shape Your Life Award later this month (Oct11) and the Barbarella star has credited fitness gurus Jack LaLanne, Richard Simmons, Leni Cazden and Stuart Karl with her home video success.
In a post on her blog, she writes, "At SHAPE magazine's 30th birthday celebration in New York on October 26th, I am being presented with the the magazine's Shape Your Life Award. I feel very honoured by this. But I am also very cognisant of the people who made this possible for me...
"I didn't realise that timing was on my side. The home video industry was poised, just waiting for a product that would be so popular that people would fork over the money to buy the hardware to 'do Jane' as people came to call working out with me - over and over. It helped that I was already a film star...
"It blows my mind how many millions of people have embraced fitness as an overall lifestyle choice. If only we can come up with more ways to involve the millions of others who have yet to discover the benefits and, yes, the joys of working out (or even going for a regular fast walk, or climbing the stairs instead of taking the elevator, or biking instead of driving...)
"So when I receive my Shape award, I will have to thank all of the above people and the millions who first embraced the J.F. Workout and, as a result, helped launch the whole industry."
LaLanne, who was a keen bodybuilder and owned a chain of gyms, passed away on 23 January (11) after suffering respiratory failure due to pneumonia.
Friends, family and a number of famous faces turned out to pay their last respects to the late star in a service at Forest Lawn memorial park in L.A., and among the speakers was Schwarzenegger, who trained with LaLanne when he first moved to America from his native Austria.
The bodybuilder-turned-movie star told the congregation, "Right now he's telling St. Peter, 'Get up at 6am, get a juicer, take some vitamins, do some stretching'... Can you imagine the number of lives Jack saved? He was a true saint."
Lou Ferrigno also spoke at the service and called LaLanne "the godfather of fitness", while fellow fitness star Richard Simmons paid a poignant tribute to his late pal by ordering the crowd to put their arms in the air and stretch, adding: "That's how we honour Jack, with a big stretch".
The star passed away after suffering respiratory failure due to pneumonia at his home in Morro Bay, California on Sunday (23Jan11).
LaLanne, who was a keen bodybuilder and owned a chain of gyms, won over viewers with his motivational show The Jack LaLanne Show, in which he offered advice on fitness and exercise.
The show ended in the 1970s after 34 years.
He was recognised for his achievements with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and he was also inducted into the California Hall of Fame.
In a statement, his wife Elaine says, "I have not only lost my husband and a great American icon, but the best friend and most loving partner anyone could ever hope for."
LaLanne is survived by Elaine, as well as two sons, Dan and Jon, and a daughter, Yvonne.