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.
Mila Kunis and her boyfriend Ashton Kutcher looked on proudly on Saturday (07Dec13) as her brother married the dancer who trained the actress for her role in Black Swan. Kunis' brother Michael married ballerina Alexandra Blacker in St. Petersburg, Florida, and the Hollywood stars were in attendance to watch the happy couple tie the knot at the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter. The wedding was followed by a reception at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club.
Kunis and Kutcher also reportedly paid for the newlyweds' honeymoon in Australia as a wedding present.
Michael met Blacker while she was training Kunis for her role as a ballet star in the Oscar-winning drama. They became engaged last year (12).
The love match wasn't the only marriage to come from the film - Kunis' co-star Natalie Portman wed choreographer Benjamin Millepied after meeting him on set.
It was the trickle of pee heard around the world. Cannes attendees were aghast and/or amused an infamous scene from The Paperboy that shows Nicole Kidman urinating on Zac Efron; this is apparently a great salve for jellyfish burns which were covering our Ken Doll-like protagonist. (In fact the term protagonist should be used very loosely for Efron's character Jack who is mostly acted upon than active throughout.)
Lurid! Sexy! Perverse! Trashy! Whether or not it's actually effective is overshadowed by all the hubbub that's attached itself to the movie for better or worse. In fact the movie is all of these things — but that's actually not a compliment. What could have become somethingmemorable is jaw-droppingly bad (when it's not hilarious). Director Lee Daniels uses a few different visual styles throughout from a stark black and white palette for a crime scene recreation at the beginning to a '70s porno aesthetic that oscillates between psychedelic and straight-up sweaty with an emphasis on Efron's tighty-whiteys. This only enhances the sloppiness of the script which uses lines like narrator/housekeeper/nanny Anita's (Macy Gray) "You ain't tired enough to be retired " to conjure up the down-home wisdom of the South. Despite Gray's musical talents she is not a good choice for a narrator or an actor for that matter. In a way — insofar as they're perhaps the only female characters given a chunk of screen time — her foil is Charlotte Bless Nicole Kidman's character. Anita is the mother figure who wears as we see in an early scene control-top pantyhose whereas Charlotte is all clam diggers and Barbie doll make-up. Or as Anita puts it "an oversexed Barbie doll."
The slapdash plot is that Jack's older brother Ward (Matthew McConaughey) comes back to town with his colleague Yardley (David Oyelowo) to investigate the case of a death row criminal named Hillary Van Wetter. Yardley is black and British which seems to confuse many of the people he meets in this backwoods town. Hillary (John Cusack) hidden under a mop of greasy black hair) is a slack-jawed yokel who could care less if he's going to be killed for a crime he might or might not have committed. He is way more interested in his bride-to-be Charlotte who has fallen in love with him through letters — this is her thing apparently writing letters and falling in love with inmates — and has rushed to help Ward and Yardley free her man. In the meantime we're subjected to at least one simulated sex scene that will haunt your dreams forever. Besides Hillary's shortcomings as a character that could rustle up any sort of empathy the case itself is so boring it begs the question why a respected journalist would be interested enough to pursue it.
The rest of the movie is filled with longing an attempt to place any the story in some sort of social context via class and race even more Zac Efron's underwear sexual violence alligator innards swamp people in comically ramshackle homes and a glimpse of one glistening McConaughey 'tock. Harmony Korine called and he wants his Gummo back.
It's probably tantalizing for this cast to take on "serious" "edgy" work by an Oscar-nominated director. Cusack ditched his boombox blasting "In Your Eyes" long ago and Efron's been trying to shed his squeaky clean image for so long that he finally dropped a condom on the red carpet for The Lorax so we'd know he's not smooth like a Ken doll despite how he was filmed by Daniels. On the other hand Nicole Kidman has been making interesting and varied career choices for years so it's confounding why she'd be interested in a one-dimensional character like Charlotte. McConaughey's on a roll and like the rest of the cast he's got plenty of interesting projects worth watching so this probably won't slow him down. Even Daniels is already shooting a new film The Butler as we can see from Oprah's dazzling Instagram feed. It's as if they all want to put The Paperboy behind them as soon as possible. It's hard to blame them.
Death is supposed to bring a family closer together. But the passing of Daniel and Robert’s father is nothing more than an excuse for these two distinctly different brothers to renew their sibling rivalry. The painfully tedious Daniel (Matthew Macfadyen) is plagued with doubts about his ability to write a fitting eulogy to his father. It doesn’t help that everyone wonders aloud within earshot why his younger brother Robert (Rupert Graves)—a critically acclaimed novelist and renowned ladies man now living in New York—is penning the eulogy. Daniel’s also concerned whether Robert whom he assumes has dollars coming out of his ears will renege on his promise to split the cost of funeral. Daniel needs the money for a down payment on a new house; Robert can’t spare the cash because his living beyond his means has finally caught up with him. Then there’s their mother Sandra (Jane Asher) who takes Daniel for granted while lavishing all of her affections on Robert. And while Robert immediately becomes the center of attention Daniel finds himself dealing with a situation that distracts him from the task of writing his father’s eulogy. His father had a secret double life which a mysterious funeral crasher (Peter Dinklage) threatens to expose if he’s not paid handsomely to keep quiet. And this blackmail attempt quickly leads to the apparent death at the funeral. Too bad director Frank Oz finds himself distracted tying up many other loose ends—including one woman’s efforts to watch over her drip of a fiancé who inadvertently ingested LSD while fending off the advances of her oily ex-boyfriend—to fully exploit the comic potential of Dinklage’s extortion plan. Guess dealing with so many big names—and even bigger egos—on The Stepford Wives took its toll on Frank Oz. How else to explain Death at a Funeral’s relatively star-free ensemble cast? Unfortunately Oz makes a huge blunder by placing the funeral arrangements on the broad shoulders of Pride & Prejudice’s Matthew Macfadyen. After trying in vain to make us forget Colin Firth’ Mr. Darcy Macfadyen treats Death at a Funeral as though it’s based on another Jane Austen literary classic. Yes Daniel’s as stiff as his father’s corpse but the terribly serious Macfadyen does nothing to make him likeable or amusing. Rupert Graves is somewhat charismatic as the prodigal son but he leaves with you the impression that his handsome rogue was written with Hugh Grant in mind. Peter Dinklage once again cashes in on The Station Agent with a performance hammier than the one he gives in Underdog. He’s a good actor but he obviously needs a director who can rein him in. Serenity’s Alan Tudyk—sporting a passable English accent—also shows no restraint. But thank heavens for that. His over-the-top theatrics—which includes prancing around on a roof dressed in just his birthday suit—generates most of the few laughs to be found in Death at a Funeral. The others come from veteran British actor Peter Vaughn who’s delightfully cranky as Daniel and Robert’s foulmouthed uncle. The ladies—especially Macfadyen’s real-life wife Keeley Hawes—are required do nothing more than stand by their men. Or in Daisy Donovan’s case stand in front of a butt-naked Tudyk. Are Frank Oz’s best years behind him? Death at a Funeral and The Stepford Wives suggest the possibility. At least The Stepford Wives had some pep to it but Funeral is utterly lifeless. One of the problems is Dean Craig’s unfocused script which incorporates an overwhelming number of eccentric characters who find themselves in one predicament after another. But you can still detect a wicked streak in Craig’s script. Too bad it’s blunted by Frank Oz’s surprisingly reserved and gloomy approach to the proceedings at hand. The action is almost completely confined to one home ensuring that Funeral feels about as stagy as one of those groan-inducing British farces by West End playwright Ray Cooney. Funeral needs a director who understands and appreciates the absurdity of the situation and possesses the ability to keep his actors on a tight leash rather than letting them spin completely out of control. Once upon a time Frank Oz was such a director. But now Frank Oz doesn’t seem to know what he wants. Worse things never get as deliciously nasty as they could be--and that’s the kiss of death for a comedy that aspires to be blacker than the attire worn by the bereaved. Let’s hope the Muppet man-turned-director has another Bowfinger or Dirty Rotten Scoundrels left in him.
Humble and sincere Bobby (Favreau) an aspiring boxer and Ricky (Vaughn) his obnoxious loser friend work construction for a two-bit mob boss named Max (Peter Falk). Bobby just wants to make a decent wage to support his stripper girlfriend (Famke Janssen) and her daughter but whether its his own temper or Ricky's big mouth these two guys can't stay out of trouble. Max gives them one last chance to prove they're good for something and assigns them to a mysterious job that takes them to New York City where they hook up with a slick gangsta named Ruiz (Sean Combs). The two try not to look like the fish out of water that they are and attempt to carry out Max's instructions. But to Bobby's consternation the insufferably cocky Ricky never fails to get them into hot water and what should be an easy job turns into a comedy of errors.
Friends in real life Favreau and Vaughn have an honest chemistry on-screen and their long-awaited reunion is a joy. Though they reprise similar characters as in Swingers (serious-guy Favreau smart-ass Vaughn) Favreau delves deeper into his role as the floundering honest good guy who somehow cares deeply about Ricky despite his incessantly infuriating behavior. Vaughn hits the bullseye as a strident volatile jerk who can't keep his mouth shut. You never really like him but you can't wait to see what he'll do next--his missteps and offenses are so unbelievable you wince but you can't look away. Though not on-screen very often Falk is a hoot as the take-no-bull mob boss who is sick of both schlubs. Combs surprisingly makes a more than adequate turn as the hardcore gangster who finds himself enmeshed in Bobby and Ricky's chaos. His sidekick Horace (Faizon Love) is pretty funny too.
First-time director Favreau shows real talent behind the camera keeping up the pace and allowing the story to unfold while developing the fleshed-out characters at a swift even tempo. In Made the journey is more important than the destination--the slim plot takes a back seat to the story's twists and turns. Favreau draws the viewer into his world so deeply it's easy to forget you're in a movie theater and not with the guys as they sit in Max's office or in a NYC cab (cinematographer Christopher Doyle helps keeps it interesting with a deft touch and a handheld camera). The locales juxtapose nicely with this uneasy escapade--Bobby and his wanna-be-a-player pal stick out like sore thumbs at both the slick clubs and posh hotels and the seedy low-rent neighborhoods of the Big Apple.