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.
On June 26, 1953, Marilyn Monroe received her star along Hollywood's Walk of Fame. She wrote her name in the wet cement in front of Grauman''s Chinese Theater and dotted the "i" in her first name with a rhinestone.
The blonde bombshell had quickly become Hollywood's darling, a legendary movie star, and would soon become one of the biggest silver screen icons of the 20th century.
On Friday, to celebrate what would have been Monroe's 75th birthday, cable network AMC will premiere Marilyn Monroe: The Final Days, a feature-length documentary chronicling the tragic last months in the life of Hollywood's sweetheart.
The documentary will include the premiere of the edited, 37-minute reconstruction of her final film, Something's Got to Give.
The film was a remake of the 1940 romantic comedy My Favorite Wife, starring Cary Grant and Irene Dunne. The footage languished for nearly 40 years in 20th Century Fox's vault.
The rise to stardom wasn't easy for Monroe, born was Norma Jean Baker. Having grown up in a string of foster homes and an orphanage, she eventually found her talent in modeling. She quickly moved to Hollywood in the late 1940s to launch a movie career.
Scoring bit parts in such films as John Huston's Asphalt Jungle and All About Eve was enough for Monroe to catch the attention of many studio producers in the 1950s. Monroe's curvaceous body, platinum hair and breathless voice were just some of the traits which led studios to knock on her door with movie deals.
The American Film Institute, dedicated to advancing and preserving the art of the moving images, has included Monroe on three of its Best 100 movies list.
An AFI panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community ranked Monroe's 1959 film Some Like It Hot as No. 1 on the "Funniest Movies" list and No. 14 on its "Greatest Movies" list. She also is No. 6 on the AFI's list of "Greatest American Screen Legends" for actresses.
Her status as a sex symbol began to solidify when she graced the first issue of Playboy magazine in 1952.
"Marilyn Monroe is the playmate of all time," Elizabeth Norris, director of public relations for Playboy, said.
The actress not only appeared on the magazine's first cover, but also was its first playmate, Norris said. Monroe has been featured eight times in Playboy but she never posed for the magazine. Playboy purchased the pictures.
"She was a flagship model [for Playboy]," Morris said.
Monroe's image has been forever preserved as a result of crooning "Happy Birthday" to President John F. Kennedy or standing with a billowing skirt over a subway gate in Billy Wilder's The Seven Year Itch.
She died in August 1962 of an overdose of barbiturates. Her last completed film was The Misfits. She never completed Something's Got to Give.
Kevin Burns, executive producer of AMC's Marilyn Monroe: The Final Days, found nearly 9 ½ hours of raw footage of her last film, Something's Got to Give, in 1996.
Most of the footage was faded badly, but it was restored and color corrected using technical video technology.
After restoration, "the quality was better than we feared," Burns recalled. "There was a lot more footage than we thought existed."
Producers had to string together pieces of the film following the order they thought the plot would fall into. But the actress' performance seemed promising as she played the part of a "flesh-and-blood person," Burns said, having matured as a woman and an actress in the final years leading up to The Misfits.
"Marilyn looks beautiful, although she was not in great emotional or physical condition," Burns said. "She seemed to have difficulty remembering lines and seemed to have physical and emotional problems."
Monroe's personal physician, Dr. Hyman Engelberg, will discuss publicly for the first time in the documentary Monroe's emotional instability, chemical dependency and general poor health during the period of filming.
It is difficult to say how Something's Got to Give would have fared at the box office since it's incomplete, Burns said. Monroe wasn't present in all of the found footage. Her illnesses led to her absence from the set 17 of 30 days scheduled for shooting.
"It would have probably been one of the featherweight comedies of the 1960s," Burns said. "It would have been cute and charming."
It is hard to predict what Monroe would be doing today if she was still alive, but Burns assumed that she would continue being the charming, yet vulnerable, person that she was.
Burns pondered whether Monroe could have survived losing her looks, because she didn't have a strong personality. She was sweet yet very fragile, he said.
"It's intriguing to watch a woman like Marilyn, and yet know that she was full of doubt, insecurity and pain," Burns said. " [Marilyn's] death was part of who she was."
Burns promises that the charm which people love about Monroe will come across in the documentary.
The documentary is a part of a daylong celebration of Monroe's 75th birthday, ending at 4 a.m. EST Saturday. Marilyn Monroe: The Final Days will premiere at 8 p.m. EST.
To coincide with Monroe's birthday, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment launching Marilyn Monroe: The Diamond Collection. The collection features the debut of Monroe's most celebrated and colorful films on DVD, such as The Seven Year Itch, Bus Stop and more. Almost a million copies were pre-ordered before the collection's release.