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.
Instead of spending this week thinking about my original predictions for the So You Think you Can Dance Season 9 final four (which was some combination of Amelia/Audrey/Matthew/Chehon, only one of whom made it remotely close to the top), I spent considerable time thinking about the Jedi mind tricks manufactured by Nigel at the end of last week’s episode.
Think about it. Why did he support Cyrus throughout the entirety of the season — the whole thing — and then choose the last three minutes of the final performance show to turn against him?
I have decided I know why: It was all a ploy. A ploy to get us all to pity Cyrus and vote for him. A ploy to make Cyrus the 2012 America’s Favorite (Male) Dancer.
I’m not complaining. I consider myself very jaded when it comes to these shows and very aware of Nigel’s various forms of manipulation—and even I felt bad for Cyrus. Even I fell for it. Even I started thinking that maybe, just maybe, Cyrus deserved to win. Me! Who has been complaining for the entirety of the last five weeks that he did not deserve to be here at all!
During last night’s finale, we found out whether the mind tricks worked.
But first. There was, of course, a two-hour performance finale featuring the entire top 20, plus Carly Rae Jepsen and assorted other random stars. We also welcomed back many of the guest judges that graced the panel this season, including Tyce Diorio, Adam Shankman and Jackson Avery’s mom from Grey’s Anatomy.
The night kicked off with a routine Nigel called “the best routine we’ve ever opened the show with.” Glad to see that Nigel & Co. kept their gross exaggerations in check for the finale.
To some extent, it lived up to Nigel’s words. Like every other opening routine we’ve seen this season, it was dark and overwrought with emotion and everyone was wearing all black and the guys spent most of the two minutes tossing the flailing ladies around the stage. But I have to say, it was pretty cool in a Wuthering Heights kind of way.
Also, I kid you not: There was one portion of the routine where four or five of the immensely talented males leapt and jumped and twirled and all-around impressed, while Cyrus — seriously, I kid you not — kind of crouched at the top of the stage and crawled across it. But ignore me. I was on Team Cyrus this week. I keep forgetting.
You’re probably wondering how the producers planned to fill their allotted two hours of finale time. I shall tell you: Each of the six judges on the panel was tasked with naming his or her favorite routine of the season, which we would then be treated to seeing for a second time.
Nigel chose Matthew and Audrey’s chaise lounge routine (Nigel’s pronunciation of that phrase puts mine to shame — good thing I write and I don’t speak), inspired by Titanic and choreographed by Travis Wall. I enjoyed this routine — I really did. But it was just so literal in its inspiration. Still, at the beginning of this season — maybe as soon as I saw this exact number — I remember saying that I’d be shocked if these two weren’t in the finale.
Well. I’m not so shocked anymore. This is also why I don’t ever bet. I do stand by the fact, though, that these two were two of the most talented and graceful contemporary dancers of the season.
Up next, Lil C chose Twitch’s and Witney’s hip-hop routine for its “rhythmical versatility.” Ha. If that’s what you want to call it.
I actually liked this routine significantly more tonight than I did the first time I saw it. Probably because back when I first saw it, Witney was still in the running, a fact that infuriated me endlessly. I have to admit, she and Twitch were a surprisingly intriguing pair, but I stand by the fact that her hairography constitutes at least half of what the judges lovingly refer to as her appeal. Applegate’s with me on that one.
Debbie/Jackson’s mom finally got one of our top two ladies on the stage when she picked Tiffany’s and George’s “Turning Page” routine, choreographed by Sonya. This was such a perfect partnership — just like Audrey and Matthew, these two are such talented, mechanically-sound contemporary dancers. Both of them have such terrific extension, such clean lines … they just danced so well together. Poor George just couldn’t get any love from the voting public. At least one of them survived till the end, though.
We then took some time to look back at the five best moments from the audition tour — a.k.a. the sob-story dancers who weren’t good enough to make it onto the show, but whom the producers felt the need to pimp, regardless.
For No. 5, we took a look back at Leroy, who came from a rough neighborhood and channeled his energy into starting a dance troupe for kids. I remember liking this dude. He was a good dude. He wouldn’t have survived on this show, though.
Then again, I said the same thing about Cyrus. So there’s that.
For his reprise pick, Adam chose Cole’s and Lindsay’s paso doble, choreographed by Jason Gilkison and a number Nigel deemed one of SYTYCD’s best paso dobles ever.
I missed Lindsay! I missed Cole! Lindsay was so likeable, and Cole so, so deserved to be in the finale. He was so versatile and so endearing. I, like Nigel and Adam, loved this routine: It was so dark in a Disney movie-montage kind of way. This was also a great moment for Lindsay because it got her out of the cute-little-teenager rut. It was a very mature performance from her.
Next up, Tyce — shockingly! — chose a Broadway routine. His favorite was the Lovecats number, performed by Amelia and Will. In another example of just how bad I am at predicting which dancers would be the last ones left standing, I remember seeing this and thinking that it would be impossible for Amelia to be left out of the top four.
Not only was she left out of the top four, she was left out of the top 10. She didn’t even qualify for the tour.
I guess this just goes to show that America’s love doesn’t come cheap. They want more than characters and theatrics and dancers who mug at the camera; they want real, undeniable talent.
Then, it was time for the No. 4 best moment of the season, which belonged to housewife Brie, who sacrificed her dancing career when she had kids. The judges originally put her through to Vegas — and invited her children to the judges’ panel to help determine her fate — but she didn’t make it much farther than that.
Moving right along, Mary chose what she perceived as the most powerful, emotional number of the season: Chehon’s and all-star Kathryn’s “Eli, Eli” routine, based on the Holocaust and choreographed by Tyce.
Oh, man, I loved this one. This routine was the precise moment Chehon became a lock for the finale. This is when he proved he could do emotion — he had that silent scream, that astounding lift in the middle, that dive toward the suitcase on the floor. This was probably his best performance of the season. Good thing we got to see it again. This would justify his win, 100 percent, if he got it.
Finally, at the end of the first hour of the finale, it was time to give some love to the four finalists, starting with Eliana. She chose to re-perform her “Bang Bang” contemporary piece with alls-star Alex — otherwise known as the routine that prompted Nigel to deem her his favorite dancer in the history of SYTYCD.
Along with Chehon’s suitcase routine, this was certainly one of the standouts of the season. It was so nice to finally — finally — get to see Eliana do a contemporary number with such a talented partner. For so long, she carried her partners — I’m talking to you, Cy — and this kind of reminded all of us how amazing she can be when she dances with someone who’s actually on her level.
Post-routine, Nigel told us once again that Eliana is his favorite, then told her that every choreographer on this show is obsessed with her and wants to hire her. Aw, shucks.
The No. 3 top moment of the season went to the two twins — I think they owned a clothing store or something — who auditioned when Jesse Tyler Ferguson was guest-judging. I remember them being kind of funny but also kind of annoying. Oh well.
Next, Cat got to choose a routine for us all to see once again! It was Tiffany and all-star Brandon’s disco! Featuring a whopping 11 lifts! Tiffany is so good. This was a great moment for her because it gave her a chance to get her inner J.Lo on, complete with the sparkly bodysuit. She finally got to show some personality and smile a little and prove that if the Black Eyed Peas ever need a backup dancer, she’s their girl. Oh, and as Cat indicated, the 11 lifts were pretty amazing.
Chehon chose to dance his Argentine tango with Anya because it helped him break through what he called his “emotional wall.” Kind of a strange pick for Chehon. I’m sure that if the judges hadn’t chosen the suitcase routine already, he would have — but this was an odd selection because the judges constantly got on his case about the fact that he was weak when it came to the Latin styles. I thought this routine was kind of sleepy and dull and not all that sensual or interesting for a tango, but hey. I suppose Chehon truly believed it helped him grow, so why not?
It also gave him an opportunity to wear a sheer red shirt.
Afterward, Mary told him he’s been extraordinary from the get-go, and the night he performed this particular tango was the night his wall noticeably came down.
After a lengthy montage of all the wonderful hip-hop routines we saw this season, we got another treat: a brand new hip-hop routine! With Twitch, Comfort and Cyrus featuring Christopher Scott!
Interesting that they gave Cyrus a special routine with two all-stars and a choreographer. Not that the producers adore him or anything. I’m not complaining because I love these dubstep numbers — they’re actually my favorite, and this one in particular was so impressive — but there is just so much rampant special treatment for Cy.
I would love to see this season’s voting totals just for an indication of how much demand there is for this. Given the way the producers pimped him, I would assume that Cyrus straight-up dominated all season.
Tiffany reprised her Mandy Moore-choreographed “Power of Love” contemporary routine because she said it was her defining moment. We know how much she loves that song. I do, too, and I was pretty thrilled I got to hear (and see!) it again. The lifts in this routine were so spectacular, and so was Tiffany’s body control. It was like a figure-skating routine on the ground. Pretty amazing stuff.
Mary said this was the routine that opened the judges’ eyes and proved that Tiffanyf could be a mature dancer as well as a “firecracker.”
This was the point in the finale when I really started wondering who would win. How do you choose between Eliana and Tiffany? How come they both couldn’t win?
The No. 2 top moment of the season — YES — was THE EXORCIST. Oh man, I missed him. This was absolutely the top audition moment for me. This possibly was the top moment of the season for me (I peaked early). I wonder if The Exorcist has watched Cyrus’ trajectory through this show and wishes he hadn’t given up.
And of course, the No. 1 moment of the season was Dragon House, the hip-hop trio from Atlanta, which was welcomed back to the live stage. So much love for hip-hop this season.
These dudes were so awesome. They were like three Cyruses. Wait, wasn’t Cyrus in Dragon House? Did I make that up? How come nobody mentioned that? How come Cyrus didn’t dance with them?
Carly Rae Jepsen then took the stage to celebrate her album’s release in the U.S. and to perform her new single, “This Kiss.” Praise the Lord that I didn’t have to hear “Call Me Maybe.” I actually had never heard her sing live before this. I try to avoid Carly Rae Jepsen at all costs.
And now I know why.
Anywho, after the entirely too long montage of this season’s greatest hits, it was time for Cyrus’ reprise. What a shocker that he got to go last! What an even bigger shocker that he chose his final duet with Twitch!
No, in all seriousness, I was pretty psyched that he chose this number. It was pretty excellent. Anyone who watches this show was waiting all season to see these two dance together, and finally seeing it happen was like Christmas.
Also, I think Twitch got more face time during the finale than three of the four finalists.
After they were finished and stood frozen and twitching at center stage, Cat earned her Emmy nomination with the quote of the night: “Don’t worry, I’ve got the charger!”
Nigel attempted to compensate for last week’s mind games by telling Cyrus that that “if some company doesn’t use you as the face of their product, they are very stupid.” ‘Kay. I’ve never seen Nigel pimp out contestants for endorsement deals before, but there’s a first time for everything. I’m sure he has plenty of ideas for Witney.
He also said that not only did Cy steal last week’s show with this routine, he stole the whole season. True story. No way he would lose.
… Or would he?
First, before the results, there was time for one more original routine, choreographed by Tabitha and Napoleon (when did they have time to choreograph? Didn’t they just have a baby?). The top 10 teamed up with the all-stars, and OMG you guys. It was a king-of-the-jungle routine that began with the intro of “Circle of Life.” I was sold immediately.
Also, everyone was dressed up like lions, complete with fake fur and face paint. So that happened. It was like king-of the-jungle Rocky Horror Picture Show. I kind of enjoyed it, though.
And then — dun dun dun — the final results. Finally. It all came down to this. Oh, the nerves!
Eliana, dressed in all black, and Tiffany, dressed in all white, were up first. Both ladies were weeping as Cat dragged out the final reveal and deemed America’s favorite (female) dancer…
I was pretty happy. She’s so cute and likable. So is Tiffany, but Tiff was kind of a late bloomer, so ultimately, this was no surprise. Eliana’s demeanor is so reminiscent of Melanie’s that this was kind of a given from the get-go, and she is just so freaking talented.
And then, the guys. This, of course, was the real moment of truth, which was why the producers saved the guys for last. During the pre-results montage, there was absolutely no doubt in my mind that Cyrus would win. It’s so easy to see why people love him. He is very lovable, and it’s so much fun to watch him. If that’s what this show is about, I’m okay with that, even if it means ultra-talented Chehon gets the shaft.
And so, America’s favorite male dancer was…
Did I not say that there is a reason why I don’t bet?
Still, I was pretty shocked. I think Cyrus was shocked. Chehon was definitely shocked. I think America ultimately made the right call here: They awarded the best dancer with the top honors.
But … there was a tiny part of me that felt bad for poor Cy.
But there is no doubt in my mind that we’ll be seeing more than enough of him in the all-star rounds of future seasons.
So that’s a wrap on Season 9! What did you think? Did the right dancers win? Who did you vote for? Did you buy into Nigel’s performance-finale mind tricks?
Until next season…
[Image Credit: FOX]
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