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.
During the first half of this 7th Series of Doctor Who, it seemed like the Doctor's biggest battle would be against the Silence — Weeping Angels-level creepy, Buffy the Vampire Slayer's The Gentlemen-esque villains who need to kill the Doctor (Matt Smith), lest he reveal his terrible secret: Doctor Who? A secret so dangerous, it would cause utter silence to fall. But now, after the tragic death of the Ponds and the introduction of Clara Oswald (Jenna-Louise Coleman), the gears seem to have shifted. If the new trailer below is any indicator, the latter part of this series, which will debut on Saturday, March 30, will focus on the following question: who and what is Clara Oswald, "The Impossible Girl?" (Not to be confused with Amy Pond, "The Girl Who Waited." Why didn't Rose Tyler ever get a cool title?)
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Though the action-packed teaser shows plenty of exciting adventures to come (hello, Cybermen!), the main gist is that Clara has the Doctor severely rattled. So rattled, in fact, that she may even rival Rose Tyler in the affect she has on the Time Lord. (Don't crucify me! Rose Tyler forever!) So, who is this mysterious woman, and why is she Doctor Who's version of South Park's Kenny? We have absoutely no idea, but we sure are excited to find out. Check out the posters for the upcoming episodes below, with spoiler-ish details included:
Episode 6: "The Bells of St. John"
From BBC: "The Doctor’s search for Clara Oswald brings him to modern day London, where humanity lives in a wi-fi soup. But something dangerous is lurking in the signals, picking off minds and imprisoning them. As Clara becomes the target of this insidious menace, the Doctor races to save her and the world from an ancient enemy."
From Me: Modern-Day London episodes have never been my favorite, and this "picking off minds" with technology angle sounds a lot like the first reboot appearance of Cybermen, the two-parter "Rise of the Cybermen"/"The Age of Steel" from Series 2. (The last time I found them to be truly frightening, if we're being honest.) Still, I have high hopes for Clara's first appearance — and if it is our favorite Cyberboys, let's hope for a serious revamp to up their scary ante.
Episode 7: "The Rings of Akhaten"
From BBC: "Clara wants to see something awesome, so the Doctor whisks her off to the inhabited rings of the planet Akhaten, where the Festival of Offerings is in full swing. Clara meets the young Queen of Years as the pilgrims and natives ready for the ceremony. But something is stirring in the pyramid, and a sacrifice will be demanded."
From Me: The awesome Indiana Jones feel of this poster — plus the creepy villains — has me very amped for episode 7. Also, there's a child Queen, and everyone knows that children are terrifying.
Episode 8: “Cold War”
From BBC: "The Doctor and Clara land on a damaged Russian Submarine in 1983 as it spirals out of control into the ocean depths. An alien creature is loose on board, having escaped from a block of Arctic ice. With tempers flaring and a cargo of nuclear weapons on board, it’s not just the crew but the whole of humanity at stake!"
From Me: Admittedly, I much prefer trips to other planets and the distant future to history-based episodes, but the claustrophobic setting and alien invasion angle sounds cool, kind of like bow ties.
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Episode 9: "Hide"
From BBC: "Clara and the Doctor arrive at Caliburn House, a haunted mansion sat alone on a desolate moor. Within its walls, a ghost hunting Professor and a gifted psychic are searching for the Witch of the Well. Her apparition appears throughout the history of the building, but is she really a ghost? And what is chasing her?"
From Me: This is my favorite of the bunch. That ghost reaching out looks like a force to be reckoned with, and the "hide" title alone is creepy. WHY must they hide? What are the secrets of this haunted mansion? For some reason, the setting has me hopeful that this might have a "The God Complex" feel to it — one of my favorite episodes of the series due to the creepiness factor.
So, what do you think of the trailer/upcoming episode synopses? Which episode looks the best to you? Are you psyched for more Clara, or are you missing the mighty Ponds? Shout out in the comments, and be sure to check back weekly for Hollywood.com's Doctor Who recaps!
Follow Shaunna on Twitter @HWShaunna
[PHOTO CREDIT: BBC America(4)]
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The Jurassic Park filmmaker was one of a handful of A-list celebrities invited to attend the wedding of former U.S. President Bill Clinton's only daughter to Marc Mezvinsky last weekend (31Jul-01Aug10).
The New York event was one of America's most high-profile nuptials in recent years - but Spielberg snubbed the affair so he could pay a visit to a farm in Widecombe-in-the-Moor.
The director plans to shoot new movie War Horse in Dartmoor on the 450-acre Holwell Farm.
Owner Philippa Hughes tells Britain's Daily Express newspaper, "It has been chaotic but very memorable. He came here last Saturday for a recce of the area. It was Bill Clinton's daughter's wedding and much of the world's media thought he was there.
"We showed him around the farm, showed him the views and he met the animals, like our piglets and Dartmoor ponies. He was very friendly and unassuming. He loved the animals and we found him a very easy person to be around.
"Some of the Americans among the crew were very impressed with Dartmoor. When you tell them the landscape has remained virtually unchanged for centuries, they can't quite believe it. It's such an iconic landscape."
Spielberg's latest project, based on Michael Morpurgo's novel, tells the story of a horse shipped to France during World War I.
Can Matthew McConaughey lead an all-star, he-man cast of sub-mariners to victory over the Nazis? For that matter, can he lead them to victory over reigning box-office champs Samuel L Jackson and Tommy Lee Jones?
"U-571," which stars McConaughey, Bill Paxton, Harvey Keitel and Jon Bon Jovi, leads the pack of new films entering theaters nationwide this weekend. Based on reviews and good-ol’-fashioned buzz, the undersea action flick appears to stand the best chance of bumping "Rules of Engagement" from the top spot.
Two other major films will get wide releases this weekend: "Love and Basketball," with a stellar cast; and "Gossip" starring Joshua Jackson of "Dawson’s Creek" fame and a cast of post-adolescents. Meanwhile, the directorial debut of Sofia Coppola (daughter of Francis, natch), "The Virgin Suicides" with Kirsten Dunst and James Woods, will open in limited release.
Here’s a rundown of this weekend’s new releases:
"U-571" See the trailer THE LOWDOWN: A group of WWII naval officers, using their zippy submarine, try to steal a stop-secret coding device from a Nazi U-boat and save the world from fascism. THE UPSIDE: Harvey Keitel could take on the Nazis single-handedly. THE DOWNSIDE: Standing next to Keitel, Matthew "skinny guy from ‘Contact’" McConaughey and Jon "Livin’ On a Prayer" Bon Jovi are decidedly lacking in the cojones department.
"LOVE AND BASKETBALL" See the trailer THE LOWDOWN: Omar Epps and Sanaa Lathan star as lifelong, platonic hoop-shooting friends of the opposite sex, who eventually give in to mutual attraction. THE UPSIDE: Also features Harry Lennix, who was amazing as the Moor in "Titus." THE DOWNSIDE: If your girlfriend can beat you at a game of one-on-one, you ought to try baseball instead.
"GOSSIP" THE LOWDOWN: James Marsden, Kate Hudson and Lena Heady star in a story about a rumor that’s planted as part of a college class project but soon escalates out of control. THE UPSIDE: The film’s marketing campaign heavily exploits the fact that is in the cast. THE DOWNSIDE: Jackson is a supporting player, which means most of the movie is about Marsden, Hudson and Heady.
"THE VIRGIN SUICIDES" See the trailer THE LOWDOWN: Based on a 1991 novel about a real-life 1970s incident, it’s the story of a suburban family thrown into a state of depression and isolation after one of their five daughters attempts suicide. THE UPSIDE: An extremely cool cast, including Kathleen Turner as the family mom. And as "The Ice Storm" showed a few years ago, disaffected 1970s suburban families make for fine movie subject matter. THE DOWNSIDE: This one debuted at Sundance earlier this year, and the word-of-mouth in Park City was not kind. MAINSTAYS: Look for "Erin Brockovich," "The Road to El Dorado," "Keeping the Faith," "The Skulls" and perhaps even "Return to Me" to remain in the Top 10.
EXITS: Several films are likely to be bumped out of the Top 10 this weekend, including "Final Destination" and "Ready to Rumble."