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.
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It’s hard to believe, but this Halloween marked the 20th anniversary of River Phoenix’s death. The actor had yet to reach his peak when he died of a drug overdose outside The Viper Room in Hollywood at only twenty-three years old. Phoenix was often referred to as the new James Dean, and as hyperbolic as that may sound, it was actually very true – Phoenix displayed a truthful and raw intensity in all his roles that projected a maturity beyond his years, which is impressive considering that he had grown up having never seeing a film in his life. His short career inspired a legion of actors and his death allowed actors such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Johnny Depp to have the careers they had. The troubled actor was also heavily involved with environmental organizations: he had famously bought a section of the Amazon rainforest after receiving his first big check, just so that portion of the forest couldn’t be cut down. Sensitive and intelligent, Phoenix was more than just a pretty face – he was a one-of-a-kind performer that brought authenticity to every role he played. (But damn, that face sure was pretty.)
Explorers Ok, so Explorers isn’t exactly award-winning material, but it's Phoenix’s first feature film and is adorably weird. The film is a dorky sci-fi fantasy that has a chubby-faced Phoenix (who looks like the stereotypical image you get when you hear the words “President of the AV Club”) starring alongside a young Ethan Hawke (bonus point of greatness: Phoenix’s character is named Wolfgang). The boys somehow come up with a magic machine out of a Tilt-A-Whirl cart and cruise around different galaxies, so the film is obviously awesome. Though it didn’t fare well in box office sales, the film went on to acquire a cult following.
Stand By Me Truly one of the best coming-of-age films, Stand By Me was only Phoenix’s second feature film. The movie was well-acted by all the leads, but Phoenix showed a maturity beyond his fourteen years. Stand By Me was also when he began his trademark trend of being able to steal the entire movie he was in with just one scene. For the famous scene by the fire in which Phoenix’s character breaks down after sharing his disappointment of a teacher betraying him, director Rob Reiner reportedly told the actor to think of the saddest moment in his life – once the scene was over, Phoenix was still crying uncontrollably. The depth that Phoenix brought to the role was effortlessly translated on the screen and immediately turned him into a star, full on with both critical acclaim and Tiger Beat covers.
Running On Empty A storyline that had similarities with the actor’s own life, Running On Empty had Phoenix starring alongside Judd Hirsch, Christine Lahti, and Phoenix’s then-girlfriend, Martha Plimpton. The film finds Phoenix living as the son of two fugitives on the run from the FBI for an anti-war protest bombing of a napalm lab. The family had to constantly move around and change their identities, harking back to Phoenix’s own nomadic childhood during his family's days in the controversial Children of God cult. The scene of Phoenix’s confession about his identity to Plimpton’s character in the garden was hands-down the best scene in the film, and his performance ended up getting him an Oscar nomination at the ripe young age of seventeen.
Dogfight Dogfight is such an overlooked and underrated film, not only in Phoenix’s filmography, but just in general. The Nancy Savoka–directed flick is set in Vietnam War-era San Francisco and has a deceptively simple storyline: Phoenix plays an eighteen year-old Marine who takes Lili Taylor out on a date the night before he’s shipped off to Vietnam – what Taylor’s character doesn’t know is that Phoenix is taking her to a “dogfight,” a pretty evil game the other Marines play in which the soldiers compete for cash for who can bring the ugliest date. Taylor finds out and leaves, Phoenix follows, and voila – sappy rom-com, right? Except Dogfight somehow manages to be a wonderfully profound movie that avoids stereotypes and predictability, instead illuminating the nature of human relationships. Both Taylor and Phoenix’s performances are brilliant, and their adorably awkward bedroom scenes are so realistic, you’ll be cringing in your seat along with them. Plus, the film gives Musical Bingo some cred by making it spark some serious foreplay, so that’s totally awesome, too.
The Thing Called Love Though it’s definitely not the best film in his catalogue, The Thing Called Love is a great movie just for Phoenix’s crazy chemistry with Samantha Mathis, who he was wooing during filming (spoiler: he succeeded). It also has a charming Dylan McDermott and a young Sandra Bullock, just before she broke through with Speed. The film revolves around country music, but even if country isn’t your thing, the songs are still enjoyable and, making it even better, the actors actually sing their own songs. Phoenix initially wanted to be a musician and had a band called Aleka’s Attic alongside his sister Rain, so getting to see/hear Phoenix’s musical chops is a treat. The film is also Phoenix’s last completed film, and despite the fact that Phoenix was obviously strung out during filming, the charm and complexity he brought out in his character makes the film worth it.
My Own Private Idaho Considered to be Phoenix’s magnum opus, My Own Private Idaho has Gus Van Sant directing in all his weird, ethereal glory. The film is essentially an entanglement of two stories, one of Phoenix on a mission to find his long-lost mother, and the other revolving around Keanu Reeves in a loose adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry IV and Henry V. Phoenix plays a narcoleptic street hustler who’s in love with Reeves, his wealthy best friend who is really just playing gay-for-pay to rebel against his father. The film is notable for its Shakespearian dialogues and dreamy sequences symbolizing Phoenix’s character’s narcolepsy, but it’s Phoenix who makes the film the treasure that it is, serving as the heart and soul of the entire movie. The famous campfire scene where Phoenix professes his love to an uncomfortable Reeves was mostly rewritten by Phoenix himself, and the result is one of the most heartbreaking and well-acted scenes in film. My Own Private Idaho is when Phoenix allegedly began using drugs, and the character he played is eerily similar to perceptions of Phoenix – sadly conflicted, passionate and generous, jaded and tired, yet idealistic and innocent.
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.
While recent animated blockbusters have aimed to viewers of all ages starting with fantastical concepts and breathtaking visuals but tackling complex emotional issues along the way Ice Age: Continental Drift is crafted especially for the wee ones — and it works. Venturing back to prehistoric times once again the fourth Ice Age film paints broad strokes on the theme of familial relationships throwing in plenty of physical comedy along the way. The movie isn't that far off from one of the many Land Before Time direct-to-video sequels: not particularly innovative or necessary but harmless thrilling fun for anyone with a sense of humor. Unless they have a particular distaste for wooly mammoths the kids will love it.
Ice Age: Continental Drift continues to snowball its cartoon roster bringing back the original film's trio (Ray Romano as Manny the Mammoth Denis Leary as Diego the Sabertooth Tiger and John Leguizamo as Sid the Sloth) new faces acquired over the course of the franchise (Queen Latifah as Manny's wife Ellie) and a handful of new characters to spice things up everyone from Nicki Minaj as Manny's daughter Steffie to Wanda Sykes as Sid's wily grandma. The whole gang is living a pleasant existence as a herd with Manny's biggest problem being playing overbearing dad to the rebellious daughter. Teen mammoths they always want to go out and play by the waterfall! Whippersnappers.
The main thrust of the film comes when Scratch the Rat (whose silent comedy routines in the vein of Tex Avery/WB cartoons continue to be the series highlight) accidentally cracks the singular continent Pangea into the world we know today. Manny Diego and Sid find themselves stranded on an iceberg once again forced on a road trip journey of survival. The rest of the herd embarks to meet them giving Steffie time to realize the true meaning of friendship with help from her mole pal Louis (Josh Gad).
The ham-handed lessons may drag for those who've passed Kindergarten but Ice Age: Continental Drift is a lot of fun when the main gang crosses paths with a group of villainous pirates. (Back then monkeys rabbits and seals were hitting the high seas together pillaging via boat-shaped icebergs. Obviously.) Quickly Ice Age becomes an old school pirate adventure complete with maritime navigation buried treasure and sword fights. Gut (Peter Dinklage) an evil ape with a deadly... fingernail leads the evil-doers who pose an entertaining threat for the familiar bunch. Jennifer Lopez pops by as Gut's second-in-command Shira the White Tiger and the film's two cats have a chase scene that should rouse even the most apathetic adults. Hearing Dinklage (of Game of Thrones fame) belt out a pirate shanty may be worth the price of admission alone.
With solid action (that doesn't need the 3D addition) cartoony animation and gags out the wazoo Ice Age: Continental Drift is entertainment to enjoy with the whole family. Revelatory? Not quite. Until we get a feature length silent film of Scratch's acorn pursuit we may never see a "classic" Ice Age film but Continental Drift keeps it together long enough to tell a simple story with delightful flare that should hold attention spans of any length. Massive amounts of sugar not even required.
[Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox]
After garnering widespread praise (and an Oscar nomination for screenwriting) for his 2000 directorial debut You Can Count on Me Kenneth Lonergan was in-demand. In September 2005 the writer/director began production on a follow-up feature: Margaret which touted Anna Paquin Matt Damon Mark Ruffalo Matthew Broderick Allison Janney as well as legendary filmmakers Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella (The English Patient) as producers. The movie wrapped production in a few months time. The buzz was already growing.
Now six years later the movie is finally hitting theaters. So…what took so long?
The journey to this point hasn't been an easy one and it shows. If a film's shot footage is a block of granite and the editing process is the careful carving that turns it into a statuesque work of art Margaret feels like it was attacked by a blind man with a jackhammer. The film is a cinematic disaster a mishmash of shallow characters overwrought politics and sporadic tones. The story follows Lisa Coen (Paquin) a New York teenager who finds herself drowning in chaos after distracting a bus driver (Ruffalo) causing him to hit and kill a pedestrian (Janney). Initially Lisa tells the police it was all an accident but as time passes regret takes hold and the girl embarks on a mission to take down the man she now regards as a culprit. That's just the tip of the iceberg–along the way Lisa deals with everyday teen stuff: falling for her geometry teacher (Damon) combating her anxiety-ridden actress mother losing her virginity dabbling in drugs debating 9/11 and the Iraq War cultivating a relationship with her father in LA and more. There are about eight seasons of television stuffed into Margaret but even a two and a half hour run time can't make it all click.
For more on Margaret check out Indie Seen: Margaret the Long Lost Anna Paquin/Matt Damon Movie
Charlize Theron's looking to reunite with her "Devil's Advocate" co-star Keanu Reeves.
Daily Variety reports that the actress is in negotiations to co-star in the Warner Bros. pic "Sweet November." That would mean that her heart's no longer set on producer Jerry Bruckheimer's "Pearl Harbor." That Michael Bay-helmed actioner is to be filmed over a five-month period.
As for "Sweet November," "Circle of Friends" filmmaker Pat O'Connor is set to direct the tale of a businessman (Reeves) who falls in love with a cancer-riddled woman (Theron).
PACINO'S 'OEDIPUS' COMPLEX: "Godfather" Al Pacino is getting back to the family roots as doomed Theban king Oedipus Rex (aka the guy who killed his dad and married his mom).
Pacino will star in the New York stage-bound production for director-actress Estelle Parsons. The A-list ensemble includes Mary Beth Hurt, Dianne Wiest and Edward Hermann. Variety reports that the director plans to open the show at an Off Broadway venue in a couple of months.
HE'S WITH THE "BAND": Former pop star-turned-actor Donnie Wahlberg (brother of rapper-turned-actor Mark Wahlberg) has signed on with a new group in the form of HBO's $120 million, 13-hour miniseries "Band of Brothers."
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Wahlberg -- late of New Kids on the Block -- will play Cmdr. Lipton in the war tale based on a nonfiction book by Stephen Ambrose. The project follows the adventures of a group of 101st Airborne soldiers from basic training to their capture of Hitler's Eagle Nest at Berchtesgaden, Germany.
Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg are the miniseries' executive producers.
'KNIGHT'-HOOD: "Terminator 2" tyke Edward Furlong, now 22, takes a step in the action-hero direction as the lead in the indie film "The Knights of the Quest."
The Hollywood Reporter notes that Furlong will star for Italian director Pupi Avati as Simon of Clarendon, an 11th century hero who sets out to inform a French king about a sacred relic.
The $15 million to $18 million project is set to begin shooting March 27 in Scotland, Italy, France and Tunisia. The film's being financed by the Italian government and Antonio Avati (Pupi's brother). The project's still looking for a domestic distributor.
'PICNIC PLANNING': Columbia TriStar Television thinks it's high time for another remake and has placed a new version of the 1955 movie "Picnic" on its telefilm development slate.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the remake will star Josh Brolin, Gretchen Mol, Mary Steenburgen and Bonnie Bedelia. Based on William Inge's play, it's the story of a drifter who stirs up a small town after falling for an old buddy's fiancŽe.
READY FOR 'KISS': Actor Danny Nucci, Leonardo DiCaprio's steerage-class buddy from "Titanic," is close to landing the lead in the CBS pilot "Kiss Me Guido." Variety reports that Nucci will star as Frankie, an Italian-American playboy who ends up with a gay roomie after misreading a classified ad. The series is based on the 1997 Paramount film.
'HAPPINESS' IS A NEW DEAL: Todd Solondz, director of the lightly titled, heavily weighted dramedies "Happiness" and "Welcome to the Dollhouse," has been joyously embraced (no irony here) by New Line Cinema. Daily Variety reports that the studio has acquired the distribution rights to the filmmaker's untitled next project, which will be produced by Gotham-based Ted Hope and Christine Vachon.