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.
The latest movie in the Step Up franchise aims for a politicized message behind all the flashy moves but it could do with a lot less plot and a lot more dancing. In Step Up Revolution the Miami dance group "The Mob" takes to the streets (and other random locations) to perform intricately choreographed routines with their own DJ a camera guy who uploads their videos to YouTube and a graffiti artist who leaves their signature behind. It takes at least that much effort just to get hipster New Yorkers to ride the subways without any pants on once a year; it's hard to believe that The Mob could pull off their elaborate schemes without getting caught but that's the magic of movies.
The Mob represents the more diverse working class side of Miami a young multiracial group of friends who create incredible works of art that disappear before they get shut down. One of the Mob's leaders Sean (Ryan Guzman) earnestly explains to newcomer Emily (Kathryn McCormick) that the group's reason is to give a voice to the voiceless or to be happy or to dance or something. It's not really clear but they have a lot of fun and look amazing doing it.
Once Sean and his friends find out that a greedy developer plans to raze their neighborhood to make way for another South Beach-style hotel monstrosity they have a reason to rally but until then they're just trying to win a cash prize by getting clicks on YouTube. The typical Step Up twist is that Emily is the developer's daughter. Mr. Anderson (Peter Gallagher) doesn't approve of Emily's love of dancing or other frippery and he certainly wouldn't approve of her hanging out with the people causing such mayhem in the streets of Miami.
Step Up Revolution biggest misstep is trying to give the movie more of a hook than the franchise's typical Romeo and Juliet-style love story and tap into "the Zeitgeist" (I swear that's from the studio-provided press notes) of flash mobs. The film could have cut out most of the plot and characters and still have a completely intact film insofar as the point of the film is its multimedia dance routines. The sort of productions The Mob pulls off are more akin to carefully planned art installations or music videos in terms of scope; it would have been better to at least make that somehow feasible in terms of the storyline. Yes we are here for a spectacle and we surely get a spectacle but it needs to have some roots in reality.
The dance scenes are fun sexy and occasionally a little sappy but overall quite enjoyable for people who enjoy "So You Think You Can Dance" type of shows. Kathryn McCormick and Stephen "tWitch" Boss both appeared on "SYTYCD" and their costar Misha Gabriel is a classically trained ballet dancer turned pro back-up dancer for folks like Beyoncé and Michael Jackson. Guzman doesn't have a dance background but he is an MMA fighter who obviously took his training very seriously. The entire outfit is pretty damn entertaining to be honest.
As far as the 3D goes it makes most of Miami look overcast and grey. The extra zings added in to make sure we get our money's worth like sand flicking out at us or a breakdancer whose foot seems to be aiming for our face only serves to distract from the real show at hand. There is also an awful lot of ramping and generally spazzy editing tricks that look cheap. The screenplay by Amanda Brody is definitely not its strong suit.
Step Up Revolution is the cinematic equivalent of a trashy beach novel. It's embarrassing to be caught actually enjoying it and you'll forget about it almost immediately but it's a decent way to spend a summer afternoon.
Pedro Almodovar's Volver picked up five honors at the Goya Awards in Madrid last night, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actress for Penelope Cruz.
The movie, which had received 14 nominations, also won Best Original Soundtrack for Alberto Iglesias.
On collecting her Best Actress award, Cruz said, "This award is very important, very special for me. I am going to try not to cry because I'm a disaster, and these 30 seconds are not going to be enough."
Pan's Labyrinth, which is nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at next month's Oscars, collected the most awards--seven in total, including Best Original Screenplay for Mexican writer/director Guillermo Del Toro.
Del Toro said, "My relationship with Spain as a filmmaker is one of profound admiration and respect... that began with the hand of Pedro (Almodovar)."
Elsewhere, Juan Diego won Best Actor for Vete de Mi, while Stephen Frears’ The Queen won Best European film.
The full list of winners is:
Best Actress--Penelope Cruz, Volver
Best Actor--Juan Diego, Vete de Mi
Best Director--Pedro Almodovar, Volver
Best Original Screenplay--Guillermo Del Toro, Pan's Labyrinth
Best Adapted Screenplay--Lluis Arcarazo, Salvador
Best First-Time Director--Daniel Sanchez Arevalo, DarkBlueAlmostBlack
Best European Film--The Queen
Best Foreign Spanish-Language Film--Las Manos, by Alejandro Doria(Argentina)
Best Supporting Actress--Carmen Maura, Volver
Best Supporting Actor--Antonio De La Torre, DarkBlueAlmostBlack
Best Breakthrough Performance, Actor--Quim Gutierrez, DarkBlueAlmostBlack
Best Breakthrough Performance, Actress--Ivana Baquero, Pan's Labyrinth
Best Animated Feature--The Hairy Tooth Fairy, by Juan Pablo Buscarini
Best Art Direction--Benjamin Fernandez, Alatriste
Best Cinematography--Guillermo Navarro, Pan's Labyrinth
Best Line Production--Cristina Zumarraga, Alatriste
Best Documentary Short--Castanuela 70, El Teatro Prohibido, by Manuel Calvo and Olga Margallo
Best Animated Short Film--El Viaje De Said, by Coke Rioboo
Best Live-Action Short Film--A Ciegas, by Salvador Gomez Cuenca
Best Visual Effects--David Marti, Montse Ribe, Reyes Abades, Everett Burrell, Edward Irastorza and Emilio Ruiz, Pan's Labyrinth
Best Costume Design--Francesca Sartori, Alatriste
Best Documentary Feature--Cineastas en Accion, by Carlos Benpar
Best Film Editing--Bernat Vilaplana, Pan's Labyrinth
Best Sound--Miguel Polo and Martin Hernandez, Pan's Labyrinth
Best Original Score--Alberto Iglesias, Volver
Best Original Song--“Tiempo Pequeno,” Bebe and Lucio Godoy, from The Education of a Fairy
Best Make-Up and Hair Design--Jose Quetglas and Blanca Sanchez, Pan's Labyrinth
Lifetime Achievement Award--Teddy Villalba
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Elton John blasted British Prime Minister Tony Blair in an interview with Sky News broadcast Monday, saying the leader should be "thoroughly ashamed" of his Labor government's record on AIDS funding. "For God's sake, we live in the 21st century--the trains don't work, the health service doesn't work, people are dying from AIDS, what are you doing?" the singer blasted. "Get your act together; it's a disgrace." John spoke to SKY News on the sidelines of the Vienna Life Ball, one of Europe's biggest AIDS charity galas.
Angelina Jolie, who is goodwill ambassador for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, has donated $100,000 to help train refugees from Myanmar for new jobs, according to Reuters. Jolie is currently in Thailand, shooting her latest film, Beyond Borders.
Billionaire MGM magnate Kirk Kerkorian says he is "amazed and disappointed" at a $1 billion privacy lawsuit filed against him by millionaire movie producer Steve Bing. Bing filed the lawsuit after Kerkorian hired a private detective to steal dental floss from his trash can to obtain a DNA match and prove Bing fathered his ex-wife's child, Reuters reports. Bing may also be the father of model/actress Liz Hurley's child born earlier this year, Hurley has claimed.
'N Sync singer Lance Bass has undergone a surgical procedure in a Los Angeles hospital to correct an irregular heartbeat, People reports. Bass' affliction could have disqualified him from taking a planned Russian rocket flight to the International Space Station this fall, when he could be the third space tourist to blast off.
Penelope Cruz has signed on to star in the French-language remake of the 1952 adventure comedy Fanfan la Tulipe, Variety reports. Cruz will play a gypsy girl who dupes Fanfan, a handsome young peasant, into joining the French army by convincing him he will marry one of the king's daughters if he does.
Comedian Jamie Foxx is in talks to star in the crime thriller Shade, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Foxx would be joining a cast that already includes Thandie Newton, Stuart Townsend, Gabriel Byrne and Sylvester Stallone.
Heartthrob Josh Hartnett has inked to star in the Lakeshore Entertainment/MGM thriller Wicker Park, to be directed by Paul McGuigan. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the film is an intense Hitchcockian psychological drama about a man's obsessive search for a former love. Wicker Park is slated to go into production in October.
In the Biz
Filmmaker Martin Scorsese showed a 20-minute clip of his upcoming movie Gangs of New York at the Cannes Film Festival on Monday, Reuters reports. The film, which stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz, is scheduled to open wide in December.
Also debuting at Cannes will be Adam Sandler and Emily Watson's romantic comedy Punch-Drunk Love. The film, by Boogie Nights director Paul Thomas Anderson, is about a guy who buys a lot of pudding to take advantage of a frequent flier promotion, The Associated Press reports.
Believe it or not, the 1980s TV series The Greatest American Hero will be hitting the big screen. Disney has hired Paul Hernandez to adapt the series for a feature film, Variety reports. Although the story will deviate slightly from the original series, it will be based on a schoolteacher who becomes a superhero after extraterrestrials give him a suit with special powers.
Fans will be able to get Eminem's long-awaited album The Eminem Show sooner rather than later. According to MTV.com, the album's release date has been pushed up from June 4 to May 28 because it has already been leaked for download on the Internet, and bootleg copies have been sold for as little as $5 on the street. Eminem's record company, Aftermath/Interscope, announced that the first 2 million copies of the album sold in stores would feature a DVD of exclusive of Eminem performances and interview footage.
Rob Cohen's The Fast and the Furious took home five awards, including best work with a vehicle and best stunt by a stuntman, at the World Stunt Awards held at the Santa Monica Air Center's Barker Hangar in California on May 19. Also taking top honors were Rush Hour 2 and A Knight's Tale, while Jackie Chan, director Michael Bay and stunt legend Buddy Van Horn were presented with Taurus Honorary Awards.