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.
Funnyman James Corden has praised a lookalike who fooled nightclub bosses into giving him celebrity treatment by pretending to be the British comedian. Computer worker Wes Howson was ushered into the VIP area of the Birdcage club in Manchester, England and received free drinks during a night out. He was also mobbed by a host of girls who believed him to be the Gavin & Stacey star.
Howson tells Britain's The Sun newspaper, "My mate texted someone at the club for a joke, saying he was bringing James. People were shaking my hand and one girl told me I was her idol. They were tweeting and posting pictures. It was hilarious."
The prank clearly amused Corden - he posted a link to the story on his Twitter.com alongside the message, "Love this guy... classic!"
Wuthering Heights is an incredible experience director Andrea Arnold having taken the Emily Brontë novel and turned it on its head in her typically nervy bold style. There's little dialogue it's shot using available natural light and like her previous film Fish Tank stars an unknown actor whose presence commands every scene.
There is moping on the moors in Wuthering Heights but the muddy meditative experience that has almost nothing in common with its predecessors. There's no romantically brooding Olivier or pillow-lipped Tom Hardy here; this is not an experience for teen girls to swoon over. As children Catherine and Heathcliff are odd playmates. Once Mr. Earnshaw dies and Catherine's older brother Hindley takes over the household Heathcliff's life changes drastically for the worse. He's physically and verbally abused and banished to the barn to sleep with the "other animals." It's clear that this is a brand-new nearly incomprehensible world for Healthcliff and it's impossible to not feel empathy for him especially during an aborted attempted at baptizing him. As a teen his relationship with Catherine is magical despite (or because?) how much he risks to just play in the mud with her. An ominous indicator of their lifelong relationship is that she doesn't grasp why her playmate isn't as free as she is to do what she wants. She's sorry that Heathcliff gets beaten for ditching work to play with her but that doesn't stop her from encouraging him. As children they romp like puppies with just a hint of their budding sexuality; they're pure selfish id.
In many ways neither of them outgrow this selfishness. Even when she's married and pregnant Catherine feels Heathcliff betrayed her by leaving. Heathcliff's ruthlessness in his pursuit of revenge is equally childish; we see him torturing dogs that mirrors the actions of Hindley's grubby-faced neglected child. Is it nature or nurture? Is Hindley's child learning by watching the adults around him or should we believe the natural tendency of children is this utterly careless cruelty? Whichever it is there's no doubt that Heathcliff's disavowal of the past and insistence of living in the present — "There's only now " he tells her — has nothing to do with Buddhist mindfulness but a total disregard for how his actions affect others. His initial plan included suicide but this seems much more interesting.
Howson's performance as an adult Heathcliff is remarkable. He's not a sympathetic character — no one is in this film. Although it's not clear whether or not Arnold was specifically looking to cast a person of color for the role of Heathcliff the fact that Howson is black adds an extra layer of complexity to the drama. In the book he's described in such a way that indicates at the very least his ethnic background isn't white but Arnold ups the ante by putting a racial epithet in Hindley's mouth. This drives home the idea of Heathcliff's outsider status; it makes his "otherness" visible.
There's something gentle in Heathcliff's face that belies the nearly sociopathic anger within. When he first seduces Catherine's sister-in-law Isabella as part of his revenge on Catherine it's erotic in a way that makes the viewer complicit in Isabella's eventual destruction. (This serves as an interesting foil to Fish Tank and its ethically troubling but arousing sex scenes with Michael Fassbender and Katie Jarvis.) As the adult Catherine Kaya Scodelario puts in a good performance. Her Catherine looks angelic but is all hard angles underneath those lacy flounces. She is the wild shrieking woman to Heathcliff's cold silence and when she is finally quiet it's only because she's succumbed to the furor of their lifelong struggle.
Throughout Wuthering Heights we are put in Heathcliff's shoes. We see Catherine through his eyes and we understand what it feels like to ride on a horse behind her with her hair whipping in our face and the warm flank under our fingers. We are immersed in this sensual experience of being Heathcliff thanks to the magic of Robbie Ryan's cinematography. (Ryan has worked as a cinematographer on all of Arnold's films including her Oscar-winning short Wasp.) The handheld camera work is intense and occasionally nauseating but its immediacy is crucial to the film. Using available light occasionally works against it as some scenes are so dark it's hard to tell what's actually happening.
Wuthering Heights gives rise to an internal debate. If it was edited down more with less lingering shots of bugs crawling across leaves or birds twinned in the sky as obvious metaphors for Heathcliff and Catherine it would be an entirely different experience. Would it be better maybe more enjoyable easier to sit through? Or is that beside the point? Andrea Arnold's talent lies in pushing the viewer past their normal boundaries of what's romantic or beautiful. In Arnold's world a mother and daughter dancing in a kitchen to "Life's a Bitch" by Nas is as loving and joyful as Heathcliff's frenzied attempts to unearth Catherine's coffin. You either decide you're all in or you're not.
Before there was Walter White and Dexter Morgan, before Stringer Bell and Tony Soprano, there was Heathcliff. The leading man in Emily Brontë's classic novel Wuthering Heights was one of fiction's first antiheroes, and his story of passion and revenge has stood the test of time. The novel's latest cinematic adaptation, from Fish Tank director Andrea Arnold, opens in limited release this October. If the trailer (which premiered exclusively on Vulture) is any indication, the film uses a sweeping landscape and muted palette to viscerally evoke the source material's pain and ecstasy.
England's windy moors — unforgiving, callous, and cold — provide the perfect setting for Heathcliff and Catherine's ill-fated love, and upon watching the trailer you can almost feel the wind whip through your bones. Heathcliff and Catherine's tale may not be happy, but it is full; full at first of childhood innocence, then of betrayal, and, ultimately, of despair. And this trailer hits all of those notes.
The trailer opens with a heartbeat and a question. "Will you forget me?" our heroine asks, to which Heathcliff responds, "I could no more forget you than myself." Even those unfamiliar with Wuthering Heights' story know from this opening alone that these two characters have an intense bond. As children, the trailer tells us, the two entwined lives would play together and suffer together. The cruelty that Heathcliff faced — at the hands of his adopted family as well as Catherine herself — is keenly felt. With each lash of the strap, the audience winces along with Heathcliff. The trailer's greatest strength is that it allows us to feel sympathy for Heathcliff. It shows us that, like Frankenstein's monster, Heathcliff's brutality is a product of his upbringing.
The film's two lead actors, James Howson as Heathcliff and Kaya Scodelario as Catherine, seem more than capable of handling the emotional depth their characters require. And their young counterparts, Solomon Glave and Shannon Beer, seem equally up to the task. Judging from the trailer (which we know is risky business) this film has the odds stacked in its favor. A great director, a great cast, a stunning setting. We can only hope that the film lives up to the high bar it has set for itself.
Follow Abbey Stone on Twitter @abbeystone
[Photo Credit: Agatha Nitecka/Oscilloscope Laboratories]
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Earlier this year (12), the rising star, who played Heathcliff in a 2011 movie adaptation of Wuthering Heights, pleaded guilty to a charge of racially aggravated harassment after hurling a nasty insult at his former partner.
At a court hearing in February (12), it emerged Howson had been sectioned for a month under the U.K.'s Mental Health Act and his sentencing was pushed back to March (12), but he was a no-show at Leeds Magistrates' Court and presiding magistrate Angela Bradshaw subsequently issued a warrant for his arrest.
He was due back in court for sentencing on Monday (30Apr12), but the hearing was adjourned until 28 May (12) as he continues to undergo psychiatric treatment.
Howson's lawyer said, "The reality is that the defendant is not well enough to attend court today.
"He is under medication for a psychotic disorder."
The 24-year-old rising star, who played Heathcliff in a 2011 movie adaptation of Emily Bronte's classic novel Wuthering Heights, pleaded guilty earlier this year (12) to a charge of racially aggravated harassment after hurling a racist insult at his former partner Shakira Ramdihal.
At a court hearing in February (12), it emerged Howson had been sectioned for a month under the U.K.'s Mental Health Act and his sentencing was pushed back to this week (26Mar12).
He was discharged from a hospital in Newcastle, north west England on Thursday (22Mar12), but he was a no-show at Leeds Magistrates' Court on Monday (26Mar12), when he was due for sentencing. Presiding magistrate Angela Bradshaw subsequently issued a warrant for his arrest.
The 24-year-old rising star, who played Heathcliff in a 2011 movie adaptation of Wuthering Heights, has pleaded guilty to racially aggravated harassment stemming from a bust-up with his ex-girlfriend, and was due to be sentenced on Monday (27Feb12).
However, the hearing at Leeds Magistrates' Court in England was adjourned after it emerged Howson is receiving care at a hospital in Newcastle, England and is being held under the Mental Health Act.
His lawyer, Anthony Sugare, says, "The position is that on arriving at court this morning, I was told that the court itself had heard from the hospital that he had been taken in there under the Mental Health Act for a period of 28 days for observation."
Howson is now expected to be sentenced on 26 March (12).
James Howson, who played Heathcliff in a 2011 movie version of Emily Bronte's classic novel Wuthering Heights, hurled a racist insult at former lover Shakira Ramdihal.
Howson pleaded guilty to racially harassing Asian Ramdihal and was told by a judge in Leeds, England he could face a prison term when he is sentenced next month (Feb12).
Take it from someone who absolutely hated the book: Andrea Arnold's adaptation of Wuthering Heights might actually be pretty good.
In case you were lucky enough to never have read this book in high school, it's about the mysterious, ragged, orphan manchild Heathcliff who shows up at some estate and forges toxic relationships with his new family, including a romance or two. Where Emily Bronte's prose was lifeless and colorless, the movie actually seems to be spirited (albeit somberly so). Let's hope Kaya Scodelaro and James Howson can give this story life.
Wuthering Heights comes out November 11. It will be filled with promise. The surplus of bugs in the all-but-silent trailer below breed promise. Think about it. When's the last time you saw a movie that had that many bugs that you didn't like?
Source: The Guardian via Comingsoon