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.
Martha Stewart heads to "Camp Cupcake"
If she has to serve time, she might as well do it at a prison where typical inmates cook, serve food and do laundry. Martha Stewart will serve her five-month jail sentence for lying about a suspicious stock sale at a minimum-security prison in W. Va., Alderson prison, locally known as "Camp Cupcake," where she is to report by 2 p.m. (EDT) on Oct 8., Reuters reports. The homemaking maven had said she wanted to serve her jail term at Danbury, Conn., or Coleman, Fla., but the U.S. Bureau of Prisons sent her to Alderson because she would receive less media attention there when reporting for the sentence. The facility, located about 200 miles south of Pittsburgh, has no gates or fences and houses more than 1,000 inmates, mostly drug offenders, who sleep in bunk beds in dormitory-style rooms. Past inmates of note have included two women who attempted to kill President Ford, Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme of Manson Family infamy and Sara Jane Moore, and Billie Holliday (on a drug charge). Speaking at a news conference earlier this month, Stewart said she is looking forward to getting this behind her and to vigorously pursue her appeal. After her release, Stewart will still have to serve five months of house arrest at her home in suburban Bedford, N.Y., and submit a complete a written report to her probation officer within the first five days of every month. Stewart was found guilty in March of conspiracy, making false statements and obstruction of agency proceedings stemming from her suspicious sale of stock in biotech company ImClone Systems Inc. on Dec. 27, 2001.
Miramax preparing to distribute Moore's Sicko
Miramax is preparing to finance and distribute Michael Moore's upcoming documentary Sicko, which takes aim at the American healthcare system, Variety reports. Moore's last documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 was purchased by Miramax chiefs Bob and Harvey Weinstein's ad hoc Fellowship Adventure Group and released in association with Lions Gate Films and IFC Films after Disney refused to handle the pic. Although the doc is not necessarily as inflammatory as the politically charged Fahrenheit 9/11, it's unclear what Disney's stance on the project is. According to Variety, a stalemate over Sicko could exacerbate the already fragile relationship between Disney CEO Michael Eisner and the Weinsteins.
Lawsuit against DiCaprio dismissed
A judge Wednesday threw out a lawsuit against Leonardo DiCaprio and two other men for their alleged roles in a street fight over Showgirls actress Elizabeth Berkley, the AP reports. DiCaprio, 29, and three others were sued for $45 million by Roger Wilson, 44, who claimed the Titanic star encouraged his friends to attack him outside a Manhattan restaurant on May 4, 1998. Wilson, an actor who appeared in two of the Porky's movies and was dating Berkley at the time, approached DiCaprio and his friends about calling Berkley repeatedly. Wilson's suit claimed DiCaprio aided and abetted the assault by shouting, "go out there and kick his (expletive)" to his friends. DiCaprio's friend Todd Healy admitted to hitting Wilson, claiming it was in self-defense when he thought he saw him reaching for something, possibly a weapon. But Judge Paula Omansky dismissed the action against DiCaprio because Healy never heard the alleged remark, and therefore could not have been incited by it. Omansky, however, said the lawsuit could proceed against Healy.
CBS tops premiere week
In a week during which CBS was fined $550,000 for Janet Jackson's infamous Super Bowl stunt and its news division had to apologize for shoddy reporting, at least the network lead in the ratings. AP reports that during the first official week of the new television season, Sept. 20-26, CBS averaged 13.6 million viewers followed by NBC (10.6 million); ABC (10 million); Fox (5.3 million); the WB (4.2 million); UPN (3.1 million). The top 10 shows were: CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS; CSI: Miami, CBS; Without a Trace, CBS; ER, NBC; CSI: NY, CBS; Survivor: Vanuatu, CBS; Law & Order special, NBC; NFL Monday Night Football: Minnesota at Philadelphia, ABC; Lost, ABC; Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS.
Franken challenges O'Reilly to a bowling match
On his radio show Wednesday, satirist-commentator Al Franken challenged Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly to a "friendly" bowling match. The proposed face-off would be a part of The Great American Bowl-Off, an Oct. 7 event being organized by the Web site Meetup.com in bowling centers around the country designed to give political partisans a break from campaigning. "If Kerry and Bush supporters can put aside their differences for a day to compete, well then, so can Bill O'Reilly and I," Franken said. But a spokesman for Fox News Channel told AP O'Reilly "is not going to respond to anything Al Franken says."
Star-studded concert tribute held for Ray Charles
Ray Charles, who died June 10 of liver disease, was honored in Los Angeles with a tribute concert that praised the late singer's life and his ability to transcend race and musical genres, AP reports. "Make no mistake about it, there will be no pity party," said music producer Quincy Jones, who met Charles when the two were teens. Jones told the packed audience at the Beverly Hills Hotel Wednesday night that Charles "lived more lives than any 900 of you. In his last days, he told me, 'Man, I've already lived it all.'" Performers included Stevie Wonder, country singer Travis Tritt, former Doobie Brother Michael McDonald, and R&B artists James Ingram and Patti Austin, who sang Charles' hits. The event, hosted by Bill Cosby, raised money for the $15 million Morehouse College Center for the Arts in Atlanta. Charles gave the black liberal arts college $2 million to help fund the complex, which will contain a performance space in his name.
Famed NY radio personality dies
Scott Muni, one of the legendary voices of New York radio and who was an AM and FM disc-jockey for nearly 50 years in the country's biggest radio market, died at the age of 74 Tuesday in Los Angeles, Reuters reports. The cause of death was not immediately known
Kit Bowen contributed to this report.
Previous rumors that Jermane and Randy Jackson had refused to attend the Jackson 5 reunion for the Michael Jackson: 30 Anniversary Celebration, The Solo Years can now be dismissed. All five brothers from the eponymous Jackson 5 music group have confirmed their attendance at the event.
After feuding for the last month with the show's producer, David Gest, over the ticket prices, the guest list and the lineups for the all-star events, Jermaine agreed on Friday to perform at the September 7 and 10 shows, to be held at New York's Madison Square Garden.
"Having been accused of not wanting to be a part of my brother's 30th anniversary concert for publicity reasons is not right," Jermaine Jackson said in a statement Friday. "My concern was that our loyal fans were not invited nor able to attend because of excessive prices," he told SonicNet.com.
A combined total of 40,000 tickets for the September 7 and 10 Michael Jackson celebration concerts--priced $45 to $2,500 per ticket--sold out just five hours after going on sale on July 31, Launch. com reported.
"I place my family above all else and I would like to perform with my brothers in spite of all that has gone on. I'm sorry that loyalty to my fans and family has been perceived as betrayal," Jermaine added.
The Jackson brothers convened in Los Angeles on Friday to begin rehearsing for the shows.
A complete list of confirmed special guests goes as follows:
Friday, September 7: Marc Anthony; Ray Charles; Deborah Cox; Destiny's Child; Gloria Estefan; Billy Gilman; Whitney Houston; James Ingram; Quincy Jones & the Legends of Jazz including Al Jarreau, Herbie Mann, Les McCann, David "Fathead" Newman, Jimmy Smith, Clark Terry & Cassandra Wilson; Liza Minnelli; Monica; Mya; *NSYNC; Jill Scott; Shaggy featuring Ricardo "Rikrok" Ducent & Rayvon; Britney Spears; Tamia; 3T; Usher.
Monday, September 10: Marc Anthony; Mary J. Blige; Deborah Cox; Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott; Gloria Gaynor; Al Jarreau; Gladys Knight; Lil' Romeo; Ricky Martin; Liza Minnelli; Monica; Mya; 98 Degrees; Jill Scott; Usher; Luther Vandross; Dionne Warwick.
In addition, stars from television, sports, movies, and the recording industry will honor Jackson during the concerts. Confirmed guests include: Marlon Brando; Elizabeth Taylor; Samuel L. Jackson; Willem Dafoe; William Shatner; Dr. Dre; Snoop Dogg; Yoko Ono; Sean Lennon; Jane Russell; Chris Tucker; Liam Neeson; Vanessa Redgrave; Franco Nero; Muhammad Ali; Kobe Bryant; Magic Johnson; Esther Williams; Gregory Peck; Jennifer Jones; Angie Dickinson; Master P; Robert Wagner; Jill St. John; Sir John Mills; Hayley Mills; Janet Leigh; Reggie Miller; Ann Miller; Jane Powell; Macaulay Culkin; Patricia Neal.