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.
The best player in the World for movie trailers, Hollywood interviews and movie clips.
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.
Whether he's bashing former President George Bush or slamming Wall Street's infrastructure, filmmaker Michael Moore always has an opinion. So there's no wonder he has something to say about conservative rocker Ted Nugent's latest spits about President Obama and Mel Gibson's most recent rants. Hollywood.com caught up with the infamous Fahrenheit 9/11 director/producer at the Tribeca Director Talks Sunday in NYC — and Moore couldn't help but imagine a documentary about the two headline-baiting celebrities.
"I've always liked Ted's music — and for a long time, I thought this whole rock 'em sock 'em Motor City Madman thing was just an act, but I guess it's real," Moore told Hollywood.com. "Can you imagine him and Mel Gibson on a road trip?"
That's a plotline that would make Hunter S. Thompson jealous. But what if Moore were to direct a documentary about their antics? "I think you just call it Crazy," he said. "There's already a song for the sound track, 'Crazy' [singing Patsy Cline's hit]."
Were Nugent's words crazy enough to warrant a meeting with the Secret Service? (The musician had said if Obama was re-elected, he'd be "dead or in jail by this time next year.") Moore thinks so. "Every threat against the President has to be investigated," Moore said.
The director even felt the Army was smart to cancel Nugent's scheduled concert at Fort Knox — despite Nugent's basic freedom to rant. "I think he has the right to say anything he wants," Moore said. "It's a free country. And the army, and me, and you have the right to not want to listen to his music or put concerts on." But Moore didn't stop with just Nugent. After all, there are plenty more figures in 2012's upcoming election. Including Mitt Romney, who's rumored to be considering a hosting gig on SNL to connect with the voting public. "Oh, I would watch it — I would watch it hoping for the trainwreck," Moore said. "I mean when [Sarah] Palin did it... I mean seriously, they shouldn't do it. They think it's making them look cool, but with Palin, it was just 90 minutes of letting her have it. So, if I were advising him, I would tell him not to do it. But I'm not."
In the meantime, who else is hoping to see a Crazy documentary? More: Ted Nugent: I'm a Black Jew at a Nazi-Klan Rally
"You are a rainbow of talent...you are a plethora of passion." -Steven
S10E16: Leave it to Steven to try to sound wildly educated and end up sounding like a crazy person, though I don't blame him. This quote comes from right after Casey Abrams' performance and I was just as taken aback as Steven was, but we'll get to that. Last night on Idol, we saw a few of our favorites falter, a few of our maybes prove they should go on home, and one singer who I personally had written off redeem himself. Even so, this season, the question isn't "Can they sing?" because they've all got the raw talent; it's "What can they do with that talent?" Some of these singers belong onstage. People throw around, "You were born to do this," but for a select few contestants, I believe that cliche is a truth.
Anyway, the contestants picked songs by their own personal idols this week and received help from producers at Interscope Records. Here are our top 13 in order from phenomenal to send-them-home-now.
"With a Little Help From My Friends" by Joe Cocker
Casey, Casey, CASEY. What can I say besides, "This guy is amazing?" Nothing. Because he is. If he doesn't win this whole thing, there is probably something wrong with internet because it will have lost all his well-deserved votes somehow. I feel sorry for the other talented folks on the show because no one can even touch this guy right now.
Simon Says: You really get it. I actually have nothing bad to say. Honestly.
"All By Myself" by Celine Dion
First of all, I hate this song. It's one of those joke songs that only works when it serves as the comical opening scene to Bridget Jones' Diary as she drinks red wine alone and lip syncs it while crying in awful pajamas, yet somehow I got past that and just appreciated Pia's singing ability. As dreadful as the song is, it's very demanding vocally and frankly, the girl kicked the song's ass. I thought maybe last week was a fluke, but she's clearly got some serious pipes. I just hope she starts singing songs I actually like.
Simon Says: Look, it was a little boring. You didn't bring anything different to the song, but you can really sing and this is a singing competition.
"Smile" by Michael Jackson
This one's always a tricky song choice. If you don't bring enough vocally, it can seem a little sleepy and a little boring, but thankfully for Thia, she's got that amazing voice to back it up. I agreed with the judges that upbeat section in the middle was a little rough, but if you ask me, it was a strange arrangement and not a testament of her vocal ability. It wasn't her best, but even when she's not at her best, she's lovely to watch.
Simon Says: That middle section was just dreadful, but I will say that either end of it was really lovely.
"Any Man of Mine" by Shania Twain
I almost hesitate to put Lauren up this high on the list simply because while the performance was great and she's got a great voice, it really seemed like she was phoning it in. This comes easily to her, we get that, but she should really start to push it a little further instead of staying in the comfort zone. Luckily for her, her comfort zone is turning out to be better than a lot of other contestant's best performances so I think there will be no danger of losing her any time soon.
Simon Says: It just wasn't enough for me.
"The River" by Garth Brooks
I like Scotty; I really, really do. The one complaint I have is that he's a one-trick pony. You see folks like Haley Reinhart go from R&B to country music and rock both ends of the spectrum and then he have Scotty, who really only fits the deep country roots mold. That being said, when it comes to country, this young man is a force to be reckoned with; I just doubt that all of America will stay on the country train once the contestant pool gets really small.
Simon Says: Look, you are great for country western music, but do you belong here? I don't know.
"Lately" by Stevie Wonder
Can you believe I put Stefano up this high? I can't. While I didn't really like the fact that they sped up the Stevie Wonder song to this double-time dance floor version, I must admit, Stefano sang the hell out of it even at that fast tempo. Singing that well in that circumstance isn't the easiest thing to do and for that, I may actually be taking a step closer to becoming a Stefano fan.
Simon Says: That arrangement was awful, but you handled it.
"Blue" by LeAnn Rimes
I do really like this song -- especially because of its Patsy Cline quality -- but it's a bit sleepy for this competition. The great thing about it is that even though it was all a little too slow and plodding, Haley held her own and used the material to show us a significant range and some serious talent. I think she needs better song choices in the future, but she belongs in this competition and I hope she gets the chance to stay a while longer.
Simon Says: You've got the voice, but I had a really hard time keeping my eyes open.
"Maybe I'm Amazed" by Paul McCartney
I'm still not a Durbin fan, but I really appreciate that he reserved his crazy, high pitched singing for specific sections within this classic song. He actually managed to pull it back and sing softly until it made sense for those notes to make well-times appearances. However, I think that while he does have a crazy range, when he's not blowing people's minds with those notes, the quality of his tone just isn't all that appealing. I know I'll get some hate for this, but I just can't get on board with Durbin.
Simon Says: You've got the range, but that's not always enough.
"Umbrella" by Rihanna
Oh, Naima. I really, really enjoy her and I actually appreciated her attempt to go a little more mainstream with a little of her own reggae flavor, but in doing that she lost sight of the vocals. I will say that I thought this number would be a total disaster and I was pleasantly surprised, but it was still a little rough. I think if she steps back and figures out the parts that worked and polishes them, she could be a real delight in the competition but I'm not sure America will give her the chance.
Simon Says: It was a bit odd. You tried to do too many things and the vocals just failed.
"Come Pick Me Up" by Ryan Adams
Okay, so there are two sides to this coin. On one side, I love Paul's voice, his performance style, and the way he always looks like he's so stoked to be onstage. I love that he didn't try to be a replica of Ryan Adams while performing this song. On the other side, I wish he would have tweaked his onstage style a bit to fit the song a little better. There was a sense of dissonance between his performance and the song, but I still love Paul and I hope he sticks around to redeem himself. His voice is so unique and so lovely to listen to. I just hope he figures out how to make it work a little better.
Simon Says: I like you, but this was just not your best performance.
"When You Tell Me That You Love Me" by Diana Ross
The girl is just inconsistent. She can rock the songs she knows by heart -- the one from Dreamgirls --but when it comes to others, she falters. She was sharp and flat all over the place. I think she could be better, but she needs some serious vocal coaching.
Simon Says: I really just didn't like it.
"I Believe I Can Fly" by R. Kelly
First of all, this song should be banned from Idol. It's so tired and now that R. Kelly is a joke, the song has lost its sincerity. Secondly, Lusk is a talented singer but this performance just didn't cut it. Yes, he kept the stage presence going, he performed with vigor and heart, but the vocals were careless. He favored power over quality and it showed. I doubt this will be the end of the line for Jacob, he's got a lot of fans, but it really wasn't one of his better performances.
Simon Says: Oh, how the mighty fall.
"I Could Fall In Love" by Selena
I stand by my statement from last week: she doesn't belong here. Besides the fact that she looked like she was trying to win a Selena-look-alike contest, this performance was just plain awful.
Simon Says: Dreadful. I don't know how you've made it this far.
The West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin said he did not realize the comments he made in The New Yorker magazine about the news coverage of the Bush administration would create such a flap. Referring to the special The Bush White House: Inside the Real West Wing, which aired on NBC Jan. 23, Sorkin said that the media were waving pompoms instead of providing objective news coverage and that anchorman Tom Brokaw let it happen. "There should be a difference between what NBC news does and what we do," he told the Associated Press. "And that night, there wasn't, except we have more interesting lighting." Sorkin later apologized to Brokaw at the request of NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker.
Anne Heche gave birth to a baby boy over the weekend. Homer Heche Laffoon weighed 7 pounds and is the first child for Heche and husband Coleman Laffoon. The two married in September last year and met while working on a documentary about Ellen DeGeneres' return to stand-up comedy, AP reports.
After shooting two back-to-back sequels for the 1999 sci-fi thriller The Matrix, Keanu Reeves will travel back in Hollywood time to work on a remake of the 1971 cult classic Billy Jack, Variety reports. Reeves will star as Billy Jack, a Vietnam veteran who's half Native American. Tom Laughlin, who wrote, directed and starred in the original film, controls the film rights and is in talks with Danny DeVito's Jersey Films to remake the retro hit.
Elizabeth Taylor will play the role of Elton John's wife in his new video "Original Sin," the BBC reports. His daughter will be played by teen singer/actress Mandy Moore. John, who normally hates appearing in videos, recently called on Justin Timberlake to take the lead in "This Train Don't Stop There Anymore" so he wouldn't have to. John makes an exception for this next single, which is slated for release April 1.
Victoria "Posh Spice" Beckham escaped injury in a six-car pile-up on Sunday near Stafford, England, the BBC reports. Beckham and her three-year-old son, Brooklyn, were in a minivan being driven by her father, Tony Adams, when he managed to swerve the vehicle away from the full force of the crash. None of them were injured. Beckham is expecting her second child with soccer star David Beckham in September.
Nightline host Ted Koppel said he hopes to stay with ABC but criticized the network for questioning the relevance of his show, AP reports. ABC has apparently had discussions with David Letterman about taking over Koppel's 11:35 p.m. time slot. Nightline ratings have been shrinking in the past few years while Letterman has been a longtime No. 2 behind NBC's Jay Leno.
The Fox network is set to revive four sci-fi TV series, airing reruns and creating new TV and film versions of Lost in Space, The Time Tunnel, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Land of the Giants. The deal also covers any potential feature films, as well as merchandising and licensing.
Mary McCormack, who recently appeared in K-PAX with Kevin Spacey, will star in the CBS comedy pilot Julie Lydecker, which centers on a mother/daughter relationship. According to The Hollywood Reporter, McCormack will also be seen in the upcoming drama Full Frontal alongside Julia Roberts.
Yoko Ono, the widow of former Beatle John Lennon, has paid an estimated $213,300 to have the words "Imagine all the people living in peace" emblazoned on a billboard in Piccadilly Circus in London, Reuters reports. Ono, who already has the billboard up in Times Square and in Tokyo, thought people needed to be reminded of this message after the horrible events of Sept. 11.
After a three-year hiatus, former supermodel Cindy Crawford returned to the catwalk for designer Roberto Cavalli's autumn/winter fashion show. Although she enjoyed the return, the model-turned-mother of two told Reuters she would not do it for a whole season. "At home, I wear jeans and a T-shirt, so it doesn't matter if I get mucky...but then I put on a Cavalli top or trousers and feel like a sexy mum rather than a frumpy housewife."
Comic Kevin Meaney was arrested at San Francisco International Airport on Sunday for grabbing the butt of a gun held by a National Guardsman, Reuters reports. An airport police spokesman said Meaney got belligerent after his wife was subjected to a secondary security screening and had to lift up her blouse and show her bra to the screeners. Meaney, 45, was booked into the San Mateo County Jail on a felony charge of attempting to take a firearm from a police officer and two misdemeanor charges of battery and disturbing the peace.
Julia Child is recuperating from a bout with bronchitis that landed her in the hospital during the weekend. Child, 89, had to cancel an appearance at a rare-wine auction Saturday night at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in the Bay Area after she had trouble breathing. She checked into a San Francisco hospital Saturday afternoon and was released Sunday, AP reports.
Edward Norton, Brett Ratner, James Whitmore and Anthony Hopkins will be some of the stars attending the 7th Annual Palm Beach International Film Festival in West Palm Beach, Fla. The festival will take place April 11 through 18 and will feature more than 40 films, including American independent and Spanish-language films and entries from France, Israel, Ukraine and Italy.
Songwriter Harlan Howard died Sunday at the age of 74. Responsible for more than 100 Top 10 hits, including Ray Charles' "Busted" and Patsy Cline's "I Fall to Pieces," Howard was known as the dean of Nashville songwriters. His death came after years of ill health. A memorial service for him will be held in Nashville on March 19.