Keanu Reeves sharpens his sword as an outcast warrior in the martial arts epic 47 Ronin
47 RONIN (12A)
East meets west with a flurry of digital trickery in 47 Ronin, an ill-conceived martial arts epic inspired by the real-life tale of a group of samurai, who doled out justice in 18th-century Japan to avenge their master.
While the original story is tightly woven into Japanese culture and has been passed down through the generations, Carl Rinsch’s lavish spectacle will quickly be forgotten.
The film’s reported $170m budget has been invested in gorgeous production design and endless costumes.
Beneath all of the lustrous packaging though, 47 Ronin is little more than a hoary B-Movie with little interest in the nuances of Tokugawa-era Japan.
Screenwriters Chris Morgan and Hossein Amini turn to sorcery to spice up their emotionally starved narrative, and call upon the warlocks of the special effects department to conjure a horned monster, a mythical dragon and a shape-shifting witch out of the ether.
The desecration of revered source material is complete by casting Keanu Reeves as the vacuous hero, and gifting lifeless, stilted English dialogue to some of Japan’s best loved actors.
Reeves plays outcast Kai, who is taken in by kindly Lord Asano (Min Tanaka) despite the other subjects labelling him a demon.
Kai grows up a sensitive soul and catches the eye of Asano’s spirited daughter, Mika (Ko Shibasaki), but he realises their romance across the social divide is doomed.
“I will always love you but you have your place and I have mine,” he laments.
Mika’s heartache turns to anguish when scheming Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano) uses a high-profile visit from Shogun Tsunayoshi (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) to besmirch Lord Asano’s reputation.
The Shogun orders Asano to commit seppuku – ritual suicide by disembowelment – to avoid bringing shame upon his house, then permits Mika one year to mourn before she must marry Kira and thereby unite the two kingdoms.
Kuranosuke Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada) and Asano’s samurai guards are now masterless ‘ronin’ and Kira banishes them to the wilderness.
These brave warriors vow revenge but, to get close to their enemy, they must place their trust in Kai before overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles including Lord Kira’s most deadly ally, a wicked sorceress called Mizuki (Rinko Kikuchi).
47 Ronin could be Slash Of The Titans considering how much emphasis director Rinsch places on fantastical elements and action-packed skirmishes between swordsmen and hulking foes.
Reeves has never been the most expressive actor and here he is practically zombified, struggling to convince us of his forbidden desire for Mika.
Kikuchi loosely embraces her role as the pantomime villainess, complete with different coloured eyes, but doesn’t once feel like a lethal threat to Oishi and his brethren.
Gobble gobble gobbledegook – behold the post-Christmas turkey.
ALL IS LOST (12A)
Bona fide movie stars are a rare commodity in Hollywood, but Robert Redford has been burning bright for more than 50 years in iconic films including Barefoot In The Park, Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, The Sting, All The President’s Men and Out Of Africa.
Looking back over those performances, it’s hard to believe the Californian-born actor has never been feted at the Academy Awards.
Admittedly, Redford collected a statuette as Best Director of Ordinary People, but when it comes to his work in front of the camera, plaudits have been scarce.
All Is Lost might be the film to right that wrong.
Written and directed by JC Chandor, whose debut Margin Call was a tautly paced drama set on the floor of a Wall Street investment bank, this lean, nail-biting thriller required the 76-year-old actor to perform many of his own stunts.
He is in almost every single frame and apart from a couple of lines spoken into a yacht’s malfunctioning radio, Redford has to convey his stricken character’s inner turmoil without uttering a word.
The film opens on a July 13, about 1700 nautical miles from the Sumatra Straits, with an unnamed sailor (Redford) preparing to surrender his soul to the sea.
“I fought to the end,” he whispers in voiceover, “I’m not sure what that’s worth, but know that I did...”
We glide back in time eight days to find the same sailor midway through a voyage across the Indian Ocean.
His 39-foot yacht collides with a wayward metal container, which has been shed from a cargo vessel.
The yacht’s hull is breached but the captain patches up his craft and continues his journey.
Mother Nature is cruel though, and throws up a storm that batters the boat and leaves the sailor with dwindling food and water supplies.
As sharks circle the stricken vessel, the sailor must use celestial navigation to chart a course back to humanity via the nearby shipping lanes.
All Is Lost touches on similar themes to Alfonso Cuaron’s blockbuster Gravity – solitude, mortality, the indomitability of the human spirit – albeit without the whizz-bang digital effects.
Redford delivers a mesmerising solo performance.
Every emotion is etched on his face and at every heartbreaking turn, we understand the churn of emotions beneath his wind-battered surface.
Chandor orchestrates action sequences with aplomb, contrasting the sound and fury of the storm with the eerily beautiful calm of fish moving beneath the yacht.
Cast adrift with Redford on this unforgettable journey, we pray for salvation, even when the last flicker of hope has been extinguished.
“I tried to be strong,” he tells us in voiceover.
We try to be too, but tears born of frustration eventually flow.
THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY (PG)
Towards the end of The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty, a respected photojournalist sits motionless on a mountainside in Afghanistan, staring intently through a lens as a rare snow leopard slinks into view.
“Beautiful things don’t ask for attention,” coos the snapper, transfixed by the elusive big cat in its treacherous habitat.
Ironically, Ben Stiller’s contemporary remake of James Thurber’s short story does demand attention with its flashy slow-motion dream sequences and rousing soundtrack courtesy of Arcade Fire, David Bowie and Icelandic indie-folk band Of Monsters And Men.
The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty charts the misadventures of a dreamer, whose imagination conjures fantastical adventures to offset the gloom of his humdrum reality.
A 1947 film version starring Danny Kaye deviated significantly from the source text to showcase the verbal and physical dexterity of the leading man.
Stiller’s incarnation isn’t a one-man vanity piece to the same degree but it does rely heavily on the actor-director to shoulder the burden of comedy and romance through various madcap interludes.
Overall, the innate sweetness and whimsy of Steve Conrad’s script should go down a treat after the excesses of the festive season.
Walter (Stiller) processes the negatives for respected magazine Life, taking care with each image, especially the work of globe-trotting photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn).
Throughout the day, Walter ‘zones out’ and imagines declarations of love to pretty colleague Cheryl (Kristen Wiig), who seems oblivious to his existence.
Arriving for work one morning, Walter learns that the magazine is being shut down to make way for the digital revolution of Life.com.
Corporate toad Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott) is hired to oversee the “transition” and he rides roughshod over disgruntled staff.
For the front cover of the final issue, Sean sends a special image but the negative goes astray.
“It’s a big deal,” gasps Walter’s assistant Hernando (Adrian Martinez), “you lost a Sean O’Connell!”
Reluctantly, Walter abandons his mother Edna (Shirley MacLaine) and sister Odessa (Kathryn Hahn) to embark on a life-altering quest to track down Sean in the icy wilderness of Greenland.
The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty is a warm-hearted tale of a simple man striving to better himself in a world that repeatedly puts him down.
Stiller is inherently likeable and doesn’t shamelessly curry sympathy in early sequences when Walter is abused by Ted and his cronies.
The inevitable showdown between the two men doesn’t produce the fireworks we expect or the film needs, and the romantic subplot with Wiig simmers but fails to come to the boil.
The speed with which Walter’s real life becomes just as outlandish as his fantasies is surprising.
Walter’s last-gasp escape from an erupting volcano is one thing, but to fend off a frenzied shark attack using a battered briefcase doesn’t just take the biscuit, it takes the entire tin.