Thursday, December 26, 2013

A load of bushido bull

In our day of list-mania, one might be able to enumerate 47 reasons why not to watch Keanu Reeves in “47 Ronin.” But that would be pointless.

Suffice it to say that “47 Ronin,” by first-time director Carl Rinsch, is a puerile mash-up of samurai sword & sorcery pulp. The movie is "based on a true story" --  an early 18th century event involving revenge taken by a group of samurai. But the film has the sensibility of a first-person shooter videogame.

Morgan Benoit is Keanu's stunt double
in "47 Ronin."
Co-written by Chris Morgan of the “Fast & Furious” franchise, “47 Ronin” is unoriginal fare. The film presents an unappetizing smorgasbord of leftover action movie tropes with a bittersweet star-crossed lovers theme tossed in for dessert. Still, when it comes to the impressive visuals it really is all you can eat.

And why not? More than 650 persons are credited under visual effects, including previsualization supervisors and postvis artists, data wranglers, shader writers, a mistika artist, Houdini artist and lead paint artist (read: “leed”).

And that doesn’t include another 30 or so credited for the special effects. Cinematography is by John Mathieson.

The sword slashing here is fun, with filmmakers appealing to adolescent boys and perhaps to those young Katnisses out there, and no doubt as well to many American men, a demographic once referred to as “failed boys” by author John Updike.

Unfortunately, the swordplay here ends on a historical note rarely seen outside of Jonestown. In this day of everything from suicide bombers to flash mobs, do we really want to define honor by old school, bushido bullshit? The gratuitous infatuation with mass ritual suicide, depicted fetishistically in this film, is offensive. Even failed boys deserve better.

Instead, check out “Ronin” (1998), a tough guy caper from director John Frankenheimer, in which Bobby Deniro, Jean Reno and others cut a bloody and exciting swath through southern France and the Eternal City.

My kind of ronin.
This movie includes a scene that may very well have inspired this recent ronin ridiculousness. At one point in the 1998 caper movie, a meditative, erstwhile operative is seen in his home painstakingly placing miniature ronin figures on a model battlefield. I would have preferred that the filmmakers of “47 Ronin” had approached their project with the same reasoned consideration.

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