47 Ronin (2013)

Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy

Director: Carl Rinsch

Writers: Chris Morgan, Hossein Amini, Walter Hamada

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ko Shibasaki

Rating: ★★★

47 Ronin is a film which attempts to take a serious concept and liven it up with fantasy elements to appeal to a wider audience.  It is quite simply an average film, one with much potential, but ultimately I found myself slightly disappointed. The craft is great along with some moments of action, whilst everything else is rather respectable but nothing too special including the return of Keanu Reeves to the world of cinema.

Lord Asano (Min Tanaka) of Ako, a small beautiful Japanese village, is hunting in the forest with his men when they find a young boy, a half-breed between demon and human. Asano sees something special in this boy and takes him home to the castle, where he shall live alongside the samurai. Several years later, the young boy is now a man, his name is Ki (Keanu Reeves) but he’s rejected as a samurai and is labelled as “half-breed”, but his fighting skills are superior to any other, defending the village from beasts. Lord Asano invites the Shogun of Japan (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) to Ako to watch a tournament; however when a witch sabotages his fighter and eventually Asano himself, the shogun demands seppuku (Suicide) on Asano to counterbalance his shameful act. Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano) of Nagato is given power over Ako by the Shogun, including all the samurai and the princess. Lord Kira, evil and heartless forbids the samurai from Ako and keeps the princess for himself. The banished samurais, who are now just ronins, realise Kira’s plot and set out alongside the half-breed to seek revenge for their fallen master despite it being against the Shogun’s order.

The concept is simple but strong with the story surrounding revenge and the ronin taking back their land of Ako from Lord Kira, who plotted the bewitching. It has also been seen many times before, with an unapproved man attempting to save a village and to win the princess from an evil master. However 47 Ronin steer away from simple plots and attempt to dive into fantasy worlds and monsters to gain excitement. The idea of huge, witch crafted beasts somewhat ruin a traditional concept of samurais against shoguns and masters.  It lets down the film for me and somewhat made it hard for me to like it, especially considering my appreciation for classic Japanese film such as Seven Samurai, where in other films Ki would be a farmer or a peasant, he is a demon setting-up a mythical setting and film world. The fantasy carries on as witches, ghosts and spirits enter the film. 47 Ronin then attempts to make matters serious by making the acquisition that the story is based on real life events, something I found ridiculous.

The real action, when arriving, takes place as the ronin invade Lord Kira’s Ako, and it is very good with the scenes looking great and the attack and scene being well-thought out and executed. It then sets up two stand-off fights, which bring entertainment which is much needed as the film beforehand seems to stray at some points.

Keanu Reeves portrayal of Ki is good, however like the rest of the cast and their acting it isn’t anything special and if anything at times it felt very stereotyped and cheesy.  The film did thrive from its visuals, although the concept of beasts and witches were somewhat unneeded it is only fair to say that they looked good and the effects were brilliant. The directing was also creditable and a standout, some shots were very awe inspiring especially in the lead up to the battle, whilst the film was occasionally helped by a number of well-timed and executed scenery shots.

47 Ronin isn’t what I was expecting, and I would have hoped it took a more traditional approach towards portraying a Japanese samurai story.  The film itself looked good and the action when appearing, although somewhat less than what was needed, was great and provided good action and entertainment. The story was well shaped and the simple concept was strong, which essentially draws you in as an audience; however the twists were really unnecessary. 47 Ronin isn’t anything special at all and doesn’t deserves much praise but on the other hand it could have been a whole lot worse.

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The Green Mile (1999)

Genre: Crime, Mystery, Fantasy, Drama

Director: Frank Darabont

Writers: Frank Darabont, Stephen King

Starring: Tom Hanks, Michael Clarke Duncan

Rating:★★★★★

The Green Mile is a film which seems to never get boring or lacklustre no matter how many times you sit down and watch it. It is a true great, with a full display of brilliance in everything aspect from acting, writing and directing. I have to admit, this is a rare film which has brought tears to my eyes, an emotional story told with excellence from some of the best-written and most-famous characters within cinema.

The story focuses around Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks), as he reminisces on his years as a death row prison officer on E block’s green mile, however one year and one prisoner sticks in his mind more than any others, 1935 the year of John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan). Coffey is massive, bigger than massive, and has been sentence to death by electrocution for the murder and rape of two little girls; however his mere presence and persona produces questions that if he is responsible for such a crime. A gentle man, a man scared of the dark and a man with a supernatural gift which stuns Paul and the guards of the green mile.

There’s so much more to the story of The Green Mile, the involvement and impact of a tiny smart mouse, the inclusion of vile prisoner “Billy the Kid” (Sam Rockwell) the relationships between the guards of E Block and the horrible, petty officer Percy (Doug Hutchison), who is in my opinion one of the most hated characters in cinema.  Paul’s worst ever urinary infection, Warden Hal’s (James Cromwell) dying wife, and the deaths of those sentence to the chair. All these people, all these stories, all affected by the presence of John Coffey, a name no one will forget.

The Green Mile has been written and adapted brilliantly by Frank Darabont and Stephen King. The characters and overall concept is faultless and refreshing. Paul is brought to life by Tom Hanks excellently, just like the rest of the cast, Paul is caring and funny, and as the audience we are moved by the moral judgements he has to make due to his job and Coffey. Michael Clarke Duncan’s John Coffey is everything we expect him not to be, simple, harmless and quite sweet for a man who seems to be the size of two people, everyone is with Coffey and no one wants him to serve his punishment, and the ending always reduces me to tears. The rest of the cast and the characters are flawless, Officer Percy is by far the vilest character and gets our blood pumping, whilst Billy the Kid is pretty much equal.  Michael Jeter also deserves a mention as prisoner Eduard Delacroix, whose time on death row and his own story again is emotional and touching. The Green Mile shows of some brilliant acting talent and equally, the writing talent of Stephen King but also the ability to adapt a source from Darabont. The structure to The Green Mile is great, the use of flashbacks, and the way that everything we are shown is linked and pays off is simply great and there’s no wonder he was awarded so many times along with the film itself.

The directing is great; Darabont’s techniques and shots when we first see John Coffey are a nice touch whilst throughout the film there are some really brilliant and faultless perfect shots. The effects are something that should be credited too and for me they stand out, when Coffey displays his gift the effects are good whilst the make-up throughout on characters, especially Hal’s wife, is faultless and completely believable.

The Green Mile is a film all about emotion, and such a great intriguing story; however it has been brought to life making it a film I can’t find faults in. Tom Hanks and Michael Clarke Duncan performances are worthy of all praise as they produce a relationship which really is iconic. The directing and writing is flawless, showing off some real talent and skill. The Green Mile is a classic film, I will never tire no matter how many times I see it, it is a must-watch and a film which will be remembered rightly for a long time to come.

 

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure, Action

Director: Peter Jackson

Writers:  Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo Del Toro and J.R.R. Tolkien

Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom

Rating: ★★★★

The much anticipated sequel and the long awaited second in the Hobbit series, The Desolation of Smaug had very high expectations. It had to capture the fun fantasy world and feeling An Unexpected Journey achieved, alongside living up to the action packed visual entertainment it promised. It is impossible to dislike the Hobbit films or even The Lord of The Rings Trilogy that the current series plays prequels to, in my perspective it’s due to its luring story that you get so attached. I went into the cinema knowing full well I would enjoy this film but yet with an element of anticipation and eagerness to see what was so new and different.

Many have criticised not only the second installation of The Hobbit series but the whole concept itself due to its lack of ability to recreate accurately J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel. However I haven’t read the novel nor looked into how the films make a comparison, I take on The Hobbit series as a set of films and those that are made to recreate the story for greater entertainment.

In An Unexpected Journey we follow Bilbo Baggins’ (Martin Freeman) adventure as the Hobbit burglar on the quest to reclaim former homeland Erebor, with the Dwarves and Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), as they battle the powerful and great Dragon Smaug. After some back-logging we continue the group’s quest once again and straight back into action as they continue to be hunted by the Orcs. Seeking shelter in a skin-changers house, a being that changes from a hairy man to a slightly hairier bear they escape the Orcs briefly. They then head towards a mysterious and dangerous forest alone, due to Gandalf’s personal quest of regaining peace in middle earth. The film then fuels from entertaining battles and action as well as giving important plot development for the latter scenes and the final film.

The Desolation of Smaug also sees the arrival of a few new and entertaining characters as well as the focus being turned on a few that were in the shadows in the previous instalment. Whilst travelling through the forest containing controlling illusions and haunting spiders the Dwarves get captured by on duty Elves, a familiar Legolas (Orlando Bloom) alongside most entertaining and impressive the “she-elf” Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) who take the angered Dwarves back to their Kingdom. There is also much more focus on dwarf Killi (Aidan Turner) who strikes a relationship with the feisty she-elf which also results in striking up more conflict.

Half an hour of Orc bashing and barrel-riding later the focus then turns on another new character, Bard (Luke Evans) who not only plays hero and smuggler for the Dwarves and Bilbo but could play hero for the whole of middle earth after it is revealed he has common enemy with the Dragon Smaug. In the final scenes the focus switches from Bilbo to Gandalf, who battles and fights with a foe whose evil and darkness forebodes a great war. Confronting the Dragon in the meantime Bilbo awakes more evil and danger which puts the whole city in extinction.

There is so much happening in The Hobbit it does take some working-out and reflection however this is not a criticism but a positive, with much entertainment and action balanced out with important plot developing dialogue it makes the full running time important and worth-while. The action scenes where so varied and different it was refreshing and clever, the opening scene was tense and thrilling whilst “the barrel scene” was comedic. The comedy didn’t stop there as the dialogue included some witty lines especially from Dwarves Killi and Bifur.

Admiration away from the action and script, The Desolation of Smaug as expected and once again provided flawless visuals and effects alongside make-up which I would guess will be nominated for an Oscar. The achievement of creating such terrifying looking Orcs is amazing, whilst the Dragon was stunning. The scene that glorifies The Hobbit’s effects is one of the highlights of the whole film, near the closing scene Smaug dripping with gold breaks free and shakes in the sky scattering gold everywhere, visually looking flawless.

The cast and cameos The Hobbit has is also incredible, with a long list of world famous and popular stars hogging the credits list. This time round most notably Stephen Fry is centre stage playing the role which sees him Master of Laketown whilst we finally hear the voice of Benedict Cumberbatch as Smaug. My favourite performance however comes from Evangeline Lilly playing Tauriel, the “she-elf, she captures such an entertaining and powerful performance which is simply great to watch, another pick for an Oscar.

My only criticisms of The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug are aimed at its frustrating ending and slightly confusing mixed plots that also have very expected climaxes. In general the film was very entertaining and fun to watch, the expectations were met. The entertainment and success achieved from this film were mainly due to the fights and new characters. The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug has now only created a huge amount of anticipation for the finale of the series which is certainly going to be the biggest and the best. Peter Jackson’s second instalment of The Hobbit series is by no means perfect or a classic, but it’s really one you have to see.