47 Ronin

47 roninThe tale of the 47 ronin, the samurai without masters, is deeply enshrined in Japanese culture. An epic revenge mission, the legend of the ronin exists in the very marrow of Japan’s national psyche, speaking to quintessential themes of honour, loyalty, and sacrifice.

It’s history become myth, and though the story is verifiably true, this film is pure myth, playing fast and loose with the annals and mixing fantastical elements – not to mention a square-jawed A-lister – into the soup.

Keanu Reeves, whose previous work in eastern-flavoured action makes him a decent fit for this sort of CGI-heavy martial-arts fare, plays a “half-breed” orphan who helps the ronin in their epic quest to avenge their fallen master.

Though slick and sinewy in the fight scenes, Keanu plays everything in his usual husky monotone, and the cast around him – largely Japanese stars, for whom English is a second language – mimic his dull delivery. This, coupled with horribly wooden dialogue and an inert script, gives the impression of a B-movie in an A-movie’s clothing.

And like many B-movies, it exists in a vacuum of humour or self-awareness. A cackling witch, played by Pacific Rim’s Rinko Kikuchi, seems plucked straight from a Blackpool pantomime.

With a reported budget just south of $200m, it’s flush with production values. There’s pomp and pageantry in every frame, but the emphasis on historical accuracy in costume and set design sits a little queasily alongside the witches, demons and dragons.

Ultimately, this vision of feudal Japan seems to fall somewhere between a graphic novel and computer game. But even comics and games are less witless and tedious than this. If only they’d spent a little more time on the script and less on the dojo colour scheme…

 

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Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

anchThe release of the original Anchorman, back in 2004, passed almost without fanfare. Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s enjoyably daft comedy, set in the world of 1970s local news, hardly set the world alight.

But like many cult comedies before it, home video and word-of-mouth transformed its fortunes, and it wasn’t long before practically every line of the script was being quoted on t-shirts, social networks, tattoos, even actual news programmes; suddenly, phrases like “a whale’s vagina” had improbably entered the vernacular.

This sequel, almost a decade on, does not come riding the wave of box-office success (the original didn’t even break the $100m barrier) – but rather, at the behest of an eager fanbase.

Expectation can ruin a film, and if you are expecting an earth-shattering, game-changing comedy, expect to be disappointed.

If, on the other hand, you are expecting a gleefully stupid comedy with the occasional belly laugh and a few affectionate nods-and-winks to the original, you’re more than likely to be satisfied.

The legend continues in much the same fashion as it began: hirsute newsreader Ron Burgundy (Ferrell) remains hopelessly stuck in a retro America of poor fashion taste and casual sexism. Finding themselves at the advent of rolling 24-hour cable news, Burgundy and his estranged news team reunite to invent the concept of news-as-entertainment.

The plot does not stray remarkably far from the original: Ron loses and wins back both his news team and his wife, Veronica (Applegate), just as before. But the relentless machine-gun ratio joke ratio is far too distracting to worry about plot niggles.

There’s certainly about half an hour that could have been trimmed from the running time – bizarre meandering tangents concerning a freak ice-skating accident and a baby shark might raise more eyebrows than smiles, and Carrell’s Brick is almost entirely reduced to trading non-sequiturs with female Brickelganger Chani (Kristen Wiig).

But just when things start to flag, the stage is set for a finale so insane, it has to be seen to be believed. To say anything else might ruin an entirely bonkers surprise.

Anchorman 2 is bloated, overlong, and sometimes just downright odd. But as both a hymn to the original, and a bruising comic contender in in its own right, this is sequel that manages, against the odds, to stay classy.

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