With the school year winding down and finals/graduation fast approaching, my movie watching suffers a little. Trust me, I would much rather be sitting in a cool, dark movie theater than in an artificially lit study room but sometimes you have to do what you have to do.
But fear not, friends! I managed to squeeze in a couple of movies for you and I this month. One is a bold, visionary bit of fantasy and the other, well, it stars Keanu Reeves so you can’t expect too much, really.
Vanishing Waves (2012) [Rated R]
Vanishing Waves (originally marketed as Aurora) is brought to us by promising Lithuanian director Kristina Buozyte. I suppose that the best way to describe the film would be to say it is a surreal, science fiction story about intense emotions, medical ethics and modern dance. Don’t worry, it’s not nearly as weird as you think it’s going to be.
The movie begins by explaining that scientists have discovered a way to connect the brain of a comatose patient with that of a healthy subject. Lukas, a brain researcher, is hooked up to machines, placed floating in a black box and sent into the mind of a coma patient. He finds himself swimming in an endless ocean when he finds a woman floating in the water and rescues her. He drags her to shore, administers CPR, revives her whereupon she immediately begins to kiss him.
He awakens from his dive into the patient’s mind and immediately wants to dive back in but the other scientists on the project want to know if the experiment worked. Lukas lies and tells them that while it did work, things weren’t very clear so maybe they need to try again. Crafty, eh? Lukas keeps diving into the patient’s mind and the encounters with the woman, Aurora (played by Jurga Jutaite) become increasingly sensual but then begin to veer into revisiting the trauma that brought the two together. In real life, Lukas tracks down the patient and attempts to wake her. Neither sound like smart moves to me but people do crazy things for love. Does Lukas get his metaphorical and literal dream girl?
Vanishing Waves isn’t a perfect movie. The plot is a little suspect in places and there a few loopholes and character decisions that should have been changed in the scriptwriting process. But it isn’t a bad movie either. I found it to be a visually stunning throwback to the heady science fiction movies of Tarkovsky and Kubrick with a few hat tips to more modern sci-fi like The Cell and Inception. If Vanishing Waves is an indicator, I look forward to more interesting and challenging films from Buozyte.
6.5 paws out of 10
47 Ronin (2013) [Rated PG-13]
The revenge of the 47 ronin is best described as a national legend in Japan. It is one of the most common themes in the Japanese art since the 18th century. The story of the 47 ronin is perhaps the most popular example of bushidō, the samurai code of conduct. To say that this is a big deal in Japan is not an overstatement.
Which begs the question – who thought putting Keanu Reeves in an adaptation of the true story was a great idea?
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike Keanu. He was great in the Bill & Ted series. He performed admirably in the Matrix trilogy. I would even go as far as to say that I enjoyed his performance in Speed. But come on, folks. You couldn’t find anyone better to help tell this culturally significant tale than Keanu Reeves?
Let’s not dwell on the negatives yet. 47 Ronin is an adaptation based on the actual story of the 47 ronin. It is set in a very pretty, stylized version of feudal Japan that has been given a bit of the Harry Potter / Lord of the Rings treatment. There are witches, creatures and magic in this version. Oh, and a totally fictional character portrayed by Keanu Reeves that . . . wait, I just said I wasn’t going to dwell on the negatives yet. Sorry.
Back to the film. The story follows a young boy who is found by a feudal lord in the forest. Despite the misgivings of some of his party, Lord Asano brings the boy back to his city where he is raised as an outcast and he falls in love with Asano’s daughter. Years later, Lord Asano hosts a tournament where a plot to steal his city is hatched. Asano is bewitched into threatening another Lord. The punishment for his crime is that he is ordered to commit hari-kiri. After his death, the samurai of Asano are left masterless and become ronin and Keanu is sold into slavery. The rest of the movie deals with the ronins’ plan for revenge against those who bewitched their master.
The story of the 47 ronin is about shame and honor. Unfortunately, the story of 47 Ronin is about samurais fighting witchcraft and Keanu’s love story. Maybe director Carl Rinsch was worried that the original story was too dry for American audiences. Instead, he changes the story into a big budget fantasy-action movie and chooses an actor who is famous for showing no emotion at all.
I wanted to like 47 Ronin. Really, I did. But I can’t. It’s just bad. It’s not Keanu’s fault entirely but let’s face it, he didn’t help. The movie reportedly lost over $150 million for Universal Studios. Keanu’s not solely to blame for that either. But I gotta tell you, it’s hard not to lay it all at his feet.
4 paws out of 10