Monday Morning Critic – 11.22.2010 – TSA, 47 Ronin and Seven Samurai

Every Monday morning, InsidePulse Movies Czar Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings an irreverent and oftentimes hilarious look at pop culture, politics, sports and whatever else comes to mind. And sometimes he writes about movies.

You know how badly the TSA has screwed up? Saturday Night Live actually came up with something funny AND poignant mocking them. I know, it’s like Christmas has come early this year.

You know there’s plenty out there about the backlash against the TSA this week, and you can do a quick Google search and find everything you need on it, but one thing keeps coming to mind. Are we really that surprised that it’s gotten substantially worse since the TSA was created?

Considering that to work in the TSA seemingly doesn’t require more than working at McDonald’s, and doesn’t pay that much more either, why are we so shocked that the same people who normally would be working the deep fryer would take such abuses with the newfound power? Let’s be honest; the qualifications don’t’ exactly scream for newfound college grads with Latin phrases incorporated into their graduation status. People don’t skip med school or law school to work for the TSA. It’s why things like this happen.

You know, we wonder why the TSA manages to be such huge douchers about everything and yet 10 years ago these same people would’ve been screwing up our order in a drive-thru. Are we really that shocked that flying would suck as much as buying crappy fast food was?

But then again, thoughts like these kept me out of the good colleges and mediocre airports.

Random Thoughts of the Week

There are some things that you read and you have to stop yourself for a moment. This in particular kind of bugged me on a small level. And it wasn’t for the fact that someone is remaking Logan’s Run, either. Something in particular stuck with me:

Ronin, with Keanu Reeves attached to star, is based on the true story of 47 Ronin,
samurai swordsmen who avenged the death of their master in 18th century Japan”

I’m a bit of a history buff, mainly involved with crime and war (as opposed to Asian history), but last time I checked none of the 47 Ronin were surfer dudes. They were badass Japanese warriors and one of the requisites of being Japanese, last time I checked, was actually being born in Japan. I mean it just doesn’t sound right in any aspect but it did get me thinking.

Listen to me now and believe me later.

You know what is excellent about this? It’s that American studios have no problem pissing all over history to get a major star involved. I mean it would be a lot more appropriate if it was like Ken Watanabe in the lead but he’s not quite the big draw that Keanu is. Nuts for nothing, as I enjoy a good percentage of his work, but I can see the logic behind all of this. If a bearded midget (Tom Cruise) can be The Last Samurai then a bearded stoner (Reeves) can be one too. At least that’s what Keanu must think, especially considering he is part Asian, but it’s a bit annoying to a certain degree.

Normally I’m all about casting the best actor, as opposed to something petty like making sure the race and/or ethnicity is correct, as I think that you don’t overlook someone who is talented merely because they don’t fit into what should be used for a certain race/ethnicity/whatever for a part. I think it’s a bit racist but some things just can’t be overcome with casting a talented white guy. Or whatever color/ethnicity/gender they may be.

I have to admit, though, that “talented white guy” just kind of sounds funnier so roll with it for now.

This kind of stupidity kind of annoys me on a deeper level; not because I’m Japanese but because it’s offensive on an intellectual level. When you’re casting for a historically ethnic part, as opposed to something like a comic book or graphic novel, I am one of those who tend to think that you should try and get the history part right. It’d be like Naomi Watts dying her hair bright purple for the part of Valerie Plame in Fair Game. If you can’t cast a talented blonde actress, you cast someone that dyes their hair that color. 47 Ronin deserves better because it’s not The Last Samurai, which essentially was a loose combination of history with an Americanized viewpoint to make it more marketable. I mean if you want to be technical you can take the film apart but it never was meant to be a historical epic; it was a period epic, meaning you can kind of get away with butchering the whole historical accuracy bit because you’re not presenting it as a historical piece. It’s a period piece wrapped in it, for lack of a better word, andit sort of makes sense, too, that they’d play it like that.

Cruise as an American soldier who adapts the ways of the samurai is a bit easier to swallow because he’s just that; an American playing an American part. Is it a bit obnoxious that the “last samurai” in that film is a bearded white guy? Of course it is. But Cruise wasn’t playing an actual samurai, just a honky who goes native in a fictional narrative with some historical basis. And I can see why Keanu would want in on this flick because it’s an absolute badass story about honor with badass swords and tons of samurai violence in it. Never underestimate the power of samurai violence. But this is a big part of Japanese history and it bugs me on a lot of levels. It’s the equivalent of one of the Twilight kids playing Jackie Robinson; it might be a great film but it just isn’t right.

Since we’re not all too concerned with being historically accurate, or with casting reasonably, I’ve come up with a list of movies I’d like to see following the “white guy as a Samurai” motif. I mean if Hollywood is going to pussyfoot around having Keanu Reeves in a Japanese historical myth of epic proportions, I’m not. Either you do it right or you don’t do it at all, I say, but if they’re not going to do I say you might as well have some fun with it. The old phrase is something like if “you’re in for a penny, you’re in for a pound” bit so it makes sense that this week’s descent into clowning would be:

Kubryk’s “In For a Penny, In For a Pound” Guide To Historical Films

12. When We Were Young

We follow a young Jackie Robinson (Taylor Lautner) through his years in the famous Negro Leagues of baseball lore with his teammates Josh Gibson (Joseph Gordon-Leavitt) and Satchel Paige (Tom Hardy), seeing him develop into the man that Branch Rickey (Morgan Freeman) would eventually sign to break the color barrier of Major League Baseball.

11. The Railroad

Harriet Tubman (Jennifer Anniston) has had a hard life as slave, hard enough that she can’t find a good man to call her own in the world. When her travails leading slaves out of the South and into the freedom of the north have her meet the man of her dreams (Jason Bateman), she must decide between her work and the potential love of her life.

10. Tyler Perry’s George Washington

George Washington (Rick Fox) is torn between two women: his wife Martha (Gabrielle Union) and the temptress down the street (Janet Jackson). Sounds like it’s time for some good Christian morals from his Aunt Madea (Tyler Perry) just in time for him to lead the Colonials to victory.

9. The Fields

Cesar Chavez (Russell Crowe) wants a better life for his family but detests the working conditions by which he has to do it. Joining the unions, he fights for better lives and working conditions over the years.

8. Submission

With the rise of the UFC from fringe freak show to full on sport with ESPN coverage, Submission retraces the steps that led to its birth and the fateful first night of fights. Helio Gracie (Clint Eastwood) and his sons Royler (George Clooney), Rickson (Matt Damon) and Rorion (Ben Affleck) want to create a showcase for the brilliance of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. But first they have to rob a bank to get the proceeds to stage their first Ultimate Fighting Championship.

7. Dunk

Reflecting upon his life as a pro basketball player on the eve of his induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame, Michael Jordan (Jason Schwartzman) looks at the development of his life through the game and the friendships with Scottie Pippen (Zach Galifinakis) and Charles Barkley (Ted Danson) he developed over the years.

6. A Nation Shall Rise

The came, they saw, they conquered. The story of how Chuck D (Ed Norton), Terminator X (Joaquin Phoenix) and Flavor Flav (Channing Tatum) came to the forefront of late 80s rap as Public Enemy and changed the face of the genre forever.

5. Jane’s Way

A look back at the life of British writer Jane Austen (Hugh Jackman) as she looks back on her early years as a young woman, looking for love in all the wrong places.

4. I Banged Marilyn Monroe

Before he was known throughout the world as one of the preeminent playwrights of his generation, Arthur Miller (Denzel Washington) was better known for one thing: his voracious appetite for women. But he never got over losing his true love, Marilyn Monroe (Halle Berry).

3. All God’s Children

Martin Luther King, Jr. (Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino) only has a couple things he loves in life: hitting the gym, doing his laundry and his love of Scripture. When the inequalities of his life in the Segregated South cause him to action, against the advice of his wife Loretta (Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi), he forever alters the course of history until his tragic death.

2. In King George’s Court

For four years, Colin Powell (Christian Bale) served as the nation’s first African-American Secretary of State under George Bush. As the lone moderate in a cadre of radicals, his lone dissenting voice keeps the free world from falling into a fascistic regime led by Dick Cheney (Morgan Freeman).

1. All About Whitey

David Duke (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) is the son of an engineer who just really loves being white. Struggling to find kindred souls in a youth spent traveling the world with his father, we follow Duke during his formative years looking for others who share his sense of racial love.

A Movie A Week – The Challenge

This Week’s DVD – Seven Samurai

There are some films that stand the test of time because they’re not rooted in any particular era of story-telling. The ability to watch a film years after the fact and still feel the same powerful emotional pull is one thing that kills a lot of film considered classics in their time. Watching Crash now, which was given the instant classic status by many at the time, is more shrug worthy than anything else. Seven Samurai, on the other hand, has remained a classic for a lot of reasons. But mainly because it’s a kick-ass film that hasn’t aged a day since its release, retaining the same powerful story that has been retold and remade over the years but having done it better.

Seven Samurai has a simple story to it. Seven Samurai are hired by a village because they are being raided continually by a gang of thieves. All with their own reasons for taking the job, it becomes a war of attrition between the samurai and the bandits as they brace the village for their eventual attacks. With the bandits slowly losing their numbers due the samurai killing them all, we follow them throughout this siege as it becomes a war of attrition between the two sides.

And there’s a reason why it still holds up nearly half a century later; nearly every film involving action heroes on a mission doesn’t merely take notes from this film. They take the entire plot structure and opening stanza, which have become staples of the genre. Considering the film’s remake is arguably one of the finest westerns ever made, The Magnificent Seven, Seven Samurai manages to still be significantly more brilliant.

This is a film like The Maltese Falcon, Bob Le Flambeur, et al, that established things that are now cliché in film. Highest recommendation possible.

What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 Pints of Bass Ale and community college co-eds with low standards at the Alumni Club

Burlesque – Christina Aguilera moves to Los Angeles to become famous and winds up becoming a singer at a burlesque bar run by Cher.

Skip It – Anytime you have a pop star trying to make a serious stab at acting by playing a thinly veiled version of themselves it never works out well unless it’s completely over the top ridiculous with everyone in on the joke, like Purple Rain. Sadly this looks rather serious.

Faster – Somebody killed The Rock’s brother. He’s going to fuck their shit up for it. Billy Bob Thornton is somehow involved.

See It – Seemingly from the time he stepped away from the WWE and into being a movie star, The Rock was the heir apparent to Arnold and Stallone in the pantheon of action stars. But a funny thing happened: his comic timing and ability pick good family projects took him away from that path and into one of a more family-friendly movie star. But I can imagine there was a hankering inside him to be the badass who kills everything in his path. Scratch that itch, Dwayne, SCRATCH IT!

Love and Other Drugs – Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal fall in love after having a “friends with benefits” type of fling.

See It – This is the Jake Gyllenhaal I like; the guy doing character centered pieces with good actors surrounding him. Not the wannabe action hero.

Tangled – A more modern retelling of Rapunzel.

See It – Animation this year has been remarkably strong. While I think Toy Story 3 is still the best of the bunch, the chasm between that and everything else isn’t as pronounced as it usually is between Pixar and every other studio.

The King’s Speech – Colin Firth is a British king who has to give a big speech but has one problem; he stammers. Enter Geoffrey Rush. In limited release.

See It – For the last six months the hype behind Firth’s performance has been growing and it seems almost to a point that it’s a near certainty he’s going to both be nominated and win for Best Actor. Time to see if the hype matches the performance.

The Nutcracker – Apparently the play is made into an animated film. In limited release.

Skip It – . I haven’t seen any hype or trailers, or even TV advertisements, on it so far. That is kind of odd for a family film that’s animated to not have any big hype behind it when it has a first rate cast, et al, and is in a limited release. Something isn’t right, which usually means it’s probably bad.

Do you have questions about movies, life, love, or Branigan’s Law? Shoot me an e-mail at and you could be featured in the next “Monday Morning Critic.” Include your name and hometown to improve your odds.

Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @MMCritic_Kubryk.

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