Rush Makes ‘The Best Offer’ Stunning; ’47 Ronin’ Slow and Simple

best offer


Movie Info

Virgil Oldman is a solitary, cultured man whose reluctance to engage with others, especially women, is matched only by the dogged obsessiveness with which he practices his profession of antiques dealer. He’s never been close to another human being, not even Robert, his only friend – a young, skillful restorer of mechanical devices from every era. The day he turns sixty-three, Virgil receives a phone call from a young woman who asks him to handle the disposal of some family works of art. But when the time comes for his first site visit, the girl fails to appear, nor, for various reasons, is she present for the taking of the inventory or for the transportation and restoration of the pieces. More than once Virgil is tempted to bow out of what appears to be nothing but a bothersome mess, but on each occasion, the mysterious young woman, locked in her own obsessional world, convinces him to continue. And with this, the old antique dealer’s life begins to take an unexpected turn. It is Robert who shows him, step-by-step, how to win the heart of a young woman who is afraid of the world and, caught in the middle of this puzzling game of chess, Virgil soon finds himself enveloped by a passion that will transform his grey existence forever.

R, 2 hr. 11 min.

Drama, Romance, Art House & International

Directed By: Giuseppe Tornatore


SYNOPSIS: Virgil Oldman (Geoffrey Rush) is a solitary, cultured man whose reluctance to engage with others, especially women, is matched only by the dogged obsessiveness with which he practices his profession as a high-end antiques auctioneer and valuer at the top of his career. One day Virgil receives a phone call from a mysterious young heiress, Claire (Sylvia Hoeks), who asks him to evaluate her deceased family’s works of art, housed in a large villa. It will be the beginning of a complex and turbulent – but physically distant – relationship that will change his life forever…

Review by Louise Keller:

A stunning performance by Geoffrey Rush elevates this beguiling tale that explores authenticity and all its priceless facets – from the elite art world to that of human emotions. Cinema Paradiso’s Giuseppe Tornatore has artfully created a reality that allows his refined protagonist Virgil Oldman (Rush) to not only be credible, but for us to understand him. This rich characterisation is the basis on which the exposition relies and the tumultuous roller-coaster ride on offer delivers enough juice to squeeze us dry. There are moments when our credibility is stretched; it’s as though we are on a boat that is lurching from side to side before returning to equilibrium. The film is a character study, love story, mystery and thriller with devastating twists and turns that constantly surprise.

In the opening scenes, we are invited into the beauty-filled, sophisticated world of Virgil Oldman. The first thing we notice is that he is extremely precise, can spot a fake artwork in an instant and is always in control – whether at the helm of a prestige art auction or dining alone in an upmarket restaurant. He is difficult, demanding and solitary. ‘Talking to people is perilous,’ he says. As for his extensive glove collection (his obsession), the dedicated wardrobe in which they are displayed is not dissimilar to that of Sarah Jessica Parker’s shelves accommodating her shoe fetish in Sex and the City. But it is the secret room concealed behind the gloves, in which priceless paintings of classic, female beauties hang from floor to ceiling in his own private art gallery that represent his passion – a lifetime of investment on every level, including that of a relationship.

There is another secret room – one behind an ornate mural in the villa whose valuable antique contents are being assessed by Oldman, and in which its owner Claire (Sylvia Hoeks) apparently lives. The set up in which Oldman becomes intrigued by Claire and the bizarre circumstances that follow as they communicate through walls is constructed with great credibility, enhanced by the skill of Rush’s nuanced performance. Like Oldman, we are fascinated by Claire – the moment when Oldman hides behind a statue in the adjacent room to simply see her for the first time, is voyeuristic to the extreme.

Also fascinating is the relationship between Oldman and Donald Sutherland’s rogue art colleague Billy Whistler and that of Oldman’s fix-it friend Robert (Jim Sturgess), who is trying to assemble a rare automaton from parts found in the villa. There is a barrage of questions: What is Claire’s story? What is the relevance of the astronomical clock in Prague and who is the dwarf in the coffee shop opposite, who remembers everything?

The Best Offer is filled with delectable moments as the pendulum of authenticity and fakery swings. All the performances are superb and the casting spot on, while the relationship between Oldman and Claire forms the rich heart of the film. The names are symbolic, too – keep your wits about you and don’t miss any of the clues. I like the note of optimism on which the film ends.


47 ronin


Movie Info

From ancient Japan’s most enduring tale, the epic 3D fantasy-adventure 47 Ronin is born. Keanu Reeves leads the cast as Kai, an outcast who joins Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada), the leader of 47 outcast samurai. Together they seek vengeance upon the treacherous overlord who killed their master and banished their kind. To restore honor to their homeland, the warriors embark upon a quest that challenges them with a series of trials that would destroy ordinary warriors. 47 Ronin is helmed by visionary director Carl Erik Rinsch (The Gift). Inspired by styles as diverse as Miyazaki and Hokusai, Rinsch will bring to life the stunning landscapes and enormous battles that will display the timeless Ronin story to global audiences in a way that’s never been seen before. — (C) Universal   PG-13, 2 hr. 7 min.

Drama, Action & Adventure, Science Fiction & Fantasy

47 Ronin is Solemn as a Funeral March


Solemn as a funeral march, humorless as your junior high principal, as Japanese as a grocery-store California roll, Keanu Reeves’s let’s-mope-about-and-kill-ourselves samurai drama has exactly three things going for it. First, the cockeyed sensuality of Rinko Kikuchi as a spider-puking evil witch who can transform herself into a fox, a swathe of magic-carpet silk, or this month’s second-most impressive movie dragon. Second is those flying silks, whose airborne undulations demonstrate more personality than any of the characters save that witch herself — she’s cursive calligraphy in a cast of square and clunking alphabet blocks.

And a distant third is one sequence of amusing movie violence. The good guys — all 47 of them — are storming the palace of the lord who banished them, shamed them, tricked their master into committing seppuku, and kidnapped their princess. (He’s four villains in one!) These masterless ronin scale a wall in a snowstorm, lasso the evil lord’s guards to yank them off the ramparts, and work all sorts of impossible traps and tricks to thin the enemies’ ranks. It’s like a reverse Home Alone, and it’s the only sustained burst of excitement in 47 Ronin’s two grinding hours — and it lasts maybe three minutes.

Other than that, the movie is all slow, portentous dialogue. Each word drips out like tree sap. Keanu Reeves stars but doesn’t say much, which usually isn’t a bad idea with him. In this case, though, he’s one of the few castmembers who seems comfortable speaking the English everyone in the film’s feudal Japan relies upon. Several of the actors sound as if they may have learned their lines phonetically, and quite a few seem not to have mastered English l’s and r’s — it seems cruel, then, that the producers force them to keep calling Reeves’s character “half-breed.”

That isn’t a complaint, really. Since all the dialogue is blandly declaimed, like everyone is reading it off stone tablets, the quirks of ESL at least offer a touch of humanity to this shopworn spectacle. They’re something to think about besides the ridiculous liberties Hollywood has taken with Japanese history. The story is slow and simple, although director Carl Rinsch still manages to muddy it. Reeves plays Kai, the half-breed — his true lineage is meant to be mysterious, although the movie hints he’s the spawn of avian demon-monks with gills in their noses. Orphan Kai grows up in the palace of Lord Asano (Min Tanaka), where as a kid he teaches unattainable crush Mika how to hunt. After a scene or two with child actors, Kai ripens into the pushing-50 Reeves, while Mika somehow ages two decades fewer in the same time. Her adult incarnation is played by Kô Shibasaki; she trembles while Reeves recites the kind of poetry spoken by fantasy characters too in love to bother actually touching each other.

As in many other versions of this often-told tale, wicked lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano) tricks Asano into attacking his own guests, which results in Asano being sentenced to commit seppuku. Try not to snicker when the lord who hands that ruling down immediately defines the punishment, just in case any of the assorted samurai skipped the class covering the whole ritualized suicide thing. Soon after the first of many PG-13 disembowelings, Asano’s samurai guardsmen, led by the warrior Ôishi (Hiroyuki Sanada), are exiled to the wilderness, where they plot revenge. Kai tags along, even though none of them like or respect him — the movie suggests this is because he’s different, and also maybe part demon, but it’s hard not to suspect that it’s actually because he failed to distinguish himself in any way in what has to be half a century of living in their company.

On the road, though, Kai wins their respect the only way movies know: by slaying lots of enemies. 47 Ronin isn’t bloody, but it one-ups the irresponsible ugliness of Hollywood’s usual endorsements of violence in one disquieting respect: It suggests that killing bad guys is only slightly less noble than killing yourself. The story of 47 Ronin dates back to the 18th century, so don’t complain about spoilers as I tear into the ending: In the classic samurai films, suicide is complex, upsetting, sometimes unjust and sometimes the only way to ease a soul in crisis; here, it feels like a yoga-class graduation.

The adventures include a descent into the bird demons’ cave, a fight against a furious Snuffleupagus, and much undistinguished sword play. There’s also lots of scenes of travelers and mountains, à la Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth movies, the occasional CG monster to battle, and maybe 20 minutes’ worth of talking, all of it ready to be wiped away and re-dubbed for the international audience. They’ll know better than to think of it as Japanese, I expect. Despite the lavish temple sets, the robed pageantry, the principled sexlessness, and the strident talk of honor and ancestry, this Hungarian-shot bore is so indistinct it reeks of no place more than Hollywood, where the fascinating specifics of history and legend are ground into universal mush.


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