Commentary

April 25, 2014

Fly Over: ’47 Ronin’, and ‘Breaking Amish’

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On DVD:

47 Ronin

Set in feudal Japan, Keanu Reeves stars in the action-adventure epic, “47 Ronin.”
After a treacherous warlord kills their master and banishes their kind, 47 leaderless samurai vow to seek vengeance and reclaim their honor. This band of ronin must seek help from Kai (Reeves) – an enslaved half-breed they once rejected – in their ultimate fight for redemption in a savage world of mystic and wondrous terrors. Kai becomes their most deadly weapon and the heroic inspiration for these outnumbered warriors to confront their enemy and seize eternity.
Reeves plays a great role as Kai. Both pitiable and heroic, right from the start your heart goes out to the character. Though they hint at the magical powers that he has, being half human and half … tengu, maybe (it’s never really clarified) it is disappointing to see that he only uses them twice through the whole movie. Alongside his supporting cast of fantastic Japanese actors, Reeves brings his role alive. Though he still plays his characters a little vacant, this time it works as he’s supposed to be humble and subservient while still serving his lord the best he can.
The director does a good job of making the people of Ako seem bright and warm while painting the bad guy as dark and sinister. Use of color, light and shadow set the tone, so who you are supposed to be rooting for is never in question, until after the death of the Lord of Ako. They continue using color once the samurai becomes ronin, metaphorically losing their honor along with the new lack of color and vibrancy in their apparel. All in all, it is a visually stunning movie.
You don’t have to know anything about Japanese history or culture to enjoy this film. Right from the get-go I had figured out the type of movie this was going to be, and I wasn’t mistaken. It’s based on a Japanese tale about, you guessed it, 47 ronin who did just what the movie is about. In the Japanese culture, their actions were viewed as honorable. Their reward was warranted and noble. It just may not sit well with western audiences.
I’m glad I bought the movie as opposed to seeing it in the theater, which I don’t think would have improved its quality. The movie holds its own, blending stunning visuals with a historical story. It is something I would like to watch again, since I personally love most things Japanese. But if I’m to be subjective, it was kind of a “meh” movie. Not bad, but not the best I’ve ever seen.
For me, it was worth the buy. But for others, it’s worth renting on Redbox. Or find it on Netflix when it’s available there. If you happen to miss this movie, you aren’t missing too much.
This film is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images, and thematic elements.

“A handsome movie in many ways, but it feels like an unpolished first draft, one that can’t quite decide how fantastical it wants to be.”
— MaryAnn Johanson
Flickfilosopher.com

 
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On TLC:

‘Breaking Amish’

Imagine being raised in a community where the use of every day conveniences such as electricity, toilets, hair dryers, cars, televisions and more, is frowned upon. Or, living in a place where one can be shunned by their community just for traveling outside the area to see and experience how the rest of the world lives. Such societies do exist within the U.S., and they are known as the Amish.
I personally never heard of Amish people until running into the American reality television series on TLC titled “Breaking Amish.” The show follows the lives of four young Amish people and one Mennonite girl, who are all in their early 20s, and wanting to break free from the Amish lifestyle.
“Breaking Amish” begins by showing their lives in their tight-knit communities before leaving the Amish way of life. It’s strange because it looks like a society from a different time period. Women are dressed in plain long-sleeved dresses that go down to their feet, with their hair braided back or in a bun and then covered with a white cap or bonnet. Men are dressed in plain button-up shirts with trousers that are worn with suspenders, then perhaps a hat or coat. Vehicles are absent; horses are the main means of transportation with maybe a wagon attached.
Unlike modern society, the Amish people don’t believe in having fun, according to Abe Schmucker, who says it’s been several years since he’s had fun. The Amish are also very traditional when it comes to what roles women and men play in society. Rebecca Byler expresses how awesome it would be to have a man who can do the laundry and other chores women typically have to do. Then there is Jeremiah Raber who had been shunned by his bishop for leaving the community. Lastly, Kate Stoltzfus, a daughter of a bishop, and Sabrina High, the only Mennonite of the group, are introduced. Mennonites and the Amish are very similar but have a few differences, such as Mennonites drive cars, don’t practice “plain dress,” use modern conveniences and more.
After the cast members are introduced and before leaving for New York City, they say goodbye to their families, who all disagree with their choices to leave and warn them they will be shunned.
For all of them, it’s their first time being at an airport let alone flying in a plane. It’s a bumpy ride, and Byler has a mini panic attack but makes it through okay. The group takes a taxi to a hotel where everything is new to them. When Byler and High first enter their room, Byler is amazed by the electricity, a phone in the bathroom and a toilet. Similarly, Schmucker can’t stop turning the sink water on and off and loves that there is a refrigerator and TV in the room.
Throughout the show, members choose to do as they wish, and some do more than others. Some indulge in alcohol for the first time, try dating and change the way they dress. There is also some conflict within the group. When Raber took Schmucker to a strip club, Schmucker opposed it out of respect for Byler, who he was dating.
A problem arises with the females of the group since Byler, who is underage, can’t drink and has to put up with Stoltzfus and High getting drunk and in trouble often.
There are many twists in the show as well. Just when you think you know the characters, their secrets begin to unfold.
“Breaking Amish” is entertaining to watch especially if you’ve never observed those who may be more sheltered than you or me. It’s amusing to see their reactions to things most of us take for granted such as riding an elevator or seeing the beach. The question is whether they will go back to their previous lives or choose to live outside the Amish community.




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