Tribeca Film via Everett Collection
Unfortunately saddled with one of those titles that leaves itself open to pun-filled reviews , there's not much truth to be found in The Truth About Emanuel, a film that's sadly unaware with how utterly ridiculous it comes across to the viewer.
The story follows Emanuel (Katia Scodelario), a surly teenager who's closing in on 18, but still feels pangs of guilt due to the fact that her mother died while giving birth to her. She takes out her anger on her new stepmom (Frances O'Connor), and her doting father (Alfred Molina) struggles to understand the fire burning inside his daughter. Emanuel begins to connect with her mysterious new neighbor Linda (Jessica Biel), who Emanuel agrees to babysit for.
The film's twist, which is revealed within the first act of the movie, is that Linda's daughter isn't a real baby, but a doll that Linda thinks is real and is using as a coping mechanism. Not wanting to break the spell that Linda has cast on herself, Emanuel goes along with Linda's psychosis, and what follows is a ridiculous game of "keep away" (or, better put, "pretend the baby is alive") like some twisted, direct-to-DVD sequel of Weekend at Bernie's. Emanuel bends over backwards to prevent anyone to get a glimpse at the plastic baby, and the last hour of the movie feels like a rejected C-plot of the worst mid-'80s sitcom never created.
The film's two protagonists are flip sides of the same grief stricken coin. Emanuel is a daughter riddled with the guilt over killing her mother, while Linda's very being is swallowed up by the loss of her child. The film wants to say some very poignant things about loss and grief, but even without the fake baby plotline flinging the story down into the bowels of unintentional farce, the film's writing is still too blunt and sloppy to express its ideas well. The characters ring false and the script clunks and clatters its whole way through with groan inducing lines. Adding the baby plotline on top of all that ensures that almost nothing in this film that comes off as "true."
There is a film in here somewhere that could have carried the story about the coping mechanisms we build to escape our grief, but The Truth About Emanuel just isn’t self aware enough to know how ridiculous it comes across, and the cast just isn't up to task to sell a dramatic story that could have just as easily worked as the main gag in a backburner SNL skit.
The genesis of Universal's 47 Ronin is almost as tragic as the actual history that the movie is culling from. As the story goes, Universal saw the sprigs of talent sprouting from fresh faced director Carl Rinsch, whose previous experience was limited to just a couple of commercials and a nifty short film. The studio decided to ease the new director into feature filmmaking by cutting him what amounts to virtually a blank check, and giving him charge over a multi-national samurai fantasy epic. Almost impossibly, the film isn't a complete disaster. It's just a minor one.
47 Ronin follows the classic story of the titular team of warriors, a group of disgraced samurai who band together to seek revenge against a merciless warlord that betrayed and killed their master. But this isn't your grandfather's version of the story. 47 Ronin is an international affair, and it's covered with a veneer of Japanese mysticism and a thick coating of Hollywood lacquer, but east meets west rather uncomfortably, and it's mostly due to Keanu Reeves. Reeves' character is clearly crowbarred into the story that has no room for him, and it's plainly obvious where the seams of the story were stretched in order to patch him into the narrative. Reeves plays Kai, a half Japanese, half English orphan who is adopted by the samurai clan. His character serves no real purpose beyond being white, slicing things until they die, and playing the male lead of the most superfluous love story of the year. Rinsch simply can't make the inclusion of the character feel organic in any way, and "Kai" ends up feeling like a calculated studio move. It's a shame that the film spends so much time on Reeves when the real star is clearly Hiroyuki Sanada, who plays off the stoic samurai most believably among the rest of the cast.
It's also shame that with all the mysticism pumped into the story, there's no magic in the actual center of the film, the ronin themselves. The only personality trait a samurai is allowed to possess seems to be unerring stoicism, and between all 47 ronin, there are probably only three distinct samurai with any discernible character traits beyond an intense need to brood, and you'll probably only remember those three by the time the credits roll, only to promptly forget about them only a few hours later. Thankfully, Rinko Kikuchi's slinky and treacherous witch adds some much needed camp and personality to the mostly forgettable human characters.
And that's the issue with 47 Ronin. It's largely forgettable. When your film takes on a historical legend like the tale of the 47 ronin, a story that has been told and told again ad nauseum over the years, you really need to justify your own version. There are reels and reels of film dedicated to this story, and 47 Ronin doesn't manage to add anything significant to the canon. It promises to weld myth and history together, but does so clumsily, and while some of the action scenes are exciting, especially a particularly inspired set piece that involves the ronin noiselessly breaking into a heavily guarded fortress, the film is a bore when it's not clanking swords together.
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47 Ronin is a film with many stories. As much as it is a tale about the revenge of four dozen masterless samurai, it's also the tale of an inexperienced filmmaker swallowed up by the enormity of blockbuster filmmaking. Most of all though, It's proof that you shouldn't cram Keanu Reeves into a movie that doesn't really need Keanu Reeves. What you're left with is a dull and bloated samurai epic that has its moments, but feels largely unnecessary.
Jessica Shephard (Ashley Judd) has just been promoted to police inspector with the San Francisco Police Department's Homicide Unit and her first case--a man found beaten to death on the beach--proves unsettling: She had a one-night stand with the victim a few months back. Shaken Jessica downs a bottle of red wine rummages through an old box containing gruesome black-and-white photos of a man with a bullet in the head and some dingy Raggedy Ann dolls. Turns out Jessica has some serious issues. Her father a police officer was a serial killer who ended up murdering his wife before turning the gun on himself making Jessica an orphan at the age of 6. This tough-as-nails cop appears composed on the surface but she indulges in self-destructive late-night activities including engaging in violent sex with strangers and drinking until she blacks out. Within a week two more of Jessica's former flames turn up dead and all three bodies bear the distinguished signature of a serial killer--a cigarette burn on the back of the left hand. Since she can't remember anything that happened during her blackouts Jessica starts to suspect she might be responsible for the murders. On the other hand she can't shake the feeling she's being followed and her new partner Mike (Andy Garcia) has been behaving strangely showing up on her doorstep in the wee hours of the night. A tormented Jessica seeks comfort from John (Samuel L Jackson) her mentor and an old friend of her father's who seems to think she needs protection--from herself. Could Jessica be the very killer she is tracking?
Judd tones down the Hollywood glam here and with her makeup-free complexion she actually looks like a real cop. But her physical transformation doesn't overcome the inherent flaws in the way the character is written. While we should feel sympathy for Jessica because of her childhood trauma we don't for all kinds of reasons. Her character doesn't think she has a problem for one and she never develops close relationships in the film except maybe with a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon and the stringy-haired strangers she has violent sexual liaisons with. Even Jessica's revelations to a staff psychiatrist are superficial. While it's almost impossible to warm up to Judd's character it's even more difficult to relate to her relationships with leading males. As Mike Jessica's partner Garcia constantly spews cop-thriller clichés about their unspoken loyalty and trust as colleagues but for all his talk we never actually see that kind of bond between them. How can these cops who only met a week before be expected to have instant loyalty? What's worse the sleazy pass he makes at a boozy Jessica one night squashes his character's potential to be the film's only good guy. Jessica's relationship with John who is supposed to be her mentor at the police department is equally hard to swallow. Jackson is great at making his character chillingly creepy but if the audience can sense his deviousness within 10 minutes why hasn't Jessica picked up on it after years of knowing him personally and professionally?
It's hard to believe that Twisted comes from Philip Kaufman the same director who brought us opuses The Right Stuff and The Unbearable Lightness of Being. While Kaufman uses his trademark visual style to capture the briny and foggy feel of the San Francisco Bay area Twisted suffers from the same sorry plot predicament his 1993 adaptation of Michael Crichton's novel Rising Sun did: It's utterly predictable. But rather than remedy the story Kaufman and co-writer Sarah Thorp toss one red herring after an another hoping to keep viewers off the scent. Case in point: Every time Jessica suspects someone is watching her we hear the distinctive sounds of someone repeatedly flipping a lighter cover so it's safe to assume the bad guy will be the one who carries a lighter and not the one who lights his cigarettes with matches right? The film adds distractions to conceal the obvious including Jessica waking up with unexplained blood on her hand and her jealous ex-boyfriend constantly breaking into her house. There are so many diversions at work here that the film becomes a joke one that culminates with a hokey punch line as the antagonist spills out an elaborate confession that partly patches up any holes in the outrageous plot.