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The Human Stain

A single word brings his happy little facade to the ground: “Spooks”. A word that, to many, means ‘ghosts’ or ‘apparitions’, but to some means something far graver: a racial slur. The irony of the situation is apparent only to Silk as his little ‘slip of the tongue’ leads to the downfall of not only his career, but the respect and camaraderie of his peers as well. His closest friends turn their backs, his wife passes away, and his children barely even speak to him. He is left with no one and nothing, except his tragic secret. And then he meets Faunia.

Faunia is Silk’s lover. His refuge. His ingenue. Faunia, played by Nicole Kidman, is a reflection of Silk in another world. She is white, but ashamed of herself, her past and her present. Silk loves her because she carries the same burdens as he does, manifest in different ways. A troubled past with her ex-husband Lester (Ed Harris) and the fatal deaths of their children haunts her as does her own tragic childhood, full of abuse at the hands of her step-father. All of this makes it hard for Faunia to trust Silk, or anyone for that matter, but she is intrigued by him and the secrets he tries to hide from her. The two find solace and some amount of peace in each other, but with such tumultuous pasts, tragedy strikes in droves.

‘The Human Stain’ looks like a formula Oscar contender. Based on a bestselling novel. A cast full of past Oscar favorites and a convenient fall release. Director Robert Benton (Kramer vs. Kramer) is a six-time Oscar nominee and a two-time winner, Hopkins has been nominated four times and holds a statue for ‘Silence of the Lambs’, Kidman just picked up her first, last year, after two nominations, and Harris, well, Harris is a non-winner, but practically a shoe-in for a nomination each year. Even Gary Sinise, who has a small role as Coleman Silk’s friend and the narrator of the story, was nominated for ‘Forrest Gump’ back in 1995.

All this is fine and dandy, but The Stain is a far cry from a crowd-pleaser. It’s nothing if not a gritty, almost dirty film, reminiscent of 2001’s Monster’s Ball. Silk pops Viagra like candy to keep up with Faunia during their wild sex romps and I have a permanent image of Anthony Hopkin’s naked ass burnt in my head. Kidman’s character curses like a fleet of sailors and there is a touchy side story involving Lester’s post-Vietnam psychosis (for which Harris might finally win that Oscar). And don’t forget the main theme of the film either; edgy questions revolving around race and prejudice are prevalent throughout.

The story, while interesting, failed to really enthrall me; the characters are harsh and hard to like at times and several scenes just ooze sappy ‘roll-your-eyes’ sentiment. While the controversiality of the subject matter could help pique interest in the film, it certainly does not qualify it as a ‘feel-good movie of the year’ contestant. Nonetheless, I am looking forward to its translation to the screen and, given the depth of the cast involved, I will be shocked if ‘The Human Stain’ doesn’t grab a handful of Oscar nominations come next spring.

Rating: B
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Hellboy

Early in the film we learn of Hellboy’s origins as a secret weapon in Hitler’s army, near the end of World War II. Fast forward 69 years and Hellboy is working for the U.S. government, but James Bond he’s not, far from it. Hellboy is confined to the BPRD headquarters under the watchful eye of his surrogate father, Professor Broom. His freakish nature has given him a Bigfoot-like anonymity amongst the public.

As the story develops we learn about Hellboy’s tumultuous relationship with Liz Sherman, a fiery, troubled girl, with whom Hellboy is infatuated. A new agent at the Bureau, Myers (hee! that’s my name!), stirs things up, while Tom Manning, the Bureau’s director, tries, in vain, to keep it all under the radar of the media. We soon learn that Hellboy’s creator, Grigori, a Russian man, perhaps a reincarnation of the legendary Rasputin, has risen again to unleash some sort of evil on the Earth. With the help of his accomplices, Kroenen, a cyber-enhanced Nazi, and Ilsya, Grigori’s faithful female companion, he summons up Sammael; a deadly creature that is more than a handful for Hellboy and company.

All these developments and interactions are somewhat lost in the superficiality of the action scenes. The comics had an even mix of investigation and action. The film’s take is somewhat lopsided. Here, Hellboy is more of a brute who takes pleasure in popping off one-liners, than an intuitive detective. Instead of putting the puzzle together, he is told where to go and who to smash. However, the script knows what is best for itself: an action movie with cool effects, not a thinking man’s film.

Del Toro is purportedly vying for a PG-13 rating, but its hard to believe that will be possible with all the violence and blood, not too mention the heavy occult theme. Blade II garnered an R and the two films share many similarities. Like Blade II, Hellboy looks to be stylish and entertaining. Except for some dreadful comic relief early in the third act, the dialogue is sufficiently witty and on par with the storyline. Ron Perlman is perfect, I do mean perfect, for the role of Hellboy. While he certainly isn’t a huge draw at the box office, he has worked with Del Toro twice before, and he is a big guy, so hopefully, he wont be another all CGI character. Other notable casting choices include Selma Blair, as Liz (a less-than inspired choice, in my opinion), John Hurt as Professor Broom, and Jeffrey Tambor, as Tom Manning.

Though I enjoyed the script and look forward to seeing the film on the screen, I had a hard time buying into the idea that this would be a draw to audiences. Hellboy has a cultish following within the comic book world, but to the general public, he is a nobody, far, far from the popularity of Spiderman or the X-Men. Can a less than upstanding superhero with a minute fan base and a devilish appearance bring a crowd to the theaterr It’s not a stretch of the imagination. Perhaps fans enjoy the occasional anti-hero to counter the all the do-gooders out there. After all, Blade was a relatively unheard of comic series before it hit theaters, and while it did deal with the more familiar theme of vampires, it was a surprising success. Though he didn’t direct the first Blade installment, I have a feeling that Del Toro could make a very similar splash when Hellboy comes out in the summer of 2004. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a sequel either.

The Scorecard
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Producers: Lawrence Gordon, Lloyd Levin, Mike Mignola, Patrick J. Palmer, Mike Richardson
Screenwriters: Mike Mignola and John Byrne (comic), Guillermo Del Toro (adaptation)
Casting Director: Jeremy Zimmermann
Production Companies: Revolution Studios
Distributor: Revolution Studios (Sony)
Shooting Start Date: March – August 2003
Locations: Prague, Czech Republic

Rating: B
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