Friday, September 3, 2004

'Tis Thursday, and we must have some video reviews posthaste!
‘The Human Stain’
Coleman Silk has a secret. It’s one he can’t reveal, and it’s cost him his career and his marriage.
In “The Human Stain,” based on the novel by Philip Roth, we’re surrounded by damaged characters. Silk (Anthony Hopkins), an honored professor at an eastern university, is fired over accusations of racism. Alone and shattered, he finds himself in an unlikely relationship with a cleaning lady, Faunia Farley (Nicole Kidman). Faunia has her own secrets, including an ex-husband (Ed Harris) who may be trying to kill her.
Silk’s friend Nathan Zuckerman (Gary Sinise) tries to act as his conscience and friend, but in the end Coleman must face his inner demons alone.
The central dilemma at the heart of “Stain” is, how important are our own identities? Will we sacrifice a crucial part of ourselves to get ahead, or abandon our dreams for a loved one? Both Coleman and Faunia have done that, and pay the price here.
“Human Stain” has a great story at its core, and the novel is a thought-provoking, gripping look at the nature of identities and the burden of guilt. But the movie fumbles it, draining away the layers and depth to give it a movie-of-the-week feel.
It’s a curiously lifeless film, with the actors playing stereotypes rather than people. Beautiful to look at, with rich wintry tones and everyone looking gorgeous, “The Human Stain” just fails to engage the audience emotionally.
Kidman, usually excellent, tries mightily, but you just can’t buy her as a shattered, drunken janitor. She’s the most beautiful alcoholic cleaning lady you’ve ever seen, and that works against the story. A scenery-chewing Hopkins is even more badly miscast, lacking in subtlety and unbelievable as the man he’s supposed to be.
However, as a younger version of his character shown in flashbacks, Wentworth Miller is excellent, giving real emotional heft to the choices Silk makes.
The movie “The Human Stain” seems to race through the plot, making the ending incredibly abrupt and unsatisfying. It’s a surface look at complicated problems. The novel also has a pivotal twist that just doesn’t translate to the screen with the impact it should have.
“The Human Stain” had the potential to be a good movie, but typical Hollywood bloat sinks it into the realm of forgettable. When all else fails, the time-honored cliché holds true: Read the book, and skip the movie.
(Rated R for sexuality, adult language)
** of four

‘Secret Window’
Mort Rainey is a successful author going through a bad time. His wife’s divorcing him, and a drawling stranger has just shown up at his front door, accusing him of “stealing my story.”
When Shooter (John Turturro) bangs on the door of Mort (Depp), he seems like a kook. But it becomes apparent Shooter is much more dangerous than that, as Mort’s life begins to fall apart in the face of Shooter’s escalating threats. Can Mort prove he’s innocent of stealing Shooter’s story? More importantly, is he?
Based on a short story by Stephen King, “Secret Window” shows flashes of promise before it disintegrates with a dismal ending.
It’s reheated King, strongly reminiscent of his other, better works like “The Shining,” “Misery” and “The Dark Half.” More of a thriller than a horror movie, “Window” has a few bright spots but not enough to make it gleam.
A mildly mediocre movie is partially salvaged by the talents of Johnny Depp. Depp carries huge chunks of the movie by himself, and makes the mental frustrations of a struggling writer gripping drama. It’s a good turn in a lazy story. Turturro is also menacing fun as the hillbilly Shooter, a creepy joke of a character who gradually grows in significance.
Writer and director David Koepp, who wrote the screenplay to 2002’s chilling “Panic Room,” has a firm grip on mood and tone. It’s a beautiful-looking movie, staged with flair.
But “Secret Window” is a classic case of solid build-up, poor follow-through. It’s hard to imagine the climax not coming as a limp disappointment to many viewers.
It’s a story filled with red herrings, twists for the sake of twists, and story threads that lead nowhere. If someone really did steal this “Secret Window’s” story, it wouldn’t be much of a crime.
(Rated PG-13 for violence, scary situations.)
** of four

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