Reel to Reel: Reviews

“The Human Stain”
by Maura Judkis

I am itching to tell you the big secret of Coleman Silk in “The Human Stain” (Mirimax). And really, my reasons for wanting to do so are purely selfish – after all, telling Silk’s secret would make this review so much easier to write. The film explores racial issues with a new outlook, but in such a dismal tone that viewers may grow weary of the characters’ problems.

Anthony Hopkins stars as Silk, an eminent and educated professor of classics and well known as the first Jewish professor in his field. During a class session, he remarks that a few of his ever-truant students must be “spooks,” a term with unintentional racial connotations. Declared a racist, Silk loses his job and, still outraged about the scandal months later, he seeks the help of writer Nathan Zuckerman (Gary Sinise) to help him write his story. The two quickly become friends, and Silk reveals to Zuckerman that he has begun an affair with a 34-year-old woman who works as a janitor for the college that previously employed him.

The woman, Faunia Farely (Nicole Kidman) comes with a list of troubles. Sexually abused as a child, Farely ran away from her wealthy family and married an abusive Vietnam vet, Larry (Ed Harris), who still haunts her over the accidental death of their children. Sexual attraction brings Farely and Coleman together, but the relationship deepens when Coleman, still scarred by his previous scandal, enters another by becoming entangled in his lover’s problems.

Zuckerman is prompted to write a book about Coleman’s life, and in his research he discovers an incredible secret that changes the entire nature of the previous scandal.

As emotional as the film is, I found the casting completely implausible. In flashbacks, Silk is played by Wentworth Miller (TV’s “Popular”), an actor who could pass for a younger Sinise, not a younger Hopkins – I made this is a mistake until someone address the younger Silk by name. The two actors are so entirely different in their mannerisms, speech and overall traits that they were incompatible to play versions of each other. Miller, however, is a talent to remember; he puts forth a performance that will surely land him many big roles.

The film also contains a great deal of nudity, and for those who think this is a good thing, think again. Not only will Nicole Kidman and actress Jacinda Barrett disrobe many times over the course of the 106-minute film, but Hopkins will, as well.

“The Human Stain” provides an important and little-heard perspective on race but, due to it’s dismal content, it falls short in entertainment value.

“Die, Mommie, Die”
by Paris Holmes

In a country where there are Lizzie Bordons and Menendez brothers, the title “Die, Mommie, Die” might make you think you’re watching a film about two disgruntled teens readying a ditch for their poor mother for an insurance policy payoff. But if you think that’s what “Die, Mommie, Die” is about, you’re in for quite a surprise.

“Die, Mommie, Die” gave director Mark Rucker and writer/actor Charles Busch a chance to work together, something they’ve wanted to do for a long time. This film depicts the story of Angela Arden (Busch), who is trying to regain the fame and glory she once had as a glamorous singer. A pop diva in every respect, Angela is enjoying retirement on her lavish Los Angeles estate until she decides to take a gig in upstate New York. When her husband and manager, Sol P. Sussman (Phillip Baker Hall), discovers her infidelity with the gorgeous Tony (Jason Priestley), an actor/tennis pro/FBI agent, he cancels her performance, a mistake on his part. Sol is not the only challenge, though. Angela has absolutely no control over her two spoiled children, Edith (Natasha Lyonne), who has a visibly unhealthy love for her father, and Lance (Starks Sands) who loves his mother until he catches her sleeping with two delivery guys.

Bringing back the classic Hollywood style of film, “Die, Mommie, Die” is a homage to such films of the 1950s and ’60s as “Hush Hush, Sweet Charlotte, “The Trip” and “Now Voyager.”

In a recent Hatchet interview, Rucker and Busch discussed the influences that inspired the film, the differences between directing for theater and directing for film and the “dream come true” aspect of getting this film made.

When asked what influences inspired the film, Busch said when he wrote it he looked to Sophocles’ “House of Atrius,” his goal being to update an ancient myth for contemporary times while simultaneously creating a fabulous part for himself.

Rucker said he looked to films like “Sunset Boulevard,” “The Graduate” and “Far From Heaven” for their use of camera movement and color. He also looked to everything from student safety films to Italian horror films for ideas for some of the scenes.

When discussing the differences between directing for film and theater, Rucker said he had to learn a lot about cameras, lenses and lighting and that the actual filming was very similar to theater because it was like being in a technical rehearsal for three weeks. But the main difference – and most rewarding for Rucker – was the editing aspect. In editing, he said, “you get to get your hands all over it one more time and really make some key decisions about how the finished product looks.”

For Busch and Rucker, getting the chance to make this film was the realization of lifelong goals.

“The whole point of this exercise was that Mark (Rucker) wanted to make a film starring me,” Busch said. “I wanted desperately to star in a movie. I would have done anything, (even) kill!”

Well, Busch, you did it, so I think you can put the knife away.

Check out the bizarre style of “Die, Mommie, Die,” the last film in the Sundance Film Series, at the Loews in Georgetown.

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