Reviews — April 11

I continue my march through the filmography of Guillermo del Toro ever since geeking out on his amazing book “Cabinet of Curiosities: My Notebooks, Collections and Other Obsessions” at the McMinnville library. I settled down one evening with his adaptation of the Dark Horse comic “Hellboy” and enjoyed it immensely. Here’s a comic book film that gets it more or less right — serious, but with a sly sense of humor; spectacular, without deadening your senses with CGI.

It works largely on the strength of star Ron Perlman, whose face already appears chiseled out of granite. It’s a wonderfully contradictory setup: He’s actually a demon, but he also is the friendliest of comic book heroes, the sort of guy you could have a beer with. There’s a wonderful scene on a rooftop where he muses with a 10-year-old about life and romance. A dark knight he is not.

But he also packs a punch, and does so here with other demons bent on literally unleashing hell on Earth. I wouldn’t say so much that it’s exciting as it’s entertaining. Del Toro, who shows an interest in history, incorporating Nazis and Rasputin into the mix, even as he maintains a healthy sense of humor, both in the visuals and dialogue. It’s popcorn escapism, done right.

“Hellboy” (2004) Directed by Guillermo del Toro. Starring Ron Perlman, John Hurt, Selma Blair, Rupert Evans and Karel Roden. The character played by Doug Jones is voiced by an uncredited David Hyde Pierce. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and frightening images. 122 minutes (although I watched the 132-minute director’s cut).



In the opening pages of “Ranchero,” ex-cop-turned-repo man Nick Reid goes out to collect payment on a 42-inch TV, a necessity of life for the down-and-out residents of the Mississippi Delta. This particular down-and-outer holds on to his television a little harder than most, whacks Nick on the head with a fireplace shovel and speeds away in his Calypso Coral-colored Ranchero.

If the Ranchero hadn’t been borrowed — it was the lovingly tended baby of Nick’s landlady’s late husband — the story might have ended there. But it was, so Nick feels honor-bound to get it back, and we’re off on a rollicking trip across the Delta.

The book is raw, no-holds-barred and hilarious, with a mixture of philosophical musings about the underlying causes of crime and violent, do-it-yourself justice. It’s not for everyone, but I loved it.

Author Rick Gavin — hard to believe this is his first novel — introduces a number of memorable, if not all likable, characters.

We meet Desmond, who, like Nick, is a good guy. He’s never afraid to stand up for justice, even if he is deathly afraid of all critters that crawl or slither through the bayou. He cares for his mama, even if that means stretching the law, and helps keep Sonic in business.

Pearl, Nick’s landlady, is a very hospitable woman — “a relentless insister by disposition” — whose natural tendencies are magnified by loneliness. She insists on feeding and clothing everyone who comes her way. When Nick drags home a couple of no-good swamp rats from whom he needs information, Pearl treats them lovingly — and in return, they act like the sons every mother wants to have.

And there’s Nick himself. Relatively new to the Delta, he’s able to see the place and its people for what they are and what they could have been.

Many of the residents have just about given up, he notes, and who could blame them, since they’ve been squeezed and sprayed by Big Agriculture and left to molder in poverty. No wonder so many have turned to drugs; there’s not much else left to them.

And yet even the most down and out show surprising survival skills when they’re tested — or, like the swamp rats who meet Pearl, treated with kindness and respect.

“Ranchero,” by Rick Gavin, Minotaur Books, 2011.

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