to get out: Eminem in 8 Mile.
out of Michigan
by Curtis Hanson
The promiscuous comparisons of white hiphop phenomenon Eminem
with Elvis Presley are happily not borne out by the Detroit
native’s movie debut: While Elvis had no taste or acting talent,
and made dozens of awful pictures, Eminem’s film debut is
a surprisingly resonant working-class drama.
Jimmy aka Rabbit (Eminem) is a rapper with genius, but without
self-confidence. Nothing in his life is right: His mom (Kim
Basinger) is a drunken mess, his girlfriend is a lying, manipulative
shrew, his dead-end factory job is numbingly boring, and his
family is going to be evicted from their trailer. His friends
are good guys, but lack any sense of direction. Despite the
support of his wise, patient mentor and pal Future (Mekhi
Phifer), Rabbit chokes at the big weekly rap competitions.
The conflict is simple, but effective: Will Rabbit overcome
his fears and get the hell out of Dodge (aka Detroit)?
One of the great pleasures of 8 Mile is director Curtis
Hanson’s atmospheric use of place, and the way it contributes
to the drama. Detroit has the worst attributes of every dying,
abandoned Rust Belt metropolis rolled into one, and the film
presents it with an appropriately jaundiced eye. It’s a city
apocalyptic in its decay, with haunting relics of a bygone
prosperity. For example, when not onstage at their regular
club haunt, rappers often square off in a mind-boggling space
that used to be the Michigan Theater—picture Proctor’s Theatre
gutted and filled in with a multilevel parking garage.
It’s a place in which government is barely relevant. Rabbit
and his pals torch an abandoned house without the slightest
concern that anyone would care, or notice; that the act is
as much a result of civic-mindedness as vandalism only adds
to the irony. The film convincingly makes the case that in
its postindustrial, corpselike state, Detroit is a hell on
earth. No wonder the characters are scheming to escape—and
no wonder the audience roots so strongly for Rabbit to succeed.
It’s curious just how far the filmmakers go to make Rabbit
like Eminem in most ways—the trailer-park childhood with an
emotionally abusive mother, for starters—and distinct from
him in others. Slim Shady, Eminem’s rap alter ego, may bash
gays and abuse women, but the film’s Rabbit makes a point
of defending a gay coworker and not smacking his no-account,
cheating ’ho of a girlfriend (though he would clearly love
to). It’s a makeover, with Curtis Hanson standing in for Jenny
That said, Hanson’s key achievement is in the way the film
is crafted for—and around—its star. Being a pop star can give
someone a sense of how to effectively communicate their presence
onscreen; it doesn’t make you an actor. By that measure, Eminem
not only isn’t an actor, he’s four or five films away from
the level of acting chops displayed by fellow rapper Tupac
Shakur before his demise.
Correctly, then, Eminem is never asked to do anything he can’t
do—like carry the entire dramatic weight of any given scene.
That’s one reason Mekhi Phifer has the best part he’s had
in years; without him, the drama would be unconvincing. It’s
also a reason why the trailer-park scenes don’t have the impact
they should—Kim Basinger is out of her depth.
Crucially, Hanson understands what Eminem can do: perform.
His rapping skills are equated with Rabbit’s growth as a character.
Thus, the best and most effective scenes showcase Eminem doing
what he does best, with powerful results. When Rabbit routs
each member of a rival posse, the effect is electric. As the
working-class-hero theme is completed with Rabbit’s triumph
over his own fears, the film takes on a wistful tone, and
sets the stage for a (surprise) sequel. Or sequels—the studio
publicists are no doubt encouraging the comparisons with Rocky
for a reason.
by Brian De Palma
In the opening of Brian De Palma’s Femme Fatale, the
titular femme (Rebecca Romijin- Stamos) is lying on a hotel
bed watching Double Indemnity on TV. She ignores the
tuxedoed criminal type who enters the room just as Barbara
Stanwyck lays it out to Fred MacMurray. As we will soon realize,
it’s her favorite movie—she even dreams about it, in a twisted,
existential sort of way. And in a far more violent and sexual
way than the makers of that noir classic were allowed, in
keeping with the current cultural climate. Lily—as she calls
herself—is a femme fatale for the new millennium, and she
could eat Barbara Stanwyck for breakfast.
De Palma reveals his favorite movie, too. It’s David Lynch’s
Mulholland Dr., and the first clue to what the director
is up to is the faraway Lynchian gazes of the nameless characters
and their loaded, Lynchian silences as they go about their
inscrutable tasks. Across the street from the hotel, the hoopla
of the Cannes film festival is getting under way. A brunette
supermodel sashays down the red carpet, wearing little more
than a fabulously expensive gold-and-diamond snake wrapped
around her torso. Lily poses as a photographer and lures the
brunette into the ladies room for a torrid pas de deux. Before
you know it, two men are left bleeding to death on the marble
floor. This dreamily sinister sequence ranks with the best
of De Palma’s virtuoso setups.
Is the heist a Hitchcockian double cross? Or a Lynchian example
of how anything that can go wrong will go wrong? Or is it,
as Lily later says, that “no good deed ever goes unpunished”?
She will say this to Nicholas Bardo (Antonio Banderas), a
Spanish photographer working in Paris as a paparazzo to support
his art photography. He loathes invading other people’s privacy,
but is not averse to bending his integrity to get what he
wants. The ruthless Lily meets him seven years after her escape
from Cannes, during which she encounters a suicidal French
woman who looks exactly like her. Like Mulholland Dr.,
Femme Fatale uses dream states to riff on identity,
fate, and the fact that life is a game of chance. The film
does not have the genius of Mulholland’s surrealist
conundrums, but neither is it burdened with Lynch’s self-indulgent
symbolism. De Palma’s alternate reality is a noirish tale
of greed, lust and cinematic razzle-dazzle, unabashedly paying
homage to whatever strikes the director’s fancy, including
his own films, particularly Dressed to Kill and Body
What will most strike audiences is Romijin-Stamos (X-Men).
Whether she can actually act has yet to be proven, but there’s
no doubt that she can carry a movie. Her femme is so tough
that an extended seduction scene comes off more like a throwdown
than a reworking of De Palma’s trademark voyeurism. The mix
of Hitchcock’s sardonic humor and Lynch’s surrealism doesn’t
amount to much, and it’s likely that audiences won’t much
care. Sexy, clever, and sensationally pulpy, Femme Fatale
is enthralling from start to finish to its start again seven
years earlier. This guilty pleasure has a delectably palpable
sense of guilt.
Don’t Feel Your Pain
by Julie Taymor
Watching Frida, the biopic of Mexican artist Frida
Kahlo, one would deduce that were it not for the tempestuous
Latina, Leon Trotsky would not have been assassinated. Who
This is just one of many instances of weird facts played fast
and loose in Julie Taymor’s movie. To be fair, Taymor is aided
and abetted by coproducer and star Salma Hayek and a team
of no fewer than six screenwriters. As is often the case,
the mix of too many cooks and an intense passion for the subject
(Taymor and Hayek tried for years to get this movie made)
has led to an uninspired mishmash that, even by Hollywood
biopic standards, seems weak and unsatisfying.
A brief sketch: Kahlo was an artist, a cripple, a Communist,
an impassioned lover and an all-around enthusiast. As her
stepdaughter Guadalupe Rivera wrote in her remarkable cookbook/memoir
Frida’s Fiestas, “The world around her was more than
enough cause for permanent rejoicing.” Nevertheless, there
was a dark underside to this passion for living: Kahlo was
wracked with pain, both physical and emotional, and her demons
underscore much of her work. Taymor’s movie comes close only
once to evoking the artist’s torments, and ironically, this
is courtesy of the Quay brothers’ stop-motion sequence, featuring
talking skeletons and depicting Kahlo’s fever dreams following
the horrific trolley accident that broke ribs, collarbone,
right leg, spine and pelvis. Contrast the chilling hallucinatory
effect of this emergency-room montage with the director’s
take on the accident, which begins in slo-mo and ends with
Hayek, picturesquely lying amid a mass of rubble and twisted
metal, with just a touch of nudity peeking out, flecks of
gold swirling in the air.
To Taymor, Kahlo is all beauty and “art,” whereas in reality,
Kahlo and her art were rooted in immense pain, even horror.
Hayek plays her part with the reverence of a true fan paying
homage to her teen idol, but the most intense reading she
gives merely conveys a sort of mild confusion at her circumstances.
Alfred Molina plays Kahlo’s husband Diego Rivera as a gruff
teddy bear, and other performances, namely Antonio Banderas
as David Alfaro Siqueiros and Ashley Judd as a vaguely Russian
Tina Modotti, are just plain weird. The filmmakers shy away
from explaining any of the political context against which
Kahlo and Rivera lived and worked, and from which they derived
much strength and inspiration, choosing instead to have characters
toss out names like Spengler and Hegel and tip back toasts
to “la revolution.”
Kahlo’s art is seen as resulting from a series of women’s-film
misfortunes, which are laid out in an almost mathematical
precision: There’s the meeting of Kahlo and Rivera, the infidelity,
the miscarriage, the disillusion, etc. . . . And look, here
is a painting that represents that calamity. The best that
can be said of Taymor is that she is a brilliant production
designer: Her sets and scenes are lush with color and textures
that, again, are reminiscent of Guadalupe Rivera’s book. But
as a director, she lacks the guts—or is it balls?—that Kahlo
had in ample supply.