Signs of the Times

8 Mile, a/k/a the Eminem film, is not quite the affront to liberal tolerance that one might expect from the being who grandly announced in the first cut of his first multimillion-selling CD that "God sent me to piss the world off."

Nor is 8 Mile, directed for maximum surface action by old pro Curtis Hanson, characterized by the corrosive sex, violence, and celebrity irony (or is it "irony"?) to be found in Eminem's music. Slim Shady is not in the house; this is something like the Marshall Mathers story. Basically, 8 Mile is a canny, and largely successful, attempt to broaden the star's appeal—with Eminem playing a version of himself named Rabbit in a working-class saga with a generic resemblance to Prince's Purple Rain (and even The Jazz Singer). The part of a worried-looking would-be rapper with a violent streak, a quick mind, and a gift for tricky internal rhymes (he's the hip-hop Lorenz Hart) may not be much of a stretch, but Eminem imbues it with charismatic stoicism.

The limbo of petrified desire: Quaid and Moore (with kryptonite lamp) in Far From Heaven
photo: David Lee
The limbo of petrified desire: Quaid and Moore (with kryptonite lamp) in Far From Heaven


Far From Heaven
Written and directed by Todd Haynes
Opens November 8

8 Mile
Directed by Curtis Hanson
Written by Scott Silver
Opens November 8

Femme Fatale
Written and directed by Brian De Palma
Warner Bros.

Rabbit is introduced as he chokes mid-rap-battle on the stage of a suitably dank and boisterously unfriendly Detroit venue known as the Shelter. Then it's back to the family trailer, where, to compound the humiliation, his slatternly mom (Kim Basinger) is enthusiastically straddling some bozo scarcely older than he. Rabbit himself is saddled with a shitty car, a dead-end job, and a cute li'l sister cowering beneath the couch. This creature out of a Griffith movie is 8 Mile's most positive female character, although, in addition to Mom (far more glamorous than the Mother Mathers of her son's imagination), Brittany Murphy pops in as a sexually opportunistic piece of baggage (would that it had been Britney Spears).

In one blatant directorial touch, Sirk's 1959 "passing" drama Imitation of Life turns up on the Rabbit family TV, but Hanson is less a commentator than an observer, squeezing a bit of grit from the urban disaster zone of his Detroit locations. Like Eminem himself, 8 Mile acknowledges the essential African Americanness of the rap enterprise while opening up a front of interracial class solidarity. The teasingly self-referential narrative, largely concerning the inexplicable battle within Rabbit's posse (mainly, it seems, for the attention of the moody star), vamps until Rabbit gets a chance to redeem himself with a totally boffo performance. Extremely clever in its use of self-deprecation, it's guaranteed to bring down the house at any remotely sympathetic venue.

Title notwithstanding, Femme Fatale is really a vehicle for its bad-boy director Brian De Palma. (What might he have done with Eminem?) Shot in France, this entertainingly degenerate movie opens with an elaborate caper staged in the Grand Palais during the 2001 Cannes Film Festival. A starlet swanning up the red carpet in a $10 million diamond-studded serpentine brassiere is lured into the salle des femmes for a lesbian tryst designed to relieve her of her jewels.

Nothing that follows ever surpasses this droll and bloody 15-minute set piece—a long, sensuous parody of De Palma's own Mission: Impossible, featuring overhead shots, stray cats, surveillance cameras, and mega-close-ups of a snaky little power drill, scored to a pastiche of Ravel's Bolero. Like De Palma's last self-scripted fling, Raising Cain, released a decade ago, Femme Fatale is a tricksy meta-thriller that, replete with the requisite homage to Vertigo, sustains its dreamlike glide through a succession of cheesy coincidences and voluptuous cheap effects, not the least of which is Rebecca Romijn-Stamos (Mystique in X-Men), who gives an enthusiastically tawdry perf in the title role.

Related Story:

"Heaven Sent: Todd Haynes and Julianne Moore Reopen Douglas Sirk's Melodrama Fakebook" by Dennis Lim

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