8 Mile
"Motor mouth escapes from Motor City"
Dir. Curtis Hanson; writ. Scott Silver; feat. Eminem, Kim Basinger,
Brittany Murphy, Mekhi Phifer, Eugene Byrd, Omar Benson Miller (R)
Despite the hype about changing colors, all M&M's taste the same. The flavor of the month in contemporary pop is a rapper — Marshall Mathers III — who calls himself Eminem. Beneath his white shell beats the hip-hop heart of a black dude.

8 Mile takes its title from a road that separates black Detroit from white suburbs. It takes its plot from Mathers' own origins, straddled between two cultures. The film is Hollywood's crass attempt to extend Eminem's popularity among adolescent fans into other demographic neighborhoods. Despite its own hunger for success, 8 Mile fails to make the novice actor Eminem seem more than a clever, self-absorbed rhymester.

The opening image is of Eminem's alter ego, Jimmy Smith Jr. (nicknamed Rabbit), staring into the mirror. It is 1995, and he is minutes away from choking in a rap duel, a public competition in which opponents try to outdo each other in vulgar, versified insults. 8 Mile is a hip-hop Rocky, and when Rabbit returns to the same mirror and then the same clamorous contest a week later, we know which hard-edged bard will triumph.

After dumping his girlfriend when he learns she is pregnant, Rabbit returns to his mother (Basinger). He interrupts her in flagrante with her shiftless young lover, one of two times Rabbit intrudes on a coupling. Rabbit's mother is a housekeeper from hell who, abandoning herself to sex, booze, and bingo, seems bound to return there. But domestic scenes in her seedy mobile home, whose phone is disconnected, seem written to illustrate the phrase "trailer trash." More authentic are shots of Rabbit at work, assembling auto parts. While parts of 8 Mile are funny, most of it is a sad demonstration of how needy young men mistake conflict for connection. "You're gonna be great," says Alex (Murphy), who sleeps her way out of Detroit — to Rabbit. Like its abrasive characters, this heavily hyped film confuses greatness with aggression. — Steven G. Kellman

Bloody Sunday
"History made shockingly vivid"
Dir. and writ. Paul Greengrass; feat. James Nesbitt, Allan Gildea, Gerard Crossan, Mary Moulds, Carmel McCallion, Tim Pigott-Smith, Nicholas Farrell (R)
Thirty years ago, in a small town in Northern Ireland, English paratroopers opened fire on a crowd of Catholics marching peacefully for civil rights, killing 13 and wounding more. Many such things have happened around the world in the intervening years, but Bloody Sunday makes January 30, 1972 as immediate as a punch in the face.

Writer/director Paul Greengrass creates the illusion that he has restaged the day's events in their entirety, on the town's streets and in back rooms concurrently, then sent multiple camera teams out to capture it all as it happened. The handheld cameras jostle through crowds precariously, chase after running soldiers, and move in tight for whispered conversations, while the film's abrupt editing style increases our anxiety.

If the guns positioned along the city's rooftops don't set you on edge, the constant noise will: Telephones are ringing ceaselessly, harried conversations overlap, and the radio burbles with menace. As Ivan Cooper, the MLK-emulator who wants to lead a peaceful march through town, makes his morning rounds to rally supporters, the joyless determination on his face calls to mind another Cooper, who saw his own town turn unfriendly in the hours before High Noon.

Cooper knows there's a serious risk of conflict, but he also believes that if he caves in to the government's prohibition against demonstrations, there's no hope of fair treatment for the Catholic populace in his region. At the same time, there are voices (precious few, unfortunately) in the military camp who argue against lining the streets with soldiers. Once the guns are there, these men know, they will be used.

And they are used, in an ungory but incredibly shocking outburst of violence. It isn't quite clear what inspires the first shot, but what follows is plain as day: soldiers shooting unarmed protesters who are already lying motionless on the ground, priests waving handkerchiefs in surrender, unheeded. In the rush for justification after the shooting stops, a lonely dissenting soldier is bullied into accepting the party line — that the wounded were not "civilians" but "terrorists."

Greengrass has planted conventional human interest in his story, showing the personal lives of some participants, but current events have made that unnecessary. Many audience members will find it all too easy to identify with citizens whose disagreement with the government equals terrorism; many will view this slice of history as a commentary on current events.

Whether it resonates with today's headlines or not, Bloody Sunday is a stunning piece of filmmaking, a scary and moving document that eloquently traces a generation of woes back to a few irreversible decisions. John DeFore

"The stand-up comedian as traveling chameleon"
Dir. Charles Christian; feat. Jerry Seinfeld, Orny Adams, George Shapiro, Bill Cosby, Robert Klein, Jay Leno, Kevin Nealon (R)
When, at the peak of his career, Michael Jordan retired from the NBA and risked failure and humiliation by signing with a minor-league baseball team, it was the gutsiest move by an American star until Jerry Seinfeld started playing stand-up clubs again. After nine seasons headlining his popular TV sitcom, Seinfeld, like any novice comic, went out on the road to face live audiences with new material. "The equivalent for a normal person is to go into work in your underwear," says Seinfeld about exposing himself night after night to the gawking patrons of comedy clubs.

So Comedian, which documents Seinfeld's return to the show business hustlings, often seems like an elaborate commercial for underwear, one that revels in the performer's dirty boxers. Director Charles Christian follows the performer around for more than a year through one-night stands in New York, Cleveland, Tempe, Hermosa Beach, Los Angeles, West Orange, and Levittown. Yadda yadda yadda. He crosscuts Seinfeld's anxious campaign with footage of Orny Adams, a thirty-year-old comic struggling to attain the renown that Seinfeld takes for granted.

I find the humor of both men absolutely resistible. Each bases his shtick on attitude not style, challenging you to accept preening and strutting as a substitute for wit. "You can't get bigger than me," proclaims Seinfeld. "I'm still shit." He parades his vanity, disguising it as self-abasement. Not a very funny film, Comedian is a variation on the Pagliacci theme — the clown himself is wretched. "I never felt pain until I started doing comedy," says Adams, a jittery, insecure insomniac who seems now in perpetual pain. Rare moments of camaraderie with fellow comics are offset by envy of one's rivals and resentment of the customers.

Comedian is a study in celebrity rather than in humor. It is not the often facile jokes that fill seats at stand-up clubs but rather the lure of contact with charisma. Audiences go to see someone, like Seinfeld, who has been authenticated by TV or someone, like Adams, who, they wager, will be. The film offers a few brief shots of Seinfeld's wife and baby, and of Adams on the phone with his mother; but in Comedian, as in astrology, this sense of intimacy with the stars is illusory. — Steven G. Kellman

Santa Claus (Tim Allen) is the man with the plan at the North Pole.

The Santa Clause 2
"Más Merry Magic"
Dir. Michael Lembeck; writ. Leo Benvenuti, et al.; feat. Tim Allen, Elizabeth Mitchell, Eric Lloyd, David Krumholtz, Spencer Breslin (G)
At the risk of sounding like a cliché, this truly is a holiday movie for the whole family. Mixing slapstick and verbal humor to tweak funnybones of all ages, the screenplay manages a rare balance between real-life concerns and make-believe fun. Tim Allen pulls off dual characters with his usual boyish charm, and the children in the supporting cast aren't the usual "terribly-cute-but-can't-act" parade. The limited use of special effects (merely adequate puppeteering work for Santa's reindeer being an exception) actually assists with the story rather than becoming a detracting focal point. With the next Harry Potter movie (and all its inevitable hoopla) just around the corner, SC2 provides a quality escape from the glumness of an early Winter. — Lynette Miller


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