Hey, Hollywood: I don't want Eminem, the Movie. Give me Enron, the Movie. Marshall Mathers makes his acting debut in the semi-autobiographical 8 Mile, opening nationwide this weekend. But even if the big-budget picture turns out to be a masterpiece, the arguably homophobic and misogynist white rapper - risen up from childhood poverty in Detroit - ain't no Tiny Tim for the holidays.
The film seems like a less-than- courageous choice for Curtis Hanson, who also directed the wonderful L.A. Confidential. For one thing, Eminem's massive youth following virtually guarantees his rags-to-riches venture will receive instant blockbuster status. The cover story about him in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine no doubt spread the word to an older audience. But while such rock stars revel in their wealth, the entire world is a tinderbox of potentially explosive problems. Why not tackle significant issues? How about satirizing greedy Scrooges like Ken Lay of Enron or John Rigas of Adelphia Cable?
Three November premieres that may or may not show up in Vermont before 2003 do offer more topical bang for the buck: Rabbit-Proof Fence and The Quiet American, both the work of Philip Noyce, are set in 1930s Australia and 1950s Vietnam, respectively. Far From Heaven, by Todd Haynes, also targets the Fabulous '50s, though in a middle-class Connecticut suburb.
Rabbit-Proof chronicles the true story of three "half-caste" girls who are forcibly removed from their single Aboriginal mothers and placed in a government-run settlement. Kenneth Branagh plays the official in charge of this racist policy, which is essentially aimed at whitening the population. He's frequently outwitted when the resourceful children escape from detention and then travel 1500 miles on foot in an effort to reach home.
Noyce presents a more tangled tale in The Quiet American, a somewhat flawed adaptation of Graham Greene's brilliant novel. Michael Caine is not enigmatic enough as aging British journalist Thomas Fowler, whose opium-fueled lifestyle with a lovely Saigon mistress is threatened by the arrival of an idealistic U.S. diplomat (Brendan Fraser). The new guy's got a hidden agenda that presages the devastating war this country waged for two decades in Southeast Asia. It's a particularly timely historical overview as President Bush considers meddling with Iraq.
Social concerns are at the core of Far From Heaven, a gorgeous-looking tribute to such melodramas of yesteryear as Imitation of Life and All That Heaven Allows. The eagerly anticipated Todd Haynes production garnered some real-life controversy at the Toronto International Film Festival in September when Roger Ebert and dozens of other critics were unable to get into a packed press screening, for which savvy cinephiles had begun lining up an hour earlier. In a thumbs-down mood, the unquiet American from Chicago threw what many witnesses described as "a hissy fit," insisting that he's entitled to special treatment. This prompted a Montreal reporter to shout: "Why don't you go back where you came from?"
Sans Monsieur Ebert, the film unspooled without incident. Despite the dazzling costumes, sets, cinematography and performance by Julianne Moore, Heaven was weighed down by a mishmash of acting techniques applied to a saga that's never quite believable.
Moore portrays an ostensibly happy housewife whose successful businessman-husband (Dennis Quaid) has the kind of dark secret that is no longer as shocking as it would have been in the mid-20th century. Crossing the era's insurmountable racial divide, she turns for comfort to her understanding black gardener (Dennis Haysbert, from TV's "24"). The proceedings become a bit too improbable, even for a tearjerker, but the intentions are admirably noble.
But enough with the political correctness. The best of the lot hopefully coming our way soon is Femme Fatale, Brian De Palma's most accomplished thriller in years. Rebecca Romjin-Stamos and Antonio Banderas exhibit terrific chemistry as a devilishly clever con artist and the honest paparazzi-like photographer caught in her web of deceit. The action moves between Paris and Cannes, recalling the Cary Grant classic To Catch a Thief.
De Palma, who loves those old Hitchcockian flourishes, delivers a sexy, suspenseful, swift-paced, witty confection with a conscience. Just in time for the spirit of Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa, the message is remarkably redeeming.
Femme Fatale opens this week in select major cities. This kind of limited release allows high-profile films to qualify for the Oscars while not competing with all the other new movies that theoretically saturate the hinterlands now. Since almost every movie distributor has the same end-of-year game plan, however, the hinterlands are anything but saturated during the season to be jolly, fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la.