• 11-22-2005, 12:03 PM
    A DVD REVISIT: 8 MILE (Universal/Imagine)
    -Richard Schickel, TIME

    Just happened to take this off the shelf the other evening with the little lady because we were "in the mood" and I hadn't seen it in awhile; it's one of those pictures that's simply nice to revisit from time to time -- but not overdo it, if you know what I mean, because it's far from a brilliant piece of cinema, depending on how you specifically define that word. I have to admit right now: seeing this initially and theatrically I was not impressed. I was not what you would call an Eminem fan, and so I went into it simply to please my friend who wanted to so desperately see it at the time. But for some reason -- as happens quite often if you consider enough titles -- the more I was exposed to the picture via cable broadcasts, the more it grew on me to the point I found enough love for it to warrant a DVD purchase. Universal's inclusion of a DTS track was a secret selling point for me as well, considering the Hip Hop soundtrack that accompanied the visuals.

    What works so well here I think is the reality Eminem brings to the screen and to his role -- he is playing himself, in reality, as this is a look at where he came from, his humble beginnings in a Detroit trailer park and his participation as a Caucasian "rap" artist in a predominantly African American community. While a lot of what happens up on that screen was most likely tinkered with for Hollywood purposes, from what I understand, this was an almost spot-on mockup of his beginnings in the rap music game -- when he was just doing "battles" and hunting desperately for a record contract. The film doesn’t delve into the post-success he experienced once landing such a contract, but it really wasn’t meant to I think. The idea here was to see where he came from and what the struggles were that he had to endure -- in a quite amplified, magnified fashion. I believe Curtis Hanson brought the environment of the gritty, poor Detroit streets of these times to vivid life in the picture as we all get a feeling watching 8 Mile that we would all sure love to be somewhere else -- and suddenly our lives don't seem so bad any longer.

    Eminem plays Jimmy Smith Junior (nicknamed "Bunny Rabbit" or "B Rabbit" by his friends), a parody of himself growing up in a rough underclass trailer park neighborhood surrounding an area of Detroit, Michigan known as "8 Mile." The film opens with a blaring Hip Hop soundtrack as we find "B Rabbit" in the grimy bathroom of a place called "The Shelter" -- a gathering hole for young African American males and females to meet and witness "rap battles" by which two aspiring "rappers" get onstage and are given a limited amount of time to "freestyle" rhyme, the point being to pretty much insult each other until the crowd picks a winner. This was actually based on real events that took place during Eminem's "starter days," and which still goes on today in certain neighborhoods of America. There is bonus material on the disc that explores this quite thoroughly for those interested, and where Hanson got his inspiration.

    At any rate, B Rabbit is the only white "rap battler" to have the nerve to step on stage with these seasoned rap battle veterans, and the opening scene of the film with him in the bathroom "practicing" for his battle he is scheduled for next is very reminiscent of a boxer preparing for a big match -- almost like a Rocky-meets-the-ghetto-rap-battle scenario. But that's the way it was in this environment Eminem grew up part of. After vomiting on his own sweatshirt out of fear and nerves, he finally gets the head together to go inside and face his rap battle nemesis, with the aid of his friend who "hosts" these "battles" at The Shelter (Mekhi Phifer). His ass pretty much gets handed to him, as once he is given the microphone to "do his thing" in response to his adversary, he freezes up and can't mutter a word, immediately labeling him a "choke artist" by the crowd and is ultimately booed offstage.

    The remainder of the film deals with Jimmy attempting to regain his "rap abilities" and strengths in spite of his own self doubt, almost in Rocky-like fashion, but the picture splinters into may subplots. We meet Jimmy's trailer park home mate mother (Kim Bassinger) who is screwing a lowlife physical abuser who actually went to the same school as Jimmy, and learn of their struggles living in these conditions. It’s a place none of us want to be. In the meantime, Jimmy's friend "Future" (Phifer) continues to press Jimmy into battling again at The Shelter because he believes in his abilities. The other friends he hangs around with in their "crew" includes one individual who continues promising Jimmy a record deal of some kind due to some connections he has, but it never comes through. We then get a glimpse into Jimmy's harsh reality when he goes to a dismal job at the Detroit Stamping Company each day pressing automobile bumpers. His boss makes life rough on him, as if the grind of the job isn’t tough enough, and to make matters worse, his ex girlfriend has entered the picture telling him she is pregnant. Giving her his car because he believes this to be true, Jimmy is left with no mode of transportation except the public bus and is still living at home with Bassinger in the trailer park. Bassinger, for Jimmy's birthday, ends up giving him the keys to her car as a present -- the problem is, the car is an Olds 88 Delta that's just about on its last leg and won't even start half the time.

    Then along comes Brittany Murphy (in a rather skanky-looking appearance/role), a trashy-looking, fishnet-wearing Caucasian chick who shows up one day at Jimmy's factory job looking for her brother who supposedly works there. Of course, a "relationship" develops here, where after eyeballing her at clubs around town, Jimmy takes a liking to her now that he's broken up with his chick -- and she takes a liking to Jimmy. But there's a catch here. It seems the same friend that has been "promising" Jimmy a record contract has also been "promising" Murphy an opportunity for her to do a photo shoot for a book so she can move on to the likes of New York and get noticed. Jimmy finds out the hard way that this "friend" has been really banging Murphy behind his back, after he himself has had sex with her in public places no less, and in one pretty wild scene, Jimmy breaks into the radio station studio where he was "promised" a meeting between him and some executive who was interested in his rhymes according to this friend of his only to find him banging Murphy on the console of the studio desk. He breaks in the studio and beats the **** out of this "friend" to the screaming dismay of a half-naked Murphy. But he soon finds out that it was a mistake to do that because this now ex-friend becomes a member of a rival rap battle "crew" known as "Leaders of the Free World" who have a hatred for Jimmy as it is. They show up at his trailer park home one night and beat him to a pulp in retaliation, but it doesn’t seem to faze Jimmy. In fact, it makes his determination to win the battle between him and their crew members which is inevitably coming even more fueled.

    Perhaps the most exciting piece of the project is the final battle sequence which was handled absolutely brilliantly by Hanson when taking the subject matter into context. With a black eye and a broken spirit -- but not a beaten one -- Jimmy is determined to get onstage for one last battle with the members of "The Free World" with his friends behind him, notably Phifer who is hosting the battle as the master of ceremonies. A six-pack-stomached, muscled-up member of Leaders of the Free World, "Lotto," is first to battle Jimmy, and while his rhymes are pretty insulting and cut to the core of who Jimmy is, Jimmy battles back with a rhyme that simply embarrasses the **** out of this "Lotto." It seems Jimmy has found his stamina and his niche to rhyme once again, despite being white and from the trailer parks of 8 Mile. Jimmy wins this first round and moves on to battle the champion of these rap wars -- the leader of the Free World, "Papa Dock." The tension between these two as they meet nose to nose on stage is so thick you can cut it with a knife -- but this is the championship round and will decide if Jimmy really has what it takes to make it in these rap battles. Papa Dock actually wins the coin toss and mutters into the microphone "let that ***** go first..." giving Jimmy first reign of the microphone for the battle. What Jimmy does is absolutely brilliant -- beginning with insulting Papa Dock and calling him on parts of his real life like his real name being "Clarence" which amuses the roaring crowd in front of him, he then goes on to admit to certain things about his own life -- "That’s right, I am white, I am a bum, I do live in a trailer park with my mom....and [] did f-k my girl....I’m still standin' here screamin' f-k the Free World...." and leaves Papa Dock with absolutely NOTHING to say about him once the mic gets passed to him. Dock gives the mic over to Phifer, forfeiting the battle and making Jimmy the new champion.

    But while this seems like an absolute explosion of emotions for his friends and the patrons at the club, it really doesn’t let Jimmy "out" of the cage he is still in and this was expertly rendered by Hanson in the final sequence where Jimmy refuses to host these "rap battles" with his friend Future and instead walks away into the night, making us wonder if he has finally decided to take his talents to another level and perhaps seek a record deal on his own......and thus begins the real life Eminem story.

    A memorable moment at the end is when Murphy is in the back of the crowd at The Shelter once Jimmy wins the championship battle and she raises her middle finger at him.....he raises his right back as if to say "F-k you; I don’t need you for what you did to me..." It was pretty brilliant.

    Universal offers 8 Mile in separate full and widescreen editions as a single disc in a standard keepcase loaded with bonus materials regarding the making and inspiration for the film. There were also censored and uncensored versions of the title floating around for awhile which included vulgarity during the real-life rap battles on the bonus materials; this review encapsulates the uncensored version.


    Because I purchased this back when I was running a 27" 4X3 screen, I unfortunately had the full screen edition on hand to revisit the other night. My apologies for this, sincerely. In 16:9 mode on my 55" Mitsubishi widescreen set now, the 1:33 transfer stretched and filled the screen from end to end, providing that slight "fattening" effect to the middle and stretching out to the very edges of the image; but this never distracted me to the horrible dismay of many, I know, I know. The transfer is not what you would call reference grade, as there is an intentional softness and even a grittiness that runs through the length of it, probably to strengthen Hanson's focus on the dark streets of Detroit and the sullen atmosphere there in the winter months. Still, it's not a bad transfer from Universal, as I have seen some of those (the last reissue of the "Anniversary Edition" of Scarface comes to mind) and perhaps the only deficiencies I can speak of is that the fullscreen transfer cropped off a tiny, tiny bit of information from the left and right of the image. But there is an intentional "grittiness" to the transfer which is apparent yet not really distracting on any level because of the source material we're dealing with here. The layer switch was not that noticeable.


    The inclusion of a DTS track for this title was a very nice touch and gesture from Universal, as many of their titles simply don’t deserve the treatment -- Meet The Parents and Along Came Polly come to mind here -- while other titles from their vaults seem to have been left out of the DTS decision when they CLEARLY could have benefited from such tracks -- Van Helsing and Dawn of the Dead come to mind here. Given the Hip Hop soundtrack nature of the material, the DTS track opens this soundscape up not in a bombastic, hit-you-over-the-head fashion, but rather in subtle details such as the tighter subwoofer thumping to accompany the songs and an overall "breathing" effect that just opened on this track. The mix is front-heavy, no doubt, with no problems with dialogue or stereo separation (which is quite rich to be honest), and the surrounds were used when necessary to heighten sequences, such as the final battle scene where some whistling and crowd ambience spilled into the rear channels. In sum, though, I feel as if a Dolby Digital mix exclusively would have been enough for this title as the DTS algorithm didn’t really have a chance to "show itself off" here aside from some moments of deep LFE and good, precise panning in certain spots; Universal could have easily pumped up the rather average levels of action films like the aforementioned Van Helsing and Dawn of the Dead with the inclusion of DTS mixes instead of using one on 8 Mile, and that's always been a head-scratcher to me. At any rate, the DTS track here gets the job done and if for no reason at all except the simple novelty of having a DTS track offered -- much like on DreamWorks' The Last Castle. Like I said, there are moments of surround activity on the DTS track, but they're scarce -- yet at the same time appropriate for the scenes they're accompanying. The overall "feel" of the track is one that is open, airy and breathing.

    The Special Features is where Universal's presentation of 8 Mile really shines especially for Eminem fans. These included:

    -Exclusive All New Uncensored Eminem Rap Battles: Free-Styling Rap Competition Featuring Eminem
    -Exclusive Never Before Seen Uncensored "Superman" Music Video: Song From The Eminem Show album
    -Eminem's Personal Insight Into the Making of the Film
    -The Music of 8 Mile
  • 11-25-2005, 06:27 PM
    The first time I saw this movie, I though I can't believe I spent 7.50 to see this crap. It was full of vinyl gangsters going to rap battles. Then I watched it a few months ago with the sole reasoning to see eminems acting, and I must say I changed my mind. In interviews he seems quite outgoing but in this movie, he was quite reserved and proved to be more than a moronic white rapper.

    While I don't think it will win any major awards, this filmed proved the white boy from detroit who was kicked down all the way up can do more than spit mad beats. Haha, that wasn't meant to be serious.
  • 11-26-2005, 03:24 AM
    Thanks for the pretty detailed writeup of that movie.

    The wife just mentioned that movie the other day, it is about time to pull it off the shelf and watch it again. It is unlike any movie I've ever seen and well worth the few bucks I paid for it. Interesting how M&M plays himself and doesn't have to act.

    I see it as a reality check kind of movie that makes me appreciate where I live and how lucky I am.
  • 11-28-2005, 11:02 AM
    Thanks Pat for taking the time to read and reply in kind.