Wednesday, Sep 28, 2016
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`Roger' and rapper: Wit and grit


Bob Hoskins with the animated Roger Rabbit.


Here is a tale of two Rabbits. Who Framed Roger Rabbit ($29.99) arrives Tuesday in a loaded two-disc 15th-anniversary DVD set from Buena Vista that should give Disney the incentive to go ahead with the long-promised sequel. And there's 8 Mile ($26.98, full or wide-screen), which just hit stores. It's the terrific first film starring Eminem, who plays a disaffected Detroit rapper nicknamed Rabbit. Senor Slim Shady even manages to be cuddly.

Kinda. He's still more hip-hop than hippity-hoppity; hunched under a sweatshirt hood, glaring out defensively, Eminem doesn't exactly elicit cooing. What director Curtis Hanson accomplishes is more impressive than making his prickly star merely palpable to Toby Keith-centric America: Hanson shows how intimidation works, how charisma isn't always synonymous with talent, and how posturing can be tossed back in your face.

The DVD includes two significant extras to back this up. The first is an uncut version of Eminem's “Superman” video, and it's all MTV-ready posturing. (You wouldn't expect a film as honest as 8 Mile to follow.) The second is the real deal, a series of outtakes of Eminem freestyling lyrics against local Detroit rappers auditioning for the film. Rap rarely seems this intimate anymore. Both sides are out to prove something: On one side, there's the upstart who leaps on stage with the superstar and in a torrent of unrehearsed words, tries to nab the spotlight; on the other, there's the star, who has to prove his talent isn't all smoke and mirrors. Shot with a hand-held camera and no breaks for flubs, there's a without-a-net thrill here that used to be the domain of live rock and roll acts.

Another kind of spontaneity is on display in the Roger Rabbit DVD - a kind that begins on the fly, but ends up quite studious, scientific even. One excellent bonus is footage from an entire version of the film that Robert Zemeckis, Bob Hoskins, and Co. shot using life-size foam dummies, manipulated by stage hands, to stand in for the slap-happy 'toons. The cast and crew seem to be making the most elaborate avant-garde movie ever made, and in a way they were. One unsettling extra is a deleted scene, long rumored, of Hoskins being kidnapped and taken to Toon Town and having his head replaced with an enormous animated pig's head. When he washes it off (with the pig eyes still blinking as they spiral down the drain), I felt a chill run right up my spine.

You can see why it was deleted. But parents needn't worry: This is a kid-friendly set in a big way, and 15 years after its release, the film itself hasn't aged a drip. Its noirish Chinatown-by-way-of-the-Cartoon-Network scenario only serves to underscore the sense we're watching a classic. If you hate those black bands at the top and bottom of a screen used to retain the original picture, disc one includes the full-screen version of the film, along with three animated Roger shorts. If you're more quality conscious, disc two includes the wide-screen edition, a commentary track from director Zemeckis, a Pop-Up Video-like factoid option, and oodles of sketches. How democratic of Disney, no?

Here's a thought, Toledo: Throw your own film festival composed of movies that never played Toledo, and, trust me, are never going to, no matter how much you whine to National Amusements and threaten never to attend one of its 17,000 screenings of Bringing Down the House. Depressing thought, yes. But this week alone the market is wide open with possible entries in an off-Toledo film fest. Let's work backward, from good to bad, starting with Dylan Kidd's funny and scabrous Roger Dodger, starring Campbell Scott and Jesse Eisenberg (The Emperor's Club) in the story of a womanizer (Scott) coming face-to-face with his pathetic streak. Personal Velocity is the perfect title for its three portraits (like Roger, shot on digital video) by director Rebecca Miller about three women (Fairuza Balk, Parker Posey, and Kyra Sedgwick) at personal crossroads. It's a lovely adult drama, even if Miller lets it all drift into studied, stiff art house filmmaking.

The Man From Elysian Fields is another good title, even if you know it better as “that film where Mick Jagger runs a male escort service.” If you find that improbable, try swallowing Andy Garcia as a writer/hooker with a heart of gold who strikes up a friendship with James Coburn. And finally, sadly, we come to the flickering flameout of a fad that gave many parents peace and quiet for hours. The film is Pokemon 4Ever. How do I know it's over, let alone 4ever? Never mind Toledo, this one never opened in Ohio.

NEW ON VIDEO, TWO WITH TOLEDO ROOTS: Abandon (Katie Holmes carries her first major film like a champ, an ambitious, if muddled, psychological thriller); Welcome to Collinwood (Toledo Polkamotion gets a brief cameo in a dance hall scene, but this heist caper is like many other heist capers - with one difference: co-produced by and co-starring George Clooney, it was shot in exotic downtown Cleveland).

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