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Rock Critic Ken Tucker

Rock critic Ken Tucker reviews the third album by Marshall Mathers (otherwise known as Eminem) The Eminem Show.



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Other segments from the episode on May 31, 2002

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, May 31, 2002: Interview with Dennis Hopper; Interview with Isabella Rossellini; Interview with David Lynch; Review of "Eminem Show;" Review of the film "The sum of all…


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
been omitted from this transcript

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Interview: Isabella Rossellini discusses her film "Blue Velvet"

A special-edition DVD of "Blue Velvet" will be released next week. We're
featuring interviews with some of the people behind the film. Isabella
Rossellini knows that she means different things to different people. She
says to people in their 30s and 40s, she's the star of "Blue Velvet." To
people 60 and over, she's the daughter of movie star Ingrid Bergman. To film
scholars, she's the daughter of Italian director Roberto Rossellini. Women of
different generations know her as the former model for Lancome cosmetics.
Isabella Rossellini wrote about those different facets of her life in her
memoir, "Some Of Me." I spoke with her in 1994, when it was published.

I want to ask you about "Blue Velvet." You were so wonderful in that film.

Ms. ISABELLA ROSSELLINI ("Blue Velvet"): Thank you.

GROSS: You played a nightclub singer who's exotic and mesmerizing, but is in
a weird and abusive relationship with a psycho played by Dennis Hopper.


GROSS: How did you get the part, and what interested you in this part?

Ms. ROSSELLINI: To me, it was the only time that I had portrayed a battered
woman and the Stockholm Syndrome, where it's very hard for a victim to
recognize that they are a victim. Generally, a victim feels guilty and
feels--and does anything to please the person who's torturing them. It's an
absolute strange twist that our mind gives us and, you know, it is a
recognized syndrome, I kid not. People are rape victims. And I thought it
was quite interesting to play that part, and that what appealed me for the
role, it was a wonderful way to portray sexuality and the darkness of it. And
I played a femme fatale that was femme fatale just because she was kind of
beautiful and she was singing and she had the features of somebody beautiful,
but yet, she was completely destroyed inside. And it was a pretty good role.
You know, most of the time, the femme fatales are portrayed as women who know
exactly what they want and completely, and sex is portrayed as something that
you go out there and choose for yourself, when we know that the reality is
that, often, we just have to--it just happens to us, and then we don't know
what to do with it, what to make of it.

GROSS: I'd like to play an excerpt of a scene that you had with a young man
played by Kyle MacLachlan. And in this scene, you know, he's trying to
solve the mystery of who you are and who Frank, the Dennis Hopper character,
is. In this scene, you're being very seductive, you're trying to seduce him.

(Soundbite of "Blue Velvet")

Ms. ROSSELLINI ("Dorothy Vallens"): Do you like the way I feel?

Mr. KYLE MacLACHLAN ("Jeffrey Beaumont"): Yes.

Ms. ROSSELLINI: Feel me. Hit me.


(Soundbite of pounding)

Mr. MacLACHLAN: What are you doing? No. Stop it.

Ms. ROSSELLINI: Hit me. Hit me. Hit me.

GROSS: Isabella Rossellini, did you understand why this character asks to be

Ms. ROSSELLINI: Yes, I did, because I once was beaten, and when--and I
remembered when I played that part and I had to say that line, `Beat me, beat
me,' I say, `Why would this woman want to be beaten?' And then I remembered
that the time that it happened to me, that I was beaten, the first blow to my
head, and you just see little stars, exactly like Donald Duck. And there was
a sense of bewilderment, and you don't know where you are. But I wasn't
panicked, I wasn't anything. I just was bewildered, a strange feeling, and I
thought that this woman, who had so many torments in her mind, became the
victim of the abused that she--because she was raped and beaten by the
character of Dennis Hopper, so that when she did get the first blow, the first
punch, she would see the stars, and her tormented thoughts could stop. And
that's why she asked to be beaten.

GROSS: Oh, what an interesting way of looking at it. Who beat you?

Ms. ROSSELLINI: I don't want to give the details of all that. I don't want
to start looking like, `Oh, poor me, poor me.' It happened, but I'm fine now.

GROSS: Fine. OK. OK. What do you do when you're shooting, like, the scenes
with Dennis Hopper, say the scenes where he's raping you and inhaling this


GROSS: And this weird gas that he inhales that turns him on. What do you do
in a scene like that to break the tension?

Ms. ROSSELLINI: Well, Dennis was wonderful. You know that that was the first
scene I have done in the film. I just came--the film had started I think a
week or two, and we came in and David said, you know, `We're going to start
with that scene because that scene, otherwise, we'll always be thinking about
it, we'll always be worrying about it. So we'll do it on the first day, so we
get it over with. And I couldn't believe that I had to be in front of Dennis
Hopper naked and saying all these weird things. It was agonizing. And I left
a little message to Dennis' room saying, `Can I have breakfast with you.'
I've never met the man--just to get to know him a little bit, and he came very
annoyed that, you know, `What do we want, to become friends to do that?' And
he was right, you know, you are acting. You don't have to be friends. But
then Dennis and David were so wonderfully protective of me, and so wonderfully
comical, too, that they really released a tension, and it was wonderful to
work with them.

GROSS: There's a scene in the movie where you're wandering around the street
naked. Tell me about that scene and what you wanted your body to look--and
it's not a vanity scene.

Ms. ROSSELLINI: No, not at all. It's not at all. David Lynch told me that
when he was a child coming back from school, he saw a naked woman walking the
street, and instead of getting aroused or excited at that site, he started to
cry, it terrified him. And he wanted to convey the same terror. He wanted
Dorothy to walk in the street of Wilmington, where we shot the film, naked and
convey the same sense of terror, instead of the sense of sex appeal. And when
he was talking to me, there was a photo of Nick Ut that I remembered, and it
was a photo of a young girl in Vietnam, she has been a victim of napalm
attack and her clothes have been completely torn off her body. And she has
skin hanging and she's completely naked, and she walks in the streets with the
arms outstretched. And it's such a helpless gesture. And I couldn't think of
anything else that is absolute helpless gesture and walking like that.

If I would have walked covering my breasts or covering myself, it meant that
Dorothy still had some sense of pride, still had something in her to protect
her. That woman had to have lost everything, and so she had to walk
completely exposed, just saying, `Help me.' And that photo is the photo--I
took the gesture from that photo and used it, and I hope that I conveyed the
same sense of despair. I wanted to be like raw meat. You know, my nudity, it
was like raw meat, like a butcher, like walking in a butcher and see, you
know, a quarter of a cow hanging. That was the thing that I wanted to convey.

GROSS: It seems to me you really have a very analytical approach to acting.
No, really, I mean, that you really kind of think it through on many levels.

Ms. ROSSELLINI: I do. You know--I don't know. I can't tell--but this is
the way I do it, you know--if it is more or less analytical than others.

GROSS: One of the things that I learned about from your new book "Some Of Me"
is that when you were young, you had scoliosis, a curvature of the spine, and
yours was pretty severe.


GROSS: So you had surgery in which--What?--13 vertebrae were fused.

Ms. ROSSELLINI: Exactly.

GROSS: Do I have that right? And you were in a body cast for
about--What?--six months.

Ms. ROSSELLINI: For about two years.

GROSS: Two years.

Ms. ROSSELLINI: Yes. But I think the hardest part of it was the pain. The
pain--everything else, you could deal with. You know, I was a teen-ager and I
was embarrassed to have a body cast, I was embarrassed to be labeled deformed,
because that's what the scoliosis is. But those all seem to be not major
problems. Really, the great problem is the great physical pain. That is
really hard. And I don't have any solution for it. I'm glad that I'm over

GROSS: How long did the pain last?

Ms. ROSSELLINI: The pain lasts for periods, depending on the operation.
And now they don't do that procedure anymore. But at the time I did my
operation, they used bone from leg to fuse my vertebrae, so that there would
be no problem of rejection. But in order for the bone to fuse together, I had
to be mobilized for six months, and then also I had cast. The operation was
very painful. The stretching and the correction of the spine, which is now
done while you're asleep and with these rods, metal rods, were done instead
awake, and they literally stretched you like the Medieval torture. And that
was very painful, and that pain stayed for a long time, because the cast was
much bigger than I, so it would pressure. I had a machine in my mouth because
the pressure was so strong underneath my chin and on my hips that my teeth
could go back in my jaw, so I had a machine to keep my jaw separated. But
still the pressure on the jaw was great, so it took days before my body gave
in to that length.

GROSS: I think what's so interesting about what you went through when you
were young is that, you know, as an adult, you've been an internationally
acclaimed beauty, and it must have been so odd for you to go from thinking of
yourself as deformed to thinking of yourself as beautiful, or to realize....

Ms. ROSSELLINI: Yes, that was...

GROSS: least that other people thought of you as beautiful.

Ms. ROSSELLINI: Yeah, that was kind of--it was wonderful. You know, I
remember people sending postcards to my doctor saying, `Can you imagine?'
Yeah, it was. It was pretty wonderful to have overcome all the odds.

GROSS: Was it important to you to be beautiful? Your mother was beautiful.
You probably had a pretty insecure self-image when you were young because of
the scoliosis and the surgery.

Ms. ROSSELLINI: But not so much. You know, I think one thing is to--I don't
know, I can't really--I don't remember being young and wondering if I was
beautiful or not beautiful and terribly concerned about that. I don't
remember, even in my old age, being very concerned about it. I don't know if
it is wisdom, or if I'm spoiled. Maybe people did tell me, `You look so
pretty,' so I thought, `Oh, well, then I don't have to worry about that.' So
I don't know. I don't remember it as being an obsession. When I had
scoliosis, I didn't think of myself as ugly, I thought of myself as deformed,
as having a deformed spine, which is different, you know, and trying to be
well and trying to walk. I couldn't walk, because I had lost the ability to
walk. The stake was so much higher than just look pretty.

GROSS: Isabella Rossellini, recorded in 1997. A special edition DVD of "Blue
Velvet" will be released next Tuesday. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) She wore blue velvet. Bluer than heaven was
the night. Softer than satin was the light from the stars. She wore blue
velvet. Bluer than heaven were...


(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Coming up, the director of "Blue Velvet," "Eraserhead" and "Mulholland
Dr.," David Lynch, on the images that upset him. Also, Ken Tucker reviews the
third album by Eminem and guest film critic Armond White reviews the new
thriller about nuclear terrorism, "The Sum of All Fears."

(Soundbite of music)

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Interview: David Lynch discusses some of the films he has directed

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

A special edition DVD of the 1986 film "Blue Velvet" is coming out next week.
Film critic Owen Gliberman of Entertainment Weekly described "Blue Velvet" as
a masterpiece, arguably the real launching point of the new independent film
movement. Director David Lynch fused the beauty and terror of dreams with the
hypnotic storytelling excitement of a Hitchcock thriller. We're going to
listen back to a 1994 interview with Lynch, David Lynch, the director of the
movie. He also made the films "Eraserhead," "The Elephant Man," "Lost
Highway" and "Mulholland Drive," and the TV series "Twin Peaks."

Our interview was recorded after the publication of his book of photographs
called "Images." It included stills from his films, as well as other pictures
that cataloged his visual obsessions. One chapter called Organic
Phenomenon(ph) included a photo taken in a hospital basement of a cabinet with
drawers marked `amputated foot,' `gangrene' and `kidney.' There was also a
photograph of a facial sore and another of a decapitated head from his film
"Eraserhead." I asked him if there were body images or aspects of the body
that disturbed him when he was young.

Mr. DAVID LYNCH (Director): Since we're inside a body, there's a yearning to
look at them and know them, and they exist in many shapes and forms, and they
have such interesting textures. I think there's a lot to learn, like about
proportion and repetition of shapes. Like I say, a painting that works obeys
certain rules, and those rules are at work in the way the body is put together
as well.

GROSS: Well, I want to connect this Organic Phenomena section of your book
"Images" to the first movie that was actually theatrically released,
"Eraserhead," which really is one of the most unappetizing movies ever made, I
think. The story is...

Mr. LYNCH: I don't know.

GROSS: What's that?

Mr. LYNCH: I don't know about that.

GROSS: The story is about Henry, who gets his girlfriend pregnant, and their
baby is this kind of braying creature, and I just want to play the scene where
his girlfriend's mother corners Henry to see if he's the father and if he's
been having sex with the daughter.

(Soundbite of "Eraserhead")

Ms. JEANNE BATES ("Mrs. X"): Henry, I asked you if you and Mary had sexual

Mr. JACK NANCE ("Henry Spencer"): Well, I don't think that's any of your business.

Ms. JEANNE BATES ("Mrs. X"): Henry.

Mr. JACK NANCE ("Henry Spencer"): Sorry.

Ms. JEANNE BATES ("Mrs. X"): You're in very bad trouble if you won't cooperate.

Mr. JACK NANCE ("Henry Spencer"): Well, I--Mary!

Ms. CHARLOTTE STEWART ("Mary X"): ...(Unintelligible).

Ms. JEANNE BATES ("Mrs. X"): Answer me.

Mr. JACK NANCE ("Henry Spencer"): I'm too nervous.

Ms. JEANNE BATES ("Mrs. X"): There's a baby, it's at the hospital...


Ms. JEANNE BATES ("Mrs. X"): ...and you're the father.

Mr. JACK NANCE ("Henry Spencer"): But that's impossible. It's only been...

Ms. CHARLOTTE STEWART ("Mary X"): And they're still not sure it is a baby.

Ms. JEANNE BATES ("Mrs. X"): It's premature, but there's a baby.

GROSS: Well, I think you were already a father when you made this movie. Was
fatherhood disturbing to you?

Mr. LYNCH: Yes, it was.

GROSS: What was disturbing about it?

Mr. LYNCH: Well, I was studying to be a painter and very keen on living the
art life. And the art life, the way I saw it then, you know, it didn't have
room for, you know, a family life.

GROSS: I'm wondering if the idea of a crying infant was almost
incomprehensible to you, if you felt so far away from understanding an infant,
if it seemed like a creature or an animal to you.

Mr. LYNCH: Well, "Eraserhead's" about, you know, a couple of different
things, and one of the thing it's about is a family, but it could also be
about other things. So I really love abstractions and things that maybe could
be interpreted in different ways. So I don't really like to talk about the
meaning so much. It's open for interpretation.

GROSS: "Eraserhead" was your first theatrical released movie and it became a
midnight movie classic. Did you know anything about how to market a film?
Did you know how to, like, represent yourself to the film industry?

Mr. LYNCH: No. I knew nothing about--when I started making films, I knew
nothing about films, and after "Eraserhead" was finished, after five years of
working on it, I didn't know if anything would ever happen to the film. But
Ben Barenholtz, who they call the grandfather of midnight films, he got
"Eraserhead" for his company, Libra Films, and he told me, he said, `David,
we're not going to spend one nickel on this picture. We're just going to open
it in the theater and let it sit there.' And this is a word-of-mouth picture.
And he said, `If we hold on long enough, you know, one day, the theater will
be full,' and that's exactly what happened. And those were the times when
there were many theaters that had midnight shows, and that was beautiful
because these were films that, in today's world, would, you know, come and go
when something's allowed to only, you know, work or fail in one week's time.
And so you'd see on the marquee "Eraserhead" year after year, and eventually
you'd want to go see it.

GROSS: My guest is film director David Lynch. We'll talk more after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Let's get back to our 1994 interview with David Lynch, director of the
films "Eraserhead," "The Elephant Man," "Mulholland Drive" and "Blue Velvet,"
which will be released on a special edition DVD next week.

Now I want to talk to you about urban landscapes, which is another theme that
runs through your new book, "Images," and through several of your films.

Mr. LYNCH: Right.

GROSS: In "Eraserhead," for instance, there's always something dripping or
rumbling in the background. I mean, the whole film is set against this grimy,
abandoned urban decay. There seems to be two types of places that interest
you most. One is the small, overtly cheerful American town like Lumberton(ph)
in "Blue Velvet" or like Twin Peaks. And the other is the decaying,
abandoned industrial landscape like in "Eraserhead." But even in "Blue
Velvet," the evil happens in the more urban part of town. You've actually
lived in both locations, haven't you?

Mr. LYNCH: Right. You know, where you are now, in Philadelphia, is--I always
say that "Eraserhead" is, you know, my Philadelphia story, and I came from
smaller places in the Northwest. You know, I grew up there till--I didn't
move to the East Coast till I was 15. And when you come from some place like
that and see a place like Philadelphia or, you know, Brooklyn, New York, it
has an impact, and it completely fascinated me. And I used to go around in
Philadelphia and feel this strangeness, and it was so powerful and fantastic,
it really did something to me.

GROSS: Your interest in industrial settings, you know, urban decay, I mean,
it's so apparent in a couple of your movies, "Eraserhead," but also in
"Elephant Man." "Elephant Man" is set in the early days of industrialization
in England, when there's just, like, soot and grime all over the city.

Mr. LYNCH: Right.

GROSS: And could you talk a little bit about what kind of effect you wanted
the city to have in "Elephant Man," what kind of visceral effect you wanted to
have on the viewers?

Mr. LYNCH: Well, because it was the Industrial Revolution going on at that
time and because the Elephant Man, you know, looked the way he looked, he was
almost like a product of that. And since I'm fascinated with smoke and fire
and industry and all the things that happen in factories, it was just an
opportunity, you know, at every point I could in the film to, you know, put
something like that in. And that Mt. St. Helens' eruption, when you see
close-ups of the eruption, the smoke, the curls of the smoke are like the
curls of the smoke in an atomic bomb, look very much like the growths on the
Elephant Man's body. There's some connection, the way a growth grows. It's
just a slow motion version of an explosion, sort of. And, you know, these
textures and the sounds and all these things seemed right for that world that
the Elephant Man came from.

GROSS: Now I have to ask you a couple of questions about "Blue Velvet."


GROSS: Was there something in particular that inspired the story?

Mr. LYNCH: Not really. The first two or three ideas were a neighborhood,
kind of green lawns with shadows, like, lit at night from a lightbulb and red
lips and the color blue. The song "Blue Velvet," Bobby Vinton's version,
influenced it a lot.

GROSS: I've always wondered how you managed to take a Bobby Vinton record and
turn it into a song about sexual fetishism.

Mr. LYNCH: Well, it's all in the lyrics there.

GROSS: You think?

Mr. LYNCH: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: Yeah, I guess. Yeah. Did you hear it that way when you were young?

Mr. LYNCH: No. You know, sometimes the timing has to be correct. You hear
something for years and nothing happens, and then one day you hear it
connected with some other thought that may be happening, and something
magical happens.

GROSS: I just have one other body kind of question for you.


GROSS: And this is about the ear in "Blue Velvet," in your film "Blue
Velvet." The plot is set in motion when Kyle MacLachlan discovers a
decapitated ear in the grass. What makes this especially disturbing is not
only the ants crawling through the ear, but also that some of the hair is
still attached to the ear. Could you talk at all about how that image came to

Mr. LYNCH: Well, I don't know exactly how it came, but Jeffrey--the ear is
like a canal. It's like an opening, a little egress into another place, and
it finally seemed like a perfect--it's like a ticket to another world that he
finds. And, I mean, if he hadn't found it, you know, he would have kept on
going home and that would have been the end of it. But the fascination with
this, once found, drew him into something that he needed to discover and work

GROSS: Well, I want to thank you so much for talking with us about your work.

Mr. LYNCH: Well, thank you for talking to me.

GROSS: Director David Lynch, recorded in 1994. His 1986 film "Blue Velvet"
will be released on a special edition DVD next week.

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Review: Negative review of the new CD the "Eminem Show"

Eminem's CD "The Marshall Mathers LP" was the most controversial pop album of
the year 2000. Praised for its verbal invention, condemned for its misogyny
and homophobia, it polarized generations of rap music fans while selling
millions and creating the most prominent white star ever within this primarily
black music form. Now 27-year-old Marshall Mathers is back with his third
album, the "Eminem Show." Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review.

(Soundbite of Eminem song)

EMINEM: (Rapping) I've created a monster, because nobody wants to see
Marshall no more. They want Shady. I'm chopped liver. Well, if you want
Shady, this is what I'll give you. A little bit of weed, mix in some hard
liquor, some vodka that'll jump-start my heart quicker than the shock when I
get shocked at the hospital by the doctor when I'm not cooperating, when I'm
rocking the table while he's operating. Hey! You waited this long to stop
debating because I'm back, I'm on the rag and ovulating. I know that you got
a job, Ms. Cheney, but your husband's heart problem's complicating. So the
FCC won't let me be or let me...


On the "Eminem Show," our protagonist, the ceaselessly angry, bitter Eminem,
who also calls himself Slim Shady, once again locates himself at the center of
the universe. All around him he finds enemies, betrayal and mean-spirited
critics intent on burying poor little Em. He inflates the importance of
certain events. The duet he performed last year with one of his more famous
fans, Elton John, at an MTV stage event is referred to as `playing career
Russian roulette,' as if that pairing wasn't really just shrewd
audience-expanding self-promotion for both of them. Eminem yells obscenities
at Tipper Gore, mother of the warning label sticker and a target so passe you
wonder if Em's ever heard of Twisted Sister or Frank Zappa.

(Soundbite of "Business")

EMINEM: (Rapping) You're about to witness hip-hop in its most purest, most
rawest form flow, almost flawless, most hardest, most honest known artist,
chip off the old block. But old Doc is back. Looks like Batman brought his
own Robin. Oh, God, Saddam's got his own Laden with his own private plane,
his own pilot, set to blow college dorm room doors off the hinges. Oranges,
peach, pears, plums, oranges. Vroom, vroom. Yeah, here I come. I'm inches
away from you. Here fear none. Hip-hop is in a state of 911. So let's get

TUCKER: Eminem calls himself a `pit bull off his leash' and `the boogie
monster of rap with a plan to ambush this Bush administration,' something
typically vague about, quote, "pushing this generation of kids to stand and
fight for the right to say something you might not like." Now there's an
original bit of rebelliousness, eh?

Still, you have to like Eminem's occasional glimpses of humor, as when he
addresses, quote, "white America," and uses as proof of his political
influence the hugs he receives when he appears on MTV's afternoon music
countdown show "TRL."

(Soundbite of "White America")

EMINEM: (Rapping) Who would have thought, standing in this mirror, bleaching
my hair with some peroxide, reaching for a T-shirt to wear, that I would
catapult to the forefront of rap like this. How could I predict my words
would have an impact like this? I must have struck a chord with somebody up
in the office 'cause Congress keeps telling me I ain't causing nothing but
problems. And now they're saying I'm in trouble with the government. I'm
lovin' it. I shoveled (censored) all my life and now I'm dumping it on white
America. I could be one of your kids. White America. Little Erik looks just
like this. White America. Erica loves my (censored). I go to "TRL," look
how many hugs I get. White America.

TUCKER: Over the course of the "Eminem Show," he picks up a bit of
autobiography from his previous albums about how much his mommy never liked
him. Indeed, his mother felt so slandered by "The Marshall Mathers LP" that
she sued him and recorded her own rap answer record to his charges. He has
the gall to call himself a soldier whose shoulders hold up so much, and then
whines about being arrested for possessing a concealed weapon. He bad-mouths
his wife Kim again, he fantasized at great length about murdering her on his
last album, but here he makes a sad little attempt at singing in a tune to his
young daughter, Hailie.

(Soundbite of "Hailie's Song")

EMINEM: (Singing) My baby girl keeps getting older. I watch her grow up with
pride. People make jokes 'cause they don't understand me. They just don't
see my real side. I act like (censored), don't phase me. Inside it drives me
crazy. My insecurities could eat me alive. But then I see my baby. Suddenly
I'm not crazy. It all makes sense when I look into her eyes. Oh, no. It
suddenly feels like the world's on my shoulders. Everyone's leaning on me.
But sometimes it feels like the world's almost over. But then she comes back
to me.

TUCKER: You'll notice that after a scant two lines about his daughter, Eminem
immediately reverts to himself again, moaning with self-pity about how people,
quote, "don't understand me. They just don't see my real side." Gee, except
for the rhythms and the beats, he's just one step away from being a '70s
confessional singer/songwriter--impure early period James Taylor. Well, when
all you present are two facets of your personality, what he calls in that song
a `pistol-packing drug addict who bags on his mama,' and the sensitive soul
complaining about how you're perceived, you just come off like a chump.

Eminem has a real knack for writing rhyming couplets and using his white skin
as access to a wider audience than most black rappers can dream of, but he
remains a jerk. On the first single off this album, he refers to himself as,
quote, "the worst thing since Elvis Presley to use black music to get myself
wealthy." Eminem as Elvis? About the only thing they have in common is that
their names begin with the letter E. And I'm no stickler for authenticity in
art. I think part of being creative is making things up. But Eminem is
downright maniacal about being viewed as authentic. So it behooves me to
point out to the erstwhile Marshall Mathers that Elvis was Presley's real

GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic at large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed
the "Eminem Show."

Coming up, guest film critic Armond White reviews the new thriller about
nuclear terrorism, "The Sum of All Fears." This is FRESH AIR.

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Review: New movie "The Sum of All Fears"

"The Sum of All Fears" is a new thriller about nuclear terrorism adapted from
the Tom Clancy novel of the same name. The movie stars Ben Affleck as a young
Jack Ryan at the beginning of his career in the CIA. Guest film critic Armond
White has a review.

ARMOND WHITE reporting:

Sequelitis, Hollywood's law of diminishing returns, is upon us again with "The
Sum of All Fears," the fourth movie version of those Tom Clancy novels about
CIA analyst Jack Ryan. The series started with Alec Baldwin in the Ryan role,
then Harrison Ford took over the next two. Each film made Ryan a more solid
and serious guy. Now to accommodate Ben Affleck and his "Pearl Harbor"
boyishness, "The Sum of All Fears" offers what can be called an alternate
universe prequel.

This Jack Ryan is younger than ever at the start of his career, yet the
political events alluded to are contemporary. You can say the story is ripped
from tomorrow's headlines. Ryan uncovers a terrorist plot to explode a bomb
on US turf, but the plot's also a rip-off from other action-adventure movies
and TV shows. It's an embarrassingly adolescent view of how international
intrigue works.

Affleck's Ryan gets recruited by CIA Director Cabot--that's the role
originated by James Earl Jones and now played by Morgan Freeman. With Cabot
as his mentor, Ryan goes from Pentagon researcher to globe-trotting
investigator because Cabot trusts his expertise on Russian politics. In
post-Cold War movies, the Russkies are always the first suspect until a
slicker enemy can be found. "The Sum of All Fears" compounds our
international fears about who's got the bomb by making the Russians, along
with a sordid, quasi-Middle Eastern terrorist, the objects of US anxiety.

(Soundbite from "The Sum of All Fears")

Unidentified Man #1: Are you advocating we launch a first strike?

Unidentified Man #2: It is not a first strike. There's already been a first
strike, and a second. Don't you get it?

Unidentified Man #3: No, I don't get it. I don't understand why we have to
nuke them for God's sakes. It's not reasonable.

Unidentified Man #2: ...(Unintelligible) get it. They practically sank an
aircraft carrier. Their missile silos are hot. We're getting nothing but
bull from Nemerov.

Unidentified Man #4: And let's not forget how this thing started, OK?

Unidentified Man #2: They tried to kill me, remember? So don't you tell me
to be reasonable.

WHITE: Now that's not exactly the stuff of breath-bating suspense. It's more
like pop political mockery. The actors you just heard, Ron Rifkin, Bruce
McGill, James Cromwell and Philip Baker Hall, put on their worried white men
frowns while playing the US president and his key advisers. This very
familiar corridors of power stuff isn't sober, intense like Kevin Costner's
"13 Days," it's meant to be fun. And though Phil Alden Robinson, the director
of "Field of Dreams," here orchestrates a field of dread, he doesn't satirize
nuclear anxiety or military craziness, like Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove" did.
Instead, "The Sum of All Fears" boasts a teen-age jokester's worst-case

Alan Bates plays the neo-Nazi whose dirty bomb is smuggled into the US and
detonated to kill the president during his visit to a sports arena. Awesome,
dude. After 9/11, the attempt to make entertainment out of terrorist threats
has a Mad magazine madness. No matter how grim and despite Clancy's
reputation, this isn't really adult entertainment.

Jack Ryan is a policy wonk Walter Mitty who dreams of James Bond daring. More
so than in the previous Clancy films, Affleck's Ryan is just a mind-reading
CIA pup. His youth and frisky optimism enable him to intuit the thinking of
Russia's new president, Nemerov, who's played by Gothic romantic Irish actor
Ciaran Hinds. That's a handy skill which sets up the film's
hands-on-the-button climax. But we're a long way from the thoughtful, truly
adult, political dissatisfaction that Harrison Ford and director Phillip Noyce
brought to the previous sequel, "Clear and Present Danger."

"Clear and Present Danger" was the best of the Ryan flicks because it
activated the audience's sense of political ethics and it had the series only
memorable moment.

(Soundbite from "Clear and Present Danger")

Unidentified Man #5: Do you mind if I give you a bit of advice? Of course,
you know this because you're a smart guy. You should never make important
decisions while you're upset.

Mr. HARRISON FORD (As Jack Ryan): You did. And American soldiers and
innocent civilians are dead because of it.

Unidentified Man #5: I never ordered any...

Mr. FORD (As Jack Ryan): No. Don't even think about playing that game with
me. I will not let you dishonor their memories by pretending you had nothing
to do with it!

Unidentified Man #5: How dare you come in here and lecture me?

Mr. FORD (As Jack Ryan): How dare you, sir!

WHITE: How dare the makers of this movie presume to tackle the sum of all our
fears, but do so with a comic book, adventure serial, daydreaming and
nightmarish insensitivity? The relationship between Ryan and Cabot has none
of the world-weary credibility that made Sam Peckinpah's espionage movies
adult and memorable. Because Robinson runs completely out of ideas, he
recycles movie cliches. That's a trite resolution of post-9/11 paranoia.

Once the CIA determines who the bomb welders are, Robinson rips off "The
Godfather." He stages the killing spree finale timed to Puccini's "Nessun
Dorma." It's final proof these filmmakers aren't serious or grownup at
all--just shameless.

GROSS: Armond White is film critic for the New York Press.

(Soundbite of music)


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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