VITAL SIGNSrnUnder, Over, andrnWorlds Apartrnby George McCartneyrnEight MillimeterrnProduced by Columbia Picturesrnand Hofflund/PolonernDirected by ]oel SchumacherrnScreenplay by Andrew Kevin WalkerrnReleased by Columbia PicturesrnOctober SkyrnProduced by Charles Gordonrnand Larry FrancornDirected by Joe JohnstonrnScreenplay by Lewis Colickrnand Homer HichamrnReleased by Universal PicturesrnAnalyze ThisrnProduced by Tribeca ProductionsrnDirected by Harold RamisrnScreenplay by Ken Lonerganrnand Peter TolanrnReleased by Warner Bros.rnWatching film today exercises yourrncapacity for hope. You’re alwaysrnlonging for the medium to realize its potential,rnknowing in advance it won’trnmore times than it will. Three movies Irnsaw recentl}’ prove the point: tvvo disappointments,rnunderworld in every sense,rnand one spirited reach for the skv.rnLet’s get the worst out of the way first.rnAlthough St. Paul claimed the wagesrnof sin were death, many of Hollywood’srnfinest would beg to differ. For them, thernwages of sin are, well, wages. And extravagantlyrnbountiful wages at that.rnCase in point: Joel Schumacher, therncurrently popular director who saw fit tornsexualize a comic-book hero by redesigningrnBatman’s bodysuit with nipples and arncodpiece. Schumacher apparently hasrnan aggravated talent for prurience, andrnifs once again on display in Eight Millimeter.rnThere’s only one reason to commentrnon this loathsome film. It perfectly illustratesrnHollywood’s tried-and-true versionrnof bait and switch. Schumacher dressesrnup a degrading panorama of pornographyrnand sadism as though it were arnmorally serious exploration of evil.rnThe film’s dishonesty is apparent fromrnthe very first scenes. A wealthy womanrndiscovers something disturbing in thernsafe of her recently deceased husband. Itrnseems to be a snuff film—pornographyrnfeaturing the murder of a woman. Doesrnthe dowager burn the film? Of coursernnot. She enlists private detective TomrnWelles (Nicholas Cage) to determine itsrnauthenticity. Plausible, right?rnSoon we’re glimpsing what Wellesrnsees when he screens the grisly reel. Arnhelpless-looking girl in a camisole sits onrna bed as a burly man wearing leather andrnan S&M mask enters the fi’ame. Thisrnalone is quite enough for our hero. Wellrnbefore anything else happens, he’s recoilingrnin horror at the possibility thatrnthis may be the prelude to an authenticrnsnuff film. Would you want a detectivernthis squeamish? Of course not. Schumacherrndoes, however. He wants to establishrnhis film’s veneer of moral righteousnessrnearly and often. This, we’re tornunderstand, is unspeakable stuff; it’s onlyrnbeing shown because the plot demandsrnit.rnWith this license, Schumacher pursuesrnhis real objective: to send Welles—rnand us—on a tour of the porn world. AsrnWelles scours the marketplace lookingrnfor evidence that will help him uncoverrnthe girl’s fate, he must watch numerousrnvideos of erotic sadism, and so must we ifrnwe insist on seeing this stinker out.rnIt’s not surprising that a major studiornwould support a project of this kind.rnMainstream films today are so steeped inrnpornography that a director really has tornshred the envelope to shock an audience.rnOne does what one can to earnrnone’s wages.rnStripped of its veil of seriousness.rnEight Millimeter is little different thanrnthe pornography it pretends to condemn.rnAnd like standard-issue pornography, itrnshows small regard for narrative plausibilityrnand even less for moral distinctions.rnThere is, however, one exception to itsrncynical commercialism. The connoisseurrnof erotic slaughter, we discover, isrnsurnamed Christian. The ill-fated runawayrnwho supplies his high-priced thrillrntravels with a rosary in her suitcase. Arnporno director keeps a seven-foot crucifixrnin his studio for crossbow practice. ThernS&M killer is shown helping his agedrnmother onto a private bus emblazonedrnwith the words “Faithfiil Christian Fellowship.”rnAnd just in case we missed thernpoint, the camera lingers on a statue ofrnthe Blessed Virgin standing outside thernmiscreant’s back door.rnGet it? These vile, depraved people —rnsaints preserve us!—they’re all Christians!rnNow who would have thought it?rnWell, this will teach us Bible-thumpingrnhypocrites to shut up and take what’srncoming to us.rnFortunately, films like October Skyrncome along just frequently enough tornrinse away the foul aftertaste left by thernlikes oi Eight Millimeter.rnI saw October Sky with my nine-yearoldrnson, Liam, who was enchanted byrnthe movie despite its conspicuous lack ofrnspecial effects. When I told him that itrnwas based on Rocket Boys, retired NASArnengineer Homer Hickam’s memoirrnabout growing up in a 1950’s coal-miningrntown, Liam insisted we get the book.rnHe’s reading it as I write this. There mayrnbe higher accolades to pay a film, but Irncan’t think of any.rnDirector Joe Johnston deserves congratulationsrnfor daring to take on this unlikelyrnproject. By today’s standards, it’s asrnfar from mainstream as you can get. Itrneven includes a scene in which a couplernof 17-year-olds find themselves alone in arncar at night and—get this—keep theirrnclothes on. Though sfrongly attracted tornone another, they’re too shy and respectfulrnto act on their inclinations. Ratherrnthan mock their reserve, Johnston celebratesrnits sweetness. One can only imaginernwhat Joel Schumacher might havernmade of this episode.rnThe film opens with a ruminative evocationrnof Hickam’s hometown of Coalwood,rnWest Virginia. In an eerily quietrnmontage punctuated by brief blackouts,rnwe watch coal miners come and go onrntheir daily rounds, stooped, exhausted,rn44/CHRONICLESrnrnrn