Wanda Sykes can be devastatingly funny. An Emmy Award-winning writer and comedian, Sykes is a regular on HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm and Inside the NFL -- and also on Crank Yankers, a Comedy Central offering that features puppets acting out nasty, real-life crank calls made by a stable of comics. As Wanda Murphy, Sykes called up a tow-truck operator and hollered, "There's a turd in the backseat of my car!" Her incredulous target was so amazed that he had to get his friend on the phone, too, and the two men were soon laughing so hard they could barely talk. Sykes did it all with just her voice -- a honking, squawking, outraged bray, the acid essence of indignation applied to a poop joke.
What would Graham Greene do? Or more to the point, what would he write about our current time, its terrorist horrors, its shadows of war on the horizon? Perhaps our situation would sound familiar to the author, who set a similarly foreboding scene in his 1955 novel The Quiet American, the subject of Phillip Noyce's recent film adaptation.
I never thought I'd hear "Hotel California" in the bleak desert landscape of Iran. Don Henley's tale of a bad trip was a big hit with our guide, Reza, however, and he'd turn up the volume whenever the song looped around on his tape player. "This could be heaven or this could be hell," Don and Reza sang, as we drove in the mountains near Shiraz, several hundred miles south of the capital Tehran, passing crumbling caravansaries, those vacant hotels once used as inns by travelers on the Silk Road in the Middle East and Asia.
Virginia Woolf is putting on her coat with red, rough-knuckled hands. She stumbles out the door, pockets a large stone and wades into the river near her house in Sussex, England. As her shoes slip free of her feet, we hear her voice reading a suicide note to her husband. "I don't think two people could have been happier than we have been," she says.
Part of the fun of 8 Mile is guessing at who's in the lead role: Is it the real-life Marshall Mathers III, the sullen Eminem or the explosively perverse Slim Shady? Starring Mathers, aka Eminem, aka the most controversial white boy in music today, 8 Mile teases us with its billing as a semi-autobiographical account of the rapper's life, suggesting that this might be the final word on what makes Eminem so confounding, so fascinating and so enraging.