Idi Amin was the ruthless dictator of the African nation of Uganda throughout much of the 1970s. He was ultimately blamed for thousands upon thousands of deaths (some estimates place the death toll in the hundreds of thousands) during his tenure. The Last King of Scotland is a fictionalized version of Amin’s (Forest Whitaker) reign of terror. Giddy after graduating from med school in Scotland Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy) randomly picks Uganda to be his first post-college destination. When he gets there the locals are abuzz after the new leader has been sworn in and vows to right all that is wrong with the country. After a chance encounter with Amin Garrigan bears witness to his dichotomous personalities as the ruler goes from threatening to charming on a whim. Amin is so taken with the young doctor--and vice versa--that he invites Garrigan to become his personal physician. A doctor-patient relationship leads to close friendship and before long Garrigan is the very center of the dictator’s inner circle. And not long thereafter he learns that there is no worse place to be. For over 20 years now we’ve all bore witness to Whitaker’s mastery of acting. His choices have been eclectic and his performances consistently great but it’s always been a case of “And oh Forest Whitaker’s great too.” Until now. Whitaker makes what can only be described as an earthquake of an entrance. It’s clear in the movie when Amin will first appear and yet the actor still manages to catch us off-guard. Amin’s manic personalities are child’s play for Whitaker but he never has fun with it which is where other actors might have gone overboard. He is now leading the race for the Best Actor Oscar too. Not that the supporting players are too shabby though. McAvoy's (The Chronicles of Narnia) Garrigan is actually the heart of the story allowing for more screen time than Whitaker and the Scotsman soaks up every second. He sticks out like a sore thumb in the film but not only because he’s from the opposite side of the earth; it’s because McAvoy the actor makes sure to react differently to everything. In addition former X-File-r Gillian Anderson turns in a solid if short apperance--and you’ll be surprised how amazingly hot she is! Kerry Washington (Mr. and Mrs. Smith) as one of Amin’s countless neglected ex-wives is superb as well.
The contrast between Last King's first and second half is as night-and-day as Amin's personalities. In the first half director Kevin MacDonald (Touching the Void) allows the story to simmer to the point of perfection; in the second half he gets sloppy as though in a rush to finish a different movie than the one he started. The ending also a mix of truth and fable (plucked from the highly acclaimed book by Giles Foden) quickly spirals towards its conclusion which is tough to watch for very different reasons. But prior to that--even at some points in the uneven second half--MacDonald paints a beautiful monster out of Amin. Maybe more importantly he paints a beautiful picture of African ambiance an indirect thank you to the Ugandan people that allowed unprecedented access to their country for the sake of Last King. Even with MacDonald's occasional blunders it's hard to deny the power of his film.
Charity has a posthumous friend in (the recently deceased and ex-Beatle) George. The George Harrison hit "My Sweet Lord" is on sale in record stores again starting today, this time with proceeds going to charity. (The last time the song was released, in 1971, the proceeds benefited George.)
The lucky charity is the Material World Foundation, which Harrison set up in 1973 to help agencies that help poverty stricken children worldwide get, um, er, materials.
Hollywood heartthrob Tom Cruise (Vanilla Sky) revealed to Entertainment Tonight that he'd love to marry again, though there are no plans to marry current flame Penelope Cruz; loves being a father, though there are no plans to father a child with current flame Penelope Cruz; and that he is again talking to ex-wife Nicole Kidman, though there are no plans to talk with current flame Penelope Cruz--which makes you wonder how Terrific Tom spends his time with the sultry Latina star.
Robert Redford (Spy Game) didn't stop at unveiling movies at this year's Sundance Film Festival. Redford also announced a new fund for documentaries, aided by a $4.6 million grant from George Soros, and a new cable TV network devoted to nonfiction film. Now if only Redford can find viewers devoted to nonfiction film...
Also at Sundance, Jennifer Aniston (TV's Friends) is trying to shed her goody-goody image with a small-budget, low-profile (probably not for long) film entitled The Good Girl. The title is ironic, as Aniston's lead character is a woman trapped in a childless marriage who has an adulterous relationship with a younger man. Is art imitating life? Gossip writers in Hollywood can only hope.
Noah Wyle (TV's ER) doesn't stop at acting on a doctor show; he's a big fan of NBC's new comedy Scrubs, also a doctor show. According to The Associated Press, Wyle called Scrubs "very funny," which makes that one person in the U.S. who thinks so.
The producers of Ally McBeal will stop at nothing to lift their sagging ratings, including bringing in some outside star power. Jon Bon Jovi joins the cast tonight and Christina Ricci will guest star in a five-episode arc later this season. Of course, the only real way for Ally to get higher ratings is to rename the show ER.
From the David vs. Goliath Department: The Palm Springs International Film Festival debuted this weekend, with India's Monsoon Wedding getting the coveted opening screening. The few guests in attendance were heard saying, "I don't think we're in Utah any more."
Jason Mewes (Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back) failed to appear last month in a Monmouth County, N.J., court in connection with a probation violation, leading the judge to issue a bench warrant for his arrest, TheSmokingGun.com reports. Since Mewes was bright enough to hide his heroin in his sock (which the police found, leading to his probation), New Jersey authorities figure he's bright enough to find the county courthouse. The jury is still out on that one.
Adam Ant, famous in the 1980s for a couple of seconds with a couple of completely forgettable hits, has been charged with assault and possessing a firearm after a dust-up in a London pub on Saturday. Ant's planned comeback tour will now include a stop at one of the UK's finer penitentiaries, where the rock star will have a captive, if not enthusiastic, audience.
It's taken ABC more than two years to replace Hugh Downs on 20/20, but John Miller--whose claim to news fame is that he interviewed everybody's favorite terrorist Osama bin Laden in May 1998--is now poised to join Barbara Walters as co-host of the news show. The show is also moving back to Friday nights, where ABC--fast becoming America's fourth network--is hoping the show can draw at least as many viewers as the numbers in its name.
For those of you scoring at home, or even if you're by yourself, former ESPN SportsCenter anchor Keith Olbermann is returning to CNN (where he worked in the 1980s) as a contributor to NewsNight with Aaron Brown. Olbermann is also returning to ABC (whose parent company, Disney, owns ESPN), at least on radio, with two new shows, "Speaking of Sports" and "Speaking of Everything."
Well, we still have death and taxes. After 42 years and 17,162 shows, The Fantasticks has seen the curtain drop for the final time at the Sullivan Street Playhouse in Greenwich Village. As reasons for the closure, the producer cited rising costs, new theater owners and the fact that everyone in the eastern half of the country has already seen the show.
Aurelie Brun, who was stripped of her Miss Loire-Forez title and disqualified from competing in the Miss France competition for being too short, has accused the recently crowned Sylvie Tellier of not measuring up to the 5-foot-7 height requirement, either, PageSix.com reports. Brun's statements once again prove the old adage, "Hell hath no fury as a short Frenchwoman scorned."