Rushed into production last spring in order to make an October release date right in the heart of a presidential election director Oliver Stone’s W hits the bullseye with this fairly well-balanced portrait of George W. Bush (Josh Brolin) a man who grows up in the shadow of a larger-than-life father and goes on to serve in the White House four years longer than his “Poppy” did. Stone’s biographical study of the brash cowboy from Texas chronicles his early years as an oilman and baseball team owner through his run for Congress his work on his father’s presidential campaign his election as Governor of Texas and finally his ascent into the White House where he still sits today. We also see his courtship of Laura (Elizabeth Banks) and particularly his awkward dealings with his dad (James Cromwell) a complex relationship that ultimately forces W to rise up and compete with the legacy of his father and mentor. It’s that difficult dynamic between Bush Sr. and Jr. that forms the heart of the film and reveals the enigma that remains George W. Much of the story centers on the buildup to the decision to go into Iraq. Those sequences set in the White House situation room are at times hilarious in a Dr. Strangelove way and also a somewhat sobering if speculative window into how the Bush Administration does things. This film could not succeed if it was played as simply a Saturday Night Live sketch favoring impersonation over interpretation. Stone asked his actors to get the “spirit” of their respective characters and the results are impressive indeed. Brolin hits a career high and leaps into the Oscar race with his portrayal of George W. Bush. He’s close enough physically although more movie star in looks but he neatly captures the bravado and masked insecurities at the heart of the 43rd President particularly when dealing with his father brilliantly played by Cromwell. Ellen Burstyn as Barbara Bush doesn’t have a whole lot of screen time but certainly captures what we think we know about the former First Lady. Elizabeth Banks as Laura Bush is charming and winning. As for the Bush Administration figures who play a pivotal part in the proceedings Richard Dreyfuss stands out playing VP Dick Cheney as a Machiavellian figure out to create an empire in the Middle East. He loses himself in the skin of Cheney with almost effortless ease. Equally impressive is Toby Young who not only resembles political mastermind and Bush operative Karl Rove but turns this polarizing figure into a three-dimensional human being. Stacy Keach as a religious influence and Scott Glenn as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld also shine in their few scenes. Less successful are Jeffrey Wright lacking authority as the imposing Colin Powell and Thandie Newton trying too hard to become Condoleeza Rice. There is no question Oliver Stone knows his way around this kind of controversial subject matter but what may shock many is the measured and thoughtful way he approaches the material. Screenwriter Stanley Weiser’s take on Bush is to present a man haunted by the legacy of his father with a need to prove he is tougher and stronger. Stone approaches it as straight biography while also treating it as part comedy. Despite its dramatic structure W. is often subtly played for laughs. Clearly the cast of characters in this almost Shakespearean tragedy gives the filmmaker lots of fodder but they are presented in a surprisingly respectful manner. Even W comes off as an empathetic and sometimes likeable figure a cowboy in the White House. As always Stone’s command of the medium is impressive and this is one of his finest films in many years. There’s something about a president that sparks him creatively whether it’s J.F.K. Nixon and now W.. Ultimately he holds back his own views and presents the man warts and all; he lets the viewer decide what place in history there will be for George W. Bush and by extension the film Stone has made about him.
Mike Myers and DreamWorks have inked a unique feature film production deal dubbed "film sampling." Film sampling is much like music sampling, in which an artist reworks an existing song with new lyrics. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the idea is for DreamWorks to acquire the rights to existing motion picture hits and classics, write new story lines and--with the use of digital technology--insert Myers and other actors into the film to create an entirely new piece of entertainment. "Film sampling is an exciting way to put an original spin on existing films and allow audiences to see old movies in a new light," Myers said. "Rap artists have been doing this for years with music, and now we are able to take that same concept and apply it to film. Think of me as the Puff Daddy of film or 'M. Diddy' or 'M & M' or just 'M,' or maybe when you sample movies you don't need a special name." Myers collaborated with DreamWorks on the Oscar-winning animated feature Shrek and the upcoming Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat, set for release Nov. 21.
Stacy Keach, Sr., best known for developing, producing and directing the radio and television series Tales of the Texas Rangers, died Thursday of congestive heart failure, Reuters reports. He was 88. Keach had battled heart illness for 14 months and died at St. Joseph's Hospital in Burbank, California. Keach also had parts in a variety of TV shows spanning six decades, from The Lone Ranger in 1949 to Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman in the 1990s. He also played the inventive Professor Carlson in 1960s James Bond spoof Get Smart.
Judi Dench is in final negotiations to star opposite Vin Diesel in Universal Pictures' highly anticipated sequel Riddick, while Colm Feore has come aboard to play the lead villain. The film is a follow-up to the 2000 film Pitch Black, about an intergalactic prisoner named Riddick who has the ability to see in the dark. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the sequel finds Riddick in the middle of two opposing forces in a major crusade. Feore will play Lord Marshal, a warrior priest who is the leader of a sect that is waging the 10th and perhaps final crusade 500 years in the future. Dench will play Aereon, an ethereal being who helps Riddick unearth his origins. Production begins in Vancouver in April.
Barbershop director Tim Story will helm Society Cab for Universal Pictures, a drama based on the real-life exploits of the last black-owned, black-run taxi company in Miami-Dade County, Florida. Story told Variety the appeal of the script was its larger-than-life characters who drive the unsafe area, minding residents' children and even policing it themselves, knowing the cops will show up long after they do. The film follows a newspaper reporter who becomes a cabbie to write a feature story for the Miami Herald. Tom Hanks' Playtone Prods., the company behind My Big Fat Greek Wedding, will produce the picture.
Japanese director Hideo Nakata will make his English-language feature debut with the MGM supernatural thriller True Believers. The film is an adaptation of the Doug Richardson novel about the intersecting paths of a senator with White House aspirations, a woman who wants to have a child and a death row inmate who thinks he is a messiah whose bloodline must be carried on, Variety reports. Nakata directed the 1998 Japanese film The Ring and its sequel, which inspired the Gore Verbinski-helmed 2002 DreamWorks film of the same name and its sequel, The Ring 2.
The proposed merger between CNN and ABC News is off, AOL Time Warner executives said Thursday. A statement from AOL TW said: "After careful review, it was determined that although there are great merits and possibilities to a merger of CNN and ABC News, for us, the potential problems associated with the completion of such a transaction and the integration of these two distinct and great cultures was more than we wanted to pursue at this time." The statement seemed to leave open the possibility of future talks, but insiders were not optimistic, saying the issue is dead, with little or no chance of revival. "There will be no merger between ABC News and CNN in our lifetimes," one executive told The Hollywood Reporter.
Grammy-winning singer R. Kelly, who was arrested on child pornography charges last year, seems to be on a roll, despite being arrested on additional child pornography charges last month. Kelly has written a No. 1 song for the teen boy band B2K and scored his own hit with the sexually charged "Ignition." In fact, the video for his song is one of the most requested on BET and has been on MTV, he's up for a Grammy, and his record label, Jive, is releasing the CD Chocolate Factory on Tuesday, The Associated Press reports. "He's probably more popular now than during 'I Believe I Can Fly' (in 1996)," Kedar Massenburg, president of Motown Records, said.
Police in Sydney, Australia, recovered reel-to-reel tapes reportedly recorded by the Beatles and believed stolen from the band's Abbey Road studios in London in 1969, the AP reports. Detectives raided a home early Friday in western Sydney and seized tape recordings of the Abbey Road album and The Beatles, better known as The White Album. Police said the recordings have been turned over to a musicologist to determine their authenticity. The raid stemmed from a British investigation into a suspected piracy racket that led to the recovery of 500 tapes believed to be original Beatles recordings during a raid in Holland last month.