W.


W

The easy crack would be of Dubya conversing with intellectual equals, but that would be TOO easy.

(Lionsgate) Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Banks, Richard Dreyfus, James Cromwell, Ellen Burstyn, Jeffrey Wright, Scott Glenn, Ioan Gruffud, Thandie Newton, Jesse Bradford, Toby Jones. Directed by Oliver Stone

When all is said and done, one of the most fascinating political figures of the last fifty years is George W. Bush. Love him or hate him, there is simply no in-between.

Filmmaker Oliver Stone is known for his liberal viewpoint and he’s no stranger to making movies about chief executives (Nixon). He is also known for playing fast and loose with facts in order to get his point across.

He doesn’t do that here. This is a remarkable movie in that sense, what appears to be a sincere attempt to understand a president who has been, in many ways, a complete mystery. It’s not the facts of his life that are in dispute; it’s just that people can’t figure out how this guy became president and then once he became president, why he made the decisions he did.

Josh Brolin is in the title role and he plays the President starting from his frat years at Yale all the way to his last year as President. He gets his mannerisms down pat, just nails them and yet refrains from making his performance a Saturday Night Live caricature. If you ever doubted that Josh Brolin is a fine actor, one glimpse of his performance here will dissuade any notion of that.

The story is not told chronologically for a reason. Stone’s intent is not to tell the story of Bush’s presidency but to examine the man in the office. It looks at his daddy issues, as his father George H.W. Bush (Cromwell) seems to favor his brother Jeb over him, and it’s certainly understandable. George drinks heavily, parties like a fiend and is generally successful at nothing.

His father is skeptical when George runs for Governor of Texas and surprised when he wins. It does serve to change his opinion of his son somewhat, to the point where he asks him to run his campaign (which he loses to Clinton).

His relationship with Laura (Banks) is central to the movie and we can see her influence on him and how much her support helped him grow. There is no doubt that he is a family man and that he has a spiritual side that is strong and sincere.

The actors for the most part capture their roles perfectly. Dreyfus and Wright do wonderful jobs as Dick Cheney and Colin Powell, respectively. We don’t get much insight into them as people other than as they relate to Dubyah, but then this is HIS movie.

How accurate is this? Surprisingly, quite a bit. Obviously there’s no way of knowing what went on behind closed doors or what precisely was said by whom. Still, what is said and done is consistent with published accounts of the Bush presidency. I’m sure that this isn’t a 100% accurate biography of George W. Bush (his family has gone on record as saying that it is not), but then is anything? At least it seems somewhat fair-minded.

I have gone on record with my opinions of the Bush presidency on my other blog and there’s no need to rehash it here. In many ways, this movie is apolitical; the argument is that Bush was the poster boy for the Peter Principle. He was ill-prepared for the job; clearly he wasn’t capable. He had advisors that for better or worse essentially set policy. Whatever you stand is politically, you don’t need to love George W. Bush to love this movie.

WHY RENT THIS: Remarkably apolitical despite the filmmakers known political leanings, this is more an attempt to understand Bush rather than to form an opinion about him. Extremely well-cast, the actors all resemble their famous roles.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Like many Oliver Stone films, it runs a bit longer than it probably should have.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s plenty of foul language, depictions of drinking and smoking, a bit of sexuality and some disturbing war images; definitely this is for more mature viewers.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Josh Brolin’s dad James played another Republican president, Ronald Reagan, in the TV mini-series “The Reagans.”

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a documentary on the Bush family directed by Sean Stone, Oliver’s son.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Transporter 3

Surrogates


Rosamund Pike is lying down on the job.

Rosamund Pike is lying down on the job.

(Touchstone) Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike, James Cromwell, Boris Kodjoe, Ving Rhames, James Francis Ginty, Michael Cudlitz, Jack Noseworthy, Devin Ratray, Helena Mattson, Jeffrey de Serrano, Danny Smith. Directed by Jonathan Mostow

All of us are the sums of our own experiences. When we begin experiencing things by proxy, how real are those experiences? What is the line between our humanity and our bodies?

In the future, most people are electronically linked to androids called Surrogates. These virtually indestructible beings can do amazing things, things humans aren’t engineered to do. These Surrogates live our lives for us while we remain in the safety of our own homes. Invented by the reclusive Dr. Canter (Cromwell), his company VSI had grown to be one of the largest, most prosperous in the world although Canter had long since parted ways with them.

Tom Greer (Willis) works as an FBI agent. He and his partner Lorene Peters (Mitchell) are called to the scene of a crime where a mysterious motorcyclist (Noseworthy) – whose name, we later find out, is Miles Strickland – caused a car to slam into a group of Surrogates waiting to get into a nightclub. Not much of a crime really – destruction of property. The real problem materializes when it turns out two of the Surries (Smith and Mattson) had been hit with some sort of electric feedback device, blowing out their ocular devices, their chips and, as it happens, their operators as well.

Greer realizes quickly that they are dealing with a homicide, the first in a decade or more. Although his boss Andrew Stone (Kodjoe) is skeptical, the evidence looks pretty incontravertible. Things begin to get really messy when they find out that the male victim was in fact the son of the legendary Dr. Canter.

Greer has problems of his own. His son died recently in a car accident and his wife Maggie (Pike) has retreated further and further into the world of her Surrogate. The gulf between the two of them is widening, and he doesn’t know how to begin to bridge it.

When Strickland is spotted, a chase ensues that leads into a human’s only zone – an enclave of Luddites that have turned their backs on the Surrogacy technology and live simply, following the words of a semi-religious leader known as The Prophet (Rhames). They are called, somewhat snidely, Dreads by the Surrogacy-plugged humans and not for their choice of hairstyles, although the Prophet has plenty of those. This refers to a perceived fear of technology.

Despite the ban on Surrogate presence in the Dread zones, Greer chases Strickland in there anyway (not that he has a choice – the helicopter he’s riding in crashes there after Strickland turns the feedback weapon on the pilot of the ‘copter) and his Surrogate is destroyed before he can get the weapon away from Strickland.

However, now Greer is without a Surrogate and has to enter the real world for the first time in a very long time. Vulnerable, terrified and unused to his own body, he must investigate this crime and find out who’s behind it before the weapon is unleashed on millions of innocent people.

The movie is based on a Top Shelf graphic novel. Mostow, who has a fine resume of solid action movies, delivers again here. Basically, he realizes that the technology here is just taking existing surveillance, communications and social interaction technology to the next level. Surrogates are merely physical manifestations of the avatars we use in programs like Second Life and YoVille. Beyond that, the world onscreen is pretty much recognizably the world outside our door.

As intriguing as the premise is, it needs a decent cast to pull it off. Willis has made a career out of roles like this, the imperfect cop. He’s not the superman who leaps tall buildings in a single bound (although his avatar comes close to that); he has an Achilles heel, his personal life is a mess and while he has great instincts, he doesn’t always get his man – at least, not right away. Radha Mitchell is impressive here. She is one of those actresses that don’t get considered for plum roles, but whenever she does get onscreen, you scratch your head and wonder why she isn’t getting that consideration. She’s a marvelous actress and as she shows here, she cleans up rather nicely too.

The action sequences are pretty impressive. There are two main chases; the one where Greer’s Surrogate chases Strickland into the Dread zone and one later where the human Greer chases a Surrogate through the streets of Boston. It’s a marvelous juxtaposition, and Mostow handles it masterfully. There are some special effects, but this isn’t a movie overloaded with them. Mostly, he leaves it to the make-up artists who do a great job of making Willis look younger (with a little help, no doubt, from some CGI) and the Surrogates look nearly perfect.

There are a few quibbles. I found myself wondering why the FBI would be called in on what was ostensibly a destruction of property call, one that the local police would normally handle. The next time I see some teens defacing our development’s fence with graffiti, I’ll be sure to call our local Bureau.

This time of year the multiplexes are filled with summer leftovers and movies that the studios want to get into theaters as quickly and as quietly as possible. Surrogates is a good choice for those looking for a newer movie with a goodly amount of quality that won’t leave you feeling like you just wasted the last two hours of your life when you leave the theater. In September, that’s about as good as it gets.

REASONS TO GO: An intriguing premise handled well with some decent action sequences. Willis inhabits a role that must feel familiar to him. The world depicted here is realistic and believable.

REASONS TO STAY: Not a lot of amazing effects for a science fiction film. There are a few head-scratching moments in terms of logic.

FAMILY VALUES: There is quite a bit of violence, some foul language and some implied sexuality. Suitable for most teens.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: During the scenes inside the VSI building, one of the video screens displaying VSI commercials shows the rotating head of a T-800 Terminator from Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines which Mostow also directed.

HOME OR THEATER: If you’re looking for a decent film in the multiplex this time of year, this one fits the bill. Otherwise it’s fine on home video.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: The Visitor