W.

W. movie poster

 

I had the same issues with Oliver Stone’s W. that I do with every biopic. As virtually every feature film biography attempts to do the job of a book, they inevitably fall into the same trap: they become highlights reels that merely illustrate key moments in a real-life figure’s life, spanning decades. With a few exceptions (American Splendor, Control), any narrative throughline is impossible; meaning, there is no story. Stone attempts to tie together his fragmented examination of the life of George W. Bush with the theme of his relationship with his father, George H.W. Bush. In this view, Junior both loved and hated his father, and both wanted to impress him and to prevail where he perceived that he failed (it’s clear now even to this staunch pacifist and Democrat that Bush the elder was wise to not extend the first Gulf War into a nationbuilding exercise in Iraq).

Oliver Stone W.Gentlemen! You can’t fight in here, this is the War Room!

Screenwriter Stanley Weiser chooses the conception of the phrase “Axis of Evil” as the starting point, and ends the film with the infamous press conference in which the arrogant Bush was unable to name any mistakes he may have made in office. Stone flashes back many times to Bush’s prior life as a trust fund wastrel, but skips almost everything that I would define as defining moments: becoming a born again Christian, deciding to run for president, announcing to his staff that they are going to war in Iraq (it’s a matter of record Bush said “Fuck Saddam. We’re taking him out.”) and of course, September 11 itself.

John Brolin in W.I’m George W. Bush, bitches!

The most obvious failure of biopics is that they typically become opportunities for famous actors to do impressions of historical figures. In this case, the subjects are so fresh that many of them are still in office and on television every night now, so the danger is that W. could come too close to the easy satire of Saturday Night Live Weekend Update. That said, Josh Brolin is excellent as George W. Bush, in a performance that captures many of the man’s peculiar tics but doesn’t come across as a forced caricature. Similarly, Richard Dreyfus is remarkably restrained as Dick Cheney, a role that many other actors would have been tempted to use as an excuse to chew the Oval Office scenery. But unfortunately, Thandie Newton (as Condoleezza Rice) struck me as the only cast member doing a forced impression.


Official movie site: www.wthefilm.com

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Alexander

Alexander movie poster

 

Ugh. I should have listened to the myriad critics and friends who warned me off this one… it is indeed quite bad. Everything you’ve heard is true: impossibly long, unintelligibly edited (can anyone explain to me Alexander’s supposedly brilliant scheme in the first battle? Running away and coming back will allow greater access to strike the enemy king exactly how?), and schizophrenic with regards to its sexual politics. So Alexander was bisexual, fine. But in this day and age, doing anything to avoid showing an onscreen kiss just calls attention to itself. Two pretty men gazing at each other and saying things like “By Zeus’ beard, you are indeed a great man” is just comical.

And most amusingly: if accents are to be judged, Angelina Jolie’s character hails from Transylvania, and Alexander and his father came to Greece by way of down the pub. In fact, the kid who plays the young Alexander sounds more Irish than Colin Farrel himself!

I rented the director’s cut, which bucks the trend in actually being shorter than the theatrical version (the only other director I know of to do this is Stanley Kubrick, who would often continue to abridge films even during release). At 3 hours, 55 minutes, I am quite glad I didn’t decide to go with the theatrical version.

What was good about it? Angelina Jolie is always a pleasure to watch – an old-school movie star in the sense that her presence and beauty are so overpowering that she might as well be from another planet. I’ve always thought Val Kilmer was a fine actor (especially in the underrated Spartan). And in a suprisingly plain-looking movie for Stone, it’s a great relief when he finally cuts loose in the surreal, literally blood-soaked sequence of Alexander’s near-fatal wounding in India.