NEW AT THE MOVIES: 'W.' makes easy target - Tucson Local Media: El Sol

NEW AT THE MOVIES: 'W.' makes easy target

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Posted: Tuesday, October 21, 2008 11:00 pm

Rated PG-13 for language including sexual references, some alcohol abuse, smoking and brief disturbing war images. 129 min. Two and a half stars out of four.

All he wanted to do was watch baseball and drink beer all day. Sounds like a reasonable request.

Instead, George W. Bush ended up being chosen as leader of the free world. Twice.

That’s Oliver Stone’s surprisingly fair and balanced take on the president, who truly needs no further parodying. Bush is an easy target anyway, and he inadvertently supplies enough ammunition on his own.

From the earliest announcements about the film, it seemed inevitable what we’d be in for: an evisceration. No other depiction could be possible from any director in Hollywood and especially not from Stone, who previously dug up the White House dirt with “JFK” and “Nixon.” Instead, Stone has come up with a rather conventional biopic.

We see young Dubya as a drunk fraternity pledge at Yale; as a swaggering party boy meeting Laura Welch, the woman who would become his wife and his rock, at a backyard barbecue; and as a reluctant worker in the West Texas oil fields, where he asks in twangy Spanish before noon, “Donde está la cerveza?”

He runs for Congress and loses, runs for Texas governor and wins, loses the booze and finds the Lord.

As Bush himself, Josh Brolin certainly gets the innate humor within the frequent buffoonery — and he’s got the voice and the demeanor down pat — but he also seems to recognize the tragedy of this figure, a man who was in way over his head for one of the toughest jobs in the world.

Brolin’s so good, he almost makes us feel sorry for Bush. Almost.

Secret Life of Bees

Rated PG-13 for thematic material and some violence. 110 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.

“The Secret Life Of Bees” teases with talent. How can a movie populate a house with Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys and Jennifer Hudson and NOT give us a song?

Though the cast might suggest a musical, the film is an earnest, saccharine adaptation of Sue Monk Kidd’s best-selling 2002 novel, brought to the big screen by director Gina Prince-Bythewood (“Love & Basketball”).

The novel, set in South Carolina in 1964, came out of nowhere to sell millions in paperback, so this adaptation arrives with much anticipation from its readers. Of course, placating such ardent fans has doomed more than a few movies of beloved books.

The film stays close to the novel in telling the story of Lily Owens (Dakota Fanning), a 14-year-old girl who runs away from an abusive father. Lily flees with her caretaker Rosaleen Daise (Hudson), who has reason to flee after she’s beaten by a man in a racist confrontation and arrested.

Lily ultimately is looking to find out more about her mother, who died when Lily was a toddler during a fight with her husband — apparently because of a gun Lily accidentally discharges.

But whatever Lily’s inner anguish, she doesn’t much show it. Fanning plays her with a modern teenager’s swagger and self-involvement, making it hard to empathize with her plight.

Rosaleen follows young Lily like she’s the elder, and the two end up serendipitously at the “Caribbean pink”-painted house of the Boatwright sisters, each named after a month: August (Latifah), June (Keys) and May (Sophie Okonedo).

The 1964 milieu of the film is one where violence lurks everywhere, even though President Johnson has just signed the Civil Rights Act into law.

But the Boatwright household is an oasis, presided over by Latifah’s motherly August, the queen bee of the hive. She teaches Lily how to farm honey from their bee colonies.

Okonedo’s May is a distraught wreck who goes to tears at the slightest mention of harm. Both she and Latifah aren’t served well by their one-dimensional characters.

Keys, however, is by far the most riveting thing in the film. All distrust and uptight anger, she plays June with a tension the movie can’t find anywhere else — in the plot, in Lily, even in the early ‘60s racial turmoil.

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