Idol Chatter

The re-release of Warren Beatty’s 1981 film “Reds” has put the star in the usual rotation of magazines and TV interviews. My favorite so far is Premiere‘s wonderfully entrancing interview, in which the recollections of Beatty’s friends and co-workers are spliced into the q&a. At one point Beatty adds dimension to earlier comments that his strict Southern Baptist upbringing led, by a sort of whiplash effect, to his famously rampant pursuit of women as an adult. Asked why he lost his virginity at the late (in the interviewer’s judgment) age of 19, Beatty responds, “Principles. I was a sort of self-enforced Southern Baptist as a teenager, from about 13. My parents didn’t push me in that direction at all.” He adds, “That’s all I have to say on the subject, particularly today when there’s so much selling of religion.”

That not all Beatty has said on the topic of his childhood faith, of course. Religion, apparently, has motivated more than his sexual adventures. Last year, at a time when it was rumored he would run for California governor, the longtime Democratic political activist told graduating students at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy, “As a Southern Baptist in Virginia, I was taught that good public policy was, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ I was taught ‘Love one another’ was the point.”

It looks like he took this as gospel, and not only in his public life.

The third season “Lost” premiere opened with the most shocking five minutes since Desmond’s self-revelation about causing the plane crash. For the first time, viewers see the mid-air crash of Oceanic Flight 815 from the perspective of the Others. As we see the spectacular explosion of the plane, we also see how “the Other” half lives–in a strange “suburb” located in a grassy plain on the island. We also see the ringleader of the Others, Ben (a.k.a. Henry Gale), quickly bark out orders to his followers (Ethan and Goodwin) to infiltrate crash sites as plane survivors.

The fate of Jack, Sawyer, and Kate are also quickly revealed, each one waking up in a confined space suitable for test animals. Jack, of the analytical and scientific mind, is enclosed in a room with a glass wall, as if being prepped for probing beneath a microscope. Sawyer, primal and rough-around-the-edges, is enclosed in a rusty cage once used to house bears. Kate, walking the line between good and bad, is first granted a civilized shower, a meal, and a beautiful dress but is eventually locked up in another rusty cage across from Sawyer.

Viewers also learn more about Jack’s messy divorce from his wife, and see more of Jack’s descent to the bottom as he becomes unable to find the ability to save his marriage, his relationship with his dad, and his growing desperation for normalcy.

New characters are also introduced: (1)Juliet, the seemingly sympathetic, soft-spoken Mary-figure who tries to befriend Jack; and (2) a mysterious teenage boy who, originally locked up in the cage across from Sawyer, attempts to escape and is caught.

This third season will be tantalizing, as we discover more about the Others, who may or may not be past volunteers/test subjects for the Dharma Initiative, and more about the foreshadowed trials that will soon face Jack, Sawyer, and Kate. Plus, instead of seeing the ring leaders of the plane survivors manipulate each other out of self-interest, we’ll see the Others probe and manipulate them to get what they want…

Say “Idi Amin,” and the response will almost certainly be vehement, a furious reference to the thousands killed or a whole-hearted endorsement of the changes he wrought on Uganda in the 1970s and ’80s. You’ll find a more balanced point of view in “The Last King of Scotland,” adapted from Giles Foden’s novel by screenwriter Peter Morgan, who also gets under the skin of a historically stoic Queen Elizabeth II in “The Queen.”

Here Morgan (along with co-writer Jeremy Brock) debunks the idea that Idi Amin was either tyrant and savior, turning him instead into a dangerously charismatic leader who liked to tell strangers that he knew the day–and cause–of his death.

For actor Forest Whitaker, who outwardly resembles Amin (the stature, the bulk, the charm) starring in “Scotland” was a time-consuming feat. First there was the research–countless tapes watched and books read and costumes tailored and one region-specific accent learned. But the most challenging aspect of transforming, however briefly, into the infamous dictator was finding a spiritual connection that had nothing to do with physical appearance.

“Trying to find the spirit of the guy was really hard,” Whitaker said when he sat down with journalists at a New York hotel in September. “I’m searching for a connection inside myself.”

What would that connection be? For starters, Amin, who in the film first befriends and then turns against a young Scottish doctor named Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy), it was the distinction that Amin, like himself, was a spiritual man.

“Idi Amin would reference spiritual things,” said Whitaker, who stipulated that though Amin “became more in touch with his belief system” when he left Uganda for Saudi Arabia, “all through his reign he was saying things like, ‘I had a dream…, ‘ ‘I know the moment of my death. No one can kill me.’ And I think he really believed that. I think that was key to his personality.”

It’s also a key to the movie, which is beautifully directed by first-timer Kevin MacDonald and follows the fictional young Scot Garrigan from his medical school graduation to his impulsive, missionary-esque trip to Uganda. He arrives just as Amin has taken over and falls first for the wife (Gillian Anderson) of the doctor he’s assisting, then for a powerful and unexpected offer: Amin invites him to live in the palace as his personal physician.

Faith is a subplot, but the focus of the film is loyalty. Nicholas, a Protestant, is drawn both by Amin’s charm and his obvious power, but their impulsively formed friendship begins to unravel when Nicholas seeks to find out more about disappearing members of the government, and it devolves dangerously when Nicholas sleeps with Amin’s beautiful, neglected wife (Kerry Washington).

This is first-class filmmaking, from the photography (on location in Uganda), to the music (by Alex Heffes). But the real reason to see “Scotland” is Whitaker, who will almost certainly be nominated for an Oscar, and (in my opinion) ought to win. What Whitaker does isn’t mimicry, it’s absolute embodiment on a level that isn’t just physical–think Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote or Nicole Kidman as Virginia Wolff, only possibly more powerful and definitely scarier.

How, then, did the actor leave Amin behind after a grueling shoot?

“I take a shower,” Whitaker said. “I kind of wash the character away.”

Madonna has made endless headlines this summer with her controversial crucifixion scene during her Confessions Tour. Apparently, Courtney Love is aiming for a piece of the religious action, too.

The cover image of photographer David LaChappelle’s new book, “Heaven and Hell,” in stores this November, is Courtney Love–with a large, bright halo of light surrounding her flowing, blond hair, her body draped in a familiar blue garment, her eyes turned heavenward, as a dying man, dressed only in a loincloth and resembling her late husband Kurt Cobain, lies across her lap.

A Pop Pieta, if you will. reports the following about the image:

In the image, Love strikes a Virgin Mary-like pose while cradling a doppelganger of her late husband, Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. Meanwhile, a baby–presumably the pair’s daughter, Frances Bean–uses alphabet blocks to spell out the title of LaChapelle’s book.

Will Love’s appearance as Mother Mary strike the same ugly chord with media and religious groups as Madonna’s crucifixion scene?

Only time will tell.