August 28th, 2008
05:15 PM ET

CNN exclusive: 'W.' shows when George met Laura

There’s been a great deal of talk - and, of course, some controversy - about Oliver Stone’s “W.,” due to be released October 17. (See an exclusive clip from "W.")

Elizabeth Banks plays Laura Bush in "W."

Certainly the idea is audacious. A film about a sitting president? Whose term in office may be the most contentious of modern times? By Oliver Stone?

But, as Stone has said, “W.” isn’t just a film about President Bush’s politics (though that’s what has most of the tongues wagging). The director is also trying to offer a biographical portrait of the 43rd president, which means paying attention to the quieter, more quotidian moments in his life.

In this scene, the future president meets Laura Welch - soon to become Laura Bush - for the first time. The two were opposites in many ways, not least because Laura was a Democrat who backed the darling of the peace movement, Eugene McCarthy, in the 1968 election, nine years before she met George W. Bush.

"Even though he was a partying Republican candidate for Congress, and she was a Democratic librarian, there was something bigger between them that lasted," Stone tells CNN. Referring to the clip, he continues, "Their meeting at the barbecue has been documented by family friends in numerous books. For them, it was the best thing that ever came out of a Texas barbecue."

Laura Bush, in fact, comes off as quite intriguing in the clip - and there may be more to come. Next month Curtis Sittenfeld’s “American Wife,” a fictionalized biography of the First Lady, hits bookstores. Like "W.," Sittenfeld's novel has also earned its share of chattering-class conversation.

What are your impressions of this "W." clip and the idea of the movie?

- Todd Leopold, Entertainment Producer

Filed under: movies
August 26th, 2008
02:10 PM ET

Cloris Leachman, 82, goes 'Dancing'

The list of contestants for the latest edition of “Dancing With the Stars” featured few surprises. There was the bombshell reality star (Kim Kardashian), the pro football player (Warren Sapp), the unlikely actor (Ted McGinley) and someone for the teenyboppers (“Hannah Montana’s” Cody Linley).

But then there was Cloris Leachman: Oscar winner (“The Last Picture Show”), comic actress (Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein” and “High Anxiety”), TV regular (“The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Malcolm in the Middle”).

And - oh yes - she’s 82.

Now, “Dancing With the Stars” can be plenty to handle for even its youthful contenders. Witness dancing professional Mark Ballas’ dislocated shoulder or Cristian de la Fuente’s arm injury.

So will Leachman be able to hold her own?

CNN spoke to Lisa Perkins, Leachman’s publicist. Perkins said that Leachman actually received two medical clearances to appear on the show, one from her personal physician and one from a physician affiliated with ABC.

Perkins says her client was listed in perfect health by both, but as a precaution Leachman will be monitored weekly throughout the seventh season of the show.

And don’t underestimate Leachman: She’s a former Miss America contestant, a veteran of TV’s frantic live drama broadcasts in the 1950s - and we all know what happens to horses who hear the name of her “Frankenstein” character, Frau Blucher.

“Dancing with the Stars” premieres September 22.

- Todd Leopold and Jennifer Wolfe, CNN

Filed under: Celebrities
August 25th, 2008
12:18 PM ET

Favorites of the summer

Has it really been three months already? Is it already time to get ready for fall?

Heath Ledger's performance in "The Dark Knight" is earning Oscar talk.

If that’s the case, then it seems like a good time to take stock and pick out a few favorites from summer 2008:

Movie: “The Dark Knight.” What can I say? It lived up to the hype. Director and co-writer Christopher Nolan - helped immeasurably by performances from Heath Ledger, Gary Oldman and several others – gave a nifty comic book movie several deeper and darker layers. Expect to see several nominations come Oscar time.

CD: “Pacific Ocean Blue,” Dennis Wilson (Legacy). Brian Wilson wasn’t the only Beach Boy capable of genius. Brother Dennis’ 1977 album, given the special anniversary treatment that includes a number of cuts from the unfinished follow-up “Bambu,” emerges as a gorgeous, fragile testament to the late drummer. Dennis Wilson had written some terrific songs for the late-‘60s/early ‘70s Beach Boys - “Little Bird,” “Forever” - but few would have thought he’d have something like “Pacific Ocean Blue” in him.

Also: “The Hard Way,” James Hunter (Hear Music). The British retro-soul guitarist does it again with 12 songs Jackie Wilson or Sam Cooke would have been proud to cover - and guitar-playing that brings it on home. (If Hunter ever visits your town, see him. The man is a wizard.)

DVD: “All You Need Is Love” (Zeit). British documentarian Tony Palmer’s 1976-80 history of popular music is now (finally!) available on a 5-DVD set. Palmer took on an ambitious task, suggested by John Lennon, to chronicle popular music from its roots in field hollers and music halls, showing how Rudy Vallee was connected to Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and David Bowie. Unfortunately for Palmer, his filming ended just as punk was coming alive, but what remains is still an incredible wealth of material, with interviews and performances from the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Jerry Lee Lewis and the Who. If, in hindsight, the filmmaker occasionally missed out ... well, hindsight is 20/20.

TV: The Olympics. One exciting moment after another.

Books: As always, I’ve spent the summer desperately trying to get books out of my ever-growing To Be Read pile and actually reading them, so very few are recent releases. (Jeremy Larner’s 1970 chronicle of the Eugene McCarthy campaign, “Nobody Knows,” and Neal Gabler’s 1994 Walter Winchell biography have been the best books I’ve read lately, with Larner’s one of the best of my year.) Indeed, I believe I’ve simply put recent releases in, well, the To Be Read pile. But I will get to “Traffic” and “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle” soon. In the meantime, Mark Twain awaits.

- Todd Leopold, Entertainment Producer

Filed under: Uncategorized
August 18th, 2008
12:02 PM ET

'The most trusted man in America?'

Once it was the president. Then it was Walter Cronkite.

Jon Stewart and "The Daily Show" have been praised for its distinctive coverage of the news.

Now, The New York Times - in a nice article by Michiko Kakutani - suggests that “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart may be the latest man for the moniker “most trusted man in America.” The piece notes that Stewart tied for fourth in a 2007 survey to name the country’s favorite journalist; Katie Couric led the list, which you can see here (scroll down).

Stewart, of course, will have none of it.

He’s long described his style as “throwing spitballs” from the back of the room, and that “The Daily Show” is entertainment, not news. “Hopefully the process is to spot things that would be grist for the funny mill,” he says of the “Daily” staff’s daily writing sessions.

Still, “trusted” isn’t a bad title for the former William & Mary psych major - one who knows his comedy, too. Asked about his deadpan look after some particularly absurd video has gone by, he says, “There’s only so many ways you can stare incredulously at the camera and tilt an eyebrow, but that’s your old standby: What would Buster Keaton do?”

Read the piece here. And if you don’t have access to Comedy Central, you can watch “The Daily Show’s” “Global Edition” on CNN International.

Trust us.

- Todd Leopold, Entertainment Producer

Filed under: Uncategorized
August 13th, 2008
01:19 PM ET

Former Olympian on watching this year's Olympics

Former 92 and 96 Olympian Mark Henry still competes in front of thousands of people every week. Instead of lifting weights for a medal, he is now lifting bodies as a superstar for the WWE. Henry, The Worlds Strongest Man, is currently the ECW Heavyweight Champion.

Mark Henry

Making the transition in 1996 from weightlifting, an anaerobic sport, to the WWE, an aerobic sport, was not an easy task for Mark.

“I went from one extreme to another and I sucked,” says Henry. Over the course of the last 12 years with multiple injuries and setbacks, Henry has become a household name within the professional wrestling world.

Mark Henry

While Mark is done competing, he hopes that future athletes are taken care of better at the Olympic training center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

“I hope that at some point that Olympic athletes don’t have to do what Oscar De La Hoya and I had to do by climbing over the fence at the Olympic training center and putting our money together to buy chicken. If you are an Olympic athlete you shouldn’t have to worry about bills or where you next meal is coming from,” says Henry.

Henry is going to watch team handball, swimming, basketball, and of course weightlifting in-between punishing his opponents in the ring.

August 12th, 2008
10:50 AM ET

The Montauk Monster: A marketing gimmick?

P.T. Barnum would be proud.

The legendary 19th-century promotional genius, who once passed off an elderly black woman as George Washington’s 161-year-old former nurse and a monkey-fish construction as “the Feejee Mermaid,” would have loved the Montauk Monster.

A couple weeks ago, a mysterious creature apparently washed up on the eastern shores of Long Island, New York. Quickly given its monstrous moniker, the New York press, led by the Gawker Web site - which meant, by extension, the national media - tried to figure out what it was. Was it a semi-aquatic rodent? Something from the nearby Plum Island Animal Disease Center? A representative of the devil?

Now the Web site Slashfilm may have the answer. The site, using research from, speculates that the creature might simply be a prop for a movie called “Splinterheads” starring Lea Thompson (“Back to the Future”) and Christopher McDonald (who was so good as Jack Barry in “Quiz Show”) - though, as Slashfilm observes, it’s odd that the filmmakers haven’t tried to make more of the buzz surrounding the Monster. Of course, it took months before a headset company admitted to the cell phone-popcorn viral videos.

With all these Internet tubes around, there are going to be more and more of these things. What Barnum could have done with the Web, we can only wonder.

- Todd Leopold, Entertainment Producer

Filed under: Uncategorized
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