Thursday, May 8, 2008

If music DRM is dead, the RIAA expects its resurrection

Despite widespread declarations of the death of DRM in music, the Recording Industry Association of America insists that it's far from dead. At the Digital Hollywood conference taking place in Los Angeles this week, the organization argued that DRM is still used in the large majority of music distribution methods. Not only that, but DRM is poised to make a comeback to make up for where it has fallen.

"(Recently) I made a list of the 22 ways to sell music and 20 of them still require DRM," RIAA technology unit head David Hughes said during a panel discussion, according to CNet. "Any form of subscription service or limited play-per-view or advertising offer still requires DRM. So DRM is not dead."

Hughes' statement comes just four months after the last of the Big Four music labels decided to ditch DRM for some sales. Sony BMG joined EMI, Universal, and Warner in selling DRM-free MP3 files through Amazon's MP3 service (in addition to a rather large handful of independent labels), making Amazon the only online destination that sells unprotected music from all of the majors. Other music stores offer some DRM-free selections too, like the iTunes Store, the Zune Marketplace, eMusic, and Amie Street, to name a few.

Still, it's true that DRM still exists in the music world. The majority of songs from the iTunes Store still utilize DRM, many stores continue to sell tracks with Windows-centric DRM, and practically all subscription services still use it. Other services, such as web-based music service, offer free ad-supported streaming, but users are limited to listening over the web and cannot take the files with them offline. And, of course, subscription-based services use DRM to ensure that the downloaded music expires once users cancel their subscriptions.

Hughes believes that per-track purchases are going the way of the dodo in favor of these other models, and that's why DRM will have a resurgence. "I think there is going to be a shift," he said. "I think there will be a movement towards subscription services and they will eventually mean the return of DRM." Hughes did acknowledge that users would rather live in a world where DRM stayed out of their way by saying that as long as they get to use files how they want, users don't care about DRM.

The problem with DRM is that users can't use the files how they want, which is why they do care. And we're miles away from the kind of magical solution solution envisioned by the Hughes that would create the perfect, unnoticeable DRM scheme. Others on the panel realize this. Digimarc Corp. director of business development Rajan Samtani pointed out that there are too many ways for the "kids" to get around DRM and that it's time to "throw in the towel."

Aside from incompatibility, there's another major danger with DRM: having your music licenses disappear on you one day. This most recently happened with MSN Music, which announced that users will need to either commit to their authorized computers for life or circumvent the DRM by burning the music to a CD and re-ripping.

The industry's recent willingness to drop DRM and embrace other, nontraditional models led us to believe that the music industry was finally "getting it." Given Hughes' comments, however, perhaps the Big Four labels and RIAA never will.

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The 11 Best Songs from Geek-Movie Soundtracks

491574219_76b4729288.jpgBy Sean T. Collins

Here at Topless Robot we've already given the business to a not-quite-dozen nerd-centric songs that could best be described by Spinal Tap's immortal two-word review, "Shit Sandwich." But there's more to life than snark—there's even more to the Internet than snark, believe it or not—and while anyone whose driver's license doesn't read "MATLIN, MARLEE" can tell you that Vanilla Ice's "Ninja Rap" eats it, selecting the true cream of the soundtrack crop is a tougher row to hoe. Armed only with fond memories, refined taste, and that sweet YouTube extension for the Firefox search bar, we've selected the finest tunes ever to grace any movie about extraordinary, gaudily dressed individuals solving problems through violence. (If you're reading this site, that describes pretty much every movie you've ever seen.) Our one rule: If the song is from a score it has to have vocals—otherwise we'd just end up rattling off a few dozen tracks from John Williams, Danny Elfman, and John Carpenter and having to call it a day.

So feast your ears on the eleven songs listed below: They're really freaking good. And for once, we're not even being sarcastic.

11) Stan Bush: "The Touch" - Transformers: The Movie

If this song didn't exist, the '80s would have had to invent it. The ultimate fist-pumping, headband-wearing, sleevless-sweatshirt-sporting anthem, Stan Bush's contribution to the only full-length Transformers movie so far in which Bumblebee does not urinate on Barton Fink is basically the peppiest song EVAR. It's so deliriously encouraging, so psychopathically uplifting that I wonder if an on-staff psychiatrist prescribed it so as to mitigate the damaging effects that the movie itself would have on its grade-school audience. How upset can you get over the death of Optimus Prime and dozens of other Autobots or those creepy floating-head tribunal things who feed people to shark robots when Bush's full-throated "You're a winner! You're nobody's fool!" is ringing in your ears? Bonus video: Dirk Diggler pays homage in Boogie Nights! He's right about the vocals, you know.

10) Tomoyasu Hotei: "Battle Without Honor or Humanity" - Kill Bill Vol. 1

Yes, this track rapidly became the most played-out soundtrack staple since White Zombie's "More Human Than Human." But in the context of your very first viewing of Quentin Tarantino's genre-movie mash-up masterpiece Kill Bill Vol. 1, where it served as the entrance theme for crosseyed cutie Lucy Liu's O-Ren Ishii and her gaggle of Asian pop-culture stereotypes the Crazy 88s, it was pretty much the coolest thing you'd ever heard. That reverbed-out "When the Levee Breaks" drumbeat, those razor-sharp J.B.'s-style horn blasts, and those towering peals of guitar and trumpet practically had me ready to jump into the screen and start attacking people with my Hanzo sword myself. Not coincidentally, this was one of filmdom's best "walking in a group in slow motion to stylish musical accompaniment like total fucking badasses" scenes since another Tarantino movie, Reservoir Dogs. And frankly, if I have to get killed by a gang of vicious criminals with coordinated clothing, I think I'll take Go-Go Yubari and Sophie Fatale over Mr. Pink and Nice Guy Eddie.

9) Michael Sembello: "Rock Until You Drop" - The Monster Squad

One of the many, many, many great things about Fred Dekker's "Our Gang meets the Universal Monsters" mash-up masterpiece The Monster Squad is that when he decided the forces of good needed some kind of rebuttal to Dracula's proclamation of certain victory, this is what he came up with. Over a memorable montage of the Monster Squad's middle-school members prepping for a confrontation with the Prince of Darkness and/or fighting for a look at a naked picture of their colleague's slutty sister, singer Michael Sembello (yes, the "Maniac" guy!) orders his legion of listeners to have so much fun that they literally dismember themselves: "Dance until your feet fall off!" "Party till your brains fall out!" Sir yes sir! And just when the music threatens to get too hot, Sembello breaks it down so that we can enjoy the rest of the montage without spilling over the side like a pot of spaghetti you leave unattended on the burner for too long. Even despite the total lack of any visible contribution to the cause from Squad member Fat Kid, I think you'll still agree with Sembello's musical assessment of this sequence: "It's totally rad. It's coo-coo. It's coo-coo. It's cool."

8) Tim Cappello: "I Still Believe" - The Lost Boys

Years ago, on the message board for comic-snob bible The Comics Journal, I somehow got around to the topic of the sax-heavy song performed by a shirtless, musclebound, heavily greased gentleman on the Santa Carla boardwalk in Joel Schumacher's one and only good movie, The Lost Boys. Who was that barechested, Brutus "the Barber" Beefcake-bodied bard, I asked? The answer, as I found out (from the former EIC of TCJ and current mastermind of, bizarrely enough), is Tina Turner sideman Tim "Timmy" Cappello. Kudos to Mr. Cappello, then, for producing this atmospherically anthemic ode to believing, whatever the cost. Musically it boasts the shit-hottest sax this side of Gerry Rafferty's "Baker Street" or Beck's "The New Pollution," while lyrically it's a defiant declaration of belief in the face of pain, grief, lies, storms, cries, wars, cold, heat, rain, tears, crowds, cheers, shame, greed, heartache, tears again, wait, years, and of course pseudo-punk vampire tribes, though that last bit is more implied than stated outright. Such is its power that, like Corey Haim does to Jason Patric, we can only force our eyes away from the rhythmless yet oddly passionate dancing of '80s goddess Jamie Gertz and gaze in awe as the bonfire light reflects off his glistening torso while he plays it.

7) Rage Against the Machine: "Wake Up" - The Matrix

This right here? This is why the Matrix sequels sucked. No, seriously, listen: You've just finished watching the most groundbreaking Western action movie of the '90s, a combination of Philip K. Dick conspiracy/philosophy, Yuen Wo-Ping wire-fu, cutting-edge CGI, and "electronica"-era shiny pants that blew the minds of every geek in the country. You've listened to the now-godlike Neo, fresh from laying the hacker-Zen smackdown on Agent Smith, tell his computerized overlords that he's gonna rip the lid off humanity's virtual-reality prison. You've seen him step out of a phone booth into the midst of the brainwashed hoi polloi and take to the skies like a trenchcoat-wearing, ecstasy-rolling Superman. And most importantly, you've seen it all go down to the astonishingly intense roar of Tom Morello's how-the-hell-does-he-get-it-to-make-those-sounds-anyway guitar and Brad Whatsisname's pounded-to-within-an-inch-of-its-life drums from Rage Against the Machine's "Wake Up," an absolutely brilliant music choice that literally had me laughing for joy in the theater. You are, in short, FUCKING PUMPED. So whatever those wacky Wachowskis cooked up for parts two and three, how could it possibly top the sequel you instantly saw in your head?

6) John Williams: "Duel of the Fates" - Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Yeah yeah yeah, prequel trilogy sucks blah blah blah, Darth Maul doesn't do anything yadda yadda yadda, John Williams past his prime bitch bitch bitch. "Duel of the Fates" is still as good a piece of music as Williams ever wrote, a "Carmina Burana" for the Jedi set. And it serves as the soundtrack for one of the greatest fight scenes ever filmed, regardless of the quality of the movie that surrounded it. Show me someone who didn't get goosebumps when that big vocal chorus erupted over that vertigo-inducing shot of that massive shaft where Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan and Maul were dueling and I'll show you someone who thought midichlorians were a good idea. One last thing: Just try not to hear the words differently once you've seen this.

5) Barry Harman, Ford Kinder, and Spencer Michlin: "G.I. Joe: The Movie Title Theme" - G.I. Joe: The Movie

For many Joe fans, the only way Stephen Sommers's upcoming live-action G.I. Joe: An International House of Pancakes (or whatever the P.C. bastards are insisting we now call it) could get any worse is by including Cobra-La, the bugfuck-crazy race of snake-insect-fungus people who battle the Joe team in their full-length animated feature. For others, that's about the only thing that could save Sommers's stupid movie. (Put me in the latter camp—I for one have long felt that we should dedicate more military resources to fighting secret Himalayan enclaves of genocidal Lovecraftian manimals.) But there's at least one thing that Joe devotees divided by The Movie's sci-fi storyline can agree on: That opening theme song is fabulous! Essentially an extended remix of the TV series' theme, it kicks off with a memorable minor-key Cobra-centric section. Who can forget its immortal lyrics: "Crashing through the sky / Comes a fateful cry: / Coooooooo-bra / Co-braaaaaaaaa! / Coooooooo-bra / Co-braaaaaaaaaa!" If inventive pronunciations of the name of a completely unrealistic techno-terrorist organization were horses, Harman, Kinder, and Michlin would ride. Then the kick-ass Joe theme proper kicks in, and by God, everytime you hear it, do you doubt for a second that G.I. Joe, A Real American Hero, G.I. Joe truly is there? The whole shebang accompanies the most dazzlingly animated sequence in franchise history, a Fourth of July attack on the Statue of Liberty by Cobra featuring such eye-popping imagery as the Cobra paratroopers' kaleidoscopic descent (and one particular Cobra paratrooper's telescopic crotch). By the time its final notes fade into memory, you'll be hoping the Joe team's entirely non-lethal reign of heroism will never end.

4) Annie Lennox: "Into the West" - The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

I know, I know. It's not an ironically enjoyable artifact of the '80s, it's not a high-energy song of celebration, it doesn't involve conspiracy theories about the United States government murdering civil rights leaders--what the hell is this doing on the list? It's here because it makes me cry every time I hear it, and if you're as big a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and Peter Jackson's adaptations thereof as I am, it probably has the same effect on you. With music by LotR score composer (and former SNL bandleader!) Howard Shore, lyrics by LotR screenwriters Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, and vocals by Eurythmics androgyne and Galadriel soundalike Annie Lennox, its evocative images and majestically swelling chorus served as the perfect emotional capstone to the greatest action-adventure trilogy of all time. Enjoy watching the above clip of Lennox performing the song at the Oscars that The Return of the King went on to sweep, provided you haven't already poked your own eyes out with the massive boner you get when presenter Liv Tyler delivers her breathy introduction to the song while wearing sexy librarian glasses.

3) Ray Parker Jr.: "Ghostbusters" - Ghostbusters

Considering that Ghostbusters is simultaneously one of the greatest comedies, New York City movies, and science-fiction-horror films of all time, you'd have to ask yourself what kind of moron would turn down the chance to record its theme song. The answer, of course, is "the kind of moron named Huey Lewis." After the editor-in-chief of The News passed on the gig, the producers decided they wanted a new "I Want a New Drug" and tapped session man Ray Parker Jr. as the composer, performer, and future lawsuit defendant of a knockoff version they could use as the flick's theme. (Listen to Huey's track--see the resemblance?) The resulting designer-impostor '80s-funk workout surpasses the original, thanks to Parker's laconic vocal delivery, electronic-horn riff, synthesized spooky noises, and that head-nodding synth-bass beat. But here's the real reason bustin' makes me feel good: How many theme songs can you name that contain almost as many classic catchphrases as the movie they're from? "Who ya gonna call," "I ain't afraid of no ghosts," and that unmistakable shout of "GHOST-BUSTERS!" all stem from the song, not the flick. And I'm sorry, but you've got to be some kind of crazy lyrical genius to write a song about a ghost and decide that of all the things you could say about it, you've gotta throw in "I hear it likes the girls." No wonder every single celebrity who made the early '80s awesome wanted to be in the video.

2) Prince: "Batdance" - Batman>

Batman, meet Prince's dirty mind. Prince's dirty mind, meet Batman. I'm sure you'll have a lot to talk about! Man, try to imagine modern-day Warner Bros. and Christopher Nolan turning over the soundtrack for their ponderous Batman Begins to, I dunno, OutKast and you'll have some idea of how freaking crazy it is that this song and video ever even happened. Torn between his brother-in-mononymhood Batman and his fellow purple enthusiast the Joker, Prince created a hybrid character called Gemini, who presides over a berserk interpretive dance involving women in batsuits, a parade of Vicki Vales led by a woman in a shirt reading "ALL THIS AND BRAINS TOO " (an homage to Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns!), cheeky references to the '60s TV-show theme that still have over-serious Bat-fans sputtering with fury, collage-style lyrics culled from all of Prince's other Batman soundtrack songs, and a fucking vicious guitar solo. The end result is a ballsy slab of industrial-dance-funk-rock-madness that proves superhero soundtrack music doesn't have to be kid-tested and mother-approved.

1) John Williams: "Ewok Celebration" - Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

Christmas morning, the last day of school, your first time, the birth of your grandchildren—nuts to that action. For sheer, unadulterated joy, nothing on God's gray earth beats hearing the Yub-Yub Song. Sure, wannabe tough guys slag the Ewoks as lame, original-trilogy-ruining Muppets for kids. This is goddamn absurd. First of all, as if freaking Star Wars fans have any right to complain about something not being macho or sophisticated enough. (And I say that as a guy with a Rebel Alliance tattoo.) Second of all, let's see you take out the Empire's war machine with lumber. Third and most important of all, the moment those adorable little insurgents finished watering the mighty trees of Endor with the blood of their imperial occupiers, they busted out the hap-hap-happiest song of celebration ever recorded in this or any other galaxy. Ever since I first heard this over two decades ago, I've dropped whatever I was doing and danced around the house, dorm, apartment, or theater like I just destroyed an AT-ST. Williams and Lucas might have tried to burn this toe-tapping, paw-clapping, helmet-bongo-bashing masterpiece out of their movie like Luke torching his old man's corpse, but they'll never deactivate the shield generator that keeps it safe inside our hearts. Celebrate the love!
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RIAA: Piracy fight more important than net neutrality bill

The Telecommunications and Internet subcommittee of the the House Committee on Energy and Commerce held a hearing today on H.R. 5353, the Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2008. The bill would establish an official national broadband policy, one that prevents service providers from subjecting lawful content to "unreasonable interference" or "discrimination." It also calls on the Federal Communications Commission to assess competition in and consumer access to broadband Internet access in light of this policy. The testimony at the hearing, however, suggested that these provisions, and net neutrality in general, means very different things to different groups. And, as far as the RIAA is concerned, net neutrality legislation could hamstring the fight against piracy.

Edward Markey

Representative Edward Markey (D-MA), a sponsor of the bill and chair of the subcommittee, left little doubt that the IFPA is about a specific vision of net neutrality. "Now we are faced with a choice," he said in his opening statement, "Can we preserve this wildly successful medium and the freedom it embodies, or do we permit network operators to fundamentally alter how the Internet has historically functioned?" Markey presented the neutral Internet as an enabler of innovation, and contrasted it with a future in which, "in the name of network management, policymakers permit carriers to act in unreasonable, anti-competitive fashion."

Telcos, not surprisingly, beg to differ. Kyle McSlarrow, president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, was one of the witnesses testifying, and his past testimony regarding a similar Senate bill reveal that he's apparently operating in an entirely different universe than Markey. From his perspective, mandated net neutrality would somehow suppress all incentive for ISPs to expand broadband access. He accused companies like Yahoo and Google, which flourished in the broadband market, of trying to "foreclose any new business model that would enable new entrants to challenge them." From McSlarrow's perspective, network management, far from ensuring neutrality, is a form of innovation that will somehow bring the next generation of Internet into being.

In this, McSlarrow got support from University of Pennsylvania law professor Christopher Yoo. Yoo has testified on behalf of ISPs before, arguing that congestion caused by file sharing represents a real burden for all Internet users. His academic writing also presents 'Net neutrality as somehow interfering with solving the "last mile access" problem.

Christopher Yoo

Markey's universe wasn't entirely uninhabited, however. A representative of the Christian Coalition and the president of both testified that a non-neutral 'Net in which ISPs could charge for access to their customers would stifle both small organizations and newly formed companies. Ben Scott, the policy director of Free Press also echoed Markey's concerns, and suggested that Comcast's blocking of P2P traffic suggested that net neutrality regulation is no longer an abstract concern—it's a real-world problem. "It is time for Congress to act," Scott testified, "this is the right bill at the right time."

Representatives of the RIAA and the Writer's Guild of America were also on hand. For these groups, the traffic filtering favored by telcos is a close cousin of the content-based filtering that they favor for combating piracy. As such, they clearly have an interest in helping ISPs enable some form of network filtering on a non-neutral 'Net. But the actual state of the Internet is less important to the RIAA than blocking piracy so, since it has been far from successful in bringing all ISPs on board the filtering bandwagon, its representative played hardball.

The RIAA barely addressed the legislation at hand, and simply thanked those who crafted it for recognizing a distinction between legal and illegal Internet traffic. Instead, its testimony seemed to consist largely of a veiled threat against ISPs, suggesting the RIAA hoped to negotiate a market-based solution with them, but it would support legislative intervention—which the service providers are hoping to avoid—if necessary.

To a certain extent, the testimony was filled with questionable comparisons and false dichotomies, such as the telcos equating innovation in biasing Internet traffic with the innovative companies that succeeded through services offered on an unbiased network. Any informative debate or informed legislation will ultimately have to carefully separate these issues, and there seems to be a degree of urgency in doing so. As the Free Press' Scott noted, "it is not a question of whether consumers will have laws guarding against Internet gatekeepers, but how those laws will be crafted."

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First Look: 'W,' Oliver Stone's Bush Biopic


''Where is George Bush's bedroom?''

Oliver Stone is flinging open French doors inside an enormous brick mansion in Shreveport, La., inspecting locations for his new film about the 43rd President of the United States. ''This one is too small,'' he says. ''This one looks like George Tenet's bedroom. Where did we decide to put Bush's bedroom? It's around here somewhere, isn't it?''

Shooting begins in less than two weeks on W (or dub-ya, as it's spelled out in the initial sketches for the poster), but not everything is exactly where it should be, and not only here in the house where the First Family's residence will be re-created. The 32,000-square-foot soundstage the production is renting across town stands empty, waiting for the Oval Office and Cabinet Room sets to get trucked in from Los Angeles. The screenplay still needs work too. It's gone through two rewrites since an earlier draft leaked to the press last month (some skeptics took it as an April Fools' joke), but Stone would still like one more pass at it (''It's evolving,'' he says). And while most of the cast has been assembled and outfitted with prosthetic noses and hairpieces — Josh Brolin will play President George W. Bush and Elizabeth Banks will star as Laura — there is one major character still in search of an actor: a heavy named Dick Cheney.

Stone is famous for courting controversy with dramas like JFK (1991) and Nixon (1995). But with W, the 61-year-old filmmaker isn't merely courting it — he's grabbing controversy by the lapels and giving it a big wet smacker. For the first time, he's turning his cameras not just on a living president but on one who'll still be knocking around the White House when the movie premieres late this year. As if that weren't provocative enough, Stone could end up releasing the film as early as October, at the height of a presidential campaign in which one of the major issues will undoubtedly be the legacy of the guy on the screen. The movie has become a lightning rod before Stone has shot a single frame. If that bootlegged script is any indication, the film will feature such flag-waving moments as the Commander-in-Chief nearly choking to death on a pretzel while watching football on TV and a flashback of him singing the ''Whiffenpoof'' song as a frat pledge at Yale, not to mention scenes in which he refers to his advisers by dorky nicknames — ''Guru'' for Condoleezza Rice, ''Turdblossom'' for Karl Rove, ''Balloon Foot'' for Colin Powell — while discussing plans for the invasion of Iraq with the coolness of a late-night poker game.

ON THE COVER Stone has publicly promised W will be a ''fair, true portrait of the man,'' but already there are those accusing him of the politics of personal destruction — and, worse, of trying to influence the election

Stone has publicly promised W will be a ''fair, true portrait of the man,'' but already there are those accusing him of the politics of personal destruction — and, worse, of trying to influence the election by painting the current Republican administration as reckless doofuses (although presumptive Republican nominee John McCain makes no appearance in the script). Naturally, Stone vehemently denies all charges. ''Bush may turn out to be the worst president in history,'' he declares as he peeks into room after room. ''I think history is going to be very tough on him. But that doesn't mean he isn't a great story. It's almost Capra-esque, the story of a guy who had very limited talents in life, except for the ability to sell himself. The fact that he had to overcome the shadow of his father and the weight of his family name — you have to admire his tenacity. There's almost an Andy Griffith quality to him, from A Face in the Crowd. If Fitzgerald were alive today, he might be writing about him. He's sort of a reverse Gatsby.''

As it happens, Oliver Stone went to school with George W. Bush. They both attended Yale in the mid-1960s — until Stone dropped out and served in Vietnam — although they didn't mix in the same circles. ''If I met him there, I don't remember,'' Stone says. ''But I do remember John Kerry. He was big man on campus, head of the Political Union. I definitely remember him.'' Thirty years later, in 1998, Stone had a closer encounter with then governor Bush at a Republican breakfast. ''I don't usually go to breakfast with anybody,'' he says, ''but I wanted to prove that even though people thought I was a leftist I wanted to hear what they had to say. It was funny, though — the minute I walked in the room the sound of the silverware kind of died. People were like, 'What's he doing here? Satan has walked in.''' He laughs. ''But I met George Bush and I remember thinking that this man was going to be president. There was just a confidence and enthusiasm I'd never seen in a candidate before, especially in a Republican.''

It was another conservative — Bruce Willis — who inadvertently pushed Stone into making W. Originally, the director was planning on spending this spring in the editing room splicing together Pinkville, an ambitious drama about the notorious My Lai massacre of 1968. But last December, three weeks before shooting was set to start in Thailand, Willis pulled out of the film, and a jittery United Artists shut the production down. Suddenly jobless, Stone turned his attention to a scrappier script he and his Wall Street coscribe Stanley Weiser had been working on. Stone concluded that W could be made fast and relatively cheap (for around $30 million), with no need for unpredictable above-the-title stars or difficult international locations (Louisiana tax breaks shaved millions off the budget). ''Some movies are symphonies,'' Stone says. ''This one is a concerto.''

Judging from that early script, W can also be a lighthearted minuet one moment and a sobering dirge the next. It's not an entirely unsympathetic portrait. Toggling back and forth between Bush's hard-partying youth and his current stint as leader of the free world, it hits the high notes of the president's rise to power, but also lingers with deadpan detachment (or is that amusement?) on many of his lows. There's a scene of 26-year-old Bush peeling his car to a stop on his parents' front lawn and drunkenly hurling insults at his father (''Thank you, Mr. Perfect. Mr. War Hero. Mr. F---ing-God-Almighty!''), while another scene set a few years later finds Bush nearly crashing a small plane while flying under the influence. Some of the bits inside the White House are even more harrowing. ''Just keep your ego in check,'' Bush snaps at Cheney during one chilly exchange. ''I'm the president. I'm the decider.'' In one Strangelove-like moment, he tries to sell Tony Blair on the idea of provoking war with Iraq by flying a U.S. plane painted with U.N. colors over Baghdad, baiting Saddam to shoot it down. ''Plan B is assassinate the sonofabitch,'' Bush informs the horrified prime minister.

Stone insists that every scene in W will be rooted in truth, and that he and Weiser drew from more than 20 diverse books — although, it should be noted, some accounts may have come from disgruntled former staffers. The director acknowledges that he had to speculate on some of the dialogue and delivery. ''You take all the facts and take the spirit of the scene and make it accurate to what you think happened,'' he says. ''But if you take one speech from Cincinnati and one speech from the U.N. and turn them into one scene, who cares?'' A few people, it turns out. Even before actors have arrived on the set — even before there are any sets — debate over the movie's accuracy is already heating up. The Hollywood Reporter even asked historians, including Robert Draper, author of Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush, to vet the early script. ''My quarrel with the script isn't that it departed from factual reality here and there, but that it just misses the guy,'' Draper tells EW. ''You come away with an even more hyperbolized caricature of Bush the Cowboy President than is already out there.''

JOSH BROLIN ''I've been watching video of Bush walking. People hold their emotion in their bodies. They can't fake it. Especially him.''

It's no secret in Hollywood that Oliver Stone movies have a knack for stirring up trouble — even his 2004 pansexual epic Alexander was threatened with a lawsuit by Greek lawyers claiming it damaged their national heritage — and not a single major studio wanted anything to do with W. ''When push comes to shove, all these media companies are chickens---,'' Stone says. ''They're all part of conglomerates.'' There may be other reasons: Movies about politics and the Iraq war have proved box office poison, and with Bush's approval rating hovering at 28 percent, there's not much reason for the studios to think the president will draw moviegoers to the multiplex. And despite Stone's three Oscars, he doesn't exactly rake in record grosses. His 2006 Nicolas Cage drama, World Trade Center, earned a respectable $70 million, but his films seldom top that domestically. In any case, W is being financed independently, with Chinese, German, and Australian funds and Lionsgate is rumored to have struck a deal to distribute it.

W didn't just make studios nervous; the script gave lots of movie stars cold feet, too. Stone denies rumors that Robert Duvall turned down Cheney. And he won't comment on reports that he's talking to Paul Giamatti about the part. But casting has clearly been challenging. ''You'd be amazed how many male stars of a certain age in Hollywood are Republicans,'' says Bill Block, CEO of QED, one of the film's producers. ''I'm not going to name names, but a lot of them just didn't want to have anything to do with it.'' According to Stone, even some of the town's young Democrats couldn't be persuaded. ''They hate Bush so much, they can't understand why I'd want to make a movie about him,'' he says. ''They hate him so much, they can't even imagine themselves playing him or playing anybody around him.''

Luckily, Josh Brolin got over his qualms — after all, his father, James, managed to play Ronald Reagan in a TV miniseries, and he's married to Barbra Streisand. ''When Oliver approached me about George Bush my initial reaction was 'Why would I want to do that?''' says the 40-year-old actor, lately on a career roll after performances in American Gangster and No Country for Old Men. ''But Oliver pointed out certain similarities I had with the character. We both have well-known fathers. We both grew up in the country. We both have strong mothers.'' Stone's pitch worked like a charm, and for the past couple of months Brolin has been driving his wife, Diane Lane, crazy, struggling to master the president's inimitable vocal style. ''I'm talking to myself all day long,'' Brolin says. ''Sometimes I'll call hotels in Texas and talk to the people at the front desk just to listen to their accents. And I've been watching a lot of video of Bush walking. It changes over the years, how he walks in his 30s, how he walks in foreign lands, before 9/11 and afterwards. People hold their emotions in their bodies. They can't fake it. Especially him.'' Elizabeth Banks, best known for turns in The 40 Year-Old Virgin and Spider-Man 3, takes a more straightforward approach to portraying First Lady Laura Bush. ''I don't want to do an impression,'' she says. ''I just want to honor her voice, her stillness, and her hairstyle.''

ELIZABETH BANKS ''I don't want to do an impression. I just want to honor her voice, her stillness, and her hairstyle.''

But what, exactly, is Stone honoring with this film? What's his agenda? ''Listen,'' he says with a groan, ''I'm tired of defending the accuracy of my movies. I'm past that now. JFK was a case to be proven, Nixon was a penetrating biography of a complex and dark man. But I'm not bound by those strictures anymore. Bush is not a complex and dark man, so it's different. This movie can be funnier because Bush is funny. He's awkward and goofy and makes faces all the time. He's not your average president. So let's have some fun with it. What are they going to do? 'Discredit' me again?''

This, apparently, is the new happy-go-lucky Oliver Stone. Or at least a more go-with-the-flow, maturing one. The old war wounds over Nixon and JFK still flare up on occasion (''You know, JFK is a lot more solid than people make it out to be in the press''), but clearly the man has mellowed. Or maybe it's getting back to a seat-of-your-pants production like W that's putting the director in such a good mood. ''It's like my Salvador days,'' he says cheerily. ''It's good for me. It's reinvigorating.'' Even his attitude about politics sounds shockingly low-key, especially when it comes to the current election. ''I don't follow the details,'' he says. ''It makes me sad.'' In short, Stone hardly seems like a man looking for a fight.

Still, he's about to find himself in a doozy, especially if he manages to complete and release W before November's election. His producers insist the film will be ready by then; they're already planning to run TV spots opposite McCain's ads this fall. Stone hedges, but agrees it's theoretically possible. ''I could have it in theaters before the inauguration without a problem, but October?'' he says as he wanders into a large, airy room with an ornate fireplace and several floor-to-ceiling windows shaded by flowing drapery. ''It depends on how fast an edit I do. It would cost money to rush it, but I've done that kind of thing before. This would be the fastest of my life, but it's not impossible. I can do it.'' Especially now that he's finally found George Bush's bedroom. (Additional reporting by Adam B. Vary)

Stone and co-writer Stanley Weiser are still polishing the W script. Judging from an early draft, though, the movie will be darkly funny — at Bush's expense. Highlights:

Oedipal Wreck After his father is elected president, Bush tells Laura, ''I'll never get out of Poppy's shadow.... I wish he'd LOST.... No matter what I do, it's never going to be good enough.''

Tough Talker Bush, 26, drunk-drives his car onto the lawn of his parents' D.C. home, and challenges his dad to a fight, ''Let's go mano a mano! Right here. Right now!'' Then, in 2003, when France fails to back the U.S. on its invasion of Iraq, Bush says of French president Jacques Chirac, ''I'd like to stuff a plate of freedom fries down that slick piece of s---'s throat.''

Practical Joker During a prep meeting on Iraq, Bush playfully locks Colin Powell out of the room. He then steals a mint from Condoleezza Rice and tells Paul Wolfowitz to trim his ear hair.

Man of Faith In 1999, Bush confesses to a televangelist, ''The truth is, I really don't want to run [for president].... But I feel that God wants me to do this, and I must do it. I MUST.''

Brother in Arms In a 2003 sit-down with Saudi ambassador Prince Bandar, Bush explains that he has given up sweets since the beginning of the Iraq war. ''This is my personal sacrifice to show support for our troops,'' he says.

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Can the Power of Gum Stop Uwe Boll?

To prevent infamous director Uwe Boll from creating more video game-based films, the makers of Stride gum today announced that it will provide free packs of gum to those who sign the Stop Uwe Boll internet petition, provided that it reaches a million signatures.

The oft-hated filmmaker had previously claimed that he would stop directing films if a petition reached one million signatures. Should the milestone be reached by May 23, the release date of Boll's latest adaptation Postal, Stride promises to offer signatories a downloadable coupon for a free pack of gum.

"Since gamers are one of our most supportive groups, we've been looking for ways to return the favor," said Stride marketing director Gary Osifchin. "And what better way is there to get gamer's backs than by helping them rescue their cherished videogames from the clutches of Uwe Boll?"

Though the move appears to be little more than a publicity stunt, the push will no doubt come as a relief to petition organizers. The Stop Uwe Boll petition currently stands at just over 240,000 signatures. In an interview with Movieset, Boll claimed that he was "the only genius in the whole fucking business."

"I'm not a fucking retard like Michael Bay or other people running around in the business," the director added. "Or Eli Roth making the same shitty movies over and over again. If you really look at my movies, you will see my real genius, you know?"

Prior to Postal, Boll had previously made films based on properties such as Far Cry, BloodRayne, Alone in the Dark, Dungeon Siege and House of the Dead.

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Who Kicks More Ass: Batman or Iron Man?

I don't know why Jason says Batman is better than Iron Man, really. I mean, sure, Batman is darker, has a tortured soul, rubber pants, and all those sexuality issues with Robin, but come on, does he have a stripper pole in his private plane? Of course not. And what about all the rest?

• Can he make his own gadgets without having to go run for help to daddy's company?
• Can he let girls do their make-up while they look at his shiny armor? (of course not, Mr Wayne has a fake rubber suit with fake nipples)
• Can he make perfect Margaritas, Martinis and Manhattans on his own, without needing Alfred?
• Can he fly? (No, not fall, I mean fly)
• Can he actually have a bit of fun or is this all about looking miserable, fighting with your demons in three-word sentences with almost no verbs? (Of course he can't. It's "Back in the hole. The beast. The beast comes to me. Old. Old and dark. I feel his breath. Evil. Evil and dark. Evil and dark and eternal. Like them. Like me" all the damn time. Damnit Bruce, get a vacation in a tropical island with a hot buxom blonde and a fully-stocked bar.)

Because if Batman actually enjoyed life in-between saving the World city, he would be the greatest international playboy gadget hero ever. You know, like Tony Stark. And kick his own ass any day.

What do you think? Batman or Iron Man?

Or better yet: who would you like to be? A tortured soul who lives a miserable life having flashbacks about pearls falling on a dirty street, lives with another man, and fights crime in rubber pants and a cape, or a brilliant inventor who builds his own gadgets, dates—for real, not as a façade, you know, with actual sex—the hottest girls on the planet, and can fly in a hot rod red and gold armor? Hello?

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