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First Reese Witherspoon, Now It's Ryan Phillippe's Turn in 'Stop-Loss'

First Reese, Now It's Ryan's Turn | Queen Aretha's Surprise Birthday | Hollywood Trial: Fields' 'Fifth' Symphony

First Reese, Now It's Ryan's Turn

You thought maybe Ryan Phillippe was just another pretty face, the ex-husband of Reese Witherspoon. Hey, she won an Oscar for learning to sing like June Carter Cash. What’s he done?

On Friday, you’ll find out. Phillippe is the star of Kimberly Peirce’s long-awaited, searing and often devastating second film, "Stop-Loss." (Her first was the much-praised "Boys Don’t Cry.")

No, you don’t want to see a film about the Iraq war? Well, you’ll want to see Phillippe as Sgt. Brandon King, who joins the Army in response to Sept. 11, earns a Purple Heart and other awards but is denied a chance to return home when his contract is up.

If you’re a male between 18 and 25 you will want to see this film as Brandon, a fictional character, learns about the term "stop-loss." The designation is real. Nearly 80,000 American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan have been "stop-lossed": sent right back to another tour of duty when their contracts have been up or face criminal action from the government.

In real life, "stop-loss" soldiers have banded together, filed lawsuits and protested this action. I won’t tell you what happens to Phillippe’s Brandon, but in the process of defending himself he learns what his rights and limitations are. It’s a fascinating film, very moving, with lots of realistic, well-executed war scenes. Phillippe is going to get some great reviews. I hope he’s remembered for this work next fall.

Phillippe is not the only good actor working in "Stop-Loss." Peirce has stocked the film with talent: Channing Tatum and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are his army buddies, and Abbie Cornish (whom Phillippe is rumored to have romanced) and Timothy Olyphant also are featured to great effect.

Peirce also uses veteran character actor Josef Sommer to set the tone at the film’s start. Sommer plays a proud U.S. senator who greets Brandon upon his return.

Here’s an idea for the SAG Awards: Why not a Character Actor Hall of Fame for the men and women who’ve worked regularly and upon whom a movie’s truthfulness is rested? Sommer would be in the first class, along with Donald Moffat, Celia Weston, Barry Corbin, James Rebhorn, Grace Zabriskie and so many others who never will be nominated for any major awards but deserve our appreciation.

There’s no question "Stop-Loss" is an anti-war movie. But it’s one that everyone should see when it hits theaters on Friday. More so than any of the other recent war films, Peirce’s story is rooted in reality, with a lot of heart and soul. And one thing’s for sure, it’s always engrossing.

Queen Aretha's Surprise Birthday

The folks still finishing up drinks in the Ritz Carlton’s foyer lounge got a neat surprise Tuesday night around 10:30 p.m.: a birthday party for the Queen of Soul herself, Miss Aretha Franklin, attended by about 20 close pals.

Franklin, in a beautiful strawberry-pink Chanel-like suit, had just come from seeing a performance of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" on Broadway with a group of about 10 people. She arrived at the Broadhurst Theater in a tank-like Rolls Royce Silver Cloud and remained in her seat during the two intermissions while fans came over to say hello.

Other stars in the sold-out audience included Leslie Uggams and Wesley Snipes.

After the show, Franklin alighted at the Ritz, where she was presented with a gorgeous homemade birthday cake and plenty of kudos from old friends like R&B greats Chuck Jackson ("I Keep Forgetting," "Any Day Now"), Freddie Jackson ("Rock Me Tonight" — no relation) and "Cat" star Terrence Howard. She glowed while chatting with the "Hustle and Flow" actor, who’s so good in "Cat." (He takes a three-week break beginning April 13 for "Iron Man" promotion.)

Also on the guest list was Luther Vandross’ favorite singer, Fonzie Thornton, off and on with Chic for 30 years, who’s been singing back-up for Aretha on tour. At last weekend’s sold-out show at Radio City, he was joined by the legendary Cissy Houston. Cissy, whose daughter Whitney, is a singer of some note, sang on all of Franklin’s classic hits recorded circa 1967-1968.

It was the most convivial affair, with Aretha accepting gifts and doling out slices of cake. Franklin told the small crowd, "I could move here, it’s so nice!" But she remains a Detroit girl, and don’t believe those stories you heard last week that her house is in foreclosure.

"What did they say? I owed like $400." She laughed, thinking of the tabloid press. "Some people…"

Franklin is shopping her next album, which is completed, to record labels. She probably will not go with Clive Davis’ J Records this time and is weighing all options. (L.A. Reid, are you listening?) After a flurry of shows this spring, Franklin will head to the Hamptons for her annual retreat. She’s also thinking about spending August in Manhattan. (September would be better, no?)

How old is she on this birthday? Kids, Aretha Franklin is timeless.

Hollywood Trial: Fields' 'Fifth' Symphony

Will infamous and feared Hollywood attorney Bert Fields invoke his Fifth Amendment rights if he takes the stand in the Anthony Pellicano case?

Some say yes, others say no. Early stories on Tuesday indicated he would; Wednesday's New York Times says no.

The main thing is this: Nearly every witness so far in the case mentioned Fields as an integral part of Pellicano’s world. The quote, "With Fields you get Pellicano" has become better-known in Hollywood than "With six you get egg roll."

The question is: Will prosecutors really get into detail with him if he does take the stand, or will his appearance be a non-starter? That appears to be the case for Brad Grey, who came and went with little fanfare — unless, of course, he’s recalled. That’s always a possibility.