Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Lashes by Covergirl...and Centurions: THE TOURIST, MASQUERADE and THE SEVENTH SIGN
Like Natalie said in THE BLACK SWAN: "She's gone!!"
In SALT (2010 - see my review," From Russia with Adamantium Cheekbones") we saw the once mighty Jolie beginning to look a little frail. We winced when she fell from high bridges onto highway traffic, for her bones seemed brittle like a bird. The only wincing in THE TOURIST (recently arrived on DVD) comes from the contrived situations and dialogue, barely audible as Jolie's manipulative narcissist triple financial double-crosser never speaks above a posh British purr she must have borrowed from Eva Green in CASINO ROYALE.
Jolie was only around 35 when she made THE TOURIST but she seems much older thanks to a Joan Collins-level makeover: botox frozen smile, cheeks glossy, deep black layers of smudgy eye liner, and the endless cutaways to rich beautiful younger men looking up from their Rolexes and Cristal flutes, enraptured, parting before her at the ubiquitous ball like a black and white formal sea, nodding in admiration as this old-before-her time diva passes in the latest expensive couture, walking like she's holding a vial of nitro in a place where no lover has ever trespassed; all that's missing is a tag for Godiva chocolate bars, or rejuvenating night creme. If it was 1984 and this was a TV movie called Jacqueline Susann's Venice Nights and Jolie was pushing 50, it would make sense.
Even in her seventies and drunk beyond measure, Marlene Dietrich, for example, could still pull off the trick of shining through such airless luxury and making mass adoration believable. And you might say you can't compare Jolie with Dietrich, to which I'd say, yeah, duh! Jolie could act circles around Dietrich, and is just as hot if not hotter, so why is Dietrich at 70 sexier than Jolie at 35? The truth is, these handsome moneyed guys on these euro-trains wouldn't give the Jolie in this film more passing glance if it wasn't her movie and the script required them to. Her vibe is dour; she seems to expect adoration too much --it's all that keeps her from crumbling into mummy dust. She's a black hole of compliments, and I've known girls like this--drop dead gorgeous but frozen solid in their personae like victims of their own mirror Medusa-- and any man who can afford a Rolex has already learned not to even make eye contact with this type of pretty woman ("it's so expensive!" as Mischa Auer noted in MR. ARKADIN), unless, of course, the director insists.
When Bette Davis made herself the object of every man's desire in her films, for another contrast, it was fascinating because 1) she wasn't remotely hot (post, say, 1935) and b) she didn't try to hide her psychotic intensity. If she dreaded getting old, she'd just scream at the mirror in full Baby Jane make-up until the madness passed. Bette was so cool she even made films like THE STAR (above, with Oscar and Jim), which spoke to the tragic absurdity of actresses clinging onto juvenile roles long past their prime. In short, Davis embraced her own ridiculousness like a champ, like a boxer who doesn't even flinch when enduring a flutter of sharp jabs to the face.
THE TOURIST screams for a Davis, or even a Joan Collins. Lacking one, it insists we believe its phony emotional catharses and triple crosses; it prefers we swoon at Jolie's perfume ad acting while it itself remains steadfastly cynical (the final line is as shameless a piece of subtextual vanity as I've ever heard). When the climax of a film involves the heroic self-sacrifice of actually paying back taxes, you know you're watching a film made by people who've never flown coach or cooked their own food, or been chased by the cops, or slept on a floor, or drank Piels--a beer so bad you can only drink it ice cold via funnel--but who nonetheless think they know plenty about life.
Maybe that's the alchemical transubstantiatory rub: this is a film where rich people fool each other into thinking they're poor - like internet dating in reverse. But the film itself hasn't fooled anyone (it bombed), least of all the Cult d'Jolie. Our baby is a dinosaur now, with an array of war orphan leeches draining her charisma daily. Will we ever get her back? All signs point to no. We're stuck with the waxwork substitute.
Speaking of back taxes and fooling each other with false personae, there's a forgotten, similar film called MASQUERADE (1965) on Netflix Streaming, which is marginally better than the very similar THE TOURIST, if only for its droll William Goldman script and wry performances from British spy movie regulars like Jack Hawkins and Charles Gray (Blofeldt in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER). The plot involves the 'kidnapping' of a young heir to an Arab kingdom who is about to turn old enough to depose the acting emir, who's in league with the Communists (the heir is pro-British). A coup is feared, and the kidnapping prevents it. Only who hired bungling playa Cliff Robertson to guard the chicken coop?
At least MASQUERADE has the self-awareness to regard its own facile nature with the same witty acumen it regards espionage and, if there is no difference, at least they're British enough to admit it. Here if you're not a triple agent with golden parachutes from here to Madrid, then you're worse than a fool, you're a patriot. THE TOURIST would probably smile at the notion of actual patriotism if it could but it doesn't dare take the risk (it would jolt the Botox).
Luckily THE TOURIST's bombing at the box office showed we didn't come to praise the golden mummy but to sell it on eBay. THE TOURIST will soon reside in the $3.99 rack next to THE TRUTH ABOUT CHARLIE and SHANGHAI SURPRISE... only to re-emerge from the rubble, like MASQUERADE did, half a century from now, in a dusty corner, like a memo from a presumed long-ago melted-down-and-sold as-black-market-ingots golden calf.
Another Netflix streaming pick for this week is THE SEVENTH SIGN (1988), which as you may have heard is about 'the end of days,' set to happen this week or, failing that, 12/21/12. Excited? It stars Demi Moore as a pregnant Yenta busybody who--while snooping through her tenants' mail--discovers an ancient document: it seems Demi's child is the harbinger of the end of the world and Jurgen Prochnow (la tenant) is the looming 'Lamb,' opening seals and bringing down plagues, rivers of blood, snow in the desert, dogs and cats living together. Michael "I came back in time for you, Sarah." Biehn is the dad, which lets you know their kid is going to save the world from SKYNET or the Antichrist, maybe - that's called associative casting!
A low budget film of the kind that rarely get theatrical releases anymore, SIGN at least has the courage of its bizarro convictions: it's played stone-cold straight, all the while casting some doubt--not too much--as to Demi's sanity, making it the dead opposite of THE TOURIST. In fact, watching both in a period of days was enough to make me realize that Angelina Jolie is the lamb of God; THE TOURIST a cinematic equivalent of morally bankrupt Sodom; Johnny Depp the hapless lamb led to slaughter at the altar of Jolie's martyr complex. Gone are notions of good guys and bad in all three films. What's left is just the soulless and bejeweled zombies that still walk slowly across the Saks Fifth avenues of the Earth, their souls half-devoured by invisible demons from the Orion constellation, and abetted by personal shoppers. But then of course there's always the mothers like Demi who won't let humanity just die for once. No one, but no one, is allowed to die on their watch. As GODSEND taught (if you never saw it, read my piece from 2004 here), even dying is no escape from their righteous clinging!
Maybe in the future the good guys and the bad will once again be distinguishable based on something other than who's offering who the most money to stab their own unborn grandchildren in the back, and who oppressed the Third World first (the British) vs. who wants to do it now (the Russian Mafia / Zionists, the NWO, the CIA). THE SEVENTH SIGN at least lets you contemplate your own ambivalence about humanity's inherent goodness and whether your soul's old enough that the end of days seems an impossibly sweet 'get out of eternal reincarnation jail' free card or young enough that all you care about is who will look after the children. Either way you can't help but thrill at the prospect of things changing and all those idiots (whomever they are for you) finally rotting in hell like they deserve. Those bastards! In the words of Malcolm McDowell as CALIGULA, "If only all of Rome had just one neck!"