Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Lashes by Covergirl...and Centurions: THE TOURIST, MASQUERADE and THE SEVENTH SIGN
Where o where hath my Angelina gone? The one who burned a whole through GIRL, INTERRUPTED, or even the one who dazzled with her mix of mature romanticism and aerodynamic toughness in MR. AND MRS. SMITH?
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, eyes smudgy-smokey like yawning coal chutes; endless cutaways to rich beautiful younger men looking up, in rapturous awe, from their Rolexes and Cristal flutes; or 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 by, rigorously bound up 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, spoken in a hushed turned-on whisper. If it was 1984 and this was a TV movie called Jacqueline Susann's Venice Nights and Jolie was pushing 50, it would finally make a lick of 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 the public adoration believable. 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. Her vibe is dour; she seems to expect adoration to the point she'd crack apart if someone rolled her eyes instead of widening them in awe. All that keeps her from crumbling into mummy dust is an incessant stream of adoration. 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 aside from Marlene, it was fascinating because she wasn't remotely hot (post, say, 1935) and 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 with the tenacity of a boxer, the type so used to punches they don't even flinch when enduring a flutter of sharp jabs to the kisser
THE TOURIST screams for a Davis or a Dietrich 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, let alone been chased by the cops, or slept on a floor, or had to drink beer so bad it could only be ingested via a chilled funnel. I refer of course to nasty-ass Piel's, Milwaukee's Best.
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. 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 its 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 of wrinkles.
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 announcing her child as the harbinger of the end of the world. Jurgen Prochnow (her new 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 all three 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 are soulless, bejeweled zombies that still walk slowly across the uptown Fifth avenues of the Earth, their souls half-devoured by invisible demons from the Orion constellation; abetted and aided simultaneously by their 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 the righteous, prayer-starved clinging of the previous decade's deities!
Semi-SPOILER ALERT--the possible pro-life associations in THE SEVENTH SIGN made me root, as I'm sure many have, for the end of the world, rather than this STEEL MAGNOLIAS / LIFE BEFORE HER EYES/ SWITCH soapy martyrish ending. Is Demi serving mankind or just the moral 'majority' by dying for her child? How can you tell if a woman's sacrifice is noble or just a symbolic subjugation? Well, either way, those Christians are gone in just a few more months and maybe Angelina Jolie will be able to resume undermining the status quo of feminine oppression like she did in FOXFIRE and GIRL, INTERRUPTED and stop pandering to rich materialistic women of a certain age on behalf of high-end make-up sponsors. After all, Demi Moore's dating Ashton Kucher, and that's ballsy. Why can't Jolie do something ballsy? Adopting endless amounts of orphans is not ballsy. I mean, am I the only one who's jealous of those little bastards? I get the impression they are responsible for both her terrible project choices and her frozen weariness.
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 first vs. who wants to do it now. 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 evil people (whomever they are to you these days) 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!"
Blow, Gabriel, blow that thing!