Saturday, November 08, 2008

Winona Called - She Wants to Know Why She Wasn't Cast in Another Movie Where Angelina is Involuntarily Dragged Into a Psycho Ward.

2 stars.

Before composing this post, I went back through the Weenie archives to see how often, if ever, I've extemporized on Angelina Jolie. I figured I must have at least a few times, since I've resented her existence going back to 1999, when her scenery-chewing performance as a sociopath in Girl, Interrupted unfairly soaked up all the attention from Wino's career-best turn as Susanna Kaysen. Although this primitive blog doesn't come equipped with a state of the art search engine, I successfully located the only entry where she was mentioned at great length - from June 2007. (In case you ever want to peruse the Weenie archives, I would recommend googling "Weenie Enema [term you're looking for]." I have never met with failure.) This is the snippet in question:
If you ever play the Movie-off Game, where you pick an actor or actress and go back and forth naming their movies until someone runs out of titles, you want to pick Whoopi, and you want to save Girl, Interrupted for the end because she's so unassuming slash amazing in it that NO ONE remembers she was even in it. Admittedly, this is partly because Winona was even better - to the point where her greatness emanated out of every kleptomaniacal orifice and was mistakenly assumed to come from Angelina Jolie, but that's another post entirely.

I guess that other post is this one.

Having come off a viewing of another movie starring a calorie-challenged actress, I can assure my readership that in a 'rexic throwdown, Angelina is infinitely more distracting to the potential enjoyment of a movie than Keira Knightley. It is abundantly clear that Ms. Jolie has not consumed solid food in many moons, and the fact that she appears to be roughly 7'5 does not help matters. However, since I am a hardcore mature individual, I tried to ignore her totem pole appearance and try to concentrate on the matter at hand.

"Have you seen my son?"

It was a difficult undertaking, made no less so by the plot moving slower than MO-lasses. Having never directed a movie about a child abduction in the late 1920s, I cannot attest to how easy it is to move along such a story, but you'd think with Angelina getting thrown into the nutty house with Amy Ryan (whom I am now convinced is building a career based solely on looking like shizzle) and a subplot involving a quasi-pedophile serial killer who bares a frightening resemblance to a fey Brendan Fraser (redundant?) would get the ball rolling. Alas, it was not to be, and for two and a half hours, I was subjected to watching Angelina alternate between staring off into space (perhaps her lethargic way of looking for her kid) and screeching at cops. Her only deviation from this pattern was to politely smirk at a court ruling in the waning minutes of the movie, perhaps as much to the creatures who shelled out money and a lot of time to watch this as to the corrupt LAPD. Somewhere, Rodney King is smiling.

Exit poll: Would you rather have the LAPD undertake a nationwide search for your missing child, or start up race riots with the aid of a trusty baton and your face?

I'm completely baffled by the accolades Angelina is getting for this movie. Part of me thinks it's the natural byproduct of a society that desperately needs to find something of value in the Brangelina phenomenon - sending Jennifer Aniston off the deep end notwithstanding. Every time a larger than life celebrity - by definition, someone who is more well known as a famous creature than an actor or whatever profession they claim to be involved in - is actually productive, we need to effusively praise the effort, regardless of whether it's deserved. So when Whoopi Goldberg decided to take time off from shaving her eyebrows and appear as a spastic medium in "Ghost," she gets an Oscar for it, even though performances like that are a dime a dozen. When Cher had enough of Sonny and decided to become "a serious actress," the Oscars nominations (and one win) began flooding in. In short, there are more advantages to being Angelina Jolie besides the aesthetically pleasing life partner and self-financed UN refugee children farm.

If they had cast HER as Angelina's asylum roommate instead of the troll screeching, "This is MY room!" you pretty much make up for the rest of this movie's shortcomings.

I don't think it's a spoiler to tell you that there are roughly 10 minutes at the beginning of the movie where Angelina actually has her real kid (there is a very creepy scene later on where she emphatically confirms that the boy the LAPD brought home for her is a fake - and it involves prepubescent penis) and life is perfectly adequate. She brings her son to school every day on the streetcar and spends her workday zooming around the telecommunications center on roller skates. One would believe she'd be a bit more upbeat during that short sequence of the film, but if you didn't know any better, you'd think she already knew her son was about to disappear, possibly at the hands of the sexually ambiguous Brendan Fraser. It's a decidedly one-note performance that's probably going to block a deserving actress' nomination come January 22.

"Hello, young boys of 1928 California."

The supporting cast that Clint Eastwood installed around the popsicle stick is much better than anyone deserves. John Malkovich (who I thought was incredibly hot in 1985's Death of a Salesman, but it appears that he doesn't look remotely like that in ANYTHING ELSE) in a refreshing change of pace is cast as a benevolent creature, though he appears to be channeling too much John Waters in the process. In the small role of an insufferable medical practitioner at the psychiatric hospital, avid SVU fans will recognize a guest star from Season 1 - the mentally retarded dude who accidentally rapes a geriatric because he confused her unconscious body with a conscious romantic overture. Shiver.

In a story where roughly 50% of the two and a half hours (someone else can do the math) consists of Angelina encountering frustrating obstacle after frustrating obstacle, there better be a pretty damn good reason to sit through it. Personally, I HATE watching extended sequences where someone is clearly in the right (in this case, Angelina thinking the creepy LAPD boy is not her own kid) and everyone condescendingly tells them they're wrong ("I'm SURE this is your own son. You're just under a lot of stress.") The bottom line is that there isn't a whale of a lot of payoff in the end. Without ruining this for potential ticket buyers, there's a clear moment with about 20 minutes left where Clint could have EASILY ended the movie. There's a closing shot of Angelina's face (not exactly smiling, but you can't have anything), the lighting goes dim...and then the movie continues. So at that point I'm thinking, "Okay, there must be a REASON why he kept going. Surely something momentous to cap this mediocrity off is in the works." No, it wasn't. I guess he just wanted to get in a few more shots of all the costumes and scenery, quite possibly the best part of the movie.

"We put Angelina to shame!"[Editor's note: There were no flappers in this film.]

For the record, I am all for introspective pieces that focus on the inner wranglings of main characters with minimal action. Those movies can be very good - I would point to 2001's In the Bedroom as a high water mark. However, it doesn't work here because Clint tried to balance a character-driven piece about a woman searching for her genetic progeny with a true-life crime murder mystery. The result is that the movie starts and stops, sputtering at its inability to define itself. There will be 15 minutes of Angelina in a zombie trance, trying to figure out how so many elements in her life went awry with minimal effort - with the added bonus of multiple women screeching to be let out of their cages. But then the movie rapidly switches gears, as we watch detectives frantically trying to uncover the mystery behind a plethora of missing children, while other employees of the LAPD try to cover it up. This might have worked if there was any discernible difference in Angelina's character, but for whatever reason, she doesn't. There's a lot of potential in this tale, but aside from a few solid scenes (anything with the creepy non-son, John Malkovich and the nuthouse), the film doesn't work, and it's all Angelina's fault. Stick with the tomb raiding.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Be Careful What You Wish For - Turns Out A Movie Dedicated to Keira's Jawline Isn't Very Good.

The Duchess
2 1/2 stars.

I tend to give Keira enormous leeway that I would never even consider bestowing upon another human being. For instance, if anyone else had a jaw that took up 75% of their face, I would say they were ugly. If another creature resembling a skeleton more than, say, an actual person who eats, starred in movies, I would helpfully suggest they look into participating in horror movies rather than period pieces. And if any other actor starred in a movie as bad as Silk, I would stop following their career. But Keira redeems herself time and time again by legitimately being a hardcore badass who is one of the top two or three best actresses of her generation, and it's the only reason why I even considered seeing a movie that looked as boring as The Duchess.

There are two reasons why this movie isn't particularly noteworthy. First of all, this has been done before, to the point where it's getting rather grating and tedious. I'm not sure why the movie-going public is honestly supposed to be bowled over by the idea that people in the 1700s not only diddled their wives, but occasionally sought bed partners who would best be described in present terminology as homewreckers. In this instance, it's more of a castlewrecker, but I digress. This is a two-hour movie that consists of little more than a naive but optimistic Keira getting hitched with a dour Ralph Fiennes, who spends his screen time looking extremely constipated and pissed (pun?), and then Keira sulking for a giant portion of the movie while Ralph screws other corsetted beings. Nothing new - people don't like getting cheated on (though Keira DOES have some legit beefs, as both her husband and his lover literally scream orgasmically through the castle while she's there. Besides not possessing deoderant/modern hygiene implements, tact also appears to be rather lacking.)

Think of the action Ralph could have gotten with THIS.

The ending - mild spoiler alert, as this isn't exactly a movie you go to looking for mouthdropping plot twists - is also supposedly to be edgy and really isn't. After lots of WASPy drama and emoting, the Duke and the Duchess continue to hang out together in the castle with the skanky ho who nearly sent Keira to the nearest moat. I'm by no means an expert on this time period, but again, it doesn't surprise me, and I doubt it would shock anyone else, that there would be living arrangements like this in the aristocratic British social circles of the late 1700s. I doubt it was a regular occurrence, but still. In fact, I would think a duchess would have to deal with a trampy third wheel living companion more often than, say, a barmaid. Although the barmaid would probably end up being that third wheel.

"Can I come live with you and Ralph?"

Now, the real dilemma for me came about halfway in, when I realized that 20% of the movie was just jawline closeups. Every time something inhumanly crappy happens to Keira, and that quickly becomes a regular occurrence, the camera just STAYS on the lower half of her face for about 40 seconds while Keira pensively stares out over her gynormous backyard. It's the English countryside equivalent of Jennifer Connolly in every one of her movies, except with a grayish body of water (see Requiem for a Dream, Dark Water, House of Sand and Fog, The Hulk). I stand by every positive accolade I have bestowed upon that jaw, but it turns out its potency is in moderation.

Also, some of the costumes went a LITTLE too far. I get that one of the only interesting activities you can do on a British period piece set is dress your star up in lots of dresses, corsets (there's a very disturbing quasi-sex scene with Keira and Ralph where he undresses her and we see the indentation of the corset on her back. The idea that an emaciatrix has to deal with tight apparel is kind of a downer.) and feathered hats, but when Keira's tromping around at regal balls dressed like the love child of a Musketeer and Dee Snider, I think a line has been crossed. A very serious one.

Twisted Sister?

There's a very strange lesbo scene in this that has absolutely no relevance to the movie, but I feel it's worth noting since it's one of the only memorable moments I took away from the film. I'm still trying to figure out why it wasn't eliminated in post-production; the only theory I can grope at is that one of the film editors thought there was a slim chance they could attract that elusive 18-25 male demographic if rumors were circulated throughout the lands that Keira engages in some woman-on-woman love. Keira's BFF (who quickly becomes noted more for her loud moans than any semblance of friendly loyalty), realizes Keira's attraction to a young politician and subtly suggests that she seize the initiative. When Keira quickly (too quickly) squashes the idea, the evil BFF coyly tells her that a non-Ralph Fiennes experience would be infinitely more pleasurable than the awkward, solely for procreation shizzle we endured previously. Keira, believing that all sex is like Ralph Fiennes sex (this movie must have done WONDERS for his self-esteem), looks dubious, until the BFF starts unbuttoning her dress. Keira starts breathing heavily...and that's as far as it goes. It's very strange, and they never address the possibility that Keira might swing from the other side of the plate. In my mind, it would have made for a more interesting movie. Victorian, passive aggressive affairs are a dime a dozen, but a lesbian duchess? If that movie has been made, I have heard nothing of its existence. Also, the politician dude she ends up sleeping with looks more like a badger than a studly sex toy, which in my mind is a mistake.

"Keira, I am WAY better in the sack than Ralph!"

Despite a sense of overall pointlessness, The Duchess isn't a total crapfest. Keira is excellent in a fairly two-dimensional role, though she fails to capture the greatness of Pride and Prejudice or the near-greatness of Atonement. I'm not sure though that I buy the view that she brings hip modernity to these otherwise-antiquated characters she has been playing in recent years, which is a contention that I've read in multiple reviews for an assortment of Keira films. That theory works for a movie like P&P, which I believe was a solid success in 2005 purely because the character of Elizabeth Bennett is completely relatable to any era, as well as because it was a career-defining moment for the Jawed One. However, there's only so much you can do with a spurned duchess, and the fact that director Saul Dibb falls back on the jawline at the end of the day screams of desperation rather than completely understandable mandible love.