Archive for August, 2010

Angie Transcendent

Monday, August 30th, 2010

Salt

Directed by Philip Noyce
Starring Angelina Jolie, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Liev Schreiber
2010

Salt film poster (2010)

It is regrettable that some people call Angelina Jolie “Angie”. I find this overly-familiar, even from her father (who is only occasionally permitted contact) and her partner, Brad Pitt, who appears to see an all-American normalcy in her that the rest of the world does not. Angie is about as much an Angie as I am a Cressida or Sheherazade. Angelina is “Angelina”, but she is really only “Angelina Jolie”, since “Angelina” is incomplete and also over-familiar, though less intrusive. “Jolie” is too weak, too accessible and too kind to describe this unusual woman. “Angelina” may have to do here though, since her full name is so exhaustingly long. Prolific, even. It is embarrassing, however. I feel like an unhinged gossip columnist.

Is Angelina Jolie the most beautiful woman on earth? She may well be. She is certainly among them. Anyone who sees, for example, the runway sequence in Gia (1998) in which she weaves her way druggedly along in a Botticelli-inspired bridal gown, sees something very much like an angel. The vulgarity of her over-determined features and titanic lips simply makes her beauty universal, over-written enough that it can be perceived by the entire world: Angelina’s beauty plays in Europe, Latin America and India, for example, for different reasons. There is something for everyone in her magnificent face. She looks like one of the great beauties of the 1950s on steroids, like a next-generation take on the human race.

Runway Scene in Gia (1998)

Though one or two tats more and she will be unfilmable. Anyone see the absurdity of a film called Original Sin (2001) set in a 19th century Cuban plantation in which she was tatted up like a gang-banger? The bathtub scene washed away the foundation covering her tattoos, which made her a rather unusual historical damsel who resembled a death-row inmate.

One thing to know about Angelina is that she only occasionally uses stuntmen. For “Salt”, she learned Krav Maga (a crunchy Israeli martial art involving the breaking of a bunch of bones) and Muay Thai. (Krav Maga naturally won out in the achy-breaky fight sequences.) She takes lots of lessons for each film in things like knife-throwing and ball-kicking. Recreationally, she learned how to fly a plane, and her reasons for doing so are fascinating. Little Maddox, her first child, she discovered, enjoyed watching planes take off and land at an airstrip. It wasn’t enough to bring the child and sit next to him in the grass, watching. Angelina had to be the pilot the child observed.  Brad Pitt has since taken lessons as well, which I’m sure brings his family no end of pleasure to contemplate. It would not really surprise me if Angelina eventually dispensed with the plane, and simply just took flight. Angelina is always coming into Being.

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Naturalist Gordon Grice and Zodiac the tarantula

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Naturalist Gordon Grice and Zodiac the tarantula
Photo by Parker Grice

Naturalist Gordon Grice and his pet tarantula

As a committed arachnophobe, I had to return to this photograph of author Gordon Grice and his pet Chilean Rose tarantula no less than twenty times before I could work out what I was seeing and feeling. This photograph began as a picture of my worst nightmare, literally. I read that this species is an ambush hunter: that doesn’t sound good.

Several years ago, in pursuit of medication for a sick fish, I went to an aquarium hobbyist store in Chinatown, here in Toronto. It sold fish, many different species—all alive—and the surprisingly limitless paraphernalia that can come to accompany an aquarium. Little terracotta follies. Nets, oxygen tanks, etc. Out of the all the objects in the store (and the owner, if you want to include him, with all his fishy information), there were only four objects that didn’t fit the set. Two terrariums containing a tarantula each. Why the fish store owner chose to deviate from his remit in this way is unknown. I was fascinated and sickened by my reaction. The tarantulas were inert, maybe the most boring specimens on earth. They did not appear to move between visits. They did not appear to make burrows. They might well have been dead. They just sat there, like separate bumps on separate logs.

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Signs and Wonders

Monday, August 16th, 2010

No Country for Old Men
Directed by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
Starring Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem
2007

I defy you to keep easy track of the kills made by Anton Chigurh. His first, with perfect symbolism for a novel and film about law and order and crime and chaos, is of a silly young deputy in a jail where Chigurh is handcuffed. He gets the cuffs around the young man’s neck, and then it is just the work of holding on as the deputy thrashes and thrashes. Chigurh’s eyes are bulging, and the deputy’s death rattle provokes an obscene swoon from the killer. This may be the film’s only vulgarity.

It put me in mind of a documentary I saw about tarantulas. One couple, known honest to god as Tucson Blondes, rolled around and kicked with all sixteen legs at each other and the ground when a gentleman came calling and the lady wasn’t in the mood. The male didn’t make it; the female was largely uninjured. I bet the wild action painting the Coen Brothers organized with black shoe polish and legs trying to get a purchase on the ground matched the markings scratched into the dirt by those frantic spiders.

Action painting, No Country-style

The West Texas land gives of itself almost nothing, but things are perched on it like rocks and soil hostile to life: dirt more like it. It does a good impression of the middle of nowhere. There is a kind of beauty for those passing through. Staying means death. In his introduction, hunter Llewellyn Moss (played by Josh Brolin) takes aim at an antelope and misses. And there we have it. A hunter: but will he prove good enough? G.W. had the iconography of the cowboy more or less right, as did Reagan, but you see immediately that the real thing is as hard, spare and grim as Cormac McCarthy’s writing. The men’s faces are masculine, hard, with unnecessarily thick moustaches. Their bodies are sinewy, thinned, realistic, without decorative musculature or even decorative asses. They are masters at tracking. Every man in the film can read the ground, and does routinely like we read a clock. It is all nature, no culture, in the sense that the nature/culture divide intends.

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The Disarming Tony Blair by Erin O’Brien

Friday, August 6th, 2010

The Ghost Writer

Directed by Roman Polanski

Starring Pierce Brosnan, Ewan McGregor, Olivia Williams

2010

The Ghost Writer

British Prime Minister Adam Lang

Modern political memoirs are a genre of hackwork unto themselves: they are meant to be seen and not heard.  They are doorstops, the literary equivalent of first editions with uncut pages, something to leave prominently located yet unread.  Issued for “historical” interest in immense quantities, they invariably end up remaindered, as a group of publishers discuss in an early, excellent scene in Roman Polanski’s “The Ghost Writer”.  In fact, the statesman’s contentless, lying memoirs and the standard multimillion dollar advance fee are an accepted way of enriching a politician in his after-life.  They are actually retirement plans and corporate thank-yous.  That anyone would undertake to print a written document by George W. Bush (“Decision Points” is soon upon us) or Sarah Palin (“Going Rogue”), two figures so deeply hostile to language, is the proof in the pudding.  I myself have read a swath of books on Bill and Hillary Clinton, but wouldn’t dream of reading their memoirs, as there is surely nothing more there than a combination of elision and falsity.  Perhaps a political memoir should be approached as something no more than a long-winded alibi.

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