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Deconstructing Angelina Jolie

Deconstructing Angelina Jolie (photo)

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Is there a movie star that the public is more wary of than Angelina Jolie? Tom Cruise has become the punchline to an overextended joke. But bring up Jolie in conversation and you’re apt to hear something like fear.

Beneath the complaints about how weird she is, or the desperate claims she’s not that beautiful or talented, or the disapproval over her breaking up Brad Pitt’s marriage to Jennifer Aniston, snakes a thin coppery current of unease. It’s always been something with Jolie. At first, it was her goth look and her tattoos and her public affection toward her brother.

Then, it was her marriage to Billy Bob Thornton and the vials of each other’s blood they wore around their necks. (If “Wuthering Heights” were published today, there’d be people worrying that Heathcliff and Cathy don’t seem to be making healthy choices.) Motherhood is a role fetishized across the board, from Tea Partiers to NPR junkies. When Jolie took it on, it was taken as more proof of her essential weirdness. People look at Jolie and think, You can’t trust her.

I’m not the first critic to note that director Phillip Noyce puts the public’s distrust of Jolie to use in his ace spy thriller “Salt.” For most of the picture, we don’t know whether Jolie’s Evelyn Salt is a CIA agent or a Soviet mole. The question of Salt’s allegiance is finally answered, but Noyce’s masterstroke is that he makes the answer irrelevant to the pleasure of watching the splendor of Jolie in her full leonine regality.

WANTED, Universal 2008“Salt” would be an engrossing, fleet, well-crafted entertainment in any season. In the midst of the elephantine waste of most summer blockbusters, it’s a reminder that there can be more to action moviemaking than thudding incompetence. But it’s most interesting as a meditation on the singularity of Angelina Jolie, who may be the most commanding star presence in the movies right now.

If we discuss her in terms of presence, it’s because, with occasional exceptions like the unsatisfying “A Mighty Heart,” Angelina Jolie seems not so much interested in acting on screen as being. You could argue that too many lousy pictures like “Wanted” or “Gone in 60 Seconds” or ” Beowulf” have diminished her reputation — until you remember that even in the days of “Gia,” “Playing By Heart,” “George Wallace” and “Girl, Interrupted” it was easier to get people to discuss her as a tabloid freak than to take her seriously as an actress. That’s nothing new. It’s always harder to convince people that a beautiful woman can act.

As much as we might wish to see Jolie get to do something more than action movies, even one as good as “Salt,” you have to wonder if perhaps she’s become too powerful a presence to be cast in everyday roles. Once we could accept movie goddesses as part of the power and beauty of cinema. You didn’t expect to encounter a creature like Ava Gardner or Elizabeth Taylor in real life, but they seemed right at home on-screen, a world scaled to the enormity of their presence. It’s harder for us to accept the existence of such creatures in a time when empty irony rules and the governing ethos is the cultural fragmentation and segregation of the digital age.

07282010_mrmrssmith1.jpgThe moment that may have revealed her stature as a movie goddess better than any other might well be the Jennifer-Brad-Angelina triangle. In the onslaught of gossip, very few people were willing to talk openly about how the Pitt-Jolie match made sense. It was easy to cast Jennifer Aniston as our version of poor Debbie Reynolds. Really, she was our version of Eddie Fisher. (It also made perfect sense that a match that busted up a marriage came to be during the making of “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” a dark romantic comedy in which the very institution of marriage is an incitement to murder.)

When you listen to the women who don’t like Angelina Jolie, it’s impossible not to hear something in their voices that tells you they consider her a threat to all those nice, sensitive girls. But we’d already seen evidence of that on screen. No action heroine of Jolie’s will ever commit a killing as lethal and thorough as the one Jolie administered to Winona Ryder in “Girl, Interrupted.” Cast in a supporting role in Ryder’s pet project — “The Bell Jar” as princess fantasy — Jolie, as the bad girl, without breaking a sweat, stomped all over the picture’s moon-eyed, poetic suffering leading lady. It was akin to hearing the Sex Pistols in 1977 and believing, for a moment, that you’d never have to listen to the Eagles again.

But it’s wrong to assume that women are the only ones frightened by Jolie. How can Angelina Jolie not seem like a threat in an age that makes a movie star out of Amy Adams, the perfect movie-star crush for men who never got over being smitten with their first-grade teacher? I don’t know if it’s possible to watch Jolie and not feel as if she’s scrutinizing everything in front of her, including the audience. She may be the most appraising actress ever to look into a camera. Each line reading, each gaze sizes up whoever is in front of her and God help anyone who doesn’t measure up.

That kind of power comes at a price. There are very few performances able to stand up to such an on-screen partner. It’s no accident that, for most of “Salt,” Jolie is by herself. She’s thrilling to watch in motion, leaping from the roof of one moving truck to another, zooming through stalled traffic on a motorbike, kicking and punching and whirling. But for much of the movie, we’re simply watching her alone, putting together some spy gadget or information in her head.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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