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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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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.