I was having a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad day so I went over to the gym and beat up the boxing bag. It took more than an hour but, eventually, whaling on an inanimate object restored my ability to glean something besides self-serving bullshit in myself and other human beings. Boxing is a solution I happened upon while working at Us Weekly. That place was like a pressure cooker containing all the second prettiest sorority girls–you know, the ones who compensated for their insecurities by terrorizing each other–and if I hadn’t worked out a healthy outlet for my rage I probably would have pulled out someone’s bad dye job (possibly mine) by the root. Or simply evaporated in a pool of abject misery. While working on my left hook this afternoon–no joke, I was blasting Public Enemy at the same time–it occurred to me that fewer women might suffer from eating disorders and depression if they just externalized the crap out of their anger like good ole red-blooded American men do. At the very least, everyone should experience the high of fucking something up every once in a while. The act of striking is a very specific pleasure. So let’s get get this party started right/ Fight the powers that be.
The following is a review originally published in Word and Film.
Violette, about French author Violette Leduc’s quest for success, may be the ultimate literary love story: At core, it depicts how the creative process can be seen as a love affair, both with ourselves and with an imagined audience. It takes a lot of fortitude to sit still with the imagination – to trust that, if we hang in there, we may produce something worth sharing with the world. In this sense, Leduc, who throughout her career had the temerity to demand love for her controversial self-expression, was powerfully strong if also powerfully frustrating. Much like this movie.
To be clear, “frustrating” is putting it nicely. Radical self-exposure was Leduc’s strength in her writing but her weakness as a person, a fact that director/co-writer Martin Provost captures in excruciating detail. French actress Emmanuelle Devos channels Leduc’s inability to contain her rawest feelings – her jealousies, her resentments, her neediness – so effectively that the result is an almost unbearable character. Almost. A woman who won’t rest until she is wanted on her own terms may not be an easy story but it is an important one. Continue Reading →
The following is a review I originally published in Word and Film:
It’s hard to comprehend the career trajectory of Angelina Jolie. In the 1990s, she was the premier wild child, so fully in possession of her sexual powers that she seemed to do everyone a favor just by training her gaze upon them. When she announced she was “so in love with her brother” during her 1999 Oscar acceptance speech after jumping in a pool upon winning a Golden Globe earlier that season, two things seemed clear: We were all in her thrall. And none of us knew what she’d do next.
Certainly we never expected the girl with the blood vial necklace to evolve into such an upstanding citizen. In the ensuing years, she’s become a U.N. ambassador of goodwill, the doting mother of six, the long-term partner of Brad Pitt, the outspoken survivor of a double mastectomy, the director of mediocre message movies, and an actor. Arguably in that order. These days, the extraordinary promise she once exhibited on screen has mostly been eclipsed by a great puff of tabloid coverage even when she does appear in films. As of now, Maleficent, in which she plays the title character in a Disney retelling of Sleeping Beauty from the villainess’ perspective, is one of her last scheduled acting jobs. (She has announced her retirement before but might mean it this time.) This may be for the best. This sort of film hinges upon the voltage of the old Angelina – a ferocious, and ferociously gorgeous, creature who inspired equal parts fear and admiration in a whirl of feral improvisation – and Lady Jolie, though as visually compelling as ever, does not seem up to the task.
Instead, the true star of Maleficent is its lavish design. Director Robert Stromberg (the production designer of the equally lavish “Alice in Wonderland,” “Oz: The Great and Powerful,” and “Avatar”) has created a 3D netherworld of streams, meadows, caves, and forests that soars at us like an ever-shifting Mucha painting. It’s an effect so pleasing that for a while we don’t mind how little else commands our attention – not even Angelina’s already-impressive cheekbones, which are so digitally enhanced that other characters’ faces look downright doughy in comparison. This whole film hangs off her cheekbones. Continue Reading →