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Quendrith Johnson


Quendrith Johnson is filmfestivals.com Los Angeles Correspondent covering everything happening in film in Hollywood... Well, the most interesting things, anyway.
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The Importance of Being MALEFICENT: Angelina Jolie Schools Us

 

by Quendrith Johnson, Los Angeles Correspondent

 

So, ignore the horns and watch for spoiler alerts here: MALEFICENT is the role of a lifetime for Angelina Jolie.

Yes, a lot of the credit goes to screenwriter Linda Woolverton (Lion King, Beauty & The Beast), who gets Angelina and wrote a touching life lesson disguised as a Disney movie. "We tried to bring you what you love about this story," Jolie says in the behind the scenes featurette (see it on http://screenmancer.tv), and yet there is whole lot more going on in this picture.

MALEFICENT, which opened this weekend and is tracking big at the box office, is for Jolie what Jack Sparrow was for Johnny Depp, big make-up, over-the-top, a career-definer. This film also fits into a trend of redefining fairytale characters from Mila Kunis as the Wicked Witch (Oz The Great and Powerful, 2013), Kristen Stewart as Snow White (2012), and Amanda Seyfreid as Red Riding Hood (2011).

But Angelina Jolie's off-screen life also parallels the titular Maleficent in this one; once considered a freakish hell-raiser, redeemed as a UN Ambassador and role model. What we all know about Jolie could fill a book. Here's the two-paragraph recap... 

The Los Angeles native, who turns 39 next week, comes from Hollywood stock. Her father Jon Voight (Midnight Cowboy, Deliverance) is a complicated relationship, and she was very close to her French mother, Marcheline Bertrand, also an actor/model. AJ, as she is known, allegedly crushed on Mr. Spock growing up; the divorce hit her hard. (Insider tales include rumored whispers that she may, or may not, have walked in on her mother with another woman). Plus that awkward red carpet kissing moment with her curious brother James Haven, the alleged "blood vial" in a pact with former husband Billy Bob Thornton (2000-2003) of note. An early clouded marriage was to formidable actor Johnny Lee Miller (1996-1999), who starred with her in Hackers (1995), with whom she is reportedly still "great friends."

Jolie appeared in Hackers to acclaim, but did a full star-turn in Girl Interrupted (1999), especially the scenes with the late Brittany Murphy. She's stolen cars in Gone in Sixty Seconds (2000) with Nicholas Cage, raided tombs as Lara Croft, even stolen lives in WANTED (2008) opposite James McAvoy, Morgan Freeman. This is a female box office draw so powerful as to replace Tom Cruise in SALT (2010), with the role rewritten for a woman. Notably as a director, she pissed off a lot of Serbs with her political slant in her directorial debut In the Land of Blood & Honey, but hopes to redeem herself with a second outing in Unbroken. That said, Jolie's acting talent alone blew away Hollywood early on with her portrayal of doomed ubermodel Gia Carangi in GIA (1998), a TV movie that is still a must-see. Mostly there's Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005) whereby she won over Brad Pitt, who began his career as the cowboy drifter in Thelma & Louise (1991) to become a superstar with a string of uneven hits. Oh, Angelina Jolie also won a Supporting Oscar for Girl, and the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from the Academy this year. (For those of you who don't know, Jean Hersholt was a first actor/activist who played the conceirge in Grand Hotel, 1932).

A pairing of star power catapulted AJ and Brad into the Hollywood mythos realm of Liz & Dick, Spencer & Hepburn, Bogie & Macall. At least in the media.

Besides, being the mother to six children, Angelina Jolie had a very publicized prophylactic double mastectomy. When Maleficent has her wings clipped, there is an eerie echo of that surgery. More to the point, MALEFICENT is a retelling that reframes a lot of issues associated with women. 

This is not just from a feminist perspective (although feminists will appreciate this film) - when Maleficient is betrayed, the old phrase "hell hath no fury like a woman scorned" morphs into 'there is no greater love than from a woman who changes her mind about revenge.' Sealed with a kiss.

The big give in this picture is that Angelina Jolie's character is both "good and evil" in an ambiguous moral conclusion that apparently takes on its own life for our narrator, an older and wiser Sleeping Beauty. Hello, how often does that happen in a Disney movie? Especially a big tent-pole production that will be sold, subtitled and/or dubbed, in every conceivable market overseas? 

What makes it an international sure-fire hit is the usual hallmarks of a lavish Hollywood production (read: CGI pyrotechnics). 

Battle scenes in MALEFICENT have a Lord of the Rings feeling with tree-like giants, with Jolie's winged fairy guardian lording over the theater of operations like a superhero. 

Yet those horns are just hard to get around, since they represent a cultural taboo for many eons and most religions on multiple levels - including a phallic aspect, with a heavy dose of Freudian theory for good measure. Then Jolie's Maleficient wears elegant jewelry on the horns, and well, that hits a new decadent category of its own. (Read: what rhymes with mockbling?)

Elle Fanning as Aurora, when she is not grinning like a newbie, gets her acting wings when she confronts Maleficent, declaring her "all the evil in the world is you." 

As widely reported, the much younger "Sleeping Beauty" is played by Vivien Jolie-Pitt, the then-four year old daughter of Jolie and Brad Pitt. If this child could be more winning, they would have had to use CGI. The chemistry between mother and child resonates, even as Jolie refers to her as a "Beastie." 

It is likely one of the most touching progeny moments to be remembered in film, as little Aurora (Jolie-Pitt) murmurs, "Up, up," to be carried by the so-called Evil Fairy and then blithely pats that freakish headdress without any palpable fear. Not to mention the stunning visage of this wonder-child who toddles to danger only to be caught before cliff-diving by Maleficent in a magical Catcher in the Rye move.

Again, credit Linda Woolverton for knowing her subject matter and weaving in an agenda for the greater good with Angelina Jolie now even more of an icon in this iconic role in a tale well-told. 

So far, the box office numbers at $24.2 M USD debut have beaten both openings for Oz The Great and Powerful and Snow White and The Huntsman, with international numbers to be equally enchanting. PS, don't leave the theatre early or you will miss Lana Del Rey's haunting Oscar-bait lyrical "I-knew-you" ballad while the credits roll.

 

(Happy Birthday, Angelina Jolie, June 4, ps.)

 

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About Quendrith Johnson

Johnson Quendrith

LA Correspondent for filmfestivals.com


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