Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Take With Mountains of...

Last week I made the stupid mistake of working under a self-imposed deadline. The result was that I got all the typos right, but not all the ideas. What I still meant to say about The Concert was that it is one of the few movies in which the featured music, in this case Tchaikovsky's immortal and extremely difficult-to-play Violin Concerto, is completely integral - instead of incidental - to the story.

Then, just to exacerbate matters, I forgot to mention the title of Costa-Gavras's latest film, which is of course Eden is West. And, even though I didn't think the film quite worked, I still think he is one of the most astute social-realist directors around - one who can, in his final frame, convey three very clear ideas while using the latest techniques for his own seemingly pedestrian purposes. Some filmmakers cannot even get one idea out of an entire movie, so that was the context in which I wished to criticize the man who is, after all, a European master.

One film without a single intentional idea going for it, however, is Salt, which doesn't do much for its director's reputation but no doubt plenty for his pocket. Phillip Noyce clearly balances his more "artistic" films like The Quiet American and Rabbit Proof Fence with presidential horrors like Air Force One and this unintentional comedy.

Angelina Jolie plays the role that Tom Cruise was going to do, apparently, and she does it well in the sense that the camera loves her, to put it mildly. More about that later on. In the meantime, she works for the CIA and they run their covert operation close to the White House as Rink Petroleum. Covert? Bad timing, guys. Petroleum companies couldn't be more visible now that one of BP's many, many wells has messed up the southeastern coastline of the good old US of A. And Rink? As in ice, Russia, Cold War? Must be. 'Tis as deep as an oil well.

Agent Evelyn Salt is married to a German arachnologist, who defines his job as hunting spiders. Wikipedia, on the other hand, defines it more soberly and even Germanically as a scientist who studies the biology of spiders, but then what would they know?

Anyway, a Russian spy walks into the Rink and says he's going to "out" a Russky agent, which is at least quite topical, since some Motherland spies were really outed from their decadent bourgeois lifestyles in the States recently. Who is it? Salt says, lovely long legs crossed. It's you, he says. Cue portentous, corporate thriller double-bass strokes.

Now she has to prove her innocence and goes on the run, using the city as her play pen, swinging from one moving truck, breaking all speed records, to another. The entire country is after her, with all the latest hi-tech detecting technology behind it, but agent Salt books into a smart New York hotel with her credit card. Now, even no-star movies know that that's the first thing the CIA checks and blocks.

But the next day will bring even more adventures, for she will outwit the entire security apparatus of America and assassinate the Russian Vice President! Later he will reappear as the Russian President because - ha! - she shot him with some poison from - da! - one of her missing husband's spiders, the contents of which only gives the illusion of mortal departure. Gosh, it gets so exciting, continuity lapses and all.

And here the plot segues into real life again, because Russia wants to annihilate Mecca with nuculear (thank you George Bush Jnr for that pronunciation) bombs, but make it look as if it was America that pushed the button. That should anger about a billion Muslims even more, whereupon all said fanatics will unleash all hell on Washington. And hasn't Mother Russia just helped Iran make nuclear power possible for allegedly peaceful purposes? Hollywood clearly knows something we don't.

The real spy, of course, was there the day the original agent walked in and, since Noyce had spent some time in South Africa while making the not-so-bad Catch a Fire, he could have opted for making one of his black actors the plant. Surely he would have come across the odd Vladimir Dlamini or Leonid Mofokeng in the Republic, still clinging to their parent's workerist ideals while bulging out of their Guccis and quaffing vast amounts of French champagne. But no, he reduces the hugely talented Chiwetel Ejiofor to a neurotic Chief of Security and the greying Andre Braugher, still trying to reach the heights of his brilliant Pembleton in Homicide: Life on the Streets, to a one-sentence Secretary of Defense.

Interestingly, the film has no swearing in it. So it's obviously meant to reach the widest possible audience, even though Salt hits, kicks, smashes, bashes, slashes, crashes, maims, brains, pains, murders and assassinates quite a few extras with aspirations. Every now and then, however, she's very good at shedding a tear or two. She is still in touch with her feminine side, you know.

And so on and so forth. But here's the thing. If you think back to the days when women called the shots, it wasn't because they were physically strong. It was because they had the power of producing babies, life. Back then, you see, they hadn't made the connection yet that babies come from men and women doing what comes naturally. Women brought forth life and that was magical - in the occult sense of the word. Men and boys had to be sacrificed in these women's names they were so powerful.

And if you look at Jolie beyond this rubbish, it might just be that the phallocratic Hollywood is so terrified of her occult female power, her fertility - both in real life and positively glowing on the screen - that they have to make her do silly action things, men things, with her narrow, boy-like hips, even impersonating a male security guard at one stage. If that's not verging on transferred homoeroticism then I don't know what is.

Put in another way, there is no one with the balls or ovaries to make her a true, realistic femme fatale - she is too big for them. Way too big.

Neil Sonnekus

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