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Taking Lives                                    

When a publication such as the Goliard, a journalistic enterprise notorious for exaggeration, scandal mongering, staff malfeasance, and unapologetic plagiarism, not to mention trash talking and the telling of tales out of school, when a rag with a reputation like that makes a claim out of nowhere that a particular movie reviewer on staff once spent part of a summer engaged in close personal dealings with a giggling and grateful Angelina Jolie, well, we wouldn't be surprised if our credibility and journalistic integrity was again called to the mat. And if we went on to confide that these dealings occurred on almost a daily basis for the better part of a month and usually involved whipping cream and strawberries, why then it certainly wouldn't surprise us to hear that the readership had become overwhelmingly incredulous and responded by calling out bullshit in a loud unified voice.

As it turns out however, such is indeed the case.

And now that the tale has been authenticated and validated to the satisfaction of our fact checkers, we decided to give the staffer free reign to relate the particulars of the liaison as preamble to his review of one of Angelina's latest films.

Movie Reviewer

Lo so many moons ago, when this humble Goliard was busy squandering the seemingly infinite hours of his young adulthood by swilling beers, bird dogging waitresses, running parley numbers for the man, and paying for these and other equally spurious (if goliardly gallant) pursuits by bartending at a tennis club, a brush with the eventually enigmatic and divine did occur that, although it barely registered at the time, has been brought back to mind recently with the release of the film Taking Lives starring one Angelina Jolie. 

Way back in the aforementioned day, the actor Jon Voight was filming a movie in the Tucson area and evidently needed a place to exercise and take a sauna or steam after a long day on the hot, dusty set. Such options were somewhat limited back then so he found it necessary to purchase a temporary membership among the hoi polloi at a local tennis club. It being summer, his young daughter and son were with him and would often accompany him on these club visits to make use of the pool and would subsequently follow him into the bar after his workouts to grab some popcorn, a meal, or perhaps a cold beverage or two. It being basically a family tennis facility, we had a fairly lenient policy on minors in the bar anyway, and these particular minors, being the precocious Hollywood sort, had ascertained almost immediately that the bar was the only place on property where they could order strawberry smoothies, or more accurately, virgin strawberry daiquiris. Since the two children, and their divorced dad hailed from Los Angeles out in California where smoothies, reportedly, had become something of a staple by that point and, although the club didn't offer smoothies per se in any of it's other restaurants, the kids had figured out, as children will, that virgin strawberry daiquiris and smoothies have much in common. And sometimes, if you asked nicely, virgin daiquiris even came with whipped cream and a cherry on top. So at least once a day and sometimes twice, a little green eyed girl with the beginnings of bee stung lips and already cultivating that petulant look askance, would approach the service window alone to peer over the ledge, or scramble up on a stool at the bar next to her daddy and ask as sweetly as could be for her strawberry drink. We were happy to do it in this particular case although it wasn't a service we were supposed to perform for the regular members. The fact that we were blending these concoctions for the young lady who would later blossom into the likes of an Angelina Jolie, not to mention serving her brother and their father, in light of all that's gone down since, would have been mostly lost on us at the time and long since forgotten over the subsequent years if Voight hadn't been known to us for playing the roles of 1st Lt. Milo Minderbinder in Catch 22 as well as Joe Buck in Midnight Cowboy.

Everybody's talking at me. 
I don't hear a word they're saying, 
Only the echoes of my mind. 
People stopping staring, 
I can't see their faces, 
Only the shadows of their eyes.

Voight, who was in town working on a mostly forgettable film called Desert Bloom, may have had an inkling how his daughter's precocity was likely to manifest itself, especially since the children's mother Marcheline Bertrand was easy on the eyes and reportedly something of a handful as well, and he seemed very protective of the little girl as a result. As far as we were concerned however, those of us who were even aware that the Bloom cast was in town were far more interested in catching glimpses of Voight's costars JoBeth Williams, (link may contain nudity) who also came into the bar periodically, or Ellen Barkin, (who never did but who we had a crush on because of her role in Diner) than we were in blending up frozen strawberries for Voight's kids, however cute they might be. 

I'm going where the sun keeps shining
Thru' the pouring rain,
Going where the weather suits my clothes,
Backing off of the North East wind,
Sailing on summer breeze
And skipping over the ocean like a stone.

So, while it might come as a surprise to some that our editors weren't prefabricating when they shamelessly advertised a past interpersonal situation between Angelina and one on their staff, during which, they could have added by the way, said staffer was quite possibly among the people in Tucson that young A.J. looked forward to seeing the most, it may also not be a shock to anyone familiar with her now that she was interested in extra whip cream and managed to coax it out of us very easily with a couple of blinks of those green eyes. And obviously if this had been yet another Joe Blow and his children that were abbreviated regulars at the bar, we never would have been aware later of the privilege we were getting then, namely a preview of what would be an ascension into the elite of the world's attractive women. We had nearly forgotten about the experience all together as a matter of fact until Voight's rift with his Oscar winning daughter drifted across our consciousness. Then, the kiss between siblings at the Academy Awards and the whole Billy Bob Thornton blood vial situation began getting publicized and got us thinking about the actress and her father and brought the whole tale back fresh to our minds. And while we must say that those were indeed some killer smoothies, we certainly don't mean to suggest that we are taking any credit or sharing any blame for contributing to the sometimes confused, always enigmatic and intriguing figure that Angelina seems to have since become.

Once she had come back on the radar however, we paid attention at first as tales of Angelina's exploits were bandied about, mostly focusing on her suspect behavior what with the countless cryptic tattoos, her reportedly making use of items from her cutlery collection during foreplay, having first husband Johnny Lee Miller's name scrawled in her own blood on a T-shirt she wore at their wedding, a brief stop at a mental institution before checking out and marrying Thornton, not to mention her peculiar relationship with Voight that reportedly takes her breath away still whenever his name is brought up in interviews. As the bizarre stories continued with the seemingly incestuous kisses with her brother (above right) and of course the inevitable melt down and divorce from Billy Bob which seemed to leave her emotionally reeling especially since they had just adopted a Cambodian child together, after awhile we became jaded with the personal stuff. After all, what else was the likely outcome, we thought, of this young, overly romantic, highly privileged, actor's daughter growing up in Hollywood, modeling over seas at sixteen, with those bee stung lips and all the opportunities and temptations that they implied. She seemed now and then like a person who just might be the type to become overly attached to people and who would likely be susceptible to the kind of rap a guy like Billy Bob can no doubt bring. Of course she would be running amuck around the globe with the press close behind and we decided it was probably all part hype, part publicity, part reality and we just couldn't waste any time worrying about the mental well being of the little girl with the smoothies and what had likely become of her soul. We simply made a decision at some point to judge her for the body of work she would put before us and enjoy her onscreen for her unique and truly stunning beauty, not to mention the acting talent that allows her, seemingly without effort, to bring depth and mystery even to uninspiring roles, without passing judgment on her for the extraneous stuff. It was with all this in mind that we ventured out recently to take in her new film Taking Lives.

Since we had gone to the film based solely on the fact that she was in it, we weren't expecting much other than to reacquaint ourselves with Angelina and be mildly entertained for a couple hours. Movies are better when she's in them, we've found, because, well she's a captivating presence on screen for one thing, but she also brings a sultry, damaged goods, quality to her characters that is hard to quantify but, in the right roles, can often be mesmerizing to behold. And in the wrong roles, or if she is saddled with bad writing, watching her is still better than watching most of her counterparts as she always adds another level to the story by just being who she is underneath. She was great in Pushing Tin, good in Original Sin, and even managed to be the most interesting character in The Bone Collector despite limited screen time. We never saw Girl, Interrupted for which she won an Oscar but figured in this latest thriller, from the previews we'd seen, that as long as the script wasn't terrible and she is allowed to slink around in the shadows peering at people with those bewitching, wounded eyes and pursing those lips that, quite possibly, are solely responsible for the many other actresses experimenting with collagen these days, we figured that it would be time, if not well spent, at least not completely wasted. That last sentence, as it turns out, sums up Taking Lives pretty well.

The plot is pretty typical thriller stuff in that an unknown deranged sociopath is killing people across Canada and assuming their identities until they are discovered missing at which point he moves on to another victim. Angelina has an eye for details and, as an FBI profiler on loan, a knack for being able to put herself in the minds of these specimens. This, of course, comes into play later in the film as the killer attempts to use it to play with her head and make her wonder just how much like him she really is. This is not a great movie by any stretch but there are a couple of startling, body drops from the rafters, sort of moments and enough twists and turns along the way to the surprise ending to keep even viewers not there just to see Ms. Jolie from losing interest. Ethan Hawke and Kiefer Sutherland costar as the suspects and the cast is filled out by character actors with French accents as the bulk of the film is supposed to be taking place in Montreal. Olivier Martinez also does a good job turning his sexy Spanish lilt into the bitter French Canadian partner that doesn't appreciate Jolie's character intruding on his turf.

This movie is actually better than average for the first 80 minutes or so, or until Jolie realizes that she had the wrong man at which point things begin to drag a bit with an ending that feels like it may have been patched together as an afterthought. It never ceases to amaze us by the way, how screenwriters in this genre expect people to suspend belief that suddenly normal police procedure would allow for leaving suspects and potential victims unguarded and vulnerable to all sorts of heinous acts while cops swarm over every other inch of the celluloid, only to be conveniently missing when it counts. In this particular film, right after a scene where 100's of cops and detectives swarm to hunt a killer and protect his "bait", they show said bait sitting alone in a house while his sole protector leans on a car outside smoking a cigarette. Who manages to show up in the house somehow? Why the suspected killer of course. And this just after a scene where the chief is shown lecturing his troops that protecting the person from the killer is "top priority." Several egregious offenses along these same lines occur in this film but, because of the intrigue of Angelina and the rainy scenic beauty of Montreal, we would have to categorize it as slightly above average for it's ilk. Angelina looks great, it's is entertaining for about three quarters of the film, and contains a couple of serious, jump out of your seat moments. With the slop the genre has been producing lately, a person can't ask for much more.

At any rate it was nice to see you again Ms. Jolie. Thanks for reminding us of a more goliardly pure time and please know that there are plenty of us who've been through the ringer with you since our innocent tennis club days together and can sympathize. Be well, try to keep it real and if you ever want another strawberry smoothie for old times sake, we'd be glad to deliver. Even if you do currently have a knife collection with some interesting ideas on how to use them.

Copyright 2004. All Rights Reserved.