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Angelina Jolie’s “First They Killed My Father” Is Her Most Accomplished Work Yet

It would have been easy for Angelina Jolie’s adaptation of Cambodian genocide survivor Loung Ung’s 2000 memoir to go ruthlessly and repeatedly for the emotional jugular. First They Killed My Father is, after all, the story of a young girl hurled into one of the twentieth century’s most unthinkable nightmares. But Loung’s book was itself a work of tight, no-nonsense prose; the facts it presented were devastating enough. And the film is similarly tough and unyielding; it unspools with admirable discipline and verve. This is Jolie’s most accomplished work yet.

Loung was just five years old when the Khmer Rouge entered the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh in 1975. The guerrilla army had spent the previous decade or so growing and radicalizing in the country’s mountains and jungles, feeding off the chaos of the Vietnam War next door. Even so, their victory was initially greeted with relief; many Cambodians believed this would mark the end to years of civil war. Within hours, however, the Khmer Rouge forced the residents of Phnom Penh out. The new regime was determined to eradicate the country’s past and any vestiges of modernity, in order to build an entirely agrarian, classless society where the only family anyone would know was the state. If you spoke a foreign language (colonialist!), you could be executed. If you wore a pair of glasses (intellectual!), you could be executed. If you owned nice clothes (bourgeois!), you could be executed. Over the next four years, two million Cambodians perished — nearly a quarter of the country.

Jolie doesn’t spend much time on Loung’s life before the Khmer Rouge takeover, though we do get a couple of scenes showing the family trying to maintain normalcy even as war approaches its city: pleasant scenes at dinner, Loung’s brother showing his dance moves. Once the family has to evacuate Phnom Penh — with her dad, a former member of U.S.-backed President Lon Nol’s government, concealing his identity — the film becomes mostly dialogue-free. Keeping their heads down, they march along with tens of thousands of others, eventually making their way to a collective village. That’s when the real madness begins.

These people are forced to live in a world where showing too much compassion or pain is suspect, and sometimes it seems as if the film itself has absorbed that idea. Jolie never flinches from the horror; she just doesn’t dwell on it. It’s as if the movie is keeping its head down, moving along. Its power, therefore, lies not so much in individual moments as in their cumulative impact. As Loung, Sareum Srey Moch hides her vulnerability and often looks out at the world with slow-burning bewilderment and anger. What emoting there is comes from Sveng Socheata, playing Loung’s mother: Whether she’s grieving the dissolution of her family, the death of a child, or the unspeakable survival advice she has to give her surviving kids, every register of anguish on her face feels not just earned, but long overdue.

Most of First They Killed My Father is told through close-ups and point-of-view shots, but the film’s signature angle might actually be a bird’s-eye view of the action — as we watch the evacuation of Phnom Penh, or starving workers slaving in a rice paddy, or a minefield littered with corpses. Through such stylistic flourishes, Jolie highlights the fact that the story she’s presenting is just one tragedy among many. But by pulling away, she also reminds us of our own comfortable distance. We can stand apart and regard all this from afar — as much of the world did in the mid-1970s. Even as Jolie plunges us into the first-person horror of Loung’s tale, she seems to acknowledge that there are certain experiences and suffering we in the audience will never truly grasp.

The film saves the real emotional dynamite for the end, however. The one moment when I fully, truly lost it came in a scene at a makeshift refugee camp, where Loung finds herself in the middle of a crowd that has cornered a Khmer Rouge soldier. These people — ordinary folks who have had to endure so much agony — set upon the silent, nameless man, nearly killing him. The scene is heartbreaking not for its sense of justice or catharsis (there is none), but because it shows us what happens when every atom of a society is ionized with hate. Jolie lays bare the fragility of our own humanity.

First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers
Directed by Angelina Jolie
Netflix Releasing
Opens September 15, in theaters and on Netflix 

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The Post-Apocalyptic Aftermath Is Relentlessly Grim

The apocalypse is no fun for anyone, but the dreariest possible scenario probably entails being stuck in a house without a functioning toilet and with nine of the dullest people left alive.

That’s the situation Peter Engert strands us in with the relentlessly grim and dull Aftermath, an ultra-gloomy variant of Gilligan’s Island, which traps its central nonet in a rural cabin. The professor figure keeping them alive (thus prolonging their misery) is young doctor Hunter (C.J. Thomason), who barters his medical expertise for shelter for himself and three hitchhikers he rescues from nuclear explosions. Among the survivors are resigned-to-die Rob (Andre Royo), short-tempered Brad (Edward Furlong) and his very pregnant wife, Angie (Christine Kelly), and sweet-natured Elizabeth (Monica Keena).

While the men fall into broad types — the smart guy, the nice guy, the angry guy — the nearly identical women are indistinguishable from one another in the dimness, both physically and personality-wise. Save for the Afro-Latino Royo and a grandfatherly invalid (Tody Bernard), the characters’ demographic homogeneity — mostly whites in their early 20s — lends the film an unintended resemblance to Christian college kids playing Armageddon at Bible Club.

Continued bickering eventually gives way to zombie attacks — an overcompensation for the preceding monotony, as well as a tonal and narrative misstep made all the more silly with gratuitous, ’70s-style, freeze-frame zooms.

At least Aftermath gets at one truth: When the end is nigh, you might as well save yourself the trouble of being torn apart by zombies and just turn the gun on yourself.

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Maleficent: Jolie the Great and Powerful

Boil Maleficent down to one newt’s nose-size piece of advice and you’d get this: Don’t dump Angelina Jolie. It’s not a problem most mortals will face, but as seen through director Robert Stromberg’s lens, the antlered arch-villain of Sleeping Beauty is a sympathetic scorned woman, equal parts Gloria Gaynor, Princess Diana, and Lorena Bobbitt, with a dash of Euripedes’s Medea thrown in for class.

The cad is an ambitious thief named Stefan (Sharlto Copley), who befriends Maleficent when she’s just a naïve fairy who doesn’t realize that humans are jerks. He romances her for several decades before betraying her for the chance to become king. The bad news comes as a shock. Alas, though Maleficent’s magical forest is equipped with stomping tree beasts and squat, mud-slinging gnomes, she has no Top 40 station to teach her that her lifelong boyfriend should have put a ring on it. And so she does what any wounded woman would: curse his baby daughter to a perpetual coma.

Like Oz the Great and Powerful, Maleficent considers itself a revisionist fairy tale that spins a demonized witch into a feminist icon. Hardly. Both movies hinge on a man, as though the sheer power of being rejected by one dude is enough to make any girl nuts. Maleficent and the Wicked Witch of the West can terrify armies, but they cede their emotional strength to a mortal twerp. At least in Wicked, the topsy-turvy retelling that started the trend, the witch turned evil because of her politics. As did Mystique in X-Men: Days of Future Past, who would respond with a sneer if invited on a manicures-and-ice-cream girl-power date with Maleficent.

Still, Jolie carries her embittered witch with the dignity of Nefertiti. She rarely speaks, preferring to sulk and scream. Stromberg and his effects team have enhanced the actress’s otherworldly beauty to monstrous perfection: The cheekbones jut out like cliffs, the green eyes glow, the full mouth stretches over an impossible number of teeth. For a children’s movie, Maleficent makes one hell of a Vogue pictorial, eschewing the breakneck pacing expected of a PG Disney flick for the stern art-house rhythms of Jean Cocteau’s 1946 Beauty and the Beast.

Yet Maleficent suffers from the same problem that’s sandbagged Jolie’s career: Her directors shoot her like a goddess, but set her in a world that treats her like an urchin. Jolie’s films never hurdle that key contradiction — the filmmakers’ joy at photographing such beauty versus her need to prove that she’s more than a pretty face. As a result, Jolie picks scripts where her characters are rejected or victimized (A Mighty Heart, Salt, Beyond Borders), only to wind up looking so gobsmackingly gorgeous that the plot no longer makes sense.

Clint Eastwood’s Changeling was the most preposterous offender, a period piece about a stunning single mom who begs a dozen men to help find her son and gets every door slammed in her face. (You think they’d at least weasel a consoling hug.) Stromberg has the sense to recognize that onscreen Jolie is no mortal, but then she still gets dumped by the dweeb from District 9.

It’s not impossible to reconcile Jolie’s too-pretty paradox. Here, the plot could be rescued with just an eyebrow, a glimmer of regret on Copley’s face that he has to give up this magical creature for a kingdom. I’d prefer to see her sink her teeth into the sexy, goofy, terrifying roles that made her famous, the fully alive Girl, Interrupted who embraced her powers instead of apologetically tamping them down. Instead, Jolie’s taking her serious-minded talents to the director’s chair. Which, if you’ve seen her stilted Bosnian war drama In the Land of Blood and Honey, isn’t a fair trade.

For now, Maleficent is Jolie’s last scheduled on-camera performance, and despite its eye-rolling silliness, it certainly sends her out like a star. It’s less kind to the promising Elle Fanning, whose Princess Aurora is a grinning, passive fool. We’re meant to love her for her innocence — even Maleficent herself slowly comes around — but with the grown woman hogging the show, she never resonates as anything more than a lunatic toddler. In inverting the classic tale like a sock, the maternal red, blue, and green pixies (Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville, Juno Temple) have been recast as negligent babysitters, who, worst of all, prove immune to the film’s Girl Code of Honor by staying friendly with their friend’s evil ex. (And when they pressure a cute stranger to kiss their comatose 15-year-old, they almost come across as criminals.)

With more actual grrrl power, Maleficent would be a bold redo. Instead, it’s a beautiful snooze, a story that hints at the darkness underneath our fairy tales and tarnishes the idea of true love without quite daring to say what’s really on its mind: that even the best of us might not live happily ever after.

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The Sickest Remarks Being Made About Angelina’s Double Mastectomy

Yesterday, Angelina Jolie revealed that she’d had a double mastectomy as a preventive measure against a family history of breast cancer, amidst worldwide kudos and admiration.

But on Facebook and other places, some were not convinced.

“Her breasts were sagging,” said one ex “friend” of mine, “so she simply had them lifted. By lying and spinning it as a mastectomy, she is now above criticism or ridicule.”

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Oy! That’s taking conspiracy theories to all new lows, don’t you think? It’s bringing healthy cynicism to incredibly unhealthy levels. Does anyone really think that if this were just a case of a breast lift, it would be so potentially scandalous that someone would have to invent an incredibly extreme medical alibi for it? Especially Angelina, who’s not exactly known to be a liar or evader

The woman has always been a strong individual who’s stood up for herself and her beliefs, and in my extremely educated opinion this is just another instance of that.

The people trying to denigrate her decision as just another act of Hollywood narcissism obviously have no balls/ovaries.

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Angelina Jolie Had Preventive Double Mastectomy

She writes about it in this extraordinary essay about her mother’s death, her own “faulty gene,” and her preemptive strike against disease.

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No sassy comments or blithe observations here. I’m completely awestruck.

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So, Is Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s Wine Worth the Hype?

The vinous baby of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt has finally arrived stateside! If you haven’t heard, Brangie are now Provençal winemakers, having delivered their inaugural vintage of rosé from their Château Miraval estate last week. But erase any vision of Angie lovingly tending vines in muddy boots, hair matted to forehead under the hot midsummer sun; or Brad, come harvest time, with his usual overgrown goatee, gently picking grapes during cool pre-dawn hours and hand-sorting them at the table. That’s only in the movies, folks.

In reality, if you own a château as a second, third, or sixth home, you probably aren’t foot-stomping fruit. But that doesn’t mean the wine isn’t good. Miraval has a history of quality organic wine production long before its celebrity ownership, most notably for its Pink Floyd rosé, so named because the group recorded part of their album The Wall in the château’s recording studio.

In recent years, the 1,000-acre estate was acquired by the duo through the glitterati version of rent-to-own (they leased for several years before dropping $60 million on the property). As far as their new wine label, someone else was hired to do everything but pay the mortgage. Well, not just someone. The Jolie-Pitts teamed up with Marc Perrin, owner of famed Château de Beaucastel in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, to turn a blend of Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, and Rolle into the high-profile Miraval Provence Rosé 2012 with the Jolie-Pitt & Perrin names featured on the back.

If you actually care about tasting the celebrity couple’s wine, move quickly. Their first offering, released on the château’s website in early March, sold out in six hours — a winemaker’s wet dream and one that is definitely not recurring for most. Fortunately for us New Yorkers, Union Square Wines just received one of the largest allotments in the country. As a recipient of USQ’s newsletter, I was notified a month ago that I could pre-order a bottle to ensure one precious little Jolie-Pitt rosé would be mine. I felt like a sucker for buying it, but inquiring minds want to know: Is it worth the hype?

The bottle itself is gorgeous, reminiscent of Ruinart Champagne’s curvy, sexy glass, although the unwieldy shape (and enormous punt!) doesn’t easily lend itself to storage. Not that you would stick this in your wine fridge for any length of time — the luminescent, salmon-pink juice practically dares you not to cut the foil and uncork it immediately. The wine inside is perfumed and smacks of summer: blooming jasmine and honeysuckle, red fruits of cherry, raspberry and watermelon, plus zippy citrus peel. Refreshing. Eminently drinkable. As lyrical as A River Runs Through It? Not quite; but profoundly better than that overhyped stinker Salt.

USQ still has a few cases in stock. Bottles are priced at $22.99 or $19.99 each if you buy six. But my advice is to buy one, skip the case, and diversify your rosé portfolio. France, Spain and USA, to name a few, all have exciting offerings from family-owned wineries of ardent vintners who can’t sell out of a wine based on star power in 6 hours, let alone 6 months, even if their wines should.

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Super Bowl Commercial Week: Brad Pitt Ditches the Paparazzi (and Jennifer Aniston) on a Beer Run

Despite opposing claims from TMZ, celebrities are actually nothing like us.

Take, for example, this 2005 Heineken commercial starring a beer-thirsty Brad Pitt. In it, the star uses some stealth techniques to avoid the legions of photographers who capture his every move. The ad ran on the heels of Pitt’s Mr. and Mrs. Smith wife drop film release, just weeks before he gave then-spouse Jennifer Aniston the boot for Angelina Jolie.

See More Super Bowl Commercials:Watch Young Michael J. Fox’s Storm-Soaked Search for Diet Pepsi

What made the short spot all the more ridiculous is Pitt’s post-paparazzi phone call, presumably to an equally smug badass lady, asking her to come up and see him sometime. If there were ever a place to seek an answer as to why Aniston has been perennially cast as the saddest woman in Hollywood, it’s here.

Oh yea, The New England Patriots beat the Philadelphia Eagles that year in a close game, 24 – 21.

Also worth mentioning, Aniston starred in her own beer commercial for Heineken. The Dutch clip didn’t run in the United States, but maybe one of Jolie’s kids has seen it.

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Why Angelina Broke Up With Billy Bob Thornton

I was flipping through the book The Billy Bob Tapes: A Cave Full of Ghosts by Thornton and Kinky Friedman, and came across this confession:

“The reason Angie and I split up was because I couldn’t take it.

“Angie, I felt, was definitely too good for me, and at some point, if you believe somebody’s too good for you, you’re going to mess it up.

“She and I both know that I messed it up, but the good thing about her is, she doesn’t judge me.

“Never did.”

Wow, the woman’s truly amazing. Maybe she really was too good for him.

Thornton takes pains to add that feeling Angelina was better than him had nothing whatsoever to do with their supposed disparity in looks.

He says the press wrote stuff like, “Well, she’s the most beautiful woman in the world and he’s an ugly motherfucker.”

But “that was never a problem,” he explains, “because women don’t look at men the same way men look at women.”

Apparently, women don’t mind a guy looking a little out of the ordinary if he’s got other features that get them hot. (I always found Billy Bob super sexy anyway, especially in Bad Santa).

In any case, it all worked out because, as the maverick actor concludes, “She’s great for Brad, Brad’s great for her.”

And big Ange was nice enough to write the intro for Billy Bob’s book.

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Angelina As ‘Maleficent’: Here’s The Image

Angelina Jolie is entering her grand diva phase, playing the wickedest of witches, and I think it’s going to be fun.

Says the release about Maleficent (due in 2014):

“This is the untold story of Disney’s most beloved villain, Maleficent, from the 1959 classic Sleeping Beauty.

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“The film reveals the events that hardened her heart and drove her to curse the baby, Aurora.”

And judging from the above image, Angelina will be suitably scary.

That jutting cheekbone alone is terrifying!

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Angelina Wrote The Intro For Billy Bob Thornton’s New Book!

And it’s really loving!

Now how is Brad Pitt going to feel about that?

The book is The Billy Bob Tapes: A Cave Full of Ghosts by Thornton and Kinky Friedman.

And Thornton’s ex, Angelina Jolie, clinks metaphorical vials of blood with him and weighs in with a written appreciation.

She writes about Billy Bob:

“Most of all, he would die for his family. He has a big, beautiful heart.”

But it’s not all that simple. The man is complicated, Weird, even. A wondrous oddball.

“I have known him now for more than a decade,” states Angelina, “and I still haven’t quite figured him out.

“Not that I want to. The puzzle is so much fun.”

Angelina goes on to note that Billy Bob is agoraphobic, has insomnia, has OCD, and he writes his scripts on yellow legal pads.

“Some people walk through life able to quiet the voices in their heads,” offers Angelina.

“He can’t. And I, and everyone else who knows him well, we love him for it.”

And I love her for staying friends with the guy, complexities and all.

I wish my exes would help me write my books.