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30 March 2017

'Tomb' raiding, off-the-cuff fisticuffs & dishing Hollywood dirt

Angelina Jolie doing some tomb raiding as Lara Croft. (Courtesy: imdb.com)

It was early June, 2001, a full three months before terrorists attacked the U.S. and put a somber face on this country and much of the free world that has yet to relax even a little.

It was a happier time, a time when a film critic could say silly things about silly movies and even to its star.  No harm would be done and everyone could have a laugh or two.

Such was the case when Angelina Jolie took on the title role as muscle flexing, tough-as-nails video game sensation Lara Croft in the feature film version of Lara Croft:  Tomb Raider.

If you don't recall the action-adventure-fantasy or its sequel, Lara Croft Tomb Raider:  The Cradle of Life (2003), Ms. Croft (Jolie) did quite a bit of tomb raiding, which usually involved beating up bad guys in a swashbuckling, flamboyant manner that would have made Errol Flynn run and hide had Flynn not passed away in 1959.

As Croft, Jolie was sort of the female version of Harrison Ford's Indiana Jones with one exception.  When it got cold, Indy (Ford) dressed in a leather jacket.  As Lara Croft, Jolie did her tomb raiding, even in a cave in some area of the snow-covered way-up-north frozen tundra, in a T-shirt.  If it wasn't a wet T-shirt, it was probably damp enough to keep teenage boys returning to the ticket window for another view of Ms. Croft running out of the cave into the snow in slo-mo.  (Maybe the slow-motion part was all in my mind.  'Scuse me, I mean in the minds of the teenage boys I mentioned earlier).

The silliness of all this was still buzzing around in my head the next day as I dutifully took my place around an interview table with four or five other film critics and entertainment writers in a Los Angeles five-star luxury hotel suite. 

Jolie, married to Billy Bob Thornton at the time and sporting a necklace with a vial allegedly containing Thornton's blood (He had one with her blood as well, according to Hollywood legend), came in and took her seat beside me.

Before I go on, let me just say that the Billy Bob Thornton/Angelina Jolie coupling ranks as my second favorite show-biz marriage of all time.  My favorite:  Super-crooner Lyle Lovett and Julia Roberts in 1993.  Sadly, neither marriage stood the test of time. 

I was thinking about Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft today because the Hollywood Reporter has posted segments of former Paramount studio chief Sherry Lansing's new book Leading Lady that talks about, among other things, concerns about casting Jolie as Lara Croft.

And now, back to our little story:

While my fellow journalists tossed the usual celebrity softball questions to Jolie, I fretted about how to ask her why in the world even a video-game-heroine-turned-big-screen heroine would run around the frozen north in a semi-wet T-shirt (knowing the answer all along, of course).

Finally, I sort of blurted out:  "Ms. Jolie, do you think Lara Croft runs like a girl?" 

I just thought I had seen piercing eyes before.  Jolie shot visual darts right through my eyes down to my very soul, didn't find much that interested her there, apparently, so she choose a half-smile/half-sneer and replied, "You and me are going to fistfight."

I'm not sure if I actually said this out loud or just in my muddled mind, but I may have said, "I'd pay retail for that."

The ever-present guardians of the movie studio galaxy moved in a little closer during the exchange.  But when Ms. Jolie laughed, so did I and so did everyone present.

It was a different time; a time when you could say silly things to big movie stars and all have a giggle.

I miss those times.  Back then many of the most notorious villains kept to their place up on movie screens, and muscled women in T-shirts would occasionally come along and kick their asses for us.



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