Charlie’s Angels 2019 NA (no award)

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How hard can it be to make a Charlie’s Angels movie? This 2019 version ain’t your momma’s Charlie’s Angels, in fact, is really isn’t anyone’s Charlie’s Angels at all; Elizabeth Banks’ continuation of the benighted franchise has been the very definition of a dud, an expensive, heavily promoted comedy/thriller that no-one outside of Variety’s critic seems to want.

The industry trade-paper generally aims for some kind of salty accuracy in their reviews, but it’s hard to match up the movie under discussion with this description ; ‘written and directed, by Elizabeth Banks as if she’d been making cheeky renegade action films all her life. The movie is relentless, it’s pulpy and exciting, it’s unabashedly derivative…rousingly of-the-moment feministic…ace car-chase filmmaking — breathless and ultra-violent, with big mounted weapons…awesomely elaborate action sequence that unfolds in a quarry…’ Instead, Charlie’s Angels has all the breathless, awesome action of Pitch Perfect 3 or The Spy Who Dumped Me, generic, anonymous fodder with phoned-in performances, dull green-screen punch-ups and no discernable flavour. It wouldn’t seem possible to disrespect such vanilla source material, but somehow Banks manages it.

The problem starts from the packaging. As a tv show, Charlie’s Angels made stars of the girls in the central roles, and they became household names. The cinematic reboot brought Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu to the roles, an update if not necessarily an upgrade. But how would you feel about the Angels being played by someone like, pause to consult notes, Naomi Scott? She was in Aladdin, right? Or what about, he googles quickly, Ellen Balinska? What would an actress whose claim to fame is brief appearances on Casualty and Midsommar Murders bring to the party? No pop culture frisson whatsoever is the answer. Charlie’s Angels needs three stars, big, or fading, or upcoming, just recognisable names. Would you fancy The Magnificent Seven with a cast of unknowns? Ocean’s 11 with a semi-professional cast? The producers on this film had one job, and they don’t seem to have taken it that seriously. Almost anyone would be better than the girls chosen here.

Kristen Stewart is the only element here that’s on point; she’s a big star who has successfully shunned blockbuster roles since Twilight in favour of great performances in small movies, and seems to have chosen unwisely here. She’s introduced as a swaggering super-spy called Sabina, and bonds with the other girls while on a confusing assignment situated in drag Hamburg dockland, one that involves the death of contact/wrangler Bosley (Djimon Hounsou) and a memory stick landing in a river. From there, the action flips to Istanbul, another locations worn smooth by spy movies, where a racetrack meeting provides the Angels with a chance at revenge. Another Bosley (Banks) is feeding the girls instructions, but could a third Bosley (Patrick Stewart) be sabotaging their mission?

Whatever the actual DNA was of the tv show and movies so far, Banks screws around with it to mind-numbing effect. How many Charlies are there? How many Bosleys? How does it help for us to see one Bosley cheaply photoshopped into still photographs from the previous Angels films and tv shows? Meanwhile Sam Clafin plays an Elon Musk-type zillionaire who has invented a generic McGuffin energy source that provides the uninteresting stakes for muddled punch ups and chases. The result is a movie that sinks like a stone, with some nice costumes about the only thing that passes muster.

Charlie’s Angels was, in its prime, a lazy chauvinist show that invited men (and women) to gawp at weapons-grade models under the guise of a detective thriller; somewhere between Baywatch and The Rockford Files. Re-nose this property with some girl-power feminism and you have nothing at all, two over-riding philosophies in chauvinism and feminism that simply don’t gel. New wine is old bottles is one thing, but the 2019 version of Charlie’s Angels is the weakest of weak sauce.

Suspiria 2018 ***

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Not exactly here in terms of merit as a good film, Suspiria is at least a memorable piece of horror cinema. Dario Argento’s original film is stylish but stabby and incoherent; Luca Guadagnino’s much anticipated remake seems intent on turning the original film inside out, and as an act of deconstruction, it’s not without interest. Dakota Fanning arrives at Tilda Swinton’s dance school, only to find a coven of witches are using it was a front. The punch-line of Argento’s film becomes the jumping off point for Guadagnino, but nearly two and a half hours later, not much of any value has been added to the pot. There’s extreme gore (the final orgy features volcanic blood and bile vomited from innards as heads snap back like Pez dispensers), some political allusions (from Baadar-Meinhoff terrorists to WWII concentration camps) which don’t really help, and a smattering of indelible images, like the table of aging witches at the back of a restaurant, or the execution by dance of one of the pupils. Its hard to know what those unaware of the original film will make of this; Argento purists probably deserve to be annoyed, but at least this Suspiria isn’t some bland PG 13 remake for teens; in fact, it really is quite horrible to watch, and presumably that’s the intention.

Papillon 2016 ***

Papillon-FeatureRemakes and reboots are a constant part of our cinematic landscape. There’s no point in being precious about things; if you want to see the 1973 version of this story, then you can find it elsewhere. This 2016 version (released in 2019, it’s been on the shelf for a while) is a remake of the Steve McQueen classic with Charlie Hunnam (King Arthur) in the lead. If you’re remaking Steve McQueen films with Charlie Hunnam in the lead role, you are assuredly onto plums , but actually Papillon isn’t bad at all. Fresh in our minds from his Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody, Rami Malek is ideal as Louis Dega, the wily fellow convict of Henri Charriere (Hunnam), bending and breaking under the physical and mental cruelties of life in a French Penal colony in the 1930’s. Some of the dialogue is anachronistic (‘Turn that frown upside down…’ spoken in Paris in 1926 ) and most of the best scenes are lifted straight from the original film, but the core of the material (and the original book) is intact; the human spirit cannot be beaten, and no prison can hold a man who never gives up.

Shaft 2019 ***

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Reports of franchise fatigue affecting the US box office miss one off-putting element; anyone who bought a ticket for Shaft, Isn’t It Romantic? Annihilation or many other titles must have felt sorely ripped-off when they found the film they just shelled out $20 bucks to see if freely available at home on HD. For major studios to cut their losses by selling the foreign rights to their films on Netlix can only create buyers remorse and disaffection with the cinema-going process in general. Of course, Tim Story’s rehash of elements from the past four Shaft films was always going to generate some unhappy customers; the late John Singleton’s 2000 version with Samuel l Jackson was awful, and unfortunately that’s the poisoned well that this 2019 incarnation draws most of it’s mojo from. Jessie T Usher is JJ Shaft, an FBI cyber-crime fighter who joins forces with his dad, and then eventually his grandfather (a spruce Richard Roundtree) to resolve the death of his friend. The gags are laboured, the action undistinguished, the music isn’t the original Shaft theme, and the locations are faked NYC. Roundtree is great, and the final shoot-out is worth the wait, but this version of Shaft feels like something of a con-job all round.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes 2011 ***

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Rupert Wyatt pulled off an accomplished reboot of the popular sci-fi series that wisely takes the franchise back to the start of the ape regime, skipping the absurd melodrama of Tim Burton’s remake. Will Rodman (James Franco) is the scientist working on a cure for Alzheimer’s, with Ceasar (Andy Serkis) the ape who gets treated like a human being when his intellect begins to soar.  Mistreated and confined to a cell with his fellow apes, Ceasar begins talking about a revolution, and Wyatt’s film ends with a dynamic revolt, with the apes causing mayhem on San Francisco’s Golden Gate bridge. Likely to be the first in a long line of films about Ceasar’s struggle for power, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is an intelligent and astutely written film that considers wider issues of animal and human rights without ever letting Ceasar become a monster; sketching the bedroom window that he misses on the wall of his cell, he’s a empathetic hero in a way that makes Franco’s scientist somewhat dispensable.