Charlie’s Angels (2019) review

For F*** Magazine

CHARLIE’S ANGELS (2019)

Director: Elizabeth Banks
Cast : Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, Ella Balinska, Elizabeth Banks, Patrick Stewart, Djimon Hounsou, Sam Claflin, Djimon Hounsou, Jonathan Tucker, Nat Faxon, Chris Pang
Genre : Action/Adventure/Comedy
Run Time : 1 h 58 mins
Opens : 14 November 2019
Rating : PG13

In 1976, the television series Charlie’s Angels starring Farrah Fawcett, Kate Jackson and Jaclyn Smith premiered. The series ran for five years and underwent several cast changes, and the brand has remained a pop culture staple since then. The Angels landed on the big screen in a 2000 film starring Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu and Drew Barrymore, which received a 2003 sequel. Following a short-lived 2011 TV revival, the Angels are back in cinemas with this new movie, which is couched as a continuation of the original TV series and the 2000s movies.

Elena Houghlin (Naomi Scott) is a brilliant systems engineer working at Brok Industries on a project called Calisto. The alternative energy source can be repurposed as a weapon if it falls into the wrong hands. Sabina (Kristen Stewart) and Jane (Ella Balinska), operatives of a private intelligence outfit called the Townsend Agency, must protect Elena when she blows the whistle on Brok Industries. These agents are known as ‘Angels’ – their handler Susan Bosley (Elizabeth Banks) was formerly an Angel herself. The original Bosley (Patrick Stewart) is retiring after 40 years of recruiting and training Angels. Charlie (Robert Clotworthy), The unseen boss of the Townsend Agency, communicates through speakerphone. Elena decides she wants to join the Angels, and their mission to secure Calisto takes them from Germany to Turkey.

Banks set out to make a movie about women at work and this new take on Charlie’s Angels benefits from being a lot less male gaze driven and exploitative. Yes, the main characters are still stylish and sexy, but it’s clear that this is no longer for the primary benefit of the slavering men in the audience.

There are moments when each lead gets to shine, but it’s clear that Kristen Stewart is holding it all together. She’s never looked more at ease in a mainstream tentpole movie and has a lot of fun playing the resident wild child. Ella Balinska is statuesque and certainly looks like she could handle herself in a fight, while Naomi Scott’s Elena has an endearing fangirl quality to her while also being intelligent and capable.

One of the film’s best moments is a sequence in which the three Angels dress in identical disguises, confusing security guards at Brok Industries headquarters as they carry out a heist. Some design elements, especially the costumes by Kym Barrett, work quite well.

Unfortunately, Charlie’s Angels just doesn’t feel like the big event it should be. A big screen revival of the franchise should be a brassy, celebratory affair, and this movie just feels too low-key. Much of the action comes off feeling like it belongs on TV – which isn’t quite fair to many TV shows that feature more elaborate action sequences. The hand-to-hand combat sequences are shot and edited too frenetically, while the big chases and shootouts feel perfunctory at best.

Some of the film’s attempts at humour fall flat. Stewart is saddled with several unfunny asides and one-liners that she makes work through sheer force of will. Instead of the standard tech guy or armourer, the Angels have the Saint (Luis Gerardo Méndez), a wellness guru who makes them kombucha and herbal compresses. It’s one joke that is drawn out a bit too long.

This is an unabashedly feminist take on the material, and while this franchise certainly could do with a woman’s perspective behind the camera, there are times when it all feels too clumsy. This is most notable during the opening credits, which look like stock footage of girls from various parts of the world going about their day. Yes, the message is that women can do anything, but what they’re depicted doing in the movie is rarely impressive enough to be really inspiring, at least when compared against the typical action blockbuster. There clearly is an appetite for action, horror, sci-fi, fantasy and other genre movies that depict a woman’s point of view, and one hopes Charlie’s Angels paves the way for more to follow, but the film isn’t entertaining enough to support its messaging.

While Stewart is great and both Naomi Scott and Ella Balinska do have a degree of charisma, the trio just doesn’t have the same palpable chemistry that Diaz, Liu and Barrymore shared in the 2000s films.

The spy stuff in the plot is all very standard issue: there’s a MacGuffin which our heroes must prevent from falling into the wrong hands. Banks’ desire to keep things light and breezy means that there isn’t much in the way of real stakes. When the movie goes darker, like in a scene in which one of the leads is being physically tortured, it comes off as a bit jarring. Not every spy movie needs to have the stunts and spectacle of the Mission: Impossible films, but there’s also no reason that Charlie’s Angels shouldn’t aim for a similar level of thrills.

We see what Banks is trying to do with the franchise and some of it is promising, but it all adds up to something that doesn’t quite make one want to punch the air and yell “the Angels are back!” Stay through the end credits for additional scenes that include a series of cameos.

Summary: Writer-director Elizabeth Banks brings several interesting ideas to the table, but this revival of Charlie’s Angels comes up short on thrills and spectacle, resulting in something that’s resoundingly underwhelming.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Personal Shopper

PERSONAL SHOPPER

Director : Olivier Assayas
Cast : Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Nora von Waldstätten, Anders Danielsen Lie, Sigrid Bouaziz, Ty Olwin
Genre : Drama/Thriller
Run Time : 1h 46min
Opens : 23 March 2017
Rating : NC-16

Kristen Stewart is no stranger to the paranormal, having been entangled with vampires and werewolves. In this psychological drama, she encounters – to borrow a joke from the Ghostbusters reboot – ghosts from her past: both literally and figuratively.

Stewart plays Maureen Cartwright, a 27-year-old American working as a personal shopper in Paris. She can’t stand her boss, the haughty, well-heeled socialite Kyra (von Waldstätten), and misses her boyfriend Gary (Olwin), who is working as an I.T. technician in Oman. In addition to discerning taste, Maureen has another gift: the ability to communicate with the dead. When she notices eerie goings-on, Maureen suspects that her recently-deceased twin brother Lewis might be reaching back from the great beyond. She begins receiving ominous text messages from an unknown sender, and finds her life upended by unexplainable other-worldly occurrences.

Writer-director Olivier Assayas has described Personal Shopper as a companion piece to his previous film, Clouds of Sils Maria, in which Stewart also played the assistant to a wealthy woman. Personal Shopper is difficult to classify, and while it is somewhat infamous for eliciting boos at a press screening during the Cannes Film Festival, many critics later rushed to its defence. Assayas also bagged the Best Director Award, tying with Graduation helmer Cristian Mungiu. It’s the kind of film that will leave some audiences entranced, others puzzled, and drive yet others positively mad. This reviewer’s reading of the film as a deliberately inscrutable arthouse take on the ghost story genre might be a shallow one, but we just couldn’t get into Personal Shopper.

Assayas approaches the supernatural premise with the straightest of straight faces, the film never even hinting that it acknowledges its inherent absurdity. Personal Shopper demands the audience’s suspension of disbelief, yet seems unconcerned with earning it. It’s unlike any ghost story you’ve seen, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. There are several creepy scenes and a couple of effective set pieces, but in flitting from supernatural horror to quiet character study, Personal Shopper comes off as half-baked. There are frightening moments, but because the central mystery goes nowhere and multiple loose ends are left untied, the film doesn’t burrow under one’s skin the way it was likely intended to. One crucial scene seems reminiscent of a sequence in the afore-mentioned Ghostbusters reboot, but since both films were in production at the same time, it’s most likely mere coincidence.

This reviewer views Kristen Stewart as the female Jesse Eisenberg – their similarity is probably why they’ve worked so well together in Adventureland, American Ultra and Café Society. Both are known for nervous tics, an awkward public persona and can sometimes come off as aloof. They’ve both floundered about in big-budget blockbusters but excelled in smaller, character-driven projects. While Stewart has been praised for her role in Personal Shopper, we found her performance less than compelling. She displays a lot of the neurotic twitchiness and restlessness we’ve come to expect of her, and Maureen’s conflicting disdain for and desire to emulate Kyra is underplayed. For a film set in the world of Parisian high fashion, there’s very little vanity in Stewart’s performance, but there’s also little to capture the attention – that is, if one can’t muster up any excitement over seeing Stewart topless.

One of the arthouse touches that Assayas attempts to spice up this cold, soporific ghost story with is Maureen being fascinated with artists said to have been in contact with the spirit world. Maureen looks up Swedish artist Hilma af Klint, who claimed that spirits painted through her and whose work predates the known invention of abstract art. Maureen also watches a TV movie about Victor Hugo’s séances, with French singer Benjamin Biolay portraying Hugo in this show-within-a-show. It isn’t chintzy enough to look like a 60s TV movie, and these ideas are merely presented in the film, rather than worked into its fabric.

Personal Shopper might be regarded as a cult oddity of European cinema, reaching a wider audience than your average arthouse curiosity thanks to its American star. While there are glimmers of promise in auteur Assayas’ unorthodox take on the supernatural, it’s too detached and preoccupied with being abstruse to truly be haunting.

Summary: A high-falutin’ blend of supernatural thriller and character drama, Personal Shopper is an odd beast which alienates more than it frightens.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong