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

My Cousin Rachel

For F*** Magazine

MY COUSIN RACHEL 

Director : Roger Michell
Cast : Rachel Weisz, Sam Claflin, Iain Glen, Holliday Grainger, Pierfrancisco Favino
Genre : Drama/Romance
Run Time : 1h 46min
Opens : 29 June 2017
Rating : NC16 (Some Sexual Scenes)

When a character’s name is derived from the actor playing them, it’s known as ‘The Danza’. Take Will Smith as Will Smith in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Tim Allen and Roseanne Barr in their respective sitcoms, and of course Tony Danza, who played ‘Tony’ in Who’s the Boss and Taxi, amongst other things.

In this romantic thriller, Rachel Weisz plays a character named Rachel – but seeing as the source material was written twenty years before Weisz was born, this can be chalked up to kismet. Philip (Claflin) is an orphan whose legal guardian is his godfather Nick (Glen), but who has been cared for by his cousin Ambrose. While in Florence, Ambrose meets a cousin of his and quickly becomes smitten with her. They marry, but Ambrose falls ill eventually dies. This cousin is named Rachel. Philip is sure that Rachel has killed Ambrose for his fortune, but on meeting her, Philip finds himself unable to resist her wiles. Meanwhile, Nick’s daughter Louise (Grainger) nurses unrequited affection for Philip, and Philip is caught in Rachel’s heady thrall.

My Cousin Rachel is based on the 1951 novel of the same name by Daphne Du Maurier. Du Maurier’s novels Rebecca and Jamaica Inn and her short story The Birds spawned film adaptations directed by Alfred Hitchcock. My Cousin Rachel was first adapted for the screen in 1952, this version directed by Henry Koster and starring Richard Burton and Olivia de Havilland. This new take on My Cousin Rachel is adapted for the screen and written by Roger Michell, famous for helming the considerably sunnier romance Notting Hill.

My Cousin Rachel looks the part of a torrid yet classy affair, thanks to Mike Eley’s lyrical cinematography and the English filming locations of South Devon, Oxfordshire and Surrey. Dinah Collins’ costumes are handsome complements to the picturesque surrounds. However, it seems that the film is slightly too concerned with looking the part, and seems more mannered and stiff than untamed and dangerous. At times, the forbidden romance, the linchpin of the plot, feels ho-hum rather than risky While Michell does stage the proceedings with restraint, the stodginess creates distance between the viewer and the story when this should be beguiling and irresistible.

Weisz is an ideal fit for the titular character, and not just because of her name. She’s able to find the humanity beneath the archetypical Black Widow veil, and her take on the character is far from a laughable caricature. The effortless charm Weisz so subtly exudes Similarly, the dashing Claflin is believable as a naïve heir who’s either ensnared by a bewitching woman, or simply paranoid and delusional. Unfortunately, when the two are put together, the results are lukewarm rather than scorching. Glen delivers a respectable supporting turn, but Grainger remains strictly in the background, when a further exploration of Louise’s feelings for Philip would have made things more interesting.

Playing like a version of Crimson Peak sans the supernatural hijinks and sans Guillermo del Toro’s dark imagination and canny genre references, My Cousin Rachel is skilfully staged but isn’t as viscerally gripping as it should’ve been. Because its central mystery isn’t cleanly resolved, My Cousin Rachel could leave viewers frustrated or haunted. We lean more towards the former.

Summary: Rachel Weisz delivers an electrifying performance, but the movie that surrounds her is considerably duller, too mannered and rigid to inspire passion or generate thrills.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Huntsman: Winter’s War

For F*** Magazine

THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR

Director : Cedric Nicolas-Troyan
Cast : Chris Hemsworth, Jessica Chastain, Emily Blunt, Charlize Theron, Nick Frost, Rob Brydon, Alexandra Roach, Sheridan Smith, Sam Claflin
Genre : Action/Fantasy
Run Time : 114 mins
Opens : 14 April 2016
Rating : PG13 (Violence)

Once upon a time, there was an actress whose indiscretions resulted in her being booted from a potential franchise which she would’ve headlined. So instead, we turn our attention to the deuteragonist. Eric the Huntsman (Hemsworth) was one of a number of children kidnapped and forced into military training, to be groomed into the army of the Snow Queen Freya (Blunt). Defying Freya’s orders that they harden their hearts to love, Eric falls headlong for fellow warrior Sara (Chastain). Many years later, Eric thinks he is free of Freya’s grasp, but when her soldiers threaten Snow White’s kingdom, he has to face the Snow Queen again. Freya has taken the magic mirror, which she uses to resurrect her elder sister Ravenna (Theron), thought vanquished by Snow White and Eric. Joining Eric and Sara in their journey are dwarves Nion (Frost) and Gryff (Brydon). Eric and Sara must face off against the troops they grew up alongside, battling the power of the two sisters.

            Any studio wants franchises, and Universal is certainly no different. They’ve struck a goldmine with the Fast and Furious series and a new Universal Monsters universe is poised to take shape, but there’s always room for more cash cows in the herd. Alas, the action-fantasy take on Snow White seems a wobbly basis for a juggernaut franchise. When Kristen Stewart was given the boot, so was director Rupert Sanders, with whom she was having an affair. Replacing him at the helm is visual effects artist Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, The Huntsman marking his feature film directorial debut. Frank Darabont was initially set to direct, but he left before production began.

There are certain neat aesthetic ideas on display in the film and returning costume designer Colleen Atwood outfits Freya and Ravenna in a selection of splendid couture creations. Unfortunately, it all tends towards the generic. Where the plot is concerned, palace intrigue and dissention amongst the ranks against a medieval fantasy backdrop is readily available in more sophisticated and arresting forms elsewhere. Yes, it’s more ersatz Game of Thrones – or ‘Game of Theron’s’, if you will.

We have a good cast making do with ho-hum material – the presence of Blunt, Theron and Chastain in one movie should have far more propulsive impact than we actually get. But first, the titular Huntsman – For all of Hemsworth’s pulchritude and his ropey attempts at a Scottish accent, the filmmakers seem fully aware that Eric is a patently uninteresting character. We gain precious little from learning the character’s back-story, which is tied into that of the female lead, Sara. Chastain has repeatedly proven that she’s a force to be reckoned with and she kicks plenty of ass in full action heroine mode. But when it comes down to it, a mono-dimensional tough chick who’s totally one of the dudes and doesn’t need no man (or so she tells herself) is not that much better than a damsel in distress. In the cut we saw, a love scene between the two was abruptly truncated – puzzling that the censorship board opted to snip stuff out of a PG-13 fantasy flick that had its Singapore premiere in a theme park.

Incorporating the Snow Queen as the villain of the piece was no doubt a result of Frozen’s continued popularity. The Disney animated film couched the character as an anti-heroine, whereas Hans Christian Andersen created the character as more of a villainess. There was a good deal more to Elsa than there is to Freya, cries of “overrated” be damned. Blunt’s talents are wasted; her performance is pretty much a coolly restrained version of Theron’s. She’s not called upon to do very much at all. Speaking of Theron, she was far and away the best part of Snow White and the Huntsman, her ravenous scenery-chewing injecting the dour fantasy action proceedings with considerable excitement. She’s not in this one for very much and the sisterly bond/sibling rivalry between Freya and Ravenna gets insufficient development.

While the effects work involved in shrinking regular-sized actors down to dwarves is as seamless as it was the first time round, the dwarves obviously serve little purpose apart from comic relief and could be excised from the plot without too much consequence. It’s a relief that a fair number of these jokes land.

The action sequences suffer from shaky-cam and choppy editing, so we don’t get to truly appreciate the deadly skill with which Eric and Sara dispatch their enemies. The U.K. locations, including Waverley Abbey in Surrey, Well’s Bishops Palace and Puzzlewood in the Forest of Dean ensure the film does not get swallowed up in computer-generated morass. It’s a shame but perhaps to be expected that the spectacle doesn’t soar and the story ends up flat, the film failing to make a case for its existence. A spot of sequel-begging right at the movie’s conclusion can’t help but come off as desperate; Universal might not get its fairy-tale ending after all.

Summary: Star power, intricate costume design and flashy visual effects set-pieces can’t keep this formulaic, mostly listless sequel/prequel/spin-off from leaving us cold.


RATING: 2.5out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

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THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART 1

Director : Francis Lawrence
Cast : Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Natalie Dormer, Willow Shields, Woody Harrelson, Evan Ross, Elizabeth Banks, Sam Claflin, Robert Knepper, Gwendoline Christie, Donald Sutherland, Jena Malone, Stanley Tucci
Genre : Fantasy/Adventure
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence) 
Run time: 123 mins
It’s time to raise the three-finger District 12 salute and whistle that four-note motif again because another Hunger Games movie is in theatres. Following her actions in the Quarter Quell, Katniss (Lawrence) has been whisked away to the secret stronghold of District 13. Her best friend Gale (Hemsworth), sister Prim (Shields) and mother (Paula Malcomson) are among the survivors from the Capitol’s bombing of District 12 taking refuge in 13. President Alma Coin (Moore), along with Plutarch (Hoffman), is in the midst of staging a revolution, calling on Katniss to become the face of the uprising. Despite being reluctant to after the trauma she experienced in the arena, Katniss assumes the role of the symbolic “Mockingjay”. Peeta (Hutcherson), who couldn’t be rescued, is held in the Capitol and forced by President Snow (Sutherland) to make televised appearances exhorting a ceasefire. Because of this, he is branded a traitor by the revolutionaries, but it only strengthens Katniss’ desire to rescue him and the other victors even more.

            Mockingjay – Part 1 has followed in the footsteps of the Harry Potter and Twilight franchises by going the “last book adapted into two movies” route. Both Deathly Hallows – Part 1 and Breaking Dawn – Part 1 did a lot of treading water in padding things out. While Mockingjay – Part 1 fares far better than Breaking Dawn thanks to its denser plot, there’s still a degree of disappointment to be had from sitting through two hours of set-up, even if it is pretty good set-up. Introducing audiences to the subterranean District 13, there is the credible sense that this revolution is coming to a head. Moving past the Games themselves, we get to see more of the other districts, including the lumber-producing District 7, and power-generating District 5 with its massive hydroelectric dam. There is an increased sense of scale without it feeling like bloated and empty spectacle. There’s also more of the helicrafts in action, two of which Katniss shoots down with her bow and arrow.

            The film still is character-driven, Jennifer Lawrence returning to her star-making role with more of the drive, indignant determination and just the right amount of vulnerability she brought to the first and second films. Unlike a number of young adult novel adaptations, Mockingjay – Part 1 does a good job at establishing that there is much more to the story and the world than the protagonist’s personal struggles and heartache, without downplaying the importance of that. The premise of the franchise is televised bloodsport in which teenagers kill each other for the entertainment of the elite and to keep the masses in line. The role of media manipulation in shaping the perceptions of the public gets further explored here with the introduction of Natalie Dormer’s Cressida, a Capitol film director who defects to District 13. That the resulting propaganda films or “propos” end up looking like movie trailers is a sly, effective touch without having it go all Starship Troopers on us.

            The politics of The Hunger Games is one of the key components that gives it an edge over other film series aimed at a similar demographic. Julianne Moore retains her stern exterior (looking more than a little like Ysanne Isard from the Star Wars expanded universe) but plays a warmer, kinder authority figure than moviegoers are used to seeing her as. Both skilled actors, she and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman make for believable collaborating revolutionaries – this marks their fourth time co-starring in a movie. The film is dedicated to Hoffman’s memory and while he completed shooting all his scenes for Part 1, some of Plutarch’s scenes in Part 2 will have to be distributed to other characters.

            Much of the emotional content of the first two films was derived from the relationship between Katniss and Peeta and director Francis Lawrence uses the fact that the two characters are separated to generate a good amount of tension and anguish. Peeta being used as the Capitol’s new mouthpiece in his interviews with Ceasar Flickerman (Tucci) is contrasted and compared with how Katniss takes up the mantle of the Mockingjay for District 13. The role of Liam Hemsworth’s Gale is also expanded. It seems director Lawrence is all too aware that there are still detractors who dismiss this series as mopey teen romance, so scenes in which the love triangle is addressed appear sparingly.

            If Catching Fire was analogous to Empire Strikes Back, then Mockingjay – Part 1 is like if Return of the Jedi ended right after the escape from Jabba’s clutches. Perhaps this is an exaggeration, but there’s no denying that the climactic sequence, which director Lawrence has said was inspired by Zero Dark Thirty, feels like in belongs in the middle of a movie. Still, fans of the first two films are most likely more than willing to wait a year for the series’ conclusion and there is enough that takes place here to enticingly set the stage for the finale.


Summary: Despite suffering from “Part 1-of-a-two-parter-adaptation-itis”, the politics of Mockingjay and the turning gears of the revolution make this an intelligent, absorbing entry in the series.
RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong