Angels Assemble

Charlie’s Angels

by George Wolf

We’ll know soon enough if there was high demand for a new Charlie’s Angels film. But 16 years after the close of the Drew Barrymore version, Elizabeth Banks apparently thought she could bring the franchise a welcome freshness.

She was right, mostly.

As writer, director and co-star, she’s a Banks of all trades, and just one of the Bosleys assisting a team of Angels. In this Charlie universe, “Bosley” is a rank, not a name, with famous faces such as Patrick Stewart, Djimon Hounsou and even Michael Strahan as some manner of Boz.

But it is Banks’s Bosley that is on the case when Angels Sabina (Kristen Stewart) and Jane (Ella Balinska) must protect Elena (Naomi Scott), a brilliant systems engineer who stands between bad guys and some lethal new technology.

Even with its updated vibe, Banks’s vision seems more in line with the original TV series (12 year-old me was a big fan). Barrymore’s films did bring some charm, but too often treated style as weapon of submission. The feeling this time is more of an easygoing wink-wink, with plenty of callbacks to franchise history and some well-staged battle angel set pieces.

There’s plenty of girl power, too, and while these Angels aren’t first to that party, they fit in quite nicely. They value friendships, they own their sexuality without being sexualized, they’re skilled, strong and always ready to rib each other about awkward flirting or a love of cheese.

Even with the surprises and fake outs it holds, the spy story is a bit too slight to support a full two hours. But, no surprise, it is worth staying for credits that offer plenty of smile-inducing cameos.

Banks deals plenty of hands with Charlie’s Angels, overplaying none but the running time. So while it’s not a laugh riot, it is self-aware and amusing, its action heavy without undue disbelief and it feels like a reboot we needed, whether we realized it or not.


Talk to the Hand

The Emoji Movie

by George Wolf

I don’t pretend to understand the emoji game, but I do know that getting Patrick Stewart to voice the poop seems like a classy way to go.

But the star of The Emoji Movie is Gene (T.J. Miller), a young “meh” emoji ready for his first day on the job in teenager Alex’s smartphone.

Gene wants to emote more feelings than just “meh,” so things don’t go well, and he’s quickly labeled as a malfunction and targeted for deletion. With the help of a “high five” fixated on his glory days (James Corden), Gene runs for his life in search of the legendary hacker “Jailbreak” (Anna Faris) who might be able to get them all to freedom in a valhalla known as the cloud.

Director/co-writer Tony Leondis (Lilo & Stitch 2, Igor) pinches the secret world from Toy Story with the run through technology of Inside Out to present an adventure just clever enough to remind you how much potential was disregarded. The idea is timely and probably inevitable, but never developed much beyond pleasant time-waster status.

It’s rarely more than amusing, the visuals can’t rise above average, and the “be true to yourself” mantra is entirely generic.

There is a big dance number, though, which inexplicably doesn’t involve Stewart.

Poop.

Verdict-2-5-Stars





Farewell Tour

Green Room

by George Wolf

The 2013 revenge thriller Blue Ruin heralded writer/director Jeremy Saulnier as a filmmaker bursting with the instincts and craftsmanship necessary to give familiar tropes new bite. In Green Room his color scheme is horror, and the finished work is equally suitable for framing.

Young punk band the Ain’t Rights is in desperate need of a paying gig, even if it is at a rough private club for the “boots and braces” crowd (i.e. white power skinheads). Bass guitarist Pat (Anton Yelchin) eschews social media promotion for the “time and aggression” of live shows, and when he accidentally witnesses a murder in the club’s makeshift green room, Pat and his band find plenty of both.

Along with concertgoer Amber (a terrific Imogen Poots), they’re held at gunpoint while the club manager (Macon Blair from Blue Ruin) fetches the mysterious Darcy (Patrick Stewart, gloriously grim) to sort things out. Though Darcy is full of calm reassurances, it quickly becomes clear the captives will have to fight for their lives.

As he did with Blue Ruin, Saulnier plunges unprepared characters into a world of casual savagery, finding out just what they have to offer in a nasty backwoods standoff.  It’s a path worn by Straw Dogs, Deliverance, and plenty more, but Saulnier again shows a knack for establishing his own thoughtful thumbprint. What Green Room lacks in depth, it makes up in commitment to genre.

He drapes the film in waves of thick, palpable tension, then punctures them with shocking bursts of gore and brutality. Things get plenty dark for the young punkers, and for us, as Saulnier often keeps light sources to a minimum, giving the frequent bloodletting an artful black-and-white quality which contrasts nicely with the symbolic red of certain shoelaces.

And yet, Saulnier manages to let some mischievous humor seep out, mainly by playing on generational stereotypes. Poots, barely recognizable under an extreme haircut and trucker outfit, has the most fun, never letting bloody murder alter Amber’s commitment to bored condescension. Love it.

Only a flirtation with contrivance keeps Green Room from classic status. It’s lean, mean, loud and grisly, and a ton of bloody fun.

Verdict-4-0-Stars

 

 





Dancing with the Past

Match

by Hope Madden

Match opens on a ballet instructor – smilingly supportive yet rigorous, the kind of mentor with a joy for teaching that inspires. He is Tobi, an aging Julliard ballet instructor played with confidence and enthusiasm by the wonderful Patrick Stewart.

Director Stephen Belber adapts his own Broadway play for the screen, and though Frank Langella originated the role on stage, it feels custom made for Stewart.

Tobi craves his solitude, yet he’s agreed to meet with Lisa (Carla Gugino), who, with her husband Mike (Matthew Lillard) in tow, wants to interview Tobi for her dissertation on classical dance choreography.

Like the Richard Linklater film Tape, also penned by Belber from his own stage play, Match is a three-way dialog about the effects of the past. But where Tape was a grim exercise in regret, Match pairs regret with celebration, and the entire effort is buoyed by Stewart’s nervous showman’s energy.

Gugina and Lillard are solid as well, she conveying the depths of tenderness and heartbreak with an expression, and he capably animating his character’s pain and its protective layer of anger. Their chemistry with the lead, particularly in more intimate, one-on-one scenes, packs a punch. But the show belongs to Stewart.

Tobi is a character, not a type, and Stewart so fully inhabits this fascinating, multi-dimensional man that the actor ceases to exist.

Belber’s casting is spot on, and his dialog is sharp and insightful. How could Stewart do anything but soar with such magnificent lines? But the film feels trapped, confined. Belber is rarely able to open up, take advantage of the opportunities cinema offers that the stage cannot. His film feels like a play.

And though the second act, surprisingly fresh and raw as Lisa and Tobi get to know each other, is very strong, the entire effort feels just slightly stale, a bit contrived, and inevitably predictable.

Still, it’s a lovely film about chance, consequences, choice. If nothing else, it’s a magnificent showcase for an underappreciated talent.

Verdict-3-5-Stars