‘Charlie’s Angels’ reboot goes global

By Tom Von Malder | Mar 20, 2020
Photo by: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment The new "Charlie's Angels" are played by, from left, Kristen Stewart, Ella Balinska and Naomi Scott.

Owls Head — Charlie’s Angels (Sony, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 118 min.). Writer-director-star Elizabeth Banks (the “Hunger Games” trilogy), also a co-producer here, brings both humor and a feminist slant to this latest iteration of “Charlie’s Angels.” The Angels are now played by Kristen Stewart (“The Twilight Saga” films) and Ella Balinska, with Naomi Scott (the live-action “Aladdin”) recruited mid-film to be the third. There are numerous Bosleys, including one played by Banks, as the Charles Townsend Agency has expanded throughout the world.

The action opening takes place in Rio de Janeiro, as Sabina (Stewart), mostly, and Jane (Balinska) help bring down Australian Jonny (Chris Pang of “Crazy Rich Asians”). Feisty Sabina and Jane do not part on the best of terms. The scene, though, is one of several good action sequences in the film.

The film then moves forward a year and to Hamburg, Germany, where Elena Houghlin (Scott) has developed a device that will deliver clean energy via rare earth magnetics, but she has reservations about a possible bug that could turn the device, called Calisto, into an electromagnetic pulse that could kill people. Meanwhile, in Los Angles, one of the Bosleys (Patrick Stewart of “Star Trek: Next Generation” fame) is retiring after 40 years.

Back to Hamburg. When Elena tries to tell Edgar Bosley (Djimon Hounsou of “Amistad”) of her reservations, a fight breaks out in the restaurant where they are meeting as an assassin has been sent to kill her. The fight spills into a car chase, with the bad guy having a machine gun in the passenger seat of his vehicle. This is the best action sequence of the film. Later, Sabina, Jane and Elena all try to infiltrate the company Elena works for to steal the Calisto prototypes. As the three all dress alike, this leads to some “Mission Impossible” old-TV-show-style hijinks that are fun.

Nearly an hour into the film, it is revealed there is a turncoat within the Townsend Agency. After a brief stop in Berlin, it is on to Istanbul, where director Banks uses some good local color. Although their roles are brief, both David Schutter as Brok security guard Ralph and Noah Centineo as Elena’s co-worker Langston provide some good-looking fun. Also fun are the out-of-nowhere synchronized dancing to Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls” during a club sequence and the closing credits training bits cameos by Indy Racing League driver Danica Patrick, MMA fighter Ronda Rousey and actress Laverne Cox as the driving, fighting and bomb instructors, respectively.

Bonus features include five deleted scenes and one extended scene (5:15 total); a gag reel (2:44); the four lead actresses discussing each other (7:33); a look at Banks as Rebecca Bosley (5:17); a look at the action sequences (5:55) and the costumes (6:17); and a “Don’t Call Me Angel” music video, featuring Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus and Lana Del Rey (3:53). Grade: film 3 stars; extras 2.25 stars

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

Spies in Disguise (20th Century Fox, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG, 101 min.). “Spies in Disguise” is a bit too grown-up for young children. There is a lot of scientific jargon thrown around early and several of the action sequences are too frenetic. Nonetheless, the animated film looks wonderful and Will Smith and Tom Holland are well matched as the lead voices. The film is from Blue Sky Animation, which brought us “Ice Age.”

Smith (TV’s “The Fresh Prince,” “Men in Black” films) voices arrogant master spy Lance Sterling, who is turned into a pigeon by Q-type Walter Beckett (Holland of the “Spider-Man” and “Avenger” films), who is both nerdy and ignored, but full of optimism. Lance believes in fighting fire with fire, while Walter has the novel idea of taking down the bad guys with kindness or non-violent means. Of course, Lance proves to be an efficient spy in avian form as well.

Luckily Lance’s car can self-drive as the two, with Lance in pigeon form, are on the run from internal affairs cop Marcy Kappel (voiced by Rashida Jones), who mistakenly believes Lance has stolen a super-secret drone project. The reason she believes that is the bad guy (Ben Mendelsohn voicing Killian) has technology that alters his face to look like Lance.

The film is colorful and even eye-popping. The story is madcap at times, but serviceable and Lance does redeem his humanity by the end. Extras include a tour of Blue Sky Studios with Trinitee as the guide (9:11); a guide to the film’s gadgets (3:57); the ability to watch the film in Super Spy Mode with 18 minutes of extra featurette footage and picture-in-picture material; a four-part gallery; and two music videos, “Then There Were Two” by Mark Ronson and Anderson.Paak (3:24) and “Freak of Nature” by Ronson and The Last Artful, Dodgr (3:45), plus brief making-of-the-videos (1:24 and 1:30). Grade: film 2.75 stars; extras 2.5 stars

The Witch: Subversion (South Korea, Well Go USA, Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR, 125 min.). “Subversion” is defined as “the undermining of the power and authority of an established system or institution,” but what is really undermined in this film is the audience’s expectations. The film starts with a slow steady pace, then delivers its surprises as it becomes an all-out action film.

In the prologue, we see that several children have escaped from what appears to be a facility for exceptional abilities children, run by Dr. Baek (Min-soo Jo), who is assisted by Mr. Choi (Hee-soon Park). While a boy is captured, a young girl escapes. Dr. Baek tells Choi to report her as deceased, if she is not recaptured. However, the girl survives and is found by farmer Koo and then adopted Koo and his wife.

Jumping forward 10 years, the girl, Koo Ja-yoon (Da-mi Kim), is now 19 and helping on the farm, which is doing poorly. When she hears about the “Birth of a Star” TV program (think “American Idol”), she decides to enter the contest, hoping to earn the cash prize to invest in the farm. When she appears on the show, she apparently does a little magic – latter it is revealed to be levitation of the microphone – which helps her advance. In a later round, she sings a rock version of “Danny Boy” (weird choice, I think).

Seeing her on the TV show makes Choi and Dr. Baek realize their escaped girl is still alive. Choi tries to initiate contact with Ja-yoon, as does a young man (Woo-sik Choi of “Parasite,” “Train to Busan”), who apparently is the grown-up version of the boy who was captured when the child Ja-yoon escaped. The young man speaks English a lot, but Ja-yoon fails to recognize him as portions of her memories have been lost. After the lengthy, and leisurely, character development throughout most of the film, the last third or so explodes into violence, with a magical edge and a high body count. The action is often both astounding and breathtaking, particularly in its speed.

The film cries out for a sequel, which I understand is in the works. I have read one rumor that it is planned to be part of a trilogy. The director-writer is Park Hoon-jung (“New World,” “V.I.P.,” screenplay for “I Saw the Devil”). There are no bonus features. Grade: film 3.5 stars

Three Fantastic Journeys by Karel Zeman (Czech, 1955-1962, Criterion Collection, 3 Blu-rays or 3 standard DVDs, NR, 248 min.). Zeman (1910-1989) is best known for his films that combined animation with live action. The three presented here are “Journey to the Beginning of Time” (1955, 84 min., inspired by Jules Verne’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth”), “Invention for Destruction” (1958, 81 min., adapted from Verne and released in the U.S. as “The Fabulous World of Jules Verne”) and “The Fabulous Baron Munchausen” (1962, 83 min.). The latter two are spectacularly inventive and imaginative. Zeman’s work puts him in the same category as Ray Harryhausen and Georges Melies. Harryhausen did stop-motion dinosaurs in “Animal World,” Verne’s “Mysterious Island,” “One Million Years BC” and “The Valley of Gwangi” (previously reviewed). Melies, of an earlier generation, created “A Trip to the Moon” and “The Impossible Voyage,” both in the style of Verne’s writings.

Of the three Zeman films here, “Journey to the Beginning of Time” is the most straightforward, as four young men ride a canoe into a cave and when they emerge on the other side, they find themselves in the past. The further they go on their journey, the more into the past they reach, eventually going 500 million years. Along the way, they encounter all manner of prehistoric creatures, including several species of dinosaurs. Naturally, there are two dinosaur battles, including one between two Woolly Rhinos. Of course, the whole concept of traveling distance equals traveling in time is nonsensical, but Zeman artfully makes the creatures come to life.

Extras with this film include a new interview with animation filmmaker John Stevenson about Zeman’s six films that mixed live action with animation through the use of stop-motion, puppets and cut-out animation (12:21); the 1960 U.S. version of the film, which renames the four lads, has them go to Manhattan and the American Museum of Natural History and then find an opening for their canoe that takes them into the rest of the Czech version of the film (83 min.); and five short documentaries with archival interviews on Zeman’s history, why he made the film, the locations used, the special effects techniques used and a demonstration of the restoration process (about 17 min.). The latter short group is similar for the other two films as well.

“Invention for Destruction” also begins with the narrator, Simon Hart (Lubor Tokos), consulting his journal. Hart is assisting Professor Roch (Arnost Navratil) in his energy-splitting project, when both are kidnapped by pirates who work for Count Artigas (Miloslav Holub), whose lair and factory are located within an extinct volcano (shade of James Bond to come). Artigas wants to use the invention as a weapon. The story is based on Verne’s atomic bomb-forecasting “Facing the Flag.” During the film, Artigas’s submarine rams a sailing ship and sinks her. The pirates then emerge underwater on scooters, with bicycle-like handles and even bells, to plunder the sunken ship. Later, a diver is attacked by a giant octopus.

In many scenes, the humans move between foregrounds and backgrounds that are drawings, making everything seem a bit surreal. This film is in black-and-white. Extras include the alternate U.S. opening in 1961 (3 min.); a new conversation by filmmakers Phil Tippett (special effects for TV’s “Dinosaur!,” makeup designer for two “Star Wars” films) and Jim Aupperle (works for Tippett Studio) about Zeman’s techniques, including setting up camera shots in multiple planes (23:29); and four early Zeman shorts films: “A Christmas Dream” (1945, 10:19); “A Horseshoe for Luck” (1946, 4:36); “Inspiration” (1949, 11:32); and “King Lavra” (1950, 29:41).

“The Fabulous Baron Munchhausen,” which obviously was an inspiration for Terry Gilliam’s animation for “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” and the reason he remade the film as “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” in 1988 as writer and director, begins with an Earthman landing on the moon, only to find Munchausen, Cyrano de Bergerac and cohorts living on the moon without breathing equipment or space suits. Munchausen (Milos Kopecky) takes astronaut Tonik (Rudolf Jelinek) back to Earth on a boat that is pulled by winged horses. They land in Turkey, where they are greeted by The Sultan (Rudolf Hrusinsky). However, they make an enemy of The Sultan when they rescue Princess Bianca (Jana Brejchova) from the castle. Bianca had secretly set Tonik a note, requesting rescue.

Throughout much of the rest of the film, Munchausen tries to ingratiate himself with Bianca, even though she obviously cares for Tonik. It even leads to a duel between the two men. A highlight is the battle sequence when the lights go out. There then is a three-day chase on horse. The film has much unexpected humor, such as the physical comedy of trying to shut a ship’s window and an explosion that causes the apples in a drawing of Adam and Eve to fall to the ground. Also, at one point, Munchausen rides on a cannonball. There also is extensive travel on a ship that is in the belly of a whale.

The main extra for this fantastic film is a 2015 Czech documentary on Zeman as a “film adventurer,” with Zeman’s daughter among the interviewees (101 min.). The films come with a leaflet essay by film critic Michael Atkinson. The Blu-ray container itself has three pieces of pop-up art. Grade: films – Journey 3 stars, Invention 3.5 stars, Munchausen 4 stars; extras 4 stars

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