Then Playing — Charlie’s Angels; Invasion of the Body Snatchers; Last Christmas

charlies angels

Charlie’s Angels (Elizabeth Banks, 2019). Elizabeth Banks does her level best to scrape away the barnacles of patriarchal chauvinism that cling to the light-action property that launched in the nineteen-seventies as the tale of “three little girls who went to the police academy” and were recruited away to work for a private investigation company run by a creep who only communicated with his employees through a speakerphone. Now the Angels engage in ill-defined missions of spycraft and are kinda sorta connected by legacy to the duke-throwing women of the television series and the earlier film versions. The stabs at feminist reinvention are sadly obscured by Banks’s flimsy directing, which occasionally gives the action sequences feel like they were assembled at random. The sole appealing element of this Charlie’s Angels is the performance of Kristen Stewart, who is firmly committed to delivering the oddest line readings she can muster. She’s vividly alive in a way that nothing else in the film comes close to matching.



Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Don Siegel, 1956). The mid–nineteen-fifties sci fi flick that, more than any other, people love to project sharpened political commentary onto. It’s about McCarthyism, or it’s about Communist infiltration, or it’s about any number of other lurking dangers in mid-century U.S. society. Director Don Siegel and practically everyone else involved with the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers insist they made it with no particular subtext in mind, and that’s certainly the way the film looks to me. It is, however, a fun, well-built thriller about space aliens turning small-town citizens into obedient drones on their way to a takeover of Earth. Siegel, one of the real meat-and-potatoes filmmakers of his era, keeps the action moving briskly and give his actors — most notably lead Kevin McCarthy — the space to deliver entertainingly overdramatic performances. There’s truly delightful design work and special effects around the pod-based doppelgänger creation process.


last christmas

Last Christmas (Paul Feig, 2019). This absolutely daft holiday romcom seemingly came to life when somewhere scribbled down that most literal interpretation of the maudlin Wham! holiday radio clogger “Last Christmas,” and everyone else shrugged and muttered, “Sure, good enough.” The someone who did the scribbling was presumably Emma Thompson, who is credited on the story with her husband, Greg Wise, and on the screenplay with Bryony Kimmings. The night when Thompson was deservedly bestowed with an Academy Award for writing has never seemed so distant. That Oscar for acting looks a little less shiny, too, given Thompson’s hammy turn as a Yugoslavian immigrant in Last Christmas. The lead role goes to Emilia Clarke. She plays Katarina, a scattered disaster of a young woman who gradually betters herself and finds direction, in large part because of the influence of Tom (Henry Golding), a handsome bloke she first spies outside of the Christmas store where she works. Clarke deserves to be liberated from the smothering burden of Daenerys Targaryen with roles that show off the charming, daffy personality she clearly has in real life. This clumsy collection of dopey holiday signifiers and cheap spirituality ain’t it. Paul Feig directs the material with a dismaying lack of rigor, as if he knows this is destined to be coupled with Love Actually on cable channels’ December schedules forever after no matter what he does. If that happens to be the determination he landed on, he’s probably right.

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