your booty . . . and kick some ass: (l-r) Liu, Diaz
and Barrymore in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle.
Angels: Full Throttle
Directed by McG
I debated bringing my 7-year-old movie-loving son to see the
sequel to Charlie’s Angels with me, but opted against
for fear that the movie would contain inappropriate subject
matter. In one way, I was wrong: Charlie’s Angels: Full
Throttle is merely a bigger and much louder version of
the cartoon (and less cartoonish) The Powerpuff Girls,
merged with adrenaline-thumping action milked from another
animated series, Rocket Power. He would have gotten
a kick out of the nonstop chases involving dirt bikes, surf
boards, and weapons seemingly left over from the Iraqi conflict.
Angels Alex (Lucy Liu), Dylan (Drew Barrymore) and Natalie
(Cameron Diaz) are as versatile as my old Barbies: In the
blink of an eye, or, rather, a quick change of costume, they
are ready for anything. Indeed, this ability to change from
sexy crimefighting babes into, say, sexy CSI specialists or
sexy burlesque stars or sexy dirt bikers is played for fun.
What point is there to question believability? Then again,
I would have been uncomfortable sitting next to my son during
many of those quick changes, since they mostly involved so
much butt smacking and booty shaking as to make me wonder
if I had somehow wandered into a rowdy stag film.
To a large extent, Full Throttle is a flawless production,
fueled by amazing computer-generated action scenes, and complemented
by beautiful actresses coiffed and costumed in styles reminiscent
of a she-shopaholic’s wet dream. The angels’ glistening hair
blows seductively, as in countless Victoria’s Secret commercials,
even as they beat back an army of vicious Mongolians, and
their taut limbs and washboard abs seem instantly recognizable
from so many Tae Bo infomercials. Liu and Diaz seem thrilled
to show off the results of their training regimens, and this
shows through “fun” scenes in which the girls dance to MC
Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This.” If the more clayfooted Barrymore
seems slightly less thrilled, it is because she still comes
off as being in awe of being included in this trinity of babehood.
The movie is nothing if not action. From the git-go, we’re
swept along as the angels escape exploding tanks and free-falling
trucks, by hanging onto the wings of jets or by swinging,
Tarzana style, from impossibly long strings of light bulbs
that had formerly festooned the top of Hollywood’s Roosevelt
Hotel. Director McG’s background in commercials and music
videos is completely apparent—which is not a complaint. Each
scene in Full Throttle seems timed to either late-’90s
electronica or, strangely, late-’70s disco or ’80s power rock.
Weirdly, despite this disparity of jukebox tastes and styles,
each audio moment works perfectly. I’m still not sure if it’s
because of this videoesque quality, or incidental to it, but
the movie, for all its high jinks and moments of humor, is
oddly cold and mechanical.
And speaking of cold and mechanical. . . . In a “comeback”
that’s being touted as something akin to finding the Shroud
of Turin, or at least a really good wrinkle cream, Demi Moore
is on hand to play the villainous fallen angel, Madison Leigh,
and perhaps it is the face-off between this actress, who for
years tried grimly to be Hollywood’s version of strong, independent
womanhood, and the unabashedly fluffy Liu, Diaz and Barrymore
that ultimately depresses. Moore can’t seem to get the joke
and plays her role like she’s Ma Barker channeling Tennessee
Williams, but hey, she looks fantastic in red silk garters
and a fur coat, and isn’t that what empowerment is all about?
The three stars, on the other hand, are nothing if not irreverent,
which—again—serves the tone of this movie well. But it’s as
if they’ve worshipped at the alter of Demi, carefully studied
her ability to morph into a body beautiful, and learned well
the shaky idea that the ultimate female fantasy—one that McG
throws up to us in countless ways—is to make millions, become
an icon and stay hot after having had three kids. In that
way, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle manages to entice
and lure—not just the guys to their bodacious bods, but also
their ever-yearning-for-perfection sisters.
Directed by Chen Kaige
the story of a father’s ambition for his violinist son, is
a slight, sweet, and gently affecting tale, and a complete
departure for Chen Kaige, one of China’s most important filmmakers.
Chen is best known for monumental political epics such as
Farewell My Concubine and The Emperor and the Assassin;
here, he scales back to a few months in the life of Cheng
(Liu Peiqi), a cook in a small village in the provinces, and
Xiaochun (Tang Yun), a child prodigy who is the village’s
annual winner of a music prize. Father and son encounter obstacles
and butt heads on their way to the fulfillment of Xiaochun’s
talent, but mostly, their story is a heartwarming example
of determination, devotion, and caring friends.
To foster Xiaochun’s “genius,” Cheng takes him to Beijing
to enter a competition that could place the quiet youth with
a prestigious music teacher. As they’re packing, Xiaochun
picks out an especially tacky outfit for his father to wear;
an unsophisticated peasant, Cheng eagerly complies. (It isn’t
until the end of the film that we realize why Xiaochun, who
has innate good taste, would want his doting father to look
like a bumbler.) The competition, Cheng soon learns, is rigged,
but using his peasant wiles—and the sad story of how Xiaochun
was abandoned by his violinist mother as a baby—he manages
to hire a highly regarded teacher, the reclusive and slovenly
Prof. Jiang (Wang Zhwen). But Xiaochun, a born romantic, finds
inspiration instead in Lili (Chen Hong), a beautiful escort
who lives in the high-rise across the lane. A stubborn traditionalist,
Cheng is appalled by the disreputable young woman, causing
his reserved son to passively rebel.
These events are hardly earth-shaking, yet the deeply appealing
performances from Liu and Tang engage the audience in every
small turn in their characters’ fortunes. And the film is
not without political shadings: Lili, along with Xiaochun’s
next teacher, the internationally savvy Prof. Yu (played by
the director), represent the Westernization of China, while
Prof. Jiang embodies the pursuit of “consummate artistry.”
Aside from a shambling interlude or two in Jiang’s cat-infested
flat, the story is ably pared down to its emotional essentials,
which are the interactions between these five flawed but well-meaning
people. Chen’s stature is also apparent in the offhandedly
symbolic set design; Lili’s studio apartment, in particular,
speaks volumes about the new China. But overall, Together
is simply about the bond between a parent and a child, and
on this one, unassuming level, it succeeds like a masterpiece.
Then There Were None
Directed by Danny Boyle
There’s nothing quite like a convincing cinematic apocalypse.
In 28 Days Later . . . , the world is destroyed by
a deadly virus that induces extreme rage and turns its victims
into mindless murderers. Jim (Cillian Murphy) misses all this,
however, unconscious in a hospital bed. When he wakes up,
he’s the only person around. He stalks silently around London
until stumbling upon a church full of corpses. It turns out
that not everyone in the pews is as dead; he’s chased out
of the church with an infected priest in pursuit.
Soon enough, Jim meets up with other survivors. There’s Selena
(Naomie Harris), a tough warrior intent on survival; tender
father-and-daughter pair Frank (Brendan Gleeson) and Hannah
(Megan Burns); and a group of nervous young soldiers led by
the Machiavellian Maj. West (Christopher Eccleston).
Days Later . . . is smart and self-aware. The legions
of infected suggest numerous zombie films, but the focus here
is on disease: These are not brain-eating undead, but ill
people tragically destroyed. This raises the mood to complete
seriousness, which, in turn, makes the tension palpable and
The film’s obvious antecedent is a 1971 flick, The Omega
Man, in which Charlton Heston survives a deadly germ that
turns most of the population into light-averse, loquacious
zombies. Jim wandering a deserted London mimics Heston’s hero
walking a silent Los Angeles; other lifts from (let’s call
them homages to) Omega Man include the tough black
chick who saves the hero (Rosalind Cash then; Harris now)
and the fact that the infected can be kept at bay with light.
Days Later . . . is not really a remake of anything, however;
its story is taut and imaginative, and the characters are
varied and uniformly compelling.
This film is a roaring comeback for English director Danny
Boyle, who debuted with the terrific one-two punch of Shallow
Grave and Trainspotting, and then failed miserably
to connect with a pair of big Hollywood stinkers. While never
losing sight of the necessity of keeping things tense, violent
and (somewhat) logical, Boyle, with screenwriter Alex Gardner,
succeeds in raising philosophical questions about the nature
of violence and human cruelty and the possibility of redemption
when life itself is so fragile. Visually, Boyle’s evocation
of a post-apocalyptic landscape is sly and sobering.
Boyle even gets away with pulling off a “gotcha” ending, by
making the audience think the film is over when it’s really
not. That 28 Days Later . . . can end poignantly without
seeming cheap or pandering is a tribute to the filmmakers’
terrific mastery in storytelling.