Links and News

So I am in the midst of revamping. But in the meantime, here’s a grab-bag of some links and news:

 

A) SFF Writer and translator Ken Liu just got a very nice adaptation deal on some of his work.

B) Nike and Boeing are planning future products using science fiction writers.

C) A look at scavenger capitalism and how it’s actually been the big retail killer of retail, including bookstores.

D) Two interesting pieces, one with connection to a podcast interview and the other a Twitter thread essay focused on Judy-Lynn Del Rey, about women in SF in the past.

E) Apparently, the original comics version of The Walking Dead is about to be brought to a close with its next issue.

F) Award-winning, best-selling novelist Michael Chabon is not only writing episodes for Star Trek: Picard, CBS’ new Trek spin-off series, he’s now going to be the show-running producer.

 

 

 

 

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Women in Action 2018/2019 – Part 2 – 2019 Looking Forward

The first big chunk of 2019 is past and it’s been a remarkably busy season in the land of film. The idea of a summer season has largely been abandoned by Hollywood. While the big releases do still crowd the summer months, the expected blockbusters now start coming out in February or March and the schedule slows down only briefly in late August and September before October’s horror celebration and the run of big holiday movies for the end of the year.

And while 2018 may have been a bit more lackluster than expected when it comes to actresses in big movies and action, 2019 has been putting women front and center, and with more to come.

The Scene So Far:

The first big woman-led movie of the year turned out to be James Cameron’s adaptation, Alita: Battle Angel. Originally supposed to be out in 2018, the film got pushed back and was released unceremoniously in mid-February. It did very well in foreign box office, however, earning over $404 million globally, well past its large budget. While the white-washing of the Asian main character was not ideal, rising star Rosa Salazar did turn in a nice performance as the cyborg heroine, backed by Jennifer Connelly, Michelle Rodriguez, Lana Condor and Eliza Gonzalez.

A few weeks later, in March, we got the long awaited first woman-led movie from Marvel, Captain Marvel. The film starred Oscar winner Brie Larson in the titular role of the human fighter pilot Carol Danvers turned space warrior, along with legend Annette Bennet, Lashana Lynch, Gemma Chan and Akira Akbar. The movie, set in the 1990’s and being the penultimate chapter in the decade-long Avengers movie saga, was expected to do well, but it went beyond “well,” bringing in over $1.1 billion and still going in global box office. While Marvel’s future plans for films in the Marvelverse are less well-known, it now seems likely that several of them will be woman-led films, including the Black Widow prequel film.

The end is nigh.

Other woman-led films in the uneven February and March part of the season were a mix of hits and misses. Sequel time loop thriller Happy Death Day 2U debuted for Valentine’s Day, with Jessica Rothe returning to her starring role, backed by Ruby Modine, Rachel Matthews, and Sarah Yarkin. The low budget film took in over $64 million, which might mean another entry for the franchise will be in the works. Animated movie Wonder Park, starring Brianna Denski, with Jennifer Garner and Mila Kunis, successfully took in over $115 million. Jordan Peele’s much anticipated new horror movie, Us, starring Lupita Nyong’o with assistance from Elisabeth Moss and young star Shahadi Wright Joseph, brought in over $253 million and still going on a modest $20 million budget.

Actresses also scored with other low budget movies such as the reboot What Men Want, starring Taraji P. Henson, which took in over $72 million on a small budget, Rebel Wilson’s spoof Isn’t It Romantic, with over $48 million and British wrestling comedy Fighting With My Family, starring Florence Pugh for over $39 million. The action thriller Miss Bala, starring Gina Rodriguez, however, failed to do more than meet its small budget in box office. And psychological thriller Greta, starring Isabelle Huppert and Chloe Grace Moretz, did not break out, earning only a bit over $13.5 million.

April brought us horror film The Curse of La Llorona, starring Linda Cardellini, which made a successful $113 million plus on a tiny budget, showing once again that women can make horror quite profitable. Children’s movie Mia and the White Lion, starring Daniah De Villiers, only took in $26 million on limited distribution but had a small budget. Other April woman-led movies did not break through – superpower drama Fast Color, starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw, could not get a wide enough release; comedy Little, starring Marsai Martin (the teen actress who came up with the film,) Regina Hall, and Issa Rae, has made a small profit at $47 million so far; Rust Creek, a backwoods thriller starring Hermione Corfield, also made very little in limited distribution; Stray and A Hole in the Ground and Level 16 are horror movies that barely made a blip; and religious drama Mary Magdalene, starring Rooney Mara, only really earned in international markets as an art film.

The newest women-led movies out this month are comedy caper The Hustle, starring Rebel Wilson, who also co-produced the film, and Anne Hathaway, which has pulled in over $32 million its first week. We also got Poms, a comedy film full of older actresses, led by Diane Keaton, which has just debuted this weekend.

Ensemble Action:

Moving to the big action films where women have major supporting roles in the first part of the year, the big gorilla was the release of the final part of the Avengers inter-linked movies – Avengers: Endgame at the end of April. The giant time-travelling finish had most of the Marvel women returning, with key roles for veteran Scarlett Johanssen, Captain Marvel’s Brie Larson and Guardians of the Galaxy’s Karen Gillan. Despite not being in any way a summer release, Endgame took in over a billion in box office just in its opening weekend and is now over $2.5 billion, smashing records left and right.

Other big releases were animated sequel How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, featuring America Ferrera, Cate Blanchett and Kristen Wiig, for an over $517 million global take, and animated/live action mix The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, starring Elizabeth Banks, Tiffany Haddish and Alison Brie, which earned over $190 million, (probably less than they were hoping for.) Dumbo, a mix of live action and CGI and the latest of Disney translating their classic animated movies, starred Nico Parker and Eva Green. It took in over $344 million in box office but that is about breaking even for it because of its large production and publicity budgets. Still, Disney knows how to monetize over the long term.  Pokemon: Detective Pikachu, another animation/live action mix, just debuted and has made over $187 million globally, with supporting performances from Kathryn Newton, Suki Waterhouse and Rita Ora.

DC’s entry so far this year was Shazam! which took in over $360 million and is still climbing, and had supporting performances by Faithe Herman and young Grace Fulton. M. Night Shyamalan finally completing his superpower trilogy with much buzzed film Glass for over $247 million on a small budget early in the year, starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Sarah Paulson and Charlayne Woodard. YA romance adaptation Five Feet Apart, starring Haley Lu Richardson, did better than the YA films of last year and earned over $78 million on a small budget.

Several prominent horror films were also released this spring with mixed results. A reboot of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, starring Jete Laurence and Amy Seimetz, took in over $109 million with a very modest budget. Escape Room, starring Taylor Russell and Deborah Ann Woll, did very well with over $155 million in box office on a tiny budget. The reboot of Hellboy, which went for a more violent horror approach to the superhero, featured Milla Jovovich as the chief villain and Sasha Lane, but it failed to get much foreign distribution and has not earned past its mid-sized $50 million budget. The Prodigy, which starred Taylor Schilling, turned a small profit because of its low budget but hasn’t cracked $15 million in box office.

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Women in Action 2018/2019 – Part 1: 2018 in Review

It’s time (very late-ishly) for Women In Action, when I take a look at how actresses are faring in big budget action, horror, suspense, action comedy and other major films, which can convey “A” list status and big salaries, and how they might do in the following year. I’ve been doing this analysis since 2012, a year that ended up being considered the “year of the woman” in film because several women-led films did very well then. Since that time, seven years ago, there has been substantial momentum for women in movie star roles in big budget and action movies, including being the lead of some of those movies and having that be more common.

But. That progress remains of the trickle, trickle, melt the iceberg slowly variety, despite the economics showing that increasing women leads and in major roles pays off handsomely for movie studios. Discrimination against women, particularly women of color, is deeply embedded in Hollywood’s view of itself, in men feeling that cutting off women to some extent helps keep down the job and status competition and the costs. The idea that (American, white, straight) men are the important audience, when women have actually been the critical viewers, continues to be the rock to which executives cling for action pictures. Women actresses going from the status of sex objects who should be happy to have jobs and put up with systemic sexual harassment to more regularly power players in the field is definitely creating some seismic waves, especially after the recent MeToo and NeverAgain campaigns of 2017 led to some policy changes. But the resistance in the industry remains strong as the image of the cigar chomping white man movie producer with the gorgeous young actress on his arm still holds dominion. The increase in money from making women more involved and more prominent (both in front and behind the camera,) is swaying many but the statistics are as frustrating in the millimeter size of the increases as they are encouraging.

While statistically studies show that 2018 had improvements for women in roles over 2017, in general I find that 2018 didn’t have quite as much momentum and impact as 2016 and 2017 for positioning actresses as powerhouse stars. This was due to several factors. First off was the usual one – man-heavy and man-led long time franchises dominated the year. These films allowed women major roles in them, but still not as many leading opportunities. Second, some promising woman-led films got pushed back, such as X-Men: Dark Phoenix and Alita: Battle Angel, which were bumped into this year, 2019, while a number of the women-led major films didn’t perform as well as hoped (mostly due to foreign box office problems.) In particular, the low to mid budget suspense films that are often women-led and can make substantial profits, building up the women as reliable action heroes, didn’t do quite as well in 2018. This last was due partly to problems getting those movies into crowded theaters domestically in the U.S., as well as the wide-spread issue of getting them enough distribution for the critical foreign box office returns.

Even so, women did cement gains they’ve been making in recent years in 2018. Women have increased their prominence in action comedies. They are established as favorite critical players in the superhero franchises, maintained a solid presence in horror, and had some well-respected women-led hits. The year certainly showed no signs of backtracking and offered a decent boost to the in-coming films of 2019. So let’s take a look at what happened in 2018:

The Hits:

The number one woman-led action film for the year was, surprisingly, from the Transformers franchise — the prequel film Bumblebee, with young star Hailee Steinfeld playing the human who helps everybody’s favorite yellow alien robot car. The film took in over $459 million during the holiday season, most of it in the key foreign box office, and is now at $468 million. The romantic thriller Fifty Shades Freed, starring Dakota Johnson, completed that franchise series and once again earned large early in the year, with nearly $372 million on a modest budget.

Rebooting a very old franchise, Disney launched the big sequel Mary Poppins Returns, starring the top of the heap star Emily Blunt (now the highest paid actress in film.) While the musical score of the film came nowhere near the original, the fun family movie released for the holidays earned over $349 million and is still earning globally. That’s a good bit less than Disney was probably hoping for but solidly in the black related to its budget, and Disney will milk the merchandising, theme parks and reshowings/DVD sales of the film for decades.

Women, women everywhere

Also a hit with high impact was Ocean’s 8, a spin-off of the Ocean’s movie franchise and starring big names Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, and five other extraordinary and noted or rising actresses. The heist caper kept to a mid-sized budget at $70 million and earned over $297 million during the busy summer. That might mean a sequel, but in any case, it showed that an action suspense movie chock full of women was highly effective and that Sandra Bullock remains a powerhouse star.

The other big woman-led action thriller for 2018 was another reboot prequel movie —Tomb Raider, based on the popular game, and starring rising actress Alicia Vikander. The movie was brought out early in the season and claimed over $274 million at the box office, most of it abroad. A sequel is likely. Star Jennifer Lawrence took a big swing with a Russian spy thriller adaptation, Red Sparrow, to mixed critical reaction but the mid-budget movie did turn a decent profit of over $151 million, much of it again in foreign box office. (That women-led action films did well in foreign box office when they managed to get proper international distribution is one highly encouraging sign from 2018.)

A lower budget thriller that did well was A Simple Favor, starring major actresses Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively. The psychological suspense tale took in over $97 million on a small $20 million budget. Breaking In, a thriller starring and produced by actress Gabrielle Union, was also made on a limited budget and took in over $51 million for a very healthy return. Taraji P. Henson’s starring turn in suspense film Tyler Perry’s Acrimony earned over $46 million.

Horror continues to provide good opportunities for woman-led films, partly due to their use of smaller budgets. Halloween, a possibly final sequel for the long running hit franchise, saw Jaime Curtis return to the role that made her a star, along with Judy Greer as her daughter. The small budget film was rewarded with over $254 million in box office as the biggest horror hit. Also highly successful was the sequel Insidious: The Last Key, starring Lin Shaye, taking in nearly $168 million. Low budget Truth or Dare, starring Lucy Hale, was very profitable with a $95 million plus take. Hereditary, an Australian entry starring Toni Collette, took in over $79 million. Slender Man and The Possession of Hannah Grace earned $51 million plus and $43 million plus respectively on tiny budgets. Unfriended: Dark Web, made for only a million, took in over $15 million. However, Unsane, starring Claire Foy, and remake Suspiria, starring Dakota Johnson, underperformed. Girl power satiric horror film Assassination Nation made a big cultural cult impact in geek circles, but only earned a few million with limited distribution.

The “Woman” Films:

 

In the less suspenseful but high profile releases of woman-led films, musical sequel Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, headed by Amanda Seyfried and featuring the legendary Cher, was the big earner with over $394 million on a medium-sized budget. Another big impact, big earner in the comedy area was Crazy Rich Asians, starring Constance Wu and Michelle Yeoh with a full Asian cast. The movie took in over $238 million on a very modest budget. Other woman-led and often woman produced comedies and action comedies that did well included Amy Schumer’s I Feel Pretty at nearly $95 million, Overboard with Anna Faris at over $91 million, star Jennifer Lopez’s career comedy Second Act taking in over $72 million on a small budget, the star studded Book Club with legends Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen earning over $68 million and comic star and producer Melissa McCarthy’s entry for the year, the more low key Life of the Party, which earned a solid near $66 million. (McCarthy also did the biography movie Can You Ever Forgive Me? which earned very little in a limited release but did snag the actress an Oscar nomination.)

On the historical and drama side where women can sometimes score large, the big winner was the satirical The Favourite, starring Olivia Coleman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone. The movie about Britain’s Queen Anne earned quite a bunch of Oscar nominations and wins and also scored well at the box office with nearly $96 million and still earning, a lot of it global box office. The other woman-led historical was Mary, Queen of Scots, starring Saoirse Ronan as the doomed queen and Margot Robbie as Queen Elizabeth I. The film has taken in a respectable $45 million and still earning, much of it also from global box office. The Ruth Bader Ginsburg biopic, On the Basis of Sex, starring Felicity Jones, has earned over $37 million and got a lot of attention. The films Winchester, Tully and Disobedience didn’t earn a lot in returns, but did get a lot of attention for the performances of their lead actress stars.

These films did show an increase for Hollywood on featuring women subjects in prestige bios and dramas and, while not the big budget films, do boost actresses’ star power in the industry. Felicity Jones helped solidify her rising star status by playing Ginsburg, which combines with her big action status from Star Wars: Rogue One. Long time player Olivia Coleman climbed several rungs higher thanks to The Favourite and won an Oscar for the role. Rachel Weisz not only got an Oscar nomination for her role in The Favourite but co-produced the drama Disobedience. Starring in such projects doesn’t always mean getting to transition into big budget action for such actresses, but now a lot of actresses are shifting back and forth between such categories, like the men actors tend to do, as well as getting more production opportunities.

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The Elements of Hierarchical Thinking

If you want to understand the basic philosophies that keep inequality and discriminatory hierarchies embedded and supported in societies through the use of justifying mythologies and repressive, often violent policies, even in societies that are ostensibly or lean towards democracy, this video from the guy at Innuendo Studios simply and straightforwardly encapsulates them.

It’s important to note that capitalism is largely an economic system, not a political one, and that it is possible to do forms of capitalism that are more equalitarian, including through regulation and consumer protection (the latter tending to keep more people alive to be able to participate in both democracy and capitalism.) As the video notes, it’s not a battle between the two specifically. It’s about how people regard the nature of human beings and violence, which comes from what they are taught in their culture and sub-cultures.

 

 

And this coda video of his I think I have to add here:

 

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Well, Captain Marvel IS Smiling

I went to see Captain Marvel last night in a packed 3D glasses theater full of people of all ages. In front of us were a line of young boys who were mega excited throughout, one of whom proclaimed it the best after we finally got to the ends credit scene. It was altogether uber enjoyable and cemented Sam Jackson’s status as a national treasure. Brie Larson and her supporting cast were awesome, including the cat. And flying sequences usually bore me, but these were pretty good.

And all the frothers’ anti-equality frothing came to nothing, which is because they are a teeny slice of political activists and Russian bots. Higher. Further. Faster, indeed.

 

 

 

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Little Bit of Happy

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February 1, 2019 · 1:17 AM

Some Years Go Squiggley

 

You never know what’s going to happen in a year.

For a variety of personal reasons, I had to put the blog in hibernation. I did pop about on the Web here and there and at SFFWorld, but the blog had to lay sleeping, like Princess Aurora. No prince needed for revival, however, just a new year, new goals, same as the rest of the world on this warming ball of ours. But it is something of a new chapter for me in life stuff, so I’ll have to see what I do with it.

One of those things on this blog will be the Women in Action feature — a look at how women actors fared in the big action movies and blockbusters as power players in the past year and what looks to be happening for them in this year ahead. I’ve been doing them annually since 2012, and I always find it an interesting picture of the business, so that will be out this month.

Other than that, you never know what I will do. The suspense is ever present. So check in now and then after I clean up the confetti around here. And have a very good sun journey in 2019.

 

 

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