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Women In Film, Part 2 — 2015 Analysis

In this Part 2 of Women in Film, we are moving on from 2014 to our new year 2015.

2015 is going to be the year of big returning franchises. Some of the biggest of the biggest are set to hit from now in April through December this year: James Bond dusts himself off, a re-booted Mad Max, a new Jurassic Park, an alternate timeline (reboot) Terminator, Mission: Impossible V, and the big daddy of them all, the return of Star Wars, the final chapters, now that Disney bought out George Lucas. All of them are male-centric, and added to them are the starting films in Marvel’s multi-studio plan for world domination: Avengers 2, Ant-Man and a reboot of the Fantastic Four in the ancillary Marvel mutant-based universe owned by 20th Century Fox. Marvel has plans for the ladies (see below,) but they don’t really start this year (unless you count the wonderful show Agent Carter on television.)

So it doesn’t look like an ideal year for women film stars and I’m not going to pretend it will be a female showcase, but it’s not going to be a down-tread either. It’s kind of interesting what they’re doing. The new Bond film, Spectre, has been playing up its women more than usual – Monica Bellucci especially, and Lea Seydoux and Stephanie Sigman; and Mad Max: Fury Road has gone to enormous trouble to market having Charlize Theron kicking ass as a one-armed cyborg commander, with a bevy of young actresses playing major roles: Zoe Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, and Megan Gale. The Terminator franchise knows a warrior Sarah Connor goes over better, so in their new alternate timeline restart, Terminator Genisys, that’s what we’re getting with Emilia Clarke, backed by a possible android-playing Sandrine Holt.

Jurassic World has thrown their marketing focus understandably on having red hot Chris Pratt star, but the film is also featuring Bryce Dallas Howard in the co-star role, along with Judy Greer, Katie McGrath, and Lauren Lapkus. Mission: Impossible V returns, having disappointedly dumped Paula Patton’s very interesting character from the last movie (she’s off doing a t.v. series now,) but has substituted in up and comer Rebecca Ferguson. Star Wars: The Force Awakens has been very closed-mouthed about their cast, but we do know that Carrie Fisher returns as Princess Leia and that Gwendoline Christie, Lupita Nyong’o and Maisie Richardson-Sellers have major roles. And Furious 7 also returns this week, with its multi-ethnic cast in which Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Elsa Pataky, Ronda Rousey, and Nathalie Emmanuel play central roles, an aspect that they always market.

Moving to the female-led action films, so far this year, in what is considered the “dead” period at the start of the season, we’ve had Jennifer Lopez produce and star in the soapy psychological thriller The Boy Next Door, with a tiny budget that produced a solid hit. Jupiter Ascending, starring Mila Kunis, from the Wachowski siblings, was yanked from the summer blockbuster roster last year and dumped into February. While the movie is a bit of a hot mess, it made more sense than Prometheus and was a lot of fun. Its big budget special effects meant it wasn’t likely to be a hit, given the circumstances, but it’s breaking even and still doing world box office.

The big female-led action movie of the year will again be Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, the last film in the hit franchise. As such, and coming out around Thanksgiving a month before Star Wars, it’s likely to do pretty big. Also just coming out now is the sequel to Divergent, called The Divergent Series: Insurgent, with Shailene Woodley, which has already shot past its production budget in a week and is well on its way to being another big hit for that series. Disney is continuing to monetize its park rides with Tomorrowland, a big budget special effects sci-fi movie for the summer, starring Britt Robertson, who gets helped by George Clooney in saving an alternate world from destruction.

Melissa McCarthy and Paul Feig again team up in May to produce and McCarthy to star in Spy, a comic spy thriller in which McCarthy plays a pencil-pusher analyst who has to take on a field agent role, backed by Rose Byrne, Jason Stratham and Jude Law. If successful, it puts McCarthy on a three year winning streak. Reese Witherspoon is also doing more producing and starring with Sofia Vergara in a comic buddy action film, Hot Pursuit, in which Witherspoon plays a cop protecting Vergara’s witness in a drug case.

Natalie Portman stars in Jane Got a Gun, a western about a woman trying to save her outlaw husband. And we have a whole passel of women-led thrillers: Selma Hayak produces and stars in a quirky film about a woman staving off assassins in Everly. Halle Berry seeks her stolen son in the film Kidnap. Emily Blunt continues her upward moves by starring in Sicario, as an FBI agent working with the CIA to take down a cartel. Viola Davis produced and stars in with Jennifer Lopez again the revenge thriller, Lila & Eve, in which two mothers go after the killers of their children. Olivia Wilde, Hailee Steinfeld and Nicole Beharie play three women surviving attacks by soldiers in The Keeping Room. Sanaa Lathan stars in the psychological stalker thriller The Perfect Guy, and Margot Robbie returns in the sci-fi post-apocalyptic movie Z for Zachariah, only very loosely based on the 1970’s novel.

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Women in Film, Part 1 — 2014 Review

It’s time again for Women In Film, where we look at blockbusters, action films of all types and big buzz films to see how actresses are doing in terms of prominence, box office moolah, and improving the state of female movie stars in the business. In this part, Part 1, we’ll be looking back at the films in 2014 to see what happened, and in Part 2, we’ll look ahead at what’s playing and up-coming in 2015 that we know about so far.

This analysis of mine has been going on since 2012, which media up-played as the year of the woman in film, because there were quite a few movies that year headed by women, including big action ones. As we know, part of that media coverage was simply hype – studies show that women are still hugely behind in grabbing major roles, and behind the camera it’s even worse, except for maybe producers. But it was also a valid reflection of shifts due to the trickle, trickle progress of getting Hollywood to accept and happily exploit the box office power of women, to an audience that largely doesn’t really care if it’s a man or a woman, (or even another gender,) helming a film. The year 2014 was, like 2013, a year mainly of sequels, old action franchises and superhero films, with Marvel dominating again (more on that later,) none of which tend to favor women as leads. So it wasn’t a ground-breaking year for actresses, like 2012, but it was a consolidating year, which did confirm that women can bring the box office themselves and are increasingly useful in ensemble action films. The bulkhead that was established still remains, with some interesting trends shaping for up-coming years.

Women had high impact roles in many successful action films this last year in which they weren’t the leads. In the superhero arena, Marvel again made good use of Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow in the hit Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier, and employed go-to geek movie star Zoe Saldana and Doctor Who favorite Karen Gillan, plus a cameo from Glen Close, in the big summer domestic winner, Guardians of the Galaxy. In their ancillary franchises, we had Emma Stone in Amazing Spiderman 2, and X-Men: Days of Future Past making key use of Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, and Ellen Page. Women were front and center in most of the big sequels: 300: Rise of an Empire, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Fast and Furious 6, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Rio 2, The Purge 2: Anarchy, Horrible Bosses 2, Muppets Most Wanted, Night at the Museum 3: Secret of the Tomb, and the biggest movies globally: Transformers 4: Age of Extinction, and The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies. They also had critical leading roles in hits Gone Girl, Interstellar, Hercules, Monuments Men, Non-Stop, The Equalizer, The Maze Runner, the rebooted Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Lego Movie, Big Hero 6, Noah, The Imitation Game, Selma, Neighbors, The Nut Job, Dracula Untold, Into the Storm, Blended, The Boxtrolls, and The Book of Life, and Emily Blunt bluntly stole hit sci-fi actioner Edge of Tomorrow from Tom Cruise.

But while women have become an ubiquitous if not always powerful component of the big action films, playing more than just “the Girl,” how about when they lead the movies? The proven player this year again was The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1, the next to last installment of the mega-franchise, starring red hot Jennifer Lawrence. Hunger Games 3 won the U.S. domestic box office for the year, and is still making the rounds of foreign box office for over $751 million worldwide so far. That didn’t make the billion club or yet beat installment #2 of the franchise, Catching Fire, but it definitely made its makers happy and sets the stage for the last film in the story to be quite huge.


The other big female led movie of the year was Disney’s Malificent, a live action alternate version of their animated film Sleeping Beauty, showing the cursing fairy’s side of the story. Starring Angelina Jolie — because who else could have done it that perfectly — Malificent was a big budget film that has taken in nearly $760 million in world box office and will live on television forever probably. (Jolie also got her director on in 2014, with her third film Unbroken, the war bio of Olympian Louis Zamperini, a modestly budgeted action picture that has earned over $160 million and is still opening globally.)

Divergent, considered to be The Hunger Games’ little sister of sorts, was put out as a mid-budget film in the relatively quiet period of March, starring Shailene Woodley. Other recent YA series adaptations had done only middling, and the female led The Vampire Academy, out just before Divergent, had flopped, but Divergent’s high action dystopia brought in over $288 million. Another YA adaptation with a female lead, If I Stay, brought in over $78 million on a miniscule budget, and the buzzy YA romantic drama, The Fault in Our Stars, took in over $305 million on only a $12 million budget.

The surprise hit of the year, however, turned out to be a film called Lucy, starring Scarlett Johansson. The mid-budget, largely under the radar sci-fi martial arts thriller ended up with world box office of over $458 million, cementing Johansson’s rep as a star in action films and praised indies. It also meant more interest in inexpensive action flicks featuring a female protagonist, a house built by the Underworld and Resident Evil franchises and recent smaller budget successes like Colombiana and this year’s In the Blood. Continue reading


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The Female Movie Star Lives in 2014 – Yearly Update, Part 2

(See Part 1 here.)

So, has the female movie star died off as we enter into the full 2014 movie season? No, and not just in the area of the big budget action movies. “Women’s” pictures – comedies and dramas led by women – also have made money these past few years and upped profiles. August: Osage County, a female star-studded Broadway play adaptation, for example, made on a small budget of salary-cut-for-the-indie-prestige with the Weinsteins, nearly $60 million in 2013.

In fact, women-led films — drama, comedy or action — have in recent years consistently counteracted the current claim that the middle-budget film is dying out in favor of the big tent poles. The women are cheaper and given less investment in budgets, as previously visited, and so when their films do well, the profits are higher than bigger movies that just break even. More women-led films made over $100 million in 2013 than in 2012, when they were more highlighted in PR and media attention.

Of course, it’s not necessarily making movie stars if the women are regulated to a mid-low budget ghetto. And women directors are still being shut out of both big tentpole films and lower budget Oscar contenders. But there is upwards pressure. If Sandra Bullock can get $20 million and 15% of the gross for Gravity and Angelina Jolie can fund and direct movies, that means younger female actors can push for more green and better deals. Actors like Jennifer Lawrence, Kristen Stewart, Mila Kunis and Emma Stone are already bonafide movie stars making millions. Actors like Natalie Portman and Charlize Theron are also in the A-list club with large salaries for their bigger projects.

Does that mean then that 2014 is going to be a super year for women actors in film, though, and in the big action movies? The answer is that it is and it isn’t. 2014 is shaping up to be a good year in terms of women being highly present and doing major, high profile roles in action films. There are, however, less women-led action films in the pipeline for 2014 than the previous two years. Some of those films coming out are likely to do very well at the box office, but there is the inevitable desire in Hollywood to slow down the supposed “risk” of the females, and take on the male security blanket action pics and hope that the male stars can keep milking the world foreign box office. The reality is that if your woman-led action picture does well, you don’t get nearly the status in the industry that you do if your man-led action picture does well, and so regardless of the box office, the tendency is to advance the males, with male directors. That means women have to continue with trickle, trickle erosion and still being mostly seen as the eye candy while they kick ass.

So 2014 is going to have its comic superhero movies, old world myth fests and action spectaculars led by men and special effects. The numbers of recent studies about women’s participation in film are not heartening. And yet the tipping point we seem to have witnessed in 2012 does not seem to be tipping backwards. It’s just continuing on its sneaky roll, with Hollywood now automatically putting in a female member or more for every action team, an increase in female power villains, and a lot more excitement about the actresses in big power flicks than most of the male stars. That’s…annoying, really. Who likes riding in scanty clothes on what continues to be a slow moving glacier? But what’s becoming normal – having the women there, kicking ass and frequently leading – is shaping the future of movies slowly and surely. Hollywood likes its myths, but it likes money too. And audiences have shown that they clearly don’t care if it’s a woman or a man in the lead, or in any other role.

So what is coming up for women in the action pictures, all kinds, in 2014: 

Women-led action pics for 2014 include first off the YA adaptation Divergent. A lot of folks are seeing this as Hunger Games lite, but the books have a solid fan base who don’t seem unhappy with what they’ve heard about the film so far. The film is coming out in late March (at what is now the start of the “summer” season,) probably doesn’t have a large budget, and seems to be getting a lot more studio support than previous female-centric YA adaptations last year. Then there is surprisingly the film Veronica Mars, based on the cult t.v. show. Veronica Mars got a lot of attention off of its Kickstarter partial budget campaign, which is now making the film a bigger deal, and fan enthusiasm is high, while the budget is very low. Veronica Mars brings the television sensibility to the film – that the woman can be the detective/action person who leads and everyone else circles around – so even if it isn’t a huge hit, it’s going to help and definitely ups Kristen Bell’s profile.

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Here We Go

Soooooo…The Hunger Games movie made over $152 million in its opening weekend domestically, has earned over $220 million globally so far, and smashed or ranked high on several box office records.




I saw the movie. They made some minor changes from the book, not all of which I agreed with, but overall delivered on the story and info needed for the overall story of the series with skill. The use of herky-jerky camera work, with split screen images, etc., for parts of the film didn’t always work ideally, especially at the beginning, during the non-high-action Reaping sequence. It was visually interesting but too distracting at times. It worked best for presenting flashback fragments.  (They tone it down for later parts of the film.) The very beginning was also a bit awkward, using text background info that then was unnecessary because they went to a talk show host gambit that gave you that info anyway — it was probably a bit confusing if you didn’t read the book. I chalk it up to that unnecessary nervousness that “regular” people will have trouble following a post-apoc dystopia, even though they’ve been fed post-apoc dystopia films for decades. The actors were ideal. (And extra huzza to Elizabeth Banks for running with the film’s best lines.) The emotional punch of the story was not subtly done, but was not overwrought either.  They were helped by just being able to use Collins’ dialogue from the book a lot of the time. The main scenes were sharp with great use of facial expressions and set details and terrific use of color and lighting.  The kid who played Cato was perfect and when he does his speech at the end, which twists the whole thing, it summed up the story nicely.  The pacing was fast but not non-stop and the action was good and consequence filled (although again occasionally impaired by the herky jerky camera action style but that’s pretty much required these days.) The parts added to the movie, outside of Katniss’ pov, worked pretty well overall — watching Donald Sutherland do President Snow was nearly worth the whole ticket price. Thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend if you’re inclined to weep at films (as I am,) bring tissues. The second movie, Catching Fire, should, well, catch fire, I suspect.

If Kristin Stewart’s Snow White and the Huntsman also does well this summer, it’s going to up-end Hollywood on its little head for a bit. Erosion is a wonderful thing, especially when it floods. They’ll dismiss it as simply teenage girl obsessions, but the damage has been done.

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