Tag Archives: The Hunger Games

The Female Movie Star Lives in 2014 – Yearly Update, Part 1

Back in early 2012, I took two posts by Australian author Joel Shepherd as a jumping off point to look at women in action film and Hollywood in general. (Shepherd had sold film rights to his military SF series, the Cassandra Kresnov series, which features a female synthetic soldier, and then got to experience Hollywood development hell. Shepherd is also the author of the A Trial of Blood and Steel fantasy series, also featuring a female protagonist.)

Specifically, I looked first in Death of the Female Movie Star? We’re Just Getting Started Part 1 at how the view of women in action has changed, and that women have made slow advances in big budget and action film through a trickle, trickle erosion that did involve a lot of sexy costumes. In Part 2, I looked at what had gone on so far in late 2011 and early 2012 and what was coming up in 2012, which even the media then noted was being a banner year for women in action films. In July 2012, I briefly checked the temperature with How Are You Ladies Doing. And in May 2013, nearly a year later, in It’s Time for Women in Film, I went over what had happened in 2012 and early 2013 and what seemed to be shaping up for the summer season.

So I figured I’d keep going with this, if only for my own curiosity. So let’s review first how it went for the “lady” actors in 2013. That year was less packed with women-led action films than 2012, due to comics adaptations and old franchises and male action stars – a number of which flopped badly — but there were still quite a few, as well as action films in which females played pivotal, kick ass roles. It turned out that the year showed that the Female Movie Star isn’t dead at all.

Women continued to be the leads or co-leads of many horror films in 2013. These low budgeted films racked up some bucks, like Insidious 2 taking in $161 million on a tiny budget, equally small film Mama making $146 million, The Purge earning nearly $90 million and a sequel, and The Conjuring a whopping $318 million. The much anticipated reboot of Evil Dead with a female lead, Jane Levy, has made over $97 million. The rebooted Carrie, with a female director, not quite so hotly anticipated and less warmly received domestically, still made over $84 million worldwide on a small budget.  As previously noted, these aren’t, by and large, the “sexy” movies that get a lot of attention and credit when action films are discussed. But they have consistently been a money making area and one where women actors have been steadily chipping away into major positions – so much so that they helped the archetype of the kick ass woman fighting monsters to become a standard expectation. The growth in horror film’s fortunes tends to be cyclical, but with the Internet and streaming becoming big factors, as well as global box office, horror is a mainstay in which women have essentially conquered, and may start to be conquering with female directors as well.

Over in animation, we had The Croods, which was a big budget father-daughter tale, and it took in over $587 million globally. Then there was Epic, an international, female led fantasy tale that took in over $268 million. But the big mama of the year was Disney’s Frozen, a spin on The Snow Queen that turned it into a tale of two sisters with a hit soundtrack. Frozen has taken in nearly a billion and counting.

But that’s again animation, which folks discount (never mind how it’s shaping the minds of the young,) and don’t feel necessarily makes an impact on creating female movie stars. So how did they do in the adventure/thriller/SFF area in 2013? The young actresses – the up and coming movie stars – besides horror films, were mostly regulated in 2013 to mid-budget gambles based on successful books if they wanted to be leads. The Host and Beautiful Creatures had mid-sized budgets and so basically flopped with $48 million and $60 million in box office respectively, early in the year. The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones was able to make a good bit past its budget at $90 million, so there is a possibility for a sequel. Spring Breakers was a hit, due to its miniscule budget that made its over $30 million take impressive. The Bling Ring also had a tiny budget and made pocket money – not what is really wanted from director Sofia Coppola, but not disreputable on the indie scene.

Also on lower budgets, The Call, as previously noted, with a small budget and no hoopla made $68 million to be a hit in the early part of the year, with Halle Berry – a female movie star. The Book Thief, a WWII drama, made respectably over $50 million. Women teaming up with men as co-leads did well. Melissa McCarthy’s action comedy with Jason Bateman, Identity Thief, made nearly $174 million on a medium budget, cementing that McCarthy was a bankable star. Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters also on a medium budget made over $225 million. Kick Ass 2 centered on the Hit Girl character, played by up and coming teen star Chloe Moretz, and made a respectable $60 million on a low budget.

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How Are You Ladies Doing?

So, way back in February, due to a blog post by Australian author  Joel Shepherd, I did a two part post on whether things were really looking dire for female movie stars or not (and had been in the past.) The second part of that post essay was about the up-coming movie landscape, specifically the blockbuster summer in which women stars are traditionally small potatoes. This summer, a number of moderate to large budgeted films with big buzz were going to be women led, a situation that got the media’s attention. The question was whether the films would do well, reinforcing the idea that women led hits were bankable, in addition to smaller films led by women performing decently and more frequently. So now that we’re headed into the last part of summer and several months down the road, how has it gone?

The answer is, pretty well. We started in the late winter with the Soderbergh spy thriller Haywire, starring Gina Carano. The budget was only $23 million and it made over $31 million. That’s nothing to write home about, but it’s not a flop either. The even smaller thriller production Gone, which had Amanda Seyfried paying her dues, managed to pull in a respectable over $16 million number, even though it was barely marketed. Comic mystery thriller adaptation One for the Money, starring Katherine Heigl, flopped as expected but at $37 million box office, most of it domestic, on a $40 million budget and not that much advertising for it, it wasn’t an utterly horrible flop and doesn’t skew the record that much. What to Expect When You’re Expecting, the woman-filled, non-action “women’s movie” of the season, did over $67 million on a $40 mil budget – okay, especially since it was a mostly domestic audience and an ensemble film, and it should do okay on DVD.

The latest Underworld installment, Underworld Awakening, which brought Kate Beckinsale back to the franchise in the lead, had a fairly big budget for the series at $70 million and did better than any other installment of the franchise so far with over $160 million worldwide. Mirror Mirror, the first, more comic Snow White movie starring Lily Collins and Julia Roberts, had a moderate budget of $85 million and took in nearly $163 million, nearly double its production cost.

Then came The Hunger Games, the adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ bestselling YA novel, starring Jennifer Lawrence. On a budget of $78 million, with a female lead and a SF post-apocalypse story about children killing each other as entertainment and social control, it was considered a huge gamble, even though the series has many male and female fans. If it had done even moderately well, it was going to be seen as a victory, a solid “replacement” in the market for the finishing Twilight series. It did better than well. It’s made over $680 million. Its foreign take started kind of slow – which wasn’t due to having a female lead as female led movies often do well overseas – but has since picked up as the film opens in more and more countries.

Could the run be sustained, though? The next big female “gamble” was the second Snow White movie, Snow White and the Huntsman, starring Kristen Stewart and Charlize Theron. With a big budget of $170 million for the CGI, it was going to have to do extremely well to recoup and Mirror Mirror had already had the shot at the Snow White story only a few months before. It made over $354 million worldwide, not as much as cheaper The Hunger Games, but more than enough to probably get that sequel they’re angling for. And then came Brave, Pixar’s “first ever” female lead animated feature, starring a, well sort of Disney princess Pixar-style, red-haired and Scottish. Would it do well, especially with a big budget cost of $185 million? Brave had one of the best openings Pixar has had for a non-sequel feature with $68 million opening weekend. It’s taken in nearly $225 million in only three weeks of showing. Like The Hunger Games, its foreign box office is being broken out slowly and is liable to bring in much more of the total in the next few months.

And as it turns out, although I wasn’t aware of it till it was out in June and I was forced by my family to see it — there was another female-led giant film of the summer – Prometheus, possibly the most expensive nonsensical movie ever made. The Alien prequel stars Noomi Rapace, as an archeologist/biologist doctor who finds out God is nasty, and also had again Charlize Theron playing a major role as resident ice queen. Rapace’s character was no Ripley, but the highly anticipated film bet on a female protagonist again for the franchise and has pulled in over $295 worldwide so far. (The reported production cost was $130 million.)

That’s about it for the female led films for the summer season, though it’s worth noting that Scarlett Johansan, the only female on the team of superheroes in The Avengers (at the studio’s insistence, natch,) looks to be getting a deal that might net her $20 million for the sequel, plus a possible spin-off feature for her character Black Widow. The big boy superheroes take the fore with Amazing Spiderman out now and Batman: The Dark Knight Rises to come out soon. 2012, however, will see the last movie of the Twilight franchise – Breaking Dawn, Part 2, in November, which is notable because Kristen Stewart’s Bella will be going in the last film from prophesied human whom everyone has to protect to super-powered vampire mom protecting her prophesied daughter. And also the next installment of the Resident Evil franchise, Resident Evil: Retribution, comes out in September, starring Milla Jovovich (who also totally stole the picture The Three Musketeers last year.)

Next year, some of the female-led films we know so far are the next Hunger Games film, Catching Fire; the animated feature Epic, with Amanda Seyfried doing the voice of the protagonist; Sandra Bullock’s SF movie Gravity; another YA adaptation, The Mortal Instruments, starring Lily Collins; the adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s SF novel The Host, starring Saoirse Ronan; a remake of Carrie starring Chloe Grace Moretz; another Soderbergh thriller, The Bitter Pill, starring Rooney Mara; Reese Witherspoon’s legal thriller Devil’s Knot; Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring; the drama Very Good Girls; Lasse Hallstrom’s Safe Haven; the The Evil Dead remake that’s more of a re-boot and stars Jane Levy; and the animated Dorothy of Oz. Also, the not female-led but female friendly Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, starring Gemma Arterton and Jeremy Renner, and Scary Movie 5. 2013 looks to be fairly full of testosterone, with a number of big movies like The Hobbit and the re-boot again of Superman, but the females are not going away, and female directors are in the mix and have a better shot at action films than they did a few years ago. Females are now a staple as secondary main characters in nearly every action film, in slightly larger numbers than before.

So 2012 definitely marks a sea change and from here on, it’s drip, drip, drip for more potentially successful erosion. The future for female movie stars is looking better than it was and less limited to romantic comedies and horror flicks.  Now we just need that Wonder Woman movie.



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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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The Mad Hatter Award Returns

Lafayette, I have returned! And so has the Mad Hatter Award, special clueless reviewer edition. Curious about a tag line on a Salon.com review of the film version of The Hunger Games, I discovered a bizarre review by Andrew O’Hehir. O’Hehir would, in taking this assignment, fall into the category of Reviewers Who are Forced to Watch Stuff They Know Already that They Will Hate and Therefore Pay No Attention to the Plot and Then Complain About the Plot division. Here’s the key quote:

“In Panem, “Hunger Games” author Suzanne Collins’ nightmarish future version of America, it’s as if the first season of “Survivor” or “American Idol” is on the air year after year, with real killings, no competition and ratings that never go down.

It’s an interesting scenario, I suppose, but how did this happen? Nothing in Collins’ books, or in director Gary Ross’ simultaneously chaotic and desultory film adaptation, even tries to explain that (or seems aware of it as a narrative problem). Somewhere amid the civil war and widespread destruction and rise of a totalitarian state that forms the scanty back story of “The Hunger Games,” the collective knowingness and jadedness and pseudo-sophistication of the Information Revolution society has evaporated. Or at least it has among the subject populations, in the outlying districts annually compelled to supply young combatants to the Hunger Games. Where Collins’ heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence, in the movie) grows up, in the Appalachian coal-mining zone called District 12, willowy women in print dresses with flyaway hair live in tumbledown shacks, looking for all the world as if they just stepped out of a Dorothea Lange photo essay from 1937. (Have blue jeans for women and indoor plumbing been abolished, along with consumer society, corporate capitalism and postmodernity in general?)”

Of course, in the books by Suzanne Collins and therefore in the fairly faithful film, it is completely clear why the society is structured the way it is and why they have the games. It is not non-existent or “scanty.” It is, in fact, the point of the whole story. After losing a rebellion against the ruling government in a post-apocalypse future, the districts are kept in a state of abject poverty and non-modern technology ghettos by military force, starvation, imprisonment,  random killings and other methods to control them and keep them from rebelling again, while providing resources to the wealthy of the Capitol. The most stunning of those methods is to take some of their children away each year, as if to a concentration camp, except the technologically advanced Capitol gets to then watch the children of the people they keep in the mud kill each other and make the people watch it too. This is a propaganda and totalitarian terror  technique, unfortunately, that numerous societies have used before in history, including modern history. While Collins’ version of it is somewhat simplistic in execution for the needs of the story, it is neither absent nor illogical.

What is absent, which seems to be what O’Hehir is insisting is vitally important, is a lengthy historical lesson of what happened between our current day and the society in the novel — the exact apocalyptic events that would allow a Capital to develop and which have little to do with the story at all, much less warrant an intrusion in a two hour film.  The fact that the people in the society don’t necessarily know exactly what happened in that past, that the ruling Capital would repress any accurate information about such a past even if facts are known and that things like blue jeans or spats do in fact often disappear from the landscape over decades seems not to have been clear to him.

Mr. O’Hehir apparently also has never heard of current cities like Rio or Mumbai, where teeming shanty slums with no running water, electricity or doors really and built on landfills of garbage live side by side with glorious high-rises decorated in gold gilt.  He is apparently unfamiliar with the nature of the gladiator games in the Roman Empire, on which Collins based much of her game ideas. Nor does he seem aware of more current events in some places like people’s heads being used as soccer balls while stadium audiences are forced to watch and cheer. And so he’s terribly confused that the people in District 12 in the story, who are kept imprisoned by an electric fence, don’t have video games in their homes. He wants a detailed explanation of why they are kept in Third World poverty beyond the fact that it’s a totalitarian society and there are men with guns, spy drones and genetically engineered monsters to enforce it and if he doesn’t get one, then the world of the story is “stupid” and of no relevance to the world we inhabit.

Or what is more likely is that he found the prospect of the movie tedious and decided to dismiss it as a poorly put together war movie for teenage girls. Either way, O’Hehir gets a well and fairly earned Mad Hatter Award. It will be difficult for other critics to top that sort of nattering.




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It’s spring/fall! Depending which hemisphere you’re in.

1) Tiptree Award: The James Tiptree, Jr. Literary Award Council has awarded the 2010 Tiptree Award to Baba Yaga Laid an Egg, by Dubravka Ugresic, Ellen Elias-Bursac translator (Canongate, 2010). The novel offers three different modern variations on Baba Yaga folklore that look at female aging, concepts of beauty and the power of myth.

2) Shadows Awards: The 2010 Australian Shadows Horror Awards have been announced:

Best Long Fiction: Under Stones by Bob Franklin (Affirm Press)

Best Edited Publication: Macabre: A Journey through Australia’s Darkest Fears, Edited by Angela Challis & Marty Young (Brimstone Press)

Best Short Fiction: “She Said” by Kirstyn McDermott (Scenes from the Second Storey)

3) While development on his Sandman, the classic comics series, for a t.v. series has been stalled yet again, author Neil Gaiman’s bestselling novel American Gods may finally be getting a live action adaptation. At first it was announced that the book would be a movie, but it now seems to be coming to HBO in the U.S. as a miniseries or t.v. series. Award-winning cinematographer and director Robert Richardson brought the rights to Playtone, run by actor-director Tom Hanks and producer Gary Goetzman, and Playtone took the project to HBO, with whom they’ve done Band of Brothers and other projects. The novel, which won the Stoker Award and Hugo Award, concerns an American ex-con, Shadow, who while grieving for his dead wife, encounters a number of incarnated gods, old and new, and gets caught up in a potential divine war. Richardson and Gaiman will write the pilot episode. Gaiman’s children’s novel, The Graveyard Book, is also being adapted into a film, directed by Neil Jordan, and the ever busy Gaiman also penned an up-coming episode of the ever-running, iconic British t.v. series Doctor Who.

4) Also in the comics arena, F. Paul Wilson’s series of young adult fantasy novels, Jack: Secret Histories, Jack: Secret Circles and Jack: Secret Vengeance, are being turned into a comic series adaptation by Sea Lion Books. The YA series is a prequel trilogy to the author’s famed Repairman Jack novels. The Jack trilogy features the future mercenary as a young adventurer solving mysteries in the world of the occult.

5) Also in YA news, the film adaptation of best-selling SF novel The Hunger Games, the first in the Hunger Games trilogy, by Suzanne Collins, is rapidly filling in its cast. In addition to Jennifer Lawrence playing the main role of Katniss, the film will star Josh Hutcherson as Peeta and Liam Hemsworth as Gale. The Hunger Games is a post-apocalypse story in which a blasted and torn North America has become an empire where the rich and privileged live with technology in a central city while the poor struggle to survive in walled-in slums. In retribution for a failed rebellion, these poor neighborhoods have to sacrifice two of their children each year to participate in televised gladiator games to the death, the winners of which will bring prizes and food for their home area. Katniss and Peeta are forced to compete in the games, and Gale tries to help Katniss and protect her family. Other new casting: Willow Shields will play Primrose, Katniss’ sister, Amanda Stenberg will play the pivotal role of Rue, another competitor, and Dayo Okeniyi will play Thresh, an older competitor. The movie is coming out from Lionsgate with Gary Ross directing.

6) Sony Pictures Entertainment announced on Monday that actor Will Smith and his son Jaden Smith will star together in director M. Night Shyamalan’s up-coming science fiction film. The movie is set a thousand years in the future, when the two characters as father and son will have to navigate an abandoned Earth after their spaceship crashes. Shyamalan’s track record on movies for the last several years has been all over the place after the smash horror film The Sixth Sense. Most recently, he annoyed a lot of people in directing the anime martial arts adaptation The Last Airbender with a way more anglo cast than the original creation. It’s to be seen whether Smith, who is co-producing the new film, and his son, who starred in the hit remake The Karate Kid, can provide the juice needed for such a big budget production.

7) Former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger wasted no time after leaving politics in returning to his Hollywood stomping grounds. His first project is a satiric animated superhero t.v. series called The Governator, after the nickname given to The Terminator star when he took political office. Schwarzenegger teamed up with comics legend Stan Lee to produce the series and a tie-in comic book series, and lends his voice to it. The Governator is about the triumph of marketing – also about the man himself taking names as governor and fighting deadly robots or whatever.

8 ) Also a blast from the past, the Wyld Stallions will apparently ride again in a reunion picture of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter earned cult fame playing two California teens who learned that they would one day bring peace and harmony to the Earth through their band and who time travel with the help of George Carlin to complete their high school history project and keep the future on track. In Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, the sequel, Bill and Ted have to deal with Death and other problems. The franchise also spawned an animated t.v. series. Twenty years later, Reeves and Winter are agreeing to do a third film in which the now grown-up boys find the predicted future didn’t happen and time travel to find out why. George Carlin unfortunately passed on in 2008, but given Reeves’ star status and the cultural touchstone of the films, the new movie is likely to draw a nice cast. Reeves, who throughout his career has been accused of actually being just like Ted, the role he played, is probably going to have a lot of fun with it. Winter became a director as well as continuing to act, and produced the sketch comedy show The Idiot Box.

9) And yet another blast from the past, it’s been confirmed that there will be an Evil Dead re-make. The cult film franchise, the first one guerrilla film-making in their youth by director Sam Raimi and actor-director Bruce Campbell, has become legend, with fans eagerly hoping for a fourth Evil Dead film. That plan never quite came together, but Campbell and Raimi are executive producing the re-make. Campbell, who is currently busy on the spy t.v. series Burn Notice and making My Name is Bruce 2, may make a cameo in the new version of the film that made him a god of all SFF conventions. I can’t see anyone else playing Ash, the young man whose friends turn into demon zombies in a cursed cabin in the woods, but if they’re going to remake something, it might as well be something both crazy and good. Shemp lives!

10) On the book front, since 1968, Anne McCaffrey has been writing novels about the Dragonriders of Pern, the post-apocalypse colony planet with genetically engineered dragons. And now movie-t.v. technology has finally caught up with her, and Dragonflight, the first Pern novel, is being turned into a live action movie. David Hayter, who has worked on everything from Transformers to the up-coming Real Steel, will write the screenplay. I’m guessing it’s going to be in 3-D. I will not lie; I have always wanted a fire lizard.

11) Earlier, it was reported that actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt would join his Inception director Christopher Nolan’s last Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises, as Alberto Falcone, son of mob boss Carmine Falcone, played by Tom Wilkinson. This was apparently incorrect. Instead, Gordon-Levitt will be playing John Blake, a Gotham City beat cop who gets a special assignment from Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman.) (I’m guessing one that proves very traumatic.) Other Inception stars are also on board in the new picture: Tom Hardy will play villain Bane, and Marion Cotillard will play Miranda Tate, a Wayne Enterprises board member. Anne Hathaway will be taking on the role of Catwoman, following in the footsteps of Michelle Pfeiffer and Halle Berry and leading to endless costume speculation. After The Dark Knight Rises, they’re going to start all over again with a reboot, because that’s just what they do.

12) The much-anticipated and darkly sumptuous television adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, Game of Thrones, debuted on Sunday, April 17th, to a fruitful audience of 4.2 million, and HBO has already renewed the show for a second season. So we can all breathe easy now. The second season will follow the second book in the series, A Clash of Kings. Game of Thrones is produced by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss.

13) After much harrumphing and complaints that they needed to at least come into the year 2000, Analog, the venerable and always cool science fiction magazine, is now accepting electronic submissions of stories. In fact, they say that they will prefer to get their submissions electronically, but through their website, not as email. Editor Stanley Schmidt asks for patience as they get the new system rolling. Authors respond: you really don’t know much about the Internet, do you, Stanley? But at least now the screaming can stop.

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