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Wonder Woman Sails Into Shiny Waters

So obviously a lot has been going on in recent months all about, but I did manage to go see the long awaited and much speculated about Wonder Woman movie, starring Gal Gadot. I enjoyed it overall and give it about a B+ grade, which, given the DC multiverse’s film record the last few years, is quite good. The action scenes were mostly great, very cleverly done, the cinematography and use of color and audio with homages to the comics themselves was interesting and nicely shaped by the director, Patty Jenkins. The special effects were sometimes a bit uneven – some of them were great but a few looked a bit too electronic game animation-like. That’s going to happen, though, and it’s pretty amazing at how extensive a range of things they can CGI create now. There were a few points of the plot that didn’t make a great deal of sense – par for the course in action movies – and the ending had some very good dramatic stuff but also a fair amount of hokey stuff that didn’t quite pull it together as well as it might have been done.

But that also is a bit of a Wonder Woman tradition and they managed to set up Wonder Woman’s role in the up-coming Justice League movie quite well. There were a lot of shout-outs to the Wonder Woman comics, although the story and action were moved to World War I, the war that greatly changed both war itself and the idea of empire. They managed to jigger together the character’s many re-booted back stories to give her a cohesive background origin that worked with the movie’s main arc.

Gadot herself gave a very strong performance. She brought easy physicality to the role and handled the tricky mix of naïvety and smarts that is Diana first leaving her island about as well as could be managed. The main costume was still too Xena-ish but the movie may have started a new fashion trend of swords down the back of evening dresses (and the use of the sword was explained in the film.) Chris Pine showed his all to the audience as American spy Steve Trevor (and I do mean literally all.) He also had a tricky balance between playing a man of the 1918 time period trying to explain it to Diana and one who accepts backing her plays as leader in a changing world, as well as an island of warrior women, and I think he did a good job. Their canon romance was a bit rushed for the movie’s sake, but that really couldn’t be helped and they had good chemistry. The movie did a good job on the difficult issues of war and humanity that both of them have to grapple with, (though again the ending could have been stronger.)

Non-white representation in the movie was not great, which was a bit of a disappointment. Two major black canon characters were cut from the Amazons and WOC were token among them (though they did beautifully in their action scenes.) The main Amazon roles went to white, not particularly Mediterranean  appearing actresses — Robin Wright was steely sharp as Diana’s “fun” aunt and Connie Nielsen had the rather thankless role of Diana’s worried queen mom, Hippolyta. Two major supporting characters were non-white men and both actors, Said Taghmaoui and Eugene Brave Rock, did really good performances with what they had. Problem is that what they had were awful stereotypes, which may have been partly because their characters were actually drawn from the DC Comics, but things definitely could have been improved in the script. The film seemed to acknowledge itself on the sad state of Hollywood in this area, including one very pointed line of dialogue delivered by Taghmaoui. So here’s hoping DC does better in the other movies.

Ewen Bremner also had to deal with some stereotypes – Scottish ones for his part – and managed to also give a nice performance nonetheless. Elena Anaya and the renowned Danny Huston made interesting villains. And Lucy Davis, who I particularly enjoyed in Shaun of the Dead, is a national treasure here as Trevor’s British assistant Etta, stealing every scene she’s in. The movie was not a laugh riot, given the subject matter, but it did use healthy doses of humor very effectively throughout, which is again a considerable improvement on the dour, muddled DC film universe so far. If you haven’t had a chance to catch the film yet, I’d say it’s well worth your time even if you’re not the biggest Wonder Woman fan, for the action visuals alone.

If the movie Wonder Woman had been a regular big action film in our ideal world, my little review above would be the only things needing to be talked about. But of course the movie in the sexist system we still have was made the flashpoint of “will woman superhero movies ruin us,” with an enormous amount of pressure, including the responsibility to prop up sagging enthusiasm for the entire DC franchise in preparation for the up-coming Justice League movie.

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Women in Film – Part 2 – 2017 Analysis

So if women built on momentum in 2016, what is happening this year? A fair amount, given that the “summer blockbuster” season for 2017 started in early March with Fox’s Marvel X-Men entry Logan and reboot film Kong: Skull Island. Women play principle roles in both those movies – young Dafne Keen playing a mutant girl with Wolverine-like abilities, and rising player Brie Larson is in the new Vietnam-era set Kong as an intrepid war photo-journalist, along with Tian Jing playing a biologist.

Some other action movies have already rolled out in the last two and a half months as well, as the former dumping ground of the new year has become a potentially fertile time period. The two reigning queens of the horror action films, Kate Beckinsale and Milla Jovovich, have returned with Underworld: Blood Wars (which was pushed forward from its original October 2016 release date,) and Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, Jovovich’s final film for the game tie-in franchise. The new Resident Evil racked in $307+ millions on only a $40 million budget and still going, for an all-time high for the franchise. Underworld: Blood Wars has had a slower start, but brought in over $81 million on an even smaller budget and still going globally. The two actresses together also got some extra press for their work in these successful but often dismissed franchises, since media has noticed that women are now taking point just a tiny bit more in hit action and SFF films.

On a slightly different spoke of the action wheel, Disney’s live action musical version of Beauty and the Beast, starring Emma Watson, had a record-breaking opening weekend with over $170 million domestically and has earned over $392 million in world box office. That’s good since the budget for the film was quite huge with the motion capture effects, and they estimate it might reach the billion dollar mark. Disney doing live action alt versions of its animated princess classics has so far been nothing but extremely popular, so more transformation of the vault properties are planned, as well as things like the up-coming 2018 Mary Poppins sequel. That’s going to give quite a few up and coming actresses spotlight roles backed by Disney’s machine.

The horror franchise of The Ring finally got its new one out, Rings starring Matilda Lutz. Rings has brought in over $81 million on a $25 million budget. And on a smaller scale, Before I Fall, adapted from the hit YA novel, stars Zoey Deutch and a female-heavy cast with a story of a teenager who relives the day of her death over and over, trying to change things. It hasn’t brought much money in yet, but has had a limited release.

In addition to Fifty Shades Darker bringing in audiences for nearly $375 million on the psychodrama front, women have so far this year played key roles in hits xXx: The Return of Xander Cage, The Great Wall, The LEGO Batman Movie, horror thriller Split, John Wick: Chapter Two, sleeper horror hit Get Out, and kid-friendly adventure Monster Truck. There’s also been a cluster of high grossing global Asian films, such as Jackie Chan’s Kung Fu Yoga and the animated film Your Name, in which women are doing major leads.

But what are the big up-coming films for the rest of the year with women leads? Chief among these for 2017 is first off Wonder Woman, out in June, starring Gal Gadot — the movie we’d come to believe would never actually happen as nervous studio executives just weren’t sure about risking big budget girl cooties. But DC Comics is in a film franchise arms race with Marvel/Disney, with The Justice League of which Wonder Woman is an integral part to be its answer to The Avengers. And DC is getting to beat Marvel to the punch with having the first woman-led film in their franchise, since Marvel’s Captain Marvel movie got pushed back to make room for Spider-Man being incorporated into their schedule and the Black Widow movie isn’t yet on the timetable. So they’ve poured quite a lot into promoting the film, with appealing trailers, and expectations are high for the first live action film of the most famous female superhero. Which of course raises the specter of studios possibly again blaming all actresses if Wonder Woman isn’t a blockbuster, and using that to try and nix future woman-led superhero movies as too risky. At this point, however, the momentum seems unstoppable – the machines of these comics franchises are just too big to risk leaving out the women. So Wonder Woman gets her movie shot and that’s a high water-mark for actresses in action.

No, I don’t know why they went with her kneeling either.

 

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Women in Film – Part 1: 2016 Review

It’s time to get back into the topic I’ve been trying to do annually for a few years now on how female actresses are doing in box office power in the big budget action, SFF, thriller, action comedies and horror films of each year – the mostly bigger money, bigger press or “cool” films that can catapult actors into a very high tax bracket. In the previous year of 2015, women packed a lot of punch in their roles in franchises and led in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and several other quite successful films, so 2015 ended up being a bigger year for the actresses than expected. 2016 did not quite match it, perhaps, in buzz, but at the same time, it marked a genuine shift and momentum that has been developing since 2012. Actresses are still struggling with blocks to their participation in film, but have firmly established themselves in action and big budget, a trend much less likely to reverse at this point.

A good chunk of that is again due to the folks at Star Wars/Disney. Needing a placeholder movie for 2016 to tide people over till Star Wars: The Last Jedi at the end of this year, the Star Wars machine planned their first supplementary prequel film for December 2016 — Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which covers the desperate mission to obtain the plans for the Death Star taken out in the very first Star Wars movie, A New Hope. That was a bit special and the filmmakers did some rather special things with it. They first off made the story a grimmer, tragic, bitter war flick along the lines of The Dirty Dozen or The Guns of Navarone (which let’s face it, always pleases critics and fanboys.) They CGI-wizarded one of the late great actors of the original Star Wars films, Peter Cushing, into a useful cameo and made excellent use of Darth Vader, (nice to hear James Earl Jones having fun with the voice again.) They came up with my now favorite robot, K2, voiced by the beloved Alan Tudyk in full snarky form.

And they decided, even though Force Awakens had been a woman-led story, to have Rogue One be one too, with Felicity Jones playing Jyn Erso, daughter of the designer of the Death Star, who leads a rogue platoon to go get the plans and try to reach her father. They expected the film to do well in December but not quite in Force Awakens territory. But the dramatic caper was a huge hit, coming in as the second most successful movie of the year, with over a billion worldwide box office and still going. Even if you argue that Star Wars has a bit of a built-in safety factor as a franchise, that the new SW movies have both been women led and done phenomenally does more than trickle, trickle erode the argument that women can’t open big movies well. And Rogue One is also set up to have solidified the change in the toy industry after Rey in Force Awakens forced the issue – lots of Jyn action figures and related merchandise, doing very well.

“I rebel.”

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Women in Film, 2015-2016, Part 2 – 2016 Analysis

Note to self: Get film analyses done before the chaotic month of May, especially as the “summer” season now officially starts in mid-March. Actually, with new strategies in releasing animated and thriller movies and such, you could say that it’s kind of summer all year round now. So while I was getting my ducks in a row once again, what has been happening/may be happening in 2016 for women in film?

While it is not likely that 2016 is going to be as seismic a year for actresses as 2015 or 2012, nor are the media likely to pay quite as much attention (they get bored, the dears,) there’s a definite shift going on that 2016 is busily helping push forward. Big action franchises looking to expand into global media empires, led by Marvel/Disney and DC Comics/Warner, are making use of women to further expand their tentacles. There are an enormous number of movies coming out, including women-led pictures that continue trends we’ve been seeing for the past six years or so.

The actresses hit the ground running first with SF YA movie The 5th Wave, based on the bestselling book, starring Kickass star Chloe Moretz and looking to pick up some of The Hunger Games and Divergent audiences. The alien invasion movie was cheap to make, and since it did well overseas, it made nearly $110 million, turning a very nice profit and possibly green-lighting sequels. Also early on, the horror movie The Boy, starring Lauren Cohan, took in nearly $65 million on a tiny budget, and other women-led horror movies The Forrest and The Witch (I sense a title trend here,) took in nice profits on low budgets. Sadly, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, adapted from the mash-up novel, finally came out with limited distribution, but it was late in the game and it did not succeed. Let’s hope it becomes a cult film.

The action kicked up in March with animated film Zootopia, starring Ginnifer Goodwin as a female rabbit cop who enlists a fox con artist to help solve a perplexing case. The kids movie was a massive hit, with over $993 million in world box office and still climbing towards a billion. 10 Cloverfield Lane, a loose sequel/concurrent film to J.J. Abrams’ cult horror movie Cloverfield, starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead holding her own against John Goodman and aliens, was done on a small budget and earned over $100 million in box office. The third title in the Divergent series, Divergent: Allegiant, starring Shailene Woodley, did experience some mid-series fatigue but made over $176 at the box office, paving the way for the fourth and last film.

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Women In Film Take the Stage – Part 1, 2015 Review

It’s time (finally!) for Women in Film, where we take a look at the state of women actors in tackling the serious Hollywood box office – the “summer” blockbusters, tent pole special effects movies, high octane action films, suspense thrillers, horror flicks, big buzz dramas, children’s and animated major features and comedy adventure films. In this first part, we’ll take a look at the past year of 2015. In Women in Film, Part Two, we’ll take a look at what’s been happening so far and what’s still to come in 2016 (and a little about 2017 and beyond.)

I will admit that I did not, going in, have particularly high expectations for the movies in 2015 when it came to the “lady actors.” I thought, from the look of those revamped big boy franchises for that year, that 2015 would be something of a placeholder year , like 2013 and 2014 – a year that didn’t particularly lose the trickle, trickle gains for women set off in 2012, since it would have some women leads in films and women in major supporting roles in big ensembles, but didn’t dramatically advance them either, since the machismo looked to be coming out the ears of the summer and winter line-ups.

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Little Note/Up-Date On the Women in Film

So it’s been a bit hectic. The Hugo Awards drama I’ve commented some on at Whatever and SFFWorld, and then had to re-think some of it as weirder and weirder information keeps coming into it. So I’ll probably post some links to articles about it in the Social Equality section by others, but otherwise, I’m moving on. When things get more equal in society, there will be this sort of blow-up reaction from some.

As expected, I did miss at least one woman fronted action film for 2015 — Survivor, starring Milla Jovovich, so we do get some of her despite the next Resident Evil film’s schedule delay. It’s a spy thriller where Milla is a Foreign Service Officer in London who has to go on the run and deal with Pierce Brosnan’s baddie. It’ll be hitting movie theaters in the beginning of June. Angela Bassett is in it too. Looks like a lot of action:

Also missed, a prestigious bio pic, Suffragette, about the women’s suffrage movement in the U.S., and a thriller based on the novel by Laura Lippman called Every Secret Thing, starring Diane Lane, Elizabeth Banks and Dakota Fanning.

The first, sleepier part of 2015 had a hit with spunky version Cinderella (not unexpected,) with $494+ million box office so far, the animated Home with $326+ million, and Insurgent, #2 in the Divergent franchise, taking in over $272 million. Not a bad start, and women have been helping the more ensemble giant action pictures too, such as Furious 7 and Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Did I see any of those? Only Age of Ultron so far. I’ll probably see most of the others later. I’ll give an Avengers #2 review in a bit.

Also, books! What? Stop laughing. Really, I’m going to talk about some books this week, I swear.

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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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