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Wonder women: how female action heroes will blast cinema screens in 2018

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This years movie slate suggests a sudden industry interest in female-driven blockbusters. But is this a response to the Weinstein revelations? Or does it boil down to hard cash?

After #MeToo and allegations of predatory behaviour by powerful men in Hollywood, it feels good for the soul that the year in film kicked off with news that women rule the box office. Last year, the three most popular films in the US had female leads, with Star Wars: The Last Jedi at No 1, followed by Beauty and the Beast and Wonder Woman in third place. And theres plenty more where they came from. Hollywood is still waking up to its masculinity problem, but 2018 looks as if it could be the year powerful women roar on screen in female-driven sci-fi, action blockbusters and super-sleuth thrillers.

First up, in February, Ex Machina director Alex Garlands eco-sci-fi, Annihilation, looks like Ghostbusters with a degree in biology; Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh star as scientists in boiler suits leading an all-woman expedition to the site of an alien invasion. In March, Jennifer Lawrence finds her inner Jason Bourne in the cold war thriller Red Sparrow, playing a Russian ballerina turned spy, while Alicia Vikander will shoot her way to international superstardom as Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider reboot.

Sandra
Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Rihanna, Mindy Kaling, Awkwafina, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway and Sarah Paulson in Oceans 8. Photograph: Allstar/Warner Bros

And forget boring boys in tights with superpowers, summers hottest film is Oceans 8, the all-female crime caper spin-off released in June. If the trailer is anything to go by, sunglasses will be necessary to shield against the combined star-wattage of Cate Blanchett, Sandra Bullock, Helena Bonham Carter, Rihanna, Mindy Kaling, Anne Hathaway, Sarah Paulson and Awkwafina playing an octet of crims pulling off a $150m diamond necklace heist at the Met Ball. In October, Claire Foy, star of Netflixs The Crown, clearly over the tweeds and tiaras steps into Rooney Maras skintight leathers as Lisbeth Salander in The Girl in the Spiders Web.

Female stars in high-adrenaline blockbusters are nothing new. (Top of my head: Sigourney Weaver in the Alien franchise, Linda Hamilton in the Terminators, Thelma and Louise, Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft and Salt, Milla Jovovich in Resident Evil, Scarlett Johansson in Lucy.) But statistics reveal how few opportunities there are. In 2016, while 29% of the top-100 grossing films had female leads, the figure for action movies scraped in at just 3%.

It would be pleasing to think that a new age of empowered women on screen is dawning in reaction to #MeToo and Harvey Weinstein. But 2018s kick-butt films would have been greenlit long before the last years upsetting revelations. So whats going on? Is Hollywood finally getting into the swing of the Bechdel test?

In part, we have Hermione Granger and Katniss Everdeen to thank for the rise of the women-centred blockbusters, says Dr Shelley Cobb, associate professor of film at the University of Southampton. I think Harry Potter and The Hunger Games were the turning point. You had these younger characters appealing to a millennial audience that grew older with them. Now that audience is an adult audience young women and men who are interested in action heroes and heroines.

Kate Muir, the screenwriter and former critic, says that the industrys sudden interest in female-driven blockbusters boils down to hard cash. I think its about economics, which is what Hollywood always pays most attention to. Over the past 10 years, people have realised that a woman can hold the box office in a big, big way. She adds that the small screen has blazed a trail with its portrayal of powerful, conflicted and complex female heroes. Weve seen these fantastic women detectives over the past 10 years. Weve seen these incredibly weird and wonderful female characters on our TV screen, but never in a cinema. Theres a real appetite for them and the executives are aware of that appetite.

Taraji
Taraji P Henson in Proud Mary. Photograph: Allstar/Screen Gems

The industry found out exactly how hungry audiences are for female action stars last year when Wonder Woman stormed cinemas (kicking that smug smile off the face of Ben Afflecks lumbering Batman). A lightning bolt movie, praised by Hillary Clinton as inspiring, it arrived with perfect timing, speaking to the feminist zeitgeist (not that all feminists agree it is feminist). Perhaps most significantly, as the years most successful comic book movie, Wonder Woman has also put an end to the false narratives that the Hollywood boys club has been pedalling for years (sample: men dont watch films about women, a female star isnt bankable as the lead in a blockbuster). And it has been reported that director Patty Jenkins has negotiated a record pay cheque for a woman of between $7m and $9m to make the sequel. It matters, says Muir. Little girls wore Wonder Woman Halloween costumes last year and will wear Lara Croft this year, she says. Thats really percolated the culture and changed the way girls are growing up.

Melissa Silverstein, the founder and editor of website Women and Hollywood, makes the sharp observation that womens stories have been ignored for so long, that they now look shiny and new. Honestly, the thing about female content now is that its fresh content, because its been neglected for so long. You look at these women who have always been the sidekicks in the movies. What were saying now is lets make them centre of the action.

A film that she has got eye on in 2018 is the action thriller Proud Mary, featuring Hidden Figures star Taraji P Henson as a hitwoman with a gun collection that would make John Wick green with envy (it is out in March). Ill be interested to see how it does, says Silverstein. We need more leads who are not white and also not young [Henson is 47 and African American]. Thats exciting for me, how we branch out from the thing that became the norm: young white girls.

Elsewhere, two of 2018s most anticipated movies have female actors of colour front and centre. Ava DuVernay has cast 12 Years a Slaves Storm Reid as Meg Murry, the teenage girl saving the world in her adaptation of Madeleine LEngles A Wrinkle in Time. Chadwick Boseman is technically star of Marvels Black Panther, but watch the trailer and it is tempting to think that Wakandas female warriors (Lupita Nyongo, Angela Bassett, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright) will steal the show.

The white action heroine has a longer history, says Cobb. She believes that we may be beginning to see the first shoots of Hollywoods attempt to tackle the lack of diversity in film: Thats not to suggest that this is a radical change that fixes everything for ever, but I think you can relate these [films] to #OscarsSoWhite.

It took me a couple of goes to watch the trailer for Red Sparrow in full. Two shots of Lawrence in a swimming costume, neckline plunging to her tummy button, put me off. Dont get me wrong, she looks incredible. But did we really need to see her cossie in the trailer? Twice? Which brings us to the disappointing fact that just one of 2018s female-centred movies Ive been talking to the experts about is directed by a woman: DuVernays A Wrinkle in Time. So expect plenty of male gaze sexualising of female characters along with the badassery.

Patty Jenkins made Warner Bros $413m at the box office with Wonder Woman, but Hollywood still cant shake the feeling that women cant be trusted with a tentpole movie.

Lupita
Lupita Nyongo, Chadwick Boseman and Danai Gurira in Black Panther. Photograph: AP

Women directors are perceived as a risk, says Alice Lowe, who made the horror-thriller Prevenge. Having said that, I do think women for whatever reason, societal, nature or nurture, can doubt their own abilities. Sometimes you see a male director blazing in with no clue what they doing but utter confidence in their own brilliance. They can balls it up, but it doesnt matter, they perceive themselves as a success, and so its water off a ducks back. I think I would like a pinch of that attitude myself.

Lowe also talks about the industrys rigid thinking about the kinds of films women should be directing. What I have experienced is being asked to direct women films. As if women are a type of niche! By this I mean a film that has a female lead and maybe themes that are seen as exclusively female: motherhood, romance, emotions. Sometimes these scripts might be great. But you do think: I am a human being, I am capable of a range of things. Why am I only considered for these projects? Does that mean Im being excluded from others?

Last word to Silverstein, who says it will take time to tell how the sexual misconduct scandal will change the stories we see on our screens: Today is the first day Hollywood is back in LA [after the holidays]. Theres still reporting on stories of sexual harassment. Right now, theres a lot of nervousness, but I dont think weve ever seen people more attuned to women in Hollywood.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2018/jan/04/wonder-women-how-female-action-heroes-will-blast-cinema-screens-in-2018

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Someone recut the ‘Bird Box’ trailer using scenes from ‘The Office’ and it’s too perfect

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“Think The Office is all laughs and lighthearted pranks? Guess again. Drew Boatner proved the beloved NBC comedy can be creepy as hell.

Turns out with a few recuts The Office works perfectly as a Bird Box trailer. Meredith getting hit by a car, Dwight’s fire drill, and Andy punching a hole in the wall can come across as very dark with the right sound effects.

The show also got the Quiet Place treatment back in 2018, which I’m sure made John Krasinski very proud. So maybe instead of a revival fans will entertain the possibility of a Dunder Mifflin horror movie.

There was a once a Scranton Strangler, after all. Who’s to say he can’t strike again?”

Read more: https://mashable.com/video/the-office-bird-box-trailer/

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Netflix’s ‘Sex Education’ finds the humanity in awkward teen sex

Charmaine Blake

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‘Sex Education’ is all about the dirty, awkward underbelly of sexuality

Image: Jon Hall/Netflix

“The horrors of teen sex are a universal experience. And Sex Education feels like the extended therapy session we needed to work through all that buried, mortifying trauma.

At first, you might be quick to put the new Netflix series in the same category as other racy teen British shows like The Inbetweeners, Skins, or even Misfits. But while Sex Education mines in a similar brazen youthfulness, it strikes closer to home with a realism more akin to Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade.

Otis starts off as your average, introverted, loser high school “everyboy.” A virgin who’s paralyzingly uncomfortable with his own sexuality, his phobias run counter to the openness of his sex therapist mother, played perfectly by Gillian Flynn. But Otis experiences a spike in relevancy when popular bad girl Maeve capitalizes on his untapped skills as a psychologist’s son and turns him into the school’s sex guru.

But that stereotype-laden summary fails to communicate how Sex Education brilliantly subverts the assumptions made through labels like jock, mean girl, dunce, weirdo, therapist, popular, loser, gay, lesbian, slut (or slag), and virgin.

Boy meets bad girl

Image: Jon Hall/Netflix

Each character’s journey, whether a main plot or side story, is an amalgamation of quietly unexpected revelations. Sex Education knows which trope you expect to play out, and instead delivers a story about real people and the complex mess of contradictions that we are.

Sex Education knows which trope you expect to play out, and instead delivers a story about real people and the complex mess of contradictions that we are.

This largely traces back to how it uses physical intimacy as a way to explore rather than exploit its characters. Despite its title, the sex scenes are decidedly unsexy. The most graphic, like the opening scene with a guy faking an orgasm, are cringe-inducing fiascos of mundane reliability. In another, a lesbian couple tries frantically to……………………………………………………….”

Read more: https://mashable.com/article/sex-education-review-netflix/

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Welcome to ‘Blade Runner’ year, now where’s my damn replicant

Charmaine Blake

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A new life awaits you, but when?

Image: warner brothers

The confetti has been swept up, the hangovers have almost faded, and there is nothing before us now but huge swathes of 2019.

Which is, as any nerd knows, the year in which the 1982 classic Blade Runner officially took place. And whatever else may happen in this likely very insane year, it’s safe to say that we have utterly failed to live up to the future we imagined back then.

Oh, sure, we created a generalized dystopian atmosphere of despair. That part was easy; we were already well on our way to crumbling infrastructure and rising inequality in the 1980s. The fact that the movie (sort of) predicted an out-of-control climate is no big whoop either; anyone working at an oil company or paying attention to scientific literature back then knew global warming was about to be a thing.

But the Ridley Scott movie, and the Philip K. Dick short story on which it was based, both anticipated major leaps and bounds in our adventurousness and our technological prowess that compensated for the gloom.

Here was a future where most people have departed years ago for “off-world colonies.” Hence the giant blimp seen advertising a new life in them to the remaining residents of grimy Los Angeles. Not only that, but we had created lifelike artificial intelligence in the form of replicants to help build those colonies. True, that part didn’t work out too well, at least not for the victims of six dying rogue replicants who fled back to Earth. But still, pretty impressive tech there, Mr. Tyrell!

On the one hand, it’s something of a relief that we are not as smart as we liked to think. Best not to have malfunctioning robots running amuck, giving poignant yet snooty speeches about all the things they’ve seen that we wouldn’t believe. On the other hand, it would be kind of nice if somebody would go far off-world and see things so they could come back and brag like a hipster about it.

Rutger Hauer as Roy Batty: replicant, hipster, dove-lover

Image: sunset boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

Rutger Hauer, who wrote that space fantasy death monologue himself, has never explained how attack ships off the shoulder of Orion could actually catch fire in the vacuum of space. (Maybe that’s why we wouldn’t believe it.) Nevertheless, I say we build attack ships, send them to Orion, and test his hypothesis! (Spoiler alert: We won’t be visiting Orion………………………………………………………”

Read more: https://mashable.com/article/blade-runner-2019/

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