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



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 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 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 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.

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How The Blair Witch Project changed horror for ever

Charmaine Blake



The movie’s marketing took advantage of trust in the early internet, but fake news isn’t what it used to be

“We will never get a movie like The Blair Witch Project again. Having said that, weve had dozens of movies like The Blair Witch Project. In the 20 years since its release, it has transformed the horror landscape, and more besides. Found footage is now a sub-genre in itself thanks to it. How many horror movies have we seen claiming: This all really happened, honest? How many occult symbols and folk myths have crossed our screens? How many gung-ho teens have set off on an adventure, never to return? And how many times has a gimmicky horror reaped rewards for virtually no outlay? Blair Witch did not invent all these tricks but it put them together to create a phenomenon. It is the 21st centurys Exorcist………………………………………………….”

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Yes, ‘New Mutants’ is still coming, Probably.



Jean Grey comes into her powers in ‘Dark Phoenix’.

Image: 20th Century Fox

“The X-Men are part of the Disney family now, and never has that felt clearer than at the studio’s CinemaCon presentation Wednesday.

Disney touted both Dark Phoenix and New Mutants as part of its upcoming slate, alongside the usual Avengers and Star Wars and Pixa

What exactly the X-Men’s future looks like at the Mouse House, though, remains unclear.

Deadpool clearly isn’t going anywhere. “You’ll be seeing more of Deadpool in the years ahead,” promised studio chairman Alan Horn, after sharing Ryan Reynolds’ cheeky tweet about Fox joining Disney.

And New Mutants, despite delayed release dates, reports of reshoots, and rumors of a straight-to-streaming distribution plan, does seem to be headed to cinemas — it was included on a slide of Disney’s 2019 theatrical releases.

But the core X-Men franchise led by James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, and Sophie Turner is evidently coming to a conclusion. Dark Phoenix, out this summer, was described by 20th Century Fox’s Emma Watts as “the perfect sendoff” to the X-Men series……………………………………………………….”

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Dog assassins are a thing in ‘John Wick: Chapter 3’ and holy crap we can’t wait



These good boys are ready to help. Also, John Wick and Sofia are there.

Image: Lionsgate

“The entire John Wick franchise was set into motion by the death of a dog. Now, in John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum, the canine species finally gets a shot at revenge.

In footage revealed exclusively at CinemaCon, two Belgian shepherds owned by Sofia (Halle Berry) take an active role in the fight, bringing down the bad guys who would harm Sofia and John (Keanu Reeves).

The scene opens with the two human assassins in what looks like a desolate, deserted castle, preparing for some dramatic event to come.

Parabellum knows exactly how long we’ve been waiting to see some dogs fuck some shit up.

Then the henchmen arrive and the shooting starts, and Sofia’s dogs spring into action. They race ahead to take down minions for Sofia to shoot. One mauls a guy, sending him off the side of a high wall.

At one point, Sofia spots a baddie coming at them from above — so she bends over and lets one of her dogs springboard off her back, leap onto that high wall, and attack that dude directly.

Mind you, Sofia and John are in the battle as well, frantically running around and shooting at nameless villains in the gracefully choreographed way we’ve come to expect from these films………………………………………………………………….”

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