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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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The Best Films of 2018 So Far

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The very best of 2018, from Black Panther rewriting the rules for superheroes, Gary Oldman going to war as Churchill, and Maxine Peake blazing her way through 70s sexism

All the Money in the World

“Raucous thriller about the real-life 1973 kidnapping of J Paul Gettys grandson, and the billionaires subsequent refusal to pay the ransom a film that became notorious in its own right after reshooting scenes featuring disgraced actor Kevin Spacey.

What we said: With the help of Plummers tremendous villain-autocrat performance, Ridley Scott gives us a very entertaining parable about money and what it cant buy.

Read the full review.

Avengers: Infinity War

Third in the powerhouse Marvel series, bringing together a whole gallery of comic-book characters including Doctor Stranger, Iron Man and Black Panther for an epic showdown with supervillain Thanos.

What we said: Colossal, cataclysmic, delirious, preposterous and always surreally entertaining in the now well-established Marvel movie tradition.

Read the full review.

BPM: 120 Beats per Minute

Eighties-set account of the Act-Up protest movement in France, which took on the medical and political establishment over the Aids crisis with guerrilla campaigns and direct action.

What we said: A passionately acted ensemble movie [that] compellingly combines elegy, tragedy, urgency and a defiant euphoria.

Read the full review.

Beast

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Subtle drama Jessie Buckley and Johnny Flynn in Beast. Photograph: Bac Films/Moviestore/Rex/Shutterstock

Creepy, Jersey-set thriller starring Johnny Flynn as a poacher who may or may not be a serial murderer and Jessie Buckley as the unhappy young woman who falls in love with him.

What we said: Beast is a title which might appear to promise horror or melodrama and there is a little of both. But there is always something subtler going on.

Read the full review.

Black Panther

Director Ryan Cooglers film adaptation of Marvels comic book seamlessly combines action-adventure and superhero fantasy with questions of racial discrimination and power.

What we said: The intriguing thing about Black Panther is that it doesnt look like a superhero film more a wide-eyed fantasy romance: exciting, subversive and funny……”

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2018/jun/19/best-films-of-2018-so-far-best-movies-of-year

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19 Bizarre and Tragic Facts About Hollywoods Child Stars

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“Many of us have often wished we were famous. We fall into the trap of believing that famous people have fewer problems and live their lives surrounded by admirers.

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Read more: http://twentytwowords.com/bizarre-and-tragic-facts-about-hollywoods-child-stars/

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John Travolta keeps Brooklyn stayin’ alive at event honoring actor

Charmaine Blake

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Hundreds of fans gathered outside pizzeria featured in Saturday Night Fever 41 years ago to catch glimpse of and dress like the actor

“Forty-one years after strutting down a Brooklyn street, merrily swinging a paint can to the sound of the Bee Gees Stayin Alive, an older, less lithe John Travolta returned on Tuesday, to be honored for his services to the now-trendy New York City borough.

Hundreds of people gathered outside Lennys Pizza in Bensonhurst, south Brooklyn, to glimpse Travolta, who brought the neighborhood to national and international consciousness in Saturday Night Fever.

The 1977 film saw his character Tony Manero disco dance, conduct troubling relationships with women and occasionally engage in punch-ups. In the opening scene, Travolta orders two slices of pizza at Lennys before combining them in a double decker-type situation. The pizzeria claims Saturday Night Fever fans regularly order the same.

This is a great day, New York state senator Martin Golden who represents the Bensonhurst neighborhood and has submitted a 1,070-word legislative resolution commending Travolta for putting Brooklyn both on the map and in Americas hearts told the crowd.

A great day for John Travolta, a great day for his family, and a great day for Brooklyn.

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Actor John Travolta outside Lenny Pizza. Photograph: Brendan Mcdermid/Reuters

Travolta was an hour and a half late, 90 long minutes in which the MC, Brooklyns own DJ Chazz….”

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2018/jun/13/john-travolta-lennys-pizza-saturday-night-fever-brooklyn

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