Tag Archives: Avengers: Age of Ultron

Summer of Bad-Ass Ladies: The Sequel!

Last year, around this time, we saluted the women who breathed fresh air into a moviegoing season that typically reeks of testosterone.

Many of 2014’s summer blockbusters were headlined by women, including Angelina Jolie, Emily Blunt, and Scarlett Johansson — cause for celebration. There was so much awesomeness going on that we declared it the “Summer of Bad-Ass Ladies.”

Now it appears summer 2014 wasn’t a blip on Hollywood’s radar, but the beginning of a promising trend. The films of summer 2015 were packed with substantial roles for women, who effortlessly stole scenes –and, in some cases, entire movies — from their male co-stars.

(That said, annoying female stereotypes persist. Did “Jurassic World” really need to punish Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire for loving her job too much and not being into kids?)

As we close the books on the year’s most explosive moviegoing season, it is with great delight that we dub it “Summer of Bad-Ass Ladies: The Sequel.”

Below, we revisit the baddest of these pioneering bad-asses. We hope we’ll be seeing them next summer, too.

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Charlize Theron in “Mad Max: Fury Road”: For the sake of its promotional campaign, Warner Bros. pretended that Tom Hardy’s Max is the star of “Fury Road.” But if you’ve seen the film, you know it is Theron who owns virtually every frame of this magnificently bleak and beautiful post-apocalyptic action flick. With a shaved head, oily face paint and one arm, tough-as-nails truck driver Furiosa is the heart and sinew of director George Miller’s female-centric road movie, with Hardy’s Max mostly along for the ride. When it comes to sci-fi heroines, she’s right up there with Ripley and Sarah Connor.

What’s even more impressive? There isn’t a single damsel in distress to be found in “Fury Road.” The cast’s menagerie of bizarre supporting characters includes strong, resourceful women of all ages and personalities. Why should this be such a rare thing? Hollywood execs should use Miller’s forward-thinking epic as a template for all summer blockbusters to come.

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Alicia Vikander in “Ex Machina”: There are so many wonderful, eerie and astonishing things to discover in writer-director Alex Garland’s artificial intelligence thriller. Chief among them is Swedish performer Vikander, also delightful in “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” who brings to life the strikingly beautiful, eerily lifelike humanoid at the center of the film. With her cherubic face and curvaceous CGI body, Vikander’s Ava is alluring and dismaying, uncannily perfect, and completely believable. Is Ava the perfect object of male fantasies or a master manipulator? Is she a girl waiting to be rescued or a skilled self preservationist? In a film where nothing is quite what you expect it to be, Vikander is the biggest surprise of them all.

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Rebecca Ferguson in “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation”: Last summer, Tom Cruise starred in “Edge of Tomorrow” but willingly took a back seat to the incredibly bad-ass Emily Blunt, who dominated the clever sci-fi thriller. Weird rumors about Katie Holmes aside, maybe this guy deserves some feminist cred. This summer, he did it again, basically ceding his role as headliner of “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation” to intriguing newcomer Rebecca Ferguson.

As enigmatic triple agent Ilsa Faust, Ferguson matches Cruise step for step and blow for blow in executing her own stunts and when it comes to intrigue, she’s a lot more interesting than the one-dimensionally heroic Ethan Hunt. The film’s most electrifying sequence, an attempted assassination in a Vienna opera house, is almost entirely Ferguson’s show. Coolly shimmying up the rigging in the sleekest, and most practical, of silk gowns, she’s practically auditioning to take over the franchise.

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Melissa McCarthy in “Spy”: McCarthy has always been brilliant at satirizing social convention, but she’s so likable and so good at what she does, we hardly notice the sly statements she makes. In “Spy,” she reunites with “Bridesmaids” director Paul Feig and tackles the male-dominated genre made famous by James Bond and Jason Bourne, playing a timid CIA analyst lured out from behind her desk and into the dangerous field.

McCarthy may be may be sending up the exotic, over-the-top world of Hollywood espionage, but she also has a lot of fun and gets to do everything 007 does — a moped chase in Budapest, a killer knife fight — only she’s way more hilarious.

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Elizabeth Olsen in “Avengers: Age of Ultron”: When it comes to creating memorable on-screen superheroines, Marvel has been a bit slow to evolve. Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow is a formidable force but is seriously outnumbered by her male colleagues, who don’t have to stuff themselves into a slinky, black catsuit before saving the world. So it was a welcome moment when Olsen’s otherworldly Scarlet Witch made the scene in “Age of Ultron,” wielding some very cool telekinetic abilities. You can see just see the neighborhood kids mimicking her witchy powers of mind control while playing superhero. That’s something long overdue.

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Kate Mara in “Fantastic Four”: Comic book movie reboot “Fantastic Four” took a critical and fiscal bruising when it debuted earlier this month. The film is widely considered a disaster but it contains at least one overlooked element: Mara’s thoughtful portrayal of invisible woman Sue Storm. Watching the actor at work, it’s hard to believe that only 10 years ago, Jessica Alba’s Sue was largely celebrated for the way she filled out her skintight suit. In sharp contrast, Mara’s performance emphasizes Sue’s brains over her body. She is arguably the first female superhero whose intellect is more important than her sex appeal.

Photos: http://www.techinsider.io; http://www.youtube.com; marvel.com; tribecafilm.com, http://www.zimbio.com.

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‘Mad Max’: Insane, Intense, Inventive, and Runs on Girl Power

Mad Max: Fury Road
Three and a half stars (out of four)
R (intense sequences of violence, disturbing images)
120 minutes
The film is playing in 3-D, but due to a terrible conversion, it’s best to opt for crisp, clear 2-D.

The mad vision of “Mad Max: Fury Road” is so insane-intense-inventive, it demands to be seen. If you only take in one action movie this summer, this has to be it.

Fans of the original trilogy, which starred a young, crazy-eyed up-and-comer named Mel Gibson, will be pleased to note that “Fury Road” maintains the grotesquely mutated genetic material of its predecessors: parched post-apocalyptic setting, weirdly descriptive slang, colorful, carnie-like characters, hurtling camera angles, a certain Ford Falcon Interceptor and a villainous warlord, played with deranged relish by “Mad Max” villain Hugh Keays-Byrne.

The film functions handily as either a sequel or reboot and boldly announces the return of director George Miller, who conjured up the phantasmagorical world introduced in 1979’s “Mad Max” as only an Australian medical doctor turned film student could.

Miller was 69 during the making of “Fury Road” and his singular perspective comes to the screen undiminished, even enhanced. The movie is part environmental fable, part feminist fever dream and 150% high-octane action extravaganza.

“Fury Road” was intended to be realized a decade ago with Gibson reprising his role as dystopian cop Max Rockatansky. Middle Eastern wars, freak rains in the Australian desert and Gibson’s eventual public meltdown scuttled those plans, paving the way for Tom Hardy to inherit the Road Warrior’s extremely distressed leather jacket.

Hardy dons this mantle as comfortably as if he’d been born to play it. Miller introduces the always fascinating actor’s even wilder-eyed, more desperate, more silent Max on the run.

He never really stops running.

“Fury Road” is essentially one long, ingenious action sequence. In the film’s first hour alone, Max is pursued, captured, tattooed, caged and strapped to the front of a moving car as a human “blood bag” to an ailing “War Boy.”

And that’s before he meets Charlize Theron’s Furiosa, the bad-ass, bald driver of a massive custom truck, aka War Rig, belonging to Immortan Joe (Keays-Byrne) the theatrical, oxygen-mask-wearing dictator of Miller’s toxic wasteland.

Joe presides over The Citadel, pacifying the half-dead survivors who reluctantly serve as his subjects with the prospect of clean, cool, gushing water. He sends Furiosa on a mission to Gas Town to load up on the Earth’s second most critical remaining resource, but she has other ideas.

As she and Max are chased by Joe’s entourage, a freak-show caravan of Valhalla-obsessed, albino War Boys and jury-rigged junkyard cars that’s at once terrifying and hilarious (watch out for Electric Guitar Guy), they become unwitting allies in delivering the “treasures” hidden in the hold of Furiosa’s rig to a mythical paradise known as the “Green Place.”

Filmed in the eerily unspoiled deserts of Namibia, “Fury Road” feels remarkably real — tactile, scruffy, dirty — as surreal and strange as its world may be. Miller opted for physical props and old-fashioned, practical stunt work instead of computer-generated imagery. It’s a difference that sets the film above the sometimes soulless CGI of this summer’s blockbuster fare, movies like “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” “San Andreas” and “Jurassic World.”

The tribal-punk-rock-scrapyard-demolition derby aesthetic of “Fury Road” is amplified by the film’s minimalist dialogue. The audiences pieces together just what it needs to and infers the rest with an efficiency that imbues the movie with a primitive, streamlined power.

“Fury Road” is ferociously bleak and violent and, yet, it has these small, unexpected human moments that make it almost … lovely?

To say that Miller has done something groundbreaking with the sheer number of strong women included in its bizarre menagerie of characters isn’t an exaggeration. There’s not a useless damsel in distress to be found among the resourceful female fighters who occupy virtually every frame of the film.

Theron’s angry, hopeful Furiosa is an action heroine for the ages — psst, don’t tell anyone, but she’s more the star of the film than Max is — right up there with Ripley and Sarah Connor.

Miller, who conceived the story with comic book artist Brendan McCarthy and actor Nick Lathouris, clearly has serious issues on the brain: the environment, religious fanaticism, oil wars, poverty, the enslavement of women. And, yes, it’s true that playwright and feminist activist Eve Ensler consulted on the film.

If any of this makes “Fury Road” sound like a drag, don’t believe it for a minute.

Mostly, the movie is a mad, mad, mad, mad rush.

 

 

Artificial Intelligence Gets a Bold, Scary, Feminist Spin in ‘Ex Machina’

Ex Machina
Four stars (out of four)
R (graphic nudity, language, sexual references, some violence)
108 minutes

From Asimov, to “Blade Runner,” to “The Terminator,” makers of science-fiction have long been obsessed with the concept of artificial intelligence and what such a technological development would portend for the human race.

Evolution? Extinction? A combination of both?

In keeping with this storied tradition, A.I. beings good and evil are front and center on the big screen this summer.

In “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” Tony Stark spawns the ultimate peacekeeping program, only to see his creation go haywire and try to wipe out the planet via makeshift meteor.

In July, “Terminator Genisys” reboots the now classic James Cameron thriller about an apocalypse sparked by machines bent on either killing or protecting humans.

Neither of these films, however, serve up a vision of artificial intelligence as chilling, clever or convincing as “Ex Machina,” the impressive debut film of writer-director Alex Garland.

Garland’s A.I. isn’t the typical stuff of Hollywood sci-fi, masterminding mass destruction by robot army, monologuing and generally blowing stuff up.

No, the artificial brain at the controls of “Ex Machina” is more insidious, wielding its mastery of the human mind as a weapon. It is skilled in the power of manipulation and that’s all the power it needs.

Garland is no slouch when it comes to sci-fi. Best known for authoring the novel “The Beach,” he penned Danny Boyle’s “Sunshine” and “28 Days Later,” wrote the “Dredd” remake and adapted Kazuo Ishiguro’s “Never Let Me Go” for the screen.

“Ex Machina” wears the suffocating shroud of hushed dread that adorns his previous work, but it elevates the filmmaker’s already strong pedigree to another level. It is the sharpest, most original effort of his career so far.

Garland’s direction is refreshingly lean and sleek, wasting no time in establishing an intriguing premise and a setting that drips with atmosphere.

Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a programmer for a Google-like search engine, learns he’s been selected as the winner of a mysterious contest. His prize is a week at the remote home of his wealthy employer, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac).

As he delightedly arrives by helicopter to Nathan’s vast, stunning mountain estate, the audience shares his awkward position of ignorance and apprehension. What kind of man lives here, amidst the surreal majesty of glaciers, waterfalls and pines, in a compound of the pristine, minimalist architecture you only ever see in movies, a cold, glorious monument of glass, stone and long, dimly-lit corridors?

We’re soon introduced to Caleb’s host, who manages to make his guest — and us — feel simultaneously welcome and deeply uncomfortable as he ushers the young programmer around the eerily unpopulated outpost that will serve as his home for the next seven days.

Nathan isn’t what Caleb or we expected. Part Steve Jobs, part frat boy, he’s actually, if you’ll pardon the expression, kind of a tool. He drinks heavily, says “dude” a lot and displays confounding mood swings. He invites his guest to be a part of his latest research project, but only after signing a daunting nondisclosure agreement.

When Caleb balks at this arrangement, Nathan reveals he’s made an unprecedented breakthrough in the field of artificial intelligence. He’d like his eager, young employee to participate in the Turing test, designed to determine whether an A.I. creation exhibits behavior indistinguishable from human intelligence.

So begin Caleb’s “sessions” with Ava (Alicia Vikander), a strikingly beautiful, uncannily lifelike humanoid who has never ventured beyond the confines of her glass-walled room.

Caleb is immediately astounded by her abilities, but when it comes to discussing the science behind this man-made woman, Nathan proves strangely evasive. He’d rather talk about how Caleb “feels” about Ava, but defining the answer to that question proves frustratingly slippery.

Soon other questions arise, like what’s up with the frequent power outages that strike Nathan’s seemingly impregnable mountain stronghold? Why aren’t there any lab technicians or staff in residence? What’s with the key cards that at once grant and restrict Caleb’s access to the facility?

What does Ava think of Caleb? Who’s really being tested here? And who is Nathan’s oddly compliant, sushi-making sexpot of a personal assistant, really?

From the beginning, “Ex Machina” ravels and unravels its mysteries with the unsettling, unbearable tension of a finely crafted horror movie. Garland is skilled at keeping the viewer in a constant state of uneasiness, using every resource at his disposal.

This includes the film’s marvelous production design, which blends the organic and the artificial in ways that echo the film’s theme of humanity vs. technology — the Juvet Landscape Hotel in Norway provides the jaw-dropping backdrop for Nathan’s mad scientific endeavors — as well as the visual effects and sound design.

With her cherubic face, curvaceous mesh body and vaguely eerie whirrings, Ava is at once alluring and dismaying, and completely believable as the revolutionary discovery Caleb proclaims her to be. Much of the credit for this belongs to Vikander, who captures Ava’s precise, graceful movements and formal, soothing speech patterns while masking her intentions.

Gleeson and Isaac — who will appear together again later this year in “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens” — engage in an entertaining, ever shifting game of one-upmanship with all the intensity and intimacy of a stage play.

Gleeson’s unassuming likability goes a long way toward disarming the moviegoer, while Isaac injects a bit of weird humor into his character’s darkness.

What I was most surprised by and love the most about “Ex Machina” is its refreshing, incredibly shrewd feminist spin. This is a film that has unexpected and profound things to say about the female mind and body and the way some men see them.

The unpredictable, profoundly satisfying finale turns cliche Hollywood romantic tropes on their head and makes a bold statement about the objectification of women.

And it’s the first time in a long time that the possibility of artificial intelligence actually scared me.

If you dare, go to ava-sessions.com, where you can interact with Ava. She’ll even draw your portrait. 

Photo: http://www.hdwallpapers.in

Is Warner Bros. Taking the Woman Out of ‘Wonder Woman’?

The Hollywood Reporter broke the news yesterday that Michelle MacLaren, director of Warner Bros.’ “Wonder Woman” movie, has exited the project.

According to a statement, MacLaren quit because of the mysterious “creative differences” so often cited as an explanation for director-studio splits.

BB-S5-Michelle-MacLaren-590 (1)Now, I know it’s probably too early to step up on my feminist soapbox. After all, we don’t really know what happened here. “Creative differences” could mean any number of things, from “she didn’t get along with the producers,” to “she was difficult to work with,” to “we just didn’t like her.”

There are rumors the studio was uncomfortable with MacLaren’s vision for the Amazon princess’ first solo film, which included a 1920s setting and maybe a tiger sidekick. Perhaps the director’s television background didn’t prepare her to oversee a potential blockbuster, though her credits include such formidable series as “Game of Thrones” and “Breaking Bad.”

Whatever the reason, which we’ll probably never fully know, MacLaren’s exit raises all sorts of red flags. I can’t help but wonder if the Hollywood boys club, not to mention the boys club of comic books, has chewed up and spit out yet another victim.

MacLaren would have been one of the first women to direct a major comic book movie, no small achievement. USA Today notes that Lexi Alexander helmed 2008’s “Punisher: War Zone,” but “Wonder Woman” is a movie of greater scale and bigger box office potential.

Just as there are few women in creative positions in the comic book world, there aren’t many to be found in the world of comic book movies either. There are woman producers, but they are seriously outnumbered by their male colleagues. Offhand, I can think of only one woman writer of comic book movies — the capable, crimson-haired Jane Goldman, co-writer of “Kick-Ass,” “X-Men: First Class” and “Kingsman: The Secret Service.”

Marvel came close to breaking new ground when “Monster” director Patty Jenkins was set to oversee the sequel to “Thor.” Jenkins bowed out due to — guess what? — creative differences, making way for Alan Taylor to inherit the mess that was “Thor: The Dark World.”

Of course, Hollyywood is notoriously male-centric when it comes to virtually every film ever made, not just comic book movies. There are only a handful of female directors who are household names, including Angelina Jolie, Kathryn Bigelow and Sofia Coppola.

Bigelow made history in 2010 when she became the first woman to win a directing Oscar. It took that long for a female filmmaker to claim the honor. Just this year, the Academy infamously snubbed “Selma” director Ava DuVernay in favor of a couple of male directors whose work was arguably less compelling.

I’m not going to argue that it is Warner Bros.’ sole responsibility to change the status quo. The studio isn’t obligated to appoint a woman as the cinematic guardian of “Wonder Woman.” It would be a nice gesture, though.

It’s difficult to ignore the fact that Diana’s debut in “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice” — due in theaters next year — was entrusted to Zack Snyder, a guy whose idea of girl power is embodied in the objectified, video-game-shallow heroines of “Sucker Punch.”

Even so, I’m sure there are plenty of men who could sensitively and effectively tell the warrior princess’ story. One of them is Joss Whedon, whose name has been floated as the perfect replacement for MacLaren.

Whedon, who was involved in an earlier, doomed Wonder Woman project, recently announced his intention to take a break from Marvel. He presumably needs a rest after wrestling the impending “Avengers: Age of Ultron” into shape. The timing of this news sent the rumor mills swirling with the theory that perhaps a move to DC is in the director’s future. Such a crossover seems unlikely but stranger things have happened.

Whedon is celebrated for writing nuanced, powerful, three-dimensional female characters, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to “Much Ado About Nothing’s” Beatrice. I’m sure he’d do a wonderful job with “Wonder Woman,” but I’d be disappointed if he was named director.

Entrusting MacLaren with the keys to Diana’s kingdom was a step toward inviting women to contribute significantly to a genre woefully short on meaningful, memorable heroines. The director’s experience on series packed with strong female characters boded well for the film.

There’s always a chance Warner Bros. could bring another woman onto the project — although, by my observation, women who walk off a film are inevitably replaced by someone from Hollywood’s massive pool of male directors.

(I can’t help but think of Brenda Chapman, the ousted director of Disney’s “Brave,” or Catherine Hardwicke, who was replaced by Chris Weitz for the second “Twilight” movie.)

Once again, the studio is under no obligation to hire a woman to helm “Wonder Woman,” but somehow, it feels right.

At top, “Wonder Woman” star Gal Gadot, photo: mic.com. Above, director Michelle MacLaren, photo: blogs.amctv.com.