Tag Archives: Kate Mara

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.

Fantastic Four Isn’t Great, But It’s Not the Disaster Everyone Says It Is

Fantastic Four
Two stars (out of four)
PG-13 (sci-fi action violence, language)
100 minutes

I find myself in the odd position of defending “Fantastic Four,” a film that received a dismal 9% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and delivered one of the worst box office performances ever for a movie associated with the lucrative Marvel brand.

Critics spent the last week and a half kicking this ill fated reboot while it’s down, and while I can’t say I blame them, the degree of gleeful vitriol directed at the film seems excessive to me.

“Fantastic Four” fails on many levels. Even in its best moments, it mostly doesn’t work. But what critics are overlooking is that director Josh Trank has taken a radically different approach to a comic book movie formula so worn, it’s becoming positively threadbare.

“Fantastic Four” is Trank’s weird but fascinating mad science experiment gone wrong. The director’s approach to one of comic book history’s most flamboyant franchises is so understated, it’s almost somnambulistic, but there’s something about the rubbed-rawness of it that is the perfect antidote to the hot-buttered-popcorn pageantry of movies like “Iron Man,” “Thor” and “The Avengers.”

Yes, there are all kinds of problems with the film, from an unpolished script that often reads like a first draft to its half-hearted, muddy-looking visual effects, but one gets the sense “Fantastic Four” could have been great. If Twentieth Century Fox is stubborn enough to forge ahead with a sequel, they may be onto something.

Trank’s career is most likely over. Whether Fox’s meddling or his inexperience are to blame for this is the subject of debate. Earlier this year, the director did the unthinkable and walked away from a Star Wars “anthology” film, a move that probably wasn’t his idea.

This is sad because Trank’s 2012 debut, “Chronicle,” showcases a talent for putting an original, realistic spin on the cliche comic book origin story. A drama about high school buddies who suddenly acquire superpowers, it clearly inspired the first act of “Fantastic Four,” which kicks off with the blossoming of an unlikely grade-school friendship between science nerd Reed Richards and street-smart Ben Grimm. (They’re played as adults by Miles Teller and Jamie Bell.)

Grimm’s family conveniently owns a scrapyard full of the parts Reed needs to complete his pet science project, a teleportation device, and Ben is just curious enough about his strange, little friend’s wacky ideas to go along with him.

The pair debut Reed’s creation at a high school science fair, attracting the attention of Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey), a philanthropist researcher who has been working in vain on the same technology.

Storm offers Reed a scholarship to his scientific institute, where he’s recruited a team of young geniuses, including his children, brilliant Sue (Kate Mara) and irresponsible Johnny (Michael B. Jordan), along with Storm’s former protege, Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebell), a brooding computer prodigy.

The first act of “Fantastic Four” focuses on the meeting of these eager, young minds and it isn’t half bad. This is largely due to the efforts of the film’s eager, young stars, who in previous roles have proven themselves to be incredibly gifted.

(Kudos, especially, to Mara, who may be the first woman in Hollywood to embody her superheroine with more regard for intellect than sex appeal.)

Unfortunately, the script does these promising performers a disservice. Penned by Trank, Jeremy Slater and “X-Men” scribe Simon Kinberg, the screenplay is in dire need of a few more drafts. Characters are left undeveloped, the pacing is out of joint, key scenes seem to have gone missing, the dialogue turns awkward, conflicts are hinted at but never fully materialize.

The scenario that imbues our quintet of heroes with powers that dramatically alter their body chemistries is as ridiculous as it is horrifying.

Yes, the way things go down in a fourth dimension dubbed “Planet Zero” is wildly insulting to the audience, but it also provides a brief glimpse into what a gloriously twisted thriller “Fantastic Four” could have been, dipping into Cronenbergian nightmares as our quartet of newly initiated heroes confront the terror of their freakishly transformed physiques, including super-stretchy limbs, invisibility, and involuntary combustion.

In sharp contrast to the cartoony 2005 film starring Chris Evans and Jessica Alba, Trank actually downplays the more over-the-top qualities of the Fantastic Foursome’s abilities. This counter-intuitive choice ultimately hurts the film — poor Jaime Bell suffers most as rock monster The Thing languishes in the background — but I have to admire how gutsily polar opposite Trank’s “Fantastic Four” movie is from the “Fantastic Four” movie we expect.

Also daring, and kinda dumb for filmmakers catering to comic book lovers who generally want to see their superheroes put the smack down: There is only one major action setpiece in the film, and it comes at the end, and it is a complete mess

Once again, some may see the absence of the genre’s trademark POW!, BANG!, BAM! moments as a flaw, and if box office is what you’re concerned about, that’s a pretty big flaw.

Maybe I’m crazy, but I can’t help but wonder: Could there be a place for a comic book movie that doesn’t offer “Avengers”-style mayhem and destruction roughly every 10 minutes?

Charlie Jane Anders of io9.com declares that “Fantastic Four” is “the most self- loathing superhero movie I’ve ever seen.”

“The new ‘Fantastic Four’ reboot goes beyond darkness, into actual self-loathing,” she writes. “It’s kind of bizarre. … This movie’s central storyline is less a plot, and more a shame spiral.

I think Anders inadvertently pinpoints what is good about “Fantastic Four.”

Why shouldn’t a comic book movie be about shame instead of shallow spectacle? Self-loathing instead of shiny spandex?

Why shouldn’t it push “beyond darkness” into emotional territory that isn’t bizarre so much as it is realistic and even deeply uncomfortable?

Perhaps reviewers are circling “Fantastic Four” like a pack of sharks after a sardine because they don’t know what to make of it.

Photo: sciencefiction.com