Lionsgate via Everett Collection
If the trailer for Scarlett Johansson's upcoming action film Lucy is any indication, her character is going to kick some serious butt. The director of Lucy, Luc Besson, is known for his high-octane action flicks, and is shifting gears by handing the leading role in this picture to a woman. Men have traditionally played the action hero in Hollywood films, but every now and then, a woman will come along to show them how it's done. Below are 10 of the most dangerous female action heroes that you must watch before Lucy hits theaters in August.
1. Hit Girl
Mindy Macready may be a sweet, innocent child, but her superhero alter-ego Hit Girl is a force to be reckoned with. Chloë Moretz owns the screen as the foul-mouthed fighter who can take on any grown man in Kick-Ass and Kick-Ass 2, two of the most innovative superhero movies of the 21st century. Below is a clip that demonstrates why Hit Girl is a champion.
2. Beatrix Kiddo
Quentin Tarantino's epic revenge fantasy Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Kill Bill Vol. 2 features arguably the most heroic, empowering action hero ever put on screen. Uma Thurman is Beatrix Kiddo, a.k.a. The Bride (a.k.a. Black Mamba), and her purpose is to kill the men and women who tried to murder her on her wedding day. Every fight scene is epic, but the clip below is especially awesome.
3. Yu Shu Lien and Jen Yu
Ang Lee's masterful Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is noteworthy for having two women who can match any male soldier. Michelle Yeoh is Yu Shu Lien and Ziyi Zhang is Jen Yu, and in the scene below, both women go toe-to-toe in an attempt to assert their authority. I won't spoil the ending for those who haven't seen the film, but in this clip, the fight ends in a draw, so it's only fair to include both of them.
In Joe Wright's techno-pulp action film Hanna, Saoirse Ronan plays Hanna, a 15-year-old assassin who is being tracked down by a government agency. As the film progresses, we see how tough and lethal Hanna actually is. Below is a user-generated montage of the film that provides a glimpse of Hanna's dangerous grip.
5. Ryan Stone
If you're one of the few people in the world who hasn't seen Gravity, you owe it to yourself to marvel at Sandra Bullock's heroic performance as Ryan Stone, an astronaut who is lost in space and uses her strength to find her way back home. The clip below is one of the more moving scenes from the film that highlights Ryan's courage.
6. Clarice Starling
Long before the television series Hannibal, we had Jonathan Demme's The Silence of the Lambs, which introduced the world to Clarice Starling, a feminist action hero if ever there was one. Jodie Foster won her second Oscar for her performance as Clarice, a strong FBI agent who overcomes sexism in the agency to track down a serial killer. The scene below shows the lengths Clarice will go to save the day, as she has a conversation with the creepy Hannibal Lecter.
7. Princess Merida
In Pixar's Brave, Princess Merida challenges conventions by playing archery and doing all sorts of activities "respectable" women aren't allowed to do. Brave is a wonderful movie that should inspire young girls to follow their dreams despite the obstacles that are in their way.
8. Mallory Kane
We don't know much about Mallory Kane in Haywire, but we do know that she's a fighter. Gina Carano emerges as the next Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme with her forceful star presence, proving that women can be iconic action stars as well. Below is one of the best scenes from the movie.
9. Sidney Prescott
Aside from being one of the best horror series in cinema history, Wes Craven's Scream franchise deserves credit for creating Sidney Prescott. Neve Campbell revises the "scream queen" trope with her performance as Sidney, a tough, no-nonsense teenager who refuses to be a victim. Unlike other slasher films with women at the center, Scream portrays its female protagonist as smart and sophisticated. Below is a clip that shows why Sidney is a unique, unprecedented female character in the slasher genre.
10. Foxy Brown
Pam Grier shines in this blaxploitation classic as Foxy Brown, a tough black woman who gets revenge on the mobsters who murdered her boyfriend. The blaxploitation films of the 1970s turned Grier into a star and sex symbol, and they inspired Quentin Tarantino to cast Grier in Jackie Brown, a modern revision of the genre. Below is a clip that shows why Foxy Brown is the coolest female action hero on this list.
Relativity Media via Everett Collection
It's easy to compare 3 Days to Kill to Luc Besson's flagship franchise Taken. The film itself practically encourages those comparisons, what with the older man who reluctantly returns to a life of killing for the good of his daughter. The hero's quest of hunting down international criminals in a stunning foreign locale is punctuated by all of the explosions and gore your heart could desire. Neither 3 Days screenwriter Besson nor director McG are attempting to blaze a trail or reinvent a wheel. They're simply attempting to create a film that will keep you entertained for two hours, and on that front, at least, they succeed.
Stepping into the Liam Neeson role this time around is Kevin Costner as Ethan Renner, who is either an assasssin or a spy that works for either the CIA or the Secret Service (it's not really all that important in the end), forced to walk away from the job after he is diagnosed with cancer (or maybe a brain tumor). In an attempt to spend his remaining months bonding with his estranged daughter Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld), he moves to Paris to settle down. Of course, that's when Vivi (Amber Heard), a CIA agent/spy/assassin arrives, along with an experimental new drug that could extend Ethan's life, which she will happily pass along... if he takes out their two most wanted criminals within three days.
From there, the film veers wildly between graphic fight sequences, with enough chaos and destruction to equal both Taken movies, and the story of Ethan and Zoey’s growing relationship. Much of the plot is confusing and barely explained – Ethan and Vivi vaguely work for the CIA, although they're unconcerned by the devastating destruction they leave in their wake. The drug is “experimental,” but how it helps or why it’s only available through a giant purple syringe is waived away by the presence of a stack of “research.” Ethan only has three days to complete his mission, but seems to hang around Paris for a lot longer. The villains are wanted by the government for being tangentially involved with a “dirty bomb.” There's a shoehorned-in subplot about family of African immigrants squatting in Ethan's apartment. But despite the fact that so many of these elements never find a way to coalesce into a coherent whole, once the body count starts to rise and the buildings start to fall, it's easy to simply ignore all of that in favor of massive explosions.
When the film works, Ethan's job and his relationship with Zoey blend together in a way that gives 3 Days to Kill some much needed heart and humor — like when he's interrupted in torturing a target by her constant phone calls — but when it doesn’t, the transitions between Ethan taking out the criminals he's hunting and his slightly cloying bonding experience with Zoey can be jarring. As Ethan, Costner is a serviceable action hero; he growls threateningly and stares fondly at Steinfeld when the script calls for it, but for the most part, he appears to be phoning it in. Of course, for this kind of film, that’s all he really needs to do, but it means that by the time the credits roll, much of his performance is already forgotten. As Zoey, Steinfeld does her best with the material, and makes some of the more emotional scenes between herself and Costner affecting. However, even she can’t save the father-daughter plot of the film from becoming trite and stale at times, and so her scenes mostly feel like a quick breather in between the rounds of graphic violence.
Relativity Media via Everett Collection
Heard feels out-of-place as Vivi, who is introduced as the buttoned-down second-in-command to the head of the CIA, but then proceeds to spend the rest of the film speeding around Paris in sports cars, and prancing about in a wardrobe of leather, corsets, and high heels. Costner is clearly in an older-man action film, but Heard is in another film entirely, one in which she’s a sexy super spy single-handedly taking down international criminals. Despite the fact that she’s mostly there to provide exposition and to look pretty, there are moments where you almost wish that she was the focus of 3 Days to Kill instead — or, at the very least, that one of the many subplots had been dropped in favor of expanding her character.
And yet, despite all of the unanswered questions and the weird disparities in tone, 3 Days to Kill is a surprisingly entertaining film. The fact that one of the best fight sequences in the film takes place in a supermarket, while Ethan and an unnamed hitman grapple behind a deli counter, means that it's ridiculous enough to keep you engaged, but it's still able to amp up the tension when it needs to. And when you need a break from watching people come perilously close to being decapitated, there's a well-timed visual gag already lined up. It hits all of the notes required of a cheesy action film, and even though it gets far too bogged down in sentiment at times, it's still got enough heart to add a little substance to the flimsy plot.
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3 Days to Kill does exactly what it needs to, and little more. It doesn't want to make you think — in fact, it actively encourages you not to — and it doesn't try to accomplish anything that will stay with you after the credits have rolled. All 3 Days to Kill wants is to keep you amused for a few hours, with a few explosions and some mindless fun. In the end, that's sometimes that's all you really need out of a movie.
When 2008's Taken debuted at the U.S. box office with a $24.7 million debut, following months of rumors the Liam Neeson-starring movie would go direct-to-DVD, Hollywood was shocked. Producer Luc Besson (Leon, District B13, Lockout) and writer Robert Mark Kamen (The Karate Kid) were thrilled. Taken's gross continued to grow; eventually, it became evident that a sequel was in order. Now in 2012, we have Taken 2 — the franchise's second mega hit.
"We never talked about a sequel," says Kamen, "But when we had this thing, a phenomenon, we took a look at it and said, 'What's the phenomenon?' It was a man striving to be reunited with his family. On the flip side, we had a man who just lost his family. We went from there."
Kamen and Besson's lucrative writing partnership goes back nearly 18 years and includes films like The Fifth Element, Kiss of the Dragon, and the Transporter series. The two met when Kamen was brought in by Warner Bros. as a "script assassin" to comment on the script for Fifth Element. He was cool on Besson's draft. "I told them what he had didn't make sense. A week later [Besson] called me and told me to come to Paris to work with him. We've been working together ever since."
"He wanted me to clarify structure, character, and he needed someone who could write in English because when I met him his English sucked," says Kamen. Now, with Besson's written English up to snuff, the two are a creative machine for blockbuster movies. "We call each other 'Shrek and Donkey.' Luc is a big guy who owns the swamp. He has a huge vision." Kamen believes Besson's French sensibilities allow him to filter "the American action experience" style through his own unique lens — the key to their films' success. "His car chases look different. His different point of view on characters, how he cuts into the characters. Americans need so much exposition. It has to be so complicated. He cuts right to the chase. The human condition is right there. It's very European. Then he lays on the American action."
Every movie the duo tackle starts with Besson's mile-a-minute brainstorming sessions and grows organically. The first Taken had unexpected origins: "Luc said he heard a story from a French cop, and we started there," says Kamen. "[Then] he had a vision of a father buying a daughter a karaoke machine because she liked to sing. Literally, that's where we started talking. I know that sounds crazy."
While there were trepidations over embarking on a Taken 2 — as in, neither men had even thought about the possibility until they were saddled with the success — the process was still organic, considering it less as a "sequel" in the traditional sense. "It's not really a sequel, it's a continuation story," says Kamen. As they worked out the beats, it finally dawned on Kamen that their location was key. "We were sitting in Paris working on this thing, and I said, 'Maybe we should really go to Istanbul to see some of this stuff.' And [Besson] said, 'I'm too busy, you go.' And the next day I was in Istanbul." Through his touring of the city, Kamen was able to incorporate unique elements into the film, from the bathhouses locations to the train sequence to Lenore's race through the city streets — a moment that actually happened to Kamen. "I got lost. I went walking through this thing, then this thing, then this thing, and I go through this doorway and it was locked. Then I went back, and went back, and went back, and I came to the same gate. Took me an hour to get out of there."
Kamen has written several sequels in his career, and while he strives to find a balance between delivering more of what made the first film work and fresh material, that's not always what the studio wants. He looks back to his first franchise baby, The Karate Kid. "After Karate Kid II, I wanted to get rid of Ralph [Macchio]," says Kamen. "I wanted to do a story about a girl and Mr. Miyagi going back to the 16th century in China, to the origins of Mr. Miyagi's family. I wanted to do a flying-people movie in China. Ten years before Matrix, ten years before Crouching Tiger — I wanted to do a Hong Kong action movie." Producers told Kamen that wasn't an option. They wanted more Daniel and Miyagi — the combination that made the first film a success.
"The people running the studio had no f**king imagination. They wanted the same thing served up. So I declined." Kamen did end up writing the screenplay for Karate Kid III, but the venture ended up being a business move only. The studio eventually had an epiphany (as Kamen describes It: "No one could write Mr. Miyagi and Daniel exactly the way [he did]"), so they returned to the writer with a new, large offer. That's the movie business.
Thankfully for Kamen, he's never really seen a lull in his career, always having multiple projects (including ones with Besson) in development. And after Taken 2's $49.5 million weekend, he's just added another one to his plate. "We didn't start talking about [Taken 3] until we saw the numbers," says Kamen. "But then we said, 'Oh, okay. I think we should do a third one.' And Fox wants us to do a third one." In the first Taken, Neeson's character Bryan Mills' daughter was taken. In Taken 2, he and his wife were taken. In Taken 3…. "We've taken everyone we can take — it's going to go in another direction. Should be interesting."
Also on Kamen's plate is a remake of the 1988 Jean-Claude Van Damme fight movie Bloodsport. While Van Damme has been campaigning to join the film in some capacity, Kamen says there isn't room. "There's a whole bunch of depth to it, and it has nothing to do with the original Bloodsport except for the title," says Kamen. "You have Philip Noyce directing. It's a politically-driven character piece with a bunch of fighting in Brazil. There's the issue of the rainforest being destroyed. And then there's the larger issue of this country misconducting itself through two wars. And there's all of that dealt with. It's big action movie entertainment that is very politically based."
Bloodsport currently has funding and is in the casting process, but Kamen isn't worried about filling Van Damme's shoes. "[They're not looking for] someone with muscles, strangely. It's a different story. Not driven by fighting." Maybe Liam Neeson?
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
[Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox]
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Support is growing for Roman Polanski, and so is a backlash. Some French politicians are not siding so closely with the artistic community in their defense of the jailed filmmaker while other folks from all over are weighing in with indignation that Polanski should receive special treatment.
More names have been added to the petition started in France, which Wiretap was first to post on Monday morning while a similar one has now been floated. At least one big-name French filmmaker, however, has chosen to abstain from adding his support even though he says of Polanski "our daughters are friends."
Scores of prestigious filmmakers and industry players have now added their names to the petition, which began being circulated on Sunday, including Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Patrice Chereau, Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Buck Henry, Diane Kurys, Jean Labadie, Claude Lelouch, David Lynch, Richard Pena, Jacques Perrin, Jerry Schatzberg and Andre Techine.
Further, French sales, distribution and finance outfit Wild Bunch tells Wiretap it has pulled Jan Kounen's Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky from the Zurich Film Festival in a sign of protest. Coco & Igor was the closing night film at Cannes this year.
Further, another petition has now been started by Henri-Bernard Levy, which reads:
"Apprehended like a common terrorist Saturday evening, September 26 in Zurich, as he came to receive a prize for his entire body of work, Roman Polanski is now in prison. He risks extradition to the United States for a thirty-year-old affair whose principal plaintiff repeats with hue and cry that she has put the story behind her and abandoned any idea of legal proceedings. Seventy-six years old, a survivor of Nazism and of Stalinist persecution in Poland, Roman Polanski risks spending the rest of his life in jail for deeds which should normally be beyond the statute-of-limitations in Europe.
"We ask the Swiss federal justice system to free him immediately and not to turn this brilliant filmmaker into a martyr of a political-legal imbroglio that is unworthy of two democracies like Switzerland and the United States. Good sense, as well as honor, demands it."
Signatories on that petition include Salman Rushdie, Milan Kundera, Neil Jordan, Mike Nichols, Diane von Furstenberg and Paul Auster.
On the other side of the fence are some of France's politicians who have come out to accuse President Nicolas Sarkozy's administration of jumping too quickly to Polanski's defense. Included among them are Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a French deputy in the European Parliament from the Green Party and Jean-Marie and Marine Le Pen - the father and daughter from the extreme right National Front party who said officials were supporting "a criminal pedophile in the name of the rights of the political-artistic class," The New York Times reports.
One person from the artistic class whose name has been absent from any petition is Luc Besson. "Our daughters are good friends," Besson told France's RTL radio. "But there is one justice, and that should be the same for everyone."
The Wrap reports that in Poland, the prime minister asked his Cabinet members to subdue their angry calls for the release of Polanski, noting that the case involved "punishment for having sex with a child."
Polanski's lawyers have asked that the director be released from Swiss custody where he now resides following his arrest on Saturday on a 31-year old warrant stemming from having pleaded guilty to sex with a minor.
"Our first concern, and principle concern, is that Mr. Polanski be set free" from jail while "remaining on Swiss territory," Polanski’s French attorney Herve Temime said, TW reports. "He has a chalet in Switzerland. He would naturally accept to be placed under house arrest during the follow-up of the extradition proceedings."
Meanwhile, the mood in blog comments both in the US and in France is for the most part against Polanski. Of the nearly 30,000 respondents to an online poll from French daily Le Figaro, more than 70% feel he should be judged (then again, Web site L'Internaute also has a poll wherein over 70% of respondents think he should be freed).
That 70% figure is an interesting one: On CNN, a poll asking whether he should be extradited to the US also shows 70% in favor.
And on blogs like Deadline.com and Hollywood-Elsewhere.com, the comments skew overwhelmingly against Polanski.
Now that Harvey Weinstein has weighed in via a piece in The Independent, will his comment that he is "not too shy to go and talk to the Governor of California" to ask him to look at the situation hold much sway?
It's unlikely given the stance of the LA District Attorney's office. Spokeswoman Jane Robison responded to questions from FoxNews.com thusly:
Q. Will the DA respond to pressure from Tinseltown's biggest bigwigs?
A. Will the DA consider their plea to give up on extradition?
Q. Does the DA have any plans to meet with the directors allying themselves with Polanski?
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