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    Atomic Women

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    As if her Monster (2003) Best Actress Academy Award® performance as real-life serial killer winner Aileen Wuornos and her blazing turn as the indomitable Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) weren’t enough to enshrine her in the Tough Screen Sirens Hall of Fame, Charlize Theron blew away moviegoers once again this past weekend with her go-for-broke, action-packed portrayal of uberconfident MI6 superspy Lorraine Broughton in the new Cold War, graphic-novel-based espionage thriller Atomic Blonde (2017). Trained to a fare-the-well in weaponry, disguise and hand-to-hand combat and amazingly equipped to give as good as she gets, she proves unstoppable in a wicked-warrior, killing-machine style that can disarm, disable and dispatch any would-be male aggressor aiming to thwart her mission. Her formidable character is the latest in a once-rare but now expanding tradition of empowered, take-charge femmes in a summer cinematic season whose leading box-office success to date is the spectacular superhero saga of DC Comics icon Wonder Woman, directed by Monster's Patty Jenkins. Two noteworthy 1990s examples in that mode, both raw and uncompromising in their approach and savage in their violence, are also anchored by extraordinarily powerful women who turn the tables on the male-centric dynamic that seeks to oppress them at every turn. From Indian director Shekhar Kapur, who would later helm the two Cate Blanchett-crowned features Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age as well as executive-produce and direct several episodes of the new TNT series Will about the young William Shakespeare, Bandit Queen (1994) depicts the true story of Phoolan Devi (Seema Biswas), a sexually-abused victim of India’s brutal Hindu caste system who survives a young life of humiliation and despair to channel her rage into the organization of a provincial bandit gang, repeatedly defying her nation’s strict cultural patriarchy to become a folk hero for downtrodden millions. Biswas’ feral and fearless performance earned her India’s National Film Award as the year’s Best Actress and neither she nor the film, a scalding critique of Indian society, hold anything back. Also taking no prisoners and leaving chaos in her wake is Lena Olin’s Russian mob assassin Mona Demarkov, the seductive, driven and whip-smart antagonist to Gary Oldman’s corrupt NYPD detective whose larcenous life is royally upended in director Peter Medak’s caustic neo-noir crime thriller Romeo Is Bleeding (1993). As reviewer Chuck Bowen notes in his Slant Magazine online essay: “The film’s chief pleasure springs from watching Olin unexpectedly upstage Oldman, an actor who seemed incapable of being upstaged at this point in his career. Mona, with her long legs, full lips, and reddish hair, resembles a lithe, live-action Jessica Rabbit – an association that might be intentionally courted given the film’s lack of subtlety. Mona is something relatively rare for noir: a heavily fetishized object who’s also accorded the stature of her own fetishism. In Romeo Is Bleeding, the woman’s sexual appetite has more agency than the man’s, but the sex is still just business per the paranoid and misogynistic tradition of noir. That sex is business is a turn-on for both parties, as the film refreshingly understands that men aren’t the only gender who objectifies.” Neither of the dangerous dames at the center of Bandit Queen and Romeo Is Bleeding are blondes, but each one’s effect on the men in their respective orbits ultimately proves atomic. Feel their nuclear fury on Twilight Time’s hi-def Blu-rays of Bandit Queen (available here: http://screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/28468/BANDIT-QUEEN-1994/) and Romeo Is Bleeding (here: http://screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/31809/ROMEO-IS-BLEEDING-1993/). And brace yourself for the next gender battle royale – this time on the tennis court – when the Emma Stone-Steve Carell Battle of the Sexes, about the historic match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs bounces into movie houses September 22. After all, it’s an ongoing story.

    Authoritatively Bad Oldman

    This year the chameleon-like Gary Oldman will traffic in authority figures. This summer he plays a sinister dictator in the action comedy The Hitman’s Bodyguard, due in August and starring the promising team of Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson. At year’s end he’ll be seen taking on the towering role of Winston Churchill in director Joe Wright’s historical World [...]

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    From Bela to Yorga

    To honor the happily haunted 134th birthday of Bela Lugosi (1882-1956), who definitively incarnated one of the screen’s most immortal vampires, Bram Stoker’s Transylvanian Count Dracula, and spawned a legion of tales of the undead stalked by the bloodthirsty likes of Christopher Lee, John Carradine, Frank Langella, Klaus Kinski, Gary Oldman, Francis Lederer and many others who have left their fangmarks [...]

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    A Loving Reboot

    “Reboot” has become a common term to describe the remaking of older material with a different slant, paying a certain degree of homage to the original source as a new filmmaker gives it a fresh spin. The term is usually applied to a type of movie known as a “franchise;” thus we’ve had reboots of Marvel and DC Comics [...]

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    The Prolific Mr. Penn

    As he turns 56 today, Sean Penn remains busy on several fronts. As an activist actor, he’s playing an animated version of himself in an upcoming 15th season episode of the Seth MacFarlane-created Fox series Family Guy entitled Hot Spots, dealing with the hot-button topic of child vaccinations. As an activist director, his latest feature film The Last Face, starring Charlize Theron, [...]

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    Criminally Minded Medak

    Forty-four years ago this month heralded the London premieres of two daring and provocative movie adaptations of black comedy plays that challenged and yet cheered audiences with their skillful juggling of humor, desperation, social commentary, tragic underpinnings and in the case of one, sheer madness, both adapted for the screen by their respective playwrights. Peter Nichols’ A Day in [...]

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    The Alternates

    Congratulations are in order for the recipients of and fellow nominees vying for the 88th Annual Academy Awards® bestowed last night. As with any movie industry laurels, there are partisans and detractors, particularly in the wake of each year’s Oscar® ceremony, and malcontented Monday Morning Quarterbacks can be bummed out with the omission or defeat of their favorites. Many fans [...]

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    Competing with Himself: Ed Harris

    Actor/director Ed Harris turned 65 over the weekend, but this Jersey boy’s magic digit in the Twilight Time numerological world is four, as in four fabulous and formidable performances in the label’s hi-def Blu-ray library. “One of the first things I learned about acting was,” Harris once said, “the only person you compete against is yourself.” Harris had two [...]

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    Mass Mobsterism

    One of Fall 2015’s most highly awaited movies blasts into theatres today. Black Mass stars Johnny Depp as Whitey Bulger, the brazen Boston mob boss whose unholy alliance with the FBI as a confidential informant fueled his rise to the top of the criminal underworld. Directed by Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace), it follows in the Warner [...]

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    Achieving Grace After 25 Years; The Game Mr. Gilroy

    Twenty-five years ago today, a gangster film of angry grit and soiled poetry opened to generally positive reviews that praised a top-notch cast (Sean Penn, Ed Harris, Robin Wright and especially firecracker-hot Gary Oldman), lauded an amazing capture of the Hell Kitchen’s milieu (i.e., Irish Westies Gang turf), and saluted the efforts of screenwriter Dennis McIntyre (who died seven months [...]

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