MCN Columnists
Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

Girls of Summer

There are plenty of action-packed films with muscle-bound male heroes running around shooting bad guys and blowing things up, but where are the tough girls, the brainy, independent girls this summer? They must all be hanging out in science labs and old bookstores, because they’re few and far between in the films most folks are likely to catch during the summer blockbuster season. Even Angelina Jolie, one of the few female stars who can actually transcend genres from action flicks to Oscar bait, is absent from anything exciting this year, although fortunately there are a few glimmers of strong female characters here and there.

So far this summer, we’ve seen two of the big blockbusters: X-Men Origins: Wolverine andStar Trek. I liked both of these movies — the latter a bit more than the former — but in neither did female characters play a significant role. Wolverine, of course, was the origin story of a male character, so perhaps it’s not too surprising that the only significant female role was Kayla (Lynn Collins) the schoolteacher girlfriend Logan picks up when he ditches the bad guys to try to live a nice, simple life. This character actually had a more interesting arc than it seemed on the surface, but unfortunately, she was mostly relegated to the sidebar of her relationship with Logan.

As for Star Trek, given that J.J. Abrams was rebooting the beginnings of Trek and creating an entirely new timeline for these old characters to explore, couldn’t he have made the one interesting female character, Uhura, more than just the token attractive woman in a short skirt and boots? The Trek reboot would have been a perfect time to cast aside the late-1960s mindset out of which Star Trek was born to make Uhura more of a key player in the action. She could have been the one with hand-to-hand combat skills duking it out on that platform, or kicking some Romulan butt. Instead, once again, she was left to analyze the airwaves, apply her extensive eye makeup, and moon after Spock. Oh, and she did get to show us what Uhura wears under that Trek uniform. There’s some girl power for you.

This weekend brings us Angels and Demons (not technically a sequel to The Da VinciCode, since it was written first, although the film itself contrives to reverse the order). Once again, we have Tom Hanks (better hair this time around) loping around looking for symbols to stop a major catastrophe, and once again his character, Robert Langdon, has an attractive female to keep him company. Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer) is, at least, a brainy physicist, and she doesn’t have a wardrobe malfunction that suddenly reveals cleavage, thigh or nipples through a wet t-shirt. But for all that she’s supposed to be super-smart, she still spends most of the story tagging along faithfully behind Langdon, rather than driving the plot (though to be fair, that’s what she does in the book, too).

It’s been a long, long time since Linda Hamilton kicked butt and took names in T2. Remember how buff and bad-ass Hamilton’s Sarah Connor was in that flick? This summer we have Terminator Salvation, and while there are some female characters in there who might do more than get rescued and look fetching even while dirty and grungy, the trailer certainly doesn’t make it look likely that there will be any Sarah Connor-type tough chicks running the plot, or Ripley-in-Alien, last-woman-standing action going on.

Opposing The Terminator are Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience (a discussion for another column) and Night at the Museum 2, in which 2-time Oscar nominee Amy Adamsplays the ultimate woman missing in action, Amelia Earhart.  Much as Adams was surprisingly charming in Enchanted, this role doesn’t seem to give her a lot of room to do much besides dimple cutely.

There’s also not much to get excited about, femme-wise, in Taking of Pelham 123, in whichDenzel Washington and John Travolta get to look far more old, chubby and unattractive than any female star would ever be able to get away with and still land a leading role. And I’m not sure yet what to think of Woody Allen‘s newest, Whatever Works, in which Evan Rachel Wood has a romance with the much older Larry David — pretty much every older straight guy’s sexual fantasy, though Woody may pull it off without too much “ick.”

And then we have Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen , in which Megan Fox gets to be completely sexually objectified yet again, leaning over motor vehicles in short-shorts and tight shirts and rendering many adolescent boys (and men, too) immediately short of blood supply to the brain, thereby ensuring they’ll think they saw a great film. Although the trailer looks marginally more interesting than the first Transformers flick, my annoyance over Michael Bay’s fawning obsession with Megan Fox‘s body parts pretty much trumps my interest in the flick, although I’ll likely see it anyhow to appease my Transformers-crazy boys.

So where are the smart girls this summer? Surprisingly, one of the few summer films to offer a solid, somewhat exciting lead female part is a horror film: Sam Raimi‘s return to the genre with Drag Me to Hell, in which Alison Lohman plays a sweet-natured bank employee who gets hit with a gypsy curse and has three days to stop an evil goat-shadow-demon thing from dragging her off to … well, you get the idea. Lohman is quite good in this film — scared (who wouldn’t be) but determined and pretty tough, especially when she fights with the crazy gypsy woman in her car in one of the film’s best scenes.

Mid-July, we finally get to Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (the film I’m most looking forward to on the summer slate) which is based on source material written by a woman (imagine that) even if the Hollywood powers that be have never seen fit to let a woman actually helm a Harry Potter film.

The Harry Potter books have some strong female characters in Hermione Granger, who’s smarter than Harry and has proved to be both brave and daring, Ginny Weasley, who starts to be more pivotal in the sixth book (and not just as a love interest for Harry), Luna Lovegood, who’s strange but courageous, Professor McGonagall, that tough old nut, and Molly Weasley who, in addition to caring for home and family, finds time to fight He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named alongside a pack of wizards and witches who all work together as equals. On top of that, Bellatrix LaStrange, a powerful, strong and incredibly evil female adversary if there ever was one, is back in Half-Blood Prince; she makes even Dolores Umbrage, the wicked witch of Hogwarts from the fifth film, look downright nice.

Opening against Harry Potter (not the best position for any film to be in, but someone’s gotta do it) we have the long-awaited All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, a horror flick with a nice female-power twist, and then August kicks off with a potentially smart femme-centric flick inNora Ephron‘s Julie and Julia.

I’m not the biggest Ephron fan, but I am admittedly intrigued to see how she handles integrating the stories of two characters from two different sources: Julia Child (played by Meryl Streep), using material from My Life in France, Child’s autobiography; and Julie Powell (Amy Adams), who had the idea to chronicle herself tackling every recipe from Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking on a blog, which she then turned into a book, which got optioned for this film. I used to read her blog fairly regularly back in my stay-at-home days, and I’m interested to see how this film comes out. Yes, even if it is written and directed by Nora Ephron.

After that, nothing much on the films-with-smart-characters-for-women horizon until we start hitting the serious Oscar bait. A few films aside, it’s gonna be a long summer on the femme film front.

– by Kim Voynar

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon