The Clash Film Column: Rock Of Classical Ages

Dwayne’s heroic Hercules, and more…

Swords and sandals and sweat and fun… Unless you’re a Secret Cinema goer.

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That was the week in which...

New research demonstrated a decline in the number of women working in major films.

In a week in which a feature examining music industry misogyny became Clash’s most popular read of the week, writer, producer and all-round font of film knowledge Stephen Follows published a study of gender differences within the crews of the biggest films of the past 20 years.

Follows, a sort of Opta Joe of the film world, discovered numerous salient facts: the percentage of female crew members was even lower in the most recent year of the study (2013) than it was in the first (1994); the percentage of female writers and directors declined significantly over the same time period; and the splits between stereotypically gender-orientated roles (art, costume and make-up for women; editing and visual effects for men) were widening.

“I don’t believe that the majority of the industry is fundamentally sexist or anti-women,” says Follows. “But when you look at these results, especially over time, it’s plain to see that something is wrong and it isn’t fixing itself.”

Whatever the reasons, it’s not a healthy trend, whether assessed culturally (obviously), commercially (Follows’ prior research suggests, unsurprisingly, that female audiences are interested in films by creative teams with a significant female input) or critically (see Kathryn Bigelow, Claire Denis, Jane Campion, Clio Barnard, Joanna Hogg, Susanne Bier, Lone Scherfig and Lake Bell as just a snapshot of visionary female directors who have created an eclectic range of acclaimed films in recent years).

As Campion stated at Cannes earlier this year: "It's not that I resent male filmmaking, but there is something that women are doing that we don't get to know enough about.”

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The Big Film: Hercules

Thank the gods Hercules is short. That’s not to say this new movie about the legendary son of Zeus is terrible, but with the advent of massive blockbuster 3D epics, there doesn’t seem to have been a mindless actioner that’s come out since the 1990s clocking in at around the 90-minute mark. And it’s refreshing.

The days when the likes of action-comedy specialist Brett Ratner (Money Talks, Rush Hour) was first plying his directorial trade are long gone – or so we might have thought. Because he’s the guy in charge of this concise swords-and-sandals fight-fest, and it has his stamp all over it. Using up-to-date 3D technology to craft crowd-pleasing special effects, Hercules is also presented as homage to the 1990s action flick. It’s not bogged down with unnecessary sub-plots or romantic entanglements; instead, it concentrates on macho battle scenes and tongue-in-cheek remarks amid its theatrically delivered, bardlike dialogue.

The story goes thus: mercenary fighter Hercules (Dwayne Johnson) is tasked by the Thracian leader (John Hurt) with defeating foe Rhesus (Tobias Santelmann) and his rebel army. But when he finds he’s been double crossed, he gathers together a trusted team of allies to right some wrongs.

Ratner’s agenda is clear: to assemble a boy’s own movie with shouting and fighting, muscles and Machiavellian villains. Hercules is, however, less son-of-a-god powerful, more a bit stronger than a normal man – kind of like Johnson himself. This isn’t Clash Of The Titans – it’s more like the treatment Antoine Fuqua gave to the King Arthur legend in 2004. But we’re good with that.

An incredible cast adds much to this big dumb actioner – as well as the amiable Johnson and roundly adored John Hurt, there’s the delightfully wicked Joseph Fiennes, gruff-voiced Scot Peter Mullan, the eminently watchable Rufus Sewell and scene-stealing Ian McShane all on board, relishing the dialogue and dogfights. It’s not Shakespeare, but it’s fun. Words: Kim Taylor-Foster

Hercules, trailer

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Also Out: Joe

Redemption. It’s a common narrative device and something that unites Joe’s plot, director and star. Ol’ Nic Cage’s recent filmography doesn’t reflect his evident talent; for every moment of inspired genius such as the larger-than-life Bad Lieutenant there’s a wealth of movies that are ill-judged (The Wicker Man) or just plain forgettable (Next). Director David Gordon Green detoured from his early naturalistic style to embark upon goofy fare such as Your Highness and Pineapple Express before uniting the two approaches in Prince Avalanche.

Cage’s title character also faces a redemptive dilemma. An ex-con, Joe is now rehabilited and working as the head of a team of labourers tasked with poisoning unwanted woodland. Nonetheless, he’s always one provocation away from erupting into a ball of rage. It could be a long-running feud with a neighbouring hard man, the barkin’ and yappin’ of his favourite brothel’s dog, or the abusive alcoholic father (Gary Poulter) of his teenage employee Gary (Tye Sheridan).

Joe possesses common Southern Gothic traits: contemplative pacing beaten with bursts of violence; a brooding atmosphere in which the searing heat casts a foreboding shadow over the darkness of life; comically misdirected big brotherly advice by its antihero lead; characters and situations which, to be frank, you’ve seen time and again.

It’s the performances that make Joe worthy of your time. Cage rediscovers the joys of dynamic range with a measured, sombre role cut with explosive energy, and young Sheridan reprises much of what made his role in Mud so memorable, but does it with enough charisma to suggest that he’s just a step away from a huge future. Poulter’s first and last performance is both astonishing and tragic: an alcoholic like his character, he died shortly after filming was completed, his body found after he had drowned in shallow water.

Joe, trailer

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New Talent: Chadwick Boseman

Who? Funky name, right? 32-year-old Chadwick Boseman joins the ranks of the acting world’s most elegantly monikered men, alongside Rip Torn, Yahoo Serious and Arnie Hammer.

What’s he been in? Chadwick’s two biggest film roles have been in the type of sports movies which are big in the US but unknown or unreleased in the UK: 42 with Harrison Ford, and Draft Day with Kevin Costner. He’s also had recurring TV roles in Lincoln Heights and Persons Unknown.

What’s coming up? You don’t often get the chance to play Godfather of Soul James Brown, but Boseman will with Get On Up. Catch it in September. Big-budget fantasy Gods Of Egypt should follow in 2016 and rumours also abound that he’s competing with John Boyega to be Marvel’s Black Panther.

They say: “When he [Boseman] smiles, 42, already such a warm story of such cold times, gets even brighter.” TIME

He says: “With James Brown, there are a lot of people who only know the old James Brown. They've never seen him perform at Olympia or T.A.M.I. Show or any of that stuff. They don't know anything about his influences. And so they're judging you based on the one or two things they know or the one interview they saw.” IndieWire

Get On Up, trailer

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Shorts

“Hello, hello, anybody home? Think, McFly, think!” Last night’s (July 24th) Secret Cinema / Back To The Future event was cancelled mid-afternoon, leaving many fans to wish they could take a DeLorean back to just before they pressed CONFIRM during the process of buying tickets.

Dawn Of The Planets Of The Apes took a wild swing straight to the top of last weekend’s UK box office. A live screening of the now ex-Monty Python’s final performance took over a million pounds in a single night as it entered at #4. Pudsey The Fecking Dog will probably be put down after whimpering in at #9.

Finally, the first Fifty Shades Of Grey trailer is out. The first minute looks like a dull corporate drama, the second a cinematic Mills & Boon. Still, it has Jamie Dornan topless and Dakota Johnson captured mid-pleasure if either of those float your boat.

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Words: Ben Hopkins, except where indicated

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