And Fury is the big movie...

Because you’ve got a dick, and that makes it the norm, right? Hmm

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That was the week in which...

Your Sister’s Sister director Lynn Shelton stated that more films need to explore flawed female characters. Also known for helming episodes of Mad Men and New Girl, Shelton discussed her upcoming film Laggies – which will have the more commercially obvious title of Say When for the UK release – with Variety and was quoted as saying:

“The protagonist is this very flawed human being who makes mistakes and who’s really stumbling her way toward trying finding her way in the world. I feel like, a lot of times, women get relegated to roles where they’re expected to have their act together, and they’re the mature one waiting around for the boyfriend or the husband. We just need more flawed, real human woman who are exploring this kind of territory.”

The most obvious example of a recent high-profile film that focused on a complex female character is Gone Girl (pictured above), which polarised opinions. Some argued that Amy Dunne is a triumph for feminism: a woman willing to battle to the extreme against a man who has wronged her, and who eventually reduces husband Nick to a bland, supportive sidekick like the spouses of so many cinematic heroes of the past. Others focused on its misogynistic traits: Amy’s repeated false rape claims being an irresponsible narrative tool within a society which routinely interprets incredibly rare incidences of malicious allegations as a routine occurrence.

Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn stated: “The fact that people are surprised by a female character like that, still, in 2014, I think is kind of ... pathetic. It's shocking that the amount of women that we have onscreen are anything aside from loving girlfriends, needy girlfriends, good moms or a feisty lieutenant who barks some orders and is dismissed.”

In a sense, Shelton and Flynn are coming from the same angle. Essentially, how can film – an art-form which in some pure ideal should reflect the complete spectrum of human experience and fantasy – fulfil its function if the majority of female characters are broad stereotypes of conventional gender roles or ignored altogether? Yet a powerful, controlling or sexually dominant female character in a big film is always somehow controversial in a way that wouldn’t be considered for a male character – similar discussions of Amy Dunne were also applied to Lisbeth Salander and Catherine Tramell.

Yet there’s also an obvious difference in their outlook, for Shelton’s female characters are inherently regular people grounded in some form of reality. And that’s the dilemma – it’s much harder to deliver a character that attracts audiences, instigates debate and ultimately progresses cultural expectations if she’s a character whose nuanced personal conflicts and emotions are structured within a story that reflects common experiences. Sex and violence sells.

Perhaps the success of likes of The Hunger Games and Gravity point to a steady rebalancing of the scales, but such rare examples remain extremely rare in the world of big-budgeted movies. Yet the turning point could well come with the Warner Bros. / DC production of Wonder Woman, is slated for a 2017 release date. If a female-directed Wonder Woman can’t save the day.... Well, what can?

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 is in cinemas from November 20th

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The Big Film: Fury

David Ayer has been busy of late. Following the commercial disappointment of Arnold Schwarzenegger action vehicle Sabotage earlier this year, Fury marks a bold return to form for the director of End Of Watch, with its raw depiction of a five-man tank crew who venture deep behind enemy lines towards the tail end of the Second World War. We’re in April 1945, a time when Hitler’s resistance was arguably at its most desperate and fierce peak.

Ostensibly a brash action thriller, the engaging simplicity of Fury’s premise and the interplay between its five battered central characters is underpinned by fine performances throughout, with Brad Pitt and Michael Peña leading the way as the commander and driver respectively. While Jon Bernthal’s performance occasionally teeters on cliché as the vicious redneck – it seems unlikely that we can expect a vaguely likable performance at this point in his career – Shia LaBeouf goes some way to restoring at least a microcosm of faith that the he can still turn in a solid performance when he’s not busy trolling anyone who’ll listen. Meanwhile, Logan Lerman, last seen in Noah, Darren Aronofsky’s baffling biblical epic, shines as the inexperienced new recruit hastily brought in to fill the void when the crew’s fifth member is brutally killed in action.

Typically, Ayer relishes the opportunity to stage his visceral action with the usual flair viewers have come to expect from the likes of End Of Watch and Sabotage, but it’s the moments where he invites us to stop and pause that are the most startlingly effectively. Fury may not represent anything radically new, but while genre aficionados will get their kicks from the taut set pieces, it’s Ayer’s keen affection for broken protagonists and a focus on characters and personalities over cheap, violent thrills that sets this apart from many of its recent genre forebears.

The end result is a loud and brash, yet surprisingly affecting piece of work anchored by compelling and believable performances. It succeeds foremost as a solid character-driven drama rather than a gung-ho action thriller, and it’s all the better for it. Words: Paul Weedon

Related: Michael Peña interviewed

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Also Out: Northern Soul

A definitely British youth culture, Northern Soul has been sadly under- and misrepresented on the silver screen. Thankfully, Elaine Constantine’s labour of love manages to both capture the spirit of the times and present it in a way that is both fresh and vital.

Opening in a nowhere town in the north of England, Northern Soul finds two teenage misfits drawn together by a love of black American music. Yet this isn’t a nostalgic viewpoint – the scene’s flaws are laid bare, alongside its inspirational nature.

Love, lust, drugs and fashion all play a part, with the inspired dance scenes illuminating the Wigan Casino for one beautiful night. Expertly pieced together, Northern Soul largely avoids utilising overplayed oldies in favour of something truer to the scene that it aims to process.

That said, the work isn’t without its problems. The grit of northern England in the 1970s is laid on thick, while Constantine’s eagerness to tackle as many facets of the scene as possible perhaps leads to an overly busy plot.

Overall, though, this is a more than worthwhile gesture, acting as both scene primer and a worthwhile piece of British cinema. Now, where’s our talcum powder... Words: Robin Murray

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Also Out: Jimi: All Is By My Side

This André 3000-fronted Jimi Hendrix biopic hasn’t had the smoothest of deliveries since its completion. Finally released after encouraging reviews from Toronto more than a year ago, Hendrix’s former girlfriend Kathy Etchingham (portrayed here by Hayley Atwell) has protested, saying the film’s depiction of their relationship is a physically abusive one. It’s also been cursed by a complete absence of the iconic musician’s own music.

The latter at least isn’t really an issue, as the film examines his life from the end of his tenure in New York through to his progression pre-Monterey. Although not as physically compelling as Chadwick Boseman’s imminent Get On Up as James Brown, André 3000 matches the nuanced characterisation of 12 Years A Slave’s John Ridley: this Hendrix evolves from a sullen, near-wordless presence who eventually discovers his own star quality.

Conversely, however, it’s hard to shake the feeling that Ridley can’t decide whether to tell the story of Hendrix’s career ascension or that of his early loves – the result being a slow-moving affair that takes almost two hours to cover what a biography could conclude in two chapters.

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Shorts

Last weekend’s UK box office was conquered by the towering mediocrity of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with an opening haul of almost £5 million. I’d rather spend that on pizza. Gone Girl is still at #2 with a gargantuan lead over the next highest new entry, The Best of Me, at #5. The Judge presides over a #9 placing followed by a toe-tappin’ start for Northern Soul at #10.

In a rare example of an actor speaking the absolute truth about an upcoming project, Billy Bob Thornton has already admitted that Bad Santa 2 won’t be as good as the sandwich-fixin’ Christmas classic.  

And it’s almost Halloween, so why not get some early creepiness by diving into the new trailer for The Woman In Black sequel Angel Of Death?

And finally: sometimes it’s lovely to watch film stars laugh uncontrollably, just because it’s Friday. 

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Words: Ben Hopkins, except where indicated

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