2018 in Action Heroine Films

Before we get into looking forward to next year, let’s look back at 2017, and what happened to the films mentioned in our last preview. Not a bad year, with Wonder Woman proving that an action heroine based on a comic-book could more than hold her own at the box-office. Though Ghost in the Shell proved that wasn’t necessarily a guarantee. The Resident Evil and Underworld franchises had perhaps the final outings, with their current personnel. And Charlize Theron solidified her credentials as the current queen of Hollywood action heroines, with Atomic Blonde (then known as The Coldest City) delivering the year’s most bone-crunching action. But what of the titles we mentioned there, which never arrived? Where is Annihilation? The Godmother? Red Sparrow? Read on, for updates on these, and other entries currently scheduled for 2018…

Alita: Battle Angel (Jul 20)

I loved the anime. I adored the manga. I am… not certain about the live-action adaptation. The trailer looks good, but the over-sized eyes they’ve given Alita are really distracting, especially since she’s the only one who has them. Still, Robert Rodriguez has done enough in the past to deserve slack: both Planet Terror and Sin City showed he knows his way around an action heroine, and it’s likely better he does it, than the original intended director of James Cameron. [How the mighty have fallen…] Though after the commercial failure last year of Ghost in the Shell, I wonder if the market is ready for this?

Anna (TBA)

Details are extremely sparse about Luc Besson’s new directorial feature. It will be a lot smaller in scale than the under-performing Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, with a budget estimated at $30 million, compared to Valerian‘s $220+ million. It will star Sasha Luss, who had a small role in Valerian, as well as Cillian Murphy, Luke Evans and Helen Mirren. But beyond that? Besson offered one image (right) through Instagram, along with the cryptic comment, “When Nikita meets Leon…” That’s all we have for now. While listed for 2018 on IMDb I’ve a feeling this may end up drifting back into 2019. Hopefully we’ll know more by next year’s version of this article!

Annihilation (Feb 23)

Directed by Alex Garland, who got a lot of acclaim for Ex Machina, it stars Natalie Portman as Lena, the leader of an all-female expedition, who enter an environmental disaster zone called “Area X”, in search of her missing husband. According to Garland, Lena “finds a very strange, dream-like, surrealist landscape, and goes deeper and deeper into that world, and also into that mindset.” A teaser trailer was released in September, and emphasis was definitely on “teaser,” since it keeps all the movie’s cards very close to its chest. But the cast, also including Jennifer Jason Leigh and Gina Rodriguez, has our attention, and the full trailer (a still from which is above) does nothing to decrease our interest.

Cadaver (Aug 24)

This should have come out in August 2017, but was shunted, first to February and now August. Not usually a good sign. It centers on ex-cop and recovering alcoholic Megan Reed (Shay Mitchell), who takes a graveyard shift at a hospital morgue, and according to the IMDb synopsis, “faces a series of bizarre, violent events caused by an evil entity in one of the corpses.”

Cocaine Godmother (Jan 20)

I’m not quite sure what’s going on here. Last time we checked, this biopic about Griselda Blanco starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, was known as The Godmother and principal photography began in November 2015. But according to the IMDb, that production is now circling development hell, with Catalina Sandino Moreno as the lead. Best as I can tell, Zeta-Jones instead moved over to play the role in this movie (left), which will be skipping theatres. It will also be skipping DVD, apparently, and appearing instead, directly on Lifetime. I suspect this may limit some of the more salacious elements of Blanco’s story!

The Darkest Minds (Sep 14)

An adaptation of the young adult novel of the same name by Alexandra Bracken, here’s the Wikipedia synopsis: “When Ruby woke up on her tenth birthday, something about her had changed. Something frightening enough to make her parents lock her in the garage and call the police. Something that got her sent to Thurmond, a brutal government “rehabilitation camp.” She might have survived the mysterious disease that had killed most of America’s children, but she and the others emerged with something far worse: frightening abilities they could not control. Now sixteen, Ruby is one of the dangerous ones…” Particularly of interest, Gwendoline Christie, playing a bounty hunter of teens who escape from the camp.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web (Oct 19)

Author Stieg Larsson may be dead, but the media machine grinds on, with a fourth novel featuring Lisbeth Salander and journalist Mikael Blomkvist, having been written by another author. This is being adapted by Hollywood, without even waiting for a Scandinavian version, though neither Mara Rooney nor Daniel Craig will be returning to their characters. Replacing Rooney is Claire Foy, best known for her roles as two British queens: Anne Boleyn, and Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown. After not being particularly impressed with the first American take on the characters, we’ll see if “not being a superfluous remake” helps this at all.

Headlock (TBA)

IMDb synopsis: “After new CIA recruit, Kelley Chandler is seriously injured during a mission, surviving only on life support, his wife Tess (Dianna Agron), a former CIA operative, becomes determined to find out what happened to her husband. As the details of Kelley’s last mission unravel, showing that his accident was an inside job, Tess puts everything on the line to keep Kelley out of harm’s way, even if that comes with dangerous consequences.” Will we ever see this? For its status was changed to “Completed” on Oct 17… 2015; the still above was released more than a year prior to that.

Ocean’s Eight (Jun 8)

I’m a bit surprised they bothered, after the firestorm of criticism – some justified, some not – which followed the all-female Ghostbusters remake. This might have a better cast: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway and Helena Bonham Carter, though what the hell is an “Awkwafina”? Must confess to not having seen any of the male versions of the franchise, so at least this storyline will seem relatively fresh to my eyes. On the other hand, there’s a reason I haven’t seen any of the male versions…

Proud Mary (Jan 12)

Starting off 2018, we have Taraji P. Henson playing an organized crime hitwoman in Boston, who leaves a young boy orphaned after a job goes wrong. Described elsewhere as “John Wick’s action meets Foxy Brown’s retro style” – though you could quibble that Foxy Brown was certainly not “retro style” – those are some lofty platform shoes to fill. The story doesn’t exactly particularly new, and I’m likely about 80% sure I can figure out where it’s going to go. When the producer says it’s about Mary “finding her purpose and her heart again through this relationship with this kid,” that whirring sound you can hear are my eyes rolling…

Red Sparrow (Mar 2)

Jennifer Lawrence’s return to the action genre also re-teams her with Francis Lawrence (no relation),who directed three-quarters of the Hunger Games movies. She plays a former ballerina, Dominika Egorova, whose dance career is ended by injury, and who becomes a Russian spy instead. She falls for a CIA officer, played by Joel Edgerton, a relationship which makes Egorova consider becoming an American double-agent. The trailer doesn’t skimp on the promise of sex and violence, and according to Lawrence (the directorial one), will have a “hard R” rating. This year’s Atomic Blonde, maybe?

Scorched Earth (Feb 2)

This was originally supposed to be out last year, but vanished without trace from the schedules. At least, until just a couple of days ago, when a trailer suddenly appeared (and can be seen as part of the playlist below). It takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, where a bounty-hunter named Atticus Gage tracks down criminals. Which wouldn’t seem to fit in here, except that Atticus is played by Gina Carano, who looked very impressive in Haywire. The same can probably not be said of the trailer, unfortunately, which looks very generic; I hope the movie has more of Carano in action. This will be getting a limited theatrical release, and also opening at the same point across video-on-demand channels

Swords and Sceptres (TBA)

According to the IMDb synopsis, this is “A tale of women’s empowerment, Swords and Sceptres tells the true story of Lakshmibai, the historic Queen of Jhansi who fiercely led her army against the British East India Company in the infamous mutiny of 1857.” Lakshmibai is often considered “India’s Joan of Arc” and this isn’t the only film to tell her story this year. We’ll also get The Queen of Jhansi, but that appears to be a “pure” Bollywood film. This includes Rupert Everett, Derek Jacobi and Jodhi May, as well as the less well-known Devika Bhise as the Queen, so likely has a better chance of a Western release.

Tomb Raider (Mar 16)

She’s back! 15 years after Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life underwhelmed, Lara returns, this time in a grittier and less… ah, “bosomy” version. Alicia Vikander straps on the vest and twin pistols for this reboot of the franchise, as previously worn by Angelina Jolie. Is she “strong” enough? We’ll see, but similar qualms about Gail Gadot as Wonder Woman proved unfounded. Fellow Scandinavian Roar Uthaug is directing this, which gives me cause for optimism since he also gave us the remarkably bad-ass wilderness pic, Escape (Flukt). If this can match it, we’ll have the best Tomb Raider film thus far.

Traffik (Apr 27)

Here’s the official synopsis for this one: Investigative journalist Brea Stephens (Paula Patton) goes on what is supposed to be a romantic getaway to a cabin in the woods with her boyfriend, John Wilson (Omar Epps), but after a chance encounter with a suspicious gang at a secluded truck stop, they find themselves unknowingly in possession of a phone containing proof of the gang’s sex trafficking exploits. Caught in the crosshairs of the relentless crew, Brea and John are left with one mission: survival.

Widows (Nov 16)

Directed by Steve McQueen – no, the other one, who did Oscar-winner 12 Years a Slave – this is based of the eighties TV series of the same name [which I must get round to reviewing – I watched two of the three seasons, but it then fell off my radar]. Assuming it follows the same lines, this will be the story of a group of women, whose husbands are killed during a botched armed robbery, who decide to carry on and pull off the raid themselves. In this version, the widows will be Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki, Michelle Rodriguez and Cynthia Erivo.

Below, you’ll find a playlist with the seven currently available trailers for the above movies, to whet your appetite some more!

Girls With Guns Calendars 2018

Welcome to our seventh annual round-up of girls with guns calendars, just in time for your Christmas shopping delight. Below, you’ll find prices (generally excluding shipping), sample images and links to purchase for all the calendars we could find. We’ll add more if we find them, feel free to email us if you know of any others. It has been a rough year in some ways, with several familiar names apparently not publishing this time around, including Alex Smits, Guns & Camo and (for a second successive year, so we’re calling them D.O.A. for now) Magpul. But we have also found a couple of new entries!

TAC GIRLS

TacGirls.com – $16.95

“Tactical Girls® 2018 Bikini Gun Calendar starts in January of 2018 and brings you 13 months of beautiful women with some of the world’s most exotic weaponry in realistic tactical settings. The 2018 Tactical Girls Calendar includes the Cadex Tremor .50 BMG Precision Rifle, the Kel-Tec KSG-25 bullpup Shotgun and last but not least the DRD Tactical Semi-Auto .338 Lapua Magnum! All of these, along with a variety of carbines, battle rifles, machine guns, pistols and sniper rifles, all with gorgeous models in realistic settings.”

LIBERTY BELLES

LibertyBellesUSA.com – $19.99

“Liberty Belles takes a glamorous glance at the world of tactical military jobs with a sexy twist! This project honors the special operations military forces within the US Navy, US Air Force, US Marine Corps, and US Army by boosting morale and creating awarness for various career fields within the armed forces. We believe our tactical bikinis and attention to detail helps our brand stand out above others in the same field. The 2014 Liberty Belles Calendar followed the same precedence as it’s 2013 Clips and Hips predecessor that was created by Chasen Grieshop, Gary Stevens, and Jarred Taylor. In 2012, these original three creators set out to create a tactical girl calendar that surpassed the average tried and true girls-with-guns idea, thus Clips and Hips was born. Since then, the creative forces behind Clips and Hips have gone their separate ways; however, the idea has since taken new form.”

GUNS AND GIRLS

GunsAndGirlsCalendar.com – $19.95 (inc. shipping)

The 2018 GUNS AND GIRLS wall calendar is packed with beautiful pin up models and many of today’s most popular weapons, everything from handguns to AR15s. This 16 month large format calendar is 17″x 28″ when hung up and a perfect gift for any Armed Service Member, Police Officer or Shooting Enthusiast. Also includes a bonus 12 month poster inside giving you two calendars in one package!

GUNS AND CAMO

GunsAndCamo.com – $13.95.

While there does appear to be a cover image for this one, it looks like the domain expired in early November, and at least one source says it has been discontinued. I’m not optimistic.

HOT SHOTS

HotShotsCalendar.com – $16.95

“Returning for the 11th year running, Hot Shots Calendar went on the road for the 4th of July. The girls experienced true independence, travelling freely through the state of Wyoming; locked, loaded and ready to shoot (for the calendar)! This year’s theme showcases the deadly combination of the amazing Hot Shots girls and some serious weaponry. As always, Hot Shots Calendar aims to support the bravery and sacrifices made by the armed forces who continually risk their own lives to protect ours. Proceeds from the calendar are donated to charities in the UK and US such as Help for Heroes in honour of their service to their country. Gracing Hot Shots once again are veterans Rosie Jones, Kelly Hall and India Reynolds. Hot Shots also welcomed new girls Lauren Houldsworth, Tina Louise, Charissa Littlejohn and Liberte Austin to complete our sensational seven.”

ZAHAL GIRLS

zahal.org – $23.90

It’s finally ready! The Zahal Girls 2018 calendars are ready and waiting to be shipped all around the world! The 2018 Zahal Girls calendar features all of our girls with Israeli & US made rifle accessories & tactical gear. All girls are IDF veterans that server in combat positions such as: Infantry & Infantry shooting instructors. The calendar is made out of 14 high quality chromo paper sheets, all joint together with a metal spiral, a small hook at the top (for hanging) and printed with high quality ink HP printers.

  • Lovie M. – Shooting Instructor & Range Master
  • Natasha P. – Infantry “Caracal” Battalion
  • Shiran A. – Shooting Instructor & Range Master
  • Esti S. – Infantry “Caracal” Battalion
  • Shir E. – Shooting Instructor & Range Master
  • Orin J. – Combat Search & Rescue

RED BUBBLE

RedBubble.com – $28.00

  • Tough wire binding and hanger
  • Stunningly sharp digital printing
  • Start the year with the month of your choice
  • 200gsm satin art paper with a tougher cover

GURLS N GUNZ

CafePress.com – $19.99

Keeping track of important dates is easy with our high quality 12-month Wall Calendar

  • Choose your own start month and year
  • Pages measure 11″ x 8.5″; calendar measures 11″ x 17″ when hung on wall
  • 100 lb cover weight high gloss paper, wire-o bound
  • Full-bleed, full-color printing

CCFR Gunnie Girl

Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights – $19.95

Finally, if you’re looking for something more PG-rated, you can head north of the border for this gun advocacy group. “This year’s calendar highlights and promotes some of our amazing CCFR women with beautiful, tasteful and stunning photos of them and their favourite firearms. The funds raised from this project will be used to financially support the women’s program. Each calendar comes with a registration number for prize give-aways. Quantities are limited.” Not sure if the price is in US or Canadian dollars.

Amazons: Miss-ology in fact and fiction

Hippolyte, queen of the Amazons, with Herakles between Amazons. Fragment of a terracotta volute-krater, created: circa 330–310 B.C

Not in strength are we inferior to men; the same our eyes, our limbs the same; one common light we see, one air we breathe; nor different is the food we eat. What then denied to us hath heaven on man bestowed?
  
— Queen Penthesilea, The Fall of Troy

Wonder Woman has spent this summer closing in on The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, for the title of biggest worldwide box-office by an action heroine (depending on how you view The Force Awakens – personally, I’m with-holding a definitive opinion until I see how the series develops). So it seems an appropriate point to take a look at the legendary Amazons – the women warriors tribe of which Diana Prince is supposedly a part. But how “legendary” were they? Is there evidence to suggest they might, in part, have been based on real women warriors of ancient times?

The Amazons of myth

The first mentions of the Amazons were by 8th-century Greek poet, Homer, in The Iliad, though these were little more than passing references. King Priam of Troy recounts a battle from his youth: “I looked on the Phrygian men with their swarming horses, so many of them, the people of Otreus and godlike Mygdon, whose camp was spread at that time along the banks of the Sangarios: and I myself, a helper in war, was marshalled among them on that day when the Amazon women came, men’s equals.” Similarly, among the exploits recounted of Bellerophon, who captured and tamed the flying horse, Pegasus, was that “he slaughtered the Amazons, who fight men in battle.”

They are more significant in the saga of Heracles (a.k.a Hercules) and his twelve tasks. The ninth was to obtain the belt belonging to Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. This had been given to her by Ares, the god of war, and was used to carry her sword and spear. He did convince her to hand it over peacefully, but the goddess Hera was intent on stopping Heracles, and roused Hippolyta’s subjects against him. In the ensuing battle, Hippolyta was killed by Heracles. This is the first time we hear of Themiscyra as their home. though rather than an island nation, it was a town near the Black Sea, in what’s now Turkey. Another Greek hero, Theseus, also encountered them; some stories have him accompanying Heracles and marrying an Amazon, triggering a long conflict with Athens, known as the Attic War.

The main source for information is Herodotus, a historian of the fifth century B.C. The story he tells starts with the Greeks defeating the Amazons and taking three shipfuls of them captive, only for the prisoners to overthrow their captors, and land in Scythia, on the north of the Black Sea. “The Amazons had nothing except their arms and their horses, and got their living… by hunting and by taking booty.” There, they fought the locals, until the Scythians decided to make love not war, and sent their young men out to befriend the raiders, which they did so successfully, it led eventually to an entire separate tribe, the Sauromatai, about whom he says:

From thenceforward the women of the Sauromatai practise their ancient way of living, going out regularly on horseback to the chase both in company with the men and apart from them, and going regularly to war, and wearing the same dress as the men… As regards marriages their rule is this, that no maiden is married until she has slain a man of their enemies; and some of them even grow old and die before they are married, because they are not able to fulfil the requirement of the law.

This is relatively restrained, and seems plausible compared to some of the other myths which circulated about them. Not least is the whole “cutting off a breast so they could fire their bows better” thing, which appears possibly to stem from a mistranslation of “Amazon”. None of the depictions to be found in classical art, for example, show them with a count of breasts below two. There’s also the concept that they would get together, once a year, with the men of a nearby tribe, for the purposes of procreation, retaining only the resulting female children. Or the claim by Diodorus Siculus , that the Amazons of Queen Myrina used the skins of gigantic snakes, from Libya, to protect themselves at battle. Cool story, bro’.

Our pal Diodorus is also a primary source for the tale of Queen Thalestris and Alexander the Great, though some other biographers also mention her. He says Thalestris “was remarkable for beauty and for bodily strength, and was admired by her countrywomen for bravery.” She showed up in Alexander’s camp with 300 Amazons in full armour, and when asked why she had come, replied it was to have him father a child. “He had shown himself the greatest of all men in his achievements, and she was superior to all women in strength and courage, so that presumably the offspring of such outstanding parents would surpass all other mortals in excellence.” Thirteens days of, ahem, intense diplomatic negotiations followed – but history does not record whether any offspring did!

While Wikipedia snarkily comments, “Battles between Amazons and Greeks are placed on the same level as – and often associated with – battles of Greeks and centaurs,” they were a popular subject for art, to the point where there was a word for its depiction: Amazonomachy. It symbolized the Greeks’ struggle against everything uncivilized. Typically, the Amazons were portrayed in the style of Scythian horseman, again echoing the story of Herodotus. It’s perhaps interesting to note that on the relief sculpture of two female gladiator found at Halicarnassus, they were identified as Amazonia and Achillea, presumably the “ring names” of the women involved.

The Amazons in reality

All of the above stories were regarded as just that: stories, with no basis in fact. But as the world was gradually explored, there were various encounters with local inhabitants around the globe, which suggested that the legends may not have been without same basis in fact.

Originally, there were various names for the River Amazon: Rio Grande (Great River), Mar Dulce (Sweet Sea) or Rio da Canela. The one we know today, only came about after a 1542 expedition under Spaniard Francisco Orellana. On June 24, he and his men had a skirmish against natives, and “witnessed twelve tall arrow-shooting women, pale and nearly naked, with their hair braided around their heads, apparently acting as captains of the male warriors defending against the incursion. The women clubbed any warrior who tried to retreat.” A captive described the empire of Queen Conori, and the similarities in some aspects with the Hellenic Amazons, such as capturing men for breeding purposes, impressed Orellana enough that his expedition called the river they were exploring, the Amazon. That name stuck.

They were, however, still generally regarded as being little more than mythical. Belief in them as a historical entity was limited to the fringe, most notably Swiss scholar Johann Jakob Bachofen. In 1861 Bachofen published Mother Right: an investigation of the religious and juridical character of matriarchy in the Ancient World. This suggested civilization had gone through four phases, including “Das Mutterecht,” a matriarchal ‘lunar’ phase, which was the origin of the Amazon myth. Some suggest he was an influence on Richard Wagner, in particular with regard to the Valkyries.

Elsewhere around the world, various societies and groups have evolved which mirror, in some aspects, those attributed to the Amazons by the ancient Greeks, such as being matriarchal and/or warrior in nature. For example, there were the Dahomey Amazons (right), a book about whom we previously reviewed. They were an all-female military regiment of the central African Kingdom of Dahomey, in what’s now Benin, which lasted from the 17th century until relatively recent times – their last surviving veteran reportedly died as recently as 1979. We have also talked about how the legendary Viking raiding parties were not as unisex as often supposed. And in 1857, the Daily True Delta carried this report, detailing at some length the all-women bodyguards recruited by the King of Siam (presumably when he wasn’t flirting with English schoolmarms…).

Meanwhile, back in their more traditional territory near the Black Sea, evidence in support of the myth was uncovered in the mid-90’s. Archaeologists dug up burial mounds near the town Pokrovka, in what is now Kazakhstan. Based on the content, these belonged to the Sauromatai, the tribe mentioned earlier. But the most relevant finds were multiple skeletons of women who had been interred with weapons. The New York Times reported, “One young woman, bow-legged from riding horseback, wore around her neck an amulet in the form of a leather pouch containing a bronze arrowhead. At her right side was an iron dagger; at her left, a quiver holding more than 40 arrows tipped with bronze.”

This makes sense: just as now, a gun offers a great equalizer in terms of countering an opponent’s size and strength, so did a horse and a bow in ancient times. There’s no reason why a woman would not be able to acquire just as much proficiency as a man in these areas. However, there’s nothing to suggest they lived separately from the men, in the way the ancient Greeks described. They would still have presented a startling contrast to Greek women. It’s believed they were tattooed, smoked marijuana and drank fermented mare’s milk, turning it into an alcoholic beverage known as kumis which is still consumed today, by the peoples of the Central Asian steppes.

Amazons in popular culture

Wonder Woman is just the most recent, and certainly most successful incarnation of the Amazon clan to find its way into the mass media. Virtually since the time of Herodotus, there have been a steady stream of tales, more or less exploiting prurient interest in the concept of a tribe entirely consisting of women. It has been used in ways both derogatory and complimentary: to mock women for losing their femininity, as well as to inspire them in their battle for increased rights. The suffragettes of the early twentieth century, in particular, frequently used the Amazons as a totem in their poems and stories.

One of the earliest films about them was 1933’s The Warrior’s Husband, which “tells the story of the Amazons, who ruled over men thanks to the sacred girdle of Diana, and Hercules who came to steal it.” This comedy was based on a Broadway play, most notable for giving Katherine Hepburn her big break, in the lead role of Antiope (shown right). According to The Telegraph, “The role required her to enter by leaping down a flight of steep steps while carrying a large stag on her shoulders. The RKO talent scout was so impressed by this feat that he offered her a film contract.”

We should mention the Amazon film that never made it to production. In early 1939, German film-maker Leni Riefenstahl was working on a feature about Penthesilea, the Amazon queen who fought in the Trojan Wars. She had secured funding from Hitler, locations in Libya, and had even begun training young sportswomen to play the roles of Penthesilea’s army, with Riefenstahl (a bit of an Amazon herself – she did her own free climbing for her directorial debut, Das blaue Licht) playing the queen. However, the outbreak of World War II derailed what would certainly have been an interesting take on the myth.

Two years later, in October 1941, Wonder Woman made her debut, appearing in All Star Comics #8. She was the creation of William Moulton Marston, a psychologist who had already become famous as inventor of the polygraph, and there was no doubt on which side of the battle he stood. “Wonder Woman,” Marston wrote, “is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world.” He also called bondage a “respectable and noble practice,” which perhaps cast WW’s Lasso of Truth + Bracelets of Submission in a rather different light!

There have been no shortage of subsequent films to take the Amazon theme – though most of these bear about as much resemblance to the myth, as the myth does to the Scythians who inspired it! I’m not even going to attempt a comprehensive listing of these. Instead, I’ll pick and choose ten somewhat representative candidates, some of which have been reviewed on this site. They’re listed in chronological order.

  • Queen of the Amazons (1947) – or “Journey to the land of stock footage” as one review put it. The first, and certainly not the last, to relocate the myth to the African jungle.
  • Love Slaves of the Amazons (1957) – Made in Argentina in 1956, along with a film called Curucu, Beast of the Amazon, and using some of the same cast. Director Curt Siodmak claimed to have made the film because he had 10,000 feet of color film left over from Curucu but could not export the unused film.
  • Amazons of Rome (1961) – A rather misleading American retitling, of a film originally known as Le vergini di Roma, “The virgins of Rome”. But a surprising cast here, which includes Louis Jourdan, Sylvia Syms and Michel Piccoli.
  • Thor and the Amazon Women (1963) – An Italian/Yugoslavian co-production, filmed largely on location in the Postojna Caves of what is now Slovenia. Lobs some Scandinavian mythology into the mix, for no readily apparent reason, and may be anti-feminist rather than empowering!
  • Battle of the Amazons (1973) – “Tedesco makes a good impression as the feisty heroine, and it’s a nice touch to have women effectively leading both sides. Sadly, the Amazons also step aside when the action kicks off, largely being unconvincingly replaced by male stunt doubles in masks and wigs.”
  • War Goddess (1973) – “Credit is due to both Johnston and Sun, who take on material that often strays to questionable or even laughable, with a straight-faced intensity which is rather more than it deserves.”
  • Hundra (1983) – “The producers purchased some of the left-over costumes and props from Conan, which makes sense since the story here is also largely recycling its plot as well. Admittedly, it does so with a significantly enhanced feminist agenda, although this consists as much of portraying men as nothing but mindless boors as anything uplifting.”
  • Amazons (1986) – “There’s certainly plenty going on, with plots, treachery, topless human sacrifice, bad blood and an alternate dimension largely realised with dry ice and strobe lights. The action, unfortunately, sucks, though credit is due to Randolph for struggling with a lethargic snake, making it look like the most ferocious attack in cinematic history.”
  • Amazon Warrior (1998) – “The fight sequences just about pass muster – it helps if you squint at them sideways, rather than giving them your direct attention – and it appears that after civilization has collapsed into anarchy and chaos, what remains will resemble an SCA get-together, albeit with rather more fur bikinis.”
  • Amazons and Gladiators (2001) – “No real surprises in the plot, with everyone getting more or less what they deserve. But despite accents which roam the globe from Australia through England to America, it’s well-acted and well thought-out, with very few mis-steps. “

It’s to television, however, that we turn for the most well-known incarnation of an Amazon in pop-culture: the TV series Wonder Woman, which aired for three seasons from 1975-79, with Lynda Carter in the title role, playing superheroine (and Amazon refugee) Diana Prince. It followed on from an earlier, rejected pilot movie starring Cathy Lee Crosby, and the second pilot proved a much greater ratings success. After the first season was set in World War II, the following series (retitled The New Adventures of Wonder Woman) took place in the present day, and the result was one of the most iconic action heroines of the decade on television. There was a 2011 attempt to revive the show, with Adrienne Palicki as Diana; despite the presence of David E. Kelley as a writer, the pilot episode was never officially aired, and the project quickly died.

The other television show people will generally associate with Amazons is, of course, Xena: Warrior Princess. This is a bit of a grey area: despite sharing a number of characteristics, Xena herself was never a formal member of the Amazon tribe, despite helping them out on a number of occasions. However, irritating sidekick Gabrielle became their queen (more by chance than intent), and over the six seasons for which the show ran, there were typically between two and four episodes per series, featuring the tribe to some extent.

Amazons have turned up elsewhere, and sometimes in shows where you wouldn’t exactly expect to find them. Examples include Series 7 of Supernatural, which had an episode titled ‘The Slice Girls’ in which Amazons had made a bargain with their mother, the goddess Harmonia, turning them into monsters. Or in 2003, the SF show Stargate SG-1 had “Birthright”, in which the Amazonian legend was specifically mentioned, after the crew met the Hak’tyl Resistance, a group of female warriors. More recently, it was announced last year that the producer of NCIS, Charles F. Johnson, was working on Amazons, a live-action TV series about the Dahomey warriors mentioned above, though nothing more has been heard of the project.

It will be interesting to see if the critical and commercial success of the Wonder Woman feature will re-kindle interests in Amazons as a whole. While Diana Prince is a creation of DC Comics, the Amazons themselves are very much in the public domain, and can be used by any artist – be that on TV, film or in literature. The door is thus wide open for such uses: I’m a little surprised The Asylum haven’t already given us a mockbuster version of Wonder Woman, especially considering they did put out Sinister Squad… We’ll see what 2018 brings.

Bolivia’s Fighting Cholitas

Professional wrestling is perhaps more international than you’d expect. While traditional territories – USA, Japan, Mexico and the UK – still remain the powerhouses, there is hardly a country in the world without its own local pro federation. But even I had not heard of Ecuador’s cholita luchadoras. Cholita is a term used for the native women there, usually found at the bottom of the social pyramid, both in terms of wealth and education. So the term translates as the “fighting cholitas“, who use pro wrestling as a way out of poverty, and to help them at least approach the average wage there, which is around $270 per month.

While initially intended purely for local consumption, it has achieved renown, both local and internationally, and become a tourist attraction. Local company “Andean Secrets” – run by one of the cholitas – runs excursions that pick visitors up at their hotel and take them to one of their shows at the Multifunctional Centre in El Alto. Tourists have to pay five times the cost for locals, but the price does get them ringside seats. In style, it’s closest to Mexican lucha libre, with the good girls (technicos) going up against the rudos, who cheat. abuse the audience and collude with a corrupt referee to try and achieve victory. You can generally tell who’s who from the names they choose. There’s an almost standard format to these: Chela la Maldita, Sonia La Simpática, Juanita La Cariñosa (Affectionate), Rosita La Rompecorazones (Heartbreaker) or Silvina La Poderosa (Powerful).

An exception is the matriarch of the cholitas, known as  Carmen Rosa. She was part of the original group of cholitas and one of the three who made it through the training program. She said, “For me, wrestling is my life; it is in my heart. It makes it hard for me to choose between wrestling and my family. They have asked me to stop fighting and sometimes I think about quitting, but I can’t. My heart beats fast at the mere mention of wrestling, or when I go to see a show, not to mention when I am about to enter the ring. There is nothing I love more than wrestling.” But even after a decade, she’s not fully professional: her day job is running her family’s local snack-bar.

That’s par for the course – as another example, Benita La Intocable (the Untouchable, one of the most high-flying of the cholitas) was training to be a nurse. Because the pay received is still peanuts by Western standards – typically no more than thirty dollars for their night’s work – but it’s an improvement on the very limited opportunities available to cholitas, typically as maid or other menial work. For until recently, the indigenous men and women had suffered a long history of discrimination, denied education, health care and public presence. The election in 2006 of the first Bolivian President from their group, Evo Morales, has helped address things, but there’s a reason the cholitas fight in El Alto, not the more prosperous La Paz.

They first entered the ring around the start of the millennium, the idea of local promoter Juan Mamani. Initially intended purely as a gimmick during a period of audience decline – he also considered using midgets – it took off in an unexpected way, with over fifty women showing up for that first open try-out. But after years under Mamani’s thumb, in which the women took the risks, and the associated damage, while his promotion, Titanes del Ring (Titans of the Ring) took the profits, there was a schism. Carmen and others among his top wrestlers left in 2011, starting up their own independent association, Diosas del Ring (Goddesses of the Ring), to gain the fruits of their own efforts. [Mamani allegedly then hired another woman, to play what I guess was Carmen Rosa v2.0!]

It was initially a struggle, with the women struggling to find even a place to train, and some of the defectors subsequently returning to Mamani – a man whom National Geographic once described as “a tall, angular man whom it would be kind to call unfriendly”. But Carmen and her colleagues persisted, and now they’ll get close to a thousand people attending their weekly events. She has become a celebrity, and not just in El Alto or even Bolivia. Carmen has traveled widely as a result, including trip to America and Peru, as well as being brought to London for 2015’s ‘Greatest Spectacle of Lucha Libre’ festival at York Hall.

The most immediate difference any wrestling fan will notice, is the costumes. While in America, wrestlers typically wear a limited amount of tight-fitting clothing, intended not to interfere with their moves, the cholitas come to fight in the traditional native costumes, consisting of multiple layered skirts (typically five or six), and little bowler hats which perch on top of their long, braided hair. [Bonus fact: the angle of the hat indicates marital status] It seems implausible they would be able to do anything requiring significant movement, but you’d be surprised. Also worth noting: the women need particular endurance, due to the altitude. Bolivia’s capital, La Paz, is the highest in the world, and the nearby low-income suburb of El Alto, home of the cholitas, is more elevated still, at over 13,500 feet above sea-level. Simply breathing is hard work, that far up.

The matches are not limited to women vs. women, with the cholitas taking on their male counterparts, as dictated by the storyline. It’s a one of a kind breed of professional wrestling, and a take which goes beyond the first impression of the unique style. For it is sports entertainment, not just based on athletic talent combined with the struggle of “good against evil,” but a version which offers social and political commentary too. Below, you’ll find a playlist of Youtube videos, including both documentaries and other clips, which give a bit more insight into the world of the fighting cholitas.

“Sometimes my daughters ask why I insist on doing this. It’s dangerous; we have many injuries, and my daughters complain that wrestling does not bring any money into the household. But I need to improve every day. Not for myself, for Veraluz, but for the triumph of Yolanda, an artist who owes herself to her public.”
  — Yolanda La Amorosa

The incredible, true survival story of Juliane Koepcke

Surviving when the plane in which you’re flying, disintegrates around you at a height of 10,000 feet is remarkable enough. When you land in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, one of the most hostile environments on Earth, and have to make it alone for more than a week, with virtually no resources, as you try to find your way to safety, that’s astonishing.

If you’re a 17-year-old girl? It’s off the charts amazing.

Admittedly, Juliane Koepcke was not your average teenager. Indeed, she could hardly have been better prepared for her ordeal. Her family moved to a research station in the Peruvian rainforest when she was 14, so her father, zoologist Hans-Wilhelm Koepcke, could continue his work. Juliane was initially home-schooled, and the curriculum covered much more than the traditional three R’s. She said, “I’d lived in the jungle long enough as a child to be acquainted with the bugs and other creatures that scurry, rustle, whistle, and snarl. There was almost nothing my parents hadn’t taught me about the jungle.” However, she was required to complete her education in the capital Lima. On Christmas Eve, 1971, she and her mother prepared to fly back from there to Pucallpa, the nearest airport to their home.

They would never arrive. The pilot made an ill-advised decision to fly through a thunderstorm, in a poorly maintained plane [the airline, LANSA, had a bad reputation for mechanical reliability, and would cease operations a few weeks later]. A lightning bolt hit the craft, igniting a fuel tank in the wing, and triggering catastrophic structural failure. Juliane fell two miles, still strapped to her seat; the protection it offered, together with the somewhat cushioned landing offered by the rainforest canopy, is likely why she became the sole survivor. She was not uninjured: she had a broken collarbone, a serious gash on her leg, a partial fracture of her shin and a torn knee ligament. Given the circumstances, though, it could have been much worse.

That was brought home later, after she came across some other victims: “When I turned a corner in the creek, I found a bench with three passengers rammed head first into the earth. I was paralysed by panic. It was the first time I had seen a dead body. I thought my mother could be one of them but when I touched the corpse with a stick, I saw that the woman’s toenails were painted – my mother never polished her nails.” With her sole piece of regular food a bag of candy, she had to try and make her way out. The key to her survival was finding a tiny rivulet, and following it downstream. She knew that this trickle would flow into a larger creek, and this in turn would join a river: eventually, she’d find people. Her quest was helped by hearing the call of a hoatzin, a bird Juliane recognized as nesting near open water.

Her wilderness knowledge helped when she reached the river too. The undergrowth along the bank was too dense to allow for progress, so Juliane opted to float down the middle. There, she knew potentially lethal stingrays won’t go, preferring the shallows, and also that piranhas are not a threat in quickly-moving water. But a cut on her arm had become infected with maggots, forcing her to extreme measures, after Juliane found a boat with a motor and a barrel of diesel fuel. “I remembered our dog had the same infection and my father had put kerosene in it, so I sucked the gasoline out and put it into the wound. The pain was intense as the maggots tried to get further into the wound. I pulled out about 30 maggots.”

She opted to spend the night there – her tenth in the jungle since the crash – and that proved to be her salvation. For she had stumbled across a seasonal camp belonging to some loggers, who were astonished to show up the next day and discover a blonde woman in their camp. Juliane recalls, “They believe in all sorts of ghosts there, and at first they thought that I was one of these water spirits called Yemanjá. They are blondes, supposedly.” They had heard about the crash on the radio, and took her downstream in their boat, to a local hospital that could tend her injuries, which now also included second-degree sunburn.

The authorities hadn’t been able to locate the crash site, but with Juliane’s help, they found it, and her mother’s body was eventually recovered on January 12, more than three weeks later. The creepiest thing? “My mother wasn’t dead when she fell from the plane. My father thought she’d survived for nearly two weeks – perhaps up to January 6, because when he went to identify her body it wasn’t as decomposed as you’d expect in that environment – it’s very warm and humid and there are lots of animals that would eat dead bodies. He thought she’d broken her backbone or her pelvis and couldn’t move.”

Juliane helped advise the makers of a movie based on her experiences (Miracles Still Happen, see below, or review here) and returned to the area in the early eighties, to study the area’s native bats. But it was close to two decades before she began to achieve closure. She returned to the crash site with German film-maker Werner Herzog, as part of his documentary Wings of Hope about her ordeal. Herzog was particularly well-suited to make the film, because when he was location scouting for his movie Aguirre, Wrath of God, he had initially been booked on the flight which crashed – only being saved by a last minute change in plans. Following that, Koepcke was able to write her own story, published as When I Fell from the Sky in 2011.

Below, you’ll find first Werner’s Herzog’s documentary Wings of Hope, and then the Italian feature film Miracles Still Happen, starring Susan Penhaligon, offering both factual and fictionalized versions of her remarkable story of survival. It’s truly one of the most incredible ever experienced and a testament to how knowledge can make all the difference between life and death.

The Ghost in the Shell universe

Science-fiction writers largely whiffed on predicting the Internet: as a sweeping generalization, they were too busy with rocket ships and flying cars to see the biggest change in human society since the invention of the internal combustion engine. William Gibson’s “Sprawl” trilogy (Neuromancer, Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive), which began in 1984, is a rare example which saw how the interconnectedness of people and things would become an everyday part of life, for better and worse. But one of the more accurate projections of our networked future was a Japanese manga series, first published in 1989: Masamune Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell, which has been powerfully influential since, from The Matrix through to HBO’s Westworld.

It was not Shirow’s first foray into the interface between man (or, more frequently, woman) and machine. He began in 1983 with Black Magic (made into Black Magic M-66), which preceded The Terminator in its story of a journalist trying to save a young woman from a relentless android. This was followed two years later by Appleseed, a series which according to Wikipedia, “merges elements of the cyberpunk and mecha genres with a heavy dose of politics, philosophy, and sociology.” Sound familiar? 1986’s Dominion then introduced readers to the fictional setting of Newport City, which would also become the home for Major Motoko Kusanagi, the protagonist of Ghost in the Shell.

The world

It is the near future. The world has become highly information-intensive, with a vast corporate network covering the planet, electrons and light pulsing through it. But the nation-state and ethnic groups still survive. And on the edge of Asia, in a strange corporate conglomerate-state called ‘Japan’…

So opens Ghost in the Shell. First published as a serial in Young Magazine, it began in April 1989, and was set, at that point, forty years in the future. By this point, technology has advanced to a level where every aspect of humanity, physical or mental, can be augmented by prosthetic devices. Almost everyone has taken advantage of at least a few upgrades. Some, such as Kusanagi, have embraced the concept to such extent they have entirely artificial bodies in addition to a “cyberbrain”. This enhanced version of the organ can be transferred at will between physical forms, and allows direct connection into information networks.

However, these innovations are not without their downside. If something is networked, it can be hacked. And if it can be hacked, it will be hacked, leading to potentially lethal acts of cyber-terrorism. These can be deadly, not only to the direct target – for if you can take over someone’s brain, they can then be used as your “puppet,” to commit further crimes. The hacker can even implant false memories into the victim, covering their tracks. Such sophisticated criminals require equally sophisticated law-enforcement, and this is where Section 9 come in. Led by Major Kusanagi, and operating under the watchful gaze of bureaucrat Daisuke Aramaki, they have the freedom of action necessary to tackle the most difficult cases.

It’s not just technology that has changed from the current time. Between now and then, there have been two further world wars: the third was nuclear, and the fourth was not. The net result has been the break-up of several world powers into smaller fragments. Most notably, the United States of America split off two sections, leaving only nine states behind. The American Empire occupies the South and East, while the Russo-American Alliance controls the West coast and North-East corridor. This seems eerily prescient too, with some in California currently contemplating secession. Let’s hope the American Empire’s bloody and brutal invasion of Mexico, included in the future world here, does not come to pass as well.

Japan, however, survived the two global conflicts relatively well, and has developed into a superpower. While some areas were hit with nuclear weapons in WW3, “radiation scrubbing” technology was developed, which meant these were not long-term wastelands and could be rebuilt relatively quickly. It remains a democracy, though as the opening text suggests, it’s an occasionally fragile one, with pressures from interested parties – in particular corporations – creating a dynamic tension between the needs of business and individuals. As a result of the wars, there are also a significant number of refugees from other Asian countries, which cause tension and represent a serious political powder-keg.

The Major

The heroine has had almost as many forms as there have been adaptations of the manga. Which is not a problem, because this is a universe where, if you want, you can change your body as often as your socks. It’s also why the criticisms of “whitewashing” leveled at the film for casting Scarlett Johansson never made any sense to me. Kusanagi can take any shape she wants, because her body is entirely artificial. The Major has described herself as nothing more than a fist sized clump of brain cells, without her robotic body. How she looks is purely an aesthetic choice. And, let’s face it: if I were a woman, and could look like anyone I wanted, ScarJo would be a more likely selection than most.

However, the differences are not limited to how she appears: indeed, in some incarnations (Ghost in the Shell 2), she has abandoned entirely any definitive physical semblance. The Major’s personality is also subject to variation: the anime version is a great deal more stoic than the manga one, where she appears to have come to a fairly happy place with regard to her situation. In the films, she worries frequently about whether or not she is still human – and what that even means. Another aspect which separates her from most of her contemporaries in Section 9, is that she went through full cyberization at a very early stage in her life. Although the details are murky (and also vary, depending on the adaptation), it appears she has been living an entirely artificial life, virtually for as long as she can remember.

Let’s talk about sex. Shirow has had a reputation as a bit of a lech, since virtually the start of his career. It’s an aspect which seems to have increased in his work over time; while he has almost abandoned linear story-telling, his latest artwork book is called Greaseberries, and is about what it sounds like. But even relatively early, content was controversially removed from the Japanese version of the manga, for its original American release: pages which depict the Major’s sideline, involving sex software called “Endorno.” [For the curious. You’re welcome! NSFW, obviously] Many of the Major’s costume choices also seem to come from Stripper Couture R Us, even if somewhat required by the plot, e.g. that skin-tight bodysuit is really necessary for her thermo-optical camouflage. Honest! Just don’t ask why her head doesn’t need it…

Yet curiously, actual fornication is largely missing from the Shell universe, particularly in the animated versions. Perhaps it’s the result of Kusanagi’s cybernetic nature, with her body just a tool for the job? Indeed, love is equally notable by its near-absence. Actually, this is among the things which I find most refreshing about her as a heroine: she’s not defined at all by traditionally feminine conceits like romantic relationships or family values. These tend to get shoehorned in far too often to action heroines, and most of the time (I admit, there are some exceptions), do little more than bring proceedings to a grinding halt, and get in the way of the fun stuff. This diversion of energy isn’t a problem with the Major: she had little or no interest in affairs of the heart. “Career oriented” doesn’t even begin to describe it.

The influences

The 1995 movie of Ghost in the Shell is not the first large-budget attempt at putting the “cyberpunk” world on the big screen. It was beaten to the punch, by a few months, by Johnny Mnemonic, an adaptation of a William Gibson short story, starring Keanu Reeves. The less said about it, probably the better, though coincidentally, Takeshi Kitano is in both it and the live-action Ghost. I’ll just leave you this sentence from another review: “After Henry Rollins is crucified by a fundamentalist Christian assassin played by Dolph Lundgren whose catchphrase is “Jesus time!” (AWESOME), Keanu and his sidekick Jane eventually hook up with the Lo-Teks, a gang of outlaws in the ruins of Newark led by Ice T and a cybernetic dolphin.” Yeah, Unsurprisingly, it was a critical flop then, and hasn’t exactly improved with age.

The reviews at the time of release for Ghost were stellar in comparison, though still mixed. It’s one of those films whose impact and relevance only becomes apparent over time. Like Blade Runner, you wake up one morning and suddenly go, “Holy shit, we’re living in that movie.” Okay, we may not quite yet be seeing the cyberization seen in Ghost; yet we’re getting there, in terms of the amount of time people spend interfaced into virtual worlds, from Facebook to Netflix. Consider this: 1989, when the original comic was published, was the same year Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web. Even by 1995, there were less than forty million users of the Internet world-wide, the majority in the United States, and just 23,500 websites. [Working eight hours a day, you could spend a minute on every website, and see the entire Internet in under seven weeks.] The relevant figures in 2017: 3.77 billion users and about a billion sites.

The film-makers who have acknowledged its influence include virtually all the heavy hitters of genre cinema: James Cameron, Steven Spielberg and, most obviously, the Wachowski brothers sisters siblings. When they pitched their idea for The Matrix to their producers, they showed them the Ghost in the Shell movie and said, “We want to do that for real.” Spielberg would make AI: Artificial Intelligence and Minority Report, reflecting ideas explored in Ghost, and his studio, Dreamworks, are behind the live-action version, having bought the rights all the way back in April 2009. Cameron provided a glowing quote for the DVD release, and the transference of personalities seen in Avatar seems to bear a debt to Shirow’s creation.

It’s a two-way street, naturally. Ghost was influenced by what had gone before, and it’s also notable for being a rare anime film co-funded by Japan and Western companies. The results straddle cultures and have stood the test of time better than most of its contemporaries, animated or live-action. It will be interesting to see whether the latest version proves to be so well-regarded and influential, more than two decades after it comes out.

Related posts

The art of Masamune Shirow

Note: some of the images below are not safe for work.

La Viuda Negra vs. Griselda Blanco: Telenovela vs. real-life

The young Griselda Blanco: real (left) and telenovela versions.

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“Art VAGUELY imitating life.”

It’s probably safe to say La Viuda Negra is “inspired” by the story of Griselda Blanco, rather than anything more. But there are aspects of the telenovela which are surprisingly accurate, especially in the early stages, before things begin diverging for dramatic purposes. [Note: of necessity, what follows will include major spoilers for the TV series] For example, Griselda did move to the city of Medellin with her mother at an early age, not long after the end of World War 2, and it does appear she was involved in criminal activities there, before even becoming a teenager in the mid-fifties. 

A focus of the early episodes sees Blanco joining a gang, which then kidnaps the scion of a rich local family. In the telenovela, this kick-starts her career, because the victim dies, and his father vows vengeance on Griselda, forcing her to go on the run as a young adult. The reality is perhaps even more astonishing, with her former lover, Charles Cosby, reporting that the kidnap and murder took place when Blanco was only eleven years old. After the boy’s parents refused to pay up, the frustrated gang gave her a revolver and challenged her to shoot him in the head. Challenge accepted…

It was around this time she also met her first husband, Carlos Trujillo. In real life, he was involved in forging immigration documents; she had three children with him, all of whom would become involved in the drug trade, and suffer violent ends. The same happened to Trujillo, whom Griselda had killed, shortly after they divorced at the end of the sixties. In La Viuda Negra, her first husband, Puntilla, is part of the kidnapping gang, who goes on the run with Griselda, and is killed by him in Episode 6, after betraying her. [This is kind of a theme through the TV series; if Ms. Blanco has serious trust issues as a result, it’s understandable!]

It’s with her second husband that her career as a drug queen really started to take off, both in reality and fiction – though the latter has Robayo operating over the border in Ecuador, where Griselda (Serradilla) takes refuge. They establish a pipeline to move their product from South America to the United States, using attractive women as mules. The TV version has her having high-heeled shoes built, with hidden compartments to hide the drugs. That seemed a very inefficient approach to me: really, how much could one person carry? The reality made more sense: Blanco actually developed and used specially-made corsets and other lingerie, capable of holding up to seven pounds of cocaine per person. Even in those days, that was worth about a million dollars.

In the TV series, there’s a diversion after they’re established in New York, as Italian Mafia kingpin, Enzo Vittoria, falls in love with Griselda, and abducts her for reasons of affection, despite her having previously shot and wounded him. Never one to leave a job unfinished, she shoots him again, on their enforced wedding day (Episode 19), and this time completes the job. [Should that count as another murdered husband? They technically weren’t married…] However, she gradually grows estranged from Robayo, not least over the upbringing of their son, Michael Corleone Blanco – yes, he was named that in real life too! – and kills him in Episode 26, just before being arrested by long-running DEA adversary, Norm Jones (Gamboa), after having relocated to Miami.

The truth is somewhat different. Vittoria appears pure invention, although DEA agent Bob Palumbo did spend more than a decade on the trail of Blanco. There was indeed a falling out between her and second husband, Alberto Bravo, ending in her killing him. However, this took place back in Colombia. She and her top killers, Humberto Quirana and Jorge ‘Rivi’ Ayala, went to meet Bravo in a parking lot; the resulting gun-battle left Bravo and six bodyguards dead, and Blanco wounded. Later in the seventies, she returned to Florida, rising to the top in a brutal reign of terror, culminating in an infamous double homicide at Dadeland Mall. Her network brought in as much as $80 million a month, but Palombo eventually got his woman in 1985.

So, jail on both sides. But this is where the stories really start to diverge. In reality, she served 13 years in New York for cocaine smuggling, then was shipped to Florida where worse trouble awaited. For hitman ‘Rivi’ had turned stool-pigeon, and with his testimony linking her to literally dozens of murders, the death penalty loomed large. However, his testimony was largely discredited after a bizarre scandal in which he was shown to have paid secretaries at the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office for phone sex. In the end, prosecutors had to settle for lesser charges; Blanco got 20 years, and was released after only seven, returning to Colombia at the end of her sentence in 2004. The day she left, ‘Rivi’ was stabbed eight times in Dade County jail.

The TV series compacts the nineteen years Blanco really spent behind bars, in two separate sentences, into one period in New York alone. These 18 episodes add additional, entirely spurious aspects such as Griselda being forced to engage in cage fights (!) with other inmates, or her being attacked by guards, and getting revenge by setting them on fire. There are a couple of aspects one might call ‘somewhat true’. There was a plan hatched to kidnap the son of John F. Kennedy and exchange him for Blanco, though it never came as close to success as depicted in the telenovela. And while it is true that a man struck up a relationship by writing to her while she was inside, Charles Cosby was not the undercover DEA agent, portrayed as “Tyler” in the TV version.

Certainly, there’s major dramatic license in Blanco’s departure from prison. Rather than just reaching the end of her sentence, there’s a dramatic escape from literally being in the electric chair [which is odd, since no-one has been executed in New York state since 1963, and no woman since Martha Jule Beck in 1951]. Using a drug which gives the impression of death, allows her gang to break her out by ambulance (Episode 44). From there she returns to Colombia, and only at this point, does Blanco cross paths with the most notorious drug-lord of them all, Pablo Escovar. However, it appears they knew each other far longer. Some sources say they were childhood friends, others that he was Griselda’s “great apprentice,” and there are even salacious whispers they were lovers.

So any connection to fact in the show has now evaporated entirely. By this point, the real Griselda Blanco was in her sixties, and suffering badly from the effects of her life of excess – according to reports, “Court records show Blanco was a drug addict who consumed vast quantities of ‘bazooka,’ a potent form of smokeable, unrefined cocaine… would force men and women to have sex at gunpoint, and had frequent bisexual orgies.” After her release, she apparently lived quietly in Medellin. But it wasn’t enough to save her from a violent end. In September 2012, she was killed outside a butcher’s shop – ironically, in a motorcycle drive-by, the style of assassination she had pioneered and which became one of her trademarks.

This is as good a place as any, to mention the remarkably straight-edge depiction of Blanco in the telenovela. Unlike the sex- and drug-fiend described above, teleGriselda never gets high on her own supply, and is strictly monogamous – when anyone can get past her trust issues, that is. That’s something which I also noticed about La Reina Del Sur and the Mexican TV version was radically different from the American one, where the heroine was not averse to powdering her nose now and again. It’s an odd version of morality, considering how there’s apparently no problem with her being directly and indirectly responsible for the deaths of dozens of people. “Yeah, but they were all bad,” to borrow a line from True Lies.

In the television version, however, she returns to business back on home turf. But there’s a problem, in the shape of Otalvaro. He’s another Colombian drug-runner, who holds a grudge against Blanco because she ordered the execution of his niece in her New York days – albeit for business rather than personal reasons. He teams up with Susana, another character apparently created for the show. She’s a Florida real-estate agent, who becomes part of Griselda’s crew, and is also a lesbian who has a long-time secret affection for her. When her hopes are crushed, she turns bitter, joining forces with Otalvaro, and tangentially, Escobar. Otalvaro’s daughter, Karla, meanwhile, goes the other way, falling for Michael Blanco after Otalvaro kidnaps him; she helps him escape and becomes part of Griselda’s crew.

In truth, these later episodes are less interesting, largely because the focus is so diluted – it gets away from Griselda, rather than focusing on her, as it should since she’s the most interesting character. I haven’t even mentioned Silvio, who betrays Griselda and tries to steal a submarine (!) packed with cocaine. He then gets miffed after she orders the death of his girlfriend, and begins his own, independent plot to take revenge on the family. Also still rattling around Medellin in the later stages is Jones, the series’s version of Bob Palumbo. He isn’t just chasing after her, he also ends up falling in love and prepared to do anything for her. Throw in his son and a renegade colleague, Garcia, prepared to go to any lengths to capture Griselda, and you’ll understand why it feels the writers are going for volume over quality in their storyline elements by the end.

But it’s at the end the story diverts furthest from reality. Instead of having Griselda gunned down in the street by an unknown adversary, she and her longest lasting and most faithful ally, Richi (Román), are trapped in a cold-storage room. Rather than surrender, or be captured by their enemies, legal or otherwise, they agree to a mutual suicide pact. The screen goes black, we hear the sound of gunfire, and the series ends. But mere mortality is no match for the demands of audience ratings. And so, two years later, the show began its second season, with a further 63 episodes detailing the further adventures of Griselda Blanco. The fictional version of the character appears to be even harder to kill than her real-life inspiration.

We’ll get round to watching that series in a bit, but after this 81-part marathon, I’m inclined to take a bit of a break! It wasn’t a bad show, and never became a chore: Serradilla is solid in the central role, and I also enjoyed Gamboa’s performance. But as noted, it did appear to lose focus as it went on, and did appear to be over-stretching its material. However, it will provide a useful template, against which other adaptations can be measured. For there are at least two competing Hollywood projects in various stages of production: one starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and the other, Jennifer Lopez. As and when those arrive on our screen, we can see how they compare to the extended version, offered by this telenovela.

Star: Ana Serradilla, Juan Pablo Gamboa, Julián Román, Ramiro Meneses

“My name is Alice. And I remember everything”: Re-viewing Resident Evil 1-5

With the sixth (and final?) installment in everyone’s #1 zombie-killing video-game adaptation franchise now in cinemas, it seemed a good time to go back and re-view the previous five installments, stretching back almost fifteen years. The original film came out so long ago, I wasn’t actually married. Damn. Now, however, I am. Which is why, one weekend in January, Chris and I ordered out for pizza, ensured the pillows were adequately fluffed and settled in on the couch for a marathon of maximum Umbrella mayhem. How have they stood the test of time? Here are our current takes on the series, preceded by summaries of our original reviews and a link to the full thing. But first, let’s warm up and refresh our memory with the trailers:

Resident Evil (2002)

“You’re all going to die down here!”

What we said then (3½ stars). “Not as good as it could have been, with even the most undemanding viewer able to imagine improvements. Yet, as an action/SF/horror film goes, it’s not bad at all, with very little slack or let-up. The virus is released in the first two minutes, and it’s pretty much non-stop from there on, with plenty going on. Jovovich looks the part, and the final shot has me anticipating the sequel, in a kind of Evil Dead 2 way, with her character getting totally medieval on the zombies’ asses. We can but hope.”

What we say now. This has stood up very well in 15 years, not least because it’s more practical effects than primitive CGI e.g. the zombie dogs. It’s worth remembering that, when it came out, zombies were not in fashion. This was before The Walking Dead, before World War Z; heck, it was even before the Dawn of the Dead remake. Indeed, it’s 40 minutes here before the first zombie shows up, and another 10 before Alice, as we know her, is born. Still, Rain Ocampo (Michelle Rodriguez) stands in well during the early going, the character being perfectly suited to Rodriguez’s sneer. She also gets the best line in the film. After fighting off an early corpse, thanks to Rain’s torrent of automatic fire, J.D. says “I shot her five times. How was she still standing?”, to which Rain replies, “Bitch isn’t standing now. ”

At this point, the makers were stating it was a “prequel” to the games, with Jovovich in effect playing the role of Jill Valentine. Not so sure about that, given subsequent flims, but it’s hard to deny the influence of the final sequence: Alice waking up in a hospital bed, to discover the zombie apocalypse, was also used in both 28 Days Later and the first ep of TWD. There was an alternate ending shot, with her going into Umbrella HQ, but I’m glad they went with the one used, which has an absolutely spectacular final shot, zooming back from her over a devastated city. The makers certainly extracted their bang for every penny of the $35 million budget, and the industrial soundtrack, including both Front Line Assembly and Nine Inch Nails, is perfect. Current rating: upgraded to **** and our seal of approval.

Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004)

“I’m good – but I’m not THAT good.”

What we said then (4 stars). “There seemed to be two kinds of reviews for this: those who ‘get’ what’s intended here, and those who clearly don’t… How you react will likely be similarly split; given you’re on this site, I suspect the odds are in favour of Apocalypse, for its strong intuitive grasp of the ingredients necessary in a good action heroine, and its delivery thereof. Sure, the plot is some way short of perfect, and more/better-filmed fights would have been welcome, but the makers do a sound job of distracting you from the flaws, and there’s enough worthwhile stuff that will stick in your mind, to put it in the top quarter of this summer’s popcorn flicks.”

What we say now. If the original movie was Alien, this one is Aliens, upping the ante largely by vastly multiplying the number of enemies. The scope here is much broader: instead of the claustrophobic feel of a small group in an underground complex, it takes place across an entire city, and it’s not just Alice vs. zombies, she’s also taking on the human soldiers of Umbrella. Since she is the sole intact survivor of part one, we get a slew of new characters, including two from the game, in Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory) and Carlos Olivera (Oded Fehr); the former is particularly iconic in her costume. There’s also L.J. (Mike Epps), who adds occasional comic moments almost entirely missing from the original; not sure if that’s a plus or not.

Alice is now a fully-fledged and hardcore heroine, apparent right from her arrival, crashing through a church window on her motorbike, and capable of snapping her own dislocated finger back into place, with little more than a roll of the eyes. It’s a near-constant stream of action, offering a relentless adrenaline buzz to the viewer, although less adrenaline would have been welcome during Alice’s final fight with nemesis, which degenerates into a choppily-edited mess. And, really: who decided it was a good idea to go through a cemetery during a zombie apocalypse? Still, between Alice and Jill, this remains a two-for-one action heroine special, and can only be appreciated as such. Current rating: holds steady at ****.

Resident Evil: Extinction (2007)

“Good thing I like a challenge.”

What we said then (3 stars). “S’ok. Mulcahy is no stranger to franchise cinema, having done the first couple of Highlander films, and the harsh desert lighting and exterior landscape is a nice contrast to the usual, dark, claustrophobic approach adopted by most Z-flicks. His experience is of particular use in the action sequences, where he does a better job of avoiding the cinematic excesses, in which Alexander Witt indulged, too frequently, last time up. The script is merely workmanlike: it feels too much like a series of cool set-pieces joined in the editing bay, rather than springing organically from the storyline.”

What we say now. I was confused by the opening, and wondered if I’d accidentally put the first film back in the DVD player. For I hadn’t seen this since its cinematic release, and it starts off by re-running the very beginning. Once that was established, we get Ian Glen as the villain – and he’s much needed, offering us a real human “villain” for the first time, and giving Umbrella a face of evil in Dr. Isaacs. The main problem is, Alice has now been imbued with superpowers. Speed and strength, I don’t mind, but telekinesis and the ability to block fire? What is this, X-Men: Extinction? Though clearly the main influence here is Mad Max, right down to Alice’s post-apocalypse chic of a long coat – plus, for no real reason beyond coolness, stockings and suspenders.

This film also absorbs the modern fondness for “fast zombies”, with the main set-piece taking on a slew of Umbrella-enhanced sprinters. While decent, and with an impressive depiction of Las Vegas, it’s likely placed too early in the movie, as nothing thereafter comes close. The only other sequence which might stick in the mind is an attack on a convoy of survivors by zombiefied crows, so I guess you can add The Birds to the list of influences here. I did like the “Pit O’ Millas”, the discards resulting from Dr. Isaacs’s experiments, and am surprised it took them three movies to use White Rabbit on the soundtrack, given its obvious Alice-ness. But Claire Redfield is disappointingly bland, and Alice’s increasing abilities cause way more problems than they solve. Current rating: dropped to **½, though likely a little above that, rather than above.

10 Iconic Sequences from Resident Evil 1-5

These are my picks for the most franchise-defining set pieces from each film. I aimed for two from each, but #3 was so weak, it could only manage a single entry (and that, barely!), so I pulled in an extra one from #4. These are not necessarily the “best” moments. For example, Alice’s fight against the zombie dogs in the original film, is memorable more because it’s the first time we’ve seen her kick ass. It was also that moment in the trailer which sold me on the movie. But having watched all five films in the last 24 hours, these are what stick in my mind.

  1. Alice enters the church (Resident Evil: Apocalypse)
  2. Alice vs. Zombie Dogs (Resident Evil)
  3. Million Milla March (Resident Evil: Afterlife)
  4. Alice vs. Jill (Resident Evil: Retribution)
  5. Tokyo sequence (Resident Evil: Retribution)
  6. Running down that wall (Resident Evil: Apocalypse)
  7. The laser corridor (Resident Evil)
  8. Roof-top escape (Resident Evil: Afterlife)
  9. Alice and Claire vs. the Axman (Resident Evil: Afterlife)
  10. Las Vegas ambush (Resident Evil: Extinction)

The play-list below includes all ten of these. Please enjoy. :)

Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010)

“Do you know who I am?”

What we said then (3 stars). “There’s way too much moving about in underground darkness here, and elements are lobbed in from the video game, which make no sense in the context of the movie… Nor is there much feeling of threat to the characters, who cheat death with blithe abandon – the sense of “anyone can die, at any time” present in the original is all but gone… [But] the action, is, as usual for the series, solid – meaning this is, overall, just worth the 92 minutes of your time it will take up.”

What we say now. This saw the return of Paul W.S. Anderson to the series, and wisely, opts rapidly to discard the angle which saw our heroine gaining ever-increasing superpowers. I totally loved the attack on Umbrella HQ by multiple Alice clones – what I call the Million Milla March – which lifts copiously from both The Matrix and the original Aeon Flux animations. Indeed, The Matrix is a source in other ways, not least Arnold Wesker (Shawn Roberts), who clearly is inspired heavily by Agent Smith. This and the other lifts here are a bit too obvious to work: the zombie dogs v2.0 are straight out of John Carpenter’s The Thing, and obnoxious asshole Bennett Sinclair (Kim Coates) is likely too close to Steve Marcus in the Dawn of the Dead remake. Even the use of a prison as a sanctuary from zombies was previously done a few years earlier, in The Walking Dead comics.

I note the walking pace of Evil‘s zombies continues to accelerate, here without any Umbrella tampering. But generally, this is on most solid ground when working with its own content, such as the Axman, who makes a ferocious foe for Claire and Alice (despite far too much slo-mo!). It was the first of the series to be made in 3D, and a lot of the shots used by Anderson make that very obvious, though I didn’t mind that too much. For someone supposedly back to being human again, Alice still seems to be insanely competent, best illustrated in an impressive escape off a roof-top infested with zombies. It even ends on the most hopeful note of any of the series so f… Er, never mind, scratch that. My mistake. Current rating: Upped to ***½; this was rather more impressive than I remembered it.

Resident Evil: Retribution (2012)

“Congratulations. You’re officially a badass.”

What we said then (4 stars). “This is the best Resident Evil movie in eight years. It may not be anything significant in the plot department. There are not hidden depths or great moments of character revelation. But it does contain entirely acceptable amounts of Milla Jovovich Kicking Righteous Ass, and succeeds as an entertainment spectacle, almost entirely due to this. Though actually, this is almost a “greatest hits” package, especially in terms of participants.”

What we say now. Feels like Anderson has largely given up in terms of trying to attract new fans, with a start that’s deliberately confusing, from an opening that plays out in reverse, through Alice’s new suburban life. It also introduces, without explanation, game elements such as characters Leon Kennedy and Ada Wong, and the Las Plagas parasites. But if you’ve been along for the ride since the beginning, this is a blast. It brings in new influences, most obviously Aliens (Alice protecting a pseudo-daughter) and Blade Runner (Ada telling her, “You were one of the 50 basic models”). It’s good to see favourite characters from earlier films return, such as Rain Ocampo or Carlos Olivera, and the cloning concept allows for nice variations. Not all Rains, for example, are on Alice’s side, though you know the concept of our heroine as a happy home-maker is not one built to last.

The scenario, involving a giant Umbrella testing area of different environments, seems a bit contrived, but there was something very similar in the Resident Evil: Underworld novel. I’ll let it slide, since this offers scope for a host of spectacular set-pieces. In terms of pure hand-to-hand fighting, the Tokyo sequence may be close to the best in the series, but the film likely sprays more rounds of ammunition around than any other entry too. It’s also great to see Alice go toe-to-toe against Jill Valentine, harking back to the “But I’m not that good” comment from Apocalypse. In some ways, the gap between the games and the movies has never been greater, with this abandoning almost all creepiness for loud, rambunctious battles. However, this is so solidly entertaining, I’d be hard pushed to call that any kind of a bad thing. Current rating: retains every bit of its ****.

So, what have we learned? Generally, to answer the question asked in the intro, the films have stood the test of time surprisingly well. Video-game adaptations remain problematic for Hollywood (Assassin’s Creed says hello), and the longevity and sheer number of Resident Evil films is almost unsurpassed. I think it’s because Anderson and his team have never felt under an obligation to be “true” to the games. While that may have alienated a chunk of the core fans, it has allowed the makers to focus on a more important task: making entertaining films, for there are aspects of the games which simply would not work on-screen, such as the puzzle-solving. They were also wise to concentrate heavily on practical effects, which tend to last better than CGI.

Not to say there haven’t been mis-steps – the mid-series diversion giving Alice super-powers would be the worst of these. But at its best – and I’d order the series #5, #2, #1, #4, #3, from top to bottom – it is excellent entertainment, that looks far slicker than many films with far bigger budgets, and the focus throughout has generally been on what matters. Which is: a great heroine who kicks ass, with (The Hunger Games please note) no love-triangles and virtually zero romantic interest. It seems Milla Jovovich is certain the sixth movie will be her final chapter, at least. If so, it seems only appropriate to finish by saying: So long, Milla – and thanks for all the mayhem.

2017 in Action Heroine Films

It’s always interesting to look back at the previous year’s preview, and see what happened – which films came out that didn’t live up to expectations? And which ones went above and beyond? Looking at the 2016 list, the films being anticipated included Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, The Huntsman: Winter’s War and Ghostbusters. Bit of a mixed bag there, shall we say, and let’s leave it at that! But 2017 looks to be opening brightly, at least, with a first month which gives us the latest entries in two of the longest running action heroine franchises: Underworld and Resident Evil. Let’s take a look at those, and the other potentially interesting movies for the year ahead. Release dates are for North America and are entirely subject to change at the whim of those involved.

47 Meters Down (TBA)

Already out in some territories under the title of In The Deep, this appears to be significantly inspired by The Shallows. Except, where it had one swimmer trapped in the ocean and menaced by sharks, this ups the ante, and has two. Sisters, played by Mandy Moore and Claire Holt, are in a shark cage which separates from its boat and plunges to the sea-bottom. Never mind their delivery as a buffet to the predators, they also have less than an hour of air left. This was originally going to go straight to home release in August, but the plan is now for a theatrical release this summer.

Annihilation (TBA)

“A biologist signs up for a dangerous, secret expedition where the laws of nature don’t apply.” Directed by Alex Garland, it’s based on the SF book by Jeff VanderMeer. If the film holds true to the book, the four-person expedition will be all-female, and looking at the cast list, seems they’ll be played by Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez and Tessa Thompson, which has the makings of a fine action-heroine cast. I started reading the synopsis of the book on Wikipedia, and it certainly seemed highly intriguing, but I stopped because… y’know, spoilers.

The Coldest City (July 28)

Based on a graphic novel, as shown on the right, the film was originally on the slate for this year, this stars Charlize Theron as an MI-5 agent, sent to East Berlin as the Eastern Bloc teeters on the edge of collapse. Per Wikipedia, her mission is “to take down a ruthless espionage ring that has just killed an undercover agent for reasons unknown. She is ordered to cooperate with Berlin station chief David Percival, and the two form an uneasy alliance, unleashing their full arsenal of skills in pursuing a threat that jeopardizes the West’s entire intelligence operation.”

Ghost in the Shell (March 31)

There’ll be plenty of coverage here of the GitS universe nearer the time – I’m currently going through Stand Alone Complex on Hulu. The production is not without its share of controversy, due to Scarlett Johansson’s casting as the supposedly Japanese Major, but personally, casting Takeshi Kitano gets you quite a few points. Director Rupert Sanders gave us the previously mentioned The Huntsman: Winter’s War, so I’m fairly certain this one is going to look good, at the very least (and the trailer seems to prove that). Will it be any more than eye-candy?

The Girl With All the Gifts (TBA)

This British post-apocalypse zombie film has already been released there, but has not yet been fixed to a date in the US. Its focus is Melanie, part of a small subset of the infected who have retained human faculties such as intelligence and the ability to communicate, while still being – in the immortal words of Shaun’s mom – “a bit bitey”. She forms a bond with a scientist researching a potential cure, and the pair leave the complex on a trip through the blasted and highly dangerous landscape which London has become.

The Godmother (TBA)

Principal photography on this biopic of Colombia drug-queen, Griselda Blanco, starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, apparently began in November 2015. So I’m a little surprised we haven’t heard anything about it since. It’s certainly not the first such effort – we already wrote about telenovela La Viuda Negra (our full review will be out at the beginning of March). And, apparently after being spurned for the lead here, it was announced in August that Jennifer Lopez will play Blanco in an HBO movie.

Kidnap (March 10)

“Vengeance is a Mother,” is the tag-line here, with Halle Berry starring as a mother who will stop at nothing to free her kidnapped son. There may be distribution problems here, as studio Relativity has been staggering from one financial crisis to another, with complete liquidation still entirely possible. Figuring that out will likely determine its fate: this was originally on the slate for December, but has been pushed back, and even the March date remains tentative. 

Red Sparrow (November 10)

This one is still apparently in pre-production, and has been rattling around since at least mid-2013. It’s based on a novel by Jason Matthew, about Dominika Egorova, a former ballerina who becomes a spy after an injury ends her dance career. She’s sent to get close to a CIA agent, and uncover the identity of the mole he has working inside the Russian system. Egorova is played by Jennifer Lawrence, and it reunites her with the Hunger Games director Francis “No relation” Lawrence, after Darren Arnonofsky left the project in early 2014.

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (January 27)

Let’s raise a glass to Alice, who has been kicking zombie ass for close to fifteen years now. This is supposedly the final dance for Milla Jovovich – but I imagine the Resident Evil franchise will continue in some form or other, for as long as they’re profitable [I’ve been reading the RE novels for an upcoming feature, and there’s plenty of potential content there which could be mined]. After a couple of disappointing entries, the last film, Retribution, marked a return to OTT fun, so hopefully Milla will get the send-off she deserves here. 

Scorched Earth (TBA)

“A bounty hunter named Atticus Gage tracks down criminals in a post-apocalyptic Earth.” So what’s it doing here? Turns out that Atticus is actually a woman, and will be played by MMA star Gina Carano, who already made a solid impression with both Haywire and In the Blood, as well as her supporting role in Deadpool. Not much more known to this point, except that it’s set after an environmental disaster has reduced the population by billions. John Hannah will also star in the movie, as Gage’s mentor and confidant, Doc.

Underworld: Blood Wars (January 6)

First out of the gates for 2017 is the fifth entry in the Underworld series, though it has already come out in much of Europe [German friend Dieter, a fan of the series in general, gave it his thumbs-up]. The premise? Vampire death dealer Selene (Kate Beckinsale) continues her struggle against the Lycan clan and the Vampires that betrayed her, with both sides trying to use the blood of her and her daughter to become Corvinus Strain hybrids. After hiding her daughter, Selene and her allies attempt to end the eternal war between Lycans and Vampires, though Selene must take a risk that may cost her her life.

Unforgettable (April 21)

“Where love ends, madness begins…” That’s the tagline on this, which looks exactly like the sort of trashy potboiler we appreciate as a guilty pleasure. Katherine Heigl plays an ex-wife, who becomes convinced that her husband’s new flame (Rosario Dawson) is the only thing standing between her and a reconciliation. As such, the obstacle must be disposed of, by any means necessary. If this does not include a lengthy and hellacious brawl between the two female leads, I will be sorely disappointed. The trailer appears to suggest I won’t be!

Unlocked (March 17)

Another holdover from 2016; by its release, more than two years will have passed since the first pic. Here’s the synopsis: Once the CIA’s best interrogator, Alice Racine (Noomi Rapace) failed to unlock a prisoner in time, prompting her to leave the field. When a suspect believed to have direct knowledge of an imminent terrorist attack is apprehended, Alice is called back in. Successful in ‘unlocking’ the suspect, she gets a call from an old colleague and realizes it’s a set-up. Alice narrowly escapes, and finds herself on the run. as she searches for those responsible and tries to prevent a deadly biological attack on the city. 

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (July 21)

Luc Besson will always have a place in our hearts: he gave us Milla Jovovich and Natalie Portman. This seems closest to The Fifth Element, depicting a massive, sprawling futuristic universe. Per the official synopsis, “Valerian and Laureline embark on a mission to the breathtaking intergalactic city of Alpha, an ever-expanding metropolis comprised of thousands of different species from all four corners of the universe. Alpha’s seventeen million inhabitants have converged over time, uniting their talents, technology and resources for the betterment of all. Unfortunately, not everyone on Alpha shares in these same objectives.”

Wonder Woman (June 2)

Last, but certainly not least, is probably the most important action heroine film of the year, being the first major comic-book adaptation with a female lead since… Well, depending on your definition of “major”, likely Electra or Catwoman. Neither of which exactly ended well, did they? If this succeeds, expect the doors to open for a whole slew of others; if it doesn’t, then the spigot could be turned off almost immediately. The signals have been mixed, with rumblings of problems on-set, but there’s no denying the trailer got me excited for this one. Fingers crossed…

Girls With Guns Calendars 2017

Welcome to our sixth annual round-up of girls with guns calendars, just in time for your Christmas shopping delight, since we’re posting this on Cyber Monday. Below, you’ll find prices (excluding shipping), sample images and links to purchase for all the calendars we could find. We’ll add more if we find them, feel free to email us if you know of any others.

TACGIRLS

TacGirls.com – $16.95

“2017 is our 10th Anniversary and we believe our best calendar ever! The Tactical Girls® 2017 gun calendar starts in January of 2017 and brings you 13 months of hot girls with some of the world’s most exotic weaponry in realistic tactical settings. It includes gun specifications and trivia from military, law enforcement and firearms history and, of course, the beautiful Tactical Girls Calendar Girls. Hollywood femme fatales inspire the girls and guns photo shoots for our calendars. However, the weapons we use are from our extensive armory of legal, licensed, fully functioning, full-automatic, class 3 machine guns, submachine guns, sniper rifles and assault rifles in use by elite members of military units and law enforcement agencies around the world.”

LIBERTY BELLES

LibertyBellesUSA.com – $16.99, through Mil-Spec Monkey

“The new 2017 Liberty Belles Calendar provides a sexy twist on the world of special operations forces. The sexy women of Liberty Belles are adorned in tactical gear and custom fit bikini uniforms to showcase anyone from US Navy Seals to US Army Rangers. The calendar provides 12 months of action packed shots plus BONUS Pages that specializes in portraying female tactical operators from a sexy perspective. The Liberty Belles calendar also features a Pull-Out 12″ x 18″ Poster! A portion of the profits from the sale of the Liberty Belles calendar is donated to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation in support of our fallen warriors.”

ALEX SMITS

Alex-Smits.com – $20.00

Alex has been writing about action heroines for as long as I have, and is also a photographer. This is his tenth anniversary edition! Has it really been that long? Here’s his 8.5″ x 11″ wall calendar featuring twelve months of ballistic beauties.

GUNS AND GIRLS

GunsAndGirlsCalendar.com – $19.95

“Back for 2017 with its cult like following the Guns & Girls calendar is a true classic, featuring 16 months of awesome firearms with pin-up models. This big DELUXE (17″ x 28″ when hung up) calendar also features a large calendar grid, making it a breeze to keep track of your important dates. Each calendar also includes a bonus poster, that is also a second 12 month calendar giving you two calendars for the price of one!”

MAGPUL

Magpul.com – $TBA

This one doesn’t seem to be on the market yet, but the picture on the right was described as being “Behind the scenes at the #magpul 2017 calendar shoot!” So it seems likely to be only a matter of time… Check out the Magpul site through the link above for updates.

GUNS AND CAMO

GunsAndCamo.com – $13.95

HOT SHOTS

HotShotsCalendar.com – $16.95

“For a tenth glorious year the iconic Hot Shots Calendar returns! The Calendar continues to celebrate all things military, supporting the hard work and bravery of the armed forces who undergo dangerous work on a daily basis. As ever, the Hot Shots Calendar has the primary goal of raising money and awareness for Help For Heroes, a charity supporting the sacrifices of soldiers in the UK and the USA. Taking on our new theme, ‘Operation Desert Fox’, our models showcase some of the finest weaponry and equipment available to create some eye-catching images. We welcomed back costume designer Caleb Crye who yet again has created a series of stunning outfits for our models. Shot on a premium location in Arizona, we are delighted to welcome back the amazing Holly Peers, Rosie Jones, Kelly Hall and Emma Glover as well as some new faces. These include ex-marine and American Shannon Ihrkel; the tattooed Kayla Cadorna; and surfer Laura Crane.”

ZAHAL GIRLS

zahal.org – $21.90

“0% Gun Bunnies, 100% IDF Veterans. It’s finally ready! The Zahal Girls 2017 calendars are ready and waiting to be shipped all around the world! The 2017 Zahal Girls calendar features all of our girls (Lovie, Natasha, Orin, Shiran, Sherel, Esti & Shir) with Israeli & US made rifle accessories & tactical gear. All girls are IDF veterans that served in combat positions such as: Infantry & Infantry shooting instructors. The calendar is made out of 14 high quality chromo paper sheets, all joined together with a metal spiral, a small hook at the top (for hanging) and printed with high quality ink HP printers.”

RED BUBBLE

RedBubble.com – $28.00

  • Tough wire binding and hanger
  • Stunningly sharp digital printing
  • Start the year with the month of your choice
  • 200gsm satin art paper with a tougher cover

WOMEN OF ARMAGEDDON

WomenOfArmageddon.com – $TBA

After five straight seasons of calendarage (is that a word?), they’ve put their project on hold for the year, but we’ll keep this one around for now. Keep an eye on the site and/or their Facebook page for updates from creator Michael Zinn. You can also read the interview we did with Michael, if you want more information on the overall concept.