Femme Fatale: Brigid O’Shaughnessy

In Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, made into the film noir classic of the same name, we are initially introduced to Brigid O’Shaughnessy as Miss Wonderly. A truly wonderful name.

O’Shaughnessy is revealed to be a black widow, which provides us with a different type of femme fatale. Our other femme fatales may be alluring and attractive, but this one is all of that and hiding so much more. She is smart, dangerous and as capable as the men. In the cases of the men who fall victim to her, she is more capable. To Sam Spade, she is attractive, but ultimately punished for her sins.

O’Shaughnessy provides an interesting contrast to the other women in the story. There is Effie the ever obedient secretary and Iva, the widow of Spade’s partner.

Unlike the ending of other femme fatales, O’Shaughnessy is defeated in a way that allows Spade to continue with his life. Spade’s partner Archer is not so lucky and joins the ranks of other femme fatale victims like Walter Neff in Double Indemnity, providing us with a different interpretation of the femme fatale.






Agent Carter

Agent CarterAs the second season of Agent Carter draws to a close, I start to realise that I have been subject to a story that stretches beyond super villains, mobsters, spies and corruption. Although, to be honest, I must have been distracted by all the Marvel superhero connections.

In season one, Agent Carter was a marginalised agent working secretly for Howard Stark while also finding herself marginalised by the male agents. Season two has taken a different approach with the characters of Whitney Frost and Jason Wilkes. Issues of gender have been enhanced with race and social status. The aptly named zero matter, which already exists in the Marvel universe, has been used to good effect in the story of characters who find themselves restricted by social conventions and given opportunities to subvert morality under the influence of the unknown, unimaginable and uncontrollable power of zero matter, which for most of the series consisted of Whitney Frost using black goo to absorb people.

Having a show with a main female character leads to an inevitable marginalisation of the show. The fact that it is a period drama, doesn’t help, especially when it is going to be compared to Agents of Shield which is more directly connected to the Avengers movies.

A better comparison is the Marvel shows on Netflix, Daredevil, with a male main character and Jessica Jones, with a female main character. While Daredevil gets a higher status because of the familiarity that may exist because of the less than successful Ben Affleck film or a hugely successful five decades of comics, does that really account for the show’s success in relation to Jessica Jones?

The issues of female characters on TV (and in film for that matter) continues to be of concern. Just look at Wonder Woman in Batman vs Superman. Sure she is going to get her own film, but she still needs to be introduced by Batman and Superman just as Superman needs a little helping hand from the cinematic successes of Batman. In Agent Carter, the writers and producers have taken a more proactive approach to the situation of gender and race in the setting of the 1950s.

Whitney Frost is striving against objectification while also absorbing the attention and compliments of men (when she isn’t literary absorbing men). Jason Wilkes is intangible for most of the series. His ability to make a physical impact reduced to nothing and occasionally become completely invisible and disappearing altogether. A little being of Richard Wright influence there? Probably a little too heavy for superhero show. Which brings us to the al important question of whether dealing with such weighty issues adds to the entertainment of the show and whether it should be renewed.

Why it shouldn’t be renewed is easy. This series does what other series don’t do. After the first Captain America film, it is no longer directly connected the cinematic franchise. Sure, it could be made relevant, but if one thing is being made clear with the Agents of Shield TV show, if the show can’t fit in with the film, it won’t. There have been little attempts to even suggest that the film could connect to the show. I mean, Fury appeared in the Age of Ultron, why not Agent Coulson? Well, there was that whole ‘Coulson got killed’ plot point to explain from the first Avengers film.

Why Agent Carter should be renewed is more difficult. Should the show be renewed just because it is doing something that no other show is doing? Part of me says yes, but if it can’t attract the viewers then maybe people aren’t ready for the ideas or the ideas aren’t being presented in an appropriately appealing way. Do we need difficult issues presented in an appealing way? Kinda yes. In order to introduce difficult ideas, they have to be presented in an accessible manner. Sure they are difficult but people won’t seek difficult ideas without motivation. Why would they?

When is Suicide Squad in theatres?

You could hardly be mistaken for thinking that the Suicide Squad movie was being released soon. We have front covers of Empire magazine, trailers, interviews, the whole thing that hasn’t even happened for the Star Wars movie. We haven’t even got a proper Captain America: Civil War trailer yet and it is released a whole four months before Suicide Squad. That’s right, the release date for Suicide Squad is still August 5th 2016.

Maybe it’s a Halloween thing? Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn is certainly the belle of the ball at the moment. Jared Leto’s Joker is probably the second most used costume this Halloween behind Harley Quinn. Whoever is selling those funky looking shoes, ripped fishnets and baseball bats are making a killing this year. Sales of white face make-up have probably gone through the roof.

So what about the film? We have a full 3 minute trailer which is all about getting the gang together without any sense of why we have a trailer so far ahead of the release date.

At which point does interest in the film turn into boredom at waiting? With another ten months to wait, we shall see.

The recnt news has been close up images of Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Killer Croc. Now that would be an impressive Halloween costume, but I suppose fishnets and short shorts have a distinctive advantage over a scaly cannibal. What I am waiting for is some action sequences. We’ve seen pimped out Will Smith, guys with guns, helicopters and goat headed man and panda man shooting, but not too much else. Are we going to get more plot details or clips of action sequences in another couple of months?

Maybe we’ll have some clarification on David Ayer’s suggestion that this will “Comic book movie 2.0” rather than fighting aliens. I was really excited about the film, now I have a hazy sense of interest in the film. Let’s see what happens in another six months.

In the meantime, you can see the new images over at Empire.

Spectre: What are we hoping for?

It’s a Bond film, so we need to start off the staples.

  • A good Bond girl. And what makes a good Bond Girl? Well, firstly, no screamers. Sorry Stacy Sutton from A View to a Kill, you might have been a Playboy pin-up, but you were a poor Bond girl. She need to be able to hold her own with Bond, push him around a bit and be happy to play. I always like a Bond girl villain, distinguishable from the Bond girl by the fact she is bad and usually ends up dead. Hello Xenia Onatopp.
  • A car chase with an Aston Martin. Skyfall spoiled us with the DB5 and it would be too much to ask to have it back indefinitely, so next best thing is a new Aston Martin.
  • Great locations. We accept that rainy London is going to play a part. I can’t see Bond down on Hyde Park in the sun. Instead we want tropical locations, because clearly the sun never shines in England.
  • Secret organisations. Is there any point being a secret agent if you can’t find out secret stuff? Obviously not. SPECTRE, the Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion, is great. Looking forward to being introduced to a classic.
  • A great Bond villain. There have been good ones, Blofeld of old, Goldfinger, Trevelyn and there have been bad ones. Remember when Jonathan Pryce was the villainous newspaper man Elliot Carver? I know, I’ve tried to forget as well.
  • The essential Bond characters. We have a new M, Miss Moneypenny, Q and Tanner (Felix is around somewhere). All the gang are back together, now let’s use them without killing them off.

Beyond the Bond formula, what else can we expect and what else do we want?

  • I’d like the beginning of more encounters with Spectre and possibly an origin for Blofeld or a transition to Blofeld. Somewhere along the line, someone forgot Bond films constitute the longest running film franchise. Gone are the days when we were uncertain whether there will be another Bond film. You are going to make another one. So stop planning one film at a time and get with long story. Before film goers were more demanding with regards to narratives, it was easier to string films together. Now, we want a larger more complete film. Unfortunately, this means that you get a secret organisation like Quantum and you kill it in essentially one film. At the start of Quantum of Solace they are everywhere. By the end, we seem to got over that one.
  • Some emotional time with Bond. He need to have a hard time with something, but nothing too much or it gets irrelevant. We need somewhere between the love of his life has been killed and he packed the wrong cufflinks.
  • A complete film. Let’s have a clear threat. It doesn’t need to be apocalyptic (I’m thinking Moonraker extinction of the human race) but it needs to be immediate (starting a war between a couple of countries no one cares about is not immediate). Then resolve the threat. You’ve got two and a half hours. That should be more than enough time.
  • Ohh, and one last one. Don’t kill off Christoph Waltz. That would be a Jack Nicholas in Batman or Harvey Dent in Dark Knight error.

All we need to do now is wait for 26th October and see how we do. Sorry America, you have a little longer to wait.

Interested to see how we did? Check the post-film update.

Kaboom on the big screen: Flops, Disasters and Bombs

Everyone loves a disaster, except when you’ve paid fifteen bucks to sit in an uncomfortable room with too much trash on the floor and too many people eating too much popcorn. If you want to know the top ten box office bombs, check out Wikipedia, they even have the contentious box office revenue formula that means a film loses money if it takes in more money than it cost.
Unfortunately for films, the bottom line is the dollar sign. There are few other art forms when the revenue made is such an important sign of success or failure. It is only really films where profits are advertised so freely. Books can be bestsellers and music top of the charts without specific details of profits being advertised.
As a concept, the blockbuster throws millions of dollars at a movie with the expectation that a mere 25% profit will run into hundreds of millions of dollars. When that profit doesn’t appear we have some of the most interesting cultural and creative scenarios around. We have Disney disasters, good ideas poorly delivered, comic book catastrophes, Tarantino pet-projects and supernatural martial art KOs.

47 Ronin (2013)
A big budget supernatural martial arts film set in the time of the samurai starring Keanu Reeves. What is most interesting here is the box office fluctuations of Keanu Reeves. The year before 47 Ronin, Reeves starred in the smaller budget Man of Tai Chi which only took in a fifth of its budget. The next year, the budget of 47 Ronin was ten times Man of Tai Chi. The year after 47 Ronin, Reeves starred in John Wick. Obviously someone learned a lesson and with a budget a 10% the size of 47 Ronin and John Wick made double 47 Ronin.

Continue reading “Kaboom on the big screen: Flops, Disasters and Bombs”

Blindspot: Changing the Trend

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog called I weep for women in crime shows. Since then I have been keeping my eyes open, when not full of tears for shows that alter the trend of buddy cop duos where the male character is infinitely more interesting than the female character.

Blindspot is step in the right the direction. Jamie Alexander (you might remember her from Thor where she played the warrior Sif) is the unfortunately named Jane Doe who has no identity but lots of tattoos. The FBI gets involved and the drama begins.

The less than satisfying aspects are the obvious objectification of the female form. This woman arrives naked in Times Square in a bag. Her body is covered with tattoos. In order for her to be a strong female character, she apparently needs to be disfigured in some way because as a viewing public we cannot face a woman who is strong, intelligent and resourceful without the implication that she has been controlled and manipulated in some way. It is a shame…but we shall reserve the slightest hope of something more than an emasculated Blacklist without the hat.

Femme Fatale: Lucy Westenra

Not all femme fatales start off morally corrupt women who use a sexual allure to put men and women (don’t forget Carmilla) into dangerous situations. Sometimes we get an insight into the creation of a femme fatale. Such is the case with Lucy Westenra, a hapless socialite who falls foul to Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

So how does one move from respectable London ‘it’ girl of the 19th century to a deplorable blood-sucking vampire? Well first of all you need a vaguely annoying and self-righteous friend like Mina Harker. You need a few unusual habits, such as walking in your sleep (91). Then you find yourself a collection of interested suitors. Lucy attracted the attention of three suitors Arthur Holmwood, John Seward and Quincey Morris. She then confides to Mina that she would like to marry all three:

“Why can’t they let a girl marry three men, or as many as want her, and save all this trouble? But this is heresy, and I must not say it.” (76)

Marry three men! Are you not shocked and appalled by the gall of this girl? Well you shouldn’t be. Her desire to marry three is born out a sensitive nature that does not want cause any of them harm: “Three proposals in one day! Isn’t awful! I feel sorry, really and truly sorry, for two of the poor fellows” (73). If you are going to make a femme fatale, we want to develop a little sympathy beforehand and make the transformation clear so when you become that vampiric femme fatale “The sweetness was turned to adamantine, heartless cruelty, and the purity to voluptuous wantonness” (252-3).

In order to become that woman, you’ve got to begin to establish a pattern of men submitting to your will. Your suitors come in helpful here. By giving Lucy a number of blood transfusions, Holmwood, Seward and Quincey begin to sacrifice themselves for Lucy. This is good practice. Then there is nothing too it, just die, become resurrected as the undead and head off on your way as a femme fatale.

One brief note, if some guy turns up with a big case, garlic flowers and some old books, watch out. He might be named Van Helsing and carry wooden stakes around with him. This kind of things can really dampen your ability to feed off others.

To see Lucy in full on femme fatale mode, watch a clip of the 1992 film Bram Stoker’s Dracula. After Lucy returns to the crypt with a midnight snack, she goes full force on former fiancé Arthur Holwood. The creepiest part is watching Jude Law’s ex-wife getting the hots for The Dread Pirate Roberts.

The femme fatale rouges gallery:
Phyllis Dietrichson
Poison Ivy
Xenia Onatoppa
La Belle Dame Sans Merci