Pam Grier walks into a bar. Sounds like the beginning of a joke, but it’s actually the setup for one of the great fight scenes of the 1970s.
Grier played the title character in 1974’s Foxy Brown, a woman who poses as a high-end escort to get revenge on the gangsters who killed her G-Man boyfriend. When her undercover work brings her to a seedy bar, she confronts Bobbie, a tough-talking patron (played by Jeannie Epper who was also Lynda Carter’s stunt double on Wonder Woman).
“Listen, skinny,” says Bobbie, “before you start talking tough, I better warn you. I got a black belt in karate. So why don’t you get out of here quietly, while you still have some teeth left in that ugly face?”
Before you can say, “You go, girl,” Foxy clobbers Bobbie with a wooden stool, slamming her in the face then shattering it across her back.
“And I got my black belt in bar stools!” says Foxy.
Grier could deliver a line and a punch, attributes that allowed her to cut a swathe in the male-dominated action movie market of the 1970s.
This weekend Scarlett Johansson adds to Grier’s kick- butt legacy on the big screen with Lucy, an all-out actioner about a woman who becomes a superhuman when a drug allows her to use 100 per cent of her brain capacity. “I’m able to do things I’ve never done before,” she says. “I feel everything and can control the elements around me.”
Johansson joins a list of dangerous distaff action stars like Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), Jenette Goldstein (Aliens), Angelina Jolie (Wanted, Salt, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider) and Uma Thurman (Kill Bill, Parts 1 & 2) who have given Schwarzenegger and Stallone a run for their money.
Perhaps the wildest female action movie of all time is 1965’s “ode to female violence,” Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! starring Tura Satana as the thrill-seeking go-go dancer Varla.
Experienced in martial arts, Satana did her own stunts and brought her unique style — black leather gloves, Germaine Monteil eyeliner and layers of Max Factor pancake makeup — to the film. She even supplied some of the movie’s most memorable lines.
When a gas station attendant ogles her cleavage while extolling the virtues of being on the open road and seeing America, Satana ad libbed, “You won’t find it down there, Columbus!”
Time critic Richard Corliss called Satana’s performance “the most honest, maybe the one honest portrayal in the [director Russ] Meyer canon and certainly the scariest.”
“I took a lot of my anger that had been stored inside of me for many years and let it loose,” Satana said of her most famous role.
“I helped to create the character Varla and helped to make her someone that many women would love to be like.”
Wanted is about fathers and sons. It’s about a deadly fraternity, called, with startling clarity and simplicity, The Fraternity. It’s about bullets etched with epitaphs and tattooed assassins.
At its center is Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) a cubicle-dwelling accountant so mild mannered he allows his best friend to carry on a torrid affair with his girlfriend and can’t stand up to his nagging boss. He’s a nobody; the kind of guy who Goggles his name and draws a blank. No Results. When a simple trip to the drug store to buy his anti-anxiety medication turns into an out-of-control shoot ‘em up between dueling killers (Angelina Jolie and Thomas Kretschmann) he is indoctrinated into the secret world of The Fraternity, a millennium old band of assassins. It seems his estranged father was a world class killer and Sloan (Morgan Freeman), the organization’s enigmatic head honcho believes Wesley has what it takes to join the exclusive club.
After a vigorous and violent training he goes from slacker to whacker; they mold him into a highly skilled killer ready to carry out the ancient code of The Fraternity and kill the man who offed his father.
Based on a high octane comic book series by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones, Wanted has the same manic energy of the graphic novels. Director Timur Bekmambetov uses Matrix-style action, combined with Quentin Tarantino-style attitude and a nod to the goofy humor of the Transporter movies to create an over-the-top bash-fest that takes off like a rocket from its opening minutes and doesn’t let-up until the end credits roll.
Unlikely action star James McAvoy, best known as Mr. Tumnus, the naive satyr in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, holds his own amidst the crazy carnage. As his character goes from office contract manager to contract killer the diminutive McAvoy proves that he can be convincing as both a dweeb and stone cold killer. Angelina Jolie, as the appropriately named Fox, riffs on her Mrs. Smith character—a kind of deadly runway model—managing to be simultaneously sultry and tough. Morgan Freeman puts a nasty spin on his well-worn calm but commanding film persona, playing a rare, for him, morally ambiguous character.
There’s nothing subtle about Wanted. The violence is graphic, out-of-control and plentiful—it’s Fight Club without the brainy subtext—the story is in-your-face and even Danny Elfman’s score can only be described as bombastic. It’s a shock to the senses that will delight action and comic fans but may leave the faint of heart dazed and confused.