Unordered List

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Interview: "Snowpiercer" costume designer Catherine George.

Following my review of Snowpiercer, I originally intended to write a post discussing the film's very striking costume design. But after looking back at some photos and clips of those costumes, I was struck by how much more I wanted to learn about the process behind this film's visual design. Each section of the train had such a strong visual theme (filth and poverty in Tail Section; delusionally wholesome springtime pastels in the school car; opulence and luxury towards the front of the train), but nevertheless felt grounded in reality.

Happily, costume designer Catherine George agreed to an interview about her work on the film. She discussed the inspiration behind Snowpiercer's most memorable costumes, and what it was like to work with director Bong Joon-Ho and a cast including Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton.

HelloTailor: To begin with, how did first you get involved with Snowpiercer? The combination of Korean and English-language production made me curious about how you came to work on the film.

Catherine George: Director Bong had seen We Need To Talk About Kevin at Cannes in 2011, when he was on the jury, and he liked how the costumes looked. They sent me the script a couple of months later and I Skyped with Bong and and his producer Dooho because they were already in Prague prepping [for Snowpiercer]. Before I knew it, I was on a plane to Prague. Bong also met with Tilda Swinton at Cannes as they were both fans of each other’s work, and he decided to cast her as Mason -- a role that was originally written as a man.

[You can read more about the costumes of We Need To Talk About Kevin in this article by Clothes On Film.]

HelloTailor: How much did you consider the idea of finite resources onboard the train? In the Tail Section, people were wearing whatever rags they had left after 17 years. I was wondering what kind of thought went into the idea of a world where you can't really obtain new materials for new clothes. Was this a major concern when you were designing the overall look of each train car?

CG: Yes, we talked a lot about how long the passengers had been on the train, where they’d come from, what random materials they would use to fashion practical clothing. In the Tail Section, the aging and distressing was quite heavy and their clothes were made of different parts of garments pieced together. They had to improvise with whatever materials they could find. Curtis' coat had layer upon layer of repairs.

The character Painter wore a poncho made from old moving blankets. He also wore a helmet with a lantern left over from the train utility-wear, to enable him to draw in his cage at night.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Summer convention schedule: LonCon3 and Nine Worlds.

I'm going to be at two conventions in August, both in London! The first is Nine Worlds (A.K.A. London Geekfest), a really fun-looking media and fan-culture convention on August 8-10. The second is LonCon3, the World Science Fiction Convention, August 14-18.

I'll be on several panels at each con, and while I suspect my Nine Worlds schedule is probably more relevant to this blog's audience than my WorldCon panels, hopefully some of you guys will be there anyway! Here are the panels I'll be participating in, if any of you are gonna be at WorldCon or Nine Worlds next month. :)

Nine Worlds
All of my panels at Nine Worlds are somewhere called "County B," which I assume will make more sense once we're actually at the convention center.

22.15 - 23.30, The Fanvid Phenomenon. I love fanvids, and am looking forward to learning more about the creative side of them from some actual fanvidders on this panel!

22.15 - 23.30, Collaborative Fanworks. A couple of months ago I contributed to a Captain America fanfic written and drawn alongside several other fans, called Steve Rogers at 100: Celebrating Captain America on Film. It tells the story of various different (nonexistent) Captain America movie adaptations set within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and has somehow led to me being on this convention panel about creativity and collaboration in fandom. IDEK, you guys. IDEK.

09.00 - 09.45, Remixing the remix: The etiquette of transforming fanworks. This is a panel about remix culture within fandom, but since it's at 9am, I have no idea what it will be like. Hopefully I'll be awake and coherent enough to not make an idiot of myself, anyway.

13.30 - 14.45, Fashion, Costume and Inspiring Fans: three talks on fashion and costume. I'm doing a talk on movie costume design! This is undoubtedly the thing HelloTailor readers will be most interested in, and I'd really love it if any of you decided to show up. :)

17.00 - 18.15, Legitimacy and Monetization of Fandom. This is a really interesting topic for me because I write a lot about the media campaigns behind big-budget franchises like The Hunger Games and Marvel, which leverage the power of fandom to help publicise their movies. However, I'm also the managing editor of a publishing company that was crowdfunded by the fan community, so I have a personal perspective of the indie side of things. One of our authors, Erin Claiborne, will be on this panel too, as well as a couple of other panels throughout the convention. You'll be hearing more about her soon because her book is coming out this Autumn!

I know far fewer people at WorldCon than at Nine Worlds, so feel free to contact me (Twitter @Hello_Tailor is probably easiest) if you want to meet up or recommend a particular event!

18.00 - 19.00, Capital Suite 7+12, The Superhero-Industrial Complex. REALLY psyched for this panel, where we'll be discussing Marvel's success with the mega-franchise model of releasing multiple movies set in the same universe.

15.00, Producer and Celebrity Relationships with Fans. This is a discussion panel and Q&A on the topic of actors, creators and celebrities breaking the so-called fourth wall between fans and celebrities.

12:00 - 13:30, Capital Suite 3, Commercializing Fans. Another panel where I'll be appearing in my capacity as managing editor of Big Bang Press, discussing the intersection of fandom and business.

11:00 - 12:00, Capital Suite 16, The Internet and the Evolution of Fan Communities.

I'll also be appearing at GeekGirlCon in October, in Seattle. But I'll post more about that in a couple of months, once I know my schedule!

Thursday, 3 July 2014


Miraculously, Snowpiercer lived up to the many months of anticipation I've experienced since it was released elsewhere. My friends, I have been waiting a long time for this movie.

Every component part of Snowpiercer was another thing that I love to see in blockbuster entertainment. I don't just mean in the shallow, tropey sense that I love dystopian sci-fi, but in the sense that Snowpiercer is a straightforward adventure story that doesn't play to the lowest common denominator. It's simple, but it's not stupid. Its characters are people, there aren't any shitty moments of casual sexism or racism, and it's structured around a piece of interesting, thoughtful political symbolism that you could probably still ignore if you just want to watch Chris Evans Save The Day. 
A friend of mine had issues with the implausibility of Snowpiercer's setting, but I found it pretty easy to accept on its own terms. Like the contrived scenario in Sunshine (another sadly rare example of a good Chris Evans film), the plausibility of the premise was almost meaningless. No, you can't reignite the sun with a weaponized disco ball rocketship, Sunshine. No, it isn't feasible for an entire civilisation to spend 17 years in a perpetually moving train, Snowpiercer. But there were plenty of intentionally surreal touches there to remind us that director Bong Joon-Ho was well aware that the setting wasn't "realistic.". More importantly, the underlying metaphor was clear: Crash the train and risk killing everyone to gain freedom for a few, or maintain the horrifying status quo so that more people can survive in undeserved squalor.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Article link roundup + BBC radio tomorrow!

Sorry I haven't posted the final part of my Captain America: The Winter Soldier costume review! I've been too busy for the past couple of weeks, but I should have time to write it soon. In the meantime, here's some other stuff.

BBC Radio: I'm going to be on BBC Radio Scotland's Culture Studio show on Thursday afternoon, talking about fan culture. I'll be live on air at about 3.30pm GMT+1, but if you tune in from the start of the show you'll hear some discussion of X-Men: Days of Future Past, and an interview with screenwriter Simon Kinberg. You can find the episode here on the BBC website, and I think you can listen online elsewhere with sites like Tunein.

Recent articles: A few of my recent Daily Dot articles may be of interest to you guys. First, the Ultimate Guide to Sebastian Stan. Second, my post-mortem of the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season finale. Finally, my thoughts on the ultra-gothic new TV series Penny Dreadful, which I loved.

Fanfic: This is something of a departure from the kind of stuff I usually post on this blog, but I recently co-wrote a Captain America fanfic that takes the form of discussion, reviews and commentary on the various (fictional) Captain America movies that might actually have been made in the Marvel Cinematic Universe itself.

It's called "Steve Rogers at 100: Celebrating Captain America on Film," and I don't think it's too odious for me to say I LOVE THIS THING because 90% of it was written by other (much funnier) people. In particular, I love the parody of a slightly pretentious Sight & Sound article about a purposefully tragic French art film about Steve Rogers and the Howling Commandos. Personally, I stuck to my strengths and wrote a HelloTailor-style review of a terrible 1980s action movie called Captain America and the Red Skull: a hilarious fiasco from start to finish. You can see the poster above, created by the very talented Neenya.

X-Men: I'll write about X-Men: Days of Future Past once I've seen it, but until then, here's a link to my costume reviews of X-Men: First Class.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Costuming and Design in Captain America: The Winter Soldier -- Steve & Bucky.

Part 1: "Trust No One" -- How Captain America became the "gritty" superhero we never knew we wanted.
Part 2: HYDRA, Sitwell, and diversity in the Marvel universe.
Part 3: Black Widow and Falcon. 
Part 4: The Tragedy of Bucky Barnes.
Part 5: Worldbuilding in the MCU.

The decision to set CATWS in Washington DC was certainly a departure from the visuals of Captain America: The First Avenger. Compared to the sepia-toned beauty of the first Captain America movie, Steve's new life looks depressingly drab and grey. The car chases churn through DC traffic on concrete freeways, SHIELD headquarters looks like a cross between a multi-storey car park and an office block, and the Helicarriers are all cold, smooth glass and metal. The only hint of the warm colour-scheme of Steve's youth is when he goes to visit Sam Wilson at the VA, a comforting moment among the corporate cleanliness of the rest of DC.
Each of the Avengers movies has its own distinct aesthetic, with Iron Man flitting between palaces of high-tech luxury, Thor living in a world of gold embossed armour and faux-historical alien weirdness, and Captain America spending the entirety of his first movie surrounded by 1940s grime. CATWS was definitely the ugliest movie in the franchise, which kind of worked in its favour because it highlighted Steve Rogers' isolation in 21st century DC.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Part 5 -- Worldbuilding in the MCU.

Part 1: "Trust No One" -- How Captain America became the "gritty" superhero we never knew we wanted.
Part 2: HYDRA, Sitwell, and diversity in the Marvel universe.
Part 3: Black Widow and Falcon. 
Part 4: The Tragedy of Bucky Barnes.

With a movie of this scale, I tend to fixate on what happens after the end credits roll. Not in an "I'm really looking forward to Sebastian Stan crying in the sequel!" way (although obviously that's a given), but in the sense of what impact Steve Rogers' actions will have on the rest of the world. I find it disappointing when movies just focus on the main characters and hit the reset button on the rest of the universe, as if the only people effected by a deadly supervillain/apocalypse are the hero and supporting cast. Luckily, the scope of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has given us a far better chance to see how the world changes and develops as a result of each new movie.
People love to point out the "Easter egg" details that link Marvel movies together, like Sitwell's offhand mention of Dr Strange. But to be honest, this type of in-universe worldbuilding is pretty easy. The MCU's real strength is the way it portrays a world with a realistic history and contemporary culture, rather than following the more familiar method of plopping a superhero into a city with no hints of influence from the outside world.

From the first Iron Man movie onwards, the existence of superheroes is something that has directly influenced everyday life in the MCU, from the legal ramifications of Tony Stark's unlicensed "prosthesis" to the way he markets himself as a celebrity hero, to his decision to move from weapons manufacturing to clean energy and robotics. By the time we reach Avengers, we've seen more than a glimpse of how the rest of the world is changing as a result. Agents of SHIELD was a stroke of genius because it shares more of the everyday nuts-and-bolts stuff that we're ever going to see in the actual movies. (Note to anyone who stopped watching after the first few episodes: AoS is so awesome now. Persevere.)

Captain America is the strongest strand in this worldbuilding web because he's the first publicly recognised superhuman in the MCU. He gives us a link between the Red Skull in the 1940s, and the present-day world of SHIELD, the Avengers, and the ever-growing pantheon of weird 21st century tech and superhuman characters. Fittingly, Captain America: The Winter Soldier was the first movie to give us a truly in-depth look at the non-superheroic side of the MCU.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier -- The Tragedy of Bucky Barnes

Part 1: "Trust No One" -- How Captain America became the "gritty" superhero we never knew we wanted.
Part 2: HYDRA, Sitwell, and diversity in the Marvel universe.
Part 3: Black Widow and Falcon.

Bucky's role in this movie is the point where Marvel nerd and non-nerd audiences part ways. Going by the reactions I've seen from film critics and my non-fan friends, Captain America: The Winter Soldier was an entertaining superhero movie that probably should've had more dialogue and fewer action sequences. But if you go by Marvel/Captain America fandom, EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS FILM WAS AGONY AND LIFE IS A WORTHLESS HELLSCAPE UNTIL STEVE AND BUCKY CAN BE TOGETHER AGAIN.

Needless to say, I fall into the latter camp. If you want to preserve the illusion of this blog as an impartial source of pop culture analysis, stop reading this post and wait for the next part of the review, because I have A Lot Of Feelings about Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes.

Marvel Studios movies are very good at making everything equally engaging for new audiences and people who are familiar with the comics, but I suspect that Winter Soldier was their first stumbling block. CATWS has inspired an overwhelmingly positive audience response so I wouldn't describe this issue to be a "failure," but there's clearly a gap between people who came into the movie already invested in the Winter Soldier's backstory, and people who didn't. It's kind of like if someone made a movie about Sherlock Holmes' return from the dead, but half the audience were only familiar with Watson and therefore didn't really understand why everyone was freaking out over the dead guy who reappeared an hour and a half into the movie.

I saw several reviews that pointed out the Winter Soldier had very little screentime for a title character -- in fact, that the film more or less could've stood up without him. And from a plot perspective, I suppose it could. They could've just subbed in any old assassin character, and the plot would've worked out just fine. Except this fails to take into account the fact that Bucky is the emotional core of the Captain America story thus far. To fully understand this, we need to go right back to the beginning of the first Cap movie, when Steve and Bucky were growing up together in Brooklyn.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier review, Part 3 -- Black Widow & Falcon

Part 1: "Trust No One" -- How Captain America became the "gritty" superhero we never knew we wanted.
Part 2: Hydra, Sitwell, and diversity in the Marvel universe.

Making Captain America: The Winter Soldier an ensemble cast movie was a smart decision. Not only does it make sense to position Steve as a team leader rather than a solo hero, but it avoids the somewhat tired formula of superhero + love interest + supervillain, plus supporting cast of sidekicks and parental figures. Steve may still take the central role, but characters like Nick Fury and Black Widow certainly don't fall into any of those categories. As Marvel Studios slowly begins to explore other genres (Thor as an operatic fantasy, Guardians of the Galaxy as a space epic...), they can branch out into building characters with more depth and ambiguity than the traditional superhero formula allows.

I already discussed this in the first part of my review, but basically it would've been a mistake to try and build a typical 21st century superhero story around Steve Rogers. After all, his "superpowers" pretty much boil down to enhanced strength and healing abilities. There are already so many action movies about supposedly "normal" humans performing superhuman stunts (think of John McClane's progression from middle-aged everyman to indestructable teflon droid in Live Free or Die Hard) that Cap's physical strength runs the risk of seeming unimpressive when measured alongside someone like Iron Man.

Instead, this movie is more about the metaphorical strength of teamwork and good leadership: a perfect development for a character who went from standing up to schoolyard bullies to selling American military propaganda to leading a close-knit group of commandos into Nazi-occupied Europe. Captain America's image as a hero is more about personality and symbolism than it is about Steve Rogers' ability to fall 50 feet without breaking his knees. 

Black Widow

There are a lot of misconceptions about Black Widow's role in the Avengers franchise, either caused by people's existing prejudices (i.e. the assumption that any woman in a "catsuit" is just there for sex appeal), or because her characterization is relatively subtle when compared to larger-than-life heroes like Thor. The writers and actors at Marvel Studios put a lot of thought into every character, but obviously the majority of viewers are not nerds who analyse everything in excruciating detail. Characters like Tony Stark and Falcon are easy to understand on a superficial level, but Black Widow tends to fall by the wayside because her emotions and motivations are often so obscure.