Unordered List

Thursday, 23 April 2015

What was up with that Black Widow scene in Avengers: Age of Ultron?

I was going to post an Age of Ultron review today, but since the movie isn't out in the U.S. until next week, I've decided to stick with one specific topic: that bizarre conversation between Bruce Banner and Black Widow.

SPOILER WARNING: This post (obviously) contains spoilers, but only for one scene between Bruce Banner and Black Widow. 

If you've seen the movie, you may already know what I'm talking about. It's the scene where Natasha tells Bruce she was sterilized during her childhood spy training, and how this makes her a "monster" like the Hulk. "It makes everything easier," she says. "Even killing."

This conversation was so terrible that I actually double-checked with several friends to see if they interpreted it the same way. They did. So: let's unpack what the hell was going on in the mind of acclaimed feminist Joss Whedon when he crafted this masterpiece. (By the way, Scarlett Johansson was pregnant while filming this movie.)

Bruce and Natasha begin the movie in the early stages of a tentative romance. He mentions that he can't have children, and she says that she can't either: she was forcibly sterilized as a teenager.

This backstory is horrifying, but it gels with what we already know about Natasha. She was trained (or brainwashed) as a child by a Russian spy agency, where girls were taught to be perfect assassins. From their perspective, it was "expedient" to sterilize their students, preventing unwanted pregnancies and cutting off another potential family tie. But instead of being handled sensitively, this backstory concluded with Natasha describing herself as a "monster" because she couldn't have biological children. Sterilization made it easier for her and her colleagues to kill people.

So, either the movie is dehumanizing Natasha because she can't get pregnant, or she thinks of herself as a monster as a result of abuse she suffered as a child. Here are my top three explanations for what was going on in this scene.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Marvel's Daredevil: Episodes 1-5

"I feel like I'm on a date with Vincent D'Onofrio and he's about to murder me and drown my family in the Hudson River." -- an email from myself to a friend, while watching Daredevil. This was a compliment to Vincent D'Onofrio, by the way.

This review only covers the first 5 episodes and is relatively spoiler-free, so don't worry if you're one of those sensible people who hasn't binge-watched the entire season yet. For my ~professional (and even less spoilery) review over at the Daily Dot, click here.

As a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, my feelings on Daredevil are decidedly mixed. On the one hand:

  • This show is just really damn good. The dialogue and characterization are strong, and it's way ahead of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in terms of things like fight choreography and sound design.
  • The plot is complex but neatly organized, and the Netflix format allows things to unspool gradually rather than leaping between episodic subplots. I hate exposition and am sick of formulaic TV writing, so this was great for me.
  • Matt, Foggy and Karen are charming and adorable, and Wilson Fisk is an unusually compelling villain. Congratulations to whoever cast this show, because they knocked it out of the park.
  • I'm enraptured by the romance between Wilson Fisk and Vanessa the art dealer!! (More on that later.)
  • It's satisfying to see an "adult" comicbook adaptation that isn't gratuitous or exploitative. Daredevil doesn't sanitize the visceral impact of violence, but it doesn't revel in it either. To me this is an ideal balance, because usually there's a strict divide between movies like Sin City or Watchmen, which strive to be ~gritty and ~dark, and PG-rated movies like Spider-Man, where people have constructive relationships and friendly banter. Daredevil has both. I had to cover my eyes during a few of the more violent scenes, but in some ways I prefer that to when Thor or Captain America dispatches an enemy bloodlessly and with no obvious moral impact.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Hugo Award eligibility & 2014 masterlist

It's Hugo Award nomination season, and I'm eligible in the Fan Writer category!

If you enjoy this blog, then please consider me on your Hugo ballot! To nominate for the 2015 awards, you need to tick one of these three boxes:
  • You attended the 2014 Worldcon, Loncon3.
  • You are going to the 2015 Worldcon (Spokane) or 2016 Worldcon (Kansas City), and bought a ticket before January 31st, 2015.
  • You have a "supporting membership" for this year Worldcon. This is a lot cheaper than a convention ticket and consists of the ability to vote in the Hugos (obviously), plus various goodies like ebook versions of nominated books/short stories.
You can learn more about the Hugo Awards and the nomination process here. Nominations close on March 10, but if you didn't attend the 2014 con and haven't bought your membership to the 2015 con before January 31st, then you cannot nominate.

Highlights from HelloTailor in 2014

My epic seven-part analysis of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, obvs:

Some thoughts on Doctor Who companions, the Twelfth Doctor, and costume design.

Weekly recaps of NBC's Constantine.

And, less sci-fi/fantasy but definitely still in the category of fan writing:

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Interview: Agent Carter costume designer Gigi Melton

Previously: A guide to the 1940s costume design of Agent Carter

Agent Carter combines so many of my favorite things: comicbook adventures, a complex female protagonist, 1940s spy hijinks and, of course, beautiful costumes and set design. The post-war setting is a fascinating period to explore from a fashion history perspective, and I was happy to see that all of the costumes have a strong characterization element as well.

Costume designer Giovanna "Gigi" Melton caught my attention on Twitter with her many behind-the-scenes posts about her work on Agent Carter, and she was kind enough to grant me an interview. Read on for more background on the amazing costumes in this show, plus a selection of Melton's original design sketches.

HelloTailor: How did you go about researching and designing the overall look for the show? Were you influenced by any of the comics, or was it more a matter of exploring the 1940s aesthetic?

Gigi Melton: A combination of much research.  For Peggy the influences were Lauren Bacall, Katherine Hepburn, Hedy Lamarr. The smart, strong, fashionable and beautiful women of the era.

For SSR [Strategic Scientific Reserve] agents Dooley, Thompson, Sousa, and Krzmenski I researched government and detective looks. For eccentric Stark it was Howard Hughes and for Jarvis it was a British nod to tweeds. Coupled with comic book research, I took all of my inspiration and tailored it to create the individual looks for the scripted characters.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Behind the seams of the Oscars' costume design category

The Oscar nominees were announced yesterday, and of course I was compelled to write about the costume design category. Specifically, my frustration regarding the kind of films that are routinely ignored, year after year.

Do all of the designers on this list deserve to be nominated? Well, yes. They're all brilliant, and did great work on the films in question. But the selection process for this category is still deeply flawed, and fails to represent the range of talent on offer.

As Roger Ebert pointed out in his unwritten rules of the Oscars, the Academy rarely gives out awards for subtlety. "It never hurts to ask yourself," he wrote, "Who did the 'most' acting? Most editing? Most noticeable cinematography or music?"
In the costume category, this is truer than ever. The award invariably goes to the film with the most impressive and noticeable costumes, whether this means creating a selection of historically accurate crinolines or outfitting an army of elves.
Two ingredients are required for an Oscar nomination in costume design. First, it's helpful to be a familiar face who has been nominated several times before. Secondly, you need to have worked on a historical drama (preferably starring Keira Knightley), a sci-fi/fantasy epic, or a musical—the three genres that produce the most showy and memorable costumes.
Judging by these two criteria, this year's nominees are comfortably predictable.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

A guide to 1940s costume design in Marvel's Agent Carter

Marvel's Agent Carter begins tonight, and I wrote this Daily Dot article to coincide with the first episode. It's a spoiler-free background for Peggy Carter's costumes, and why the show is set during such an interesting period in fashion history.

Set in 1946, Agent Carter's seven-part espionage story is rooted in postwar culture. And like the first Captain America movie, one of its defining features is its 1940s aesthetic, immediately setting it apart from Marvel's other TV show, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
The biggest influence on Western fashion in 1946 was, obviously, World War II. Fabric rationing led to a trend for simpler clothes, and women's fashions suddenly became more practical due to the influx of women joining the workforce—like Peggy Carter, whose career began in the Strategic Scientific Reserve during the war. These factors added up to women wearing low heels and plain, knee-length skirts without pleats or frills, and men wearing suits without cuffs or flaps on the pockets. 
Agent Carter takes place during a dynamic period in fashion history, the transition from wartime austerity to the postwar styles that would define the 1950s. By 1947 the French fashion industry was up and running again, and Christian Dior introduced the so-called "New Look" of nipped-in waists and flouncy calf-length skirts.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Mockingjay and Costume Design: Real or not Real?

In terms of costume design, first two Hunger Games movies never quite lived up to my expectations. It wasn't that the costumes were bad -- far from it -- but they seemed far too homogeneous. Given free rein to create the most outlandish designs imaginable, the Capitol fashjons were disappointingly conservative and homogeneous.

Mockingjay, Part 1 was another matter entirely. With no Hunger Games, Capitol makeovers, or District 12, the story focused on Panem's growing revolution, shown through the eyes of the propaganda war between the Capitol and District 13. Before the film even came out, YouTube propaganda clips began to illustrate the calculated nature of President Snow's public image.

Mockingjay flipped the cliché of dark and light, with the villainous President Snow surrounding himself with pure white to match his signature white roses. His brainwashed prisoners Peeta (dressed in an uncharacteristically stiff suit and a painful-looking white paper collar) and Johanna presented a united front, fitting in with Snow's clean, luxurious aesthetic. Meanwhile Katniss, daughter of coal miners, wears black body armour and fatigues.

In the earlier films, this kind of contrast was meant to highlight Katniss's salt-of-the-earth nature with Snow's obsessively controlled image, but this time it's more complex. Katniss may look more practical and less "styled" than Snow and his entourage, but that's because her District 13 stylists decided this was the best way to market her to the rebels. Her Mockingjay armor (in real life, modeled off a Japanese archery breastplate) was designed for her by Cinna, and continues the asymmetrical theme of previous outfits she wore to public appearances.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Posts from elsewhere: Captain America, Constantine, and Agents of SHIELD.

I hope to have enough time for another costume design post by the end of the year, but in the meantime, here are some other things you may enjoy!

End-of-year guest post at the Book Smugglers blog.

Each year the Book Smugglers invite various authors and bloggers to write guests posts during the holiday period, and this year I was one of them! Most people discuss and recommend books from the past year (it's a book blog, after all), but I decided to talk about a single movie: Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Obvs.

While CATWS wasn't the best film I saw in 2014 -- or even my "favorite," technically speaking -- it's certainly the one I wrote about the most. I love this movie and its fandom, and this post explains why (along with a bunch of fanfic and art recommendations).

Why NBC's Constantine failed to live up to its comic book origins

I haven't decided yet whether to continue writing about Constantine here. It doesn't feel particularly constructive to keep writing negative reviews of a mediocre show, so I may just leave it until the season finale. Constantine has improved a little over the past couple of episodes, but not enough that I actually care about it being renewed or not. Hellblazer is one of my favourite comics, and this show is just... disappointing.

"Previously on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." podcast

I co-host a weekly Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. podcast over at Film Divider! We're now up to season 2, episode 8. Catch up here!

A Hero at the End of the World, by Erin Claiborne

Reminder that this book is awesome and you ought to be reading it! Find out more here.