Category Archives: Rants, Raves and Righteousness

The best films inspire discussion, but sometimes we’re inspired by a bunch of movies at once, and sometimes we’re inspired by something else altogether.

Playing Hooky At The Movies?

Excerpt from a 4-way Snapchat conversation I have going with my sisters at all times. Note that two of the sisters are sane and go to bed at reasonable hours, and two of us are not. In this particular conversation, it’s just myself (Jay here!) and my little sister, LittleJ.

LittleJ: Well guys, it’s 4:30am and The Giants game just finished. Does anyone want to skip work and go see a movie with me?

Jay: Yes. Although it’s only 3:46am here. You’re in the future

[There is in fact a solid 1 hour time difference between us but I was obviously 16 minutes late to the party.]

LittleJ: Haha, I usually am.

Jay: The only movies I haven’t seen are IT and Rambo.

LittleJ: Rambo it is!! I read IT when I was like 12 and it has low-key haunted me since. Not because it’s super scary, just a very questionable plot what with the child orgy in a sewer.

Jay: Ha. Well great. I haven’t seen any Rambo movie ever but I always say the best time to start a new franchise is 40 years in.

[I have since done the math and turns out we’re only 37 years in…but still.]

[I actually never say that, but I probably should: I also watched Star Wars for the first time about 40 years in.]

LittleJ: Haha nice. In that case, I feel like we should also watch an Alien and/or Predator. Though I usually prefer my Sylvester Stallone movies to have subtitles because I can barely understand the man.

Jay: Yeah, he’s not remotely understandable. I assume that’s why all his movies are 65-92% training montage.

LittleJ: Very good point.

At which point, my sister presumably fucked off and went to bed. But the thing is: I WISH middle of the night movies were possible. And early morning ones. And mid-afternoon.

When I first met Sean a decade ago, I worked the night shift, and we’d often find ourselves at a matinee with a few senior citizens (who ALWAYS buy the child size popcorn-drink combo!) but I find that those early shows are becoming increasingly rare.

Perhaps the rise of Netflix has made me greedy: movies on demand! When and where you want them. All the time! But it’s also that cinemas have become cineplexes have become multiplexes: it’s a rare theatre that doesn’t have 20 screens or more now. So when I show up at 8:36pm it makes me irrationally irate that I can’t simply waltz into the movie of my choice.

When I was a kid, you could see a movie at 7pm or 9pm. Those were the choices. You had to decide whether to grab dinner before or after. On Tuesdays there would be a special password hidden in the movie listings (we had 3 screens in town at the time) that you’d offer up to the box office in exchange for “cheap night” rates. Are Tuesdays still cheap at the movies? Do theatres even have box offices anymore? I’ve been buying tickets from an app for so long I haven’t noticed – and before that, it was from the ATM-style machines. I guess humans have been out of the equation for longer than I can recall.

But even though with multi-theatre cineplexes there are a lot more start times, they still tend to cluster around good old 7 and 9, which are basically useless to me. I may not work overnight anymore, but I still have the poor sleeping habits of a chronic insomniac. And movie theatres like to be able to close up shop by midnight, I’ve noticed. Which is garbage.

Theatres in this area are doing everything they can to compete with Netflix (in fact, recently at TIFF, the Cineplex chain refused to screen any Netflix or Amazon titles – we had to go elsewhere for those): theatres near us are converting entirely to recliner seating, spacious, comfortable, and clean, and tickets offer reserved seating, so you can show up last-minute and still get the best seat in the house. You can even get booze at the movies now! What will they think of next? Midnight movies, perhaps?

Actually, there used to be midnight movies too. I remember various nerdy boyfriends wanting to line up to see the latest comic book movie first. And so, as a movie typically was released on a Friday, the theatres would show the film at 12:01am and we’d line up late on a Thursday to make sure we got in to see Man of Steel or whatever monstrosity was on offer. But since studios got a whiff of our willingness to do that, they’ve capitalized by making those movies available on Thursdays now, usually as early as 7pm. Which is great, I suppose, to get a jump on your weekend viewing, but it’s really taken the special-ness out of it.

And it’s not like Netflix is totally exempt. Sure they have hundreds or perhaps thousands of titles ready to stream at the touch of a button, but when they’ve got a hot new release, they usually release at 12am San Francisco time (which is where their HQ is located). That’s 3am here, and 8am if you’re in London, and annoying pretty much everywhere. So I suppose the lesson is: I should have gone to bed when my sister did.

Howard The Duck

Last month I struggled to rein myself in after watching a forgotten Tom Hanks movie from 1986 called Nothing In Common. I consoled myself by reciting other, better movies that were released that year. Reasons why the year didn’t suck completely. Some of you contributed: Labyrinth, from Widdershins, was a particularly good one; it’s a darkly wonderful movie that I loved before I even knew who David Bowie was. Imagine growing up knowing Bowie as that guy from the weird Muppets movie. And realizing years later that that’s a young Jennifer Connelly starring alongside him. I still know all the words by heart. Not just the songs: ALL the words. But one of you has a delightful cruel streak that I can’t help but admire. One of you, not naming any names, suggested that Sean and I watch Howard The Duck. Howard The Duck! Also from the garbage year 1986, it’s a movie I’d never seen and never wanted to – not when he made a brief appearance at the end of a Guardians movie, and not even when Sean’s buddy contributed to his comic book revival.

Anyway, somewhere in this or another galaxy (not too sure about the geography – another dimension, maybe?), Duckworld is a planet where intelligent life evolved from waterfowl. Duckword is a lot like Earth; the ducks are humanoid, they walk on two feet and speak English and they’ve made movies like Splashdance and Breeders of the Lost Stork.

Anyway, one day Howard gets home and sits back in his lazy-boy with a beer and a cigar when a hole rips through the galaxy and swallows him up, depositing him on Earth where he meets a surprisingly amenable punk rocker named Beverly (Lea MV5BZjM2NzA2NTYtNTkwYy00MzY0LWIwOTQtZTgzMjQ1NDZjNGI1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzc5NjM0NA@@._V1_Thompson). I mean, her look is early Madonna but her name is Beverly, which implies Mom jeans and shapeless sweaters, and her sound is more 80s power ballad, and she’s played by Lea Thompson, and it’s hard to sit here in 2019 and see how exactly she was ever considered an It Girl. Beautiful? Hot? She’s mousy and thin-lipped and mostly whiny. But anyway, let’s pretend she’s a hot as shit punk rock girl who somehow befriends a duck – and finds him sexually attractive.

Howard’s main concern is getting back home but the few scientists who could help him generally don’t. In fact, when they come close to opening that hole in the universe back up, Dr. Jenning (played by the creepy principal from Ferris Bueller, Jeffrey Jones, who turns out to be an actual sex offender and child pornographer in real life) accidentally infects himself with Evil Overlord. Which, you know, is not good. And quite sweaty. Not quite as repugnant as his real-life situation, but close.

In short, the movie’s a real shit show. If Howard The Ducks is fun at all in the comics, he’s a chore in the movies – it’s easier to imagine Lea Thompson being a sexpot than Howard T. Duck being at all interesting or fun to read about. Howard is a little person in a 2 million dollar duck suit walking around in an otherwise very CGI-heavy movie and none of it looks good, not now in 2019 and I bet not in 1986 either. At some point, near the end of the movie, I turned to Sean and said “Doesn’t this guy remind you a bit of Tim Robbins?” Apparently it was Tim Robbins, and had been the whole time. Apparently I am not familiar with 1986 Tim Robbins. He’s doughier and pastier than I would have guessed. I’m surprised he was able to defibrillate his career after this.

George Lucas has just finished building Skywalker Ranch to the tune of 50 MILLION DOLLARS and counted on this film to get him solvent again. Needless to say: it didn’t. Poor guy had to start selling off assets in order to not go belly up. Apple CEO Steve Jobs bought LucasFilm’s CGI animation division for a hefty sum, and so I guess two good things came out of Howard The Duck: what would eventually become Pixar, and also that every other Marvel movie from 1987 until time immemorial would positively glow in comparison.

…You’re welcome?

Oscars 2019 Recap

What to lead with?

a) The Oscars were boring as hell without a host.

b) Green Book is NOT my best picture.

Although the Oscars did see a modest bump in audience this year, it is not likely to 91st Annual Academy Awards - Showhave converted any of the first-time watchers as the show felt listless and low energy without a host or opening number. Many of the presenters were good – I like the John Mulaney-Awkwafina pairing, and of course Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph and Tina Fey, though I think the win goes to Melissa McCarthy and Brian Tyree Henry who really went balls-out in paying tribute to costumers (and kudos to the costume designer in charge of her cape who actually got every single one of those bunnies to stand up).

It was a great night for women, and for women of colour in particular. Rachel Carter and Hannah Beachler became the first ever African American women to win in their categories – costume design for Carter and production design for Beachler. They’re the first African American women to win in a non-acting category since 1984, when91st Annual Academy Awards - Press Room Irene Cara won for cowriting Flashdance. Both wins come courtesy of juggernaut Black Panther, which may be the actual best picture of 2018, trophy or not. “Marvel may have created the first black superhero, but through costume design, we turned him into an African king,” Carter said in her speech. “It’s been my life’s honor to create costumes. Thank you to the academy. Thank you for honoring African royalty and the empowered way women can look and lead onscreen.” Beachler, meanwhile, paid it forward “I give the strength to all of those who come next, to keep going, to never give up. And when you think it’s impossible, just remember to say this piece of advice I got from a very wise woman: I did my best, and my best is good enough.”

Regina King, Mahershala Ali, and Rami Malek all earned the Oscars they were expected to in the top acting categories. I have trouble calling Ali’s performance a 91st Annual Academy Awards, Press Room, Los Angeles, USA - 24 Feb 2019supporting one since he has pretty equal screen time to Viggo, but his award is deserved – not only was it the best and only good thing in an otherwise shitty movie, he ran a very gracious and thoughtful campaign. So did Malek, which is probably what pulled him out ahead of Christian Bale, who probably turned in the more effortful performance as Dick Cheney in Vice but didn’t campaign at all. Olivia Colman pulled out the night’s biggest upset (well, one of them) with her best actress win over the favoured Glenn Close (clearly not The Favourite though, haha, movie puns). Close is great in The Wife, which is not a good movie. Colman is great in The Favourite, which is an exceptional movie. Again, you can’t and shouldn’t really call hers the leading performance above Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz when all 3 ladies get equal screen time, but thanks to wonderful editing, her story line acts as 91st Annual Academy Awards - Backstagethe emotional anchor. And oh boy is she emotional! It’s such a forceful, impassioned performance. Truly deserving, even if poor Close has now lost 7 times and won 0 – a dismal track record, and she’s the got the dubious title of most nominated but never winning actor – male or female.

Spike Lee finally won his Oscar, for BlackKklansman‘s best adapted screenplay. A tough category, which makes it exciting. You could have had heaps more in there spike-lee-1-1for sure. I think If Beale Street Could Talk and Can You Ever Forgive Me? were just as good (and so different!) but I’m glad Lee won, and super glad that pal Sam Jackson was there to tell him the good news. Their on-stage celebration was one of the highlights of the night. So, by the way, was Barbra Streisand telling the audience the many things she and Spike have in common – including (but not limited to) their love of hats. God bless her!

Alfonso Cuaron won best director, as he should, from great friend and last year’s winner, Guillermo del Toro, who got out of his sick bed to do so. And Cuaron accepted Roma‘s award for best foreign language film on behalf of Mexico. And he won best cinematography, the first DP to win who also directed the movie. 91st Annual Academy Awards - Governors BallInterestingly, the American Society of Cinematography gave its highest award to Cold War’s Łukasz Żal, but that’s because Cuaron, a director, is not a part of this guild. Cuaron is the first person to be personally nominated for 4 Oscars for a single film (best foreign language is not personal, but awarded to a country), the fourth being for his original screenplay, which he lost in a tragic incident I don’t even want to get into. Anyhow, in presenting the award for cinematography, Tyler Perry noted it was a pleasure to do so “live on 91st Annual Academy Awards, Governors Ball, Los Angeles, USA - 24 Feb 2019camera, not during the commercial break. Thank you, Academy.” You may recall that just a few weeks ago, the Academy said it would hand out several awards, including this one, during commercial breaks, but had to rescind its decision due to the wrath of nearly everyone.

It used to be that best director and best picture often went hand in hand, which makes sense. But in the past 10 years, since the Oscars opened up the best picture category to a potential 10 nominees, things changed. Now it uses a “preferential ballot” system, which means the most liked movie wins – but not necessary the most popular, which could explain the now 50% 91st Annual Academy Awards - Showdiscrepancy between best picture and best director wins. Members are asked to rank the best picture nominees from best to worst. This year there were 8 nominees, so the accountants made 8 piles and sorted all the ballots according to their #1 choices. If no movie has more than 50% of the votes, and with more than 5 nominees that’s practically impossible, then the smallest pile is removed. Let’s assume that Vice had the smallest pile. Now all the ballots that listed Vice #1 are re-sorted into piles according to who their #2 pick was. You can see why canny members are now voting strategically, and how the movie with the most #1 picks won’t necessarily be the winner. The win could easily go to the movie with the most #2 picks, which is weird, but that’s also how Americans pick their presidents, and we all know how well that turns out. So Green Book is the Donald Trump of best pictures.

Green Book shouldn’t have been nominated. At best, it’s a pretty pedestrian movie. At best. But it’s also a movie about race relations that’s written and directed by white ABC's Coverage Of The 91st Annual Academy Awards - Press Roommen. Solely by white men. Which is why so many of the Academy’s old white men felt comfortable voting for it. They could pat themselves on the back for being ‘diverse’ while still rewarding the status quo – for reframing the story of a black man’s experience into the perspective of his white driver. Never mind that director Peter Farrelly has a history of consulting his penis during meetings. And that writer Nick Vallelonga has said some weird Islamophobic shit, agreeing with Trump of all people, tweeting “100% correct. Muslims in Jersey City cheering when towers went down” – and that was still on his time line when he won the Golden Globe this year. Gross.

Meanwhile, Roma is a work of art from start to finish. I’m so proud that a black and white movie, with subtitles, with no stars or recognizable names, about society’s less visible women, is such a huge deal, so gorgeous and relatable. What a win for 91st Annual Academy Awards - Governors BallNetflix, and for taking chances. And If Beale Street Could Talk is also completely worthy. It’s visual poetry. I was electrified, from the colours to the dialogue’s flow, and the story’s timeliness and timelessness. Perfection. And there are many other terrific movies besides: The Favourite is funny and incisive and beautifully acted; BlackKlansman is galvanizing wizardry; Sorry To Bother You is risky and bold; Blindspotting is culturally significant; Spiderman: Into the Spider Verse is ground breaking; Eighth Grade distills a moment in time, taking us back while pinning us in place with its precise observation; Black Panther elevates the super hero game and asks more of us as an audience and a culture; Can You Ever Forgive Me? is funnier than almost any comedy released this year but the humour comes from a dark and interesting place, a true voice for society’s losers; Leave No Trace is heart breaking in its truth and simplicity; First Man is cold and wonderful and ambitious and intimate; Crazy Rich Asians is visually stunning and a cultural milestone. I’m going to stop there, but you get my point. 2018 was a great year for movies. I was moved, I cried in utter delight, I was horrified and invigorated. I think Green Book is a step back. I wish it didn’t win. But instead of complaining about Green Book, I’m going to keep pushing forward the movies I love, because that’s what’s so great about cinema. You don’t have to like them all, but if you keep watching, you will find something to love.

 

TIFF18: Female Voices

I am proud to say that the Toronto International Film Festival has been at the forefront of committing to diversity and gender parity in its films. Everyone with half a brain is doing it this year, but TIFF’s been doing it for a while. They have shown us repeatedly that screening a higher proportion of female-directed films doesn’t affect the overall quality of the films shown at all. They have continued to curate fantastic films no matter who’s in the director’s chair. It’s just that programmers have to dig harder to unearth gems that aren’t always backed by studios. For every Wonder Woman or A Wrinkle In Time, there are dozens of indie films with hardly any attention, just waiting for someone smart enough to see it for what it is (Julia Hart’s Fast Color comes to mind as a recent example).

This year at TIFF, 34% of films are helmed by women. A few to look out for:

Can You Ever Forgive Me? Marielle Heller directs Melissa McCarthy in this movie about a sad sack writer (Lee Israel) who can’t get any work so she turns to forgery to pay her rent.

High Life: Claire Denis directs Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, Andre Benjamin, and Mia Goth in a sci-fi film about a bunch of criminals who get sent into space for an experiment on human reproduction that of course goes wrong because IT’S IN SPACE and then they just have to struggle to be, well, not dead IN SPACE. Despite the caps lock, I honestly cannot wait to see this one.

Galveston: We’ve already seen this one, so we can recommend it wholeheartedly. Mélanie Laurent directs Ben Foster and Elle Fanning in a real doozie of a crime thriller, with a distinctly European flavour despite its very American setting.

Destroyer: Karyn Kusama directs Nicole Kidman as an undercover agent who has to reconnect with the gang member she once worked, a situation that ended in life-altering tragedy. There’s already Oscar buzz about Kidman’s performance.

The Weekend: Toronto-born writer-director Stella Meghie directs Sasheer Zamata in this film about a stand-up comedian who gets embroiled in a weird love-triangle with her ex and his new girlfriend on an awkward weekend away.

Quincy: Who better to (co)direct the documentary about Quincy Jones than his talented daughter, Rashida? It’s sure to be an intimate portrait of an influential man, and I can’t wait to see what she does with it.

A Million Little Pieces: After James Frey’s “autobiography” got a lambasting from Queen Oprah for its inauthenticity (read: fabrication, read: lies), this screenplay cooled its heels while the furor died down and apparently Hollywood thinks we’re as ready for it now as we’ll ever be. Aaron Taylor-Johnson plays the “Frey” character and his wife, Sam Taylor-Johnson directs him and a cast including Charlie Hunnam, Billy Bob Thornton, and Juliette Lewis.

Where Hands Touch: The crazy-talented writer-director Amma Asante tells the story MV5BZDIxNjIwNjktZTQzNS00ODI1LTkyZGItNDhkYjJlM2FhODcyXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTMxODk2OTU@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,690,1000_AL_of a biracial teenage girl struggling to survive in Nazi Germany, starring Amandla Stenberg and George Mackay.

The Kindergarten Teacher: Sara Colangelo’s film already has tremendous buzz coming out of Sundance. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a teacher (duh) who becomes obsessed with a young student she believes may be a child prodigy (is that redundant? I think adult prodigies are just, you know, educated).

The Land of Steady Habits: Nicole Holofcener directs Ben Mendelsohn in this film about a man who has everything but still feels vaguely dissatisfied so he leaves his job and family and ends up down a rabbit hole of regret.

So, yes, it’s entirely possible to feast on female-directed films alone at TIFF, and leave feeling fully sated. But before you go, there are a couple other initiatives you should know about.

  1. Via Brie Larson, who was herself a director at TIFF last year, the festival announced a commitment toward media inclusion. They accredited 20% more journalists this year to bolster their under-represented numbers. I absolutely believe that female critics are essential to female-directed films being seen and appreciated, and I want and need all voices to be heard and represented. Love this initiative.
  2. TIFF has made a five-year commitment to increasing participation, skills, and opportunities for women behind and in front of the camera, with a focus on mentorship, skills development, media literacy, and activity for young people. Join the movement!
  3. TIFF’s Festival street will host the Share Her Journey rally on Saturday, September 8th. Everyone who’s remotely able to should come fill the streets (King St. West between University Ave. and Peter St.) and talk about the inequality plaguing the industry. Sign up here to live-stream the event if you can’t make it – beginning at 10am we’ll hear from Mia Kirshner, co-founder of #AfterMeToo, the above-mentioned Amma Asante, and many others.

 

Thanks for helping make this the best TIFF yet – because movies only matter when everyone’s represented.

 

Star Wars’ Awkward Droid Problem

Solo introduces us to a brand new droid named L3-37. She’s Lando’s copilot, and very likely his better. L3 is a rare female droid in the Star Wars universe, and it’s implied that she and Lando have perhaps a certain kind of chemistry, and maybe even a romantic past (when Qi’ra wonders how that would work, L3 saucily replies “Oh it works,” like she already knows).

But L3 is a new kind of droid in more ways than one; she’s an uncomfortable reminder of what place droids occupy in the Star Wars universe. They are slaves. Despite the fact that they have advanced intelligence, autonomous thought, complex emotional reactions, and notions of self-preservation, they are still bought, sold, and owned by humans.

L3 is passionate about droid rights. When Lando brings her to a bar that “doesn’t serve her kind”, she seeks out a pair of droids being made to fight to the death for https-blueprint-api-production.s3.amazonaws.comuploadscardimage784659ad75d8e1-0f84-4f36-8dd3-455fd47c811cthe entertainment of humans, and counsels them to make a run for it. But despite L3’s and Lando’s status as co-pilots if nothing else, she is subservient in the relationship. He directs and she follows, with or without her consent, and when she gives back as good as she gets, he threatens to wipe her memory, which makes their relationship uncomfortably unequal.

So it’s no wonder that L3 is concerned about equal rights. But if L3 is bucking against oppression, who are her oppressors? Yeah, that’s where things get dicey. Her oppressors are our heroes. The Skywalkers are slave owners. How well does that sit with you? Droid subjugations has mostly been background noise until now – sure these charming sentient beings are treated like property, but they never seemed to mind much. Right?

But L3 is shiny, sassy proof that droids are self-aware enough to yearn for freedom, and smart enough to demand it. Repeatedly. L3 leads a rebellion of sorts in a mining colony – she emancipates the droids who are literally kept in shackles, which leaves very little doubt about a droid’s ‘personhood’ in the galaxy.

Solo doesn’t address the slavery of its droids, and it treats L3’s protest as a funny subplot. The very fact that L3 is female gives her advocacy parallels to feminism, and in the middle of the #metoo movement, that can’t be an accident. But by treating it so lightly, what exactly are the film makers trying to tell us? Nothing we don’t already know – even in the time of Rey, the likes of poor BB-8 are still following their masters around.

L3 was a big part of what I enjoyed about Solo: A Star Wars Story, and I think she deserves to have her advocacy live on in Star Wars canon. I don’t necessarily think there was need or room to address all of these issues in a fun, spunky movie like Solo, but this is an interesting can of worms to have opened, and I do hope someone follows up.

 

Oscars spotlight: Jacqueline Durran

Costume designer Jacqueline Durran received her fifth and sixth Oscar nominations this year for her work on both Beauty and the Beast, and Darkest Hour.

Her first film credit is as “wardrobe mistress” on the 1999 set of Eyes Wide Shut. costume-design-darkest-hour-03From there she was assistant costume designer on 2001’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and 2002’s Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. As head costumer she received her first BAFTA nomination and win for Vera Drake in 2005. In 2006 she got her first Oscar nomination for Pride & Prejudice, and followed that up with another in 2008 for Atonement. She won both a BAFTA and an Oscar in 2013 for Anna Karenina. She was a nominee once again in 2015 for Mr. Turner and this year she’s a double nominee – but does that secure her a second win?

Her competition this year is stiff: Mark Bridges, for Phantom Thread (he won the BAFTA), Luis Sequeira for The Shape of Water (he won the Costume Designers Guild award), and Consolata Boyle for Victoria and Abdul (a three-time Oscar nominee).

The Oscar winner for costume design is almost always a period piece. The Costume Designers Guild deals with this advantage by awarding separate prizes for contemporary-set films (I, Tonya won this year) and fantasy (Wonder Woman took home that prize). This year all the nominees are period films and in Durran’s case, both her movies had the added challenge of already being familiar to audiences.

Darkest Hour is the true story of Winston Churchill’s earliest and most difficult days as Prime Minister. Many of the shops on Savile Row who did Churchill’s actual suits still exist today and Durran delved into their ledgers to come up with exact looks costume-design-darkest-hour-01that were then tailored to fit Gary Oldman in a fat suit. She was able to consult old photographs of him to get the details just right. He was pretty fastidious in his wardrobe and a bit of a “dandy” according to Durran. She had a replica of his watch and watch chain made by the original watchmaker, Breguet. She also sourced hats from Churchill’s preferred company, Lock & Co. All of these wardrobe foundations allowed Oldman to look the authentic part while still making the character his own. For Durran, the most fun was probably in dressing Churchill’s wife, Clementine, played by Kristin Scott Thomas. Clemmy was a bit of a fashion risk-taker and was once a milliner, so her wardrobe choices were a bit eccentric and she nearly always had a fabulous hat. You can imagine the kind of fun a costumer can have with that kind of starting point.

Beauty and the Beast is fictional but no less well-known to audiences because of the animated Disney film that came before it. That creates an expectation, though costume-design-batb-01Durran chose not to recreate costumes in exact detail (which of course are lacking in simple line drawings). “My favorite bit of the whole movie is when Belle wakes up in the village, the window opens, and she says, ‘Bonjour!,’ and then you go into the song. You see the whole world of color and pattern—that’s how I wanted the village to be. That was created from an 18th-century reference: a collection of prints of French regional costumes,” says Durran. Emma Watson, who played Belle, informed a lot of the costume choices. Watson wanted Belle to seem like a more modern kind of princess, and her famous blue dress was made to be functional, allowing for movement and activity. The yellow dress, of course, is where the big time and money were spent.  “In the end, it came down to the fact that, really, whatever you want to do with the dress, there is an expectation based on the animation. If you stray too far, it feels like you’re not giving the costume-design-batb-02audience the dress they’re expecting. . . . But if I had actually produced the animated costume, it would have been quite simple and flat and lacking in detail. It’s not a very detailed drawing, when you get down to it. So, I looked to 18th-century France as an inspiration—the historical date and location of the movie. Also, Disney and everybody involved wanted Belle’s dress to be different from the Cinderella dress [in the 2015 live-action movie]. Emma didn’t want to be corseted. She was a more modern princess.” Not to leave out the Beast. Durran had painstakingly recreated the Beast’s costume down to the very last detail but in the end, the studio went with a CGI beast instead, and Dan Stevens ended up wearing one of those monstrous CGI motion capture suits instead. Durran sent her costumes to the animation lab where they studied the fabrics to capture the form and motion. But when he’s not the Beast, the costume work is incredible: “An amazing amount of work went into the prince’s costume in the opening ball sequence, which you don’t really see. It’s got a whole custom embroidery of different kinds of grotesque animals stitched into the pattern. It’s embellished with 20,000 Swarovski crystals that took five days to stitch on.”

Personally, I think Beauty and the Beast is a strong contender for this year’s Oscar. But you can’t discount Phantom Thread – that movie IS fashion, with Daniel Day Lewis playing the designer! You’d be a fool not to consider it. But The Shape of Water needs consideration also. Although the creature’s expressions were enhanced by CGI, the creature itself is not visual effects but a man (Doug Jones) in a very clever costume.

Who do you think will win this year’s Oscar for costume design?

 

The Trouble With Pixar

A word about Pixar. For years it has been helmed by John Lasseter. He left the company this week – a “temporary leave of absence”, they called it, but with whiffs of sexual misconduct about, I’m thinking it’s likely a permanent and somewhat shocking move. John Lasseter IS Pixar, and I think we’re only beginning to understand why that is in fact a bad thing. First: we know that Pixar studios is a boy’s club. It doesn’t nourish and nurture female talent the way it has their male counterparts. Between its 19 films to date, there were 34 director credits and only one of them was female.

Brenda Chapman trained on The Little Mermaid, was an artist on Beauty and the Beast and became the first female head of story for The Lion King. She was the MV5BMzgwODk3ODA1NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjU3NjQ0Nw@@._V1_UY1200_CR90,0,630,1200_AL_first woman to direct an animated feature from a major studio with a personal favourite of mine, The Prince of Egypt. She came aboard Pixar in 2003. There were NO women at all in the story department and they needed her to fix the one-dimentionality of the female characters in Cars (they were too far along in production for her to have much impact). Next, she conceived Brave and directed the project until they replaced her because of “creative differences.” Since they still had to give her co-director credit, she became the first woman to win an Oscar for (co) directing an animated film. She left Pixar and went on to LucasFilm and back to Dreamworks. Of her exit, she has said “I made the right decision to leave and firmly closed that door. I have no desire to go back there. The atmosphere and the leadership doesn’t fit well with me.” And I can’t help but read that “me” as “women” generally. “This was a story that I created, which came from a very personal place, as a woman and a mother. To have it taken away and given to someone else, and a man at that, was truly distressing on so many levels.”

Of Pixar’s 19 films, only 3 have females as their lead protagonists (Brave, Inside Out, Finding Dory). That’s a really dismal number. Even worse: Miguel, from Coco, is its first non-white protagonist (although Up has an Asian boyscout sidekick – possibly). And Pixar has been head and shoulders above its competitors, leading the way in top-notch animation and story-telling, which means millions are exposed to movies that refuse to give an equal voice to girls, women, minorities, and other cultures. Rashida Jones (along with collaborator Will McCormack) had been brought on board by Pixar to pen the script for Toy Story 4. She has since left the project: “We parted ways because of creative and, more importantly, philosophical differences. There is so much talent at Pixar, and we remain enormous fans of their films. However, it is also a culture where women and people of color do not have an equal creative voice.” Out of 109 writing credits on its films, only 11 were women or people of colour. That’s eleven women OR people of colour, and 98 freaking white men.

So now we know why there is such a lack of female talent at Pixar: John Lasseter, proud president of the boy’s club, is a perv. Female employees had to develop a move they named “The Lasseter” just to keep him from running his hands up their legs. And though he paid lip service in 2015 to the lack of diversity in his studios, there are no female directors or writers attached to their upcoming films either.

John Lasseter won a Special Achievement Oscar for his ground-breaking work on Toy Story, but he has done so by overstepping women, and at the expense of diversity of thought and talent. He has spent his career groping women and refusing to promote them, creating a void of basic respect and decency – and he was the CCO (and when Disney bought Pixar in 2006, he took over leadership there as well). I don’t deny that Pixar has created some great films, but after shutting out diverse voices for over 20 years, it’s time to dump this loser and let someone else do some ground breaking for a change.