Unordered List

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

READ THIS BOOK: A Hero at the End of the World

This is a bit of a departure from my usual topics, but today marks the publishing date of one of THE MOST EXCITING BOOKS of my entire life. It's called A Hero at the End of the World and it's written by Erin Claiborne -- a very talented author who has been writing fanfic for years, and is now branching out into original fiction for the first time. This book is absolutely laugh-out-loud funny, a kind of Douglas Adams-esque satire on young adult fantasy tropes: A story about a Chosen One character who fails to live up to expectations.

A Hero at the End of the World is published by Big Bang Press, a small press I helped launch last year. It's specifically dedicated to publishing original novels by fanfic writers, and Hero is the first. And it's getting SUCH GOOD REVIEWS, I'm so excited! Kirkus Reviews gave it a starred recommendation (which is notoriously unusual for a debut novel), and the Book Smugglers (a popular YA/fantasy book review blog) rated it "Excellent." Here's the plot summary:
"According to prophecy, 17-year-old Ewan Mao is destined to kill the evil tyrant who has been terrorizing Britain for as long as he can remember. But when Ewan chickens out and his best friend Oliver Abrams defeats the villain instead, Ewan’s bright future crumbles before his eyes. 
Five years later, Ewan is living at home and working in a coffee shop while Oliver has a job in the government’s Serious Magical Crimes Agency. They haven’t spoken since they were teenagers, but a routine investigation leads Oliver and his partner, Sophie Stewart, to uncover a powerful cult… one that has drawn Ewan into a plot to end the world."

One of the best things about Big Bang Press is the amount of freedom we have. A Hero at the End of the World is a mainstream teen fantasy novel with a diverse cast including queer characters and people of colour in the lead roles. It's written by an author who is proud of her background as a fanfic writer, and published by people who love fandom and want to promote the work of creators who come from the fanfic and fanart communities. (And did I mention that this book was illustrated by fanartist Jade Liebes? Her art is amazing!)

I hope some of you guys decide to check this book out! Erin is a great writer, and we've put a lot of hard work into making this the best book it can be. For more info, please check out the Big Bang Press website, Tumblr or Twitter accounts! Or you can just can order a copy in paperback or ebook format right now. :D

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Interstellar, costume design, and the difficulties of "realistic" visual worldbuilding.

Interstellar is one of those movies where the costume design is almost invisible, which is part of what makes it so interesting. The simplest explanation is that the visual style is purposefully "realistic" and avoids any kind of futurism... which in itself is unrealistic. A conundrum, right? Technically, it doesn't make sense for people 50-100 years in the future to wear the same clothes as people in 2014. But from the perspective of a filmmaker who wants his apocalyptic sci-fi film to be taken seriously, this aesthetic decision makes perfect sense.

The earthbound setting of Interstellar is a classic American fantasy: a manly farmer hero, raising his kids in a bleak, rural landscape. Despite the film's image as a deep and thoughtful space epic, it still relies on the familiar old Hollywood scenario of a messianic white American dude being the one person who can save mankind. (And yes, I know his daughter does the actual saving, but this is very much a film about Cooper, not Murphy.) Underdog heroes NASA and Matthew McConaughey save humanity while the rest of the world is apparently helpless. Politically and socially, this is a tired old trope, but it aligns well with the kind of generic hero that can be inserted into a complex movie with minimal exposition. Cooper is the kind of guy who, for better or worse, is perceived as "universal." Luckily, McConaughey's performance was brilliant.

So here we have Coop and his kids, looking both relatable and realistic in their jeans and hoodies. This is the difference between a meticulously researched film that is actually realistic, and a film whose worldbuilding gives the appearance of realism, and therefore does not jolt viewers out of their comfort zone. On the whole, the appearance of realism tends to be the better choice. We're watching fiction, after all.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Constantine: "The Darkness Beneath"

Previously: Constantine, "Non Est Asylum"

If you're still on the fence about watching this week's Constantine, here's a line that tells you everything you need to know: "There's nothing blacker than gypsy magic."

Yes, this episode hinged on the kind of racist stereotype that I'm surprised is even allowed on TV in 2014. Friends, this was not a pleasant hour of television.
In order to introduce the new female lead Zed, episode 2 saw Constantine visit a Pennsylvania mining town without his regular (and so far pointless) sidekick Chas. This town had a problem with vengeful spirits killing off local miners, and because Constantine is indistinguishable from Supernatural, our hero traveled across America to solve their problem by interrogating a bunch of angry men and befriending a sexy yet mysterious lady. That's Zed, by the way. We still don't know much about her except that she was probably described as "tempestuous" in the casting call.

The victim in the pre-credits scene was a mean drunk husband who burned to death in the shower. After various unimaginative demonic shenanigans, we learn that his wife is the one who brought the mine monsters into town, and Constantine's solution is to... bring her (implicitly) abusive husband back to drag her down to Hell. Oh, and she's a "Romani girl," hence the godawful "gypsy magic" line I quoted above. To make matters worse, this tired old stereotype was completely unnecessary to the situation at hand, and could've been removed without making any difference to the plot.
The most frustrating thing with this episode was how easily they could've made it better. It was written by the creator of Farscape, a delightfully weird show with its fair share of interesting female characters. But this episode wasn't just poorly written, it was a paint-by-numbers example of generic supernatural/mystery TV. What makes this all the more baffling is that it's adapted from a comic that actually does have some personality, and both of the showrunners are supposedly Hellblazer fans. I'm yet to see much evidence that anyone in this show has gone beyond reading the Hellblazer Wikipedia page, though.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

NBC Constantine: "Non Est Asylum"

I'm a big Hellblazer fan, so I've been looking forward to NBC's Constantine with trepidation. Is it going to be any good? Well, no. Hellblazer is not well suited to the formulas and restrictions of US network television. But I'm a glutton for punishment, so I'm going to keep watching.

Predictably, I wasn't exactly blown away by the pilot episode's combination of stilted exposition and occult horror cliches. That being said, a pilot is a pilot is a pilot. It's entirely possible that this show will improve later on. In the meantime, I'm gonna do one of the worst things a TV critic can do: over-analyse a show based on its inevitably simplistic first episode.

We begin with an origin story that will be familiar to Hellblazer fans: John Constantine in a mental hospital. He allowed a young girl to be killed and dragged to Hell by a demon, so now he feels bad. And for whatever reason, that leads to electric shock treatment. Everything else in the episode will feel familiar even to new viewers, thanks to its solid basis in cliché. Daddy issues, a Dark Past, and a young woman (Liv) who needs the protagonist's help -- it's all there, and it all progresses more or less as expected.
Having saved the girl and confronted his literal/figurative demons, Constantine ends the episode with an embarrassing voiceover monologue while wandering the city at night. So noir. "I'm the one who steps from the shadows, all trenchcoat and arrogance," he says, like a 14-year-old boy trying to sound cool. Not exactly Shakespeare, but it adheres to my expectations for mainstream US drama pilots, which generally consist of characters explaining things to each other in very plain terms.

The biggest disappointment was that they hired the excellent Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers, Doomsday) to direct an episode that could never be much above mediocre. I hope he comes back later in the series, to work on something a little more interesting. He's a perfect choice for this show, and honestly they need all the help they can get.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Schedule for Seattle Geek Girl Con this weekend

I’m in Seattle for Geek Girl Con this weekend! I’m doing two panels and a talk about superhero costumes — please come along! :D Here’s my schedule. (The superhero costume design talk is probably the most relevant to people who read this blog: 3pm on Sunday in room LL2.)
3pm: “21st Century Boys: Slash in the Mainstream”
“Today, male/male slash is the predominant form of ‘shipping in online fandom. Growth of slash and femslash has spawned new problems: exploitation of ‘shipping by media; the push to make fanfic “publishable”; and the ongoing struggle to translate fandom’s feminism, diversity, and push for queer pairings into increased media representation.”
5pm: “Fandom and the Media”
This panel is basically me and several other fandom/geek culture journalists (Lauren Orsini, Aja Romano, Versha Sharma, Lisa Granshaw and Amanda Brennan) discussing our experiences in the field, and talking about what it’s like to report on fandom news when you yourself are a fan.
3pm: “Evolution of the Superhero Movie Costume”
I’m doing a 45-minute talk about how superhero movie costumes have developed over the years, and why. If you like my blog posts about superhero movies, hopefully you’ll enjoy this! 

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Filmoria podcast on Captain America: The Winter Soldier

I recently recorded a podcast about Captain America: The Winter Soldier for Filmoria, along with Rebecca Pahle of the Mary Sue, and Grace Duffy and Lesley Coffin, both of Filmoria. Regular HelloTailor readers may already have read quite enough about this movie, but on the off-chance that you're still interested, you can listen to the podcast here on Soundcloud! I'm still fascinated by this movie, and we all had a great time discussing it at length. :D

Monday, 22 September 2014

Costuming and Design in Captain America: The Winter Soldier -- Nick Fury, Black Widow, and S.H.I.E.L.D.

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
Part 6: Costuming and design: Steve & Bucky.

People love to namecheck spandex when talking about superhero movies, but as far as I recall there's no spandex to be seen anywhere in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With Cap's costume toned down to a (comparatively) subtle navy blue for Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the most comicbook-looking character we see is Nick Fury.

With each new appearance, I've grown to love Nick Fury's costumes more and more. Not just because they look cool, but because of the internal logic of why he dresses like that. To understand what I'm getting at here, take a moment to think about S.H.I.E.L.D. itself, and Fury's role within the organization.

In The Avengers, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and other Marvel movies, S.H.I.E.L.D. is portrayed as a quasi-governmental Men in Black organization. It's mostly populated by military types, agents like Coulson, jumpsuit-wearing Helicarrier personnel, and a smattering of individuals like Black Widow and Hawkeye. Fury is in charge, with Maria Hill as the deputy director and Alexander Pierce as his immediate superior, a kind of liaison between S.H.I.E.L.D. and various world governments.

Up until now Fury had been the authority figure, a character who swoops in and solves problems or tells characters what to do. He was basically a trigger-happy, morally ambiguous Gandalf figure.

CATWS brought in a much-needed new dimension of fallibility to Nick Fury, as well as showing him inside S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters for the first time. Alexander Pierce, in his old-fashioned but stylish three-piece suits, both fits in with those surroundings and represents the political establishment. Meanwhile Fury, with his ostentatious black leather outfits, does not exactly seem like he belongs in a grey office building.

There's a certain internal consistency to the costumes at S.H.I.E.L.D., with Maria Hill and most of the Helicarrier personnel wearing navy blue uniforms (the same shade as Cap's new uniform and his nylon biker jacket in this movie, incidentally), and characters like Coulson and Agent 13 wearing subdued businesswear.

Nick Fury does not fall into either category. He's sure as hell not wearing normal clothes that could blend into his surroundings, and I highly doubt that his outfits adhere to S.H.I.E.L.D.'s official uniform. Instead, I can only describe his favourite costume as some kind of supervillain-themed black leather cosplay outfit.

Yes, Nick Fury is a goth.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Doctor Who: The Doctor's new outfit, and some thoughts on female companions and costume design.

The unveiling of a new Doctor Who costume is a lot like a superhero rebranding -- or a new collection by an established fashion label. It's a combined attempt to get people excited about innovation, while reassuring everyone that not too much has changed. And so, the BBC announced Capaldi's new costume by talking about how it blends elements of old and new -- for example, the visual callback to John Pertwee's costume.

Thanks to the age gap between Capaldi and Matt Smith, the whole "old vs. new" thing is specifically relevant to this regeneration. Smith was dressed in an almost grandfatherly way (tweed, bow tie and braces), but that had the side-effect of making him look like a hipster. This was problematic because the Doctor's costume should never resemble a current fashion trend.

If you can look at the Doctor and say, "That guy looks like he should be hanging out in a vintage shoe shop in 21st century Hackney," then it detracts from his image as an alien -- although of course, if you make him look too alien then you can't take him seriously. Capaldi's costume sidesteps this issue by being extremely simple and pared-down, which I enjoy a great deal (not least because I want to wear the entire outfit myself).

Looking at Clara and the Doctor in the first episode of season 8, the similarities between their two outfits are obvious. He's wearing a white shirt with a prominent collar and no tie, in a more severe version of Clara's lace collar. Then there's the black/white/red color palette, and the fact that he's wearing a cardigan rather than a waistcoat underneath his jacket. If you wanted, you could probably even stretch to linking Clara's tartan skirt to the fact that Twelve has a Scottish accent.

To me, this link between the Doctor and Clara's clothes is a clear sign that intentionally or otherwise, he imprinted on her after regenerating. (Although if you look at Clara's cardigan, you'll see that it's patterned with bow ties -- a callback to Eleven's signature accessory. She's still looking back to the Doctor's previous incarnation, whereas the new Doctor is calling out for her attention.