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Yesterday, my brother and I spent a wholesome Sunday afternoon watching a horror/thriller/glove advert called Frozen. Three nearly-fit young students get themselves stuck on a chairlift in a closed ski resorts. The film itself is scary and horrible and gruesome and extremely fun, but the clothes?! The youngsters are in minus-many degrees cold, in the middle of the night, in the Utah mountains, and they don’t zip up their coats. One of them doesn’t even put his hood up. Who raised them? If you’re at risk of hypothermia and frostbite, you zip up your jacket, no matter how much of a dork it makes you look.

However, as my brother rightly pointed out, watching three brightly-coloured ski jackets talking on a chair lift for an hour and a half does not an engaging film make. When will our obsession with faces end?! How many films would have ended differently if the directors had been brave enough to have the characters zip up their coats?

Probably one. This one.


I was fortunate to get a sneaky preview of The Runaways, so I thought I’d put it to good use, and write something about it. Unfortunately, there’s really not all that much to write about.

I don’t know how much everybody knows about the story of The Runaways, I might have been the only person nodding sagely and pretending to be intrigued when the concept of this film was first bandied about last year. Perhaps everyone else meant it when they said “Hmm, Joan Jett? Ah yes, how wonderful that she’s finally getting the biopic-shaped recognition she deserves…” and I was the only one scanning Wikipedia for reasons to be interested. Anyway, I did become interested, and I was truly looking forward to the tale of angry, disaffected young things, trading their humdrum lives for guitars, pills and slutty outfits.

Sadly, this was a case of the anticipation being better than the film. From the beginning, we are pelted with the themes of experimentation, transition, gender and exploitation, and it is dull. The trials and tribulations of young girls aren’t inherently interesting, even if the stakes are slightly higher than an episode of Skins. The whole film hinges on us already knowing that Joan Jett and Cherie Currie were the bestest of friends and already thinking they’re talented musicians, because in the hundred or so minutes it runs for, there is nothing to demonstrate either of those things. The longest conversation between the two girls is a minute or so long and even that is mostly taken up by Dakota Fanning’s silent pleas that Kristen Stewart just do some acting, yeh?

Poor little Dakota, this was her break out film. She was going to be a grown-up actress and show everybody that she’s not just a wind-up acting doll. She was clearly willing to do almost anything to make the shift into adult acting, including quite literally, sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. And then they cast her opposite Kristen Stewart. There is little point getting into a Twilight argument, Stewart’s problem goes beyond the vampires. In short, she’s repulsive to watch on screen. In the truest sense of the word, as in she repels the audience. She is sullen, surly and arrogant, in the worst possible way. There is nothing endearing or warm about her, she is utterly soulless and then, she appears on screen, sticks out her chin, mumbles her lines and we are expected to find her mysterious and charming. Well, no. Shan’t. On the other hand, Dakota Fanning is admirable in her attempt to give the film some life. Her vulnerability fights with her anger and disillusionment in an interesting and almost moving way, and Cherie Currie’s story is ultimately the much more engaging for it.

The clothes are a bit of a mixed bag really. Dakota Fanning is dressed in her miniscule corsets, Kristen Stewart is customizing band t-shirts, and it all feels so contrived. Photos from the original Runaways days show that the designer has done a sterling job of recreating their looks, but the girls just don’t live up to them. We’re not given enough of their personalities to believe that they have created their styles themselves and yet minutes (believe me, you’ll be counting every single one) are spent watching them snip away at t-shirts and their hair and their dignity.

The original Runaways minus Joan

It’s a shame really, because there is a good story in there, but they just missed it. Instead of focusing on the friendship, the characters, or god forbid, the music, they latched on to the subplot of the over-sexed, unchaperoned, too-much-too-fast blah blah blah children. The problem with that is that stripped of the personalities, it has about enough substance to fill a shocking anecdote. “Can you believe those girls started a band, got sent on tour to Japan on their own, and then came home?”, “Which girls?, “Just some girls.”, “Oh…”

After what seems like a decade of terribly clever Pixar feature films, Disney has finally gone back to its roots and made a proper Princess film.

The Princess and the Frog is the story of Tiana, a young black girl living in New Orleans, who dreams of opening her own restaurant, where she can serve her father’s gumbo and her special beignets. So far, so rags-to-riches set up. Add a spoilt but lovable best friend, and a visiting prince of indeterminate origin, and you have yourself a bonafide princess film.

And it is fair to say that The Princess and the Frog draws on all of the best-loved conventions of classic Disney films. There are elements of the old Princess films, such as Tiana’s mini-makeover for her friend Charlotte’s party, which is reminiscent of Cinderella, and Tiana and Naveen’s relationship has shades of Aladdin and Jasmine’s early exchange. But this only adds to the resonance of this lovely film. And it is not only Princess, or even Disney films that can be found in there. The journey down the Bayou combines the lazy drift of The Jungle Book and the quiet menace of creatures on the river in The Rescuers.

I was also reminded of the much overlooked and underrated Don Bluth film, Anastasia. One of the best things about that film is the way they treat Anastasia’s memories and fantasies. They are dreamy and romantic, and very touching because of it. In Princess and the Frog, there is a beautifully designed dream sequence, in which a dilapidated old building springs into life around Tiana, and become the restaurant of her dreams. The art deco influences in the animation of this scene show the evolution in the Princess film genre. It is a step forward from the “Be Our Guest” sequence from Beauty and the Beast, where the crockery danced, but the animation was clunky and slightly incongruous to the rest of the film. In The Princess and the Frog, the dream sequence contrasts, but also complements beautifully, as it captures the positive aspects of the era quickly and evocatively.

Discussing the ‘costume’ in this film is tricky, as frogs drive the narrative for a large part of it, but it is still definitely worth a mention. The animators have a relatively short amount of time for characterization in this film, as once the transformations start, they keep coming. Whether or not this excuses a bit of reliance on stereotypes, I am not sure, but that is what they end up doing. The best friend, Charlotte is spoilt and extraordinarily wealthy, and therefore obviously has blond curls, dimples and an oversized fur coat. And Big Daddy, her kindly and indulgent father, is rosy and rotund, with a bushy red moustache. Equally, the villain, Dr Facilier practices voodoo and is therefore dripping with skulls and talismans, and has particularly large, flagstone teeth, and a pencil moustache.

This is not the time to argue the rights and wrongs of Disney stereotyping; it does exist, it probably has the potential to compound some negative clichés, but there is far more to this film than the presence of a few easy assumptions. The songs are charming, the animation is gorgeous, and there is a princess. All in all, I think Disney’s back.

Before the Christmas carousel of present-wrapping, unwrapping and apron-wearing began in earnest, I went to the cinema to see Me and Orson Welles. Much has been said about Christian Mackay’s performance as the tyrannous Orson Welles, and I can only add assurance that he is brilliant. He is unpredictable and charming, and as he dictates the film, you become one of his cast buffeted from tantrum to hearty camaraderie.

Set in 1930s New York, the film follows fledgling actor, Richard Samuels (Zac Efron) through his first week in New York, in Orson Welles’ production of Julius Caesar. This is a very small, sweet story, which, among other things, plots the relationship between Samuels and Welles’ assistant, Sonja Jones (Claire Danes). Efron shrugs off his Wildcats uniform admirably, and Danes’ portrayal is sharp and knowing, but suitably bruised from working with the irascible director.

The 1930s have become a bit of a pet period for fashionable types, which means that two versions of the fashion exist; the genuine, slightly unflattering, chunky cuts that are hidden in undiscovered vintage stores and costume museums; and the Topshop-friendly, much more forgiving styles that wander up and down the streets of 2009.

Costume designer, Nic Ede wraps each character in entirely convincing 1930s garb, and is brave enough to prioritise the atmosphere and style of the film as a whole, over the wishlists of the fashion savvy audience members. Of course, Christian Mackay stills looks overwhelming in his trilby, Claire Danes looks born for a set wave, red lips and a cape, and Zac Efron, well, if it wasn’t so wrong… yes, so, young, bright-eyed Hollywood thing and all that.

Haircuts shouldn’t be underestimated. Not the most profound thing I will ever write, but true. William Wyler, director of Roman Holiday (1953), knew this. Billy Wilder, director of Sabrina (1954), also knew this. And that is why, at pivotal points in both films, Audrey Hepburn’s hair gets fairly unceremoniously lopped off. In both films, the moment that we see her without her ponytail for the first time, is the moment she becomes the real protagonist of the film. Sabrina sitting in a tree gazing at David isn’t the real Sabrina. Humphrey Bogart didn’t fall in love with that Sabrina, he dragged her out of garage and made fun of her pitiful suicide attempt. The ponytail is a reassuring symbol for the audience, as we know that whatever happens to her before the chop will be resolved when she gets a haircut and some gumption.

In Roman Holiday, Hepburn’s haircut is her first real act of  rebellion. Of course, before that she hops over the palace wall  and into the real world, but she is loopy on sedatives, and promptly has to be rescued by the handsome and streetwise Gregory Peck. The next morning, however, she is thinking clearly again, and walks into a salon and tells the hairdresser to cut it all off. In fact, it takes two attempts to assert this independence, as the bob he gives her is a crashing anti-climax.

When he finally crops her hair and rolls the edges, she suddenly  becomes royalty. Not the little princess drowned in her ankle-  length nightdress and waist-length hair, dutifully drinking milk  before bed, but a regal and dignified woman.

Sabrina may cut her hair for the wrong reason, but it has the same effect. It takes a year at cooking school, a friendship with a wealthy octogenarian, and a haircut to transform Sabrina the chauffeur’s daughter, into Sabrina the woman.

When the Baron rightly identifies why Sabrina’s souffle is a flop, (“a woman happily in love, she burn the souffle…a woman unhappily in love forgets to turn on the oven”), he gives her the best piece of advice she could hope for. Her father may have sent her to cookery school in Paris, but the Baron told her she looked like a horse – the ponytail had to go. And just like that, on her return to Long Island, Sabrina and David are equals. Her appearance is the ultimate status symbol.

“Oh Sabrina, where have you been all my life?”

“Right over the garage.”

Okay, so I finally made it to the cinema. I had been looking forward to An Education for months. I had been waiting for Carey Mulligan to be given a film of her own, since her brilliant episode of Doctor Who (Sally Sparrow is my idol) and since she made her much more experienced Pride and Prejudice co-star, Jena Malone look like a sour-faced old scragbag, just by standing next to her.

It is the story of Jenny, a 1960s schoolgirl, stifled by her father’s dreams of Oxford, and saddled with a cumbersome cello and a pretentious personality. That is, until she meets a dashing older man. It should have been the ideal first starring film role for Mulligan. And yet, it just wasn’t.

She wasn’t the only disappointment. Nick Hornby wrote the screenplay, the rest of the cast was made up of British wonders: Emma Thompson, Olivia Williams, Alfred Molina, Rosamund Pike among others, and an American with a peculiar English accent and a handsome face – Peter Sarsgaard – played the male lead. It should have been so good. And yet, it really wasn’t.

How much the script was hindered by the original novel, Lynn Barber’s memoir of the same name, I am not sure, but it fell so flat that the cast couldn’t begin to scrape it off the floor. Not that they tried particularly. Alfred Molina blustered. Olivia Williams needs to remember that drab is not an emotion. And Emma Thompson just wasn’t bothered. She was dry and generally unpleasant, but beyond that, there wasn’t much to be said of her character. Using her name in trailers and then giving her a cameo is a cheap trick. Having said that Rosamund Pike was lovely as the ditsy, glamorous Helen, and the times when she was onscreen were easily the high points.

On the plus side, quite early on in the design process, someone gave the Costume Department a Dorling Kindersley book about 1960s fashion, so they all looked suitably quaint.

The evening gowns were beautiful, and over all what little characterization there was in the film was fleshed out by the costumes. Again Rosamund Pike’s character stood out here, as her carousel of outfits compounded her vapidity, seemingly saying that she is an object of beauty and charm, and blithely asking what’s the harm in that.

While they don’t appear onscreen together, Olivia Williams and Rosamund Pike’s costumes, dressed as the dreary teacher and the gorgeous socialite respectively, added weight to their portrayal as the two opposing female role models in Jenny’s life.

As for Jenny, those who can’t help but hope for a montage, or at the very least some sort of revelatory moment, if a character is made over, will be disappointed. Glamourpuss Jenny’s unveiling was pretty inconsequential, Sarsgaard gasped and off they went. Mulligan did manage to fill her new clothes with teenage arrogance and then shrink within them as her bravado faded at various points throughout the film, but a lot of emphasis was placed on the fact that if you did her eyeliner just so, she looked a bit like Audrey Hepburn.

“How do I look?”

“Very good… I must say I’m amazed.”

“Magic moment” is an overused expression. I have my doubts about how “magic” a lot of these moments are. Having said that, I would argue that the second when Audrey Hepburn lifts her head to look at George Peppard from under the brim of her hat is magical. See future posts for more Audrey-related fawning.

Needless to say, without the hat it would be nothing. Such is the power of costume. Take James Bond. Anyone who says they believed Daniel Craig would be a good Bond before seeing him in the suit or the Speedos is being smug (and lying).

It might be overstating to say costumes maketh the film, but they definitely do something, and this is my attempt to find out what. Film reviewing by way of clothes, hair, makeup and the suchlike, and reverential gushing about iconic costumes will make up the majority of posts, with a few comments on the state of journalism thrown in to add mystery.

Occasionally there will be pictures if some obliging passerby seems to be channelling a particular character’s look – for that, read ‘obliging friend who lets me dress them up and take their picture’.

Please add if you think of particularly over/under/side to side -whelming costumes, or if you disagree wildly with any aspersions cast…