Welcome to FrockTalk, the web’s only costume-based movie review site. The goal of Frocktalk is to shed light on the magnificent artistry of costume design in motion pictures. Reviews on this site are written by working costume designers in the entertainment industry – people who know, better than anyone, what it takes to make it all happen. The focus of FrockTalk is not to comment on the big flashy costume dramas, but to call attention to the seemingly ordinary costume design work in film that silently and persuasively moves the audience toward understanding the characters. Costume design for motion pictures is an art form that deserves more recognition than it usually gets. Fancy, pretty costumes do not always equal effective, appropriate costumes. The art of the costume is in letting the audience know who the character is, before the actor even has a chance to open his mouth. Read on, and enjoy. ** CAUTION: ALL REVIEWS CONTAIN SPOILERS! **

A Million Ways to Die in the West & Maleficent: Interpreting History & Lore

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I saw two movies today – OMG, stop the presses.  I finally got some “KB Time” and took advantage of it.  Bolstering the box office numbers for this weekend’s biggest contenders, I saw them both.  There are some interesting parallels, in terms of the costumes, and here’s how I see it:

Both are movies set in the past.  In AMWTDITW, it’s 1882.  In Maleficent, it’s unspecified storybook era (with a heavy medieval vibe). In AMWTDITW, the characters speak in a completely modern, 2014 vernacular – including nuggets like “Oh no he di’int”, and the like. In Maleficent, they aren’t speaking Olde English, either.  Both conceits give us insight into how the story is being sold  – tell the story for a modern audience, but give it some grit and interesting visuals to speak to the environment that breeds the situation upon which the story is based. Make it relevant and digestible, but romantic and captivating to watch.

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I am dying to talk with AMWTDITW Costume Designer Cindy Evans – her work in the film is really interesting, and it is highly stylized.  The color palette is beautiful – sunbleached colors harmonize beautifully with the desert background.  The “bad guy” costumes are perfect, and add smoldering gravitas to Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson) and his goons.  The film is a broad comedy, and (visually) it reminded me very much of Blazing Saddles.  The quality of light used in the film and the way the shots were composed reminded me very much of the Mel Brooks classic… something that was probably intentional, if I’m reading it correctly.  Bottom line: Neil Patrick Harris steals the show in a shockingly gross toilet humor moment.  I will say no more, lest I spoil it for you.

 

Maleficent before she becomes vengeful - note that her hair is long and flowing...

Maleficent before she becomes vengeful – note that her hair is long and flowing…

Maleficent takes viewers to an unreal world, one of fairies and magic powers.  There is a ton of VFX in the film – so much of it, in fact, that I was quite distracted, trying to figure out what was actually practically built and what was VFX. We do a lot of work that is similar in nature on Sleepy Hollow, so I was looking for clues as to how they did it.  Forgive me. The costumes in the film were stunning – the King and his army, suits of armor, chain mail, fabulous, gigantic head pieces on the medieval ladies – it was really something to see.  Designer Anna B. Sheppard (Schindler’s List, The Pianist) does great work here.  Maleficent’s transition from winged child fairy to scorned, embittered queen was very skillfully done.  The transition in color goes from earth to coal; the transition in texture goes from suede to obsidian. She has several head piece changes within the transition that are worth discussing – from delicate, almost art-nouveau metalwork to snakeskin, to hard, black, encapsulated beetle shell – it’s great costume storytelling, revealing Maleficent’s descent into the abyss of hatred and vengeance.

 

Maleficent at her worst - no sign of her "humanity" (meaning her hair), hard-surfaced costume, impenetrable.

Maleficent at her worst – no sign of her “humanity” (meaning her hair), hard-surfaced costume, impenetrable.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about the costumes in these films – hit me up on Twitter @Frocktalk and I’ll see you there!  Have a great week, everyone.

 

– KMB

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