Tuesday, 21 May 2013


Somehow, there are a lot of people who don't know about this incredible film which stars a 12-year-old Natalie Portman as Mathilda, an orphan seeking revenge on the drug dealers that murdered her 4-year-old brother (as well as her parents, whom she claims not to care about). When she returns home to discover she is now totally alone, she seeks solace in the flat of her mysterious neighbour, who is reluctant to take her in. We soon discover that he (Léon) is in fact a hit man, and Mathilda begs him to look after her and share his skills with her so that she can avenge her brother's death. If that doesn't already sound like the perfect premise for a movie, then she does all of this wearing the best outfits that a 12-year-old girl has ever worn and with an attitude of someone wise beyond their years. And if all this sounds familiar, I would suggest that the relationship dynamic between Mathilda and Léon may have had something of an influence on the characters Hit-Girl and Big Daddy from the Kick-Ass films and comic book series, over a decade later.

Mathilda is probably one of my favourite on-screen characters when it comes to dress, with the fact that she is only 12 making her even more captivating. She has an Amelie-style haircut which would signify all the naivete and twee-ness of a young girl, but instead she is a stark contrast to what an audience would usually expect from a younger character. Aside from moments of playful behaviour which appear to match her age (the 'dress-up' scene being an example), she is concerned with leading an adult life like Léon's and even takes to mimicking him by wearing circular tinted sunglasses and a woollen hat in the same way that he does.

When we first see her, she is sat on the floor with her legs through the banisters as her feet dangle in the air and she smokes a cigarette nonchalantly. She wears multicoloured comic-strip print tights, denim shorts and a white crochet cardigan with a thick black choker and chunky brown biker boots (all while sporting a black eye). In some ways, her behaviour seems surprisingly adult, however on the other hand, it's exactly the kind of behaviour we should expect from an almost-teenager who is frustrated with childhood and desperately wants to be a grown-up. It's just that with Mathilda, we know she is about to be forced into growing up a whole lot quicker than anyone expects.

It's also interesting that she's called Mathilda, like the Roald Dahl character Matilda, who is also a young girl that is mature beyond her years, holds a disdain for her parents that partake in criminal activity and forms an unconventional friendship with an adult outside of her own family.

There is a brief moment where she wears the pink dress seen above, but other than that she can be seen in different variations on the boots, shorts and t-shirt ensemble, accessorised with her choker, her Bunny Rabbit and her khaki military bomber jacket. Her clothes are an important part of her character in visual terms, demonstrating a crossover between her streetwise toughness and 12-year-old innocence, with the Bunny-Rabbit-clutching/gun-toting as an obvious juxtaposition. Overall, Matilda is a prime example of how clothing helps define a character on-screen, as well as an unexpected source of inspiration for looking like a troubled child with a Salvation Army wardrobe.

Sunday, 28 April 2013


The last film I went to see at the cinema was the thought-provoking and somewhat mind-bending Spring Breakers. Like many, I had been anticipating the release of this movie since filming began. The promise of James Franco playing a Riff Raff-inspired rapper while surrounded by ex-Disney girls gone bad, with costumes by Heidi Bivens and direction from Harmony Korine, looked and sounded like the perfect combination of elements. However, I left feeling undecided about my thoughts. There were aspects that I loved and aspects that made me cringe involuntarily. Obviously a strong social commentary is being made, highlighted by the intended cartoonisation of violence ('Just pretend it's a fucking video game') and the documentation of the rape culture that appears to dominate Spring Break activities. Ultimately, though, my favourite parts of the film were visual.

The overall aesthetic is effective; the cotton-candy colour palettes and plush backpacks adopted by the four girls is a disconcerting contrast to their extreme behaviour that forces the viewer to question the innocence of these girls from the very beginning. The clip-art style unicorn logo that appears throughout the film - most memorably on the foreheads of the pink balaclavas worn in the 'Everytime' scene - becomes a symbol that represents the girls as a gang, a juxtaposition that brings us back to this idea of cartoonisation. Unfortunately, this collaboration Opening Ceremony have done with the film does not feature said balaclavas, but there is enough there for you to recreate your own fast food restaurant heist. Costume design was devised by Heidi Bivens (also a stylist whose previous credits include David Lynch's Inland Empire) and I think that the styling is one of the film's strongest parts. The girls run around in neon bikinis, trainers and flip-flops, with only exposed flesh, dollar bills and Red Cups for accessories. Bivens designed some pieces herself, but much of the girls' clothes came from American Apparel, Playboy, Hot Topic and Victoria's Secret, places she thought the characters would shop. I think the use of a brand like Victoria's Secret PINK is interesting, since they are something of a lifestyle brand that bases it's image on playful and girlish femininity, as well as American college vibes and beachwear. The way the characters in the film wear the clothes gives a darker side that counteracts the innocence and frivolity of a label like that.

The scene that sees the girl performing gun-assisted ballet was a perfect visual complete with bathing suits, 'DTF' sweatpants and the memorable unicorn balaclavas - if we can forget the excruciating sound of Alien's voice as he covers the classic Britney Spears ballad. The mesmerising montage that follows shows a string of violent break-ins and thefts committed by the girls and Alien, accompanied by the soft and innocent sound of Britney's voice, the classic Disney girl grown-up and gone awry.

(Above: Some of the character's outfits, Below: Custom Vans for the character of Candy)

Despite how audiences feel about the character of Alien, I applaud Franco's portrayal of the role. Despite the initial amusement of seeing him play a character so different from his usual self, I found it believable, even as someone who has watched just about everything he's ever done. His look is comprised mostly of cornrows, guns, and Jerm Jilla's Clay Candy weed and sizzurp chains.

Finally, I enjoyed the style of editing that was used. The repetition of certain scenes and diegetic elements as they were moved around, slowed-down, re-used and re-cut made for some dreamlike sequences that actually captured the sense of freedom felt by the protagonists in the most successful way. It was these slowed-down moments of reflection that made me want to remain invested in the film, instead of giving up on the unlikeable characters and their ambiguous intentions. 
The film is an overall visual and aural assault, with loud noises and even louder colours. As for whether I would recommend Korine's latest efforts, I'm still undecided. His work on films like Kids and Gummo are definitely in no danger of being overtaken. However, if you want to watch a film that will challenge and surprise you then it's worth a watch. Perhaps for James Franco's grillz alone.

(The 'Everytime' Scene)