Tag Archives: Sharni Vinson

Thursday’s Child — Stephen Colbert, My Greatest Actor, and the Joseph Gordon-Levitt Bylaw

There were just too many good articles this week. Thursday’s Child expands on yesterday’s Wednesday Collective.

“On Stephen Colbert, Satire, &c.”
Chris Braak

Stephen Colbert

Last week, satirist Stephen Colbert put himself in hot water when his show, The Colbert Report, tweeted an offensive remark about Asian-Americans. It was part of a larger bit in which he criticized Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder by portraying other cultures in ways similar to how Native Americans are portrayed by Snyder and his team. It was a way of trying to get people of other cultures to identify with the public struggle to change the team’s name.

Needless to say, Twitter doesn’t lend itself the context of a several minutes-long comedy routine. In a vacuum, the offensive remark just seemed offensive, and lost its entire point. Was it brave? Was it foolhardy? Thankfully, I don’t have to answer these questions. Chris Braak at Threat Quality Press (author of that stupendous Wonder Woman piece a few weeks ago) already has. He twists himself in logical loops that amuse, edify, and speak to some rather poignant truths.

The Greatest Actor
Johanna Schneller

Irrfan Khan

There’s a point in Life of Pi that breaks your heart. If you’ve read or seen it, you know it, that rare moment so many artists seek to evoke by breaking the viewer into his or her component parts, by making you see yourself and your life from the outside, in the simplest of terms. It is fulfilling and scary and belittling and majestic. It’s like seeing yourself for the first time, all else removed. It is, perhaps, my favorite moment in all of film, and even thinking of it now, it makes me falter.

It is the achievement of director Ang Lee, novelist Yann Martel, and screenwriter David Magee, among many others. It is delivered in the most unassuming terms by actor Irrfan Khan. If you asked me to tell you the best male actors working today, I wouldn’t get past his name on the list. The honesty of his performances is defined by a quote he gives Canada’s Globe and Mail about his boyhood shyness and inability to express himself: “I remember feeling, ‘I’m not what you are thinking, there’s somebody else inside of me.'”

The article starts with a little too much fandom, but once it settles down, it’s revealing: Khan describes seeking a mystical experience through his acting, and it translates to the viewer in every nuance. His is a quietly forthright performance style that inhabits a scene’s space and transcends across the medium to audiences in a way I’ve never seen before.

Write About the Filmmaking
Matt Zoller Seitz

MZS lead

Music criticism long ago degenerated into celebrity revue and lifestyle reporting. It’s one reason Consequence of Sound is just about the only music review website I’ll still go to – their critics talk about instrumentation, theory, and how they play into theme and emotional effect – they actually analyze the music itself.

Point is, there’s an interesting article about how film criticism has largely devolved into literary analysis. It’s better than celebrity revue, but there’s a good point to be made here – criticism of anything demands some expertise in the field’s theory. Otherwise, it just devolves into that dreaded good-bad scale I’m always railing against. Critics ought to be translators, not because viewers are too stupid or uneducated to understand what’s being said (they aren’t), but because we’re trained in the film grammar to not just describe a movie’s message, but expand on its very technique.

“Imagine, for a moment, football commentators who refuse to explain formations and plays,” critic Sam Adams writes. “Or a TV cooking show that never mentions the ingredients.”

Now, I don’t have to imagine that first part – I’ve heard Troy Aikman broadcast. By “film grammar” I don’t mean knowing some verbiage others don’t, I mean understanding form history and the unspoken language of visual techniques based in everything from art history to statuary to graphic novels. The challenge is to take that morass of intellectual study and translate it into something practical and useful for the widest range of readers.

Criticism, in this day and age, should not simply describe what’s in front of us, it should seek to create new pieces of art based on the pieces of art we critique – to do our best to expand minds, evoke emotion, invoke social consciousness, make caring connections with our readers, and to share information rather than hoard it like some elitist knowledge connoisseur. Do that, and critics earn that the literary analysis may one day be done on our reviews, and not on movies themselves.

Sam Adams’s comments expand on Ted Gioia’s in a piece by Matt Zoller Seitz at RogerEbert.com, because apparently this article lacked a sentence with 50 names in it.

The Art of Color Grading on The Grand Budapest Hotel
Beth Marchant

The Grand Budapest Hotel

A colorist is someone who goes through every scene and shot of a film with its director and editor in order to make sure the coloration is perfect and consistent. You can imagine one of the most exacting directors in this field is auteur Wes Anderson. “Digital Intermediate Colorist” (think: Color Magician) Jill Bogdanowicz recently completed the color grading on The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Beth Marchant at Studio Daily puts her through her paces in this exhaustive interview. It gets technical at points, but always returns to the creative aspect of a crucial job most don’t even know exists. It’s completely worth diving into, especially for filmmakers and photographers.

Thelma Schoonmaker on Editing
Nick Pinkerton

Wolf of Wall Street

Martin Scorsese’s go-to editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, discusses the craft of editing with Film Comment. She addresses editing for performance over continuity, how to edit improvised scenes, and the matter-of-fact, jump cut style she employs on The Wolf of Wall Street. This is a must-read for filmmakers.

The Alien Soundscape of Scotland
Trey Taylor

Under the Skin sound studio

It’s rare that I champion a movie that hasn’t come out yet, but Under the Skin is based on one of my favorite novels by Michael Faber. If his name sounds familiar, it’s because he wrote bestseller The Crimson Petal and the White. Add to this the completely strange and unfamiliar ways in which every technical aspect has been approached – the whirlwind rhythm-based editing of Paul Watts, the cinematography of Daniel Landin suggesting a world that exists in some other film’s fade to black, the suggestively post-industrial John Cage-influenced score of Mica Levi…as well as what this article at Dazed Digital discusses: the sound design by Peter Raeburn and Johnnie Burn.

Burn himself wandered Glasgow recording the city’s sounds through a secret microphone hidden in his umbrella, and he discusses the best techniques to nonchalantly shove it in people’s faces as he passes them on the street. It’s a good read, especially for those interested in learning about the single most difficult and overlooked responsibility of any independent film production – sound editing.

The Joseph Gordon-Levitt Bylaw


Yesterday, I introduced The Sharni Vinson Rule: One never needs an excuse to post about Sharni Vinson, the Australian lead of You’re Next and Patrick. I added that – in the interest of equality – the same rule applies to Joseph Gordon-Levitt, star of Looper and the unauthorized biography of every relationship I’ve ever had, (500) Days of Summer.

Down the road a bit, you’ll be reading my thoughts on Gordon-Levitt’s Socratic brainchild of a new show, HitRECord on TV. It is the most important thing on television because it changes the very way TV is created, viewed, analyzed, hosted, and understood. Bold claim? Not after you’ve seen it. Go to the site and see what I mean.

Edited (4/3/14): to reflect that the offensive tweet was on The Colbert Show‘s Twitter account, and not on Stephen Colbert’s.

Wednesday Collective — Cyberpunk, Women Direct, Britain Whitewashes, and the Sharni Vinson Rule

There are so many articles for this week’s Wednesday Collective that we’re going to split it into two parts: today’s and tomorrow’s, which I’ll dub Thursday’s Child because it will be posted on Thursday and I’m a David Bowie fan.

Cyberpunk Gets Old, Files Reverse Mortgage
Molly Osberg

WedCol cyberpunk lead

Cyberpunk isn’t just a component of my generation’s artistic outlook, it’s half the foundation. The post-industrial, dystopian narrative movement whose bones were laid out in 1979’s Alien and 1982’s Blade Runner finally muscled out in William Gibson’s 1984 novel Neuromancer. It’s re-formed the fashion and movie industries of Japan, changed Hollywood, and completely defined the video games industry, but – in recent years – technology has caught up to cyberpunk’s vision of a permanently jacked-in populace leading a real life and an online one. Perhaps more damningly, we’ve caught up to the future it once predicted, one characterized by lawless corporate feudalism and inanimate national goverments.

Molly Osberg writes at The Verge about how Cyberpunk’s evolved from social movement to aesthetic fascination, but also defines how its popular dissemination has clipped its social gravitas. What’s most interesting, and I’m projecting my own views onto this now, is how she touches on some of Gibson’s later obsessions, particularly in Pattern Recognition and Spook Country – a pursuit of iconography that borders on the religious, cultivated and refined by international groups of collectors into a borderless social Animism, forming unique languages of data and image to define views of the world that can only be completely understood by those who comprehend how the data connects.

After all, if the corporation-state is now borderless, and the nation-state has grown useless, it won’t be long before we’ll need a people-state. If Mitt Romney’s right that “Corporations are people, my friend,” then the correlation is that people are becoming less so. Maybe cyberpunk’s not quite done. Maybe we’re mistaking its teenage years, as it finds its footing in a changing world, for its retirement. Maybe its most powerful statements have yet to be made.

Female Filmmakers: Film’s Loss, Television’s Gain
Katie Walsh

Jill Soloway

Some directors have a harder time getting studios and indie investors to faithfully pony up the money for feature films. These directors are colloquially known as “women.” You see, women are considered more of a risk to helm a movie than men. Anyone who could give you a reason why could simultaneously give you a reason why he’s a fearful chauvinist living in a bygone era.

Katie Walsh at Indiewire describes the subsequent migration of women over to television directing. I can’t help but wonder whether limiting themselves to half the talent pool is why the range of viewpoints and styles in mainstream film tends toward repetition, while the range of popular TV narratives has grown braver, stranger, and more extensive. Actually, I can help but wonder, since we already know the answer.

Editing for Chinese Audiences

The Karate Kid training

While doing some research for “How China Keeps Bruce Willis Alive” last week, I came across a description by blogger Shandongxifu of how China edited the remake for The Karate Kid. It’s a window into the priorities of the Chinese censorship process, and how filmmakers worked around it to create a completely new narrative.

Britain’s Theatrical Whitewashing
Tony Howard

Adrian Lester in Merlin

Government censorship isn’t the only kind. Pictured above is Adrian Lester in Merlin. He’s an accomplished Shakespearian actor who struggles to land the jobs less accomplished white actors are given. Tony Howard at The New Statesmen pens a scathing article on Lester and other minority actors, who routinely have trouble getting roles on British stage, film, and TV. It reflects a problem that we here in the States still have, but explains how Britain’s centralization of arts funding, as well as their choice to focus on classical repertoire over newer plays, exacerbates the problem to a state of cultural emergency.

Of Charlton Heston & Antonio Banderas
A. E. Larsen

The War Lord

An Historian Goes to the Movies is quickly becoming one of my favorite blogs, a go-to source for investigating the historical accuracy of films set in the past. This week, there’s an engrossing historical analysis on The War Lord, a little-known Medieval movie starring Charlton Heston, and a discussion on why intelligent costume designers consciously choose to include historically inaccurate armors in their historical films, using The 13th Warrior as a case study.

The Future of Chinese and Hong Kong Film
David Bordwell

The White Storm

David Bordwell gives a rundown of the annual Filmart festival in Hong Kong. It’s the single biggest film market in Asia. He sets the scene to make you feel like you’re there before discussing the new system of shared productions between Hong Kong and mainland China. He devotes the bulk of his article, however, to the most exciting new films from one of the most well-established yet fastest-growing film industries in the world.

The Sharni Vinson Rule
Jordan & Eddie

Shani Vinson in Patrick

This review of Australian suspense film Patrick isn’t about the industry or any specific technical craft, but it earns a place this week because it gives me a chance to champion two things:

Firstly, actress Sharni Vinson is something special and I don’t want to miss an opportunity to point people in her direction. She led last year’s You’re Next, which achieved the rare trifecta of being my favorite horror movie, comedy, and mumblecore film of the last several years. This gives rise to the Sharni Vinson Rule – One never needs an excuse to post about Sharni Vinson. In the interest of equality, let’s say it applies to Joseph Gordon-Levitt, too.

Secondly, Jordan & Eddie (The Movie Guys) is my favorite site to learn about Australian filmmaking. Australia has a creative and vibrant filmmaking industry that is too often overlooked. These two tend to see Australian movies 6-12 months before we do here in the States, and they have a particular fondness for my kind of suspense and horror.

“Post-Empire Strikes Back”
Lili Anolik

The Canyons

If you’ve made it this far, you’re in for a treat. This would be up near the top, but some of the subject matter is raunchy and I want to be respectful to all of my readership.

Believer Magazine features an excellent story by Lili Anolik on the wreck of a film that was last year’s The Canyons, a movie which accomplished the rare feat of being relentlessly interesting and boring as can be. Anolik interviews controversial novelist and screenwriter Bret Easton Ellis (The Rules of Attraction, American Psycho) and director Paul Schrader (American Gigolo, Adam Resurrected) about a movie that Lindsay Lohan single-handedly pulls from pure dreck to semi-watchable.

Anolik examines a true piece of performance art by Ellis, a post-theatrical movie in which the art on display isn’t the film itself but the cultural commentary housed within the tale of its production. The story of the real movie adaptation of a fictional novel that Ellis’s fictional alter-ego never got around to writing, starring Lindsay Lohan, a male porn star, and controversial director Gus Van Sant as his psychiatrist, is by turns fascinating, hilarious, and chilling. The Canyons may have been terrible, but the performance art of making it may be the best thing Ellis has done yet.

2013’s Most Overlooked Films

Side Effects

I have two criteria to determine the most overlooked films of 2013. First, the film had to have made less than $25 million in its theatrical run. Now, $25 million is a lot of money; I certainly wouldn’t turn it down. When it comes to movies, though, 99 made more than that in their U.S. runs last year. I may champion Oblivion as a sci-fi classic and argue that The Lone Ranger is cleverly subversive, but they both made a good chunk of change last year. That means audiences saw them. They’re not allowed on this list, especially when I can sneak them into my introduction. Second, to be overlooked means the film earned no major awards consideration. Dallas Buyers Club and Inside Llewyn Davis each earned a handful of Oscar nominations, so they’ll get four straight hours of advertising on March 2. Here are my most overlooked films of 2013:

The East

In The East, a corporate intelligence agent, Sarah, goes undercover with a domestic, eco-terrorist group. Star and co-writer Brit Marling herself spent time with an anarchist group in order to research the role. The film is both a criticism of the mega-corporations that consider undrinkable water or unthinkable side effects the costs of doing business, as well as a judgment against the groups that claim the answer is drastic violence. As is the case with many terrorist acts, Sarah reveals that the group’s ideological claims are nothing more than excuses for vengeance based on personal grudges. She is caught between two groups too invested in destroying each other, obsessed with winning rather than doing the right thing. The East is thrilling and has some profound points to make. Marling sticks to the most independent of indie films, but she’s on her way to becoming a terrifically important actress. The East also proves that Ellen Page (Juno), as one of the anarchists, can do more than just play a quirky kid. It’s rated PG-13.

In a World

In a World, one of the best comedies to have come out last year, stars Lake Bell (who also wrote and directed) as Carol, a vocal coach who trains actors how to get rid of or develop an accent. Her father, Sam, is an iconic voice-over actor whose booming voice accompanies the most legendary of movie previews. It’s a big deal for both when a new trilogy of films announces it’s bringing back the most epic of voice-over gigs, starting with the words, “In a world…” Sam insists a serious movie can’t advertise with a woman’s voice-over, and Carol does what most kids do when a parent tells them they can’t do something. It’s a simple premise done well as the two compete for the role. Unlike most movies about Hollywood, this one avoids industry in-jokes and plays more like a romantic comedy. Comedian Demetri Martin, Rob Corddry (“The Daily Show”), and Eva Longoria (delightfully butchering a cockney English accent) co-star. It’s rated R for some brief sexual references.


Mud is the very definition of waiting for the other shoe to drop. Two Arkansas kids, Ellis and Neckbone, sneak out at night to explore the swamps along the Mississippi River. They dock at a lonely island and come across a drifter named Mud (Matthew McConaughey). He’s waiting for his girlfriend, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), but needs the boys’ help. See, he can’t go into town because cops and bounty hunters are looking for him. Neckbone comes from a broken family and Ellis’s is breaking around him, so Ellis increasingly looks at Mud’s plight as his last chance to have faith in family and love. The tension is first-rate and McConaughey delivers a spellbinding performance. “Mud” is rated PG-13, and reminds me of a less fantastical version of the slow-boil movies Steven Spielberg made when he was first getting started.

Side Effects 3

Side Effects is allegedly Steven Soderbergh’s last feature film, so I’ll bend my $25 million rule just this once. He’s the most dynamic director of our time, best known for Ocean’s Eleven, Erin Brokovich, and Traffic. Here, Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) plays Emily Taylor, a woman suffering from manic depression. Her husband, Martin (Channing Tatum), is a Wall Street banker just being released from jail. Soderbergh hits a lot of points early on. The same way convicts develop gang connections in high-security jails, Martin uses a minimum-security prison to develop his Wall Street connections. Emily goes through a retinue of pharmaceuticals, each with new side effects, before her psychiatrist, Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) decides to try her out on a new, experimental drug. Soonafter, Emily begins to sleepwalk. Tip of the day – don’t sleepwalk and try to dice vegetables with a kitchen knife at the same time.

Side Effects goes through a lot of twists and turns. It lets you outsmart it just long enough to outsmart you. What starts as psychiatric drama becomes a legal thriller, and as soon as you’ve settled into that, you’re watching a family drama turn into a conspiracy film with shades of Hitchcock’s man-on-the-run films. If there were an Oscar for Best Twists and Turns, this’d be the film to get it. Soderbergh’s career is defined by changing style from one film to the next, so if this is his swan song, it’s a fitting one. A film that changes genre, tone, and protagonist so quickly can’t just pass a genre sniff test; it can’t just be functional. It has to be a very good movie in each of its genres. That’s where Soderbergh is better than any other director, and that’s where he takes most advantage of Mara and Law – their characters suffer the drama and threat, but there’s always a hint of the actors having fun with it. It’s an approach that keeps heavy material very light on its feet. Side Effects is rated R.

Spring Breakers 2

Spring Breakers. I’ve already written a good amount on the qualities of the film and the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink performance of James Franco as rapper/courtroom-pickup-artist Alien, so let me preface by saying this: Spring Breakers is not appropriate for anybody. It’s a film that levies judgment on a materialistic, celebrity culture by being absolutely obsessed with it. We follow four college girls to spring break in Miami, where they’re arrested on drug charges. Alien bails them out with an offer to chauffeur them around the city for a day. He introduces them to a hedonistic lifestyle that hits on the darkly possessive side in many.

One in particular turns away from the temptation, a girl named Faith (Selena Gomez), while the others draw into Alien’s wiles. I have my doubts as to whether Gomez is capable of succeeding as a serious actor. She’s got more than enough comedic timing and popularity to lead her own sitcom, so I applaud her for taking on thankless roles when she could still be printing money out of Disney. Sometimes a role is lightning-in-a-bottle, and her last scene opposite Franco, the moral tatters of one girl being broken down by a remorseless, consumptive creature without conscience, is the terrifying, overwhelming heart to a film that’s simultaneously very difficult and disturbingly easy to watch. Spring Breakers might be the film we most deserve right now, a hard-R-rated movie so sex-and-drug filled that it numbs the viewer to either, edited the way rap songs are tape-looped, constantly recursive to the point of cannibalizing itself. It’s balanced between the repercussion-free zone of absurdism and your own conscience. It’s a brilliant achievement.

Youre Next 1

You’re Next is both my favorite horror movie and dark comedy of 2013. The set-up seems familiar. Three masked attackers invade a home and terrorize a helpless family, but there are a few things that make You’re Next different. The first is how passive-aggressive this family is. Even as they get picked off one by one, they can’t stop bickering. The second is the twist, halfway through the film, that gives the attackers’ actions their logic and turns everything on its head. The third is that one son brought a date, Erin (Sharni Vinson), who was raised as a survivalist in the Australian outback. Setting traps and fighting back, she’ll quickly become one of your favorite horror movie heroes. You’re Next is rated R.

On DVD: Agatha Christie’s Straw Lions in Winter — “You’re Next”

Youre Next 2

Let’s say you’re in a horror movie. You’re one of the villains, and you’re planning a home invasion. There’s a kink in the plans, however. You’ve just discovered the family you intend to terrorize has invited to dinner the toughest opponent in all of movie history: an Australian.

You’ve seen Mel Gibson in Mad Max and Lethal Weapon, right? Not to mention every iteration of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine…

As a movie villain, you really ought to have the sense to go home, reheat some leftovers, watch your favorite episode of Golden Girls and call it a night, thankful you’ve just avoided what could have been a catastrophe.

It’s good for us that movie villains are rarely this smart. In the case of You’re Next, three murderers wearing animal masks seem to be going home to home for the sake of causing random violence.

We’ve seen this plot before, from Panic Room to Funny Games. The genre even has an unnerving description: home invasion. You’re Next is smart enough to throw several wrenches into the works, however.

It starts with a nail biting opening scene reminiscent of Scream, but it doesn’t linger here. Instead, we get a prolonged introduction to the characters about to be terrorized – the wealthy, dysfunctional, Davison family. There’s favorite son Drake, who never has to work for his father’s approval and uses this as an opportunity to bully his brother Crispian, who can’t do anything right. Another son, Felix, misbehaves while only daughter Aimee is doted on by her mother. They all bring dates, giving us enough characters to be picked off over the course of the film.

Youre Next 3

While the setup harkens back to Agatha Christie thrillers, the key to the home invasion flick is that one seemingly weak character takes charge and fights back. Dustin Hoffman set a bar that’s yet to be topped in the original Straw Dogs by transforming from a brittle mathematician into an unrelenting savage. Here, it’s Crispian’s date, his Australian teaching assistant Erin, who slips into survivalist mode like its a warm blanket, expertly wielding a meat tenderizer and setting up hiding places and traps that would make MacGyver proud.

Of course, no one bothers listening to her. It’s the men who feel they know what should happen, even if they have no experience to fall back on. It takes a few of them getting knocked out or running away for Erin to finally get everyone on board, but by then the movie’s delivered a big, beautiful, downright Shakespearian twist that makes you realize she’s the only one left whose life is really at risk.

You’re Next also excels at dark comedy. Even as crossbow bolts rain through the windows, Drake and Crispian bicker about who can run to the car fastest and which of them is too husky. Later, as one character is pursued by the rest of the cast, instead of following the chase scene, the shot politely waits for the villain with an injured leg to hobble after the rest. It’s a testament to director Adam Wingard that the humor only helps to ratchet up the tension.

As Erin, Sharni Vinson joins the Evil Dead remake’s Jane Levy as women who last year far exceeded what’s expected of actresses in slasher films. Vinson is the film’s anchor, giving us a character who seems realistically terrified and yet still trained enough to move into action. If GK Films relaunches Tomb Raider with a younger, grittier heroine, Vinson may have just given the best audition to be their Angelina Jolie-replacement.

You’re Next is an oddity, a tense horror film with a wry sense of humor. I’m shocked that it’s on my shortlist for film of the year, which means it’s truly one of the best recent American horror films. You’re Next is rated R for violence, as well as language and brief nudity.

Youre Next 1