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Fantastic Fest 2011: “Sleepless Night,” reviewed

Fantastic Fest 2011: “Sleepless Night,” reviewed (photo)

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There’s been a lot of good criticism about action movies lately. Matthias Stork and Jim Emerson’s “Chaos Cinema” and “In the Cut” video essays have got people asking the question: what makes a good action movie? I’ve just seen the answer; it’s a French thriller called “Sleepless Night.” Without being didactic in any way, it is action movie as criticism of action movies, leading by example in an era of incoherent films with stale aesthetics. After a long day at Fantastic Fest, a midnight screening of “Sleepless Night” woke me up more effectively than any cup of coffee I’ve ever had in my life. Hours later, I was still riding the high. So the movie’s not only great, the title’s accurate too.

Exposition is kept to a minimum; action defines character. Impressions are made, then upended by new revelations, onion-peeling style. We open on a daring daytime heist. Two men, Vincent (Tomer Sisley) and Manu (Laurent Stocker), steal a bag of drugs from two mules who work for a local kingpin named Marciano (Serge Riaboukine). After the heist, we follow Vincent back to work. At a police station. Only then do we realize: these guys are actually dirty cops.

Marciano figures out who took his drugs. To get them back, he kidnaps Vincent’s son and holds him hostage at a dance club. Despite Manu’s objections, Vincent brings the dope to the club, stashing the bag in the men’s room ceiling before meeting Marciano. He never notices a female cop on his tail; she swipes the dope and hides it elsewhere in the club. Now all the pieces are in place: Vincent needs to give Marciano the heroin he doesn’t have and can’t find or his son is dead. And while he scrambles for a solution, he’s also got to contend with cops and gangsters closing in.

The last character in this story is the club itself, the setting for the entire movie after the introductory scenes. That’s where Frédéric Jardin really distinguishes himself as an gifted action director. The club is a sprawl of dance floors and bars and stairwells and private offices; Jardin connects them all with crystal clarity. The film exhibits a use-the-whole-buffalo mentality: every dangling plot point, every seemingly minor supporting character, every thrown away line of dialogue has a purpose. Vincent might be running like a madman, but Jardin is in total control. He directs every beat with surgical precision.

So what are the qualities that define a great action movie? If we follow the example set by “Sleepless Night,” you need a great protagonist on a quest with some real stakes, fighting a villain you love to hate. From 90-odd minutes Vincent wriggles like a fly in a spider’s web. Each move for freedom gets him stuck in ever deeper trouble. Everywhere he turns there are multiple villains we love to hate, including a few surprise ones. Sisley’s performance as Vincent is as relentlessly intense as the film around him. His situation is so dire and his love for his son runs so deep, you can’t help but root for him despite his flaws. So the action isn’t just cool, it means something.

A great action movie also needs to pay close attention to geography, and it definitely wouldn’t hurt to take enough care when crafting your screenplay to make sure every little detail of plot and continuity fit together. As Vincent dashes around the club, he keeps bumping into the same characters over and over again, from an illegal alien in the kitchen to a battered woman in the bathroom. Each ally he makes becomes a crucial element of his fight to rescue his son. Vincent’s improvisatory escapes are so clever, they make us like him even more.

Lastly, a great action movie definitely need at least one balls-out, tooth-and-nail fight scene like the one that takes place between Vincent and another character in the kitchen of Marciano’s club. In every moment of that fight you can tell who is who, where they are, and what they’re doing. The choreography is clear and the integration of the environment is inventive; if the Oscars added a category for Best Use of Kitchen Drawers, “Sleepless Night” would be a shoo-in. Come to think of it, if they added a Best Action Movie category it would be a shoo-in for that one too.

“Sleepless Night” does not have US distribution; Warner Brothers recently acquired the film’s remake rights. If you see it at Fantastic Fest — AND BY GOD YOU SHOULD — tell us what you think. Leave us a comment below or write to us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.