DID YOU READ

Fantastic Fest 2011: “Sleepless Night,” reviewed

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

Posted by on

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.

Underworld

Under Your Spell

10 Otherworldly Romances That’ll Melt Your Heart

Spend Valentine's Day weekend with IFC's Underworld movie marathon.

Posted by on
Photo Credit: Screen Gems/courtesy Everett Collection

Romance takes many forms, and that is especially true when you have a thirst for blood or laser beams coming out of your eyes.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a werewolf, a superhero, a clone, a time-traveler, or a vampire, love is the one thing that infects us all.  Read on to find out why Romeo and Juliet have nothing on these supernatural star-crossed lovers, and be sure to catch IFC’s Underworld movie marathon this Valentine’s Day weekend.

1. Cyclops/Jean Grey/Wolverine, X-Men series

The X-Men franchise is rife with romance, but the steamiest “ménage à mutant” may just be the one between Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Cyclops (James Marsden), and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). Their triangle is a complicated one as Jean finds herself torn between the two very different men while also trying to control her darker side, the Phoenix. This leads to Jean killing Cyclops and eventually getting stabbed through her heart by Wolverine in X-Men: The Last Stand. Yikes!  Maybe they should change the name to Ex-Men instead?


2. Willow/Tara, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Joss Whedon gave audiences some great romances on Buffy the Vampire Slayer — including the central triangle of Buffy, Angel, and Spike — but it was the love between witches Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Tara (Amber Benson) that broke new ground for its sensitive and nuanced portrayal of a LGBT relationship.

Willow is smart and confident and isn’t even sure of her sexuality when she first meets Tara at college in a Wiccan campus group. As the two begin experimenting with spells, they realize they’re also falling for one another and become the show’s most enduring, happy couple. At least until Tara’s death in season six, a moment that still brings on the feels.


3. Selene/Michael, Underworld series

The Twilight gang pales in comparison (both literally and metaphorically) to the Lycans and Vampires of the stylish Underworld franchise. If you’re looking for an epic vampire/werewolf romance set amidst an epic vampire/werewolf war, Underworld handily delivers in the form of leather catsuited Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and shaggy blonde hunk Michael (a post-Felicity Scott Speedman). As they work together to stop the Vampire/Lycan war, they give into their passions while also kicking butt in skintight leather. Love at first bite indeed.


4. Spider-man/Mary Jane Watson, Spider-man

After rushing to the aid of beautiful girl-next-door Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), the Amazing Spider-man is rewarded with an upside-down kiss that is still one of the most romantic moments in comic book movie history. For Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), the shy, lovable dork beneath the mask, his rain-soaked makeout session is the culmination of years of unrequited love and one very powerful spider bite. As the films progress, Peter tries pushing MJ away in an attempt to protect her from his enemies, but their web of love is just too powerful. And you know, with great power, comes great responsibility.


5. Molly/Sam, Ghost

When it comes to supernatural romance, you really can’t beat Molly and Sam from the 1990 hit film Ghost. Demi Moore goes crazy for Swayze like the rest of us, and the pair make pottery sexier than it’s ever been.

When Sam is murdered, he’s forced to communicate through con artist turned real psychic, Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg in her Academy Award-winning role) to warn Molly she is still in danger from his co-worker, Carl (a pre-Scandal Tony Goldwyn). Molly doesn’t believe Oda is telling the truth, so Sam proves it by sliding a penny up the wall and then possessing Oda so he and Molly can share one last romantic dance together (but not the dirty kind). We’d pay a penny for a dance with Patrick Swayze ANY day.


6. Cosima/Delphine, Orphan Black

It stands to reason there would be at least one complicated romance on a show about clones, and none more complicated than the one between clone Cosima (Tatiana Maslany) and Dr. Delphine Cormier (Evelyne Brochu) on BBC America’s hit drama Orphan Black.

Cosima is a PhD student focusing on evolutionary developmental biology at the University of Minnesota when she meets Delphine, a research associate from the nefarious Dyad Institute, posing as a fellow immunology student. The two fall in love, but their happiness is brief once Dyad and the other members of Clone Club get involved. Here’s hoping Cosima finds love in season four of Orphan Black. Girlfriend could use a break.


7. Aragorn/Arwen, Lord of the Rings

On a picturesque bridge in Rivendell amidst some stellar mood-lighting and dreamy Elvish language with English subtitles for us non-Middle Earthlings, Arwen (Liv Tyler) and Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) bind their souls to one another, pledging to love each other no matter what befalls them.

Their courtship is a matter of contention with Arwen’s father, Elrond (Hugo Weaving), who doesn’t wish to see his daughter suffer over Aragorn’s future death. The two marry after the conclusion of the War of the Ring, with Aragorn assuming his throne as King of Gondor, and Arwen forgoing her immortality to become his Queen. Is it too much to assume they asked Frodo to be their wedding ring-bearer?


8. Lafayette/Jesus, True Blood

True Blood quickly became the go-to show for supernatural sex scenes featuring future Magic Mike strippers (Joe Manganiello) and pale Nordic men with washboard abs (Hi Alexander Skarsgård!), but honestly, there was a little something for everyone, including fan favorite Bon Temps medium, Lafayette Reynolds (Nelsan Ellis).

In season three, Lafayette met his mother’s nurse, Jesus, and the two began a relationship. As they spend more time together and start doing V (short for Vampire Blood), they learn Jesus is descended from a long line of witches and that Lafayette himself has magical abilities. However, supernatural love is anything but simple, and after the pair join a coven, Lafayette becomes possessed by the dead spirit of its former leader. This relationship certainly puts a whole new spin on possessive love.


9. Nymphadora Tonks/Remus Lupin, Harry Potter series

There are lots of sad characters in the Harry Potter series, but Remus Lupin ranks among the saddest. He was bitten by a werewolf as a child, his best friend was murdered and his other best friend was wrongly imprisoned in Azkaban for it, then THAT best friend was killed by a Death Eater at the Ministry of Magic as Remus looked on. So when Lupin unexpectedly found himself in love with badass Auror and Metamorphmagus Nymphadora Tonks (she prefers to be called by her surname ONLY, thank you very much), pretty much everyone, including Lupin himself, was both elated and cautiously hopeful about their romance and eventual marriage.

Sadly, the pair met a tragic ending when both were killed by Death Eaters during the Battle of Hogwarts, leaving their son, Teddy, orphaned much like his godfather Harry Potter. Accio hankies!


10. The Doctor/Rose Tyler, Doctor Who

Speaking of wolves, Rose “Bad Wolf” Tyler (Billie Piper) captured the Doctor’s hearts from the moment he told her to “Run!” in the very first episode of the re-booted Doctor Who series. Their affection for one another grew steadily deeper during their travels in the TARDIS, whether they were stuck in 1950s London, facing down pure evil in the Satan Pit, or battling Cybermen.

But their relationship took a tragic turn during the season two finale episode, “Doomsday,” when the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and Rose found themselves separated in parallel universes with no way of being reunited (lest two universes collapse as a result of a paradox). A sobbing Rose told a holographic transmission of the Doctor she loved him, but before he could reply, the transmission cut out, leaving our beloved Time Lord (and most of the audience) with a tear-stained face and two broken hearts all alone in the TARDIS.

José Padilha shares his vision for “RoboCop,” clears up Michael Fassbender casting rumors

José Padilha shares his vision for “RoboCop,” clears up Michael Fassbender casting rumors (photo)

Posted by on

Brazilian director José Padilha came to Fantastic Fest 2011 with his new movie “Elite Squad 2: The Enemy Within,” the sequel to the controversial 2007 Brazilian blockbuster about dirty cops on the dirtier streets of Rio de Janeiro. It picks up “Elite Squad”‘s story fifteen years later, with another morally twisted tale of corruption and crime peppered with intense action scenes. It’s one of the coolest movies here at the festival, but Padilha’s next project might be even cooler: a remake of the seminal ’80s sci-fi film “RoboCop.”

There’s a lot of interest around this project; just yesterday, rumors started swirling about an interview Padilha gave where he supposedly said he wanted Michael Fassbender to play the title role. With the last few minutes of my own interview with Padilha, I picked his brain about the remake, and he confirmed that that story was getting blown way out of proportion.

“I was doing an interview with a Dutch guy because ‘Elite Squad’ was opening in Holland,” Padilha said. “They wanted to talk about ‘RoboCop’ because of [Paul] Verhoeven, the Dutch director [of the original film]. So he asked me ‘Who is going to be RoboCop?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, I’m not there yet.’ ‘Who is going to be RoboCop?’ ‘I don’t know!’ So he says, “How about Fassbender?” I said, ‘I think he’s great.’ That was it!”

Padilha did admit that he thought Fassbender would be a good RoboCop, but he was quick to add that he’s not the only guy he can envision in the part. “He’s a great actor but there are other great actors that I really love, that could also do it,” he told me. “I can give you other names if you like, like Chris Pine; there’s several of them. But I haven’t discussed this film with any actors.”

The Internet rumor mill, it seems, is getting ahead of itself. Padilha said that the film is still at the treatment stage, and there won’t be any casting until they’ve got a final script. That treatment, by the way, is a totally new one based on Padilha’s own interpretation of the material; he decided not to read any of the scripts from Darren Aronofsky’s aborted “RoboCop” remake that fell apart a few years ago. Why? “I wanted to focus on my own thing and do my take, even though Aronofsky is a genius.”

Details on his take were in short supply, but Padilha did explain what drew him to remake such iconic material: “‘RoboCop’ is a brilliant premise because the character is not a super-hero,” he said. “He’s a man who’s been transformed by technology for certain purposes. And so that premise alone touches so many interesting subjects. What does it mean to be immersed in automated systems and deprived of free will? What does it mean to be used by corporations for certain purposes? How does the media spin things around to make certain interests accepted by the public? Those are all things you can see in the first ‘RoboCop,’ and those are all things that are coming closer and closer to being real. Science is taking us there. And so that premise alone is really interesting to me.”

One detail he did confirm: his “RoboCop” will be set, like the original, in Detroit. It sounds like it will be shot there too. “If you go to shoot a movie in Detroit, you better put Detroit in it. I’ve been researching a lot about Detroit — and they’re making the statue!” Padilha added excitedly, referring to the news earlier this year that fans were raising money to build a statue of everyone’s favorite cyborg police officer in his home town. “It got a little polemic,” he noted, “but I think finally they made the right choice.”

It’s hard to talk to Padilha or watch his movies and not think he’s the right choice for the project as well. I’m very interested to see his version of the material. And after you see “Elite Squad 2″ — and you really should, it’s great — I have a feeling you’ll agree with me.

Who do you think should play “RoboCop?” Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter. And be sure to follow all of our coverage of Fantastic Fest 2011.

Fantastic Fest 2011: “The Yellow Sea,” reviewed

Fantastic Fest 2011: “The Yellow Sea,” reviewed (photo)

Posted by on

Korean director Na Hong-jin‘s “The Yellow Sea,” his follow-up to his blockbuster debut “The Chaser,” starts as a spartan character study then sprawls into a massive crime conspiracy. By the end, things get a little too densely plotted; everyone I spoke with at Fantastic Fest was still trying to sort through the exact details of who did what to whom and why hours after the screening. Not surprisingly, I liked the first part of “The Yellow Sea” a lot more than the second part, though both halves have their moments.

Na wrings an enormous amount of drama out of an insanely simple premise. A cab driver named Gu-nam (Ha Jung-woo) is deep in debt, and the men he owes are getting antsy. They gave him 60,000 yuan for his wife’s visa so she could move to Korea from their pitiful home on the Chinese border, but it’s been months since she’s called or written. With nowhere else to turn, Gu-nam accepts a proposition from a mobster named Myung-ga (Kim Yun-seok) who promises to settle Gu-nam’s debt if he sneaks into Korea and murders someone for him. He has ten days to complete the hit and, perhaps, find his missing wife.

These opening scenes are spare and quiet, rich with detail and unspoken tension. The sequence that follows Gu-nam as he sneaks into Korea aboard a series of ships could be from a documentary on human trafficking. The detailed work continues once Gu-nam arrives in Seoul and starts shadowing his target; meticulously learning his routines and determining the best time and method to kill his prey. His actions are small but the stakes are huge. To paraphrase Willy Wonka, the suspense is terrible and you’re just hoping it lasts.

The fateful moment arrives earlier and with a lot more complications than anticipated. The assassination doesn’t go wrong, but it doesn’t exactly go right either, and that puts Gu-nam in the sights of a lot of different groups: the cops who want to solve a murder, his victim’s underworld associates who want revenge for their friend’s death, and Myung-ga’s own gang who get drawn into an international mob war with a Korean kingpin.

When Gu-nam starts running for his life like a wild animal, the film grows equally frenzied. Bye bye quiet precision, hello orgy of violence. Bye bye carefully observed minimalist drama, hello knife fights, hatchet fights, crazy foot chases, knife fights, crazier car chases, and knife fights. Did I mention this movie has knife fights? Because it does. Apparently, no one in the Korean underworld can find a gun, but they’re all big fans of the Ginsu knife. Now I finally understand why it was important that that thing could cut through a shoe.

From there, the film become an extravagantly bloody mess in the style of other over-the-top Korean revenge thrillers like “I Saw the Devil.” “The Yellow Sea,” it must be said, does have a certain joie de vivre all its own. At one point, two characters are chasing one another on a boat. One leaps overboard to escape, and the other dutifully follows; the chase continues in the water below. A swimming chase! That’s a new one for me.

The frenzy is fine, but a little bit more clarity, at least narratively speaking, would have been nice. The film seems to provide an unambiguous answer to the core mystery that drives its second half, then immediately reverses itself with a couple epilogue scenes that confuse the issue. Of course I would never spoil anything here, but after you see the movie, leave me some feedback below and answer me these questions: just who was that banker? And why did he do what he did? And how was that woman connected to him?

Nobody here at the festival was quite sure. One wise colleague I spoke to who hadn’t seen the movie suggested that the perplexing finale could have been disorienting by design. And it’s definitely true that Na modulates his direction to match his protagonist’s mental state. When the crap hits the fan for Gu-nam he doesn’t know how or why either. On the other hand, characters in these final scenes exchange knowing glances that imply they understand who they are and what they’ve done, even if we do not. That’s the problem. The audience shares Gu-nam’s confusion, but not his final fleeting moments of comprehension.

“The Yellow Sea” has a TBD release date from Fox International Pictures. If you see it at Fantastic Fest, we want to know what you think. Leave us a comment below or write to us on Facebook and Twitter.

Powered by ZergNet