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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Hockey Fails

10 Hockey Fails That Make the Benders Look Like Pros

Catch an all-new Benders Thursday at 10P on IFC.

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Imagine playing soccer in body armor, with a stick, on ice. It’s no surprise hockey players get so angry and beat the crap out of each other. Still, once you make it to the NHL, you’d think they could stay upright. But if these hockey fails are any indication, even the best of the best have their off nights. Check them out below and be sure to catch our favorite hockey team Uncle Chubbys on an all-new Benders Thursday, October 15th, at 10P.

10. Sometimes it feels like you’ve got friends in all the wrong places.

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9. Even getting off the ice can be a headache.

8. Don’t you hate when you forget how to drink on national TV?

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7. Sometimes you forget which side of the goal you’re supposed to protect.

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6. Drinking is hard. Okay?!

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5. It was the stick’s fault!

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4. At least something made it into the goal, right?

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3. When the only thing left to fight is the ice.

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2. Fans aren’t immune to a faceplant either.

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1. Or patriotic singers.

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'Soft' Rock

Get Gentle and Soft With The Blue Jean Committee’s New EP

The Documentary Now! band has a new EP.

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The Blue Jean Committee is about to head straight up the charts with their new song “Gentle & Soft.” Is it us, or did it just get really smooth in here?

The band, whose tumultuous history was chronicled in a compelling two-part episode of Documentary Now!, is back with an extremely soft bullet with the release of Catalina Breeze, an actual 12″ EP with actual songs that you can actually (and should actually) buy. As Fred Armisen, who sings in the Blue Jean Committee along with his Documentary Now! cohort Bill Hadertold EW, he wanted the band to capture the ’70s California soft rock sound. “So the best way to do it for us would be to just spell it out and call the song ‘Gentle and Soft,'” Armisen said.

The EP, which will be released on November 20th, also features the classic BJC tracks “Mama You’re a Dancer,” “Walking Shoes” and the titular jam all about relaxing Catalina breezes. True to its name, the Catalina Breeze EP will hit you like the wind, rushing your hair into a halo, which is as gentle and soft as it comes. Head over to Drag City to listen to song samples and grab the EP.

For more Documentary Now!, check out the complete archive, episode clips, and music from the show.

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Festival Supreme

Amy Poehler, Kids in the Hall and More Are Heading to Tenacious D’s Festival Supreme 2015

Catch all the fun live in Los Angeles Saturday, October 10th.

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Get ready to get rowdy when Tenacious D’s Festival Supreme returns to Los Angeles for a third face-melting-ly awesome year.

The line-up is a who’s who of comedy and music talent with Amy Poehler, Die Antwoord, Aubrey Plaza, The Darkness, Kristen Schaal, Dan Deacon, Jenny Slate, Andrew W.K., Kyle Mooney, Dan Harmon, Nathan Fielder, and many more all performing. Of course, The D will be doing a mellow jazz set. Just kidding — they’re going to pummel the masses with the force of rock.

If that roster isn’t enough to convince you to go buy tickets right this second, there’s also a Kids In The Hall get-together with cast members Dave Foley, Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney, and Scott Thompson. Oh, and in case one cult comedy reunion wasn’t enough, the original cast of Mystery Science Theater 3000 will also be appearing.

The one-day comedy festival will be held on Saturday, October 10th at Los Angeles, California’s Shrine Expo Hall & Grounds. Tickets are $99 (a limited number are available at the discounted price of $75) for the whole day, and are on sale now. Special $250 VIP tickets are also available. Be sure to follow us on Twitter for more updates, and check out the awesome poster below. We’ll see you there!



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That '70s Mofo

5 Movies That Prove Kurtwood Smith Is a National Treasure

Catch Kurtwood Smith on That '70s Show airing now on IFC.

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Believe it or not, veteran character actor Kurtwood Smith has a warm, endearing smile. It just took audiences over a decade to actually see him in a role that didn’t focus on his ability to scare children with his villainous gaze and determined grin. Thanks to That ’70s Show, we now associate him most as Red Forman, the curmudgeonly but loveable father to Eric Forman and patriarch to the gang of burnouts who hung out in his basement. Smith has had a long career of playing characters that weren’t always as soft and cuddly as Red Forman. Here are five of the most memorable Kurtwood Smith roles in which he didn’t have to hilariously teach a “foreign kid” to stop saying “Amedica.”

1. Flashpoint (1984)

Flashpoint may be a forgotten thriller from 1984 starring Kris Kristofferson and Treat Williams as border cops who find a dead body and a ton of cash, but Kurtwood Smith shines in a role as a crooked federal agent. This character is as sinister a son-of-a-bitch as they come, with contempt practically oozing out from his eyes. You are more likely to find a VHS copy of Flashpoint at a random flea market than catch it on Netflix, but take a look at just how good he is at being a bad guy as he delivers a John Malkovich-level performance.

2. Robocop (1987)

Clarence Boddiker, the villain Smith played in Robocop, is still remembered fondly by sci-fi fans for the Jack Nicholson-like glee that he displayed for causing mayhem and inflicting pain. Any scene that has Kurtwood Smith entering a room delivering the line “B–ches leave!,” and ends with him pulling a grenade pin out with his mouth, then killing a coked-up ‘80s yuppie, will surely elevate a film’s cult status.

3. Dead Poets Society (1989)

Red Forman might have had a hard time expressing outward displays of affection for his son Eric, but compared to Mr. Perry in Dead Poets Society, he’s a regular Phil Dunphy. To say this character was chilling is an understatement. Smith nailed the cold detachment of a father determined to make his son live the life he was being groomed for. If you haven’t seen Dead Poets Society, in the words of Red Forman, what are you waiting for, “dumbass”???

4. Citizen Ruth (1996)

Smith got the chance to act in Alexander Payne’s first movie, a dark comedy in which Laura Dern’s Ruth plays a poor pregnant woman who likes to huff paint and gets mixed up with both sides of the abortion debate. Norm Stoney (Smith) and his wife enjoy nothing more on a beautiful day than to take the kids down to the free clinic, scarf a box of donuts and shout “murderer” at the people entering the building. A still relevant satire, the film gave Smith the chance to display his comedic chops before That ’70s Show. Though we doubt that Red would’ve let a “dirty hippy” like Ruth stay in his home.

5. True Believer (1989)

Smith shines as a no-nonsense prosecutor in this underrated crime thriller where James Woods and Robert Downey Jr. attempt to defend a man wrongfully accused of a gang murder.

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