Countdown to Top Ten 2K11: “Point Blank”

Countdown to Top Ten 2K11: “Point Blank” (photo)

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Countdown to Top Ten 2K11 is a column with one simple goal: to help you decide what films you need to see before making your end of the year top ten list. Each installment features my thoughts on a critically acclaimed 2011 movie, a sampling of other critics’ reactions, the odds of the film making my own list, and the reasons why it might make yours.

This time we’re covering “Point Blank,” an arthouse thriller from France. But is this European import important enough to make your top ten list? Let’s find out.

Movie: “Point Blank”
Director: Fred Cavayé
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%
Plot Synopsis: A nurse’s assistant is blackmailed into helping a criminal escape from the hospital. If he doesn’t do as he’s told, his pregnant wife will be killed.
What the Critics Said: “My nerves are still jangling,” Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune
“Preposterously exciting,” Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal
“A classic Hitchcock plot,” James Rocchi, MSN Movies
Were They Right? Yes, this is a very entertaining and exciting movie, though I’m not sure it’s preposterously exciting. That would imply it’s an exceptional, one-of-a-kind movie, more exciting than any action movie ever made in the history of cinema. Not true, and not true to the spirit of the movie either, which is lean and workmanlike, and not prone to wild bouts of verbal or physical hyperbole.

Let me explain. “Point Blank”‘s protagonist is a man named Samuel (Gilles Lellouche). I was about to describe him as “Point Blank”‘s “hero,” but the fact that Samuel is not a hero is crucial to his character. Samuel isn’t a lunatic cop on the edge or a risk-addicted bomb defuser stationed in Iraq; he’s an assistant nurse in a Paris hospital. He possesses none of the prerequisite skills an action hero requires to survive an action film, save Lellouche’s ruggedly handsome face of perfect, 5 o’clock shadow. As Rocchi mentioned, Samuel is a classic Hitchcockian wrong man: the innocent guy thrust into dangerous circumstances by bad timing and shitty luck. In this case, Samuel just happens to interrupt an assassination attempt on an injured man who’s been brought to the hospital where he works. Other underworld types notice Samuel’s accidental altruism and take advantage of it. They follow him home, beat him into unconsciousness, and kidnap his pregnant wife. Sneak the injured man out of the hospital, a mysterious voice on the other end of the telephone tells Samuel when he comes to, or your wife and unborn child are both dead.

Now this wouldn’t be a big deal if it happened to, say, Liam Neeson — in fact, this is basically the exact same premise as Neeson’s 2008 film “Taken,” except in that case, when Neeson’s character received a similarly threatening phone call from a similar bunch of kidnappers he responds with, and I’m paraphrasing, “Fuck you, I’m Liam Neeson, and I’m going to find you, kill you, rescue my daughter, then kill you some more just because I’m so fucking awesome.” Samuel, unfortunately, is not Liam Neeson. This is the scariest thing that has ever happened to him, and there is no second scariest thing on the list.

Understandably, he reacts with panic. He does what the man on the phone asks, and that only gets him into bigger trouble with the police. The centerpiece of the film is a very long foot chase through the streets and subways of Paris. By the skin of his teeth, Samuel escapes. At this point he’s been running full speed for maybe fifteen minutes straight. Samuel’s no Usain Bolt; he’s not even Liam Neeson. So what does he do? He pukes his guts out.

How often do you see the male lead of an action movie puke? And not because he’s drunk or because his wacky partner poisoned his coffee, but because he is terribly out of shape and scared out of his mind? Almost never. And that’s why “Point Blank” is so much fun to watch. It’s features an everyman protagonist who actually behaves like every man would in this situation. Not the man we’d hope we’d be, buff and confident and unflappable, but the guy we probably are: loyal, loving, and kind of a screwup. This movie is a celebration of ordinariness, not preposterousness.

There are a lot of great plot twists in “Point Blank” I don’t want to spoil, which means I can’t really say much more about the movie. But it’s not a life-changing thriller; it’s not even the best French thriller I saw this year (that title would go to “Sleepless Night,” though that film doesn’t open here until 2012). It could use a bit more character drama to enhance the impact of all that action. “Point Blank” is good. It’s just not preposterously good.

Worthy of an Oscar Nomination For: They don’t give out Oscars for Best Foot Chase, so none, unfortunately.
Chances of Making My Top Ten: About as good as my chances of evading a citywide manhunt if my own wife were kidnapped; in other words, slim to none.
It Might Make Your Top Ten List If: you value pure entertainment in movies over anything else; you think that genre films in foreign languages are automatically more important or more meaningful than genre films made in English.

Previously in Countdown to Top Ten 2K11
“The Arbor,” directed by Clio Barnard
“Cold Weather,” directed by Aaron Katz
“Meek’s Cutoff,” directed by Kelly Reichardt
“Margin Call,” directed by J.C. Chandor
“Bill Cunningham New York,” directed by Richard Press
“Hanna,” directed by Joe Wright

Have a movie you wanted covered in a future installment of Countdown to Top Ten 2K11? Let me know on Twitter.

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Bro and Tell

BFFs And Night Court For Sports

Bromance and Comeuppance On Two New Comedy Crib Series

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“Silicon Valley meets Girls meets black male educators with lots of unrealized potential.”

That’s how Carl Foreman Jr. and Anthony Gaskins categorize their new series Frank and Lamar which joins Joe Schiappa’s Sport Court in the latest wave of new series available now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. To better acquaint you with the newbies, we went right to the creators for their candid POVs. And they did not disappoint. Here are snippets of their interviews:

Frank and Lamar


IFC: How would you describe Frank and Lamar to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Carl: Best bros from college live and work together teaching at a fancy Manhattan private school, valiantly trying to transition into a more mature phase of personal and professional life while clinging to their boyish ways.

IFC: And to a friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Carl: The same way, slightly less coherent.

Anthony: I’d probably speak about it with much louder volume, due to the bar which would probably be playing the new Kendrick Lamar album. I might also include additional jokes about Carl, or unrelated political tangents.

Carl: He really delights in randomly slandering me for no reason. I get him back though. Our rapport on the page, screen, and in real life, comes out of a lot of that back and forth.

IFC: In what way is Frank and Lamar a poignant series for this moment in time?
Carl: It tells a story I feel most people aren’t familiar with, having young black males teach in a very affluent white world, while never making it expressly about that either. Then in tackling their personal lives, we see these three-dimensional guys navigate a pivotal moment in time from a perspective I feel mainstream audiences tend not to see portrayed.

Anthony: I feel like Frank and Lamar continues to push the envelope within the genre by presenting interesting and non stereotypical content about people of color. The fact that this show brought together so many talented creative people, from the cast and crew to the producers, who believe in the project, makes the work that much more intentional and truthful. I also think it’s pretty incredible that we got to employ many of our friends!

Sport Court

Sport Court gavel

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Joe: SPORT COURT follows Judge David Linda, a circuit court judge assigned to handle an ad hoc courtroom put together to prosecute rowdy fan behavior in the basement of the Hartford Ultradome. Think an updated Night Court.

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Joe: Remember when you put those firecrackers down that guy’s pants at the baseball game? It’s about a judge who works in a court in the stadium that puts you in jail right then and there. I know, you actually did spend the night in jail, but imagine you went to court right that second and didn’t have to get your brother to take off work from GameStop to take you to your hearing.

IFC: Is there a method to your madness when coming up with sports fan faux pas?
Joe: I just think of the worst things that would ruin a sporting event for everyone. Peeing in the slushy machine in open view of a crowd seemed like a good one.

IFC: Honestly now, how many of the fan transgressions are things you’ve done or thought about doing?
Joe: I’ve thought about ripping out a whole row of chairs at a theater or stadium, so I would have my own private space. I like to think of that really whenever I have to sit crammed next to lots of people. Imagine the leg room!

Check out the full seasons of Frank and Lamar and Sport Court now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

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He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”

Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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GIFS via Giphy

On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”

But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

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