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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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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.