There's something about a good thriller. Actually, there's something about almost any thriller—good, bad or ugly, they have an innate, propulsive tension that makes them such a staple of late-night television. A man on the run, a man running after someone else, a seemingly endless succession of hair's-breadth escapes: thrillers are the roller coasters of the film world.
If the truly great ones are often disarmingly still affairs—these are the films, like Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train, that hold your car at the top of the ramp for as long as possible—the genre's bread and butter will always be motion. It's a formula that dates back to our earliest stories (one can picture the handwringing of Greek audiences as Odysseus made his way back to Penelope), and today it's one of our most widely spoken cinematic languages.
This week, a French entry comes to Northampton's Pleasant Street Theater with the arrival of Point Blank. A new film from writer/director Fred Cavay (who also wrote Pour Elle, a French film remade in America as a Russell Crowe flop), it stars Gilles Lellouche as Samuel, a nurse who performs a heroic act that ends up getting his pregnant wife kidnapped. Soon after, he gets the inevitable call from the kidnappers, whose boss happens to be one of Samuel's patients. If Sam doesn't assist with an escape, his new coworkers promise to make him a bachelor again.
What follows is a spreading tangle of double crosses and near misses as Samuel races across Paris to save his wife and their unborn child, all the while avoiding warring gangsters and the French police. Likely better than the all-too-probable American rehash, let's hope that the poor reception of Crowe's The Next Three Days will dissuade any rash attempts at a stateside cash grab. But why wait? See the original, today.
Also at Pleasant Street, Andre Ovredal's Norwegian cult hit Troll Hunter kicks off the theater's new series of midnight movies, which will screen Friday nights over the coming months. Shot in a faux-documentary style—think Blair Witch Project—the film follows a small group of students who stumble across a living fairy tale. It seems that the trolls of Norway have begun to migrate out of their ancestral territories, wreaking havoc and eating car tires, and leaving Hans the troll hunter (Otto Jespersen) to figure out how to stop them.
Follow Route 9 across the Connecticut River and you'll find Amherst Cinema hosting two special screenings this week. First up is Texas Tenor: The Illinois Jacquet Story, screening on Monday at 7 p.m. Part of the Joy of Sax (not a typo!) film series being presented by New England Public Radio, the film profiles the prolific saxman, whose career included stints with jazz luminaries such as Lionel Hampton and Count Basie, time as artist-in-residence at Harvard, and a spotlight position with Jazz At the Philharmonic. The first in an ongoing series, Texas Tenor will be introduced by Tom Reney, host of WFCR's Jazz ? la Mode radio show, and all the films will be preceded by a live musical offering.
The next night brings Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness, a portrait of the well-known writer (his stories were the basis for Fiddler on the Roof) presented in tandem with the Yiddish Book Center. Writing during a time of profound change in the Jewish world, Aleichem's wit and understanding not only helped document the birth of a new Jewish identity; he helped make it what it was.
Yiddish Book Center founder Aaron Lansky is slated to introduce the picture, and also appears as an onscreen commentator. Bringing new life to Aleichem's story are the voices of actors Peter Riegert and Rachel Dratch.
Jack Brown can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.