Tag Archives: action

Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)


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75

Starring: Austin Stoker, Darwin Joston, Laurie Zimmer
Director: John Carpenter
Screenwriter: John Carpenter
Rating : R

John Carpenter is the undisputed champion of B flicks. The way he exploits violence and builds around an interesting enough plot, with style and wit, has earned him the title. “Assault on Precinct 13 is by now a classic in Carpenter’s filmography, all the more reason to make producers think they needed to make a remake in 2005 (and a surprisingly good one too).

The story unfolds in a gang-ridden L.A. where a war is underway between the law and the extremely well armed outlaws. Collateral damage in this urban conflict is a little girl, shot while getting ice cream. Her father declares his own kind of war on the gangs, kills their leader and runs to safety inside the now infamous precinct 13 (although it’s actually refered to in the film as Anderson Precinct, the 13 bit was added in the title by the producers to make it sound more ominous), which is currently closing down so it’s short on men and weapons. Coincidently, a prisoner transport also makes a stop at the precinct because one of the prisoners got sick. Part of the shipment of inmates is the feared psychopathic killer Napoleon Wilson, on his way to death row. The gangs organize a daring assault on the precinct to avenge their leader, and Officer Bishop, left behind to oversee the closing of the precinct, along with a few other people, including prisoners, prepare to fiercely fight for their own survival.

The idea itsef is perfect for an action film, the bad guys attack in waves, and the good guys attempt to find alternative survival methods with limited amounts of weapons and ammunition. John Carpenter first intended to do a western, but lacking the resources (money that is), decided to go for a gritty urban action film with a western touch. Action-wise it’s not terribly spectacular by today’s standards, but it does a better job by relying on good ol’ suspense and claustrophobic atmosphere. The characters and dialogue are typical western fare, from the good sheriff type (Bishop) and the ruthless morally ambiguous bad guy (Wilson), to the swarm of outlaws beating down the door in a classic western alamo scenario. The interesting idea here is that of the cops and robbers joining forces in order to survive, but it’s not really explored in a serious fashion. It’s just an excuse for tense action. The actors are largely unknown even to this day, which I consider effective for its realism.

The 2005 remake contains an entirely modified storyline and characters (a lot more stars in the cast). What they keep is the basic idea of the siege, which is, obviously, the whole concept of the original. It also concerns itself more with gimmicky action, indeed superficial, but just as much fun, particularly since it has a larger budget to work on. It’s pretty difficult to recommend on of the two. As I said, I personally would go for the remake, and action/violence fans will probably choose the 2005 film as well, but if you are a Carpenter fan (as I am), and you enjoy the classics, or you just hate remakes for what they really are : cynical excuses for producers to make money, you should turn to the original. After all, the remake can’t exist without the original story it’s based on.

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Assault on Precinct 13 (2005)


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8

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Laurence Fishburne, Gabriel Byrne, John Leguizamo
Director: Jean-François Richet
Screenwriter: James DeMonaco
Rating : R for strong violence and language throughout, and for some drug content.

This 2005 film is a remake of the 1976 John Carpenter classic, produced by the same people who brought us “Training Day”, and it was certainly a surprise on a market saturated with frame-by-frame copycat remakes like 2006’s “The Omen”, an uninspired carbon copy of the original featuring improved visuals and a bad Gregory Peck imitation by Liev Schreiber. “Assault on Precinct 13” delivers unusual signs of intelligence, scarce enough to warrant its B flick status, but enough to keep one awake.

In the original, Bishop was the fearless “sheriff”, forced to protect his precinct from scores of cop-hating thugs. Now, the Bishop of this film is Marion Bishop (Laurence Fishburne), an extremely dangerous criminal (the old Napoleon Wilson character, this time more street), caught after murdering an undercover cop in a church (that’s just how badass he is). The “sheriff” is a Sgt. Roenick (Ethan Hawke), former undercover officer, now hiding behind a desk, pumping himself full of alcohol and pills to forget about an unfortunate undercover stint which ended with two of his colleagues getting killed because of his bad call. The 13th precinct (this time actually called 13) is still being closed down (right on New Year’s Eve), which once again means not enough police and not enough guns. The prisoner bus transporting Bishop and a handful of other prisoners is rerouted to precinct 13 because of a higway accident. With all plot requirements in place, the siege is ready to commence.

The big change from the ’76 version is that the attackers this time are corrupt cops, scared that if Bishop gets to the trial he’ll rat them all out. So it’s clear that not one of the people inside the precinct are supposed to make it out alive, as the leader of the bad guys Marcus Duvall (Gabriel Byrne) overstates, they have to “put them all down, without pause, without regard”. Roenick decides to release and arm the prisoners and work together in a fragile alliance in order to survive. I would have to say this version adds more to the police and criminals fighting side by side idea. There’s always a sense of tensions added to it. Then there’s also the irony of the criminals helping the cops, while bad cops try to kill them all. While the original was a sort of urban western story concerned with building atmosphere, the remake feels like “Die Hard” in an abandoned precinct concerned more about building a traditional plot with twists and cliches, sometimes annoyingly predictable, yet at times surprising. Jean-Francois Richet seems aware of the constraints of the genre and manipulates these cliches in his favor, although one of the most annoying ones is that of the traitor within the precinct. It’s annoying because it’s so painfully obvious, it’s like there’s a tag that spells “traitor” on him. Maybe it was supposed to divert attention since traitors are rarely this obvious, but no, not here. Still, there is surprise in the way the characters are killed off, even though the film dispenses of them almost in slasher fashion, it’s still less obvious who’s going to bite the bullet, and that’s a big plus. Also, this time there’s the perspective of the bad guys, polarised by a dominant villainous figure, which turns the siege in a strategic confrontation of sorts.

Although I’m an admirer of Carpenter’s work, in the case of “Assault on Precinct 13”, I preffer the 2005 version, although the potato score differs very little. It’s a solid action film, much less a remake, but a complete reconstruction with the original as the foundation, not as the blueprint. There’s more action, a solid, well selected cast, an entertaining plot with some nice touches and an interesting directorial vision that in the end serves the same ideas that made the original a B classic.

Punisher War Zone (2008)


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2

Starring: Ray Stevenson, Dominic West, Doug Hutchinson, Julie Benz
Director: Lexi Alexander
Screenwriter: Nick Santora, Art Marcum
Rating : R for pervasive strong brutal violence, language and some drug use.

Why ? Why was there need for another Punisher reboot ? WHY ?! The ’89 Dolph Lundgren version was a flop, upsetting even the fans of the comics. The 2004, Thomas Jane-John Travolta venture was fairly good but it certainly didn’t beg for a sequel. And still, Marvel insists on greenlighting not just a sequel, but a third attempt at starting up a franchise, perhaps hoping for a trilogy or a quadrilogy. The result however is a miserable failure.

Frank Castle, aka the Punisher (Ray Stevenson) is a former member of US special forces, whose family was killed by mobsters while enjoying a picnic in Central Park. After the incident, Castle becomes a ruthless vigilante whose objective is to annihilate organized crime, one head at a time. “War Zone” starts off with the Punisher’s assault on the mansion of Gaitano Cesare, a mob head freshly released from the grasp of justice. During the assault, he desfigures mobster Billy Russoti (Dominic West) and accidentaly kills an undercover FBI agent. This turns Castle away from the thug-hunting game for a while. Russoti then becomes the comic book villain Jigsaw, cooks up a revenge plan, springs his psychotic brother Loony Bin Jim (Doug Hutchinson) from the assylum, gathers every thug he can from the streets of New York, waging war against a now remorse ridden Punisher, forcing him to return to his violent ways.

I can’t say that I’m a stranger to the Punisher universe, but I’m also not the type that holds the source material as reference for any film (which is probably why I liked the 2004 adaptation). I’ve always liked the idea of the character, as much as I enjoy all anti-heroes and revenge stories. Basically, Frank Castle is a psychopath. He kills bad guys not for revenge, he’s gone way past emotions, but from a distorted sense of justice without limits. His judgement doesn’t tolerate any grey areas. It’s all black or white, guilty or not guilty. This film does not dig deeper into the character’s psychological depths, the moral purgatory, the trauma of violently losing his family which triggered his transformation into the blood-thirsty vigilante. What the film does is to keep itself busy with an overblown affection for over-the-top violence and comic-bookish caricatures. New York is actually shot in Canada, wasting much of the bleak urban feeling with anonymous neon-lit back alleys and rooftops. The bad guys are such grotesque, badly acted jokers that I wasn’t sure sure whether or not they were supposed to be there for comic relief rather than antagonists for the Punisher. Ray Stevenson, familiar to most from the HBO TV series “Rome”, is reduced here to an inexpresive hulk, fitting in terms of physical stature, but otherwise wasted in a part that doesn’t even seem to have any script behind it. There are few moments where he is allowed to show emotion, but it’s usually just him versus hordes of thugs. Here’s a grand example of “witty” dialogue : when confronted by a pries with the line : “Go with God”, Castle responds : “Sometimes I would like to get my hands on God” … I rest my case. Oh, and there’s also a plot element regarding the wife and child of the FBI agent Castle killed, played by Julie Benz, but it’s just there to send Castle back into the wasting-bad-guys business while assuring us he’s still a human being.

Though grossly suffering from a lack of originality, the film shows competence in its action scenes, but the effort seems pointless because it is very difficult to take the whole thing seriously. In fact, any attempt to take this film seriosuly will probably result in brain injury. The best remedy is to just laugh it away, whenever you’re not turned off by the gore.

It’s clearly an attempt at pleasing the fans just enough to warrant a franchise. I mean, it’s the kind of film that feels offending intellectually for some while scaring others away with its ugly kind violence. So in the end, the only people left who might enjoy it are the members of its already established comic book fanbase. But judging from the pathetic box-office performance, even they’ve been insulted.

Wanted (2008)


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85

Starring : James McAvoy, Morgan Freeman, Angelina Jolie.
Director Timur Bekmambetov
Screenplay: Michael Brandt, Derek Haas
Rating : R for strong bloody violence throughout, pervasive language and some sexuality.

Hands up if you’ve heard this setup before : leading man, common person, quite boring, dissapointed with life, unable to change, with a job he hates, deeply depressed, finds himself thrown into a world of fantasy, beyond known reality, where he learns to use super-human abilities to defeat the forces of evil, thus improving his quality of life and inspire a series of pointless sequels. Sounds familiar doesn’t it ?

Inspired by the graphic novel of the same name, „Wanted” tells the tale of Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy), a nobody who can’t even find any hits regarding his name on Google, which is silly, because it should have at least returned some kind of name coincidence, but I guess reality can be tweaked here and there to serve the purpose of the plot. I’ll give it that, it’s depressingly funny. He work as an accountant (job he hates), has an annoying boss who uses a stapler as a form of non-verbal threat, and his best friend is messing around with his girlfriend. Life is bad for Wesley. That’s until he encounters Fox (Angelina Jolie) who saves him from some kind of super-assassin. That’s the part of the story where he finds himself drawn into a world beyond his imagination, a world of super-human hitmen at war with each other. The good guys are led by Sloan (Morgan Freeman) who receives orders on who to kill next from a supernatural loom. Yes, you heard me right, a loom, or better yet, The Loom of Destiny, as they call it. Wesley learns that his father, who he thought left him when he was little, was also an assassin, the best in the world, and was killed by the second best assassin in the world. So, Wesley undergoes harsh training to be able to join the ranks and avenge the death of his father. During these exercises he learns he has a special ability, which accelerates his heartbeat to aprox. 400 beats per minute, thus releasing obscene amounts of adrenaline which enables him to move very „Matrix”-like. Oh, and did I mention that he can also bend bullet trajectories, resulting in an awesome gun-fighting coreography. It will however be dismissed as ridiculous by anyone who will argue why they didn’t like the film. But it’s exactly what makes this an excellent action film, the fact that it has the courage to be unusual and freaky and just run with it. Further down the road, Wesley will realise that nothing is what it seems, that loialties are easily missplaced and that destiny a straight path never is.

As a cinematic achievement it’s alot like „The Matrix”. As a matter of fact, the comics themselves were probably inspired by the Wachowski’s legacy. The question is : does it try and/or succeed at surpassing its predecessor ? The answer is : yes. It’s not even that hard since „The Matrix” has lost some of its influence since the world has been flooded with copycats. Bekmambetov though is not jsut a copycat. His „Nightwatch” films, clearly influnced by a lot of Hollywood’s trend-setters, are trademarked in their own way, and so is „Wanted”. His style is over the top and cool. He has the audacity to fill the screen with a scene where rats are used as time bombs. It’s also infused with some very hardcore violence. Squeamish persons beware, gore runs aplenty. I personally think it’s a very hard R, especially since it’s ideas regarding assassinations being a form of balancing the universe are iffy. Of course it’s all so outrageous that it’s hard to take it seriously, but still, the film manages to squeeze in some twisted philosophy along the way. It almost makes „Fight Club” seem mild and harmless by comparisson.

No matter what your opinions are on this kind of outrageous entertainment, this is still a worthy entry in the genre. It’s dark, ambitious in scope, tightly focused, artisticaly shot, high-octane sci-fi action with plenty of humour and drama to go along. It’s also as original as it can be considering its influences, and even surprising. It’s in a league of its own, and it will probably repulse some and leave others wanting more. But no matter where you fit, this is still pop culture cinema at its best.

Elite Squad (2007)


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9

Starring : Wagner Moura, Caio Junqueira, Andre Ramiro

Director : Jose Padihla

Writer : John Kaylin, Braulio Mantovani, Jose Padilha,Rodrigo Pimentel.  based on a book by Andre Batista, Rodrigo Pimentel and Luiz Eduardo Soares

Rating : R for strong violence, pervasive language and drug content.


1997, Rio de Janeiro. The streets are filled with murder and corruption. Drug trafficking is at an all time high. Things are so bad, that the police cannot handle it anymore, especially since most of them are corrupt as well. The answer to the city’s problems is given by BOPE, a paramilitary team that strikes where the police cannot and fight fire with fire. The story of “Elite Squad” involves both the struggles of life on the streets of Rio de Janeiro and the inner-workings of BOPE, with both the style and narrative drive of movies like “Cidade de Deus”.

There are a few characters the story focuses on. Captain Nascimento from BOPE whose work is starting to leave scars on his morale, and with the stress of his wife expecting a child, he finds himself wanting to get out of the team. Neto and Matias, childhood friends and idealistic policemen, who by trying to do the right thing, end up almost losing their lives in the war with corruption, so they decide to join BOPE, just in time as Nascimento needs to find someone to replace him.  And that is the basic setup of the story.

The narrative threads are interweaved in a fragmented manner, and the story moves at a breakneck pace that might discourage unsuspecting viewers. Halfway through, though, the story starts to make its intentions clearer, and you can easily see how it settles into more conventional territory. It’s not that the story itself isn’t clear enough, but it kind of removes a lot of backstory that was probably there in the book, so there’s a lot of information that you have to read between the lines. It’s also very distracting, because it has some excellent cinematography, and choppy editing, reminiscent of “Cidade de Deus”, that will make you forget to pay attention to the story. In terms of character development, I would say it does a wonderfull job of creating living and breathing characters that you can relate to and care for. Their inner turmoils, their struggle for survival, their love and friendship, is all painted in vivid colors. Most importantly, though this is a very violent, sometimes action oriented film, it does a great job of not losing its characterizations in a sea of blood and gunshots.

To be perfectly honest, when I first heard the film won the Golden Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival, I rolled my eyes, and thought, “of course they would do that, because it’s clone of “Cidede de Deus” with similar social themes. But as I watched it, I realized that the two films are completely different. They share only the cinematic style of telling the story, but the story itself and the issues it deals with are different in tone, especially because of the police thriller approach. This is story that deals with violence and corruption in a harsher way. It’s also very straightforward about its “fight violence with violence” message. BOPE is not seen as an abusive force, but as necessary anti-heroes in a world gone crazy. It never tries to shutdown the issue, or turn to more liberal politics. It gives us a hard reality to swallow, regardless of out political convictions. Captain Nascimento and his men don’t care about politics. They hate corruption and will stop at nothing to erradicate it.