Sunday, May 29, 2005

Banlieue 13

Not content to let the crazy Chinese and Thais have all the fun abusing stunt-men and having the action heroes move in death-defying ways, Luc Besson has been actively nurturing martial arts films in France. Banlieue 13 is perhaps a step forward and a step backwards.

The story begins as a re-tread of John Carpenter’s Escape from New York, with a futuristic Paris suburb being walled off and surround by police due to the extremely high crime element. Leito is a resident of the walled Borough 13, and is the local vigilante. The film opens with him fighting off one of the bigger gang armies because he stole their drugs and washed them down the bathtub. Revenge is taken on Leito when the gang capture his sister and hold her hostage. Enter Damien, a gung-ho (Snake Plissken) super-cop who needs a guide into the Borough to shut down a nuclear bomb which is in the possession of the same gang. The dynamic action duo combine forces, complete with bad oil-and-water buddy-acting. And the scenery chewing gang-leader, who has a penchant for randomly killing henchmen and his lumbering dim-witted second in command, appropriately named “K2” prepare for war against the pair.

With the exception of David Fincher-esque opening credits sequence, any scene not driving the ludicrous plot forward or leading into an action set-piece just does not exist in this film. Gone is the character driven aspects of the higher end Luc Besson productions such as La Femme Nikita, The Professional and more recently Danny the Dog. The movie runs a very lean 77 minutes and to be perfectly honest, if they further cut some of the bad-acting bits, could have been shorter.

Banlieue 13 does feel fresh from an action point of view. Luc Besson is not importing Jet Li or any Asian stars or directors for that matter, but rather relying on the home-grown art of ‘Parkour.’ As I understand it, Parkour is an acrobatic skill showcasing rapid climbing and incredible jumping of objects in an urban landscape. It makes BASE Jumping seem quaint. With the founder of the art, David Belle, playing Leito, and accomplished French stuntman Cyril Raffaelli playing Damien the action sequences are in the rarefied space accompanied by Jet Li, Donnie Yen, Jackie Chan and Tony Jaa. Watching Belle scramble up, down, through, over, and under balconies, landings, windows, etc. certainly recalls early 90’s era Jackie Chan. Likewise, Raffaelli’s close-quarters fighting, particularly in an extended sequence in an underground casino, is as good as it gets. In fact, it conjures echoes of Chow Yun Fat in John Woo’s Hard-Boiled.

Trust me when I say there is nothing in this film beyond the stunts (to be fair, there is an amusing gag involving a pair of womans underwear). But the big 4-5 action sequences in Banlieue 13 are filmed with rapid-fire verve.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Regular Contributions to TWITCHFILM.NET

Todd and the fine folks over at have brought me on as one of their contributors. Have a look at his fine and informative film news site which specializes in Asian Genre film, but has been broadening focus to European, and other World Cinema as Todd expands the site.

Reviews posted here will be mirrored there where applicable, and I'll probably be contributing to the odd news item as well (believe me when I say I'm out of my league compared to these guys when it comes to combing the web for film news).

There is a mighty-fine forum hosted there as well.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005


The opportunity to screen the just released Criterion disc of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is incredibly tempting. But instead, I'm opting for the other end of the cinematic spectrum with this ludicrously charming action picture from those reckless folks in Thailand who upped the bar for asian (nay, world) action cinema with Ong Bak: The Muay Thai Warrior. The director is producing, the stunt co-ordinator is directing, and Tony Jaa is nowhere to be found, but get this: There is a collection of Thai olympic athletes on hand to deal death to terrorists like a weird blend of Gymkata, Chuck Norris's 1980s action pictures and Die Hard. Oh, but the action cliches (uh, I mean homage) do not end there. Borrowed bits from Terminator 2, Broken Arrow, Jackie Chan's Supercop (aka Police Story 3) and even Apocalypse Now make cameo appearances. But wait, there's more. Thai flag-waving and nationalism (the americans are certainly not the only ones flag-waving in their whiz-bang explostion extravaganzas) are on display alongside kung-fu fighting amputees, muay thai boxing children and some of the craziest motorcycle and truck stunts ever captured on film. To witness three guys and a girl going at it with flaming logs, sparks a-flutter, is sublime (action) motion.
Those that thought the cringe-inducing stunt-man damage could not be topped in Ong-Bak, well in two short years, the bar is a bit higher with Born to Fight. This is indeed expoitive trash of the highest order. Turn off your brain and prepare to wince.

Showtime @ 8:30pm along with fresh trailers from the new C.S. Lewis' Narnia film, The 4th Romero Zombie Flick and the latest Harry Potter.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005


With a title that can be read two different ways, Enduring Love attempts to ask some very big questions in some very subtle ways. Two men meet under very unusual circumstances in what starts out as a very normal picnic in the sun. After their shared 'moment,' one begins to obsess on the other, dogging his life. Based on Ian McEwan's novel, it questions whether life is dictated by fate or chance, and along the way touches on varied subjects as love, forgiveness, homosexuality, science and chaos.
You may have caught director Roger Mitchell's Changing Lanes a couple years ago, It is a flawed but fascinating film about selfishness, rage, and the failure to communicate in the modern world. Mitchell can give a relatively mainstream treatment of subjects rarely even attempted in a modern studio film. And hey, he managed to get fine performances out of Ben Affleck and Amanada Peet; Bless him for that. But here, he has a trio of interesting actors: The always brilliant Samanta Morton, newly minted leading man Daniel Craig (also starring in the upcoming British gangster flick, Layer Cake) and an unconventional character actor Rhys Ifans.

Come out for this unconventional thriller. Drinks 8pm, Showtime 8:30pm.