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ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (2005) Review

A reader last night wrote me a letter about enthusiasm, love and passion for the various grades of features that play in theaters, dvd players or whatever media is your poison. Specifically, they were pointing me at my old review for SWORD & THE SORCEROR. In the opening of that geekgasm thinly veiled as a review I went through the various grades I consider while sitting in a theater. Those being Cinema, Film, Movie and Flicks.

Of all of those, Great Flicks seem to be the most maligned. These tend to be features that relish their genre roots, that wallow in the conventions and tirelessly work to do one thing above all else… ENTERTAIN. Flicks are about giving the audience a buzz that gives them a head start on the post flick drunken discussion at the bar, the pad or the shithole you call home.

Generally, FLICKS are not about impressing the parents or the college film school professor. Often times, they’re the ones you take in with your friends that most make you laugh and howl and get giddy about life. The type of movie that asks you to dodge bullets in the theater, that make you say, “GODDAMN!” then suddenly the audience is laughing with you in the joy of the moment, instead of screaming for you to shut the fuck up.

These are the FLICKS that often times you first catch alone, but then… you gather friends together with that tell-tale phrase of, “Oh man, YOU GOTTA SEE DIS!”

John Carpenter’s ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 was a damn good flick! Hell, when I’m watching it with friends and we’re high on the power of synth-scores that rattle the ball hairs… it’s down right FUCKING GREAT. One would never call it a great work of cinema – though it has great cinematic moments, like the ice cream scene.

Last Friday – I got an email from a publicist working on the “ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 campaign” that John Carpenter would love for me to give him a call and talk about the remake with him at home. Well, any excuse to hear that gloriously cynical voice of John’s commenting on just about anything would be fun, but most of all… I was curious. I’ve had the great fortune of knowing John for a good many years now, and the one thing he isn’t full of is bullshit. He can’t stand it. John knows what he likes and he doesn’t mince words about it.

So I gave John a call, he picked right up and I tell him some publicist told me to dial him up, and he was like… “Harry, I love talking with ya, but I never told a publicist to have you call me.” LOL, see… I can just imagine some publicist somewhere hearing that John apparently liked the remake, and thinking outside of the box (god I hate that phrase) thought – I know, Harry has John’s number, let’s have Knowles call and talk to John about this remake. That’ll be great.

So, what does John Carpenter think of the non-John Carpenter ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13? He was surprised by it, he actually thought it was a damn good flick. His complaints? Oh – you better believe he had problems – but as he said, they were nitpicks. What were they? Well, John had a few instances in the film, where he wished the director had pulled the camera back a bit so the audience could see what was going on, instead of over-relying on close-ups. By no means did it ruin the film for him… but as any lover of Carpenter flicks knows… the man loves his scope frame and he love to pull that camera back and use close-ups as a last resort.

Most of John’s ire was reserved for his original, which he labeled as being “SLOW” and “LOW-BUDGET” – Now, I can’t stand to hear great filmmakers kicking their babies, so I wedged my body between John’s foot and his original ASSAULT and defended the pacing beyond a budget constraint, but that in a great SIEGE film, that sense of dread and impending doom is important. It’s what that lousy fucking ALAMO movie last year never had a clue about. While Peter Jackson totally got it for both TWO TOWERS and RETURN OF THE KING.

Sure, in a siege film the action better pay off for the wait, and in his original – the action was rather minimalist in scope, but the results were emotionally solid and worth the investment.

Now – you may be thinking that me spending all this time talking about John and the original ASSAULT, that I’m going to raise my nose in the air and promptly lay a loaf across this latest remake, that we’re having a never-ending case of assault and battery with… but, you’d be wrong.

The new ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 is a great flick – pure down to the pubes B filmmaking without pretense, without self-parody, without compromise. The film doesn’t pull its punches. Characters you like, die. Actors you love, die.

The thing that’s great about all of this is the original roots for this lay in RIO BRAVO – ah hell, it actually all goes back to 300 Spartans and an impossible siege a few millennia ago, but the case study for the B-genre Siege story is this.

What makes it B?

The scope. By having it focus on a small group of characters fighting off a superior force you’ve limited the scope of the tale. A-siege genre films are films like TWO TOWERS, ZULU, ZULU DAWN, Wayne’s THE ALAMO, THE MERCENARIES and FORT APACHE. B-Siege genre films are like RIO BRAVO (which was so great that in many circles it defeats all siege movies period), the original ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, NID DE GUEPES and THE LAST COMMAND.

Now being a “Flick” or a “B-movie” isn’t a bad thing. We’re not talking about Grade Z cinema – we’re talking about rooted in the cinema of cool, badass killer fun flick world. Stuff like SWORD & THE SORCEROR comes to mind. Not just because that lady reminded me of that review… but you click on that link above, and you read just the bristling excitement and enthusiasm I have for SWORD & THE SORCEROR and I’m telling you… That’s how I walked out this remake.

I walked out on fire. Instantly began making cel phone calls to friends and folks I know that I had to let in on this secret. This killer flick.

When I sat down, all I had heard was that Ethan Hawke stole the film. That’s it.

Couldn’t agree more. Oh sure, Fishburne is a badass in this film. But essentially, that character is little more than a cipher. He’s there for image, cool and line delivery that makes ya clench and say “Damn”!

However, right from the opening surprise frames of this film, Ethan is creating a 3 Dimensional character. It’s like, his TRAINING DAY character has continued working for a decade or so. You see the mileage on his face, the hurt. He’s alive within the scenes shaking the emulsion and checking for sprocket hole damage. It’s so disarming a beginning performance that you’re not sure if this is actually the movie you paid to see. When it kicks into gear, you begin to think… Damn, this is great.

Then Jean-Francois Richet pulls a couple of cinematic tricks that are disarming for anyone that know the slightest about how shots work. It’s some stuff that’d make Zemeckis smile. The cinematographer, Robert Gantz, this is someone to watch. He hasn’t really done anything yet, other than this – but the work here is strong. The frames, the camera movement and the atmosphere and lighting are just exquisite. This is some very fun work going on here. And, whatever company did the Digital Snow! BRAV-O!!! The snow in this film is a great co-star for Hawke and Fishburne.

Speaking of supporting players – that’s something that I love about this movie. Every performer is dead right for their role.

Maria Bello – she’s been great in exactly 1 film for me thus far, though I’ve enjoyed her work in several films. But it was in THE COOLER that she shined brightest thus far. Here, she plays a Police Therapist that is helping Hawke’s character overcome his trauma issues, but frankly… She’s more fucked up than he is. She’s self-analyzed herself into her own little neurotic quirks that really make her, well a handful. The chemistry between her and Hawke is pretty damn strong.

Drea de Matteo – Ok – this gal, this is a Carpenter gal. Oh sure, she’s on that sugar drivel known as JOEY, but she didn’t show up for that type of duty here. This is your standard Carpenter strong independent knows when, who and where she wants to fuck and on her terms type of character that’s funny, yet not a cartoon. She has a libido and knows the kink that strokes it best. The final scene in the tracking shot sequence of little character vignettes that has her and Fishburne together. Fucking gold. I love love LOVE that scene.

Ja Rule – Other than THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS, I’ve managed to avoid every film this guy has done. It seems, from a few reviews I’ve read, his general shittiness from his other films has left a stank upon him, that some have smeared on his role here. But ya know what? Fuck that. Smiley don’t like that. Now sure, speaking in the third person is something that dumbshit annoying ‘tards do. Ya know what, I think Smiley is supposed to be a dumbshit annoying ‘tard. And I buy Ja Rule as a dumbshit annoying ‘tard. I believe it, don’t doubt it for a second. Perfect casting.

Brian Dennehy – Ya know – I love that he’s doing his absolute best George Kennedy here. It suits him. He’s got the swagger, the belligerence, the arrogance and the tenacity. He’s a lug, but he’s our lug.

Gabriel Byrne – of everyone, he’s the disappointment for me. He’s just… well, this is Gabriel Byrne… From MILLER’S CROSSING to THE USUAL SUSPECTS – he’s an actor I just expect the best from – but he’s a minor character and he just doesn’t have much to work with. Jean, the director, correctly makes the decision to stay, more or less, focused on the folks inside Precinct 13. Those are the characters that we have to build feeling for.

John Leguizamo – Here’s someone that trades quarters for Aztec Gold in films. He takes what little screen time they give him, and he just makes characters that steal scenes. Rips it right out of the hands of the bigger names. Here – you’ll want to slam his stupid face into a pulp from time to time, but… hey, he’s only trying to make a place for himself. I like that. He’s small potatoes dreaming of being fine wine.

I’ve seen the film twice now, and on my last night in Austin before heading to freeze my balls off in Boston, I’m taking a group of friends out to see this one again. We’ll drink a few drinks first… to cut the night’s chill – but in the end, it’s more about why do we go to movies. Do we go to find out what’s wrong or do we go to enjoy the show?

Me, I go for the show, and this folks is the best show opening today!

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