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Assault on Precint 13

Posted by JoshSamford On June - 28 - 2008
Review contributed by Rat Faced Killa

Plot Outline: In seemingly unconnected events in Los Angeles, a street gang vows revenge against the police for killing 6 of their crew, a rookie cop named Bishop is handed the crappy job of watching a police station in the process of closing down, and a murderer named Napoleon Wilson is carted off to death row. These events soon culminate into the siege of the near-vacant police station by hundreds of violent gang members. Cut off from the rest of the city and low on weapons, the station’s few remaining occupants, Wilson, and another crook named Wells must trust each other in order to survive. Talk about a crappy first night on the job!

The Review: Picture Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Replace the mindless zombies with random gang-members and the old country house with a nearly abandoned police station in the middle of a desolate inner-city neighborhood. Now you’ve got the simple but effective premise that drives this magnificent budget action picture from the golden age of exploitation film. No wonder this is one of Quentin Tarantino’s personal favorites (and referenced several times in his script for From Dusk Till Dawn), as it’s about as cool as these kind of flicks come. In the hands of another director, the film’s mildly contrived premise may have resulted in a forgettable B-movie, but Carpenter does several things to make it work. Each of the plot strands are intercut in such a way that even though it takes half of the movie to reach the center-piece of the film, the siege of the police station, the film is consistently interesting.

The time devoted to establishing the films premise helps to develop the character of Napoleon Wilson, introduce Bishop and the situation regarding the police precinct, and provide a motive behind the street gang’s actions.Even though most the characters are two-dimensional, each of them serve a clear purpose in advancing the plot(besides the secretary that gets killed….well, maybe that was her purpose). These elements help to retain a suspension of disbelief so that when the gang does attack the precinct, it’s easy to buy. There are no superfluous plot pieces and it seems to head in a definite direction throughout, so the film maintains a brisk pace. Made on a meager budget of a little over one hundred grand, Carpenter’s film looks like one of 10 times that, thanks to his skill with the camera. Much more advanced than his previous feature, Dark Star, Assault is filled with expertly handled shots and nicely framed widescreen photography, giving it a professional look. The main set of the film, the interior of the police station, looks as real as any seen on film. Although Carpenter hadn’t fully developed his musical skills, the score to Assault is effective in setting a mood, even if repetitive.

Also credited as the editor, Carpenter shows aptitude in the assembly of action scenes, particularly the shoot-out involving Bishop, Wilson and the gang members, in which he manages to make simple actions exciting. Also impressive is the assembly of the exterior precinct sequences. With the use of POV shots Carpenter creates the illusion of the desolate station surroundings, despite being filmed in totally different locations. Characteristic of most budget pictures, the acting in Assault is a little weak, with the exception of Darwin Josten who has a memorable turn as the anti-hero Napoleon Wilson. He may be a son of a bitch, but he’s a likable one. Wilson is a precursor to the anti-heroes that would show up in subsequent Carpenter films, such as Snake Plissken in Escape From New York or John Nada in They Live. He captures every scene he’s in as the cynical outsider who meets his problems with an apathetic attitude. Some of the other acting is particularly poor, especially a scene where Laurie Zimmer(Leigh)is shot in the arm and she doesn’t even flinch! As a Carpenter fan, I feel that Assault is one of his best works, and as a film fan, I feel that it is a minimalist action masterpiece. If you are interested in budget films or Carpenter’s work, this is a must see. In fact, if you are interested in movies at all this one should be on your rental list.

Armour of God

Posted by JoshSamford On June - 28 - 2008
Plot Outline: Asian Hawk (Jackie Chan) is an ex-singer in a pop group called “The Losers”. Also in the group was his friends Alan and Laura, whom Hawk also fell in love with but was forced to leave because of his love for adventure. Laura, like any good girl, settled for the closest guy who was next to her; enter Alan. Years pass, Hawk becomes quite accomplished in his career, but is soon contacted once again by Alan. Turns out some nutjob religious cult kidnapped Laura and are seeking the Armour of God. A five piece suit of Armour that grants it’s wearer tremendous power. The cult already has three pieces of the armor, Alan has one and a Duke in Spain has the final piece needed. After many hijinks, Jackie and Alan manage to get the duke to fork over his final piece, but under one circumstance, they have to take the Duke’s daughter along for the ride. Now Jackie Alan and this Spanish dish set out to save Laura, and perhaps even keep the Armour while they’re at it.

The Review
Armour of God is probably one of Jackie’s strangest, and in my opinion, best films. Definitely not an opinion shared by many, and I can already hear people yelling ‘blasphemy’, but hey it’s my opinion. I don’t know what makes me love AOG so much, I can’t tell if it’s because Armour of God was one of the earliest Chan films I seen and reminiscence is getting the better of me, or if it’s just the spark of originality and fun the film has to offer. Maybe it’s a combination of the two, but I tell you this: Of all the great ‘stunt’ films Chan has made since the 80’s, I would say AOG at the very least makes it in to the top three. That’s just my opinion of course, and frankly I can see it’s not a very popular one. A 6.4 on the imdb may not seem like such a bad thing, but the fact that it isn’t a seven shows the division the film has on people. For the life of me, I have a hard time seeing what is so terrible about the film that some people could call it the worst chan film. If anyone is a Chan fan, I don’t see how they can call the film cheesy when the humor here is no more thick than in any of his other films. It might be the fact that Jackie is a bit cocky and doesn’t play the reluctant hero he usually does. I will concede that the film definitely has it’s cheesy moments, but in a good way like most action films from the eighties. Not because Jackie’s humor is too abundant or the acting isn’t hamlet.

I see some complain that the film is too slow or boring, but this just boggles me. Sure, the middle half of the film is comprised of nothing but jokes, but how can you discredit a film that has such spectacular action scenes by calling it boring? Armour of God has two of my favorite action scenes ever. First, the car chase in the middle part of the film. It’s not on the level of Bullit or The French Connection, but it doesn’t try to be. It’s more over the top, and is just cool all around. Maybe I’m biased because of my love for watching people wreck on motorbikes, but I hold to the belief that all men, no matter what their creed can sit back and enjoy a man flying off a motorbike and off a cliff. Good old fashioned fun. The other insane action scene is really just a string of action scenes. When Jackie heads back to the cave at the end of the film, it’s almost non-stop action for fifteen minutes. Jackie’s stunt team walks away brutalized by the end of the finale. People flip off tables landing on their heads, Jackie sweeps some dude (dressed like a woman) in mid air and he does a front flip landing face first into the dirt and I won’t even spoil the ending for you. One of Jackie’s most outrageous stunts, even today.

The film isn’t perfect of course, no great film ever is, but I don’t think it’s deserving of the vile I see spewed forth about it. The middle half of the film does slow down quite a bit, and if you aren’t entertained by Chan’s humor this will most likely kill you. It almost resorts to gag after gag, but thankfully action scenes are dispersed in between all the humor and helps pick the film back up. I didn’t particularly like the western (Spanish?) girl who plays opposite Jackie or even Alan Tam, not because I thought either actor gave too bad of a performance (granted, the girl’s performance doesn’t deserve any kind of write up), but because neither had any effect on the movie for me personally. Both were just harmless, in other words: not interesting. Jackie is the one and only star in this picture show ladies and gentleman, although I would have preferred a little more Rosamund Kwan. She’s just so darn cute. Jackie is the only person with a spotlight here, not because he’s a ballhog, he’s just the only one with real charisma. His arrogance in the film never walks the line of being annoying, which can almost kill a film if played too hammy. Jackie is just right in his role, at some points full of himself, at some points full of BS. How can you not like this man?

The Conclusion
Let’s just fill out a little questionnaire here: Do you like action? Do you like Jackie Chan? Do you like watching Jackie Chan fall from trees smashing a hole in his head after a stunt goes wrong? Well, if you answered yes to any of the above questions, then you’ll love Armour of God! Chan’s older films are already a niche audience, but AOG seems to have dug a smaller and more compact niche inside the already existent niche. You’ll either love it or you’ll hate it, but at the least you can appreciate the injuries Chan and his team inflict upon themselves, just to entertain all of us.

9 Souls

Posted by JoshSamford On October - 8 - 2007
Plot Outline: We begin with a disturbed young man, Michiru (Ryuhei Matsuda) who has spent many of his last few years in complete isolation. After overhearing his father and brother going through an argument, he goes off the deep end and brutally murders his only living parent. He soon arrives in a prison cell along with nine other inmates, but one of which seems to be off his meds, because after sharing a secret about a treasure he hid at a school – the man goes berserk and is sent to another cell. Just moments later one of the convicts (who happens to be a master of escape) discovers an exit, and sets the remaining nine prisoners free. Together they all set out to find the treasure mentioned in earlier on, and along the way we are guided through their highs and lows.

The Review
Although he isn’t as popular as Takashi Miike or Takeshi Kitano (or even Sabu in some circles) as of the moment, after sitting through Blue Spring, Pornostar and now 9 Souls, I am thoroughly convinced Toshiaki Toyoda may be one of the most important directors to come out of Japan in a while. Not to say there haven’t been directors now and then who have made beautiful accomplishments, but after seeing Toyoda’s first three films (Unchained sits in the list of films to see, but unlike this work, it is a documentary) I am just blown away. The consistency of his work, coupled with his truly original style heavily reminds me of Quentin Tarantino in the fact that the two directors have a vision and style that revolves around music and still remains unique, even though the two directors couldn’t be more drastically different. Toyoda is a visual director in the most absolute way possible, and with 9 Souls he sets out to prove that to the world. If after you sit through the film you aren’t completely thrown out of your socks by the imagination and photography, then you sir, have no soul! Or you just heavily disagree with me, neither stances I would recommend. It’s debatable in my mind as to whether 9 Souls is more enjoyable than Blue Spring (which is an absolute must own), both are spectacular, but 9 Souls is definitely a more mature film and an all around astounding piece of cinema. Taking the simplistic narrative of Blue Spring and Pornostar, Toyoda ups the ante with 9 Souls and offers a rather surreal fantasy with a huge cast of characters – yet still succeeds in almost all areas. With as many characters as there are in the film, it’s easy to lose track occasionally, but even if you do – Toyoda reminds the audience when necessary and slowly builds and fleshes out these characters who all get their own time to shine. The film is an epic that seems to rush by the audience, and has more heart than so many other films of a like mind, but pinning it down as one particular type or style is nearly impossible. It’s a hard film to gauge just because there’s so much substance underneath the ordinary, and marks Toyoda truly coming into his own as a complete artist. It’s violent, subversive, poetic, touching and altogether amazing. Yet, the English language only has so many superlatives to compliment the film with, so why try and keep it rolling.

9 Souls takes a cue from Battle Royale (though not in a direct reference, nor even a strong comparison) in the fact that the cast of characters is quite large and as mentioned this may draw out some confusion. There are nine convicts, and at least a few Yakuza along the way who make more than a couple of appearances, so balancing this whole cadre of beings was already an ambitious step in the first place (though not a huge move when compared to the fairly large Blue Spring), but building an emotional attachment for the audience with nearly every one of them definitely seems like a task few could muster themselves past. Something that Toyoda did, that I feel most directors would not have, is in the fact that he doesn’t shy away from showing the audience that despite their being human the majority of these criminals have committed crimes that are blatantly inhumane. Along the way the audience learns that most have repented their crimes, or at the least the situation wasn’t as cold as they would be lead to believe, but Toyoda very well could have taken the naive route and had them all play embezzlers or crooked Yakuza thieves – instead of murderers. There is the obvious need to make the characters more identifiable, yes, but a lot of this is brought about in the third act of the film anyway and the audience already has an emotional relationship with these men regardless. Toyoda may not break new ground completely with these little nuances, but it’s obvious he was starting from a place of originality rather than just trying to reproduce formula – which is always a great place to be. In my opinion, sometimes it only takes a thin layer of humanity to really perfect any character. This is something I loved about the original Battle Royale, but some people genuinely detested (often criticized for having too many characters and lacking the time to give each depth). I think Toyoda not only creates a whole list of characters who have their own unique qualities, but he gives them all motivation and independent attitudes. Toyoda crafts a list of characters as a master at work on the canvas, and never seems to fail with me as a viewer. There are moments of some inconsistency in the film I thought my first time through, but on re-thinking the situations, it is just so chock full of information throughout that it’s nearly hard to swallow in one viewing. It isn’t necessarily the type of film where you have to cling on to every bit of information given, but an attentive eye sure doesn’t hurt a thing. Although the pace is assuredly slow, the speed at which the audience is taken on this journey throughout the film is nearly hypnotizing. From one location to the next, the film continually bashes you over the head with a pace that seems other-worldly. It’s hard to describe, but once and if the film hooks you, sitting through the full two hours in one go becomes a pleasure.

9 Souls is absolutely the most visual film Toyoda has directed for the moment, and not that his previous films were lacking in that area, 9 Souls is just a tour de-force from beginning to end. The framing and placement of the camera throughout the picture is always clever no matter how ordinary the scene may be. I am reminded of a sequence where the camera is positioned on the outside of the bus our characters ride around in, as a couple of characters talk and give some expositional dialogue in the front seat, as the scene goes on (in what I remember to be quite the long take) we watch as a character exits the back of the bus and steps outside and exits to the left of the camera. There is a subtle movement as the camera adjusts its self on the hood of the vehicle and we see that the other character is actually urinating in the background. It adds a very humorous tone to what could have been a somewhat boring scene, and the fluid camera movement and awkward angle makes such a bizarre moment move by with angelic grace. That isn’t even mentioning the grand number of long takes that seem to get more and more complex along the way. There’s another moment where a woman grows angry with her husband over the fact that the convicts have taken advantage of their hospitality and begin acting rude inside of their house, the scene follows the woman from inside as her husband tries to calm her down until she walks into the kitchen where we see a man walk outside and (once again) begins urinating (it isn’t a theme or anything in the movie, trust me) and as she walks out the door still confronting her husband, she walks away, walks back and notices the man, grunts and walks away. The scene isn’t done though, the camera continues positioning its self so we can see both the backside of this stranger urinating on her property, and her as she walks away. The scene concludes once the man ‘finishes’. The film delves into the absurd at a moment’s notice but continually brings the audience back around, and as the comedy lightens up during the latter part of the film, the drama moves in without things growing stilted in the least. It is genuinely touching and hilarious in the same breath. The constant moving visuals are coupled with Toshiaki Toyoda’s complete dominance over the art of ‘cool’. The whole film is just ‘cool’ from the very start, beginning (after a few minutes of story, of course) with what appears to be a staple of Toyoda’s films, characters walking towards the camera while the hippest rock music you’ve ever heard blares over the soundtrack. Now, if you’ve never seen any of his films, you probably think that is old news and everyone and their mother has had a shot like that – but trust me, nobody does it better than Toyoda. Rather than having a rock band on the soundtrack though, with lyrical work accompanying as in Blue Spring, he returned to a full rock instrumental soundtrack as he did with Pornostar. Although I doubt there could ever be an instrumental that could create anything as powerful as the conclusion to Blue Spring (with Thee Michelle Gun Elephant’s song “Drop” magnifying the excitement), even so the musical work in 9 Souls is just as breathtaking in some ways. Especially during the concluding minutes, just the theme song adds so much to the fulfillment of the movie. Without something as catchy and beautiful I doubt things could have worked half as well. Toshiaki Toyoda has become the king of rock & roll cinema, without a doubt. All of this, and I haven’t even went into the performances, but to make it short – this film nearly brought tears to my eyes during the final minutes. I’m not ashamed to admit it, that’s how much I had grown attached to these characters, and a good script helps but the actors are the main attractions for the audience. Much of the cast are made up of regulars in Toyoda’s films, including the stars of his previous two films, Ryuhei Matsuda (Blue Spring) and Kôji Chihara (Pornostar), both of who actually share one poignant scene together on a bicycle that I felt particularly fond of as I am a fan of his other films, and seeing the two somewhat tied together is just a beautiful thing to witness. Although I wish I could, the cast is just too huge to go over individually, but each performance in my eyes is played to the hilt. With humor and a knowledge of how much drama is necessary. In short, pitch perfect!

What else can I say, 9 Souls is a beautiful follow-up to Blue Spring. I doubt it can reach those peaks, and it does have it’s moments of confusion throughout, but I can’t help but view the film as a step up in many ways and another dimension in a growing director. It’s a beautiful work that absolutely should not be missed by fans of Japanese cinema, and especially not by fans of the director. I give the film a five, but minus the Captain Stubbing award. Not something I do regularly, but as much as I feel the film is deserving of that five, I don’t know if it’s an absolute classic in that it will go down as Toyoda’s greatest film, so I reserve the award for the time being. Still, the work Toshiakai Toyoda is creating should not be passed up by any true lover of cinema, much less anyone who likes really ‘cool’ movies.




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Varied Celluloid is a film website intent on delivering views on movies from all genres. Started in 2003, the website has been steadfast in its goal and features a database of over 500 lengthy reviews. If you would like to contact us about writing for the website or sending screeners, please visit the about page located here.