Man, John Carpenter used to be great--back in the late '70s/early '80s, when he was cranking out Escape From New York and The Thing and Big Trouble In Little China. Unfortunately, he's churned out nothing but crap since, and his style of pop filmmaking for grownups--dirty, violent, smart, confident, and fun--has become more and more missed. So it's a welcome surprise that Assault on Precinct 13, a remake of Carpenter's little-seen 1976 movie, is pretty damn cool.
Jake Roenick (the perpetually pouting Ethan Hawke) is a burned-out police sergeant stuck in his Detroit precinct on a snowy New Year's Eve. When a bus carrying criminals--including cop-killer Marion Bishop (Laurence Fishburne)--is diverted to Roenick's precinct, Roenick and his skeleton crew of officers lock 'em up. Soon, however, they find themselves under attack from crooked cops, and an uneasy alliance between Roenick and Bishop is made (fleshed out by the film's lineup of solid character actors, including John Leguizamo, Gabriel Byrne, and Brian Dennehy).
Main props for the film's sense of pulpy fun go to director Jean-François Ríchet and screenwriter James DeMonaco; with a decidedly Carpenter-esque vibe, they don't cop out or tone anything down. While even the most devout Carpenter fans have likely given up on the man himself making good films, at least the new Assault isn't too bad of a substitute. ERIK HENRIKSEN
Are We There Yet?
Opens Fri Jan 21
"Is this the same man who made AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted?!" queried my screening companion in the middle of Ice Cube's latest screen opus--a madcap family comedy called Are We There Yet? The answer was, regrettably, yes: Yes, that is Ice Cube wrestling with a child for a juice box. Yes, that is Ice Cube fighting with a deer. Yes, that is Ice Cube taking constant schizophrenic asides to chat with his prized bobblehead (voiced, again regrettably, by Tracy Morgan). Yes, that is Ice Cube being a sad, sappy sucker.
Filmed between Portland (sort of) and Vancouver B.C. (sort of), Are We There Yet? is something of a road movie rework of the Home Alone formula, as Cube attempts to woo a single mother (Nia Long) by delivering her entirely unlikable children over 350 miles of suspiciously scenic I-5. Between spotting vast local incontinuities and wondering when the Amish migrated to Washington State, the only quasi-believable element of the film is--surprisingly enough--Ice Cube. Dude might make some appalling career moves, but regardless of the role, he always comes off incredibly likable… even when he's fighting a deer. Which is something of a feat in itself. ZAC PENNINGTON
Opens Fri Jan 21
Clinton St. Theater
1961's Yojimbo is a great film, albeit one with the unfortunate curse of getting overshadowed by those it has inspired. (Like A Fistful of Dollars, a nearly identical--yet uncredited and unsanctioned--remake.)
So if you're familiar with spaghetti westerns, Yojimbo plays out in friendly territory. Masterless samurai Sanjuro (Toshiro Mifune) stumbles into a town that has two violent clans vying for dominance, and after meeting with a few of the town's elderly residents--including its prosperous coffin-maker--Sanjuro decides to offer his samurai skills for hire. ("In this town, I'll get paid for killing," he muses. "And this town's full of men who are better off dead.")
While Yojimbo's got flaws--the pacing drags, and despite Akira Kurosawa's stunning style and the dry, witty presence of Mifune, things don't start to get really interesting until the last 45 minutes--it's still an amazing film, dark and sharp, yet surprisingly moving and comedic. Even with the copyright fiascos and the stifling legendary status of Kurosawa, the most interesting thing about Yojimbo remains the film itself. ERIK HENRIKSEN