District 13 Ultimatum – Actionfest week

This week I will be covering some of the films that I saw at Actionfest this past weekend. District 13 Ultimatum was one of those films.

WATCH: District 13 Ultimatum (2009) – Rated R for some violence, language and drug material.

“Set two years after the action in Pierre Morel and Luc Bessons District 13, this French-language sequel follows Capt. Damien Tomaso (Cyril Raffaelli) and Leito (David Belle) on their quest to clean up crime and corruption in the city. With the territory divided into five distinct neighborhoods created along ethnic lines, they have their work cut out for them. But they’ve also got a secret weapon: a will to defy the odds.”

Five years ago, Pierre Morel made the fabulous over-the-top futuristic action movie District B13. I highly recommended it and Pierre Morel went on to direct the marvelous Taken.

As you might guess, District 13 Ultimatum is the sequel to District B13. I have no idea why the B has been dropped. Patrick Alessandrin takes over direction from Pierre Morel.

Parkour masters and martial artists Cyril Raffaelli and David Belle reprise their roles as Captain Damien Tomaso and Leito respectively. They are filled with the same incredible energy as in District B13.

While the film is firmly centered on Cyril and David, some of the supporting gang members are interesting. Elodie Yung plays Tao, the most interesting of these. She is very charismatic and is obviously having a great deal of fun with her role.

Also fun are MC Jean Gab1 as Molko, James Deal as Karl Le Skin,and Laouni Mouhid as Ali-K.

This film is a lot of fun but is not nearly as polished as District B13. They have jettisoned some of the social commentary and what is left are paper targets like a giant company called Harriburton.

The action sequences are more prevalent though less reliant on Parkour. One Parkour sequence appears to just stop with no particular ending which was a little jarring.

Like a Bond film, this film is all about the action and it does deliver. I highly recommend watching the original District B13 which is currently available on instant Netflix. If you like that then I wholeheartedly recommend the sequel even though the original is the better film.

People Watch: Dany Verissimo appears again momentarily as Lola though I do not think they even gave her any lines.

La Femme Nikita – French Fried week

There are quite a number of French films available on instant Netflix. We will be featuring some of them this week. La Femme Nikita is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: La Femme Nikita (1990) – Rated R.

“Internationally acclaimed director Luc Besson delivers the action-packed story of Nikita (Anne Parillaud), a ruthless street junkie whose killer instincts could make her the perfect weapon, in this French film that was remade as Point of No Return in the U.S. Recruited against her will into a secret government organization, Nikita is broken and transformed into a sexy, sophisticated “lethal weapon.””

“And suppose I refuse?” – “Aisle seven. number 30.”

First I have to say that it is quite bizarre that a film called “Nikita” in France would be called “La Femme Nikita” in English. Instead of using the same title, you add “The Woman” in front of it? Of course La Femme sounds so much cooler than The Woman.

Second “Crayone” does not translate as “May I write it?” Although I do like that “chewing gum” is apparently colloquial enough to be used in the French as well. Also “See you later” (in English) is translated as “See You later”.

Both La Femme Nikita and the American remake Point of No Return are currently available on instant Netflix.

Nikita here is a completely unrepentant drugged-out murderous thug and that is before her transformation into an elite assassin. Nikita is played by the wonderful Anne Parillaud. In Point of No Return, she is renamed Maggie and played by Bridget Fonda.

Tcheky Karyo plays Bob, the handler. He does a convincing job of playing a consummate professional who is also in love with Nikita. He conveys a sense of heartbreak that he must always maintain a professional relationship with her. The scene where he gets a kiss is very good. His role is capably played by Gabriel Byrne in Point of No Return.

Nikita is also trained by Amande (played by famous French actress Jeanne Moreau). In Point of No Return, Anne Bancroft plays Amanda adding a touch of class to that version. As you can see both versions have good actors.

Luc Besson does a very good job of directing La Femme Nikita . He goes more for substance than style. There are several scenes that pack a real punch but most are in the last act so I will not spoil them.

There is more emotional depth and complexity in the French version (not surprisingly). The American version also tones down the beginning to make Nikita/Maggie more appealing – it actually just makes her less believable. I did think the setpieces were actually better in the American version.

I recommend watching La Femme Nikita. It is the better of the two films. If you cannot stand reading subtitles or just have a yen for Bridget Fonda/Gabriel Byrne/Anne Bancroft then watch Point of No Return.

Canada later made a series of La Femme Nikita with Peta Wilson in the starring role. I have not seen it but it is available on DVD through Netflix.

People Watch: Jean Reno has a brief but very memorable role as Victor Nettoyeur (the Cleaner). This role is played by Harvey Keitel in Point of No Return.

District B13 – French Fried week

There are quite a number of French films available on instant Netflix. We will be featuring some of them this week. District B13 is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: District B13 (2004) – Rated R for strong violence, some drug content and language.

“Produced and co-written by acclaimed filmmaker Luc Besson, this stylized action thriller is set in Paris 2010, where the government has fenced off the ghettos in the city, the most dangerous of which is District B13. Teaming up to infiltrate the lawless sector, an elite-unit cop and a reformed vigilante put their lives on the line in a gutsy attempt to retrieve a stolen nuke and thwart a terrorist attack by the most powerful gang in the city.”

Kudos has to be given to Pierre Morel. His directorial debut here is a quintessential action movie.

The movie begins with a riff on the classic John Carpenter film, Escape from New York. Instead of criminals being walled off in New York, we have “troublesome” suburbs of Paris walled off.

While I normally give almost all the props of a film to the director, the two leads here are nothing short of amazing. You might think from that statement that I am referring to the acting but that is not it.

David Belle plays Leito, one of our two heroes. David has a superb claim to fame – he is the founder of the sport called Parkour. Parkour (PK – The Art of Moving) “is the physical discipline of training to overcome any obstacle within ones path by adapting movement to the environment” (wiki).

Watching him in action is utterly astounding. His inventive use of objects and his ability to squeeze into very tight spaces quickly is breathtaking. Although it is not martial arts per se, the closest thing I remember to it was the first time I saw Bruce Lee fighting in Enter the Dragon or the first time I saw the inventive combination of gymnastics and martial arts by Jackie Chan in Rumble in the Bronx.

Cyril Raffaelli plays Captain Damien Tomaso, our other hero. Not only is he also a traceur (practitioner of Parkour) and friend of David Belle but he is also a martial artist and is the fight co-ordinator for District B13.

Parkour was popularized two years later in the film Casino Royale. This features an excellent sequence involving traceur Sebastien Foucan. Parkour is also used in Live Free or Die Hard and music videos from Madonna (Jump), Janet Jackson (Feedback), and My Chemical Romance (Whip It!) (not to mention an episode of House :P).

I expect Parkour to become an action movie staple, perhaps even a cliche, in the same way that martial arts entered almost every action film after the 70s. While entertaining, it does beg the question, has every police detective/private investigator/etc. received substantial martial arts training?

The story by Luc Besson and Bibi Naceri is fun (I really liked how the villain inspired his minions to come up with an idea) and works quite well but is really just reasoning for the epic action setpieces. The futuristic setting lets them make social commentary while being entertaining.

Sadly there are a few action movie inanities. The villains chain the girl up right next to the rocket which makes zero sense.

I wholeheartedly endorse District B13. It is subtitled but that certainly will not prevent you from enjoying the action. Although it is true that you might miss some subtitles while marveling at the Parkour.

Cyril Raffaelli and David Belle reteam for District 13 – Ultimatum to be released on DVD and Blu-Ray on April 27th so stick it in your Netflix queue if you enjoyed District B13. Unfortunately it is not directed by Pierre Morel so I will have to wait and see how good it is.

People Watch: While you may not yet recognize his name, director Pierre Morel was also responsible for the marvelous revenge thriller, Taken.