Seen at the Movies: It’s surprising that it’s taken so long for someone to remake John Carpenter’s down-and-dirty 1976 thriller Assault on Precinct 13, and it was probably inevitable that that the new version, which is directed by Jean-Francois Richet, would not be as effective. Still, the basic material, which itself has roots in such disparate films as Rio Bravo and Night of the Living Dead, pretty much carries the day. The story is of a lonely, undermanned police station under siege: in Carpenter’s version, it was a southside L.A. precinct set upon by gang members; here, it’s a downtown Detroit station getting ready to close up shop for good on a snowy New Year’s Eve. A bus carrying several prisoners, including high-profile crime kingpin Laurence Fishburne, is diverted to the precinct, which is staffed by officers Ethan Hawke and Brian Dennehy, and a tough, sexy secretary played by the inimitable Drea de Matteo. The ensuing attack comes not from an overt criminal element, but from corrupt cops (led up Gabriel Byrne) intent on eliminating Fishburne, a former associate whom they fear will expose them.
The film’s violent action is, predictably, more grandiose and high-powered than in its predecessor, and it strains credulity that even on these deserted streets during a blizzard all this expended ammo and other explosive activity would fail to attract someone’s notice. But thanks to the lean-and-mean work of Assault on Precinct 13’s cast and crew, a certain B-movie grittiness survives. The precinct is designed by Paul Denham Austerberry as a shabby sitting duck of a setting, and director of photography Robert Gantz, though his background is primarily in commercials and music videos, avoids gloss at all costs. Only the climactic scenes, which take place in some woods outside the station, have a fake visual quality.
Fatih Akin’s Head-On, a German movie that won the European Film of the Year Award in 2004, is the story of two self-destructive second-generation Turkish immigrants (Birol Unel and Sibel Kekilli) who marry to appease her strict Muslim family, and then fall in love. But this is no Tracy-Hepburn meets Wedding Banquet-style romance: these two are promiscuous, substance-abusing wrecks, and their burgeoning relationship is interrupted by violence and a prison sentence. Akin’s filmmaking carries a stimulating, volatile charge, and DP Rainer Klausman achieves a strikingly raw, sensual visual style. Production designer Tamo Gunz is really good with squalor, particularly as relates to the particulars of Unel’s unkempt apartment.--John Calhoun