District B13 and other new releases

An exuberant French action mash-up between John Carpenter and Luc Besson.

District B13

Wellspring, $26.98

For the twin offenses of being French and not starring Tom Cruise, District B13—a fanboy mash-up of John Carpenter's greatest hits, brought to you by the Luc Besson laboratories—is getting exiled to the art-house ghetto. This delirious import was the most (maybe the only) fun action movie of the summer—swift, funny, filled with actual stunts instead of digitized mayhem, and primed at a moment's notice for megaton ass kicking. Set in 2010 Paris, it fuses Escape From New York's futuristic city-as-prison concept with Assault on Precinct 13's bristling political subtext, as an undercover cop and a convict (David Belle) battle their way through a walled-in underclass banlieue searching for a massive "clean bomb." Belle—a master of parkour, the French extreme sport/martial art devoted to the casual hurdling of physical obstacles—brings an exhilarating athleticism to the many chases and fights. I'd trade all of M:i:III's 126 minutes for one 1.7-second shot of Belle hurtling himself in a single motion through a locked door's transom. Extras include a making-of doc and an extended fight scene. JIM RIDLEY


First Run, $24.95

The ex-Yugoslav nation-states are together building a unique brand of ethnic movie: embraceable comic nihilism, bleeding with memories of truly horrific local warfare but still biting every rump in sight simply for the bitter fun of it. Good old-fashioned anarchy, this 2003 Bosnian farce—the first feature by director Pjer Zalica—throws gasoline and dances in the conflagration like low-grade Kusturica. We're plopped down into a corrupt, rancor-poisoned village on the Serbian border just two years after the civil war, as it is scrambling to create the illusion of law-abiding togetherness and democracy on the eve of a visit from President Clinton. Smugglers, white slavery, land mines, martyr ghosts, relentless renditions of "House of the Rising Sun," guns everywhere. This multicharacter weave offhandedly recalls Jirí Menzel's Czech-village time capsules just as it articulates the political canyon between social appearance and the vendetta bloodthirst underneath. Throughout, Zalica's touch is broad but sure, and his satire has plenty of fuel. DVD extras: director's statement and a "discussion guide." MICHAEL ATKINSON

The Great Yokai War

Tokyo Shock, $29.95

Even if he's never actually made a film you can stand, you cannot ignore Takashi Miike—no one working today is as preposterously fecund, has visited as many genres (gangster, musical, horror, psychodrama, fantasy—oy), or has made each as perversely his own. With this ludicrous fantasy, add children's film to the CV—even if, as the colorful hyperbolists at the New York Asian Film Festival put it, it's a miracle Japanese kids can sleep if this is the kind of film they get. It's really not a shock if you contemplate the state of popness in that manga-anime-deranged culture, but still, it's Miike, chronicling, with as big a budget as he's ever had, the Neverending Story–ish saga of a young boy lured into helping out the spirit world against the encroaching forces of robotic technology. The film makes no more or less sense than Ridley Scott's Legend or Jim Henson's Labyrinth, but for many, keeping up with Miike's cranked movie factory output is an end in itself. The DVD includes six making-of featurettes, two freestanding shorts, monster-character profiles, and trailers. MICHAEL ATKINSON

X3: The Last Stand

Fox, $39.99

It's probably not a good sign for the main feature that the first thing worth checking out here is a sneak peek at the upcoming Simpsons movie. But sooner or later, you'll get to the third X-Men film, the weakest in the trinity. Brett Ratner ain't no Bryan Singer, who infused X-Men and X2 with unexpected humanity. Ratner's more about the action sequences, which leaves enormous gaps in the . . . whatchacallit . . . storytelling, not to mention sense making. The ending leaves only an enormous question mark, which the three alternate versions contained here do little to straighten into an exclamation point. Indeed, all the extras—trailers for lesser Marvel adaptations, a commentary track, some other scenes not worth the 10 minutes it takes to watch them—suggest the movie itself was hardly much of a bonus. ROBERT WILONSKY

Other Releases

In a year light on satire, Thank You for Smoking is still reasonably smart and funny. A new Humphrey Bogart collection from Warner Bros. includes The Maltese Falcon and the lesser-known Across the Pacific (an enjoyable knock-off of Casablanca, this time fighting the Japanese). The Ground Truth is a lesser contribution to the documentary tide against the Iraq war. The horror flick Abominable won't frighten anyone over age 12. Adam Sandler in Click aims for about the same mental age. Skiers may appreciate Warren Miller's Higher Ground. William Hurt and Gael García Bernal do their best with The King, but the material doesn't deserve their talents. For genre enthusiasts only: Tyrese Gibson in the kidnapping-in-the-hood drama Waist Deep. From SIFF, American Blackout endorses the somewhat wild-cannon view of Georgia Congresswomen Cynthia McKinney that African Americans are systematically being kept away from the voting booth—let's see what happens in Ohio this November. With Halloween closer in view, Bela Lugosi stars in Mark of the Vampire, being released in a vintage horror collection along with Boris Karloff in The Mask of Fu Manchu. And, speaking of holiday movies, it's never too early to enjoy a new director's cut of that bad-taste classic, Bad Santa.


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