Movie Mini-Reviews: Assault on Precinct 13, Senna, Magic Trip, The Help

Another batch of mini-reviews to wrap up the month of January:

Assault on Precinct 13 [1976, Carpenter]
Assault on Precinct 13 [1976, Carpenter]
I did a mini-John Carpenter marathon this month, and Assault on Precinct 13 was my favorite of the group. This gritty 70s action movie is indebted equally to westerns and Night of the Living Dead. While the story is pencil thin, the battle that pits the understaffed precinct against a seemingly endless supply of gangsters is a blast to watch. With no one else to turn to, Lt. Bishop (Austin Stoker) forms an unlikely partnership with convicted killer Napoleon Wilson (Darwin Joston) as they are boarded up inside the precinct. A shocking moment during the first quarter of the movie quickly showed that this was going to be a no holds barred affair. This movie is worthy of its cult following, and it is one of Carpenter’s best. 9/10

Senna [2010, Kapadia]
Senna [2010, Kapadia]
Moving documentary about an F1 racer who I knew little about before watching. Ayrton Senna is widely regarded as one of the greatest drivers of all time, and he remains a hero to his native Brazil. His life was cut tragically short after crashing during a 1994 race. The documentary, which is masterfully pieced together, shows his rise to the top of the racing world. By the end, I was holding back tears even though I knew the outcome. Although I wish more details would have been provided about his life outside of racing, this is still a great documentary, and it is one that is accessible to non-racing fans as well. 8/10

Magic Trip [2011, Ellwood & Gibney]
Magic Trip [2011, Ellwood & Gibney]
I have always found both the Beat Generation and the 1960s counterculture scene to be fascinating, so this little-known documentary caught my eye. Magic Trip is essentially a collection of found footage of author Ken Kesey (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and his group of Merry Pranksters on their acid-fueled road trip across the country. There are some amazing clips shown in this feature, including an audio recording of Kesey’s U.S. Government-performed acid experiment, but the documentary definitely has a “home movie” feel to it. There is also the burden of some terrible voiceover narration from some of the original Pranksters, particularly one woman who talks in an irritatingly dramatic raspy whisper. If you have any interest in the era, this is worth seeing, warts and all. 7/10

The Help [2011, Taylor]
The Help [2011, Taylor]
The very definition of Oscar bait. The Help is well made, but everything is dumbed down for the audience. If you ever get confused as to what’s going on, don’t fret because it will be explained by one of the characters immediately. Speaking of the characters, every single one of them is a stereotype of some sort. Many of the top names (especially Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer) do an excellent job with the weak material, and they keep this from being a total waste of time. Do I even need to mention that white people save the day? Not a bad film, just a frustrating one. 6/10

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19 thoughts on “Movie Mini-Reviews: Assault on Precinct 13, Senna, Magic Trip, The Help

  1. le0pard13 says:

    Fine set of mini reviews, TWS. Ah… ‘Assault on Precinct 13’. A long-time favorite of mine and other Carpenter fans. You can see the Howard Hawks influence in this on filmmaker. I really want to see the ‘Senna’ documentary. My wife and I will see ‘The Help’ soon for our Oscar due diligence ;-). Thanks.

    • Eric says:

      Thanks! Assault on Precinct 13 is right up there at the top of my favorite Carpenter films now — such a great movie! I hope you and your wife enjoy The Help more than I did. I’ll keep an eye out for a future review.

  2. Matt Stewart says:

    Darn, sorry to hear you did not care for The Help too much. I personally really liked it, 8/10, but you’re right it is nothing more than Oscar bait. I would say it was better than The Blind Side though haha!

    Good reviews my friend! Still need to see Senna.

    • Eric says:

      Thanks Matt. I haven’t seen The Blind Side so I can’t compare, but I don’t really have any desire to see that one either.

      Senna is on Netflix Instant now if you have that option. Definitely worth seeing.

  3. Jaina says:

    Senna was one of my favourite films of last year. At the time of Senna’s death I was a very young Grand Prix fan. At 10 years old I proudly told the world that Senna was my favourite. I wouldn’t say his death had an impact on me, but it was sad.

    The film did him justice and what I loved was how well the film was put together – it felt like a purpose made documentary, not just put together using clips.

    I was crying buckets at the end. Beautiful film.

  4. 3guys1movie says:

    Nice mini-reviews Eric. Its funny i just wrote up a reveiw of Assault on Precinct 13 last night. When I was researching it I came across the fact that someone did a documentary called Do You Remember Laurie Zimmer? She was bad ass in that film and dropped out of site a few years later.

    also I see you have been getting your mumblecore on what did you think of Brick and Cold Weather? Brick was actually shot in San Clemente where Mi Casa is located.

    • Eric says:

      Thanks! Yeah, after watching the movie I had just had to look up the cast as well. I was really surprised to see Laurie Zimmer didn’t do much of anything acting-wise after this. Too bad. I thought she was really enjoyable.

      I liked Brick and Cold Weather, probably the latter moreso. Brick’s dialogue tangled me up a bit, but I loved the noir feel of it. Cold Weather was a fun little movie, and it’s a shame that not many saw it last year.

      Thanks for the heads up on your Assault on Precinct 13 review. I’ll go take a look at it. (nice timing, too!)

    • Eric says:

      I think you’ll love Senna. It’s available on Netflix Instant, if you have that option. Haven’t heard anything about a DVD release, unfortunately.

  5. houa0001 says:

    Been trying to get The Help from Netflix for ages! It’s on long wait at the top of my queue for months 😦 I have yet to see Senna as well…

    • Eric says:

      Hey Castor, new name? 😀 You aren’t missing much with The Help, though that’s strange that Netflix keeps burning you on that one. We ended up renting it from Redbox.

  6. Chris says:

    I saw some 3 guy1movie’s recent piece on Assault on Precinct 13 today, maybe its a sign that I should see it soon ( :
    I agree that The Help was underwhelming, the characters as you say are stereotypes, and I heard someone compare it to a made-for-tv-movie.

    • Eric says:

      Definitely check out Assault on Precinct 13 if you get a chance. It still holds up well today as a gritty action movie.

      I think that’s a fair comparison about The Help. Aside from the stellar cast, the movie felt like something that wouldn’t be out of place on Lifetime. Don’t get the love for it at all.

  7. John says:

    I’m also not the biggest F1 fan but saw Senna (dragged by a friend who is a big F1 fan) and really enjoyed it. I came away knowing a lot about his racing career, a good deal about his life overall, and more importantly, I came away satisfied.

    • Eric says:

      Glad to hear you enjoyed Senna as well. It’s great that even non-racing fans can really appreciate the documentary. To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have watched it myself if it weren’t for all of the praise I heard from critics and the blogging world.

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