District 13 (2004) was an entertaining and energetic French near-future action film, a mix of martial arts and ‘parkour’, in which a cop and a district 13 vigilante teamed up to prevent a gangster from launching a neutron bomb from within the eponymous walled ghetto. It was plotting by numbers, a story pared down to a succession of stunts allowing its two leads, parkour founder David Belle and stuntman Cyril Rafaelli, to display their skills.
District 13: Ultimatum (aka: Banlieue 13 – Ultimatum) is a direct sequel. The death of the bomb-wielding gangster of the first film has resulted in a balkanised ‘banlieue’, with different factions ruling different groups among its population of two million. The French authorities are not too keen on this, and so DISS, the department of internal state security, plot to create a situation in which the president must send in the military. They murder a pair of beat cops, dump their bodies in district 13, and spark off a firefight with the inhabitants.
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The alleged killing of the cops by district 13 gangsters provokes the President into approving a plan to evacuate and level the banlieue. Except some kids filmed DISS shooting the cops, and now the chase is on to find the memory card with the MPEG on it.
Rafelli reprises his role as police officer Damien Tomaso, as does Belle his as district 13 hero Leito. The latter comes into possession of the memory card; the former is framed by DISS because of his connection with Leito, who promptly breaks Tomaso out of jail. And so off they go, jumping from building to building, using their martial arts to get past all those who stand in their way, in a race against time to save the district…
Again, it’s pure plotting by numbers and, like the first film, also written by Luc Besson – who probably banged it out between getting out of bed and his first croissant. This is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, the film is little more than a showcase for the athleticism of its two leads, and they certainly deliver on that score. It’s a light-hearted action romp, a sort of Gallic Jackie Chan film. Perhaps the laughter its stunts generate are more often provoked by disbelief than humour – although, to be fair, it’s only fancy camerawork, not wire-work or special effects – but it all hangs together entertainingly. If you don’t mind reading subtitles, it’s good night in.