So here's my report comin' atcha!!
(I said it during my live Twitter-ing from ActionFest and I'll say it again: the girl in the bumper that ran during this year's festival is cute as a button! :-P)
There was also a "30 Seconds of Action" competition for this year's festival. Here was the winning entry: "Action Figures"...
And here's another "30 Seconds of Action" entry: "Death Machine"...
I've been looking for the "Farmacide" clip, but can't find it on YouTube yet. If anyone else at ActionFest this year spots it, let me know at email@example.com 'cuz I loved it :-)
This was ActionFest's second year. And two things that I want to emphasize from the getgo: first, the festival's sophomore outing was MUCH bigger and extremely more well-attended than it was last year (and last year's was already pretty successful). Second, ActionFest has firmly cemented its purpose and reputation as being the only film festival in the world dedicated not only to action movies, but to the men and women who work to make them a reality and who unfortunately have gone all too unsung until now. And if it keeps to that, I can only see ActionFet getting bigger and bigger and better and louder and even MORE INSANELY UBERKEWL!!!
Okay, so here's what I saw that transpired there. Thursday night, April 7th saw the festival open...
Ironclad (2011, Directed by Jonathan English, United Kingdom)
This was the first time that this movie had been shown outside of Great Britain. And it's gonna remind everybody why that land will never, ever again have a king named John (the bastard!). Ironclad is an intense film about a little-known episode in English history: how King John attempted to go back on his word after the signing of Magna Carta and vent his fury on the barons who compelled him to agree to its terms. Very powerful cast in this one including James Purefoy (who already more than earned his action credentials in HBO's Rome), Brian Cox (one of my very favorite actors), Jason Flemyng, Kate Mara, and Paul Giamatti turning in a wicked performance as King John. The same folks who I saw drunk on Scotch while watching Braveheart back in the day are certainly gonna thrill just as hard or harder when they get to see Ironclad upon wide release. Darn good movie, in every way possible.
And after the Ironclad international premiere, we were treated to an impromptu Q&A session with Richard Ryan, stunt coordinator for Ironclad and who also worked on The Dark Knight and a bunch of other movies!
During the festival I was lodging with my filmmaking partner "Weird" Ed Woody. We left the Ironclad showing and went back to his place, and proceeded to wind down a night of British ultra-violence with my DVD copy of Ultramarines, the first ever Warhammer 40,000 movie. Which is also pretty good, especially considering that it features the vocal talents of Terence Stamp and John Hurt. Yah I shoulda written a review of that already. Here's hoping there'll be more 40K movies (personally I'd love to see a Caiphas Cain one with Johnny Depp as Cain, but anyhoo...).
So the next day we spent watching the Blu-ray set of Tron: Legacy (and also the original Tron) before heading back to Asheville and more ActionFest! Up next was...
Set around 200 B.C. during a time of civil war between the various independent kingdoms of China, Little Big Soldier has Jackie Chan as an older soldier who (accidentally) captures a young general (Leehom Wang) from the opposing army after a brutal battle. Chan's character has it in mind to drag the bound general back home, where he'll be rewarded with rich farmland and the chance to continue his family name. If only the journey was that simple...
Okay, it's pretty obvious in Little Big Soldier that Jackie Chan... well, he's had a long and good career, and unfortunately he's not doing the stunts that he was so spry to do thirty and more years ago. But you know something? That doesn't matter, 'cuz even though Little Big Soldier marks Chan growing older, it also demonstrates that he has kept growing and has grown considerably as an actor. And instead of being hindered by a lessening agility, Chan is playing up to that. The result? One of the best action stars of recent memory with a great role in a movie that is a positivalutely hoot to watch! We giggled and cheered through every minute of it... right up to its heartbreaking but perhaps inevitable conclusion.
After Little Big Soldier, Ed and I chilled a bit in The Powder Keg (the lounge for those with VIP badges) and then at 7 p.m. it was time to take in...
Last year we got Kick-Ass. I saw Kick-Ass and... I didn't like it. Now, I sincerely respected what that movie was trying to do: realistically depicting what it would mean to be a costumed crime-fighting vigilante straight out of the comic books. But that movie... was missing something for me. Just didn't satisfy at all.
Super however was everything that I had been hoping to see in this kind of a movie.
Rainn Wilson (The Office) plays Frank D'arbo: a pitiful and self-pitying chap who struggles to cling onto some chance of happiness in life, of which his beautiful wife (played by Liv Tyler) is one of his few bastions of joy. Unfortunately she's got quite a drug habit and winds up in the clutches of heroin-dealing lowlife Jacques (Kevin Bacon). The police can't help Frank. And then the finger of God touches Frank's exposed brain (not kidding) and Frank realizes that it's now his divine mission to become a costumed superhero and clean up the streets.
Super is at last the film that warns us about the insanity of the superhero life and why choosing to follow it... isn't something to be taken lightly. And I keep thinking of the character played by Ellen Page (who was previously seen in Inception). Without spoiling anything, well... let's just say that Page's "Boltie" has a sadder career than Jason Todd ever had.
Some will say that Super is a dark comedy. I disagree. There is very, very little "funny" about Super (apart from a hilarious "Christian superhero" played by Nathan Fillion). This is a serious perspective of comic book superheroes that to the best of my knowledge hasn't been done (or at least not done successfully). James Gunn has produced a very good film here and I'm looking forward not only to watching it again but also discussing it with others.
There's not a poster image for the next film that we saw, 'cuz it had just wrapped a few days before and we were the very first audience to see it! But this screening did have one thing: the presence of director and actor Michael Jai White!
Never Back Down 2 (2011, Directed by Michael Jai White, United States)
I said it twice during the Twitter-in', and I'll say it again: Never Back Down 2 makes The Karate Kid look like The Care Bears Movie! You don't need to have previously seen the original Never Back Down: as far as I can tell the only thing the two films have in common is that they involve the increasingly popular sport of mixed martial arts (MMA). Michael Jai White plays Case: a former MMA champion who was headed for great things before personal tragedy took him out of the game. White brings four young men from different backgrounds and trains them for "the Beatdown": an underground MMA competition run by a somewhat dorkish college kid named Max (Evan Peters). Never Back Down 2 also stars Alex Meraz (from the Twilight movies), Todd Duffee, Scott Epstein and Dean Geyer.
Okay, I really enjoyed the bejeebers out of this movie. This is Michael Jai White's directorial debut and I for one hope that he directs many more, 'cuz the man has some severe talent at directing hard action. But I'd also be remiss in my capacity as a journalist if I didn't also note that Never Back Down 2, as Rocky no doubt accomplished with many others, opened my eyes quite a bit on the realm of mixed martial arts. Until I saw this movie, I didn't think much of it other than it runs on Spike TV a lot and it looked pretty mindless and savage. "Savage"? Yes. But far from mindless. I also look forward to catching this again in wide release.
And after Never Back Down 2, Michael Jai White stuck around for a bit to sign autographs and get some photos taken! Here he is with "Weird" Ed and Yours Truly :-)
Good lord, I look hideous! Had barely slept and hadn't had a shower in like 48 hours. But Michael Jai White (who also played Spawn in Spawn, Gambol in The Dark Knight and a bunch of other stuff) always looks cool :-)
And speaking of cool, a few minutes later it was time for the midnight showing of a movie that I first discovered a few months ago, and had been looking forward to watching it with Ed to see his reaction to it. I speak of course about...
Black Dynamite (2009, Directed by Scott Sanders, United States)
This is a movie that demands to be watched during a midnight showing! Preferably with lots of other people too (and I don't think that will be a problem :-) Black Dynamite is already being called a modern classic and according to Michael Jai White himself, it's even now achieving cult status only afforded to such rare films as The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Hey, I can dig that! At the ActionFest showing people were screaming lines at the screen ("Cream Corn, NOOOOOOO!"). I need to buy the Blu-ray of this sometime, and not just watch it whenever it appears on Starz :-P
After that we went back to Ed's place to grab what few hours of sleep we could before a full day of Saturday at ActionFest.
Oh yeah, all during ActionFest there were clips provided by Trailers From Hell, featuring numerous well-known filmmakers giving commentary on classic (and some not so classic) movie trailers. Like this one f'rinstance: The Real Don Steele announcing that "RON HOWARD POPS THE CLUTCH AND TELLS THE WORLD TO EAT MY DUST!!!"
And this one for Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!...
Anyways, Saturday at noon and it was time for...
Bangkok Knockout... is a movie that I can only best describe thusly: it is The Running Man meets Hostel with a gracious dash of The Mighty Ducks thrown into the mix. And maybe even fare like American Idol for good measure. I even heard some say that they were reminded of The Hangover (no I haven't seen that movie, and don't know if I will anytime soon but I digress...)
Bangkock Knockout is about a group of youthful performers take part in a martial arts and stunt competition, of which the winning team will be brought to Hollywood to take part in a major film production. Well, that's what they think they've won, anyway...
Yes, there is a plot (and a rather brilliant one) in Bangkok Knockout. But that is merely the springboard from which is launched some of the craziest stunt sequences that I've seen... ever, in the history of anything! Including a guy who fights with a flaming axe and a climactic battle in and around and under a moving tractor trailer. This was classic Asian action cinema in its finest form... and the audience loved it!
The next good while at ActionFest, we attended the panel discussions. And the first was a tribute to the recipient of ActionFest 2011's Lifetime Achievement Award: legendary stuntman, stunt coordinator, second unit director and actor Buddy Joe Hooker!
Hooker has worked on Blazing Saddles, First Blood, Octopussy, Scarface, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the television series Airwolf, and a ton of other movies and shows! Hooker's showbusiness career goes back to his appearing on the TV series Rin Tin Tin, and some other series before he went into stunts full-bore. The tribute ended with a clip from Clay Pigeon, showing a car Hooker was driving turning over and over and over and over nonstop down a hill: I found myself screaming "Oh Lord make it stop make it stop MAKE IT STAAAAWP!!!" But fortunately it did (and I'm happy to report that Hooker's two sons have also chosen to go into stunt performing :-).
After the Buddy Joe Hooker panel, it was time for The Art of Fight Direction panel, featuring renowned kung-fu movie scholar Ric Meyers, Michael Jai White, Richard Ryan, and Larnell Stovall (who was recipient of last year's ActionFest Award for Best Choreography). I posted the details of that in the Twitter feed and for sake of brevity I'll just say that it's all there. It was quite a good discussion, especially about the growth of fight choreography in the video game industry.
We also attended the ActionFest Awards ceremony. One movie that I didn't get to see is A Lonely Place To Die, and now I wish that I'd made the opportunity to see it 'cuz there was a lot of strong buzz about that film (it won the Best Action Film for the festival).
Well, at 7:30 there was a free screening of a film that Buddy Joe Hooker was involved with, and a movie that had one of the biggest explosions in cinema history.
It also stars Charlie Sheen.
Yup, from 1986 it's The Wraith
The Wraith also stars Sherilyn Fenn (a few years before playing Audrey Horn on Twin Peaks... what does that say of me that I knew that without having to look it up?), Nick Cassavetes, and Randy Quaid. This screening of The Wraith was a beautiful 35mm print and came courtesy of Destroy All Movies!!!: The Complete Guide to Punks on Film (published by Fantagraphics Books). Oh yeah, I learned something new from The Wraith: drinking hydraulic fluid isn't all that hot an idea.
Ed and I went back to The Powder Keg and waited a short while and then made our way to the 10 p.m. showing of the movie that has me feeling the most conflicted of any film that I've seen during two ActionFests thus far...
I need to see Bellflower again. I honestly do want to see Bellflower again. Because... I'm not sure exactly how I feel about Bellflower.
I've been that way about movies before. Feeling obligated to give one the benefit of the doubt before making a final decision on whether I like it or not. I think if I had seen Bellflower at anything other than a film festival devoted to action movies, that I might have gone away with a more decisive mind about the matter. And toward the end of the movie I did feel a little twinge of "okay I get this now..." But it's not quite all there. Not yet, anyway.
Bellflower is about two childhood buddies who have watched The Road Warrior perhaps too many times than it probably healthy. These guys are now obsessed with the character Lord Humungous and have daydreams of ruling the wasteland once the Apocalypse comes. So Woodrow (Evan Glodell) and Aiden (Tyler Dawson) do things like build their own flamethrowers and trick-out a muscle car with armaments and smokescreens and set out to start their gang, "the "Mother Medusas".
I think the biggest disappointment I'm feeling about Bellflower (but that might change in time) is that, okay... it's like Chekov's Rule of Drama: if the gun is to be fired in Act 3, it must be shown on the wall in Act 1/if the gun is shown on the wall in Act 1 it must be fired by Act 3. Well we see a lot of cool homebrewed weaponry in Bellflower... but we don't really get to see it used to its maximum potential!
But as I said, I might change my mind about Bellflower. And based on the final moments of the film and what I was led to contemplate because of them, I do expect to do that. Probably landing in the margin of people that do think it's a great movie. But as things stand now, I want to see it and mull it over some more. And that's only fair.
And then, with a few minutes before midnight, it was time for a movie that I have been eager to see for a very long time...
Hobo With A Shotgun (2011, Directed by Jason Eisner, Canada)
Without a doubt, my absolutely FAVORITE film of ActionFest 2011! I have to say that because this movie has obligated me to ponder it more than just about any action movie I've seen in years. And some of what I'm about to say about Hobo With A Shotgun is going to have many readers going "Huh? Say WHAT?!" But just hear me out...
To me, Hobo With A Shotgun is as profoundly a Christian a movie as is A Clockwork Orange. This is a film about the world gone straight to hell, because good people have been intimidated into just letting the wicked run amok. Fercryinoutloud, that's a child begging for help in the car window of that mall Santa pervert... and nobody is bothering to even care! Everyone that is, except for the Hobo (Rutger Hauer), easily the greatest cinematic hero with no name since Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name.
The Hobo isn't out to be a bad-a$$. All he wants to do is save up enough money to buy a lawnmower and start his own landscaping business. This is a guy who wants to earn his keep. Who wants to be a productive and hard-working individual. Except that the world he's in won't allow him that opportunity. And then there are the innocent children that he sees around them. The children that, he knows he can't let them grow up in a world like this.
That is what the Hobo is, in my mind. He is the one shred of conscience in the ultimate town without pity. A place run by a lunatic named the Drake (Gregory Smith) and his demented sons, a city rife with murder and prostitution and drugs and worse.
Hobo With A Shotgun is the most brootal, most unrelentingly vicious movie that I have ever seen. It is also one with a surprising amount of heart and soul. And this movie absolutely makes Jason Eisner as a filmmaker to watch. His Hobo With A Shotgun began life as a faux trailer for Robert Rodriguez's Grindhouse contest a few years ago. And if you've seen that trailer then you're likely knowing what to expect from the full-length Hobo With A Shotgun feature. Instead, Eisner has made it into something profoundly more.
And I can't wait to see it again with some friends when it hits wide release! I'll probably have a lot more to say about it then, too.
Well, the next day was Sunday, the final day of ActionFest 2011, and I had time to take in one more film before I had to head back home. So I ended my personal festival experience with...
I want to see this movie again. And again and again and again. That, and I want to find the bestselling novel series by John Marsden that this movie (the first of a planned trilogy) is based on.
And I also want to scream until my lungs are bloody ravaged shreds of tissue about why it is that this Australian movie shows more bluster and courage and sheer cajones than the ones here in the United States who are committing an abominable FUBAR of a travesty with the Red Dawn remake.
Tomorrow, When The War Began follows a group of Australian teens who go camping in the Outback, only to return home and find that their hometown has been invaded and taken over (along with a huge chunk of the rest of Australia) by "the Coalition": a group of Asian countries that is obviously dominated by communist Chinese forces. So the teens decide that whether they want to or not, that it falls to them to do what they can to fight back.
We were told that Marsden's series of books drastically outsells the Harry Potter novels in Australia and if this film is any indication, I can see why. It's a young adult mythos that chews up and spits out those "vampires" and werewolves from that other franchise (coughcoughTwilightcoughcough...). Incidentally, Tomorrow, When The War Began marks the directorial debut of Stuart Beattie, who's already written all of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies for Disney. Yet another movie that I look forward to seeing in wider release (its ActionFest appearance heralds the movie's first screening outside of Australia).
And that was my ActionFest 2011 experience. My expectations were really set high after last year's inaugural festival, and this year wildly exceeded them! I just hope that the festival stays in Asheville: it really is the ideal town not only for action movies, but for appreciating the individuals who labor to make them a reality.
Bigtime props to everyone involved in this year's festival! Can't wait to attend again next year :-)