ActionFest 2 Redux

Well it’s no secret at my house that I love ActionFest. Every year Carolina Cinemas of Asheville, NC hosts Actionfest, the film festival with a body count. I’ve been to (and thoroughly enjoyed) the first two and am looking forward to ActionFest 3 next spring. Where else can you see a dozen premieres in between watching people set themselves on fire and meeting stars like Michael Jai White (that’s my wife and I below with Mr. Black Dynamite himself).

Half a year later many of the premieres are now on instant Netflix (often thanks to deals with Magnolia Pictures). I’ll just touch briefly on some of them.

Ironclad (2011) – Rated R for strong graphic brutal battle sequences and brief nudity.

Backed by his “Magnificent Seven,” a principled Knight Templar (James Purefoy) defends Rochester Castle from the ruthless King John (Paul Giamatti) and his advancing armies, who seek to rule England’s free men by force — no matter what the Magna Carta might say. Charles Dance, Kate Mara, Jason Flemyng, Brian Cox and Derek Jacobi co-star in this action-packed period piece set at the height of the Middle Ages.

This was the ActionFest 2 premiere film. Ironclad is a lot of fun – the action is wonderful (if cut a bit too frenetically to hide the number of stuntmen), the overall plot is interesting (King John tracking down and destroy copies of the Magna Carta along with the nobles who forced him to sign it), and the movie is filmed at a few real castles.

The cast is great BUT is not used at all well and are saddled with a lot of preposterous dialogue. James Purefoy makes a good action hero and I’d love to see him headline some more films. Paul Giamatti, who I normally like, chews up the scenery as King John. Brian Cox and Derek Jacobi are largely wasted.

Hobo with a Shotgun (2011) – NR – Not rated but either a really strong R or perhaps an NC-17

This gory, gleefully over-the-top revenge fantasy stars Rutger Hauer as the Hobo, a bum who rolls into town hoping to start over, only to find his adopted city saturated in violence and ruled by a vicious crime lord known as the Drake (Brian Downey). The Hobo’s answer? Pick up his handy pump-action scattergun and start laying waste to crooks, corrupt cops and every other lowlife who crosses his path.

“You and me are going on a car ride to hell and you’re riding shotgun”

I actually missed this one at ActionFest because I went to see a reprise of the marvelous Machete introduced by the fight choreographer. Hobo was financed after director Jason Eisener won a best trailer competition for the Canadian release of Grindhouse.

Unfortunately Rutger Hauer is the star. He is actually perfect for the part but having him in the film shows off how truly terrible all the other actors in the film are. This one actually is reminiscent of grindhouse films in that it is poorly scripted and acted and only exists to showoff mayhem (of which there is plenty). Honestly I’d recommend just skipping it and maybe watching the trailer for it (which isn’t bad).

13 Assassins (2010) – Rated R for sequences of bloody violence, some disturbing images and brief nudity.

To stop a tyrant from murdering and exploiting innocent civilians, 13 samurai warriors unite and prepare to end his life. But to kill the evildoer, the assassins must contend with an army of deadly bodyguards who outnumber them by a wide margin. Directed by acclaimed and prolific Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike, this action-packed samurai remake features Yusuke Iseya, Koji Yakusho, Takayuki Yamada and Tsuyoshi Ihara.

One of the joys of Actionfest is catching foreign action films. As long as you don’t mind reading subtitles, 13 Assassins is the best of the instantly available films from ActionFest 2. There is some of Takashi Miike’s trademark body horror on display (somewhat like a Japanese David Cronenberg) but thankfully it is toned down and doesn’t detract from the overall story.

The entire first half of the film is an engaging set up for the unbelievable end battle sequence. The village battle that is the climax of the film runs for almost 40 minutes and is riveting from beginning to end and the two final confrontations ( no spoilers) are actually quite brilliant in execution. I heartily recommend this Samurai film.