ActionFest 2012 – The Rest of the Movies

Solomon Kane (2009)

“Once a mercenary of Queen Elizabeth I fighting Spaniards in Africa, Solomon met the Devil’s Reaper and discovered he was bound for hell. Barely escaping, he soon renounced violence to atone for his past sins, seeking out redemption in a life of peace. That is until the followers of sorcerer Malachi kidnap a Puritan girl, Meredith Crowthorn, and brutally slaughter her family before his very eyes, forcing Solomon to take up arms and return to his violent ways once more to rescue her. “

I was really looking forward to Solomon Kane. It is directed by Michael J. Bassett, whose previous film Wilderness I had thoroughly enjoyed (check it out on instant Netflix) and stars James Purefoy, who headlined last year’s opening film, Ironclad. It was filmed in 2009 and released in the UK but not here in the US, presumably because of subject matter (a dark sword & sorcery film set during puritan times doesn’t scream blockbuster). It’s been available on Amazon UK for a while and I almost bought it (I have a region free DVD player).

Solomon Kane was fun but, in spite of the unique setting, was rather generic. I liked the setting, James Purefoy, all the rain in the film, and Solomon’s costumes. The identity of the villain’s henchman is obvious, the chief villain isn’t seen until the last ten minutes, the flashbacks are poorly handled, the editing is pretty bad and there is enough plot for two or more movies. For everything Solomon Kane gets right, it gets something wrong.

Part of the problem is that Eastern Europe is the new Hollywood for cheap action films. Filming there allows directors with a lack of funding to get the most bang for their buck. That said action thrillers filmed there often come across as generic – shaky cam is used waaaay too often and action, instead of being showcased, is often obscured. I would love to see a Solomon Kane 2 but can’t quite bring myself to recommend Solomon Kane.

Sinners & Saints (2010) – Not to be confused with Saints & Sinners (1994)

“In the gritty New Orleans underbelly, beleaguered Detective Sean Riley is trying to cope with the death of his young son and his failed marriage. Facing a probable suspension from the department, Riley is teamed with a young homicide Detective, Will Ganz, to help solve a series of brutal murders that have plunged the city into a major gang war. The two quickly realize there is something much bigger and far more sinister going on than either could have ever imagined.”

I have to preface this with the fact that, due to The Wild Bunch running late, we did not get into this until halfway through the movie. While I can only comment on the latter half of the movie, it was fairly easy to understand as it was filled with cliche after cliche. Costas Mandylor and Jurgen Prochnow both seemed to be phoning in their performances. Much of the action is quite silly as this seems to be a throwback to the classic days of Hong Kong cinema where dozens of bad guys/targets just pop up for no reason, other than it’s too early for the heroes to face the big bad guys.

This was another mixed bag. I really liked the post-Katrina filming especially in the still distressed areas of New Orleans. Johnny Strong is likeable on screen and in person but needs a bit more work on his acting. Tom Berenger is in it (always a plus) and Method Man’s bizarre character worked for me. Unfortunately the downsides really keep me from recommending this.

Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines (2012)

“Feature documentary exploring the concept of heroic women from the birth of the superhero in the 1940s to the TV and big screen action blockbusters of today. Heroic role models are important in childhood development, yet there are a dearth of these for girls. Wonder Woman provides a rare example of a female heroine who doesn’t require rescue, determines her own missions, and possesses uniquely feminine values. Featuring Gloria Steinem, actors Lynda Carter and Lindsey Wagner, and a colorful cast of scholars, writers, and fans, the film challenges pop culture’s gender biases by looking at how Wonder Woman’s storyline changed over time while considering how women are rarely depicted as heroic, powerful, or world-changing.”

Certainly there need to be more female action heroes. I think this was addressed in part at ActionFest by the award given to Gina Carano. The award was called the Chick Norris award. The name is a cute play on words but comes across a little denigrating. I scheduled a viewing of this documentary to give my long-suffering wife a break from the testosterone.

Wonder Women! makes a few convincing arguments but unfortunately makes just as many insupportable stabs in the dark. For instance the film claims that the action movie heyday of the 80s arose as a response to feminism. This argument completely ignores the prevalence of westerns up until action movies took over, the dominance of John Wayne in the 60s, Clint Eastwood in the 70s, etc. I view the action film as more of an evolution of the western and detective stories by way of the blockbuster. Spielberg’s Jaws and Lucas’ Star Wars forever changed the way movies were made and marketed.

Anyway I digress but Wonder Women makes a number of claims that they don’t even bother to back up. It’s really a shame as the topic of the documentary is a good one. It was still enjoyable but again not something I could recommend.

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