ActionFest 2010 at Home on Netflix

I’ll be at ActionFest Thursday through Sunday (and my wife will be diligently posting updates). If you aren’t joining me there, then you can catch up on the films from the first ActionFest. 14 of the ActionFest 2010 films are currently available on instant Netflix:

Centurion (2010) – Rated R

“In 2nd-century Britain, Roman fighter Quintas Dias (Michael Fassbender) is the lone survivor of a Pictish attack on a Roman frontier post. Eager for revenge, he joins the Ninth Legion — under General Virilus (Dominic West) — and journeys north on a mission to destroy the Picts. Writer-director Neil Marshall’s rousing sword-and-sandals adventure also stars Olga Kurylenko as the beautiful Pict warrior Etain.”

This was the opening film of ActionFest 2010 and did a good job of setting the mood for the Fest. I found this to be much better than the following year’s very similarly themed The Eagle.

District 13: Ultimatum (2009) – Rated R

“Set two years after the action in Pierre Morel and Luc Besson’s District 13, this French-language sequel follows Capt. Damien Tomaso (Cyril Raffaelli) and Leito (David Belle) on their quest to clean up crime and corruption in the city. With the territory divided into five distinct neighborhoods created along ethnic lines, they have their work cut out for them. But they’ve also got a secret weapon: a will to defy the odds.”

This is fun but not as good as the first film, District B13 so make sure to watch that first.

Harry Brown (2009) – Rated R

“When a crew of drug-dealing gang members takes the life of his only friend, a retired Marine and widower decides to take the law into his own hands — but his old-school training might be overmatched.”

How can you not enjoy watching elderly Michael Caine kick butt? This is actually a somewhat slow-moving thriller but very enjoyable just the same.

Mandrill (2009) – Rated R

“Years after his mother is murdered, young hit man Mandrill (martial arts master Marko Zaror) embarks on a bloody and unyielding revenge mission, vowing to bring deadly justice to the killer in this gripping Chilean action thriller. Director Ernesto Díaz Espinoza reteams with leading man Zaror for the pulse-pounding film, also starring Celine Reymond as Dominic, Alejandro Castillo as Tio Chone and Luis Alarcón as Don Mario.”

This one just showed up on instant Netflix and I haven’t had a chance to catch it. I missed it at ActionFest even though I got to meet Marko Zaror.

Merantau (2009) – Rated R

“As part of a rite of passage known as “merantau,” young Yuda (Iko Uwais) leaves his tiny farming village for Jakarta. But he ends up saving orphan Astri (Sisca Jessica) from a human-trafficking ring ruled by the evil Ratger (Mads Koudal). With vengeful villains hot on their trail, Yuda must keep Astri and her little brother, Adit (Yusuf Aulia), safe in the pimp- and mob-ridden streets of the city in this fast-paced Indonesian thriller.”

This film won best picture at the first ActionFest but I have not yet caught it.

Ong Bak 2: The Beginning (2008) – Rated R

“Tien (Tony Jaa), the son of Lord Sihadecho — a tragically murdered nobleman — goes under the wing of Chernang (Sorapong Chatree), a renowned warrior and leader of the Pha Beek Krut who teaches Tien a variety of deadly fighting styles. Now a master of weapons and combat, Tien seeks out those who slayed his family. Jaa also directs and Sarunyu Wongkrachang co-stars in this martial arts thriller set in 15th-century Thailand.”

This one is a bit incoherent and has a very disappointing ending but all three Ong Bak movies are available on instant Netflix if you want a Tony Jaa marathon. Even if the films aren’t very good, the stunts and martial arts are awesome.

Power Kids (2009) – Not rated

“When little Wun needs a heart transplant, his friends race to save him. But the donor heart he needs is at a hospital that’s been captured by terrorists, so it’s up to the remaining Power Kids to liberate it.”

Martial arts for kids? I’m afraid I missed this one.

Raging Phoenix (2009) – Rated R

“After she’s rescued from a gang of Thai thugs who specialize in the trafficking of women, sexy Deu endures a grueling regimen of drunken-style, break dancing-inspired combat training and sets out to get her revenge.”

Again the Philippines produces some really nifty martial arts films but they are pretty incoherent plot-wise.

RoboGeisha (2009) – Netflix shows this as being rated TV-MA but I’m not sure that’s correct.

“Director Noboru Iguchi and gore master Yoshihiro Nishimura team up for this hyper-violent and hilariously grotesque depiction of a very angry army of butt sword-wielding geisha robots with enough strength to embed tempura shrimp in villains’ eyes. Special effects in Iguchi’s (Machine Girl) over-the-top, feminist melodrama include chainsaw lips, blood-spouting buildings, geisha transformers, machine gun bras and some basic decapitations.”

I think you have to be in the right mood to enjoy this. It is wildly over the top and was a fun break from the rest of the ActionFest titles but I would never go so far as to call this a good film.

The Good, The Bad, The Weird (2008) – Rated R

“On a train crossing the Manchurian desert, an unlikely trio — good bounty hunter Park Do-won (Woo-sung Jung), bad gangster Park Chang-yi (Byung-hun Lee) and weird train robber Yoon Tae-goo (Kang-ho Song) — unite to find a treasure map’s promised loot. Racing through the unforgiving landscape, they stay one step ahead of rivals and the Japanese army. Ji-woon Kim directs this Sergio Leone-inspired adventure.”

I’ve recently covered this but it is a very fun ride.

The Square (2008) – Rated R

“Bored with married life, middle-aged Ray devises a dangerous scheme to steal a large sum of money and run away with his beautiful young mistress, Carla, in this neo-noir thriller set in a decrepit section of Sydney. It looks as if the plot involving Carla’s unscrupulous husband and a career arsonist is a success — until an anonymous blackmailer threatens to expose the truth. Director Nash Edgerton also helmed the award-winning short “Spider.””

This was a very slow-burn thriller that, in my opinion, was a little overrated. The short, Spider, is also available on instant Netflix. Spider is only nine minutes long and I found it to be hilarious.

Tucker & Dale vs Evil (2010) – Rated R

“Expecting to enjoy a relaxing vacation at their rundown mountain cabin, backwoods boys Tucker and Dale see their peaceful trip turn into a nightmare when college kids camping nearby accuse the duo of being psychotic killers.”

Hands-down my favorite film of the first ActionFest. This is a hilarious sendup of the hillbilly killers horror subgenre.

Valhalla Rising (2009) – Not rated

“After years of slavery, Viking warrior One-Eye (Mads Mikkelsen) escapes from his captors and seeks refuge on a Norse ship bound for his homeland. When a storm throws them off course, the crew lands at a mysterious realm inhabited by invisible demons. As the bloodthirsty creatures claim one sailor after another, One-Eye rediscovers his fighting spirit but begins to wonder if they have arrived in Jerusalem or someplace much more sinister.”

Hands-down the worst film I saw at the first ActionFest. Many viewers walked out of this one. I didn’t see anyone walk out of any of the other features. On the other hand, I’ve seen many reviewers like this film. Apparently you either hate it or love it. I hated it.

One could literally edit Valhalla Rising down to a 30 minute running time without losing any action, dialogue, or meaning. Take all the worst parts of European cinema of the last half century (unnecessarily lengthy scenes, scenes where people just stare at each other, completely pointless dream sequences, severe closeups) and apply to them to a viking epic.

Vengeance (2009) – Not rated

Today, Costello (French music and film icon Johnny Hallyday) is a skilled chef. Twenty years ago, he was a cold-blooded killer working for the mob. But when a horrific tragedy befalls the family of his daughter (Sylvie Testud), Costello returns to his old ways. Journeying from France to Hong Kong, our culinary hero prepares to serve up revenge on a host of bad guys in this bloody tale from acclaimed action director Johnnie To.”

If you’ve seen a Johnnie To film then you know what to expect from this one. It is good but not as good as some of his other Chinese crime films.



Harry Brown – Actionfest week

This past weekend I spent at ActionFest. Instead of instant Netflix films this week, I will be talking about the films I saw. Harry Brown was one of those films.

WATCH: Harry Brown (2009) – Rated R for strong violence and language throughout, drug use and sexual content.

“When a crew of drug-dealing gang members takes the life of his only friend, Leonard (David Bradley), retired Marine and widower Harry Brown (Michael Caine) decides to take the law into his own hands. Helmed by first-time feature director Daniel Barber, this gritty vigilante thriller set in England also stars Emily Mortimer, Iain Glen, Jack OConnell, Chris Wilson, Raza Jaffrey and Liam Cunningham.”

“It is not Northern Ireland Harry.” – “No it is not. Those people were fighting for something; a cause. To them out there this is just entertainment.”

Wow. It is hard to believe that this is the first feature film from Daniel Barber. This film is not only quite good but shows no sign of amateurism. This bleak portrait of modern England is very impressive.

According to imdb, the only other thing Daniel Barber had done was a short film The Tonto Woman. This was an adaptation of an Elmore Leonard story. Tonto Woman was such a good initial effort that it was nominated for a Best Short Film Oscar. The winner that year was Le Mozart des Pickpockets.

Michael Caine headlines as the eponymous Harry Brown. He is in almost every scene of the film. He has to sell not only being a downtrodden pensioner but also has to be believable as a reluctant man of action.

There are bound to be comparisons between Harry Brown and the early Michael Caine classic, Get Carter (1971). In Get Carter, Caine *surprise* played the eponymous Carter. Carter was an icy gangster seeking revenge for the murder of his brother.

Harry Brown and Jack Carter are quite different characters and Michael Caine plays both of them brilliantly. His portrayal of Harry Brown is a complex marvel. Caine is almost heart-breaking as a man who has nothing left.

Emily Mortimer is simply astonishing as a bleeding-heart Detective Inspector. I was so thankful that they did not go the obvious Death Wish/The Brave One route with her character. She shows a marvelous range from professionalism and grit to vulnerability and bewilderment.

Most of the other characters are incidental or catalysts though the casting of the uncaring youth is quite well done.

Netflix calls this “a gritty vigilante thriller” and while that certainly is the overall frame, this film is not really about that. This film is far more of a drama than an action film (the climax notwithstanding).

Daniel Barber injects a lot of social commentary into the film and his portrayal of the low-rent flats, drug situation and young hoods is very scary. The overall tone of the film is very depressing.  Unlike Paul Kersey in Death Wish, Harry does not really find empowerment in acts of violence.

I highly recommend that you put this excellent movie in your Netflix queue. Daniel Barber is definitely a director to watch for.

People Watch: Iain Glen has a brief role here as S.I. Childs. He was Richard the Lion-Heart in the underrated Kingdom of Heaven (see the much longer Directors Cut – not the chopped to incomprehensibility theatrical version) and Dr. Isaacs in Resident Evil Apocalypse & Extinction.