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.

Ichi the Killer – The Killer Inside Me week

This is The Killer Inside Me week (or last week as I have fallen behind but I will be back-dating this and should be caught by tomorrow evening). Ichi the Killer is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: Ichi the Killer (2001) – Netflix shows this as both rated R and as unrated.

“When his “mentor in crime” disappears, blond-coiffed Kakihara (Tadanobu Asano) vows to find out who is responsible. But he is also on the lookout for Ichi (Nao Omori), a sadistic killer who may be able to inflict the level of pain Kakihara so badly craves. Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike takes inspiration from Hideo Yamamotos manga, Koroshiya 1, to tell this bloody and bleak tale about the inner workings of the Japanese yakuza.”

Listen, when you are giving pain to someone, do not think about the pain that person is feeling. Just concentrate on how good it feels to be causing someone pain. That is the best thing you can do for a true masochist!

Takashi Miike is one of those directors that is definitely an acquired taste. He has a wonderful visual sense but his films are often purposefully unpleasant. Audition (currently available on instant Netflix) is a wonderful film but it is not really an enjoyable one.

Ichi the Killer has a rape scene in the first few minutes which is normally anathema to my enjoyment of a movie. I do not mind if the director kills off the entire cast of a movie even graphically but rape scenes make me squirm in my seat – even if my wife and daughter are not watching the film with me.

A voyeur is busy watching from the balcony and I mean busy as a polite euphemism for something graphic.

The killings and torture in the movie are constant and grotesque but quite inventive. Violence or the threat of it is present in every frame of the film. Almost every character in the film is a sadist, a masochist, or both.

It seems a missed opportunity that this is called Ichi as Ichi means one. The character of Ichi is pretty much a cipher through most of the film so a more appropriate name would appear to be zero (or the Japanese equivalent).

Despite the picture that accompanies this review and pretty much every other mention of Ichi, it is not a picture of Ichi but of Kakihara, the other main character. One of the more hilarious scenes in this film is of Kakihara smoking.

Taken out of context, the rape scenes would seem extremely misogynistic and Japanese cinema is certainly not known for a progressive treatment of women. However in context they seem to fit quite well with the grindhouse aesthetic on display here.

The climax is wonderful though the ending itself is quite ambiguous as it is open to several interpretations. The plot is almost incidental to the sleazy exploration of sadomasochism.

Tadanobu Asano does a wonderful job of conveying the smug Kakihara who only comes alive when he is inflicting pain or having it inflicted upon him. Nao Omori is befittingly blank as Ichi.

I am giving this a WATCH recommendation  though a very guarded one. Watch at your own risk – this is a very brutal and over the top film, pretty much a Takashi Miike trademark. Do not bother watching unless you have a yen for black humor or want to see a modern descendant of grindhouse exploitation.

People Watch: Paulyn Sun, who plays Karen in the film is quadrilingual in real life so her dialogue is in three of her languages (English, Japanese, and Cantonese). She was Miss Singapore of 1994 and competed in the Miss Universe pageant.

Audition

Takashi Miike has made a career out of making very disturbing and brutal films. Let me reiterate – this is a VERY disturbing and brutal film – caveat emptor.

Audition

WATCH: Audition (1999) – “Director Takashi Miike fashions an explosive drama in Audition. Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) has lived as a widower for too long and decides it’s time to marry again. But how will he find a wife? When a friend suggests he hold a fake audition to pick the right woman, he takes him up on it — only to realize that his choice may be a better actress than he bargained for.”

If you are new to Japanese horror, the three important films to see are Ju-On, Ringu and Audition. Audition is the slowest moving but the most disturbing. Thankfully the description doesn’t give too much away. This film builds very very slowly and carefully to a riveting and uncomfortable payoff. Eihi Shiina is absolutely amazing as Asami. You don’t find many films these days willing to spend 2/3 of their running time setting up the ending (Ridley Scott’s Alien comes to mind). Strangely while I find this to be a very important horror movie that is exceedingly carefully crafted, I do not find this to be an enjoyable film. I highly recommend it if you want to see something new in horror and don’t mind the casual brutality of films like Saw.