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.

 

 

The Good, The Bad, The Weird – The Korean Connection

I have always loved Asian films, especially Japanese Samurai films and Chinese gangster films. Lately though I have been enjoying a wide range of Korean movies. The Good, The Bad, The Weird is currently available on instant Netflix.

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.”

“Every Korean has a sad story”

As of 2009, this was the most expensive South Korean movie ever made. It is a wonderful “western” epic with Mongolia filling in for the American West/Mexico. It also has the best reason for an ‘R’ rating from the MPAA: nonstop violence.

The cinematography is gorgeous. It includes some nice transitions and tracking shots through a train and that is just in the first five minutes.

It is clear that Ji-Woon Kim has a love affair with Sergio Leone. Not only is the film titled after The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, but there are characters playing keep away with a hat a la For a Few Dollars More as well as clear references to A Fistful of Dollars, Duck, You Sucker, and Once Upon a Time in the West (specifics omitted to avoid spoilers).

The focus in this movie is on fun and adventure, making this a marked departure from the last two films I discussed (Mother and The Man from Nowhere). Ji-Woon Kim’s other main influence appears to be Steven Spielberg, specifically the Indiana Jones movies (lots of wild stunts, swinging on ropes, treasure map, motorized chases through the desert). A word of warning though – in spite of the light-hearted nature of much of the film, the violence, particular that of The Bad, can be brutal.

Instead of the focus being on The Good (as in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly), The Good/ Park Do-won (Woo-sung Jung) seems to have the least amount of screentime here (although he is still an enigmatic bounty hunter). The Weird is a little goofier than Eli Wallach’s The Ugly but there are certainly similarities. The Weird/Yoon Tae-goo is played by Kang-ho Song, who also played the main character in The Host. The Bad/ Park Chang-yi is played with swaggering evil delight by Byung-hun Lee (seen by American audiences as Storm Shadow in the G.I. Joe movies).

There are a lot of other characters but they mostly exist to be shot, stabbed, or blown up by one of our principals

This movie runs on a bit too long (it could have used tighter editing) but it is quite a bit of fun. The ending is especially good if you don’t watch the scenes playing out over the end credits. Strangely the additional scene detracts from the ending.

Lazy Weekend Musings – Actionfest Wrap-Up

Well it looks like I could talk about Actionfest for another solid week but this is supposed to be an instant Netflix blog. I apologize for giving the rest of the films short shrift but it is better than not mentioning them at all. Some of the other films I saw at Actionfest:

WATCH: Vengeance (2009) – NR – Not rated but contains a lot of bloody violence.

“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.”

Johnnie To is an excellent action director. Vengeance is an excellent but flawed revenge film. There is an amnesia angle that is hinted at in the first act and mentioned in the second that goes into overdrive in act three. It provides both the best moments in the film and the most logical holes. Still this is a wonderful action and revenge movie. Put it in your Netflix queue.

WATCH: The Good, The Bad, The Weird (2008) – NR – Not rated but also has plenty of bloody violence.

“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 maps 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.”

My understanding is that this is the largest-grossing Korean film surpassing The Host. It is a wonderful “western” epic with Mongolia filling in for the American West/Mexico. Instead of the focus being on The Good (as in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly), The Good has the least amount of screentime. This movie runs on a bit too long (it could have used tighter editing) but it is quite a bit of fun. The ending is especially good. Put this in your Netflix queue too.

WATCH: Undisputed III: Redemption (2010) – Rated R for brutal, bloody violence and pervasive language.

“Isaac Florentine is back to direct the third film in the Undisputed series, this time following Uri Boyka (British martial artist Scott Adkins) inside the toughest prison in the world to watch him do battle in one of the most lethal competitions known to man. Staying alive is high on Boykas list, but he is also determined to clear his name against the wrongful charges that put him behind bars in the first place.”

Okay how could I not like this film? At Actionfest I got to meet the director Isaac Florentine, the fight choreographer Larnell Stovall, and the actor/martial artist Marko Zoror who plays the villain. Truthfully the story is almost groan-inducingly silly. Normally the holes in the script would sink this film but Isaac Florentine keeps the focus squarely on the action and moves quickly past the exposition. The fight scenes are simply incredible and I am hopeful that Marko Zoror can break through to theatrical movies and not be relegated to DTV martial arts.