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.

 

 

Valhalla Rising – Actionfest Week

I am still pretty high from Actionfest last weekend. Instead of my usual instant Netflix films, I am reviewing the movies I saw at Actionfest. Valhalla Rising is one of the films that I saw.

AVOID: Valhalla Rising (2009) – NR – Not rated but full of bloody brutal violence.

“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 all crossed over to the afterlife.”

I was really looking forward to this movie. Who does not like Vikings? It is directed by acclaimed director Nicholas Winding Refn (the Pusher trilogy – well-reviewed though I have not seen it yet). It also stars Madds Mikkelsen, an actor I enjoyed in Clash of the Titans and Casino Royale.

Well I know it could not last forever. I finally hit a bad movie at Actionfest (two actually – I have added The Stranger as a postscript to this one).

I was flabbergasted when I saw the good reviews on this film. I would wonder if I had missed something that others had seen except that this was the ONLY Actionfest film where I saw people walk out during it. A good quarter of the audience left before the end. Those that left missed an incredibly fun portion of the film (more on that later).

This film is not just bad, it is jaw-droppingly bad. The production values, action sequences and acting are all fine. The writing and, more to the point, the direction are abominable. Refn not only directed but co-wrote this travesty.

If I had to describe Valhalla Rising in one word, it would have to be pretentious. It thinks it is so much better than it actually is. We have huge pauses nearly constantly where nothing at all happens – including dialogue.

Not only does our main character One-Eye not speak during the film but director Refn clearly told Mikkelsen to have nothing but a stern expression on his face the entire movie. Have you ever seen a mute character not attempt to communicate in any way? One-Eye not only does not speak, he does not gesture or show emotion.

The fun part came after the halfway mark. During the screening I was in, they had a problem with the film. While they fixed the film, the automated Chuck Norris previews came on. Once the film was fixed we had the video for Valhalla Rising but for several minutes they had the Chuck Norris audio on instead of Valhalla Rising.

This made the film an absolute howl and everyone who had stoically endured Valhalla Rising to this point was laughing hysterically. This actually redeemed Valhalla Rising in my eyes but sadly they realized their error after a few minutes and the Valhalla audio came back.

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.

I am also using the term epic extremely loosely as it is just a single ship with less than a dozen people that sets sail for Jerusalem from “The Far North”. Say what?

When the ship is becalmed, you do not even notice as the film itself was becalmed quite a bit beforehand.

In addition to all of the pauses, the film also features several prophetic sequences which are just bits of a future scene to which a red filter has been applied.

Much of the film reminded me of a scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. There is a scene in Grail with one of the knights running up to a castle and it is replayed endlessly while the guards look on with the knight never reaching the castle. Then all of a sudden, the knight reaches the gate and kills a guard. A lot of Valhalla is like that only not as funny.

As part of the “high art”, the film is broken into six parts, each with a label. Part six is titled “The Sacrifice” which is how I felt about the time I had devoted to this film.

Normally I refrain from any comments on how a film ends to avoid spoilers. I will say that part of the film ends inconclusively but it really just elicited a shrug from me.

Avoid Valhalla Rising.