ActionFest: The Body Count Continues

And so it’s time for another ActionFest—April 7 through10 at The Carolina Asheville. Last year—its first year—the film festival so impressed Moviemaker magazine that it was selected as one of the “20 Coolest” festivals in the country. In itself, that’s pretty cool, but this year looks to be even cooler—at least to judge by the line-up of movies being screened.

This year there are no less than 18 new—or new to the area—titles lined up. Everything from the international premiere of the British Ironclad (the opening-night film) to the American dark comic-book-hero satire Super (from James Gunn, who brought us the cult hit Slither) to Takeshi Miike’s 13 Assassins (the closing night film).  There are also at least four “retro titles” (that’s older movies in plain English)—not counting the Asheville Film Society screening of Harold and Maude (1971), for those with a taste for something a little less actionful. And there are another eight films—at least—slated for showing upstairs in the Cinema Lounge.

As with last year, Justin Souther and I have gotten a look at a few of the movies being shown. Owing to the tight scheduling, we split up six films, watching three movies each. Since Justin got the title that I confess attracts me the most, Hobo with a Shotgun, we’ll take his first.

Justin’s takes:

Taking the whole neo-grindhouse aestethic to its furthest extreme yet is Jason Eisener’s Hobo with a Shotgun, a DayGlo exercise in bad taste, and I couldn’t have loved it more. By catering solely to lovers of trash cinema and splatstick, the film—which features Rutger Hauer as the titular vagabond with a firearm—is a gory, highly quotable, constantly surprising and infinitely creative exercise in absurdity. A must-see for fans of junky, trashy filmmaking.

On the other side of the action movie spectrum is Stuart Bettie’s Tomorrow, When the War Began. Based on John Marsden’s acclaimed—and, as I’ve been assured, beloved in his homeland of Australia—Tomorrow series, the film’s easily comparable to Red Dawn, with its story of a group of teens waging guerrilla war against an invading nation. What makes it different is that this film less about politics and more about the characters and the moral and ethical implications of a group of teens forced into fighting. Think of it as Dawson’s Creek with explosions and gunfights, perhaps.

The surprise, however, is Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker’s Fightville. Being neither a fan of mixed martial arts nor documentaries, I wasn’t sure what to expect from a movie that combined the two, as it follows the rise of two MMA fighters. What I thankfully—and a bit surprisingly—got was a fast-paced, entertaining, engaging (thanks in large part to the likability of its two stars, Dustin Poirier and Albert Stainback) little movie. Eschewing machismo for a literate, almost philosophical look at the nature and desire of fighting means, the movie should appeal to more than just fight fans.

My bag of goodies:

First up was Largo Winch, a French film (although actually very multi-national, and in several languages) that manages to combine high-grade—and often really brutal—action with a fragmented and complex story of corporate intrigue. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the film is the presence of Kristin Scott Thomas (whom I associate with art house fare) in the role of a high-powered business woman. Definitely one classy, entertaining action picture that scores on several levels.

Then there was Bunraku (the title coming from a form of Japanese puppet theater) with an impressive name cast—Josh Hartnett, Demi Moore, Woody Harrelson, Ron Perlman, Gackt—in an action picture so utterly stylized that I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything quite like it. The entire film is style on top of style on top of more style. The action in this post-apocalyptic fantasia is equally stylized, but also surprisingly bloody. If you’re looking for something a little—no, a lot different, this is definitely it.

And finally I got to see the Australian documentary Machete Maidens Unleashed, which offers the history of the Filipino exploitation and horror movie industry. Documentaries are rarely this much fun—and almost never this outrageously gory. Really, it’s a wild collection of all the best parts—you know, the three B’s: Boobs, Blood, Beasts—from a lot of terrific drive-in schlock from the ‘60s and ‘70s with refreshingly candid assessments from the folks who made them. I loved it.

I have every intention of taking a large chunk of the weekend off—to the degree that watching movies is really “taking the weekend off” in my case—and catching more of these. Of course, I have to be there for Harold and Maude, but I’m without question going to catch up with Hobo with a a Shotgun. (How anyone can resist that title baffles me.) I also have hopes of seeing Super and 13 Assassins and Takeshi Kitano’s Outrage. Maybe I can finally see Black Dynamite. Hell, I might even tackle Never Back Down 2—if anyone can confirm that it contains some variation on that classic line, “There’s only one way for this to end—with you lookin’ like a bitch.”

For more on ActionFest, see Justin’s companion article overview in this week’s Xpress

Click here for ongoing coverage of ActionFest 2011.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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20 thoughts on “ActionFest: The Body Count Continues

  1. Two more great reasons to go…

    1. Downtown will be hosting Widespread Panic and about 10,000 of their fans this weekend. Not knocking them or the fans, but if you are not into their scene, The Carolina might be a great place to go.

    2. Black Dynamite himself, Michael Jai White, will be at Actionfest on Friday for NEVER BACK DOWN 2 and the free showing of BLACK DYNAMITE at midnight. Once again you jive turkeys, Black Dynamite will there at the Carolina!!!

  2. Based on John Marsden’s acclaimed—and, as I’ve been assured, beloved in his homeland of Australia—Tomorrow series

    Maybe beloved by some. I’ve never been able to finish any of the damn things myself.

  3. Fightville

    UFC Fighter Dustin Poirier will be at Fightville’s two screenings this weekend to meet UFC fans.

  4. Ken Hanke

    I don’t know if it’s even playing in Australia

    That’s no excuse.

  5. dpewen

    Orbit, I am not into the WSP scene … it will be too nice this weekend to be inside .. plus not an Action Fest fan.

  6. Ken Hanke

    plus not an Action Fest fan

    Not an ActionFest fan, or not an action movie fan? If only the latter, there’s always the screening of Harold and Maude. That’s not an action film, but it has some action — requiring stunt work — in it. I haven’t seen it, but I don’t think the black comedy, Super, is exactly what you’d normally describe as an action picture.

    The funny thing is that most movies actually do contain a degree of action. When we ran the Greta Garbo picture Queen Christina the other night, I paid attention to that aspect. There’s a battle, a swordfight, fancy horsemanship, and two riot scenes.

  7. dpewen

    Not much of an action movie fan … although I love movies, especially art house stuff.

  8. Ken Hanke

    Not much of an action movie fan … although I love movies, especially art house stuff.

    Well, at this point Harold and Maude has probably gone from cult to art house status. 13 Assassins is considered an art title. Super is on the border between art and indie — a border that is often indistinct. Largo Winch could be an art title, since a lot of it’s in foreign languages various and sundry, though I don’t think I’d call it art so much as it’s the French trying to remind us that they can turn out a thriller. (It’s just classier and more convoluted than most English language thrillers.)

  9. Ken Hanke

    Well, if you come to Harold and Maude, I’ll for sure be at that one — announce yourself to me.

  10. At first I was wondering why there would be a Q&A with a stuntman for HAROLD AND MAUDE. After watching it again I realized that there was quite a few stunts for the film!

  11. Ken Hanke

    At first I was wondering why there would be a Q&A with a stuntman for HAROLD AND MAUDE. After watching it again I realized that there was quite a few stunts for the film!

    I was surprised by that myself when I watched it to check the copy for this screening.

  12. Kevin F.

    Really wish I could be in town for this. Am going to see HOBO as soon as the opportunity allows. Must give an echo to how fantastic BLACK DYNAMITE is (even if the last bit of the film truly flies off the rails). Meeting Michael Jai White would be briliant, as well.

    I must confess, the lifetime award recipient was someone whose name I did not recognize at first. After looking at his credits, I realize that I’ve seen 60+ of his stunt spots!

  13. Ken Hanke

    Well, if you had come, I’d have cleaned off the couch for your crashing pleasure.

  14. Ken Hanke

    Saw Hobo with a Shotgun at midnight (and I’m really getting too old for those) in a packed theater (definitely the best way to see it). It was every chessy, exploitative, deliberately absurd, and splattery I’d hoped for. It opens here in June, but there’s one more ActionFest showing on Sun., Apr. 10 at — I think — 5:30 p.m.

  15. Ken Hanke

    Played hookey from working this morning to see the final showing of Super at noon. I’m glad I did, because it’s one of the most unusual films I’ve seen. It’s funny, occasionally clumsy, disturbing, sad, pathetic, and just downright strange. Fortunately, it opens in a couple week for those who missed it.

    I am now going to settle in to all the stuff I’m supposed to be doing — and I’ll likely be up all night doing it.

  16. Well, me and everyone I know that went had a blast at Actionfest. I went to three packed shows and the others had enthusiastic audiences. The Carolina is onto something…

  17. Ken Hanke

    I didn’t hear from anyone who didn’t have a good time or who saw a film they didn’t like. Even with pulling an all-nighter (and well into today) and not doing a “Screening Room” this week, I only made it to three movies myself and wish I’d made it to more. My feeling from everything I saw and heard is that ActionFest really came into its own this year.

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