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.
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