Not sure how but I was able to sneak away in April for a quick trip down to Asheville, NC for a very cool weekend at ActionFest, but I'm glad I did since the flicks I saw at the festival represent 11 of the 14 flicks I saw all month!
And if you're wondering how great ActionFest is I think the pic of Michael Jai White (aka Black Dynamite) and me says it all. Look for a full write-up on ActionFest coming soon!
But on to the flick report...
SKELETON MAN: Michael Rooker and Casper Van Dien star in this low-budget riff on PREDATOR where the titular villain is actually some sort of Native American grim reaper and not an interplanetary game hunter. The perfect flick to watch while assembling furniture.
I SAW THE DEVIL: Not for the faint of heart. When a secret service agent's wife is killed by a brutal serial killer he takes a leave of absence to hunt the bludgeon-crazy monster. To say too much more would spoil this riveting and at-times gruesome thriller.
MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED: The latest doc from the NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD team focuses on the Fillipino-American action-adventure flicks from the likes of Roger Corman and Co. Definitely fun but not overly revelatory.
LITTLE BIG SOLDIER: If – like me – you started finding a lot of Jackie Chan's output to be juvenile and stupid (I'm looking at you FIRST STRIKE!), this period piece is a nice return to form, with an older Chan knowing his limitations and turning them into strengths. Chan plays a reluctant soldier who just wants to turn in the enemy general he's captured for some land to farm but it certainly won't be that easy.
SUPER: James Gunn's subversive, violent and funny spin on real-life superheroes showcases Rainn Wilson as a wrench-wielding vigilante who just wants his drug addict wife (Liv Tyler) back from the clutches of an evil drug dealer/strip club owner (Kevin Bacon). Definitely a roller coaster ride with a great performance from the usually-annoying Ellen Paige. Friends tell me it's the film that KICK-ASS (which I have yet to see) should have been.
NEVER BACK DOWN 2 - THE BEAT DOWN: Action star Michael Jai White makes his directorial debut with this rousing dose of ass-kickery set in the world of MMA. White is an ex-con who helps train a bevy of college students for an upcoming underground card, only to be hassled by The Man.
BLACK DYNAMITE: Almost note-perfect homage to 70s blaxploitation features Jai White as a super pimp who springs into action after his brother gets killed. Dips its toe into broad parody on occasion but gut-bustingly funny.
BANGKOK KNOCKOUT: If you can make it through the fifteen minute "plot" set up you'll be richly rewarded with this loco blend of martial arts and HOSTEL. Once the pesky storyline gets pushed aside it's an eye-popping stunt show with lots of lives being endangered for your entertainment.
BAIL ENFORCERS: Funny and highly-entertaining low-budget actioner with former WWE starlet Trish Stratus starring as a strip club waitress who also happens to be a pistol-packing bail enforcement agent. A simple job forces Trish and her team (including the hysterical Boomer Phillips as a failed cop wannabe) into a confrontation with a mobster looking to do away with a snitch.
A LONELY PLACE TO DIE: Definitely the best "movie" of ActionFest, though NEVER BACK DOWN 2 may have been the one that most entertained me. Melissa George (TRIANGLE) stars as a mountaineer who – along with a group of friends – stumbles into a kidnapping plot of international proportions. The flick zigs and zags in unexpected directions and is packed with breathtaking scenery and stunts. Though not in the same genre, director Julien Gilbey's exhilarating flick reminded me a bit of Neil Marshall's excellent DESCENT thanks to a great cast with believable chemistry.
HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN: Disappointing Troma wannabe that wastes a good premise. Rutger Hauer just wants to buy a lawn mower and start a landscaping business, but the rampant crime in his new town causes him to buy a shotgun and clean up the streets in other ways. Has all the broad humor and over-the-top attitude of the 80s Troma output but without any of the wit or intelligence that lurked behind the trash facade of films like CLASS OF NUKE 'EM HIGH and THE TOXIC AVENGER.
13 ASSASSINS: Takashi Miike's latest is a "let's assemble a team" mission flick set in the final days of the samurai era. In an effort to end the reign of an evil and heartless ruler, an aging samurai gathers a team of assassins to kill the sadistic ruler before he can command more power. No real surprises but it's always fun to watch the team come together and the last 45 minutes is a non-stop fightfest as the assassins and the lord's army meet.
ROCK PROPHECIES: Pretentious and unfocused rock documentary about rock photojournalist Robert Knight. Best five minutes of the film are spent with legendary rock photog Jim Marshall, who I'd much rather watch a documentary about.
MICHAEL JACKSON - THIS IS IT: A little long but interesting look at the behind-the-scenes preparations for what was to be Jackson's comeback tour. All the hits are there but it's fun watching the mega-star micro-manage the show. Makes you wish he had lived so the final product could have come together but you have to wonder if the scheduled slate of shows might not have killed him anyway as the King of Pop looks tired, slow and sorta spent by the time rehearsals are done.
RESIDENT EVIL - AFTERLIFE: The fourth in the always-entertaining series is barely about zombies this time around but who cares?! Alice and Claire reunite in Alaska then find themselves attempting to help a group of survivors who have taken refuge in a maximum security prison.