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Supergirl feeds reviews from the glory of ACTIONFEST!

Published at: April 11, 2011, 4:15 p.m. CST

 

Hi Harry, Supergirl here.

 

I'm flying back from Asheville, NC as I write this, and the second annual ActionFest. They call it "the film festival with a body count" and they're not wrong. The words "orgy of death" get thrown around a lot these days, but I've rarely seen a better example of it... and I'm just talking about the closing night film, 13 ASSASSINS. The rest of the weekend was a whole can of cinematic whup-ass, with everything from martial arts shenanigans to a fairly decent Bourne knockoff. Oh: and medieval ass-handery, which I'll talk about first.

 

IRONCLAD is like the sequel to Ridley Scott's ROBIN HOOD. It picks up where that film leaves off, though there are no Sherwood-bound bandits in IRONCLAD. The story concerns the aftermath of King John (formerly Prince John)'s signing of the Magna Carta, and how he basically went about trying to undo its liberating effects in England. The Archbishop of England calls upon the Knights Templar to stand against John, and it all comes down to a multi-month siege at the castle of Rochester.

 

The cast on this movie is incredible. Besides James Purefoy in the lead role and Kate Mara as the woman who oh-so-desperately wants to have sex with him, we have Paul Giamatti as King John, which works a hell of a lot better than you might expect, especially when he goes "the Full Giamatti" in his final , over-the-top rant (no, I don't mean he gets naked, I just mean he does that thing where spit visibly explodes out of his mouth on every consonant). We have Brian Cox basically playing the Takashi Shimura character from Seven Samurai, bringing together the good knights to defend the castle. We have Charles Dance as the Archbishop, and I never see enough of that guy. Plus, Jason Flemyng and Mackenzie Crook get to be genuine asskickers. It's a treat to see.

 

This is ActionFest, though, so how was the action? In a word, gory beyond human description. You wanna see bodies cleaved in twain? You wanna see an arm get hewn from shoulder, and then used to beat someone? Oh, you're gonna see it in IRONCLAD. The movie is dour and relatively humourless but boy, it brings the goods on the action front. The set pieces are marvellously coordinated and it really does become a hell of a lot of fun to watch as it goes along. Maybe more so than ROBIN HOOD.

 

I'll touch briefly on THE HEIR APPARENT: LARGO WINCH, which is the Bourne knockoff I mentioned earlier... actually it's not a knockoff, it's based on a popular French graphic novel series and might as well be called THE BOY WITH THE IMMORTALITY TATTOO. It's a grand, slick, James Bond-like adventure, wherein a likeable bloke becomes the heir to a $20 billion fortune, and has to sort out who killed his adopted father. There's a gorgeous femme fatale who gets the better of him, a fastidious butler who knows everything, and a prim corporate exec played by Kristin Scott Thomas who is a welcome highlight in the cast. LARGO WINCH moves fast, is nicely made, and has some great music and locations, like the best Bond films of yore. It's disposable, maybe, but it was a good ride. I wouldn't mind seeing a sequel - and I'm in luck, cuz they've already made one. Maybe it will play ActionFest next year.

 

The real showstoppers at ActionFest this year were BELLFLOWER and A LONELY PLACE TO DIE. The latter won Best Action Film at the awards, and the former is the best movie I've seen this year.

 

BELLFLOWER isn't an action film, per se, but it's sort of the exception that proves the rule at the festival - it's an emotional action film, if I can be so corny as to coin it thus. It's a tricky film to describe, but ostensibly it's about two guys who build the machines from THE ROAD WARRIOR for what they believe will be the post-apocalyptic times in which they will rule as kings. They might or might not be joking. Meanwhile, one of them, Woodrow (played by triple-threat actor/director/writer Evan Glodell) falls in love with a girl, and we find out what happens when it goes bad.

 

"What happens when it goes bad" is going to differ by audience member because I'm fairly sure there's a point in BELLFLOWER where reality splits into about three possible threads. At the very least, an emotional apocalypse follows, and we see Woodrow reflecting backwards and forwards on what brought him to this point, and where he might or might not go from here, and what it means.

 

BELLFLOWER is a singular experience, top to bottom. It's not like any film I've ever seen before. I was told after the fact that it was "mumblecore," and maybe it is. All I know is, it looks extraordinary (I'm told Glodell built his own camera, and some of the things the lenses do are truly first-time experiences for me), and sounds and feels even better. It's one of those movies that is going to get inside some people, rearrange their moving parts, and send them out better people.

 

It's also, in some wonderful alternate universe in which justice happens, the actual best possible sequel to the Mad Max franchise, better than anything George Miller could put together in FURY ROAD. It's a delicious grace note for those movies, related and yet not, and it's going to define this festival for me for years to come.

 

See it, see it, see it.

 

A LONELY PLACE TO DIE, meanwhile, is just as solid a movie, though straight down the middle of where good genre movies lie. It is a massively, brilliantly accomplished thriller, set in the Scottish highlands, where a team of mountain climbers finds a little girl buried in a box, and has to see her to safety. It's an impossible setup, maybe, but that's never going to matter to you as an audience. Director Julian Gilbey does such an exceptional job of setting up and staging the action that this movie wrings you out like a wet rag, as our team of heroes moves from some truly terrifying mountain peaks - the opening mountain-climbing sequence is worth the price of admission alone, and makes one wonder why more mountain-climbing action movies aren't made - to a finale in a town that is in the throes of some wild pagan festival, complete with red-titted dancing girls and everything.

 

I want to give special note to Melissa George, who is an exceptional actress and rarely gets material worthy of her (IN TREATMENT was in the ballpark). Overall ActionFest has had much more focus on strong female roles than I expected (and I mean actual strong female roles, not the bullshit faux empowerment crap of SUCKER PUNCH), but Melissa George plays the best one, Alison, the lead in this film. Plus there's some great opportunity for Karel Roden to strut around being a badass, as he does in LARGO WINCH as well. It's a solid cast, with a lot of turns and surprises as the body count starts to rack up.

 

And Gilbey shoots the hell out of the thing. I believe he was shooting on a RED, and the resultant textures and colours on the mountaintops and in the forests make the environment pop out of the screen and threaten you with angry fists. It's a masterful directing job, orchestrating a surprisingly complex throughline into a machine that works over the audience. Looking forward to seeing more from Gilbey in the future.

 

So that's ActionFest 2011. This festival is only on the way up and I expect even better things from it in the years to come. We had Michael Jai White in house, recipient of the Asskicker of the Year award, and they showed BLACK DYNAMITE and NEVER BACK DOWN 2 to prove it. (OK, the award was actually Man of Action.) We had stunt master Buddy Joe Hooker, who won the Lifetime Achievement Award, and he and his team are unbelievably gracious, good guys.

 

ActionFest 3 should be coming to Asheville, North Carolina around about this time next year. If it's as good as this year, it's well worth the trip.

Readers Talkback

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  • April 11, 2011, 4:17 p.m. CST

    First?!!

    by Bob Loblaw Law Blog

    Oh yeah.

  • April 11, 2011, 4:19 p.m. CST

    Did you go to the Orange Peel?

    by Michael_Jacksons_Ghost

    Great club.

  • April 11, 2011, 4:25 p.m. CST

    Is "Supergirl" really a female? Because that would be super-awesome...

    by WriteForTheEdit

    ...that she went to "ActionFest" to watch and review action movies. Nice work, Supergirl! Also very glad to hear that Buddy Joe Hooker is still alive. Living legend.

  • April 11, 2011, 4:31 p.m. CST

    Also, "Bellflower" is sounding very bitchen.

    by WriteForTheEdit

    Really looking forward to that.

  • April 11, 2011, 4:37 p.m. CST

    I was going to watch Ironclad last night.

    by alan_poon

    Might still do. I would also very much like to make sex to Melissa George. I wonder if she'd let me call her Angel.

  • April 11, 2011, 4:45 p.m. CST

    saw never back down 2

    by bourne7855

    i was there too and i saw never back down 2. michael jai white came in first and talked to us for a minute and then sat down and watched the movie with us. he said they had only finished shooting 2 days before the festival and that it still had alot of work to be done to it. i really liked the fighting in this movie. he did a really good job of showing the moves up close without it being to close . there was a excellent scene with White kicking the shit out of like 6 cops. there were some things that didnt make a whole lotta sense to me with the plot but like i said it wasnt a finished product. there was a famous ufc fighter in it and a couple of the fighters he trained were also real fighters( well known in the martial arts world but not mainstream ) after the movie he stayed and answered some questions and signed autographs. i also went to the fight panel the next day he was in where they discussed fight choreography . Larvell Stovall ( i think thats right) was also there. hes was the choreographer for undisputed 3 and many other things. they were both real nice and i got a picture with White. he seemed kinda shy but was real friendly and stayed to make sure everyone got a autograph or a picture

  • April 11, 2011, 4:56 p.m. CST

    Plant.

    by Grasscutter

    pligitty-plant.

  • April 11, 2011, 5:41 p.m. CST

    Julian Gilbey

    by DirkD13"

    Also directed "Rollin' With The Nines" and "Rise Of The Footsoldier", both a bit shit on the script front but still impressively directed for the money they cost. And by the cast list of Ironclad it sounds like a Solomon Kane sequel (which I'd quite welcome tbh) what with Purefoy, Crook and Flemyng.

  • April 11, 2011, 5:44 p.m. CST

    Melissa George

    by film11

    Yes, she was great on IN TREATMENT...but she also knocks it out of the park in TRIANGLE (probably the best film of her career).

  • April 11, 2011, 6:46 p.m. CST

    Saw Largo Winch years ago.

    by roguechef664

    Great film. The sequel "The Burma Conspiracy" has Sharon Stone in it. Waiting for subs. French isn't so good. Largo is also a 22 episode series from Europe. It's not bad, either. Check out all things Largo!!!

  • April 11, 2011, 7:06 p.m. CST

    kingofmilwaukee

    by film11

    Oh, I NEVER forgot that! That's when I began following her career!

  • April 11, 2011, 7:23 p.m. CST

    "Made his own cameras"

    by BadMrWonka

    I really think this is probably just a hook to garner more attention for this film. I saw the trailer, and it's clear he just built a 35mm lens adapter for a camera (which anyone with some patience and half a brain can do) and then used a large number of old 35mm lenses to get some weird looks. it's a neat aesthetic, for sure, and it make fit the film well, I can't say. but the idea this guy built an entire new video camera is pretty far-fetched. You can see a little behind the scenes stuff here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YjgwdJqbKXQ Looks like it could be real fun, but the camera is clearly just some digital camera like an HMC150, or an HVX200 with a bnch of homemade bells and whistles to attach a DOF adapter. but hey, this is a great story, more power to them. sounds like they're rocking it at Sundance.

  • April 11, 2011, 7:44 p.m. CST

    bourne7855

    by Munro Kelly

    Thanks for the feedback on NBD2, I only found out about it last night on imdb. I'm a fan of both MJW and Larnell Stovall's work, glad to hear they were both cool in how they interacted with the audience.

  • April 11, 2011, 8:54 p.m. CST

    I regret to inform you all of Harry's condition

    by SierraTangoFoxtrotUniform

    All the swag the studios sent him collapsed on him last night as he attempted to organize it in his personal warehouse.

  • April 11, 2011, 9:15 p.m. CST

    13 Assassins is fucking awesome! Can't wait for Ironclad.

    by The_Dark_Shite

  • April 12, 2011, 4:40 a.m. CST

    'the castle of Rochester', 'The Archbishop of England'?

    by Mutley26

    It's name is simply 'Rochester Castle', and I think you actually might mean 'The Archbishop Of Canterbury'. Thank you for the reviews.

  • April 12, 2011, 5:23 a.m. CST

    your welcome dude

    by bourne7855

    yea they were real nice with the audience. also, im not a plant, wish i was i would at least get paid. it did read that way when i re read it though. there was some dumb shit about the movie too. it was right at 2 hours so im sure alot of that can be trimmed out. a useless love triangle, a father/son thing which is pointless since the dad is only in for about 30 secs. oh and yes 13 asssasins was the best film there to me but there have already been so many glowing reviews that i didnt bother mentioning it

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