For those of you who haven’t heard, there’s a new film festival on the scene and its name is Action Fest! Founded by three men including Chuck Norris’s brother Aaron Norris, Action Fest is the self-proclaimed film festival with a body count. Magnolia exec Tom Quinn is also behind the scenes for the festival alongside Colin Geddes, the man responsible for the Toronto International Film Festival’s venerable Midnight Madness slate. Action Fest is a whirlwind festival held over a weekend in early April in beautiful Asheville, North Carolina. Movies are jam-packed back to back over Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
I was able to attend all day Friday and Saturday and saw 9 films in my short time there. I’ve done full reviews for Ironclad and A Lonely Place to Die. For the rest of the films I saw I’ll be breaking things up into two pieces with three mini-reviews each, one for each day. Finally, I’ll do a wrap-up piece summarizing the fest and what played and talking a little about the experience.
Tomorrow, When the War Began – 2010 – Australia
It’s being referred to as the anti-Twilight, though that seems like a cheap way to pander to the millions who hate Stephanie Meyer’s creation and the films it spawned. This has absolutely nothing to do with Twilight aside from the fact that its cast is mostly (ostensibly) teenagers in high school. By that rational, John Tucker Must Die or I Love You, Beth Cooper could also be called the anti-Twilight.
Thankfully, Tomorrow, When the War Began is a slightly better film than any of those mentioned in the preceding paragraph. While it is based on a series of popular Australian novels by John Marsden, Tomorrow is essentially Red Dawn in the same way that Insidious is essentially Poltergeist, and that’s not a knock on either film. Insidious brings more originality to the table, but Tomorrow does a decent enough job. The plot is almost identical to Red Dawn, teenagers witnessing a foreign invasion, hiding out and eventually fighting back.
What the film may lack in a creative concept, it makes up for with some decent practical stunts and effects. A house explosion is particularly nice, especially in wave of CG fire we seem to be experiencing these days. The kids are typically varied with plenty of feelings for one another just ready to spill over in a wave of hormonal lust. While some of the dialogue is stiff and wooden, some of the better lines earn genuine chuckles. Tomorrow, When the War Began isn’t going to win any awards, but it’s a perfectly serviceable teen action flick if that’s your cup of tea.
Never Back Down 2 – 2011 – United States
I hadn’t seen Never Back Down when I sat down for the premiere of the sequel so I was at somewhat of a disadvantage. Then I recalled that I probably involved people punching and kicking each other and I felt pretty much up to speed on the backstory. The plot of Never Back Down 2 is almost painfully simple. There’s a college kid running an underground MMA tournament with enough illegal gambling and paid internet streaming to be able to offer a decent payday to the winner. Four kids from all over the tracks come together to train with ex-MMA rising star and current parolee Case Walker.
Never Back Down 2 is full of familiar plot points, cliches and bad dialogue. That said, anyone interested in a sequel to Never Back Down cares not for such things. The only things that matter are the fights, and those are well shot with great stunt work. Credit for that is largely due to star and first-time director Michael Jai White and fight choreographer Larnell Stovall, who crafted the great fight scenes from Undisputed III. White is smart enough not to follow some of his other action film brethren into the land of overused handheld photography coupled with close-up framing and quick-cut editing. Instead, all of the fight scenes are stable and well edited, allowing the viewer to understand and enjoy the back and forth battles. Unfortunately the movie is a little back-heavy, asking the viewer to sit through far too much setup and build up before the inevitable end tournament, which probably should have been a bit longer.
Films of Fury: The Kung Fu Movie Movie – 2011 – United States
Ah Kung Fu films, the cornerstone of any nutritious breakfast. A sort of adaptation of an in-depth book on the subject by Ric Meyers, Films of Fury: The Kung Fu Movie Movie takes on the ambitious task of tracking the origins and history of kung fu cinema. The work-in-progress documentary utilizes an animated framework to stitch the pieces together and move from section to section. On the one hand it works in the most utilitarian way, but on the other hand, it’s probably the film’s biggest flaw. It’s very playful and cartoonish giving the film a tone skewed towards younger audiences, while the clips from famous kung fu films are decidedly more adult. The strange tonal shifts are a bit disarming and get in the way of fully enjoying the film.
There’s some great information here and an obvious enthusiasm for the subject matter that goes a long way. I found myself wanting to write down all the titles so that I could make a definitive must-see list, but as Ric Meyers repeatedly pointed out, there is a book. As you might expect, the book goes much deeper into the history of kung fu films and the effects that it had on other, more mainstream cinema. In perhaps the greatest compliment I can give it, the film’s brief section on Five Element Ninjas, a film I didn’t particularly enjoy the first time around, was so spirited that it made me want to see it again, despite my initial reaction. Highly recommended despite its relatively minor flaws, Films of Fury: The Kung Fu Movie Movie is the giddy and ecstatic work of a man who clearly loves film as much as we do.