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’ 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 which you can read here and here. 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. You can read the first installment here. Finally, I’ll do a wrap-up piece summarizing the fest and what played and talking a little about the experience. Yes, for you math wizards that only adds up to 8 of the 9 films. I also saw Battle Royale which I’ll discuss in my wrap-up. This is what I saw on Saturday.
The Heir Apparent: Largo Winch – 2008 – France
Largo Winch began life as a series of rather unsuccessful Belgian novels that the author then repurposed as a comic book series. The stories flourished in this new medium and now exist as a set of graphic novels. To date there are 17 albums in the series with an 18th on the way. While the first film based on the material was released in 2008, it languished without a US distributor. While the rights are now owned by Music Box Films, the company behind the US release of the Swedish Millennium series films, no US release dates have been announced, which is unfortunate because The Heir Apparent: Largo Winch is well crafted tale of corporate intrigue.
The film opens with the murder of Nerio Winch, a Warren Buffett-esque industry titan and founder of The W Group, a huge mutli-national corporation worth billions. While Nerio never had a son, he had been preparing for his eventual death for many years, secretly adopting a young orphan and making him his sole heir. Obviously with so much money riding on this decision, everyone has a reason to kill or discredit or even back and support the mysterious heir named Largo. What follows is a decent action movie wrapped up in high-stakes business deals with scenes in plenty of beautiful, sun-drenched locales. While the business side of things can get a little dry as well as convoluted, Largo Winch is a solid action flick with plenty of twists and turns.
The Wraith – 1986 – United States
Alamo Drafthouse programmer Zack Carlson was on the scene in Asheville, subbing in on the festival jury and also hosting a screening of the great 80s supernatural car film, The Wraith. Carlson has recently completed an exhaustive tome alongside partner in crime Bryan Connolly entitled Destroy All Movies!!! The Complete Guide to Punks on Film and it was in that capacity that he found himself asked to host a screening at Action Fest. The Wraith was a fantastic selection and, of course, Zack came prepared with a glorious 35mm print. Before the show we were treated to several 35mm trailers from the private collection of a local fest-goer and they were predictably awesome. It was almost enough to make me feel like I was back at home, seeing the film at my beloved Drafthouse.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with The Wraith, I urge you to stop reading now and go watch it. It’s a crazy film about a group of kids, including a certified Destroy All Movies!!! punk, who run around driving fast and pressuring other kids into drag racing for pink slips. Thing is their ring leader is a little crazy. So crazy he even killed a guy once. Things heat up when a mysterious racer appears in a hot new car no one has ever laid eyes on and starts picking off the group one by one. The film stars Nick Cassavetes as the unhinged Packard. There’s a long tradition of cinematic bullies and Cassavetes sneers and leers with the best of them. Charlie Sheen plays the new kid in town who starts hanging out with Packard’s girl and generally pissing him off at every turn. Ron Howard’s brother Clint appears as the genius mechanic in Packard’s gang, but it’s Randy Quaid who steals the show as Sheriff Loomis, perhaps in a sly nod to the classic character made famous by Donald Pleasance? Seriously, why are you not watching The Wraith right now?
Outrage – 2010 – Japan
Last but certainly not least is the new film from ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano. Perhaps best known for his take on the classic tale of Zatoichi, Kitano is both an accomplished director as well as a more than competent actor. He puts both skills to use in his latest outing. Outrage is an old-fashioned, hard-boiled Yakuza tale told with style and humor and plenty of action. While I had already seen it at last year’s Fantastic Fest, I was excited to see it again.
Outrage focuses on the internal politics of the Yakuza families, turf wars, payoffs, tribute money, and of course honor. It’s almost completely devoid of any filler, scenes of action and reaction are cut back-to-back providing a well-paced narrative that never slows down, despite being fairly dialogue-heavy. It’s exactly what you’d want out of new Yakuza film, plenty of guns and girls and gambling but with a clear eye kept on the past, on the traditions and old ways, like cutting off a finger by way of making amends. Kitano himself is stellar in the role of Otomo, a relatively lower level boss who gets caught in the middle of the crossfire between higher level players. Outrage 2 is already in production in Japan, but sadly the original film still lacks a US distributor.