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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Buddy Joe Hooker, Hobo with a Shotgun and other notes from ActionFest

Posted by on Wed, Apr 27, 2011 at 7:20 PM

Rainn Wilson in Super
  • Ambush Entertainment
  • Rainn Wilson in Super
If you’ve ever dreamed of pulling into a theater parking lot with BMX bikers doing half-pipe flips and a man preparing to be set on fire; ActionFest, Asheville’s annual “Film Festival with a Body Count” might be the cinematic event you’ve been waiting for. On a recent sunny weekend, I attended the second annual festival and took in a few films coming soon to Triangle theaters and/or video; over three days, I’ll witness everything from a pipe wrench to the skull to a hobo with a shotgun.

The festival offers a wide variety of new blood ’n’ guts cinema on display along with a few older films such as the Japanese bloodbath Battle Royale (Kinji Fukasaku, 2000) and the 1978 Burt Reynolds vehicle Hooper, based on the life of the festival’s guest of honor, legendary stuntman Buddy Joe Hooker.

Hooker, whose long and extraordinary career includes a wildly eclectic list of major films and TV series from the 1960s to the present (you can check out his list of credits here), is in attendance at the festival; on-screen, his work is invisible, but here he’s a rock star with a standing ovation during a tribute panel. Though I missed it, he apparently took some time out from the Festival on Friday to answer a few questions about a decidedly non-action classic he did stunts for that’s screening at the same theater: Harold and Maude.

A clip is shown of Hooker from 1971’s Clay Pigeon, where he's in a car tumbling down a hillside for a three-minute continuous shot. When asked how many times it flipped over, he answers “22,” almost casually, as though he’d been asked how many dogs he owns.

He’s equally blasé when describing his worst stunt experience, an incident from TV’s Airwolf in the 1980s: “I tore some ribs off my sternum and stuff.” From his tone, he might as well be describing a mosquito bite.

Here's a tribute to Buddy Joe Hooker presented at ActionFest by director Mark Hartley, introduced by Quentin Tarantino.

Hooker gets the honors of lighting a stuntman in a fireproof suit for Sunday’s free stunt show, the renowned “full burn” that requires a flameproof suit filled with a cooling agent and no oxygen. I chat with him briefly afterward, where he notes with pride of the stunt, “No CGI!”

Festival co-founder Aaron Norris (brother of Chuck, who was last year’s lifetime achievement award recipient), quips to young aspiring stuntmen in the audience that, “There’s only one time a stuntman should smoke—after they’ve put him out! So stay away from tobacco!” I try reconciling this with the act of setting a man on fire, but decide it’s best not to parse this warning. The world of ActionFest is, after all, one you shouldn’t try at home.

Lee Majors sings an ode to “The Unknown Stuntman” on the theme to TV’s The Fall Guy:

For those who couldn’t make it, no worries—many of the major films screened at the festival are due to hit theaters or DVD in the near future. Here’s some of the best (regrettably, I missed the Sundance favorite Bellflower, though its replica of the Road Warrior car was in the parking lot Sunday).

(All the films discussed were either not yet rated or rated R. For review purposes, also assume an average review of two stars if you’re not into grotesque violence and language, three if you are.)

Ironclad (opens in June) is perhaps the only film where you can utter “Paul Giamatti” and “Magna Carta” in the same sentence. Giamatti hams it up as King John, whose attempt to seize a castle results in a long and bloody standoff. A large, eclectic cast includes Brian Cox and James Purefoy (at one point, Megan Fox was apparently attached as well) and quite a few decapitations, though director Jonathan English stages the bloody fight scenes in such a way that the action isn’t always easy to follow. Still, Giamatti makes a wonderfully petulant villain (bad British accent notwithstanding) and if you like your medieval adventure good and grimy, this is the muddy answer to your prayers.

Super (Now playing at Galaxy Cinema) is the sort of film that throws every idea in the filmmaker’s head (in this case, writer-director James Gunn of Slither) against the wall; either you’ll love it for its sheer audacity or walk away wondering what the hell you just saw. Rainn Wilson of The Office, who also produced, stars as a sad-sack fry cook whose out-of-his-league-ex-addict wife (Liv Tyler) leaves him for a sleazy strip club owner/gangster (Kevin Bacon), prompting him to become a pipe-wrench-wielding vigilante called the Crimson Bolt who attacks low-level criminals and people who cut in line with the help of a surprisingly animated Ellen Page. The film also manages to include an animated title sequence, Japanese tentacle rape cartoons, Nathan Fillion from TV’s Castle as a Bibleman-esque TV superhero called the Holy Avenger, and much more violence and darkness than you’d anticipate from the goofy premise. Though similar in premise to Kick-Ass, it’s closer in tone to Taxi Driver, but seems almost prepackaged for cult status. And it’ll make sure that you never, ever cut in line again.

13 Assassins (not currently scheduled for release in the Triangle; returns to Asheville May 27) is the latest from cult director Takashi Miike (Ichi the Killer, Audition) and is relatively restrained by his standards, which means, there’s only one naked limbless woman and most acts of hari-kari do not show internal organs strewn about. There’s still a goodly number of decapitations in this saga of rogue samurai attempting the assassination of the Shogun’s evil brother, but the product is, dare we say, artful, with gorgeous footage of the Japanese countryside.

Hobo with a Shotgun (limited theatrical release May 6; already available on VOD, iTunes, XBOX Marketplace, Playstation Network and Amazon.com), like Super, is almost sociopathic in its efforts to push your buttons; it inflicts upon the viewer a series of scenes and images whose grotesque content is abated only by their artificial over-the-topness. It’s the sort of movie where, after a character loses a hand to a lawnmower blade, then uses the exposed bone like a prison shank to stab a bad guy to death; I haven’t gotten to the bit involving a school bus full of kids who meet a horrific fate. On the other hand, with a title like Hobo with a Shotgun, viewers can’t really complain that they didn’t know what they were in for. Deliberately done in the style of a low-budget 1980s exploitation flick (complete with Rutger Hauer as the hobo, a synth-rock song over the closing credits and an inexplicable pair of cyborg biker assassins who show up midway through), you’re either part of the audience for this spinoff of 2007’s Grindhouse fan-trailer contest or you aren’t. There’s not a lot of middle ground here.

Here's the original trailer for Hobo with a Shotgun that led to the feature-film version with Rutger Hauer. Warning: Language and images not remotely safe for work or public viewing.

Machete Maidens Unleashed! (DVD release date currently unknown) This study of the B-movies filmed in the Philippines is the follow-up to Not Quite Hollywood, director Mark Hartley’s “Ozsploitation” documentary, doesn’t quite have the sense of discovery that came with the earlier film. Many of the best tales don’t involve films specific to the country so much as the New World B-flicks Roger Corman filmed there, such as The Big Doll House and White Mama, Black Mama, or familiar anecdotes about Francis Ford Coppola’s troubled shoot of Apocalypse Now. That said, there are still a number of wonderfully goofy monster movies and B-flicks recapped, and the tale of the dwarf James Bond parody Weng Weng must be seen to be disbelieved. It’s not quite Not Quite Hollywood, but it’s still a lot of fun.

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