ActionFest 2011

If there's anyone out there who hasn't read any of it, my ActionFest coverage is being put up all over the place.  Some reviews and thoughts will be here, and the interview with Bail Enforcers/WWE Superstar Trish Stratus will (hopefully) be the feature on the Shadows and Light Movie Podcast next week.  Other stuff is on CA Literary Review.  Still more will find its way to my new joint venture with my friend Eric Plaag, The Split Screen.  What follows is a list of links that I will update as I have more and more come out for reading/listening.

CA Lit Review:
ActionFest 2011 Wrap-up
An Interview with Michael Jai White
An Interview with Writer/Director Julian Gilbey
Review: 13 Assassins

Matt Smith on Film:
Review: Bail Enforcers

Shadows and Light Movie Podcast:

The Split Screen:
Bellflower: A Review
Hobo With A Shotgun: A Review

Review: Bail Enforcers

This movie is just a lot of fun to watch.  Featuring some fantastic little fight sequences and a charismatic set of leads, the film makes it easy to overlook some of its short-comings, which really aren't its fault at all, and are generally shared by most independent films, not just in the action genre.  Seven-time WWE Women's champion Trish Stratus makes her film debut as Jules, a bounty hunter whose team gets drawn into making a deal with a gangster named Hal in order to make a bigger payday by turning over one of their bounties to him instead of taking him to the police.  Along the way they have a run-in with a few goons who work for Hal and have to fight for their lives.  It's not the most complex plot-line ever, but a ton of action films are held together on flimsier premises, and do far less with what they have.

The film opens with a really well done fight between Jules and a weight lifter in a gym as she and her partner try to apprehend him and take him in.  Not only does the fight serve to get the audience involved in the action right off the bat, but it also provides us with a glimpse at Jules' fighting style (sort of a wrestling-modified Krav Maga), which shows her as a no-nonsense go-getter; a woman of action.  This is important because of the contrast it provides between her and her partners, Chase (Boomer Phillips) and Ridley (Frank J. Zupancic), who are much more suited to gun-oriented confrontation.

The group dynamics are typical, but pulled off well: Chase is the goofy one - Phillips has a background in comedy, Ridley is the square-jawed and level-headed leader, and Jules is the heavy-hitter, but also provides the group with a bit of sex appeal and helps to throw her opponents off because, hey, she's a woman!  There's a charisma between the actors that is palpable on screen most of the time, and it makes some of the film's lesser moments (such as a regrettable and unimportant scene in which Ridley utters the words that he "loves" Jules, and an absolutely useless subplot and scene in which Jules works as a waitress at a strip club and must be picked up for a job - two of the few times genre cliches aren't quite so well averted or incorporated.)  Which brings me to what I like most about the film: its ability to recognize its strengths and weaknesses as a B-movie (not a bad thing) and make the best of most of them.

Bail Enforcers has an honest sense of humor about itself that isn't so self-aware that it falls into unwatchable territory, and that's kind of refreshing.  I'm pretty bored with "clever" post-modern parody of action films, and am glad to see there's still a small group of filmmakers eager to make what they have work to the best of their abilities and within a tight budget.  There's not a weak spot considering all of this: the cinematography by Justin J. Dyck is solid, and the direction of Patrick McBrearty is more than capable.

And then there are the fights themselves.  The choreography is quite well done, and the scene-stealer is Andrea James Lui, who plays Ruby, one of the heavies sent to kill the bounty hunters and take their bounty back to her mobster employer.  She has two fights of note, one with Jules in close-quarters combat in the back of an ambulance, and a funny and character-building fight over a set of keys with chase.  The former is thrilling, and the second is comic and endearing.  These scenes are well-shot, too, with much of them being shot at a higher frame rate and then played around with in post.  It's nice to see camerawork that is being done at least partially in-camera and not all on a computer.

Overall, Bail Enforcers is a solid view for a fan of the genre, a fan of Stratus' and anyone interested in supporting independent action movies.  High cinema it's not, but not everything sets out to be.  This is a knock-down fight flick about hard bodies and hard punches that plays like the films made in the heyday for this sort of film.  Which is meant to say nothing bad about it at all.