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Chuck Norris needs to kick America’s action film into shape.

Chuck Norris needs to kick America’s action film into shape. (photo)

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Tomorrow will kick off the inaugural edition of Actionfest — “the film festival with a body count,” as it announces itself, complete with a mini Chuck Norris retrospective. It’s billed as the first action film festival, which seems strange considering how many fests exist to serve niches — for documentaries, for genre fanboys, for those obsessed with broadly categorized “Asian films” (they don’t mean Ozu) and so on. Perhaps only the action film could be both so ubiquitous and disreputably populist as to wait this long for its own festival.

Only the snottiest festivals positively exclude all action fare. Nearly all have at least a midnight section (which tends to be rowdier, and frequently better attended, than the smaller art films that get more highbrow love). And these days foreign action films are a celebrated staple of every fest, ever since the ’80s when the West discovered that Hong Kong was producing remarkably inventive action movies that could be profitably championed and canonized. John Woo, Tsui Hark and selected others were invited to join the highbrow pantheon; subsequently, even the once disreputable likes of films produced by the Shaw Brothers have had (deserved) retrospectives and respect once the cheesy English dubs were taken off and some context was given.

04142010_b13.jpgPlus, it’s always cool to champion action movies if they have social commentary to dig into — like the banlieue-burning “District B13” — or simply inform us that action filmmaking has finally taken root in another country, the reason for the lavish reception given to the Thai asskicker “Ong-Bak” a few years back. These are almost exclusively the only action movies to make it to the arthouse — and, attendantly, too often discouraging serious critical attention. Michael Mann may make artier films than anything Ed Burns has ever attempted, but he’s still using a lot of expensive firepower to get there.

It is, nonetheless, a puzzling anomaly that the American action film — the biggest and baddest of them all, or at least the most routinely expensive — can’t get even those token festival slots. Okay, it’s not that puzzling: a big action movie needs a festival launch like a nuclear missile needs an automated squirt gun on top. Better question: where are the Americans whose artistic ambitions lie in the direction of making smart, low-budget action movies? It’s a worthy formal challenge, after all.

04142010_undisputed3.jpg If you look at the top of Actionfest’s front page, there’s a gallery of iconic action films, almost exclusively homegrown. However, if you look at the lineup, the overwhelming majority of the 22 new films being presented are from abroad — just five are American, including the latest from “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and “Undisputed III,” each of which are going direct-to-DVD following their premieres in North Carolina. That’s notable since DVD shelves have become the provenance of most low-budget American action films while international action films get the red carpet treatment from festivals around the world.

Earlier this year at Rotterdam, The Auteurs‘ Daniel Kasman ducked into a screening of Tsui Hark’s third film and was blown away. “Being stilled all week by the measured, the thoughtful, I forgot that cinema can leave you breathless,” he noted. “There’s something about the culture of film festivals and the kinds of films it encourages that strenuously denies these kinds of films exist, are art.” Indeed — though that seems to go double for American festival films, which could use a dose of something totally different.

Surely, this isn’t just a case of elitist programmers shutting out genius works uniformly, nor could it be that no one in America is capable of making a better low-budget action movie than “El Mariachi.” (It’s not even that good.) If foreign filmmakers can wow the world with parkour, Muay Thai and wu xia, there have to be similarly resourceful filmmakers in the U.S. — they just might’ve needed to have their ass kicked first.

[Photos: “Braddock: Missing in Action III,” MGM/UA Home Entertainment, 1988, which is showing at Actionfest; “District B13,” Magnolia Pictures, 2004; “Undisputed III,” New Line Home Video, 2010]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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