Review: Sensitive 70’s Turtleneck Tough Guys (2015)

Posted in Dennis Ruel, Edward Kahana Jr., Eric Jacobus, Jose Montesinos with tags , on February 24, 2015 by Michael S. Moore

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Starring Jose Montesinos, Eric Jacobus, Troy Carbonel, Sari Sabella, Edward Kahana, DeeDee Luxe, Lisa Younger, Jon Bastian, Gabriel Wheeler, Matthew Zipkin, Tao Sabella

Fight Choreography by Dennis Ruel, Eric Jacobus, Jose Montesinos

Directed by Jose Montesinos and Brett Stillo

How good has 2015 been so far in the world of independent martial art films? First we get Rope A Dope 2, then Unlucky Stars, and now Jose Montesinos (American Brawler) along with Eric Jacobus (Rope A Dope 1 and 2) and with fight choreography by Dennis Ruel (Unlucky Stars) returns with this ode to the 70’s tough guys!

In this short film we meet three tough guys, who also happen to all wear turtlenecks: Raymundo Bala P.I. (Montesinos), Detective Frank Cox (Jacobus), and Cheegan Jones (Carbonel). As they sit, ruminating over their newfound “sensitivity” and what it means to be a man in the tough environment of the 70’s, we flash back to what they’ve been doing, which is beating up a lot of bad guys in incredibly manly ways. As they discuss these issues it is apparent that this sensitivity does not extend to the gents they are fighting, as they are taken out in increasingly brutal ways. But it’s just another day on the job for these Sensitive Turtleneck Tough Guys…

SENSITIVE 98

I must admit that during the first minute I wasn’t sure where things were going, but I quickly understood as both Bala and Cox were about to take on a group of baddies in flashback sequences. After the fighting started I was hooked. The sheer look of the film is 70’s style, from the cars to the clothing and locations to the music. The film captures this perfectly, which is impressive given its small budget. Montesinos and Jacobus do a good job as the tough guys, never revealing their emotions, even as they discuss being sensitive. Carbonel does a great job saying absolutely nothing, which is a feat unto itself as he had to manage a straight face amidst the crazy dialogue he had to listen to. The macrame moment with Carbonel made the film for me.

SENSITIVE 94

The only thing I didn’t really like was when the guns came out and started blazing. It’s the only part that showed the low budget nature of the film.

The fights are the standouts here, as Dennis Ruel came off with some great-but-cheesy-but-still-great 70’s style fight choreography (I loved the guy who got his arm broken like 3 times.) and it was performed well, especially the fights with Eric Jacobus, who excels at mixing fighting with comedy.

SENSITIVE 92

Hopefully we can have these Sensitive Tough Guys return for an encore!

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 8.5

A great little short film that mixes good laughs with some great 70’s era fighting. Who says sensitive guys with Turtlenecks can’t be tough?

Live in San Francisco? Now’s your chance to watch Unlucky Stars!

Posted in Dennis Ruel, Edward Kahana Jr., Emmanuel Manzanares, Ken Quitugua, Sam Hargrave, Shawn Bernal, Vlad Rimburg with tags , , on February 18, 2015 by Michael S. Moore

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Per director Dennis Ruel:

SF Cast N Crew Screening OPEN TO THE PUBLIC – ONLINE TICKETS ONLY: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/unlucky-stars-castncrew-screen…
Q & A with Cast and Crew following the show!

If you live in the  SF area then you are in for a treat! For martial arts film fans this is not to be missed! Why? Read my review here!

The website for Cornered has gone live!

Posted in Michael Moore on February 16, 2015 by Michael S. Moore

Kiai Kick Films

So here we go! Cornered is still in post-production, but now we are to the point where we can start letting you fine folks see what I’ve been up to since last summer! Below you’ll find the first One-Sheet and a link to the website, which you can find here. Later this week a teaser trailer, basically one some of you who peruse this site may have already seen, will be released! So much more to come!

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LBP Stunts Chicago Presents Challenger!

Posted in Aaron Toney, Emmanuel Manzanares, LBP Stunts, Shawn Bernal with tags on February 12, 2015 by Michael S. Moore

Emmanuel Manzanares brings yet another piece of awesomeness with Aaron Toney, Shawn Bernal,  Malay Kim, and even Emmanuel himself! Bask in the goodness below, folks!

Review: Falcon Rising (2014)

Posted in Larnell Stovall, Michael Jai White with tags , on February 9, 2015 by Michael S. Moore

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Starring Michael Jai White, Laila Ali, Neal McDonough, Lateef Crowder, Hazuki Kato, Mashashi Odate, Jimmy Navarro

Fight Choreography by Larnell Stovall

Directed by Ernie Barbarash

Michael Jai White is, without a doubt, one of the most underrated action film stars not named Scott Adkins. He went on a tear with a string of underground hits starting with Undisputed 2, and continued through Blood and Bone, and then the greatness that is Black Dynamite. He now returns to action with Falcon Rising, made with frequent JCVD collaborator Ernie Barbarash. After taking a small hiatus away from action, does MJW hit one out of the park or what?

Of course he does, and maybe has a new franchise action series for himself!

Falcon Rising follows former Special Forces soldier John Chapman (MJW), a good man and dangerous one, as much to others as to himself as he suffers PTSD from his time in Iraq, and contemplates suicide. He gets a visit from his sister Cindy (Ali) before she returns to Brazil, where she spends her time doing social work. Things get dark after Cindy is found beaten and barely alive near the ocean off of Rio de Janeiro. John Chapman, with the help of Brazilian consulate and former army buddy Manny Ridley (McDonough) dig deeper into the Brazilian underworld only to discover that Cindy had found information that the Japanese Yakuza don’t want going public, and John Chapman, code-named Falcon, goes on a one man killing spree in order to get his revenge for Cindy…

Falcon Rising 4

MJW, as always, does a great job as John Chapman, a man who constantly checks under cars to make sure there isn’t a bomb hidden underneath. He’s a sympathetic character, a man who looks to die at first but finds his purpose in life in dealing death to those who richly deserve it, and who better than delivering that to the Yakuza? Neal McDonough is always dependable as an actor (one of my favorites ever since Band of Brothers) and Jimmy Navarro is engaging and slimy as Thiago Santo, a detective who may know more about Cindy’s attackers than he cares to admit. Lateef Crowder doesn’t say much, but he’s menacing as Santo’s partner. Ernie Barbarash directs the film with a confident swagger and delivers a fast-paced story.

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The fights here are really good, and create something that can built into something even bigger in the sequel (there had BETTER be one!) and it’s no surprise that fight choreographer par excellence Larnell Stovall is responsible for the action. He does a great job putting together the fights that accentuate MJW’s fighting skills, and the fight between MJW And Lateef Crowder is one I’ve been waiting to see for a while, and I was not disappointed except for wishing the fight had lasted longer, but that’s not Falcon’s way, and the movie wisely steered away from that. I love the fact that it became a 3-way duel involving a katana sword, a knife, and a chain.The battle versus the Yakuza at the Hacienda was also great to watch, and Larnell knows that jump kick takedowns are always cool to see.

This film is set up to be a series, and I can’t wait to see Falcon kick ass in South America again!

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 8.5

A great opening salvo into what can be a series of MJW films to go right up there with the James Bonds and Blade’s of the world! A great martial arts actioner set in Brazil that sizzles with great fights!

Review: UnLucky Stars (2015)

Posted in Amy Johnston, Dennis Ruel, Edward Kahana Jr., Emmanuel Manzanares, Jose Montesinos, Ken Quitugua, Sam Hargrave, Tony Chu, Vlad Rimburg with tags , , , on February 2, 2015 by Michael S. Moore

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Starring Dennis Ruel, Ken Quitugua, Jose Montesinos, Sari Sabella, Vladislav Rimburg, Sam Hargrave, Emmanuel Manzanares, Edward Kahana, Steven Yu, Roy Chen, Miguel Padilla, Shawn Bernal, Alvin Hsing, Gui Dasilva, Tony Chu, Andy Le Brian Le, Jimmy Chhiu, Yoshi Sudarso, Amy Johnston and two surprises!

Fight Choreography by Vladislav Limburg

Directed by Dennis Ruel

LBP Stunts Chicago. The Stuntpeople. Vladislav Rimburg. Dennis Ruel. Emmanuel Manzanares. All of these names have been spoken of ad nauseum on this website since its inception in 2010. I’ve championed their fight choreography and work in short films, citing that the Powers That Be in Hollywood should let these guys take the reins choreographing and directing big—or at least modestly budgeted— action films. Now action man and director Dennis Ruel (Rope-A-Dope 1 and 2, American Brawler) finally brings these talents together to pay homage to the Jackie Chan/Sammo Hung/Yuen Biao films of the 80’s, particularly the Lucky Star series of films. This is a tall order, and a major ambition where the talent involved could fall flat on their faces.

So did they?

Nope. Unlucky Stars hit the ground, flipped, kicked, and punched their way to cinematic awesomeness.

The story starts as we meet the major players, but for much of the film we follow Private Investigator Ken Champaco (Quitugua) and his new partner, newly unemployed Josh Whitman (Ruel) as they try to track down Peruvian Action star Tomas De La Cruz (Montesinos), who is working in San Francisco and owes money to bookie and wannabe gangster Sam (Hargrave) whose father Carl (wait ‘till you see who it is. I won’t spoil it.) is one of the most dangerous men in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, Cruz has a crazy fan in wannabe action star Sameer Yousef (Sabella) who unwittingly gets involved in the shenanigans, and David Palatnikov (Rimburg) a down and out stuntman simply looking for his next job. Toss in a crazy Celebrity Action Rehab reality show, a sadistic torturer (Bernal), one gonzo bounty hunter named Stan (Yu), and a bit of wrong-place, wrong-time moments that come together to compel Ken and Josh to becomes unlikely heroes…if they can survive the craziness around them…

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Unlucky Stars lives up to its name and goal. Sammo Hung would be proud, as this film is exactly the kind of film he would’ve tossed Yuen Wah, Richard Ng, and Eric Tsang into. While the story contains a lot of characters to follow, it ties their separate stories perfectly into the main narrative confidently. The comedy moments work for me, in a world where martial arts dominates…well, everything.

Every moment flows smoothly from one piece of insanity to the next, and the action is never far behind, even in small moments. The acting is great, and not a sour note in the bunch. Dennis Ruel and Ken Quitugua are great together as the investigative duo (very much a Jackie Chan/Yuen Biao pairing), and Vladislav Rimburg hits every note as the Sammo Hung-inspired Palatnikov, and Sam Hargrave is charming and funny as the bad guy Sam, and Sari Sabella is hilarious as the dimwitted, hapless Sameer, and brings a natural innocence to the character. It’s obvious that everyone worked their asses off and had a ton of fun doing it, and it shows onscreen.

Yes, this moment reminds me of a little movie called Dragons Forever!

Yes, this moment reminds me of a little movie called Dragons Forever!

This film is made for those of us who love martial arts films, particularly those made in the 80’s. See if you can find all of references. Everything from Y. Kurata Sushi to Golden Harvest Investigations to so much more (the opening of the film tells you exactly what you should expect) you’ll re-watch the film to catch the small things you’ll miss the first time. Even the final fight is an ode to the final fight between Sammo Hung and Richard Norton in Twinkle,Twinkle Lucky Stars, right down to the suspenders. There are not one, but two special guest stars, and I won’t spoil them, but one appear at the end of the film, and may hint at what may happen in the sequel (?).

The fights are as fantastic as you would want them to be, and there are so, so many good ones, from the church fight that brings out so many talented stuntmen/actors like Gui Dasilva and Tony Chu (this scene has my favorite character, an homage to the great Yuen Wah. Cigar included.) to the fight both inside and outside of the Celebrity Rehab house, and the terrific finale at a factory which contains a great fight between Rimburg and Hargrave. Sam Hargrave (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Avengers) goes through some fantastic falling stunts as he bounces himself off of a LOT of metal objects.

There isn’t enough good things I can say about UnLucky Stars. It lived up to the faith I had in the talent involved. This movie was made for me and all of you who love HK martial arts cinema like me. So my final grade is…

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 10

Amazing action talent plus a great story that serves as a love letter to the Lucky Stars film series, and to 80’s HK action cinema as a whole. Not to be missed!

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