Archive for February, 2012

Review: Mandrill (2009)

Posted in Marko Zaror, Miguel Angel De Luca with tags on February 24, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Marko Zaror, Miguel Angel De Luca, Tio Chone, Celine Reymond

Fight Choreography by Marko Zaror

Directed By Ernesto Diaz Espinoza

Marko Zaror broke out onto the scene with his first film Kiltro followed by Mirageman, and while both films had their problems, he showed that he has what it takes to be a major martial arts action star. This was cemented beyond reproach when he starred opposite Scott Adkins in the fantastic Undisputed 3, and now returns starring as Mandrill with his Kiltro and Mirageman director Ernesto Diaz Espinoza. So how did their third collaboration go?

Marko Zaror plays Antonio Espinoza, aka Mandrill, who say his parents killed by a man known as the Cyclops (!) when he was a child, and just like Bruce Wayne adopts a new persona as the bounty hunter Mandrill, always taking jobs he thinks will get him closer to finding his parents’ killer. Soon Mandrill does get the job that leads him to his nemesis, but things don’t go as planned as he falls in love with the Cyclops’ daughter, Dominique. Things go from bad to worse to downright odd as his actions creates a chain reaction that finds him fighting Dominque herself for his life…

Kiltro was a damn odd film. It had too many flashbacks and odd moments that came from no where (especially the David Bowie moment, which has to be seen to be believed), and Mandrill has some of the same problems that Kiltro had, but unlike that film, this is a slick production, with great locations and a fantastic James Bond-style soundtrack. Marko Zaror plays morose very well, but this time he balances this with a sense of fun. He clearly loves playing this James Bond-style killer, and he really does a good job. His acting has improved a lot since Kiltro. Celine Reymond is smoldering as Dominque, and her transformation from a withdrawn heiress to vicious killer is fun to see.

I mentioned this film was odd, and it is. The constant flashbacks to his teen years learning the art of seduction from his Uncle was downright… well it was kinda creepy. There’s also a montage sequence of Mandrill and Dominque that comes at the midpoint of the film that’s just downright strange. It all starts with a dance sequence and it’s a WTF moment that gets odder from there (is odder even a word?). The ending of the film will leave you with a mix of ‘what the hell was that’ and ‘cool!’ In what is equally strange but yet my favorite scenes in the film are the sequences where we flashback to a fictional TV show called John Colt, about a latino super secret agent that Mandrill loved as a child and teenager, and emulates in his clothing and fighting. It’s a hilarious ode to that period of time in the 60’s and 70’s when those shows were prevalent. I wouldn’t mind an entire film based around the character.

The fight scenes are really top notch work. Marko has a great fight toward the beginning with Miguel Angel De Luca, who played the main villain in Kiltro, and their rematch is a much better shot fight in this film. My favorite fight involves, of all things, a dude who looks like an older security guard looking ripe for the cannon fodder chuck wagon, probably named “random old security guy #8”  but it was like he decided “Damn what the script says! I’m gonna bring the thunder!” and he does, giving Mandrill all kinds of trouble that was a nice change to see: a no-name guy just bringing a fantastic fight with absolutely no warning to Marko Zaror. What a great scene! The final three-on-one fight is great as well, and shows that Espinoza has really improved his camera work over time, just as Zaror has improved his fight choreography.

I won’t even get into the acrobatic moves Zaror pulls off throughout the film. For a man his size it shouldn’t be possible, but he’s simply amazing doing it.

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best):

CHOREOGRAPHY: (8) Marko Zaror and the stuntmen do a great job in this film. The fights are plentiful and mixed in well with all the other goings-on. Once again, the fight with the security guard rocked, and the fight with the three final opponents was also great. Good to see De Luca onscreen again.

STUNTWORK: (9) The stuntmen really came to play in this film, and do great work here, taking some nasty falls and sold the hits really well, and were even able to bring a little “thunder” to their parts.

STAR POWER: (9) Marko Zaror is getting better and better with every film he does. A great new talent. I hope he appears in Undisputed 4. The sky is the limit for Zaror, and  so help me Hollywood, you better not screw this up! Get this man a big budget film!

FINAL GRADE: (9) Mandrill is a fun 60’s style secret agent romp with great martial-art fight scenes and a star-making performance by Marko Zaror!  So when do we get a sequel?

 

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Review: King Of Fighters (2010)

Posted in Maggie Q, Ray Park, Will Yun Lee on February 18, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Maggie Q, Sean Faris, Ray Park, Francoise Yip, Will Yun Lee

Fight Choreography by David Leitch

Directed by Gordon Chan

Video games translated into films don’t often work, and for a good reason. Video games are interactive for the time you play them, and for a moment you can control that avatar’s destiny. Film is watched, and you have no say in what happens next. Mortal Kombat got really close with the first film, and horribly far away with the second, and Tekken got the characters right, and made the fights more realistic, but lacked few real martial artists. Let’s not even get into either Street Fighter film as they both have lowered the bar so bad almost anything would be better. Except for this film.

The film begins as we meet Mai Shiranui (Maggie Q), an undercover CIA agent who has infiltrated an illegal tournament known and the King Of Fighters. She has a relationship with the former champ Iori Yagami, and they both attend a showing of some ancient artifacts that when brought together can wake a creature called the Orochi. Of course bringing all of the artifacts together let’s the bad guy have a one stop shopping outing, and Rugal Bernstein (Park) takes full advantage, bursting in and stealing the artifacts before using them to jump into the…wait for it…tournament dimension. Mai and Iori must convince Kyo Kusanagi to help them as his family line enables him to control one of the artifacts, the Kusanagi sword. Together with fellow agent Terry Bogard they venture into the alternate dimension to stop Rugal…

I can’t even type the above with a straight face. Without a doubt, this film is supremely stupid. Let’s start with this tournament dimension. So…the fighters get there by turning on their magical bluetooth headset? I mean, really? Yes, MK went to another dimension too, but at least they really explained how…magic. This? Bluetooth devices and a laptop can do it, and if you don’t have those grab three ancient artifacts and they’ll do the same job. They barely explain how any of it works, and it just comes off looking really dumb. None of the characters are anyone you truly care about, Mai is so mysterious you never find out much about her, Iori just stands and looks serious, and Kyo just looks this side of clueless, and don’t even get me started on Terry Bogard. I’m not a fan of the game, but I did play it when I was younger, and that happened to be my favorite character, whom in the game is like 18 years old. In this film he’s a middle aged CIA agent, who looks ridiculous when it comes time for him to dress like the video game version. Overall the acting is just this side of terrible from everyone involved, and Director Gordon Chan (Thunderbolt) should be ashamed of this effort. I wish I could single out one actor in this for something, and surprise, surprise, I will.

Ray Park.

Dammit, man, what happened to you? After Star Wars I thought you would take the martial arts film world by storm with more exposure in a single film than most martial artists get, so what happened? I’ve actually seen proof you can act (no better or worse than Scott Adkins) and your moves are awesome, but you were never able to capitalize on your success. The best thing I’ve seen you in was a recent short film. Can someone get your ass into Undisputed 4?

The martial arts fights in this film are hilariously bad and the camerawork is dreadful on every one of them. It’s obvious that it’s meant to mask the lack of martial arts knowledge many of the stars have. Once again, can we stop having Hollywood actors who don’t know martial arts play martial artists? Can we not find a few that can passably act?  The point of a martial arts film is…to watch martial arts. Like people who love musicals watch them to see the musical dance numbers. That’s the entire point of watching. Are there people in musicals who can’t sing and dance? Rarely. So why isn’t that applied to martial arts films in the USA? (Hong Kong has started down that route too, and look at their film quality now.)

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best)

CHOREOGRAPHY: (0) Absolutely dreadful. No great fights of note, and none were shot well. I know kids who can make better fight scenes.

STUNTWORK: (2)  If they did a good job, how could you tell with the editing?

STAR POWER: (7) Maggie Q is always nice to look at, and Ray Park is a lesser version of himself, and Will Yun Lee is okay, and it’s always great to see Francoise Yip.

FINAL GRADE: (3) There isn’t much more to be said about KOF except to avoid it at all costs. If you can turn it into a drinking game, then there may be some value.

Review: I Am Bruce Lee (2012)

Posted in Brandon Lee, Bruce Lee, Cung Le, Dan Inosanto, Diana Lee Inosanto, Gina Carano, Robert Wall with tags , on February 12, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Bruce Lee, Brandon Lee, Shannon Lee, Linda Lee Cadwell, Dan Inosanto, Diana Lee Inosanto, Cung Le, Gina Carano, Manny Pacquiao, Robert Wall, Gene LeBell, Ed O’Neill, Mickey Rourke, Taboo, Kobe Bryant, Reginald Hudlin, Teri Tom, Jon Jones, Ray “Boom Boom Mancini”, Daniele Bolelli, Dana White, David Tadman, Dr. Paul Bowman. Richard Bustillo, Paul Rodriguez, Stephan Bonnar

Directed by Pete McCormack

“Water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”

-Bruce Lee

I Am Bruce Lee is a documentary that follows the life–and death–of Bruce Lee, cinema’s greatest martial arts star, and one of the greatest martial artists who ever lived. There have been other documentaries done over the years about Bruce, so how does this one stack up?

I’ll say it’s probably the best one yet, with one slight problem I’ll touch on shortly. The film really starts with slam bang intro that mixes scenes from Bruce’s films along with sound bytes from some of the stars being interviewed, and it will really get one salivating to see Bruce Lee’s films brought back to the big screen (you listening, whomever holds those rights? If Blade Runner and Star Wars can get rereleased in theaters, why not Bruce?). Then we go into Bruce’s life, and the film does a great job of going step by step through Bruce’s tumultuous time in China to his difficulties in America to when he met Linda and things started falling into place, but not without hard work and sacrifice.

The film then traces the TV shows he was a part of, some of which I had never heard of and wall thrilled to see scenes of, to his departure to China and his surprise at how popular the Green Hornet (or the Kato Show, as it was called there.) was, to his involvement–and problems–with Lo Wei (Jackie Chan would have his own set of problems with Lo Wei years later), to the success of The Big Boss, his other films in China, his matchup with Chuck Norris (I wonder why he wasn’t interviewed for this?) and his eventual death, which becomes the most affecting moments in the film as we see, maybe for the first time, what it meant to not just the fans, but to the people who were closest to Bruce.

Pete McCormack does a great job conducting the interviews and getting the maximum affect interspersing them among footage of Bruce Lee’s screen test, and his only real interview on the Pierre Berton Show, along with video footage in Bruce’s backyard to just pictures from his life before stardom hit. The scenes from all of Bruce’s films are done just right, and are fantastic to see and make perfect sense regarding the discussion or comment at that moment. The interviewees are people who are really Bruce Lee fans, and most are martial artists themselves, and they do a great job.

The only part of the film that rubbed me the wrong way came at about the midpoint of the film. A semi-debate started about whether Bruce was the Father of MMA or not. One side, notably those close to Bruce, are iffy and don’t seem to be comfortable even talking about it, but aren’t really convinced that he is. Dana White and the UFC group profess that he is, Gene LeBell definitely believes in fact that HE is the father of MMA rather than Bruce, and a lot of UFC fight footage is shown. This is a jarring moment that really pulled me out of the film, wondering why this was there. I then remembered that Spike TV helped produce this, and they promote many UFC events, so that explains that, but that is a discussion/debate that needed to be elsewhere, not in a documentary about Bruce Lee, regardless of how popular the MMA style is to today’s fight fans. Maybe MMA fans like it, but I found myself checking my watch at that point. When the film returns to Bruce’s life, it felt like coming back from a commercial break.

For those who are well-versed in Bruce Lee’s life there isn’t anything here that may be new to them, but to those who don’t know as much will find it a rich and exhilarating film. There were things I didn’t know, like the fact that Bruce and James Coburn had tried to location scout for The Silent Flute, eventually to be made by David Carradine, but the film was dropped because no locations could be found, and it was great to see the photos of Coburn and Bruce scouting the locales. I also didn’t know that Bruce had become a big child star in Hong Kong before he was forced to leave to America because of his problems after beating up the son of a police chief. I was aware he had made films as a child, but I didn’t know that he was a very famous child star, so there was an extra treat when the Kato Show came out and people could see the grown up Bruce Lee. I was also unaware of just how much the Manson murder spree affected him.

My personal, most affected moment of the film was after Bruce Lee’s death, and when Dan Inosanto and Richard Bustillo starting talking about it, you could really feel the shock and pain as they recount when they had heard about it and their feelings that day and both men looked as if they went right back to that moment and the hard days afterward. You may as well have tossed them both into a time machine and dated it July 20th, 1973. That is the moment that was driven home to me that while we think of Bruce Lee the martial arts savant, his family and friends were utterly crushed as they lost a husband, father, friend, and master.

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best):

Final Grade: (9) Overall, I am Bruce Lee delivers on its title. It is hard-hitting, philosophical, excellent even in its imperfections, emotional in its punches and always dancing around, and is fantastic fun to watch on the big screen, just as the man himself.

The film will have selected showings again on February 15th. You can check the listings of their showtimes here: http://www.iambruceleemovie.com/

Indie Kick Review: Yo Soy Un Hombre Loco (I am a Crazy Man)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on February 2, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Shawn Bernal, Emmanuel Manzanares

Fight Choreography By Vladislav Rimburg and Emmanuel Manzanares

Directed by Vladislav Rimburg

Yo Soy Un Hombre Loco is a tale of two assassins. One is the best, calling himself number one, and  the other wants to be the best, but to do so he’ll have to earn it, by facing off and killing the current number one. After months of training, is Killer #2 ready to take on Killer #1?

This short film, made by LBP Stunts Chicago, has a somber tone to it, as we are first taken through a moment with both killers at work, ending lives and kicking ass as the fantastic score accompanies it, and the slow motion contributes well to the proceedings to help create a lyrical short film, and perhaps the music is in  killer #1’s head, which makes sense as he dresses like a maestro and dances to a song only he can hear, and the effect works well.  The fights are well staged, and the stuntmen did a good job with their choreography as well.  The camera work is also a winner here, and never overdoes itself with odd angles. The camera shots taken never gets in the way of the action.

The story easy to follow and isn’t complicated, which is good for a short film such as this. Shawn Bernal does a great job as a sinister Number One, especially since he doesn’t say a word. Emmanuel Manzanares doesn’t have as much to do acting-wise, but is able to carry off the serious-killer-look.

Yo Soy Un Hombre Loco is a good no-budget/small budget short film that shows a duel between assassins and the victims they take out. Slick work here.

LBP Stunts Chicago is an Illinois based stunt team and you can find them at http://www.lbpstuntschicago.blogspot.com/