Archive for the Larnell Stovall Category

Review: Kickboxer: Vengeance (2016)

Posted in Alain Moussi, Darren Shahlavi, Dave Bautista, Emmanuel Manzanares, Georges St. Pierre, Gina Carano, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Larnell Stovall, TJ Storm on September 12, 2016 by Michael S. Moore

kbv4

Starring Alain Moussi, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dave Bautista, Darren Shahlavi, Gina Carano, Georges St. Pierre, TJ Storm, Sara Malakul Lane

Fight Choreography by Larnell Stovall

Directed by John Stockwell

This is a particularly difficult film to attempt to review objectively; it’s a remake of the original, with many of the story beats the same, and still stars the main actor now in a supporting role, plus has one of the cheesiest/best dance scenes in the history of ever. Plus, I really liked the original, if for nostalgia’s sake.

Alain Moussi now takes over the role of Kurt Sloane, who serves as a fight assistant to his successful karate champion brother Eric Sloane (Shahlavi). When mysterious fight promoter Marcia offers Eric a lot of money and the chance to face Tong Po (Bautista), a Kickboxing Muay Thai champion, Eric accepts, much to the dismay of Kurt. Eric goes to Thailand, and Kurt eventually follows, only to see his brother killed in the ring by Tong Po. Seeking revenge, Kurt tries to murder Tong Po, but with the help of a local cop (Lane) he hides at the home of Eric’s trainer, Master Durand (JCVD). There Kurt learns how to kick a ton of ass and finally is good enough to challenge Tong Po to a duel to avenge his brother…

kbv

The film pretty much follows many of the beats of the original film, except for the beginning, which I won’t spoil here except to say that we first meet Kurt Sloane in a very dark place. There is a little time jumping, and the story doesn’t really allow me to connect to Kurt’s pain over his brother’s death, because their relationship isn’t touched on very much. Also a little baffling was the romance (sex) Kurt has with Liu, the Thai cop. It seems to just pop out of bloody nowhere, and there is no real resolution to it. Alain Moussi does a good job of playing Kurt Sloane, but doesn’t quite have the charisma that JCVD had in the same role. Speaking of which, JCVD was great every time he was onscreen, and in fact so much so I wish Master Durand was simply THE Kurt Sloane retired to train Kickboxers. JCVD even gets into a few scraps that show he’s still got it, but that’s no real surprise. I wonder now if JCVD being in the film hurts it rather than helps it.

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The late, great Darren Shahlavi, in his final role, is far too underutilized as Eric Sloane. I wish the film had not strayed from the original and kept Eric alive, which would have meant seeing a lot more of Darren. Gina Carano is in the film but is a complete waste. Her character could have been played by anyone. Sorry, if I see a prime Gina Carano in the credits of a film, I damn well expect to see her kick someone’s ass. The same can be said for Georges St. Pierre, who does have a few fight scenes, but there is one glaring edit of one of his fights— or some incident—that left me baffled as the film makes no explanation as to how he suddenly has  a broken arm after seeing him fairly healthy not many scenes before. Dave Bautista is okay as a much more menacing and intelligent Tong Po, but in the end he’s nothing more than a standard cookie-cutter baddie. Sara Malakul Lane is a stunningly beautiful woman, but her character doesn’t bring much to the story, except to slow things down too much with a useless side story.

The place where Kickboxer: Vengeance truly surpasses the original are the fight scenes, which many, and well shot and edited, and really gives Alain Moussi a chance to shine, but in the wake of Muay Thai films like Ong Bak or The Protector, some of it feels a little derivative. The best fight in the film, to me, is the fight between JCVD and Moussi. JCVD has better choreography here than I’ve ever seen this side of No Retreat, No Surrender.

Extra Bits:

The film was dedicated to Darren Shahlavi, and I was really happy to see they did that.

Yes, we are treated to JCVD’s original bar dance again, along with a side by side of Alain trying the same thing during the closing credits. Sorry, but JCVD STILL wins that dance-off, Alain!

What else did this film need? Stan Bush. No, really. Stan Bush for the win.

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 6.5

Kickboxer: Vengeance has its moments, but reminds me too much of the original, but JCVD shines in a limited role. Alain Moussi grew on me as the film went on. Any chance we see Sasha Mitchell in Kickboxer: Retaliation? I hope so.

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Review: Falcon Rising (2014)

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

falcon rising 1

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!

An Open letter to Kevin Feige and Marvel Comics…

Posted in Larnell Stovall on March 11, 2014 by Michael S. Moore

Iron_Fist

I’ll admit, nowadays I’m more of a DC comics reader, but I grew up reading mostly Marvel comics, and I’ve been nothing short of amazed by what Marvel has done with their live-action films. I’m now even more excited for the Marvel shows coming to Netflix. Jessica Jones. Daredevil. Power Man. Iron Fist. This is like a fanboy’s dream come true, especially for Daredevil and Iron Fist. Done right they could be amazing, especially since they can be R-rated. Done wrong and it could be disastrous. There is one additional thing that both Daredevil and Iron Fist need other than the right stars to be successful.

The right fight choreographer. And it just so happens I know who you need to take a serious look at.

Larnell Stovall.

Why him? I’ll get back to that once we explore why the right kind of fight choreographer is so important. The first is budget. A show like Daredevil can’t afford the expensive and unnecessary wirework that was done for the Ben Affleck film, but can afford to have memorable fight scenes choreographed by someone adept at it. The second is the audience. They know and will look for great martial arts fight scenes from both Daredevil and Iron Fist…especially Iron Fist. The normal crappy American-TV fight scenes won’t do. Not with films soon to be released like The Raid 2, Police Story 2013, and The Protector 2. That’s the level of choreography that Daredevil and Iron Fist need to have. Audiences will know the difference between what’s good and what looks fake and obviously “Hollywood”.

Daredevil

And that brings me back to Larnell Stovall.

Here is his latest show reel:

Mr. Stovall has choreographed many different kinds of fight scenes for many types of action films, and is adept at tailoring the fight scenes to the personalities of the characters. This means he will have Daredevil fight in a style that fits that character, and Iron Fist fight in a style that fits him. Larnell will also do a great job at making the fights look great onscreen. He will make the fighters onscreen the best special effect you could have, and bring another crowd into both projects in addition to the comic book crowd: the martial arts film fan. Undisputed 3 is considered to be one of the best American martial arts films of the the last decade, in no small part to the fight choreography of Mr. Stovall.

Mr. Feige, I know I’m just one person. But I am one person who has his foot dipped in both film and comics, and I urge you to give Larnell Stovall a very long look to help your new endeavor with Netflix succeed. I’ve reviewed hundreds of martial arts film and studied even more, and I think I can speak for many when I say that Larnell Stovall is the fight choreographer you need.

Michael S Moore

Review: Mortal Kombat Legacy Season 2

Posted in Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Eric Jacobus, Larnell Stovall, Mark Dacascos, Michelle Lee, Samantha Jo with tags , , , , on October 7, 2013 by Michael S. Moore

Mk S2 Kitana

Starring Mark Dacascos, Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa, Michelle Lee, Eric Jacobus, Casper Van Dien, Ian Anthony Dale, David Lee McInnis, Samantha Jo, Dan Southworth, Eric Steinburg, Brian Tee

Fight Choreography by Larnell Stovall

Directed by Kevin Tancharoen

Kevin Tancharoen took the internet by storm several years ago when he made a low budget short film Mortal Kombat: Rebirth and starred Michael Jai White, Matt Mullins, and Lateef Crowder that rebooted the Mortal Kombat series into a much darker, more violent property than the feature films ever were. The short film was a success, finally displaying a good martial arts fight scene and still retaining what made Mortal Kombat great. The powers that be at the WB were impressed, and rightly so. They gave Tancharoen the funds and resources to make a Mortal Kombat webseries. Bringing back Michael Jai White and Matt Mullins, along with Jeri Ryan and Darren Shalavi as Kano, matched together with the fight choreography of Larnell Stovall, and they had an online hit. The Mortal Kombat universe was successfully rebooted for a new generation.

So now we have Season 2. How did it fare this time around?

Mk S2 Lui Kang

The answer is…not nearly as good.

The series starts with the first appearance in the series of Liu Kang (Tee), the hero of the last tournament, now a violent drifter after the death of his fiancee at the hands of a group of thugs. His brother Kung Lao (Dacascos) comes to tell him that he will fight in the tournament, but Liu Kang, his soul darkened by revenge, wants nothing to do with the tournament or his brother. Meanwhile, Princess Kitana (Jo) is coming to terms with the revelations she discovered from last season about her true heritage, while Sub-Zero tries to reason with Skorpion about the attack on his family from last season. All of this at the backdrop of the tournament itself….

MK Season 2 Skorpion

So, let’s first get to the things I didn’t like. The stories overall were ok, but not nearly as good as last season, especially since Michael Jai White, Jeri Ryan, or Darren Shahlavi and their characters are absent, as we get an entire new group whose stories I could care less about, especially that of Kenshi. The story of how he got his sword is weak, and I could’ve done without knowing anything about him. Casper Van Dien doesn’t bring much of anything to the role that Matt Mullins couldn’t have done, and his fight scenes were unconvincing, unlike with Matt, who is a real martial artist. The Mileena/Kitana storyline didn’t follow through from last season with any real weight. The biggest disappointment I had with in regards to the Sub-Zero/Skorpion storyline, arguably the best of season 1, and it is here that I send a criticism straight to Kevin Tancharoen for not standing on the table and keeping their story in Japanese with English subtitles (maybe he did try to argue for it), which completely took me out of the scenes in Japan. I would ask anyone to watch the Season 1 Episodes and Season 2 and tell me a large piece of authenticity wasn’t lost. Tack onto that how their story ends this season, and it was infuriating, especially if you’re a Sub-Zero fan.

MK S2 Shang Tsung

Now for what I liked. Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa as Shang Tsung. CHT is always great, and even more so here, once again playing the badass of the MK universe, and his line readings are as awesome as ever. Mark Dacascos was also cool as Kung Lao, even if he didn’t get much to do in this season. I liked the Liu Kang story more than I thought I would, and it was a refreshing new take on the hero of earth realm. I won’t ruin the surprise the final episode has in story for Liu Kang fans, but it will make Season 3 really interesting. Also, and this goes into the like and dislike category, Eric Jacobus as Stryker. I thought he did a great acting job, much better than many of the other stars, and his fight with Liu Kang was short, but very good. What I didn’t like was that he didn’t get an episode establishing his character, unlike virtually everyone else. Hopefully next season will fix this (and they keep Eric in the part, and not try to replace him like they did with Mullins. You listening, Warner Brothers?)

The fight scenes were pretty good, the best being Kenshi versus Ermac and Kitana versus Mileena. Everyone did a fantastic job here. I was a bit disappointed in the Skorpion/Sub Zero fight. I can’t put my finger on it, but it wasn’t as good to be as the Season 1 meeting between the two ( I realize Sub-Zero was Quan Chi in season 1, but still…)

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 6

It was hard to care with so many cast members from Season 1 gone, and the Skorpion/Sub-Zero story was disappointing. I think there are some good seeds planted for Season 3, but it’ll require better storytelling that what’s on hand here. The fights kept this score from being lower.

 

So why isn’t Matt Mullins playing Johnny Cage?

Posted in Larnell Stovall, Matt Mullins with tags , on February 22, 2013 by Michael S. Moore

Johnny Cage

Put simply? The powers that be at Warner Bros f**ked this up. I contacted Matt and he told me that, basically, he wasn’t a big enough “name actor” (because Casper Van Dien is such a big star, right?). Never mind that he fit the part, and more importantly, IS A REAL MARTIAL ARTIST. Now we can put away any thought of a possible rematch with Michael Jai White (they fought at the end of Blood and Bone). I know it’s a business, and as Matt said, it’s tough out there, but dammit, they made such great moves, getting Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa back as Shang Tsung, reminding Marc Dacascos that he actually knows martial arts (I jest, sorta) and casting him as Kung Lao, but this is a bad misstep that wasn’t necessary. Properties like Mortal Kombat don’t need “name” stars unless they come from the martial arts world. Season 1 got by without a big name star, and Van Dien, no offense to him, isn’t anywhere near that. I doubt most kids even know who he is. I can only hope Larnell Stovall can dip into his magic bag and make CVD look good on screen.

For now, though, we won’t have Matt, but you know what? You can catch Matt starring opposite Michael Jai White, Darren Shahlavi and Scott Adkins in the Metal Hurlant Chronicles, and White Tiger, a film with Cynthia Rothrock and Don “The Dragon” Wilson (I’ll have more on this film later), and he’s also in the upcoming film King of Vajara. In other words, Matt’s keeping himself busy!

-Michael

 

Review: Never Back Down 2 (2011)

Posted in Larnell Stovall, Michael Jai White with tags , , on March 30, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Michael Jai White, Dean Geyer, Alex Meraz, Todd Duffee

Fight Choreography by Larnell Stovall

Directed by Michael Jai White
Michael Jai White has been kicking ass ever since, well, ever. Films like Spawn, Silverhawk, and more have shows that he is a skilled martial artist and actor. He began to take his career into his own hands with the kickass Undisputed 2, and then Blood and Bone, to the terrific Black Dynamite.

Larnell Stovall first came to the attention to many in the world of fight choreography with Undisputed 3, Bunraku and then with Mortal Kombat: Legacy webseries. His star in the world of martial arts cinema is rising more and more.

So how both of them drove this film off a god***n cliff escapes me.

First, a caveat: I’m not a fan of UFC, Pride, or any of that stuff. While I respect mixed-martial arts as a style I don’t like the overly arrogant macho-aggressive attitude that accompanies many within the MMA culture. Maybe that attitude helps in regards to ring fighting, but it’s not something I care for, so please keep that in mind as you read this review.

The film opens as we find Mike Stokes (Geyer) arriving at college, and already we can see that he’s a troubled kid, specifically in regards to his father. As the film goes on we find out what his problem with his Dad is, and any mention of it drives Stokes into fits of anger and rage. He soon gets involved with a group of fighters all trained by an ex-con named Case Walker (MJW) a former professional MMA fighter who could have been great had it not been for his past, which is revealed as the film goes on. The other fighters include Zack Gomes, a former boxer who may lose his sight if he fights again, and whose girlfriend catches Stokes’ eye. There is also big man Tim Newhouse (Duffee) whose family is in crisis as his mother is forced to work in a strip clip to provide for the family (no mention of what happened to his father) and last is the unhinged comic book clerk Justin Epstein who quickly shows a darker side once he feels he’s learned all he needs to from Case. Everything culminates in The Beatdown, an underground MMA fighting tournament. Stokes has to face both rival Gomes and the twisted Epstein while Case tries to survive a group of douchebag cops determined to run him out of town, and come to terms with his past…

The problems with this film really starts with the script, in which some of the plots go nowhere, or end in a “meh”. The dialog flies the gamut from simple to just plain bad. Case had the most interesting story of any of the fighters, and should have been the main character, but since this is following a formula of concentrating on the young fighters, that couldn’t happen, which is almost this film’s biggest flaw. The acting ranges from good (MJW) to bad (everyone else). None of the primary characters felt real, just archetypes. MJW’s directorial debut is technically good, and the camera takes good angles on everything, but the direction of the actors may have been part of the problems. The background actors were just plain horrid, and many dramatic scenes involving the principals didn’t have the “oomph” they needed. That, and the biggest problem is that since he is directing, he isn’t in front of the camera, where he works best.

The fight choreography is just plain disappointing. Yes, it may be MMA, but somewhere along the way Stovall forgot that this has to be an entertaining film first. He remembered this with Undisputed 3, which carried fighting that included many MMA-style moves, but it was dynamic movement that was entertaining to watch on film. Here he seems to lose focus on this, except for one fight: Case Walker versus a group of cops. Of any fight in this film this fight felt right. This fight was the Blood and Bone type of fight I wanted to see from MJW. It was good from a cinematic standpoint, and once again allowed us to see MJW in action doing what he does best! As I watched, I came to the conclusion that if I want to see an MMA fight, I’ll watch it on pay-per-view. I don’t need or want to see a choreographed version of it.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (4) Outside of the one MJW fight, none of the fights are impressive or even interesting. I hold Stovall to a high standard, and expected more than this. He simply forgot to make the fights entertaining–to everyone.

STUNTWORK: (5) The work here was decent, but nothing to write home about.

STAR POWER: (5) MJW is the biggest star here, and as for the youngsters, none of the them made an impression on me.

FINAL GRADE: (5) Michael Jai White is barely in this film, and has one good fight. The rest of the film features uninteresting characters and fights, and unlike many of MJW’s other films, this one deserves to be a DTV film.