Rza

Brick Mansions

brick-mansions-poster-paul-walker-official

2014

EuropaCorp/Warner Bros./Relativity Media

Directed by Camille Delamarre

Produced by Luc Besson, Ryan Kavanaugh and Tucker Tooley

Written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen

I’m gonna save you a lot of time if you want to go back to web surfing, Tweeting or Facebooking. If you’ve seen the 2004 French action film “District B13” then there is absolutely no reason for you to spend your time and money on BRICK MANSIONS. Not that it’s a bad movie, mind you. BRICK MANSIONS is the filmic equivalent of a Big Mac, large order of fries and a large Coke and if that’s what you’re in the mood for, then it’s all good. Turns out that I just happened to be in that mood and so, even though I’ve seen “District B13” (It’s currently available for streaming on Netflix, along with the sequel “District B13: Ultimatum”) I enjoyed BRICK MANSIONS for what it was.

In the near future, organized crime, uncontrollable violence due to gang warfare and drug dealing has turned the Detroit inner city housing project of Brick Mansions into a war zone. Unable to deal with the savagery, the authorities build a forty foot high containment wall around Brick Mansions, sealing it off from the rest of Detroit. The police set up roadblocks and checkpoints to prevent anybody from going in or out of Brick Mansions. It is controlled completely by the ganglords who rule like feudal lords over those citizens who were too poor to leave when they had the chance.

Undercover police officer Damien Collier (Paul Walker) dreams of the day when he can take down Tremaine Alexander (RZA) drug kingpin and arms dealer who is the unofficial mayor of Brick Mansions. Collier believes Alexander is responsible for his father’s death. Collier gets his chance to get close to Alexander when a genuine mission impossible is handed to him. Alexander has stolen a prototype neutron bomb that is going to detonate in 12 hours. Collier is assigned to get to the bomb and defuse it via a numeric code that will be given to him if he reaches the bomb in time.

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That’s a mighty big if but Collier is given help to do his job in the form of Lino Dupree (David Belle) a man of superhuman agility and athleticism who has taken it upon himself to stop Alexander’s drug dealing on his block. Collier isn’t sure he wants Dupree’s help once he finds out that Dupree killed a cop (don’t shed any tears, he was as dirty as a Kansas City whorehouse) and Dupree isn’t happy about teaming up with a cop as he distrusts any and all authority. All that goes out the window when they find out that Alexander has bolted the bomb to a Russian missile he just happens to have lying around and has tied Lino’s girlfriend Lola (Catalina Denis) to the missile. Alexander wants $30 million and if he doesn’t get it, he’s going to fire the missile right into downtown Detroit. From then on it’s a race against time as our heroes have to battle their way through Alexander’s limitless supply of thugs to get to that bomb before it goes off.

And that’s all there is to it. BRICK MANSIONS doesn’t waste a lot of time in setting up the situation and introducing our characters then putting them into play. This is a stripped down action movie with just enough characterization so that we understand why Collier and Dupree are doing what they’re doing and no more. Anything else we need to know, we pick up along the way.

BRICK MANSIONS is one of the movies completed by Paul Walker before his tragically untimely death and it’s by no means a demanding role but one he does effectively. He’s not trying to build a character here and actually, with a little tweaking of the script and changing the name, this movie could easily have been sold a prequel to the “Fast and Furious” franchise as an adventure Brian O’Conner had before he hooked up with Dominic Toretto and his crew. That’s how similar the Collier character is to O’Conner. Walker doesn’t even try to give this guy a different look from O’Conner.  In fact, Walker goes through much of the movie wearing the same T-shirt, jeans and sneakers I’m pretty damn sure he wore in “Fast Five” and there’s two highly contrived car chases that weren’t in the original movie that I’m positive were placed in this one solely to get Paul Walker behind the wheel.

Paul Walker i Brick Mansions

Even though it was ten years since he starred in the original, David Belle doesn’t look as if he’s aged a day or slowed down a bit since then. Mr. Belle is one of the founders of parkour and his film work has helped to spread the art of parkour around the world. And with good reason. Watching him in motion is nothing less than breathtaking and reminds us that the best special effect in the world is the human body. In BRICK MANSIONS, David Belle recreates the opening scene in “DistrictB13” where after destroying 20 kilos of cocaine with bleach he escapes a gang of vicious thugs using parkour. Having seen the original just a couple of days ago, that scene is still fresh in my mind and it looked to me like Mr. Belle hadn’t lost a step in the recreation. The man looks as if he’s defying gravity as he leaps from rooftop to rooftop, swings from fire escape to fire escape, runs, leaps and dives in and out of windows. It’s exhilarating. But it’s too bad there’s not more it. One reason to watch “District B13” is because of the amazing parkour performed not only by David Belle but by his co-star in that movie, Cyril Raffaelli.

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RZA walks away with the “Who The Hell Let HIM In This Movie?” award. I give him big ups for not playing your stereotypical drug kingpin. Tremaine Alexander has unexpected depth and solid motivation for why he does what he does that pays off in the movie’s third act which seemed to me took the movie in a sudden direction wanting to become a profound statement on class in American society. Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Black Belt holder Ayisha Issa starts out promisingly as what could have been a James Bond type of supervillain enforcer but ultimately disappoints with how really little she’s given to do once you stop and think about it.
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So should you see BRICK MANSIONS? Let me put it to you this way: if you’ve got ninety minutes to kill and you can catch a matinee, I say why not?  I myself have a great affection for this type of action movie I’m glad to see has come back to theaters. Action movies with no wires, no CGI, not filmed on virtual sets and with practical effects and real stuntmen doing real stunts. But it’s by no means a movie you have to rush out to see. So if you’d rather wait to Netflix it, by all means, do so. In the meantime, watch “District B13” You’ll enjoy it, trust me.

 PG-13

90 Minutes

 

The Man With The Iron Fists

2012

Universal Pictures

Directed by Rza

Produced by Eli Roth and Marc Abraham

Written by Rza and Eli Roth

It’s not necessary for you to have watched 1970’s Kung Fu movies as obsessively as I did and still do to enjoy THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS but it sure doesn’t hurt. This is the real thing in that while watching it I actually felt like I was in a 42end St. grindhouse back in the ‘70’s. The only thing missing was the smell of pot and the snoring of a wino in the last row. The style and characters and story are such vintage Kung Fu movie swave that it’s easy to just settle back and enjoy the sheer outrageousness on the screen.

In the small community of Jungle Village there is constant warfare between various clans battling for supremacy. The Lion Clan is the most powerful and due to special weapons created by Thaddeus the Blacksmith (Rza) they are able to defeat their hated enemies and prepare for a huge shipment of gold bullion that is to be transported through their village. It’s guarded by The Geminis (Andrew Lin and Grace Huang) and an army of warriors equipped with rapid firing crossbows. But this doesn’t deter Silver Lion (Byron Mann) the new leader of The Lion Clan. What does worry him is that Zen Yi, The X-Blade (Rick Yune) is returning to Jungle Village to investigate his father’s highly suspicious death. Silver Lion hires Brass Body (David Bautista) a seven foot tall mercenary who backs up his superhuman strength with the supernatural ability to turn his body into living brass to kill Zen Yi.

Meanwhile, a mysterious stranger right out of a Sergio Leone western comes to town. Jack Knife (Russell Crowe) apparently is there only to smoke opium and bang as many of Madam Blossom’s (Lucy Liu) whores as he can. But his hedonistic behavior hides a cunning, devious mind that has schemes on getting the gold himself.

Thaddeus is content to stay out of the conflict. He only cares about earning enough gold through his blacksmithing to buy his girlfriend Lady Silk (Jamie Chung) out of Madame Blossom’s  service and build a new life together far away from Jungle Village. But Thaddeus soon learns that everybody must pick a side in the epic battle for possession of the gold. Even him.

THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS starts out fast and strong and never slows down it’s plot for an instant. There’s always something interesting happening on screen, whether it’s a knock-down-drag-out beatdown or Russell Crowe getting his freak on or Silver Lion scheming with a mysterious hooded man to get the gold. All the while Rza is narrating in a voice that sounds nothing like how I imagine a black man in the 19th Century would sound. Matter of fact, Thaddeus sounds like he came to Jungle Village straight from Brooklyn’s Brownsville. But oddly enough, it just adds to the fun of the movie which also borrows heavily from spaghetti westerns. It’s also cool how each of the characters have their own special weapons with the standouts being the combined Bowie knife/pistol carried by Jack Knife or the armored suit that is made up of bladed weapons worn by Zen-Yi which gives him his nickname of The X-Blade.

You don’t go to a movie like this for the acting but it helps when it’s as good as it is here. Madame Blossom is a role Lucy Liu could play in her sleep but she throws herself into it fully. Rza was a little too laid back for me to be the main character but I think it was a wise move for him to let the more experienced actors carry the bulk of the movie. Rick Yune and the Master Killer himself, Gordon Liu also do solid acting jobs. I had a lot of fun with Byron Mann as Silver Lion because if there’s one thing I love, it’s a bad guy who enjoys being a bad guy. He struts through the movie with a psychotic grin and hair that any member of an 80’s heavy metal band would envy.

But nobody in the movie throws himself into their role with as much gusto as Russell Crowe. He looks as if he’s having the time of his life being in a Kung Fu movie and for much of the movie’s running time we’re not sure what the deal is with this guy Jack Knife. When he’s not drinking or smoking dope or banging whores he’s creeping around the village in disguise, quietly gathering information and observing what’s going on.

So should you see THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS? Absolutely. I loved how this movie is such an unashamed throwback to those wonderful 70’s Kung Fu movies done with style, fun and substance. Everybody looks as if they had a great time making it and from the sound of it the audience I watched the movie with had an equally good time watching it. I know I did.

96 minutes

Rated R