Mandrill (US - BD RA)
Gabe takes a flying kick to the head with this old school action throwback...
When he was a child a young man named Antonio (Marko Zaror) witnessed his parents brutally murdered at the hands of underground criminals. Spurred by bloodthirsty vengeance and a love of film, Antonio trains and is transformed into a relentless bounty hunter, code-named ‘Mandrill’. Mandrill's only weakness is beautiful women, so he asks his uncle to instruct him in the arts of seduction. Years later, Mandrill is hired to capture a powerful Mafioso casino owner, and he soon discovers that he is the man who Mandrill has searched for all these years – The Cyclops. But upon meeting Dominik Del Solar (Celine Reymond), the beautiful daughter of The Cyclops, Mandrill begins an impossible romance, which becomes the only obstacle on his road to his revenge.
Mandrill is a normally entertaining mash-up of audio-visual excess. It’s not quite fetishistic or over-the-top enough to belong in the Grindhouse canon of features ( Death Proof, Planet Terror, Hobo with a Shotgun, Machete), but it comes awfully close, and would work just fine on a quintuple feature. This tone hits as quickly as the opening credits roll out over relatively static shots of the title character calmly driving to soulful music, in homage to dozens of ‘70s B-action flicks, and is officially hammered home when writer/director Ernesto Díaz Espinoza later juxtaposes his titles with faux footage from a faux trailer from a faux film entitled Codigo Carpe Diem. Throughout the film Espinoza recalls the faded, noisy, chroma-enhanced footage in clever ways, establishing the fictional star ‘John Colt’ as Mandrill’s inspiration and personal yardstick. This analogue-damaged look is also used as a visual exclamation point on particularly dramatic moments, often signifying a sort of pause where a commercial break would be inserted had the film been airing on Chilean television. The tone works best when Espinoza is sticking to ‘70s and ‘80s style filmmaking tactics, and falls apart a bit whenever he implements too many unattractive slow motion and digital effects.
Espinoza takes many pages from Tarantino’s Kill Bill playbook, and though he never meets with the same level of success, he impresses by snagging more storytelling cues than visual cues. The Mandrill character is given a compelling sense of mythology, despite the clichéd nature of his flashbacks, and the film attempts to move from homage-driven spoof to more substantial melodrama in its third act. It’s never possible to care quite as much about any of these characters as Tarantino’s, but the contextualization of elements is effective and well balanced. Espinoza has quite a few things in his corner that set the film apart from less successful modern camp interpretations of older action flicks. The action sequences, especially any involving hand to hand combat, are spectacularly choreographed and shot (outside the unnecessary slow motion inserts). There is a real sense of geography and tangibility to the occasionally ridiculous feats of physicality, and the acrobatics are usually more thrilling than silly. The plot and dialogue leave something to be desired, but even when he allows his prose to get away from him, Espinoza never falters to Troy Duffy levels of sub-Tarantino yarbling and the flashback structure is easy to follow. Lead actor Marko Zaror is another valuable asset, and clearly has the physical skills, creating a believably efficient badass despite his extremely slick appearance. His performance is also surprisingly believably, given the film’s proclivity for camp, and helps the story move from spoof into melodrama. His mission is rarely relatable and his romance with Celine Reymond develops all too quickly, but he has genuine charisma and I’m looking forward to seeing him more.
Mandrill hits Blu-ray in the form of an ultra crisp, digital source to digital format, 1080p, 2.35:1 transfer that will leave most eyeballs pleased as punch. The colour palette is relatively eclectic from location to location, but also obviously treated to put emphasis on graphic, unnatural hues. Skin tones and other warm hues are usually slathered in gold, then highlighted with more neon-ish hues, like reds, pinks and blues. Though brief, there are also some incredibly lush and poppy greens. Flashback scenes are usually more green or blue overall, and feature more colour blends on average. The harsh contrast levels lead to some incredibly rich black levels, but does occasionally blow out some of the whites in a particularly noisy fashion I’m guessing was not intended (this is most common in darker sequences). The bulk of the film isn’t given the artificial print damage treatment the Grindhouse movies got, outside the chroma damaged footage from the movies of Mandrill’s childhood, but flashback footage is covered in additional grain to help further set it apart from the extremely clean and highly detailed bulk of the film. The final act sees every visual rule fly out the window as the heat of the colours is steadily cranked, the degree of digital noise is heavily pushed, and contrast is pressed to harsher levels. The colours here end up especially graphic, and detail levels become much less important. There’s a hint of halo on some of the harshest blacks, and minor ghosting effects, but otherwise this transfer is pretty immaculate.
This disc is also fitted with dual DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtracks, one in the original Spanish, and the other in dubbed English. This review pertains to the Spanish track, as I see no reason to bother with a dubbed track on such a recent release. Ironically enough, however, my only real issue with the Spanish track is that dialogue rarely sounds natural. Lip-sync appears to match for the most part, but the actual sound is usually ADR affected, and irregularly even-toned, volume wise. This is sort of a symptom of the track’s slightly thin sound design, but creates an unfortunate post-dubbed feel. Otherwise, things are fine, just not extremely expressive. The stereo and surround channels are given stuff to do, but the bulk of the sound comes from the center speaker. Occasionally an action sequence will feature a stray directional effect, especially during the Wachowski Siblings inspired slow motion inserts. One of the more impressive surround tricks is the entirely believable sound of an actress singing karaoke. Her voice and the music bleed out from the center smoothly, and echo effectively into the surrounds. For the most part the stereo and surround channels are devoted to the musical score, which is composed by one ‘Rocco’ (band, man or woman, I’m not sure). This is a mostly retro score that appropriately captures the nature and vibe of Bond flicks, and a cavalcade of Ennio Moricone scored Euro-thrillers. The music looms quite large, and is quite vibrant and warm throughout the channels, including punchy LFE support, and rear channel echo effects.
The extras begin with a raw behind the scenes reel (2:30, SD). This features random footage of the crew capturing mostly action beats, which at the very least proves Marko Zaror was able to consistently flip his body around mid-air without the assistance of wires or trampolines. Anatomy of a Fight Scene (7:20, SD) features a look at the filming of three of the films cooler fights, including practice, discussion amongst the actors and stuntmen, and various shots of the crew prepping the scenes. Extras end with a trailer, and trailers for other Magnolia releases.
Mandrill is a modestly entertaining genre throwback that succeeds in large part due to a standout performance from star Marko Zaror, whose charisma and physical talents often make up for a lack of originality in the screenplay. Writer/director Ernesto Díaz Espinoza has visual talents, and his affection for film is infectious. This Blu-ray disc looks quite sharp and vibrant, but features some minor twinges in audio (I’m pretty sure these were part of the original film, not the fault of the Blu-ray), and doesn’t have much in the way of extras.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 28th February 2012
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Spanish and English
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Extras: Behind the Scenes, Anatomy of a Fight Scene, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Ernesto Díaz Espinoza
Cast: Marko Zaror, Celine Reymond, Alejandro Castillo
Length: 88 minutes
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