Sunday, April 5, 2009
DVDs to look out for in April.
JCVD - Release Date April 28th 2009
"Jean Claude Van Damme can't act" That's a quote that comes out of virtually everyone's mouth and I can't say I disagree with them. We're not exactly talking "avant garde" cinema when we think of movies like Bloodsport, Kickboxer, Double Impact, and so on. However, when I first heard about this film, I was intrigued. There was a buzz going around saying that this is Van Damme's ticket back to fame and he's proven to be a truly great actor. I have this theory about foreign artists breaking into the American market. Whenever they seem to come here to really "make it", they become a self parody and are chewed up and spit out. The American movie circuit has this habit of making wonderful foreign artists, jump through hoops to be noticed here and it sometimes ends up being their downfall. Think about it, John Woo was making some of the most incredible action films to have ever been seen in Hong Kong during the 1980's. Can you honestly name a film that he's made here in the U.S. that was worth seeing? or rather made any money? Aside from Face-Off; which wasn't all that great to begin with, you just can't think of any. Instead of allowing the person to flourish here and maybe surprise audiences, these people are stuck doing sequels and remakes. But I disgress, Jean Claude Van Damme may not have proven from the get go that he was a great actor...because he's never been given the chance.
Now that Hollywood has spit him out like the rest of the 90's stars, he's "forced" to do foreign films and films that get released in other countries and maybe straight to video here in the U.S. Which brings me to JCVD, a pet project that Van Damme has wanted to do for a long time. Director Mabrouk El Mechri shows us a side of the "Muscles from Brussels" like we've never seen. First with an incredible one take scene of Van Damme on a movie set, doing an action sequence that looks long, tiresome, and well...cheesy. We then see Van Damme arguing with the director saying it's too much and he can't do it. The director then says to his friend next to him "what does he think we're making? Citizen Kane?" In essence, that's Van Damme's career. Stuck doing films you wouldn't watch and are just laughable at this point. We then see he's going through a grueling custody battle with his wife and children, he's practically broke, and he's being passed on roles for an overweight Steven Seagal. Things aren't looking up for him at this point and the film amplifies that strongly. He then returns home; to Belgium, to oversee some financial duties and to just go home. A chance stop-in at a local post office to wire money to his lawyer in the states, gets him involved in a robbery/hostage situation. Ultimately, he's confused as the robber and a man desperate for cash due to his dire straits. In the post office though, something much bigger is happening besides the media circus outside. Van Damme is dealing with the initial robbery situation as well as his realization that he's not much of anything these days. It's shown in many different and subtle ways throughout the film. I'm not sure if it's because the film is in his native language or maybe he's more comfortable in his stomping grounds, but he really proves to be a commanding presence on screen. You can think that maybe since he's playing himself it's easier to act. That's not always the case, being that 50 Cent is even awful at playing 50 Cent in his biopic. What Van Damme does in this film though, is show that he's really trying to be taken seriously and is willing to start from the beginning. The man loves being an actor and he wants to show audiences the things he feels he never got to share with his fans. He expresses that tearfully and eloquently in a monologue that could've been scripted? could not have been, who knows? Touching and engaging, he expresses remorse for never giving the audience the joy he initially intended on giving with his films. He asks for one more chance and offers this film as a way to prove he's really trying.
I won't lie to you, after watching this, I'd definitely give this man another shot and wouldn't be surprised if he continues on a path to greater success. Ultimately, the film is a testament of a broken and fallen idol that wants to give back what he's taken. JCVD has a great mixture of humor, action at some point, and dramatic elements that you don't get to see everyday in a film such as this. It's not indulgent and it's not glorifying in any way. One thing you will get from watching this, a new found sense of respect for an actor that's been long forgotten. El Mechri's skilled direction is complimented by the hypnotic and almost dream-like cinematography by Pierre-Yves Bastard. The screen was literally a work of art that captured your attention at even the most tame moments of the film. It was a pleasure seeing this in theater and I can't wait till it's release on DVD.