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Well its been a long time since i watched a Van damme movie and not
blinked! the past 10 years, apart from replicant and wake of death have
been average at best. This is not a classic style van damme movie, no
fighting competitions or long lost twins! but its what we should expect
from his 25 year plus journey through the world of movies. A simple,
well told, classy movie that ticks all the boxes.
As a fan for over 20 years i have experienced the highs and lows of his movies and have waited for a movie like this. We deserve the best from van damme, and he deserves the best from himself. I love the scene when he is talking to his agent, it sums up the past 10 movies! It made me smile, laugh and almost cry! JC is quite simply superb and proves (finally) that he deserves respect and recognition.
I thank the director, cast, producers and JC himself for giving us a masterpiece and something we can hold up and say, as true fans, "this is why we love him" The only problem now is, we will always expect this standard of movie from him!
When i was a kid i was a huge fan of van Damme. He was my hero, my idol, i wanted to kick just like him. I watched every movie that was and came out multiple times with my best friend who felt just like me about Jean Claude. Now, 16 years later or so i don't care for his movies so much anymore. I think i've only seen 3 or 4 of his movies since 2000. The little me inside me still jumps up and down when i hear his name but nowadays things like story, script and good acting matter to me too, and let's be honest, you won't really find this in a van Damme flick, not in high quantities anyway. And next to that, he isn't the young, energetic fighter i used to adore as a kid. But even now he's still a fighter, he still trains and he keeps in physical shape. He can still kick a cigarette out of someone's mouth even though it gets to be a little harder for him then it used to be, and i can respect that. And after seeing JCVD i can only say that the respect i have for this guy has grown exponentially. Not because he can still kick some ass but because he showed us he also is just a man of flesh and blood like you and me and he also makes mistakes and bad decisions. I don't see JCVD as a movie as much but more as a bearing of the heart and soul shown through the medium of motion picture, just using it as a mere tool for something much more. I will even go as far as to say that Jean Claude still cannot act after JCVD, but he did not act in JCVD, he played himself, and that is what makes him so good in this movie. His emotional monologue near the end shows proof of this and was hands down the high point of JCVD. Before this point i was planning on giving this movie an 8 out of 10 because the movie itself was involving and subtle, it was good, but after Jean Claude pored his heart out he really touched me. Not only because the small tough guy broke all his walls down on the spot and showed his real fragile self but also because he shows us he's just another human being like us with regrets and troubles. Just for that i'll be adding 2 points to the score. Normally i never give a perfect 10 but this time i'll be making an exception. The guy deserves it. I also expect this will be the last time we'll see one of his movies be as good as this one and score this high because this can only be done once by one person. But hopefully he'll get a little more respect now and a second chance just like Micky Rourke got after the Wrestler.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Jean Claude Van Damme goes meta as Jean Claude Van Damme, aging failing
broke divorcing tired out 40 year old action star of b-movies and
sudden hostage at a post office in his homeland of Belgium, now forced
to "confront his own career." I put the latter in quotes because that's
how the drama of this movie is often described, which can lead to the
impression that you'll still get to see JCVD kick ass and take names.
Actually, Van Damme is smarter than that and gives you something more
real instead: a lift into the rafters of the set as he pours out his
heart and soul to the audience and exclaims, "this is not a movie, this
is real." And whereas I expected that, still being a Van Damme movie,
JCVD would eventually have some comical/parody action ending, I'm
mighty pleased with what you get instead.
Van Damme was named the second best performer of 2008 for this role by Time Magazine, and whereas he's no Phillip Seymour Hoffman, he really did a good job. The key thing here is sincerity--Van Damme isn't playing around to try to give himself some last minute critical cred, he's actually taking a moment to figure himself out, and it works. You actually manage to feel really sorry for the guy, and hope things get better for him.
Meanwhile, the directing is quite superb. Washed out overexposures and long takes add an existential tone to an already existential movie, and Mabrouk El Mechri has obviously seen him some Dog Day Afternoon, knowing how to build up suspense with few actual gunshots and no explosions. For those who absolutely HAVE to see Van Damme action out there, there's the opening scene, which I think is all in one take. The rest of it is well-crafted drama and surprisingly canny jump-cuts. The back-and-forth quality of the script isn't quite as effective as I think Van Damme and El Mechri think, but it does service to the alienation of the script.
So yes. Van Damme's made, essentially, an art house movie, and successfully, too. I actually can't wait for this to come out on DVD so that I can trick some unwary customers into watching it, because it's always fun messing around with people's expectations.
There's nothing worse than starting out a film review with a massive
cliché like "Van Damme like we've never seen him before," but that's
exactly what happens in JCVD, his startlingly autobiographical new film
in which he plays himself. With well-known movie stars (or characters),
one of the most interesting things that they can do is level with us so
we can relate to them on a realistic level, when they approach the
reality of who or what they are and we see them looking at themselves
through our eyes. If this weren't true, celebrity interviews would
never be interesting.
In JCVD, Van Damme plays himself in his hometown. He is routinely stopped by excited fans who asks for pictures and autographs, but we also learn of a bitter legal battle in which he is losing custody of his daughter, major financial problems and the emotional effects of the downward spiral of his career. Last night I watched Steven Seagal's newest film Against the Dark, and I can tell you, it would have been a much better career move for Seagal to have made a film about his own spiraling career rather than star in another movie that is speeding up the freefall.
The movie opens with a preposterously long action sequence in which Van Damme is hurtling through an elaborate action set like your typical action b-movie hero, but all of the moves are a little bit off. The timing isn't quite right, punches miss, and he's not exactly on his marks. It doesn't look well for the movie, until a set wall tumbles over and a panting Van Damme complains to the director (a childish snob more interested in throwing darts at a picture of Hollywood than he is in the movie he is supposed to be making - this tiny character is one of the movie's only real weak spots) that he's 47 years old and it's really hard for him to do everything in one take.
He leaves the set and we follow him into some version of his real life. There is a scene where he is negotiating with his agent, and he explains that he doesn't want to work in bad movies anymore where the majority of the entire budget is taken up by his own salary. "I'll work for scale," he says, "just get me into a studio." We also learn of a rivalry between himself and Seagal where any excessive negotiating will just result in roles going to Seagal, who has "promised to cut off his ponytail for the first time."
One day while trying to secure legal fees, he goes to the bank and walks right into the middle of a robbery, and the robbers seize the opportunity to make it seem as though Van Damme were the criminal, leading to a tense stand-off involving the media, the entire town, and his mother. Van Damme has made a career out of being a tough guy, so it takes a particular style of bravery to make a movie about him as a real man in a situation where he is helpless to stop the violence that's taking place around him. He's not a superhuman, he's just a guy, and when he gets hit in the side of the head with a handgun it will lay him out just like anyone else.
But this is a totally different tact than he has ever taken before, it's a totally different idea, in fact, than I can ever remember seeing in any movie. He has one scene that is an artsy monologue given directly to the camera that a lot of critics have complained about, but it is one of the best shots of the year, one of the most unflinchingly honest performances I've ever seen from an action movie star, and by far the single best piece of acting that Van Damme has ever done in his career.
I don't know how much of this is real about Van Damme's real life, but I love the way he pokes fun at himself and his genre, particularly his relationship with Seagal. But it's important to realize that not all of this is poking fun. It is a scathingly honest admittance of the realities of Van Damme's life and the realities of the kinds of movies that he makes, and even what they all add up to.
In a way, JCVD attacks not only the limitations of Van Damme's own career, but the shallowness and meaninglessness of so much of Hollywood at large. From that dart board at the beginning of the movie to Van Damme's movie-star fantasy near the very end of the film, it shows us how much more effective and meaningful real life can be than movie magic. There is a place for both, but when one is forgotten completely, something important is lost.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Wow. That's what I was thinking after the opening title sequence, and that word never left my mind as I watched JCVD. The new Jean Claude Van Damme movie combines great action, gritty drama, and some actually good acting from everyone, especially Van Damme. From the opening action movie set sequence all the way to the famous 4 minute monologue, the movie is so unconventional and clever that it sets it apart from any straight to video release and bumps it up with the elite action films. I was really surprised how much similar this film is to Dog Day Afternoon, in terms of the setup and dramatic tension (Even the main villain looks like John Cazale from DDA). Overall, a great surprise for modern cinema. Check it out now and then buy it on DVD!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
So can JCVD act? Yes, JCVD can. Better than PSH? No. Better than DDL?
Hell, no. Better than SS? Yes: without a doubt. But to be fair, the
pony-tailed man who once wooed a woman by furbishing her bee colony
with new hives in "Fire Down Below", never had a star vehicle quite
like "JCVD". About Jean-Claude Van Damme, "Nowhere to Run" co-star
Rosanna Arquette had this to say: "He does what he does very well-
kickboxing and stuff- but acting is not his forte. Neither is being
humble." While Van Damme lacks the necessary thespian powers to slip
into Truman Capote's skin, or deliver a line like, "I WILL FIND YOU!"
without making us laugh, the former kickboxing champion, dubbed "The
Muscles from Brussels", does a commendable job of playing himself. In
"JCVD", the much-maligned actor humbles himself throughout this
celluloidal testimony to his own mediocrity, both personal and
professional-wise, in which the aging action-hero finds himself
confronted by an incidental brush with life imitating art, seemingly as
punishment for making disposable movies that cater to the lowest common
At a child-custody hearing, the actor's daughter takes the witness stand and confesses to being embarrassed by his father's career. So exactly what is Little Miss Hollywood embarrassed about? Opening like Robert Zemeckis' "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?", we see Van Damme in all his glory, kicking ass and saving the girl, improbably invincible to the mayhem that surrounds him, before a prop malfunctions, revealing the artifice for what it is, a mere take. It's this sort of kinetic display, more akin to a live-action cartoon than a real film with laughter and tears, which causes the child to bury her head in shame. It's all so cheesy. At the same hearing, the prosecution reduces the Van Damme oeuvre to its unifying base element: violence, as prevailing evidence of the actor's unfitness to be the child's primary caretaker.
When Van Damme makes a routine stop to withdraw money at a post office, the actor finds himself in the preposterous scenario of being confused for another celebrity felon like O.J. Simpson, or worse, ex-childhood star Dana Plato. The authorities think he's the perpetrator. "JCVD" obviously owes a debt of gratitude to Spike Jonze's "Being John Malkovich", and Olivier Assayas' "Irma Vep"(in a nutshell, it's "Being Maggie Cheung"), but "Being Jean-Claude Van Damme" manages to distinguish itself from those two self-reflexive films by habituating a reality outside the film-within-the-film, a third reality, our reality. In the film's bravura moment, Van Damme levitates towards the ceiling and gives the documentary-like impression that he's shooting from the hip about his loneliness and alienation, which accompanies fame and notoriety. Distinguishing the film-within-the-film from this digression into non-fiction, comes into play late in "JCVD", when Van Damme, the final hostage, escapes from his captor's clutches as they leave the post office premises. The filmmaker uses two takes; the first take shows Van Damme in unadulterated, full-tilt action hero-mode, reversing his fortune with a deterministic flourish: the star never dies. Take two carries the same result: Van Damme overpowers the gunman, but with less polish. In the audience's mind, prior to the second take, there's the anticipation that Van Damme might be killed, because he's an actor, like Bolt is a dog, and not a superhuman who can kick cigarettes from people's mouths in the real world. During this crucial moment, the audience's self-awareness folds in on itself and leaves behind another crease, another plain of self-awareness, an awareness that the real Van Damme, the Van Damme who floated in the ether, would walk quietly out of the post office without trying to instigate heroics.
To an American audience, Jean-Claude Van Damme movies have been deemed to be the aesthetic equivalent of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, but to the average Belgian, the forty-seven-year-old star who brought John Woo stateside("Hard Target"), still has the eye of the tiger. "JCVD" rehabilitates Van Damme's image through dialectism. Last year, in Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi's "Persepolis", a young Iranian girl sang the old Survivor hit from Sylvester Stallone's "Rocky III" without an ironic note from her voicebox and diaphragm; the timbre rang true. If Van Damme's daughter moved to Schaerbeek, she'd reconstruct her old man as a survivor, a man who has stood the test of time, Belgian time.
"JCVD" had me at its opening scene. A wildly over-the-top action scene
with much typical Van Damme ass-kicking (and accompanied by a Curtis
Mayfield tune) is followed by Jean-Claude walking off the set, heading
straight for the director, a young, talentless hack, to complain about
the filming. The director says to his interpreter in Chinese: "Just
because he brought John Woo to Hollywood doesn't mean he can rub my
dick with sandpaper", and the interpreter gives a nonsense excuse about
how not having a gun preserves the character's integrity. It's funnier
than anything in Ben Stiller's industry spoof "Tropic Thunder", and
certainly far closer to reality.
Thankfully, the rest of the film does not disappoint. The film's conceit is clever: Van Damme's dislike of the films he works on is clear, he's got an awful, typically Hollywood agent (at one point Van Damme asks what he's working on next, to which his agent replies "Feel No Injury, it's about a Vietnam vet who...", Van Damme assures his agent that they shot that film several months ago and his agent responds by looking through his papers and offering a corrected response, "Feel No Injury II, it's about a gulf war vet..."), has basically become a joke and knows it, and is fighting for custody of his daughter. The next step after these establishing scenes is, naturally, to put the 'real' Van Damme in a situation right out of a movie he might have starred in- he gets stuck in the midst of a hostage situation at a bank, while attempting to make a withdrawal to pay his lawyer. The twist? Everyone outside the bank, including the police and a huge crowd of fans, believe he is the one taking the hostages, and in this scenario Van Damme is powerless, unable to just kick and punch his way out of it.
Going into the film I had expected an entertaining, slightly angsty meta-narrative about Van Damme in a hostage situation. What I got was something far funnier, far more thrilling and involving, and certainly far more genuinely emotional than the film probably had any right to be. The in-jokes are fun ("if it wasn't for you he'd still be shooting pigeons in Hong Kong", "... well, at least he made 'Face/Off'"), several scenes are genuinely suspenseful, but most surprising of all is that the film features one of the greatest scenes in years: just past the hour mark Van Damme faces the camera and delivers a lengthy soliloquy on why he made the movie, why he decided to take up karate, and expresses his feelings on celebrity, his own image, women, drugs, and Hollywood. It's bordering on ridiculous, but how can anyone laugh when Jean-Claude Van Damme is baring his soul on camera and actually crying? The scene either proves that Van Damme is not as limited an actor as most think he is, or that there was no real acting involved.
The cinematography, specifically the lighting, will bother some people but I thought it was quite good, and El Mechri is a fine director, who juggles the comedic and dramatic aspects of the film as well as the thriller side of it successfully. Van Damme's performance is, for my money, the best of the year, challenged only by Clint Eastwood's potential acting farewell in "Gran Torino" and Sean Penn's surprisingly effective turn in "Milk". While I don't expect much agreement, "JCVD" is my second favorite film of 2008 thus far, and one of the most enjoyable viewing experiences I've had in quite some time.
Jean-Claude Van Damme has a new film. A film that made heads turn in
the art-house community. No joke, I swear. Ever since the first
trailers of JCVD surfaced people took notice and eagerly awaited a
Jean-Claude Van Damme flick, many of them for the first time in their
lives. It gets even weirder when the first critics of the film were
unanimously impressed. Rightfully so, it seemed.
Even though Van Damme is a Belgian actor who made it big in Hollywood, not too many Belgian film fans are what you'd call proud of our one and only famous Hollywood film product. Van Damme is not known for choosing quality cinema and even though I'm still interested in a few of his films, this has more to do with the directors behind those films (John Woo, Tsui Hark) and not so much with Van Damme's presence.
I haven't seen too many of his films myself, which probably made me a little less weary of watching JCVD, though it was really the concept of the film that caught me right away. JCVD is one of those films that linger outside the world of cinema, blending reality with fiction. The film stars Van Damme, playing Van Damme, making fun of Van Damme en showing off a whole new Van Damme.
The film itself pokes a lot of fun at Van Damme's media personality, his personal life as well as his movies and action movies in general. Apart from the first scene, there's no real action to be found in the film itself and as the film progresses, a more tragic side of Van Damme surfaces. While it could've easily fell apart right there, Van Damme himself is actually impressive at playing himself and makes the film work on both comedic and dramatic level.
Visually Mechri is quite eager to show off. From the first scene on, the film is composed of long takes and shot in a desaturated - often bordering on sepia - filter. It gives the film a lot of flair and makes it a lot easier to watch than those B-action flicks. Mechri is able to keep the visual flair high for the entire duration of the flick, making it a real visual joy.
The film is well acted, with Van Damme himself claiming much of the attention. Even though there are some pretty tough scenes, he pulls them of without flinching. Supporting characters are well-played and provide some pretty funny moments, especially the old woman driving the taxi.
Even though there's plenty of humor and a lot of it is aimed at Van Damme himself, a real sharp edge is missing in favor of more tragic and/or dramatic undertones. This strand reaches its climax in a scene where Van Damme is lifted from the scene to shoot off an impressive monologue. It shatters the movie facade, but with a film like this that was only to be expected. I usually don't mind myself and found it very powerful here, but I guess many prefer to be kept inside the story of the film.
There are little to no weak points. The soundtrack could've been a bit more characteristic but never irritates and even though the story itself is quite simple the film more than makes up for that with witty humor, some interesting timeline jumping and a solid dramatic base.
JCVD is a film that polishes the image of Van Damme while placing Mechri on the map as a director. It's a solid film, accomplished and well ... "aware" of its qualities. Falling somewhere between the world of commercial and art-house cinema, the film might have some trouble finding an appreciative audience, luckily there's been plenty of positive buzz. A good recommendation, especially for people who can't stand Van Damme. 4.0*/5.0*
With a tour de force monologue scene that itself makes the film and
actor one-of-a-kind, JCVD sets out to "redeem" the action genre with a
"metacommentary" that is much more than clever or ironic.
JCVD is a film within the subgenre of "meta-reality-drama" (see "Wes Craven's New Nightmare" as another example). Van Damme plays himself in a flashback cross-cutting fictional narrative about his "real" personal life complicated by a post office heist-gone-wrong that Van Damme stumbles into.
Not an action movie per se, but a semi-comic drama with action elements, JCVD is mainly a showcase for the serious acting chops of Van Damme -- and (surprise) Van Damme gives a performance that is -- yes, believe it -- Oscar-worthy.
Even if you've zero interest in action films, or zero interest in Van Damme, JCVD will surprise you and possibly move you emotionally. But if you're a true action genre aficionado, JCVD is a film you won't want to miss. More than simply offbeat, JCVD offers a critique of comic-book movie violence and a transformative performance from a major action star that separates him from the rest of the pack.
Seagal, Schwarzenegger, Stallone or any of the major action stars could only dream of a film as distinguished and accomplished. JCVD will likely be the best of Van Damme's career.
Coming in somewhere between Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and the
Taxi films, this oddball comedy drama is guaranteed cult status thanks
to a very witty script and a terrific performance by JCVD.
At every turn there's some inane comedy to the proceedings, whether its hostage takers forcing a jet-lagged JC to kick a cigarette out of someones mouth, or the police running along the street yelling "Help! Jean-Claude Van Damme is robbing a post office." almost every situation provokes either a subtle chuckle or a full on belly laugh. But the real strength comes in the brilliant and self deprecating performance from Van Damme. It would seem likely to see JCVD appearing in more dramatic roles in the future, for as much as we've got to know him throwing kicks and punches over the last 20 years, this movie will make you fall in love with the flawed, sad character wearing the movie star mask.
In one of the most touching moments, Van Damme worries that despite being an action star, he will die in a post office having contributed nothing to the world. Watching from the audience, we realise that despite being an action star, this guy has got an awful lot more to contribute. In one film, this two-dimensional chop-socky B-lister becomes a quality actor, a man of substance and a legend of the silver screen.
A truly unique and refreshing movie that you'll be telling people about for a week. 8/10
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