In today’s cinematic selection we have a French film that features Jean-Claude Van Damme, a martial artist action movie star with a waning career, playing Jean-Claude Van Damme, a martial artist action movie star with a waning career.
The casting director had a really easy job is what I’m saying.
JCVD is a real curiosity of a movie. Van Damme plays a fictionalized version of himself in which the details may be jumbled a bit but everything still feels very true and honest. The movie takes place, and is shot on location, in Brussels, Van Damme’s actual home country. There he worries about losing roles to Steven Seagal, frets over a custody battle for his child, and expresses a desire to turn things around after a life of drug abuse. These are all very real things in Van Damme’s life. Even when things take a turn for the more unbelievable and Van Damme is taken hostage during a heist the movie uses the situation to show how the media and people in general treat celebrities as if they are intrinsically different than anyone else.
The movie’s message is laid bare about an hour into it when Van Damme is literally lifted out of the scene to have a conversation with himself and the audience in a fourth wall breaking six minute monologue. The actor speaks about trying to right his wrongs, how celebrity has made him an easy target for judgment and ridicule, lamenting that perhaps he is unworthy of the fame and privilege he has fallen into, and criticising himself for doing nothing of any actual value in his life. It’s really a powerful moment, an impressive bit of acting especially considering it’s coming from the star of Street Fighter. I won’t say that Van Damme deserves any awards but he certainly displays more drama and truth than I’ve ever seen from him before.
The rest of the film around him works well. The hostage taker that is a big fan and the media outside provide some effective comic relief that is welcome in what is otherwise a heavy film. All the other characters are functional but ultimately are only props for Van Damme to act against. This really is a one man show. A non chronological story structure attempts to keep a sense of mystery that is never really there and only serves to muddy things up in the middle of the movie.
Despite starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, JCVD is not a “Jean-Claude Van Damme movie.” It is not an action film with one liners and stuntmen taking roundhouse kicks to the face. It’s an expression of one man’s struggle with his fame and self worth. It’s definitely worth seeing if nothing else than to discover that there is actually a decent actor doing all those epic splits.
Of course after this he did The Expendables 2 so what do I know?
PS – While putting together this week’s header image I came across this photo of Van Damme holding a puppy. You’re welcome.
Other movies I watched this week (potential minor spoilers ahead):
What We Do in the Shadows – A mockumentary following the lives of four vampire flatmates in New Zealand. Full of dry humor that embraces the awkward situations of these supernatural beings struggling with the mundane, this movie is funny from beginning to end. I’m very much looking forward it’s perfectly titled sequel, We’re Wolves.
Berberian Sound Studio – An American takes a job as the sound designer on an Italian horror film. As he becomes disturbed by the images he’s helping bring to life, he slowly starts to go mad. Long stretches of this movie are in Italian without subtitles. Since the main character doesn’t understand the people around him, neither do we. Thus we are by design left only with impressions, moods, and feelings of what’s going on. Artistic and abstract to a fault, while this movie does an incredible job of creating an unsettling dreamlike atmosphere and conveys a descent into madness excellently it fails to bring all of that to anything resembling a satisfying conclusion.
Across the Universe – In this musical a group of friends struggle with life, love, and the draft in 1960’s America. They also sing a lot of Beatles tunes along the way. Light and airy as (most) musicals should be this flick features some very good visuals to go with the classic songs. Extra points for Eddie Izzard. Ultimately it’s fine, but only Beatles fans really need apply.
God Bless America – This diatribe against modern America’s obsession with idiocy, negativity, and shallowness features a man with a terminal disease and young girl bonding as they go around the country murdering people they hate. Right wing tv personalities spreading fear, people who talk in movies, religious zealots preaching hate, and people who take up two parking spaces are all gunned down in bloody violence. It has a dark absurdist quality that reminded me of Kick-Ass, but I couldn’t help but wonder if its attempts at being entertaining through shocking violence made it part of the very kind of entertainment it’s railing against. The characters have no arc to them as they end the movie unchanged from where they started. Not recommend.
Wonder Woman (2009) – I had been led to believe that even if DC’s live action movies weren’t worth much if they didn’t have a bat in them their animated works were actually pretty good. I needed a primer on Wonder Woman, so I started here. This movie is PG-13 but only just barely; it has some slightly adult humor and the action is brutal and badass, but also bloodless. It feels ridiculously fast paced at just 70 minutes. The actors are good and the story suitably epic. With a little more care and time to breathe I think details and characters could’ve been fleshed out more and you’d have a genuinely solid superhero film. As it stands it’s still good and I look forward to seeing more of these animated movies.