Thursday, May 21, 2009

JCVD is Van Damme's best.

starring Jean-Claude Van Damme
written by Frederic Benudis, Mabrouk El Mechri & Christophe Turpin
directed by Mabrouk El Mechri

Way back when I critiqued My Name is Bruce, I said it took the formula from Three Amigos! and Galaxy Quest and dropped the ball in the laugh department. Which is unfortunate because it was supposed to be a comedy. Although tagged as comedy, JCVD is not funny except in the few moments when it tries to be. This film is a drama and it's damn good.
Former mega-super celebrity Jean-Claude Van Damme (playing himself) has hit rock bottom. He got his ass kicked in a divorce, is about to lose custody of his daughter and has depleted his bank account to pay his lawyers.
Upon returning home to Belgium, he goes to a post office to collect a money-order loan from his agent in Los Angeles (post offices double as banks in some European countries). Van Damme's timing sucks as bad as his luck as he walks in, smack dab in the middle of a robbery. Witnesses outside recognized him, saw him enter and the local authorities believe he is the one robbing le poste when the doo doo hits the fan.
JCVD is not your typical Van Damme vehicle, as it is lacking in karate chops, high kicks, big explosions, fast action, wafer-thin supporting characters, an over the top villian, absurd plot devices and a predictable ending. Here, we have instead oodles of suspense & drama, a great performance from Van Damme and a deep excursion into the human condition. He shows us a side of himself that was probably deemed as "unmarketable" for his image, and strong acting chops (also unmarketable for big action cheese of the 90's, lol).
Although fictional the story of JCVD remains firmly planted within the realm of realty, giving the film the feel of a documentary. The characters never do anything stupid or unfeasable for the context and the viewer never has to suspend disbelief. The film effectively creates the "realism" effect that the recent rash of "camcorder pov" movies we have been subjected to lately failed miserably to achieve.
As to Van Damme's performance, it is remarkable, certainly the best of his career. It's a damn shame he waited this long to showcase his acting skills. One scene in particular when Van Damme makes a confession of sorts directly to the audience, is nothing short of tear-jerking. He actually breaks the fourth wall twice in the film. The first time is so subtle it can be easly missed, but serves as foreshadowing for the second time; an elongated scene (shot in one sequence sans editing) that starts with him asking the question, "Why did I do this? Why did I do this film?" What follows is about six minutes of exposition where Van Damme talks about his failed marriage, his daughter, an addiction to drugs, his celebrity, his fall from grace and how losing it all nearly drove him to the brink of self-destruction. Because it is spoken in his native French, it loses nothing in translation, and the viewer cannot help but be moved. Had it been spoken in English, it almost certainly would have been too hokey to illicit anything but laughs.
The scene is a cognizant pause from the story proper, but is delivered within the story's context, so we believe we are really watching a celebrity, in a dangerous situation reflecting upon himself. A life flashing before the eyes type of moment. By the end Van Damme is in tears, and as the scene falls back into the story proper, there is a moment where we almost expect the characters (both villains and hostages) to break out into applause. I'll go as far as to say this scene alone warranted an Oscar nomination.
Of all my Turzman Critiques, JCVD gets my strongest recommendation, if for nothing else, Van Damme's performance. Fans of the flexible Beligian may not appreciate JCVD as it is completely different from anything he's done. But people who have chastised and jeered the man in the past may want to view this and reconsider their opinions of Msr. Jean-Claude.

Seth McFarlane's Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy: Uncensored.
starring Seth McFarlane, among others
written by Seth McFarlane, among others
directed by Greg Colton

If the word "uncensored" means nothing more than not bleeping out curse words, then you may consider that to be the only success of this unfunny, 90 minute drab-fest with topics ranging from sex to, well, sex. Viewers hoping for a disc that would make the foulest of potty-mouths blush are gonna have to look somewhere else.
The topics covered in Cavalcade are not nearly as raunchy as stuff one can watch on cable TV. Any unsuspecting episode of South Park or even The Simpons puts Cavalcade to shame, which is surprising considering McFarlane is responsible for the comedic gem Family Guy and the moderately funny American Dad. So surprising in fact, that it makes me wonder if Family Guy spinoff, The Cleveland Show will even be worth watching.
Who am I kidding? I'll watch Cleveland.

That's all for now. Next time I'll tackle Liam Neeson as he throws his hat into the Jason Bourne/James Bond ring with Taken.
Also, I'll critique the most anticipated direct to DVD, probably piece of crap the morons over at The Asylum have ever released, Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus. I know how that sounds, and you're probably right. But the trailer alone merits viewing...

Oh, HELL yes!

Guardian of the Universe Gamera says, "I long for the days when Turz used words like 'shallow,' 'pedantic' and 'downtrodden' in his critiques. Can you please review a stinker in the near future? Thank you."

Amity Island Harbor Master Frank Silva says, "Shark versus octopus? That may be a good fight, but it's lousy eatin'. How 'bout swordfish versus tuna fish? Cod versus shrimp? Quahog clam versus lobster, with melted butter and iced Narragansett lager. Anyone? Hello?"

Internet addict PornoCat says, "Turz and I are still looking for some good quality Reverend Horton Heat videos, to no avail. HELP PLEASE!?!?!? Meow."