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Posts Tagged ‘JCVD’

The Lodger: Director David Ondaatje‘s debut is loosely adapted from Hitchcock’s 1927 silent film about a ‘Jack The Ripper’ copycat killer. Ondaatje gives The Lodger a routinely modern twist by throws plenty of false climaxes, both run-of-the-mill and unexpected, at us. The visual elements are also far grittier than these types of films normally lend themselves to, thanks to nifty cinematography from David Armstrong. Actress Hope Davis (with whom I’m having a cinematic affair) as the hapless patron of the lodge and Alfred Molina as the obsessive detective deliver on so many levels that we can ignore Simon Baker‘s ineffectual brooding as the title character. Two other things that didn’t quite work for me – Philip Baker Hall darting in and out as the generic Captain Smith, grimacing perhaps a tad too unnaturally, and the predictable ending. Everything else deserves a thumbs-up in this suitably atmospheric Hitchcockian thriller.

Pig Hunt: I have the softest corner in my mind for low-budget horror films that scream bloody murder. It is adorable how they make us curl into a foetal position, letting our mind escape from recurring group hugs that define our lives, careers and breaks in sobriety. It is also heart-warming that there are film-lovers out there scraping together money and questionable talent to scare the shit out of other people. Like many other gory backwoods thrillers turn out to be, James Isaac’s Pig Hunt could be an extended metaphor for the socio-political hierarchies that govern every aspect of our world; so if you’re into that sort of thing, you may find sly references to misogyny, established religion and if you’re drunk, oedipal complexes too. Mutilated emus, a machete-wielding maniac, nymphomaniacal pot cultivators, and a monstrous wild boar that makes Russell Mulcahy’s Razorback look like Babe lost and hogtied in the city? The show goes on. And how.

Greenberg: These comedians have become infatuated with playing caricatures of their publicized persona – Adam Sandler in Funny People, Patton Oswalt in Big Fan, and that creepy guy, to an ostensibly lesser extent, in Pauly Shore Is Dead. Even crappy action stars have embraced it (spoiler: this intro is a waste of time) and gone on to make fun of themselves (JCVD and My Name Is Bruce). I assume Ben Stiller was going for something similar in Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg, but I could be wrong. Actually, Roger Greenberg isn’t very different from characters that we’ve come to associate Stiller with. Domesticated, empathetic, dorky and infatuated with delusions of grandeur – traits that don’t mesh very well with the character’s existential despair in this film. Sort of like Chris Cornell’s Scream album that toyed with hip-hop. I can appreciate the deviance from normalcy but uh uh no thanks…it’s just too weird. Thankfully, the film’s zanier and more admirable bouts of melancholia lie in Rhys Ifans‘ droopiness and Greta Gerwig‘s gut-wrenching facial expressions, both of which, are spectacular as is the soundtrack provided by James Murphy (front man, LCD Soundsystem). Now go watch Oswalt set the bar incredibly high in Big Fan.

The Losers: Sylvain White is the genius behind I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer. We definitely know what he did the summer of 2010. He made an abortion of an action flick.

American Splendor: Harvey Pekar died last week, so let’s spend a minute in obligatory silence as I pray to the distraught geeks in the sky for his soul to keep. In case you don’t already know, he was a iconic comic book writer and legendary cultural nihilist. His autobiographical comic series detailed the tortuously funny bits of his life as a file clerk at a Veteran’s Administration hospital in Cleveland. In Berman and Pulcini’s biopic, Paul Giamatti is very believable as Pekar. It is evident that someone has done proper research. One of the details I really enjoyed was the way Giamatti lets his eyebrows do most of the talking as did Pekar in so many of his interviews, especially on Dave Letterman. In addition, a special mention to the cameos from his real-life friends and their splendidly spaced-out, interstellar stares; with friends like these who needs copies of Hitch Hiker’s Guide. All said and done, a notch below the utterly cool crankiness of Terry Zwigoff’s documentary on Robert Crumb, but a tremendous water pistol salute to the man nevertheless.

Splintered: Vincenzo Natali‘s extended love letter to Spielberg’s epically bad film about cute aliens is no longer the odds-on favourite to win my ‘wasted storyline potential’ trophy for 2010. Director Simeon Halligan could have gone about a million other ways with Splintered‘s storyline and still had me thoroughly engaged. While the first 15 minutes promises vicious creatures of the night, creative dismemberment and a wee Welsh lassie’s descent into hyper-realistic madness, the rest of the film has some of the flimsiest excuses for bloodshed. He mucks things up further by paying zero attention to group psychology during moments of crisis. At times, I wasn’t sure if the guys were being stalked and attacked by unseen evil or frantically seduced by their pregnant cousins; a strange mix of disgust, euphoria and fear. Some of dialogues are so absurd that we might soon have a ‘Godzilla vs Splintered’s Script’ straight-to-DVD classic on our hands. Holly Weston‘s passive hysteria in the last frame as she walks towards a close-up angle is a thing of beauty, but everything is such a chore to endure.

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Judd Apatow’s Funny People, a film about a comedian/celebrity George Simmons – confused me. As the end credits rolled, I wasn’t sure whether I liked it or not. I ended up on middle ground, which was really annoying, given my aversion towards the neutrality of things. Indifference is the ultimate insult a common man can assign to a work of art and since cinema (and the love I have for it) is something I hold near and dear, I hated feeling inadequate about either recommending it or shitting on the essence of its being. Here’s the problem first. Adam Sandler (who plays George Simmons) must have hoped Funny People would do for him what JCVD did for Jean Claude Van Damme. I guess it’s alright for celebrities to seek therapy through self-caricaturizing; at least it beats going down to some river to pray. It worked for the Belgian muscleman because the public had never before thought of him as a man who suffers, let alone muse eloquently over all those crappy films he starred in. After watching his insecurities come alive on-screen, no longer did people think Van Damme’s first reaction to anything would be to do a seriously gay version of the splits or position his limbs for a Judo crane kick. The self-loathing characterization in JCVD hit a nerve (in me, at least) because it made for a chilling catharsis of the actor. Even Bruce Campbell’s My Name Is Bruce sort of worked, with the cult legend more than willing to laugh uproariously at his delusions of grandeur while secretly grinning at how fame once pulled a fast one on him about his place in cinema.

Despite not knowing if the director Judd Apatow intended to caricaturize Adam Sandler, I can’t but help nurse suspicions about it. Going by this alone, his film fell a little flat. The only musing I have ever done about Adam Sandler was whether or not the man is truly retarded. The characters he played in films like Billy Madison, Happy Gilmour and Waterboy seemed to be an extension of his real self minus the extraordinary savantism. His stand-up comedy too is centered on funny accents, childish cussing and penile jokes, something I’m sure his mates back home would testify to as a weekend by the couch with a couple of beers activity. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’d hate to think this didn’t affect my liking of this film. So, seeing his character supposedly bare his soul on the canvas didn’t do much for me.

Here’s what worked. Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman, Leslie Mann, Eric Bana and the ten or so brilliantly executed cameos. Rogen and Hill – who play standup comedians Ira Wright and Leo Koenig – are probably the most sought-after comedians in Hollywood right now. They’re pretty funny, if only they didn’t indulge in so much toilet humour (conveniently, George Simmons makes a mention of it). Here they are in form, especially Rogen with his man-child impersonations. Now I know that if Sarah Silverman and Will Ferrell ever had a child, it’d be really funny. Hollywood’s nerdiest prodigy Jonah Hill is going places with his obnoxious anti-frat boy comedy and he knows it; the arrogance is evident and well-deserved.

As for Jason Schwartzman (he plays Wright and Leo’s egomaniacal roommate), he has a little Bill Murray thing going for him. No matter how similar most of the characters he portrays seem to be, he still manages to make them engaging. In Funny People, the sympathy he shows for his roomies is subtly hilarious. There’s a scene in which he sits next to Rogen’s character and explains why he slept with his date…look at the expressions on Schwartzman’s face, I’m telling you, Mr Murray would be proud.

Leslie Mann’s character (Simmons’ love interest) was well crafted too. I really dug the confrontation scene, with the three men standing there, jaws open and fists raised, unsure of who to blame and for what. Eric Bana provides standard fare as the sweet and sour-tongued Aussie husband who has read too many self-help books. For me, the true highlights of Funny People were the cameos. The scene in which Marshall Mathers (Eminem) confronts Ray Romano (from Everybody Loves Raymond) is just about the funniest scene I have watched in a mainstream movie in a long time. Rap outfit Wu Tang Clan’s RZA, Andy Dick, James Taylor, Paul Reiser – all provide rib-tickling fastfood humour, with quick and to the point punchlines. The Sarah Silverman stand up bit about Kanye West and Obama also qualifies as a laugh out loud moment. (if you find it offensive, you’re a bigger jackass than Kanye).

I’ll say this too…Funny People could be the first step towards changing the public (for all those who care, at least) perception of Adam Sandler’s talent as an actor. Truth be told, it’s probably the most intense he has even been. Even in the vastly underrated Paul Anderson’s Punch Drunk Love, the tragedy of his character’s life seemed more odd than actually moving.

In Funny People, George Simmons desperately tries to take a step back, lose the jokes and get a bit more serious about his place in the world. I guess, in 2009, Adam Sandler tried that too. To quote one of his classically retarded characters – Billy Madison – “Well, I made the duck blue because I’d never seen a blue duck before and I wanted to see one”.

Well, you decide if you want to see this blue duck (I’m aware that at some level, I’m making no sense whatsoever).

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harold-kumar-wwnphdAs far as I’m concerned, toilet humour is the biggest turn-off in comedies; even Pauly Shore comes a distant second. Why people find flatulence and bowel movements to be a source of humour is beyond me. It is for that reason that I ask you to skip past the first 5 minutes of the film. Seriously, hit the fast-forward button. The fact is that Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay – the second installment of the Harold & Kumar series is rather funny, but only if you can close your eyes to certain grossed-out clichés. . I didn’t like them in American Pie and I don’t like them here. Of course, if you subscribe to the school of thought that pays homage to Steve Stifler…I’m sure that you will find some reason to appreciate the blatant use of bodily fluids.

Despite the overdose of crassness and with enough innuendos to make Indian politicians blush, director Jon Hurwitz stops a turkey from being thrown at his face by giving a bit of screen-time and a load of one-liners to three very funny actors – Neil Patrick Harris (himself), Christopher Meloni (a KKK clan leader) and Rob Corddry (a vociferously racist agent). The artist formerly known as Doogie Howser is bloody hilarious as the child actor turned the fresh prince of decadence! Sorry JCVD (Jean Claude Van Dame), NPH just whopped your existential ass. Meloni is probably one of the most versatile actors out there. His impersonation of a psychotic KKK redneck is the funniest thing since Ice T said “bitch” on Law And Order and couldn’t stop smiling about it. Rob Corddry as detective Ron Fox hogs the limelight; matter of fact, I’d induct this character into the comedy hall of fame, right next to Albert Brookes “Jerry Peyser character” (In-Laws). His conversations with the deputy and Harold’s parents are ingenious! He dam near saves this film from being classified as stoner comedy. Another moment of awesomeness is when Harold tries explaining the situation to him and he screams, “Zip it, Hello Kitty!” Yeah yeah racism is not funny. But caricatures are! Especially when they are thrown into a hyperbolic vortex.

hkgbayProtagonists John Cho (Harold Lee) and Kal Penn (Kumar Patel) do a commendable job; nothing fancy, nothing original, just dysfunctional and funny in parts. And I still think Kal Penn is a terribly underrated actor. Watch him in the hospital drama House on AXN and you’ll understand. As for the story itself, well…it’s a whole lotta silliness involving a smokeless bong, Guantanamo Bay, bad timing and two guys trying to get into Amsterdam. If I were to raise a finger in appreciation for this film, I’d probably raise my pinky.

The dialogue below made me laugh so hard that…nevermind what…that’s between my nostrils and a pint of milk.

Ron Fox: Do you have a problem with the way I run the show, Beecher?

Dr. Beecher: I’m just saying I looked through the files on Harold Lee and Kumar Patel. They were both born and raised in New Jersey. Other than a couple of traffic tickets, they’re clean.

Ron Fox: Oh, right! That’s why they just broke out of prison!

Dr. Beecher: It’s not even clear that they should’ve been there in the first place!

Ron Fox: [growing flustered] Shouldn’t have…

[walks over to desk and picks up a picture of a little girl

Ron Fox: You see this cute little white girl, Beecher?

Dr. Beecher: Yeah.

Ron Fox: Do you want her to get raped and murdered?

Dr. Beecher: Of course not.

Ron Fox: You sure? Cause this is America. Do you want to rape America?

Dr. Beecher: No.

Ron Fox: Then stop fucking with me!

[Throws picture against wall]

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Tfond-decran-jcvd800he very first time that I went for a film at the theatre all by myself was for Jim Carrey’s Mask. Only it wasn’t. I think I was 12 years old. The imbecile who booked my tickets somehow confused Jean Claude Van Damme’s Time Cop with one of the most-talked about films in Chennai. So I sat for nearly two hours at the theatre, surruptiously peeking over my shoulder to see if someone was looking to steal my popcorn or worse yet, discover that I had no clue what the hell was going on. In what could only a stroke of dour cinematic irony, thanks to the absurd plot of Time Cop that pretty much defied all the laws of the universe that preserved either logic or gravity; it was also the first time that I ever heard of the Civil War (watch the opening scene) period. As for the film, well…from what I could fathom as a nervous teenager, Van Damme played a depressed policeman-type guy who could travel through time.

vandammeStreetfighter was memorable; if not for its throwback to the good-old fashioned uber-unreal action flicks of the Eighties then at least for the arcade-like duels that stayed true to the videogame’s original gameplay. Look closely and you might even find several nods to the original Godzilla and Giant Robot series. The storyline was sort of messed up with heroes and villains switching sides faster that you can say, “Florida voters suck donkey balls”, but it was completely forgivable considering the awesomeness (!) of characters like Honda, Dhalsim, Vega, Sagat and Balrog. My only regret was that Colonel Guille didn’t have that ultra-hip spiked hair in the film; instead we got Van Damme sporting a French army cap. Small woes though; after all Streetfighter did help me sink the memory of the horror that was Time Cop.

Then there was that weekend when I stumbled upon Kickboxer on Star Movies. Continuing the tradition of films that are so friggin bad that the audience can’t take their eyes off the screen, Kickboxer punched, scratched, clawed and er kicked its way into becoming a really funny and seriously unintentional self-parody. Imagine the late MGR acting in an amateurish John Woo film and you are still nowhere close to how incredible “bad” and “entertaining” this film was.

During the years of cinematic decadence and uncouth experimentation, I kept watching Van Damme films such Double Impact, Hard Target and the tremendously lame Knock Off. It was the sort of amusement I had for Prabhu Deva. No matter how horrid their films are, I still force myself to watch them wallow in the agony of pretending to be actors. Until Death broke the mould. Released in 2007 and directed by Simon Fellows, it is probably the only film of Van Damme that had a passable storyline with a bit of acting throw in, as well. For what it’s worth, it was fun watching him play a dirty cop hooked on heroin and cheap whiskey. And I swear, the first 30 minutes of film was really well shot.

Fast forward to today morning when I was checking Roger Ebert’s latest film reviews. I came across an odd action film called JCVD directed by short film enthusiast Mabrouk El Mechri. It stars Van Damme as an action movie star JCVD – a character who is an exaggeration of the actor himself. It even seems vaguely reminiscent of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Last Action Hero with Van Damme’s existential angst replacing the stone-faced desperation of the Governor and with JCVD’s intense catharsis subbing for LAH’s B-movie shenanigans.

730244861Roger Ebert’s two cents are as endearing as ever. He says…“The new film from the Muscles from Brussels is the surprisingly transgressive ‘JCVD,’ which trashes his career, his personal life, his martial arts skills, his financial stability and his image. He plays himself, trapped in a misunderstood hostage crisis, during which we get such a merciless dissection of his mystique that it will be hard to believe him as a Universal Soldier ever again. On the other hand, it will be easier to like him. This movie almost endearingly savages him… Damme says worse things about himself than critics would dream of saying, and the effect is shockingly truthful. I sorta enjoyed myself.”

Well, I am certainly intrigued by all this talk about a really bad actor who does a really good job of impersonating how bad he really is. And I don’t think anyone expected Van Damme to star in such a film; maybe Bruce Willis or Mickey Rourke, but certainly not a dude who was fond of being called the Muscles from Brussels.

Robert Bresson once said, “films can only be made by by-passing the will of those who appear in them, using not what they do, but what they are.” Too bad the French filmmaker didn’t live long enough to see someone like Van Damme add credibility to his theory on acting.

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