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Posts Tagged ‘jean claude van damme’

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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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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