Sep 08 2008

JCVD: Toronto Reviews

Published by at 19:15 under Industry

Some Reviews from Toronto:

In this day and age of half-baked heroes, it’s good to see a familiar face.  The Muscles from Brussels! And who would have thought he was such an acting powerhouse? However, it’s too bad that his latest starring vehicle doesn’t even come close to the level of his acting. It is a testament, though, to his skills as an actor that he can transcend above a lackluster film and prove that his career is far from over.

jcvd

JCVD is easily one of the most buzzed about films at the festival this year. The industry began to take notice at the Cannes Film Festival film market. From there, it started getting accolades wherever it screened. In Toronto alone, it’s been receiving a number of four and five star reviews.

Needless to say, my anticipation was rising with each review. The trailer captured the spirit of the film perfectly; an off beat character study about a man who was once on top of the world, but has since fallen into obscurity and bad career choices.

Being the first Midnight Madness screening of the festival, the theatre was understandably packed with rabid Jean Claude Van Damme fans. It was a wonderful surprise to see so many JCVD fans out in full force. And while the man himself wasn’t in attendance, he did send along a taped message to the crowd apologizing for his absence, which was a classy touch. To introduce the film, director Mabrouk El Mechri revved up the crowd.

Then the theatre went dark and the curtains rose.

Almost immediately I felt something I hadn’t felt since watching Double Impact and Nowhere to Run as a kid. Pure glee. A larger than life hero kicking ass left, right and center. Take note aspiring action filmmakers: if you want to grab the attention of an audience, open your film with a five minute, single-take action sequence. Admittedly, it was an exhilarating way to re-introduce the audience to Van Damme; it seemed like something we haven’t seen before, but at the same time was very nostalgic.

From there, JCVD jumps right into the plot: Van Damme unwittingly becomes involved in a heist at a Belgian post office. Stripped of the glitz and glamor that movie stars are accustomed to, he is forced to come to terms with the fact that he is essentially a nobody in the grand scheme of things. What’s worse, he can’t be the action hero because this is real life; no prop guns, no choreographed fights.

The film beautifully juxtaposes Van Damme’s anguish as a result of the heist with the anguish of a drawn-out custody battle that may very well be the last roundhouse kick he can take. The filmmakers adequately juggle the different aspects of Van Damme’s dilemma with equal dramatic and comedic panache. But by the third act, when the heist hits a fever pitch, something went wrong and it completely destroyed my enjoyment of the film.

For the first two acts, the comedy and drama were given room to breathe, to compliment each other. By the third act, the filmmakers unsuccessfully combined the genres. It was at that point in which the flaws of the film came to my attention. Aside from Van Damme himself, the characters were weak and uninteresting, the main conflict (the heist) proved to be repetitive and didn’t go anywhere nor develop the characters further. All the while I didn’t feel as if there was a real threat to anyone on screen. And worst of all, I lost any emotional connection with Van Damme that I had developed throughout most of the film. By the end, I felt pity for the man, rather than empathy. Argue all you want, but I doubt the filmmakers want you to feel pity for a character they’ve built up for the past ninety minutes. In this case, it wasn’t Van Damme’s acting that faltered, but rather the story itself.

JCVD had a wonderful concept and executed it well in the beginning. By the end, it started to stumble over its own intelligence and dull, under-developed characters. But, as I’ve said time and time again, the saving grace of the film is Jean Claude Van Damme. Speaking, for the first time on film, in his native tongue (French), Van Damme masterfully becomes a man who is broken and defeated, but maintains a odd quirky behavior which suited him very well. Yes, he’s essentially playing himself, but there is a sense of melancholy in his eyes that one can’t just “phone in”.

Need more proof? There is a four-minute monologue in which Van Damme (talking to the camera amidst a flurry of action surrounding him) pleads with the audience, asking for forgiveness and a second chance, explaining that he is only human. With that in mind, the filmmakers effectively incorporate his foibles into the structure of the film; even going so far as to say that he makes horrendous straight to video pictures in order to pay for child support, schooling and the like. Moments like that made me sit up and pay attention because they were very interesting and very heartfelt.

 

When JCVD worked, it worked incredibly well. When it stumbled, it really pulled me out of the experience of watching a childhood hero return to the silver screen. Thank goodness Van Damme had the chops to save the film. Wow, I never thought I’d say that in my lifetime.

6.5 out of 10

http://chud.com/articles/blogs/1208/Toronto-International-Film-Festival-JCVD.html

 

Who is the most popular Belgian actor of all-time? Jean-Claude Van Damme, of course! JCVD, which literally stands for Jean-Claude Van Damme, is a personal introspective on the action star as brought to us by French filmmaker Mabrouk El Mechri. Van Damme actually plays himself, a real life movie star who gets caught up in a routine robbery, but it becomes more than just a story about kicking ass. It’s much more about the actor’s personal life and troubles he’s going though, including losing custody of a child and running out of money. The film starts with an impressive action sequence but unfortunately heads down hill over time. It’s not what you might expect, but at the start that’s a good thing, at the end, it’s not.

JCVD kicks off with an awesome Van Damme action scene, where in one long and amazingly choreographed take, JCVD himself battles upwards of twenty foes, with and without a gun. But we soon see that it was all just Van Damme on set and we move on to his real life. JCVD is not a documentary, but rather a comical, and sometimes emotional, film about how hard it is to become an international action hero. The film has a rather unique and refreshing narrative structure, where particular “chunks” are not shown in exact chronological order, creating a dynamic that builds the story in an enthralling way. While I did enjoy most of what the film had to offer in the way of Van Damme, it wasn’t anything too remarkable.

Not only does JCVD never really have any action scenes again (it’s a Van Damme movie, come on!), but as the story progressed, it started to turn lose all that energy that it had so brilliantly kicked off with. There’s a rather jolting scene part of the way through where in the middle of the action, Van Damme literally stops to explain why his life is what it is and how much it means nothing compared to so many other people out there. He’s just a regular guy who learned karate as a kid, then went to Hollywood and some how made it big. At this point the film was already snowballing out of control, without any hope for redemption. Thankfully there’s a moment of relief at the end, but that didn’t make up for lost time.

I know JCVD is going to get quite a bit of attention because it’s Van Damme, which is why I’ll do my best to stay away from explaining any more of the story, as that is one of the most entertaining elements of the film. But I must complain about one part that kept nagging me – Van Damme never got up and kicked ass like we all know he could! It was only three guys, why didn’t he just use those karate skills? I sat waiting for 90 minutes for Van Damme to do something, but it never happened. Thankfully El Mechri’s visual style, an impressive performance from Van Damme, and a rather intriguing story kept me interested anyway. JCVD is not the next Van Damme cult hit, but it is a worthwhile exploration of an action hero we all love.

Toronto Rating: 7.5 out of 10

JCVD: Toronto Reviews

 

Hey, this is Captain here. I sent in the “The semi-negative HOSTEL review” from TIFF ’05 and I had the pleasure of catching JCVD late Thursday night. Anyways, just thought I’d throw my hat in the ring here. Hope you have room for another review. Enjoy!

I’m just going to come out and say it: JCVD is a minor miracle. That I can tell friends that I just saw a great new Jean-Claude Van Damme isn’t something I anticipating saying for the rest of my moviegoing days, yet here I am. JCVD works because it has a solid script, it’s directed with energy and class by Mabrouk El Mechri, and because Van Damme subtly plays on his “muscles from Brussels” persona in surprisingly funny, and even poignant, ways.

The premise of JVCD is this: What would a faded action star do if he found himself the unwitting pawn in a real-life bank robbery/hostage situation? Would he rise to the occasion and kick-ass and take names, or, would he fail to fulfill his own B-movie mythology and his one shot at redemption? No, I wont spoil it for you.

I can say that JVCD is definitely not a “martial arts” film, owing more to DOG DAY AFTERNOON than DOUBLE IMPACT. However, the movie opens strongly with Van Damme in the midst of fantastic Brian De Palma-esque movie-within-a-movie where the actor stealthily dispatches numerous armed villains, one-by-one with all the action taking place in single, long take set to “Hard Times” by Baby Huey (a great song, by-the-way).

The rest of JCVD centers around a bank robbery (a post office, actually), where Van Damme is mistaken for the culprit, igniting a media circus and drawing crowds of fans. While Van Damme attempts to deal with his captors and placate the hostage negotiators, the movie flashes-back to the actor’s recent problems including a painful custody battle, dealings with his second-rate agent, and increasing cash-flow and lawyer troubles.

Taking shit from all sides, Van Damme pulls off a convincing slow burn, avoiding his signature, winking Euro-charm and his penchant for excessive melodrama. It’s fascinating watching a man we’ve seen triumph over adversity with sheer brawn, countless times, act so… passively. Which is not to say Van Damme is a coward in JVCD, but he certainly responds to crisis in a much more human way than in, say, SUDDEN DEATH, for example.

Did I mention JCVD is funny? Such as when Van Damme is obliged to watch embarrassing old interview clips of himself coming off like a flake, or, when a character talks Van Damme into kicking a cigarette from a man’s lips (which got a big applause from the audience) only to try doing so himself with disastrous results. There’s humorous reference to Van Damme’s previous movies and his straight-to-video competition. A character complains about how John Woo distanced himself from Van Damme after HARD TARGET, but that watching WINDTALKERS didn’t make it seem like such a bad thing. Also, there’s some funny dialogue about how Steven Segal stole a part from Van Damme by promising the film’s producers he’d cut off his ponytail. Great stuff.

Ultimately, JCVD is a film where all the ingredients are just right. It’s stylized enough with its desaturated, tobacco-hued cinematography and fluid camerawork (by Pierre-Yves Bastard) to give it personality, but not so much as to be show-offy (ahem, Guy Ritchie). The film actually has a great throwback score, too, with Gast Waltzing providing a vintage 70’s cop movie-vibe to the proceedings. (It brought to mind Lalo Schifrin, but I’m no composer expert.)

Bottom line: See this movie. I think you’ll be surprised.

http://www.aintitcool.com/node/38220

All the world’s a stage, Shakespeare tells us, but just imagine what kind of nightmare it would be if that were actually true. Jean-Claude Van Damme, played by Jean-Claude Van Damme in Mabrouk El-Mechri’s JCVD, doesn’t have to imagine if it were true, because for him it is; worse, he doesn’t even get to pick the kind of stage he’s on or the part he’s playing. … JCVD fakes you out from the jump and doesn’t stop, opening with a one-cut action sequence set to the pulse and pound of Baby Huey’s 8-track soul-funk version of Curtis Mayfield’s “Hard Times: “So I play the part I feel they want of me/ And I’II pull the shades so I won’t see them seein’ me …” 

And during the opening, Van Damme, older and slower but still possessed of the skills to pay the bills, kicks and punches and shoots his way through a legion of stuntmen until everything goes wrong. And it’s been going wrong for a while, and it’s a good thing Van Damme still has the skills to pay the bills because Van Damme has bills to pay: IRS arrears, child support, court costs. On-set, he’s getting no support from his director, a truculent young Hong Kong hotshot who doesn’t want to hear Van Damme’s complaints, insulting him in untranslated rants: “Just because he brought John Woo to America, he thinks he can rub my dick with sandpaper?” Van Damme needs this job; he needs every job. And so, the weary and aching Muscles from Brussels endures, bearing the heavy load of life like a ’80s Atlas on unsteady ground in the new millennium.
Rushing for a post office to wire some money to his lawyers, Van Damme has to stop to pose for photos, satisfy the public, live up to being him. And after he gets inside, a shot rings out — throwing the city of Schaerbeek into chaos with the news that Jean-Claude Van Damme has taken the post office hostage. The police are deployed — setting up their command post in a mom-and-pop video rental place — and negotiators try to talk Van Damme down. But, of course, he’s not who they have to talk down; Van Damme’s just the wrong man in the wrong place, and he’s cowering and terrified along with the other customers as ringleader Zinedine Squalem and his right-hand man Karim Belkhadra try to figure out how they can get out of this situation by using Van Damme as their go-between to the cops. …

JCVD isn’t an action film, though, even with the tense potential for armed violence at any moment; it’s a comedy-drama with kickboxing in it, one where the punch lines are, often, actual punches. As Squalem gets more antsy and Belkhadra cozies up to Van Damme, things reach a breaking point — and the crowd outside, growing and shouting like some Belgian variation on Dog Day Afternoon remade for the era of tabloid celebrity coverage, aren’t helping the moment. Van Damme has been in a thousand movies like this, of course. But this isn’t a movie, even though it’s hard for him — and everyone else around him — to understand that. 

And I never thought I’d utter these words, but Jean-Claude Van Damme gives an exciting, impressive performance here, careening between action that leaves him breathless and comedy that leaves us laughing, revealing not only the timing and charisma that made him the action star we know him as but also a human side we probably had never imagined. There’s nothing more vain than insisting you’re without vanity, but Van Damme strips himself bare here — the aging action icon, the man who finds living other people’s dreams a nightmare, the star who is in danger of losing a part to Stephen frickin’ Seagal. (Explaining why there’s such heated interest in Seagal for the film instead of his client, VanDamme’s agent lamely offers how “(Seagal) offered to cut of his ponytail for the part …” .) Van Damme’s in danger of not seeing his kids, even, and as the judge brings a stack of DVD boxes into court to prove Van Damme’s violent career makes him unfit for custody, Van Damme has an exasperated, exhausted and frustrated reaction that’s still funny even as you really feel the stakes of the scene. 

Director and writer El Mechri’s instincts and decisions also make JCVD far more than a one-joke premise. A scene where Van Damme demonstrates one of his moves and his captors try to imitate it is perfectly-timed; the movie-action sequences are shot with rich, phony excitement and the real-world action is shot with grim vigor and scary possibility. In the film’s centerpiece scene, too good to spoil, Van Damme literally ascends from the work of art he’s in and into the realm of the artificial … and then lays himself bare, scared and scarred and sad and worried and lonely, hovering in some quiet, aching place between life and death, between art and reality, between fake entertainment and real emotion. 

It’s hard to imagine JCVD inspiring a wave of similar meta-action films — Being Rowdy Roddy Piper, say, or The Eternal Sunshine of John Saxon’s Mind. But even if there were, copycats aspiring to JCVD‘s brains and brawn, it’s hard to imagine them being this good; JCVD‘s execution and performances make it far more than just its pitch, and you don’t need to wash it down with retro-ironic hipster disdain to enjoy it. JCVD may not wind up being the first step on the comeback trail for Van Damme, but it certainly represents a brief and welcome digression down the road less traveled for its star; between El-Mechri’s vision and Van Damme’s repentant efforts, JCVD succeeds as a smart, nicely-pitched action-comedy that asked its star to stretch more than just his ligaments, and succeeds because he was willing to take a real chance on something new.

http://www.cinematical.com/2008/09/07/tiff-review-jcvd/

Jean-Claude Van Damme starrer “JCVD” will launch Toronto’s popular Midnight Madness program.

Section programmer Colin Geddes called helmer Mabrouk El Mechri’s pic, in which the action thesp plays a downtrodden version of himself, “the best film I saw at Cannes this year.”

No longer a latenight ghetto, Midnight Madness has grown in the past few years to become the hot spot for the biz and one of the most prominent platforms to launch an adrenaline pic.

Geddes cites “Cabin Fever” (2003) as a case in point. “It was one of the biggest sales of the festival and was the last film screened at the festival to boot,” he said, adding, “The botched ‘Borat’ screening (in which the projector broke down) is now legendary and created an instant viral campaign.”

Midnight Madness has a reputation for offering new twists on old conventions.

“I though the bottom had dropped out of the zombie market, and I thought somewhere there has to be a new twist,” said Geddes, who gives American duo Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel‘s “Deadgirl,” about a not-quite-dead teen, its world preem.

J.T. Petty‘s “The Burrowers,” a horror spin on John Ford‘s “The Searchers,” also world preems, as does Miguel Marti’s psychopath-with-a-fashion-sense thriller “Sexykiller.”

The program also features the international preems of Toshio Lee’s “Detroit Metal City,” based on the popular manga series and starring Gene Simmons, and Mark Hartley‘s “Not Quite Hollywood,” a docu about Australian genre cinema heroes of the ’70s and ’80s.

Jon Hewitt‘s teen crime caper “Acolytes” gets its North American preem, as does Franck Vestiel‘s manga and vidgame-inspired thriller “Eden Log,” Pascal Laugier‘s vengeance saga “Martyrs” and “Chocolate,” from Thai helmer Prachya Pinkaew, whose“Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior” was a fest breakout in 2003.

The Sprockets program of family fare boasts four world preems. They include “Bridge to Terabithia” helmer Gabor Csupo‘s “The Secret of Moonacre,” based on fantasy children’s novel “The Little White Horse” and starring Ioan GruffuddTim Curry,Natascha McElhoneJuliet Stevenson and Dakota Blue Richards.

Other kidpics include Marco Kreuzpaintner‘s 17th century action-adventure “Krabat,” starring Daniel BruhlJacques-Remy Girerd‘s animated enviro-tale “Mia et le Migou”; and Thomas Borch Nielsen‘s animated musical “Sunshine Barry & the Disco Worms.”

The fest’s avant-garde showcase Wavelengths will present six curated programs of international work at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Highlights include Jean-Marie Straub‘s Cannes pic “Le Genou d’Artemide”; the latest installment of David Gatten’s celebrated “The Secret History of the Dividing Line” series; independent stalwart James Benning‘s Berlinale 2008 stunner “RR”; and Jennifer Reeves‘ retooled 2005 MOMA piece “When It Was Blue,” featuring music direction byLaurie Anderson.

The 33rd Toronto Film Festival runs Sept. 4-13.

http://www.variety.com/index.asp?layout=festivals&jump=story&id=2652&articleid=VR1117989377

If the goal with the self reflective JCVD was to recreate the public image of aging action star Jean Claude Van Damme, then you may consider that mission a success.  If the goal was to announce to the world that sophomore feature director Mabrouk El Mechri is a truly world class talent, then you may also consider that mission a success.  If the goal was to skewer celebrity-obsessed culture while laying out the toll it takes on those on the receiving end of the idol worship, then – yep – that’s another one in the success column.

That JCVD is able to show you a new face to its star and subject at all makes it a major accomplishment.  That it does so with such an incredible sense of style, insight, and pure entertainment value makes it a revelation.  Ladies and gentlemen, after spending decades turning out lowest-common-denominator action pictures Jean Claude Van Damme has just made a truly great film.  No matter what criteria you may use to judge it – scripting, cinematography, humour, action, even dramatic performance – JCVD is one remarkable piece of work.  Yes, I flat out love this film.

The premise, at this point, should be familiar to regular readers of this site.  Jean Claude Van Damme, aging star of direct to video low budget action films, is returning home to Belgium after a lengthy court battle that cost him the custody of his daughter.  The final straw in court?  Not the opposing lawyer reciting a litany of methods the star has used to kill opponents on screen to demonstrate the star makes a poor role model, no … it is the daughter herself taking the stand and telling the judge that all of her friends laugh at her whenever her father appears on television.  Beaten down and depressed, his goal is simply to return home, to get out of the spotlight for a bit and recharge.  But life isn’t that simple … Van Damme has racked up a sizable legal bill and his lawyer is demanding immediate payment.  But the well has run dry, the accounts are drained, and to pay the lawyer off Van Damme must first secure an advance payment from his next film and wire that money back to his lawyer.  But things are never as simple as they could be and in this case a quick trip to the bank proves disastrous.  The bank in question is in the middle of being held up and the police assume – wrongly – that Van Damme is the culprit when they arrive on scene.  Before long it’s a full on media mob scene …

From the very opening frame it is clear that JCVD is something special.  First of all, director Mabrouk El Mechri has some serious, serious skill behind the camera.  The cinematography is excellent, the script sharp, the editing rhythmic and Mechri is clearly in love with long, complicated single take shots with the camera seemingly floating through chaos.  An example?  The film begins with a film-within-the-film, on set of Van Damme’s latest (fictional) DTV effort with a single-shot action sequence that runs better than four minutes in a single take.  This one shot summarizes a huge amount of what makes the film special: it first takes Van Damme’s existing persona and ramps up that existing vision of the star considerably – this is the best action sequence he’s been involved with for years and it’s hard not to see it as some sort of pointed response to the single take shots in Hard Boiled andTom Yum Goong, and I seriously hope Gaumont kept all of the film-within-a-film stuff to actually make this film somewhere down the line – before gleefully poking a hole in it, the scene ending with a fake wall falling over when a door is slammed too hard and a winded Van Damme complaining to the director (who couldn’t possibly care less) that he’s forty-seven and it’s too damn hard to do these long takes at his age.

Things progress in a remarkably brave fashion from there, the film borrowing liberally from difficult aspects of the star’s own life.  His drug abuse?  It’s in there.  The money problems?  Really happened.  The custody battle?  Also real.  That Van Damme would hand his life over to any director at all to use as fodder in a comedy, never mind to such a young and largely unproven director, is absolutely stunning.  That Mechri handles the material so deftly is absolutely remarkable.  The risk in doing these sorts of Kauffman-esque sorts of films is that unless you are an absolute raging genius who is also gifted with a good sense of human nature, a brilliant sense of humour and a star with some serious performance chops you are doomed to create little more than a self-absorbed piece of junk.  Mechri, it is safe to say, is an absolute raging genius with a good sense of human nature and a brilliant sense of humour.  Plus one hell of a good star.

And here comes the part where I say something I never thought I would say.  I like Van Damme movies and I’ve seen a lot of them.  Up to a certain point – I believe it was Hard Target – I saw every one of them in the theatre in its first week of release.  But I would never have dreamed of saying that Van Damme was a good actor.  Until now.  Jean Claude Van Damme, when given the right material and a director who knows how to work with him, is one hell of a good actor.  His face has taken on a good amount of character as he has aged, he makes himself remarkably vulnerable in this which works wonders, he proves to have natural timing and a gift for comedy and he should have started working in his native language years ago.  He’s got the goods, he’s just never really been given much of a chance to show it before.

Funny without relying on punchlines, clever, insightful, neatly balancing action with drama, impeccably crafted and blessed with a charismatic star willing to simply lay it all out there and let things fall where they may, JCVD is a revelation.  If there’s any justice in the world at all this film will both launch its director to major acclaim while also triggering a full-on rebirth for its star, one that should take him worlds away from the DTV action ghetto that he’s been consigned to for years.

http://twitchfilm.net/site/view/jcvd-review/

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Some Reviews from Toronto:

In this day and age of half-baked heroes, it’s good to see a familiar face.  The Muscles from Brussels! And who would have thought he was such an acting powerhouse? However, it’s too bad that his latest starring vehicle doesn’t even come close to the level of his acting. It is a testament, though, to his skills as an actor that he can transcend above a lackluster film and prove that his career is far from over.

jcvd

JCVD is easily one of the most buzzed about films at the festival this year. The industry began to take notice at the Cannes Film Festival film market. From there, it started getting accolades wherever it screened. In Toronto alone, it’s been receiving a number of four and five star reviews.

Needless to say, my anticipation was rising with each review. The trailer captured the spirit of the film perfectly; an off beat character study about a man who was once on top of the world, but has since fallen into obscurity and bad career choices.

Being the first Midnight Madness screening of the festival, the theatre was understandably packed with rabid Jean Claude Van Damme fans. It was a wonderful surprise to see so many JCVD fans out in full force. And while the man himself wasn’t in attendance, he did send along a taped message to the crowd apologizing for his absence, which was a classy touch. To introduce the film, director Mabrouk El Mechri revved up the crowd.

Then the theatre went dark and the curtains rose.

Almost immediately I felt something I hadn’t felt since watching Double Impact and Nowhere to Run as a kid. Pure glee. A larger than life hero kicking ass left, right and center. Take note aspiring action filmmakers: if you want to grab the attention of an audience, open your film with a five minute, single-take action sequence. Admittedly, it was an exhilarating way to re-introduce the audience to Van Damme; it seemed like something we haven’t seen before, but at the same time was very nostalgic.

From there, JCVD jumps right into the plot: Van Damme unwittingly becomes involved in a heist at a Belgian post office. Stripped of the glitz and glamor that movie stars are accustomed to, he is forced to come to terms with the fact that he is essentially a nobody in the grand scheme of things. What’s worse, he can’t be the action hero because this is real life; no prop guns, no choreographed fights.

The film beautifully juxtaposes Van Damme’s anguish as a result of the heist with the anguish of a drawn-out custody battle that may very well be the last roundhouse kick he can take. The filmmakers adequately juggle the different aspects of Van Damme’s dilemma with equal dramatic and comedic panache. But by the third act, when the heist hits a fever pitch, something went wrong and it completely destroyed my enjoyment of the film.

For the first two acts, the comedy and drama were given room to breathe, to compliment each other. By the third act, the filmmakers unsuccessfully combined the genres. It was at that point in which the flaws of the film came to my attention. Aside from Van Damme himself, the characters were weak and uninteresting, the main conflict (the heist) proved to be repetitive and didn’t go anywhere nor develop the characters further. All the while I didn’t feel as if there was a real threat to anyone on screen. And worst of all, I lost any emotional connection with Van Damme that I had developed throughout most of the film. By the end, I felt pity for the man, rather than empathy. Argue all you want, but I doubt the filmmakers want you to feel pity for a character they’ve built up for the past ninety minutes. In this case, it wasn’t Van Damme’s acting that faltered, but rather the story itself.

JCVD had a wonderful concept and executed it well in the beginning. By the end, it started to stumble over its own intelligence and dull, under-developed characters. But, as I’ve said time and time again, the saving grace of the film is Jean Claude Van Damme. Speaking, for the first time on film, in his native tongue (French), Van Damme masterfully becomes a man who is broken and defeated, but maintains a odd quirky behavior which suited him very well. Yes, he’s essentially playing himself, but there is a sense of melancholy in his eyes that one can’t just “phone in”.

Need more proof? There is a four-minute monologue in which Van Damme (talking to the camera amidst a flurry of action surrounding him) pleads with the audience, asking for forgiveness and a second chance, explaining that he is only human. With that in mind, the filmmakers effectively incorporate his foibles into the structure of the film; even going so far as to say that he makes horrendous straight to video pictures in order to pay for child support, schooling and the like. Moments like that made me sit up and pay attention because they were very interesting and very heartfelt.

 

When JCVD worked, it worked incredibly well. When it stumbled, it really pulled me out of the experience of watching a childhood hero return to the silver screen. Thank goodness Van Damme had the chops to save the film. Wow, I never thought I’d say that in my lifetime.

6.5 out of 10

http://chud.com/articles/blogs/1208/Toronto-International-Film-Festival-JCVD.html

 

Who is the most popular Belgian actor of all-time? Jean-Claude Van Damme, of course! JCVD, which literally stands for Jean-Claude Van Damme, is a personal introspective on the action star as brought to us by French filmmaker Mabrouk El Mechri. Van Damme actually plays himself, a real life movie star who gets caught up in a routine robbery, but it becomes more than just a story about kicking ass. It’s much more about the actor’s personal life and troubles he’s going though, including losing custody of a child and running out of money. The film starts with an impressive action sequence but unfortunately heads down hill over time. It’s not what you might expect, but at the start that’s a good thing, at the end, it’s not.

JCVD kicks off with an awesome Van Damme action scene, where in one long and amazingly choreographed take, JCVD himself battles upwards of twenty foes, with and without a gun. But we soon see that it was all just Van Damme on set and we move on to his real life. JCVD is not a documentary, but rather a comical, and sometimes emotional, film about how hard it is to become an international action hero. The film has a rather unique and refreshing narrative structure, where particular “chunks” are not shown in exact chronological order, creating a dynamic that builds the story in an enthralling way. While I did enjoy most of what the film had to offer in the way of Van Damme, it wasn’t anything too remarkable.

Not only does JCVD never really have any action scenes again (it’s a Van Damme movie, come on!), but as the story progressed, it started to turn lose all that energy that it had so brilliantly kicked off with. There’s a rather jolting scene part of the way through where in the middle of the action, Van Damme literally stops to explain why his life is what it is and how much it means nothing compared to so many other people out there. He’s just a regular guy who learned karate as a kid, then went to Hollywood and some how made it big. At this point the film was already snowballing out of control, without any hope for redemption. Thankfully there’s a moment of relief at the end, but that didn’t make up for lost time.

I know JCVD is going to get quite a bit of attention because it’s Van Damme, which is why I’ll do my best to stay away from explaining any more of the story, as that is one of the most entertaining elements of the film. But I must complain about one part that kept nagging me – Van Damme never got up and kicked ass like we all know he could! It was only three guys, why didn’t he just use those karate skills? I sat waiting for 90 minutes for Van Damme to do something, but it never happened. Thankfully El Mechri’s visual style, an impressive performance from Van Damme, and a rather intriguing story kept me interested anyway. JCVD is not the next Van Damme cult hit, but it is a worthwhile exploration of an action hero we all love.

Toronto Rating: 7.5 out of 10

JCVD: Toronto Reviews

 

Hey, this is Captain here. I sent in the “The semi-negative HOSTEL review” from TIFF ’05 and I had the pleasure of catching JCVD late Thursday night. Anyways, just thought I’d throw my hat in the ring here. Hope you have room for another review. Enjoy!

I’m just going to come out and say it: JCVD is a minor miracle. That I can tell friends that I just saw a great new Jean-Claude Van Damme isn’t something I anticipating saying for the rest of my moviegoing days, yet here I am. JCVD works because it has a solid script, it’s directed with energy and class by Mabrouk El Mechri, and because Van Damme subtly plays on his “muscles from Brussels” persona in surprisingly funny, and even poignant, ways.

The premise of JVCD is this: What would a faded action star do if he found himself the unwitting pawn in a real-life bank robbery/hostage situation? Would he rise to the occasion and kick-ass and take names, or, would he fail to fulfill his own B-movie mythology and his one shot at redemption? No, I wont spoil it for you.

I can say that JVCD is definitely not a “martial arts” film, owing more to DOG DAY AFTERNOON than DOUBLE IMPACT. However, the movie opens strongly with Van Damme in the midst of fantastic Brian De Palma-esque movie-within-a-movie where the actor stealthily dispatches numerous armed villains, one-by-one with all the action taking place in single, long take set to “Hard Times” by Baby Huey (a great song, by-the-way).

The rest of JCVD centers around a bank robbery (a post office, actually), where Van Damme is mistaken for the culprit, igniting a media circus and drawing crowds of fans. While Van Damme attempts to deal with his captors and placate the hostage negotiators, the movie flashes-back to the actor’s recent problems including a painful custody battle, dealings with his second-rate agent, and increasing cash-flow and lawyer troubles.

Taking shit from all sides, Van Damme pulls off a convincing slow burn, avoiding his signature, winking Euro-charm and his penchant for excessive melodrama. It’s fascinating watching a man we’ve seen triumph over adversity with sheer brawn, countless times, act so… passively. Which is not to say Van Damme is a coward in JVCD, but he certainly responds to crisis in a much more human way than in, say, SUDDEN DEATH, for example.

Did I mention JCVD is funny? Such as when Van Damme is obliged to watch embarrassing old interview clips of himself coming off like a flake, or, when a character talks Van Damme into kicking a cigarette from a man’s lips (which got a big applause from the audience) only to try doing so himself with disastrous results. There’s humorous reference to Van Damme’s previous movies and his straight-to-video competition. A character complains about how John Woo distanced himself from Van Damme after HARD TARGET, but that watching WINDTALKERS didn’t make it seem like such a bad thing. Also, there’s some funny dialogue about how Steven Segal stole a part from Van Damme by promising the film’s producers he’d cut off his ponytail. Great stuff.

Ultimately, JCVD is a film where all the ingredients are just right. It’s stylized enough with its desaturated, tobacco-hued cinematography and fluid camerawork (by Pierre-Yves Bastard) to give it personality, but not so much as to be show-offy (ahem, Guy Ritchie). The film actually has a great throwback score, too, with Gast Waltzing providing a vintage 70’s cop movie-vibe to the proceedings. (It brought to mind Lalo Schifrin, but I’m no composer expert.)

Bottom line: See this movie. I think you’ll be surprised.

http://www.aintitcool.com/node/38220

All the world’s a stage, Shakespeare tells us, but just imagine what kind of nightmare it would be if that were actually true. Jean-Claude Van Damme, played by Jean-Claude Van Damme in Mabrouk El-Mechri’s JCVD, doesn’t have to imagine if it were true, because for him it is; worse, he doesn’t even get to pick the kind of stage he’s on or the part he’s playing. … JCVD fakes you out from the jump and doesn’t stop, opening with a one-cut action sequence set to the pulse and pound of Baby Huey’s 8-track soul-funk version of Curtis Mayfield’s “Hard Times: “So I play the part I feel they want of me/ And I’II pull the shades so I won’t see them seein’ me …” 

And during the opening, Van Damme, older and slower but still possessed of the skills to pay the bills, kicks and punches and shoots his way through a legion of stuntmen until everything goes wrong. And it’s been going wrong for a while, and it’s a good thing Van Damme still has the skills to pay the bills because Van Damme has bills to pay: IRS arrears, child support, court costs. On-set, he’s getting no support from his director, a truculent young Hong Kong hotshot who doesn’t want to hear Van Damme’s complaints, insulting him in untranslated rants: “Just because he brought John Woo to America, he thinks he can rub my dick with sandpaper?” Van Damme needs this job; he needs every job. And so, the weary and aching Muscles from Brussels endures, bearing the heavy load of life like a ’80s Atlas on unsteady ground in the new millennium.
Rushing for a post office to wire some money to his lawyers, Van Damme has to stop to pose for photos, satisfy the public, live up to being him. And after he gets inside, a shot rings out — throwing the city of Schaerbeek into chaos with the news that Jean-Claude Van Damme has taken the post office hostage. The police are deployed — setting up their command post in a mom-and-pop video rental place — and negotiators try to talk Van Damme down. But, of course, he’s not who they have to talk down; Van Damme’s just the wrong man in the wrong place, and he’s cowering and terrified along with the other customers as ringleader Zinedine Squalem and his right-hand man Karim Belkhadra try to figure out how they can get out of this situation by using Van Damme as their go-between to the cops. …

JCVD isn’t an action film, though, even with the tense potential for armed violence at any moment; it’s a comedy-drama with kickboxing in it, one where the punch lines are, often, actual punches. As Squalem gets more antsy and Belkhadra cozies up to Van Damme, things reach a breaking point — and the crowd outside, growing and shouting like some Belgian variation on Dog Day Afternoon remade for the era of tabloid celebrity coverage, aren’t helping the moment. Van Damme has been in a thousand movies like this, of course. But this isn’t a movie, even though it’s hard for him — and everyone else around him — to understand that. 

And I never thought I’d utter these words, but Jean-Claude Van Damme gives an exciting, impressive performance here, careening between action that leaves him breathless and comedy that leaves us laughing, revealing not only the timing and charisma that made him the action star we know him as but also a human side we probably had never imagined. There’s nothing more vain than insisting you’re without vanity, but Van Damme strips himself bare here — the aging action icon, the man who finds living other people’s dreams a nightmare, the star who is in danger of losing a part to Stephen frickin’ Seagal. (Explaining why there’s such heated interest in Seagal for the film instead of his client, VanDamme’s agent lamely offers how “(Seagal) offered to cut of his ponytail for the part …” .) Van Damme’s in danger of not seeing his kids, even, and as the judge brings a stack of DVD boxes into court to prove Van Damme’s violent career makes him unfit for custody, Van Damme has an exasperated, exhausted and frustrated reaction that’s still funny even as you really feel the stakes of the scene. 

Director and writer El Mechri’s instincts and decisions also make JCVD far more than a one-joke premise. A scene where Van Damme demonstrates one of his moves and his captors try to imitate it is perfectly-timed; the movie-action sequences are shot with rich, phony excitement and the real-world action is shot with grim vigor and scary possibility. In the film’s centerpiece scene, too good to spoil, Van Damme literally ascends from the work of art he’s in and into the realm of the artificial … and then lays himself bare, scared and scarred and sad and worried and lonely, hovering in some quiet, aching place between life and death, between art and reality, between fake entertainment and real emotion. 

It’s hard to imagine JCVD inspiring a wave of similar meta-action films — Being Rowdy Roddy Piper, say, or The Eternal Sunshine of John Saxon’s Mind. But even if there were, copycats aspiring to JCVD‘s brains and brawn, it’s hard to imagine them being this good; JCVD‘s execution and performances make it far more than just its pitch, and you don’t need to wash it down with retro-ironic hipster disdain to enjoy it. JCVD may not wind up being the first step on the comeback trail for Van Damme, but it certainly represents a brief and welcome digression down the road less traveled for its star; between El-Mechri’s vision and Van Damme’s repentant efforts, JCVD succeeds as a smart, nicely-pitched action-comedy that asked its star to stretch more than just his ligaments, and succeeds because he was willing to take a real chance on something new.

http://www.cinematical.com/2008/09/07/tiff-review-jcvd/

Jean-Claude Van Damme starrer “JCVD” will launch Toronto’s popular Midnight Madness program.

Section programmer Colin Geddes called helmer Mabrouk El Mechri’s pic, in which the action thesp plays a downtrodden version of himself, “the best film I saw at Cannes this year.”

No longer a latenight ghetto, Midnight Madness has grown in the past few years to become the hot spot for the biz and one of the most prominent platforms to launch an adrenaline pic.

Geddes cites “Cabin Fever” (2003) as a case in point. “It was one of the biggest sales of the festival and was the last film screened at the festival to boot,” he said, adding, “The botched ‘Borat’ screening (in which the projector broke down) is now legendary and created an instant viral campaign.”

Midnight Madness has a reputation for offering new twists on old conventions.

“I though the bottom had dropped out of the zombie market, and I thought somewhere there has to be a new twist,” said Geddes, who gives American duo Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel‘s “Deadgirl,” about a not-quite-dead teen, its world preem.

J.T. Petty‘s “The Burrowers,” a horror spin on John Ford‘s “The Searchers,” also world preems, as does Miguel Marti’s psychopath-with-a-fashion-sense thriller “Sexykiller.”

The program also features the international preems of Toshio Lee’s “Detroit Metal City,” based on the popular manga series and starring Gene Simmons, and Mark Hartley‘s “Not Quite Hollywood,” a docu about Australian genre cinema heroes of the ’70s and ’80s.

Jon Hewitt‘s teen crime caper “Acolytes” gets its North American preem, as does Franck Vestiel‘s manga and vidgame-inspired thriller “Eden Log,” Pascal Laugier‘s vengeance saga “Martyrs” and “Chocolate,” from Thai helmer Prachya Pinkaew, whose“Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior” was a fest breakout in 2003.

The Sprockets program of family fare boasts four world preems. They include “Bridge to Terabithia” helmer Gabor Csupo‘s “The Secret of Moonacre,” based on fantasy children’s novel “The Little White Horse” and starring Ioan GruffuddTim Curry,Natascha McElhoneJuliet Stevenson and Dakota Blue Richards.

Other kidpics include Marco Kreuzpaintner‘s 17th century action-adventure “Krabat,” starring Daniel BruhlJacques-Remy Girerd‘s animated enviro-tale “Mia et le Migou”; and Thomas Borch Nielsen‘s animated musical “Sunshine Barry & the Disco Worms.”

The fest’s avant-garde showcase Wavelengths will present six curated programs of international work at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Highlights include Jean-Marie Straub‘s Cannes pic “Le Genou d’Artemide”; the latest installment of David Gatten’s celebrated “The Secret History of the Dividing Line” series; independent stalwart James Benning‘s Berlinale 2008 stunner “RR”; and Jennifer Reeves‘ retooled 2005 MOMA piece “When It Was Blue,” featuring music direction byLaurie Anderson.

The 33rd Toronto Film Festival runs Sept. 4-13.

http://www.variety.com/index.asp?layout=festivals&jump=story&id=2652&articleid=VR1117989377

If the goal with the self reflective JCVD was to recreate the public image of aging action star Jean Claude Van Damme, then you may consider that mission a success.  If the goal was to announce to the world that sophomore feature director Mabrouk El Mechri is a truly world class talent, then you may also consider that mission a success.  If the goal was to skewer celebrity-obsessed culture while laying out the toll it takes on those on the receiving end of the idol worship, then – yep – that’s another one in the success column.

That JCVD is able to show you a new face to its star and subject at all makes it a major accomplishment.  That it does so with such an incredible sense of style, insight, and pure entertainment value makes it a revelation.  Ladies and gentlemen, after spending decades turning out lowest-common-denominator action pictures Jean Claude Van Damme has just made a truly great film.  No matter what criteria you may use to judge it – scripting, cinematography, humour, action, even dramatic performance – JCVD is one remarkable piece of work.  Yes, I flat out love this film.

The premise, at this point, should be familiar to regular readers of this site.  Jean Claude Van Damme, aging star of direct to video low budget action films, is returning home to Belgium after a lengthy court battle that cost him the custody of his daughter.  The final straw in court?  Not the opposing lawyer reciting a litany of methods the star has used to kill opponents on screen to demonstrate the star makes a poor role model, no … it is the daughter herself taking the stand and telling the judge that all of her friends laugh at her whenever her father appears on television.  Beaten down and depressed, his goal is simply to return home, to get out of the spotlight for a bit and recharge.  But life isn’t that simple … Van Damme has racked up a sizable legal bill and his lawyer is demanding immediate payment.  But the well has run dry, the accounts are drained, and to pay the lawyer off Van Damme must first secure an advance payment from his next film and wire that money back to his lawyer.  But things are never as simple as they could be and in this case a quick trip to the bank proves disastrous.  The bank in question is in the middle of being held up and the police assume – wrongly – that Van Damme is the culprit when they arrive on scene.  Before long it’s a full on media mob scene …

From the very opening frame it is clear that JCVD is something special.  First of all, director Mabrouk El Mechri has some serious, serious skill behind the camera.  The cinematography is excellent, the script sharp, the editing rhythmic and Mechri is clearly in love with long, complicated single take shots with the camera seemingly floating through chaos.  An example?  The film begins with a film-within-the-film, on set of Van Damme’s latest (fictional) DTV effort with a single-shot action sequence that runs better than four minutes in a single take.  This one shot summarizes a huge amount of what makes the film special: it first takes Van Damme’s existing persona and ramps up that existing vision of the star considerably – this is the best action sequence he’s been involved with for years and it’s hard not to see it as some sort of pointed response to the single take shots in Hard Boiled andTom Yum Goong, and I seriously hope Gaumont kept all of the film-within-a-film stuff to actually make this film somewhere down the line – before gleefully poking a hole in it, the scene ending with a fake wall falling over when a door is slammed too hard and a winded Van Damme complaining to the director (who couldn’t possibly care less) that he’s forty-seven and it’s too damn hard to do these long takes at his age.

Things progress in a remarkably brave fashion from there, the film borrowing liberally from difficult aspects of the star’s own life.  His drug abuse?  It’s in there.  The money problems?  Really happened.  The custody battle?  Also real.  That Van Damme would hand his life over to any director at all to use as fodder in a comedy, never mind to such a young and largely unproven director, is absolutely stunning.  That Mechri handles the material so deftly is absolutely remarkable.  The risk in doing these sorts of Kauffman-esque sorts of films is that unless you are an absolute raging genius who is also gifted with a good sense of human nature, a brilliant sense of humour and a star with some serious performance chops you are doomed to create little more than a self-absorbed piece of junk.  Mechri, it is safe to say, is an absolute raging genius with a good sense of human nature and a brilliant sense of humour.  Plus one hell of a good star.

And here comes the part where I say something I never thought I would say.  I like Van Damme movies and I’ve seen a lot of them.  Up to a certain point – I believe it was Hard Target – I saw every one of them in the theatre in its first week of release.  But I would never have dreamed of saying that Van Damme was a good actor.  Until now.  Jean Claude Van Damme, when given the right material and a director who knows how to work with him, is one hell of a good actor.  His face has taken on a good amount of character as he has aged, he makes himself remarkably vulnerable in this which works wonders, he proves to have natural timing and a gift for comedy and he should have started working in his native language years ago.  He’s got the goods, he’s just never really been given much of a chance to show it before.

Funny without relying on punchlines, clever, insightful, neatly balancing action with drama, impeccably crafted and blessed with a charismatic star willing to simply lay it all out there and let things fall where they may, JCVD is a revelation.  If there’s any justice in the world at all this film will both launch its director to major acclaim while also triggering a full-on rebirth for its star, one that should take him worlds away from the DTV action ghetto that he’s been consigned to for years.

http://twitchfilm.net/site/view/jcvd-review/

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