I don’t think I ever stopped enjoying a Jean-Claude Van Damme film.  He was the first action hero that I identified with—in my mind at least.  I missed out on Sly’s Rocky and Rambo and Arnold’s Conan and Terminator in the late 70’s and early 80’s, (don’t worry, I learned of their importance later) but Bloodsport and Kickboxer were movies that I can still remember seeing on the screen.

His first years in film were my favorite—No Retreat No Surrender as a Russian mob thug, a revived Vietnam Vet in Universal Soldier and I even liked The Quest and Double Team with Dennis Rodman…hey, it had awesome one-liners and a halfway decent amount of fighting (some of it was sans Van Damme).  But the point remains that Van Damme was on top of the game for quite awhile, until his bankability sank steadily leading up to Universal Soldier: the Return.  It was meant to be a good idea and Michael Jai White is pretty kickass, but even I, JC’s biggest fan, had finally seen how far he’d fallen.  Drugs, bi-polar disorder, problems with his family and trying to fight Chuck Zito sent JC hitting rock bottom.

But then something miraculous happened—Jean-Claude made JCVD, a movie about his real life, having no money, a fading career, a child custody battle, and all of the ridiculous situations that come along with it.

Van Damme goes back to his home in Brussels for a much-needed break, only to find himself a hostage in a bank heist gone wrong—and due to an unfortunate mistake, the police think he’s the bank robber.  In the end, JC is stripped down to his barest delivering a monologue right into the camera about his life and regrets and it’s there that Van Damme takes control of the film.  JCVD becomes more than an emotional comedy, it becomes crafty film. But Van Damme is tired of being Van Damme, and while everyone from the bank robbers who both worship and taunt him to the public’s love/hate relationship with him, JC just can’t deal.

It’s quick, humorous, and entertaining, but it also delivers a brutal honesty.  You can say this is Van Damme’s Wrestler, proving that not only is he back, but he really can act.  Like Mickey Rourke who played a wrestler way past his prime, Van Damme finds himself close to the edge too—but he realizes it and takes this opportunity to let us know that he’s in on the joke too.

Let’s face it, this isn’t Cyborg, but it’s still awesome.  And Van Damme might have the rejuvenation we’ve all been looking forward to—Universal Soldier 3? Check.

Buy JCVD – Blu-ray | DVD



Danton – Criterion Collection

dantoncriterion1I’m addicted to the Criterion Collection right now.  I’ve got a little over 60 titles and I’m still mapping out which cinematic adventure to get next.  Danton was just released as spine #464 in the DVD collection and it’s definitely a great addition to Criterion.

Gérard Depardieu and Wojciech Pszoniak star in Andrzej Wajda’s fantastic depiction of the French Revolution and the ideological clash between man-of-the-people Georges Danton and cold hearted Jacobin extremist Maximilien Robespierre, the two key figures of this period. Wajda draws parallels to Polish solidarity, a movement that was being quashed by the government as the film was in production.

Wadja has a large body of work that includes films that are more psychological and romantic in nature—most based in contemporary Poland or in the horrific years of World War II.  Danton (1983) appears to be a period piece by the front cover and conversely not about Poland at all.  Wadja lays out the blueprint for an passionate allegory on the uselessness of a violent revolution—and of course the clear parallels between the French Revolution and twentieth century Poland.

The movie is based on the play, The Danton Affair, by Stranislawa Przybyszewska—a communist whose sympathies were with the radical Robespierre.  Wadja then decided to flip the play on its ear in 1975, making Danton the protagonist and by 1980 at the apex of the Solidarity liberation movement, he transforms his play into a film, with production taking place in Poland and location scenes being shot in France.  Just like the actual problems presented on screen, the filming of Danton was tangled up by a Soviet coup in December 1981—creating a totalitarian regime that halted production permanently.  Taking the movie to Paris, Wajda only returned from Polish exile in 1989 after the Jaruzelski government fell.

Taking place in 1794, Danton starts almost five years after the fall of the Bastille.  Following the period when the newly formed revolutionary government begins to create a Committee of Public Safety and the Revolutionary Tribunal to suppress its enemies and raise military forces, we find Danton and Robespierre as the central figureheads arresting and executing huge numbers of suspects, including Marie Antoinette and Duc d’Orléans—the period known as the Reign of Terror.

This film raises some complex questions in rather simple ways seen through the interactions between Danton and Robespierre, presented in opposing political, logical and humanistic ideologies.  Danton is Wajda’s crowning achievement not only in the context of film, but also as a piece of historical significance, and Criterion does a beautiful job of reminding us why.

The DVD is a two-disc set with the film presented in its original 1:66:1 aspect ratio, video interviews with Wajda, screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière, Polish film critic Jerzy Plazewski and a 42-minute behind-the-scenes documentary about the making of the film.  For the history buffs, check out this little masterpiece.

Danton – Criterion Collection

Danton – The Auteurs