» Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]


 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]


 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum

October 2, 2008
RATING: 8.5/10
There is bound to be a massive amount of critical acclaim for the new Jean-Claude Van Damme film, "un"-titled JCVD, upon its limited US release next month. Seriously. Director and co-writer Mabrouk El Mechri's flick is well-edited, almost perfectly shot, and compositionally sound - and those points are just the icing on the cake. The most endearing and celebration-worthy aspect of the picture is Van Damme's performance; he really does do an amazing job of it, not only in the few brief action sequences, but mostly in his emotional portrayal of, well, himself.

The premise behind JCVD is simple - Jean-Claude Van Damme's life is a mess. Throughout the world the man is more notorious than known for his ridiculous B-grade movies and for some very public personal drama stemming from five marriages, drug addiction and mental illness. This French-made meta-film opens with an incredible tracking shot of Van Damme on a battlefield, frenetically traversing exploding terrain, killing enemy soldiers, saving a girl and looking super-heroic for the super-human effort. The exhausting sequence is scored with Baby Huey's world-weary cover of the Curtis Mayfield classic "Hard Times." As he finally escapes the battle, a classic cinematic conceit reveals Van Damme to be on a film set. The action star is shown talking, via interpreter, to the film's Asian director about the tiring nature of long takes, only to be curtly ignored. Being summarily dismissed at work is the first of an endless number of humiliations the actor suffers throughout the course of JCVD. At one point in the film we witness a courtroom custody hearing in which Van Damme's own daughter requests not to live with her father because her friends make fun of his movies. Just like a middle-aged Charlie Brown or a muscle-bound Rodney Dangerfield, Jean-Claude Van Damme gets no respect. Fortunately for audiences, in keeping with all manor of proverbs about humility, Van Damme willingly placed his many real-life personal humiliations on display in the film, and the result is far more captivating than any explosion-laden action movie could ever be.

Although JCVD does have several violent sequences, they serve as end-pieces to sandwich the meat of the film that lies in between. As with the courtroom drama, witnessing Van Damme's awkward confession to a cab driver about losing film roles to Steven Segal (apparently Segal was willing to cut his ponytail) elicits the kind of uncomfortable laughter as that prompted by Ricky Gervais' brilliant original version of The Office. Van Damme has no shame here either - the entire plot revolves around the washed-up and broke star returning to his homeland and, having been snubbed by an ATM and left without cash, left waiting for a wire transfer to arrive at a small Brussels post office. It is while waiting in the cash queue that Van Damme realizes the post office is in the midst of a robbery and that he has now inadvertently become a hostage. The scenario is of course the perfect setup for a stereotypical Van Damme superstud movie, but JCVD instead focuses on exposing Van Damme's flawed humanity. Like most humans, in the face of a gun Jean-Claude does what he is told. Unfortunately, as he is following the criminals' instructions, a police officer observing the situation from outside incorrectly assumes that Van Damme is the one holding the postal staff hostage; a more apt setting for a celebrity has-been to suffer a violent mental meltdown there could not be. When the authorities incorrectly assume that Van Damme has literally gone postal the word quickly spreads, and in short order a crowd of fans assembles (waiving "Free Jean-Claude!" signs) and the media swarms the area to witness yet another humiliation in the life of Jean-Claude, The Muscles from Brussels.

As the film unfolds, scenes of the post office stand-off are juxtaposed with scenes from Van Damme's past. The film is rendered in a completely washed-out visual style that is more sepia tone than Panavision, an atmospheric touch that serves as a constant reminder of Van Damme's fading career; just shy of 50, each deeply-creased wrinkle is plainly visible. The film's climax comes in a surprising place: with Van Damme at his emotional breaking point viewers are literally elevated into his head as he vocalizes his inner monologue. The actor gives a painful confession - tracing how his love for martial arts led to addiction and abuse, poor parenting, and his entry to Hollywood's brutal production system - and ultimately assumes responsibility for arriving at such a horribly low point.

JCVD is a cinematic treat. It is a film that will most certainly appeal to a wide range of moviegoers, and represents unconventional cinema at its finest - thrilling, tragic and hilarious. The way the flawed and increasingly stressful life of Jean-Claude Van Damme breaks down on screen is akin to watching other masterful films like Robert Altman's The Player, or Spike Jonze's Adaptation. Here is to hoping Jean-Claude can get things together again; watching this B-movie actor give an Oscar-worthy performance unpredictably leaves audiences wanting more Van Damme.

TRAILER: www.youtube.com/watch?v=4z_6UfkQ-c0

SEE ALSO: www.jcvd-lefilm.com
SEE ALSO: www.myspace.com/jcvdmovie
SEE ALSO: www.jcvandamme.net

Jon Burke
A contributing writer and a Chicago resident who will not be goaded by LASís editor into revealing any more details about his potentially sordid affairs.

See other articles by Jon Burke.



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