Friday, February 4, 2011

Battle for the Planet of the Buddha Man!

Buddha Man lays it all out!


JCVD  (Peace Arch Entertainment Group, 2008)  Jean Claude Van Damme was never one of my favorite action stars - even movies that others really enjoyed like Bloodsport - across dozens of movies I have only ever been a fan of two of his efforts: Timecop and The Quest. Well, time to add a third. In this flick the Muscles from Brussels plays...Jean-Claude Van Damme, an aging action star on a downswing in his life. He's tired of bashing his body brutally through low grade stuntfests directed by youngsters almost as arrogant as he was back in the day, and he's in the middle of a contentious custody battle for his daughter. He heads back to Belgium to recharge his batteries. Things take a turn for the even worse when Van Damme steps into a post office in his hometown to wire some money back to his American lawyer to continue the custody battle - and moments later the post office is being robbed! Witnesses see the very recognizable face of Van Damme locking the place up - could the actor have lost it and gone rogue? The police think so, and so begins a standoff with Van Damme and several other people locked inside, and dozens of police officers and even more media types surrounding the place.

Have you ever noticed that large bump on Van Damme's forehead?
You think you'll ever be able to not notice it again?
This is a very clever and well made movie, not exactly a standard issue JCVD flick, but something a bit removed from that. Van Damme plays himself here, and yet he doesn't (the real world actor has a son, not a daughter, for one) but he does it well, interacting charmingly with a couple of fans outside the post office in the early moments of the movie, and getting in some good soul searching and one really cool monologue inside the building. I've always felt a weird disdain from JCVD in most of his films, but as he ages, this seems to be getting replaced with a little more self deprecation and grace, increasing his likability immensely. As for the movie - the cinematography is artfully washed out, with the lack of bright color mirroring the exhaustion Van Damme feels in his life as he approaches fifty. There is some suspense, there is some humor, there is a little action, and there are definitely subtitles (although there might be a dubbed version on the DVD as well). If you like movies that mix a little of the real with a little of the artifice of film, this is definitely recommended - if you're a Van Damme fan, this is a definite - if you're an action junkie, it's more a maybe since the dramatics outweigh the acrobatics - but for almost everyone I'd say check this one out!

Road to Morocco  (Paramount, 1942)  Bob Hope and Bing Crosby take another long trip and once again find Dorothy Lamour waiting at the end of it in this, the third of the Road pictures. Jeff (Crosby) and Orville (Hope) find themselves adrift after their ship sinks (wonder whose fault THAT was?) and wash ashore in northwestern Africa. After a rousing rendition of the title tune (which I like to sing small snatches of at inopportune moments) the boys find themselves in the palace of Princess Shalmar (Lamour) the lovely Grand Pooh Bette of the local sand dunes. But she's trying to duck the unwanted attentions of sheik Mullay Kasim (Anthony Quinn) and soon, amidst much bantering, adlibbing, insulting, and singing, Bob and Bing join her for a big escape.

Anthony Quinn shops the Paramount gift shop's selections of
celebrity busts between setups.

You don't really review a Road picture, because they are kind of uncritiqueable. They have no real plot to speak of, and generally the only people watching them are fans who already enjoy them. But, that said, this is a goodie, with some great verbal jousting between B+B, good villainy from Quinn, and plenty of pulchritude from Lamour and Dona Drake as another Palace Hottie. Definitely give this one a try, and when you do, watch for the unscripted bit thrown in by a camel, with real reactions from Hope and Crosby!

And of course I'm not going to review one of
these movies and miss a chance to feature
the lovely Miss Dorothy Lamour!


Pistol Whipped  (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 2008)  I'd been studiously avoiding watching any of the direct to video latter day Steven Seagal flicks for a while, but then I just got to missing the big lug, so I sat down with this one. Steve plays Matt, a hard drinking, out of shape ex cop who has let himself go after being kicked off the force for allegedly stealing money from an evidence locker. Now he drinks too much, gambles too much, loses too much, and spends too little time with his daughter. Then he is approached by minions of The Old Man (Lance Henriksen), a shadowy figure who has bought up all of his outstanding gambling markers, which total 7 figures, and is given an ultimatum - become a hit man for The Old Man, or face dire consequences. Steve's initial reaction is a soft, underacted 'no' but when he realizes the intended targets are all really bad guys who are beyond the law, he gets off the sauce and goes on the offensive, icing several wiseguys and terrorist types using his old Special Forces skills. But something about the whole setup rings false, and soon Matt can't tell the good guys from the bad...

Holy Ed Wood's wife's chiropractor!
 One of the reasons I'd not watched much of SS's recent stuff is that I sensed he wasn't fully engaged in most of them, and this was confirmed by some online acquaintances who make movies like this who divulged that Steve was really into being doubled in as much of his 21st century movies as possible. And I'm not talking just about the fighting. Basically you would apparently only get Seagal on set for medium closeups and closeups, and the rest would all be photographic doubles. I wanted to see if this was true, and sure enough, several times in the course of this movie, a weirdly angled long shot of Matt going to his car or walking around is obviously a double. Seagal is around for a fair amount of the fighting here, but with his added bulk he is not the striking snake of old, more a lumbering bear who is much assisted by the editor into regaining his lost speed. (And as an aside - I noticed Seagal's tendency toward added weight as far back as my 1991 review of Out for Justice - toot toot on my own horn). So, you have a lead actor who is only about 60% engaged in the 60% of his scenes that he actually appears in. That math adds up to only a little entertainment value. There are some good moments in this, to be sure, and Henriksen is always a welcome presence, but this one's only for action junkies hard up for a fix or Seagal or Henriksen completists. If you do watch, see if you can spot one time Captain America Matt Salinger (yes, son of J.D.) as a poker dealer. Otherwise, give this one a miss.

That will complete our time together today. And always remember - shadows stay behind or in front, never on top - and doubles always face away from camera.

1 comment:

  1. I'm one of the guys who loves the Road movies, and your comments are spot on.

    In the studio recording sessions, Hope cracks up Crosby with some ad-libbed song lines. The magic of these films comes from the alchemy between Hope and Crosby. These guys genuinely appreciated each other, and enjoyed their time together. I doubt we'll ever see their like again.

    And the camel bit--classic.