There was a point in his career when the “Muscles from Brussels” was one of the biggest B-movie stars in the world. Jean-Claude Van Damme made a career out of mindless action films, held together with big explosions and hammy acting, which is probably why the actor would eventually be equated with some of the cheesiest films of the last decade.
So it was more than a little bizarre to find myself excited about a Van Damme film during last year’s Toronto International Film Festival. A film that was not only getting a lot of buzz, but starred Van Damme in his best role to date: as himself.
Played with a miserable glee, Van Damme is visiting his home town of Brussels when he is mistakenly caught up in a hostage situation. Outside, the police try to work out a deal, but somehow think that Van Damme is actually behind it all.
Filmed in French, with English subtitles, JCVD is a funny, enjoyable drama that gives equal time to Van Damme the star and Van Damme imagined as a real, aging actor who can’t quite get the roles he wants any more.
With its strange, and yet wonderfully simple premise, this is a surprisingly endearing film, made even more mesmerizing, not only by Van Damme’s performance, but also by the film’s gritty film stock, which adds to the film’s often sombre mood.
Say what you will about Van Damme’s acting in the past, but JCVD is a remarkable film, one of last year’s best, in fact, and worth a look this week on DVD. Features are unfortunately sparse, but the DVD comes with deleted scenes, and a digital copy of the film.
Ever since the success of The Ring, a remake of a Japanese horror film, North American filmmakers have repeatedly capitalized on the runaway success of this import market. Whether the films have been good, or not, doesn’t even seem to matter since most of these remakes also earn wads of cash thanks to a built-in teen audience who just want to be a little scared. (Look no further than the ridiculous Shutter for proof of that, which was made for around $8 million, and took in more than $43 million at the box office.)
In The Uninvited, Emily Brown plays Anna, a young woman trying to deal with the death of her mother as a new woman makes moves on her father. Elizabeth Banks plays the new, manipulative woman with evil in her heart.
My issues with the genre aside, The Uninvited got par-for-the-course reviews, with Edward Douglas of ComingSoon.net calling it “too derivative and laden with plot twists to be effective, adding, “it’s hard to enjoy this cluttered remake knowing how much better the original movie is.”
Bride Wars stars two legitimate actresses, Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway, as “bridezillas” planning their weddings on the same day. The two friends, or perhaps former friends, will do whatever it takes to upstage the other, no matter what the consequences.
While it was hugely successful at the box office, the film is a terrible, terrible “chick flick”, with barely any memorable moments. Considering Hathaway’s career to date, the film is a definite low-point. Hudson, on the other hand, has had a rocky road through Hollywood, so I’m not sure this film really stands out, especially when you look at her last movie, Fool’s Gold.
Women will no doubt still flock to the film, based solely on the premise, but audiences would be better served with just about any bride story from the last couple of years. Just off the top of my head I’d recommend My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Father of the Bride, The Wedding Planner, or the very recent hit, Mamma Mia!
Taking Lives [Blu-ray]
Disturbing, and evocatively shot, the film Taking Lives was a minor release in 2004, earning it enough to make it slightly successful. On Blu-ray, however, I’m inclined to think the film does warrant a second look, primarily because it not only looks so damn good, but also because it was filmed entirely in Québec and features four of my favorite stars: Angelina Jolie as FBI agent Illeana Scott, Ethan Hawke as the main suspect, Kiefer Sutherland as Hart, and Tchéky Karyo as Leclair.
Directed by D.J. Caruso, who made the successful thriller Disturbia, the film is about an FBI profile, played by Jolie, who is called to Montreal to track down a serial killer who is hiding out in the city.
What the film lacks in brilliance, it makes up for in style, and the unique visual appeal that paints a stunning picture of one of Canada’s most beautiful cities.
The Blu-ray release, which includes an extended cut of the film, has a few decent features. Most notably an interesting four-part featurette about the making of the film that has some really exceptional interviews with the cast. Oddly enough for this type of film, there is also a slightly amusing gag reel.
DVD Tuesday is a weekly syndicated column produced by The GATE for print and online, covering the latest new arrivals coming to home video.