May 30, 2014



JCVD (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Had a wierd movie experience this week for which I need to tell you a story as prologue. Back in the day, as movie reviewer at The Michigan Daily, I went to go see and review The Gods Must Be Crazy a movie about which I knew absolutely nothing. First, it was my job and vocation to go to movies, but also there was a faint buzz that it was a comedy.(Yes, there was something like "buzz" even before Facebook, twitter, and blogs). The movie was cheaply made (in South Africa), but delightful and amazing and I loved it. Its comedy was broad and slapstick and its themes were generous and heartfelt.

When writing the review I wanted to sing its praises, but I couldn't figure out how to do that without raising expectations. What I wanted was for people (especially people who cared about movies) to discover the film on their own. I ended up writing the review without mentioning the movie's name: I talked about its wonder and innocence and humor, etc, but I hoped that by not going in to the normal review factoids about cast and crew, I could keep the mystery alive a bit. There was just a large publicity still from the picture in the review to help people figure out what the movie was called.

So, speaking of seeing movies without any expectations....

The other night, while the downstairs TV was busy with celebrity dancing, I was upstairs flicking through channels and I came across an actor facing the camera speaking a monologue. Oh, Jean-Claude Van Damme. Never cared about him much, only disappointed he never really made a good enough action pic that was worth seeing as far as I was concerned. He kept talking and it seemed to be biographical. In fact, it was fascinating and heart-wrenching. Huh?

Of course, these days (as you all know), you just hit the "info" button on the remote to find out what the show is: In this case, JCVD, and the info said "Based on an incident in which Jean-Claude Van Damme is caught up in a bank robbery in Brussels...". Huh? JCVD was in a bank robbery? That didn't ring a bell, but why would it?

His monologue went on and on - an obviously personal catharsis of his rise and decline as a movie star, a plea to understand that he's just a regular guy caught up in celebrity. What the hell is this movie?

At the end of the monologue, his returns (as it were) to the present action of the plot, and resumes his arguments with the robbers and the police. It's coming across a bit of a Dog Day Afternoon, and the police aren't sure if JCVD is part of the burglary or not.

And I'm totally confused. The faux-documentary style and the "info" suggest this is a retelling of a real incident, but that seems pretty far-fetched. On the other hand, JCVD is acting far beyond what I would have expected; It's possible something like this did happen and that is the springboard or background to the film?

The movie ends with JCVD in prison, as an after-the-fact accomplice to the crime (or whatever) and has an emotional meeting with his mother and kid.

It's actually stunning. I finally picked up my tablet (which was all the way across the room getting charged) and started going through wikipedia's JCVD article - nothing about a robbery. It took me several minutes of IMDB and other googl'ng to really be convinced that the whole thing was, yes, just a movie. Whoever wrote the "info" blurb was definitely trying to trick the audience, and I fell for it.

Unfortunately, there's no way I can recommend the movie based solely on my experience, especially after you've read this article. But it was an interesting moment for me, a reminder that expectations of a movie, based on buzz about the plot, effects, stars, budget, can really get in the way of pure enjoyment. And also a reminder that surprises such as this are hard to come by and should be treasured. If the person who wrote the blurb was trying to trick me, thanks!

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Posted by netrc at May 30, 2014 01:31 PM