"This movie is for me. There we are, you and me. Why did you do that? Or why did I do that? You made my dream come true. I asked for it. I promised you something in return and I haven't delivered yet. You win, I lose. Unless... the path you've set for me is full of hurdles where the answer comes before the question. Yeah I do that. Now I know why. It's the cure, from what I've seen here. It all makes sense. It makes sense to those who understand. So... America, poverty, stealing to eat... stalking producers, actors, 'movie stars', going to clubs hoping to see a star, with my pictures, karate magazines. It's all I had. I didn't speak English. But I did 20 years of karate. 'Cause before I wasn't like that..."
And the schizophrenic rambling internal monologue goes on...
Oddly enough, though, when JCVD stops the movie to share his thoughts and feelings, it doesn't deteriorate like the other odd expositional sequences in film (think: physical manifestations of the subconscious engaging in conversation with their owner). In fact, the aptly titled 'JCVD' becomes ten times the film it was up to that point, changing from a heist/robbery movie into a work of moving art, a beautiful look into one man's soul. Jean-Claude Van Damme's.
And here we all were, thinking he had no soul, only another roundhouse kick waiting to be unleashed.
In what feels like an alternate universe of sorts, JCVD (Van Damme) is down in the dumps. He's just lost custody of his daughter, his check to his lawyer bounced, and he lost out on a role that would help turn things around to his rival, one Steven Seagal. To make matters worse, in the streets of Brussels, he's accused of holding up a post office. The real perps know they're holding a national treasure hostage, and are setting him up for a real public disgrace. But there is no counting out an action film superhero in the face of danger, real or on camera, especially when this hero has real heart, and nothing to lose.
I find it nearly impossible to not utterly love 'JCVD' for its originality in a very stale genre. Bank heists have been done a million times, beaten to death in a way, creating a cliche-mill when new films try to redefine the story. Leave it to the French, a washed up actor portraying himself, a genius script, and one of the greatest scenes in cinema to reinvent the wheel, and create a twisted new version of the infamous reality programming theme. It's kind of like 'Dog Day Afternoon' meets 'I'm a Celebrity: Get me Out of Here!,' only without the ridiculous cheese that comes with celebrity TV.
Van Damme provides a career redefining performance as a version of himself, a broken man, humbled and beaten by the industry that made him what he is. I seriously never knew the guy could actually act, and with 'JCVD,' we have a performance on par with the dramatic greats. The monologue, which appears to be one long cut (or one really, really well cut and edited series of cuts), is heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time, and is enough to make even a grown man cry tears of manliness.
It doesn't hurt that the story weaves around real life so surreally that we can actually believe what we see on screen, but the fact that audiences young and old can get behind an actor best known for generic mindless drivel is truly something special. It's hard not to root for JCVD the character, 'JCVD' the film, or the refreshed career of Jean-Claude Van Damme...especially since anyone rooting against him will get drop kicked straight to hell.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'JCVD' arrives on Blu-ray in the states from Peace Arch, bowing a few months after the region free UK import, which was released by Revolver Entertainment. There are a few vital differences between these releases, and plenty of confusion, to boot. What was once a BD50 (UK) is now a BD25 (USA). What once had a lossless track (UK) now sports only lossy (USA). That said, the cuts of the film are the same across both releases.
The aesthetic of 'JCVD' instantly creates a difficult situation: does one grade it based off of intention, or what is actually there? In my eyes, there's only one way to judge a Blu-ray: by what's actually there. This isn't like giving a third grader an A in art despite his complete lack of understanding of perspective and depth.
The AVC MPEG-4 1080p transfer (in the 2.35:1 OAR) brings the unusual video qualities of the film to a brighter light. The film is excessively bright, and not just for the opening mock movie that is full of lighting equipment. It's almost as if the entire film is the mock movie, loaded with tons of harsh, unflattering light that affects everything it touches.
Those rings you see? That's not edge enhancement. If it were, this'd be the test case for post-production tinkering. That's massive, massive contrast issues creating a bleed effect, like the movie were a Renaissance painting, and every actor were holy, wrapped in a three inch to foot wide halo. These lighting halos also create an effect similar to motion blur, that can be a bit distracting at times. Blacks are far too bright, to the point that they often register as dark grays.
Skin tones are difficult to gauge, as they seem normal at times, then appear radioactive. The depth in colors is sucked right out, with a red leather jacket looking tan. Detail is solid, with every hair strand popping, from JCVD's short waves to the robbers straight, longer manes, and the grain level is about average. This transfer may get an A+ for intention, but it earns the C that it gets for for what's actually on screen.
Now here is where things get difficult. Peach Arch, you get an F for clarity. The menu system for 'JCVD' states there are numerous versions of the film on this disc, as per the set up menu. However, the only differences are what languages play for the same film. So you have your French/English theatrical version of the film with English subtitles, an English version with French subtitles, a straight French version, the French version with Spanish subs, and the English version with English subs. Best of all, through my PS3 pop up set up menu (triangle button), switching between audio formats or subtitle options is not available, as any changes must be done through the menu pop up (square button). This disaster has made users think there are multiple cuts of the film on this disc, and that just ain't the case.
It's been about half a year since I sat down to the UK release, so I can't fairly compare it to the domestic version. That said, I do remember being impressed before, whereas now, with the lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, I just felt like I was watching a movie. A movie that wanted to immerse me into the experience, but the audio didn't let that happen.
The opening action movie sequence has strong bits of directionality and some light movement, but once the film goes to the streets of Belgium, these effects are somewhat abandoned, as is active surround usage. Dialogue is never overpowered, mixing nicely with the occasional bit of soundtrack. Bass registers very lightly, a little through the film on the TV in the video store, and some in the opening sequence, but otherwise it fails this mix.
There were a few moments that had a high pitched feedback in the background that was clearly audible (far more than the ringing in 'Sin City'), that could be explained due to the atmosphere in the post office, but it still isn't conducive to a solid mix. I enjoyed the high pitched tones from the ringing phones that changed in volume and angle as the camera moved through the office, but otherwise, this mix is somewhat of a letdown.
There isn't much to be said for the supplement package found on the domestic release, either. There is so much potential with this film to have an extensive package, especially considering the reinvention of JCVD's real life career, and his thoughts on playing, well, a form of himself. We don't get any of that, though.
'JCVD' has made me look at the works of Jean-Claude Van Damme in a whole new light. Mind you, his lesser works don't appear to be masterpieces now, but I find it hard to not have both respect and sympathy for the man, for his obvious acting and physical talents, and the way he pours out his heart in this film. This Blu-ray does the film absolutely no favors, though, and as odd as it sounds, I wholeheartedly recommend fans import this film from the UK, rather than buy this domestic release.