The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.

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Announcement

Hi everyone, it's been a while since I checked the page, and I wanted to make a few announcements.

First and foremost, it appears a dubious site has claimed the old url, meaning any link in any review that goes to the old mattmovieguy url is corrupt. I'm in the process of trying to remove them all, but it's a lot! It's best not to click on any link without hovering over it first to make sure it doesn't have mattmovieguy in the url.

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Thank you all for your patience, and again, hopefully this will all be fixed soon.

--Matt

Monday, November 30, 2009

Post 400: Van Damme Film Fest

I decided for my 400th blog post to do something entirely different. I'm often asked why I don't cover various Jean-Claude Van Damme films, especially his late 80s early 90s stuff that was in the theater and did pretty well. Now that I've opened things up to more than just Direct to Video, I guess I could do some of them, but I thought by outlining a Van Damme film fest, I could hit all of them in one fell swoop. This is what I would do if I had access to a movie theater from a Friday night into the following Sunday, and could show any of Van Damme's films during that time period that I wanted.

Friday Night:

Cyborg (1989); Bloodsport (1988)



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Starting Friday night, I would kick things off with Cyborg, the Albert Pyun classic. The only film on this list that I've actually reviewed, it was the DTV film that made the big time, and Van Damme was the DTV actor that made it big too. Though chronologically it comes after Bloodsport, I think the latter was a much more fun movie, so I figured it would leave a better taste in the viewer's mouth than Cyborg would.

Bloodsport is the film that made Van Damme who he is. The split punch, the bump on his forehead, the great accent. It also had Forest Whitaker, who won an Oscar for his wprk in Ghost Dog back in 1999. Whitaker plays an FBI agent, and his foot chase with Van Damme is one of the best of all time-- if you like chase scenes that play out like Mentos commercials. The amazing end fight with Bolo Yeung, where Yeung tries to cheat with a crushed Alka Seltzer tab he smuggled in in his pants, and Van Damme counters by punching him in the nuts, is the perfect way to leave viewers psyched for more the next day. Also of note, both are Golan-Globus films.

Saturday Afternoon:

Kickboxer (1989); Lionheart (1990)



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Saturday afternoon picks up where we left off with Bloodsport the night before, starting with Kickboxer. Noted for baddie Tong Po (played by Michel Qissi), and Van Damme's thong tank top he wears in his drunken dance scene. Okay, it's known for the dance scene as well. Like Bloodsport, Kickboxer spawned DTV sequels that didn't have Van Damme in them.

Along with Kickboxer, Lionheart helped to cement Van Damme's place as a top action star in the US. You could say that Van Damme had made it. As opposed to Friday's films, putting these two in chronological order is a good thing, because it's necessary for the viewer to see the creation of what we know of as Jean-Claude Van Damme: the splits, the buttcheeks, the need for women to want to do him. Lionheart is essentially eye candy for straight women and gay men with a plot meant for us hard core action fans. As much as this image cultivated in these two films would make Van Damme huge, they would also lead to his downfall in popular culture.

Saturday Night:

Death Warrant (1990); Double Impact (1991)



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Saturday night's films are all about the Van Damme we think of when we hear the name. These are quintessential Van Damme movies. In Death Warrant, Van Damme is sent to a prison to investigate some murders and what not. Robert Guillaume turns in his best performance since Benson, and the bad guy, known affectionately as The Sandman, teaches kids a valuable lesson in fire safety, when he stops, drops, and rolls after being thrown into a fire by Van Damme.

If the previous five films had you feeling like maybe Van Damme wasn't on screen enough, here comes Double Impact, where our hero plays two roles. Ladies, if you like the clean cut preppy type, he can do that; and if you like the bad boy, he can do that too. It's important to see that in six films we've only covered three years. You can almost see the wave cresting already.

Sunday Afternoon:

Universal Soldier (1992); Hard Target (1993)



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If anyone is back on Sunday, they'll be treated to two of Van Damme's biggest films, the point where that wave was at it's peak, before it crested and broke, sending Van Damme back, kicking and screaming, to the DTV world from which he came. Universal Soldier is his one collaboration with Dolph Lundgren, and the end fight scene between the two didn't disappoint. Throughout the time Van Damme was making it huge, Dolph was having less success post Rocky IV, with Masters of the Universe a disaster, The Punisher left unreleased in limbo, and Showdown in Little Tokyo doing almost nothing in the theater. Though Dolph had the poorer Hollywood career, his DTV career has far surpassed Van Damme's so far, and he's handled his fate much better. It's evident here, where Dolph seems to be having fun as the bad guy, while Van Damme is very serious about making sure he "acts well".

We end the film fest with Hard Target, John Woo's debut in the US. Fresh off the amazing Hard Boiled, Woo was a hot commodity, so for his first film to be a Van Damme one was confirmation of just how huge Van Damme had become. How could he know in two short years and three films later, he would make his most money for a picture in Sudden Death, and that would be it. Three years after that he was making Knock Off, grabbing onto anything sturdy as the DTV vortex dragged him back in. Also of note: Wilford Brimley co-stars.

If you wanted to go any further, you could add Timecop, Street Fighter, or Sudden Death, to emphasize the break in the wave, just like you could add Knock Off, Double Team, and especially Universal Soldier: The Return, to highlight his struggle to keep the wave from receding, but I think the 8 I picked, where the wave builds and hits its peak, is enough. You're looking at only 5 years, but it feels like so much more.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000241/

(By the way, I was just notified that Forest Whitaker won his Oscar for Last King of Scotland. My bad.)

8 comments:

  1. My favorite of his films is without a doubt Hard Target. Its not only got Van Damme, but its got stylish direction from John Woo. And loads and loads of action and gun fights!

    Though now I see it and I notice little things here and there. For example:

    That scene where Van Damme stands on the seat his motorcycle while shooting guns was just a little too much!

    And theres too much slow mo on that one, everything is whoosh and weeeez. But what the hell, whats a John Woo film without slow mo?

    What the hell happened to Woo by the way? He never made anymore american films after "Paycheck" which I hated by the way. Maybe thats all he did, cash that paycheck.

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  2. I just watched Hard Boiled again, and what made that great was the slo-mo seemed to be at the perfect times, didn't it? He made the action film into art with that movie. Maybe it's because he didn't write the stories, but none of his American films, in my mind, lived up to that standard, but part of that could've been the stories of his films. Face/Off was a ridiculous idea, perhaps surpassed by the idea of a guy being afraid of the color white in Blackjack, and Mission Impossible II was a horribly conceived rip-off of the Hitchcock film Notorious, and then there's Paycheck, which I'm in total agreement on. I haven't seen the Red Cliff yet, have you?

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  3. I hang my head in shame for I have not seen many of John Woo's non American films.

    The only one I have seen is called "Last Hurrah for Chivalry" which is actually an excellent kung fu movie he made early on in his carreer. Highly recommend that one as well.

    Gotta get down to watching Hard Boiled! Ive always had it on my must watch list. Gonna watch and review soon!

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  4. I had actually forgotten Hard Boiled in the conversation of best films of the 90s until my buddy at Movies in the Attic mentioned it, so I watched it again a couple days ago, and it's definitely in my top ten of that decade. I'm sure you'll like it much better than Hard Target.

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  5. Bloodsport was my first Jean film and I watched it twice in a row, I couldn't get enough! Kickboxer is also a personal favorite. Double Impact had great potential but for me it was simply too long. The beginning was hilarious and the ending was too but all the middle junk and the extremely long sex scene bored me. Death Warrant was bad very very bad but again it defiantly had it's funny moments, especially The Sandman he just wouldn't die! I really enjoy most of the songs on any Jean movie but Death Warrant's ending credits song was excellent I think it beat the end credits song in Derailed even. Hard Target is also my favorite for a multitude of reasons that I wont get into, although I was disappointed with the lack of ass shot.

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  6. I think I agree for the most part on your takes, though I will say Death Warrant and Double Impact are much better in a large group to get you by the dead spots.

    As far as the buttcheeks go, it's always been a joke among us guys that so few women watch Van Damme films that we wondered why he was so adamant about his gratuitous butt shot-- as in, who was he showing it off to? As long as there are women out there who appreciate those cheeks, at least they're not being wasted.

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  7. Ha! My friends and I decided Jean probably demanded an ass shot in most of his films there just doesn't seem to be any other explanation. It usually is completely unnecessary, but alas it does make me laugh and that is why I am watching in the first place.

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  8. Laughing is good, though I think he insists on the butt shot so you and all the other ladies out there have a different reaction... though I think the laughing is much better.

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