Saturday, November 22, 2008

Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

In 2005, with a single self inflicted gun shot wound, America lost one of its most vocal critics and rugged outlaws of this and the last Century, at the age of 68. Born in 1937, he was Hunter S. Thompson. I became enamored with the man after seeing Johnny Depp's performance as Thompson in the movie Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. So much so, that I read the book of the same name and became further intrigued.

His prose has a poetic guilding to it that is most unmistakable and seems to take the reader to the far edge of reality and then over and beyond. This remarkable and troubled man lived through some of the most profoundly influential events in American history including the death of Dr. King, death of RFK, the Watergate Scandal, and even 9/11.

Thompson was the inventor of a journalistic style called Gonzo. Gonzo is also the title of the documentary I have just seen which chronicles the life and times of this extreme individual.

This movie is fittingly narrated by Johnny Depp using the words of Hunter S. Thompson himself and features friends and enemies alike recalling the life and wonder of the Rolling Stone journalist/phenomenon.

Hunter was in constant search of something called the American Dream. His political views were in my opinion very extreme, but there was a lot of heart in the words of his philosophy. This man was no stranger to Free Speech. He has my undying respect for being a truly unique individual, whose only real failing was that he could not respect the limits of his own mortality.

Hunter once said that the only people who know the edge are the ones who have gone over it. I think he was right.

Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson is or will become a classic among documentary films.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Review: JCVD

First of all, if anybody out there is still reading, apologies for the month-plus disappearing act. College has consumed my soul in such a way that I haven't even been able to write a movie review, which is indeed a sad day. However, I'm back, and with a lot to rant and ramble about.

First off, we have the film "JCVD," which is short for none other than Jean Claude Van Damme, your favorite ass-whupper from Brussels and mine. Now, some people can remember the time during the 1990s when Van Damme was a worldwide action star, and even more probably remember him as the man who introduced John Woo to Hollywood (and by extension, a lot of doves in action movies.) Sadly, though, most know him as the man he is today; a former drug addict who does hilariously bad straight-to-DVD action flicks that, if lucky, are aired on the Sci-Fi channel.

With "JCVD," Van Damme has done something incredibly ballsy, something that merits a great deal of respect. He takes his own mythology and pisses all over it. Most actors are too afraid of taking that step and being able to laugh at their own career, for fear that it will render them a joke, and they fail to realize that they more or less are already. In confronting everything said about him head-on, Van Damme snaps back at all the naysayers.

The film starts off with one of those Van Damme action sequences, with a ton of gunplay, karate and men being killed by JCVD's bare hands. However, the action cuts away to reveal a set, where Van Damme is being mocked by the director for taking his mediocre, cash-in movie too seriously. He plays himself in the film, and not in the winking "Julia Roberts playing Julia Roberts" way of the "Ocean's" series. Van Damme is playing himself with all his flaws in tow. He goes to the court hearing for custody of his daughter, and after watching the opposing attorney rattle off a list of all the violence in his movies, his daughter says that she wants to live with her mother, because kids at school make fun of her dad's movies. His agent tells him that he lost out on a STD role to Steven Seagal, because the latter promised to cut off his ponytail for the first time.

After this, and out of money, Van Damme returns to Brussels to try and start again. While simply trying to drop off a letter at the post office, he ends up being roped into a hostage crisis. A police officer sees him in the window and becomes convinced that Van Damme is robbing the bank. He's so far in debt that the police don't even question whether there is probable cause for the stickup. Inside, Van Damme uses his fame to stay alive, but also begins to fear his own death.

If this sounds heavier than a Van Damme movie should be, that's because this is not the kind of movie one would expect. There's actually next to no action in the film, and the toughest Van Damme looks is during the aforementioned scene in the beginning. Van Damme plays himself as a man broken down, who almost wants to relinquish his fame and start his life over, but can't escape the hole he's dug for himself. There is a scene, beautifully handled, in which he levitates above the onscreen action, looks into the camera and directly addresses the audience. For about ten minutes, he tells his side of his story for what seems like the first time, and apologizes for the wrongs he has caused. It's hard to tell at first whether this is part of the movie, but then you realize that it is not; he speaks of his past wives, his drug use and all his other failures with a candor that few other actors would have the courage to exhibit.

Strangely enough, I can see "JCVD" possibly acting as a new beginning for the actor, if he so chooses; this film crushes the Van Damme mythos so thoroughly that if he truly wishes to start again, he may have more films of a higher quality in him after all.

Monday, November 10, 2008

WTF?!: Oldboy remake

I remember my friend badgering me to watch this foreign film called Oldboy every time I spoke to him. Finally last year I broke down and Netflixed it. Everything my friend said about this film was completely and utterly true. It was a a blood-bath, an emotional rollercoaster, a tear jeaker, and any other cliche idiom film critics say about great movies.

So why the hell would you remake it?

Following the Asian remake trend, Stephen Spielberg and Will Smith are planning to make an American version of Park Chanwook's Oldboy. Why? Profit? I have no idea. The raw and strange subject matter of the film doesn't really seem like either person's cup of tea. Maybe if Martin Sorsese said he was going to remake this, I would be more exicted. But Spielberg is known for his more comtemplative movies, not so much for beat-em-up action films. And adding Will Smith to the mix...ok, just because you did I am Legend (a total watered-down version of the book) does not mean you can take on an incestual/gorey/crazy Asian film. It's like putting Simon and Garfunkle in charge of a bio-pic about The Ramones. It just doesn't mix well.