Fantastic Fest 2008: “JCVD.”

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09242008_jcvd.jpgCentering your film on the tragedy of being famous is a iffy proposition — it’s not a topic to which the majority of the world will relate, and from any normal and honest perspective, the benefits of celebrity far outweigh any downsides. But director Mabrouk El Mechri has as his star the Muscles From Brussels himself, Belgian action icon Jean-Claude Van Damme, a man whose legitimate claims to fame were staked decades back, and who’s now a figure of ridicule with a history of cocaine problems, four divorces, a tendency to spout ludicrous things in televised interviews and a recent track record confined to direct-to-DVD foreign productions. He’s also a pretty good sport, since all of these things factor it into “JCVD,” a film in which Van Damme plays a somewhat more pathetic variation on himself, headed back to Brussels after losing both custody of his child and a role in another throwaway action film he didn’t really want (to Steven Seagal, even, who promised to cut off his ponytail for the part), broke and broken and hoping to rest and to spend time with his parents. Instead, he ends up in Van Damme Day Afternoon, when a trio of incompetent robbers hold up the bank at which he’s awaiting a wire transfer to pay his L.A.-based attorneys and a tussle leads to a stand-off with hostages in which the police mistakenly think the star is the one in charge.

“JCVD” sounds like a one-joke meta movie industry clusterfuck, but El Mechri isn’t interested in too much self-congratulation for getting Van Damme to play “Van Damme.” He’s also not so interested in jokes — while there are intermittent moments of humor, “JCVD” is actually wildly unhappy. Van Damme’s daughter doesn’t want to live with him because her schoolmates make fun of her. Directors mock him for wanting to make anything more than bargain bin-fodder that knocks off his earlier work. He has huge legal fees and no way to pay them except by continuing to act in films he thinks are ruining his already crumbling career. He hasn’t slept for 48 hours and the fact that the police think he’s the culprit is compounded by the waves of fans who come out to observe the stand-off, motivated by its novelty value.

It’s these absurd lengths and this desire for legitimate drama that take “JCVD” beyond novelty itself — all Van Damme wants is to retreat from the world, and all the world wants is to take a picture with him, tell him he’s shorter than he looks on screen and ask him why John Woo never used him in another film after “Hard Target.” In the end, the only place he can turn is to the camera, where, in an extended and teary monologue he weeps that it’s not his fault, that he’s only chased the dreams he’s had when he was scrawny and 13 and spoke no English, and that he looks back at his life and feels he’s accomplished nothing. It’s an impressive feat of acting, even if it’s more awash in self-pity and a lack of self-awareness than intended — Jean-Claude Van Damme as a martyr to entertainment. Self-awareness would ruin “JCVD,” anyway — as is, it’s outlandish, half nonsensical and half wonderful.

[Photo: “JCVD,” Peace Arch, 2008]

+ “JCVD” (Fantastic Fest)


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.