Tuesday, July 9, 2019

"Double Impact" - Double the Van Dammage

*As always, I write these articles under the assumption that you’ve seen the movie, so...SPOILERS.

I know I started this month with Tombstone, but that was just because I was late with that one and meant to get it done by June. So consider this the actual first article of July, which means it’s time for another Van Damme movie. I went with what I consider to be lesser Van Damme last month with Knock Off (although it is better than I remember), so this month I’m going with one of my favorites: Double Impact. I love this movie to the point that I had a poster of it made years ago when I couldn’t find an actual poster online (you’ll find this hard to believe, but I was single at the time). So any excuse to watch this again is welcome, but I knew I had to cover this one as soon as possible when I learned that a new special edition had been released. So once again, writing about movies in my own collection caused me to add another disc to it. In fact, deciding to do this one Van Damme movie every month thing is going to cause me to end up buying quite a few more before it’s all said and done. Perhaps that’s been my subconscious goal behind all of this; it’s all been a ruse to give me an excuse to buy every Van Damme movie ever made. Well, at least a lot of them are included in those “5 Movie Action Pack” DVD sets for less than $10.

Double the Van Dammage

Within the Van Damme filmography, the twin or duplicate Van Damme movies are usually made fun of a bit, mainly because he made four movies in which there is more than one of him: Double Impact, Timecop, Maximum Risk, and Replicant. When you think about it, that’s a crazy amount of times for that to happen in an acting career when you are not an actual twin. To be fair, he only played twins in this movie and Maximum Risk, and in Risk, he didn’t appear onscreen as both brothers at the same time (one died at the beginning). In Timecop, there were just different versions of Van Damme. And in Replicant he was cloned in an attempt to track down the serial killer version of Van Damme (Replicant is perhaps the most underrated Van Damme movie, and I cannot wait to revisit it). Regardless of the details, you can see why someone might poke fun at how often this happened in his movies. Despite the gimmicky nature of multiple Van Dammes, it can be used to make a very compelling Van Damme movie when used correctly. 

Obviously, Double Impact is an example of using the gimmick correctly. You see, it’s not enough to simply have two Van Dammes onscreen. It’s awesome, sure, but it only rises above gimmick when you make the two Van Dammes polar opposites. This allows Van Damme to showcase his range as an actor, and it’s so entertaining to watch him play a “bad” guy. Van Damme got his start playing bad guys, but he quickly became the fun, charming leading man in most of his films. Movies like Double Impact let audiences see another side of Van Damme. 

I know most of these articles I write about Van Damme seem a bit tongue in cheek, but I do sincerely like most of his filmography, and I do think he’s a good actor. His accent is usually a bit of a detriment to his performance (especially in the early days), but he ended up being a legitmate leading man. But for whatever reason I’ve always found him much more compelling as a bad guy. It seems like Van Damme is able to free himself a bit as an actor when he’s not worried about the audience liking his character.

In Double Impact, Van Damme plays Chad and Alex, twins separated at birth after the assassination of their parents in Hong Kong. Chad ended up in L.A. and became kind of a douche. Alex was raised in Hong Kong and became kind of a dick. Either character as the lead of the movie would be okay, but bringing them together made Double Impact special. There’s something great about seeing Van Damme talk shit to himself. 

The vengeance plot of Double Impact is serviceable and the action is decent, but it’s Van Damme’s performances that set it apart from the rest of his filmography. The Chad performance is close to what you would expect from a Van Damme leading character at this point in his career, but he does get to play him with a bit of irony, really selling the pampered aspect of the character. He’s very concerned with his clothing, and he’s constantly complaining about how shitty Alex’s Hong Kong is. If Chad was the only character, that stuff would have been excised to make him more likable. This is why it’s so great to have a version of Van Damme that is the heel; it allows both characters to become more interesting because making the audience like them is less of a goal. If there’s two Van Dammes, you’re bound to like one of them, so there’s no need to sell it more than usual. Chad’s whininess is actually pretty funny, and it allows him to grow as a character as he becomes less concerned with that stuff by the end of the film.

The Alex performance is even better because Van Damme is given the freedom to be an asshole. He’s constantly talking shit about his brother (he has a serious problem with Chad’s black silk underwear), which makes for something quite meta. Everytime Alex rips into Chad, it’s almost as if it’s Van Damme ripping into all the characters he’s had to play as the “likable” leading man. It’s like he’s sick of this goody-two-shoes shit, but he can only express this as Alex because he’s afraid to make waves with his career. 

Of course, I’m probably reading into it more than I should. The real motivation of this film was to show audiences how great it would be to see Van Damme kick Van Damme. And it is great. I just wish they would make the sequel Van Damme has mentioned before. And a sequel would allow for something new for Van Damme: they could introduce a long lost third brother. Van Damme could play triplets! And it solves the problem of the bland title of Double Impact 2. Instead, it would be Triple Impact. Triple the Van Dammage!  

How am I just learning about the MVD Rewind Collection?

A big reason for me writing about this movie is because I came across a special edition of this movie from the MVD Rewind Collection. Most Van Damme movies are light on the special features, but this release had a two-part, nearly two-hour documentary, an hour of deleted scenes, plus all the old promo material. The kind of attention usually reserved for prestige films was being applied to a Van Damme movie not called Kickboxer, Bloodsport, or Universal Soldier. It made me realize I was not alone in loving this movie. It also revealed a lot of stuff I had no idea about. 

For instance, the whole movie is slightly based on an Alexandre Dumas story called The Corsican Brothers. Who knew a Van Damme movie was based on literature? And Tia Carrere was considered for the love interest (which would have made so much more sense, by the way), but Van Damme wanted a “blonde.” (That segment is a bit cringe-worthy, with Van Damme claiming it wasa decision made to help the box office draw of the movie. I think Van Damme just wanted to film sex scenes with a blonde.) And there’s a lot of info about filming in Hong Kong and some behind the scenes business stuff I would have never known if not for this new release. I just can’t believe I only know about it because I came across it during an Amazon search. 

I was pleasantly surprised to see that this is not the first Van Damme movie to receive this treatment. They’ve also released special editions of Black Eagle and Lionheart, so of course I have to buy those now. Hopefully these movies are selling decently enough to keep this series going. I would love to see a special edition of The Quest or Legionnaire. (I’m joking about Legionnaire...kind of.)

Me, while watching this movie.

Why do I own this?

It’s a special edition of Double Impact. As a serious fan of all things Van Damme, I have to own this.

Random thoughts 

As a father, I know that babies look a bit different than what they end up looking as they get older, but there's no fucking way those pale British babies end up being two Van Dammes!

That opening parent murder scene makes Batman's parent murder look like a Disney scene. "What will happen to my babies?" - Double Van Damme mom, already shot once.
"You'll never know." - An especially evil Chong Li right before he shoots her in the face with a shotgun. Damn!

In less than a minute of Van Damme's introduction, he's doing the splits. In less than two minutes, he's kicked someone in the face. Now that's how you use Van Damme in a movie.

"And you weren't born in France. I just raised you there." Thank you! One throwaway line explains the accent. Is that so hard?

My God, American Van Damme is wearing the most "dad" outfit I've ever seen.

Man, Chong Li aged great. Twenty-five years later and looks no different. 

So a goon takes one kick from Van Damme, and Chong Li breaks his neck as punishment? Come on, Chong Li, you'll run out of goons in no time with that business model.

Also, nice to see Chong Li get some Bloodsport payback with that shot to Van Damme's nuts.

By the way, I know his name isn’t Chong Li, but you know exactly who I’m talking about when I refer to him by that name, don’t you?

So Chad's idea of stealth is to sneak up on a guy, say "psst!", and then kick him in the face, sending him crashing into some barrels? I like it.

There's nothing special about the shootouts in this movie, but I did like seeing things done the old-fashioned way with squibs and stuff getting shot up practically. 

Oh, and this movie features some all time classic ridiculous shootout moments, like shooting while jumping, shooting upside down unnecessarily, and, my favorite, rolling across the floor while shooting the entire time.

I've always liked the ridiculousness of bad guy meetings, but this one is especially great since it features a cake in the shape of a frigate, and someone actually starts to serve the cake. Something just makes me laugh at the idea of a bad guy meeting having to pause while everyone enjoys a slice of boat cake.

By making the sex scene Alex's paranoid fear, the filmmakers found a way to still have the required nudity of a '90s action movie without it being completely gratuitous. 

Damn, Alex hitting a woman and dropping the (homophobic slur) f-bomb twice. That shit would not have made it if this was made today.

"Brother? Why? Because he looks like me? I'm gonna change that. Because I'm gonna fuck up his face." I’ve said this about one of my brothers at least seven times throughout my life.

As a kid, I thought the dude with the spurs was bad ass. He just seems silly now. 

Beware Chong Li's special ability: lifting barrels above his head.

Chong Li's death is so fucking good. It begins with an out of nowhere electrocution and is immediately followed by a massive explosion. Fuck. Yes.

I think that ship is only hauling explosive barrels. 

No fucking way that a British businessman knows how to operate heavy machinery. 

Griffith's death is a bit too similar to the end of Lethal Weapon 2.

I love the abrupt ending. We know everything will be fine because they freeze frame on Van Damme giving the "okay" gesture.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

"Tombstone" - 'Tom Mix wept' and other reasons why I love this western.

As always, I write these articles under the assumption that you’ve seen the movie, so...SPOILERS. But if you haven’t seen Tombstone, how have you ended up on this page?

The birth of my second child put a bit of a delay on my monthly output for the site. I originally planned on getting this movie, Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, and one more random selection before the end of June as part of my plan for a Van Damme, a western, a comedy, and a grab bag selection each month. Hopefully I get back into some form of a routine (not sure that’s possible with an infant and a toddler in the house) and accomplish that for the rest of July. As for now, enjoy my ramblings on Tombstone, and then I’ll move on to one of my favorite Van Damme movies: Double Impact

A western more concerned with characters than shootouts...but there are still plenty of shootouts.

Tombstone is beloved among pretty much all my friends and most men and women I've ever brought this movie up to, and that's rare for a western. Westerns have their base audience, of course, but it's typically a niche audience these days. I think this is because filmmakers of westerns in the last two to three decades have been hellbent on not being traditional. This has made for some very interesting, entertaining films in the genre (which I will be writing about in the coming months), but it has also shrunk the audience for the genre. Perhaps that's why people love Tombstone so much. It didn't shy away from early westerns; it wanted to be like them.

(That above paragraph was not supposed to be in bold, but this is blogger, and nearly every article I write has one paragraph that stays bold no matter what I do.)

This isn’t to say Tombstone isn’t interesting, far from it. I do think of it as a very traditional western, which is still something audiences want to see. But more than that, audiences want to see great characters portrayed by great actors, and Tombstone has a ton of both. 

My love of the characters and actors of this film stuck out to me this viewing primarily because I found the biggest action sequence, the “hunting of the Cowboys” montage, to be the least interesting portion of the movie. Normally, you think of westerns and shootouts come to mind, especially for a western based around one of the most famous shootouts in Wild West history. But I didn’t care about the action. It’s not that it’s bad action; I just think it pales in comparison to the character work done earlier in the film.

So I just want to break down what I love about every character in this movie. Before I do that, I have to point out that this movie is so beloved because it is one of the most quotable movies of all time. I single out most of my favorites in the Random Thoughts section, but this is one of those movies I think I could recite verbatim. Anyway, on to the characters:

Wyatt Earp - This is basically his movie, of course, but I think Kurt Russell’s performance makes the character here. His presence is just so powerful. I mean, he just looks like he belongs in a western. And yeah, he gets some pretty awesome tough guy moments (“Are you going to do something or just stand there and bleed?”). Overall, a classic western character.

Virgil Earp - It’s Sam Elliott! For a western like this, it’s a necessity to cast him. My favorite moments are right after he defies Wyatt and takes the law enforcement job. Not only does he have a couple great arguments with Wyatt, but he also gets to have it out with Ike Clanton. One of my favorite moments is when Virgil finally snaps when Ike keeps calling the Earps “pimps.” The rage in his Elliott’s face looks legitimate when goes after Ike.

Morgan Earp - Man, I miss Bill Paxton. Perfectly cast as the fun-loving Earp brother, Paxton is just a guy you want to hang out with. He eventually joins the fight, too, but for the most part Morgan is just there to have a good time and help out his brothers. He reminds me of Cal from Talladega Nights, and I sincerely believe John C. Reilly used this character as inspiration for his performance.

Ike Clanton - According to director George P. Cosmatos, Stephen Lang was drunk the whole shoot, and I found an interview in which Lang basically admits he didn’t drink any water during this shoot. That alone makes me love his performance. He is so effectively skeezy throughout. And I just like the way he says things, especially “law dog” and “you goddamned pimps!” 

Doc Holliday - Everybody loves Val Kilmer in this movie and rightfully so. It’s arguably his best performance (I’m a big fan of his Jim Morrison, too), and he’s one of the most quotable characters ever. Kilmer’s performance is what sells it all. His southern aristocratic accent is perfect for Holliday’s constant sarcasm.

Curly Bill - Powers Boothe is what started me down this current western path, and this performance is one of my favorites. His maniacal laughter throughout is great. I only wish he was the true villain of the film. I feel like he deserved a bit more screentime, but what we get is gold. Plus, he produced the best meme from the movie with his delivery of “well...bye.”

Johnny Ringo - I’m a bit lukewarm on Ringo these days. As a kid, I thought of him as a bad ass villain. Now, his whole existential angst gets on my nerves a bit. I guess I just wanted to see more Curly Bill than Ringo. I do like Michael Biehn in the role, however.

Johnny Tyler - Sure, this is basically just a cameo for Billy Bob Thornton, but it’s so enjoyable. I could watch that scene over and over.

Jane - Let’s face it, Tombstone is a man’s movie right down to the cast. The women are there only as significant others. That said, Jane was interesting, and it’s unfortunate that she’s not given a bit more to do. Doc obviously loved her, and she was definitely into their lifestyle, but we only get glimpses of it.

Josephine - She’s kind of a manic pixie dream girl of the Wild West. So many scenes involve her simply smiling brightly until Wyatt notices. That said, she is a progressive female character who speaks her mind, which is refreshing.

Mattie - Poor Mattie, on the other hand, is woefully mistreated by Wyatt. Yes, she has a laudanum problem, but Wyatt is too busy trying to milk every dime he can out of Tombstone or start a relationship with an actress to meaningfully help her with her problem. I feel like the movie set her up as an addict, which was supposed to make us not care when Wyatt cheated on her. As I see it, Wyatt needed to devote himself more to her then than ever before, and he chose money and an easier relationship instead.

How was this a mess behind the scenes?

I somehow never came across any behind the scenes stories about this movie until I decided to write this article. Apparently screenwriter Kevin Jarre was given this as his directorial debut, but was fired a month in because it was just too much for a first time director. George P. Cosmatos was brought it with almost no prep whatsoever to finish the job. He immediately had the script cut down to focus more on the Earps and went from there. 

That alone is very interesting as such problems usually lead to messy, uneven films. Added to this is Kurt Russell’s later claim that he basically directed the movie and Cosmatos was simply there to supervise. And then Kilmer came out and said that wasn’t entirely true, but Russell did go above and beyond to keep the film going. I listened to a bit of Cosmatos’s commentary, and I’m more inclined to believe Kilmer here. He gives way too much detail about mundane aspects of the film to have merely been a supervisor. And he does mention that the whole project was very collaborative, and that the actors went beyond their required duties to make sure the film was good. 

No matter who really directed it, Tombstone is an anomaly in that it turned out so great despite the chaos behind the scenes. Perhaps Russell does deserve most of the credit. He seemed destined to play Earp, so maybe he saw the potential for greatness in the role and the overall film and made sure it worked out. Either way, all involved should be proud that they produced such an enjoyable, quotable, and awesome western.

Why do I own this?

I think every dude of the ‘90s is required to own this movie. Plus, the special edition is pretty awesome.

Random Thoughts

I'm sorry, but I want to be in the gang that has Powers Boothe, Michael Biehn, an impossibly dirty Stephen Lang, Thomas Haden Church, and Michael Rooker.

I like how Curly Bill's threat at the beginning ends with, "I ain't kiddin', neither." You just killed half the village, Bill, we know you're not bluffin'.

One of the roles Kurt Russell was meant to play, along with Snake Plissken, MacReady, John Ruth, Jack Burton, and, uh...Captain Ron.

And of course Sam Elliott is meant to be in this movie. 

Maddie asking for laudanum is quite a bit of foreshadowing. It's also an example of Wild West ridiculousness that always cracks me up: the rampant use of laudanum. 

This is Frank Stallone's shining moment.

This movie is endlessly quotable, but Billy Bob's line, "Christ almighty! It's like I'm sittin' here playin' cards with my brother's kids or something. You nerve-wrackin' sons-a-bitches!" is possibly my favorite. 

Speaking of Billy Bob, he's nearly unrecognizable in this.

How was Kilmer not nominated for this?

"Johnny, I apologize. I forgot you were there. You may go now."

Wyatt Earp is a greedy dick for the first half of this movie, what with his obsession with money and his presumptuous turning down of law enforcement jobs before they're offered. 

Bill Paxton's "aw shucks" portrayal of Morgan is great.

"Prettiest man I ever saw." 

The camera stays on Jason Priestly watching Billy Zane for a full six seconds, which doesn't sound long but is actually an eternity. 

The Holliday/Ringo interaction gets most of the love, but I'm partial to Ike Clanton's "law dog" threats to Wyatt at the saloon. 

This movie was the first time I heard "in vino veritas," which I totally said all the time when I first started drinking. 

"I don't laugh all day long like an idiot."

Curly Bill has quite the reaction to opium: shooting randomly, literally howling at the moon, and shooting a marshal. 

"I swear to God, law dog, let him go."

"Talk to him, will you? Or hit him?"

I love how Ike calls the Earps “pimps.” I think Ike Clanton might be my favorite character in this movie.

"What's wrong with him?"
Gesturing towards Holliday's exit. "Well, I hope you die!"

“I don’t take no mouth from no bartenders, neither. There, you see? Give somebody a rap on the beard, get some respect around here.” Is immediately pistol-whipped.

I’ve always thought Virgil’s pistol-whipping of Ike was pretty weak.

“I ain’t easy, and I ain’t your kid. You take sorry and shove it up your ass!” That would be a pretty badass moment if that dude wasn’t immediately pistol-whipped to the ground with his own gun.

Thomas Haden Church cracks me up in this, too. He’s always just adding to what others say. Like adding, “Bastards. It’s comin’!” as they ride off from jail. Good one, Lowell!

I think this is the first time I noticed the wagon of women going by with the sign “Equal pay for equal work. No matter the gender.” 

The fire before the famous shootout is apparently accurate. I just like how all the guys just look at it with no concern at all as they keep walking.

I love how Wyatt tells Ike, “The fight’s commenced. Get to fightin’ or get out of the way!” It’s like, “Hey, Ike, you know the rules of gunfights, damn it!”

“I’m not going to fight you, Ringo. There’s no money in it.” Greedy Earp at it again.

I love how Ringo pronounces “lunger,” emphasizing the “g.”

“Somebody get that goddamn dog outta here!” Seriously, why is Morgan’s wife and a dog still in there while they’re trying to dig a bullet out of his back?

“Well...bye.” This is why I love Powers Boothe.

I guess I forgot about Doc’s deathbed confession about being in love with his 15-year-old cousin, who became a nun after their affair…

I love all the abrupt info in the ending narration. Ike Clanton was killed two years later. Mattie died of an overdose soon after leaving Tombstone. Good to know they didn’t forget about these characters.

Possibly my favorite ending line of a movie ever because of its randomness: “Tom Mix wept.”