Thursday, January 28, 2021

Maximum Risk - The Forgotten Van Damme Twin Movie

 It’s late in the month, but this is still just my first movie article of January, so it’s Van Damme time again. I always get pretty burnt out at the end of one year and the beginning of the next, and this year was no different. Add political bullshit and a pandemic to it, and I just can’t find the motivation to write much about movies. But I’m fighting through the burnout. After this article, I have three Godfather articles on the way. Then I want to check out the new cut of Apocalypse Now, and I’ll follow that up with The Age of Innocence and Barry Lyndon. This is pretty ambitious for me because these are all big, complex movies. So expect this to take a little bit, and also expect some random articles to get peppered in here and there. But before I get into all that, I need to write about another Van Damme twin movie.

A Darker Double Impact.

Maximum Risk is a Van Damme “twin” movie, but they never share the screen together, unlike in Double Impact and Replicant (from the same director as this film, but technically the twin is a clone). Because of this, Maximum Risk is the forgotten Van Damme twin movie.’s forgotten in general. I do consider this my least favorite of the twin trilogy, but it’s still a quality Van Damme movie. I like to think of it as an alternate version of Double Impact.

Double Impact was about twins unknowingly separated at birth. One ended up living a life of crime while the other lived a pampered life. It’s one of my favorite Van Damme movies because you get a typical Van Damme character and you get a borderline villainous Van Damme character. It’s the best of both worlds. 

Maximum Risk takes that basic premise even further by making the “good” Van Damme a cop. But rather than repeat the formula of Double Impact and have the two seemingly opposite brothers team up, Maximum Risk kills off the criminal brother, Mikhail, in the opening action sequence. Mikhail’s twin brother cop, Alain, then spends the rest of the movie trying to avenge the brother he never knew by infiltrating the Russian mob in New York, uncovering corruption, and seducing Mikhail’s girlfriend along the way. You know, typical Van Damme shit. 

Getting to see a Van Damme character actually die, especially in the opening scene of a movie, is interesting, but having an entire movie with two Van Dammes would have been better. I applaud the filmmakers for going the route they did to avoid ripping off Double Impact too much, but the film suffers for it. Instead of having two Van Dammes working off each other, we get Natasha Henstridge in such a girlfriend role that she just starts banging the new Van Damme, and we also get an annoying cabbie character for a few scenes just so Van Damme has someone to clash personalities with (and he’s killed off right when Henstridge joins the team).

It just doesn’t make sense. Why tease us with two Van Dammes? Who cares if the movie is similar to another Van Damme movie? Most people don’t know the difference between Kickboxer and Bloodsport (or The Quest, for that matter) anyway. And any movie with Van Damme as a set of twins is going to remind fans of Double Impact anyway. They should have just gone for it. The tone of the film is enough to warrant keeping both Van Dammes alive. Double Impact is a pretty goofy movie and Maximum Risk is fairly dark and serious. I would like this movie much more if it was simply a darker Double Impact

Titles Mean Nothing in Van Damme’s Filmography.

Van Damme’s movies typically have simplistic titles that work for the genre (Kickboxer, Bloodsport, Timecop, Sudden Death, etc.), but there are also some bland-ass titles out there that could apply to any action movie. Maximum Risk is definitely one of those. 

After watching the movie, I couldn’t figure out what the titular maximum risk was. Sure, the film was filled with risky situations, but it’s not like people kept telling the main character he was taking too many risks or something.

According to IMDb, the original title was The Exchange, but they were worried that audiences wouldn’t get the “subtle title.” So they changed it to Bloodstone (which doesn’t make much sense, either) and even marketed the film under that title. Then someone decided that didn’t work, either, and they settled upon Maximum Risk. The fact that the title could be changed twice after the film was complete says it all. And I honestly can’t think of the perfect title for this film, but I do know that The Exchange is better than Maximum Risk. Just for fun(?), here are some other non-titles from Van Damme’s filmography:

Kill ‘Em All - This might apply to the actual movie (I haven’t watched this one yet), but I feel like you could apply this title to at least a dozen other Van Damme movies (including Maximum Risk) and it wouldn’t matter.

Soldiers - This is the title on IMDb, but Full Love is listed as an alternate title, and the picture on the main page has the title The Eagle Path. And when you Google it, it claims the movie is called Frenchy. What the fuck is going on with this one?

Swelter - This one makes a little sense since the setting is hot throughout, but it’s not that integral to the plot.

Until Death - This one is about someone dealing with a near-death experience, but it’s still bland enough to work as a title for most Van Damme movies.

Wake of Death - This is a revenge movie, so it works, but there are plenty of Van Damme revenge movies that could use this title, too.

Van Damme Name Check - Separated Twin Edition 

Alain Moreau and Mikhail Suverov. Both are fine. Alain is a French cop, so that works and explains the accent. Mikhail also works as a believable name since he was adopted by Russians as a baby. 

Why Do I Own This?

It’s a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie.

Random Thoughts / Favorite Quotes 

What the fuck is with the neurotic-aspiring-author-cabbie? Does he attempt to get involved in the lives of every fare he picks up? 

"Wack accent!"

I get why Ringo Lam zoomed in on the dude's glasses in Van Damme's twin's old neighborhood (showing two Van Dammes in the reflection of the lenses), but damn is it out of place.

I always feel bad for the unlucky fucker who parks his car near a Van Damme fight. 

Did not expect a Bret Easton Ellis name drop in this movie. The screenwriter must be a fan.

Zach Grenier as an evil Russian mobster? I like it.

What a gentleman. Van Damme lets the makeout session with Mikhail’s girlfriend get to the point that she’s topless before he finally stops it.

Remember when Natasha Henstridge was a thing for about two years in the ‘90s?

The fuckin’ bad guy starts roughing up the cleaning lady about Van Damme’s whereabouts. They’re not in their room, and you were just in the lobby. Figure it out, shithead.

That’s a crazy amount of gunfire on a crowded New York street. There must be dozens of people dead or injured.

The cabbie definitely saved their asses, and his death is actually pretty sad. But from a movie standpoint, I was glad to see him go because his “I’m a writer” schtick was annoying as hell.

This must be the tenth movie with Van Damme being pursued by government goons.

When Van Damme’s beating the fuck out of the bald goon in his dead brother’s apartment, he tosses him into a jacuzzi. I have two issues with this. 1. The jacuzzi was in the bedroom. That seems...odd. 2. It was full. Did Mikhail leave it full before he left for France? Did the goons staking it out take a bath? What is going on here?

It’s not a Russian mob movie unless there’s a bathhouse scene.

Not that I’m wanting to see some dick, but those towels around their waists in the bathhouse fight scene must be tied with triple knots.

Eastern Promises is basically just a dicks out remake of this movie.

You know you’re shoehorning in a sex scene when it’s between a woman and her dead boyfriend’s long lost twin in a bathroom with two FBI agents in the other room.

Elevator opens to reveal Van Damme fighting a giant Russian with a knife. The giant Russian yells to the people, "Get the fuck out of here!" as if the people were going to seriously attempt to get on that fucking elevator. 

Who's chasing who in the final action sequence?

I did not see the ending chainsaw fight in a slaughterhouse coming…


Monday, January 18, 2021

Top Ten of 2020

Most people have a sarcastic reaction to top ten lists for the films of 2020, what with theaters mostly shutting down, and the whole state of the world. For me, my movie-watching didn’t change all that much actually. I got to see The invisible Man early in the year, and that was pretty much it. Having two small children and working a shift job made trips to the theater very rare. That written, I love going to the movies, and I certainly hope I get to do so again sometime this year.

As for movies in general, there were still a ton of films released in multiple ways. A few went to theaters, a lot were made and released by the streaming heavies (Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, etc.), and plenty of others were released on home video earlier than planned. Yes, a lot of very anticipated films were pushed into 2021 (Dune was the release I was most looking forward to, and I expected it to be one of my favorite films of the year), so it may seem like few films were released. I get it, and I felt that way, too, before all the screening links started showing up in my e-mail inbox. 

I got burned out by the end of it, but during late November through December I was able to watch over fifty films (to go along with the releases I already watched throughout the year). Before this year's screeners showed up, I was struggling to come up with a top five, much less a top ten. But now I have more than enough favorites for the year. 

As always, this is my list of my ten favorite movies, not the ten best movies. For reasons I’ll get into with each choice, these films worked for me, and, most importantly this year, distracted me from the real world. So here goes, and please, for those of you who found my number one pick incomprehensible, emotionless, and/or boring, just read my explanation and check out the rest of my list.

Lastly, all but two (Nomadland and The Father) of these films are currently available on different platforms (I’ll make a note of where each one is available). My point is that it may seem like nothing new or good came out in 2020, but a lot did; you just have to look for it.

1. Tenet

Christopher Nolan has become more and more polarizing over the years, with many complaining about his overly complicated plots, his underdeveloped characters, and his sound editing that favors the score over the dialogue. Tenet seems to be his middle finger to every one with those critiques as he heartily embraces all three of them. Tenet is very hard to follow, both because of its time-travel plot and loud score that drowns out the dialogue at times, and many won’t care to figure it out because the characters aren’t worth caring about (the main character, for instance, is literally just called the Protagonist). 

I understand and agree with this criticism, and I don’t care. For whatever reason, Nolan’s films work for me, and Tenet is no different. My best access to this film has been through a screener app that allows me to download it (when I tried casting it to my TV there was always lag), so I’ve had to watch this on my phone, and I hate watching movies on my phone. I’ve watched it four far (but I do plan on buying it soon, so my experience is moving up a bit). That’s how much this film drew me into its confusing world. During my first viewing, I was so lost that I considered turning the movie off. But by the end, I wanted to immediately watch it again, so i could try to completely understand what was happening during the pivotal scenes. This was my Zapruder film of 2020.

In a typical year, Tenet would make my top ten, but probably wouldn’t be my number one. But this year required extra distraction. Typically, I have to see a movie in the theater to become completely engulfed in it, but Tenet did it through my phone. Maybe Nolan didn’t need to make the movie so hard to follow, but for me, it was exactly what I needed this year.

(Tenet is available to rent or own on most streaming services.)

2. Another Round

The premise for this Danish film won me over before I even started watching it: four high school teachers test a theory that humans are meant to be at a constant blood alcohol level of .05 to reach their full potential. What made this one of my favorite movies of the year is how writer/director Thomas Vinterberg handled the material. It could have easily and predictably turned into a depressing slog. Yes, bad things happen (how could they not with such a premise?), but overall, Another Round addresses alcohol in society in a realistic and fresh way. Yes, alcohol is bad for you and will likely lead to bad things, but as a species we tend to embrace its uses. Mads Mikkelsen’s great performance (my favorite of the year) elevates it even further.

(Another Round is available to rent or own on most streaming services, but it is a little pricier than most movies at the moment.)

3. Da 5 Bloods

Spike Lee has been a groundbreaking filmmaker from the beginning, but it’s his last two films that have really worked for me. He does whatever he wants, which makes his film’s unpredictable and entertaining. It also helps that he’s tackling an issue that has rarely been the focus of an entire film (African Americans in the Vietnam War). And an amazing cast (including standout Delroy Lindo, who has a very good shot at an Oscar this year) puts it over the top.

(Da 5 Bloods is on Netflix.)

4. Palm Springs

It’s like Groundhog Day but funnier. I know that’s sacrilegious to the Murray fans out there, but I can’t help it. This movie, about a cuckolded boyfriend (Andy Samberg) who keeps reliving a miserable day as a wedding date, rises above the inevitable comparisons to the Bill Murray movie to be one of the funniest films of the year. 

(Palm Springs is on Hulu.)

5. The Nest

Mood is always a major factor when it comes to choosing my favorite films of the year, which is why The Nest made the list. The film has the feeling of a haunted house movie (and it kind of is), but it never commits to it. Instead, it takes that mood and focuses on the destruction of a family. This is one of the movies on my list that I know a lot of people will hate or just find boring, but it worked for me. And Carrie Coon is great as always.

(The Nest is available to rent or own on most streaming services.)

6. The Vast of Night

This was the biggest surprise of the year for me. It just kind of showed up on Amazon in the middle of the pandemic. I wasn’t excited about many movies at this point in the year, and I decided to check this out one afternoon. It hooked me immediately. I loved the 1950s Twilight Zone style but with sharp dialogue. It’s mysterious, funny, and criminally underseen.

(The Vast of Night is on Amazon Prime.)

7. First Cow

This is another movie I’m sure many will find boring, but I loved. I understand. It’s about a friendship formed at a fur trading outpost that forms because they start making cakes using stolen milk from the area’s first cow. I know, I know. But films about friendship work for me, especially when they take place in the American West in the 1800s. It is definitely a niche genre, but this is why I liked The Sisters Brothers so much back in 2018.

(First Cow is on Showtime and can also be rented or owned on most streaming services.)

8. Nomadland

This is the front runner for awards season (it took top prize from the critics group I belong to, the Indiana Film Journalists Association), and rightfully so. Writer/director ChloĆ© Zhao continues to impress (after her previous film, The Rider) with this look at a lifestyle I didn’t even know existed (van life). Using real people of that world and a handful of actors, Zhao captures the lifestyle in an extremely realistic fashion. Frances McDormand’s performance is perfect, as well. If not for the few famous faces involved, Nomadland could pass as a documentary, which is definitely a compliment.

(Nomadland will be released on February 19 in theaters and on Hulu in support of a ton of expected Oscar nominations.)

9. Athlete A

Speaking of documentaries, it seems like I have to include one each year now on my top ten list (last year was the first time I included one: For Sama). Perhaps I just feel the need to include documentaries that bring me to tears. Athlete A certainly affected me in that regard. It tells the story of the years of abuse by a doctor in the USA gymnastics program. I had read about it when the story first broke, but seeing and hearing the victims and others involved makes the horrible abuse even more real. This is a story that needs to be remembered beyond its few weeks in the news cycle. Thanks to Athlete A, it will be.

(Athlete A is on Netflix.)

10. Mank

David Fincher’s film about the writing of Citizen Kane was a disappointment for many, and I understand any criticism that claims the film is boring. But I found the world it created to be fascinating. Since it’s on Netflix, I find myself rewatching it when I can’t find something new to watch because I just enjoy disappearing into the world of old Hollywood for a little bit. In any other year, that alone might not have allowed Mank into my top ten, but as I stated earlier, escapism was most important to me in 2020, so Mank makes the list.

(Mank is on Netflix.)

Honorable Mentions

Soul - Pixar movies just work for me. This one might not go down as one of the greats, but I enjoyed it quite a bit.

(Soul is on Disney+.)

Song Without a Name - This is the film I wish Roma had been.

(Song Without a Name is available to rent or own on Vudu and Amazon.)

The Devil All the Time - Worth watching for the performances alone.

(The Devil All the Time is on Netflix.)

Sound of Metal - Riz Ahmed is great in this, and the film does a great job of conveying what it would be like to lose your hearing.

(Sound of Metal is on Amazon Prime.)

Uncle Frank - Watch this instead of Hillbilly Elegy

(Uncle Frank is on Amazon Prime.)

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom - This film has so many great performances. Also, I just like August Wilson’s play. This and Fences could just be called That Escalated Quickly. Every conversation just gets so amped up that it gives me a good way.

(Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is on Netflix.)

The Father - This is one of those films I would never recommend. It’s about a man (Anthony Hopkins) succumbing to dementia. It’s a tough watch, but it makes my list because Hopkins is amazing in it.

(The Father will be released on February 26.)

I’m Thinking of Ending Things - Writer/director Charlie Kaufman delivers another completely original film. It’s a little mind-bendy, but it’s not nearly as confusing as the first responses to it made it seem.

(I’m Thinking of Ending Things is on Netflix.)

The Trial of the Chicago 7 - An informative and entertaining look at a time in this country that is unfortunately not much different than the present. It also has one of the best ensemble casts of the year.

(The Trial of the Chicago 7 is on Netflix.)

Alone - Straightforward and effective thriller from the director of the last two amazing Universal Soldier movies. Seriously.

(Alone is available to rent or own on most streaming services.)

On the Rocks - I could watch Rashida Jones and Bill Murray hang out for the entire movie. Their strained father/daughter relationship makes the movie.

(On the Rocks is on Apple TV+.)

Okay, that’s it. There are plenty of other movies, particularly documentaries, that I could list here, but enough’s enough.