Monday, February 22, 2021

Enemies Closer - Van Damme the Villain

Enemies Closer is one of those Van Damme movies that I bought and watched and completely forgot for some reason. I have a bad habit of watching movies while distracted, and that must’ve been the case here, because this is a good’un, and it features my favorite type of Van Damme character: the villain.

Van Damme, the Born Villain

Enemies Closer is actually about a park ranger/former Navy SEAL (Tom Everett Scott) encountering a man (Orlando Jones) seeking vengeance for the death of his brother under Scott’s command. While fighting, a group of drug runners led by Van Damme show up to reclaim a lost shipment, forcing the two men to form an alliance to survive, hence the title.

But the main characters are boring, and drug runners finding a lost shipment is pretty boring, too. Thankfully, Van Damme dances into this movie as a vegan, environmentalist fucking psycho.

Van Damme was clearly given free reign to do any goofy shit he wanted to do in this film, but his character is also written that way. He talks about being a vegan and worrying about his carbon footprint and shit, but it has nothing to do with the plot. It’s simply an added detail to make him more unique than the boring dudes he’s trying to kill/recruit during his mission.

The vegan/environmentalist stuff may sound a bit goofy, and the film is very aware of it. Van Damme’s character is very brutal (he kills a roomful of innocent border agents near the beginning), but it’s all kept fairly light. I dug this because it reminded me of the fun villains of the ‘90s. Back then, a psycho was just a psycho. He didn’t need to be a gritty genius with a meticulous plan. A villain back then was simply the bad guy because the movie needed a bad guy, so why not make him fun. This is the philosophy of Van Damme’s villain in Enemies Closer.

What’s most amusing about the environmentalist stuff is that Van Damme could use that as his excuse to kill some people, but he doesn’t. After he complains about the carbon footprint, why not have him kill a guy, then talk about how it’s balanced out now? It’s not like his motivations in general have to be environmental (running heroin isn’t necessarily bad for the environment, I suppose, but it’s certainly not actively improving it, either), but just have it be something he can reference after killing people. But no, he just loves the environment, and he kills people, and there’s no crossover.

Though his veganism and environmentalism do not add to the plot, it is explained by Van Damme late in the film. As a child, he had a favorite goose that he named Edith. But his family thought it was funny, so his grandmother fed him the goose. Upon learning this, he became a vegan...and a murderer because he killed his grandmother for it.

That’s a hell of an origin story. Add some more goofy shit, like dancing for no reason as he explains a plan or picking wild strawberries after killing two dudes, and you have a truly fun villain. It makes me wonder why Van Damme doesn’t take on more roles like this.

It’s possible that because Van Damme had to play a villain a few times early on (most notably in No Retreat, No Surrender) that once he got to be the hero he always wanted to be the hero. After his breakout success, the only time he would even play someone even borderline “bad” was in Double Impact, and that didn’t seem to count since he also played the clean cut twin of that character. It wasn’t until Replicant that he got to go all in as a villain again. But, once again, he also played an innocent clone of the character. 

The most high-profile non-innocent-clone-or-twin villainous role was that of Vilain (yes, his name is literally the word “villain,” but with one “L”) in The Expendables 2, and he is easily the best part of the movie. 

Part of Van Damme being a natural villain is that it is so against type. Sure, Van Damme has played morally compromised characters plenty of times, especially in the latter, DTV portion of his career. But those characters almost always end up being heroic in one way or another. Van Damme may enjoy being portrayed as the hero, but as an actor, it seems like he flat out loves being the bad guy. 

Being bad is freeing, and Van Damme embraces it and makes each performance interesting. In this film and The Expendables, he gets to ham it up and make it entertaining. In Replicant, it’s more about showing his darker side. In Day of Reckoning, it was a chance to truly branch out as an actor. 

Van Damme clearly sees these villainous roles as an opportunity to prove himself as something more than the “splits guy.” Hopefully, he takes some more bad guy roles in the future because he was born for it.

The Hyams-Van Damme Connection

Peter Hyams directed this film along with Sudden Death and Timecop. Peter’s son, John, has directed Dragon Eyes, Universal Soldier: Regeneration, and Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning. I need to revisit Dragon Eyes, but the rest of these films are definitely top-tier Van Damme movies. It seems as if the Hyamses have a special bond with Van Damme, but Enemies Closer is the last collaboration with the father or son, and it came out in 2013. 

Hopefully, Van Damme can get another project going with one of them. I would prefer it to be John, mainly because of the batshit crazy direction he took the Universal Soldier franchise in with Day of Reckoning, which ended up being like Nicolas Winding Refn movie with Van Damme channeling Colonel Kurtz. John also recently directed Alone, which was one of my favorite films last year.

Peter, on the other hand, hasn’t made a movie since Enemies Closer. He is older, and the film wasn’t a commercial success, so it’s possible that his filmmaking career is over. But that’s unfortunate because Van Damme needs directors like Peter Hyams, who can effortlessly craft a thriller and allow Van Damme to do something unique.

Even if Van Damme doesn’t work with Peter or John again, at least they’ve made some quality films together that run the gamut from traditional action/sci-fi films to fucked up fever dreams.

Van Damme Character Name Check

His name is Xander, and he speaks French throughout the film. That works for me. 

Why Do I Own This?

It’s a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie.

Random Thoughts / Favorite Quotes

I know Van Damme is the bad guy, but Tom Everett Scott making that dude dump his beer at the beginning makes him worse, even if he does let him keep his flask.

“There’s no cell service up here. I’m afraid you’ll just have to look at the lake.” This dude needs to be round house kicked so fucking bad…

Jean-Claude Van Damme, Tom Everett Scott, and Orlando Jones? This is a season of Celebrity Big Brother waiting to happen.

They must’ve cast the first fake Mountie with the accent so strong he’s almost unintelligible just to make Van Damme’s accent seem positively eloquent by comparison.

“Hey, what the fuck, Frenchie?”

“I’m the guy with the gun!”

Van Damme, holding a hostage: “And I’m the guy with the guy.”

Van Damme kills a guy with a broken CD-ROM, and that’s the best reason yet to stop using physical media. Being killed by one of my DVDs is a major fear of mine.

“No cell. Radio’s busted. There’s a GPS signal coming from the water near King’s Island. That’s where they’re headed. They’re going to the dock!” Damn, that’s some fast expository thinking, especially coming from a guy who just walked into a room full of his dead co-workers.

It sucks that they just cut to the random drunk dildo dead in a dumpster (that’s the best natural alliteration I’ve written in a while); I would’ve loved to see Van Damme kill him with a CD.

With the cabin fight, it seems like the director told Scott and Jones, “Don’t stop until you’ve used every prop in the room.” And that’s how a fight ends with a clothes iron to the face.

I can’t decide who’s the more unlikely bad ass: the dude from Dead Man on Campus or the 7 Up guy.

Of all the weird pronunciations in his repertoire, “heroin” is Van Damme’s strangest.

The two inept ICE agents who were on a fucking grocery run when their entire unit was killed seem to have been introduced just so Van Damme could kill them later on with a fucking stick and immediately pick and eat a wild strawberry afterward. I like it.

“I hate guns. They are very bad for the environment.” Are they? I mean, I know they don’t help the environment, but is gun production and use actively bad for the environment. I suppose war in general is harmful...I’m overthinking this line, aren’t I?

I was not expecting a story about a goose named Edith in this movie.

“My patience is gaining weight.”

Van Damme’s son has his fucking leg straight-up impaled in this film. Later on, he’s able to walk without even a limp and get into a fight. Van Damme must’ve demanded that his son be left alive for nearly the entire movie, otherwise this character would’ve died in the trap, and another character would’ve fought Orlando Jones near the end.

I’m not up to date on heroin prices, but is one duffel bag of it worth all this trouble?

“Fucking gasoline! I knew it would ruin everything. Ha ha ha!” 

I’m okay with Van Damme dying at the end, because he’s killed by an explosion that he’s largely the cause of. Tom Everett Scott couldn’t handle Van Damme in a fight, so he had to resort to throwing a flare to ignite the gas leak that Van Damme caused. If the movie had ended with Tom Everett Scott beating Van Damme in a hand to hand fight, then it would be utter trash.


Wednesday, February 3, 2021

The Godfather: Part III - "It Was Not What I WANTED!"

The Godfather: Part III is really the only movie in the saga that I needed to revisit to prepare for the new cut (my next article will cover that version of the film), but as I mentioned in my article about Part II, I don’t view these as three individual films as much as I view them as one long story detailing Michael Corleone’s rise and fall. Plenty of fans like to pretend that this film doesn’t exist (hence the title of this article), but I am not one of them. I don’t consider the best or most important part of the series, but I do find it vital and entertaining. Despite my enjoyment of the film, it is the one I can most easily nitpick.

Victim of the Studio...and Casting

Following up Part I and II years later was always going to be tough, but Francis Ford Coppola was very unlucky in dealing with the studio with this sequel. The studio would only give him and the actors so much time and money, and it held him back. 

The first major problem was that a release date of Christmas was a requirement despite Coppola asking for more time to work on the script and edit the film. This movie was going to come out on that date no matter what. It seems crazy to think that such an accomplished filmmaker had such little power, but this is a good example that studios only care about right now. And at the time, Paramount knew The Godfather: Part III would make a lot more money (and get an awards bump) by being released on Christmas rather than in March. 

On top of the scheduling issues, two disasters struck the cast. First, Robert Duvall wanted a comparable salary to Al Pacino’s. The studio said no, and that was that. This is why George Hamilton is in this movie. I don’t mind Hamilton, but he’s nothing compared to Duvall. It makes for one of the most infuriating “What could’ve been?” situations when you imagine this film with Duvall. Who the fuck was running Paramount back then?

The second disaster was Sofia Coppola. I’m not going to pile on Sofia Coppola here (I saved that for the Random Thoughts section), but she’s simply not a good actress. And this is coming from someone who rarely criticizes performances (for example, I think Colin Farrell is great in Alexander). It’s painfully obvious that she is not meant for the role of Michael’s daughter. And that’s a fact, not an opinion. Winona Ryder was meant to play the part, but dropped out due to exhaustion (there are some other theories, but this is the official story). I think this movie would be much better with Duvall and Ryder in it, but it wasn’t meant to be.

In the End, These Problems Don’t Matter

Yes, Part III would probably have been a better film if the casting had gone the way Coppola originally wanted it, but Duvall and Ryder were still just going to be supporting characters. This is the story of the end of Michael Corleone. 

I find his regret and softened character to be very interesting. Michael is still cunning and methodical, but now it’s about winning his family back and soul back. This is why we get the admittedly boring plot about International Immobiliare. Michael is trying to buy his family’s legitimacy, and the connections to the Vatican will hopefully allow him to buy his way into redemption for his sins. 

While Michael’s striving for legitimacy, though, he’s still a part of the crime world. Even though he abdicates his role as Don to Sonny’s illegitimate son, Vincent, Michael is still responsible for everything that happens. The most famous line of the film (“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”) sums it up. Michael can’t leave the world behind. Vito told him this in the first film. They didn’t have enough time to allow Michael to become a truly legitimate Corleone. Once you go down the crime path, there’s no going back. 

This is made abundantly clear when Michael’s daughter is killed during an assassination attempt intended for Michael. All the money and confessions can’t change the past. Michael was always doomed once he took over the family. The path Vito started the Corleone family on years ago cannot be left. Part III works for me because, despite its flaws, it still delivers the gut punch ending of a sad, old Michael dying alone with all his regrets. This story was always about the misery brought on to a person who enters the criminal world. And Michael Corleone’s life and death is the perfect example of that.

Why Do I Own This?

I’ve always liked this film. More importantly, I love the trilogy. I believe each film is a necessary chapter in Michael’s story. Some may feel that this was a cash grab, and it certainly was, but that doesn’t mean it’s unnecessary. Also, it’s part of the collection. What am I going to do, throw it out on principle or something?

Random Thoughts / Favorite Quotes 

Yes, Coppola talks about gnocchi for what seems like ten minutes, but his audio commentary is one of the most honest I've ever heard. Most of the info I get into above about the studio and whatnot if from the commentary.

Coppola makes a very interesting point while defending his daughter during the commentary. Of course, he claims the performance is better than critics claim, but what’s interesting is how he finds similarities between the critical reaction and the story of the film. In many ways, he thinks Sofia took the bullet intended for him from the critics. And he’s right. If someone is to blame for The Godfather: Part III being a disappointing movie, it should be Francis Ford Coppola, not his daughter.

Pacino screaming, “It was not what I WANTED” is one of my favorite line readings of his.

Finally, a Corleone party with a valet or at least a parking garage nearby!

"I had a lot of girlfriends when I was 15."


"Especially eight-year-olds."

...what the fuck?

I think Sofia Coppola catches so much shit because she's so terrible at flirt-acting...and acting-acting.

Coppola does this weird thing with her mouth throughout the film; it looks like when Billy Idol sings.

"Every family has bad memories."

Yeah, but…

I do like how they're much more open about talking about mob shit now.

"Zasa, you son of a bitch!" is a much better last line than "It's my lucky coat!"

Despite the cousin stuff, I dig Andy Garcia’s James Caan impression throughout the film.

Cousin-fucking is a tough sell in any movie, but Coppola's awful, wooden performance makes it even worse. 

Way to remind the audience that you're cousins by calling her "cous" before you bang her in the kitchen, Vince.

"He's your first cousin."

"Then I love him first."

First, what? Second, the fuck?

On the bright side, Mary getting killed solves that pesky cousin fucking situation. 


Tuesday, February 2, 2021

The Godfather: Part II - "I can't have this conversation again."

Part I or Part II?

I went into an unplanned mob overload lately starting with rewatching The Sopranos. All of the references and onscreen discussions about The Godfather movies made me want to revisit that series, too. At one point in The Sopranos, the crew is attempting to watch The Godfather: Part II. Paulie asks Tony, “What’s your favorite scene?” Tony shakes his head, saying, “I-I can’t have this conversation again.” He’s talking about discussing a favorite scene (it’s when Vito goes back and kills Don Ciccio), but I think of Tony’s line in regards to the most common question concerning The Godfather Saga: What’s your favorite, one or two? (Three is never an option, but I’ll get to both versions of that film soon.) 

I hate picking a favorite film each year, much less of all time or even within a series, but with The Godfather trilogy, it’s even more difficult because it is such a focused story about Michael Corleone’s rise and fall. In other franchises, it’s easy for me to jump in and watch one movie (like watching The Empire Strikes Back out of the blue or Aliens or The Dark Knight). But with The Godfather, I always start with the first film and work my way through the trilogy in a week or two. So rather than get into whether this film is “better” than the first film, I’ll instead focus on why I find it to be the most important film in the trilogy.

The Perfect Middle Film

After this rewatch, what impressed me the most about Part II is that it’s a double period piece taking place during Vito’s emigration and rise in the criminal world of New York City in the early 1900s while also showing Michael’s cold-blooded decisions to retain power and protect his family in the 1950s. The technical aspect of making a film during two different time periods interested me, but the thematic reason for doing it is what makes this film special. 

The main story, to me, is all about Michael’s attempt to protect his family while he tries to make the Corleone family legitimate. It’s a tragedy as he essentially destroys his family by blindly and heartlessly making life and death decisions. Because of this, the Vito portion of the film isn’t simply a prequel for the audience to see Vito as a young man. It’s showing what Michael is destroying and, more importantly, it makes it clear that he never had a chance of saving his family. 

I used to watch this film and just think Michael is a blind piece of shit. How could he seriously think his decisions and treatment of his family (especially his wife, Kay) would end well? It culminates in his most evil decision of having his brother Fredo killed. He is truly a lost, lonely man at this point. 

Because of this mindset, I would view the Vito scenes as an example of the family that Michael has destroyed. But Vito’s rise to power is the foreshadowing of Michael’s loss of soul. Yes, Vito seems to be all about taking care of his family, but all the scenes of him holding the baby versions of characters we know can’t erase how focused and brutal he is when it comes to gaining power and seeking revenge. 

Vito going back to Italy at the end to kill Don Ciccio is seen by many as a triumphant moment (it’s Tony’s favorite scene, after all), but I see it as just as tragic as Michael’s downfall. Vito is consumed with revenge. Yes, it is revenge for his family, but as in every story of vengeance, it is clear that the act itself is really more important than any idea of justice for dead family members. The code of the mob world demands Don Ciccio’s death. 

Vito’s revenge actually proves Don Ciccio right. Don Ciccio tells Vito’s mother at the beginning that he cannot spare Vito because one day he will grow up and want vengeance. It’s a perfect example of the vicious cycle of the mob life. Vito knew this, and it’s why he wanted something different for Michael in The Godfather. Michael thinks Vito always wanted him to get involved with the family and that by joining the Army he was rebelling, but Vito tells him later on that he never wanted this life for Michael. Vito does not apologize for his life, and he even admits that he knows Sonny was always going to be in the life (and he insinuates that Fredo was always going to be a fuck-up), but he had hoped Michael could hold legitimate power as a politician rather than a criminal. Ignoring the argument that politicians can be just as bad, if not worse, than the mob, Vito wanted something better, and less violent, for Michael. 

Vito’s hopes for Michael are reaffirmed by the flashback at the end of Part II in which Michael tells his brothers about his enlistment. Sonny, of course, blows up, and Fredo is his meek self, but Tom’s reaction is the most telling. Tom explains to Michael that he and Vito had discussed Michael’s future many times. Michael is annoyed by this at the time, but focusing on this memory at the end of the film is very telling. Michael finally realizes what Vito really wanted for him: to never be involved in the family business. Michael originally thought, once he was involved, that his father wanted Michael to bring legitimacy to the Corleone name. That’s his main motivation throughout Part II and Part III. After destroying his family in the name of legitimacy and honor and vengeance, Michael finally realizes that he had no chance of achieving this while being a part of the mob, despite his proclamations about wanting to get his family out of that life. It’s too late. As Vito sadly tells him in the first film, “There wasn’t enough time.”

The Godfather films have always been a tragedy about the mob, and it’s a bit tragic that so many people view them as celebratory of mob life. These are some of the most depressingly beautiful films ever made, and it’s unfortunate that some viewers just see them as cool “mob movies.” Part II is the most important film in the trilogy simply because it shows Michael’s downfall and how Vito’s choices led to all of this. It’s also important because it is a perfect middle film of a trilogy. 

The Godfather: Part II makes The Godfather a better film because we can go back and watch it knowing Vito’s journey and his hopes for Michael and how the events of that film are even more tragic than once thought. And it sets up the third film, as well, with its focus on Michael trying to save his soul after losing it in the events of Part Two. I appreciate the first and third films so much more because of the second film. Does that make it the best? To some, sure. For me, it makes it the most important.

Why Do I Own This?

It’s part of the collection I own, but, you know, it’s also one of the best films ever my opinion.

Random Thoughts/Favorite Quotes

Much like the wedding in the first film, that has to be the worst parking situation in the history of first communion parties.

Wait, are first communion parties a thing? I'm Catholic, and I just remember maybe my grandparents coming by our house after my first communion. But then again, my family isn't in the mob…

I don't know why, but I could listen to G. D. Spradlin talk for hours.

I would especially enjoy hearing him pronounce Italian names incorrectly. His pronunciation of "Vito" is impossibly wrong.

I could also watch Michael Gazzo drink from a hose for hours.

I know an attempt was made on Michael's life, and he did tell his kid that he got the drawing he made, but he never answers the question posed by the drawing. Michael should definitely have told the kid the drawing fucking sucked despite all the distractions of the evening.

The meeting with the president of Cuba always cracks me up with the solid gold phone being awkwardly passed around the table. “Yes, el presidente, this stuff with the rebels is very concerning...oh, man, this gold phone is fucking awesome! Gino, feel how heavy this thing is! Anyway, this Castro guy…”

I am in awe of Michael's bodyguard's commitment to wearing all black at all times in Cuba.

Michael: "Fredo, I want you to show the politicians a good time here in Havana."

Fredo: "There's this club that has a dude with a giant dick. He breaks a cracker with it."

Michael: "..."

Looking back, it's pretty hilarious that the moment Michael realizes Fredo betrayed him there's a man with his dick out on a stage in front of them.

Mob bosses should stay away from oranges.

"I'm smart!"

Fredo, you're lucky they even let you have the small responsibilities they entrusted you with. I wouldn't trust you to pick someone up at the airport, you eternal fuck up.

Vito don't fuck around when it comes to knifing someone…

Fuckin' Michael's answer to everything is to kill someone. 

But, as the don from Corleone knew, if you leave anyone alive that might want revenge, they will eventually seek it. I suppose this is why Michael still kills Fredo even though Fredo seems so helpless in the end. Fredo has the capacity to betray Michael again at some point, thus he must go.

What kind of ex-husband did Kay think Michael was going to be? The dude is not big on forgiveness or changing his mind about shit.

I like how Sonny tells Fredo to make him a drink in the flashback. That’s right, Fredo, you deceitful fuck; no matter who was boss they were going to make you the bitch.