Welcome to the latest episode of the Failed Critics Corridor of Praise podcast. Originally, the CoP was set up to honour the work of icons and legends of the film world who have been overlooked by the academy and other major award ceremonies. Therefore, our sixth inductee – and long overdue as it may be – is the Muscles from Brussels himself, Mr Jean-Claude Camille François Van Varenberg; otherwise known to you and me as Jean-Claude Van Damme!
A professional karate and kickboxing champion in his youth, including being named a former Mr Belgium, JCVD moved to America in 1982 with dreams of making it as an action film star. After a succession of minor roles as an extra, including a credited role as ‘Gay Karate Man’ in Monaco Fever, his first big break came in 1986 playing the leg splitting, spinning heel kicking ‘Ivan the Russian’ in Karate Kid knock-off No Retreat, No Surrender. This was eventually followed by two of his most successful box office hits (and frequently named as fan favourites of course) in 1988’s Bloodsport and 1989’s Kickboxer.
Achieving his dream of becoming one of the most globally well known action film stars of his time during the early to mid 90’s, a series of personal problems thereafter resulted in the slow decline of his box office pull. Nevertheless, after starring in over 45 feature films as varied as DreamWorks animation Kung Fu Panda 2 and futuristic Albert Pyun b-movie Cyborg, we still love him and as such are honouring the good man with his induction to our illustrious Corridor of Praise. To help Steve and Owen immortalise the greatest living Belgian, beaming in all the way from Norway are self-confessed Van Damme-nuts Hollie and Richard Trondsen.
I love a bit of Bacon, particularly when it’s called Kevin and featured in a classic creature-feature like Tremors. Unable to take advantage of EE’s 2 for 1 cinema ticket offer because he’s deep underground (I don’t know why I typed all that out either because I too am sick of that joke now) you can find him here in what is undoubtedly the finest monster movie ever made to feature Kevin Bacon.
With news coming out this week that both Bloodsport and Kickboxer, the two films that made Jean-Claude Van Damme‘s name in the late 80’s, have been green lit for remakes, it seems oddly fitting that 5USA are airing one of those two very films this week. A typical revenge movie in many ways, this film sees the muscles from Brussels avenge his American brother Eric in a thai boxing tournament against the ruthless fighter Tong Po. Maybe not quite as good as Bloodsport, but here’s hoping they air that next week too so I can fit yet another JCVD film into a best film on TV article!
Directed by Andrew Stanton who had previous success at Pixar with A Bug’s Life and even more spectacularly so with Finding Nemo, Wall-E tells the tale of one robot left on Earth to clear up all the rubbish left behind by the humans that have abandoned it. It’s sweet, touching, funny and beautiful but hopefully not prophetic. A film of two halves, but luckily for us, both halves are great.
A “made for TV” Studio Ghibli film it may be, but Ocean Waves is quite possibly my favourite film of theirs to date. It’s the story of a bloke who reminisces about his old school days, particularly about one girl and his best mate. It may not sound like a “typical” Ghibli film (i.e. not a fantasy involving weird creatures, witches or Totoro) but it’s such a lovely nostalgic film. I’m sure you will hear me waxing lyrical about it at some point in the future when our Studio Ghibli special episode of the podcast gets made.
Based on a comic by Mark Millar (almost as if he was writing a comic book he knew would be made into a film, funny that) where the focus is “why don’t kids dress up as heroes and fight crime?” Well, the answer to that is “because they’d get stabbed”, but hey, at least they’d get to meet Nic Cage doing his Adam West impression. If fun, over the top action and lots of sweary words sound like the kinds of things you look for in films, then look no further than Kick-Ass.
If, however, you prefer your comic book heroes a little less violent and a little more camp and traditional, then Channel 5 are here to help with 1991’s pulpy comic hero The Rocketeer! A young pilot (Billy Campbell) finds a rocket pack in the middle of nowhere. He enlists the help of his mechanic friend Peevee in an attempt to rescue his girlfriend from a Nazi threat. It’s as bonkers as it sounds but good fun!
Here is my selection of the best films showing on UK free-to-air television this week. I say ‘best’, but these things are very subjective. Basically, stop telling me on Twitter that I chose rubbish films.
If the nostalgia trip of the weekend’s film choices hasn’t satisfied you, then why not live out your childhood a little longer with an unseasonal showing of one of the darker Christmas films of recent times. Joe Dante’s Gremlins is a brilliant b-movie homage, with its only let-down being a flaw in its internal logic. If you can’t feed a gremlin after midnight, when can you give them breakfast?
I bloody love a good disaster movie, and this is a bloody good disaster movie. Helmed by Das Boot director Wolfgang Petersen, the film charts the spread of a deadly airborne disease that threatens to wipe out half of mankind if it isn’t contained. Like the great disaster films of the sixties and seventies, this features an impressive ensemble cast that includes Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey, Cuba Gooding Jr, and Donald Sutherland. And possibly Marcel the monkey from Friends.
There was a time when Al Pacino was the finest actor on the planet. Some of his work in the seventies is quite simply breathtaking. Here is another example of a master of his craft, being directed by another in Sidney Lumet. Frank Serpico is one of the few honest cops in his New York precinct, but his principles turn his colleagues against him, and put his life in danger when he decides to whistle-blow.
I know that Owen Hughes of this parish disagrees with me, and he may well be better qualified than almost anyone when it comes to the work of Jean-Claude Van Damme, but this is categorically and without doubt the finest film in the Muscles from Brussels’ career. JCVD plays Kurt Sloane, the suspiciously European-sounding brother of all-American hero Eric Sloane, who nearly dies when facing the villainous Tong-Po in a kickboxing match in Thailand. Kurt then goes off to train in the forest under the supervision of a wise old fella who gets him to work out while doing odd jobs, and encourages the practice of kicking trees until you break your leg.
I recently wrote about this film for my 1961 Decade in Film piece so, at the risk at repeating myself, this is Audrey Hepburn at her most incredible. There’s a reason the images of her have become a cliché in recent years, so watch this and see what all the fuss was about.
In an ideal world where Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy received the big screen adaptation it deserved (rather than the okay-ish effort it actually got), it would have been my choice for today (BBC2 at 5pm). There’s also a Danny Boyle night on Film 4 with the brilliant Slumdog Millionaire and 28 Days Later showing from 9pm. However I’m pretty sure most people have already seen those. S0 I’m going to play my weekly ‘I’ve not seen it but it looks good’ card on the network première of a documentary about a Chimpanzee raised as a child by a New York family in the 1970s, in an attempt to discover if the chimp could learn to understand human communication. I’ll probably watch Rise of the Planet of the Apes directly afterwards.
There’s a nostalgic battle royale as Back to the Future and The Goonies are shown at the same time today (#TeamMarty), but on pretty much any day The Godfather is shown, it is sure to be the best film on TV. Owen recently wrote about it for our Decade in Film series, and it features another incredible performance from Al Pacino. The scene in the diner before his first murder is a master class in film acting, with his ability to tell a character’s story through the eyes simply a joy to watch.
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