JCVD at the Dryden with a New Pair of Eyes

Today I went to The Rochester Optical Factory Outlet (400 Jefferson Rd., in Hen-Jeff Plaza) and picked up my new glasses (with the lowest price in town — and honestly priced to boot). Last month I went to The Ocu Sight Eye Care Center (1580 Elmwood Ave.) for an eye appointment: partly for issues with near-sightedness, and partly to get those eye disease checks that I don't get without owning glasses. Everyone who has glasses sneers when I say I have better than 20/20 vision, but damn it: I can't read street signs at night! Accordingly , my prescription was pretty weak, but now I can see far-away things. It may not be perfect (I'm still working on figuring out if it's honestly wrong or if it's just confined by the granularity of a weak prescription) but hundreds of yards better than what it was.

So one of the first things I got to do was to go with Ali to the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) where we saw JCVDJean-Claude Van Damme's Tree's Lounge … er … sort-of. Ali didn't intend on seeing it, but I suggested we walk from her house to double-up a little physical activity, but she didn't feel at all like walking back home alone afterward so begrudgingly stayed (and actually thought the film was okay).

I thought the film was very good overall. I remember from film class in college something about film genres taking a turn at some point — when the formula used is somehow tweaked so the film is still recognizable by its pedigree, but is significantly unique as well. In this case, it's the action genre: where the bad guys establish a sophisticated upper-hand, the good guys are embarrassingly disorganized save for the few heroes, and good wins in the end. Plus there's a showcase for special effects and a reinforced apathy for the loss of lives of the unknown.

In JCVD, Van Damme plays himself — an action star tired of constantly being personally associated with the attributes of the characters he plays and the films they are in, and pretty much the only guy who could possibly fit the role. He returns to his hometown of Brussels and quickly becomes the central figure in a heist gone awry. From there it's action-movie anarchy: mobs of people surround the bank to cheer on the most famous Belgian outside Belgium, Van Damme's role in the heist is not as it first appears, and, of course, he's not some ass-kicking, bulletproof hero.

In a jarring foil to the climax, Van Damme steps out of his film-self to deliver a monologue directly to the audience. He ends up coming across closer to Jesus Christ than to his own JC moniker (Jean-Claude, that is — far more closely associated with bad acting and terrible movies). Practically a classic Catholic confession, he reveals that he's conflicted: for after having traveled the world and experienced all the different kinds of people he's met, he cannot see how each and every one of them shouldn't be adored for who they are. Yet his films — the entire action genre — broadly categorizes everyone in the world to one-of-two, black-or-white categories.

So in its own way, JCVD is incredibly powerful. For it has forever tainted any future viewing of an action movie for me. It's really where my own philosophy led anyway, but JCVD accelerated my progression to a fully new mind-space.

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