Hard Target (1993, directed by John Woo)

Nat Binder (Yancy Butler) has come to New Orleans to track down the father who she hasn’t seen since she was seven years old.  What she doesn’t know is that her father has recently been kidnapped and killed for sport by a wealthy hunter and Most Dangerous Game enthusiast named Emil Fouchon (Lance Henriksen).  After a homeless veteran named Chance Bourdeaux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) saves her from a group of muggers, Nat hires him to help her track down her father.  This turns out to be a good decision because Fouchon is sending out his private army to track down Nat and Chance is Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Jean-Claude Van Damme has never gotten as much respect as he deserves.  Even though most of his action movies were low-budget and often not very good, Van Damme was still a better actor than some of the other B-action stars of the 90s and, unlike most of his contemporaries, he could actually do most of the things that he did in the movies in real life as well.  Though Van Damme may have sabotaged his career through cocaine abuse, it’s not a surprise that most action fans would welcome a Jean-Claude Van Damme comeback far more than a comeback by someone like Steven Seagal.  Hard Target features Van Damme at his best, emphasizing his athleticism and contrasting his earnest acting style with the more flamboyant villainy of Lance Henriksen, who also brings his best to the role of Emil.  The film also features Wilford Brimley, bringing his best to the role of Bourdeaux’s uncle.  Van Damme, Henriksen, and Brimley all at their best?  How could anyone turn down Hard Target?

Hard Target was the first American film of director John Woo and he proves himself to be the perfect director for the material.  With Woo, every scene becomes an operatic set piece and it’s impossible to worry about any plot inconsistencies when Van Damme is gracefully jumping out of the way of bullets and missiles.  Woo turns the material into a live-action comic book and, even if it’s not as good as his Hong Kong films or later American films like Face/Off, it’s still undeniably entertaining.

Hard Target is Van Damme’s best film of the 90s.  Watch it on a double bill with Surviving The Game.


Ian Holm, R.I.P.

The British actor Ian Holm passed away yesterday.

When the news was announced, almost every story mentioned that he played Bilbo in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and it is true that he was a great Bilbo.  Even though he didn’t go on the quest, he brought a lot of heart to the film and the character.  Though his screen time may have been brief, he made you understand why Frodo and all the other Hobbits would feel such loyalty to him.  He was the ideal Hobbit.  He final scene in Return of the King brought tears to my eyes.  How could you not love him?

Holm, however, was in a lot of other films.  He was one of those extremely memorable character actors who, sadly, I think was sometimes taken for granted.  He was also one of those actors who seemed so distinguished (at least to American audiences, who tend to have a rather stereotypical view of anyone who first found fame as a Shakespearean actor) that it’s easy to overlook that he could also very funny.  Watch him in The Fifth Element.  Watch him in Brazil and Time Bandits.  It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Ian Holm in those roles.

The other Holm role that many people mentioned when they heard of his passing was his role as the evil android Ash in Alien.  Indeed, he was perfectly menacing in Alien.  If you believe Ridley Scott, Alien and Blade Runner take place in the same universe, which means that Ian Holm was the first actor to play a Replicant.  He did a great job of it.

I want to end this tribute with a picture of Ian Holm and Sigourney Weaver on the set of Alien.  I like this picture because they both look like they’re having a lot of fun.  Even in his humorous roles, Holm tended to play characters who were, if not outright neurotic, definitely very serious-minded.  And Alien is a remarkably grim movie.  So, it’s kind of nice to see both Ripley and Ash smiling between takes.

Rest in Peace, Ian Holm.