Star Power: JCVD & Appaloosa & Keb’ Mo’

Star Power: JCVD & Appaloosa & Keb’ Mo’ featured image

TIFF is all about star power. The festival’s ability to attract major talent from around the globe transforms the city every September. Movie stars, from Matt Damon to Julie Christie to Clint Eastwood, have graced TIFF’s red carpets in recent years, joining a multitude of great names who come to Toronto each fall to promote films, offer great media copy and go to fabulous restaurants and clubs.

Broadening its appeal, TIFF is now offering up art stars and big names in the music world to eager Toronto crowds. This week, acclaimed artist Steve McQueen (no, not the late legendary movie actor), African musical giant Youssou Ndour and and Grammy award winning blues artist Keb’ Mo’ will make TIFF and Toronto more appealing than ever.

But before we get into that, how about some movie stars?

Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen are here representing their new Western, Appaloosa. Based on a Robert B. Parker novel, it recounts the friendship between Harris’ Virgil—a tough, laconic, honourable man—and Mortensen’s Everett—a funnier, more romantic but still tough as nails gunman. They’ve come to a classic Western town to clear out the bad men and civilize the town—for money. The bad guy, in a loveably outrageous thespian turn, is Jeremy Irons playing Bragg. Adding the right amount of complication is the scheming, weak but sexy Allison, played by Renee Zellwegger.

Perhaps it’s appropriate that Zellwegger hasn’t come to hype the film in Toronto. But the boys are here—including baddie Irons. Appaloosa will be released commercially soon, and it will be reviewed here and elsewhere at that time. Suffice it to say that this is a satisfying attempt at bringing the Western back to commercial and artistic prominence. By far, the best thing about it is the relationship between those cowpokes Everett and Virgil. There’s a lot of affection and actorial nuances offered here by Harris and Mortensen. No doubt they’ll be fun on the runway as well.

Appaloosa screens this evening at 6 pm. Earlier in the day, at 3:15, you can catch last night’s Midnight Madness premiere JCVD. It stars the “muscles from Brussels” Jean-Claude van Damme in the role you never expected to see—as a hostage victim, beleaguered parent and needy son. A kind of low-budget Being John Malkovich, this met-cinema project has van Damme playing himself—or at least a version of himself. It proposes the idea that the former karate story and B movie actor is captured by bank robbers, while he’s on a trip home to Brussels. What would a guy like van Damme do in such a situation, when the guns are “real” and the crooks pathetically stupid but psychotic?

“Well, what would you do, punk?” Nothing, I bet. And so does van Damme. In fact, the script forces him to work with the crooks in order to keep violence at bay. With police surrounding the bank, a media frenzy erupts as people assume that van Damme is the ringleader of the failed heist. JCVD plays out its B movie scenario but takes its time, offering lovely post-modern breaks with van Damme allowed to deliver soliloquies to the camera about his existential situation. (Van Damme is famous for his weird philosophical digressions.)

Screened first at Cannes, JCVD is being hailed as van Damme’s comeback film. Certainly it’s his best effort since John Woo’s Hard Target, made over a decade ago.

Star power on the screen yields to musical prowess from 8:30 on, at Yonge-Dundas Square, when musician Keb’ Mo’ will be leading an all star band in a musical tribute to Chess Records. Jerry Zak’s doc Who Do You Love about the legendary record label that brought Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf. Little Walter, Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry to musical stardom will be shown on Saturday night, near Midnight. Like JCVD, it promises to offer a fine madness.

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