Friday, February 22, 2013

Worth Mentioning - Winner Take All

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Cody watched people, one of them Van Damme, take a beating to benefit their families.


Twenty-something Iris has gotten a rough deal from life. Her parents were killed in an accident, leaving her to be the caregiver for her teenage brother Raleigh. Raleigh is very sick, in desperate need of a bone marrow transplant. With her brother's medical bills stacking up, Iris is broke. A man named Shepard Lambrick just might be her salvation. He's the head of The Lambrick Foundation, which has funded the building of clinics and schools around the globe, and he believes in creating opportunities for people less fortunate than himself. When Iris is introduced to him by her brother's doctor, Lambrick invites her to a dinner party, where all of the guests will be people the Foundation is considering helping out. The party will culminate in the playing of a game, and the winner of the game will be completely taken care of. Debts will be paid, investments made, treatments provided, medical donors found and waiting lists bypassed, whatever they need.

Iris goes to the dinner party and finds herself one of eight guests who have gathered from around the country. All of them are in need of Lambrick donations for one reason or another. Soon after dinner is served, the game commences and, unfortunately for his guests, Lambrick proves to have a very twisted idea of fun. He starts off by gleefully breaking down convictions - offering $10,000 to a vegetarian if she'll eat meat, giving a former alcoholic the option of drinking a glass of wine for $10,000 or downing an entire decanter for $50,000.

Then, they move on to the game of "Would You Rather". A game of choices between two painful, harmful options. Choices of whether to hurt a fellow guest or themself. With Lambrick's armed guards watching over the table, everyone is forced to participate. Items like icepicks, razors, and makeshift electroshock devices are involved.

I didn't have high hopes for Would You Rather when I started watching it. With a set-up that basically just amounted to people in one room torturing each other, it sounded like just another cash-in on the fading "torture porn" trend, which I have never really been into. I have a soft spot for the Hostel movies, though I don't revisit them very often, but most of the last decade's torture flicks have been too mean-spirited for me.

It was Would You Rather's cast that got me interested in watching it, an interesting and eclectic mix of personal favorites and familiar faces like Brittany Snow (The Vicious Kind) as Iris, John Heard, retired porn star Sasha Grey, comedy stars Eddie Steeples (My Name Is Earl) and Robb Wells (Trailer Park Boys, Hobo with a Shotgun), and horror icon Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator) as Shepard Lambrick. It was due to their performances and the pleasant surprise that the film had a dark and ornery sense of humor running through it that I ended up being entertained.

With the choice on the table, I would watch Would You Rather again, and I wouldn't need to be given $10,000 to do so. Although if someone were to make the offer, I'd take it.


When his brother is murdered in Los Angeles, burned to death during a drug deal gone bad, Lyon Gaultier (Jean-Claude Van Damme) goes A.W.O.L. from the French Foreign Legion and heads to the United States. Trying to cover his expenses and help out the wife and daughter his brother left behind, Lyon gets caught up in a world of underground fights organized and bet on by thrill-seeking, bloodthirsty rich folks.

Dubbed Lionheart by his foul-mouthed manager, Lyon fights his way through the ranks of the circuit's fighters in bouts held in venues like a parking garage, raquetball court, and an almost-empty swimming pool. In his down time, Lyon has to evade the Legionnaires sent to arrest him for desertion.

The action builds up to a climactic match between Lionheart and a cat-stroking, mutton chopped beast of a man called Atilla. Like Bloodsport's Chong Li and Kickboxer's Tong Po, Atilla is a fighter who crosses the line and causes unnecessary harm to his opponents, sometimes even killing them. To add to the trouble, Lyon goes into their fight nursing a broken rib...

Lionheart was a re-teaming of Van Damme with Bloodsport co-writer Sheldon Lettich, this time they wrote the screenplay together and Lettich directed the film. The first film Lettich received a writing credit on was Josh Becker's 1985 indie cult classic Thou Shalt Not Kill... Except, which was co-written by Evil Dead II co-writer Scott Spiegel. Spiegel went on from there to write and direct the great slasher Intruder, which was produced by longtime Quentin Tarantino collaborator Lawrence Bender. Spiegel and Bender both cameo in Lionheart, Spiegel as a bookie at the pool fight and Bender as a heckling spectator whose date is excited to get a splatter of fighter blood across her chest, even licking some of it off her finger.

Van Damme handled the fight choreography along with Frank Dux, the man whose life story inspired Bloodsport, and Kickboxer's Tong Po himself, Michel Qissi.

Lionheart is an enjoyable film, and though I don't find it quite as entertaining as those two preceding Van Damme movies now, I was very impressed by it when it first hit VHS, when I was seven years old. We rented it as soon as it came out and I watched it several times, even inviting my friend from across the street over to watch it with me. After the movie, we had one of our own play fight tournaments. Unfortunately, the Van Damme movie-esque dynamics of our fights did not work in my favor. We were the same age, but I was bigger than him and could pick him up and throw him around if given the chance. But he took karate lessons, and with his training in the arts could overcome my brute strength. He was a tough one and his hits hurt.

When watching Lionheart back in those days, I was totally convinced that Atilla was played by Andre the Giant. That's a belief I held on to for the last twenty-two years, and only found out upon revisiting it this week that Andre the Giant is not in this film. Atilla is actually played by Michel Qissi's older brother Abdel Qissi.

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