‘Lionheart’ with Harrison Page

posterTitle:
Lionheart (1990)
Rated: R
Directed by:
Sheldon Lettich
Written by:
S.N. Warren (story)
Jean Claude Van Damme (screenplay)
Starring:
Jean Claude Van Damme as Leon
Harrison Page as Joshua
Debra Rennard as Cynthia
Lisa Pelikan as Helene
Ashley Johnson as Nicole

 By Count Vardulon

jcvd kickPre-screening memories: I was old enough, when seeing Lionheart for the first time, that I can’t call it one of the most important formative movies of my childhood. True, I wasn’t a fan of martial arts films before seeing it, and afterwards I became something of a devotee of Van Damme’s, but the most vital part of the film for my developing fandom was that it reinforced the lesson, first taught by Tim Curry’s performance in the movie Clue, that following an actor from project to project would

A: Never disappoint, because if nothing else, you at least get to see a performance by someone whose work you enjoy, and

B: could possibly lead to discovering something fantastic.

harrison and jcvdWhich is my circuitous way of saying that my passion for the TV show Sledge Hammer! led directly to my lifelong love of watching people kicking other people in the face. Still inconsolable two full years after Sledge Hammer’s cancellation, seeing Harrison Page show up in television ads for upcoming film ‘Lionheart’ made me determined to see the film, which was rated a forbidding R, ensuring that I wouldn’t make it to the theatres.

When I finally saw the film on video it didn’t disappoint. Not only was Harrison Page fantastic in the film, but the action was unlike anything I’d seen in the Arnold Schwarzenegger movies that dominated my childhood, or even the occasional episode of Kung Fu. After all, who needed a machine gun when you could just spin really fast and crack someone across the jaw with your heel? A lifelong fan of the genre was born, as well as a devotee of Van Damme’s ‘all downhill from here’ ouevre.

jcvd blood

New memories: I’m frankly amazed by how good this movie was. Not having seen it in years, I’d assumed that it was going to be one of those embarrassingly Natsukashi moments (that’s how you use that word, right?) where I’d created an epic action extravaganza in my mind that never actually existed – this was certainly not the case. The action certainly wasn’t up to modern choreographic standards, but everything else about the film was far better than I’d remembered.

That’s right, what impressed me most about the film was that it worked, first and foremost, as a drama. Sounds crazy, right? Van Damme’s a pretty limited actor, especially at this fresh-faced stage of his career, before that personal and professional setbacks that would reduce him to the withered husk of ‘JCVD’, but damn if it doesn’t work in this part, as a simply good, almost naïve man struggling his way through the seamy world of underground fighting. He’s helped on this journey by the even-better-than-I-remembered-it performance of Harrison Page, who provides perhaps the most raw, vulnerable, and downright emotional performance I’ve ever seen in an action film. The way his Joshua starts out sad, defeated and desperate and gradually finds a kind of purpose and nobility in training Leon is a great character arc, and it brings him to a moment, right at the end, which is unlike anything I’ve seen in an American action film.

The other thing that amazed me about the movie (other than the fact that it’s a semi-remake of Midnight Cowboy – Who knew?) was the aspect that likely affected me most as a youngster, and that’s the utter contempt that the film shows for the upper classes who are funding the brutal no-holds-barred fights. If the film’s battles aren’t the most spectacular thing ever, their settings are absolutely stunning, and steeped in subtext. Van Damme’s first professional fight is in a parking garage beneath an office building, literally taking place in the underbelly of New York’s wealth-obsessed establishment. From there the action moves out to LA, but the satirical settings don’t stop – there’s a huge pool in a beachside mansion, a squash court, and a ring constructed from the luxury automobiles of the elite who have come to watch men beat each other nearly to death. This all leads up to the final battle which takes place well within the closed walls of the upper-class, a tennis court around the back of a palatial estate. The entire film works as an attack on the kind of people who commoditize human beings, and if the message gets a little heavy-handed at times (and it does), at least the movie was trying to say something important, unlike just about all of its brethren.

I loved Lionheart as a child. As an adult, crazy as it may seem, I respect it.

Download Natsukashi’s ‘Lionheart’ podcast right here

Or dropkick below and listen on our player

harrisonOur featured guest: Harrison Page

Fascinated by film at an early age, Harrison sought the Hollywood dream after serving in the military.

He began, as most starting in the business do, by snagging small roles on television, film and stage. And looking back, has amassed a resume in an astonishing amount of popular shows, including C.P.O. Sharkey, Webster, Hill Street Blues, Fame, 21 Jump Street, The Wonder Years, Quantum Leap (which earned him an Emmy nod), Melrose Place, Ally McBeal, ER, JAG, and Cold Case, to name but a few.

But it was his role in the cult classic series Sledge Hammer! (yes, the exclamation point was in the title) that cemented him into certified pop culture status. In it, he played Captain Trunk, the Pepto-Bismal-swilling, beleaguered head of a police department featuring the titular vigilante office (played by David Rasche). (Ed. note–  If you are not putting this series on your Netflix queue this very moment, we don’t want to know you.)

Harrison spoke about his time spent on the set with a young Van Damme, his fond memories of Sledge, and the wisdom he’s amassed in his four decades of Hollywood. Thanks, Harrsion, from your pals at Natsukashi.

‘Tango & Cash’

Tango & Cash (1989)
Rated: R
Director: Andrei Konchalovsky
Written by: Randy Feldman
Starring :          Sylvester Stallone as Ray Tango
                          
Kurt Russel as Gabe Cash
                          
Teri Hatcher as Kiki Tango
                          
Jack Palance as Yves Perret

Tagline: Two of L.A.’s top rival cops are going to work together… even if it kills them.

By Rob Rector

Pre-screening memories: It was moments before the dawn of a new decade. The crazy 80s were coming to a close, as was the career of one of the decade’s action stalwarts — Sylvester Stallone. For many growing up in the 80s, Stallone was the embodiment of manliness (however misguided that may have been). He was never as freakishly lumpy as Schwarzenegger and seemed as though he could easily be the cool older guy in the neighborhood who would let you peek at his firearm collection, pour over his stack of “Hustler’s” or perhaps let you sip a beer.

Sadly, there was no such neighbor in my little slice of suburbia. The closest thing we had was a gap-toothed guy who would watch us through his perpetually drawn blinds and smile menacingly and whose front yard was a graveyard of car parts that he would mow around until they were enveloped by vegetation.

Cinematically, Stallone was not one to go out with a whimper. He was going to go down swinging and show those new upstarts like Jeff Speakman and Jean Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal and Brian Bosworth a thing or two about action.

And my friends and I were eager to watch. (For it was not too long after this that he would begin his trajectory downward with films like Rocky V, Oscar, Stop, or My Mom Will Shoot!, The Specialist and to the direct-to-video dustbin with films like D-Tox, Avenging Angelo and Shade.)

His latest was a pairing of him and Snake Plissken himself, Kurt Russel. They starred as two improbably named LAPD cops who “just can’t play by the rules.” Exactly the kind of cops we like on screen — just not in real life, as they usually end up on the wrong side of a video camera, bludgeoning away rights to random motorists.

While the plot itself left no actual bootprint on my brain, the script did drop some new vocabulary into our high school lexicon. Being the typical testosterone-saturated actioner, the expressions were both lewd and profane, but they were nonetheless influential. Being a male teen any new and creative euphemism or idiom or for intercourse was met with guffaws, a round of high-fives and a temporary admiration of one’s peers. (Of course, really any combination of a verb and noun could be inserted, Mad-Libs-style into the sentence “I’d like to ___________ her ___________” and, with the right emphasis on “her,” you’ve got yourself a new filth-filled expression.)

Forget the fact that none of us had really ever even performed said act.

So, when Sly refers to it as “bump uglies,” we knew we had a keeper.

The second expression we adopted was FUBAR. While new to us, it was actually one that originated during World War II as an acronym for F**ked Up Beyond All Recognition.

Other than that, I remember the two leads being oh-so-witty, able to launch a quip or a retort under the most extreme circumstances. And while the general plot escaped me (something with them being framed by someone and avenging something else). That, and the promise of manly men doing manly things with other manly, manly men in a mannish manner.

I was sure that revisiting the film would at least entertain on that level alone, right?

The answer is right here:

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