Uwe Boll: Modern-Day Ed Wood or Biggest Hack in Hollywood?
Before I get things under way, a little history. This article was originally written in 2005 just before the release of Bloodrayne. Since then, I have felt utterly compelled to continue seeing every Uwe Boll-directed movie and giving it the same lacerating analysis. As far as I know, I have compiled the Internet’s most comprehensive, analytical examination on Boll’s English-language movies (24 movies and counting, over 44,000 words). It feels nice to be the best at something in the world. Expect this article to continue to grow as Boll continues to release more movies.
It’s time to settle on The Shooting Gallery’s first target. Some people call him the biggest hack in Hollywood. Other people call him a modern-day Ed Wood. His mother calls him Uwe Boll. He’s the German-born director most widely known for the video game treatments, 2003’s House of the Dead and 2005’s Alone in the Dark. Little is known about Uwe (I’ve read pronounced Oooo-va or Ewww-ee, and I am not kidding) outside of his video game feature films, which includes Bloodrayne and no less than four video game based movies in 2008. Just a mere mention of his name will cause many movie fans (and several video game fans) to froth at the mouth and grow incensed. Boll is so reviled that there’s actually separate websites called uwebollsucks.com and the more alarmist uwebollisantichrist.com (“We believe that the purpose of your life is to inflict as much suffering and grief as possible in the heart of humans everywhere.”) [Editor’s note: Both websites have since gone dead.] So for the sake of fairness, I am throwing out all my preconceived notions about Uwe Boll and taking a cold, hard look at his film library that will be so thorough it’ll put proctologists to shame.
UWE: THE MAN, THE MYTH
Boll (born on June 22, 1965 in Wermelskirchen, Germany) earned a Master’s in Literature at The University of Cologne in 1995. Boll wrote, directed, and self-financed a low budget comedy called The German Fried Movie. To everyone’s great surprise, the film became the number four top grossing movie in Germany that year. A star was born. Boll directed and produced movies in his native land for the next several years, before making the leap to English-speaking feature films in 2000.
I looked all over but could not find any of Boll’s German films available for sale. I did find a review for 1997’s The First Semester (Das Erste Semester) on a German website, which naturally was in German. Since I don’t exactly sprechin sie Deutch (I barely passed a year of Spanish in college), I went over the Altavista’s Babelfish website and cut and pasted myself a translation. The following is what I got from the German-to-English translation:
“Which zumutet Dr. Uwe Boll with “the first term” the spectator, each description scoffs. To get duemmliche history acts of Andreas’s glow (Christian Kahrmann), which after its first term two lights and a firm friend show must, in order from its grandfather 150,000 DM. His stepfather Rolf (Willi Thomcyk) tries, this by Dietmar (Alexander Schottky), a fellow student, to prevent and the Campusschlampe Lea (wheel east Bokel). “the first term” fails not only because of the bad schauspielerischen achievement of all leading actors, but also to the plates and at no time funny history. One feels reminded of the innumerable Paukerfilme with Heintje, which developed in the 60’s; but even those were more unterhaltsamer partial. If Dr. Uwe Bolls universitaere career should have run in such a way or similarly, with this film nothing at all more surprises one.”
Uhhhhh, yeah. I have very little idea what this movie is about, but it’s good to know that even a German audience can tell a bad schauspielerischen when it sees it. So how does Boll manage to get his movies made if they’re reportedly so terrible? That seems to be the rub: Boll gets his movies made because they’re reportedly so terrible. The majority of Boll’s financing comes from German investors overseas. There’s a loophole in Germany’s tax code that allows movies that have performed badly to be written off. It makes sense to fund movies that will knowingly be terrible, garner low initial grosses, because the German investors can write their investment off and then enjoy the eventual money that will trickle in for years with video rights and sales. This could quite possibly be the most diabolical plot ever. Ever. Imagine what horrors would be reaped if Joel Schumacher got wind of this. It’s scenarios like these that help fuel Boll’s production company and insure that his director’s chair won’t be disappearing any time soon. [Update: As of 2006, this tax loophole has been eliminated.]
Boll says in his own words, “I worked myself in the film industry, made movies like GERMAN FRIED MOVIE or RUN AMOK with NO MONEY and released the movies on my own, traveled to the theatres, talking to the exhibits and to the audience. That I make movies is not a result of VITAMIN B is is the result of my work and my discipline and my talent.”
In June 2006, Boll challenged five of his critics to a boxing match to settle the score. Wired Magazine declared the spectacle “Raging Boll.” The critics (Something Awful’s Rich Kyanka, Aint it Cool News’ Jeff “Mirajeff” Sneider, Rue Morgue writer Chris Alexander, Cinecutre‘s Carlos Palencia, and amatuer boxer and critic Chance Minter) were flown out to Vancouver and placed in a ring with Boll, who won soundly. It helps that the 40-something Boll had years of experience as an amatuer boxer. The footage of the fights is going to be used for one of Boll’s upcoming releases. I have to admit, I’m a little miffed that he didn’t pick me.
Modern-day Ed Wood or figure worthy to be likened to the Antichrist? It’s time to decide, and the only way to do so is to go back to where Uwe Boll first lured American audiences, with 2000’s Sanctimony.
Part One: Boll’s Beginnings
Sanctimony (2000): Starring: Casper Van Dien, Michael Pare, Jennifer Rubin, Catherine Oxenberg.
Rated R, 87 min.
Sanctimony is the English-language introduction to the filmography of Dr. Uwe Boll and the very last movie I had yet to see for my first edition of my expansive column. Boll wrote and directed the movie about a clever serial killer that’s baffled law enforcement. It’s interesting coming into Sanctimony with all the Uwe Boll homework in the back of my head. I know what flaws I’m looking for, I pay attention to the retched line delivery from the actors, and I genuinely know what I’m getting into. It’s seems that Boll works somewhat in a bubble; almost all of his technical crew is the same from film to film, and Michael Paré, Jurgen Prochnow, Clint Howard, and Patrick Muldoon seem to be the stable Uwe Boll Players. Sanctimony is where it all began and where everything went so horribly awry for movie going audiences.
A killer is loose and terrorizing Seattle, cutting out the eyes, ears, and tongues of his victims. The media has dubbed him the “Monkey Maker killer” (think “speak no evil, hear no evil, etc.”). Detective Renart (Paré) and his partner Dorothy Smith (Jennifer Rubin) are assigned the case. After some investigation of a stabbed homeless girl, their initial suspect seems to be Tom (Casper Van Dien), a wealthy and cynical stockbroker. His lawyer balks at any charges and Tom goes free. Coincidentally, more bodies start piling up haphazardly. As Renart puts more pressure on Tom, he starts targeting those close to him, like his pregnant wife (Catherine Oxenberg, who seduced Van Dien in 1999’s The Omega Code). Tom has some master plan ready to shock the world, and only the dogged persistence of Renart can stop his wicked ways.
Sanctimony is really a crossbreeding of what Boll liked best about Seven and American Psycho. Like David Fincher’s masterpiece, Boll really wants his serial killer to be slicing and dicing with a message; this killer gets his kicks from cutting out different body parts. Tom eventually goes after his pursuer’s pregnant wife, just like Seven, and clumsily aims for some kind of myopic preaching. Tom sure does like to spit out a diatribe about the plague of humanity, even after he’s just dismembered a call girl. Boll seems very intent on crafting Tom into a Patrick Bateman-esque character, one whose soul has been lost to the bottom line of the business world (how many hotshot stockbrokers are based in Seattle?). But while American Psycho was complex, satirical and deeply metaphorical, Sanctimony is stupid. Boll wants Tom’s speeches to have terrifying power to them, but instead they come across as theatrical and lifeless. Tom says, “Raping and pillaging have been the official government policy of any government that’s ever thrived.” If you’re impressed by this assertion, Sanctimony might just be the movie for you. If you yawn at this sub-standard Political Science 101 ejaculation, then you’re likely beyond the film’s short-armed reach. Boll’s writing has a vague inauthentic feel, like he learned everything about crime procedural from TV. In the year 2000, a character actually summarizes America with the words, “apple pie and baseball.” By now I think the only people that characterize America that way are conservative politicians and out-of-touch, disdainful foreigners.
Boll’s serial killer thriller plays all the genre clichés. First, naturally, there’s the clever serial killer who must torment his persecutors as a game. Then there’s the umpteenth example of a cop haunted by the lives he can’t save and his stalwart dedication to the case straining his marriage. When will these wives ever understand? Renart and Dorothy naturally get thrown off their case, thus finally allowing them to solve it as in every cops-and-robbers movie. Maybe movies should just begin with the cop thrown off their case; it would save everyone a hell of a lot of time as far as casework. Partners must always die to spurn our hero into action, though I’d have to assume Dorothy’s too young to be days away from a blissful retirement. Killing her seems ill advised too, especially since her last known whereabouts would be a dinner date with Tom. Way to be the number one suspect and give yourself borrowed time, dude.
I hate to admit it, but despite all its glaring simplicity and predictable bumps in the road, Sanctimony is passably entertaining, that is, until the ridiculous ending draws near. As with most serial killer films, the killer is practically a super being with an agenda. Except, in Sanctimony, Boll doesn’t even give his vengeful hand of God an agenda but just an inescapable rage. The film climaxes with Tom going on a shooting spree at his wedding party and then being gunned down by Renart. Boll uses lots of slow-mo and swelling dramatic music, but the scene had no set-up from earlier and makes little to no sense. What was his master plan? Was Tom trying to outlive his looming terminal illness and create a name that will long live on, likened to the horror he has wrought? He said he couldn’t stand the curse of people, so was his plan to just take out as many people as possible? If so, surely leaving the cops obvious tell-tale signs was not helpful, especially if he was just going to out himself on live TV as a murderer anyway. Sanctimony ends with far too many loose ends and unexplained motives that, in hindsight, seem to suggest Boll’s clever serial killer wasn’t so clever after all.
Since the heroes of Sanctimony are so rote and familiar, the only place for Boll to make artistic strides is in his depiction of his killer, Tom. This is where Sanctimony and Boll really drop the ball. Before we know anything about him, Boll has already introduced us to Tom’s office, which should more accurately be described as a lair. It’s gigantic, poorly lit, and surrounded by ominous rock faces. He even has an array of monitors at his super desk of villainy. The only thing missing is a desk full of files labeled, “Plan, Evil.” We never really understand what Tom’s motivations are, though Boll thinks he’s helping by lining up speeches about Tom’s views on people (hint: it’s not optimistic). Even his choices of murder have no lasting message; Tom just kills whoever’s weak and available. If he’s an ordinary killer then what’s the point of even basing a flick around him?
Sanctimony presents a lot of Tom’s ire but never digs any deeper. He attends a laughable S&M club where they make snuff films in the back for your viewing pleasure. The leader of this demented boys club wants to harness male fury as motivation, for what I don’t know. So what does Tom do next? He goes home and chokes and rapes his fiancé, clearly indicating that this unique support group is not working. She rejects his rough play, so Tom walks the empty Seattle streets (!) with his knife openly drawn and stabs a homeless girl. Was he frustrated over his failed rape? Is he reacting against a woman asserting power over him, denying him an outlet of pleasure? We’ll never know, because Sanctimony is only interested in skirting the waters of characterization. In Boll’s movie, people fall into types and aren’t given anything else to work with. Tom is the killer. He kills. That’s all you’re going to get. Even though the movie is only 87 minutes long, Boll is disinterested in spending time with his characters. He’s rather just draw up a sketch from someone else’s work and move along.
The acting is somewhat better than most Boll movies, and yet still a degree below typical straight-to-video blandness. Van Dein (Starship Troopers) is amusingly believable as a stone-faced serial killer. His limited acting range actually strengthens the character’s sense of frustration. He’s got a menacing stare to boot. Paré (Hope Floats) phones in his performance but gets some points for being in the film’s most weirdly awkward moment, when Renart has to step in as nude model for his wife and her giggly photographer peers. Bizarre doesn’t go far enough in describing the scene. Rubin (Little Witches, Amazons and Gladiators) is the hard-nosed female cop trying to make it in a man’s world, and gives a decent if unmemorable performance. I was more intrigued by her ever-present striped scarf, which seems to follow her everywhere from the shooting range to inside her home. Roberts has very little screen time and is still third billed. Are we at an age where Eric Roberts is a marketing tool? I’d like to think not.
Sanctimony is Uwe Boll’s stab at the serial killer genre, so it shouldn’t be surprising that it’s formulaic and bereft of suspense and imagination. This is a generic rip-off of far better serial killer flicks. The characters are all brief sketches and genre clichés, and Boll can’t even come up with a compelling agenda for his killer. I kept waiting for Sanctimony to fully explain itself, but once the wedding shoot-out is complete the film leaves you addled and perturbed. Boll has castrated his drama, rendering it unimportant, lazy, and sloppy. Boll may have several ideas floating around his head but he never brings them in for a clarification. Whatever intellectual goals he may have intended for Sanctimony will be lost on an audience grasping for meaning and entertainment. How dumb is this movie? Well, it defines what “sanctimony” means in the opening credits via dictionary. It should be very ominous when a movie is forced to define its own title. Ominous, indeed.
Nate’s Grade: C-
Blackwoods (2002): Starring: Patrick Muldoon, Keegan Conner Tracy, William Sanderson, Michael Pare.
Rated R, 87 min.
Blackwoods is Uwe Boll’s second English-speaking film. The video’s box advertises the film as a modern Most Dangerous Game, with the befuddled Patrick Muldoon as the prey. This got me thinking about what it would be like if society allowed the recreational hunting of untalented pretty actors. I think it could be a big moneymaker. Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to hunt Tara Reid in the wild? I’ve already started talking with some investors and things look very promising.
Matt (Muldoon) is a smooth playboy from the big city. He’s off to travel with his girlfriend, Dawn (Keegan Conner Tracy), to meet her parents. Dawn grew up in a very small town well off the beaten path. This requires a trip through the Blackwoods, what she calls the hard-to-see forested area when night hits. The lovebirds get a good talking to about excessive speeds by the town’s sheriff (Michael Paré), who finds Matt curiously familiar. They shack up at a seedy motel run by a seedy owner (Clint Howard). After some vigorous time between the sheets, Dawn goes off to the bathroom to freshen up. Matt is tormented by visions he cannot quite place, but they involve something to do with a car accident. He wakes up to find Dawn has disappeared. On top of all this, a man with an axe breaks into the room. Matt fends him off and goes looking for what happened to his sweetheart. No one seems to believe him. Then he finds a decrepit house out in the woods. He gets knocked out and locked in the basement. Inside, Matt is put on trial for murder by a local family, who plan to become hillbilly judge and jury. And when they badger the witness, they really badger the witness.
Blackwoods almost stumbles accidentally into being an interesting film. The premise of hillbilly justice on the big city folk would make for a good horror movie, no question. I mean, for decades horror movies have been preaching the dangers of small rural towns and their inhabitants. Boll has found himself a fitting premise for a horror movie. But Boll and co-writer Robert Dean Klein aren’t interested in making a horror movie; they want to make Blackwoods into a psychological thriller. They want something more. It’s these pathetic gasps for cleverness that doom Blackwoods. The eleventh hour twists Boll and Klein pack feel contrived and uninspired (the very end shamelessly rips off Final Destination). The ending twist, designed to tie everything together, raises far more questions than answers. You’ll probably be able to see it coming a mile away. Sometimes simpler is the way to go, fellas.
It’s hard to feel for Matt when he’s such an arrogant dope. There are two standout moments that reflect how stupid Matt is. The first is after Dawn goes missing in his motel room. Matt is baffled and tries to work it all out in a bathroom, as most men do. His room is then broken into by an axe-wielding intruder. Matt manages to hide and avoid him. Minutes later, the axe-wielding intruder returns and the two get into a brawl. Matt wins and the intruder runs away again. After this ruckus, Matt lays down on the motel bed and goes to sleep. He dozes off in a room that has been broken into twice by a man with an axe! The second incident happens late in the film as two hillbilly brothers chase Matt through the Blackwoods. One of the brothers has a gun and the other more sporting brother has a bow and arrow. Matt kills the brother with the gun and takes his weapon. Suddenly an arrow zips over his head and sticks in the tree. Behind him is the other brother, and even though this brother is currently unarmed and at a distance, he convinces Matt to drop his pistol. The ending twist only adds more fresh accounts of Matt’s idiocy.
Boll uses a heavy amount of blur-technique for very long stretches of time. Very long. An entire sex scene is blurrified into submission. Boll tries juicing up action sequences by adding the blur effect, which only infuriates an audience already sick of it. The effect is arbitrary and unwelcome. Boll has confused shaking the camera with artistry. Shaking the camera does not equal art, no matter how many notes you take while watching The Blair Witch Project. The stylistic choices Boll makes as a director seem so self-consciously motivated to goose up a limp story.
Blackwoods falls apart because it’s clueless when it comes to plot structure and mood. Boll isn’t one for trusting an audience to pick up his clues. Oh no, he’ll aggressively make sure you get every hint that something is important. When Matt grabs a knife we get an extra special close-up of it followed by a crescendo of music. Boll is shouting the importance of this item. And the funny thing is the knife isn’t even important. The same crescendo happens when a waitress gives Matt the stink-eye, and when Dawn takes a post-coital walk to the motel bathroom. We should pay attention to these things, Boll screams in our ears. Later, Matt assures Drew that “thing’s will be fine.” Cut to blurry image! Matt says, “My mom never let me do things on my own.” Cut to blurry image! Someone says, “You’re paranoid about something, though I don’t know what.” Cut to more blurry images! Because of the back and forth structure, Boll serves up a witless Cliff Notes of important plot points he wants to underline. Blackwoods kills any surprise it could have generated because of these superfluous cuts meant to engender a sense of foreboding. There’s a difference between feeling something will happen and knowing, and Boll’s ham-fisted plot structure and direction drain the film of any involvement. You can’t be mysterious and clever while spoon feeding an audience and hitting them over the head.
Boll uses inappropriate songs at key moments and it wrecks the mood. The sex scene is bad as is because of the blurring and strange editing. What makes the scene drop-dead awful is the song choice that plays over. It’s some odd pop song with odd arrangements that cripples any intended drama. It’ll really take the tingle out of your dingle. Moviemakers of the world take note, if you want your scene to have some power or importance, do not attach a song that will elicit titters from an audience. Nowhere in Saving Private Ryan could you find the song, “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy.”
At the end of Blackwoods I counted the number of artist’s songs used in the film; there are 5 songs by I Saw Elvis, 4 Songs by April Daze, and 3 songs by Charlemane. It seems Boll is more interested in using songs he can get his grubby opportunistic Germanic hands on.
Blackwoods has a score that is overly anxious. There are your standard high-pitched jump moments, but the score also wedges itself into scenes to a comical degree. Take a scene where Matt is being interrogated by the sheriff. The sheriff dictates what he has been told of Matt’s motel room attacker, and ends by noting, “Guy dressed all in black.” The music dramatically swells. We’re meant to distrust the sheriff. Matt says cautiously, “Did I say that?” Sheriff: “Yeah.” Matt: “Oh. Okay.” And the music immediately ends. I kid you not; during Matt’s chase scene in the woods there are tuba sounds on the score. Not a tuba apart of an orchestration, just a tuba. It’s like they recorded this score during take your daughter to work day.
The acting in Blackwoods could be rivaled by lousy high school theatrical productions. Most of the actors are quite stiff and give terrible line deliveries. Boll truly has no idea what to do with his actors and it shows. Actors will punctuate the dialogue in peculiar places and frequently overact like no one’s watching. Muldoon (Starship Troopers) is a pretty actor without much else going for him. His acting range goes from indignant to quiet anxiety, neither of which is convincing. I think his eyebrows outacted him. Paré (Eddie and the Cruisers, TV’s Greatest American Hero) looks and acts drowsy the whole movie, like any second he’s in danger of keeling over into dream land. Tracy (40 Days and 40 Nights, White Noise) plays the most challenging part and has some fun with it. Her moments of petulant anger are a welcome sight amongst this acting dead zone.
Boll could have had an effective, loosely entertaining horror movie with Blackwoods. Instead, he and his co-writer attempt to grasp at something smarter and fall flat on their faces. Blackwoods is dull, inane, cluelessly structured, poorly acted, and devoid of any nuance. Boll’s tortured direction relies on a lot of arbitrary and annoying stylistic choices (whoever thought it was a good idea to blur a sex scene?). This creaky psychological thriller thinks it’s clever by playing with flash forwards and contrived Big Twists, but Blackwoods is nowhere near as smart as it thinks it is. Maybe Boll’s penchant for blurring the film was the right move; in a few days that’s all this forgettable movie will become.
Nate’s Grade: D
Heart of America: Homeroom (2003):Starring: Kelt Turton, Brendan Fletcher, Patrick Muldoon, Michael Pare.
Rated R, 87 min.
The film spans one morning of a “normal” high school in Oregon (it looks like the school is a three-story motel). It’s the last day of school and everyone is ready to jump into the real world. The storylines are rife with every high school cliché that can be found. Drum roll please, and they are:
1) Good Virgin (Stefanie MacGillivray) is dumped by Jerky Jock (Will Sanderson) because she refuses to put out. The majority of this storyline takes place in the guy’s car where he sadistically tells her all the details of the many other girls he was “forced” to sleep with (“The whole school fucks. Everybody except you.”). One of these girls is the transient High Girl (Elisabeth Rosen), who has fallen in love with Jerky Jock over the course of him using her for sex.
2) High Girl has no parental involvement and lots of free time. She thusly gets high a lot and trips out for most of the movie. Dealer Dude spends all day implausibly hanging around the high school with sacks of drugs to sell. He’s stopped by Idealist Guidance Counselor (Maria Conchita Alonso) who wants to make a difference.
3) Good Student apparently wasn’t good at contraceptive planning because she’s pregnant. She wants an abortion and her life back. She’s also really snotty to her Boyfriend who wants to keep the baby and support her but is also willing to support whatever decision she makes. Man, he’s such a jerk. Way jerkier than Jerky Jock.
4) Mean Creative Writing Teacher (Michael Paré) gets a good talking-to by the school principal (Jurgen Prochnow). The teacher is struggling with his own writing and taking out his frustrations by being overly critical of his students’ works. His grades appear to be unfair and unprofessional. One of his students is High Girl.
5) A team of bullies regularly beat up and humiliates Barry (Michael Belyea) and Daniel, who masterminds a plot for revenge. Daniel (Kett Turton) is tormented by his abusive father (Clint Howard) who just laughs when he sees bruises and black eyes on his son. The bullies are lead by King Bully (Brendan Fletcher) who is visited by his older brother, Former King Bully (Steve Byers), who reminisces about the good ole days of beating people up because they were different. These storylines mix and match until our inevitable shoot-em-up conclusion.
Heart of America is based on a story by Boll and written by Robert Dean Klein (Blackwoods). The plot structure is competent and the film is mildly entertaining, which was a great surprise for me. The cinematography is above average for its budget and the score is quiet and reflective. Heart of America, with all its shortcomings, is still a better movie than Gus van Sant’s school shooter opus, Elephant (I dread to see this statement on the front of a re-released DVD).
Despite all of its simplicity, Heart of America makes some boneheaded decisions. It closes with lengthy text detailing other school shooters in the previous years. The text takes away from the drama and has no significant purpose other than to say, “You’ve just watched kids shoot up their school. Here’s how some other kids did it. If you’d like to learn more, visit your local library.” Heart of America also lacks subtlety; every item that is meant to carry a message of significance is hit so hard you’ll wonder if a gong is rattling. Then again, Boll isn’t well known for subtlety. This should explain Heart of America’s aches and pains with revealing its twists and revelations.
For two acts we’re led to believe that Daniel and Barry are the ones who are going to shoot up their school. Daniel IM’s his co-conspirator and reminds them not to “punk out on him.” Then minutes before the bloodbath it’s revealed that his co-conspirator is . . . another person! It’s High Girl, who takes a gun and gladly goes about killing classmates. Heart of America intentionally teases the viewer whether Barry will not follow through and this twist is intended to be something of a surprise. Trouble is someone should have told that to the DVD manufacturing folks. On the Heart of America DVD cover (as you can see for yourselves above) are the faces of Daniel and High Girl side-by-side. Superimposed over them is a list of school shooting locations that have been crossed out (it’s little wonder that Boll held back from the final one saying, “Anytown, U.S.A.”). Below all of these images is another picture of High Girl, this time standing in class and pointing an accusatory finger at some unforeseen figure. Any person intending to watch Heart of America will instantly associate High Girl with Daniel and already be thinking they’re Bonnie and Clyde. You can’t have a twist when you’re advertising it on the front cover of your DVD. Would The Sixth Sense have been as effective if the poster had Bruce Willis walking through walls like Ghost Dad (no respect to Ghost Dad intended)?
The most disturbing moment in Heart of America doesn’t even take place around the school. It involves a story Big Brother tells his bully clan about his greatest accomplishments. One of these is inviting a mentally challenged girl into his basement, getting her drunk, and then gang-banging her. At first I thought it was rather unwarranted and unethical to have flashbacks of Big Bro’s story so that we can actually see the rape. Then it hit a slightly interesting juxtaposition, as Big Bro’s positive recount of his victim’s experience doesn’t exactly match what we see happening. So I was willing to let it slide until the film hit a deplorable low – a gratuitous nude scene of the mentally challenged girl (dubbed “Slow White”). You can tell it’s gratuitous too because most of the scene isn’t even shot at angles that expose the breasts. It’s disturbing on the level that Boll was knowingly trying to shoehorn in some nudity and elicit titillation. The decision actually detracts from the power of the scene because it feels so tackily gratuitous. Is it too much to ask that if we have a mentally challenged girl being raped that we don’t also have a needless nude scene? This whole moment is egregiously disgusting because it’s done for titillation.
Once the end credits start to roll, the casual viewer will think two things: 1) What is that awful, tonally inappropriate pop song playing that actually has the lyrics, “The roads you made are the ones you pave,” and 2) what the hell was the message of Heart of America? In the first ten minutes or so we see teens on drugs, teens on medication, teens with no parental involvement, teens with parental abuse, and teens bullying to feel better about themselves. Do any of these things cause school violence, or is it some kind of magic combination? I never expected Heart of America to fashion a thesis on why kids grab guns and shoot up their schools but the ending feels ridiculously, artlessly devoid of meaning.
To further get into this point of discussion I will be spoiling all of the major plot lines of the movie, so in the rare instance anyone is remotely interested in watching Heart of America and/or its sick mentally challenged nude scene, scroll down. You won’t be missing much, trust me.
As expected, Daniel and High Girl get revenge primarily upon their tormentors. What I don’t get is that before High Girl sweeps into her classroom for her vengeance, she tells Dealer Dude, “I couldn’t have done it without you.” Huh? Does she mean she wouldn’t have gone to these lengths had she not be high? Or is this statement farther reaching, like blaming Dealer Dude for being apart of a system that has turned her into a degenerate drug user? I have no idea, but High Girl struts into class and kills Creative Writing Teacher, who had made fun of her and forced her to read her poetry aloud. Got it. But then she aims her pistol at Jerky Jock, whispers “I love you,” and then shoots Good Virgin to death. Apparently High Girl did not catch the news that Jerky Jock had dumped her minutes earlier. So what is the point of Good Virgin’s storyline? The only thing I can surmise is that if you don’t have sex you will be killed. If Good Virgin had given up her goodly virginity then Jerky Jock wouldn’t have been on the prowl, and he wouldn’t have used High Girl for throwaway sex, and then she wouldn’t have shot Good Virgin in jealousy. You see how this works? It’s the exact opposite of a horror movie. Daniel also shoots and kills Good Student’s boyfriend/father of her baby. What is that saying? Is it some kind of ironic statement on abortion? Why couldn’t any of the shooters have clipped Patrick Muldoon’s nails-on-the-chalkboard horndog sex ed teacher? It seems Boll has a soapbox but he has nothing understandable to say.
Heart of America makes the audience not only side with the school shooters but also practically roots for them. Daniel and Barry undergo constant bullying from the get go. The film, in its simplistic approach, plays the bullies as irredeemable assholes and Daniel and Barry are the hapless victims. Heart of America practically justifies its characters resorting to violence. Sure some innocent people get caught in the fray, but then aren’t they all to blame somehow? Again, I have no idea what Boll is trying to say.
Despite Boll having no command with actors (Muldoon is a constant reminder of this), the younger actors in Heart of America give pretty good performances. Turton (Saved!, Walking Tall) really festers with anger and discontent but also gives insights into a fragile kid just wanting to live. Belyea really works his nervous indecision to a nub, going so far as to hide his mother’s car keys so she won’t chance going to his school. Fletcher (Freddy vs. Jason) is a grinning monster as a bully but, in the film’s lone turn at character depth, also shows how uncomfortable he is being a bully. It seems that he too is just doing it to fit in. Fletcher’s pained and awkward reactions are a welcome sign of humanity, though it seems to be too little too late when we the climax hits. Rosen seems decidedly disconnected and dead-eyed scary.
It’s puzzling that the top listed actors in Heart of America’s credits are as follows; Jurgen Prochnow, Michael Paré, Patrick Muldoon, and Maria Conchita Alonso. All four of those actors amount to about ten minutes of total screen time; Muldoon essentially has a grating cameo. Why are the kids not credited as the rightful stars of the show? The adults all give terrible performances (seriously, I cannot overstate how awful and creepy Muldoon is) but the kids are all right. The most shocking fact about the cast is that somewhere in this mix is Emmy-nominated Mad Men actress Elisabeth Moss. Look for her in here somewhere as “Robin Walters.”
Heart of America works with paint-by-numbers characters and Boll only doles out one color. The jock is a jerk. The virgin is good. The bullies are mean. The stoners are high. Very seldom does the film delve any deeper than these cursory characterizations. Because of this simplicity Heart of America strains credibility during its more unrealistic moments. At one point, King Bully and his posse force Daniel and Barry to eat dog poop and the moment is played as a defining point of drama. Does this stuff really happen? If it does then it certainly doesn’t happen often enough to be included in Boll’s depiction of a “normal” school. Then again, Boll’s idea of a normal American educational environment also involves raping mentally challenged girls. The name of the movie itself indicates how typical everything is supposed to seem.
This is a thought-provoking film, with the main thought being “What the hell is the movie trying to say?” Heart of America wades in a kiddy pool of high school clichés. The characters are paint-by-numbers and lack definition beyond their social title (Virgin, Jock, Bully, etc.). This film is awash in unresolved statements and stacks the deck so the audience will practically root for the school shooters. With no help from Uwe Boll, the younger actors are the movie’s stars and give good performances despite the limited range of their characters. You won’t know anything deeper after watching Heart of America. It’s Boll’s Big Statement Film but your guess is as good as mine as to whatever that is. Violence breeds violence? Parents need to spend more time with their kids? Don’t force kids to eat poo if they’re not ready? Heart of America is unrealistic, strained, unfocused, shallow and clumsy, and it’s also Boll’s best work to date.
Nate’s Grade: C
Part Two: Boll’s Video Games
House of the Dead (2003): Starring: Jonathon Cherry, Ona Grauer, Tyson Leitso, Jurgen Prochnow.
Rated R, 90 min.
House of the Dead is Uwe Boll’s first foray into the video game-to-movie niche he’s carved himself. It’s based on a first-person-shooter by Sega that lets players blast their way through a haunted house and its undead tenants. There’s not much to the game. In interviews Boll has remarked at how he hated the film’s jokey script and rewrote much of it on the fly, trapping the film between the genres of horror and action. In the DVD jacket, executive producer/co-writer Mark A. Altman says, “House of the Dead is no Citizen Kane.” This may be the understatement of the millennium, comparable only to Napoleon saying Russia might be a tad cold.
Matt (Steve Byers), Greg (Will Sanderson), Simon (Tyron Leitso) are meeting with fellow college students Alicia (Ona Grauer), Karma (Enuka Okuma), and Cynthia (Sonya Salomaa). They’re ready to party at the rave of the century. This rave of raves takes place on the ominously named Isle del Muerte (The Island of the Dead). I suppose this proves that no one on the rave planning board speaks Spanish. The kids eventually hitch a ride to the island from Captain Kirk (Jurgen Prochnow) and his first mate (Clint Howard). Hot on Kirk’s heels is Casper (Ellie Kornell), a border agent after Kirk for gunrunning. Once they arrive at the island, the kids are shocked to find the rave site vacated, destroyed, and swarming with zombies. Everyone makes a run for it and regroups with some of the rave’s survivors, led by Rudy (Jonathon Cherry). The groups team up, armed by Kirk, and set out to shoot their way home. But there’s also a very evil figure roaming about that has more sinister plans for the island’s fresh meat.
House of the Dead isn’t a horror movie at all. Boll has no idea how to stage scenes with tension. He has no feel for mood or atmosphere, which are the foundations of a good horror flick. So instead, House of the Dead is a riotously dumb action movie. But under Boll’s direction, it’s not even good at that. The action is repetitious and pedestrian. Boll’s big melee sequence becomes boring because it doesn’t progress. There’s just ten minutes of wall-to-wall shooting zombies, but there isn’t any order to it, no rhyme or reason. If you want a perfect example of Boll’s inept staging, skim to 47:20 into the DVD and watch. You’ll see a zombie leap onto a jumping platform and launch himself into the air. House of the Dead actually has scenes where we see exposed jumping pads and landing mats.
Boll gets drunk on special effects very easily. He loves the bullet time effect and throws it in at odd points. Every single character gets a tiresome slow-mo camera spin as they fire a gun. After the ninth and tenth time, the thing gets old. The characters don’t even have the same weapons in the shots before the slow-mo jazz. Boll doesn’t use flashy effects to benefit his narrative, unlike The Matrix. Boll actually thinks using clips from the actual video game is a good device to transition between scenes. There will be moments where screen shots of the game just pop up. Boll is a kid with toys and no clue when to put them back into the box.
This movie’s silliness is jaw dropping. The so-called rave of the century seems to be poorly attended, and the better for it since it takes place on the Island of the Dead (Isle del Muerte). Is that really the best place to host a social gathering? Perhaps everyone gets what they deserve for being stupid. Kirk, after shooting several zombies, limply remarks, “Now I know why they call this the Island of the Dead.” The line should be accompanied by a rim shot. The movie doesn’t even live up to the lofty ambitions of its title. The film should be renamed Island of the Dead.
By far the most ludicrous story element is the film’s villain, Castillo (David Palffy). It seems that before he stalked the island in a hooded cloak, looking like Robert DeNiro in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, he was a Spanish pirate/doctor. He tried to experiment on living tissue in order to unlock the secret of how to be immortal. He was imprisoned on a Spanish ship and was shipwrecked on the Island of the Dead (what are the odds?). He’s concocted a special Kool-Aid that will bring the dead back to life, though I don’t know why he’s still stuck on an island if he can’t drown. I guess he’s been biding his time and waiting for stupid college students so he can see some T&A.
The characters are made up of people interested in attending a rave, but when the action hits they’re all instantly adept at weaponry and kung-fu. That’s not the typical raver I know, and these people must be super ravers if they’re going to the rave of the century. Simon is described as “the biggest underwear model in America,” and for all I know underwear models encounter a lot of gunfire on the runway. The DVD jacket has character profiles where it lists their name, age, weapon of choice, and skill. After having watched House of the Dead, the skills are laughable at best. Simon the runway model’s skill is “tactical planning.” I also seriously question Rudy’s “leadership” skills since he gets everyone killed.
Of course everyone in the movie is profoundly stupid. While trapped in the island’s only house, Rudy says the kegs of gunpowder are useless without a charge, and then he walks past a series of lit candles. The whole house upon arrival is filled with lit candles (who has the time for that, by the way?). Alicia is convinced that the rave site being deserted, destroyed, and zombie-infested is all a practical joke, as if Ashton Kutcher is just around a tree poised to yell, “You suckas just got punk’d!” There are numerous moments where a character will wander into the dark and say, “[Insert name], is that you?” Kirk takes the last stick of dynamite and plans to sacrifice himself by blowing up some zombies good. He lights the stick, wanders outside their barricaded stronghold, and blows himself sky high. What Kirk failed to do was move far enough from the house, because he also blows the front door wide open and the zombies filter inside. No wonder Picard is the better Starfleet captain.
The acting doesn’t even rise to the level of camp. The actors feel unrestrained and marooned, typical of a Uwe Boll film. The man has no feel for actors and this explains why his films have some of the worst line readings I’ve ever heard (2000’s Dungeons and Dragons is still the worst). Casper acts like a crabby fitness instructor. The dialogue is bad as is, but when added with the poor line readings it turns every spoken sentence into something of unintentional hilarity. Take this nugget from Simon: “We got to the boat but it wasn’t there.” Well, then did you actually get to it?
House of the Dead can be enjoyed for the depths it plumbs. The dialogue is cheesy and leaden. The movie is bad enough that if you have some friends over, drink steadily, you’ll have a blast laughing and hurling popcorn at the screen. The movie does have a decent amount of blood and gore and the make-up effects are good but limited. You can enjoy House of the Dead in a fun derisive way, and it’s hard to argue with the price some retailers charge (I bought it on Amazon.com for 75 cents plus shipping). The DVD commentary is also good for a laugh, that is, if Boll’s self-flagellating remarks are serious. At one point he compares his zombie action movie to Shindler’s List. Boll also marvels at an actor’s ability to carry objects and make them seem heavy. I’m not sure if Boll is serious or just making fun of the movie like everyone else.
House of the Dead is a dull action movie within the framework of a horror flick. The characters are powerfully stupid, the action is redundant, the effects are chintzy and overused, and the direction is lackluster. Boll has added little in transitioning a game about poppin’ zombies onto the silver screen. The video game is flimsy and the movie based upon it manages to be even flimsier. House of the Dead is incredibly dumb entertainment and the fact that a sequel is well underway cannot be a good sign for human existence. I never thought I’d utter these words but . . . Clint Howard, you’re too good for this.
Nate’s Grade: D
Note: Boll re-released a recut House of the Dead as a comedy. I haven’t seen “the funny version” but I can’t imagine that it could possibly be any funnier than the original.
Alone in the Dark (2005): Starring: Christian Slater, Tara Reid, Stephen Dorf, Frank C. Turner.
Rated R, 96 min.
Edward Camby (Christian Slater) is a paranormal investigator trying to rediscover what happened in his past. He was apart of 20 orphans taken by Fischer (Frank C. Turner), your basic mad scientist type. Camby was the only child to escape Fischer’s poking and prodding. The other orphans have become sleeper agents/zombies to assist him in opening a dimensional gate to another world, a world with bloodthirsty creatures that live in darkness. This world and its creatures were first discovered by an ancient Native American tribe who mysteriously vanished. But before doing so, they thoughtfully broke the dimensional key and hid the pieces all over North America. Aline Cedrac (Tara Reid) is a scientist/archeologist that specializes in this Native American tribe and its artifacts. She teams up with her old flame, Camby, to help stop the mad doctor. Monitoring the whole situation is Commander Burke (Stephen Dorff), the man in charge of the United States government’s bureau of the paranormal. He leads his no-nonsense super troopers to the location of the dimensional gateway, which just happens to be underneath Camby’s childhood orphanage.
Alone in the Dark is a good film for people that felt House of the Dead was too intellectual. It should be obvious after reading the plot synopsis, but Alone in the Dark is a movie of unparalleled stupidity. What was the point of making orphans sleeper agents/zombies? They’re very easily disposed of and not very effective. I don’t know whether or not this is because they didn’t have a mom and dad growing up. What does this mad doctor hope to achieve by opening the door to creepy crawly monsters? I guess he thinks the monsters will be grateful and give him some kind of bureaucratic job, instead of, you know, gutting him and drinking his blood. I’ll never understand why villains align themselves with creatures whose only purpose is killing. How does Camby end up having a childhood flashback from a perspective that isn’t his own? The plot of Alone in the Dark is a gigantic mess. What other film in recent memory fits together ancient Native American tribes, monsters from an alternate dimension, government agencies, orphanages, zombies, and Tara Reid as a college educated person? You know you’re in bad hands when they open the film with a ten paragraph scrawl to explain what the film, by itself, cannot. And then they add narration because they don’t trust their audience to read.
The film is called Alone in the Dark and tells us that killer creatures lurk where we cannot see them. This is a fine platform to engineer some good scares; really stir the audience into fearing what they cannot see. As always, nothing will be scarier than a person’s mind at work. Boll doesn’t agree. He doesn’t even toy with the idea of hiding his creatures and building tension gradually. Boll prefers to show you his monsters immediately and often, therefore eliminating any attempts at suspense. Now the characters aren’t running away from what they can’t see; they’re running away from lame CGI rat/alligator creatures. The monsters look laughable and should have staid in the shadows for as long as possible. It’s hard to spook an audience once they see what they’re supposed to be afraid of. Boll’s impatience for suspense and his love of cheesy special effects cripple Alone in the Dark.
Alone in the Dark has no pulse when it comes to action. Boll stages his action sequences like different stations on a gameshow. Characters (contestants) run from station to station, picking up weapons and shooting at whatever, and then advancing to another stage with a different weapon. Much of the action just comes out of nowhere and ends in its own confused way. Boll likes to season his poorly choreographed action sequences by cranking up loud rock music and mixing in excessive, gimmicky special effects. For no reason, Camby and Aline and the soldiers will be shooting and Boll just all of sudden decides this scene should be in a strobe light. Or he’ll shove in a cheap slow-mo follow-the-bullet effect. Boll likes testing out different effects that serve little purpose other than to call attention to itself. Boll has confused this with style.
Speaking of action coming out of nowhere, Boll manages to squeeze in an out-of-the-blue sex scene. Aline visits Camby in the morning, sees him sleeping, and decides on the spot to crawl into bed and have sex with him. I’m sure this is well within Reid’s character, but would she really keep her bra on the whole time? I don’t think so. Reid and Slater have no chemistry whatsoever. It’s like watching water buffalos go at it. Then the sex is never referred to again. This is just another pristine example of how carelessly Uwe Boll handles plot and characters. Rarely does Boll even bother with a transition scene to explain how a character got from Point A to Point B.
Boll’s direction is lazy and derivative. There are scenes that openly ape superior movies, like Alien, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Starship Troopers, and even Boll’s own House of the Dead for crissakes. The plot is a cut-and-paste job of the series finale of TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Both deal with an army of creatures living under an everyday school building and involve a special key to unlock the gateway. And like in Buffy, some noble individual sacrifices himself to destroy the gateway’s underground entrance. No, scratch that. The plot itself is virtually a copy of Super Mario Brothers, the first video game based movie. Both films involve some magical key needed to unlock two alternate dimensions of creatures. No, scratch that. This is one big rip-off of Darkness Falls, since both involve crazy creatures that can only attack from the dark. Whatever it is, Alone in the Dark is Boll’s opportunity to showcase his unoriginality. That is, if you can pry him away from inserting more pointless slow-mo bullet effects.
The acting is wildly all over the map. I wonder if Boll will ever be able to direct actors. The line delivery is terrible all around. Slater is subdued and permanently cranky. Maybe somewhere inside that Jack Nicholson grin he’s realized he’s slumming it. Reid acts like an irritable child playing dress-up. Dorff seems to be the only actor having any fun, though I don’t know how intimidating this diminutive actor comes across as a military man. The actors of Alone in the Dark confuse loud with emotional.
Let’s take some time out to spotlight Reid and her character. The way Alone in the Dark convinces us that Reid (and her black hole of eyeliner) is a scientist is by giving her some black rimmed glasses and putting her hair in a pony tail. Reid with hair down and no glasses? Trashy party girl. Reid with hair up and glasses? Respected member of the scientific community. It’s just that easy, folks. For a scientist, Reid has an awful lot of halter-tops. Maybe she’s that lone scientist that likes to go out for margaritas after getting her hands dirty with the scientific method. Apparently being a scientist didn’t help Reid with her geography; she pronounces Newfoundland “New-FOUND-land” (the correct pronunciation is “New-fin-lan”). Reid is no more believable as a scientist than a porn star. In fact, a porn star would be more believable and give a better performance.
The dialogue reeks of poorly concealed exposition. A chatty security guard serves as the writer’s sloppy conduit to establish back story: “You don’t know about the Indians? Let me explain,” “You don’t know who Aline Cedrac is? Let me explain,” “How’s your boooooyfriend, Aline Cedrac?” Alone in the Dark relies on gobs of thick exposition to cover up its insurmountable plot holes. The movie thinks it’s like a cool detective noir. It’s not. You never heard Sam Spade say, “Fear is what protects you from the things you don’t believe in.” Huh? Does that make any sense?
Alone in the Dark is symptomatic of all of Boll’s directorial flaws. He has no feel for tone, he has no control over actors, he makes bad stylistic decisions that detract from the film, and he has no time for subtlety. Boll spoils all of his surprise by showing the monsters up and front instead of letting the human mind fill in the blanks for terror. This is a brain-dead action film that doesn’t even trust its audience to read. Alone in the Dark is a film so incompetent, so ridiculous, so convoluted, and so moronic that it must bend the laws of space and time simply to exist. This makes House of the Dead look well thought out. If this is indicative of what Boll has in store for his video game adaptations, then you can expect many duds yet to come on Boll’s path to eventual audience oblivion. If anyone dared venture to a theater to see this movie, they’d find themselves alone in the dark all right. And shamed. Deeply, deeply shamed.
Nate’s Grade: F
Bloodrayne (2006): Starring: Kristanna Loken, Michael Madsen, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Rodriguez.
Rated R, 95 min.
Bloodrayne is based on a video game of the same name that follows a svelte, red-haired vampire with two long pairs of swords she wields on her arms. In the video game she fights against Nazis in World War II. Now that is a movie I would love to see. Everyone hates Nazis (well, most everyone), and to see a sexy half-naked vampire run around and kill them … that just spells awesome. Plus I have a thing for redheads. But then along came director Uwe Boll and his German financiers. Boll has turned back the clock and made his Bloodrayne an origin tale set amongst some old European landscape dotted with castles and vampires. He filmed in the real Transylvania in Romania. I don’t know if this location added any more authenticity. It couldn’t have made the film any worse.
In some place centuries ago, there’s a dhampir named Rayne (Kristanna Loken). A dhampir is a half-human, half-vampire hybrid, and we’re told most do not survive conception. Rayne has become a circus sideshow, where her captors torture her and then feed her blood, observing her nimble body heal itself. The Brimstone society is an organization devoted to fighting vampires. Vladimir (Michael Madsen) leads a small group, including Katarin (Michelle Rodriguez), on the hunt for Rayne. They believe she could help them defeat Kagan (Ben Kingsley), the most fearsome vampire in the land for some reason. Kagan is on the hunt for three guarded objects (an eye, a heart, and a rib) that will give him power beyond imagination. Rayne breaks free from her circus life, thanks to killing just about all of them, and joins the Brimstone group. You see, she’s got a score to settle with Kagan. He raped her mother and years later returned and killed her while Rayne watched. Complicating matters is the fact that he’s also Rayne’s biological father.
If Bloodrayne had merely been a straight-faced, mystical, Medieval gore fest, I might have even credited it for being a decent genre flick. But it’s the assorted anachronisms and rudimentary scope that chafe Bloodrayne, never letting it settle. Take for instance the weirdest scene in the entire movie. Now, for a movie about vampires, prophecy, secret orders, and Michelle Rodriguez even attempting a British accent (one word of advice: don’t), the strangest moment is Billy Zane’s “special appearance.” The opening credits in Bloodrayne call it that, but how does someone have a “special appearance” in an open-and-shut narrative? This isn’t an ongoing TV series. Zane has two scenes. The first has him dictating a letter like a mid-level executive, straining and stretching to fill an inter-office missive. He actually says modern phrases like “No, scratch that,” and “et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, signed Your Father.” That’s it. That’s the scene. It serves little purpose other than to make you think Billy Zane sucks when it comes to personal skills.
Boll fails to curtail these anachronisms that hurt Bloodrayne’s tone and execution. His lack of interest in details or sense also puts the film at a disadvantage. There’s a late scene where Katarin suddenly is wearing a modern purple women’s jacket, like she just got it off the rack from TJ Max. Why does Vladimir wave his sword around all the damn time, but when it comes to actual combat he tosses it back and forth in his hands like a hot potato? A character has a hidden room of weapons, but it’s not much of a secret room when the lever to open this space is dubiously displayed for all to see. Domastir (Will Sanderson, making his fifth appearance in a Boll film) has a hilariously bad haircut that looks like crop circles were shaved into his head. Why, after Rayne has joined the Brimstone fighters late in the film, do we need her in a training montage? I’m pretty sure by that point Rayne can hold her own when push comes to shove.
Kagan is never examined as to why he is so dangerous. We have no understanding why the film’s villain should even be feared. He’s on a quest for super power but what Bond villain isn’t? In fact, Bloodrayne has an altogether ho-hum view on vampires. In this movie they’re vulnerable to water as well as sunlight, but they’re also just as vulnerable to steel. The vampires fight with swords and die by them just as easily. One wonders what the allure of vampirism even is if this is all you get. There’s a scene early on where Rayne spots a female vampire chatting away in the open. She makes a come-hither motion with her finger and the lady vamp follows along obediently. Then Rayne bites her neck and drinks her dry, while the lady vamp does nothing but gets bug-eyes and goes limp. Apparently, the lack of sunlight must have negative effects on brain power and deductive thought. What Boll needs to learn is that if you’re going to have a movie where humans and vampires battle, at least give the vampires something beyond pointy teeth and bad hair. Seriously, was there a mullet discount at the wig store?
Then there’s the goofy series of one-scene actors. Meat Loaf appears as slovenly vampire pimp Leonid, surrounded by nubile nude women. He speaks like he’s taken a bottle of Quaaludes and has, what can best be described as, a dead and bleached muskrat on his head. The scene gets worse when Leonid is battling our Brimstone fighters. They take out several of the windows in his parlor and destroy Mr. Loaf by the influx of natural light. Now how stupid of an interior decorator did Leonid have? You would think a vampire running a blood parlor and place of otherworldly gathering would attempt to obscure very breakable windows. It’s the ignorance of these details and more that makes Bloodrayne ridiculous while still being pitiful of scope. If Boll is going to tell such a dull and cut-and-dry story, it’s not encouraging that he can’t even be bothered to get the details right.
The movie is poorly plotted from the start. Bloodrayne is aimless and doesn’t so much conclude as it does run out of bodies to kill. The ending will leave most scratching their heads not because it’s confusing but because the movie just peters out. More than most, Bloodrayne feels structured like a video game, with its plot points regarding the search and acquisition of super items that Kagan is after. The screenplay is credited to Guinevere Turner, co-writer of the American Psycho adaptation and frequent collaborator with director Mary Harron. I refuse to believe Turner’s responsible for the mess left on screen since Boll has the habit of rewriting whole scripts. The dialogue is unintentionally hilarious, with clichéd nuggets like, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer,” and, “He wants a fight and a fight he shall get.”
The direction is shamelessly derivative. There’s a lot, and I mean a lot, of long exterior scenes where we see people on horseback riding along the substantial wilderness. It’s like Uwe Boll watched the Lord of the Rings series and said, “I can do that … but crappy.” These long exterior scenes conflict with the movie’s small playing field. Every town and every castle feels like a stone’s throw away, and the world feels like it’s populated by about 100 people. Boll never makes it clear what the setting of Bloodryane is. It feels like Vague Europe Land.
Boll doesn’t even manage to get his action sequences right. He’s got a bigger stage this time and some more money for effects, but the results are still the same. To hide the fact that his actors had no time for fight training, Boll edits his fight scenes to the disorienting millisecond. The intent is to hide the stunt performers doing all the work. The result is that you can’t even tell what the hell’s going on in Bloodrayne. This also hamstrings his action choreography making it little beyond two figures clashing and one falling dead. The explosions of blood are overdone, with every gash shooting showers of red like the human body was connected to an off camera fire hose. Agreeably, there are a lot of splashes of blood but nothing too memorable or gruesome. It kind of has the feel of what bored teens would come up with during a sleepover with their dad’s camcorder. The violence and vampire angle are the two things that will appeal most to teenage men, but neither aspect is properly explored or satisfying. Bloodrayne presents a simple fable and doesn’t even bother to control its simple world of extraordinary creatures.
I thought the sex scene in Boll’s Alone in the Dark was preposterously out-of-the-blue, but the gratuitous sex scene in Bloodrayne puts it to shame. Rayne is plagued by nightmares of her vampiric urges, as well as her mother being killed by Kagan. One night she has a vivid nightmare where she relives slaughtering her circus. She’s startled awake. What’s her first instinct? She grabs Sebastian (Matthew Davis), pins him against her cell bars, and proceeds to ride him like she has the upper body of a weight lifter. Maybe this is the lone benefit of being a vampire: a wider selection of sexual positions. The sex is sloppy and unerotic in its ludicrousness. Boll also manages to make sure his camera gets every loving detail of Loken’s nipples being lapped at. Boll figures that this gratuitous sex scene (it really couldn’t get any more gratuitous if they were skydiving) is meant to bond the characters into a romantic relationship. This forced romance is, like many elements in Bloodrayne, also inept. It stretches believability when this moment is all we have to go on why Rayne and Sebastian feel for one another. When they part Sebastian is crestfallen, though I think it’s more because he just lost the only girl he’ll ever meet that can perform gymnastic sex. Talk about a perfect score on the parallel bars.
The acting in Bloodrayne is about what I’d expect from a Uwe Boll movie. Loken (Terminator 3) is an attractive woman, yes, but the figure of Rayne is more a fetish fantasy than a flesh-and-blood character. There’s more attention to her revealing wardrobe than her character. Loken overplays her one facial expression, which looks precisely like she just caught wind of a fart. Her English accent is also very droning. Madsen (Species, Kill Bill) seems drunk the whole time. Rodriguez (SWAT) can do little more than scowl, but in Bloodryane she gets to scowl with a comically bungling British accent. And then there’s Sir Ben Kingsley. He spends most of his screen time confined to a throne as if he’s subconsciously trying to pass this movie like a stubborn bowel movement. He looks more like a terminally ill founding father with a penchant for silks than the evil Lord of vampires. Kingsley hasn’t exactly been judicious with some of his film choices (Thunderbirds, A Sound of Thunder, Suspect Zero) but you’d think an Oscar-winning actor would have better sense than to work with Dr. Boll.
Bloodrayne is the best of Boll’s troika of video-game adaptations, but even that statement is without praise. This lame sword-and-sorcery tale is merely bad, instead of absurdly bad like most of Boll’s oeuvre. The difference is one tiny adverb, folks. The film is limited in scope but still careless and absent-minded with its details. The action sequences are heavy on blood and short on orientation, edited within an inch of their life. Bloodrayne is full of Boll’s typical lapses in plot and characters, and there’s plenty of stupid to go around for everybody. The plot is made up of nonsensical guest shots by slumming actors, and the villain himself seems as menacing as someone’s toilet-bound grandpa. In the world of film it’s tricky to judge films on a scale of badness, because that scale is surprisingly varied. Bloodrayne is clearly bad, but it’s also more entertaining than his previous films. Maybe Boll is learning after all, though at this rate of progression he’ll reach “mildly tolerable” by the time the sun explodes.
Nate’s Grade: D+
Bloodrayne II: Deliverance (2007): Starring: Natassia Malthe, Zack Ward, Michael Pare, Chris Coppola.
Rated R, 90 min.
It’s been some time since infamously derided director Uwe Boll reared his head and much has changed. 2006’s Bloodrayne was his last theatrically released movie but that movie was originally shot in 2004 and pushed back. In the meantime Germany revised its tax code closing the loophole that helped finance many of Boll’s cinematic duds thanks to German financiers being able to write off their debts. Boll has finished an additional three movies that are all scheduled for release in 2008, including the star-studded (for Boll) Lord of the Rings rip-off, In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale opening this month. Boll may never get a chance to direct a theatrically released film again, which may explain his decision to helm a direct-to-DVD sequel to Bloodrayne.
The dusty town of Deliverance, Montana is under assault from the monstrous Billy the Kid (Zack Ward). Except Billy is no ordinary bandit but a powerful vampire intent on keeping his dastardly deeds nice and quiet until the railroad moves in with a nonstop supply of fresh meat and future members of the undead. Newspaper reporter Newton Pyles (Christopher Coppola, no relation to the famous family) has ventured to Deliverance in hopes of witnessing and writing exciting tales of the Wild West, and instead he’s become the man forced to write the cover-up of Billy’s actions. The vampires have kidnapped the town’s children with the idea of feasting off them while they wait. The town’s only hope is half-human, half-vampire Rayne (Natassia Malthe). Under the guidance of rustler Pat Garret (Michael Paré), the pair gather a team to combat Billy the Kid and free Deliverance from evil.
Stylistically, Bloodrayne II: Deliverance is Boll’s desperate attempt to ape the look and feel of HBO’s popular Western series, Deadwood. It really is rather obvious to anyone that has ever seen the show. The costumes in Deliverance look similar, the sets are dressed similarly (though they still come across as too tourist attraction stagy), the gas-lamp lighting and use of darkness seems pretty similar, and the screenplay even manages to sprinkle in a few “cocksuckers,” which any Deadwood fan would know was the term of choice for historic cowpokes. Boll has the directing habit of borrowing liberally from his sources, so I expected nothing less for his attempt at a Western. The mundane cinematography goes to great lengths to declare how handheld the camerawork is. There is a noticeable difference between following the action as it develops for a docu-drama feel and simply shaking and bobbing the camera for a misguided attempt at artistic effect. After a while you feel like the cameraman must be balancing on a unicycle. There’s an over reliance on particular camera shots and close-ups are strictly reserved for the eyes and fingers during buildups to gunfights. The lavish mountain scenery of Canada (er, I mean Montana, yeah, Montana) is probably the visual highlight of a film that includes a sexy redhead kicking ass in a midriff barring leather bustier.
The action is surprisingly decent. The climactic shootout between the forces of good and evil isn’t going to rival anything I saw in the updated 3:10 to Yuma, however, to Boll’s credit, the action is not ineptly constructed. He develops parallel lines of action and separates Rayne’s posse to deal with separate heroic last stands. Gunfights are naturally easier to stage than sword battles (shot 1: bad guy fires, shot 2: good guy ducks then fires, shot 3: bad guy gets hit) and that might explain why Rayne doesn’t break out her signature arm-blades until the very end of the climax. Rhetorical question time: who brings an arm-blade to a gunfight, anyway?
But it is structure that weighs down Bloodrayne II. Boll finally has a handle on crafting some workable action sequences and he just blows it. Bloodrayne II has exactly three action sequences and the first two are rather puny. There is a long drought in between action and in its place are a lot of dull conversations amidst increasingly dull characters. Vampires and the Wild West is a concept that can work; fun can be had with vampire cowboys and high noon (make that midnight) duels, and yet Boll seems uneasy about embracing its supernaturally campy potential. Bloodrayne II has little blood, zero gore, no nudity, no sex, and a pitifully scant amount of action. In other words, it’s missing all of the exploitation elements that make a movie like Bloodrayne II worth watching.
Screenwriters Christopher Donaldson and Neil Every throw in a lot of side characters into the stew but then quickly dispatch them as well, which at least keeps the audience on their guard and wary that anyone that assists Rayne is destined for a sudden end. Most egregiously, they speed through one of the best segments in all of movies: the getting-the-team-together sequence. Rayne and Garret are collecting a posse that includes a con man preacher (Michael Eklund) and a drunk affectionately known as Slime Bag Franson (Michael Teigen). Part of the enjoyment of the Western is following the unifying of a team and watching relationships form, and Bloodrayne II rushes through this process. It collects its gunfighters in brief introductions and then heads right for the finish.
There seems to be little continuity between the two films even ignoring the change at lead vampire slaying hottie. The vampires in this entry behave drastically different from the older European ones in the first film. Rayne seems to have lost her healing abilities, which were what the circus folk put on display when she was their money-earning star of their own little freak show (apparently during the 100-plus year gap between films Rayne got a little hammered during Spring Break and got a lower back tattoo). I bring up the healing issue because at one point Rayne is shot several times while escaping via swimming through a river. She’s struggling to regain her strength and confesses to Garret about her true nature and her need for blood. In one of the most curious moments for a movie that pairs vampires and cowboys, Garret slices open his arm and holds it over Rayne, dripping blood all over her face. The characters even seem to catch the weirdness as they both remark how much more useful a simple cup might have been.
It wouldn’t be a Boll movie without an abundance of the bizarre, the ludicrous, and the unintentionally funny. Rayne travels great distances on horseback to Deliverance with the intention of slaying some vampires she knows are responsible for murdering her friends. She finds the reflection-free accomplice (House of the Dead‘s Tyron Leitso) and holds a stool to his windpipe, choking the bastard. Instead of finishing him off Rayne relents and lets him live because, wait for it, he let her participate in his card game. Talk about a strange shift in motivation. During the climax, the townsfolk are stirred to rise up against Billy and his vampire clan thanks to the mayor and Pyles finally growing some spines. They set out to shoot them some vampires, but really what will they accomplish? Bloodrayne II established earlier that the vampires could take being plugged with bullets unless the ammunition is combined with garlic. I doubt the townspeople know they need that key ingredient to their firearms. How do the people in 1880s Montana manage to get a copy of the Chicago newspaper Pyles writes for? The railroad hasn’t made its way to Deliverance so I’m at a loss for the speedy spread of print journalism 1,000 miles away.
But the most unintentionally funny moment comes at the end when Billy has staged an elaborate system of pulleys so that when Rayne opens a door it drops a weight that will raise a series of noose around the captured children’s necks. The kid on the furthest right is hung to death and the children seem to be arranged according to height, which seems a little OCD even for a vampire. The tallest kid on the far left of this makeshift gallows reacts very differently. While the rest of the child actors are crying, fretting, and acting like the ropes are cutting their breathing, this kid on the far left is just standing stone-faced and still. He’s not even bothering to act and it shows.
The dialogue is expectantly awful, including clunkers like Pyles saying, “I have a question. I came looking for stories of the Wild West,” and then never actually asking a question (what kind of reporter doesn’t know what a question is?). The best/worst example of dialogue is literally the final line spoken and it blindsides the audience like a car crash. Garret says with a glint of wisdom, “Life is like a penis. When it’s hard you get screwed and when it’s soft it can’t be beat.” Wow. Someone alert the motivational poster industry because I have a gut feeling this will rival the perilous “Hang in there” kitty.
The first Rayne, Kristanna Loken, decided she’d rather stick with her crummy Sci-Fi TV show, which has since been cancelled, than don the arm-blades once more for Boll. Malthe (Elektra, Skinwalkers) has the acting prowess you would expect from a former Maxim magazine model. It’s not like the role of Rayne involves much emotional complexity; mostly an actress has to be able to deliver some clunky dialogue and look attractive while swinging a sword. Malthe is certainly a fine looking woman but she is a non-starter when it comes to the world of acting. Yeah she looks good in leather chaps but whenever she speaks it’s in the same emotionless, dry tone even when she’s supposed to be angry. She comes across like an ineffectual dominatrix who’s studied acting by watching tapes of Shannon Doherty. Malthe seems to have a few faces in her acting repertoire and one of them is stink-eye, which you will be very familiar with by the end of the movie.
Ward is hilariously miscast and completely unconvincing as an evil bloodsucker cowboy. Ward got his start in the classic A Christmas Story and I remember him best playing the goofy, dumb younger brother on comedian Christopher Titus’ hysterical TV show, Titus. Ward tacks on a lousy Eastern European accent that comes in sharp conflict with the setting and material of the film. Are vampires immune from having accents rub off on them, because Rayne seems to have assimilated well into frontier speech patterns? I challenge others not to crack up when he yells, “Now the slaughter begins.” In his defense, Ward isn’t given many scenes to play and the screenwriters have to fall back on the cheap “kids in danger” device to establish his villainy.
The other actors don’t fare much better. Coppola annoys within minutes of appearing onscreen. A helpful bartender (Chris Spencer) is astoundingly bad even for an Uwe Boll movie. He plays the part like Ted Lange in the Wild West. Boll go-to actor Paré actually seems at home with the Western material and his curt, monotone delivery fits well with the material. He’s a good fit for this genre but that doesn’t excuse his poor performances in four previous Boll flicks. The best actor in the movie is the original sheriff-turned-vampire (John Novak) who works an impressive snarl and a natural physically intimidating presence. He would have made for a serviceable lead villain over Ward.
Bloodrayne II: Deliverance is far less fun than the original while being better in some regards and worse in others. There isn’t much artistic growth shown. Boll was naturally meant to transition to the relegated realm of direct-to-DVD movies. It’s more his terrain what with the queasy production values, bad acting, and shoddy, repackaged scripts. In the world of direct-to-DVD a movie can live on into infinity thanks to assembly line sequels. Did anyone realize there are now, thanks to direct-to-DVD releases, seven Children of the Corns, four Bring it Ons, and a whopping 13 Land Before Times. It’s here where Boll’s quick production turnarounds will yield the most gain and where he may even thrive. He’s already planning to direct a Bloodrayne 3 and producing an Alone in the Dark 2 (regrettably there was a 2005 direct-to-DVD sequel to House of the Dead though it had no Boll involvement whatsoever). I think Uwe Boll is finally where he belongs.
Nate’s Grade: D
Part Three: Boll Goes Big
In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale (2008): Starring: Jason Statham, Ron Perlman, Ray Liotta, Leelee Sobieski, Burt Reynolds
Rated PG-13, 127 min.
I have no idea how it happened but someone gave infamously reviled director Uwe Boll a bunch of money to adapt a fantasy video game called Dungeon Siege into a star-laden movie. In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale seemed to be Boll’s stab at achieving mainstream credibility. He assembled his best cast yet with plenty of recognizable stars. At one point, I remember reading that Boll wanted to divide this film into two, Kill Bill-style, or release a 180-minute version. Until this movie, no Boll film had ever gone over barely an hour and a half. After seeing a slimmed down version that runs a little over two hours, I honestly have no idea what more Boll could have. In the Name of the King struggles to fill two hours worth with crap.
In a far off land, there lives a farmer named, coincidentally enough, Farmer (Jason Statham). His world is turned upside down when his family is killed by a band of creatures known as the Krug. He and his friend (Ron Perlman) must track down Farmer’s captured wife (Claire Forlani) and inflict some peasant vengeance of their own.
Evil wizard Gallian (Ray Liotta) was the cause of the attack. He has built up a whole army of Krug to challenge the King (Burt Reynolds) for the throne. Gallian also has two unwitting allies. The King’s nephew, the Duke (Matthew Lilard), wants to rule and is willing to plot with the evil wizard to achieve this goal. Muriella (Leelee Sobieski) is secretly sleeping with Gallian; he says he is teaching her how to use her blooming magical powers (remove your mind from the gutter) but he is really stealing her powers.
Farmer reluctantly becomes a leader to protect the kingdom. Gallian is stupefied that this simple farmer is somehow beyond the control of his magic. That’s because Farmer should probably change his name to Prince because he is the long-lost son of the King and some stable girl. Merick (John Rhys-Davies) serves as the King’s most trusted advisor but he is also the father of Muriella. He scolds her for being so foolish and being used by Gallian. She suits up like Joan of Arc and wants to fight, but her father won’t allow it.
Eventually this all leads to a large-scale battle between the forces of good and evil where Gallian uses his magic powers to create a cyclone of books to stop Farmer. There you have it.
If I were Peter Jackson, I might consider a copyright infringement suit, because In the Name of the King is a sloppy Lord of the Rings rip-off through and through. The long-lost heir to the throne must accept his magisterial destiny … just like in Lord of the Rings. There is a 10-minute fight sequence that happens in a swath of woods … just like in Fellowship of the Ring. The villain relies on an army of stupid supernatural hordes … just like Lord of the Rings. There is a wizard on wizard duel … just like Lord of the Rings. A noble woman wishes to fight but he father does not approve, so she sneaks off in armor and does fight … just like in Return of the King. There is a shadowy “other” world that goes beyond our dimension … just like in Lord of the Rings. The eventual trek of our heroes leads to a volcano, but not just that, it’s also the villain’s lair … just like in Lord of the Rings. Bastian (William Sanderson, in his sixth Boll movie) serves no purpose other than to resemble Legolas. John Rhys-Davies you should know better; you freaking starred IN the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
So what does a $60 million budget get Boll? Lots and lots of crane shots. Boll relies on extended aerial photography and zooming, CGI landscapes that serve to remind you how much better Lord of the Rings was and that Vancouver is no New Zealand. There are some segments that lack a firm geographic bearing because Boll wants to jump from expansive crane shot to expansive crane shot. I get that he wants to showcase the depth of the battles, which do feature a fair amount of background action, but the repetition of any camera technique will always grow old if it doesn’t feel congruent to the onscreen drama. I’m happy that Boll wants to open up the scope, but when he relies on a multitude of high-angle crane shots in motion the effect becomes wearisome. The audience can never settle into the action because Boll is too forceful with wanting to demonstrate what he bought with his budget. The cinematography is a notable step up for Boll and longtime director of photography Mathias Neumann. Then again, if I had a $60 million budget I’m sure my movie would look good too, or at least better.
In the Name of the King is the biggest budget Boll has ever had, but it seems like proper costumes must have still been out of his price range. The marauding horde of Orcs, oh I’m sorry, the Krug look like cheesy low-rent Power Rangers villains in goofy rubber outfits. The camera never lets you get a good glimpse of these creatures because even Boll knows how crummy they look. You get another idea of how bad the creatures look when Farmer utilizes the familiar dress-in-other-guy’s-uniform-to-pretend-to-blend-in ploy that was perfected by the aging action stars of the 1980s. So Farmer knocks out a Krug creature, throws on its spongy armor, and is able to walk around the Krug camp.
The special effects also seem to run the gamut. The green screen work is painfully ineffective and very transparent, like when Farmer is swinging down a rope across a gorge. When Boll tries to show large fields of soldiers it also exposes how fake the CGI work looks. The many battalions of soldiers look like a dated computer video game. The special effects for Alone in the Dark were better and that film had, reportedly, half the budget of this movie. Realizing all this, it’s no wonder that Boll tries to use as many real sets as he can.
The musical score by Jessica de Rooij (Bloodrayne II: Deliverance) and Henning Lohner (Bloodrayne) may well be the worst musical score to ever exist in the history of mankind. It feels like your ears are being raped. There’s a tonal quality akin to being submerged underwater, and this atrocious music keeps popping up all the time and swelling over the onscreen dialogue. It’s only going to get worse as de Rooij is slotted to score all of Boll’s upcoming films from here on out. She’s assimilated into the Boll fraternity.
And yet despite all of this, In the Name of the King is high-class camp. Boll achieves a workable level of derisive enjoyment that manages to keep the movie entertaining even while its spins into stupidity. The fight scenes are actually decent and Boll manages to compose a few shots here and there that look quite good, like when the camera scans over a field of dead bodies. During the action centerpiece, the 10-minute battle in the woods between man and Krug, Boll’s camera manages to frame some solid, if unspectacular, action with some good angles. It’s also cut to be mostly coherent. The fight choreography is credited to Siu-tung Ching who also did the choreography for Hero and House of the Flying Daggers. He must have procrastinated until the night before his choreography was due. It will pass but there’s little creativity there; however, Boll must have been flabbergasted. I think the true test for derisive viewer enjoyment will be when the ninjas come out of nowhere at the King’s disposal. All of a sudden in the middle of a medieval style fantasy fight there are flipping black-clad ninjas. I loved it for its sheer anachronistic absurdity. To me, it felt like Boll was trying to cram in everything that he thought was theoretically cool into one massive fight sequence. He just didn’t have the money to also include pirates and robots and hobos and vampires and bears and Batman.
Fantasy is just not Boll’s preferred territory and it mostly shows. He really wants to make his own entry in the style of Lord of the Rings, but you can tell his mind is elsewhere. The plot is a mess but that isn’t indicative of Boll’s lack of interest with the film, it’s just indicative of a typical Boll movie. In the Name of the King feels like Boll is following a checklist of what is expected in a modern fantasy epic, except that Boll cannot provide the epic part. Here’s my proof: the vine-swinging tree nymphs led by Elora (Kristanna Loken). If Boll was really invested in this movie he would have paid more attention to these alluring and cinematic vixens. These anti-war ladies have sworn off men (take that for what you will) and live their lives like Cirque du Soliel jungle performers. This stuff is right up Boll’s exploitation rich alley, and yet he and the film treat these women of the woods like afterthoughts. They show up and save the day when the film requires an inexplicable savior, but why doesn’t a movie about fantasies deal more extensively with figures that could very well work as male fantasy? These forest females claim to hate men and yet they still dress semi-provocatively in leather tunics that enhance their womanly assets. That seems odd. I don’t know how helpful tree-dwelling women would be in a fight either unless it was fought in a well-forested area. Boll not capitalizing on these women warriors proves to me that his heart isn’t in this movie.
Screenwriter Doug Taylor was clearly cobbling a story together by his fading memory of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and yet this being a Boll movie, there are still plenty of head-scratching decisions that defy logic even for a would-be fantasy film. For instance, why does Farmer fight with a boomerang? How effective can a weapon be when it gets thrown and then needs to be picked up? The boomerangs that I know can hit people, sure, but usually hitting someone stops its path of movement. Then again, these could be magic boomerangs. How did Gallian raise such a massive monster army to rival that of the King’s without anyone noticing? I’m sure the excuse for that is also magic-related. The Duke takes out two legions of soldiers for his own purposes, and when one man asks where the commanding officers are the Duke, in front of everyone, stabs him. It seems like a lousy way to lead but I’m sure Joseph Stalin would approve. A telekinetic sword fight sounds cool on paper until you realize it is just actors standing passively while CGI swords clang around them. During the climactic battle it’s dark and raining (hey, like in Lord of the Rings) for the King’s army vs. the Krug, but then as Farmer and Elora race to the Volcano Lair it is light out. How many time zones does this kingdom have? Also during this climactic battle, the King’s army has the high ground thanks to a hill and the Krug race up the raised land. The archers atop the hill fire their flaming arrows at an angle pointing up, which would sail over the heads of all their targets. I suppose the King’s archery education program has been suffering some severe budget cutbacks.
The dialogue is pretty corny amidst all the sword-and-sorcery antics and induces its fair share of giggles. When Muriella asks Gallian if he always appears out of nowhere he responds, “No. I appear suddenly. Out of somewhere.” Thanks for clearing that semantic argument up. He also has a very icky conversation with his bedfellow Muriella dripping with double entendres: “I knew you would come,” “I told you I would,” “I felt it before you came,” “You told me I could come and go as I please.” I think my favorite moment is when the King is on his deathbed and addressing Farmer. He advises the man of agricultural means to try using seaweed to enrich his soil. “How do you know this?” asks Farmer. “Because I am king,” he replies.
The actors all feel like they are in separate movies on a collision course with one another. Boll has never had a firm command with actors. The big name actors feel their way around a scene with little guidance from Boll, which means they routinely experiment and play their roles like they were an exercise instead of a final performance. A fine example is a single line spoken at a family table; it’s just perfectly off enough to prick your ears to Boll’s tone-deaf direction. I think Boll either doesn’t care that much about performances or is easily cowed into submission by actors. Staham is recycling his glaring machismo that he’s turned into an action movie franchise, but he seems to me like a modern-day Steven Segal who dispatches foes in a monotone whisper. Luckily for Boll, Statham is adept at picking up fight choreography and so the movie benefits by watching the actor clearly in the middle of the fracas performing his own sword fights.
Most of the actors also seem to be falling back on past performances as inspiration for what to do under Boll’s laissez faire direction. Perlman plays his standard gruff tough with a deadpan delivery. Sobieski hasn’t acted in a movie for some time. She comes across as her usual inexpressively empty self, which is her thing, along with being a physical clone of Helen Hunt. Loken shows she can swing from a vine but not master a vague British accent. Forlani gets to cower and weep, though in my estimation she is a much more attractive woman in her 30s than she was as a 20-something ingénue. Smile lines have really sexed her up. Burt Reynolds is playing Burt Reynolds, and Rhys-Davies falls back on his trademark gravitas. Only Lillard seems to find enjoyment out of Boll’s vacuum of direction. His accent mirrors his wildly over the top style of acting that sometimes feels like a fish flopping around for air. His physical mannerisms are uncontrolled and he sneers through much of his lines, but I’ll give it to Lilard, he is much more fun to watch than any of the other slumming stars.
Special attention must be made to Liotta, who is on a different plane of terrible. It’s bad enough that he’s chewing the scenery in his typical manic, bug-eyed crazy yell-speak he refers to as acting, but the movie has to open on the discomfiting image of Liotta trying to suck Leelee Sobieski’s face inside out via kissing. Liotta’s character Gallian feels and looks out of place; he resembles a skuzzy Las Vegas magician with a pompadour and a long leather jacket and a button-down shirt. Where did this man come from? His performance is astonishing in how deeply the awful goes, and when he tells Farmer’s wife, “I feel him inside you,” try your best not to shudder.
After seeing eight of his films and writing 17,000 words on the man (including 2,700 for this review), I feel like I have a special connection to Uwe Boll. I just don’t sense that Boll’s heart was truly in this venture. In the Name of the King seems to be the last time I think we’ll see Boll flirt with mainstream Hollywood genre filmmaking. I think his time luring known actors has come to a merciful end. His next slew of films seem destined to all direct-to-DVD and feature no name casts that are mostly the same actors he has worked with before. In the Name of the King will stand as a ridiculous Lord of the Rings rip-off that has some workable action alongside its many laughably awful moments. It’s a lousy fantasy movie with too many extraneous characters and too familiar a plot outline. Even for a $60 million film, Boll finds new ways to prove that no matter what sized budget the man has he will always try to grasp something beyond his reach.
Nate’s Grade: D+
Postal (2008):Starring: Zack Ward, Dave Foley, Chris Coppola, Larry Thomas, Verne Troyer
Rated R, 100 min.
I feel very strange at this moment. I may need to consult a physician. I’m undergoing an altogether new and confusing sensation. You see, I’m hesitant, almost embarrassed to admit this, but I finally found a Uwe Boll movie that I, well, don’t hate. In fact, I was laughing with Postal and not derisively at it. I would never have guessed that a social satire co-written and directed by Boll, which begins with hijackers flying a plane into a large skyscraper, is actually intentionally funny. That’s not to say that the outrageous, violent, and messy film is verifiably good, but for the first time I feel like Boll is genuinely progressing as a filmmaker and may prove that he can craft a competently entertaining movie in the future. And if you know anything about Boll, that statement is akin to going from crawling to flying an F-14 fighter jet blindfolded while constructing a birdhouse out of Popsicle sticks.
The slapdash plot takes place in the small town of Paradise, Arizona. Postal Dude (Zack Ward, TV’s Titus, Bloodrayne II) is a guy who gets pushed around by life. His fat wife is cheating on him constantly, he’s bullied by rednecks that live in the neighborhood trailer park, and he can’t find a job to escape. He’s looking for any way out. His uncle Dave (Dave Foley) has started a doomsday religious cult of disenfranchised hippies. The IRS is currently targeting him and needs a quick money fix. Uncle Dave and Postal Dude scheme to steal the lone shipment of “Krotchy” dolls, a doll that resembles male testicles that is highly in demand (the Chinese shipment capsized and the crew all died, but luckily the dolls were saved). Also looking to snatch the dolls is a terrorist cell that includes Osama bin Laden (played by Jewish actor Larry Thomas, best known as the Soup Nazi on Seinfeld). The plot isn’t important per se, but you will find yourself openly questioning why respected actors like J.K. Simmons and Seymour Cassel are doing in this mess. Michael Pare I understand. He doesn’t seem to get any work unless Boll throws him a beleaguered bone.
I think Boll has finally found a genre best suited for his cinematic interests. Setting Postal in the wacky comedy world has a freeing effect for Boll: he doesn’t have to adhere to any form of logic. His other movies usually suffered through continual lapses in thought and deed. With Postal, Boll can be as silly as he wants and not have to worry about disrupting his narrative. It should be no surprise then that Postal contains the best acting ever seen in a Boll movie. The good German has always had a seemingly inability to control his actors or provide any helpful direction, but finally he has found a genre that will work with actors giving unrestrained performances that are figuratively all over the thespian map. Shockingly, Ward and Foley both give quite good straight-laced comedic performances (nothing can prepare you for Foley’s generous dose of full-frontal nudity).
Boll stuffs a lot of extreme elements into his movie, including Islamic terrorists, Osama bin Laden frolicking hand-in-hand with President Bush, inbred rednecks with garish teeth, sex scenes with the morbidly obese, crass racial stereotypes, sexual abuse gags, the media’s opportunism in response to tragedy, an ending that takes a page from Dr. Strangelove, a mentally handicapped martyr, and much more. The movie’s aim is to offend and it has many targets. Boll is no insightful political satirist but even he finds humor in the absurd. The movie is blunt and belittles everyone. Postal skewers religious fundamentalism/apocalyptic yearnings on all sides. There is one sequence where Ward is pinned down by rednecks, Islamic terrorists, and crazy cult followers. He tries appealing to their hearts and establishing common ground. “Well,” one of the terrorists says, “We all hate the Jews,” and then everyone nods solemnly. That’s funny. It’s not deep or biting but it is funny in setup and delivery. I give credit where it’s due. Postal takes some seriously demented detours that take advantage of the wacky, anything-goes atmosphere.
The movie’s jokes hit high and low but some of them definitely stick. The concept of our main character caught in a shootout at the welfare office is given a wicked twist when he crawls along the incapacitated victims looking to trade up a better waiting number. There are comedic riffs hat actually work. Postal isn’t clever or scathing, and is hardly subtle or nuanced, but I could honestly see Postal developing a small cult following, one removed from the cult following already built around bashing Boll.
Here is a list of moments that made me actually laugh: using a man in a vegetative state bound in wheelchair as a stepping stone to help climb a chain-link fence, Foley and Ward arguing decimal placements, watching Mini-Me actor Verne Troyer pushing a suitcase bigger than himself across a long shot, the fact that Osama bin Laden casually walks around in broad daylight to underscore the nagging fact that the man is still at large, the concept of using a cat as a silencer for a gun (fear not animal lovers, the cat lives), a “God shelter” in case of rapture, Osama attending a workshop on leadership styles and having his credit card declined, a character’s dying attempt to discover if he’s gay or merely bisexual, and the insane religious prophecy involving Troyer and 1000 horny monkeys. That last one is almost inspired in its sheer lunacy. The best part for many will be when Uwe Boll appears onscreen as himself. He admits he finances his crummy movies via Nazi gold and then, no kidding, the actual creator of the Postal video game appears and shoots Boll in the groin. For many, this is a vicarious moment to be savored.
Postal could have worked even better had Boll had a more consistent tone. Simply put, being offensive and shocking and wallowing in bad taste does not guarantee being funny. Watching a truck run over a baby carriage isn’t funny because it’s shocking. Without greater context or setup, it’s the equivalent of a tired and morose “dead baby” joke: tasteless but lacking any humor. And yet here are more missed comedic opportunities that Boll fails to capitalize upon. The missed comedic opportunities mount (Islamic terrorists eventually descend upon a redneck trailer park and … nothing?). Some jokes teeter but then hit a wrong note and become uncomfortable. Watching a black police officer (Chris Spencer, Bloodrayne II) brutally murder an Asian driver is not funny. Seeing a montage of children being massacred by stray gunfire is not funny and has no hope of being funny. When the movie utilizes realistic violence, it must walk a very delicate tone to spring laughs from darker territory. Realistic violence by itself is not funny because brutality is hard to milk for laughs.
Boll will drift and lose his comedy momentum. The highly publicized opening sequence is actually kind of funny. Two terrorists have hijacked a plane but then have second thoughts after they realize there are discrepancies about the number of post-martyrdom virgins. They begin to then analyze the gaps in theology and decide to turn the plane around and head to the Bahamas instead. With this segment Boll has taken a politically sensitive subject and given it a twist. Where the segment goes wrong is not when the passengers storm the cockpit and cause the plane to crash, this serves as irony. Where the segment goes wrong is when it cuts to a window washer atop a skyscraper and we watch the plane come closer and crash into a fiery blaze. The view doesn’t serve as any comedic punch line and places the viewer in an uncomfortable position of not only reliving 9/11 but also reliving it from a hapless victim’s perspective. It’s one example of a misstep that ruins the joke. By the film’s end it has turned into an incoherent bloodbath.
Not to kill Uwe Boll with praise, but Postal is also his best looking movie to date. The shot compositions are framed well, there is actual camerawork that gives off a slight Coen brothers’ vibe, and the cinematography by Boll staple Mathias Nuemann is crisp and clean. This is a good-looking movie that works within its limited budget and locations.
Postal wasn’t given much of a chance out of the gate. It has been sitting on a shelf for over a year, it was dumped into a small number of theaters opening the same weekend opposite the slightly higher profile Indiana Jones sequel. Boll arranged a free screening of the film and a majority walked out after the opening segment involving the hijackers. Postal is a bizarre and distasteful movie that relies too heavily on shock tactics and the idea that offensive equates humor. There are holes, inconsistencies, shallow satire, and many missed comedic opportunities, and yet, in spite of everything, I laughed at several points. This is Boll’s most intentionally entertaining movie to date. While it may sound like heresy, I would rather watch Postal again than the much more commercial and critically lauded Pineapple Express.
It feels like Boll is actually progressing as a filmmaker, however, I make this statement under the caveat that the confines of the wacky comedy genre forgive lapses in content. But I may not be alone. Boll submitted his flick to the Hoboken International Film Festival and actually won. Boll was named Best Director and the film was awarded Best of the Festival, which is a category based upon audience votes. Perhaps it’s just my lowered expectations with any Boll production, but Postal almost works; not quite but almost. And that’s a tremendous leap forward for a man whose movies have made me retire synonyms for “stupid.”
Nate’s Grade: C
Far Cry (2008):Starring: Til Schweiger, Emmanuelle Vaugier, Natalia Avelon, Udo Kier, Chris Coppola
Rated R, 95 min.
Say what you will about Uwe Boll as a writer and director; Lord knows I’ve written nearly a Master’s thesis on the notorious schlock filmmaker. However, this man would be an asset to have as a producer, at least initially. The German tax loophole was closed and yet the man still finds a way to make like three to four movies a year. He can pull together resources and organization as well as anybody in the business. So what if the final product happens to be substandard? This man knows how to produce. He’s just not as skilled at other positions. Far Cry, Boll’s latest video game adaptation, is a clunky action movie that treats genre clichés as virtues. It is not a bad movie but it’s not a good bad movie either. It’s just Boll’s version of disposable action.
Valerie (Emmanuelle Vaugier) is a Vancouver newspaper reporter who has got a great lead on a story. Turns out Dr. Krieger (Udo Kier), your classic mad scientist, is running experiments on a nearby island and he has an armored guard. Our spunky heroine is determined to investigate. Her uncle Max (Ralf Moeller) is actually working for the mad doctor and having misgivings, which is why he tries to send Valerie classified info on the experiments. Dr. Krieger is bankrolled by the (Canadian?) government to develop genetically modified super soldiers. They have a layer of armor under their skin and the only foolproof way to kill these super soldiers is to shoot them in the eye or mouth. My best guess why is because they both lead to the brain, but then why stop there? Why not shooting into ear and nose cavities? Anyway, the super soldiers won’t take orders so the mad doctor and his mercenaries capture Max and turn him into the newest test subject. Valerie has chartered a boat to meet up with her uncle. The boat captain, Jack (Til Schweiger, who sounds like his voice was dubbed by an actor that could not widen his mouth to enunciate), just happens to be an old Special Forces buddy of Max’s. This comes in handy when both Jack and Valerie are attacked once they reach the island. The duo must run for their lives and inflict much ass-kicking justice.
Far Cry is a mediocre cliché-ridden action vehicle. You’ve got so many formula elements widely circulated in numerous other action flicks, and I’m not even talking about the standards like that the good guys are marksmen, the bad guys are terrible shots, and anyone can move unfazed if they get shot in the shoulder. We also have the fact that all evil hideouts, when not hewn into volcanic rock, must be located in giant warehouses with too many catwalks and chains and extraneous machinery that do little else but spit sparks when called upon. Jack also pulls the timeless tactic of stripping an enemy solider, putting on his uniform, and then infiltrating the enemy camp under a flawless disguise – a change in clothes. Let’s not also forget the tried-and-true method of throwing a rock in a different direction to cause a distraction. I think at this point only dogs fall for that. By the thirty-minute point, we’ve already seen two separate shots of Jack swimming underwater while an explosion rages above the surface. Though the word has likely lost all meaning to Boll, I would describe that as excessive.
Another major cliché of action movies is the forced coupling between Jack and Valerie. It doesn’t take long before their bickering leads to smooching. Shortly after just escaping mercenaries and a helicopter explosion in a lake, Jack and Valerie find a shack nearby and tend to their wounds. She changes out of wet clothes and makes sure that he doesn’t catch a peek (he does) and he dresses a flesh wound on his rippled abdomen. Eventually she crawls under the blankets on a bed to warm herself for the night. He does too, to stay warm of course. “I have to take off my wet pants, you know,” he reasons (oldest trick in the book). But after they’re in bed together they have to still talk about how cold they each are still, and then Jack suggests, “shared body heat,” you know, just to stay dry. After what seems like forever, these two just give up this charade and start kissing and have them some sex. Naturally, the introduction of an attractive female character in an action movie is designed so that she can snuggle and then be put in danger. Valerie does little else to the story. I want to know why either of these two is acting so casual moments after they escaped fiery death. They know that they’re still being hunted, and the shack is within walking distance from the crash site, which is being investigated by the mercenaries. For that matter, why do the bad guys call off each attack to search and confirm for kills? Are they that concerned with paperwork?
Far Cry feels like every generic moment rises from the shadow of other generic action movies. The final conflict between Jack and Max the Super Solider boils down to an appeal to the man inside the monster, trying to tap the humanity buried beneath the killing machine. You’ve seen this in countless other movies. Dr. Krieger has a dominatrix-esque second-in-command that has some personality to her; it must be hard to be a female henchwoman, having to be even more evil than the henchmen to prove her self. The initial plot setup even reminds me of Ed Wood’s Bride of the Monster — girl reporter investigates mad scientist. The whole island-based setting, with the aquatic inclined stunts, led by a Central European action star, buddied up with a yammering idiot as a comic sidekick … it oddly reminds me of the entirely forgettable 1998 Jean Claude Van-Damme movie, Knock-Off, with also had the misfortune of co-starring Rob Schneider. A knock-off of Knock-Off? Well it is time for the tenth anniversary after all.
Boll stubbornly tries to make his mundane action movie into a comedy. The comic elements never fully gel with the rest of the film, and yet Boll keeps transforming the movie into this screwy action comedy. There’s the bickering between Jack and Valerie, which is expected territory for the genre, but then the movie fills its time with excessive wisecracks, strange digressions, and so much comic relief that it fails to be relief (or comic). Chris Coppola chews as much scenery as possible as Emilio, the irritating, hapless sidekick to Jack. He’s introduced at almost the hour mark and seems to be trying to make up for lost time in annoyance. He’ll offer to help Jack fight but then recoil and scamper off. This is the kind of movie that has the overweight Coppola lovingly caress a sandwich and coo, “I’ve been thinking about you all day.” Get it? He’s fat. Fat people love food.
But by far the funniest and weirdest aspect abut Far Cry is how unbelievably prepared Jack is for any situation. He hands Valerie a handcuff key from his pocket, which he always carried with him because, presumably, Jack lands in handcuffs often or cannot be trusted to remember his “safe word.” But then late in the movie, Jack is handcuffed and he literally regurgitates ANOTHER handcuff key. This means that Jack keeps a key in his pocket and swallows a spare. Does he eat these daily? What else is hidden among his body? The man could be a human Swiss army knife.
No one ever seems to question what the chances are that a German former Special Forces agent will work at a Canadian lab, within reach of his Canadian niece ace reporter, who will charter a boat from another German former Special Forces agent who also happens to be within reach of this lab. I guess when you’ve got invincible super soldiers you don’t sweat the details.
Despite all its flaws and general laziness, Far Cry is a semi-decent action movie, especially one with a low budget. Boll manages to construct some passing action sequences with respectable camerawork, and the end battles between our heroes and the Super Soldiers is actually well-edited, with sharp cuts that help ratchet up the energy level, and has plenty of good stunt work. A chase through the nondescript warehouse between Jack and a super soldier actually makes use of some spiffy Parkour choreography, a welcomed addition. The forced comedy can actually succeed at times during the action, like when Valerie is hurling grenades with the pins still attached or when she accidentally lassos a helicopter with a harpoon gun (Dr Krieger scolds her, “You know, you owe me a helicopter.”).
In the pantheon of Boll movies, Far Cry lands more toward the top. It’s a middling action movie that tries too hard to constantly inject misguided humor into every freaking minute. The movie suffers from the same boneheaded flaws that plague the action movie genre, but by the end of its admittedly brief running time, Boll has pulled off a minor success. Far Cry is not a good movie and has too many derivative and unimaginative elements, but Boll seems to have cranked this one out. While Far Cry is not a particularly good action movie, it is relatively indecipherable from the thousands of other cheap mediocre action movies that pollute the direct-to-DVD market. He’s made an easily digestible product that isn’t even bad enough or weird enough to be memorable. To him that’s victory, but to me, an avid Boll expert, that’s just plain boring.
Nate’s Grade: C
Part Four: Direct-to-DVD Land
Rated R, 90 min.
Uwe Boll had some things he wanted to say with his low-rent horror flick, Seed. Like much of Boll’s output it’s based upon a video game. However, Boll opens the flick with a warning that footage of animal abuse and disturbing images will be incorporated into the movie. Seed gets the ball rolling with a two-minute montage of animals being cruelly beaten and mutilated before the title ever finds its place on screen. Boll’s opening text says that he decided to use this disturbing snuff footage because he “wanted to make a statement about humanity.” Yeah, sure Boll. Isn’t it a bit trite and easy to castigate the human condition for evil when you just roll out visceral real-life footage of cruelty? By highlighting the real stuff Boll is calling into question the significance of his whole stupid slasher movie. It opens with real-life cruelty and then plays out 90 minutes of fake cruelty, so what’s the point? I don’t think Seed has any interest in the subtext that can elevate horror movies. I think Boll just wanted to make his own torture-heavy horror film and found some animal abuse footage on the cheap (PETA probably gave it to him free of charge). The opening smacks of exploitation and opportunism and has zero thematic connection to the flaccid and empty-headed horror movie that follows. If I sound angry that’s because I don’t need to see animals having their skulls crushed in to get it.
Seed (William Sanderson) is a killer of astounding proficiency (for further details: see below). Matt Bishop (Boll BFF, Michael Paré) is the detective that’s been tracking Seed all these years. You can tell he’s a haunted cop because he has a drinking problem and hears the cries of dead babies. Eventually, Bishop tracks down Seed’s hideout and he arrests the murderous fiend. Seed is sentenced to die by the electric chair. The problem is that the prison doesn’t have a pristine electric chair, and the law says that if a man survives three jolts of juice then he’s free to go (for further details: see below). The warden (Ralf Moeller) decides to take command. He and a group of prison employees bury Seed alive and tell the world he died on the faulty electric chair. Of course Seed comes back and rekindles that old killing feeling.
If Sanctimony was Boll’s attempt to manufacture the clever Saw-esque serial killer, a higher scale of serial killers, then Seed is at the opposite end of the serial killer equation. This is a dull slasher movie and Seed is about as dull as killers can be. His main attributes are that he’s a huge guy with a sack on his head, which is kind of similar to about 1000 different slasher movies. He looks particularly close to Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I guess the slasher recipe is add one obscure mask plus one set of overalls plus dirt = killer. The guy has zero personality and is merely a silent killing machine that, in typical slasher fashion, always roams around at a deliberately slow pace. Sanderson (star of SEVEN Boll films) is unrecognizable as Seed and this is mostly because he wears a sack on his head and says maybe one thing for the entire 90-minute running time. I don’t recall Sanderson being as bulky either. Boll’s attempt at a horror movie wallows in exploitation and prolonged torture. As always, he’s late to the party.
Seed is credited as bring solely written by Boll, and the man screws it all up within minutes. When it comes to horror movies there will always need to be a somewhat healthy suspension of disbelief but only up to a point. Every movie no matter the genre or internal logic will have a breaking point. Seed cruises through that breaking point alarmingly early. Through the use of newspaper clippings, Boll introduces us to the backstory of Mr. Seed (he uses newspaper clippings for 90 percent of all exposition, meaning someone at the police department has a big thing for scrapbooking). We are told that from 1973-1979, Seed killed an astounding, and numerologically convenient, 666 people in those six years. Just take a second and think that figure over. One person in a ratty cloth mask and overalls killed 666 people. Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacey weren’t even anywhere near that figure and they are highly prolific serial killers. Boll wanted to make his serial killer scary but he totally overcompensates and destroys any credibility the film could possibly attain. Why 666? There’s no way it’s a coincidence considering the pull of that number in our pop culture. Was that a target quota for Seed? Did he make a chart to know when he was falling behind?
The sheer magnitude of that number obliterates the facade of “reality” Boll wants to create in his movie. These cops have to be the worst investigative unit in history. Seriously, could they not tabulate any clues or patterns or habits of Seed after 665 murders? I think the FBI would have stepped in hundreds of unsolved murders ago. And yet Boll then shows again how staggeringly inept these local cops are. They find out Seed’s home, which is of course a dilapidated shack in the middle of nowhere. This naturally begs the question that Seed would have to venture out long distances to find so many victims, and yet no witnesses of any sort? But Boll ignores this and steamrolls ahead. What showcases the utter stupidity of these boys in blue is that they ride out in the middle of the night, into the middle of the woods, and decide to raid Seed’s house with only six officers. I’m sorry, but if any man killed 666 people with his own hands then you don’t plan on taking him down with a small unit of cops who have already proven to be inept. You bring in tanks.
The premise itself is deeply flawed and begging for mockery. Seed proposes that there is a law on the books that somehow mandates prisoners must be set free if you can’t kill them after three jolts from the electric chair. We’re talking 45 second long jolts of 15,000 volts of electricity frying your brain. Your heart will eventually explode with all that electricity. So how does this law truly work? Surely no one would actually abide by it or fear that the government would punish them for breaking this law? Seed never specifies where it takes place, though the vibe I get is more southern, and they love to kill people in the South, especially Texas. Did the electric company propose this three-strikes-and-you’re-alive policy as an incentive to inmates? Do low-income prisons have a higher turnaround rate? Does this law cover firing squads and hangings as well? A judge and jury have found Seed guilty and sentenced him to be executed. That judicial ruling is not absolved because an inmate could withstand a high degree of voltage. The premise turns an execution into a contest.
Most slasher movies involve a near superhuman antagonist, and Seed follows suit. He can attack and kill four prison guards who try to gang rape him in his cell (what part of 666 kills says, “please expose your penis near me”?). He can step on a prison guard’s forearm and crush it so that it looks like a swaying doll part. He can bust out of a coffin and dig himself out of a grave. Now I did some quick math and a 6 feet by 6 feet by 3 feet grave is 108 total cubic feet. The lightest dirt will weigh is 42 pounds per cubic foot. That means that Seed had 4536 pounds of force weighing down on him in that grave. Yet he was able to free himself and go on his rampage. If Seed is this indestructible force then it’s ridiculous that Pare could kick him a few times and the man went down during the police capture. Which is the worse screenwriting sin? Having Seed wiggle out of 4500 pounds of force or the fact that the prison guards did a lousy job of BURYING ALIVE a man who killed 666 people! Why would you ever bury this maniac alive?! That seems hardly definitive. Common sense begs cutting off the man’s head just to be certain.
When it comes to horror movies, building an atmosphere is essential but there’s a notable difference between building dread and simply killing time. Boll does not know this difference. Seed doesn’t even get placed on the electric chair until 46 minutes in. The first 33 minutes of the movie is pointless because it retells Seed’s capture via a flashback while he sits on death row. Watching Seed finally get captured isn’t really important to the story, and a good half of that misspent time is simply gross and grainy home videos. Seed sends videotapes to the police to taunt them. The tapes are shot in a dungeon-like location and involve living creatures rotting thanks to the miracles of time-lapse photography. Naturally this raises two quibbles: 1) No one had personal video recording devices in the mid 1970s, let alone a maniac living in the middle of nowhere, and 2) watching dogs and babies die of dehydration and then decompose to ash means that these video projects took many weeks to accomplish. That’s a lot of time. Boll spends five plus minutes of screen time just showing these grainy snuff videos with the police recoiling. Perhaps the extent of their investigation was watching these gross videos and making faces. How many videos do the police have from Seed? It seems like Seed’s version of the fruit of the month club.
But getting back to misspent time, Boll thinks just holding onto a shot and not cutting makes it scary or tense. It doesn’t. I don’t need nearly two minutes uninterrupted of watching guards fiddle with Seed’s chains as they try and latch him into the electric chair. I don’t need almost a minute of one shot panning around a boat departing the prison isle. I don’t need nearly two uninterrupted minutes of watching the prison doctor’s bedtime rituals before he eventually gets murdered. I especially don’t need over five uninterrupted minutes of watching Seed hit a woman in the head with a mallet. I’m not being facetious when I tell you that he literally hits her 40 times until her head is purified into a bloody stump of a neck. Seed literally paints the walls with this old woman’s blood (how did this genius not get caught?). The soundtrack soars to laughable heights and the scene just goes on and on, figuratively bludgeoning the audience as well. Boll believes that just holding onto a moment of depravity makes it sinister. It doesn’t when there’s no audience connection whatsoever to the tired material. Boll does craft one nicely tense sequence where Pare and the cops capture Seed. There’s a moment when one officer is tiptoeing through the basement of Seed’s home and the only source of light is the flicker of the police siren. It’s visually appealing and works to create tension as well. But this moment is short-lived. I’ll never know how a burly guy can see through a cloth mask in the dark and sneak around in a dilapidated home filled with crap covered in tetanus.
It may be hard to notice for some, but Uwe Boll is actually improving as a filmmaker, at least from a technical standard. Seed looks like an actual movie. Seed is grisly and nihilistic and futile. The killer is a bore and the story is poorly structured, taking far too long to get Seed in the ground and wrecking havoc. Boll’s screenwriting shortcomings are fully evident as he strings together genre clichés and ridiculous plot points that obliterate credibility. He grasps at making statements about the human capacity for cruelty. Well I didn’t need a Uwe Boll movie to educate me on man’s inhumanity to man, especially one this shoddy and empty. This movie isn’t even entertaining; it’s a chore to sit through. This is the first Boll movie that I sat just waiting for it to be over. There is no reason to watch this thing. During the extended scenes of video watching by the police, one of the cops watches a baby decompose and replies, “Sick bastard.” I think Boll was projecting here. And I didn’t need footage of animals being slaughtered to reach that conclusion either.
Nate’s Grade: D-
Rated R, 92 min.
Famously detested film director Uwe Boll finally tackles a subject that many film fans, and video game aficionados, felt he could possibly be the harbinger for – the apocalypse. Yes, in our apocalypse-drenched times with the bottoms falling out of economic markets and civil unrest, it was only a matter of time before Boll decided to put his unique German stamp on the end of the world. Usually we associate a feeling of dread with the apocalypse, akin to the feeling of dread whenever somebody turns on a Boll movie. Except Boll’s apocalyptic entry, The Final Storm, is a direct-to-DVD oddity that actually works for a while but ultimately fails like other Boll movies. But here’s the funny thing – it’s not Boll’s fault.
Tom (Steve Bacic) and Gillian Grady (Lauren Holly) ditched their big city lives to raise live on a farm out in the country. The TV is filled with apocalyptic flair: riots, fires, strange weather, radiation leaks, power outages, etc. Over the night, a ferocious storm knocks out the family’s power. Their dog runs off into the night and a mysterious stranger collapses on their doorstep. Silas (Luke Perry) says his family used to live on the Grady farm, but he can’t remember much else. Tom is convinced (somehow) that Silas is no good, whereas Tom’s wife is happy to accept a guest that will agree to do housework. When the Grady clan, plus Silas, enters into town they find it deserted. People seemed to have vanished overnight, except for the violent gang roaming the town. Silas, a man of faith, is pretty confidant that God’s Rapture is upon mankind, but Tom goes back into town once more to seek answers about the world and about Silas’ family past.
For a while there, The Final Storm actually presents a pair of intriguing mysteries that keep the mind occupied: 1) Who is Silas, and 2) What has happened to the outside world? The world has pretty much disappeared; neighbors are gone, the police station has half-drunk cups of coffee and half-eaten donuts. Tom keeps trying to find a rational explanation for what is happening, arguing that the empty town was evacuated as a precaution. But a precaution against what exactly? Something major is underway or has already taken place. Ever since the heavy storm, there have been no birds singing or circkets chirping, no real noises of any kind. Silas is pretty confidant that it’s the end of the world and says that all they have to do is “stack up the chairs and turn out the lights.” Boll places us in the family’s camp; we only know as much as the beleaguered family trying to make sense out of the unexplainable. Canadian screenwriter Tim McGregor (Bitten) is telling a worldly event from a small perspective, trying to personalize the apocalypse. There are no big special effects sequences a la 2012 where the earth swallows cities whole. There is only uncertainty and an overall dread that something is coming but must be waited for. It’s an unsettling thought and played out with enough Twilight Zone –level ambiguity to keep the audience guessing and sticking around for answers.
A general complaint is that nobody seems to react about, you know, the End of Days. Animals and people disappeared over night. Certain townspeople are left behind. Why? Why were others taken and others not? How exactly does that one get explained (in the Left Behind movies, they comically tried to explain the Rapture as “radiation”)? The only one who shows any sign of concern is Gillian, probably because she’s slotted into the thriller female role and thus needs to express concern and eventually need saving. Tom is too preoccupied with his paranoia over Silas, and Silas is supposed to be mysterious so he reacts like he always knew the apocalypse was right around the corner. Even Graham (Cole Heppell), the Grady’s son, seems to be more concerned with his missing dog than the end of all existence. If only everybody was this blasé about the End of Days.
But then there’s that other mystery. Silas shows up at the Grady family home the night of the intense thunderstorm. He says he can’t recall how he got there, per se, and his body is covered in Biblical tattoos. Silas also appears to have some sort of insight into what’s happening in the world. He even tells Graham that his dog, which ran away during the storm, is dead. He’s so certain and preoccupied with making a nice grave marker for the dog that I almost started guessing that Silas was the dead dog incarnate. Seriously, the movie really tries hard to present the illusion that Silas has some sort of ephemeral connection to what is happening, some sort of understanding that goes beyond knowledge of Scripture.
And then the last 20 minutes of the movie reveal that Silas is … (spoiler alert) just some dude who killed his dad and escaped from prison. The Grady home is Silas’ old family home. So the guy who Tom kept saying was dangerous, who showed no real signs of being unbalanced or anything other than courtly and helpful, is revealed to be your standard killer on the loose. This is where The Final Storm utterly falls apart. These characters should be reacting with more alarm about the end of the world. Perhaps McGregor was trying to illustrate how extreme situations affect us, and how jealousy and paranoia can take hold as a means of comfort and survival. But I don’t buy that. First off, it rewards Tom for his unchecked paranoia that had no basis in reality. Silas fixes the roof, helps fend off attackers in town, and chops wood, but it all just makes Tom angry. The last 20 minutes is Silas fully embracing his villainy, the stuff that didn’t show any previous signs of existing. Silas is one big red herring and the movie shifts gears so quickly and absurdly to fit in “super able killer terrorizes family clan” mode. Silas gets frisky with Gillian, asking her to bring in hot water for his bath while he’s in the tub (it’s like an Amish Body Heat). Then he goes full crazy and tries to hand Tom in a tree. Eventually, Silas is set on fire and stabbed with a pitchfork. Then the family stares into the sky and watches as stars get blotted out and the universe collapses. Where is the connection to the apocalypse? The two storylines don’t seem to mix when there is no greater connection. It feels like an ordinary “dangerous drifter” story weirdly set against the backdrop of the apocalypse. Why connect these stories if there is no relevancy, McGregor? It seems like an awfully big waste of time.
Luke Perry (TV’s first Beverly Hills 90210) and Lauren Holly (Dumb and Dumber) don’t seem too shocking to star in a Boll movie when you remind yourself that this isn’t 1996 and neither star has exactly been in high demand since their zeniths. That’s the Boll casting way: catch a falling star. Perry is actually pretty good. He has this serene nature to him that regrettably makes him seem knowledgeable, until you realize that his secret he’s hiding is mundane. He has a slight creepiness brought out through his serenity, but then he gives in fully to malice when his character indulges the dark side. Holly’s character is mostly the worried mother figure, the concerned type who widens her eyes and dribbles her lips to denote said worry. There’s little else to her character, though McGregor tries to come up with some weak back-story. Holly goes in and out of a Southern accent but is generally decent at being wary. What is perhaps the most perplexing is that Holly agrees to get naked for a Uwe Boll movie. She takes off her shirt during the first of two eventual sex scenes with her husband (the second one seems even more dubious against the backdrop of the apocalypse). Holly has done nudity before on screen, but I think this was her first chance to show off the work she’s gotten done to her upper torso (check out 1993’s Enter the Dragon to compare the difference). Anyway, it’s a point of excitement for any NCIS fans out there that can still feel something below the waist.
As for Boll, this is one movie that I can honestly say is not his fault. His direction doesn’t exactly elevate the material but at the same time he doesn’t get in the way of the mysteries. I was genuinely interested in discovering what has happened. I figured a religious explanation was going to be the climax, especially after we witness a blood-red moon. But it’s not Boll’s fault that the movie collapses at the end when it feels the need to endanger the family by cribbing from slasher movie rules. Boll’s direction is fairly invisible, though a few shots seem to go on much longer than necessary. The entire production feels like a TV-movie just with a few more naughty words. I feel like Boll is getting a better command of how to direct actors because Holly, Perry, and Bacic (TV’s Big Love), who actually is the best actor of the bunch, all give decent if underwhelming performances. But it wouldn’t be a Boll movie without some form of imitation. I think McGregor and Boll were trying to create their own version of Cormac McCarthy’s widely revered, The Road. There’s an unidentifiable apocalypse, a father and son, roaming bands of desperate gangs, and the general unease of futility creeping up. Too bad that Boll’s movie
The Final Storm isn’t necessarily a good movie by most standards but by Boll’s standards it rises to the top of the junk heap. The supernatural apocalyptic mystery is clearly the most interesting aspect, far more interesting than Silas becoming your standard movie maniac terrorizing a family. Has he no consideration? It’s the end of the world, man. Leave land squabbles for the day after the apocalypse. This unrelated side story pretty much derails the movie during the last act, jettisoning the apocalypse for lousy thriller fare. Boll’s direction lets the story play out to its potential and we feel the pull of the mystery, the longing for discovery and answers, and then the answers end up being far less than satisfying. The Final Storm is probably a little too slow for its own good, which furthers my hypothesis that McGregor had half a story about a crazy drifter and thought, “Well, I can’t finish this. I’ll throw together some end of the world stuff and call it a day.” Boll seems to be advancing as a director; the last few movies have become more capable. This is the first of his thirteen movies (and counting) that I’ve reviewed that I can say, without a hint of seething irony, that this movie sucks and it’s not Boll’s fault. Of course, you’re still left with a movie that sucks.
Nate’s Grade: C
Rated R, 91 min.
Until recently, it would have been unthinkable to associate Uwe Boll with the idea of social activist. This is the same man who has caused people so much pain and with his movies, ranging from bad to ridiculously bad to “You cannot unsee what you have seen” bad. The German director who has caused so many film and video game fans suffering seemed an unlikely candidate to seriously explore the suffering of others. And yet Boll’s heart grew three sizes and he directed a slate of movies with a social conscience. His movie about the genocide in Darfur is still circling around, awaiting a release date, but let me stop to remind you that Uwe Freaking Boll directed a movie about a topical humanitarian crisis. This is akin to… Eli Roth directing an Edith Wharton adaptation (“From the director of Cabin Fever comes … Ethan Frome!”). It just doesn’t seem like an organic pairing. Boll is used to blood and boobs (both of the mammary kind and of the idiot variety), not social relevancy. You don’t expect an exploitation filmmaker to shine a light on exploitation. While we await his Darfur movie, in the meantime is Stoic, a quick and cheap movie about three prison inmates (Edward Furlong, Sam Levinson, Steffen Mennekes) brutalizing their cellmate, Mitch (Shaun Sipos) when a bet goes wrong. It’s based on a true story from a German juvenile detention center, or so we’re told.
So what kind of movie is Stoic, actually? Well, for starters it’s an uncomfortable one. The movie aims to show the capability of human cruelty and how easy it is to become compliant within a group, to go along with the flow despite some murky moral hazards. The three cellmates end up kick starting a cycle of violence, each trying to top the last so as not to appear weak or to damage ego. Can this cycle of cruelty be stopped? The dehumanization leads to some rather brutal and disgusting acts of violence and degradation including forcing Mitch to eat his own vomit, dumping urine on the guy’s face, raping him, and sodomizing him with a broom handle (“Just curiosity, I guess,” explains one of his attackers). Despite all this, there are actual moments of restraint on Boll’s part, particularly during the rape sequence. The audio drops out, the edits become jump cuts stuttering ahead through time, and I thought perhaps Boll was maturing. Needless to say this thought was torpedoed a tad when Boll later showcased the inmates rubbing the bloody broom handle over Mitch’s unconscious mouth. Stoic is essentially a torture movie; it’s 80 minutes of literal torture with some extra psychological justification tagged along for safe measure.
Where Stoic comes into issue is whether or not it possesses any merits to justify watching 80-some minutes or torture. The movie doesn’t offer much in the way of psychological insights or rich characters. Watching people become increasingly hurtful is not the same as exploring the habits that make such escalating acts of barbarity occur. Boll and the actors pound us with the message that we’re in prison and prison has its own operating system and everybody jockeys for position; Peter (Levinson) repeatedly tells us that he feels sorry but felt he had to participate or else they’d turn on him. It’s all about having somebody weaker to take the fall. I’ll give Boll credit that the amplification of events seems plausible given the circumstances, to the point that the three guys have come to the conclusion that there will be serious consequences for their actions unless they convince Mitch to go along with a fake suicide. The movie maintains believability even as things get more and more out of hand, which is commendable. But what isn’t commendable is that there seems little reason for Stoic to exist. Normatively the movie is simple: three guys pick on another guy. The characters are all slight variations of one another based upon the level to process guilt and deception. During the interviews, we’re given fleeting glimpses at denial and coping mechanisms, mainly lying (“I would’ve remembered something like that.”) to self-rationalization (“I kept saying to myself, ‘As long as it’s not me.’”). There aren’t many insights to be gleaned from the brief interviews, which serve as commentary.
Boll decided to make Stoic his Mike Leigh film, meaning that he had the basic outline of a story and told his actors to run with it while he filmed them. There was no script and all the dialogue was completely improvised. This does allow Stoic to maintain a naturalistic feel, however, it also means that the actors are beholden to tough guy clichés. The dialogue, particularly during the interrogation scenes, keeps falling back to a “you don’t know what’s it’s like, man!” mantra. Here are some examples of bland dialogue that the actors came up with:
“What choice did I have?”
“You’re either with them or against them.”
“What don’t you understand? If I didn’t seem like I was apart of it, they’d kill me.”
“I had no choice. They forced me.”
“I want to lie because I don’t want to be that person.”
“I felt like there was no way out.”
And because you knew it had to happen:
“I’m just as bad as the two of them because I didn’t do anything to stop it.”
You’ll note that most of these dialogue examples belong to the Peter, the chattiest and most remorseful interviewee. Improvisation has its virtues but it can also lead to actors falling back on stuff they’ve seen in countless other genre examples, which means that the banal, cliché dialogue all gets stirred together one more time.
In defense of Stoic, it may prove to be Boll’s finest directorial effort yet. The handheld camera, sharp edits, and close angles copy the Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Ultimatum, United 93) style of visuals, and yet the docu-drama copy works. The visual aesthetic improves the quality of the film and allows Boll many opportunities for interesting compositions and smart stylistic decisions with the economical space of the set. The interviews are shot as one static camera shot to contrast with the shaky, reactionary movement from within the cell. It may not be an original style, but then again Boll seems to adopt (some might say rip-off) a new style with every film. For Stoic, Boll’s direction makes you feel in the middle of these awful incidents, and the pain feels even more real.
But is there any reason to really watch Stoic? The acting is mostly good, and maybe fans of Edward Furlong would like to see what he’s been up to since 1998’s Pecker and American History X. Perhaps the declaration of “Boll’s best directorial effort” will appeal to maybe six or seven curious, and questionably masochistic, film fans. Due to Boll’s German background, I can’t help but wonder if his country’s history influenced him to try a narrative experiment hat explores how easy it is to go along with something awful, how difficult it is to make a moral stand against the grain, and how easily circumstances can find momentum and get out of control. I wonder if Stoic is Boll’s personal act of penance, of trying to understand a nation’s actions (and inaction) and working through a lingering shroud of shame. Then again, I may be reading way more into this movie than was ever intended. It could have just been a lark for a quick buck/deutschmark. Stoic is a mildly interesting little filmic experiment from Boll. Due to its narrative simplicity and limited characterization, it can’t offer much more than another voyeuristic slideshow of human degradation.
Nate’s Grade: C
Part Five: Boll’s Message Movies
Tunnel Rats (2009): Michael Paré, Wilson Bethel, Mitch Eakins, Erik Eidem, Nate Parker
Rated R, 96 min.
Uwe Boll does a Vietnam War film? It certainly sounds like a recipe for profound disaster. In 1968, as the intrusive prefix to the title tells us, the U.S. military had a unit of soldiers with the special mission to discover and infiltrate the miles-long underground tunnels by the Viet Cong. These “tunnel rats” were tasked with clearing out these deadly and cavernous mazes, where the Viet Cong ate, slept, and even walled up their dead within. Sergeant Vic Hollowborn (Michael Pare, who else?) heads the unit and has to shape up the new recruits into formidable fighters. Hollowborn lectures his young men on the dangers of “Charlie” and even orders them to execute an enemy prisoner. “Charlie’s gonna kill you just for being here,” he warns. “He doesn’t care if you’re a nice guy.” This nugget of wisdom is proven true over the 90-minutes of the film. The Tunnel Rats unit finds a new tunnel and this discovery eventually leads to the camp being decimated over the course of one hellish night in Vietnam.
When the action goes underground is when the movie gets, remarkably, pretty good. The labyrinthine tunnels dug out by the Viet Cong is an incredibly interesting subject that no Vietnam film has yet to cover with any substantial attention. Did you know that the Viet Cong could smell the smoke or aftershave of a man in those tunnels? They can even tell the brand of cigarette supposedly. Boll’s movie fails to take full advantage of its intriguing wartime setting. I wanted to know more about the particulars of the duties entrusted to the Tunnel Rats, a real unit of the armed forces with a high mortality rate. I wanted to know about the incredible construction of these tunnels and the dangers they posed to the U.S. armed forces. I wanted to know about the day-to-day lives of men who specialize in the tunnels, and I really wanted to learn about the unique minutia of hand-to-hand combat within such confined space. Fighting for your life in such limited space, now that’s interesting stuff.
While Boll’s war movie fails to explore the tunnel setting in detail, Tunnel Rats has its fair share of quality suspense, mostly thanks to the claustrophobic quarters. It’s hard to make such limited space exciting for so long, but Boll manages to crank up the tension by pressing in on his actors. Watching the soldiers crawl on their hands and knees, possibly for miles, never knowing what trap might be in wait, well it makes for some intense feeling of dread. There are two standout scenes involved in the tunnels. The first involves a soldier that discovers a tautly wound tripwire leading to a grenade. Boll carefully follows the soldier steadily try to diffuse the booby trap and it almost reaches a nerve-wracking sense of unease. The second standout scene involves a solider that killed a Viet Cong member in the tunnel. The U.S. soldier has to use a simple knife to pulverize the corpse of the Viet Cong member just so he has enough room to pass by inside the tunnel. The scene is shot in tight close-ups as we watch the sickening repetitive motions of the soldier doing his best and bloodiest work just to move on by. It’s harrowing and empathetic. The above ground stuff has all the requisite chaotic explosions and soldiers being gunned down, but it’s the action underground that is surprisingly steady and consistently well designed.
The cinematography by Boll regular Mathias Neumann is a great strength. It takes a page out of Janusz Kaminski’s playbook, Spielberg’s long-time cinematographer, by layering in streams of milky light. The colors are muted and the camerawork is mostly handheld. Sure the visual aesthetic is a tad derivative (it made me wonder if Boll rented Tigerland before filming) but it’s a fairly good copy. The South African location shoot makes for a pleasing facsimile of Vietnam. Neumann also finds new and interesting ways to film the tunnels so that the setting doesn’t lose any of its unsettling power. Watching soldiers crawl along the inky blackness with but a flimsy flashlight provides for some spooky imagery that doesn’t even have to resort to cheap scare tactics. However, there are far too many spinning low-angle shots that do little more than stare at the tree canopies above. It’s like the cameraman is in the constant process of nearly passing out.
The war as hell metaphor is familiar and potent, but Tunnel Rats lacks a deeper message. The film wallows in war clichés, particularly in its opening 20 minutes. The bland stock soldiers are interchangeable. They wax philosophically about the nature of God and war, talk about their hopes and dreams back home, and recount stories about laying under the stars and enjoying mom’s home cookin’. They bond, they share pictures of their respective sweethearts, and then they naturally meet a grisly end. One newbie even asks, in all seriousness, “You ever get scared out there?” The dialogue is pretty lousy and rife with clichés. The movie isn’t too subtle with some of its metaphors either, like when a Viet Cong woman literally tries washing the blood off her hands after executing a U.S. soldier. While the film is clearly told from the perspective of American soldiers, and the Viet Cong are antagonists, Boll takes time to show fairness to the enemy. One female warrior (Jane Le) fights to protect her young children. Another Viet Cong soldier fights to avenge the honor of a woman who was raped by American troops. The only message that appears to emerge from the movie occurs in the final minutes, when Boll seems to cram in a heavy-handed attempt at moralizing, a “we’re in this together, folks” kind of message that involves nearly four minutes of uninterrupted digging. But then Boll subverts that message and kills it, ending the film with the same sense of hopelessness. Tunnel Rats doesn’t bother to explore human insights and the nature of war and feels decidedly minor, following one all-out skirmish on one day of the Vietnam War. I wish Boll realized the potential his narrative had, which is not something you’ll likely often see me write. Tunnel Rats seems to be too content to be an effective horror movie dressed up as a war flick.
What is it about war movies that seem to excuse exploitation? It seems that a filmmaker can showcase tremendous gore and horrific bloody violence when they can cloak the material under the illusion of being true to life. Somehow filmmakers believe that wallowing in blood and guts is honoring the valor of those who served. This can be true, like the opening onslaught of Saving Private Ryan. But this can also be rubbish. War films can be just as exploitative as any other genre of film. Tunnel Rats has just as gruesome violence as Boll’s other horror movies, but because it has a war setting does not automatically give the violence and gore more integrity or meaning.
Tunnel Rats is a resounding achievement for the talents of Uwe Boll. It cannot even be passive-aggressively complimented as being “competent.” No, this is actually a halfway good movie that has some unsettling moments amid the suspense and chaos. The underground tunnel sequences manage to find an eerie intensity and are the best part about the movie. Thankfully Boll seems to realize this, which is why a majority of the movie alternates between various soldiers finding their way amongst the underground maze. The acting is actually some of the strongest yet in a Boll movie. Tunnel Rats would have greatly benefited from more attention being spent on the details of the life of a tunnel rat (it seems like a suicide mission). The movie never really feels fully realistic but at the same time it eschews being campy. It’s not as nearly as serious and artistically daring as the pinnacle Vietnam War flicks, but then again the movie is also better than plenty of other recent war films that have the tendency to either be jingoistic or fetishize the brutality of war.
In a twist of fate, Boll is actually developing a first-person shooter video game based upon his Tunnel Rats movie. The man who takes video game properties and makes crummy movies out of them has now made a decent-to-somewhat-good movie and developed a video game from it. Now it’s only a matter of time before Boll adapts the game into another crummy movie.
Nate’s Grade: B-
Rampage (2009):Brendan Fletcher, Shaun Sipos, Matt Frewer, Michael Paré, Lynda Boyd
Rated R, 85 min.
When I heard that Uwe Boll was writing and directing a movie called Rampage, my thoughts immediately went to the 1980s arcade game of the same name. In the game you played as one of various classic movie monsters, like King Kong or Godzilla, and the mission was to obliterate a city building by building and avoid the military forces trying to take you down. At first I thought there was no way that Boll could raise a budget big enough for a giant monster movie, then I paid closer attention to Boll’s Rampage and discovered it only had one cost-effective monster – man. Boll’s film revolves around a single man massacring a small town. Most surprising of all, Rampage is actually earning Boll a full slate of positive reviews. Critics have mostly taken a shine to this violent shoot-em-up, going so far as to call it Boll’s best film to date. I suppose Boll’s recent upgrade in ability he showcased with Stoic and The Final Storm raised my expectations that the prospect of a “good Uwe Boll movie” is actually a concept not just in the theoretical realms any longer. It could happen. I can honestly say, though, that Rampage is not it.
Bill Williamson (Brendan Fletcher) is just a regular dude living at home with his parents and bouncing from dead-end job to dead-end job. That’s all about to change. Bill seems to have taken a cue from his friend Evan (Shaun Sipos), who has advocated radical measures be taken to make the world a better place. Bill has been building a bundle of arms and body armor for one mission – to kill as many people as possible in a day.
I think the movie’s main weakness is that it’s too insular. We can never free ourselves from Bill Williamson’s head (really, Boll? William Williamson? Are you even trying?). I understand that Boll tries to drop us into the psychosis of a seemingly ordinary 23-year-old burnout that snaps. To that end, Boll effectively fills the background with an mélange of chatter; short news radio bursts are strung together noting the global ails. It feels like an actual peak into the anxiety-riddled skull of the main character. But this guy just isn’t that interesting. We’re never given any real insight into his thought process because Boll holds back whatever Bill really thinks until the very end, which means for the majority of the movie we’re just watching a nut in body armor. A far majority of the movie is tagging along on Bill’s killing spree, watching person after person gunned down. Is this entertainment and for whom?
Boll assembles a better thesis about what makes people grab guns and lash out than he did in 2003’s school shooter opus, Heart of America, which also starred Fletcher as a chief bully. But that doesn’t mean that the pieces fit together any better. Bill’s rationale is that the world is overpopulated and could use a good pruning. So everybody goes. This is a pretty weak justification, especially when you consider that he’s slaughtering the denizens of a SMALL TOWN who has plenty of room for growth. Will purposely goes out of his way to gun down the servers who irritated him the day before, thus he seeks vengeance not ideological purity. Boll at least switches spree motivations late into something a tad more consumerist, but by then it’s too late. We need outside perspectives for this story to become more than a horror highlight reel of death. This movie could have worked from a Falling Down-esque narrative divided between the man on the rampage and the man in hot pursuit. That dynamic would provide for more thrills as well as a natural good guy and bad guy designation. But Boll doesn’t want any such designation. He wants us to be uncomfortable from beginning to end, to empathize with Bill early on and become horrified about what this says about all of us. A radio broadcaster says, without a hint of irony: “I don’t know how this could happen here or anywhere?” You’re uncomfortable but not because of what Bill is doing. You never empathize with the guy because he’s a loser and pretty hotheaded. It’s because the movie is bereft of commentary that makes it uncomfortable because then the violence becomes celebratory.
Rampage is set in a small town for some sort of ham-handed message about the unpredictability of violence, but could something of this magnitude truly go down in today’s technologically saturated world (for extra sledgehammer irony, the town is called Tenderville)? I will even give some leeway that a small town has a limited number of police officers and Bill blows up the police station as his first goal, but then where are all the neighboring cops? When we live in a world where everybody owns a cell phone, and every cell phone owner is an amateur journalist, it’s somewhat preposterous that news of this magnitude would remain so isolated for so long. As soon as a crazy guy walked down the center of town and started murdering everybody, you better believe that CNN would have some cell phone video up in a manner of minutes. Surely the barrage of 911 calls would have informed emergency technicians that the police station was bombed and the killer is still on the loose. Where are the neighboring communities’ police officers? Where are the helicopters? In the age of information, nobody seems able to communicate anything. And why do people have trouble locking and barricading their doors? As Bill goes window-shopping for victims all the store doors remain unlocked, allowing him easy access to blow away customers. If Rampage was set in a violence-torn area that had become eerily accustomed to the sound of gunfire then perhaps people’s initial indifference to gunfire could be explained. But remember, this is a small town for maximum intentional dramatic impact. They should be extremely responsive to the sound of continual gunfire. And these people should be packing too.
The scheme of Bill’s coalesces in the last ten minutes of the movie, attempting to offer clarity and advance the material. Beware gentle reader, spoilers will follow, but you’ve already come this far. In the end, Bill has planned his killing spree with the intent of framing his only friend, Evan. Bill has made sure all his mail-order purchases were delivered to Evan’s home, Evan is the one with the long YouTube rants about overpopulation and people standing up to make change, and Evan’s father is a former radical from the 1960s who justified violence in the name of good causes. Of course we only learn that last bit in the film’s closing seconds because why would something like that be relevant to know beforehand, right? Bill meets his buddy in the woods for their scheduled paintball date, tazes the bastard, then stuffs a gun in Evan’s hand and has him pull the trigger to fulfill his role as patsy. The cops will think Evan has killed himself after being pursued into the woods. This is why Bill had to come back and brutally gun down an entire salon of women because he took his mask off and exposed his real face. Bill then disappears with the money.
As you expect, there are more holes to this plot than Swiss cheese. First off, there’s a noticeable height difference between Evan and Bill (Fletcher is only 5’4” tall). Take into account different boot sizes, massive amounts of security camera footage, the registration for the cars that Bill turned into suicide bombs, the fact that the stolen bank money would now be marked, an autopsy report that would discover the stun gun wound and the awkward position for the self-inflicted gunshot wound, and the eye witnesses that must have seen Bill roaming around his neighborhood head-to-toe in his armor, never mind the fact that a massacre of this size practically guarantees the FBI’s involvement, and you’ve got so many areas for this master plan to unravel. That’s probably why Rampage ends with a post-script informing us Bill took off and has yet to be caught because somehow he’s a criminal genius.
This is Fletcher’s (Freddy vs. Jason, HBO’s The Pacific) movie and he pretty much hides behind his character’s literal and figurative mask. It’s not too hard to glower and walk with purpose, which is what Bill does for most of the movie. He doesn’t come across as overtly threatening, which is probably the point, but nor does Fletcher ever show insight into Bill’s dark recesses. He just seems like an irritable child with guns who wants to settle some scores from a bruised ego. Fletcher has acting ability but his assimilation into the Boll Community Players should worry anybody who wants to see that ability again (four Boll films and counting). Curiously, Katherine Isabelle, the star of the clever teen-girl-werewolf Canadian horror series Ginger Snaps, has a near cameo appearance as one of the salon workers who gets murdered. Having an actress like her play such a small character with brief screen time seems bizarre. Maybe Fletcher, as the film’s co-producer, called in a favor from his Freddy vs. Jason co-star. And for those keeping score, there is a Michael Pare appearance, Boll’s lucky charm.
Boll’s direction pretty much gets swallowed whole by the void of his main character. Every decision seems made to suit some kind of allegorical message that never seems to materialize. The camerawork is self-consciously shaky; there’s no reason a simple family conversation over the breakfast table should look like a 9.8 earthquake is going on simultaneously. The film also has the annoying habit of jumping forwards and backwards in time for split-second edits. I couldn’t tell if these flash edits were mere foreshadowing peaks at what was to come, trying to sate a bloodthirsty audience getting antsy, or if they were small fantasies playing out inside Bill’s head, showing his violent tendencies and delicate hold on reality. Well, they were just previews for the main attraction, which makes their use hard to fathom. If Boll wanted an audience to be shocked by what was to come, why give them previews? The film would have worked better without the non-linear quirks. Boll makes sure his camera is never far away from
Bill, and during stretches the camera is pinned on Bill’s face as he huffs and puffs and kills people off screen. It’s Boll’s one somewhat interesting moment of artistic restraint. Boll is improving as an action director in certain regards. Rampage has some nice stunt work and some pretty well executed explosions.
Don’t believe the steady stream of good press for Rampage. I never thought I’d have an opportunity to write these words … but Uwe Boll’s Rampage does not live up to the hype. It is not Boll’s first successful movie; I’d argue that his Vietnam movie Tunnel Rats came much closer to being a good and entertaining movie. Rampage is a rather empty vehicle to watch innocents get massacred. It lacks subtext and commentary so the violence becomes gratuitous and meaningless, which is much more uncomfortable than anything Boll intends with his narrative. Obviously, Boll has modeled his story after recent incidents like the Virginia Tech gunman in 2007. Sadly, there is no shortage of crazed gunman stories in the news to pick from. If Boll attempted to squeeze some subtext into the various proceedings, satirizing the sensationalistic media turning people into fragile, potentially lethal time bombs, or perhaps even the allure of fame through whatever costs, even the most infamous, then maybe watching countless people get shot would at least offer some meaning. I wasn’t expecting a Funny Games level of dissecting violence and voyeurism and the participation of the viewer, but I expected more than watching a dude in a suit of armor kill fleeing civilians for an hour. If that’s your idea of entertainment then perhaps you should go play a video game that rewards such behavior. Don’t worry; it’s only a matter of time before Boll transforms that into a movie next.
Nate’s Grade: C-
Attack on Darfur (2009): David O’Hara, Kristanna Loken, Billy Zane, Hakeem Kae-Kazim, Edward Furlong
Rated R, 98 min.
The idea of a filmmaker of Uwe Boll’s caliber tackling a subject like contemporary genocide seems like an artistic stretch. The man is mostly known for the poorly made, poorly received video game adaptations. It would be like the Wayans brothers making a stirring expose on supply side economics. The topic just seems far beyond their purview. I mean, maybe if somebody created some Darfur video game I might start thinking of Boll circling the project. Apparently, the despised German filmmaker had something Important to Say About Society. Attack on Darfur (or Darfur in some listings) is a well-intentioned cry for justice for a conflict often ignored by Western media. It’s a disturbing and grueling experience; however, the shortcomings of the script hinder the impact of the film and its crusading message. It ends up being a message movie subsumed by its message.
The Darfur region in southern Sudan has been the site of great atrocities. Thousands of people have been injured, raped, killed, and displaced. It is an ongoing civil war pitting Arabs against black Africans. The Sudanese government has been accused of working with death squads and militias, particularly the Janjaweed group. The Sundan government and the rebel groups formed a ceasefire after intense international pressure. But those in the Darfur region still report violent raids. The United Nations has dispatched a group of journalists to investigate a village for evidence that the ceasefire has been breached. Along the way are reporters (Billy Zane, Kristanna Loken, David O’Hara), a photographer (Edward Furlong), a cameraman (Matt Frewer), and others. Shortly after departing the village they can see the Janjaweed approaching in the distance. If they continue to leave then the village will most certainly be slaughtered. If they stay, perhaps they can avoid a bloodbath due to the presence of Western media. Some will go back to help fight for the condemned village and lay their lives on the line.
Attack on Darfur is Boll’s attempt to be a serious filmmaker. He’s targeted a serious issue and he’s going to give it serious attention. And he does, mostly. The first half of the movie is almost entirely expository, attempting to educate an audience ignorant to the depths of the genocide. The film even ends on a post-script lecturing us that because action has not taken place that the world has learned nothing. It’s easy to see Boll had some very good intentions with his film, and it follows an Edward Zwick path of preaching. Except while Zwick buries his lessons in easily digestible action. Boll doesn’t bury his message. His message is all you will get for 90 minutes. The opening focuses on many establishing shots of village life, and it’s truly amazing that the film doesn’t condescend or pander. Attack on Darfur feels authentic without having to ratchet up the differences with Western culture. Well, it tips into that territory when Loken hands out deflated balloons to the village kids as a treat. The problem is that all those horror stories end up blurring together, which is a horrible statement. This is because during this 40-minute chunk of exposition, Boll doesn’t fully educate about the conflict. All we know is that one group is getting treated really really badly. We don’t know about the people’s history, about the intricacies of the conflict, or the particulars of who belongs to what.
When the massacre is unleashed Boll doesn’t hold anything back. We witness mass murder, rape, baby smashing, baby impaling, baby slicing, child burning, and, oh, more rape. It’s a harrowing montage of death and destruction and dehumanization. It’s hard to watch, and that’s exactly the point. Boll overwhelms with the emotional appeals, trying to raise people’s collective sense of outrage. People are lined up and executed. Kids are locked into a hut and then the hut is burned to the ground. Nobody escapes this hellish nightmare. At last, Boll is utilizing commentary with his displays of exploitative violence. However, because of the lengths of degradation, it’s hard to even the scales from a storytelling standpoint. The leader of the Janjaweed militia (Sammy Sheik, Charlie Wilson’s War) is a way to put a manageable face to a problem too difficult to fix. It introduces a villain that can be vanquished so there’s some small sense of satisfaction by the time the movie draws to a close. We yearn for somebody to right these egregious wrongs, and that’s who our white journalist characters are supposed to be. I don’t exactly know what their plan is considering three head back to save the village and two of them have minimal to no experience with firearms. Three guys with guns vs. much more than three guys with guns? It’s even more confusing when our journalists-turned-gunmen stick with their handguns. They fail to grab the automatic weapons from the bad guys they kill, and naturally they run out of ammo when they need it most. While the third act produces some minor level of satisfaction as the bad guys are picked off here and there, we all know where this is headed; there will be no happy ending because that would disrupt the Message.
In the end, despite all the good intentions and horrific displays of violence, I’m left wondering why this story needed to be told? I’m not talking about the backdrop of the Darfur genocide, which clearly needs more attention. But what about this story did Boll and co-writer Chris Roland deem worthy of being their vehicle to garner attention to a worthy cause? The structure follows a very Edward Zwick approach; we’re introduced to the moral atrocity and then expected to stand up and make a difference. The first 40 minutes of Attack on Darfur is nothing but characters holding a microphone. That is the only purpose for the majority of our above-the-title recognizable faces. They are mic holders, and perhaps that’s a metaphor for the film as a whole but I doubt Boll has thought that deeply. We’re treated to extensive montages of village life and the testimonials from actual survivors of genocide (a nice touch by Boll). But what purpose do all of these characters serve if only THREE go back to fight against the Janjaweed? Billy Zane (Titanic, Bloodrayne), Edward Furlong (T2, Stoic), Matt Frewer (Dawn of the Dead, Rampage), and Kristanna Loken (Terminator 3, In the Name of the King)? They all stay in the car.
Completely ignore the poster/DVD cover art. Judging from that artwork, you would think very differently about where the story will head. With Zane front and center, sporting sunglasses and an automatic weapon, you’d naturally think Zane is going to lead a team to defend the victimized. And the bottom half of the artwork contains men in combat armor and attack helicopters looming overhead. But then would you ever guess that those same steely looks and explosions add up to… the advertised thespians sitting in a car looking glum? Their role is to serve as the shocked white faces of anguished reaction so we can truly know how bad things are, because otherwise how would we even know?
Boll is definitely trending upwards in his directing abilities. It’s not leaps and bounds but progress is unquestionably being made from the days of House of the Dead. He seems to be aping the visual aesthetic of a different artist with every film. Due to the true-life nature of the genocide it’s no surprise that Boll makes use of the Paul Greengrass (United 93) docu-drama approach: quick edits, swishy camerawork, and extreme close-ups angling to keep the actors faces inside the frame. This visual aesthetic works effectively during the chaos of the massacre, but it proves to be a distraction beforehand. There’s no reason that the edits have to be so choppy and the camerawork so self-consciously handheld when characters are just standing around talking. It also somehow manages to minimize the visual urgency of the ensuing massacre. The concluding shootouts are efficiently entertaining without packing any thrills. Boll’s command with actors has improved, though this might owe up to the fact that his last couple of his movies have been devoted entirely to improvised dialogue. Reportedly the actors created exhaustive research to study the habits of journalists and create elaborate back-stories for their characters. That’s nice. It’s also a gigantic waste of time considering the actors have little to do.
Attack on Darfur is a hard film to watch and a difficult one to justify beyond raising awareness. What’s the point of the movie’s story? Why introduce characters to only have them turn away when danger mounts? I understand Boll wants to communicate the frustration of the inaction to the Darfur genocide. He wants us to get angry when our U.N. peacekeepers keep to the line that they can do no more than observe. Boll wants to compel us to make sure what happens in Darfur will never happen again. Never forget. But this intent to shock and horrify overwhelms his narrative. The message becomes the movie and the characters just get pushed to the edges to make room for more atrocities. Boll would have served his message and his movie better by building a better story and devoting less time to his horrors.
Nate’s Grade: C+
Part Six: Back to the (Sequel) Well
Rated R, 79 min.
It took five years and three movies, but notorious film director Uwe Boll has finally gotten to the original time period of the Bloodrayne video game. The popular game concerns a lithe, redheaded half-vampiric lass killing nefarious Nazis in World War II. You would have thought that would make for a decent starting point. But Boll instead took his time, possibly always envisioning a trilogy to due the character and his storytelling ambition proper service. Or it was just a way to make more money. So after stops in 18th-century Romania and the Wild West, Rayne comes home, so to speak in Bloodrayne: The Third Reich. What if somebody was adapting the Grand Theft Auto franchise into a film and took Boll’s dawdling approach? The first film would probably start with horses and buggies.
Rayne (Natassia Malthe), our favorite dhampir, is back at slaying them dead. She teams up with Nathaniel (Brendan Fletcher) and his band of resistance fighters on the Eastern front. They rescue one train filled with prisoners and get into a shootout with Commandant Ekhart Brand (Michael Paré). But Rayne makes the unfortunate mistake of biting the Commandant before impaling the guy. She has unknowingly turned the Nazi officer into a vampire like her, one that can walk in daylight. You would think after 200 years of existence she would have a handle on this. The Commandant is educated in the ways of the vampire by a mad scientist, Dr. Mangler (Clint Howard), who enjoys torturing human and vampire alike for science. At one point the doc says, while slicing up a living body,” Vampires no longer have any bonds to the moral laws of man.” That seems like a pot/kettle situation to me. The Commandant assembles his own undead army of vampire soldiers. Rayne feels responsible for this ugly mess and vows to kill the Commandant again and to a satisfying degree of dead this time.
For a while, Bloodrayne III looks like it might be the best in the trilogy, admittedly a dubious honor. Despite all my misgivings, Bloodrayne III almost works on its own lowered-expectation exploitation genre level. Almost. The campy combination of Nazis and vampires is a wild premise, though hardly original, and should reap some ripe and schlocky exploitation entertainment. The locations in Croatia are terrific and add just enough authenticity for a story about a vampire lady killing Nazis. In fact one sequence plays like Boll’s take on Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, involving a tavern showdown where people play a tense game of secret identities. There are moments that work, little bursts of promise, but they get reaped all too quickly. Boll’s action choreography is sadly limited in scope and editing. He sticks too close to his characters, never allowing for complicated tussles or expanding the scope of the action. There are a few serviceable explosions, some minor gore effects, but Boll does nobody any favor when the action is too brief and brittle. Everything feels pared down so most of the fights involve minimal players and the sequences themselves mostly give way to redundant posturing.
The failings of Bloodrayne III are roughly the same failings that dogged Bloodrayne II: Boll does not embrace his film’s inherent cheesiness. I wrote about 2007’s Bloodrayne: Deliverance: “Boll seems uneasy about embracing its supernaturally campy potential. Bloodrayne II has little blood, zero gore, no nudity, no sex, and a pitifully scant amount of action. In other words, it’s missing all of the exploitation elements that make a movie like Bloodrayne II worth watching.” While Boll has seen fit to correct the absence of certain genre elements, notably blood and boobs, he still cannot seize the pulpy premise into Grand Guignol. Nazi vampires, an immortal Hitler, a 200-year-old ass-kicking woman with signature arm-blades AND Clint Howard as a mad Nazi scientist and this is the best you can do? That’s unacceptable. The supernatural potential is wasted here. Rayne’s vampire side is barely utilized. She bites people, she jumps high once, but there’s nothing really vampiric about her beside one scene where she complains about having to drink pig’s blood. She might as well be anything else if you’re not going to take advantage of what makes a vampire a vampire. At one point, the Commandant turns his best tracker into a vampire for the purposes of finding Rayne (her secret hideout turns out to be a not very discreet large castle). That idea had great promise, all things considered, but like most of the other fights, it’s one-and-done. Rayne takes out the guy and we move along. Rayne is betrayed by one of the brothel girls who has her eyes set on running the business (“You’re a cocksucking entrepreneur,” someone declares, though I wouldn’t put that exact terminology on a resume). She gets turned into a vampire too. All right, she could work as a character that could get close to Rayne. But then she too is dispatched with mercurial swiftness. Why the hurry? Bloodrayne III runs a total 72 minutes before end credits. The film could have used a lot more fleshing out, and it could have benefited from being less serious with something so flatly ridiculous.
It wouldn’t be a Boll movie without the whiplash-inducing shifts in tone. One second we’re dwelling on the campy idea of Herr Hitler becoming a powerful vampire (there’s even a goofy dream sequence where Rayne is terrorized by Adolph with fangs) and the next minute the film descends into soft-core porn territory. Rayne visits a brothel to get an oiled massage, because apparently being a centuries-old undead slayer of evil can really cause some killer knots that only hookers are properly trained to knead away. Anyway, Rayne saves one of the brothel girls from an abusive Nazi john, and the women of the brothel wish to show their gratitude via some sex “on the house.” We’re then treated to a solid four minutes of heavy breathing and gauzy soft-focus shots of hands, nipples, and crevices. To Boll’s credit, it’s on par with most soft-core porn productions. When Rayne is beating the Nazi john she becomes a feminist mouthpiece: “I can’t punish you for the legions of women who have been brutalized by men, but I’ll give it my best shot.” If Sucker Punch proved anything, it’s hard to stand on a feminist soapbox when your characters are pure male fantasy figures. The onscreen lesbian tryst would fit the context of the film better if Boll kept a continuity of tawdry sensuality. I don’t recall any other lesbian leanings in previous entries but I suppose spontaneous lesbians/opportune bisexuality just goes with direct-to-DVD territory. The only other element of sexuality occurs late in Bloodrayne III, like ten minutes to credits. Rayne and Nathaniel decide it’s time to get it on. Oh, did I mention that they come to this decision while in the back of a German transport truck on the way to Berlin. Nonetheless, an awkward and deeply unerotic sex scene follows before their rescue. They appear to be making the most of their time, though curiously both participants leave their fingerless gloves on while they copulate. I call it “hobo lovemaking.
Boll doesn’t seem to understand what a truly juicy concept vampire Nazis are so we are treated to a lot of talking. But it’s not talking that really establishes character, setting, or plot; it’s mostly a jumble of self-aggrandizing, hyperbolic asides as heroes and villains are constantly reconfirming the stakes. Vampire Nazis. Trust us, we get it. But alas, the Commandant keeps gripping his fists and speaking about being “power incarnate” and how everyone shall bow to his power and how he’s “the prodigal son of the Third Reich,” which I don’t think is the proper analogy to apply. Dr. Mangler (too on-the-nose or an attempt to reference Dr. Mengele? You be the judge) will not let any situation to bray about the obvious go to waste, sometimes with peculiar anachronisms. Over the course of the film, this talkative evil scientist will reference Shakespeare, say “the world is your oyster,” and even, “The times they are a changin’, gyspy.” He even slams the father of penicillin, saying, “Alexander Fleming had his fungi. I have [Rayne].” But the worst offenders have to be Rayne and Nathaniel. At one point they bellow, “He’s not just a vampire! He’s a vampire with an entire German army behind him!” You know, in case you couldn’t grasp the subtleties of the narrative. Rayne is given to long passages of voice over where we get to listen to her wax poetic about man’s inhumanity to man, the cycle of violence, and other hilarious grasps at being mistaken as having, you know, depth or thoughts. This is the same character who ends the film saying, “Guten tach, mother fuckers!” Yeah, this one’s a regular Rodin.
The film is populated entirely with Boll’s stock players, so you know the acting returns will be fairly diminished. Malthe (Elektra) returns for her second go-round as the titular half-vampire half-human heroine. For what reason, I could not say. Perhaps the former Maxim model had a large gas bill one winter. Malthe hasn’t advanced much as an actress in the layover between sequels. She fills out a bodice heavenly, but her acting is about as emotionless and dryly ineffectual as a corpse. Speaking of, Malthe looks deathly pale in the film with alabaster skin. Apparently in the 60 years since the events of Bloodrayne II, she decided to keep the cleavage-accentuated fighting outfits but lose her skin tone and her heretofore signature red hair. But fear not video game aficionados because this Rayne has streaks of bright red amongst her otherwise jet black tresses. I suppose she found the one Hot Topic open on the Eastern front. Malthe is a fine-looking woman who will look the part, no matter what improbable form-fitting outfit she chooses to slay evil in, until she opens her mouth and destroys the illusion. There’s a reason not too many Maxim models have transitioned over into being award-winning actresses. To be fair, the Rayne character is mostly defined by costuming and weaponry. Don’t believe me? Read the user reviews by fanboys and see what they quibble over most.
It wouldn’t be a Boll film without his lucky charm, Paré (11 Boll film appearances!). The plainspoken actor was actually a fine fit in Bloodrayne II as a cowpoke. He’s not so well a good fit as an evil Nazi officer. Paré is never truly threatening in any capacity as a Nazi or a vampire. That’s pretty sad. He’s given tough guy things to say, and he bites people, but he never comes across as menacing. He’s letting the uniform do the acting for him. Likewise, Howard (first Boll appearance since 2003’s House of the Dead) gets lost in the broad generalization of his character. Howard always seems like he’s on the verge of breaking into third person. He seems lost in a daze too often. Howard comes across as more Igor than mad scientist. He’s definitely not going to be one the scientists other countries offer asylum for at war’s end.
Bloodrayne: The Third Reich could have been a ridiculously yet enjoyably campy B-movie that knew how to play to its strengths – vampire Nazis, attractive woman killing vampire Nazis. You would think that salaciously junky concept would write itself. The problem is that Boll seems to have made a movie that seemed like it would write itself. It’s not enough to just have a handful of genre elements (vampires, Hitler, lesbians!), you have to present those elements in an appealing manner. The premise is workable but the plot, characters, action, and tone are not given necessary attention. I never thought I would say this, but there’s just not enough holding together a movie about vampire Nazis. The dialogue is mostly characters talking in circles, rehashing what should be obvious, explaining why the bad guys should be threats when they fail to be credible onscreen. The film might be the best of the ongoing trilogy, but what exactly is that saying? Barely covering 75 minutes, with negligible action and an overall rushed pace, Bloodrayne III is a sterling example of disposable entertainment that hasn’t even been given the necessary components to be “entertainment.” Instead it’s just eminently disposable. The saddest part is knowing it’s only so long before this character gets resurrected for a fourth movie. Perhaps by then Boll will have figured out what to do with his vampire-killing hottie. Fourth time’s the charm, right?
Nate’s Grade: D+
Rated R, 87 min.
The action/horror spoof Blubberella is Uwe Boll’s second attempt at (intentional) comedy. He did re-release a “funny” version of his 2003 disaster, House of the Dead. That seems like the same opportunistic rebranding and dubious retconning that Tommy Wiseau pulled when he tried to claim that his magnus opus of suck, The Room, was always intended as a “quirky black comedy.” Sure, Tommy. Boll’s first attempt at comedy, 2007’s Postal, almost worked despite itself; the taboo-smashing genre of wacky comedy seems like a better fit for Boll’s cinematic tendencies. Blubberella is proof that Boll should stick to schlock and leave comedy to the professionals.
Blubberella (Lindsay Hollister) is a dhamphir, half-vampire/half-human, but really she’s just looking for a good man and a good meal. It’s 1944 Germany, and Blubby has joined forces with a resistance group lead by Nathaniel Gregor (Brendan Fletcher). Together, the group, along with the sassy gay soldier Vadge (William Belli), must battle a mad scientist (Clint Howard), a vampire Nazi general (Michael Pare), and the prospect of an immortal Adolf Hitler (Uwe Boll himself!).
Leaden puns, obvious jokes, clueless pacing and comedic construction, tiresome one-liners, incessant yet flaccid sex jokes, a desperation to be shocking, Blubberella is a bizarre and staggering failure even by Boll standards. Rarely does the movie actually land a funny line (you want to know the best line? Here it is: “My friend says I replace sex with food… but then he raped me, so that kinda shot that theory.” Yes, that is the best one). The jokes aren’t textured in the slightest and can’t be bothered with basic constructive issues like setup, context, and payoffs. Instead, the movie is rife with random sexual and scatological references. It’s like the film is the living embodiment of a Tourette’s child. Belli (TV’s Nip/Tuck) is a braying gay stereotype that wears out his abrasive welcome in no time flat. At one point Pare just goes into a garbled Marlon Brando impersonation for no clear reason, and then it’s done. This would-be comedy, in name only, confuses randomness for clever. Here’s an example: a group of characters are crouched waiting for an all clear signal, and Vadge blurt out, “If you’re going through the drive-thru get me a Frosty.” Just because it’s a random line and anachronistic does not cover up the fact that it’s simply not funny in any context. There is no joke there. Everything in the movie just seems like a meaningless throwaway gag, never accumulating or having any connection to situation. Randomness does not excuse sheer ineptness. Given the understated title, I’d expect there to be a plethora of fat jokes that the movie would routinely fall back on for easy punchlines. I actually counted: there are approximately 35 fat-related jokes; at barely 75 minutes, that comes to about one fate joke every 45 seconds. I’m shocked they had that much restraint considering the opening minute of the movie featured Blubby walking into a giant walk-in freezer filled with enough blunt Flintstones-style sight gags.
Even worse, Blubberella relies on pitiful attempts to be “shocking” to rouse the audience into laughter. And so we endure scenes like the resistance fighters relocking a boxcar full of concentration camp victims (“No wonder they took you. That hat does nothing.”), Blubby killing a man by farting on his face, playing RISK with Hitler and then there’s the blackface. In the movie’s most obscene, whiplash-inducing moment, Blubby suddenly morphs into a Caucasian version of Precious being berated by her abusive and spiteful mother. Belli portrays the monstrous mother in drag and blackface. Amazingly, this is not the only character Belli plays in blackface. There’s another regrettable moment during that Hitler RISK sequence where Belli plays Hitler’s black assistant (“One of our new allies from Africa,” Hitler explains), and the guy can’t go a single sentence without referring to people as MF-ers. Whoo boy. Here’s the thing about the attempted Precious parody: just taking a situation and copying and pasting it to a new location doesn’t make it a parody. The blackface moments, in particular the Precious aside, feel completely out of place and tacky at best. Just because something is supposedly shocking or in bad taste does not mean it is funny without due context and setup. Blubberella does not understand this comedy truism, and so we get more of the same wearisome crass crap.
Blubberella was shot simultaneously with Bloodrayne: The Third Reich, utilizing the same sets, costumes, actors (literally everybody does double duty), recycled action footage, and more or less the same script. It’s not like the script for Bloodrayne 3 was that strong to begin with to warrant a copycat. It’s like Boll’s version of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, though with more Nazis. Actually, just that very description is giving the movie far more credit than it could possibly ever hope for. There’s nothing clever about Boll’s alternative spin on his third Bloodrayne vehicle; just replacing Rayne with a 300-pound actress and making her go through the same motions doesn’t mean it’s a comedy. The laziness on display is powerfully lulling. I don’t think anyone on the entire planet was praying for a wackier retread of Bloodrayne 3. The funny thing is I don’t think the change of tone makes that much difference to Clint Howard.
Blubberella plays out like a tried improv game that has gone on for an eternity. The film is stuffed with scenes that just seem to spin on and on, lacking momentum and any discernable direction. Scenes will just wander aimlessly like Boll is just waiting for his actors to somehow produce quality jokes spontaneously. Newsflash: this isn’t a Judd Apatow movie. Holler and company will just spout random lines and riff off one another, acting like a troupe of lobotomized circus acts that have stumbled into a war zone. The results are pitiful, though occasionally they will hit a somewhat amusing idea that will be aborted in the next breath/stab at improv. It’s merely a numbers game and if they fire 100 jokes maybe 2 find some footing. Such shrug-worthy moments include Blubby holding a soldier’s hand to her stomach and saying, “If there wasn’t a baby in there, would that be okay?” Huh? At one point, Boll’s narration pops up to declare the following scene “boring,” and yet the entire scene from Bloodrayne 3 plays out uninterrupted or unedited. What was the point of that? If you’ve already made an attempt to side with your audience by declaring your scene boring, then why leave it unabridged? Why is keeping this scene vital from a plot standpoint for what is intended to be a silly spoof? Why does plot continuity even matter?
I noted with Bloodrayne: The Third Reich a theory that Boll, a notorious cinematic pick-pocket, was trying his hand at recreating Quentin Tarantino’s Oscar-winning WWII drama, Inglourious Basterds. Well after sitting through this movie, I can confirm without a doubt that Boll has a raging hard-on when it comes to Tarantino homage. The movie is broken up into chapter, including such delightful titles as “Titty Titty Fang Bang,” the score will resort to periods of long whistling, Hitler screams “nein nein nein,” and for older references, one character says, “Wakey wakey, eggs and bakey,” and another, “I’ll kill every last mother fuckin’ last one of you.” Are you going to tell me that is all a coincidence?
The lingering problem with Blubberella, besides its overwhelming incompetence and inexplicable existence, is that it feels more like a gag reel accrued for the cast and crew of Bloodrayne 3. This doesn’t feel at all like a movie or even an attempt at a movie. I’m of a mixed mind when it comes to Hollister. The central Ohio native (represent, girlfriend!) is probably not going to get many starring roles, though she has shined in guest roles on numerous TV shows like My Name is Earl, Big Love, Law and Order: SVU, and Scrubs, so I can’t blame her for jumping at the chance to be the lead star, the headliner (she and Belli are also listed as co-writers). Hollister is actually a pretty nice actress and has strong comedic instincts; however, that doesn’t mean she will rise to the occasion if left to her own devices by Boll’s paucity for scripted jokes. Boll isn’t exactly the most creatively nurturing collaborator. It’s all one big fat mess. You want the most telling moment? It occurs during the dull outtakes peppered throughout the end credits. One of the actresses, little seen in the flick, remarks astutely, “It’s not working. It’s not funny.” In six short words, she has summarized Blubberella better than I could ever hope to.
Nate’s Grade: D
Rated R, 96 min.
In the Name of the King 2: Two Worlds has a tenuous at best connection to the original 2008 In the Name of the King, noted as the most star-studded Uwe Boll film and the last Boll film to get a theatrical release. I think that highest-profile belly flop, and the revision of the German tax code loopholes, is what banished Boll to the little league of direct-to-DVD movies. I suppose the movie does involve things happening in the name of a king, but that’s being overly generous. There’s barely a mention of Jason Statham’s (The Transporter) character from the first flick, a commoner who arose to become king and who was slain by an enemy that is pathetic and embarrassing. The only meaningful connection lies in the title and the prospect of Boll trying to draft attention to his sequel off the momentum of his pitiful predecessor.
Granger (Dolph Lungren) is a former Special Forces soldier who has retired and runs a karate studio for kids now. Then one day he stumbles upon a mysterious woman being chased by ninjas (Vancouver’s ninja crime rate has skyrocketed since 2008). A portal to another world is opened and Granger gets sucked back to a feudal kingdom. The King (Lochlyn Munro) has awaited for a special visitor who would restore balance to the kingdom, drive away the Dark Lords. The prophecy says that Granger is their man. He’s a little skeptical and even turns down the services of a concubine, though still accepts a little cuddling. Manhattan (Natassia Malthe) is the king’s medic of sorts and accompanies Granger on his journey to defeat the evil sorceress and save the Kingdom of Whatever.
After having viewed 19 different Boll movies, all to certain degrees of willingness, I can safely say that this is the most boring of the bunch, and hopefully those words will still have meaning. The plot never really evolves further than its premise, another rehash of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, or to genre fans, a rip-off of Army of Darkness, or to idiots, a rip-off of Black Knight. Granger goes back in time, bumps around some rather stock characters, gets told about prophecies and destiny, and then there’s a fight and a dragon and a jump back to Earth and we’re done. In between is very little to care about. This is the first movie I’ve seen that feels completely constructed as one long saggy middle. Just about every scene takes place in the forests of Vancouver (I mean… whatever the hell the other world is called). It gets repetitious very quickly, never seizing on the fish-out-of-water comedic possibilities or just giving in completely to the genre elements of a medieval sword and sorcery flick. It’s all just irritating blather; a “chosen one” here, a “dark one” there, something something “prophecy.” When people badmouth fantasy, they think of this kind of stuff. I kid you not at one point Malthe’s character says, “You are the villain of this tale” to the said villain. Thanks for clarification, but the third act betrayal was telegraphed well over an hour ago.
The writer, Michael Nachoff, has written exactly one other movie, Bloodrayne 3, and served previously as an office coordinator, post-production assistant, and in material serving. That last one sounds like a made-up job or some kind of finessing that a prostitute would put to make her resume sound more professional. Whatever the case, Nachoff has shown that after two movies he cannot be counted on to deliver anything resembling a competent plot. This is the laziest more yawn-inducing hero’s journey I’ve ever witnessed. The movie literally put me to sleep. There are all sorts of dropped setups and subplots, including the notion that Granger must complete three trials, though we only ever get one. That’s bad sooth-saying, but then again the seer gets murdered so I can’t imagine she was first in her class at prescience. Nachoff keeps using the phrase “time travel,” and so do I, but I think what they really mean is dimensional travel. I’m fairly certain that Granger is not just from the future but an altogether different world. Yet at one point a character says, “Your fear will carry you to the pits of hell.” Ah, I see that Christian missionaries must have visited this alternate dimension. Oh well, the character also seem to keep erroneously saying “biological weapon” when clearly the bad guy assembled it out of various powders and chemicals. They even refer to his skill as alchemy, which of course is all about biology, right?
The action is mirthless and hastily thrown together, often becoming incomprehensible because the villains, the Dark Lords, wear dark cloaks and our heroes too wear dark clothes. Good luck deciphering who’s who on the battlefield. Maybe you’ll be like me and just become crippled by apathy. Granger isn’t a very compelling hero either. Under Nachoff’s compliant attention, he is strictly stock: 1) he is retired, 2) he helps kids, 3) he has a past that haunts him, 4) he drinks to cope, 5) he is entirely boring. If you’re going to go fish-out-of-water, at least have your guy be funny. Granger’s quips just seem too surreal even given the nature of the movie. After killing a baddie and sampling his stew: “Underdone.” On entering the Black Forest: “Given the name, bigger is probably better,” and brings a larger broad sword. Oh boy. Nobody’s gonna miss you, are they?
The production seems to be taking a cue from Lungren (The Expendables), who is unfazed from beginning to end despite some strange goings-ons. The man just sleepwalks through the whole film, cracking wise in the same somnambulant tone. It’s like Lungren swallowed an entire bottle of Quaaludes. Lungren isn’t exactly the most charismatic or expressive actor on the planet given that he’s made a living being tall and beating up smaller men, but I would have hoped for some life in the guy. He’s so straight-laced that it’s absurd. It drains any potential interest from the character, sapping our time-traveling hero of empathy. Who cares if he can’t be bothered to care? Malthe (Bloodrayne: The Third Reich) is just as uninspiring as his sidekick. She’s just so impassive, probably because she doesn’t get to wear a corset in this Boll movie to highlight her assets. Letting her speak medieval vernacular and syntax was a mistake. Usually actors can at least adequately hide their displeasure about their participation in a lousy movie. Either these actors aren’t even good at that or they just don’t care, take your pick.
And now it’s time for my regular reoccurring segment in a Boll film review – who got ripped off this time? Allow me room to pontificate. The concept of a fantasy world mixed with some adult themes, like strong bloody violence, nudity, sex, profanity, and darker themes, would lead me to believe that Boll was inspired by HBO’s hit fantasy reinvention series, Game of Thrones. Then again Boll shot this movie in December 2010, a full four months before Thrones’ aired its excellent pilot episode. Then again who’s to say that Thrones didn’t influence Boll during the editing stage or at least make him itchy for some reshoots to tart up this tedious movie. At least that would give the viewer something worthwhile to look at besides an oft-used castle exterior that LARP-ers would howl at.
In the Name of the King 2: Two Worlds just reeks of lethargy and general indifference. Devoid of interesting characters, an engaging story, even tasty genre elements, this low-budget fantasy flick would falter in comparison to the cheesiest Sci-Fi Channel original movie. I cannot overstate how boring this movie is. I’m struggling even to effectively communicate how monotonous this movie is; I’m tempted to just write “boring” a thousand times but you, dear reader, deserve better. And so I rack my brain to come up with more specific and sarcastic criticism of what is execrably an awful movie. Boll’s no stranger to awful movies, but In the Name of the King 2 is the first time where I felt like even he didn’t give a damn about his final product in any shape. And it shows.
Nate’s Grade: C-
Unrated, 124 min.
It’s been too long since I’ve last had the pleasure of viewing a Uwe Boll movie. The man is downright prolific when it comes to spitting out multitudes of projects every year sometimes three or four. And yet there’s no guarantee I’ll have a speedy and easily accessible avenue to watch the man’s finished products. Take for instance his biopic on Max Schmeling, finished almost three years ago, and undergone a title change for American audiences to Fist of the Reich. Americans might not know who Max Schmeling was but by God do we know ourselves some Nazis. I can understand why this one was put on the shelf for as long as it was. There’s the fact that it’s entirely in German, Boll’s first completely foreign-language film since 1997. There’s also the fact that it’s still a pretty dull and uninvolving movie, and given the figure and subject matter, that may be enough to make Fist of the Reich the most disappointing film of Boll’s career.
From 1930-1948, Max Schmeling (Henry Maske) was Germany’s most prolific athlete. He boxed overseas in America quite often, earning the world title in a controversial bout where his opponent was disqualified after a below the belt punch. Schmeling romances a movie star, Anny Ondra (Susanne Wuest), and proposes to her the day their courtship hits the gossip pages. Schmeling also has to fight the growing nationalistic influence of Hitler’s Nazi party, which looks at him as a powerful propaganda opportunity. After a high-profile loss to Joe Louis, in a rematch no less, Schmeling loses value to the Nazi machine and he’s drafted into the oncoming war.
When I say “most disappointing” I know that’s going to strike a chord given Boll’s oeuvre of craptacularcinema, but I really mean it. The biggest failing of the two-plus hours of Fist of the Reich is that it does not provide adequate evidence why Schmeling is a compelling figure of history. It’s a biopic that doesn’t have enough juice to justify why its central hero should even earn a biopic. I don’t think I’ve seen too many movies based upon real people where I left thinking, “Well that person didn’t deserve a movie.” And the ridiculous thing is that Schmeling of course deserves his own movie. The man was an international superstar, the pride of a nation during a tumultuous time, one of only three men to beat Joe Louis in his career, and then became a propaganda pawn for the Nazis. The man was even forced into service in the war and was one of only two survivors during a hellish battle. His manager was Jewish, his wife a Czech movie star, and they had to flee their country home to escape from the advancing Russians. That is some compelling stuff even before you get into the psychological depth at play with a man being pushed as a tool of Nazi propaganda and how that constrictive, humiliating, and infuriating chapter would have taken its toll on Schmeling’s soul. There is a wealth of material there to stage a rousing and engrossing biopic, and the fact that Boll and screenwriter Timo Berndt cannot is just inexcusable.
There’s very little depth given to Schmeling as a character; all the edges are sanded off and we’re left with a rather bland do-gooder that really just wants to box. He’s sort of this nondescript, milquetoast nice guy who trudges from scene to scene, doing bland but nice things. You won’t dislike the lug but you’ll find it hard to explain why he’s interesting. This shallowness just compounds as the movie continues, going further into the war as well as the downturns in Schmeling’s boxing career. His relationship with Anny is also pretty bland. They’re nice together and loving in appearance but also mundane. It’s like the movie is progressing scene-by-scene establishing facts and plot points rather than exploring the relationships of characters. Max gets married. Max gets a big bout. Max wants to give Joe Louis a rematch. The film seems so devoid of passion, bled dry by going through the checklist of what audiences desire in their biopics. The movie even attaches a weak framing device where Schmeling and a war prisoner are walking to a border and Schmeling recounts his life. Except this framing device ends with thirty minutes left to go. Can it be termed a framing device if it doesn’t frame a quarter of the movie? It’s not even necessary except to throw in a bit of war violence at the opening to hook an audience. It feels like nobody knows what to do with Schmeling so they’ll just breeze through his life’s big events, make him seem like a charitable fella, and then pray the audience understands the man’s historical significance.
Another reason for the stilted drama is quite possibly the noticeable acting limitations of our lead, Maske. The man is a former champion boxer in Germany who reportedly underwent eight months of acting training to prepare for this movie. Well, apparently eight was not enough (did I just backend into a pun?). He may be a great boxer but he is a very poor actor. His monotone, caveman-like warble reminds me of the speaking tones of early Arnold Schwarzenegger. I don’t think the guy has more than two sentences at a time. Again, I’d rather have my actors learn how to do something rather than teach a non-actor how to act. Actors can fake singing or boxing, plus there’s editing. Was it really substantial to have an actual boxer in the role? I know Schmeling himself actually wanted Maske to play him in a would-be movie, so there’s some passing approval, but there’s a reason that Maske hasn’t acted in a movie since this one. Maske’s pained acting, limited emotional range, and overall stiffness, combined with the thin characterization, makes for a void at the center of the movie.
I also assumed given Boll’s own background in boxing (he famously boxed a group of critics several years ago in a publicity stunt) that the onscreen bouts would be thrilling to watch. The excitable German ringside announcer seems to be watching different fights than I am. The fighters just don’t have any fight in them, carefully going through the motions, but when they hit they do so like they’re timid, afraid to put any force behind it. The camerawork and editing also fail to mask this feeling. Boxing is such a ferocious sport and we need to feel the danger and ferocity within the ring, but all too often it just feels like another ho-hum occasion for Schmeling, one where he’s rarely put to the test. Even the boxing matches that go to 15 rounds show us two fighters without any blood on them or bruises or any sign, beyond a glistening coat of faux sweat, that these two men have spent over an hour beating the crap out of each other. This limited sense of realism handicaps the movie as well as drawing out the accomplishments of Schmeling.
Boll’s direction also seems rather remote on this movie, curiously so. He relies almost entirely on bobbling handheld camerawork that can get a bit tiresome when it feels like the camera rarely settles. The movie is almost entirely comprised of a series of medium shots, which further adds to the overall blandness of the movie. The cinematography by longtime collaborator Mathias Neumann is entirely lackluster and downright incompetent. The visual compositions are supremely lacking; I don’t think Boll and Neumann even stumble into one engaging visual shot. And we’re talking about a boxer’s career here. The colors of the movie feel so drab and restrained but not in any sort of elegant artistic manner. It just looks like a drab movie, which suits a drab script with a drab lead actor. I’m also fairly certain that Boll’s longtime musical collaborator Jessica de Rooij borrows liberally, if not outright lifts, the musical themes of John Williams’ score for Saving Private Ryan. Has anyone else caught this?
It may seem foolish of me to admit, especially after twenty movies reviewed, but I actually had some semblance of hope that Fist of the Reich was going to be Boll’s first actual good movie. As it stands, Tunnel Rats is still the best Boll film, relatively speaking. I really thought that Boll’s background and boxing experience would carry over and we’d get a handsomely made, reverent, and absorbing look into the life of Max Schmeling, but time after time, the movie settles for bland. There’s a lot of meat to this guy but it feels about as in depth as a child’s book report, skimming over the drama to cover the significant signposts of the man’s life. As a result, we get an overview of the guy’s life but lack the evidence why we even took the journey. Saying a guy’s a great boxer, or a great humanitarian is one thing, but we need to see this, we need to feel it, and that’s the saddest failure of Fist of the Reich, that it takes an important historical figure and squeezes out all the lingering resonance.
Nate’s Grade: C
Rated R, 99 min.
When it comes to notorious German director Uwe Boll, many are still waiting for what could be the man’s first genuinely good movie. The man has been prolific over the past ten years but sure-fire candidates for First Good Film, like Max Schmeling or Attack on Darfur, inevitably have some tragic flaw or approach that places them back in mediocrity, the company of many of Boll’s other movies. After reviewing more Boll films than a human should be allowed to willingly, I feel like I’ve been beaten down enough that when I find something that genuinely works, be it an actor or a sequence or plot turn, that I should be just as vocal as with the contingent of failure. So allow me to refreshingly applaud Boll for Assault on Wall Street, on coming up with a topic and a story structure that… actually… works. It not just works, it succeeds, and if a more polished professional screenwriter got a hold of this, I think it could actually impress the masses. If it weren’t for the surprisingly effective war drama, Tunnel Rats, I’d say without a doubt that Assault on Wall Street is the best work of Boll’s much-maligned career. And yet… it has just enough minor faults that hold it back.
Jim (Dominic Purcell) is a regular guy working as an armored security transport. His wife Rosie (Erin Karpluk) suffers from a rare tumor that requires an expensive series of injections to keep it at bay. Their insurance company won’t pay, and so they have to rely on Jim’s savings. Except those are gone as well. Jeremy Stancroft (John Heard) has ordered all his brokers to dump toxic assets, eliminating most investor savings but profiting the shareholders. Jim and Rosie are broke. Vowing vengeance, especially after some drastic decision-making by Rosie, Jim sets off to make the high-priced traders and corporate raiders on Wall Street feel the pain of what they have wrought.
The setup is concise and Boll does a nifty job of compounding Jim’s problems and showing how all the industries are interconnected to put the squeeze on. Because of unscrupulous health insurers, his wife’s medical treatment, deemed experimental, is quite expensive and they’ve reached a cap. With the brokers pushing their clients assets into junk stocks, at the behest of the betters and for commissions, Jim loses his entire financial cushion. He hires a lawyer (Eric Roberts) but has to pay $10,000 just to retain him to fight the $60,000 penalty his broker says is owed. He goes into debt and refinances his skyrocketing mortgage (variable rate) to pay for his wife’s treatments. His employer takes notice of his perilous situation and is uncomfortable with enlisting someone in deep financial woes with guarding money. He loses his job. The bank is poised to foreclose on the house. His wife won’t get her treatments to save her life. All of this leads to a drastic and completely understood decision of desperation and sacrifice. Admittedly, Boll does a compelling job of connecting all the dots, making each new pitfall a result of the previous, each compounding the misery of Jim. It takes a little long to go through all these points, and I think Boll could have trimmed it down so that a key event happens at the Act One break point, but I was flabbergasted that the man found a story structure that succeeds.
The second half of the film is Jim planning his vengeance, and after all of the callous movers and shakers have bled him dry, you’re onboard for some sort of righteous payback. Boll takes on Wall Street and the healthcare industry (double the populist outrage). Jim as a character could be made much more compelling, but he’s really serving as a symbol for how the forces are ganged up against the little guy, how the fix is in. When confronted, the big CEO of the brokerage firm barks that it’s always the same old story, that the titans of industry were all crooks and manipulated the system to their advantage, and he’s no different. In short, the little guy always loses.
What holds back Assault on Wall Street, beside the fact that the titular assault is reserved for the last fifteen minutes of the film, is its too slick ending and Boll’s obvious transparency when it comes to his political message. After Jim suffers loss after loss, he puts together a plan pretty quickly, utilizing that Army training we’ve heard about. It’s actually too easy with little complications that can’t be solved in a David Fincher-style montage of death. It’s a full 70 minutes before he takes out his first Wall Street fat cat, and that’s just way too much dawdling. And then from there the climax involves Jim just going on a rampage in an office building, shooting several faceless employees who could very well be innocent for all we know. I think Boll is satisfied with a guilt-by-association catch-all for Jim’s fury, but it would be more satisfying just from a payoff standpoint if we saw these people in villainous lights prior, kind of like what Saw 6 did with its insurance characters before turning the tables on them. The last thing we need in our populist screed is to worry that the wrong people were dispatched. And what kind of office building fails to evacuate after a confirmed shooter has attacked?
This storyline could have also worked in a Falling Down turn, where a man consumed with evening the scales of a system broken loses his moral bearing and lumps all guilty parties together and condemns them all. Perhaps it was meant to examine the slippery slope of vigilante justice and how this too can decay one’s sense of self, sort of like what Jodie Foster went through in 2007’s The Brave One. However, I don’t think Boll was intending this direction because he’s not very subtle about anything in the movie. Oftentimes the characters just become mouthpieces for ideological talking points: “We’re busy busting some homeless guy when the real criminals are on Wall Street.” The bad guys actually say, with no hint of self-awareness, “We all took a loss. When I told my wife we couldn’t vacation in Barbados any longer…” It’s all just a little too on-the-nose to remind you of the overall intent rather than the story. Therefore, I think Boll is just going for a sense of (misplaced?) justice in the end, in a ludicrous plan that somehow invalidates witnesses, forensic evidence, and security footage to pin the blame on someone else. It’s too clever by half that it undercuts the final payoff. It gets even worse with the Batman-esque voice over to close out the film with a promise to all evildoers.
With such a tight focus on the plot, the acting is a marked step up from previous Boll outings. Purcell (TV’s Prison Break, Killer Elite) doesn’t exactly come across as a regular Joe but he has enough onscreen presence to pull off his character’s anguish as well as the requisite badass stuff. And apparently Boll has become fond of him because Purcell is scheduled to appear in future Boll films. Karpluk, a Canadian actress best known for the TV show Being Erica, has a natural grace to her, forgoing big moments to concentrate on the gnawing guilt and concern her character feels. While she’s a bit too willfully ignorant early on, Karpluk makes you care and provides whatever depth can be applied to Jim. I’m actually curious to see her comic skills since she has a face tailor-made for romantic comedies. Heard (Sharknado, Home Alone) doesn’t seem to embrace his duplicitous CEO role with enough gusto, appearing to be annoyed when he should be menacing. This is not the kind of movie to hold back.
There are plenty of other Boll Players, including Edward Furlong (3 appearances), Lochlyn Munro (2 appearances), Tyron Leitso (5 appearances, also stars in Being Erica), Michael Eklund (8 appearances), Natassia Malthe (4 appearances), and the stalwarts of Clint Howard (6 appearances) and Michael Pare (13 appearances). It’s been 13 years since Eric Roberts (The Dark Knight) last appearance in a Boll film. Most of these are blink-and-you’ll-miss-them, but then there’s Keith David (The Thing, Cloud Atlas) in a thankless role that didn’t need to exist. But hey, I’ll take Keith David in anything.
A welcome surprise, for the most part, Assault on Wall Street is a finely structured revenge tale with clear and precise plot points and a natural buildup. It’s Boll on a soapbox and the naked transparency of his ire and populist messages limits the effectiveness of his storytelling, but you might not mind, especially if you are a person who has slogged through far less competent Boll ventures. There is a marked improvement in just about every facet of filming. It genuinely works, that is, until the pacing becomes lopsided and the end just reverts to celebratory action mode. A more professional writer could take this film and whip it into a crowd-pleasing populist thriller. It’s got so much that works, and genuinely works well, that I feel like a buzzkill to keep harping on the elements that do not succeed. But if Boll wants to earn an undisputed victory, he’s got to earn it without lowered standards. Assault on Wall Street is so tantalizingly close to being Boll’s First Good Film but it doesn’t capitalize enough.
Nate’s Grade: C+
Unrated, 90 min.
I can genuinely say that director Uwe Boll pleasantly surprised me with the last film I watched that had his imprint, Attack on Wall Street. It almost worked. It felt like Boll had maybe gotten over the hump of mediocrity, and sub-sub-mediocrity, that has become synonymous with his career writing and directing movies. Then one day, Suddenly suddenly popped up on Netflix, available for consumption, and 90 very tepid minutes later, my renewed hopes for a turnaround had been dashed and trashed once more.
The President of the United States of America is stopping by the sleepy mountain town of Suddenly. The secret service is canvassing the neighborhood to secure locations. Officer Todd Shaw (Ray Liotta) is working off another bender and may just get suspended. Ellen (Erin Karpluk) and her teenage son Pidge (Cole Corker) are living up on the mountain with a great view of the town. Agents Baron (Dominic Purcell), Conklin (Michael Pare), and Wheeler (Tyron Leitso, though he’s referred to as “Agent Young” several times) come knocking on her door to inspect. Except they aren’t real secret service agents. They’re posing to coordinate an assassination on the president, a hit ordered by the “Committee” that they work for. The assassins in suits lock Ellen, her son, and her elderly father (Don MacKay) in the basement, and wait for the president to arrive. There’s just the problem of keeping their cover and making sure Todd doesn’t intervene. Oh, and the town has a shop that advertises “fetish” in its name. So there’s that.
Given the assassination premise, Suddenly is shocking in just how overwhelmingly boring it is. There’s a noticeable lack of urgency in just about every scene despite the stakes of men with guns threatening people’s lives. A solid majority of the movie is an almost comically low-key hostage situation where we watch Ellen’s family bumble around the basement as captives and try to outsmart the relatively dimwitted assassins. It’s nothing quite along the lines of, say, Home Alone, but it feels comically off in tone, aided by an inappropriate musical score. These people don’t ever feel scared or panicked, and their conversations show it. The stupid grandfather character in this feels like he was plucked from a different, more broadly comical movie. Oh look, he’s fussing about with things; oh look, now he’s going to tell one of his old stories. In the context of a hostage thriller, it doesn’t work. Grandpa half-heartedly relates a tale about being snowed in with grandma where, surprise, they got out (the man is standing there after all). “See, it all works out in the end,” he reasons with no convincing evidence. And then (spoilers) he dies in the most idiotic way possible. During a light scuffle, he gets shoved and falls over. “He has a heart condition,” Ellen screams, informing us for the first time of this malady. I’m thinking he’s faking, so as to strike when the attacker draws near. Nope, he just lies there and dies in the most pathetic way possible, as if the plot had just decided it didn’t need him after all. One of the armed men actually tries to revive him, how nice.
Suddenly literally takes its sweet time getting to that presidential moment, saving that for the last few minutes of the film. Almost all of Raul Inglis’ (The Killing Machine) screenplay revolves around one scenario: will the bad guys’ cover be blown as different people keep finding their way back to Ellen’s secluded home. Oh no, the deputy will spoil things! Oh wait, he’s easily fooled. Well thank goodness that problem was solved in a not interesting manner. This takes up an hour of the movie, and it’s rather repetitious without any escalation. The entire setup feels like a series of lame stalling techniques to save the good stuff for the very end, rather than dealing with reversals and rising action. Then there’s the nature of the ending, which is so abrupt and without a single trace of resolution. As soon as that shot’s fired, the film ends a minute later. We learn via the news that the gunman shot himself… in the chest? At a distance? None of this holds together and the ending does not justify the time it took, and wasted, to get to that point.
There is exactly one point where this movie flashes the kind of quality story it could have been and it happens 70 minutes into the picture. Baron miraculously deduces how Ellen’s husband was killed: friendly fire, and Todd was the culprit. It was naturally an accident, one that haunted Todd deeply, but he returned home and everyone started throwing around the word “hero.” So he kept the truth to himself. Now, right there is an interesting premise that could produce a flurry of intriguing and complicated drama. Todd would live his day feeling like a fraud but also not wanting to disappoint his loved ones, the people he cares about, and so hiding the truth could be a justifiable evil, or could it? This little reveal of character backstory is only intended to explain Todd’s penchant for drinking, and the movie just skirts along a few minutes later, already over this revelation. Suddenly should have dropped all of the cheesy and half-baked thriller aspects and gone in this other direction.
The villains in this movie lack conviction and competency. First of all, they just leave Ellen and her son and father unattended in the basement rather than tying them up. Then there’s just their general unconvincing nature when speaking with locals. They pose as secret service agents but there are actual secret service agents still in their midst. These turncoats are plotting to murder the president because the “Committee” they work for has demanded such. This phantom “Committee” is only known through one agent, Baron, and each man is selected for duty. They have a cause, though none of them can articulate exactly what that would be. At one point Conklin insists not killing the hostages because it would be bad PR and dissuade the public to the merits of their unexplained cause. Are these guys thick enough to think that killing the United States president will win over the public, just as long as they have good reasons for killing the president? It seemed obvious that Baron was going to be the lone person of this “Committee,” and yet the film doesn’t even tie up this loose end. We never know whether Baron was making it all up or whether there is a clandestine organization that has its sights set on the president.
Boll’s diffident direction mirrors the lack of enthusiasm throughout the production. This just doesn’t come across as a story that separates itself from your bargain basement, straight-to-DVD action flick. In fact there isn’t any action in the movie short of a few tidy scenes. And as far as thrills and suspense, they’re undercut at just about every turn, thanks to the lack of urgency and the comical misuses of Ellen and her family. At no point will you be watching Suddenly and get the sensation that anybody really cared about making this movie as best it could be. Usually Boll’s movies feel pasted together and derivative of other, better movies and visual influences; this movie is too dull to even be derivative. The movie even has the temerity to reuse that trite cliché, having the villain remark, “Under other circumstances you and I could have been friends.” The dumb villains, the dumb characters, the lackluster pacing and suspense, the lack of resolution, it all contributes to making what is easily the most boring movie in Boll’s filmography.
Usually these kinds of thrillers are churned out into the straight-to-DVD market, a glut of recycled plots and tortured/reluctant action heroes. There’s a formula that works and there’s been a proven audience that enjoys something cheesy, thoughtless, and familiar. And that’s what puzzles me even more about Suddenly because every somnambulist second of the film leaves you with the stark impression that nobody cared. The tale of a hostage thriller mixed with a presidential assassination, with some war drama thrown in, could work as far as the genre goes. All you need is a solid premise and some gung-ho execution, which explains why we had two Die–Hard-in-a-White-House films last year. Suddenly is nothing special, which we all suspected from the particulars involved, but it’s not even worthwhile or workable genre pap, which is even more insulting. From the wacky grandfather to the idiot villains who blindly trust their leader to the abrupt ending, or how about the fact that a kid is named Pidge, this is just one bad movie.
Nate’s Grade: D
Rated R, 86 min.
You ever get a sense of déjà vu while watching movies? The world of cinema is replete with derivative ideas and an intense sense of, we’ll call it, sharing. However, when it comes to notorious director Uwe Boll, the man has a habit of changing his style to suit his newest interest in flattery (i.e. ripping off some other influence). With In the Name of the King 3: The Last Mission, he ends up ripping off himself, namely the previous film.
Hazen Kane (Dominic Purcell) is a mercenary looking to get out. He’s been working in Bulgaria ever since a tragic event in his past. His boss (Marian Valev) gives him “one last mission” – kidnapping two preteen daughters of Bulgarian royalty and locking them in a shipping container. Hazen reluctantly goes through with the kidnapping, but after he takes one of the girls’ strange necklace, a portal opens that sucks him into a fantasy kingdom, a kingdom that just also happens to be called Bulgaria. Hazen is befriended by a pair of sisters (Ralitsa Paskaleva, Daria Simeonova) who we learn are deposed princesses. Their uncle Tervin (also Valev) killed their father and usurped the throne. Tervin also has a dragon at his command. The sisters and the people of the land look to Hazen as the man who will save them from their evil king. Oh, and he has to figure out a way back to Real World Bulgaria because he feels guilty about those locked away kids.
There truly is no reason for this movie to exist, which may seem obvious to many simply by having Boll’s name attached. The reason is this: In the Name of the King 3 is pretty much the exact same story as In the Name of the King 2. Sure there are qualifying differences in plot and character, but once again it’s a fish-out-of-water tale as a modern man, with military/mercenary experience who’s gone somewhat rogue, is transported into a magical fantasy world in dire need of rescue. Once again an evil king has slain the good one and the bereaved royal relatives need a hero to topple the current order. Once again the protagonist kinda sorta falls for a lass from the fantasy kingdom. Once again there’s an ancient prophecy to be reckoned with. Once again, there’s a dragon that sort of is forgotten about. It’s the same plot beats just given a “copy and paste” treatment because, perhaps, Boll still had access to the medieval costumes and didn’t feel like returning them just yet. The more interesting aspects of the previous film, namely Dolph Lundgreen’s blasé fish-out-of-water observations, are replaced with a rush to get to the finish line, resulting in one of the most predictable, formulaic fantasy films imaginable. Just given the premise, you can likely foresee every major step in the plot that follows, and the movie puts forth no effort to surprise or entertain if you deign to have higher standards.
The shopworn, simple story is also sabotaged by the most one-note of characters, each given futile amounts to work with. These people are more defined by their outfits than anything they say or do. In seconds, I had Purcell’s character figured out. He’s got a woman’s name engraved on his watch he stares at with great despondency, so it’s either got to be a dead wife or a dead daughter. He’s in deep with some shady people but wants to get out, which shows him as flawed but with some form of a moral compass intact, making him dangerous but acceptably bad. Apparently his dead wife (surprise, not daughter) insisted he get a certain tattoo design, and this tattoo just happens to look exactly like the necklace emblem of the kidnapped Bulgarian royal girl. Did his wife have any connection to Fantasy Bulgaria or did she have any sense of clairvoyance when it came to her husband’s destiny? We’ll never know. The deposed Fantasy Bulgaria princesses are just as bland as you would expect, more basic fantasy avatars than people. They ride horses, shoot arrows, and talk tough. Oh, and they’re pretty. The assorted supporting characters, all resigned to sad stock roles, fail to register, so much so that the actually evil king Tervin only has two scenes before the final battle.
The action is unspectacular, routinely unable to conceal the limitations of Boll’s budgets,, chiefly the small number of fighters present. When we flash to Tervin’s castle, it always seems like the majority of the castle guard must be on an extended lunch break because the place is so lightly fortified. If the princesses had just studied the guard lunch habits, they would be able to retake the throne without even having to wait for their Chosen One. The special effects for the dragon are decent for the low budget but it too points out the limitations. If you had a dragon under your spell, why wouldn’t you continuously use that strategically valuable asset to engulf all your enemies in flame? A few of the dragon attacks are then followed by the dragon being mysteriously absent, as if this winged creature was too aloof to follow-through with killing its prey, like a cat with a bug. This dragon is a hard creature to read. In one moment it’s chasing the good guys, then taking out the bad guys, then just doing whatever it wants. Maybe it is like a cat. Anyway, if you like watching people in cloaks and thatched huts talk about prophecies and destinies and a childish notion of good and evil, then enjoy In the Name of the King 3.
I may be reading too much into this film in a vain attempt to search for any sort of meaning, but there was one storyline that left me feeling odd. In Real Bulgaria, Hazen kidnaps two royal sisters and locks them away, and then when he is transported to Fantasy Bulgaria, he’s immediately teamed up with another group of royal sisters. This is no coincidence, right? They have to be stand-ins for the imprisoned gals. For crying out loud, it’s even the same actor in both worlds that threatens them (Valev plays both baddies and no mention is made about this fact). If this all connects, then it’s really uncomfortable when Hazen starts making out with one of Fantasy Bulgaria’s princesses. She’s the analogue for the captured pre-teen girl in Real Bulgaria, and he’s becoming romantically involved with her. Weird, right?
Purcell (TV’s Prison Break) has become the latest actor to assimilate into the Boll Repeat Players, appearing in three Boll flicks in a row. He actually performed well in Assault on Wall Street, a Boll movie that almost worked, but in this movie he’s just the Reluctant Hero set to sleepwalking mode. He’s supposed to be haunted by his past, his gambling debts leading to his wife’s demise, but it never seems like anything rattles Hazen, who just kind of half-heartedly shrugs his way through the entire fantasy journey. He grumbles and spews profanities (the film’s only R-rating quality), but at no point do you ever feel like he has processed just how strange what has happened to him is. He even stops to brew and savor a cup of coffee in the same room he just murdered a bunch of security guards. The rest of the actors are unrecognizable to America audiences and may be to Bulgarian audiences as well. There’s no standout, however, there is one single standout moment. It involves Valev responding to a charge of betrayal. “Betrayal?” he bellows indignantly. “Whatdoyouknowaboutbetrayal?! I’vebeenthroughthisallmylife,” then spills out like a chunk of undigested word vomit, the words falling all over one another. After I heard this awful line reading, my attention refocused. I had to watch the scene again just for this. It’s the highlight of the entire movie.
Another complaint: whoever came up with these character names (presumably debut screenwriter Joel Ross) should be fired and never given this privilege again. The protagonist’s name is Hazen Kane, not to be confused with Raisin’ Canes, the delicious fried chicken restaurant that would be a better use of your time and money (love me that Cain sauce). According to Babynamespedia.com, “Hazen” had its peak of naming around 1901 when it was the 807th most popular baby boy name. Not to be outdone, our villain’s name is Tervin. That’s the kind of name of the kid who gets picked on at school, not a feared tyrant. Other names include Arabella, Emeline, Alys, Ayavlo, Andon, Ana, Alekandar, Kardam, and Sophie. Just from a screenwriting standpoint, it’s not a good idea to have a vast majority of your speaking roles all start with the same letter as it can get confusing to the reader, let alone the eventual audience, if there is one.
By all accounts, In the Name of the King 3 is a step backwards for Boll, both figuratively and literally. It’s a simplistic and lazy fantasy film that doesn’t bother to set up its characters, develop those characters, or even provide much in the way of entertainment. The fact that Boll is essentially repeating the previous In the Name of the King, which makes it even harder to justify its existence. It’s your typical fantasy epic with the epic parts sanded down to the limits of its budget. The characters are nonstarters, our hero is dull, the quest is rushed, the action is plain, and even the dragon is under utilized. I’ve seen considerably worse with Boll’s name attached as director, but rarely have I seen a Boll film where I’m struggling to even come up with anything, good or bad (mostly bad), to reference to possibly validate a derisive viewing. This is just bland, formulaic pap from start to finish and nobody puts much effort into disguising this. Three films is more than enough for this undercooked fantasy film series. Let it stay in Fantasy Bulgaria for good.
Nate’s Grade: C-
Unrated, 93 min.
Rampage was one of the better-received films from director Uwe Boll, with several critics ad members of the public declaring it his best work, something that could actually be qualified as “good.” Despite tracking Boll from the beginning, I could not count myself amongst their numbers. I found Rampage to be a rather empty exercise in shock violence that grew tedious and misguided as it continued. A sequel to an intellectually empty and violent film minus meaningful subtext or commentary was not exactly what I would have requested.
Years after his murderous spree in a small town, Bill (Brendan Fletcher) is back with another “important” message to deliver to the masses. He storms a TV news station, rounds u a number of hostages after murdered an equal number, and appoints egotistical anchor Chip (Lochlyn Munro) as his go-between with the police. He insists his message must be heard. You can guess already whether it’s worth the fuss.
Rampage 2: Capital Punishment is an exercise in testing your patience with its aimless nihilism. It’s a formless diatribe against all the world’s evils. Topics include the NA and spying, the war in Iraq, Bush’s status as a war criminal, oil companies, drone strikes, Edward Snowden, Obamacare, the media, reality TV, global warming, Wall Street, and just about every other political target you can think of from an angry reactionary with a healthy sense of outrage. It’s not that these topics are beyond scrutinizing or that Bill might have some legitimate points as he’s skipping around from subject to subject, but he’s too scatterbrained, inarticulate, and just a poor mouthpiece for the revolution he wants to inspire. Bill is no different than your garden-variety college freshman that thinks they have suddenly come across amazing psychic insights into the rotten core of humanity after one political science class. I do find Bill’s moral championing of stricter gun control laws to be somewhat comically disingenuous. This is the problem with Bill as a character and his ongoing rampages. He’s all sputtering outrage without a filter and direction, without honing his fury. It’s easy to tune this guy out because he sounds no more particularly articulate than any other person who legitimately uses the word “manifesto” in daily life. Chances are if anyone in your life refers to something they wrote, un-ironically, as a “manifesto,” get a new friend pronto.
Here’s an example of the overall aimlessness of Bill’s indignation. One of his hostages is quivering in yoga pants. He asks if she does yoga and she nods her head. He demands she perform some yoga poses at gunpoint. “Yoga is not good for the world. It is gymnastics for the egocentric,” he argues. Then he shoots her. He shoots this woman just because she does yoga. Huh? It’s not like this character was going to have any semblance of a moral high ground considering he’s coming off a spree killing with over 100 victims in his wake, but it makes any political points he may attempt null and void. Want one more example of just how incoherently rambling Bill’s diatribes are? Amongst his targets is the 2012 film Lincoln and Steven Spielberg himself (really!). He declares that, “You think the Civil War happened to free the slaves and billionaire Spielberg makes you dumber. The reality is every war is about money, and the stupid people must die because the elite decided it.” I cannot believe this guy has the number of online devotee he has because he’s not charismatic, he’s not articulate, and he’s definitely not insightful. I got bored listening to him. Sadly, that’s what a good majority of the film ends up being: listening to this guy endlessly complain. It’s like the guy who yells on the street corner just got a bigger stage but his act is the same.
One of my major criticisms with Boll’s first Rampage was that it was too limited and without providing any relevant commentary to go with its violence. The sequel doesn’t make much progress. Every victim that Ben shoots has to be given a tighter slow-mo shot so we can better soak up the squib hit of his or her chest exploding with blood. At least Ben’s violence is channeled to a single source rather than unleashing it against the denizens of an entire town, but his message is a messy shotgun blast of social ills. It’s angry and nihilistic but without anything to add. If there is a cogent message it flies completely under the radar and gets lost in all the rambling rhetoric and macho posturing.
Let’s talk about the bait and switch nature of the movie’s title as well as the DVD cover advertising. When you see a masked gunman standing next to a burning Capital building and the title proclaims “Capital Punishment,” I think 99 out of 100 people would correctly assume the majority of the action takes place in D.C. and would be directed at elected officials. Oh how wrong those 99 people would be (the 100th was just dumb luck, so don’t get too smug). The entire plot revolves around Bill holding a TV station hostage. That’s it. No government building, no government officials, nothing even remotely related to Washington D.C., especially when the local gas stations are for “Canada Petrol.” Before viewing, I assumed that Rampage 2 was going to be a combination of the first film and Boll’s nearly good Assault on Wall Street, bringing a populist fury to the lawmakers in Washington. It seems like the next step on Boll’s populist journey. Instead, most of the film is a series of ugly vignettes of Bill terrorizing the frightened station employees by gunpoint, demanding his interview and an airing of his nihilistic rhetoric. Even at a little over 85 minutes, the film feels laboriously padded out and stretched thin. At one point, Chip accidentally breaks the DVD Bill demanded be broadcast. The movie literally spends almost eight minutes on this subject, like it’s a great uptick in suspense. “I’m sure he’s got another one,” a SWAT officer says. “He will not shoot you, trust me,” he says, unhelpfully. Lo and behold, he does have an additional DVD copy. “Always have a duplicate,” he says. Wasn’t that worth spending valuable time on?
Fletcher (Freddy vs. Jason) returns to the completely underwritten role of Bill, more uncontrollable mouthpiece than anything resembling a person. He’s effectively peeved but he still doesn’t come across as that threatening a screen presence, which is saying something considered he’s carrying high-powered assault weapons. Munro (Scary Movie) feels like he just got the call minutes before filming. He seems like he’s constantly judging what he should be doing in every scene; perhaps that’s a beneficial sign of his performance since his man is playing it on the fly in a hostage situation. His long speech to the camera as a news anchor is tiresome, circuitous philosophical vomit, which also summarizes most of the dialogue. The one amusing aspect from casting is that Boll himself plays Chip’s advantageous and morally unscrupulous news director. He’s thrilled with the ratings and attention the station is getting. You decide if this is some sort of meta commentary on Boll and his penchant for rolling with the punches.
I fear Boll thinks that there is a level of audience attachment to his spree killer that simply doesn’t exist. He’s not an anti-hero, he’s not a revolutionary, he’s not even an engaging character by any generous metric and that’s because he’s just a stand-in for tedious ideology. He’s a mouth and a trigger finger, and that’s all Bill is, in no compelling manner. I worry that Boll will continue to insert Bill into new settings, have him round up some innocent people, and then we’ll watch him sputter for an hour about whatever cultural and political misdeeds are currently bugging Boll. I worry that the promise of “Capital Punishment” inherent in the title will really just lead to a third Rampage film with this promise actually, finally, followed through. Generally, I just worry that the world will have to suffer more abuse from further appearances by Bill, the world’s most irritating psychopath who loves to hear himself talk. The scariest part is that some people will actually think this is good. You might want to reconsider your friendship with these people too, especially if they also use the word “manifesto.”
Nate’s Grade: D
Rampage: President Down (2016): Brendan Fletcher, Ryan McDonnell, Steve Baran, Crystal Lowe.
Unrated, 99 min.
In the close for my review of the awful 2014 hostage thriller Rampage: Capital Punishment, I was fairly prescient with a concern that sat in the pit of my stomach:
“I fear Uwe Boll thinks that there is a level of audience attachment to his spree killer that simply doesn’t exist. He’s not an anti-hero, he’s not a revolutionary, he’s not even an engaging character by any generous metric and that’s because he’s just a stand-in for tedious ideology. He’s a mouth and a trigger finger, and that’s all Bill (Brendan Fletcher) is, in no compelling manner. I worry that Boll will continue to insert Bill into new settings, have him round up some innocent people, and then we’ll watch him sputter for an hour about whatever cultural and political misdeeds are currently bugging Boll. I worry that the promise of “Capital Punishment” inherent in the title will really just lead to a third Rampage film with this promise actually, finally, followed through. Generally, I just worry that the world will have to suffer more abuse from further appearances by Bill, the world’s most irritating psychopath who loves to hear himself talk.”
Flash to 2015, and Boll and Fletcher are pushing a Kickstarter to raise funds in order to make a third (and final?) Rampage movie that will be guaranteed to be “the film we want to make, and you will want to see.” It seems that the requested $56,000 was to fund a climactic action sequence that would “leave the streets of Washington ruined, in a sequence more explosive than anything scene before in the Rampage trilogy.” It did not meet its target goal, and Boll’s response was titled, “F you all.” Those discerning folks of the Internet couldn’t stop Boll and his ridiculously misapplied love and devotion to the Rampage series, and so my dire warning has come true. The only good thing about Rampage: President Down is it might be the merciful end of this merciless franchise.
Bill Williamson (Fletcher) has come out of hiding and made big news. He assassinates the United States’ president, vice president, and Secretary of Defense, and inexplicably goes back into hiding in the woods. FBI agents Vincent Jones (Ryan McDonell), James Molokai (Steve Baran), and Murray (Scott Patey) are on the hunt to find out who is responsible, and they’re shocked to discover Bill is alive and well. Not only that he’s a new father, sneaking in visits with his child and baby mama (Crystal Lowe, a Boll acting reappearance stretching all the way back to 2000’s Sanctuary). Bill is making one final stand and has deadly plans for the government agents looking to bring him to justice.
As much as the subtitle was misleading from 2014’s Capital Punishment, with a picture of the U.S. Capitol building that was never featured, this one may prove to be even more of a misleading promise. President Down makes it sound like the president is under immediate threat, and he was, at the ten-minute mark. At that point Bill has taken out the president, the vice president, and even the secretary of defense, which means they must have had the absolute least qualifies team of Secret Service agents. It’s never explained how exactly he accomplishes this feat or whether suspicions creep toward the Speaker of the House (line of succession, folks). You would expect the entire nation to be on high alert, that a manhunt would be under full swing with every agency utilizing very even means to capture the culprit and bring them to justice. If you worried about the NSA spying on people and the defense department’s predilection for of drone warfare, just imagine after a wave of high-profile assassinations at the top of the executive branch. And yet the frantic world of political instability is manifested by two or three mediocre FBI agents who then, when successfully identifying THE U.S. PRESIDENT’S KILLER, go at it alone and miserably. This world lacks any sense of urgency and any sense of reality. The only reason a writer would bump off the U.S. president in the story is to deal with the consequences, and weirdly the consequences almost feel entirely unrelated. The FBI is tracking Bill but they could have been doing that already after he murdered over 100 people. Oh, I’m sorry, he was so remarkably clever that he faked his own death. There is no real chaos at least as it pertains to the movie’s plot. We hear offhand news broadcasts about the world spiraling out of control, possibly nuclear attacks on ISIS. It’s all pretty vague. However, our characters just go about their duty like it was a boring Tuesday. What’s the point of toppling the president if it isn’t significant to the story?
The movie suffers from a plot that struggles to fill out a feature-length running time, stretching this manhunt and then providing a climactic confrontation that doesn’t so much feel climactic as it does a relief from the prior crushing monotony. The first hour is built around the FBI agents getting tracking down Bill but there’s no reason this manhunt even needs to be as long as it is, and that’s because of the contrivance of the magic facial recognition software. If you’re going to through in that device, it might as well find him immediately rather than stretch out this storyline and have to reboot the system to reach the inevitable recognition. It’s delaying what everyone already anticipates, so why wait? The manhunt isn’t even that interesting because it’s watching three stock FBI characters stare at computer screens and occasionally engage in their own political debate. I think one of them might have been a mole who was sympathetic to Bill, but I can’t say for certain because the copy I watched had German subtitles for the onscreen texts. If this is the case, and it might not be, then revealing this mole at the half-hour mark is far too early and robs the film of greater mystery and suspense. This isn’t The Departed. There’s far too little that happens for the first hour. Finally, once the FBI agents raid Bill’s cabin, something does happen, and it’s slow-mo combat and explosions. Why did only two agents try and take down America’s most prolific murderer? Why does the FBI not send out a drone and just blow up the entire area? The ensuing action is pretty pointless. Boll also opens the movie with a flash-forward of this cabin assault, which confuses the timeline of events but also pads out his otherwise meager running time. There’s not enough plot here to justify a feature film and adding more Bill rants is not the answer.
The biggest problem with this series has been twofold: the empty void of its central protagonist and the lack of cohesive or, at times, even existent commentary. I reiterate what I said in my Capital Punishment review: “Bill is no different than your garden-variety college freshman that thinks they have suddenly come across amazing psychic insights into the rotten core of humanity after one political science class. I do find Bill’s moral championing of stricter gun control laws to be somewhat comically disingenuous.” Boll thinks he’s really saying deep things through his mouthpiece but his sputtering diatribes lack direction and articulation. It’s like making a trilogy of movies about the guy who yells at passing cars. Bill chastises the media and his online followers for losing sight: “You’re obsessed with violence. You focus on my body count rather than what I was telling you.” Gee, has there ever been a spree killer that enacted radical social change? I’m fairly certain Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t gunning down innocent people for trivial crimes as practicing yoga (that freaking happened in Capital Punishment! — not the MLK part).
Bill is an attention-seeking hypocrite with a healthy martyr complex and an oversized ego, but where is he really fails is that he’s boring. There’s not one interesting thing about this guy even after three full movies. Boll tries to give him depth through the hackneyed addition of Bill becoming a father with a… fan? It’s not really explained, and Bill does fall into what comedian Paul F. Tompkins dubbed “new dad” sotto voice. Does having a child in this world cause him to reflect? Does it change his perspective? Does it make him think of the hundreds of fathers and mothers that he took from this Earth? There are no insights provided at all except that he occasionally cries. The entire baby mama storyline is a pathetic attempt to humanize a remorseless killer, but it’s even more pathetic as a last-ditch attempt to inject some semblance of life into this empty vessel.
The other major issue that goes directly back to the start of this terrible film franchise is that the violence lacks any sort of relevant commentary. The movie isn’t bereft of social commentary but it’s a messy shotgun blast without a clear direction. Boll has a lot of anger directed at government overreach with modern surveillance and he also takes time to re-litigate the Iraq War and ethically murky War on Terror. There are points to be made here, relevant, searing, and eye-opening points, but Boll cannot focus his thoughts beyond ire and brimstone. I think he wants Bill to be a wake-up call but for what exactly? He points to vague things about income inequality and the rights of the people being taken away, but there’s a dangerous opaque quality to these charges, especially when the end result is that The People are stirred to take up arms and become spree killers. Is random murder of innocent human beings the solution to income inequality? At the conclusion of the movie, a news anchor informs us that George W. Bush, the CEOs of Microsoft, GE, and Facebook have been murdered by The People, along with the likes of singers Rihanna, Taylor Swift, and Britney Spears (hey girl, you still got it). Regardless of what you think about their music, do these people deserve to be the first against the wall in a revolution? That seems pretty petty and a wasted grievance.
Boll’s misguided view of his lead character can best be summarized by Bill’s baby mama. She’s tear-stricken to discover news that her man has been declared dead by authorities, and she takes great umbrage at their choice of vocabulary: “He wasn’t a terrorist! He was just doing what needed to be done!” It’s fortunate I wasn’t drinking something at the time of this dialogue line because it would have been spat all over my computer screen. What an immensely asinine rationalization. Of course this dude is a terrorist! He literally terrorizes the nation, mowing down dozens and dozens of innocent people, rising in infamy with a record-breaking body count of wreckage. This guy is a definition of a terrorist, although I guess he’s not Middle Eastern of Muslim and so might not fit the profile for some. The revolution was only one yoga-practitioner away from being realized, we just never knew about it before (non-terrorist) St. Bill.
I’ll never understand why Boll hitched his wagon to such a depraved and empty central figure. With the first Rampage film I wondered if Boll was trying to understand the disaffected angry male voice out there, to try and put the audience in the shoes of a human being who would commit horrifying acts of butchery as a means of lashing out against a system that made him feel inconsequential. That wasn’t Rampage, a nihilistic and tiresome exercise in shock value that was mistaken as commentary. The 2014 sequel only reinforced the flaws of Bill and his rise-up manifesto, and once again Boll’s story dawdled with contrived false tension until an explosive climax that lingered on the violence, celebrating the carnage. If Bill wants to complain about the people’s love of violence he might want to direct his fury at his own director. With President Down, Bill is dead and his message has inspired the populace to take control of their lives via the conduit of indiscriminate murder and terrorism. I think the message may have gotten a tad lost along the way. The Rampage films were never good movies but they were even worse intellectual exercises, and I worry about people who charitably refer to them as the “good Boll movies.” They’re not, and as one of the world’s foremost experts on the catalogue of Boll, I can legitimately say he has made some almost-good movies (Attack on Wall Street and Tunnel Rats). I beg audiences not to give Boll an easy pass. If this is the end of the franchise, it goes out with a whimper and no lasting impression beyond angry, misplaced rhetoric and violent nihilism masquerading as social commentary. Follow the lead of the Kickstarter folks and steer clear of this mighty mess.
Nate’s Grade: D
The verdict doesn’t look good for Uwe Boll as a filmmaker. If you couldn’t tell, I was running out of synonyms for “dumb” a long time ago. After viewing several movies, Boll’s flaws as a director really stand out. He has zero ability to direct actors, which explains why every film has stupendously retched line delivery. He has little patience for setting up a plot or clinging onto suspense. He has no feel for tone or mood and makes a great many decisions that take away from the feel of the film. Boll is smitten with cheesy, gimmicky special effects that serve no purpose. His films routinely feature stupid stories and stupid characters, and Boll is responsible for the story of at least three of the movies. Boll doesn’t even know how to establish satisfying action, instead falling back into redundancy and special effects. Boll doesn’t have much faith in the intelligence of his audience.
Having said all that, is Boll the Antichrist? No. Is he a modern day Ed Wood? Not really. Wood was easily derided for his out-there stories and next to nothing budgets, but he had a passion for science fiction and the possibility of film. Wood’s movies are still entertaining to this day and even earn a clumsy cuteness. He handles his actors much better than Boll and has more of a grasp on the basic of plot structure. One of the reasons Wood’s films were bad was because they were extremely low budget and his imagination was too big. That’s why you have plates on fishing line as flying saucers, stock footage used at weird junctures, and he and his friends playing most of the roles. Wood had a love of movies; Boll, as far as I can tell, has an adoration with making movies. There’s a big difference. Wood never got anywhere near the budgets Boll toils with (Alone in the Dark was $30 million, In the Name of the King was at $60 million). If Boll had respect for the horror/thriller genre then he’d pay more attention to the choices he was making that destroy his films. Wood had competency with writing and directing, he just didn’t have the money or the hubris to make his movies better. Boll has money and hubris, and that’s all he’s working with.
Boll is found guilty of being a shoddy writer and director. While his awfulness doesn’t reach the realms of apocalyptic signs, his movies are consistently flawed in the same areas and he shows no sign of growth or awareness. Boll is hereby sentenced to crash course in rudimentary screenwriting and directing at the college of his choice. Case dismissed.
Now that the dust has cleared, it’s time to close the door on the initial entry into The Shooting Gallery. Please check back in for updates and future editions setting their sights on Hollywood’s elite as well as its bottom feeders. So ladies and gentlemen, time to stow those firearms back from whence they came. Don’t worry though, in case of an intruder you’ll have me nearby, and if it’s Uwe Boll, I’ll have a LOT to say to him.
Well, that pretty much does it for now at least. Boll still has more movies scheduled for release (on DVD) and when that happens, you can expect this already gargantuan-sized analysis of the man to expand to even greater lengths. I hope you’ve enjoyed my point-by-point analysis of EVERY Uwe Boll English-language movie. Who else is going to do this for you, sweet readers? I need to go rest my head.