Notorious German director Uwe Boll hasn’t made a movie since 2016 and says he is done, retired, and not turning back to movies. What’s somebody like me, who has spilled thousands upon thousands of words on the man, to do? Why watch a feature documentary on the man and his unorthodox methods. F*** You All: The Uwe Boll Story is potentially the “last” Boll film, so it felt right to review it for my ongoing Boll retrospective and as a sendoff for a man I’ve chronicled for fourteen years.
The documentary also confirmed for me several speculative questions I’ve posed over the long course of my reviewing of his catalogue of hits and misses and misses. There is a reason he gets bigger name actors like Ben Kingsley and Jason Statham, or at least did for a while, and that’s because he doesn’t cast his movies until a few weeks before they are set to shoot. Then he asks for actors that are available his shooting dates and offers a check, and it’s sudden but it can work. Even he admits it’s a crazy process because the actors have no rehearsal time, you might not even get people right for the roles, but it’s only a problem if one cares about that sort of thing, and then he laughs knowingly. I’ve also suspected for some time that the screenplays for Boll movies are incomplete or heavily rewritten on the spot, and this is confirmed as well. Guinevere Turner is a fine writer, having worked on several Mary Harron movies including American Psycho, The Notorious Bettie Page, and the recently released Charlie Says. She is also the sole credited writer to Bloodrayne. To say this movie is below her standards is an understatement. As she details, only twenty percent resembles her original script. But, she notes, Boll paid in full. If you’re going to be relegated to schlock cinema, at least get paid for it. In general, Boll flashes disdain for what he feels are the excesses of filmmaking, wasted time to work on nuance or camera setups for dynamic shooting. The cast say they rarely get more than two takes even if they beg for more. Sometimes Boll won’t even be looking at the monitor as a scene plays out. His producer instincts dominate his writer/director instincts, and it becomes a product to mash out.
Perhaps the most insane example of this was in 2010 when Boll elected to shoot three films simultaneously. He got a budget for the third Bloodrayne movie, which was finally set during the time period of the video game, Nazi Germany. Boll says he secured financing by promising two movies for the price of one, shooting the specific parody Blubberella on the same sets, with the same actors, and following the same plot. Actress Lindsay Hollister was on set and scribbling joke ideas with the Bloodrayne 3 screenplay. When it came time to writing the script for Blubberella, she assumed an actual writer would be utilized. When she sat down for a read through, she was shocked to discover the Blubberrella “shooting script” was merely her copy of the Bloodrayne script with her notes in the margins. The Bloodrayne movie was the priority and had to look the best, so it got the majority of the time, and then according to Hollister they would get a take or two to film the Blubberella version and just go with it. It didn’t matter if the movie didn’t make sense. It only mattered that it was made (“I just have to get it to 77 minutes,” Boll candidly told Hollister). On top of this insane setup, several weeks into production Boll added a third film, live-action recreations for Auschwitz, detailing the horrors of the gas chambers. He had to keep track of three separate film productions simultaneously making use of the same schedules. It’s not a surprise that the films didn’t turn out well, but just imagine juggling tone, going from a cheesy genre movie, to a goofy satire of that cheesy genre movie, to a deadly serious Holocaust recount. That would make my head explode and I only watched all three movies.
As a documentary, F*** You All seems too conflicted with resurrecting Boll’s image. The real ammunition this story has are the crazy, juicy behind-the-scenes anecdotes that should spill from baffled actors. There are a few but this currency is too quickly depleted. Instead writer/director Sean Patrick Shaul (who worked on Boll’s 2013 film, Assault on Wall Street) is trying to break open the contradictions of Boll, the man who seems to love being a director but not actually directing, who seems to love making movies but doesn’t want to put that much effort into making them better. That’s fine territory but too often Shaul seems to mitigate the director’s own bad behavior as simply his interpersonal style. He provokes outrage and has no filter and thrives on making people uncomfortable, but he doesn’t know when to quit. There’s one gross moment where Boll is bullying and belittling actress Natassia Malthe (the replacement Rayne for the sequels) for not going naked in his movie. He presses her that she’s done nudity before and should be volunteering to expose herself again. He says the audience comes to his movies for “blood and boobs,” and Malthe concurs with him, recognizing what kind of movie she is starring in, but that doesn’t give him entitlement over her body. We’re repeatedly reminded by cast that they would work again with Boll in a heartbeat or genuinely enjoy him (Malthe is not interviewed) because he’s direct and gets things done, albeit not always the best of things. It feels a bit like trying to convince your skeptical pals that your drunk, obnoxious friend is really a good guy if you just got to know him. Boll is an interesting subject. I just wish the filmmaker had probed further to better examine those contradictions that make him who he is.
Boll lives for publicity stunts and perhaps none was bigger than when he challenged four of his critics to a public boxing match. It’s hard to think of any other situation where a much-derided filmmaker was literally challenging his critics to a physical fight and they miraculously took him up on it. Apparently, the critics thought it was going to be a silly joust and more a stunt. Oh no. Boll had been practicing for months, taking breaks on sets to get in a 5K run, and he’d been an amateur boxer for most of his life. He pummeled the out-of-shape film critics (Sam Peckinpah would be proud). Was he seeking vengeance against his tormentors or was it all a stunt? It’s hard to say. The legend of Uwe Boll and the actual man get blurry, as Boll would lean into his infamy as the “worst filmmaker ever” to gather further worldwide attention and further funding.
Boll has successfully transitioned into the restaurant industry, forming one of the most acclaimed dining establishments in all of Canada. He’s even stated how if a dish needs three days to be properly prepared, then that’s what it takes, which seems like the opposite of his approach to filmmaking. Perhaps that’s a sign that his passion has transferred from film to food and that his would-be retirement will keep. He talks about how the rise in streaming platforms has mitigated the DVD and home video markets, directly siphoning away the funds that he would take advantage of for his slate of movies. He says filmmaking is no longer a good investment and thus he cannot continue. This might be true specifically for Boll’s avenues for cash flow, but it sure hasn’t stopped the influx of genre and exploitation indies. Take a look at Kickstarter or any other crowdfunding site and they’re inundated with low-budget horror productions (I’ve supported a few myself). I do think Boll could find a market if he desired, even if his Kickstarter for Rampage 3 failed to meet its target. I also don’t think Boll will stick with his retirement. Much like Kevin Smith and Steven Soderbergh, other filmmakers who swore retirement, I think this period will be but a breath, a pause until Boll finds something that inspires him.
However, if this is his final stamp on the world of filmmaking, I feel like some summation is in order. I’ve been watching and reviewing this man’s movies for over fourteen years, specifically seeking out each new release to add to what amounts to a would-be Master’s thesis of criticism about one of the most reviled directors to ever work in Hollywood. Is Uwe Boll the worst filmmaker of all time? I can answer decisively…. no, he is not. For all the vitriol he provokes, some of his own doing, he has a competency that others cannot even hope to achieve, like Neil Breen or Mark Region (After Last Season might be the most painful movie I’ve seen). Boll definitely has his shortcomings as a writer and director, which his own cast and crew will agree, but I would love to have the man as a producer. He’s a born hustler and his ability to gather necessary resources and money is what kept him in business for decades. He could be a modern-day Roger Corman. If this is the end of Uwe Boll, Director, then it’s been a long, strange journey, and one that has given me reflection on my own relationship to filmmaking and film criticism. To quote, of all people, the band Fall Out Boy, thanks for the memories, Uwe, even if they weren’t so good.
See you again?
Nate’s Grade: C
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.
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.
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 Schindler’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.
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 f*cks. 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 upset with her Boyfriend who wants to keep the baby and support her but is also willing to support whatever decision she makes.
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 assaulting 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 assult. Then it hit a slightly interesting juxtaposition, as Big Bro’s positive recount of his victim’s experience doesn’ match what we see happening. So I was willing to let it slide for a while 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 her. 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.
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, 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? 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