This may be my least useful review in my career as a critic but I’ll try my best when it comes to Detective Pikachu. I’m not a Pokemon fan. It came to popularity as I started high school and was generally after my time. I can state unequivocally that this movie is not made for people like me, and that’s fine. I imagine fans of the long-running television series and games will be delighted to see this world brought to life with great care and top-notch special effects. I sat through the 105 minutes slightly amused but feeling no strong feelings one way or another. It’s a pleasant enough movie with decent world building and a predictable plot (taken verbatim from the game of the same name apparently). It’s charming enough for an outsider but offers not much else. It feels like a PG-Deadpool Ryan Reynolds attached to a Who Framed Roger Rabbit?-style universe where Pokemon and humans interact normally. No one ever seems to fully articulate how the Pokemon battles are essentially dog fighting and that they’re enslaving these creatures for blood sport, but it’s not like I was expecting that commentary either. In a world of living monsters, the human characters are a bit boring. Justice Smith’s character is annoying and inconsistent. He seems a bit oblivious to how much he remembers about his missing father, which is more curious with some end reveals. Bill Nighy appears as the most obvious villain. Suki Waterhouse is here as a shape-shifting hench woman. The real draw is Reynolds as the voice to a Pikachu looking to pick up the pieces of its lost memory. The humor is brisk and has more hits than misses, even if the aim is somewhat low. Detective Pikachu is a family-friendly comedy that will likely please the hardcore legion of Pokemon fans and leave the rest of us shrugging our shoulders and saying to ourselves, “Well, that was a thing.”
Nate’s Grade: B-
Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) and his best pal Vanellope (voiced by Sarah Silverman) must venture out of their arcade home once Vanellope’s game gets broken. She’s in danger of having her racing game shelved for good unless they can find a new steering wheel controller. Thanks to the installation of wi-fi, Ralph and Vanellope hop along the information super highway and visit an online metropolis bursting with life and possibility. It’s a world of advanced games, races, and interactivity and Vanellope might not want to go back to her old world, much to the chagrin of Ralph.
Fear not, this is not Disney’s rehash of The Emoji Movie, a slapdash gallivant through Internet culture, apps, and the most famous online brands. The first forty minutes or so of Ralph Breaks the Internet are silly and visually appealing as our familiar characters expand their horizons to the world of online gaming. Much like the first film, there are a lot of rules and mechanics to establish as a foundation before things can get too complicated. The first Wreck-It Ralph was a bit more structured and clean in this aspect whereas the sequel gets to feel a tad episodic. The Grand Theft Auto/Twisted Metal world of street racing provides a splendid contrast and plenty of satirical touches. It’s still amusing as Ralph and Vanellope discover the new worlds and we see how the filmmakers choose to depict their inner workings, like a concierge working a search bar or spammers as pushy street promoters. Although it also leads to some questions, like this world has Google but no YouTube, instead combining YouTube and Buzzfeed into one entity where hearts count as upvotes/likes. Is there a reason Disney might not want to have steered children to YouTube? Or is there something more corporate about promoting a rival media company when Disney is planning their own online streaming magical kingdom? It’s an entertaining beginning but I started to get worried about whether or not this was the extent of what we were going to get with a Ralph sequel. Is this really all going to be about raising money to buy an arcade controller wheel?
It’s about the forty-five minute mark where the film takes a welcomed turn, where it focuses far more on the character relationships between Ralph and Vanellope, and that’s when the film deepens into something much more special. The antics beforehand were colorful and amusing but too episodic, but once Ralph and Vanellope are split apart, now those same imaginative antics are used in the service of developing characters and exploring their inner conflicts. It’s like the movie went next level with its potential. Vannelope’s excursion into the Disney Corporate Realm leads to fun cameos (Groot), and newly sad cameos (Stan Lee, R.I.P.), but the meta interaction with the Disney princesses is a hoot. The film cleverly ribs the Disney traditions of old but, and this is the key part, finds ways to relate it back to character conflicts and assumptions. The Disney princesses lead Vanellope into a new soul-searching direction, which leads to an inspired musical number that’s filled with silly, ironic non-sequitors and a declaration of purpose, a wonderful melding of the Disney storytelling of old and new. From here, the movie gets better and better as Ralph goes to greater lengths to sabotage Vanellope’s plans to leave him for a new game. The final act grows from this misguided attempt to hold onto selfish needs and rebuke change, and it culminates in a climax that is built around the characters and what they’re willing to give up for one another. For a movie that starts with silly gags about eBay and Twitter, it grows into something that genuinely could bring some tears.
The overall message, that growing apart is okay and can be healthy, that friendships will inevitably change over time and to not stand in the way of change, is a lesson I was not anticipating from a “family film.” I was expecting Ralph Breaks the Internet to mostly cover the dark side of the Internet, in an albeit family-friendly manner, about the casual cruelty and lack of empathy that is magnified from the perceived anonymity. The movie does cover some of this material briefly when Ralph stumbles into a hall of mean-spirited comments (“First rule of the Internet: never read the comments”). I was expecting a more simplified and pat lesson about the evils of the Internet, but instead the filmmakers deliver something far more applicable and important for young people. They could have gone for easy life lessons about online behavior, and instead Ralph Breaks the Internet goes above and beyond to make its message more personal and sympathetic.
Reilly (Kong: Skull Island) provides a lot of heart to his doofus; enough to keep him grounded even when his character starts making bad decisions to keep the status quo. Silverman (Battle of the Sexes) has a harder time just because she’s asked to keep her voice at a childlike level, which can be grating at certain points. She is still able to convey an array of emotions. The relationship between Ralph and Vanellope is key to the series being more than the sum of its parts, and both actors help this through their sometimes warm, sometimes bickering interactions. The biggest new addition is Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman) as Shank, the leader of a gang of car thieves. She’s a tough lady that takes an immediate shine to the attitude and gusto of Vanellope. The character and her world are more welcomed than Gadot as a vocal actor. She’s fairly limited in range. I did enjoy that they specifically animated Jason Mantzoukas (Netflix’s Big Mouth) as a nerdy question-asker and Oscar-nominee June Squibb (Nebraska) for five seconds each.
The Wreck-It Ralph franchise is another stellar plank in a growing armada of Disney animated franchises that could challenge Pixar for supremacy. Walking away from Ralph Breaks the Internet, I had to think it over but I concluded that I was more emotionally fulfilled and pleased than with Pixar’s Incredibles 2. I’m not going to argue that Ralph is the better of the two movies when it comes to storytelling, visual inventiveness, or action, but I was happier and more satisfied leaving Ralph. This is an imaginative, colorful, cheerful, and heartfelt movie with a valuable message and the understanding of narrative structure to see it through. I’m now thinking about a potential third Ralph movie (the director says there won’t be another, but let’s see what Disney says after those box-office grosses come in). We’ve gone to the realm of online gaming, so what’s next? Maybe Ralph’s game gets transferred to a collector’s home out of the country, like in Japan, and then it’s about Japanese gaming culture. Or my pal Ben Bailey suggested Ralph’s game gets relocated into a movie theater, one of the few places arcade machines are still present, and it’s Ralph in the world of the movies. The fact that I’m pitching sequels says something about the franchise’s potential and its accomplishment. Ralph Breaks the Internet is a worthy sequel with of equal parts compassion and wit.
Nate’s Grade: A-
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: C-
I have no idea whatsoever what the point of this movie was. Adapted from the popular video game, Max Payne follows a hardened police officer played hysterically super serious by a grumpy Mark Wahlberg. He scowls, he grumbles, he chews over laugh-out-loud “tough guy” dialogue as he searches for his wife’s killer. For whatever reason, this storyline dovetails with a super drug on the streets that makes people see hallucinations of winged demons/angels. The entire storyline has no merit except to squeeze in some semi-cool effects shots. But when you know they’re all just hallucinations, what does it matter? Can that really be scary? But then these creatures seem to interact with reality and pull people to their deaths, so what are the rules here? There’s not an ounce of fun to be had amidst this drabby neo-noir landscape. The plot is a formulaic revenge tale, where every turn is easily telegraphed and every character is a one-note stock role, complete with the video game favorite of doe-eyed pixie girl who carries huge guns (Mila Kunis, why?). Even the action sequences are dour and dull. Max Payne is a movie that was built to exist in moments and not as a whole. The most troublesome aspect of this whole sodden adventure is how much the film openly fetishizes guns. The end credits are like a reel of money shots, watching glistening CGI guns rattle off. What better way to end such a thoughtless exercise in pseudo entertainment.
Nate’s Grade: D
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
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
The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters is a short but sweet documentary that follows the lengths two men will go to set the records for the classic arcade game, Donkey Kong. We learn a whole lot about the many faces that populate the world of competitive video games, like Walter Day as official record-keeping referee, Steve Sanders as a fraudulent Donkey Kong champ in his youth who has now become a lawyer, Mr. Awesome, and the gaming world’s superstar, Billy Mitchell. He holds several world records including a score of 800,000 for Donkey Kong. Enter Washington science teacher Steve Wiebe who dutifully plays Donkey Kong in his garage. He challenges Billy’s score and videotapes himself passing 1,000,000 points; all the while you can hear his son in the background screaming to have his butt wiped.
What becomes very apparent is that the entire record-keeping system is tilted in Billy’s favor. It’s both sad and funny to watch a group of grown men who have all gravitated toward one man at video games. Billy’s claim to fame is he’s the best at video games, and he has a restaurant, a line of hot sauce, and other products that sell because he has that small sliver of fame. And this select circle of gamers essentially is a freaking tree house and they don’t like someone from the outside crashing their private party. This group of man-child sycophants is clinging to their small notoriety like a life preserver on a doomed ocean liner. It’s baffling how serious and self-involved they all come across; while on the phone with Billy, Steve Sanders, while dining, says in the most hyperbolic alertness that Steve has come into the restaurant “uninvitedly” like it’s some grave offense. It’s a restaurant! (Billy at one point literally says, “No matter what I say, it draws controversy. It’s sort of like the abortion issue.”) These few established gamers throw hurdles at Steve and even dismantle his Donkey Kong machine to snap pictures looking for some tenuous proof that his score was inflated somehow. When they find a small dew drop of glue in one corner of the control board, they claim that this, compiled with the fact that the board was given to Steve by a known enemy to Billy, is enough to disqualify Steve’s record-breaking million point score.
They challenge him to break the record in public and that’s what Steve does, which is more than what Billy Mitchell is capable of. Steve travels to renowned New Hampshire arcade FunSpot and, under the glare of Billy lackeys, breaks 900,000 and gets to the heralded “kill screen,” where the old arcade game, because it has exhausted its memory, begins a stage simply to kill Mario within seconds. We’re told only two others have been ever known to reach a kill screen in public.
And then Brain Kuh pops in a videotape that Billy sent. The tape is a recorded game, presumably of Billy playing, where he passes 1,000,000 points on Donkey Kong and undermines Steve’s recent accomplishment. The sycophants are all abuzz, with Kuh on the phone with Billy relaying every moment in hilarious fawning detail. Apparently, it wasn’t kosher for Steve to submit a recorded video of his score but Billy doing the same thing is acceptable. This double-standard is even more dubious when you realize that Billy Mitchell is one of the deciding members on whether or not to credit Steve’s million-point tape; isn’t that a bit of a conflict of interest? Billy’s record-breaking tape has a mysterious blur that only appears on the side of the screen with the score, and the blur conveniently or coincidentally covers the score as it passes into seven digits. Surely that is more questionable than a dollop of glue on a control board, but oh well, the score stands.
The last part of the film involves the Guinness Book of World Records reaching out to Walter Day to setup a section on video game score records. The location for this showdown is even in Billy’s own backyard of Hollywood, Florida. Steve travels 3,000 miles to be there and challenge Billy head-to-head in public, but the many days go by and Billy refuses to put his skills to public scrutiny. Is he afraid to lose in public, or is there really something funny with that record-breaking tape he submitted to FunSpot?
King of Kong is pleasantly structured like a sports movie. Billy is portrayed as the villain, the establishment, and Steve is the underdog that just wants to succeed at something in a life that seems filled with disappointment. Even better, the filmmakers made a training montage set to “Eye of the Tiger.” The movie follows the expectations of a triumph-of-the-will tale, and King of Kong is all the better because of the silliness of the world of competitive old school arcade games. The sincerity and seriousness is so high that you cannot be faulted for asking whether or not this film is a mockumentary. It doesn’t seem to be real but that’s part of what makes it’s so fun to watch. Yes there’s some bias in the editing, but Billy Mitchell sure makes it easy to be characterized as a villain living high on his spoils of long ago. He openly connives and an old woman he’s helping reach a Q-Bert record even refers to him as “devious.” I think Billy even relishes the role of villain.
King of Kong is filled with great personalities and Kuh may be one of the funniest and most pathetic real-life figures I’ve seen in recent documentaries. He’s a self-described “prodigy” of Billy’s, and he was one of the two people who ventured into Steve’s garage while he wasn’t home. He “retired” at age 30 and was one of the most vocal proponents of Steve proving his skills are valid in a public site. He says the true game player must perform in public, under pressure, with another gamer looking on, possibly playing mind games with you (he really does say this, I swear). Yet when Billy doesn’t follow suit, it’s legit. Steve was playing at the time the video was shown and asks to watch it. Kuh declines, saying it was a “one-play only show,” never mind the fact that Billy could have studied Steve’s own winning tape for hours. His hypocrisy and weasel nature aside, when he speaks directly to the camera to narrate Steve’s ongoing Donkey Kong game is where the true depth of how sad this guy is comes on display. He’s talking about how far Steve is advancing with thinly veiled envy and desperate hopes of a bad turn of events; he advises to be on alert for “wild barrels” and “aggressive fireballs.” It’s altogether pathetic. “For someone else to beat me to the kill screen would be a letdown,” he says, “but let’s see what happens, maybe he’ll crack under the pressure and maybe I’ll get my chance to do it first.”
King of Kong is a vastly entertaining documentary told with wit and visual flair. Debut filmmaker Seth Gordon has crafted a highly enjoyable little glimpse into the strange lives of competitive gaming. Following a sports movie model, it’s easy to root for the underdog and get swept up in the compelling, if bizarre, storyline. King of Kong is arresting and fascinating documentary on the agony of defeat and the thrill of competition.
Nate’s Grade: B+
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 “tolerable” by the time the sun explodes.
Nate’s Grade: D+
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.
Video games will never be translated into a good movie. There, I said it. I caught some grief before by this opinion. Think about it. Unlike say comic books, video games are dependent on user interactivity, on game involvement, and not necessarily story or character. A video game requires an audience to be interactive, whereas movies require an audience to be passive, letting a story envelope around them and take them some place. Video games just aren’t structured in a way that lends itself to storytelling. Just look at some recent results: House of the Dead, Alone in the Dark, Doom, Bloodrayne, Double Dragon (remember that movie?), Mortal Kombat 1 & 2, Street Fighter, etc. Granted three of those are Uwe Boll films, but what does it say when the best video game adaptation yet was Super Mario Brothers?
Now comes Silent Hill based on the very popular horror video game series. The screenplay is written by Roger Avary, who used to be Quentin Tarantino’s writing partner and wrote and directed one of my all-time guilty pleasures 2002’s Rules of Attraction. I guess I foolishly expected more, but with Silent Hill what I got was further fuel to my theory that no video game will make a good movie.
Rose (Radha Mitchell) and her husband Christopher (Sean Bean) are very troubled about their adopted girl, Sharon (Jodelle Ferland). She has the habit of sleepwalking and uttering “Silent Hill” repeatedly. So what’s a 21st century mother to do? Look up Silent Hill online, put her tyke in the car, and drive to the ghost town herself, much to the dismay of her husband left behind. It seems that Silent Hill was a town in West Virginia that had a horrible coal mining accident in the early 70s, killing many and condemning the town. We’re told the fires are still burning underground to this day. Along the way, a roadside motorcycle cop (Laurie Holden) gets suspicious of Rose and chases her. They crash their vehicles along the road and wake up to falling ash. Rose’s daughter is missing and she looks inside the nearby Silent Hill, a presumably deserted town. Then there are routine air sirens warning of an approaching darkness. The world changes form and nasty creatures come to life, like disjointed bodies, charcoal-skinned children, and malevolent evil spirits. It’s about here where I’d just say, “Oh well. I can adopt again.”
The movie is paced and structured like a video game, which means it’s just as tedious to sit through. The first two acts of Silent Hill center on Rose going from Point A to Point B, finding clue that leads her to a new point, and repeating this tiresome exercise. There?s a scene where there’s a giant hole in the floor and Rose has to navigate across scattered beams to get to the other side. It’s portrayed exactly like a video game level, as are most of her encounters. Worst of all, the movie follows a code of logic that dares to only exist in video games. Why does Rose instinctively know she needs to reach inside the mouth of a corpse to find a sign? How does she know a hidden room lay behind a portrait? Why does Rose know that light attracts the “Thriller” dance team/nurses with potato sacks on their heads? How come the evil presence that basically created this limbo world of the undead cannot penetrate a church? The plot is mostly incoherent and intentionally surreal, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that the story is just plain awful.
Silent Hill completely collapses once the third act begins. It was plodding up until that point, but now the film becomes downright ridiculous and painful. We’re amongst a crazy group of fundamentalist witch burners that, for whatever reason, dress in hazmat suits to venture outside their grounds. It’s at this point that the surreal nature stops and we find the answer to our questions: another vengeful spirit from beyond the grave. Ho hum. The protracted climax goes overboard and practically rapes the stellar ending of Carrie. Also, Silent Hill expects its Big Reveal to be shocking or surprising, but it cannot be anything except redundant because the film spelled it out an hour ago.
The dialogue is howl-inducing. There’s a moment that Rose says, “Don’t worry honey, everything’s going to be okay. You’re going to be alright.” And this immediately precedes the little girl watching the religious cult burn someone’s face off. There’s another moment, more than an hour in, where Rose says, “Something bad happened here.” You think? All of the dialogue can be fitted into two categories: either expository or instructional. It’s like to be true to a video game they also decided to lift the terrible dialogue as well. The plot meanders for the longest time, allowing Rose to visit place to place, and then Avary decides to bludgeon his audience with a 5-minute chunk of exposition meant to clarify everything up to that point.
The acting is pretty bad. Mitchell gives a valiant effort and has a nice scream, but she can’t escape the dead weight of the dialogue and total lack of characterization. Bean is entirely wasted and his “American” accent seems to waver quite a bit for such short screen time. Holden is more a fetish figure fantasy than a character, evidenced by her tight leather pants being the first thing we ever see of her. Still, it’s somewhat interesting seeing the romantic lead from 2001’s The Majestic kickin’ some unholy ass. It’s hard to say if any actors of any caliber could have redeemed the film, but this collection of thespians doesn’t even try to put a polish on the dialogue. You can tell because the howler lines are still howlers.
Lest I forget, this thing is OVER two hours long. There’s no reason Silent Hill should even be teetering over 100 minutes, especially for a film as sparsely plotted as this one, that is, before Avary’s exposition head rush. I don’t know why the filmmakers included the pointless subplot involving Christopher on the search for his wife. The subplot adds no deeper insight, affords no opportunity to help shape the plot, and only serves to whisk the audience out of the moment and remind them how pointless Silent Hill is quickly becoming. And is it ever pointless.
Director Christophe Gans (Brotherhood of the Wolf) has a great taste for visuals, Silent Hill‘s only positive marks. Some of the images in this movie are truly horrifying and have, reluctantly, stuck in my head days afterwards. The Pyramid Head man, with a 20-foot sword, makes little sense but is a jarring and memorable image. When those loud sirens sound there is a slight amount of dread, but really it’s more of a morbid curiosity at what kind of hellish transportation will happen next. The excellent production design and cinematography also contribute to the film’s eerie, striking, sometimes suffocating atmosphere. But, alas, an interesting visual palate cannot save a slow, dimwitted, inane movie. Otherwise What Dreams May Come may have worked. But it didn’t.
Silent Hill is pointless, plodding, incoherent, far too long and far too boring. The bad dialogue, acting, and plot don’t seem to help matters either. Gans creates a moody atmosphere with some powerfully nightmarish imagery, but that’s the only thing Silent Hill has going for it. Whether it be a man with a Pyramid for his head ripping the flesh off someone like a coat or a little demonic girl dancing in a literal blood shower, Silent Hill has its small potent visual moments. However, these small moments of visual potency cannot make up for the giant black hole of suck. This movie is simply dreadful and designed too faithfully as a video game adaptation, which means the same gaps in logic and pacing are present. I certainly expected better from Avary. I told my friend Dan that I was embarrassed we’d forever know we saw Silent Hill on its opening night, so much so that I bought him food after the show to make up for dragging him along. This is the first movie I’ve ever attended where I heard booing afterwards from my audience. I would have joined them but I was too busy getting out of the theater as soon as the end credits rolled.
Nate’s Grade: D