Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Uwe Boll Double Feature

Uwe Boll: World's Most Hated Director

The Oh My God, These Uwe Boll Movies Don’t Suck! Double Feature

Over the years Uwe Boll has amassed a legion of despisers who hold that he is the worst film director of all time. As the director of such cinematic bombs as House of the Dead, BloodRayne, and Alone in the Dark, he is so hated in some circles that at least one petition has been circulated calling for his retirement, one of which amassed thousands upon thousands of signatures. One notable event to come from the Uwe Boll hatefest saw the director boxing five of his harshest critics, beating them all to a pulp. Obviously he’s not loved.

Boll has been referred to as the German Ed Wood, yet having slogged through the monumentally atrocious House of the Dead I feel that comparison does the Emperor of Bizarro a grave disservice. Yet beyond House I’ve avoided Boll’s curriculum vitae like the plague, so my knowledge of his work is essentially that everyone else says he sucks – and who knows how far that hearsay goes. On one point, at least, I’m willing to give Boll the benefit of the doubt and write off his bad reputation on the fact that he’s made little beyond video game movies for the past few decades. There has never been a great video game movie, and Uwe Boll is probably not the man to make the first.

Still, I’m sure I’m not alone when I assumed that Uwe Boll’s recent foray into more serious filmmaking would turn out to be a sick joke which would fail magnificently. Yet I was stunned – stunned! – to discover two Uwe Boll films which were actually quite good. For a director who has engendered such low expectations, such backhanded praise is akin to nominating him for an Academy Award.

Both Stoic and Rampage take long, uncomfortable views of angry young men who leap (and are not pushed, a vital distinction) into terrible acts of violence. Neither allows its disturbing savagery to become gratuitous or exploitative. Of the two, Stoic is the superior film, whereas Rampage is more visceral.

Stoic’s story involves a real case in the German prison system in which three inmates tortured a fellow prisoner to death. Well, the official story is that the prisoner committed suicide, but the film’s stance is unambiguous about it being a murder. None of the three torturers are innocent – each committing horrible acts upon their victim – but what this movie becomes is a question of degrees, of who is most guilty and most evil. Interviews conducted after the murder show the three inmates fluctuating between states of remorse and nonchalance, each trying to wriggle his way out of blame. It’s hard to tell who is really on the level, but the skinny guy who gets saddled with the lion’s share of blame comes off as remorseful and (comparatively) sympathetic. In contrast, the cell’s big German skinhead and tubby Edward Furlong soon emerge as the callous monsters, and each gets away with reduced punishment. Yes, Edward Furlong is in this film, and he’s as whiny and nasal as ever, but he also turns in a sinister and conniving performance that is easily his best work since American History X.

One idea advanced at film’s end is that not every criminal deserves to be tossed into prison with the rest of the dogs. Furlong’s scumbag and the German hulk were in prison for violent crimes, but skinny boy got busted for drug dealing while the dead kid’s crimes were vagrancy and resisting arrest. Throwing violent and nonviolent offenders in the same environment, Boll asserts, is a miscarriage of justice.

Rampage affords no such moral ambiguity; it is a straight-out spree killer film. The machine-gunning marauder who serves as this film’s focus spouts out high-minded screeds about overpopulation and anticapitalism (parroting his friend’s more sincere beliefs), but when he puts on his body armor and starts the slaughter, the gunner makes sure to hunt down those who wronged him earlier, and he runs off with a wad of cash. The result is nothing more than an act of revenge terrorism.

There are a few aspects of this film which annoy the hell out of me, facets which flicker through the scenes leading up to the carnage. Boll repeats the same monologues and soundbites over and over in an attempt to show the insanity of the world, a move which instead drags the movie and is really irritating. A smaller complaint is the beginning shows second-long bursts of the killing to come. I know that the film is called Rampage, and it’s not as though the viewer doesn’t know what to expect, but I’d like the action to happen in its own time.

Nonetheless, the rampage itself is gripping and surprisingly restrained. The motivations and acts of the killer are unsettling in their realism. However, there is one part of the movie which falls to surreal humor and doesn’t fit with the rest of the film. The killer, armed and in full body armor, wanders into a bingo hall, where the old folks are too engrossed in the game to notice him. Disgusted, he leaves without firing a shot, noting that they don’t need his help to be dead. It’s a weird moment of levity that, at least, is funny.

Uwe Boll, you’ve done well! Hey, maybe I’ll review BloodRayne 3 when it comes out! Okay, maybe not.

The Designer’s Drugs: Phillip Pullman

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ

Medium: Literature

Stimulus: Phillip Pullman – The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ

Anno: 2010

It’s difficult to view this book as anything beyond a Jesus Christ-themed version of Fight Club. While there are subtleties and nuances to Phillip Pullman’s reimagining of the New Testament, the book’s title pretty much sums up what the tale is about. The only questions to answer relate to how Jesus is good, how Christ is bad. The answer: an evil twin!

Through what can be inferred to as angelic intercourse, Mary gives birth to two boys, the hardy Jesus and the sickly Christ. Jesus is the outgoing, well-liked, and troublesome member of the duo. Christ is more of a nerd. He’s the one with the encyclopedic rabbinical knowledge, and as his name implies he’s the one who was acknowledged as the Messiah by the three wise men. Ultimately, however, he becomes Satan, Judas, and St. Paul in one, watching his more exceptional brother from the shadows and with the best of intentions corrupting the “history” of Jesus’ acts and teachings into the dogmatic “truth” of a new Church.

Though this story is an interesting retelling of the life of Jesus Christ, its greatest flaw comes in the Patterson-short chapters which run through the high points of the Lord’s career as a checklist. The fact that Christ alters his brother’s adventures into their commonly known forms feels awfully like a brief, vestigial disclaimer. It’s far from the literary plagiarism of books like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but Pullman’s work doesn’t make the tale of Jesus Christ his own, either.

Thus, the book’s allure is not in the story but the ideas behind it. Christ’s doubt and flaws make him the story’s most compelling character, but the main source of ideas is a mysterious stranger who occasionally visits and steers him toward dogmatism. This Satanic character is the person who advocates propaganda over reality and who leads Christ to betray his brother, both philosophically and physically, for the good of the whole. And after that, Christ completes the con job, and Christianity is born.

From its arresting title to the heretical ideas contained within, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ will certainly not win acclaim from the Christian hierarchies. Yet it casts a bright light upon the human responsibility for religion and the lengths humanity will go to create order. And how’s a Savior supposed to stand up to that?

The Designer’s Drugs: Shane Hunt

Another Awkward Silence Between Friends Cover

Medium: Album

Stimulus: Shane Hunt – Another Awkward Silence between Friends

Anno: 2010

It’s been well established that I’m rarely a friend of the acoustic guitar. This isn’t due to any structural defect of the instrument or any criticism of the sound it makes (on sheer annoyance, I usually go with brass instruments). To be blunt, it comes from the legion of white boys who master a chord or two and feel empowered to rain proto-sensitivity all over the rest of us at the party. While I’ve found exceptions to the rule, the rule still stands, and I remain distrustful of most people who pick up a hollow six-string.

What sets Shane Hunt apart from his acoustic-plucking peers is the force and range of his voice, qualities which punch his songs of love and loss up a notch. The guitar playing and lyricism on his new EP are at worst quite serviceable, but the singing on Another Awkward Silence is what keeps his music from getting lost in the singer-songwriter shuffle. There are a few moments when Hunt’s voice breaches the barrier between poignant and pubescent – particularly in the chorus of “Just another Star-Crossed Tragedy,” a subdued song which just didn’t grab me – yet these moments are rare.

Hunt’s finest moment on Another Awkward Silence is his comparatively poppy opening track, “Serendipity Doo-Dah.” Like a few of the tracks, the opener features a little backing bass to propel the music along, and this one has the added benefit of a backup singer. The best lyrics of the collection are also found here, with lines like “You are the greatest thing that never happened to me” sure to catch in the listener’s brain. The sum total is a track in which everything comes together just right.

The final three tracks buoy the EP with various shades of romantic longing. “Revolver” is a fast-paced tune about an uneven romance in which the short straw ponders the turning of tables. “Undone” is the collection’s second best, a sad, pretty song which features some of Hunt’s best guitar work on display. The end comes in “Spin,” which is a pretty standard uptempo acoustic guitar song. It’s not as captivating as some of the better songs, but it’s not at all unlistenable, either.

While there are a few moments on Another Awkward Silence which fall prey to the usual conventions, most of the music is quite diverse and attractive. Which brings up the big question: what could Shane Hunt do on a full-length?

You win this round, acoustic guitar. But keep your nose clean.

Y Marks the Spot: Journey to the Podunk of DOOM!

The White Pride Towel of White Lake, South Dakota

It was the last day.  I was leaving Wisconsin again, once more headed west to seek further adventure.  This time the roads would take me to Washington instead of California, a place to where, as it turns out, I’m far, far more suited.  Apart from the wretchedness and automotive paranoia that comes with mountain driving, it was an easy trip.  I saw neon palm trees in Montana, of all places, a Tom Petty-themed van going through Seattle, and took part in an outburst of ass photography in Butte, Montana.  Yet the strangest thing to happen during the four days between there and here happened on that last day in Wisconsin, when my grand exodus ceased to be theoretical, and got, well, kind of weird.

My cohort and I left town in the afternoon, having said our goodbyes to everyone who mattered and some who didn’t.  (One of the last things to happen to me in La Crosse involved a car’s passenger leaning out and shouting “Nice hair, faggot!” at me while it passed.  I’ll treasure that hometown moment forever.)  We drove through threats of thunderstorms that never followed through, passing through Minnesota and part of South Dakota before deciding to stop for the night.

We turned off at the 300 mile point, stopping in a town that time forgot called White Lake, South Dakota.  I pulled into the first motel to cross my path, an all-purpose oasis which called itself A to Z.  Red flags should have went up when I saw the motel’s gravel parking lot, its run down gas station, and a pair of shirtless good ol’ boys carrying on outside of their rooms.  At this point, however, I didn’t care where we stayed, so long as it was cheap.  Oh yeah, we got cheap.

The office was a cubicle lodged between the soda machines and the first stretch of rooms, manned by a gimpy old guy who appeared welded to the place.  According to my cohort – who is a lady – the guy gave us the stink eye when we asked for a single bed, surely convinced that we were poised to commit all manner of sin against god and man in his establishment.  He took my money, all the same, and gave us the key.

That key unlocked a wood-paneled wonderland of bad wiring and cramped space.  The television perched on a ledge above a mirrored desk and green leather rocking chair, all of which looked like they could fall apart at a moment’s notice. In the bathroom, a cartoon towel disclosed to us the pleasure it received from being white, and it asked us not to use the real towels to wipe down our cars.  There were bolted-down hand soap dispensers and a paper bag for tampons.  Jesus poetry greeted us from the bed.  Classy.

But let this not lead you to believe that this idiosyncrasy was solely the domain of the A to Z Motel.  As we’d soon find out, the whole town of White Lake was a bit odd.  My cohort, having run out of cigarettes, planned to go to the motel’s gas station and restock.  She found out that it had closed at six p.m.  On a Thursday.  In fact, the whole town was closed up at 9:30 at night, with the exception of a sports bar down the street.  Of course.  We crept in, briefly discussed the universally flammable properties of cigarettes with the locals, and made off with generic, patriotic smokes.

Meanwhile, the sky started to flicker.

We settled into our humble lodgings and watched astronauts on Comedy Central.  Eventually I decided to wash the final days of Wisconsin off me and hit the shower.  Firing up both the water and the soap dispenser attached to the shower wall, I started scrubbing.

Then the lights turned off, and the window became a strobe light.  We had entered a horror movie.

After wiping myself off with a white, white towel and pulling my clothes back on, I crept outside and beheld a maelstrom.  The entire neighborhood was blacked out, but lightning flashed every second, showing us the falling flood.  It was both magnificent and terrifying.

Being that my flashlights were in my car, I decided to dash the ten feet between the motel awning and my vehicle.  When I came back, I looked like I had fallen into the ocean.  We spent the rest of the night in dim illumination, and I fell asleep clutching my flashlight, not quite unconvinced that a horde of scarlet-robed cultists wasn’t going to burst in and sacrifice us to Cthulu.  But everything passed, unscathed.

When we woke up in the morning, the lights were on and the ground was merely damp.  Still, we got the hell out of White Lake in a hurry, and we stayed in bland, cookie-cutter, white-washed hotel rooms the rest of the way here.  It seemed safer.