Keanu Reeves can somehow make almost any story, no matter how ridiculous, seem sober and coherent, but Johnny Mnemonic kind of takes the cake. A weird, messy, hyperactive fusion of classical cyber punk elements and 90’s B movie sensibilities (Ice T cements that vibe early on) it’s not a good film but certainly an interesting one that makes a loony impression. Reeves is Johnny, a data courier in a world of trafficked information stored in people’s brains, wanted by all sorts of undesirables including the Yakuza, surrounded by a a throbbing underground rock soundtrack and more cacophonous screensaver special effects than The Lawnmower Man. Reeves looks slick as ever and treats the material with due diligence, but the best and most effective performance comes from Dolph Lundgren as an aggressive freak dubbed the Street Preacher, a platitude spouting baddie who is endlessly fun to watch and stands as one of the actor’s best and most idiosyncratic creations. Henry ‘scream my lines’ Rollins cements the rock vibe as a weirdo doctor who tinkers with Johnny’s brain some, Dina Meyer plays his sidekick and pseudo love interest, and watch for Udo Kier as a corrupt diva of a nightclub owner. This film is fun enough from some angles, but for a SciFi film revolving around intel stored in one’s brain, the whole thing is pretty fucking brainless. There’s cool exposition detailing how Johnny needs to wipe certain chunks of memory like his childhood to make room for more bytes of black market info, but it’s never really shown how this affects his character. The whole thing is a blast of arbitrary, technicolour sound and fury that doesn’t really sit still long enough to think much on what it’s about, which is fine I suppose if all you want is fireworks. I will give it props for some inventive production design and gorgeous costumes though, but too little too late. One scene in particular kind of sums it all up, with Johnny having a full on emotional meltdown temper tantrum in some back alley over the fact that he doesn’t get to spend nights in a five star hotel with top class hookers. One could almost see his exasperation mirroring Reeves at having to play part in something so silly as this. Chill out Keanu, only four more years to go until you headline one of the best, most influential science fiction films ever made.
I love the cinema of Uwe Boll. How you ask? Haven’t you read the reviews – don’t you know the stories? My answer: Yes.
I have read the press, I know all the stories. I watched as mindless degenerates hiding in their mother’s basements hurled shit across the web, and into the face of one of cinema’s most prolific, most passionate, fiercely independent figures. A man who needed, not a studio, but his own incredible knowledge and production savvy to make movies . . .
. . . all Uwe Boll ever wanted to do.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s set the ‘way-back machine’ for the late 90’s, and I’m tending the counter at the local video store – back when it was really its namesake – and they bring in a new coin-op to keep the punters in the store and spending money. That video game was called House of the Dead.
Supposedly so graphic and horrifying – as well as being literally rated R – HOTD was a shoot ’em up in the best, most fun sense of the genre. Behind the black curtain that was there to frivolously attempt to shield the eyes of the innocent from the mayhem, the masochistic, bullet-shredding magnificence, was a really cool world where the aim of the game was to blast your way through hordes of the undead with merciless glee.
So being a fan, and sneaking off to play while I should have been at the desk – when a friend of mine said, “I hear they’re going to make a movie based of this” – I was like, “take all my money man – this is gonna rock!” (And that was prior to The Rock giving video game adaptations a shot)
I remember going to the cinema to see it, and soon being one of only a handful of people still watching after a good number of folks had walked out. So – why did I stay I can hear you ask? Well there are two reasons. One is simple – I enjoyed the movie on many levels. Yes it wasn’t the game, nor could it have been. I think people operate under the fallacy that just because a video game has a backstory or mythology on which it is based, then it must be simple to adapt into a movie. I believe precisely the opposite to be true. I think truly solid adaptations rely more on the wit and invention of the filmmaker. To combine a good narrative with recognizable elements from the game to appease the faithful.
And, love him or despise him, that is exactly what Uwe Boll could do – and do well. For if he couldn’t dear reader, then those multitudes of investors that he went back to time after time, movie after movie would not have entertained him. If he were not commercially successful, the career of Uwe Boll would not exist, nor could it be captured in the brilliant, candid and touching portrait of a film about a filmmaker, a man, who refused to remain silent whether he was being applauded or damned.
Unlike Dan Lee West’s RAGING BOLL, which deals more with the sensationalist side of Boll’s career, S.P. Shaul’s picture meanders down the quite roads and sheds light on the personal figure behind the media circus, the private man, the family man, the man who in spite of those basement dweller’s vitriol – followed his dreams and fought many a battle to bring them into the cold light of reality.
FUCK YOU ALL, is not a gratuitous middle finger in the face from the man dubbed the worst filmmaker of all time. No dear PTS listener – it is about the pursuit of what inspires, the burden of making visions come alive as well as the reminiscences of a man who worked with and alongside the cream of the Hollywood crop while smiling at the absurdity of it all.
When and wherever you can see this, The Uwe Boll Story, I urge and hasten you. It is filled with insults and hatred but that is always counterbalanced by the friends and collaborators of Dr. Boll, speaking words of praise, constructive criticism, and overall of a man with whom it was always fun to go to work with – and as it is said best, by Brendan Fletcher (a long-time Boll collaborator), and I’m paraphrasing here: but he speaks to the haters of Boll and says . . . “when have they ever risked anything?”
It is a great film about a fascinating artist and I am most excited to present my chats now, not only with the filmmaker responsible for the documentary, but with the filmmaker who inspired him to make the journey . . .
As a child, Uwe produced a number of short films on Super 8 and video before beginning his studies as a film director in Munich and Vienna. He also studied literature and economics in Cologne and Siegen. Uwe graduated from university in 1995 with a doctorate in literature. Uwe has since directed, written and produced over 30 movies with such stars as Ben Kingsley, Jason Statham, Ray Liotta and Ron Perlman. Uwe also runs and owns the BAUHAUS Restaurant in Vancouver alongside Michelin Star chef Stefan Hartmann.
Sean is a Canadian Documentary Filmmaker who became aware of Uwe Boll whilst working on the production, Assault on Wall Street. His first encounter the wild, unchecked hullabaloo of an Uwe Boll movie. Sean would then go back and watch a number of the master’s films before lightning struck – Uwe would be the subject of his next documentary. Boll never one to have a problem with being candid – Shaul received and all access pass to the life behind the great director – enough to construct this, his definite portrait of the man, the myth, the mouth . . . the man named, BOLL!
Arnold Schwarzenegger versus The Devil. Just let that sink in. It had to happen at some point in the guy’s career, and I’m thankful it turned out to be Peter Hyams’ End Of Days, a slam bang action horror party of a film that is lowkey one of the best things Arnie has ever done, both in terms of production and the character he gets to play. As Jericho Cane, he’s a far cry from the competent badasses he usually plays, an alcoholic ex secret service agent dealing with the trauma of a murdered family. The last thing he needs is Satan setting up shop in Manhattan on his watch, but that’s exactly what’s in store, for every millennium or so, the red guy gets to take a vacation earth-side in a human host, and if he’s able to get laid with a carefully chosen girl, he gets to take over the world. Some dodgy theology there, but this is an Arnie flick. The human host in question happens to be slick stockbroker Gabriel Byrne, who is soon causing havoc all over the Big Apple in his search for Robin Tunney, the girl marked by a satanist cult decades before and groomed to be his concubine. Arnie’s hangdog private security tough guy and sidekick Kevin Pollak are unlikely heroes to stop the prince of evil himself, but Theron lies the fun, and Cane is actually one of his best, most unique characters to date. Throw in Rod Steiger as a priest whose middle name is exposition, Miriam Margoyles as Tunney’s sinister Aunt (also the only 5 foot tall, chubby middle aged woman to whip Arnie’s ass in a fight), Udo Kier as the freaky cult priest, CCH Pounder as a no nonsense NYPD bigshot, Mark Margolis as the melodramatic Pope in Rome and others, you’ve got one solid cast. Byrne really steals the show and is up there with my favourite cinematic incarnations of Beezle, especially in his smooth, smug and smouldering delivery of some truly patronizing, vicious dialogue to try and dispel Jericho. Arnie’s retort? “You ah ah fucking choirboy compared to me!!” Priceless. The action is big, loud and utilizes NYC to its full scope, with subway scenes, a daring helicopter chase sequence and all kinds of explosive mayhem. The horror element is spooky as all hell too, especially in the first third of the film where atmosphere mounts and dread creeps in (that weird albino dude on the train will forever haunt me), plus the score from “ echoes around like a spectre as well. Not one of Arnie’s most celebrated critically, but will always be one of my favourites.
There’s no excuse for films as shitty as Uwe Boll’s Bloodrayne. I know he’s a notoriously slipshod filmmaker and he somehow manages to get the rights to all these awesome video games which he then butchers with kindergarten level gong shows like this, but this one is especially bad. Now, before he goes and reads this and wants to come fight me like those other critics (he owns a restaurant a few blocks from where I work, so I gotta be careful lol), I should say that, contrary to popular opinion, he has in fact made some good films. Attack On Darfur and Assault On Wall Street come to mind as two solid dramas where he actually took his craft seriously and made something worthwhile. But Bloodrayne? Holy shot this movie sucks the big one and doesn’t even have the courtesy to swallow after. It’s loosely based on a pretty cool medieval vampire adventure game from years back, but resembles an episode of Xena Warrior Princess made by preschoolers. The protagonist is hottie vampiress Kristanna Loken, who was the kickass female Terminator in T3, and also gets to kick some ass here, between steamy porno scenes with other vampires. The only cool bit is a stunt sequence where she gets to fight a giant ogre thing and bash its head in with a gigantic war hammer. The cast is absolutely stacked here, as is strangely the case with most of Boll’s films. Michael Madsen and Michelle Rodriguez look hella out of place in Middle Ages garbs playing fellow warriors, Ben Kingsley is rigidly constipated as the big baddie, Meat Loaf has a laughable cameo as some kind of Shakespearean pimp, Billy Zane hilariously shows up as a despot, and the list goes on, including the likes of Udo Kier, Michael Paré and Geraldine Chaplin. I wanna be fair to Boll, as the guy clearly has a lot of passion for trying to get films made and simply being productive, and like I said before, some of his output is actually really decent. It’s just whenever he tries to adapt a video game the resulting product turns out hopelessly disastrous. It’s the same case with Alone In The Dark, House Of The Dead and Far Cry, and the guy keeps going. Bloodrayne is a cartoonish, awkwardly staged, terribly acted EuroTrash dumpster fire, something no one should have to sit through just to see their favourite actors embarrass themselves. I can’t believe he went on to make like three sequels.
Seldom does a film so blatantly rip off actual footage from another one like Critical Mass does, a two bit Speed/Die Hard spawn that lifts scenes right out of James Cameron’s Terminator 2 with no shame and little attempts to cover it’s tracks. Remember that scene where Arnie stands on the roof with the mini gun and blasts endless clips into cop cars? Well this one intercuts super terrorist Udo Kier holding nothing but an MP5 or something similarly small, yet the editing still shows that same massive amounts of destruction that the T-101’s high power cannon would cause. On top of that, they *clearly* show the Cyberdyne Systems signs right in frame several times. Wow. Points for no fucks given, but none whatsoever for effort or originality. Kier is actually fun as the arch radical maniac who wants to hijack nukes to blow shit up for some vague recycled ideology, but he’s always great in any role, no matter the pedigree of film. Treat Williams plays an ex military turned security guard tasked with stopping him, and you can guess where it goes. Cheap, shameless, without a brain in it’s head.
I was very pleasantly surprised by Alexander Payne’s Downsizing, an intelligent, methodically high concept social sci-fi satire that takes the Honey I Shrunk The Kids template and plays it for thoughtful, heartfelt laughs while thinking big, thematically speaking. Matt Damon turns on the dim witted charm as a regular joe who decides to undergo ‘downsizing,’ a radical procedure patented by the Norwegians in which a human is shaved, sedated and shrunk down to the size of a tennis ball. Why, you ask? It’s scientist’s answer to the growing issue with humans ruining our planet, and they figure having an itty bitty carbon footprint instead of a big ol’ one will do this rock some good. This is but one of a group of very ambitious ideas that Payne explores, and whilst he doesn’t quite have time to thoroughly wring our every theme and thesis, it’s nice to see such thought and care put into a concept that could have easily gone the brainless Dwayne Johnson route. Damon settles down in a mini hydra dome called Leisureland, where the inflation rate is minuscule and things cost a fraction of what they did topside. He’s got two hilarious neighbours in snarky Serbian playboy Dusan (Christoph Waltz alllmosttt has the accent down) and his fellow hedonist, salty Konrad (really nice to see veteran Udo Kier back in the Hollywood game in more than just ironic cameos). These two are his introduction to the way this procedure has affected everything in the world from commerce to social relations, but it’s not until he meets feisty Vietnamese maid N’goc (Hong Chau) that he realizes the same problems which have always afflicted humanity have followed them down to their pint sizes, and even become worse. Chau is so good she pretty much walks off with the film, her blunt nature and hilarious accent contrasted by a bruised heart beneath. There’s some.. oddly placed plot points in the third act and I could have done with a bit less of the preachy climate change chatter, but for the most part this one stimulates and goes for laughs, milking the ‘shrunk’ concept in ways Hollywood never before. Watch for peripheral work from Kristin Wiig, Rolf Lassgard, Jason Sudeikis, Neil Patrick Harris, Laura Dern, Don Lake, Margo Martindale, Mary Kay Place and Joaquim De Almeida. Neat stuff.
Bring a strong stomach with you to S. Craig Zahler’s Brawl In Cell Block 99, a casually vicious ode to 1970’s exploitation that pulls no punches, kicks, backhands or wet-crunchy head stomps that will make your balls retreat up in those nether regions. Zahler is also responsible for 2015’s incredible horror western Bone Tomahawk, which set him on the messianic path to bring hard hitting genre cinema back to the forefront of our awareness. He’s proved here that he plans to make that his long-game plan, with an utterly unapologetic, icily paced prison flick that ramps up into levels of violence that shake and stun. Vince Vaughn, that neurotic, rotund teddy bear, sheds his image as well as his shirt to ruthlessly pummel anyone that gets in the way of his quest to save pregnant wife Jennifer Carpenter after a drug deal gone bad, an area of employment he only entered to provide for those he loved. Stuck inside a minimum security prison, he’s visited by a deliberately sinister old gentleman (Udo Kier, whose very presence solidifies the film’s perpetual eccentricity) who uses the man’s captive wife as leverage, and orders him to get himself transferred to a hellhole of a facility run by a nasty warden (Don Johnson, sadism incarnate). There’s he’s forced to fight tooth, nail and skull to stay alive, and fight he does. It all sounds rather lively, doesn’t it? Not so much. Zahler is fascinated by subverting stereotypes and upturning genre expectations, going ballistic here with the film’s patient, slow-cooker pacing. There’s a Tarantino vibe to the wait vs. payoff in terms of violence especially in the last side of the third act, but it’s much more perverse and played up, and if the carnage in Tomahawk made you queasy, you’ll go full chunder with what Vaughn inflicts on his fellow jailbirds here, and shudder at Kier’s casually evil approach to his job. Zahler has given the ol’ German another chomp at the bit in terms of roles, as he hasn’t done much in years, but he’ll turn up again next year in the director’s ‘Dragged Across Concrete’, which headlines Vaughn and Mal Gibson, so there’s that to wet your panties over. Like Tarantino, Rob Zombie and others, Zahler like ms to handpick actors from bygone eras and showcase them in his roster, a quality I love in a filmmaker and one that shows they’ve done their research. Vaughn is an absolute demon here, a man with a specific, patriotic code of ethics and honour, but also not one to shy away from getting his hands dirty. Don Johnson is riding the wave of a magnificent comeback, his characters here has a southern prince exterior, with evil positively oozing from beneath. This was not the film I expected, not should it have been. It’s unique, purposefully dodging expectations, and hits home with the crippling impact of Vaughn terrifying fists. An unconventional winner.