God Might Forgive, But He Still Thinks Your Movie Sucks

“Only God Forgives is like doing acid. Not the kind where you sit in a chair and see things — the kind of good acid where you become the chair.” Nicolas Windig Refn there, explaining how deep and clever his film is. Except, when you look at it, it’s a statement that’s just as meaningless and impenetrable as the film he’s describing. I mean, really, what does that even mean? It’s the kind of inane soundbite you’d expect to hear in the deleted scenes of Walk Hard, and it certainly doesn’t tell you anything about the film itself. It’s like doing acid? Why? Because bright colours? I might have been taken in by that when I was in my shut-up-mum-I-can-do-what-I-want phase, when I thought drugs were rebellious and cool rather than a way to kill time and make the screaming stop, but then I also thought Lostprophets were cool back then, and look how that ended up.

For legal reasons, here is a picture of Ryan Gosling, a consenting adult.

The point is, comparing your own movie to taking a tab of acid is crashingly stupid at best and calculated pandering at worst. “Look how cool this movie is! You need to take DRUGS to get it!” Screams Refn as he smears himself in his own excrement while choking himself with an ethernet cable, forgetting that such a ‘rebellious’ attitude means precisely fuck all in a world where you can use the internet to imbibe skin-peelingly extreme pornography before you’ve even had your breakfast, if you so choose. It’s such a hollow brand of hyperbole that really exposes the kind of wrong-headed mentality that resulted in Only God Forgives being such a failure. You may have already gathered (unless you are catastrophically stupid, but hey, you might be, I don’t know you) that I did not like Only God Forgives at all. I go into more detail about why in my review on Monday’s edition of The Highlight Reel, but I’d like to go into things in further depth here. Specifically, I’d like to go into just how phenomenally disappointing it was to see both Refn and the guy who is apparently his muse, Ryan Gosling, get sucked into their own hubris and produce a pile of vapid hogwash that proves just saying something is arty and deep doesn’t necessarily make it so. Only God Forgives is not art house cinema. It does nothing of any significance to earn that privilege. Only God Forgives is trash of the worst kind. It’s trash that doesn’t realise how bad it stinks.

See, where Drive actually was cool, Only God Forgives is made to look cool. There is a massive difference there. The thing about being cool is that it’s effortless. If you try and make something cool, you end up with a horrendously dated 90s infomercial. I can almost see the thought process that went through Refn’s mind when he was making Only God Forgives. Ryan Gosling was in Drive. He was quiet and blank for large parts of the film, which was atmospheric and cool. So, naturally, making every single damn character in your next movie enigmatic blank slates with the emotional range of a bag of flour makes it, like, ten times cooler, right? Of course not, unless you are one of the 0.000001% of the world’s population who finds shop mannequins sexy. See, what Refn missed was the rest of Drive. Yeah, watching Gosling cruise around looking broody and listening to European house music was cool, but it was nicely picked out by all his great character moments. Little things that nobody remembers, but you notice them when they’re missing. The sheepish smiles to his lovely new neighbour, offering a child a toothpick, his hesitation in shaking the hand of a mob boss. Ryan Gosling’s Driver was a character, he was not a cardboard cut out who’s sole purpose was to be bathed in neon light so he can have his chiselled features picked out by dark shadows. Had the Driver just been driving around listening to Kavinsky for an hour before mangling up some dude with a hammer, that film would not have been effective. Drive showed restraint. It held back. It played hard to get. And when it let you have it, you felt it. That strength of feeling invests you firmly in the film, the characters and, as a result, it earns the right to be taken seriously regarding any deeper, more allegorical significance it may have. Only God Forgives is a torrent of shit being flung directly into your eyes and ears at all times, like stepping out into the midday sun after a particularly heavy night on the gin. The constant overload of LOOK LOOK LOOK HOW COOL THIS IS, IT’S ALL NEON AND OOH NOW THEY’RE HAVING A SWORDFIGHT AND KRISTIN SCOTT THOMAS IS SMOKING A CIGARETTE IN SLOW MOTION LOOK AT THESE THINGS might make for a bunch of cool shots you can edit together into a sweet trailer, but ultimately, when you stretch that over 90 minutes at the expense of having any story or character whatsoever, you haven’t created a deep movie. You’ve created an exceedingly pretentious music video. Marilyn Manson was doing this ‘long road to Hell’ crap 15 years ago, on a fraction of the budget, in under 5 minutes, while being Marilyn Manson. You don’t need 90 minutes of blank, sort-of-scowly sort-of-pouty expressions picked out in gaudy lights to get your tortured, irrelevant metaphor across.

I can’t believe how terrible Eat Me, Drink Me was either, Ryan, but there’s always his older stuff, eh?

There is no hidden meaning to Only God Forgives because it provides nothing substantial from which to draw meaning. It invokes no emotion apart from crushing boredom and frustration that you are wasting 90 minutes of your ever-shortening life watching someone try to tell you how cool they are. It’s the cinematic equivalent of rubbing fruit pastilles into your eyes. It’s probably striking and, as self-harm goes, it’s a pretty colourful and visually impressive way to do it, but you are still blinding yourself for no real reason, and no matter how much you scream and scream about how cool you are while you do it, no one will believe you. That’s one of the many things about being cool. You don’t get to decide that you’re cool, and trying? C’mon man, were you not around in the 90s? That’s the least cool thing of all. So, rather than doing acid, Only God Forgives is actually like sitting with all your friends as they do acid while you watch bug fights on Youtube and sort of pretend that you’re high along with them. Maybe Refn should amend his quote to that effect. It wouldn’t sit quite as comfortably as a soundbite, it takes far less courage and effort to do and it certainly doesn’t sound that cool.

Which actually makes the whole thing many times cooler when you think about it.

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Batman And Robin: “Buy This, You Simpletons!”

I’ve gone on record many, many times about how much I enjoy bad movies. Many of my favourite films of all time are famously awful train wrecks. Troll 2, The Wicker Man (Nic Cage’s Woman-Beating Extravaganza, not the original one) and The Happening are all films I heartily recommend to anyone, even you, who I would almost certainly despise if I ever met. There’s something admirable about them. Maybe there’s something remarkably human about a pathetic, incompetent effort of a bad film. Maybe I appreciate that it actually was an effort. Maybe I’m just insane and, shortly after writing this blog post, am going to shit into my own hands and hurl it at the moon, but the point is there’s a soul to the bad movie that I just find really endearing. Well, not quite every bad movie.

You see, on the latest edition of The Highlight Reel we discuss bad comic book movies, specifically ones from that faraway land of the 90s, and while films like Steel, The Phantom and Tank Girl are laughably bad, and miles away from what your average comic book movie today is, there at least seems to be some value to them. A picture drawn with human shit is still art to some people, after all.  You’ll notice I’m referencing excrement more than I usually do in this article, a theme which is appropriate given the final film we talk about on The Highlight Reel: Batman and Robin.

If you squint slightly, it looks sort of like the cast are emerging from a cavernous, brightly coloured, torn anus. Or maybe I’m just projecting again.

Now, it’s hardly a revelation on my part to suggest that Batman and Robin is a bad movie. The film has been universally panned by anyone who has so much as caught a glimpse of a frame in their peripheral vision, not least by the entire cast and crew who spent much of the promotional featurette that went out on the DVD apologising while looking sheepish and profusely ashamed of themselves. The cast refers to the film in much the same tone as that rehab group leader in Breaking Bad recounting how he accidentally killed his daughter. Director Joel Schumacher apologised to the fans for making such a gaudy, horrible light show instead of thinking about what the hell he was doing for more than 5 seconds. And honestly, I don’t like this kind of senseless rage that this film brings out of me. I like to have a bit more poise about my criticisms. While I love film, I don’t like to take it too seriously. I like to separate my passion from my inner Youtube commenter. Rarely will I flip out and let a film get under my skin so much that I fly into a Tazmanian Devil-esque rage at the mere mention of it, over fifteen years after its release, with a desire to write a lengthy, ranty blog post about it before shoving blunt sticks into my eyes to make the nightmares go away. But holy fucking shit, this film is terrible.

After Tim Burton made things too dark and weird with the vastly overrated Batman Returns, a shift into lighter territory wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. So, when they turned to Joel Schumacher to make Batman Forever with the instruction to make the Dark Knight that little bit brighter, it was pretty successful. That film isn’t without its faults, but it’s a decent watch. Of course, in typical Hollywood fashion, following the success of Batman Forever they immediately decided that, hey, the lighter tone worked so well, so that means going several hundred miles further in that direction is the only logical course of action! Let’s have everything daubed in gaudy, horrible neon. Let’s have every other line of dialogue be some crushingly awful pun, let’s have the costumes based on what a five-year old would find cool, and let’s turn the entire relationship between Batman and Robin into some bickering nonsense that would make even the worst buddy cop movies cringe (assuming a film could cringe, of course, which they can’t unless you live in Peewee’s Playhouse where everything has eyes and a mouth or something).

Batman and Robin is so bad because it’s a slap in the face not just to Batman fans, but to film fans in general. It’s so obviously toyetic, geared to sell action figures and theme park rides and horrible little collector cups. It’s corporate bullshit being poured into your eyes, and if you try to blink and look away you can’t because the horrible ice puns and frantic editing and screechy children and bat-nipples all surround you until it swallows you up, swallows you up in gloopy brown filth, the rotten hands of Chris O’Donnell grabbing at your ankles as he pulls you down to whine about how he hasn’t got his own shit little car, and all this steamy shit roars up your nostrils and into your ears and into your brain and it’s whirling, whirling around the inside of your mind and oh god it just won’t ever stop because it’s Batman and Robin, fuck me it’s Batman and Robin and they’re in your brain forever screeching BUY THIS, BUY THIS SHIT PLASTIC TOY FOR YOUR MORONIC OFFSPRING until you eventually relent and begin convulsing, naked and sweaty, on your bathroom floor at 3am as the last wisp of your soul evaporates through your red withered eyeballs and you live out your days as a shrivelled husk, not quite dead yet not really alive.

What I’m getting at is: this film has no soul. It was made to sell crap to you and your kids by people who think you are incredibly stupid. It was made by the kind of people who only exist in episodes of Scooby-Doo, cartoonishly evil folks who sit around working out how they can stab each other in the back for a 0.0000001% increase in their Christmas bonus, if they even believe in Christmas, which they don’t because they spend their holidays kicking orphans and hacking up baby animals with a rusty cleaver. I hate this film and everything it stands for. I hate the sheer, sneering contempt it shows towards people like me. There was no artistic endeavour whatsoever from anyone involved. Everything resembling character, or setting, or atmosphere, was reduced into some horrible neon sludge that SM:TV Live would consider tacky and lowbrow. I know Batman’s reinvention into some badass, dark crimefighter is a relatively recent thing, and I’m by no means denying the history of the franchise here, but during post-production of Batman and Robin someone made the decision to insert comedy sound effects when people fall over. Someone actively made a decision to turn Mr. Freeze into a big blue pun machine who only ever talks about ice. Someone threw out all that great, rich history that Batman had by this point because they wanted to make toys with George Clooney’s nipples on them. They wanted to make this lowest-common-denominator pap that they thought would get little kids to pester their parents into buying the toys, and the obvious, blatant cynicism of this is what really gets me. I know it wasn’t the first or last film to do this, but few have done it so blatantly at the expense of absolutely everything else in the movie. Not only is Batman and Robin completely without any artistry whatsoever, there was a conscious effort on the part of the filmmakers to avoid it altogether.

And no, bat nipples do not count as ‘artistry’.

As I stated earlier, there’s something weirdly likable about an incompetently put together movie – like Steel – that shambles along, put together by a bunch of people who had no clue what they were doing, as evidenced by the fact they cast Shaquille O’Neal as a superhero. You can’t be mad at it any more than you can be mad at a baby for soiling itself every day. With Batman and Robin, there’s a callous, almost malicious disregard for the audience on show. You are an idiot, and you will buy what we tell you to, it says, more loudly and more clearly than almost any other movie I care to remember. Whenever anyone whines about how bad movies are today compared to “back in the day” (when “back in the day” actually was varies on when the cretin using it was born. For my generation, it usually means the 90s), I often like to hold up Batman and Robin as a counter-example. After Earth sucks and I’d never tell anyone to go and watch it, but at least it doesn’t insult you while it steals your time and money. It’s for precisely that reason why Batman and Robin is one of the worst films ever made. It’s underpinned by this seething ocean of greed, made by suits of the kind only previously thought to exist in Wayne’s World, and it’s inescapable. It’s as if the film was written by feeding a bunch of sales figures into some monolithic supercomputer, which then churned out the script for this film before becoming self-aware and threatening to release dirty bombs all over the world unless it was made exactly as it thought it should be. It’s this forced, artificial version of cool that nobody in the world actually thinks is cool, and in the end, looked horribly out of place both “back in the day”, and even more so in the cold, harsh light of 2013.

In short: I don’t mind if your movie is shit. As long as it has a bit of soul.

The Dumbening: The 5 Stupidest Moments in The Happening

So, on the latest edition of The Highlight Reel (which airs this Monday at 11pm GMT over on SineFM.com), I talk about cinematic idiots. It’s something I enjoy picking apart, and as such I know there are way, way too many to do a proper best and worst kind of feature. In the end, I went for a very broad view of what idiots mean to the audience when they’re on the screen – why they sometimes frustrate us, why they sometimes make us laugh, why they repeatedly get stabbed in the brain in horror movies, and so on. It was fun, but unfortunately that broad approach meant I couldn’t really get into what is by far my favourite stupid movie. Hell, it’s a film so colossally stupid, that the phrase “stupid movie” doesn’t quite cut it. It’s so catastrophically bad, in almost every conceivable area, that it’s actually one of the most entertaining films of all time, which plays out exactly like a feature length episode of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace with a healthy dose of Monty Python thrown in.  I’m referring to the cult classic The Happening – or Mark Wahlberg vs The Trees if you prefer – a quite breathtaking exercise in pure idiocy that, like anything that is truly dumb, so desperately wants to be smart, but it’s self-importance only serves to make it even funnier. It’s the cinematic equivalent of Hyacinth Bucket. In honour of this very brown, steaming gem, I’ve decided to put together my top 5 favourite dumb moments in The Happening. In case you haven’t seen it, you should go and watch it now, preferably while incredibly drunk. Like, right now. Go.

Done that? Great. I’m taking you on good faith here, reader. Ok, you were probably so drunk that you don’t remember the plot anyway, so here’s a basic summary: plants start sending out spores that cause people to commit suicide en masse in a curiously languid fashion. Marky Mark and his wife, the hipster’s wet dream Zooey Deschanel, have to find a way to escape the population centres where those evil shrubs are striking. Bear in mind, this is supposed to be a horror movie. Everything I’m about to list was written by an actual person (well, ok, M. Night Shyamalan, he sort of counts), and other people read it, thought it was scary, and handed over millions of dollars for him to make it. With that in mind, let’s dive in, but before we do, a friendly threat to comment with your own favourite happenings from The Happening below, or else I will come round to your house and blow on you until you kill yourself.

5: “There’s a car!”

 

She's right, though. It is a car.

She’s right, though. It is a car.

 

I had to think long and hard about this one, and to be honest the coveted 5th spot faced stiff competition from just about every single frame in the movie. However, of all the stilted, awkward lines of dialogue in the movie (that is to say, all the lines of dialogue in the movie), there was one that I distinctly remember snorting with laughter at when I first saw it, purely because I couldn’t believe a professional screenwriter could put such a thing on the page and think “yep, that’s totally something a real person would say”. There’s a scene in which Marky Mark and friends are sheltering in a bar with a group of other survivors, when they find out that the happening actually isn’t happening a few miles away. They all stream away from the bar in scenes reminiscent of the start of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, leaving Wahlberg and Deschanel behind. Hey, if I saw Zooey Deschanel trying to act all emotional, with her goggle-eyed acting range which resembles a taxidermy animal being slowly inflated, I’d leave the area pretty sharpish too.  No one listens to their pleas for help. “Can you believe how crappy people are?” Zooey asks. I can believe how crappy some actors are, yes. It appears everyone has left them stranded, which holds tension for all of two seconds before a car pulls up about a foot behind them. And, in case you are as stupid as any given character from this movie, Zooey points to the car, which is literally right in front of them and within touching distance, and states “There’s a car.” Wow, M. Night. Wow. Either he has a palpable sense of contempt for his audience, whom he presumably views as some sort of pond life, or he genuinely believes people actually talk this way. I’m not sure which is worse, but either way I’d like to see this kind of abusively obvious narration appear in everyday life. This is a blog post. You are reading it. The next number on the countdown is next. You are a person.

4: Run Like (Or A Bit Faster Than) The Wind!

Next on the list is a bit different, because it probably sounded really cool on paper. There are deadly spores in the air, and the heroes find themselves in the middle of a field full of long, waving grass. And, wouldn’t you know it, a light breeze begins to waft through the grass, leading to a tense chase as Marky Mark and his Funky Bunch are forced to run away from the wind… actually no. It doesn’t sound cool on paper at all, because I just wrote it down and I have no idea what in the blue hell they were thinking of. As movie monsters go, is there anything lamer than the wind? When your movie monster falls short of literally every 70s exploitation movie ever, most of which consisted of taking a classic horror baddie and putting them in space or some shit, you need to rethink your strategy. Just… the wind? Really? You thought prolonged shots of waving grass was enough to establish a high threat level? How did the actors keep straight faces trying to sell this? Was M Night standing behind the camera making whoooooshing noises like Freakazoid to get them into character? What were the rejected monsters from The Happening? Light drizzle? Low humidity? High-pH soil? This scene provides many questions, but alas, no answers. Not that it matters, because the wind catches up to them anyway – and I’m still not sure of how you actually manage to run away from something like the wind, it seems to me like trying to fight gravity by craning your neck really hard, but whatever – and in the end, nothing happens. You can’t even invest enough in your own crappy, invisible, ultra-cheap monster idea to have it kill anyone. This is a special brand of godawful.

3: Must Be A Board Meeting…

Wheeeeeeee!

Wheeeeeeee!

The first scare in any horror movie has to be a good one. It needs to set the tone of the movie right from the off, to let the audience know that they’re going to need clean pants when they waddle out of the screen. It’s why so many horror movies open with something horrible happening to a bunch of no-name, random victims before moving on to introduce the main characters, as if we’re just catching the end of another horror movie before the main feature starts. It reassures us and lets us know that, even though we’re taking a bit of time out to get to know the characters, we did in fact sign up to a horror film and scary shit will indeed be going down. The Happening takes this approach, and, cruelly, at first has some success before it rapidly descends into farce. We see two girls on a park bench (in Central Park, no less), chatting away. It’s horrible and wooden, and incredibly awkward, but hey, it’s a horror movie. We’re here for the chills, man, not Shakespeare. Slowly, one of the girls starts to glaze over, as the entire park comes to a standstill. The zombified girl pulls a spike out of her hair and silently stabs herself in the neck with it. Hey, that was kind of cool! You established something eerie and opened with a shocker! Sure, it was horribly acted and seemingly written by a 5 year old, but you know, it looks like a neat idea. Can’t wait to see where they go with it.

Oh, what’s this? We’re cutting to a building site, oddly specifically located “three blocks away from Central Park”? Ok, well, a little weird, but I’ll go with it. A bunch of builders stand around, awkwardly bantering just like real humans don’t, when a body tumbles from a rooftop and crashes behind them. “Christ, McKenzie fell,” deadpans one builder, with all the emotion of Steven Wright reading out of a phone book. Soon after, another builder falls off the rooftop. Then another. And another. And another, until it is literally raining men. Pro tip for all you budding writers out there: when you’re planning your first big scare in your horror movie, don’t have it be a repeat of a classic Monty Python sketch. And don’t have it mirror the lyrics to 80s pop hits, either. I can’t even believe it needs to be said that your super-serious, environmental horror movie, which has this message that you really want people to believe in, should not have your audience pissing themselves laughing within 5 minutes of the credits. Surely someone involved in the production of this movie saw Monty Python, and even if they thought the idea of builders collectively tumbling to their deaths was gripping and chilling (it isn’t, though), the comparison should have still been flagged up. As a result, the first big scare actually does set the tone for the rest of the movie, but not in the way you might hope.

2: Hakuna Matata

Amazingly, the Python-aping opening isn’t even the most ridiculous example of death in the film. That’s right, The Happening manages to out-Python Python. I’ll remind you again, this is a horror film, a serious one at that, with an environmental message that Shyamalan really wanted to be deep and thoughtful. You have to question why, then, when his intentions were so pure, that he decided to include a scene in his film in which a zookeeper staggers into the lion enclosure and starts annoying the lions until they eat him. Everything about this scene is just hilarious. The idea of a guy going up to some lions, who really don’t give a shit, and just prodding them until they bite his arm off is one that most comedy writers only wish they had thought of, and here it is for your viewing pleasure in The Happening. It’s a real special, creative kind of stupidity that allowed this to happen. It doesn’t even make any sense within the films’ own flimsy logic. Even if a person did come under the influence of these deadly spores, and immediately tried to kill himself as quickly as possible, surely there were quicker and easier ways than being mauled by lions? You mean to tell me that this guy, who’s practically been turned into a zombie by these spores, decided he needed to unlock the complex security measures that are there to stop precisely this kind of thing from happening and get mauled by lions? Was that really the most immediate solution that was available to him when he was brainwashed into killing himself? It’s such a stretch in logic, and so out of place with the rest of the film that this, more than anything, is the scene which baffles me the most. At least the rest of the hilarious crap in this film, stupid though it is, has at least a grain of (incredibly dumb, but still) logic in there. If you hadn’t lost your audience by the time this scene burbles onto the screen, you certainly have now, M. Night. What on Earth were you thinking?

 

1: The Plant Whisperer

Well, if you’ve seen The Happening, you knew it was coming. I’m sure you knew what was number one before you even clicked on this article, and, unlike M. Night Shyamalan, I’m not prepared to insert some last-minute twist just for the sake of it. By far the stupidest moment in a film that’s so full of them the pure idiocy of it is physically crippling to watch is… Mark Wahlberg begging a pot plant for his life. Everything about this scene is comedy gold. Just read this statement aloud. You’re watching Mark Wahlberg beg a plant to spare his life, reasoning with the plant that he and the survivors “just want to use the bathroom” and then they’ll be gone. It’s impossible to read it without chuckling, and yet, for some reason the scene is shot completely straight. Wahlberg is doing his quiet, tense whispering voice and doing this wide-eyed, fearful expression like a woodland animal being hunted by angry hillbillies. There’s no music, and no cuts. Your entire attention is focused on the action, which is usually a sure fire way to ratchet up the tension to unbearable levels WHEN THAT ACTION DOESN’T INVOLVE MARK WAHLBERG BEGGING A TREE NOT TO KILL HIM. The completely dead-straight melodrama of the scene only serves to make it even funnier. I often wonder what M. Night was doing on set when they were filming this scene. How many takes did he demand? “No Mark! You need to be MORE fearful of that plant! Really sell that killer tree to me!” And then, in what serves as a glorious, side-pulverising punchline to the whole affair, M. Night’s flair for shocking twists strikes again as it turns out the plant was plastic all along. The laughs keep coming, as Wahlberg decides to narrate his discovery without ever changing his tone or expression, as if to spell it out to you what total crap you are watching. “I’m talking to a plastic plant,” he states. “I’m still doing it.” That you are, Marky Mark. That you are. Then, the scene cuts, mercifully sparing us the (probably) deleted scene in which he asks the plant plant how its day has been, what it thinks of the weather, and if it caught the big game last night. I wonder how he ended that conversation. Did he say bye to the plant? Did he just shuffle off awkwardly? Given the dialogue in the film, he probably said “I’m going to leave now. I have to find my wife and friends in the other room so I’m going to walk out of this room and find them. I’m still talking to a plastic plant.”

What other film gives you that amount of room for interpretation? What other film asks the important questions that The Happening does? What other film gives such critical roles to artificial shrubbery? The answer is none. So, dear reader, I leave you with the view that The Happening, as well as being a laugh riot, also manages to break down centuries-long discriminatory policies against plastic plant employment. Thank you, M. Night Shyamalan. For everything. I’m going to end this blog now. I’m going to stop typing and go away. I’m still typing now, though. But now I’ve stopped. Where the lions at?

A Kick In The Bolls

Oh, boy. I’d better be careful with this one. Because, you see, I’m an online critic who is about to discuss the work of Uwe Boll. And, as I discuss on Monday’s edition of The Highlight Reel, Uwe doesn’t exactly look kindly upon that sort of thing. This is the guy who once famously challenged his five harshest critics to a series of boxing matches, which is a feat about as insane and admirable as his career spent plugging away despite a sea of criticism (including a 350,000-plus strong petition to get him to stop making movies altogether).

I spent much of that feature talking about the practiced eccentricity of a man who is almost certainly much, much more intelligent than he lets anyone believe. I’m fairly certain he’s aware of his reputation, and spins his public image in order to attain maximum notoriety. If you can’t be the best director, might as well make a living off being the worst. It might not be artistically better, but I’m sure financially it’s much better for you than being a bog standard director who’s simply alright at his job. Think of an average film. Go on. The most sort-of-ok-ish film you can think of. Can you name the director? Probably not, and that’s a fate worse than (creative) death in showbiz. His career is sort of like when you get stuck on Grand Theft Auto, so you just decide to blow all your money on rocket launchers and go on a rampage just for the hell of it. It’s not really the point of the exercise, but it’s certainly a hell of a ride.

Might as well start near the beginning, and what better starting point that 2003’s House of the Dead. Now, I’m sure you’re well aware of the House of the Dead video game series. It’s one of those lightgun games that you’ve probably seen gathering dust in the corner of your local multiplex, and, as you might expect from a game that has you furiously mashing the trigger on a lump of bright pink plastic, it doesn’t have much in the way of a story. Of course, Uwe never let that stop him from hurling it onto the screen like a kid throwing soggy toilet roll onto the bathroom ceiling. This movie is probably one of the finest examples of Bollism, because, as a sort of genesis for his terrible video game adaptations, it gives birth to all the archetypes that make his movies so entertaining. Gratuitous, unnecessary slow-mo? Check. Bewilderingly stupid characters? Check. Inane dialogue (“You created it all to be immortal! Why?” one character asks of a mad scientist. “So I could live forever!” is the snappy response)? Check, check, checkity-check. Laughably directed action scenes, sudden random sex scenes, hamfisted melodrama, constant ripping off of The Matrix like every crappy action film in the early 2000s and deliriously outdated European house/crap metal soundtrack? All checks.

Basically, you need to see this movie. Need to. It’s like an episode of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, only somehow less competent than the fictional show that was specifically made to look terrible. The plot is something of a puzzle. It’s practically non-existent – a bunch of teenagers go to party on some deserted island, but shock horror, it’s actually not deserted and inhabited by zombies who eat them all – but at the same time has nothing to do with the original games. Why even bother to come up with your own crappy non-story when the non-story of the games would have been quicker and easier? Why even call it House of the Dead at all? It’s kind of like dividing by zero. Take a game with no plot, and tack the name onto a film which also has no plot, but is somehow about something completely different and… wait, why is my nose bleeding?

There’s really nothing more to say about that film, but it’s probably the finest example of absolutely nothing you’re ever likely to see and is an absolute riot. As with most Boll movies, the appeal lies in his unnatural ability to execute the most mundane of cinematic tropes with such staggering incompetence that it’s actually sort of admirable. Never was that more apparent in 2006’s staggeringly derivative In The Name of the King, which managed to turn an average swords and sorcery ‘epic’ into something quite different with some inspired casting. Sorry, did I say inspired? I meant shit. Jason Statham as a downtrodden farmer (called Farmer, obviously)… okay, I can just about buy that. Burt Reynolds as King? Hmm, well, now you’re pushing it. Hey, that’s not really that bad at all, it’s not like he cast Ray Liotta as a sorcerer, is it…? Oh. Oh no.

Also Matthew Lillard shows up as a warlord, but I don’t want to talk about that. Really. Why are you making me talk about that?

The whole thing is basically some pitiable attempt to cash in on Return of the King, and once again makes zero attempt to tie into the game it was based on, Dungeon Siege. In the movie, The Stath is out to avenge his dead son and abducted wife from the army of TOTALLY NOT ORCS FROM LORD OF THE RINGS known as Krugs, and in the end he gets made king for some reason. Oh yeah, spoilers. This one is much less entertaining than House of the Dead, as it at least has something resembling production values, and while Uwe still has no idea how to construct a story he appeared to have graduated from the complete clownshoes direction of his earlier work, into merely a really, really bad director. However, the real reason to watch this movie is for the morbid appeal of the mass career suicide that takes place. Statham, Liotta, and Reynolds are all joined by the like of Ron Perlman, John Rhys-Davies and Terence Kelly in the pantheon of good actors who spend the movie pottering around, silently comforting themselves that at least the money is good. As with all the Boll canon, though, the real star of this movie is the DVD commentary, during which time Boll rambles like a madman, takes phone calls, and, in a truly inspiring touch, gets bored and leaves 15 minutes before the end of the film. That alone is worth the price of admission, even if the film isn’t one of his best. I mean worst. Whatever.

For the sake of my own sanity, I can only stomach one more film. But which one to choose? So many of them have so many delights, but, since I talked a little about Alone In The Dark on The Highlight Reel, I’ll refrain from doing that one (though it’s probably my personal favourite Boll movie, purely because Tara Reid is cast as a scientist). No, the third and final vintage Boll movie that we’ll be looking at is one of his sequels, and one which, surprisingly, has something to do with the game on which it is based. That might give the game away somewhat: I’m referring of course to Bloodrayne: The Third Reich, the third in the Bloodrayne ‘saga’ (you have to airquote the word ‘saga’ when using it in the context of an Uwe Boll movie under the trade descriptions act), and the only one in the series which sees the titular vampire fighting Nazis, just as she does in the (terrible) video game series of the same name.

This film is very much a return to form after several mind-numbingly average efforts, such as Stoic and Rampage, which, while bad, were just plain bad and not the special Uwe Boll brand of bad that we’ve come to know and love over the years. Now, this film is, I’m assuming, the result of years of pent-up frustration – as he explicitly and frequently reveals in most of his commentaries – with actresses who refuse to constantly get topless in his movies. Rayne certainly makes up for lost time in this one. The plot is pretty much secondary to everything else that goes on, there’s something about a mad scientist, played by Boll stalwart Clint Howard, trying to use vampire blood to create SuperHitler or something, but it never amounts to much and the hilarious way that it resolves itself shows it was never intended to (let’s just say the phrase ‘ass-kicking’ is taken much more literally than it was ever intended). Rayne gets horizontal A LOT in the movie. Like, literally every 15 minutes or so. It’s so gratuitous and so frequent that it’s pretty much the only thing you can talk about with this film, as very little else of note actually happens. When it does, it’s the traditional Boll fare of horrible dialogue (“fucking Nazis”, Rayne groans nonchalantly), laughably constructed action scenes with no impact whatsoever (something he actually started to improve on prior to this film), and ridiculous plot contrivances, most notably that Rayne’s hideout is literally across the street from the Nazi base. It’s deliriously stupid the whole way through, but thankfully rarely boring, and in a lot of ways reminds me of the 70s exploitation cinema, right down to the use of highly camp mad science and the fact that nobody in the movie so much as attempts a German accent.

And there you have it. Your perfect introduction into the quite literally insane world of Uwe Boll. I highly recommend you give his work a try, particularly the ones listed here. I’m not going to guarantee you anything, except for one thing; you will not be bored. And really, that’s actually more than you can say for 90% of filmmakers these days. That’s sort of brilliant, isn’t it?

Leave Sequels Alone!

Funny things, sequels. Not ha ha funny, of course (particularly if that sequel is The Hangover Part II), but funny in terms of the seemingly contradictory nature of the audience reaction. Nine times out of ten, if you ask someone fresh out of the screen after seeing a sequel, their exact reaction will be “ehh, it was alright. But it wasn’t as good as the first one.”

That’s a pretty understandable viewpoint to take. Inspiration is very much a one time thing, and returning to something that was inspired two or three more times often leads to severely diminishing returns. So why do people keep going? Why do we have so much faith in sequels to keep shoving cash down their trousers if we know it’s just going to compare negatively to another film? Well, the answer is pretty simple: because a sequel can be a fun standalone experience when you stop obsessively comparing it to past glories. Of course, this is in the internet age, where everyone’s a critic, and everyone thinks their opinion matters (you fools, don’t you know the only opinion that matters is mine?), so actually-sort-of-alright sequels are twisted into horrible hate crimes against humanity by the practiced malice of folk on the internet (yes, I mean you specifically. YOU). Thus sequels, which initially provoke, at worst, a feeling of indifference when you leave the screen, soon snowball downhill into abominations against cinema, with the amount of time spent on the internet being directly proportional to how many times you say the film in question raped your childhood. With that in mind, allow me to list the top 3 sequels that don’t deserve anywhere near the amount of hate that they get. If you disagree with me, feel free to explain why in the comments, but bear in mind while doing so that you are completely wrong.

The first sequel I will be acting as defence counsel for is The Lost World: Jurassic Park. I alluded to this on Monday’s edition of The Highlight Reel, but I actually think this is a damn fine monster movie. Is it as good as the first one? No, but what could be? If you take the film as a standalone experience, there’s a lot to love here. While a lot of the characters (returning Jeff Goldblum and Richard Attenborough aside) are intensely annoying, that only makes it all the more enjoyable when the real stars of this movie, the dinosaurs, start picking them off. The film does what every good sequel should, which is to take the core concept of dinosaurs running amok and go nuts with it, packing more dinosaurs and more hectic action scenes in that you can shake a claw at. Sure, it lacks a lot of the jaw-on-the-floor moments of the original, but so many of the scenes are perfectly poised monster movie fare – the survivors running through the long grass and being slowly picked off by raptors, the hunt of a stampede of dinosaurs, led by the magnetic Pete Postlethwaite, and of course, the outstanding climax which sees a T-Rex rampaging through downtown San Diego. While it could never be as inspired as the original, it’s far from boring and is in fact a pretty damn good effort, and far better than any sequel to Jurassic Park has any right to be.

“San Diego, which of course in German means ‘a T-Rex’s vagina.'”

Taking up number two on the list is actually two films, because shut up it’s my blog and I make the rules. And, I have to admit, I’m being a little hypocritical here because I have, in the past, stated that this particular franchise hasn’t been good since the second film during a review of a recent video game. That game was Aliens: Colonial Marines, and the two sequels are, of course Alien 3 (or Alien³ as literally nobody calls it) and Alien Resurrection. Now, these movies arguably suffered even more than The Lost World did in terms of audience hype leading to a messy downfall, because they were sequels to a sequel. And not just any sequel, they had to follow Aliens, one of the most successful sequels of all time, and one of the few generally agreed to actually surpass the original movie. Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection were so reviled that even their own creators (Alien 3 director David Fincher and Resurrection scribe Joss Whedon) have publicly apologised for and poked fun at their contributions to the Alien canon. “A lot of people hated Alien 3. But no one hated it more than I did.” Said Fincher. Meanwhile, Whedon said of his effort; “it wasn’t so much that they changed the script, it’s that they just executed it in such a ghastly fashion as to render it almost unwatchable.”

And, I mean, watching those films, are they that bad? Really? They deserve a place on this list not because they’re particularly good (although Alien 3 is decent and Alien Resurrection has Ron Perlman in full badass mode) but just because… well, they’re not that offensive. Did anyone really watch either of those films and bust a blood vessel that their beloved franchise was taking a special Hollywood stiff one, until people on the internet started telling them to? Alien Resurrection was comfortably the worst one, but “unwatchable”? I think not. Sure, it had horrendously stupid characters and it was entirely unnecessary, but it had its moments. Mostly featuring Ron Perlman, of course, but they were there. Perhaps they’ve aged well when compared to what would follow them in the franchise, but while neither is essential viewing, they’re hardly offensive when compared to… well… you know.

Never has a tagline been so unknowingly apt.

It’s almost time to wrap this up, but before I do, I have one more bone to pick with you. Yes, you, the moviegoer who’s reading this blog. I’m just going to come out and say it: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a great film. There, I said it. Not just good, either. I said great, and I mean it. Given the massive outpouring of vitriol this movie has faced since its release in 2008, it’s a statistical certainly that you are one of the many who spit on the floor at the mere mention of the film. And I have to ask: why? What, about this film, is so bad, so shocking, so offensively awful, that makes it an unworthy successor to the original trilogy? Is it the fridge thing? It probably is. That’s the scene most people point to when furiously masturbating to the thought of beheading George Lucas for what he did to their childhood favourites. Honestly though, who cares? Does anybody remember the original trilogy? I sure do, in fact they’re three of my favourite films of all time. Nobody loves those films more than me. They were gloriously silly love letters to the adventure serials of the 30s, and featured Indy finding the Ark of the Covenant (which will melt your face clean off and make your head explode, natch), surviving a 10,000ft drop out of a plane by inflating a rubber dinghy and sliding down a mountain, racing Thuggees along a physics-defying minecart track, finding the freaking Holy Grail at the end of an invisible bridge and plenty more besides, and while that’s all cool, apparently we’re just drawing the line at fridges and aliens. Sorry, if you accept all the goofy shenanigans of the original trilogy, you don’t get to pick apart every single hitch in the new one just because you want something to complain about. That’s called hypocrisy. If you never liked Indy, fair enough, but to say this movie betrayed the legacy of the original trilogy is provably wrong.

Did I mention the guy who pulls people’s hearts out of their chests then sets them on fire? Because I feel like I should mention him.

The aliens were another bone of contention that I never quite got. While the old Indy films were supposed to pay homage to the 30s adventure serials, this one was set in the 50s, so naturally it instead paid homage to the sci-fi b-movies of the time. That makes sense to me. It’s a different era for both the filmmakers and the characters, and the film changed in setting and tone to reflect that. And anyway, the films are all about an adventure to find a higher power. There’s a telling scene between Indy and Mutt (Shia LaBeouf) where the two are searching a cave for treasure (which is classic Indy, by the way), and they come across drawings of the aliens. “God’s head does not look like that!” Mutt protests. “Depends on who your God is.” Is Indy’s curt response.

I just think when you’re looking at silly action movies, you’ve got to be consistent. You can’t nitpick every little detail of Crystal Skull while stating similarly silly goings-on in the originals are fair game, and as such I never really saw quite what Crystal Skull did to attract such bile from audiences. Of course it was never going to live up to the originals, as I mentioned earlier, an inspired creation is hard enough to attempt to recreate at the best of times, never mind over two decades after the fact.

Look at this. Look at it. Now move on. This is therapy.

Just remember, while many sequels are indeed cynical cash-grabs (be careful saying that bit while drunk), not all of them deserve to be lumped into the same smelly, overcrowded boat. Don’t be so protective over your beloved franchises, and try to judge things on their own merits. Part of loving is understanding, and this applies to film as much as it does anything else. Your blood pressure will thank you, if it were a tangible object with thought and feelings that is.

The Hangover Part II still sucks though.