Alan Smithee Podcast 65: Black Book (2006, Paul Verhoeven) / Bloodrayne: The Third Reich (2010, Uwe Boll)

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This week on An Alan Smithee Podcast we look at two World War II films about heroines fighting Nazis armed with only their wits and their breasts: Black Book and Bloodrayne: The Third Reich.

This episode also marks our last look at an Uwe Boll film, at least for a while. As the man’s filmmaking improves, it just gets harder to mock him for stupid technical choices that were once abundant in his early works like House of the Dead. Worse, he has no particular personal hang-ups to creep their way into his stories like an Ed Wood, Tommy “The Room” Wiseau or James “Birdemic” Nguyen. If Uwe Boll is making a cheap movie about vampires in an old West town, as we saw in our Bloodrayne II episode, that’s exactly what it’s going to be about. We’d have more luck finding subtext in a Sci-Fi Channel Original Movie.

Uwe Boll doesn’t seem to make these bad video game licensed action movies because he enjoys them, but to fund a few of his more personal film projects and get great deals on German tax incentives for funds. His only distinguishing stylistic trademarks are boobs and mechanically rote violence. Thus does Bloodrayne: The Third Reich bring back his Ingenue Natassia Malthe as Bloodrayne the vampire ass-kicker with twice as much nudity, and three times as gratuitous. This film may contain the most gratuitous lesbian scene in the history of b-movies.

Bloodrayne: The Third Reich is, like Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, only as reverential to the events of World War II as need be to fulfill quotas for the World War II genre. The low budget production values only add to Boll’s workmanlike lack of taste, especially in the opening sequence where Bloodrayne and some resistance fighters liberate a concentration camp-bound train car with less prisoners inside than a coffeeklatsch on Passover. The film’s best actor is Clint Howard, who occasionally lends his strange face to low budget horror or sci-fi, playing “Dr. Mangler” – a sensitive, respectful nod to the man who made infamous Nazi doctors of human experiments, Joseph Mengele. To give Uwe credit, he only thinks he’s goofing on Nazis. Yet how ignorant and uncaring toward history do you have to be to end your World War II movie with the line, “Guten Tag, motherfuckers”? And he’s German!

Speaking of tasteless, and moving slightly elsewhere in the European continent, Dutch filmmaker Paul Verhoeven was met with some skepticism in the mid-2000s when he announced his long awaited return to filmmaking (after the ill-respected Hollow Man of 2000) would be a World War II film produced in his native Netherlands, the 2006 release Black Book (Zwartboek), most critics assumed it would be similar to his pulpy American hi-gloss Hollywood trash but in World War II: Basic Instinct with Nazis. That film would have been spectacular in ways that Inglourious Basterds only hinted at, yet the resulting work is far and away the most mature, assured work from Verhoeven since Robocop, or anything from the time before Verhoeven came to America.

Black Book was apparently a tremendous success in the Netherlands and the only reason one could venture why the film was rejected by the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Picture is payback for Verhoeven having turned his back on the enclave of Hollywood to go back overseas. The film takes all of Verhoeven’s accumulated filmmaking skills and applies them to a World War II yarn which is part pulpy thriller and another part empathic tale of survival, inspired in part by Verhoeven’s own childhood on the run during the war. The heroine, played by Milhouse’s great-aunt Carice van Houten, is a Jew hiding in plain sight with dyed-blone hair amongst the Nazis as a secretary secretly spying for the resistance.

The pulpy elements of Black Book are pulpy as hell; the premise of a hot Jewess screwing and screwing with the Nazis is both pulpier than Inglourious Basters and less pulpy than than the Jew-amongst-Nazis drama Europa, Europa.” Carice van Houten’s furtive, oft-agonized role as Rachel Stein / Ellis de Vries is perhaps best understood in the context of Verhoeven’s other put-upon but strong heroines. There’s the dogfood-eating but proud Nomi Malone (Elizabeth Berkley in Showgirls), medieval firebrand Agnes (Jennifer Jason Leigh in Flesh + Blood), and who could forget the toughest female cop this side of Heather Locklear, Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen) of Robocop?

The corniest pulp element of Black Book is probably the one which involves Rachel sleeping with a Nazi SS officer who apparently discovers her Jewishness, and doesn’t seem to care. The difference between Verhoeven and Boll is that while Boll including such a scene in his upcoming film Aushwitz (really? yes, really) Verhoeven’s gimmicky film about a Jewess in hiding is offset by an informed perspective on deadly historical realities, like people who pretended to be benefactors of Jews on the run only to double cross them and take their money while leaving them for dead. Amidst twists like that in Black Book there is full frontal Nazi nudity and literal buckets of shit dumped on our long-suffering heroine, proving that if there’s one director who can out-trash and out-class Uwe Boll in the same movie, it’s Paul Verhoeven.

NEXT EPISODE: MAE WEST SPECIAL! (SHE DONE HIM WRONG (1993, LOWELL SHERMAN) & SEXTETTE (1978, KEN HUGHES)

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Episode 52: Far Cry (2008, Uwe Boll) / Conduct Zero (2002, Geun-shik Jo)

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This week on An Alan Smithee Podcast we follow the exploits of two tuff furriners taking on the very very odds. Our wonderful global village produces many multicultured approaches to encroaching perils. In South Korea, where coming-of-age dramas are just as dangerously wacky as ghost stories, a tuff man will alternate between buffoonish badassery and doe-eyed sensitivity to accommodate the hodgepodge of genres at play in the typical SK flick. The stoic German, on the other hand, accepts an escalating hodgepodge with laconic forthrightness – even or perhaps especially when the tones attempting to be juggling by the filmmaker keeps dropping to the floor.

Conduct Zero, aka Zero In Conduct and No Manners is almost maddeningly typical of South Korean movies: it incorporates different moods within a single category, in this case a high school comedy-drama, and does so deftly. As the trailer helpfully explains, this is an “Ultra Spectacle Sup Cap-jjung Romance Comic Action Drama” type picture. Charmingly roguish Seung-beom Ryu is Jung-pil, the worst behaved delinquent at Moonduk High. Life turns upside down when he falls for a goody two shoes named Min-hee and has to romance her while retaining his bad boy image to the rest of the school. Befitting the fact that this is also an unannounced 1980s period piece, Jung-pil seeks the help of a nerd to get closer to his geeky girl. Unlike your average teen movie though, writer-director Geun-shik Jo is almost as interested in the peripheral characters of this drama as his protagonist and a little sympathetic to almost everyone, even Na-young, the girl gang leader equivalent to Jung-pil who targets Min-hee out of jealousy for Jung-pil’s attention. Empathic humanity combined with digitally enhanced slapstick direction makes Zero In Conduct a perfect example of why South Korean movies are so uniquely well made and accessible to American audiences.

Far Cry is technically several kinds of bad movie, the action-syfy channel-horror timekiller, yet this hybrid has been around so long it’s practically one genre. There only annotation required to explain why it caught our attention over all the others is that the director is Uwe Boll, king of German tax sheltered crap video game tie-ins. While we hate to admit the guy has become somewhat a more competent director since 2003’s House of the Dead – if not of actors then of middling action scenes – his resident screenwriting team of Michael Roesch (Alone In The Dark,) Peter Scheerer (Alone In The Dark) and Masaji Takei (Bloodrayne II: Deliverance, as featured previously on An Alan Smithee Podcast) definitely haven’t evolved in the least. The dialogue and unbalanced interspersing of comic relief with the genetic super-soldier carnage seems more a ploy to keep their boss from getting bored while making his own movie than creating an emotional rollercoaster ride. Lead teutonic tuffman Til Schweiger – recently featured in Inglourious Basterds as another German, Hugo Stiglitz – fares a lot better with the comedy than the action, and faring well in any regard under the auspice of Uwe is no small feat.

Prefacing this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast is a special spirited wrap-up on the subject of Piranha 3D, a film heavily theorized about in our previous Piranha themed episode and our look at the James Cameron 1981 sequel. What happens when two fans of the original don’t see eye to eye on the new version? Who will survive and what will be left of them?

NEXT EPISODE: SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH (1962, RICHARD BROOKS) & BATS (1999, LOUIS MORNEAU)

Episode 42: Black Narcissus (1947, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger) / Cobra (1986, George P. Cosmatos)

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At the beginning of the last century the movies taught that the church stood as a bedrock sanctuary, hallowed by institutional age and inhabited predominantly by a kindly old character actor priests and sweet old biddy nuns, preaching trust in The Lord with a capital T. Cults are usually scattered by the end of a film with the organization and its members in a severe state of disrepair. Their mindlessness and group unity make them great villains, creatively sadistic and born to be dispatched creatively.

In this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast we enjoy probably one of the earliest screen examples of the Christian church’s existential vulnerability, parting ways with the old image of immutable sanctity. The 1947 British film Black Narcissus is a visual tour de force from postwar golden age craftsmen under the bold vision of directing team Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Filmed entirely not on location at the legendary Pinewood Studios, the story adapts a popular women’s novel about a young nun (Deborah Kerr) charged with keeping a new mission in an old harem built from stone on the high mountains of the British Indian Himalayas. Things gradually fall apart in glorious Technicolor as the sultry advances of British actors in Indian makeup like Jean Simmons, one actual Indian (the ubiquitous Sabu) and the only white imperialist in town (David Farrar) prove to be too much. The nuns are seduced into madness, or maybe it’s just the lack of oxygen up there.

Try as Kerr might, she still finds herself having flashbacks to her life before getting to a nunnery – which were removed from the US version of the film at the lobby of the Catholic Legion of Decency upon release, in addition to a pivotal scene of Kathleen Byron’s symbolic defection from the flock. Where most contemporary dramas about nuns would begin, social mores then excised. In a meta-real life happy ending, actual British audiences first saw the film end with the image of Kerr peaceably leaving the Indian countryside mere months after the British withdrew from India in shame the very same year.

Cobra is an epochal achievement in dumb 80s action movies, meeting every quota for witless one liners, fascist politics, homoeroticism and of course a healthy body count. Sylvester Stallone’s villainous, mysterious cultists the Night Slashers (led by, um, “The Night Slasher” Brian Thompson have maybe the least backstory of the few action films in which the cannon fodder are homicidal cultists who wave axes over their heads like it’s the middle ages while the music, fashion and occasionally incoherent editing of their film heralds the onset of the late 80s. So important to Stallone was the story of one renegade cop defying liberal bureaucratic cowardliness to have an awesome car chase on the freeway with the Night Slashers that the whole Night Slashers scenario was originally meant for Beverly Hills Cop had Stallone accepted the film and not Eddie Murphy.

When Brian Thompson threatens Marion “Cobra” Cobretti and Bridgette Neilson in the flames and steam factory at the end of the film Stallone acts as he informed the zombielike cultist hostage taker in the introductory action sequence: he is “the cure” and his criminal are “a disease.” Could there be a more concise metaphor for mortal enmity toward spiritual hucksters? This and Stallone’s recent positing of hapless naive Christian missionaries needing to be saved by an irreligious Rambo in Rambo show a disinterest by the auteur in organized religion uncommon to his otherwise conservative world view, not to the degree of antitheism but agnosticism at best. Witness also his malleable recitation of Hebrew prayers at Mickey’s funeral in Rocky III.

Rambo: First Blood Part II director George P. Cosmatos gives the mindless action plenty of zip and the impenetrable psyche of Stallone provides the madness. You can take the man from his b-movie roots of porn and Death Race 2000 but you can’t keep him from Golan-Globus even when he could have done any film he wanted in the wake of Rocky IV and Rambo in 1985. For one brief Reagan moment, Stallone’s fantasies reflected the zeitgest of contemporary political life, namely boxing the Soviet Union to a pulp and single handedly rescuing every American POW in Vietnam.

Cobra attempted to clean up the streets at home, and in peaking past the break point of absurdity by having the streets overrun by a combination of the Illuminati and the biker rapists of Mad Max, Stallone discredited himself and was kept from being elected philosopher-god-king of America.

NEXT WEEK: DEAD MAN (1995, JIM JARMUSCH) & THE NET (1995, IRWIN WINKLER)

Episode 37: Mean Streets (1973, Martin Scorsese) / Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991, Mark L. Lester)

This week on An Alan Smithee Podcast we grab our pieces and visit two urban jungles of two different ethnicities. Who runs their little ethnic enclave better, the Little Italians or the Little Japanese? If either film is to be believed, crime is a huge problem in both areas. The big difference is whether the local mob is home grown or imported directly from Big Tokyo. This also determines the tone of the movie, since one of the films directors carries some childhood sympathies for the people and lifestyle, while the other cast a world famous white guy and dropped him into smack dab into yellow peril.

Mean Streets is the film that made Martin Scorcese famous. The story involves the mafia, a subject which his films helped make famous almost as much as another Italian American gentleman, Francis Ford Coppola, with The Godfather that very same year. Unlike that famous crime saga, this film focuses on the low levels of mob employment and a young man struggling to justify his future career with his Catholic fear of eternity in Hell, played by Harvey Keitel. As if this weren’t enough to worry about, his best friend – Robert DeNiro, in a star making turn – is a loose cannon with a big mouth and debts all over town.

Scorcese never really grew as a filmmaker: he was great from the start. His interests didn’t have to grow either, he would continue to make films about crime, Catholicism and urban alienation with or without DeNiro in the coming decades and has only recently seemed to choose projects based on books he picked up at the library, like a random biography or cheesy horror novel. Mean Streets is at the epicenter of personal connection to the things which mattered most to him, filmed in the part of New York he grew up in and scored to the pop songs he grew up listening to. A real Italian slice of life with extra parmesan.

If the filmmakers behind Showdown in Little Tokyo had made Mean Streets, someone probably would’ve been killed with a pizza. That is to say, director Mark L. Lester of Commando fame did not bring with him any personal cultural understanding of the Japanese culture. The biggest overtures to Japanese culture are the casting of two non-Japanese Asian-Americans, Tia Carrere of Wayne’s World fame and Bruce Lee’s belated son Brandon Lee in his first American film.

The real star is not just a white guy but one of the whitest guys you know: Dolph Lundgren, out to clean up the mean streets of Little Tokyo with the superior understanding of Asian martial arts that only a Swedish guy can engineer. He and Lee trade some gay banter, crack skulls, and unlike a lot of buddy actions movies we’ve seen here on An Alan Smithee Podcast, director Mark Lester truly does not mess around when it comes to flattering one’s short attention span with outrageous violence. A big dumb fun dose of brain damage from 1991, the year that action movies died inside.

NEXT WEEK: THIS GUN FOR HIRE (1942, FRANK TUTTLE) & CONGO (1995, FRANK MARSHALL)

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Episode 33: The Last Boy Scout (1991, Tony Scott) / The Return of the Living Dead (1985, Dan O’Bannon)

This episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast is dedicated to the memory of Dan O’Bannon, the director and writer of our good movie The Return Of The Living Dead. O’Bannon was a true genre journeyman, whose ideas for Alien (1979) have been influencing our pop culture for decades now.

While attending USC he acted and co-wrote for John Carpenter in Dark Star (1974) then began contributing to Heavy Metal magazine. Some of his work would show up in the 1981 Heavy Metal movie. In 1977 he designed computer animation for Star Wars and was hired by Alejandro Jodorowsky to create the special effects for an unmade version Dune, during which time O’Bannon met the artist HR Giger. After the cancellation of Dune, O’Bannon co-wrote the Alien screenplay with Ronald Shusett and sold the screenplay it to 20th Century Fox, who then hired Giger to create the now-classic look that compliments O’Bannon’s slow, suspenseful story.

The 80s saw O’Bannon’s most prolific period, with many credits including Dead & Buried, Blue Thunder, Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce and Invaders From Mars remake, Total Recall (once again with Shusett,) and most importantly his sole directing and writing credit; the zombie film which encapsulated, satirized, and reestablished the “zombie movie” as a genre of horror as much as Alien created the Alien style horror movie.

It hurts to be dead. Let’s all applaud him at home during the Oscars death clap.

Shane Black is nothing like Dan O’Bannon, except that he’s a screenwriter by trade with one hallmark series to his name: Lethal Weapon. Black may have also been a tad nerdish, but inside him rages a misogynist streak a mile long. The Last Boy Scout is a healthy exercise in the degradation of women, and completely fails at pairing Bruce Willis with Damon Wayans with any kind of humorous buddy comedy chemistry.

Directed by Tony Scott, this film is shot through a thick cloud of LA smog and exists in the nether regions between the post-Cold War death of violent and homoerotic right wing action movies and the onset of big, dumb and slick action movies starring a pair of big dumb names in outrageous situations. This period was also known as George H.W. Bush’s single term.

NEXT WEEK: 2010: THE YEAR WE MAKE CONTACT (1984, PETER HYAMS) & THE HIDDEN FORTRESS (1958, AKIRA KUROSAWA)

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Episode 26: Blowup (1966, Michaelangelo Antonioni)/ Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man (1990, Simon Wincer)

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BLOWUP

This week on An Alan Smithee Podcast, we witness Antonioni’s jaunt through hipster London of the swingin’ 60s for a day in the life of a man turning obsessive in Blowup. So much is seen and not heard in this film about photography that a roving car of mimes – easily the scariest image in any movie we’ve seen yet – bookends the story. Look for The Yardbirds amidst dolly birds like Vanessa Redgrave and you’ll have to bring your own meaning to this dreamlike tale of ennui and paranoia.

Then for a taste of bad we sup runoff from the 80s buddy comedy action movie boom, with a near-future chaser. Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man was in no way endorsed by either property, but nobody tells Harley Davidson and Marlboro what they name themselves! The homosexual chemistry is offset a bit by the encroaching political correctness of the 90s, fortunately the script is dumb enough to compensate. Besides, you’re watching a cowboy and a biker. Don Johnson stars as Marlboro and Mickey Rourke as Harley, in the role which kicked off his self-identified period of extreme self loathing!

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NEXT WEEK: NIGHT OF THE DEMON (1957, JACQUES TOURNEUR) & A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET PART 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE (1985, JACK SHOLDER)

Episode 18: Tango & Cash (1989, Andrei Konchalovsky) / California Split (1974, Robert Altman)

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This week An Alan Smithee Podcast gets manly and shirtless with two of the 80s’ eightiest men’s men, Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell, starring in one of Jon Peters’ worst streams of consciousness: Tango & Cash. Stallone’s a yuppie hotshot cop and Russell’s just a hotshot cop. All they have in common is skull denting stupidity and gay panic, which only inflames when the pair are sent to prison. Can they stop talking about each other’s cocks in time to bust out and stop the diabolical Jack Palance before he over-the-tops his performance from Batman the same year? Well, no, Palance is ever hammier and he wears all an white suit like Colonel Sanders. Despite this, his flamboyance pales in comparison to the cock grabbing, cross-dressing antics of our boys as they barnstorm through scenarios that make not one luck of sense, ever. Also featuring free floating coked up screenwriter xenophobia towards minorities.

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Then, Robert Altman takes us someplace warmer and nicer with California Split, another buddy comedy featuring George Segal and Elliot Gould as compulsive gamblers at different points in their addiction. This film pulls few punches in the depiction of gambling while also playing things for laughs, making for a melancholy mood of poignancy and loss. Unlike Tango & Cash, Gould and Segal’s romance is soft spoken and romantic as one takes another under his wing to learn poker and a bromance to last the ages is born.

NEXT WEEK: EMPEROR JONES (1933) / BLOODRAYNE II: DELIVERANCE (2007)

Episode 14: Gymkata (1985, Robert Clouse) / It’s A Gift (1934, Norman Z. McLeod)

In this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast, Andrew and Matt delve into an action movie which couldn’t have possibly been made at any other point in history, Gymkata, in which real life Olympic gymnast Kurt Thomas plays fictional Olympic gymnast Jonathon Cabot on a super secret mission to compete in a deadly game on behalf of our government…and only his ability to twirl around on horizontal bars and pommel horses will ensure his survival. Directed by Robert Clouse, who did much better with a similar story on Enter The Dragon ten years earlier. Check out this handsome GYMKATA fan site for further skills and kills!

Then, it’s several decades back in time and several light years away in content as the king of henpecked philandering drunks, WC Fields, heads out Californee way to inherit an orange grove – but not before surviving the wrath of children, the blind, and wimmin-folk. Okay, maybe these films aren’t as different as all that…these men are survivors. It’s A Gift is all killer and no filler from the director of The Marx Brothers’ Horse Feathers and is one of the great comedies ever made, so check out the iTunes or direct MP3 download links below to hear us prattle on entertainingly!