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 48: Darkman (1990, Sam Raimi) / Darkman II: The Return of Durant (1995, Bradford May) / Darkman III: Die Darkman Die (1996, Bradford May)

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There aren’t many original film superheroes. The few that were made between those DC epochs, 1978′s Superman and 1989′s Batman straddled every genre that didn’t require a cape – science fiction, pulp noir, horror – resulting in films whose protagonists tended to violently undergo disgusting transformations unchained to the demands of preselling McDonalds collector glasses to children already familiar with the characters. Between Superman and Batman, original superhero-ish action fantasy films could appeal to older audiences, or at least teenagers with cynical attitudes who read comics by Alan Moore or Frank Miller and were already enjoying a golden era of stylized ultra violence in 1980s cinema.

The apotheosis of these ideals was Robocop and since the Alan Smithee Podcast has already done that special we’re now moving to the next best example of this rare subgenre to ever be produced by a major studio: Darkman, the super-noir-anti-hero created by Sam Raimi years before his famously licensed official superhero movie when he couldn’t secure the gig directing Batman or The Shadow.

As a franchise, the Darkman series is informatively typical of Universal Studios business practices in the 1990s and Sam Raimi’s career in the future. The visually deft direction tells the comic book story as if we’re glancing over wordless panels on a page, seeing what happens through one striking image after another. Some of Raimi’s shots of Darkman can be seen elsewhere in the Spider-Man trilogy and then there’s the business of his swinging on a rope between skyscrapers during the action packed finale. While the cheesiness of parts II and III were predictable, Raimi’s executive producer credit on both also indicated a willingness to take the money for squeezing out numerated excrement below his own standards – as witnessed with Spider-Man 3 and a few lower profile cash-ins along the way in the 1990s under the Renaissance Pictures.

Universal’s production of Darkman II and III was done practically on autopilot in the same manner as their previous back-to-back part 2 and 3 franchise sequels had been handled before (i.e. Back to the Future, Problem Child and Child’s Play) and would continue to be handled with the Tremors sequels and TV franchise to come. Universal Television’s corporate synergy with the film department even generated a Darkman TV series pilot, and at times the two films nearly resemble sewn together plot ideas from some unmade first season.

As the subtitle heralds, Darkman II: The Return of Durant brings back Larry Drake as the first film’s memorable villain Robert G. Durant – the dorkiest frighteningly sadistic crime boss since Kurtwood Smith’s Clarence Boddicker in Robocop, natch. Aside from the painful Toronto production values of the film, the biggest problem is a story which barely acknowledges Darkman at all – it’s almost 30 minutes before he even realizes Durant has returned – and in this regard there’s an unfortunately coincidental resemblance to Robocop 2. Die Darkman Die isn’t nearly as bad, thanks in part to the awesome title. Perennial b-movie staple Jeff Fahey is a better villain than the warmed over Durant and the story is written by a different duo than Part II, who know enough to implicate Darkman as more than a cipher.

Darkman became a trilogy to resounding indifference. Until now! Darkman fans rejoice, for your hour has come. Julieeeeee!! Duraaaaaaaant!!! And tune in next time when Larry Drake returns yet again…

NEXT EPISODE: BLACKMAIL IS MY LIFE (1968, KINJI FUKASAKU) & DR. GIGGLES (1992, MANNY COTO)

Episode 35: Robocop (1987, Paul Verhoeven) / Robocop 2 (1990, Irvin Kershner) / Robocop 3 (1993, Fred Dekker)

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Hey Lewis, it’s supercop! This week on a special An Alan Smithee Podcast we look back on the Robocop trilogy. Few other trilogies of films intended as ongoing franchises ever experienced such a precipitous, virtually calculated drop in quality from one of the greatest films ever made (even Criterion agrees) to a definitively cynical rehash with official comic book credentials – Frank Miller, whose film career somehow outlasted the kid oriented director of PG-13 Part 3, Fred Dekker. Old wounds are opened as old e-hate mail from Dekker himself is disclosed for the first time!

NEXT WEEK: THE STRANGER (1946, ORSON WELLES) & JAY & SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK (2001, KEVIN SMITH)

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