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 19: BloodRayne II: Deliverance (2007, Uwe Boll) / The Emperor Jones (1933, Dudley Murphy)

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This week on An Alan Smithee Podcast, Andrew and Matt jump headfirst into the race wars with Uwe Boll’s BloodRayne II and Dudley Murphy’s film of Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones!

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There were so many unanswered questions left over from the first BloodRayne that the infamous Uwe Boll himself had to return to the directorial reigns. Questions like, “Whom would a BloodRayne sequel be intended for if we forget to include the Nazis from the video game it was based, again, while the German director will himself play a Nazi in Postal the same year?” Featuring no one and nothing from the first film except insider plot references, BloodRayne II: Deliverance is boring even for Uwe Boll, who barely gets the chance to murder children in this one.

Then it’s off to the Haitian islands where superstar singing sensation Paul Robeson brings his vocals as the dastardly and only marginable likable Brutus Jones, on an adventure to become the man who would be king of a backwater Haitian banana republic. He also gets to do a bunch of stuff not included in the Eugene O’Neill play thanks to some expository screenwriting padding, conveniently allowing him to sing in church and on the chain gang. The film is very well directed for an early talkie and features the rarity of an all-black cast. Lots of cool stuff to talk about!

NEXT WEEK: MATINEE (1993, JOE DANTE) & ROOFTOPS (1989, ROBERT WISE)