Saturday, July 28, 2007


Up until last weekend I had never seen a Uwe Boll film. I had been warned off them for so long and never took much interest in them to begin with, that I figured I wasn't really missing anything. Boll's infamy among film geeks has risen to legendary proportions in a fairly quick period of time, but when the multitudes of both fanboys and film critics are unanimous in their dislike of the guy's films, you figure that they have to be on to something here. But earlier this year I started to hear some positive word about his upcoming comedy POSTAL (based on a video game, of course) and when I heard the film was accepted into both Fantasia and Fantastic Fest, I figured it was time to give it a chance. Then I saw Mr. Boll make a personal appearance in the NY/NJ area back in June, and his presentation was so lively and animated, I figured I could go into this with a pretty open mind. If he was able to get what I saw on stage onto the screen, he might have something here.

POSTAL was set to screen at Fantasia along with another Boll epic, IN THE NAME OF THE KING: A DUNGEON SIEGE TALE, yet another video game adaptation, but this one with a much bigger budget and some decent names in the cast: Jason Statham (who I like a lot), Ray Liotta, Burt Reynolds, Ron Pearlman, and Leelee Sobieski. With both pictures there's a sense that you know what to expect: POSTAL will be a brash, offensive comedy while DUNGEON SIEGE will be filled with lots of swords and sorcery and “Yonder lies the palace of my fadder, da king” dialogue. Interestingly enough, many in the crowd seemed to be excited by Boll and his films, a change from the usual reception he gets, and both shows sold out. Almost like an entertainer, he worked the crowd pretty well before POSTAL's Saturday night midnight show and the Sunday afternoon KING show, perhaps giving each showing an undue advantage, though it might be advised that he does this at most critics screenings in the future. The crowd loved him and as he left halfway during DUNGEON SIEGE to catch his flight back to Vancouver (where he’s shooting another movie), he shouted out, “See you next year!” to much applause. That said, once the show is on the screen, the movies themselves will succeed or fail on their own merits.

So is POSTAL any good? Not exactly, though I've seen worse and I didn't hate it. This is Boll's attempt at making an outrageous and offensive comedy that's in response to the state of the world today and if anything, it shows that comedy is not really Boll's forte. Not surprisingly, Boll piles on one more "shocking" joke or scene after another on you and it's all overkill. Sometimes it works, but most often it doesn't, kind of like SOUTH PARK but without the wit, creativity and intelligence. He gives us jokes like a pair of September 11 hijackers arguing over how many virgins they get (“72 virgins? I was told it was 99!”) and Bin Laden telling Bush “I wish I could quit you”, along with jokes that play on racism, stereotypes, religion, political incorrectness and a lot of it falls flat. I will admit that there are some jokes that do hit their target and every so often he comes upon what feels like an inspired gag (my favorite involving a bunch of dead kids; you just have to see it) or one-liner and there’s one really funny scene during a welfare office shootout. Also, I liked lead Zack Ward a lot, and you can never go wrong with Dave Foley, even if you get him to perform a full-frontal nude scene (yes, he does). With POSTAL, Boll intends to piss everyone off, insult them and tell you it’s all good for you. Now, I’m not saying that he doesn’t have a point or anything to say, but what’s really missing is focus; the targets are everyone and everywhere, so instead of picking one, he’s just aiming all over the place (going postal, as it were). That’s fine for something like AIRPLANE!, but when you’re dealing with satire, focus is pretty much the key. Without it, you make a big, giant mess, sloppy in both planning and execution. But I can’t say the film is bad because at least Boll is making at attempt at something; he thinks he’s making a statement and I applaud him, or any filmmaker, who goes out on a limb like this, even though he’s being pretty obvious. Yeah, the world is pretty fucked up these days and it’s probably going to be that way for a while. People are on edge, disconnected from one another, selfish and self-centered, most lacking any moral foundations. Hey Uwe, tell me something I don’t already know, OK? That’s all POSTAL is saying, nothing more, and I can’t really go on just that. Satire is a very tough thing to do; for every THE LOVED ONE there’s a MYRA BRECKINRIDGE. They say that people get the governments they deserve and I think the same is true of satires, as well. During the finale of the Clinton era we got SOUTH PARK: BIGGER, LONGER, & UNCUT, and now under the twilight of Bush we get POSTAL. That says something right there.

As odd as it may sound, IN THE NAME OF THE KING almost suffers in comparison, even though it’s a much better film. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it’s pretty decent, a not-bad throwback to the likes of KRULL by way of LORD OF THE RINGS that provides an acceptable amount of entertainment, all despite a lot of eye-rolling dialog and some hammy performances. It doesn’t take any of the chances that POSTAL does, although it doesn’t really have to, either, and it seems that Boll’s ambitions with this one are simply to tell the story and showcase a lot of action, which he does fairly well. It’s one of those “mythical kingdom is threatened by an evil wizard and his army” kinda deals and as such, it’s a more than painless timewaster. And to give Boll credit, the film delivers where it really counts, in several extended action and battle sequences that are extremely impressive and more than make the movie. They’re choreographed by the great Hong Kong martial arts director Ching-Sui Tung (here credited as Tony Ching) and are pretty astounding and they’re not over-edited or hard to follow. He also makes great use of B.C. locations and the FX, while plentiful, are likewise not overdone. And I have to give IN THE NAME OF THE KING credit for one other thing you almost never see in medieval epics, a racially diverse cast. One of the film’s lead performers is Brian J. White (who’s quite good) and there are other prominently featured African-American performers seen throughout, which is quite refreshing. It helps give the film a slight edge and easily works in its favor. Some of the other casting isn’t quite as successful (Matthew Lillard seems to have been directed to ham it up and Burt Reynolds may be the first king on movie history with a face lift), but in the end it doesn’t matter. IN THE NAME OF THE KING does its job reasonably well and I suppose is Boll’s best film to date, but then again, the only other film of his I’ve seen is POSTAL.

Easily the most interesting thing I’ve seen Uwe Boll do wasn’t on a theater screen but on the streets of Montreal (Ste-Catherine, to be exact). After the midnight screening of POSTAL got out at around 3am (it started late and then there was the Q&A), a large group of us, which included Uwe, THE DEVIL DARED ME TO’s Chris Stapp and Matt Heath, Mitch Davis and myself, were looking for a place to go and grab some food and drink. All the bars in Montreal close at 3am, so an all-night restaurant named Cine Express (which we’ve been to many times during Fantasia) was suggested. As we walked over, this drunk guy walking across the street passed out and hit his head on the ground pretty badly. Uwe called the paramedics and stayed with the guy until well after they showed up, despite the fact that the guy was so drunk that he insisted he was OK and didn’t need any help. As it turns out, Uwe missed his chance at food (the kitchen closed early that night) and couldn’t even find a seat, but I found the whole thing to be more than a little bizarre. Did the guy who just made a movie where a cop shoots a woman because she won’t move her car just help out a complete stranger on the street like that? If I hadn’t have witnessed it with my own eyes I’d think it was all staged, but there it was, plain as the nose on Uwe’s face. I guess inside that tough, critic-boxing exterior beats a kind heart. I don’t know if we’ll ever see it on the big screen, but it’s sure earned my respect, even if POSTAL didn’t.

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