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    Monday
    Jan032011

    The Path of the Raging Boll: House of the Dead

    By Jonathan Rind

    So begins our journey through the films of the infamous Uwe Boll. Today we’ll talk about the first of his video-game movies, 2003’s House of the Dead.

    Boasting an impressive 4% on Rotten Tomatoes and the rank of 48 on IMDB’s “Bottom 100”, I think it is safe to say that anyone going into a viewing of this movie should have nothing but the lowest of expectations. I wouldn’t be surprised if that becomes a common theme for Boll’s movies as we wade through them.

    Sure enough, this movie turned out to be a steaming pile of shit. But let’s take a moment and really dig our heels into what this movie is about.

    Apart from reanimated corpses, lots of gunfire, and a house partially full of dead, the movie bares little resemblance to the game series. Three House of the Dead games had come out by the time the film was released but apparently there wasn’t enough to draw from the games to make into a film except, you know, zombies.

    “It all started a few days ago when I came here for a rave…” So declares the narration as the movie opens on a shot of a guy in a jungle with an axe. This seemed promising.

    The film follows a group of twentysomethings as they make their way to an island for what is set to be the best rave ever. They manage to find a ship that will take them. It is crewed by Ron Howard’s brother and Captain Kirk. He knows that his name is funny but he is firm and German so it is nothing to laugh about, guys. The group consists of all types of pieces of cardboard. There is Cynthia, a feisty blond who is overtly sexual and stupid. She laughs when her boyfriend pukes in her mouth. There is Karma, the one who “thinks she is Foxy Brown” but totally isn’t. Alicia is the important one because she shows sadness (see: character development). The two guys are Simon and Greg. Simon is the “biggest underwear model in America” and Greg is the one that pukes in Cynthia’s mouth.

    Immediately they are warned that the island that the rave is taking place on is nicknamed “Isla de Muerte”. Ron Howard’s brother explains that “muerte” means death in case you don’t speak “Mexican”. After a few hundred dollars are exchanged, they set off to the island on the fishing boat.

    It is apparent right away that there is nothing Mexican about the setting because it looks like the entire movie takes place in Canada. These ominous tropical islands have pine trees and rocky beaches, the perfect place for a tequila-fueled rave.

    The boat trip is interspersed with shots of couples canoodling on the island and then dying. Within ten minutes there are more boobs than the average soft-core porn you thought you were about to watch. But whatever, it’s all in good fun. One couple breaks apart and the girl then searches the island and finds a house with her boyfriend in it. They are both then swiftly torn apart by zombies.

    Our group finally gets to the island and people start dying as they quickly realize that there are zombies everywhere. The zombies are totally inconsistent in their movement and actions as some slowly shuffle along and others run and sometimes even use weapons.

    One by one the members of the group start to die off and eventually we are left with just Simon, Alicia, and Karma. They find the house in the jungle and holed up inside of it are Rudy, Liberty, and Hugh. They were at the rave when the zombies started attacking and managed to escape but not before Hugh videotaped the whole thing. The rave was sponsored by SEGA, so it was popping off pretty hard before it was raided by the party police (zombies!).  For a mega rave, 25 attendees seem like a pretty respectable number.

    BEST RAVE EVER

    That’s about when it gets really hairy for our heroes. More zombies show up from their infinite spawn points and attack everybody. They try to find the boat they arrived on but more zombies appear. I think you can see a pattern starting to develop.

    This leads to the big action scene in the movie. The group, constantly changing in numbers, makes its way back to the house in the jungle to establish a safe haven from the horde. They proceed to have a ten-minute shootout wherein dozens of zombies are blown apart. It is evident that Mr. Boll has watched a few John Woo movies and The Matrix around hundred times. Every single one of the characters receives their own personal bullet-time sequence that is horribly gratuitous and completely non-engaging.

    A few of them die in the fight and the remaining ones take shelter in the house. It is explained that the cause of these zombies is some evil Spaniard from hundreds of years ago that wanted to be immortal “so that he could live forever”. He created an immortality serum and started making zombies. They discover a lab inside of the house and Rudy finds a sample of some crazy non-human blood. As a brilliant pre-med student, he exclaims, “I've never seen anything like it before. It's completely unnatural. It's fucking genius".

    Zombies then finally get into the house and a few more of the crew die before Alicia, Karma, and Rudy escape into a catacomb beneath the house. Zombies start to come out of the walls and Karma decides that it is her turn to die so she tells the other two to go forward without her. She then dies. Throughout this sequence and as transitions during other parts of the movie, footage from the actual House of the Dead arcade game is peppered in with the live action footage. It is completely ineffectual and stupid but at least it can’t take you out of the experience at all because frankly, it is never involving in the slightest.

    Rudy and Alicia then encounter the evil Spaniard and he tries to use their bodies for more heinous zombie making. They blow up the place and escape but the Spaniard manages to survive. A three-way swordfight ensues and the Spaniard stabs Alicia in the chest, right between the boobs. When all seems lost, Alicia comes back to life and kills the Spaniard. Anonymous men in suits then show up and rescue Rudy and Alicia, who actually used to date before the story started. Rudy narrates as the movie closes that he gave Alicia the immortality serum and the movie closes with some really awful metal song.

    There are often movies that are so bad they are good and at certain points, House of the Dead feels like it could reach that undesirable level. Overall though, it doesn’t really come close. The actions scenes aren’t exciting, the characters are non-existent, and the plot chugs along with no real sense of logical progression. The prolonged action scene is where it went from really bad to really really bad. There just aren’t any redeeming qualities about this entire movie. It has the feel of a straight-to-video flick that was shot in a weekend and then one of the crewmember’s cousins made a tepid rap-metal song to play over some of the action scenes. It always blows me away when the credits roll and the harsh reality hits that there were hundreds of people involved in the making of this blood-soaked turd. But then again, when the opening credits reveal that the production designer’s name is “Tink”, any hope for a serviceably made picture kind of just goes out the window.

    The ball is now rolling on the journey through the land of Boll, and the first stop was nothing short of a crusty zombie whorehouse. I remain steadfast in my devotion and I hope that you can join me tomorrow when I watch Alone in the Dark.

    Sunday
    Jan022011

    The Path of the Raging Boll: Prologue

    By Jonathan Rind

    Throughout the course of film history, there have been filmmakers who are experts at their craft, utilizing the ingredients at hand to create pieces of art that endure and affect millions. There is even an element of art in creating films to be consumed by the masses, pleasing all who watch it by simply providing visceral thrills and escapist story-lines.

    One man, however, stands alone in the annals of cinema. He proclaimed himself “the only genius in the whole fucking movie business”. Always confident, always working, always German, he is Uwe Boll.

    A reputation and career built on dreadful film-making and misplaced overconfidence, his work has been heralded the world over as absolute shit. Can it all really be so bad? Can each movie just be a bumblefuck of action scenes and stilted dialogue as I have so often read? I feel almost compelled to find out for myself.

    It is time for me to wade through the "highlights" of his catalog. Not many people watch his movies and not many ever will, but I plan on being part of that group.

    Over the coming days on Crosstawk, I plan on watching and reviewing eight of his movies. Although he is notorious for his botched film adaptations of video game franchises, I'll throw in a couple that he has written as well.

    Before I begin this journey, let's go over some facts about Dr. Uwe Boll.

    To begin, he has a PhD in literature, so really, that Dr. before his name is earned. He is also crafty enough to manipulate German tax breaks for film-making to finance his projects. So even though his films usually fail to recoup their budgets, he can keep getting financing because they don't really lose anybody any money. Sort of like The Producers, but with more glockenspiel. Critics have been unkind to his films and as a response, he challenged some of them to amateur boxing matches in 2006, defeating all of them. In 2008, a petition was started online for him to retire. Boll agreed he would if it could reach 1 million signatures. It never did.

    I have only seen one Uwe Boll movie, 2009's Rampage. It was pretty bleak and violent, but not unwatchable. More like an over-stylized metal video for fans of the Columbine shootings than a total abomination of film-making. Certainly in bad taste, but I let that slide most of the time.

    The video game adaptations are where he gets his reputation, however, and I have never seen any of them. That won't be true next week. So join me tomorrow when the journey begins with the video-game movie that started it all, House of the Dead.

    Thursday
    Dec302010

    Crosstawk Comics: Episode 5

    As 2010 comes to a close, Crosstawk bids farewell to a year of amazing comics! Gus and Karl return with their Top 5 issues/series for 2010, including Amazing Spider-Man, Daytripper, Justice League: Generation Lost, Sweet Tooth and more!

    What were your favorite comics of 2010? You can let us know via email (crosstawk@gmail.com), Twitter (@crosstawk) or in the comments section on the website.

    And with that, 2010 ends for Crosstawk.com! It was an incredible year, and I couldn't be happier with how the site and shows have grown. We've only just gotten started, though, and 2011 should prove even better!

    Direct Download

    Tuesday
    Dec282010

    Crosstawk Sports: Episode 4

    The Tallahassee crew returns for more of the latest and greatest in the world on the field in this brand new episode of Crosstawk Sports. With Jesse unable to record, Rob once again stepped in to fill the void along with Spencer and Ben. The show starts off with some basketball discussion before settling in to some great NFL talk.

    If you've got any suggestions for discussion topics, you can, as usual, send them on over to crostawk@gmail.com, alert us on Twitter (@crosstawk) or throw down in the comments section on the website.

    With that said, see you on Friday for Crosstawk Comics.

    Direct Download

    Sunday
    Dec262010

    Box Office Poison: Episode 6

    Late for the holidays but early for 2011! After a slight delay, we've got a fresh episode of Box Office Poison for you with talk about TRON Legacy, Cyrus, Monsters (Inc.), Friends of God, Star Trek: The Motion Picture and more!

    For our second segment, we dicussed our Movie of the Month: Synecdoche, New York. Some of us liked it, some of us didn't and a certin someone didn't even watch it (Señor Sklens)!

    As always, you can tell us your thoughts via email (crosstawk@gmail.com), Twitter (@crosstawk) and via the comments section.

    And that's that, folks! See you on Tuesday for a new Crosstawk Sports and again on Friday for Crosstawk Comics!

    Direct Download

    Thursday
    Dec232010

    Release Update: Box Office Poson Delayed to Sunday

    Hey guys,

    I've been crazy busy this week with holiday stuff, and as a result, I just won't be able to get the latest episode of Box Office Poison up in time. Instead of going up at midnight tonight, it'll be delayed until late on Sunday.

    In the meantime, I suggest you listen to the debut of How to Liberal, which just went up and is sure to please.

    Have a great holiday, everybody, and I'll see you on Sunday!

    - Karl

    Thursday
    Dec232010

    How to Liberal: Episode 1

    Hello and welcome to a brand new bi-weekly series right here at Crosstawk.com! From the mind of Stan Ferguson comes How to Liberal, a red-meat guide to the bleeding heart. In each episode, Stan's going to be giving our conservative friends the 411 on what it really means to be on the far left.

    (Disclaimer: The views expressed in How to Liberal do not reflect those of Crosstawk.com or its pundits)

    With that said, if you've got any comments, questions or concerns, you can send them right on over to crosstawk@gmail.com, Twitter (@crosstawk) or throw down in the comments section of the website.

    Thanks for listening, folks, and come back tomorrow for a new episode of Box Office Poison!

    Direct Download

    Tuesday
    Dec212010

    Discover Music Project: Episode 8

    DMP returns for more musical variety! The NWR Newscast's own Nathan Mustafa is back to hear Jonny's pick for this episode: Umphrey's McGee. And as always, here's your playlist:

    Bright Lights, Big City (The Bottom Half) - 3:44
    Spires (Mantis) - 7:44
    Hajimemashite (Live at the Murat) - 5:10
    Miss Tinkle's Overture (Live, Chicago 9/4/2010) - 8:31
    Cemetary Walk (Mantis) - 7:33
    Cemetary Walk II (Mantis) - 2:24
    Regulate (UM Live 7/25/2008) - 4:25

    TOTAL - 43:57

    Encore: Only A Northern Song (Yonder Mountain String Band, Live at ACL Festival) - 7:24

    As always, you can contact us via email (crosstawk@gmail.com), Twitter (@crosstawk) or via the comments section of the website.

    See you tomorrow for a new Crosstawk series and then again on Friday for a new Box Office Poison!

    Direct Download

    Friday
    Dec172010

    Rough Draught: Episode 6

    Jon and Karl return to drink and review more brews in this special holiday episode! Requiring yet another third chair, our good buddy Rob stepped in to assist in drinking:

    Samuel Adams White Ale (5.4% ABV)

    Samuel Adams Holiday Porter (5.8% ABV)

    Samuel Adams Old Fezziwig Ale (5.9% ABV)

    Samuel Adams Winter Lager (5.8% ABV)

    Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock (5.5% ABV)

    Rogue Santa's Private Reserve Ale (6% ABV)

    St. Bernardus Christmas Ale (10% ABV)

    Have you got an idea for a drink we should try? Send it on over to crosstawk@gmail.com, hit us up on Twitter (@crosstawk) or throw down in the comments section on the website.

    Thanks for listening, guys, and come back on Tuesday for a new Discover Music Project, Wednesday for a BRAND NEW Crosstawk series and then again on Friday for the latest episode of Box Office Poison.

    Direct Download

    Friday
    Dec172010

    Film Review: Tron Legacy

    Before I get to Legacy, I should start by saying that I'm not a fan of the 1982 Tron. I find it kind of dull, and while the effects are pretty cool for its time, it never really clicked for me in the way it did for its cult fanbase. For those of you who don't know, the original film told the tale of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), an ex-employee of ENCOM Software who, after breaking into their laser testing facility, is digitized by said lasers and transported into the world of the computer, where programs are people and the "user" is revered by many (but not all).

    Once there, Flynn finds that Master Control Program, the security software that ENCOM employs, is enslaving most of the populace and wants to diminish the importance of the user. Luckily, there are those who would stand against him, namely Tron, an alternate security program meant to keep an eye on Master Control Program. Together with Flynn, he takes MCP down, saves the day and our protagonist is sent back to his own world.

    Legacy opens in 1989, with a decidedly creepy-looking CG Kevin Flynn (made to look like a young Bridges) talking to his son Sam about the wonders of "the grid," the aforementioned digital world where Flynn's going through all sorts of breakthroughs. As the CEO of ENCOM, he believes that he'll be able to bring these innovations back to mankind and create a better world. Unfortunately for Sam, his father heads off to "work" after this talk, and is never seen again.

    In the present, Sam (as played by Garrett Hedlund) is the majority shareholder at ENCOM, but refuses to concern himself with the day-to-day, leaving seedy and greedy businessmen to continually release shoddy products and tarnish the image that his father worked so hard to build up. He reconciles this with himself by "pranking" the company once a year (this year, he leaks free versions of the high-priced ENCOM OS 12).

    After a particularly daring escape from the aforementioned sabotage, Sam finds Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) waiting for him at home. Alan was a good friend of Flynn's, and has apparently been something of a surrogate father to Sam after his father's disappearance. Speaking of, Alan received a page (yes, a PAGE) from the number at Flynn's, the arcade from the first Tron movie. The number's been dead for years, but somehow, this page was sent out, and Alan thinks Sam ought to investigate.

    Though he's initially reluctant, Sam eventually makes his way to Flynn's, and after uncovering the secret passageway located underneath the Tron light-cycle arcade game, he finds his father's secret lab. He begins tooling around the ancient PC, and unbeknownst to him, activates the digitizing laser, sending himself to the "grid" that his father always spoke about.

    After being mistaken for a program by roving sentries, Sam experiences the same gladiator-style games that Flynn went through back in '82. Proving himself a worthy opponent, he's brought before what appears to be his father. It isn't, though - it's Clu (who appeared in the first movie and actually died - we have to assume this is ANOTHER Clu), the program that Flynn created who also shares his likeness (or, rather, the likeness of his 1982 self). Clu's very happy to see Sam, but it seems he's got a nefarious endgame in mind, because he sends the young Flynn back into the gladiator games and would certainly have killed him were it not for the intervention of Quorra (Olivia Wilde), a program hiding out with the ACTUAL Flynn "off the grid."

    Here's where we get a bunch of exposition. Flynn and Tron wanted to make the grid a peaceful utopia and Flynn created a new Clu with this exact goal in mind. Unfortunately, Clu became a bit of a zealot and took this ethos to an extreme. When an indigenous species is found in the grid (called isometric beings, or isos for short), Clu betrays Flynn and Tron, and wipes out the isos in mass genocide for being what he considers "impure." Clu shut off the portal connecting the grid to the outside world, leaving Flynn trapped for the last 20 years.

    It turns out that Clu actually sent that page to Alan - the portal could only be opened from the other side, and now that it's operational again, Clu can un-digitize himself and enter the real world - he only needs Flynn's disc (the device onto which a program or user's memories are imprinted). Sam decides he's going to get to the portal first, and he's going to bring his father with him. Thus, he, Flynn and Quorra march on their quest.

    Legacy seems to carry itself as an epic, and while the Daft Punk score and amazing visuals would certainly  back that claim up, the story itself leaves a lot to be desired. The concept of an indigenous digital species just doesn't make much sense. Furthermore, the ending is telegraphed miles away, and at a certain point, you're just sort of waiting for it to happen. The twist concerning what really happened to Tron is fumbled miserably with a really unsatisfying climax.

    And then there's the acting. Hoo boy. Bridges and Wilde are pretty decent for the most part, with the latter being particularly endearing, but that's pretty much where the good acting ends. Hedlund does fine with the action bits, but anything close to emotional comes off as forced - it's like he's riffing off of Channing Tatum.

    But really, Michael Sheen takes the cake here as Castor, the grid night club owner who seems to be a cross between David Bowie and Willy Wonka and makes both seem about as eccentric as a plank of wood. There's over the top and then there's over the top and then there's Castor. It's as if Joseph Kosinski's direction was simply, "Act like a jackass and shout your lines like a madman. Oh, also, shoot laser bullets out of your glass cane like Al Pacino in Scarface - we'll make it look good in post." Yeesh.

    I feel like I should mention the few redeeming things about Legacy. As I mentioned above, it's absolutely stunning. I saw a 3D screening and felt fully immersed in the slick, neon-glow world of the grid. Real-world scenes (with the exception of the opener) are all in 2D, and while they pale in comparison to their grid counterparts, they look fine enough.

    Similarly, the Daft Punk soundtrack is magnificent. They owe a lot to Hans Zimmer, borrowing a good bit from his work on The Dark Knight and Inception, but mixing his and their style together literally makes beautiful music. The score is never anything but epic and engrossing. Honestly, it kind of overshadows the film.

    It's unfortunate - I want to like Legacy in the same way that I want to like the 1982 original, but I just don't. Sure, there's plenty of spectacle here, but behind all of that style, there just isn't enough substance.