(In French, On TV, November 2018) No matter the era, America is always under siege. In the 1980s, even as détente was making the Soviets slightly less threatening, Americans discovered that the Japanese were going to outproduce everyone and buy everything. American industrial management were quick to obsess about Japanese production techniques: why was Toyota producing cars that were so much better than anything Detroit could turn out? 1986’s Gung Ho may not be a particularly well-known film these days despite being directed by Ron Howard, but it presents an impeccable take on the obsession of the time as a Japanese car company buys an American factory and starts imposing its methods. A significant culture clash ensues, spiced up by the fact that the American characters are being challenged to do better. Michael Keaton headlines the film with his usual charm, playing a foreman acting as the link between Japanese management and the American workers. Despite the obvious concessions to comedy, the film was reportedly used in Japan in order to understand how to manage American workers. The result is often more interesting as a time capsule than a conventional film—Howard directs unobtrusively, Keaton is his usual sympathetic self, Mimi Rogers shows up, a few more Howards (Clint and Rance) have supporting roles, and the film has a pleasant blue-collar atmosphere without being weighed down in the kind of dark drama that such mid-1980s setting usually accompanied. It’s watchable enough. A sequel, showing how American manufacturing adopted and adapted Japanese manufacturing techniques, would be sorely needed at the moment.
(On Cable TV, October 2013) Surprisingly enough, prior to this film I had never seen any film by legendary director Uwe Boll. I say “legendary” in the most jocular sense, as few other directors have been able to earn the kind of low-budget, bad-reviews, tax-shelter-financed, consensually-punches-critics-in-the-face fame that Boll has acquired over the years. His films aren’t meant to be art: they’re usually low-budget videogame adaptations aimed at the direct-to-video market and everyone knows it. Until recently, I had no easy access to that lowest tier of filmmaking, and little interest in venturing there. Now that I’ve got a cable TV subscription package with a dozen movie channels, though… I figured I could watch Bloodrayne: The Third Reich while putting together a few IKEA bookcases. As it turns out, this is exactly the right kind of movie to watch while doing something else: it’s hollow, inane and visually unremarkable, but it does have a few moments here and there to make you look up. I’m not at all familiar with the Bloodrayne video games, but the premise of the film doesn’t require a lot of explanation: Here’s a female human/vampire hybrid battling Nazis and vampires and even nazi vampires. The skin-tight outfits, swords, mad scientists, machine-gun battles and sex scenes are just more layers on a big cake of exploitation filmmaking. There’s little subtlety nor substance in a film that barely lasts 79 minutes with lengthy credits: The id of the film is perilously close to the surface, and all that’s left is broad strokes with easy plot elements. At times, there’s a sliver of interest. Clint Howard is curiously compelling as a Nazi doctor who wishes to use vampire blood to make Hitler immortal (sadly, this idea goes nowhere, whereas a better film would have run with it) and he has one fun scene with a randy vampire prostitute. The film occasionally manages to get a chuckle out of sheer desperation, and while the two sex scenes may be wildly gratuitous and intrusive, they do feature a decent amount of nudity –something that’s surprisingly lacking in many contemporary exploitation films. Still, let’s not get overly excited: BloodRayne: The Third Reich is still terrible, whatever the level of filmmaking you’re looking at. Conceptually, it’s completely botched and never manages to use its core plot elements as effectively at it could. The screenwriting is usually fairly bad, immature in the way it overuses swearing, and never duller as when it features the rebel forces that ally themselves with the heroine. Visually, it’s bland from beginning to end: While this not the worst-looking film I’ve seen (even in the last month), it’s not interesting either and the direction does nothing to elevate the material. The action scenes feel particularly uninvolving. I was, maybe curiously enough, expecting considerably worse, and I’m disappointed that this example of Boll’s film isn’t as bad as I had been led to believe. Maybe it’s one of his better movies. I’m not sure I want to make sure of that.