'Raging Boll,' directed by Dan Lee West
The first 20 minutes or so of 'Raging Boll,' the documentary profiling director Uwe Boll, are excellent. The film, which had its U.S. premiere at Austin Film Festival, provides background on Boll for those who aren't familiar with him, while at the same time entertaining the Boll lovers/haters with some good interview lines and fascinating details. The movie consists primarily of interviews with Boll, both on a black background and during some key events, with a smattering of footage from his events and a little extra media coverage. Title cards fill in the gaps.
However, the film's second half becomes slow and repetitive, and Boll's dozenth or so rant against "fanboy" bloggers, Michael Bay and the Hollywood distribution system becomes terribly tedious. It builds to a climax around Boll's "Raging Boll" boxing match against several online journalists, a publicity stunt that turns out to be much less interesting than it might sound. The movie settles for showing us Boll's public persona and the cult of personality that has formed around it, instead of trying to find the man underneath the rants.
The 'Raging Boll' interviews take place primarily around 2007 and 2008: from the time Boll is trying to sell the American theatrical rights to his third video game adaptation, 'Dungeon Siege: In the Name of the King,' through the U.S. premiere of 'Postal.' And once in awhile, the film does catch a glimpse of Boll with his guard down -- most notably, at the end of a screening of 'Dungeon Siege' Boll hosts for Sony, looking stiff and nervous. On the other hand, while at his parents' house, Boll pulls out a diary he kept as a young man of all the films he watched, and tells us what's inside of it ... but never shows us the actual pages or reads any excerpts. Once again, we are supposed to take his persona at face value.
At the beginning of 'Raging Boll,' a series of pull quotes from negative reviews of 'House of the Dead' and 'Alone in the Dark' generates a lot of laughs. (Full disclosure: one quote is from Cinematical Managing Editor Scott Weinberg.) At the end of the film, a title card notes that the lower-budget independent films Boll is currently making, like 'Rampage,' have generated a much more positive response ... but we get no pull quotes. 'Raging Boll' is full of missed opportunities like this one, and instead just lets Boll rage on repetitively. There's a good 30- or 40-minute documentary in here, but after nearly 90 minutes, I never wanted to hear Boll rant again.
'Miss Nobody,' directed by Tim Cox
The best opening-credits sequence I have seen this year is in 'Miss Nobody' -- stylish, humorous, and a perfect way to set the right note of dark comedy for the movie ahead. Fortunately, the rest of the movie is pretty good too, although the story is a bit predictable. It's a lot like the Ealing comedy 'Kind Hearts and Coronets,' although Leslie Bibb only plays one character.
Bibb is the shining star of this 'Miss Nobody' (besides that credits sequence), and the film is an excellent vehicle for her talents. It's hard to imagine anyone else who could have carried off this role so beautifully. Her character Sara Jane McKinney is a sweet, innocent secretary who prays to her guardian angel St. George the Dragonslayer for counsel, assistance and occasionally vengeance. At the urging of her best friend Charmaine (Missi Pyle), she manages to land a junior exec job at her pharmaceutical company ... only to have it snatched away by a handsome and ruthless guy (Brandon Routh) who inadvertently provides her with an ambitious scheme for business success. However, pursuing this scheme is causing Sara Jane to lose a lot of her innocence, at least on the inside. It's also building up a body count.
It's enjoyable to watch such a great cast: Adam Goldberg plays the combination romantic interest/suspicious cop, Vivica A. Fox is one of the executives in Sara Jane's way and Eddie Jemison ('Ocean's Eleven' et al) is delightfully sleazy as the nastiest executive in the company. Kathy Baker feels a little too intentionally strange as Sara Jane's mom, and Missi Pyle seems oddly unbelievable as the best friend, due to often awkward-sounding dialogue.
Sadly, the script from Doug Steinberg ('Beverly Hills 90210') is the weakest part of this movie. The story follows a rather obvious path at times, and loses a lot of its dark humor near the end. The dialogue often sounds unreal and odd ... except for Sara Jane's. Bibb's perky performance carries the movie over its rocky points. 'Miss Nobody' is not a "chick flick" or a standard romantic comedy, but something a little more twisted and enjoyable.
'S&M Lawn Care,' directed by Mark Potts
Sometimes the best films at festivals are the ones without any big-name stars, the low-budget wonders that make you wonder if you are going to be able to say in 10 years that you knew these guys when. One of the funniest films at AFF this year was 'S&M Lawn Care,' from a filmmaking team out of Oklahoma. You might remember our linking to their short 'Kane' earlier this year -- the fake trailer for a reboot of 'Citizen Kane.' The biggest name in 'S&M Lawn Care' is Helen Thomas, who appears briefly in a dream sequence.
'S&M Lawn Care' takes place in a small, almost surreal Oklahoma town where lawn-care companies battle for dominance, often in the oddest ways. Mel (director/co-writer Mark Potts) and Sal (co-writer Cole Selix) are partners in S&M Lawn Care, which despite the name has nothing at all lurid about it. However, competitor Drake (William Brand Rackley) is able to stake a claim in the lawn-care business not just with fancy new equipment, but with his scantily clad assistants, Lora and Lara. How will Sal ever raise the money for his dream expedition to Africa? Will the pressure cause Mel to overdose on corn dogs?
All three lead actors are fearless about doing whatever it takes physically to pull as many laughs from a scene as possible. Potts in particular isn't afraid to look goofy, whether he's bounding across the screen in a homemade commercial for S&M Lawn Care, barfing up an entire bucket of popcorn or trying to wrestle a lawnmower on and off the back of a pickup truck. The scenes where Selix works in a shopping-mall snack stand are also pretty funny, especially his slow burn over the customers' inability to specify the correct frozen treat.
'S&M Lawn Care' isn't quite as bizarrely hilarious as Potts' previous film, 'Simmons on Vinyl,' but its storyline provides a somewhat more conventional comedy. I'm not bothered by four-letter words in movies, but I'm amused that the worst profanity used in this movie is "Sweet Paula Deen!" I look forward to the day when these guys can land budgets big enough to actually put Paula Deen in their movies, should they so desire. Their comedies are easily as funny as what's coming out of Hollywood these days.